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"I NEVER rode on an elephant in my life," said Chie Lo with a sigh.
Chin had just been telling her of a trip he had made with his father. He had gone into the teak forest, and had travelled every bit of the way on an elephant.
"Perhaps you wouldn't like it if you had a chance to try," answered her brother. "You would feel safe enough, and the howdah is big enough for you to lie down in and take a nap. But the elephant swings from side to side as he walks, and the motion might make you feel sick until you get used to it."
"It looks comfortable, anyway," said Chie Lo. "A howdah looks like a tiny house, and the bamboo top keeps off the hot sun nicely. Doesn't it ever slip on the elephant's back, Chin?"
"Of course not. It is fastened behind by a crupper that goes under the tail, while it is held in front by a band of rattan passed around the neck. So it is perfectly safe."
"Elephants are very wise animals, and I love them. Mother told me that a long time ago there was an elephant in the city that used to ladle out rice to the priests as they came out of the temple. He did it every morning, and was as careful about it as any person could be. He made no mistakes, for he never gave the rice to any people unless they were priests. Wasn't that wonderful, Chin?"
"It was very wise, at any rate, Chie Lo. But, of course, he could tell the priests because of their long yellow robes. I've heard more wonderful stories than that, though.
"I've watched elephants at work in a lumber yard, myself. They would pick up the logs with their trunks, and carry them to the place where they were to be piled up. Then they would lay them down, one on top of another, and each time they would place them in such good order that the ends of the pile would be kept perfectly even. They are very careful workers; men couldn't do any better."
"Weren't you afraid when you crossed the river on the elephant's back, Chin? I heard you speaking about it to father when you got home."
"Not the least bit. The water grew deeper until at last only my howdah and the animal's head were above the surface. But he went on slowly and surely, and as he felt safe, I did, too. In a few minutes we were on dry land again, and climbed up the steep bank without stopping to rest.
"It was great fun whenever we went down hill. The big clumsy fellow knelt on his forelegs, and actually slid down, with his hind legs dragging behind him."
"What good times you have, Chin. I wish I were a boy!" and Chie Lo sighed again.
"They say that the white elephants are going to march through the streets to-day. Let's go up in the city to see them," said Chin.
He was always glad to have his sister go about with him.
The home of our Siamese cousins is a strange country. It is often spoken of as the "Land of the White Elephant." You shall hear the reason.
Whenever a white elephant is seen in the forests, word is at once sent to the king, and parties of hunters go forth to secure him. He is looked upon as a sacred animal, for many of the people believe that the soul of some great and wise person has come back to dwell for a while in his body.
In the olden times there was a great celebration after a white elephant had been caught and was brought into the city. The king and his nobles, as well as hundreds of priests, went out to meet him with bands of music. He was led to the royal stables, and large pictures of the forests were hung around him, so he should not grow lonesome and long for his home in the jungle.
It is even said that he was fed from golden dishes, and that only the sweetest sugar-cane, the ripest bananas, and the tenderest grasses were given him as food. He was loaded with gifts.
The ways of the people are changing now, however, and both the king and his people are wiser than they used to be. Yet the white elephants are still treated with honour, and kept in the royal stables, while on great days they march in state through the streets of the city.
It is hardly right, however, to speak of them as white. Some of them are of a pale, pinkish gray colour. Others are ashy gray. Their eyes look washed-out and dull. They are not nearly as grand and noble-looking as their brothers, for it seems as though Mother Nature were tired and had not finished her work, when one looks at them.