Web Text-ures Logo
Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio

(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
The Romance of the Harem
Content Page

 Return to the Previous Chapter
Kellscraft Studio Logo


MEANWHILE his Majesty was better, and it was the last day of October. So the court and I, with my boy, and all the most favored of the royal family, set out for our annual visit to Bijrepuree, — leaving the Invincible' City and the disconsolate princess with her pale-faced companions to the care of the high officials Mai Ying Thai. ban within, and the Kroma Than Song Wang without.

Bijrepuree, or Petchabury, as it is commonly called, is the third city in size, and second in importance, in Siam, and is situated nearly one hundred and fifty miles in a south-westerly direction from Bangkok, on a river of the same name, which waters a country a thousand-fold more picturesque and beautiful than that around Bangkok-. As you ascend the river, a chain of mountains varying from seventeen to nineteen hundred feet in height rises above the surrounding country, the loftiest of which is called Khoa L'huang, or Royal Mountain. This is one of his Majesty's most favored country residences. A splendid palace has been built on its summit, on which five hundred laborers have been employed daily for ten years, and it is still (1866) unfinished A winding path which leads up to it has been admirably contrived amid the volcanic rocks which cover the surface of this mountain district I climbed to no such favored spot during my residence in Siam.

On the hither side far away stretches from north to south a chain of mountains called Khoa Dèng, and inhabited by many rude and independent tribes of the primitive Kariengs. Beyond these again rises another chain of lofty hills, the outlines of which appear like misty clouds in the distant horizon.

On the slopes and in the valleys are immense forests of magnificent trees, hiding in their dark recesses myriads of unknown plants and lesser forests of ferns, with palm-trees, rice-fields, tobacco and sugar plantations looking intensely dark in the setting sun, and dividing the lights and shades into numberless soft radiating shafts which fall in a red haze of different degrees of strength on the pellucid river that flows gently through them.

Then to the south and east stretches another plain, and beyond this lies the Gulf of Siam, on whose waters, fading away in the distant horizon, were sometimes sparkingly revealed a few scattered sail, outward and homeward bound.

On the peaks of several mountains adjoining the royal residence rise stately temples and p'hra-cha-dees. All over these mountains the workmen are still toiling, laying out the grounds into gardens and shrubberies. In the centre of many of them may be seen beautiful stone vases of Egyptian form, cut out of the selfsame rock, and filled with gorgeous flowers. Attached to the palace is a school-house and a residence for the teacher, with a private chapel for the ladies; but no distinct "harem," or woman's city, as at Bangkok. Those of the women who accompany the king on his annual visits have rooms allotted to them in the western wing of the palace, which is only curtained off by a wall and guarded by Amazons.

We, that is the young Prince Somdetch Chow Fa, my boy, and I, made the most of our visit to this delightful region, rambling over the hills and forests, gathering wild flowers, and visiting the hot springs, caves, and grottos, which form some of the more interesting features of the neighborhood In the foreground, near the schoolhouse, stood a clump of ferns full of pictures; a little farther on was a cave, over the mouth of which trailed huge convolvuli; and immediately above it an overhanging rock variegated with natural tints and colors, the effect of which was most wonderful.


Prom this spot there were tempting walks through groves of dark green trees, opening upon wide terraces which commanded exquisite views of the country, rich with cultivation or dotted with houses and gardens, or the still more fertile valleys, winding amongst which might be traced the silvery thread of the Diamond River.

Not far from the Royal Mountain are several grottos, two of which are of surprising extent and great beauty, an exact painting of which would be looked upon with incredulity, or as an invention of fairy land.

"Whatever may have been the origin of these grottos, owing to the moisture continually dropping through the damp soil of the rocks they have been clothed with the richest and most harmonious colors, and adorned with magnificent stalactites, which rise in innumerable slender shafts and columns to support the roof and walls. The setting sun reveals a gorgeous mass of coloring, ending in dark blue and purple shadows in the distant chambers and hollows.

I never witnessed such wonderfully illusive transformations as the sunlight effected wherever it penetrated these subterranean halls, no human hands have as yet touched their marvellous walls and roofs and pillars. All that has been done by man is to cut a staircase in the rock, to aid the descent into the grottos, and enable the visitor to see them in all their regal beauty.

The largest grotto has been converted into a Buddhist temple; all along the richly tinted rock-walls are contemplative images of the Buddha, and in the centre, just where is concentrated the richest depth of coloring, lying on a horizontal bed of rock, is a large sleeping idol of the same inevitable figure, with the same mysterious expression about the closed eyelids, as if he were in the habit, even in sleep, of penetrating distant worlds, in his longing to gaze upon the Infinite.

Lower down the mountain lies a calm lake, with its smooth silvery surface ever and anon broken by the leaping of a fish, as if to prove that it is water and not glass, and beyond the lake are more mountains rolling up into the sky in purple and green folds, with the faintest of blue borders and crimson-tipped edges, for they are many miles off.

It was evening, and we had just spent a delicious fortnight here, teaching in the mornings and rambling in the evenings, and his Majesty had assured me, to my great delight, that we should stay yet another while among the mountains; my boy and I had retired to our little rocky nest, around which there was an impression of savage grandeur and of loneliness almost overpowering, and where I used to imagine the "Hill Giants," of whom I had heard so much, lurking in secret in the caves and hollows, as ready to tear the Royal Mountain from its base and cast it into the gulf beyond, for the pitiless way in which the monarch doomed those poor five hundred slaves to toil on and on, without any prospect of ever coming to an end, in smoothing and shaping its rugged sides. And it was here that I first realized and appreciated the belief of the simple people about me in ghosts and spirits, pleasant and unpleasant: —

                         "Genii in the air,
And spirits in the evening breeze,
And gentle ghosts with eyes as fair
As starbeams through the twilight trees."

But in spite of them all we were sleeping soundly that night in the third story of our little eyry, when, about three o'clock in the morning, the sound of tocsins, gongs, and trumpets was flung out all over the distant hills and mountains, and re-echoed tauntingly, like the cry of so many demons lull of mad sport, in the multitudinous voices of the rocky solitudes. We were suddenly transported from deep sleep to wide-awake realities, to find tin' royal palace all alive with lights and sedans and horseman, and torch-bearing, shadowy phantoms, issuing from dark portals, gliding hither and thither among the rocks, and coming towards us.

What did it all mean?

The whole thing looked so mysterious that I at first thought the king was dead, or that the palace was beseiged, or that the "favorite," Peam, taking advantage of the mountain fastnesses, had run away.

The torchlight phantoms proved to be veritable brawny Amazons, who came to inform us that the court would return to Bangkok within an hour. "What! not stay another fortnight?" I inquired, sadly.

"No, not another hour. Get ready to follow," was the peremptory order. And so, on the third day succeeding, we were all settled down in our respective places at Bangkok.

Book Chapter Logo Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.