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CHAPTER XXI.
NARRATIVE OF THE PRINCESS OF CHIENGMAI.1

MY good friend Thieng arranged another interview for me with the princess, who seemed wonderfully improved in health and spirits, and who related to me, almost word for word, the following narrative.

"The Prince P'hra O'Dong Karmatha and I are the only children of the Prince P'hra Chow Soorwang, the brother of the present king of Chiengmai. Chiengmai is now tributary to Siam. But there was a time when my ancestors were the independent sovereigns of all the land lying between Pegu and Birmah on the one hand, and Siam and the mountains of Yunan on the other.

"It was the Prince P'hra Chow O'Dong Karmatha, after whom my brother was named, who founded the beautiful city of Chiengmai, and built those stupendous works which bring water to its inhabitants.

"My poor mother died at the time of my birth, and May-Peh's mother brought me up as if I were her own child; and thus May-Peh and I became sisters in the flesh, as we are indeed in spirit.

"My brother, the Prince O'Dong, is just seven years my elder. He was fond of pleasure, but he loved glory and honor and independence still more, and it was ever a source of mortification to him that our house should be obliged to pay the triennial tribute which the sovereign of Siam exacts as our homage of fealty.

"It was on one of these occasions, when my brother became the representative of our uncle, and the bearer of the gold and silver trees to the court of Siam, that he met with his Royal Highness P'hra Somdetch Pawarendr Ramasr, the second king of Siam. Being both fond of the chase, and experienced hunters, they formed a strong friendship the one for the other.

"God forbid that I should disparage the supreme king of Siam, but every one who knows them will admit the superiority of the younger brother," said the lady, proudly.

"Soon after this the second king came on a visit to our home, and accompanied my brother on many a hunting expedition. I cannot describe to you my first meeting with the prince, whose praises had already inflamed my imagination. If I could coin words of deeper meaning, or if I could learn from the angels some new language wherein fitly to clothe the higher and purer joy that fell upon me in his presence, I might reveal to you something of the charm and the spell of that hour.

"When he at length returned to Sarapure, I was as one who had lost the key-note of her existence.

"My brother, apprehending the cause of my grief, sent May-Peh, unknown to me, to Sarapure, to serve in any capacity whatever in the palace of the prince, and to discover, if possible, the state of his affections.

"May-Peh and her mother set out for the palace of Ban Sitha. Having arrived there, she contrived to get admission into the harem of the prince, in order to visit some of her friends. While there, she drew out of her vest a silver flute, and played it so exquisitely for she is the best musician in our country, and can perform on ten different instruments that she charmed her hearers, who at once introduced her to the chief lady of the 'harem,' Khoon Klieb, who purchased her from her mother, and presented her to the prince, her master.

"She was then invited to perform before the prince; he too was delighted with her wonderful skill and power, and being at the time in ill health and feeble in body, he hardly ever left his palace, and retained her almost always by his side.

"On one occasion, seeing that she had soothed and charmed the unhappy and suffering prince with her melodies, she begged permission to sing him a song of her own composition, set to his favorite air of 'Sah Mnee Chaitee' (The Lament of the Heart).2 The prince smilingly assented, not without, as he afterwards told me, surprise and wonder at the singular hardihood and fearlessness of the young stranger. 'But,' to use his own words, 'she sang her wonderful song with such power, such a sweet mixture of the fragrance of the heart with the melody of touch, that the memory of it lingers still with me as a dream of a day in Suan Swarg (paradise). Then I snatched from her hand the lute, and struck on it in wild and imperfect utterances the burden of my love for thee, dear Sunartha Vismita.'

"Just three months from the time of May-Peh's departure, when I had become weary and disconsolate because of her unaccountable absence, she returned home, bearing letters and presents from the prince; and a month afterwards I set out, a happy bride, for the beautiful palace of Ban Sitha.

"When we arrived at Sarapure, my brother went on before to announce my arrival to the prince " Here she ceased suddenly, and gave way to a burst of passionate tears.

Alter a little while she resumed her story, saying: "And bo we were privately married. The prince, however, had long been foiling in health, and after a few short months of unalloyed happiness he again fell grievously sick, and exhorted me to return home to my father, lest by his death I should fall into the power of his elder brother. But I refused to leave him, and followed him to his palace at Bangkok, where he sickened rapidly and died. His last words to me were: 'Fare thee well, Sunartha! thy presence has been to me like the light of the setting sun, illumining and dispersing the dark clouds which have hitherto obscured my sad life. Fear not; I will keep the memory of thy face bright and unclouded before my fading eyes, as I pass away rejoicing in thy love.'

"A short time after my husband's death I found myself a prisoner in his palace, and as time passed on I was removed to this palace, where a residence befitting a queen was appointed to me, and where I first had the honor of receiving and entertaining the elder brother of my husband, the great king Maha Mongkut, who, ignoring my deep sorrow and deeper love for my late husband, offered me his royal hand in marriage.

"Openly and proudly I rejected the cruel offer, for which reason I am here again a prisoner, and perchance will remain forever."

She ceased speaking, and the Amazon entered to say it was time to shut the prison door. With her lips firmly pressed together, her nostrils quivering, and her head bowed in her strong grief, she motioned me her adieux. I saw her once or twice afterwards, sitting leisurely among the palace gardens, under the watchful eyes of the Amazonian guard, as self-absorbed, but, I thought, more hopeful than she used to be.

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1 Chiengmai is the capital of Laos country.

2 The late second king wm passionately fond of music, and was himself a skilful performer on several of the Laos instruments.


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