Puslapio vaizdai

should be very sorry if they think me capable of causing them the slightest vexation."

"Yes, yes, I know that. It is very well: we will return to the subject later."

All this conversation took place half in French, which the king understood, and half in Cambodian, which I spoke well enough. Nōrōdom, at that time twentyeight years old, possessed a most distinguished countenance and a medium figure, perfectly shaped and proportioned, differing very noticeably in that from all his subjects; in his head he showed his Mongolian origin, and his crown of hair two inches high, worn in a thick tuft on the top, became him marvelously, the rest of his head being carefully shaved. This peculiar head-dress is worn by all the Cambodians; the women alone retain two locks of hair besides, two or three inches long, about the temples. In addition to this the King's wives had the long nails of the left hand gilded and turned back over the upper surface of the hand-a great beauty in their eyes, and a sign of


At the extremity of the room, on a platform raised about ten inches, a scene was being acted from the Indian mythology, where the good and evil genii, represented by men with tails, white or black men, with wings of red, were exerting all their power to charm the daughters of earth, clothed in the garments of the time, whom they finally carried off with them through the air. These actors, called bhas or fools, are like the acrobats and clowns in our circuses. The dancers, or lakōnes, by their steps, gestures and the more or less natural, but always graceful, writhings of their hands, arms and legs, represent the dance. Others, specially educated to represent poetry and literature, sing their own compositions to the accompaniment of a peculiar music I have often heard various songs of this kind, fresh, unsophisticated and graceful, which seem a peculiar property of oriental poetry. The orchestra on the left of the stage drew my attention particularly. It boasted thirty-seven woman players and three musicians, who, holding various unknown instruments, boded no good to my ears. There was the klong-nong, a system of cymbals of different sizes in a semi-circle, crouched in the center of which the musician strikes here and there with little mallets in both hands, now slowly and

anon with the greatest rapidity. The vibration, more or less long drawn, thus blend together before ceasing, and cause a soft and delightful harmony. The kla-ni is a sort of long flageolet of great purity of tone. The guitar, called tu-kkai has a very deep and rounded back, to give a loud resonance. Another no less curious instrument is the ran-nan, reminding one singularly of a xylophone-so much so that it makes me doubt whether the latter organ is as French as we suppose. In this, little plates of sounding wood, round above and flat below, are hung above a graceful junk, which acts as a soundingboard. These are struck with little mallets by the two hands at the same moment, and the flat and melancholy sound they yield accords admirably with the quivering tones of the klong-nong, which is its necessary accompaniment.

These unknown and peculiar shapes made me fear some dreadful hubbub, but what was my surprise when I heard all these artists extract from their instruments such soft, melodious tones, gentle melodies, transparent, charming, restful, and sometimes to the last degree pathetic notes! What I heard was real art, serious, noble, and having nothing in common with the usual monotonous droning of the musicians of other oriental races. In truth, the King, as well as the princes and mandarins, adore music, which they hold to be the principal, if not the sole, art, and it is the only one which has reached a high grade among them.

At the end of three hours, all too short, the drama closed, and the King caused a supper to be brought, to which he invited me. At his order his wives withdrew, after having made him the salutation, on their knees, by raising their joined hands to the height of their mouth, and then carrying them to the forehead. As long as they were under the royal eye they walked bent down, but straightened themselves on reaching a door behind the King's couch, and disappeared, with a long look at me, more gentle than the first.

"Well, Mitop, what think you of my artists?"

[blocks in formation]

"Ah, very well, very well; sit down, and while we sup you shall hear another kind." At his command all the women-players and actresses left the room, with the usual prostrations, by the same door and in the same manner as the wives, leaving their instruments behind. Women brought in the supper of cold fowls in curry, to which I was already used; delicious indigenous fruits and various sweetmeats, as well as champagne. The King only tasted the eatables, but he drank stoutly.

Five women and a man entered and crouched at a little distance; they were the new musicians. The man held a flute of Laos, with five reed pipes, very high and of different lengths, bound and held together by a hollow mouth-piece of hard wood, in which the pipes were inserted, each one two-thirds of its length. Holes drilled on each side allowed the fingers to carry the instrument, though slanting, to the mouth of the player, who, blowing out and drawing in his breath, produced, by the movement of his fingers on the holes, a soft and pure tone, like the song of birds. To his right a woman held a guitar, like the tu-kkaï of the orchestra, but smaller and rounder, the sounds from which equal those of the former in sweetness and harmony. Two others played on little cymbals of different tones, and, with a little drum, formed the accompaniment to this delightful music. Two singing poetesses of exceeding beauty, without paint, and clad in a rich Cambodian costume, placed themselves behind us, fan in hand, now fanning us, now serving at the table, all the while singing improvised verses in alternation, taking graceful attitudes and walking on the points of their bare feet in slow and cadenced steps, accompanied with a little tinkle from the many bracelets on arms and legs. This savage and, at the same time, melancholy music; these sweet and rhythmic chants in honor of the King (some even were in my praise); the warm air charged with various essences from the fragrant oils burning in a multitude of little oval bronze lamps, flat on top and ornamented with finely worked figures; these perfumes, to which I was unaccustomed, this Asiatic luxury, combined to produce a charming effect.

Toward the end of the repast the King started from the reverie in which he had fallen to say to me: "I have the right, you know, Mitop, to have opium in my possession, and as I shall soon need various

goods from Laos, which I send for every year-hem!—and as your men keep a very sharp look-out," said he, laughing, "I should like to find the passage of the river free in about fifteen days-h'm!-that being the right period-only for my boats however, and—ah'm!—that your agents do not visit them; are you agreed?"

This speech, frequently broken by the King's hems," showed embarrassment, and gave me, moreover, plenty of time to consider his demand. I, therefore, answered, feeling that to be politic I ought to promise, since I could immediately send a despatch to Saigon telling Wangtaï my conversation, and get an answer within twelve days.


'Why certainly, your Majesty! In fifteen days?"

[blocks in formation]

to see the head of the French Protectorate, the naval Lieutenant Moura, who had sent for me three times. The advice I had received at Mitho, in Cochin-China, from an agent of the farm, where this officer had lived, before taking the post of Pnoum Peinh, had caused me to avoid all relations with him save those in direct connection with the farm.

On entering his dwelling, which lay opposite mine, I found him stalking about

the room.

After some angry words concerning the banquet, he broke out:

"I forbid you, do you hear, to allow such honors to be paid you, and if I shall have to arrest and put you in irons with my own hand, I'll do it! Then you'll have to yield to my wishes!"

"You are crazy, sir!" said I, retracing my steps, "you know well enough that I am free to do as I please. I am not a sailor. As to your threat, ponder well before putting it into execution, for I warn you that the very day you attempt it will be the last of your life!"

I did not forget to describe this scene to the King, who laughed very heartily at the important airs of the functionary, and his jealousy at not being asked to the private fête.

Having returned home I set myself to observe Sadeck, whom I had chained in my bedroom, forbidding the servants to give him anything whatever to eat. Upon placing food before him, I was glad to see him eat eagerly. Sadeck belonged to one of the four orders of the quadrumanes called Anthropomorphic Apes from their near approach in many particulars to human beings. All are wanting in tails and hanging cheeks.

This one, belonging to the Gibbons or Hylobates, and called by zoologists the Siamang Gibbon, was peculiar in his own order for a most remarkable variation, and one found only in the island of Chantaboune, in the Siamese Gulf, but not yet classified by science. Called by the Cambodians Pouas, and by the Siamese Djênis, this curious order has a pale brown coat very thick and woolly, fore-arms and hands of great length, and a facial angle of 40° to 45°; small ears of almost human shape, and a height of about four feet. One peculiarity of Sadeck's was the conformation of his hind feet, the first and second toes of which were partly joined together by an extension of the skin. To the slyness

common to these creatures Sadeck added a really surprising intelligence, for he learned tricks in a few days with marvelous ease, and became remarkable for his exceeding gentleness, and even for his docility, although he was somewhat capricious. I taught him to sit at table like a man, use a knife and fork, to wait on me, to bow to, and conduct to the door, the visitors I received. At meals he brought me such things as required no great strength to carry, very often seizing a dish from one of the "boys" to carry it to me, but when coffee was served he was a really curious sight, with his gestures and ludicrous imitations, his little cries like those of a spoiled child from whom sweets are withheld. held. Then I would give him his coffee in a saucer, which he would take seated gravely at my side, and always using the spoon only; never would he touch it with his hands. I did not dare to attach myself too warmly to the little beast, fearing to have to give him up some day or other. But very luckily that never happened, for an answer came from Wangtaï, telling me to do all I could to make myself agreeable to the King, but to be pitiless to all others. Then I was able to devote myself to Sadeck's education.

A few days after the interdict placed by Lieut. Moura, his Majesty came with his whole court to see me. My house being too small to hold all of them, two-thirds at least stayed beyond the door, crouching to the ground, and with faces turned toward the green gold-embroidered street-umbrella, which was stationed outside as a sign that the King was within, and that no natives in consequence might pass.

Announcing that nine of his boats would leave on the sixteenth day, at five in the morning for Laos, and asking me that evening to supper, the King arose and was about to withdraw, when piercing cries issued suddenly from my bed-chamber. The King entered the room quickly, and we saw Sadeck scratching his head and redoubling his cries at our appearance. As he then jumped upon the window-seat and looked out, the King glanced in the same direction, and with his finger pointed out Moura just entering his house and wrapping a handkerchief about his hand. His majesty began to laugh, and I was not slow to follow, when one of his train came up and told us the rest of the affair. Vexed not to know what the King could have to say to me, Moura had doubtless

slipped into the little by-street leading towards the country, in hopes of overhearing our conversation through the open window of my bedroom; but he had reckoned without Sadeck, who, seeing an unknown head, had sprung on his favorite place, the window-sill, and shown him his teeth. Moura, furious at not being able to approach the window, had struck the beast with his cane; the latter, without losing a moment, had jumped upon, and bitten him in the hand; then, springing back into the room, had begun the angry cries that had brought us to the scene.

I sincerely pitied the fellow, for Sadeck was endowed with respectable incisors, and must have bitten him unmercifully; but the King replied that it was well done, and that he only got his due. Accompanying his Majesty until he was mounted in his palanquin, he said in French, as he was leaving: To-night

I shall expect you to



At eight in the evening a royal escort, twice the size of the former, came to bear me to the palace.


customers, or by an excessive importation of certain articles, have flattened his market. I was lucky enough to have what I wanted carried out, for, two months afterwards, the boats returned loaded with exchanges more profitable than those of former years. His Majesty wished to give me the honor of the success, for had it not been for the presence of mind of Assine, my interpreter, and the precautions I had taken, the boats would have fallen into the hand of the pirates.


THE next day I sent runners to all the stations on the path of the King's boats with particular instructions, and on the day of departure, in one of them, a Chinese interpreter of my own to act as escort as far as Cratich on the Cambodian frontier. One of the chief reasons for this action of the King was the fact, that the number of balls of opium in his boats was much greater than the figure he had acknowledged to; but at this it was politic to wink. I could not openly seize the King's goods, because no one among the mandarins would have been willing to condemn his Majesty, and after all, it did the farm little harm, since the opium sold by him did not circulate in Cambodia. On the other hand the King did not wish it known that the goods were his, for they would have attracted the pirates, who, half from hatred, half from profit, would have spied out the boats and made themselves masters of them. Moreover in case of a safe passage the Chinese and other merchants, always on the lookout for a profit, would have infallibly made inquiries, and by combining might have either hurt his trade by taking away his

To give the reader some idea of this exchange trade and the estimation of certain articles by the Laosians, it is enough to say that a common knife, a little child's glass and needles, were articles always in demand, and gave a profit of five to one. Empty bottles had an incredible value in their eyes. Often in commercial transactions at a later period, when the native would not immediately decide to give me what I wanted, I have secured the article by means of an empty bottle,--it was irresistible. In countries where gold and silver are produced, these metals have no value in the eyes of the natives; with little or much they do not think themselves rich, but for an object which can be of use to them on the moment, they will give anything you desire. Once I obtained from a rich mandarin of Muang-Kao, in a large village above Bassac, in exchange for an ordinary mirror with gilt frame, about four feet by two and a half, costing me, I believe, twenty dollars at Saïgon, the sum of $475, on which it is plain there was a pretty profit.

Wang-taï had written a few days before to ask whether I could send him the sum of forty thousand dollars, in spite of a quarter's payment being due the King, which indeed had been already settled. Learning from the cashier of the farm that such a sum was on hand, I resolved to forward it; this, however, required three or four days of preparation by several men; bad coin inundated the whole country; the Cochin-Chinese accused the Cambodians, and the latter returned the accusation, but, however it was, every dollar brought to the farm was carefully tested. Even then a few bad ones would slip into the mass. The money that circulated best in those two lands was the piaster or Mexican dollar, as bad coin did not reach there from that far distant land. For this reason I had made a practice of causing each piece to be tested and verified by a

Chinese specialist in such matters, before the money left the farm to enter the general circulation, and that they might be recognized I had them marked with India ink by a cork cut in a certain pattern across its ends. This custom had given the farm an excellent reputation.

The tester, a man with a practised ear, let fall from one hand to another a pile of twenty dollar pieces and the noise they made in falling one on the other was enough to tell him of a doubtful coin; this was then set aside by the teller, whose duty it was to arrange the piles. The third Chinaman was the marker, and with the proverbial patience of Asiatics he wet his cork on a little flannel pad steeped in India ink, and gravely, methodically, stamped each dollar on one of its faces.

Nothing was more interesting to observe than those three Chinese; themselves lovers of the merchandise they sold, their yellow faces were shrunken like baked apples and ornamented with enormous brass goggles coarsely made. These, graceful as those worn by learned dogs at fairs, have not been improved since the days of their inventor, a Chinese of whom Confucius speaks. Never did I see those serious Chinamen laugh, and their slowness made me always wonder if they had not balanced their famous goggles on their noses and were afraid that too hurried a movement might bring them to the ground. To see the ease with which they worked and moved about in the narrow space allotted them almost made me believe that Chinamen have a special faculty of passing through each other or shrinking up when coming in contact. I oversaw their work, the the piling of the dollars in the five open chests, to whose iron-bound sides the money for Wang-taï was entrusted. This done, the chests were closed and I sealed them, there to wait till sent next morning to Saigon by a little steam-launch which was to come for them.

At that moment a small retailer of the farm came in haste to say that he had overheard a conversation of two opium smokers in his shop, about five miles away, revealing a plot to attack the farm at night. The continous clinking of money for the last few days had given the spies of the pirates throughout the town to understand that large sums were on hand in the farm chests, and as they had long cherished such a plan, they thought it an occasion not to be lost. This news was a

disagreeable surprise; not that I had not often heard of these pirates, but that I also knew that violence, incendiarism and murder accompanied the wretches everywhere. Without entirely trusting the bearer of this bulletin, nevertheless I did not disdain the warning, and made all the preparations prudence demanded. The retailer, who had the right to a reward in case the news was confirmed, was instantly sent back with orders to make observations and report.

It was four in the afternoon. I sent also in different directions some fifteen spies of our own to collect as precise news as possible. I then got together the household of the farm, about two hundred men, to whom the password was given. The arsenal was next visited, the ammunition withdrawn from their tin receptacles and and the arms made ready. The three Chinese chiefs, whom the reader knows, but with whom bravery had nothing to do with their positions as cashiers, considered victory only possible through a greater number of defenders and wished to have the tom-tom of war beaten in order to call together all the Chinese of Pnoum-Peinh belonging to their congregation to aid in the defense. I refused point blank, objecting that the farm being exposed to these strange defenders, their coming and going might compromise the very cause they served by allowing a few pirates to slip into their ranks in the height of the tumult, and that we would infallibly be massacred; that I would alone assume all responsibility in the defense, if the news proved true. But, seeing signs of great disquietude in their faces, I told them it would be better if they went on board the three boats anchored off the farm with all the opium left in store, with the articles of value and all that might add to a conflagration. Seeing their faces clear, and having heard from two other retailers a confirmation of the news, I began the preparations for their departure.

I was now in hopes that the pirates would fall upon the farm, and get such a lesson as would rob them of any desire to try the game again. The Chinamen, encouraged by my energetic bearing, swore to obey me in everything. The partitions or Chinese screens of wood painted red and cut at the height of a man into a border of queer painted flowers, were taken down, and with their baggage and things of value the Chinese chiefs were put on

« AnkstesnisTęsti »