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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Where the Strange Trails Go Down » CHAPTER XI TO PNOM-PENH BY THE JUNGLE TRAIL
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Indo-China is a great bay-window bulging from the southeastern corner of Asia, its casements opening on the China Sea and on the Gulf of Siam. Of all the countries of the Farther East it is the most mysterious; of them all it is the least known. Larger than the State of Texas, it is a land of vast forests and unexplored jungles in which roam the elephant, the tiger and the buffalo; a land of palaces and pagodas and gilded temples; of sun-bronzed pioneers and priests in yellow robes and bejeweled dancing girls. Lured by the tales I had heard of curious places and strange peoples to be seen in the interior of the peninsula, I refused to content myself with skirting its edges on a steamer. Instead, I determined to cross it from coast to coast.

I had looked forward to covering the first stage of this journey, the four hundred-odd miles of jungle which separate Bangkok, in Siam, from Pnom-Penh, the capital of Cambodia, on an elephant. Everyone with whom I had discussed the matter in Singapore had assured me that this was perfectly feasible. And as a means of transportation it appealed to me. It seemed to fit into the picture, as a wheel-chair accords[247] with the spirit of Atlantic City, as a caléche is congruous to Quebec. To my friends at home I had planned to send pictures of myself reclining in a howdah, rajah-like, as my ponderous mount rocked and rolled along the jungle trails. To me the idea sounded fine. But it was not to be. For, in shaping my plans, I had been ignorant of the fact that during the dry season, which was then at hand, Asiatic elephants are seldom worked—that they become morose and irritable and are usually kept in idleness until their docility returns with the rains. I was greatly disappointed.

The overland route thus proving impracticable, so far as the first part of the journey was concerned, the sea road alone remained. Of vessels plying between Bangkok and the ports of French Indo-China there were but two—the Bonite, a French packet slightly larger than a Hudson River tugboat, which twice monthly makes the round trip between the Siamese capital and Saigon; and a Danish tramp; the Chutututch, an unkempt vagrant of the seas which wanders at will along the Gulf Coast, touching at those obscure ports where cargo or passengers are likely to be found. The Bonite swung at her moorings in the Menam, opposite my hotel windows, so, made cautious by previous experiences on other coastwise vessels, I went out in a sampan to make a preliminary survey. But I did not go aboard. The odors which assailed me as I drew near caused me to decide abruptly that I wished to make no voyage on her. The Chutututch, I reasoned, [248]must be better; it certainly could not be worse. And when I approached her owners they offered no objections to earning a few-score extra ticals by extending her itinerary so as to drop me at the tiny Cambodian port of Kep. The next day, then, saw me on the bridge of the Chutututch, smoking for politeness' sake one of the genial captain's villainous cigars, as we steamed slowly between the palm-fringed, temple-dotted banks of the Menam toward the Gulf.

On many kinds of vessels I have voyaged the Seven Seas. I once spent Christmas on a Russian steamer, jammed to her guards with lousy pilgrims bound for the Holy Land, in a tempest off the Syrian coast. On another memorable occasion I skirted the shores of Crete on a Greek schooner which was engaged in conveying from Canea to Candia a detachment of British recruits much the worse for rum. But that voyage on the Chutututch will linger longest in my memory. From stem to stern she was packed with yellow, half-naked, perspiring humanity—Siamese, Laos, Burmans, Annamites, Cambodians, Malays, Chinese—journeying, God knows why, to ports whose very names I had never before heard. They lay so thick beneath the awnings that the sailors literally had to walk upon them in order to perform their work. From the glassy surface of the Gulf the heat rose in waves—blasts from an opened furnace door. The flaming ball of molten brass that was the sun beat down upon the crowded decks until they were as hot to the touch as a railway station stove at white heat. The odors of crude, [249]sugar, copra, tobacco, engine oil, perspiration and fish frying in the galley mingled in a stench that rose to heaven. In the sweat-box which had been allotted to me, called by courtesy a cabin, a large gray ship's rat gnawed industriously at my suit-case in an endeavor to ascertain what it contained; insects that shall be nameless disported themselves upon the dubious-looking blanket which formed the only covering of the bed; cockroaches of incredible size used the wash-basin as a public swimming-pool.

The other cabin passengers were all three Anglo-Saxons—a young Englishman and an American missionary and his wife. These last, I found, were convoying a flock of noisy Siamese youngsters, pupils at an American school in Bangkok, to a small bathing resort at the mouth of the Menam, where, it was alleged, the mercury had been known to drop as low as 90 on cold days. Because of its invigorating climate it is a favorite hot weather resort for the well-to-do Siamese. Here, in a bungalow that had been placed at their disposal by the King, the missionary and his charges proposed to spend a glorious fortnight away from the city's heat. Now do not draw a mental picture of a sanctimonious person with a Prince Albert coat, a white bow tie and a prominent Adam's apple. He was not that sort of a missionary at all. On the contrary, he was a very human, high-spirited, likeable fellow of the type that at home would be a Scout Master or in France would have made good as a welfare worker with the A. E. F. Once, when a [250]particularly obstreperous youngster drew an over-draft on his stock of patience, he endorsed his disapproval with an extremely vigorous "Damn!" I took to him from that moment.

When, their energy temporarily exhausted, his charges had fallen asleep upon the deck and pandemonium had given place to peace, he told me something of his story. For four years he had labored in the Vineyard of the Lord in Chile, but, feeling that he "was having too good a time," as he expressed it, he applied to the Board of Missions for transfer to a more strenuous post. He obtained what he asked for, with something over for good measure, for he was ordered to a post in the northeastern corner of Siam, on the Annam frontier. If there is a more remote or inaccessible spot on the map it would be hard to find it. Here he and his wife spent ten years preaching the Word to the "black bellied Laos," as the tattooed savages of that region are known. Then he was transferred to Bangkok. There are no roads in Siam, so he and his wife and their five small children made the long journey by river, in a native dugout of less than two feet beam, in which they traveled and ate and slept for upwards of two weeks.

I asked him if he wasn't becoming weaned of Bangkok, which, as a place of residence, leaves much to be desired.

"Yes, I've had about enough of it," he admitted. "I'm anxious to get away."

[251]"Back to the Big Town?" I suggested. "To God's Country?"

"Oh, no; not back to the States," he hastened to assure me. "I haven't finished my job out here. I want to get back to my people in the interior again."

Whether you approve of foreign missions or not, it is impossible to withhold your respect and admiration from such men as that. Though at home they are too often the butts of ignorant criticisms and cheap witticisms, they are carrying civilization, no less than Christianity, into the world's dark places. They are the real pioneers. You might remember this the next time an appeal is made in your church for foreign missions.

The young Englishman was likewise an outpost of progress, though in a different fashion. For seven years he had worn the uniform of an officer in the Royal Navy. At the close of the war, seeing small prospect of promotion, he had entered the employ of a British company which held a vast timber concession in the teak forests of northern Siam, far up, near the Chinese border. He was, he explained, a "girdler," which meant that his duties consisted in riding through the forest area allotted to him, selecting and girdling those trees which, three years later, would be cut down. To girdle a tree, as everyone knows, is to kill it, which is what is wanted, there being no market for green teak, which warps. He remained in the forest for four weeks at a stretch, he told me, without seeing a white man's face, his only companions his [252]coolies and his Chinese cook. His domain comprised a thousand square miles of forest through which he moved constantly on horseback, followed by elephants bearing his camp equipage and supplies. Once each month he spent three days in the village where the company maintains its field headquarters. Here he played tennis and bridge with other girdlers—young Englishmen like himself who had come in from their respective districts to make their monthly reports—and in gleaning from the eight-weeks-old newspapers the news of that great outside world from which he was a voluntary exile. One would have supposed that, after seven years spent in the jovial atmosphere of a warship's wardroom, his solitary life in the great forests would quickly have become intolerable, and I expressed myself to this effect. But he said no, that he was neither lonely nor unhappy in his new life, and that his fellow foresters, all of whom had seen service in the Army, the Navy or the Royal Air Force, were equally contented with their lot. I could understand, though. The wilderness holds no terrors for anyone who went through the hell of the Great War.

We dropped anchor at midnight off Chantaboun, where a launch was waiting to take him ashore. He was going up-country, he told me, to inspect a timber concession recently acquired by the company that employed him. Yes, he would be the only white man, but he would not be lonely. Besides, he would only be in the interior a couple of months, he said. He followed the coolies bearing his luggage down the gangway and [253]dropped lightly into the tossing launch, then looked up to wave me a farewell.

"Good luck," he called cheerily.

"Good luck to you!" said I.

That is the worst of this gadding up and down the earth—it is always—"How d'ye do?" and "Good-by."

Three days out of Bangkok the anchor of the Chutututch rumbled down off Kep, on the coast of Cambodia. Kep consists of a ramshackle wooden pier that reaches seaward like a lean brown finger, an equally decrepit custom house, a tin-roofed bungalow which the French Government maintains for the use of those fever-stricken officials who need the tonic of sea air, a cluster of bamboo huts thatched with nipa—nothing more. You will not find the place on any map; it is too small.

It is in the neighborhood of three hundred kilometers from Kep to Pnom-Penh, the capital of Cambodia, and for nearly the entire distance the highway has been hewn through the most savage jungle you can imagine. There was only one motor car in Kep and this I hired for the journey. I say hired, but bought would be nearer the truth. It was an aged and decrepit Renault, held together with string and wire, and suffering so badly from asthma and rheumatism that more than once I feared it would die on my hands before I reached my destination. It had as nurses two Annamites, who took unwarranted liberties with the truth by describing themselves as mechaniciens. [254]Accompanying them were two sullen-faced Chinese. All four of them, I found, proposed to accompany me to Pnom-Penh. At this I protested vigorously, on the ground that, as the lessee of the machine, I had the right to choose my traveling companions, but my objections were overruled by the Chef des Douanes, the only French functionary in Kep, who assured me that if the car went the quartette must go, too. One of the Annamites, he explained, was the chauffeur, the other was the cranker, for in Indo-China automobiles are not equipped with self-starters and the chauffeurs firmly refuse to crank their own cars. They thus "save their face," which is a very important consideration in the estimation of Orientals, and they also provide easy and pleasant jobs for their friends. It is an idea which some of the labor unions in America might adopt to advantage. I make no charge for the suggestion. The two Chinese, it appeared, were the joint owners of the machine, and both insisted on going along because neither would trust the other with the hire-money. Thus it will be seen, we made quite a cozy little party.

The road to Pnom-Penh, as I have already remarked, leads through a peculiarly lonely and savage region. And it is very narrow, bordered on either side by walls of almost impenetrable jungle. A place better adapted for a hold-up could hardly be devised. And of the reputations or antecedents of my four self-imposed companions, I knew nothing. Nor was there anything in their faces to lend me confidence in the [255]honesty of their intentions. As we were about to start a native gendarme beckoned me to one side.

"Beaucoup des pirats sur la route, M'sieu," he warned me in execrable French.

"Brigands, you mean?" I asked him.

"Oui, M'sieu."

That was reassuring.

"How about these men?" I inquired, indicating the motley crew who were to accompany me. "Are they to be trusted?"

He shrugged his shoulders non-commitally. It was evident that he did not hold of them a high opinion.

Producing my .45 caliber service automatic, I slipped a clip into the magazine and ostentatiously laid it beside me on the seat. It is the most formidable weapon carried by any civilized people. True, the German Lüger is larger....

"Tell them," I said to the policeman, "that this gun will shoot through twenty millimeters of pine. Tell them that they had better dispose of their property and burn a few joss-sticks before they start to argue with it. And tell them that, no matter what happens, the car is to keep going."

But I was by no means as confident as I sounded, for the road was notoriously unsafe, nor did I put much trust in my companions. I confess that I felt much happier when that portion of my journey was over.

As the road to Pnom-Penh is quite uninteresting—just a narrow yellow highway chopped through a [256]dense tangle of tropic vegetation—suppose I take advantage of the opportunity to tell you something of this little-known land in which we find ourselves.

French Indo-China occupies perhaps two-thirds of that great bay-window-shaped peninsula which protrudes from the southeastern corner of Asia. In area it is, as I have already remarked, somewhat larger than Texas; its population is about equal to that of New York and Pennsylvania combined. It consists of five states: the colony of Cochin-China, the protectorates of Cambodia, Annam and Tongking, and the unorganized territory of Laos, to which might be added the narrow strip of borderland, known as Kwang Chau Wan, leased from China. In 1902 the capital of French Indo-China was transferred from Saigon, in Cochin-China, to Hanoi, in Tongking.

By far the most interesting of these political divisions is Cambodia, which, for centuries an independent kingdom, was forced in 1862 to accept the protection of France. An apple-shaped country, about the size of England, with a few score miles of seacoast and without railway or regular sea communications, it lies tucked away in the heart of the peninsula, its southern borders marching with those of Cochin-China, its frontier on the north co-terminous with that of Siam. Though the octogenarian King Sisowath maintains a gorgeous court, a stable of elephants, upwards of two-hundred dancing-girls, and one of the most ornate palaces in Asia, he is permitted only a shadow of power, the real ruler of Cambodia being the French [257]Resident-Superior, who governs the country from the great white Residency on the banks of the Mekong.

I know of no region of like size and so comparatively easy of access (the great liners of the Messageries Maritimes touch at Saigon, whence the Cambodian capital can be reached by river-steamer in two days) which offers so many attractions to the hunter of big game. Unlike British East Africa, where, as a result of the commercialization of sport, the cost of going on safari has steadily mounted until now it is a form of recreation to be afforded only by war profiteers, Cambodia remains unexploited and unspoiled. It is in many respects the richest, as it is almost the last, of the world's great hunting-grounds. It is, indeed, a vast zoological garden, where such formalities as hunting licenses are still unknown. In its jungles roam elephants, tigers, rhinoceroses, leopards, panthers, bear, deer, and the savage jungle buffalo, known in Malaya as the seladang and in Indo-China as the gaur—considered by many hunters the most dangerous of all big game.

Nailed to the wall of the Government rest-house at Kep was the skin of a leopard which had been shot from the veranda the day before my arrival, while raiding the pig-pen. The day that I left Kampot an elephant herd, estimated by the native trackers at one hundred and twenty head, was reported within seven miles of the town. Twice during the journey to Pnom-Penh I saw tracks of elephant herds on the road—it looked as though a fleet of whippet tanks had passed.

[258]Nevertheless, I should have put mental question-marks after some of the big game stories I heard while I was in Indo-China had I not been convinced of the credibility of those who told them. Only a few days before our arrival at Saigon, for example, an American engaged in business in that city set out one morning before daybreak, in a small car, for the paddy-fields, where there is excellent bird-shooting in the early dawn. The car, which, owing to the intense heat, had no wind-shield, was driven by the Annamite chauffeur, the American, a double-barrel loaded with bird-shot across his knees, sitting beside him on the front seat. Rounding a turn in the jungle road at thirty miles an hour, the twin beams of light from the lamps fell on a tiger, which, dazzled and bewildered by the on-coming glare, crouched snarling in the middle of the highway. There was no time to stop the car, and, as the jungle came to the very edge of the narrow road, there was no way to avoid the animal, which, just as the car was upon it, gathered itself and sprang. It landed on the hood with all four feet, its snarling face so close to the men that they could feel its breath. The American, thrusting the muzzle of his weapon into the furry neck of the great cat, let go with both barrels, blowing away the beast's throat and jugular vein and killing it instantly. With the aid of his badly frightened driver, he bundled the great striped carcass into the tonneau of the car and imperturbably continued on his bird-shooting [259]expedition. Some people seem to have a monopoly of luck.

Though Saigon and Pnom-Penh do not possess the facilities for equipping shooting expeditions afforded by Mombasa or Nairobi, and though in Indo-China there are no professional European guides, such as the late Major Cunninghame; the elaborate and costly outfits customary in East Africa, with their mile-long trains of bearers, are as unnecessary as they are unknown. The arrangements for a tiger hunt in Indo-China are scarcely more elaborate and certainly no more expensive, than for a moose hunt in Maine. A dependable native shikari who knows the country, a cook, half-a-dozen coolies, a sturdy riding-pony, two or three pack-animals, a tent and food, that is all you need. With such an outfit, particularly in a region so thick with game as, say, the Dalat Plateau, in Annam, the hunter should get a shot at a tiger before he has been forty-eight hours in the bush. In a clearing in a jungle known to be frequented by tigers, the carcass of a bullock, or, if that is unavailable, of a pig, is fastened securely to a stake and left there until it smells to high heaven. When its odor is of sufficient potency to reach the nostrils of the tiger, the hunter takes up his position in the edge of the clearing, or on a platform built in a tree if he believes in Safety First. For investigating the kill the tiger usually chooses the dimness of the early dawn or the semi-darkness which precedes nightfall. With no warning save a faint rustle in the undergrowth a lean and tawny form slithers on padded [260]feet across the open—and the man behind the rifle has his chance. I have found, however, that even in tiger lands, tigers are by no means as plentiful as one's imagination paints them at home. It is easy to be a big-game hunter on the hearth-rug.

Pnom-Penh, the capital of Cambodia, stands on the west bank of the mighty Mekong, one hundred and seventy miles from the sea. Pnom, meaning "mountain," refers to the hill, or mound, ninety feet high, in the heart of the city; Penh was the name of a celebrated Cambodian queen. Until twenty years ago Pnom-Penh was a filthy and unsanitary native town, its streets ankle-deep with dust during the dry season and ankle-deep with mud during the rains. But with the coming of the French the flimsy, vermin-infested houses were torn down, the hog-wallows which served as thoroughfares were transformed into broad and well-paved avenues shaded by double rows of handsome trees, and the city was provided with lighting and water systems. The old-fashioned open water sewers still remain, however, lending to the place, a rich, ripe odor. Pnom-Penh possesses a spacious and well ventilated motion-picture house, where Charlie Chaplin known to the French as "Charlot" and Fatty Arbuckle convulse the simple children of the jungle just as they convulse more sophisticated assemblages on the other side of the globe.

But all that is most worth seeing in Pnom-Penh is cloistered within the mysterious walls of vivid pink which surround the Royal Palace. Here is the [261]residence of His Majesty Prea Bat Samdach Prea Sisowath, King of Cambodia; here dwell the twelve score dancing-girls of the famous royal ballet and the hundreds of concubines and attendants comprising the royal harem; here are the stables of the royal elephants and the sacred zebus; here a congeries of palaces, pavilions, throne halls, dance halls, temples, shrines, kiosks, monuments, courtyards, and gardens the like of which is not to be found outside the covers of The Thousand and One Nights. It is an architectural extravaganza, a bacchanalia of color and design, as fantastic and unreal as the city of a dream. The steep-pitched, curiously shaped roofs are covered with tiles of every color—peacock blue, vermilion, turquoise, emerald green, burnt orange; no inch of exposed woodwork has escaped the carver's cunning chisel; everywhere gold has been laid on with a spendthrift hand. And in this marvelous setting strut or stroll figures that might have stepped straight from the stage of Sumurun—fantastically garbed functionaries of the Household, shaven-headed priests in yellow robes, pompous mandarins in sweeping silken garments, bejeweled and bepainted dancing-girls. It is not real, you feel. It is too gorgeous, too bizarre. It is the work of stage-carpenters and scene-painters and costumers, and you are quite certain that the curtain will descend presently and that you will have to put on your hat and go home.

From the center of the great central court rises the famous Silver Pagoda. It takes its name from its [262]floor, thirty-six feet wide and one hundred and twenty long, which is covered with pure silver. When the sun's rays seep through the interstices of the carving it leaps into a brilliancy that is blinding. On the high walls of the room are depicted in startling colors, scenes from the life of Buddha and realistic glimpses of hell, for your Cambodian artist is at his best in portraying scenes of horror. The mural decorations of the Silver Pagoda would win the unqualified approval of an oldtime fire-and-brimstone preacher. Rearing itself roofward from the center of the room is an enormous pyramidal altar, littered with a heterogeneous collection of offerings from the devout. At its apex is a so-called Emerald Buddha—probably, like its fellow in Bangkok, of translucent jade—which is the guardian spirit of the place. But at one side of the altar stands the chief treasure of the temple—a great golden Buddha set with diamonds. The value of the gold alone is estimated at not far from three-quarters of a million dollars; at the value of the jewels one can only guess. It was made by the order of King Norodom, the brother and predecessor of the present ruler, the whole amazing edifice, indeed, being a monument into which that monarch poured his wealth and ambition. Ranged about the altar are glass cases containing the royal treasures—rubies, sapphires, emeralds and diamonds of a size and in a profusion which makes it difficult to realize that they are genuine. It is a veritable cave of Al-ed-Din. The covers of these cases are sealed with [263]strips of paper bearing the royal cypher—nothing more. They have never been locked nor guarded, yet nothing has ever been stolen, for King Sisowath is to his subjects something more than a ruler; he is venerated as the representative of God on earth. For a Cambodian to steal from him would be as unthinkable a sacrilege as for a Roman Catholic to burglarize the apartments of the Pope. And should their religious scruples show signs of yielding to temptation, why, there are the paintings on the walls to warn them of the torments awaiting them in the hereafter. It struck me, however, that the Silver Pagoda offers a golden, not to say a jeweled opportunity to an enterprising American burglar.

On the south side of the courtyard containing the Silver Pagoda is a relic far more precious in the eyes of the natives, however, than all the royal treasures put together—a footprint of Buddha. It was left, so the priests who guard it night and day reverently explain, by the founder of their faith when he paid a flying visit to Cambodia. Over the footprint has been erected a shrine with a floor of solid gold. Buddha did not do as well by Cambodia as by Ceylon, however, for whereas at Pnom-Penh he left the imprint of his foot, at Kandy he left a tooth. I know, for I have seen it.

In an adjacent courtyard is the Throne Hall, a fine example of Cambodian architecture, the gorgeous throne of the monarch standing on a dais in the center of a lofty apartment decorated in gold and green. Close by is the Salle des Fêtes, or Dance Hall, a [264]modern French structure, where the royal ballet gives its performances. Ever since there have been kings in Cambodia each monarch has chosen from the daughters of the upper classes two hundred and forty showgirls and has had them trained for dancing. These girls, many of whom are brought to the palace by their parents when small children and offered to the King, eventually enter the monarch's harem as concubines. Admission to the royal ballet is to a Cambodian maiden what a position in the Ziegfeld Follies is to a Broadway chorus girl. It is the blue ribbon of female pulchritude. Unlike Mr. Ziegfeld's carefully selected beauties, however, who frequently find the stage a stepping-stone to independence and a limousine, the Cambodian show-girl, once she enters the service of the King, becomes to all intents and purposes a prisoner. And Sisowath, for all his eighty-odd years, is a jealous master. Never again can she stroll with her lover in the fragrant twilight on the palm-fringed banks of the Mekong. Never again can she leave the precincts of the palace, save to accompany the King. The bars behind which she dwells are of gold, it is true, but they are bars just the same.

When I broached to the French Resident-Superior, who is the real ruler of Cambodia, the subject of taking motion-pictures within the royal enclosure, he was anything but encouraging.

"I'm afraid it's quite impossible," he told me. "The King is at his summer palace at Kampot, where he will remain for several weeks. Without his permission [265]nothing can be done. Moreover, the royal ballet, which is the most interesting sight in Cambodia, is never under any circumstances permitted to dance during his Majesty's absence."

"But why not telegraph the King?" I suggested, though with waning hope. "Or get him on the telephone. Tell him how much the pictures would do to acquaint the American public with the attractions of his country; explain to him that they would bring here hundreds of visitors who otherwise would never know that there is such a place as Pnom-Penh. More than that," I added diplomatically, "they would undoubtedly wake up American capitalists to a realization of Cambodia's natural resources. That's what you particularly want here, isn't it—foreign capital?"

That argument seemed to impress the shrewd and far-seeing Frenchman.

"Perhaps something can be done, after all," he told me. "I will send for the Minister of the Royal Household and ask him if he can communicate with the King. As soon as I learn something definite, you will hear from me."

The second day following I received a call from the chief of the political bureau.

"Everything has been arranged as you desired," was the cheering news with which he greeted me. "The défilé will take place in the grounds of the palace tomorrow morning. Already the necessary orders have been issued. Thirty elephants with their state housings; eighty ceremonial cars drawn by sacred bullocks; [266]the royal body-guard in full uniform; a delegation of mandarins in court-dress; a hundred Buddhist priests attached to the royal temple; and, moreover, his Majesty has granted special permission an unheard-of thing, let me tell you!—for the royal ballet to give a performance expressly for you to-morrow afternoon on the terrace of the throne-hall. It will be a marvelous spectacle."

"Bully!" I exclaimed. "Won't you have a drink?"

"There is one thing I forgot to mention," the official remarked hesitatingly, as he sipped the gin sling which is the favorite drink of the tropics. "There will be a small charge for expenses—tips, you know, for the palace officials."

"Oh, that's all right," I replied lightly. "How much will the tips amount to?"

"Only about two hundred piastres," was the somewhat startling answer, for, at the then current rate of exchange a piastre was worth about $1.50 gold. "The resident will pay half of it, however, as he believes that the pictures will prove of great value to the country."

Yet most people think that tipping has reached its apogee in the United States!

When we entered the gate of the palace the next morning, I felt as though I had been translated to the days of Haroun-al-Raschid, for the vast courtyard, flanked on all sides by marble buildings with tiled roofs of cobalt blue, of emerald green, of red, of brilliant yellow, was literally crowded with elephants, [267]bullocks, horses, chariots, palanquins, soldiers, priests, and officials all the pomp and panoply of an Asiatic court, in short. Though close examination revealed the gold as gilt and the jewels as colored glass, the general effect was undeniably gorgeous. In spite of the brilliance of the scene, Hawkinson was as blasé as ever. He issued orders to the Minister of the Household as though he were directing a Pullman porter.

"Have those elephants come on in double file," he commanded. "Then follow 'em with the bullock-carts and the palanquins. I'll shoot the priests and the mandarins later."

"But the priests must be taken at once," the minister protested. "They have been waiting a long time, and they are already late for the morning service in the royal temple."

"Well, they'll have to wait still longer," was the unruffled answer. "Tell them not to get impatient. I'll get round to them as soon as I finish with the animals. Think what it will mean to them to have their pictures shown on the same screen with Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford! I know lots of people who would be willing to wait a year for such a chance."

Just then there approached across the courtyard a trio of youths in white uniforms and gold-laced képis, their breasts ablaze with decorations. At sight of them the minister doubled himself in the middle like a jack-knife. They were, it appeared, some of the royal princes—sons of the King.

[268]There ensued a brief colloquy between the minister and the eldest of the princes, the conversation evidently relating, as I gathered from the gestures, to the Lovely Lady and the Winsome Widow, who at the moment were delightedly engaged in feeding candies to a baby elephant.

"His Highness wishes to know," the minister interpreted, "when the ladies of your company are to appear. His Highness is a great admirer of American actresses; he saw your most famous one, Mademoiselle Theda Bara, at a cinema in Singapore."

It seemed a thousand pities to destroy the prince's delusion.

"Tell his Highness," I said, "that the ladies will not act in this picture. They only play comedy parts."

The princes received the news with open disappointment. If the Lovely Lady and the Winsome Widow had only consented to appear on the back of an elephant, or even in a palanquin, I imagine that they might have received a mark of the royal favor in the form of a Cambodian decoration. It is a gorgeous affair and is called, with great appropriateness, the "Order of a Million Elephants and Parasols."

That afternoon, on the broad marble terrace of the throne-hall, which had been covered with a scarlet carpet for the occasion, the royal ballet gave a special performance for our benefit. The dancers were much younger than I had anticipated, ranging in age from twelve to fifteen. Dancing has ever been a great institution in Cambodia, the dances, which have behind [269]them traditions of two thousand years, being illustrative of incidents in the poem of the Ramayana and adhering faithfully to the classical examples which are depicted on the walls of the great temple at Angkor, such as the dancing of the goddess Apsaras, her gestures, and her dress. The costumes worn by the dancing-girls were the most gorgeous that we saw in Asia: wonderful creations of cloth-of-gold heavily embroidered with jewels. Most of the dancers wore towering, pointed head-dresses, similar to the historic crowns of the Cambodian kings, though a few of them wore masks, one representing the head of a fox, another a fish, a third a lion, which could be raised or lowered, like the visors of medieval helmets. The faces of all of the dancers were so heavily coated with powder and enamel that they would have been cracked by a smile. It was a performance which would have astonished and delighted the most blasé audience on Broadway, but there in the heart of Cambodia, with the terrace of a throne-hall for a stage, with palaces, temples, and pagodas for a setting, with a blazing tropic sun for a spot-light, and with actors and audience clad in costumes as curious and colorful as those worn at the court of the Queen of Sheba, it provided a spectacle which we who were privileged to see it will remember always. What a pity that Cap'n Bryant was not alive so that I might sit on the steps of his Mattapoisett cottage and tell him all about it.


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