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LITTLE CHIE LO
"CHIE LO! Chie Lo! come out quickly, or you won't see it before it passes," called Chin to his sister.
She was playing with her dolls in the sitting-room, but when she heard Chin calling she put them down and came out on the platform where her brother sat dangling his feet in the water and holding his pet parrot.
"Chie Lo! Chie Lo!" screamed the parrot, when she appeared. He was a bright-looking bird with a shining coat of green feathers and a red tuft on his head. He must have loved Chie Lo, for he reached up for her to pat him as she squatted beside her brother.
"Look, look," said Chin, "isn't that grand?"
The boy pointed to a beautiful boat moving rapidly down the river.
"It is the king's, you know," he whispered. "Do you see him there under the canopy, with his children around him?"
"Yes, yes, Chin, but don't talk; I just want to look."
It was no wonder that Chie Lo wished to keep still, for it was a wonderful sight. The boat was shaped like a huge dragon, whose carved head, with its fierce eyes, could be seen reaching out from the high bow. The stern was made in the shape of the monster's tail. The sides of the royal barge were covered with gilded scales, inlaid with pearls, and these scales shone and sparkled in the sunlight.
A hundred men dressed in red were rowing the splendid boat, and they must have had great training, for they kept together in perfect time.
"Isn't the canopy over the king the loveliest thing you ever saw?" said Chin, who could not keep still. "It is made of cloth-of-gold, and so are the curtains. Look at the gold embroidery on the king's coat. Oh, Chie Lo, it doesn't seem as though he could be like us at all. I feel as though he must be a god.
"The young prince who took the long journey across the ocean last year is there with him," Chin went on. "Father told me that he visited strange lands where all the people have skins as white as pearls, and that he has seen many wonderful sights. But, Chie Lo, there is nothing in the world grander than our king and his royal boat, I'm sure."
As the barge drew nearer, the children threw themselves face downward on the platform until it had passed down the river. It was their way of showing honour to the ruler of the land.
In the olden times all who came into the presence of the king, did so in one way only. They crawled. Even his own little children were obliged to do this. No one dared to stand in his presence.
But such things have been changed now. The king loves his people and has grown wiser since he has learned the ways of other countries. When he was a little boy, an English lady was his teacher for a long time, and she taught him much that other Kings of Siam had never known.
It is partly because of this that he is the best ruler Chin's people have ever had.
The royal barge was decorated with beautiful white and yellow umbrellas, many stories high. There was also a huge jewelled fan, such as no boat was allowed to carry except the king's.
Other dragon-shaped boats followed the royal barge, but they were smaller and less beautiful. They were the king's guard-boats, and moved along in pairs.
Many other interesting sights could be seen on the river this morning. Vessels were just arriving from distant lands, while here and there Chinese junks were scattered along the shores. Chin and his sister can always tell such boats from any others. An eye is always painted on the bow.
A Chinaman who was once asked why he had the eye there, answered, "If no have eye, how can see?"
It is so much pleasanter outside, it is no wonder that Chin and his sister do not spend much time indoors.
After the royal procession had passed out of sight, Chie Lo went into the house and brought out her family of dolls. Of course they did not look like American dolls; you wouldn't expect it.
Some of them were of baked mud and wore no clothes. Others were of stuffed cotton and made one think of the rag dolls of Chie Lo's white cousins. The father and mother dolls were dressed in strips of cloth wound around their bodies, just like the real grown-up people of Siam, but the baby dolls had no more clothes than the children of the country.
Chie Lo talked to her dolls and sang queer little songs to them. She "made believe" they were eating, just as other little girls play, far away across the great ocean. Then she kissed them and put them to bed on tiny mattresses under the shady eaves of the house.
Perhaps you wouldn't have known that Chie Lo was kissing them, however, for the fashions of Siam are quite different from those of our country. She simply touched the dolls' noses with her own little flat one and drew in a long breath each time she did so. That was her way of showing her love, — gentle little Chie Lo.
Chin didn't laugh, of course. He was used to seeing his sister playing with her dolls, and as for the kissing, that was the only way of doing it that he knew himself.
"Chie Lo, I saw some beautiful dolls in a store yesterday," he said, as he stopped working, for a minute. He was making a new shuttlecock for a game with his boy friends the next day.
"What kind were they, Chin?" asked his sister.
"They were lovely wooden ones. Only rich children could buy them, for they cost a great deal. I wish I could get one for you, Chie Lo, but you know I haven't any money."
"What else did you see, Chin?"
"There were doll-temples in the store, and boats filled with sailors, and lovely ivory furniture for the doll-houses. You must see the things yourself."
Chie Lo went on with her play. She finished putting her own toy house in order. It was one Chin had made for her. It looked like her own home, — it stood on a bamboo platform, it had a high, slanting roof, covered with palm leaves, and there were three rooms inside. Chin was a good boy to make it. All brothers were not as kind as he.
"Yes, I should like to see all those things," Chie Lo answered, after awhile. "But I am happy here with my own toys. I must row up the river to-morrow and sell some fruit for father. I won't have any time for play then."
"Come to dinner, children," called their mother. "Chin, take this jug and get some fresh water before you come in."
She handed a copper jug to Chin. He quickly filled it by reaching over the platform, and followed his sister into the kitchen a moment later.
Every one was thirsty, and the jug was passed from one to another for each to help himself. There were no tumblers nor cups. Chin had made small dishes for his mother by cutting cocoanuts in halves and scooping out the delicious cream from the inside; but they did not use them for drinking the water.
Nor did they put their lips to the jug. Each one cleverly twisted a palm leaf into the shape of a funnel and received the water through this. It was done more quickly than I can tell you about it.
Chin and his sister thought it was a fine dinner. The evening dews were falling, and a gentle breeze came floating down the river. The terrible heat of the day was over and it was the very time to enjoy eating.
In the first place, there was the dish of steaming rice. There was also a sort of stew made of meat chopped very fine and seasoned with red pepper. If you had tasted it, you would probably have cried:
"Oh dear, my mouth is burnt; give me a drink of water at once."
But Chin and Chie Lo thought it very nice indeed, and not a bit too hot.
"Isn't this pickled turnip fine?" said Chin's mother. "I bought it this morning from a passing store."
What could she mean by these words? It was a very common thing for these little brown cousins to see not only houses but stores moving past them down the river. The storekeepers were always ready to stop and sell their goods to any one who wished them.
Chin's mother never made bread, nor pies, nor cake, nor puddings. She bought most of the vegetables already cooked from the floating stores, so you can see she had quite an easy time in preparing her meals.
But to-day, after the rice and stew had been cooked, she laid bananas to roast in the hot coals, and these were now taken out and handed to her family as they squatted on the mats around the table.
If the children had no bread with their dinner, they ought to have had milk, you think. But they never drink it. The cows of Siam are not milked at all, and so the rich children of the country are brought up in the same way as Chin and his sister.
When the meal was finished, Chie Lo did not forget that her dear pussy must still be fed. It was an odd-looking little creature. Although it was a grown-up cat, yet its eyes were as blue as those of a week-old American kitten. It had a funny little tail twisted up into a knot. It was better off than many other cats of Siam, however, who go about with none at all.