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THE QUEEN'S CITY
"I HAVE had a lovely time to-day, too," said Chie Lo, when Chin had told her of his walk through the city.
"I sold my fruit in an hour or two, and then Pome Yik and I went off in my canoe to have a good time by ourselves."
Chin laughed when his sister mentioned Pome Yik. She was a curly-headed playmate of Chie Lo's. The Siamese think that straight, wiry hair is the only beautiful kind in the world, and make fun of any one whose hair is even wavy. So the little girl spoken of came to have the nickname Pome Yik, which means curly-head.
Her real name was almost forgotten, but, poor child, she didn't enjoy hearing herself called Pome Yik any more than if it had been "double-toe" or "hunchback," or the name given to any kind of deformed person by the people of her country.
"We went several miles before we stopped," Chie Lo went on. "We passed that big rice plantation, Chin, where you often go on errands for father. Then we came to a field flooded with water and covered with lotus blossoms. They had been raised for market and the people were busy gathering them.
"See, Chin, they gave me these to bring home. Aren't they beautiful?"
Chie Lo held up a bunch of the great, delicate lilies for her brother to admire. Their hearts were golden; the petals, which were of a faint pink near the centre, were of a deep, bright red toward the tips.
The flower had a great meaning to these children of Siam. It told the story of life, and was sacred to the Buddha, who was often pictured sitting on the lotus. Why should it mean so much? Let us see.
The root of the plant lies embedded in the mud. That represents our weak human nature. As the long stems grow, they reach up through the deep water toward the sunlight. That is what we all do, is it not? for we long to do right and seek the light of love and wisdom.
At length a wondrous blossom appears on the surface of the water. It is perfect in shape, and beautiful in colour, while its heart is golden, we remember. That is the blossoming of a whole life. The lotus is a fine symbol, we have to admit.
But Chie Lo spoke of the people gathering the lotus for market. Of course the flowers could be readily sold, but that was not all. The Chinese in the city would be glad to buy the seeds, which they grind and make into cakes. The stems could be cooked and served as a delicious vegetable; the fibres of the leaf-stalks would furnish lamp-wicks. The plant has many uses in the country where it is raised.
"Father says the king has beautiful lotus ponds in the grounds near the palace," said Chin, as he smelled the flowers. "He has seen them, as well as the fountains and statues and lovely gardens."
"It must be a grand thing to be a king," replied Chie Lo, thoughtfully. "They say that the palace is even more wonderful than the grounds around it.
"Just think of it! the floors are paved with marble and the tables are also of marble. There are all sorts of couches to lie and sit on. These are covered with silks and satins of beautiful colours, and there are pictures on the walls that have been painted to look just like people the king has known. Ah! what a sight it must be!"
Chie Lo shut her eyes, as though she might then be able to see what she had been describing.
"The city of the royal women is inside all the rest of the king's grounds," said Chin. "You know that one must pass through three walls before one can enter it. No man can go there except the king and the priests."
"Yes, mother has told me about it," answered Chie Lo. "It is a real city, too, for it contains stores and temples, theatres and markets. There are all sorts of lovely trees and plants, ponds and summer houses. The children must have a fine time in such a lovely place. It must be a grand thing to be born in a king's family." Chie Lo sighed.
"Tell me what else you saw beside the lily-fields this morning," said Chin, who was quite satisfied to be a free, careless, happy boy, and envied nobody.
"When we were still quite a distance from home, we saw some men fishing in the river. They were filling their boats very fast, for they had a wheel set up near the bank. As one of them turned the wheel, their nets were spread out and sunk in the water. The other men darted right and left in their boats, shouting and beating drums, and making a great noise.. The frightened fishes must have been driven into the nets in great numbers, for the men were obliged to pull hard to lift them into the boats."
"That is an easy way," said Chin. "There is a good deal of sport in it, too, for father and I fished with a wheel once, and I liked it for a change. But see, there's father now. Let's go to meet him."