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CHAPTER XXXI.
THE ROYAL PROCLAMATIONS.

IN the beginning of the reign of P'rabat Somdetch P'hra Paramendr Maha Chulalonkorn, a new era dawned upon the kingdom of the white elephant.

On the 11th of October, 1868, a royal proclamation of the new and auspicious reign was made in all parts of the vast kingdom and provinces of Siam, and a national holiday was appointed. The multitudinous pagoda bells rang all day, while louder still boomed the cannon, up went the rockets, and aloft streamed the red and white banners of the white elephant. Still higher rose the glad hearts of the princes and chiefs of the people, and low in reverential attitudes, even in the very dust, were bowed the heads of the millions of the enslaved subjects.

Classed with the sod, and of as little account as the earth out of which they obtain so scanty a subsistence, branded as cattle with the mark of their owner, what have they to do with the glad shouts and the loud rejoicings that resound on every side?

To them it means only a change of owners, and royalty is the name fixed to the other end of the enslaving rod of power: "The right divine of kings to govern wrong."

There can be no auspicious reign or any happy future for the slave.

The royal messages of peace and goodwill may find an echo in the freedman's heart and in his home, but they must ever come with a darkening power and as a saddening cloud to the home and the heart of the slave. An irredeemable beast of burden, what has he to hope from an auspicious reign, or the enthronement of a promising sovereign?



KING OF SIAM

Yet that these millions of enslaved men and women are not brutes or wild beasts, or even devoid of noble and generous emotions, is proved by the most astonishing acts of devotion and self-sacrifice performed by slaves for the masters and mistresses whom they have learned to love.

Any one who from curiosity or with a higher motive may visit the prisons in the city of Bangkok will find, to his great surprise, that nearly one half of the inmates are slaves voluntarily expiating the crimes and wrong-doings of their masters and mistresses, or, as is often the case, mothers, daughters, wives, or sisters enduring all the hardships of a Siamese prison and words would fail me adequately to describe the amount of suffering which those two words imply in the place and for the sake of sons, husbands, or unworthy relatives. The strength that is in these slaves to suffer is the strength of love. Love combined with despair gives them the awful and wonderful power of utter self-sacrifice.

The rights which every man should enjoy in his wife, his children, and his own labor, and which should be the most sacred and inviolable rights, are here placed at the mercy of a master, and are oft-times to the slave the very fetters of his galling servitude

But, since that ever-to-be-remembered 11th of October, 1868, a new empire has arisen out of the ashes of the oId. The traditions and customs of centuries are as naught. A fresh start has been made, a young king full of generous impulses and noble purposes reigns; and how he intends to govern may be gathered from his second royal proclamation to his people on the subject of religion:

"In regard to the concern of seeking and holding a religion that will be a refuge to you in this life: it is a good and noble concern, and it is exceedingly appropriate and suitable that you, as a nation, and each man individually, should investigate for himself, and according to his own wisdom, which is the right and which the wrong; and if you see any religion whatever, or any body of men professing any religion whatsoever who seem likely to be an advantage to you, a true religion in accordance with your own wisdom, hold to that religion with all your heart; hold to it not with a shallow mind, or after slight investigation, or even because of its tradition, saying this is the custom held from time immemorial, but from your own deep faith in its excellence; and do not profess a religion for the truth of which you have not good evidence, or one which frightens men through their fears and flatters them through their hopes.

"Do not be either frightened or flattered into doing what is right and just, and do not follow after fictitious signs and wonders.

"But, when you shall have obtained a firm conviction in any religious faith that it is true, beautiful, and good, hold to it with great joy, follow its teachings alone, and it will be a source of happiness to each one of you.

"It is our will that our subjects of whatever race, nation, or creed, live freely and happily in our kingdom, no man despising or molesting another on account of religious difference, or any other difference of opinions, customs, or manners."

This is the second important message from the young king, who has just ascended the throne of his fathers, to his subjects, both bond and free.

The great old dukes and princes and nobles of the realm feel in their hardened hearts that it is barely gracious, and certainly not at all graceful, in one so young, to ignore all that magnificent past. But the young monarch is true to his early promise, and his next step is quietly to abolish the customary prostrations before a superior, and to inaugurate a new costume for his people, which will enable the wearer, whoever he may be, prince, ruler, chieftain, or slave, to stand face to face with his fellow-men and erect in the presence of his sovereign.

And now let us mark the next step made in the path of progress and freedom by this noble young Buddhist monarch.

Years ago, in the little study in his beautiful palace called the "Rose-Planting House," when a mere boy, on hearing of the death of President Lincoln, he had declared "that if he ever lived to reign over Siam, he would over a free and not an enslaved nation; that it would be his pride and joy to restore to his kingdom the original constitution under which it was first planted by a small colony of hardy and brave Buddhists, who had arrived from their native country, Magadah, to escape the religious persecutions of the Brahminical priests, who had arrived at Ayudia and there established themselves under one of their leaders, who was at once priest and king. They called the spot they occupied "Muang Thai," the kingdom of the free, and this kingdom now extends from the northern slopes of the mountains of Yuman in China to the Gulf of Siam.

Nobly has he striven to keep this aspiration of his early boyhood; and as he went, day after day, to take his place at the head of his government, and to the nightly sittings of the Secret Council of the state, he endeavored to hold unflinchingly to his one great purpose.

On the first opportunity that offered he urged the abolition of slavery upon the Prince Regent, his uncle, and the Prime Minister; then again he brought it before the mighty Secret Council, sitting at midnight in the hall of his ancestors. "I see," says the brave young king, "no hope for our country until she is freed from the dark blot of slavery."

The Prince Regent and the Prime Minister, though almost persuaded by the vehement pleading of the young and fearless king, replied: "It is impossible to free a nation of slaves without incurring much risk and danger to the state and to the slaveholders. Under the existing laws, Siam could not abolish her system of slavery without undermining at the same time her whole constitution."

"Well," said the young king, "let it be so; but my slaves, my soldiers, and my debtors are my own, and I will free them at least, whatever my ministers may see fit to do; for my part, no human being shall ever again be branded in my name and with my mark."

What strange words from one so young!

The Secret Council meet again and again to discuss the matter, and at length they decide for they too have the good of their country at heart to let the young king have his own way.

Then the royal boy king sends another message summoning the heads of all his people, from every department of his vast kingdom, to appear together in his audience hall, and to receive the royal message.

Standing on the lowest step of his glittering throne, he greets the chief rulers and governors and judges of his people, and utters these remarkable words: "Let this our royal message to our people be proclaimed, and not as if we were doing a great and lordly thing, but our simple duty to our fellow-men and subjects, that from the first day of January, 1872, slavery shall cease to be an institution in our country, and every man, woman, and child shall hold themselves free-born citizens; and further let it be made known, that a tax, according to the circumstances of each and every man, shall be levied on the nation to remunerate the slaveholders for the loss of their slaves."

The effect of this speech upon the listeners can hardly be imagined. It was like the winged words of an angel from heaven, and the young monarch descended from the last step of his throne, having firmly laid the cornel on which the greatness of his reign and his nation will forever rest unshaken. But seeing that his astonished hearers remained rooted to the spot, still doubting whether they had heard aright, he added: "We bind ourselves to fulfil our word to our subjects at large, no matter what the cost to ourselves. Go you and proclaim our royal will."

When the wonderful tidings were actually proclaimed, the people listened as though they heard not; at best they distrusted the good report, and received the wondrous words as if they were merely the sounding of brass and the tinkling of cymbals in their ears.

Confidence is a plant of slow growth; but how slow must its revival have been in the place whence it has once been torn up by the roots! So the people turned a deaf ear to the loving messages of their young king, and went on their sad way not a whit happier.

But when the 1st of January, 1872, had actually arrived, and they absolutely found themselves "free" men and women, their patient, loving hearts well-nigh burst asunder with joy.

The glad cries of the ransomed millions penetrated the heart of the universe, and the "Despair" of the nation flapped her dark wings and fell down dead at the golden feet of the royal ransomer.

The prison doors are open, and all the prisoners by proxy and those who were slaves by reason of their great poverty or their greater love find, to their amazement, that the sun of freedom has risen for them, and who shall fathom the depth of their joy? But the land is full of flower shows, and unfurled standards, and cool fountain displays, fireworks, illuminations, and theatrical exhibitions. The music of thousands of choristers and the glad huzzas of congregated myriads rend the air. Let them dance and laugh and sing; they have had enough of slavery and too little of freedom, and the great hymn of the nation ascends to the Ruler of kings for the "Ransomed One," "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men."


THE END OF THE ROMANCE.


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