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CHAPTER X THROUGH THE GOLDEN CHERSONESE TO ELEPHANT LAND
Since the world began the peacock's tail which we call the Malay Peninsula has swung down from Siam to sweep the Sumatran shore. A peacock's tail not merely in configuration but in its gorgeousness of color. Green jungle—a bewildering tangle of trees, shrubs, bushes, plants, and creepers, hung with ferns and mosses, bound together with rattans and trailing vines—clothes the mountains and the lowlands, its verdant riot checked only by the sea. Penetrating the deepest recesses of the jungle a network of little, dusky, winding rivers, green-blue because the sky that is reflected in them is filtered through the interlacing branches. Orchids—death-white, saffron, pink, violet, purple, crimson—festooned from the higher boughs like incandescent lights of colored glass. The gilded, cone-shaped towers of Buddhist temples rising above steep roofs tiled in orange, red, or blue, their eaves hung with hundreds of tiny bells which tinkle musically in every breeze. The scarlet splotches of spreading fire-trees against whitewashed walls. Shaven-headed priests in yellow robes offering flowers and food to stolid-faced images of brass and clay. Long files of[209] elephants, bearing men and merchandise beneath their hooded howdahs, rocking and rolling down the dim and deep-worn forest trails. Snowy, hump-backed bullocks, driven by naked brown men, splashing through the shallow water on the rice-fields harnessed to ploughs as primeval in design as those our Aryan ancestors used. Bronze-brown women, their lithe figures wrapped in gaily colored cottons, busying themselves about frail, leaf-thatched dwellings perched high on bamboo stilts above the river-banks. And, arching over all, a sky as flawlessly blue as the dome of the Turquoise Mosque in Samarland. Such is the land that the ancients called the Golden Chersonese but which is labeled in the geographies of today as Lower Siam and the Malay States.

If you will look at the map you will see that Lower Siam extends half-way down the Malay Peninsula, running across it from coast to coast and thus forming a barrier between British Burmah and British Malaya, precisely as German East Africa formerly separated the British holdings in the northern and southern portions of the Dark Continent. And, were I to indulge in prophecy, I should say that the day would come when the fate of German East Africa will overtake Lower Siam. History has shown, again and again, that the nation, particularly if it is as small and feeble as Siam, which forms a barrier between two portions of a powerful and aggressive empire is in anything but an enviable position.

Politically that portion of the Malay Peninsula[210] which is within the British sphere is divided into three sections: the colony of the Straits Settlements, the four Federated Malay States, and the five non-federated states under British protection. The crown colony of the Straits Settlements consists of the twenty-seven-mile-long island of Singapore and the much larger island of Penang; the territory of Province Wellesley, on the mainland opposite Penang; Malacca, a narrow coastal strip between Singapore and Penang; and, to the north of it, the tiny island and insignificant territory known as the Dingdings. By the acquisition of these small and scattered but strategically important territories, England obtained control of the Straits of Malacca, which form the gateway to the China Seas. In 1896, as the result of a treaty between the British Government and the rajahs of the native states of Perak, Selangor, Pahang, and Negri Sembilan, these four states were brought into a confederation under British protection. Though they are still under the nominal rule of their own rajahs—now known as sultans—each has a British adviser attached to his court, the Governor of the Straits Settlements being ex officio the High Commissioner and administrative head of the confederation. The non-federated states consist of Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan, and Trengganu, the rights of suzerainty, protection, administration, and control of which were transferred by treaty from Siam to Great Britain in 1909, and the Sultanate of Johore, which occupies the extreme southern end of the peninsula, opposite Singapore. In the non-federated, as in[211] the Federated Malay States, British advisers reside at the courts of the native sultans.

Starting at Johore, which, some Biblical authorities assert, is identical with the Land of Ophir, and running through the heart of British Malaya from south to north, is the Federated Malay States Railway, which has recently been linked up with the Siamese State Railways, thus making it possible to travel by rail from Singapore to Bangkok in about four days. Aside from the heat (in the railway carriages the mercury occasionally climbs to 120), the insects, the dust, and the swarms of sweating natives who pile into every compartment regardless of the class designated on their tickets, the journey is a comfortable one.

That section of the F. M. S. Railways which traverses the Sultanate of Johore runs through the greatest tiger country in all Asia. The tiger is to Johore what the elephant is to Siam and the kangaroo to Australia—a sort of national trademark. Even the postage stamps bear an engraving of the striped monarch of the jungle. There is no place in the world, so far as I am aware, save only a zoo, of course, where one can get a shot at a tiger so quickly and with such minimum of effort. In this connection I heard a story at the Singapore Club, the truth of which is vouched for by those with whom I was having tiffin. Shortly before the war, it seems, an American business man who had amassed a fortune in the export business, and who was noted even in down-town New York as a hustler, was returning from a business trip to China. [212]In the smoking-room of the home ward bound liner, over the highballs and cigars, he listened to the stories of an Englishman who had been hunting big game in Asia. The conversation eventually turned to tigers.

"Johore's the place for tigers," the Englishman remarked, pouring himself another peg of whiskey. "The beggars are as thick as foxes in Leicestershire. You're jolly well certain of bagging one the first day out."

"I've always wanted a tiger skin for my smoking room," commented the American. "Could buy one at a fur shop on the Avenue, of course, but I want one that I shot myself. Think I'll run over to Johore while we're at Singapore and get one."

"But I say, my dear fellow," expostulated the Briton, "you really can't do that, you know. We only stop at Singapore for half a day—get in at daybreak and leave again at noon. You can't get a tiger in that time."

"There's no such word as 'can't' in my business. Business methods will bring results in tiger shooting as quickly as in anything else," retorted the American, rising and heading for the wireless room.

A few hours later the American's representative in Singapore, a youngster who had himself been educated in the school of American business, received a wireless message from the head of his house. It read: "Arriving Singapore daybreak Thursday. Leaving noon same day. Wish to shoot tiger in Johore. Make arrangements."

[213]Now the representative in Singapore knew perfectly well that his promotion, if not his job, depended upon his employer getting a tiger. And, as the steamer was due in four days, there was no time to spare. From the director of the Singapore zoo he purchased for considerably above the market price, a decrepit and somewhat moth-eaten tiger of advanced years, which he had transported across the straits to Johore, whence it was conveyed by bullock cart to a spot in the edge of the jungle, a dozen miles outside the town, where it was turned loose in an enclosure of wire and bamboo hastily constructed for the purpose.

When the steamer bearing the American magnate dropped anchor in the harbor, the local representative went aboard with the quarantine officer. Ten minutes later, thanks to arrangements made in advance, a launch was bearing him and his chief to the shore, where a motor car was waiting. It is barely a dozen miles from the wharf at Singapore to Woodlands, the ferry station opposite Johore, and the driver had orders to shatter the speed laws. A waiting launch streaked across the two miles of channel which separates the island from the mainland and drew up alongside the quay at Johore, where another car was waiting. The roads are excellent in the sultanate, and thirty minutes of fast driving brought the two Americans to the zareba, within which the tiger, guarded by natives, was peacefully breakfasting on a goat.

"He's a real man-eater," whispered the agent, handing his employer a loaded express rifle. "We only[214] located him yesterday. Lured him with a goat, you know ... the smell of blood attracts 'em. You'd better put a bullet in him before he sees us. One just behind the shoulder will do the business."

The magnate, trembling with excitement for the first time in his busy life, drew bead on the tawny stripe behind the tiger's shoulder. There was a shattering roar, the great beast pawed convulsively at the air, then rolled on its side and lay motionless.

"Good work," the local man commented approvingly. "It's only an hour and forty minutes since we left the boat a record for tiger shooting, I fancy. We'll be back at Raffles' for breakfast by nine o'clock and after that I'll show you round the city. Don't worry about the skin, sir. The natives'll tend to the skinning and I'll have it on board before you sail."

Now—so the story goes—after dinner in the magnate's New York home he takes his guests into the smoking room for cigars and coffee. Spread before the fireplace is a great orange and black pelt, a trifle faded it is true, but indubitably the skin of a tiger.

"Yes," the host complacently in reply to his guests' admiring comments, "a real man-eater. Shot him myself in the Johore jungle. Easy enough to get a tiger if you use American business methods."

When, upon reaching Singapore, the great seaport at the tip of the Malay Peninsula which is the gateway to the Malay States and to Siam, I learned that[215] small but not uncomfortable steamers sail weekly for Bangkok—a four-day voyage if the monsoon is blowing in the right direction—or that, by crossing the narrow straits on the ferry to Johore, we could reach the capital of Siam in about the same time by the Federated Malay States and Siamese railways, there seemed no valid excuse for keeping the Negros any longer. So, bidding good-by to Captain Galvez and his officers, I gave orders that the little vessel, on which we had cruised upward of six thousand miles, amid some of the least-known islands in the world, should return to Manila. To leave her was like breaking home ties, and I confess that when she steamed slowly out of the harbor, homeward bound, with her Filipino crew lining the rail and Captain Galvez waving to us from the bridge and the flag at her taffrail dipping in farewell, I suddenly felt lonely and deserted.

When the people whom I met in Singapore learned that I was contemplating visiting Siam they attempted to dissuade me. I was warned that the train service up the peninsula was uncertain, that the steamers up the gulf were uncomfortable, that the hotel in Bangkok was impossible, the dirt incredible, the heat unendurable, the climate unhealthy. And when, desiring to learn whether these indictments were true, I attempted to obtain reliable information about the country to which I was going, I found that none was to be had. The latest volume on Siam which I could find in Singapore bookshops bore an 1886 imprint. The managers of the two leading hotels in Singapore knew, or professed to[216] know, nothing about hotel accommodations in Bangkok. Though the administration of the Federal Malay States Railways generously offered me the use of a private car over their system, I could obtain no reliable information as to what connections I could make at the Siamese frontier or when I would reach Bangkok. And the only guide book on Siam which I could discover—quite an excellent little volume, by the way—was published by the Imperial Japanese Railways!

The Siamese are by no means opposed to foreigners visiting their country, and they would welcome the development of its resources by foreign capital, but, owing to the insularity, indifference, timidity and pride which are inherent in the Siamese character, they have taken no steps to bring their country to the attention of the outside world. When one notes the energetic advertising campaigns which are being conducted by the governments of Japan, China, Java, and even Indo-China, where the visitor is confronted at every turn by advertisements urging him to "Spend the Week-End at Kamakura," "Go to the Great Wall," "Don't Miss Boroboedor and Djokjakarta," "Take Advantage of the Special Fares to the Ruins of Angkor," you wonder why Siam, which has so much that is novel and picturesque to offer, makes no effort to swell its revenues by encouraging the tourist industry. That the royal prince who is the Minister of Communications recently made a tour of the United States for the purpose of studying American railway methods suggests, however, that the Land of the White [217]Elephant is planning to get its share of tourist travel in the future.

I might as well admit frankly that my first impressions of the Siamese capital were extremely disappointing. I didn't expect to be conveyed to my hotel atop a white elephant, through streets lined with salaaming natives, but neither did I expect to make a wild dash through thoroughfares as crowded with traffic as Fifth Avenue, in a vehicle which unmistakably owed its paternity to Mr. Henry Ford, or to be bruskly halted at busy street crossings by the upraised hand of a helmeted and white-gloved traffic policeman. Nor, upon my arrival at the hotel—there is only one in Bangkok deserving of the name—did I expect to find on the breakfast table a breakfast food manufactured in Battle Creek, or beside my bed an electric fan made in New Britain, Connecticut, or behind the desk a very wide awake American youth—the son, I learned later, of one of the American advisers to the Siamese Government—who eagerly inquired whether I had brought any American newspapers with me and whether I thought the pennant would be won by the Giants or the White Sox.

Bangkok, which, with its suburbs, has a population about equal to that of Boston, is built on the banks of the country's greatest river, the Menam, some forty miles from its mouth. Though the city has a number of fine thoroughfares, straight as though laid out with a pencil and ruler, between them lie labyrinths of dim and evil-smelling bazaars, their narrow, winding,[218] cobble-paved streets lined on either side by stalls in which are displayed for sale all the products of the country. Because of the intense heat these stalls are open in front, so that the occupants work and eat and sleep in full view of everyone who passes. The barber shaves the heads of his customers while they squat in the edge of the roadway. In the licensed gambling houses groups of excited men and women crowd about gaming tables presided over by greasy, half-naked Chinese croupiers, and, when they have squandered their trifling earnings, hasten to the nearest pawnshop with any garment or article of furniture that is not absolutely indispensable to their existence in order to obtain a few more coins to hazard and eventually to lose. As a result of this passion for gambling, the city is full of pawnshops, some streets containing scarcely anything else. At the far end of one of the bazaar streets is the largest idol manufactory in Siam, for the temples whose graceful, tapering towers dot the landscape are filled with images of Buddha, in all sizes and of all materials from wood to gold set with jewels, most of them donated by the devout in order to "make merit" for themselves. As all Buddhists wish to accumulate as much merit for themselves as possible, in order to be assured at death of a through ticket to Nirvana, the idol-making industry is in a flourishing condition.

Pushing their way through the crowded thoroughfares, their raucous cries rising above the clamor, go the ice cream and curry vendors, carrying the [219]paraphernalia of their trade slung from bamboo poles borne upon the shoulders—perambulating cafeterias and soda fountains, as it were. For a satang—a coin equivalent to about a quarter of a cent—you can purchase a bowl of rice, while the expenditure of another satang will provide you with an assortment of savories or relishes, made from elderly meat, decayed fish, decomposed prawns and other toothsome ingredients, which you heap upon the rice, together with a greenish-yellow curry sauce which makes the concoction look as though it were suffering from a severe attack of jaundice. These relishes are cooked, or rather re-warmed, by the simple process of suspending them in a sort of sieve in a pot of boiling water, the same pot and the same water serving for all customers alike. By this arrangement, the man who takes his snack at the close of the day has the advantage of receiving not merely what he orders, but also flavors and even floating remnants from the dishes ordered by all those who have preceded him. The ice cream vendors drive a roaring trade in a concoction the basis of which is finely shaven ice, looking like half-frozen and very dirty slush, sweetened with sugar and flavored, according to the purchaser's taste from an array of metal-topped bottles such as barbers use for bay rum and hair oil. But, being cold and sweet, "Isa-kee," as the Chinese vendors call it, is as popular among the lower classes in Siam as ice cream cones are in the United States.

Though the streets of Bangkok are crowded with[220] vehicles of every description—ramshackle and disreputable rickshaws, the worst to be found in all the East, drawn by sweating coolies; the boxes of wood and glass on wheels, called gharries, drawn by decrepit ponies whose harness is pieced out with rope; creaking bullock carts driven by Tamils from Southern India; bicycles, ridden by natives whose European hats and coats are in striking contrast to their bare legs and brilliant panungs; clanging street cars, as crowded with humanity as those on Broadway; motors of every size and make, from jitneys to Rolls-Royces—the bulk of the city's traffic is borne on the great river and the countless canals which empty into it. Bangkok has been called, and not ineptly, the Venice of the East, for it is covered with a net-work of canals, or klongs, which spread out in every direction. In sampans, houseboats and other craft, moored to the banks of these canals, dwells the major portion of the city's inhabitants. The city's water population is complete in itself and perfectly independent of its neighbors on land, for it has its own shops and dwellings, its own markets and restaurants, its own theaters, and gambling establishments, its own priests and police. When you go to Bangkok, I strongly advise you to hire a sampan and visit the floating portion of the city after nightfall. The houseboats are open at both ends and you will see many things that the guidebooks fail to mention.

The Oriental Hotel, the banks, the shipping offices, the business houses, and all the legations save only the[221] American, are clustered on or near the river in a low-lying and unattractive quarter of the town. But follow the long, dingy, squalid highway known as the New Road, a thoroughfare lined with third-rate Chinese shops and thronged with rickshaws, carriages, bicycles, motors, street-cars, and Asiatics of every religion and complexion, and you will come at length into a portion of the city as different from the mercantile district as Riverside Drive is from the Bowery. Here you will find broad boulevards, shaded by rows of splendid tamarinds, lined by charming villas which peep coyly from the blazing gardens which surround them, and broken at frequent intervals by little parks in which are fountains and statuary. There is a great common, green with grass during the rainy season, known as the Premane Ground, where military reviews are held and where the royal cremations take place; a favorite spot in the spring for the kite-flying contests in which Siamese of all classes and all ages participate. Fronting on the Premane Ground are the not unimposing stuccoed buildings which house the Ministries of Justice, Agriculture and War. Not far away is the new Throne Hall, a huge, ornate structure of white marble, in the modern Italian style, its great dome faintly reminiscent of the Capitol at Washington. From the center of the spacious plaza rises a rather fine equestrian statue of the late king, Chulalungkorn, and, close by, the really charming Dusit Gardens, beautifully laid out with walks and lagoons and kiosks and a great variety of tropical flowers and shrubs and[222] trees. But, most characteristic and colorful of all, a touch of that Oriental splendor which one looks for in Siam, is the congeries of palaces, offices, stables, courtyards, gardens, shrines and temples, the whole encircled by a crenelated, white-washed wall, which is the official residence of King Rama VI.

There are said to be nearly four hundred Buddhist temples within a two-mile radius of the royal palace, of which by far the most interesting and magnificent is the famous Wat Phra Keo, or Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which is really a royal chapel, being within the outer circumference of the palace walls. I doubt if any space of similar size in all the world contains such a bewildering display of barbaric magnificence, such a riot of form and color, as the walled enclosure in which this remarkable edifice and its attendant structures stand. From the center of the marble-paved courtyard rises an enormous, cone-shaped prachadee, round at the bottom but tapering to a long and slender spire said to be covered with plates of gold. It certainly looks like a solid mass of that precious metal, and at daybreak and nightfall, when it catches the level rays of the sun, it can be seen from afar, shining and glittering above the gorgeously colored roofs of the temples and the many-tinted lesser spires which surround it. Close by the gilded prachadee is the bote or chapel used by the king, surmounted by a similar spire which is overlaid with sapphire-colored plates of glass and porcelain, while a little distance away stands the temple itself, its gilded [223]walls set with mosaics of emerald green. Flanking the gateways of the temple courtyard are gigantic, grotesque figures, fully thirty feet in height, carved and colored like the creatures of a nightmare. They represent demons and are supposed to guard the approaches to the temple, being so placed that they glare down ferociously on all who enter the sacred enclosure. Other figures in marble, bronze, wood and stone, representing dolphins, storks, cows, camels, monkeys and the various fabulous monsters of the Hindu mythology, are scattered in apparent confusion about the temple courtyard, producing an effect as bizarre as it is bewildering. It is so unreal, so incredibly fantastic, that I felt that I was looking at the papier-maché setting for a motion picture spectacle, such as Griffith used to produce, and that the director and the cameraman would appear shortly and end the illusion.

The interior of the main temple is extremely lofty. The walls and rafters are of teak and the floor is covered with a matting made of silver wire. At the far end of this imposing room an enormous, pyramidal shrine of gold rises almost to the roof, its dazzling brilliancy somewhat subdued by the semi-obscurity of the interior. Wat Phra Keo is unique amongst Siamese temples in containing objects of real value. Everything is genuine and costly, as becomes the gifts of a king, though it must be admitted that certain of the royal offerings which are ranged at the foot of the shrine, such as jeweled French clocks, figurines of Sèvres and Dresden porcelain, and a large[224] marble statue of a Roman goddess, are of doubtful appropriateness. Ranged on a table at the back of the altar are seven images of Buddha in pure gold, the right hand of each pointed upward. On the thumb and fingers of each hand glitters a king's ransom in rings of sapphires, emeralds and rubies, while from the center of each palm flashes a rosette of diamonds. High up toward the rafters, at the apex of the golden pyramid, in a sort of recess toward which the fingers of the seven images are pointing, sits an image of Buddha, perhaps twelve inches high, said to be cut from one enormous emerald—whence the temple's name. As a matter of fact, it is made of jade and is of incalculable value. Set in its forehead are three eyes, each an enormous diamond. The history of this extraordinary idol is lost in the mists of antiquity. Tradition has it that it fell from heaven into one of the Laos states, being captured by the Siamese in battle. Since then it has been repeatedly lost, captured or stolen. Its story, like that of so many famous jewels, might fittingly be written in blood.

It is the custom in Siam for every man to spend a portion of his life in a monastery. This rule applies to everyone from the poorest peasant upward, the king and all the male members of the royal family having at some period worn the yellow robe of a monk. This curious custom is, no doubt, an imitation of the so-called Act of Renunciation of Gautama, the future Buddha, who, at the age of twenty-nine, moved by the sufferings of humanity, renounced his rights to his[225] father's throne and, abandoning his wife and child, devoted the remainder of his life to religion. Just as every American boy is expected to go to school, so every Siamese youth is expected to enter a monastery, the stern discipline enforced during this period accounting, I have no doubt, for the docility which is so noticeable a part of the Siamese character. While I was in Siam I was the guest one day of the officers' mess of the crack regiment of the household cavalry. Though my hosts, with few exceptions, spoke fluent English, though several of them had been educated at English schools and universities, and though the conversation over the mess table was of polo and racing and big game shooting and bridge, I learned to my astonishment that every one of these debonair young officers, with their worldly manners and their beautifully cut uniforms, had at one time shaved his head, donned the yellow robe of a monk, and begged his food from door to door. In view of the universality of the custom, it is small wonder that Siam has ten thousand monasteries and that 300,000 of its inhabitants wear the ocher-colored robe.

The periods of time which men devote to monastic life are not uniform. Some spend between a month and a year, others their entire lives. Some enter the monastery in their youth, others in middle age or when old men. But they all shave their heads and don the coarse yellow robe and lead practically the same existence. Each morning, carrying their "begging bowls," they beg their food at the doors of [226]laymen. They come quietly and stand at the door, and, accepting the offerings, as quietly depart without expressing thanks for what is given them, the idea being that they are not begging for their own benefit but in order to evoke a spirit of charity in the giver. During the dry season it is the custom of the monks to make long pilgrimages for the purpose of visiting other monasteries. Each of these itinerant monks is accompanied by a youth known as a yom, who carries the simple requisites of the journey, the chief of which is a large umbrella. Traveling in the interior one frequently meets long files of these yellow-clad pilgrims, with their attendant yoms, moving in silence along a forest trail. When night comes the yom opens the large umbrella which he carries, thrusts its long handle into the ground, and over it drapes a square of cloth, thus extemporizing a sort of tent under which his master sleeps.

To visit Siam without seeing the royal white elephants would be like visiting Niagara without seeing the falls. The elephant stables stand in the heart of the palace enclosure, sandwiched in between the palace gardens and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Each animal—there were only three in the royal stables at the time of my visit—has a separate building to itself, within which it stands on a sort of dais, one hind leg lashed with a rope to a tall, stout post painted scarlet and surmounted by a gilded crown. Much as I dislike to shatter cherished illusions, were I to assert that[227] the elephants I saw in the royal stables were white, I should be convicting myself of color-blindness. The best that can be said of two of them, is that they were a dirty gray, about the color of a much-used wash-rag. The third, had it been a horse, might have been described as a roan, the whole body being a pale reddish-brown, with a sprinkling of real white hairs on the back. All three animals were, in reality, albinos, having the light-colored iris of the eye, the white toe-nails, and the pink skin at the end of the trunk which distinguish the albino everywhere. As a matter of fact, "white elephant" is not a correct translation of the Siamese chang penak, which really means "albino elephant." But most foreigners will continue, I have no doubt, to use the term made famous by Barnum.

Though the albino elephants are never used nowadays save on occasions of great ceremony, being regarded by the educated Siamese with the same amused tolerance with which an Englishman regards the great gilt coach, drawn by eight cream-colored horses, in which the king goes to open Parliament, the ordinary elephant is of enormous economic value to the country, being a combination, as it were, of a motor truck, a portable derrick, and a freight car. Almost anywhere in the back country, where the only roads are trails through the jungle, one can see "elephants a-pilin' teak in the sludgy, squdgy creeks" or being loaded with merchandise for transport into the far interior. Indeed, the traveler who wishes to take a[228] short cut from Siam to Burmah can hire an elephant for the journey almost as easily as he could hire a motor car in America. It is a novel means of travel, but a little of it goes a long way. A good working elephant is a valuable piece of property, being worth in the neighborhood of $2,500., but the prospective purchaser should remember that the possession of one of these giant pachyderms entails considerable overhead, or rather, internal expense. De Wolf Hopper was telling only the literal truth when he sang in Wang of the tribulations of the peasant who had an elephant on his hands:
"The elephant ate all night, The elephant ate all day; Do what he would to furnish food, The cry was 'Still more hay!'"

Although, as I have already remarked, sophisticated Siamese regard the white elephant with amusement tinged with contempt, there is no doubt that among the bulk of the people the animals are considered as sacred and are treated with great veneration. Indeed, when Siam was forced to cede certain of her eastern provinces to France, the treaty contained a clause providing that any so-called white elephants which might be captured in the ceded territory should be considered the property of the King of Siam and delivered to him forthwith. A number of years ago, a traveling show known as Wilson's English Circus, gave a number of exhibitions in Bangkok, which were attended by the King, the nobility, and members of the European [229]colony. When the proprietor saw that the popular interest in his exhibition was beginning to wear off, he distributed broadcast handbills announcing that at the next performance "a genuine white elephant" would take part in the exhibition. Public curiosity was reawakened and that evening the circus was crowded. After the usual bareback riding, in which the Siamese were treated to the sight of European women in pink tights and tulle skirts pirouetting on the backs of cantering Percherons, two clowns burst into the ring.

"Hey, you!" bawled one of them, "Have you seen the white elephant?"

"Sure, I have," was the response. "The King has a stable full of them."

"Oh, no, he ain't," shouted the first fun-maker. "The King ain't got any white elephants. His are all gray ones. I'll show you the only genuine white elephant in the world," whereupon a small elephant, as snowy as repeated coats of whitewash could make it, ambled into the ring. Though a suppressed titter ran through the more sophisticated portion of the audience when it was observed that the ridiculous looking animal left white marks on everything it touched, it was quite apparent that the bulk of the spectators resented fun being made of an animal which they had been taught to consider sacred, certain of the more devout asserting that the sacrilegious performance would call down the wrath of Buddha. Their prophecies proved to be well founded, for the "white" elephant died at sea a few days later—as the[230] result, it was hinted, of poison put in its food by the Siamese priests and Wilson himself, who had been suffering from dysentery, died the day after he landed at Singapore.

Being a young nation, so far as the adoption of Western methods are concerned, the Siamese are extremely sensitive, being almost pathetically eager to win the good opinion of the Occidental world. Thus, upon Siam's entry into the Great War (perhaps you were not aware that the little kingdom equipped and sent to France an expeditionary force composed of aviation, ambulance and motor units, thus being the only independent Asiatic nation whose troops served on European soil) the king abolished the white elephant upon a red ground which from time immemorial had been the national standard, substituting for it a nondescript affair of colored stripes which at first glance appears to be a compromise between the flags of China and Montenegro. In doing this, I think that the king made a mistake, for he deprived his country of a distinctive emblem which was associated with Siam the whole world over.

Fortune was kind to us in the Siamese capital, for we reached that city on the eve of a series of royal cremations, the attendant ceremonies providing enough action and color to satisfy even Hawkinson. It should be explained that instead of cremating a body immediately, as might be expected in so torrid a climate, the remains are placed in a large jar and kept[231] in a temple or in the house of the deceased for a period determined by the rank of the dead man—the King for twelve months and so downward. If the relatives are too poor to afford the expenses incident to cremation, they bury the body, but exhume it for burning when their financial condition permits. On the day of the cremation, which is usually fixed by an astrologer, the remains are transferred from the jar to a wooden coffin and carried with much pomp to the meru, or place of cremation. When the deceased is of royal or noble blood the meru is frequently a magnificent structure, sometimes costing many thousands of dollars, built for the purpose and torn down when that purpose has been served. The coffin is placed on the pyre, which is lighted by relatives, the occasion being considered one for rejoicing rather than mourning. The royal meru, which had been erected in a small park in the outskirts of the capital at a cost of one hundred thousand ticals, was a really beautiful structure of true Siamese architecture, elaborately decorated in scarlet and gold and draped with hangings of the same colors. Within the meru were three pyres, concealed by gilt screens, on which were set the coffins containing the bodies. As there were a number of bodies to be burned, the ceremonies lasted upward of a week, King Rama going in state each afternoon to the meru, where he took his place on a throne in an elaborately decorated pavilion. After brief ceremonies by a large body of yellow-robed Buddhist priests, the King set fire to the end of[232] a long fuse, which in turn ignited the three pyres simultaneously, the ascending clouds of smoke being greeted by the roll of drums and the crash of saluting cannon.

When I first suggested to friends in Bangkok that I wished to obtain permission for Hawkinson to take pictures of the cremation, they told me that it was out of the question.

"But why?" I demanded. "Motion-pictures were taken of the funerals of the Pope, and of King Edward, and of President Roosevelt, without anyone dreaming of protesting, so why should there be any objection here? Nothing in the least disrespectful is intended."

"But this is Siam," my friends replied pessimistically, "and such things simply aren't done here. No one has ever taken a motion-picture of a royal cremation."

"It's never too late to begin," I told them.

So I took a rickshaw out to the American Legation and enlisted the cooperation of our charge d'affaires, Mr. Donald Rodgers, the very efficient young diplomatist who was representing American interests in Siam pending the arrival of the new minister.

"I'll do my best to arrange it," Rodgers assured me, "but I'm not sanguine about meeting with success. The Siamese are fine people, kindly, hospitable and all that, but they're as conservative as Bostonians."

Two days later, however, he sent me a letter, signed by the minister of the royal household, authorizing[233] Hawkinson to take motion-pictures in the grounds of the meru on the following day prior to the cremation. I didn't quite like the sound of the last four words, "prior to the cremation," but I felt that it was not an occasion for quibbling. So the next day, at the appointed hour—which was two hours ahead of the time set for the cremation—Hawkinson set out for the meru, accompanied by his interpreter. He did not return until dinner-time.

"What happened?" I inquired, by way of greeting.

"What didn't happen?" he retorted. "They turned me out just as the cremation was commencing. When we reached the meru I was met by an official wearing bright-blue pants, who told me that he had been sent to assist me in taking the pictures. Well, I got a few shots of the meru itself, and of the royal pavilion, and of some of the priests and soldiers, but there wasn't much doing because there wasn't any action. So I sat down to wait for things to happen. Pretty soon the troops began to arrive—lancers and a battery of artillery and a company of the royal body-guard in red coats—and after them came the guests: officials and dignitaries in all sorts of gorgeous uniforms covered with decorations. A few minutes later I heard someone say, 'The King is coming,' so I got the camera ready to begin cranking. Just then up comes my Siamese chaperone. 'You will have to leave now,' says he. 'Leave? What for?' said I. 'Because the cremation is about to begin,' he tells me. 'But that's what I've come to take pictures of,' I told him. 'What[234] did you think that I attended this party for?' 'Oh, no,' says he, very polite; 'your permission says that you can take pictures prior to the cremation.' So they showed me the gate."

"Then you didn't get any pictures?" I queried, deep disappointment in my tone.

"Sure, I got the pictures," was the answer. "Some of them, at any rate. That's what I went there for, wasn't it?"

"But how did you work it?" I demanded.

"Easy," he replied, lighting a cigarette. "I told the driver to back his car up against the iron fence which encircles the meru; then I set up the camera in the tonneau, so that it was above the heads of the crowd, screwed on the six-inch lens which I use for long-distance shots, and took the pictures."

The present ruler of Siam, King Rama VI, is in most respects the antithesis of the popular conception of an Oriental monarch. Though polygamy has been practised among the upper classes in Siam from time beyond reckoning, he has neither wife nor concubines. Instead of riding atop a white elephant, in a gilded howdah, or being borne in a palanquin, as is always the custom of Oriental rulers in fiction, he shatters the speed laws in a big red Mercedes. For the flaming silks and flashing jewels which the movies have educated the American public to believe are habitually worn by Eastern potentates, King Rama substitutes the uniform of a Siamese general, or, for evening functions[235] at the palace, the dress coat and knee-breeches of European courts. He was educated at Oxford and Cambridge and later graduated from the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, being commissioned an honorary colonel in the British Army. He is the founder and chief of an organization patterned after the Boy Scouts and known as the Wild Tigers, which has hundreds of branches and carries on its rolls the name of nearly every youth in the kingdom. Each year the organization holds in Bangkok a grand rally, when thousands of youngsters, together with many adults from all walks of life, for membership in the corps is not confined to boys, are reviewed by the sovereign, who appears in the gorgeous and original uniform, designed by himself, of commander-in-chief of the Wild Tigers.

In one respect, however, King Rama lives up to the popular conception of an Oriental ruler: like his father before him, he is generous to the point of prodigality. This trait was illustrated not long ago, when he sent eight thousand pounds to the widow of Mr. Westengaard, the American who was for many years general adviser to the Government of Siam, accompanied by a message that it was to be used for the education of her son. This recalls a characteristic little anecdote of the present ruler's father, the late King Chulalongkorn. The early youth of the late king and his brothers was spent under the tutelage of an English governess, who was affectionately addressed by the younger members of the royal family as "Mem." Upon her return to[236] England she wrote a book entitled An Englishwoman at the Siamese Court, in which she depicted her employer, King Mongkut, the father of Chulalongkorn, in a none too favorable light. Some years later, upon the occasion of King Chulalongkorn's visit to England, his former governess, now become an old woman, called upon him.

"Mem," he said, in a course of conversation, "how could you write such unkind things about my father? He was always very good to you."

"That is true, Majesty," the former governess admitted in some confusion, "but the publishers wouldn't take the book unless I made it sensational. And I had to do it because I was in financial difficulties."

When she had departed the King turned to one of his equerries. "Send the poor old lady a hundred pounds," he directed. "She meant no harm and she needs the money."

The chief hobby of the present ruler is, curiously enough, amateur dramatics, of which his orthodox and conservative ministers do not wholly approve. In addition to having translated into Siamese a number of Shakesperian plays, he is the author of several original dramas, which have been produced at the palace under his personal direction and in several of which he has himself played the leading parts. As a result of this predilection for dramatics, he has accumulated an extensive theatrical wardrobe, to which he is constantly adding. When I was in Bangkok I had some[237] clothes made by the English tailor who supplies the court—an excellent tailor, but expensive.

"You'll excuse my taking the liberty, I hope, sir," he said during the course of a fitting, "but, being as you are an American, perhaps you could assist me with some information. I've received a very pressing order for a costume such as is worn by the cowboys in your country, sir, but, though I've found some pictures in the English illustrated weeklies, I don't rightly know how to make it."

"A cowboy's costume?" I exclaimed. "In Siam? Who in the name of Heaven wants it?"

"It's for his Majesty," was the surprising answer. "He's written a play in which he takes the part of an American cowboy and he's very particular, sir, that the costume should be quite correct. Seeing as you come from that country, I thought I'd make so bold, sir, as to ask if you could give me some suggestions."

It was quite apparent that he believed that when I was at home I customarily went about in chaps, a flannel shirt and a sombrero, and, knowing the English mind, I realized that nothing was to be gained by attempting to disillusionize him.

"Let's see what you've made," I suggested, whereupon he produced an outfit which appeared to be a compromise between the costume of an Italian bandit, the uniform of an Australian soldier, and the regalia of a Spanish bull-fighter. Suppressing my inclination to give way to laughter, I sketched for the grateful tailor the sort of garments to which cowpunchers[238]—cowpunchers of the screen, at least—are addicted. If he followed my directions the King of Siam wore a costume which would make William S. Hart green with envy.

King Rama's literary efforts have not been confined to playwriting, however, for his book on the wars of the Polish Succession is one of the standard authorities on the subject. If you go to Siam expecting to see an Oriental potentate such as you have read about in novels, His Majesty, Rama VI, is bound to prove very disappointing.

But, though the monarch and his court are as up-to-the-minute as the Twentieth Century Limited, many of the spectacular and colorful ceremonies of old Siam are still celebrated with all their ancient pomp and magnificence. For example, each year, at the close of the rainy season, the King devotes about a fortnight to visiting the various temples in and near Bangkok. On these occasions he goes in the royal barge, a gorgeously decorated affair, 150 feet in length, looking not unlike an enormous Venetian gondola, rowed by three-score oarsmen in scarlet-and-gold liveries. The King, surrounded by a glittering group of court officials, sits on a throne at the stern, while attendants hold over his head golden umbrellas. From the landing place to the temple he is borne in a sedan chair between rows of prostrate natives who bow their foreheads to the earth in adoration of this short, stout, olive-skinned, good-humored looking young man whom [239]nearly ten millions of people implicitly believe to be the earthly representative of Buddha.

Another picturesque observance, the Rice-Planting Ceremony, takes place early in May, when the Minister of Agriculture, as the deputy of the King, leads a long procession of officials and priests to a field in the outskirts of the capital, where a pair of white bullocks, yoked to a gilded plough, are waiting. Surrounded by a throng of functionaries glittering like Christmas trees, the Minister ploughs a few furrows in the field, being followed by four young women of the court who scatter rice grains on the freshly turned soil. Until quite recent years, the officials taking part in this procession claimed the privilege of appropriating any articles which caught their fancy in the shops along the route. But this quaint practise is no longer followed. It was not popular with the merchants. The Siamese, like all Orientals, place much reliance on omens, the position of the lower hem of the panung worn by the Minister of Agriculture on this occasion indicating, it is confidently believed, the sort of weather to be expected during the ensuing year. If the edge of the panung comes down to the ankles a dry season is anticipated, even a drought, perhaps. If, on the contrary, the garment is pulled up to the knees—a raining-in-London effect, as it were,—it is freely predicted that the country will suffer from floods. But if the folds of the silk reach to a point midway between knee and ankle, then the farmers look forward to a [240]moderate rainfall and a prosperous season. It is as though the United States Weather Bureau were to base its forecasts on the height at which the Secretary of Agriculture wore his trousers.

The panung—a strip of silk or cotton about three yards long is the national garment of Siam and among the poorer classes constitutes the only article of clothing. It is admirably adapted to the climate, being easy to wash and easy to put on: all that is necessary is to wind it about the waist, pass the ends between the legs, and tuck them into the girdle, thus producing the effect of a pair of knickerbockers. As both sexes wear the panung, and likewise wear their hair cut short, it is somewhat difficult to distinguish between men and women. Siamese women keep their hair about four or five inches long and brush it straight back, like American college students, without using any comb or other ornament, thus giving them a peculiarly boyish appearance. In explanation of this fashion of wearing the hair there is an interesting tradition. Once upon a time, it seems, a Siamese walled city was besieged by Cambodians while the men of the city were fighting elsewhere and only women and children remained behind. A successful defense was out of the question. In this emergency, a woman of militant character—the Sylvia Pankhurst of her time—proposed to her terrified sisters that they should cut their hair short and appear upon the walls in men's clothing on the chance of frightening away the Cambodians. The ruse succeeded, for, while the invaders [241]were hesitating whether to carry the city by storm, the Siamese warriors returned and put the enemy to flight. The Siamese prince who told me the story, an officer who had spent much of his life in Europe, remarked that he understood that American women were also cutting off their hair.

"True enough," I admitted. "In the younger set bobbed hair is all the vogue. But they don't cut off their hair, as your women did, to frighten away the men."

If you will take down the family atlas and turn to the map of Southern Asia you will see that Siam, with an area about equivalent to that of Spain, occupies the uncomfortable and precarious position of a fat walnut clinched firmly between the jaws of a nut-cracker, the jaws being formed by British Burmah and French Indo-China. And for the past thirty years those jaws have been slowly but remorselessly closing. Until 1893 the eastern frontier of Siam was separated from the China Sea by the narrow strip of Annam, at one point barely thirty miles in width, which was under French protection. Its western boundary was the Lu Kiang River, which likewise formed the eastern boundary of the British possessions in Burmah. On the south the kingdom reached down to the Grand Lac of Cambodia, while on the north its frontiers were coterminous with those of the great, rich Chinese province of Yunnan. Now here was a condition of affairs which was as annoying as it was intolerable to the [242]land-hungry statesmen of Downing Street and the Quai d'Orsay. That a small and defenseless Oriental nation should be permitted to block the colonial expansion of two powerful and acquisitive European nations was unthinkable.

The first step in the spoilation of the helpless little kingdom was taken by France in 1893, when, claiming that the Mekong—which the French were eager to acquire under the impression that it would provide them with a trade-route into Southern China—formed the true boundary between Siam and Annam, she demanded that the Siamese evacuate the great strip of territory to the east of that river. Greatly to the delight of the French imperialists, the Siamese refused to yield, whereupon, in accordance with the time-honored rules of the game of territory grabbing, French gunboats were dispatched to make a naval demonstration off Bangkok. The forts at the mouth of the Menam fired upon the gunboats, whereupon the French instituted a blockade of the Siamese capital and at the same time enormously increased their demands. England, which had long professed to be a disinterested friend of the Siamese, shrugged her shoulders whereupon they yielded to the threat of a French invasion and ceded to France the eastern marches of the kingdom. Meanwhile the frontier between Siam and the new British possessions in Burmah had been settled amicably, though, as might have been expected, in Britain's favor, Siam being shorn of a small strip of territory on the northwest. In 1904 [243]the French again brought pressure to bear, their territorial booty on this occasion amounting to some eight thousand square miles, comprising the Luang Prabang district lying east of the Mekong and the provinces of Malupré and Barsak. Seeing that the process of filching territory from the Siamese was as safe and easy as taking candy from children, the French tried it again in 1907, this time obtaining the provinces of Battambang, Sisophon and Siem-Reap, constituting a total of some seven thousand square miles, thus bringing within French territory the whole of the Grand Lac and the wonderful ruins of Angkor. In 1909 it was England's turn again, but, disdaining the crude methods of the French, she informed the Siamese Government that she was prepared to relinquish her rights to maintain her own courts in Siam, the Siamese being expected to show their gratitude for this concession to their national pride by ceding to England the states of Kelantan, Trengganu and Kedah, in the Malay Peninsula, with a total area of about fifteen thousand square miles. It was a costly transaction for the Siamese, but they assented. What else was there for them to do? When a burly and determined person holds you up in a dark alley with a revolver and intimates that if you will hand over your pocketbook he will refrain from hitting you over the head with a billy, there is nothing to do but accede with the best grace possible to his demands. In a period of only sixteen years, therefore, France and England, by methods which, if used in business, would lead to an [244]investigation by the Grand Jury, succeeded in stripping Siam of about a third of her territory. The history of Siam during that period provides a striking illustration of the methods by which European powers have obtained their colonial empires.

It was the Great War which, by diverting the attention of France and England, probably saved Siam from complete dismemberment. Now, in robbing her, they would be robbing an ally and a friend, for in July, 1917, Siam declared war on the Central Powers, despatched an expeditionary force to France, interned every enemy alien in the kingdom and confiscated their property, thus ridding France and England of the last vestige of Teutonic commercial rivalry in southeastern Asia. The Siamese, moreover, have had a national house-cleaning and have set their country in thorough order. Their national finances are now in admirable condition; they have accomplished far-reaching administrative reforms; they are opening up their territory by the construction of railway lines in all directions; and they have obtained the practical abolition of French and British jurisdiction over certain of their domestic affairs, while a treaty which provides that the United States shall likewise surrender its extra territorial rights and permit its citizens to be tried in Siamese courts has recently been signed.

The future of Siam should be of interest to Americans if for no other reason than that it is the one remaining independent state of tropical Asia. Indeed, it is known to its own people as Muang-Thai—the [245]"Kingdom of the Free." Whether it will remain so only the future can tell. I should be more sanguine about the continued independence of the Land of the White Elephant, however, were it not for the colonial records of its two nearest neighbors, which heretofore, in their dealings with Asiatic peoples, have usually followed
"The good old rule ... the simple plan, That they should take who have the power, And they should keep who can."


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