Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
OUR HOME IN BANGKOK.
REBUKED and saddened, I abandoned my long-cherished hope of a home, and resigned myself with no good grace to my routine of study and instruction. Where were all the romantic fancies and proud anticipations with which I had accepted the position of governess to the royal family of Siam? Alas! in two squalid rooms at the end of a Bangkok fish-market. I failed to find the fresh strength and courage that lay in the hope of improving the interesting children whose education had been intrusted to me, and day by day grew more and more desponding, less and less equal to the simple task my "mission" had set me. I was fairly sick at heart and ready to surrender that morning when the good Koon Ying Phan came unannounced into our rooms to tell us that a tolerable house was found for us at last. I cannot describe with what an access of joy I heard the glad tidings, nor how I thanked the messenger, nor how in a moment I forgot all my chagrin and repining, and hugged my boy and covered him with kisses. It was not until that "order for release" arrived, that I truly felt how offensive and galling had been the life I had led in the premier's palace. It was with unutterable gladness that I followed a half-brother of the Kralahome, Moonshee leading' Boy by the hand, to our new house. Passing several streets, we entered a walled enclosure, abounding in broken bricks, stone, lime, mortar, and various rubbish.
A tall, dingy storehouse occupied one side of the wall; in the other, a low door opened toward the river; and at the farther end stood the house, sheltered by a few fine trees, that, drooping over the piazza, made the place almost picturesque. On entering, however, we found ourselves face to face with overpowering filth. Poor Moonshee stood aghast. "It must be a paradise," he had said when we set out, "since the great Vizier bestows it upon the Mem Sahib, whom he delights to honor." Now he cursed his fate, and reviled all viziers. I turned to see to whom his lamentations were addressed, and beheld another Mohammedan seated on the floor, and attending with an attitude and air of devout respect. The scene reminded Boy and me of our old home, and we laughed heartily. On making a tour of inspection, we found nine rooms, some of them pleasant and airy, and with every "modern convenience" (though somewhat Oriental as to style) of bath, kitchen, etc. It was clear that soap and water without stint would do much here toward the making of a home for us. Beebe and Boy were hopeful, and promptly put a full stop to the rhetorical outcry of Moonshee by requesting him to enlist the services of his admiring friend and two China coolies to fetch water. But there were no buckets. With a few dollars that I gave him, Moonshee, with all a Moslem's resignation to any new turn in his fate, departed to explore for the required utensils, while the brother of the awful Kralahome, perched on the piazza railing, adjusted his anatomy for a comfortable oversight of the proceedings. Boy, with his "pinny" on, ran off in glee to make himself promiscuously useful, and I sat down to plan an attack.
Where to begin? — that was the question. It was such filthy filth, so monstrous in quantity and kind, — dirt to be stared at, defied, savagely assaulted with rage and havoc. Suddenly I arose, shook my head dangerously at the prime minister's brother, — who, fascinated, had advanced into the room, — marched through a broken door, hung my hat and mantle on a rusty nail, doffed my neat half-mourning, slipped on an old wrapper, dashed at the vile matting that in ulcerous patches afflicted the floor, and began fiercely tearing it up.
In good time Moonshee and his new friend returned with half a dozen buckets, but no coolies; in place of the latter came a neat and pleasant Siamese lady, Mrs. Hunter, wife of the premier's secretary, bringing her slaves to help, and some rolls of fresh, sweet China matting for the floor. How quickly the general foulness was purified, the general raggedness repaired, the general shabbiness made "good as new"! The floors, that had been buried under immemorial dust, arose again under the excavating labors of the sweepers; and the walls, that had been gory with expectoration of betel, hid their "damned spots" under innocent veils of whitewash.
Moonshee, who had evidently been beguiled by a cheap and spurious variety of the wine of Shiraz, and now sat maudlin on the steps, weeping for his home in Singapore, I despatched peremptorily in search of Beebe, bedsteads, and boxes. But the Kralahome's brother had vanished, doubtless routed by the brooms.
Bright, fresh, fragrant matting; a table neither too low to be pretty nor too high to be useful; a couple of armchairs, hospitably embracing; a pair of silver candlesticks, quaint and homely; a goodly company of pleasant books; a piano, just escaping from its travelling-cage, with all its pent-up music in its bosom; a cosey little cot clinging to its ampler mother; a stream of generous sunlight from the window gilding and gladdening all, — behold our home in Siam
I worked exultingly till the setting sun slanted his long shadows across the piazza. Then came comfortable Beebe with the soup and dainties she had prepared with the help of a "Bombay man." Boy slept soundly in an empty room, overcome by the spell of its sudden sweetness, his hands and face as dirty as a healthy, well-regulated boy could desire. Triumphantly I bore him to his own pretty couch, adjusted my hair, resumed my royal robes of mauve muslin, and prepared to queen it in my own palace.
And even as I stood, smiling at my own small grandeur, came tender memories crowding thick upon me, — of a soft, warm lap, in which I had once loved to lay my head; of a face, fair, pensive, loving, lovely; of eyes whose deep and quiet light a shadow of unkindness never crossed; of lips that sweetly crooned the songs of a far-off, happy land; of a presence full of comfort, hope, strength, courage, victory, peace, that perfect harmony that comes of perfect faith, — a child's trust in its mother.
Passionately I clasped my child in my arms, and awoke him with pious promises that took the form of kisses. Beebe, soup, teapot, candlesticks, teacups, and dear faithful Bessy, looked on and smiled.
Hardly had we finished this, our first and finest feast, in celebration of our glorious independence, when our late guide of fish-market fame, he of the seedy red coat and faded yellow facings, appeared on the piazza, saluted us with that vacant chuckle and grin wherefrom no inference could be drawn, and delivered his Majesty's order that I should now come to the school.
Unterrified and deliberate, we lingered yet a little over that famous breakfast, then rose, and prepared to follow the mechanical old ape. Boy hugged Bossy fondly by way of good-by, and, leaving Beebe on guard, we went forth. The same long, narrow, tall, and very crank boat received us. The sun was hot enough to daunt a sepoy; down the bare backs of the oarsmen flowed miniature Meinams of sweat, as they tugged, grunting, against the strong current. We landed at the familiar (king's) pavilion, the front of which projects into the river by a low portico. The roof, rising in several tiers, half shelters, half bridges the detached and dilapidated parts of the structure, which presents throughout a very ancient aspect, parts of the roof having evidently been renewed, and the gables showing traces of recent repairs, while the rickety pillars seem to protest with groans against the architectural anachronism that has piled so many young heads upon their time-worn shoulders.