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The Romance of the Harem
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VELA CHOW, or the Beautiful Dawn, was the only daughter of a very powerful king of Ayudia, She was so wondrously beautiful that the old Brahmins and astrologers who foretold her birth named her, even before she was born, the Beautiful Dawn, as the only appropriate name for her.

Now it happened that, at the time of Vela Chow's birth, there was no moon to illuminate the fair earth, but the golden sun and the green earth enjoyed a much closer and more intimate friendship than they now do, and old age, sickness, and death were unknown to the blessed and undying people of Ayudia.

But as the mighty king Somdetch P'hra Batt, the duke of the golden foot, had reigned nearly three thousand five hundred years without ceasing, he became weary of the cares of state, and thereupon abdicated in favor of his young son, P'hra Batt Bandeth‚no, a vigorous youth of not more than five hundred years of age, who was even from his childhood an especial favorite of the ruby-faced and warm-hearted monarch P'hra Athiett, i. e. the Sun.

In the course of time, the friendship between these two, Bandeth‚no and P'hra Athiett, sovereigns of the earth and sky, ripened to such a degree of perfection that the latter was loath to withdraw his bright beaming face from his young friend's kingdom, even to seek his couch for a little rest at night, as had been his custom from time immemorial; thus he beamed forth both night and day in saffron hues on the fair mountains and lovely valleys of the invincible city of Ayudia, and the land flourished in luxuriance and beauty, the fruits and flowers rivalled those that grew and blossomed in Indra's own garden, and countless birds of marvellous plumage winged their flight from distant worlds to build their nests and warble their exquisite melodies among the proud forests of this favored land. As for the men of this region, they were tall and stately and of golden mien, like the laughter-loving Gandharwas of Indra's paradise, and the women were gloriously beautiful, fair as silvery clouds, with eyes of wondrous hue; so that no mortal man could look upon one of them and not yield his spirit to the sweet frenzy of inextinguishable love.

Away flew the golden days and nights, and round and round rushed the radiant chariot-wheels of P'hra Athiett, and thousands and thousands of years sped away, but he never relaxed the speed of his swift coursers, nor drew in his rainbow-tinted reins, nor turned away even for an instant his glowing eyes from this favored kingdom.

Now, things having gone on in this way for several thousands of years, yet no sweet slumber had ever closed the godlike eyes of P'hra Athiett, and all the lovely Dow‚str‚s, i. e. the stars, finding themselves totally eclipsed, their brilliancy and beauty marred by this unceasing sleeplessness on the part of their sovereign, formed the wicked and cruel design of revolting against him, and of taking possession, by some means or other, of his golden car.

Accordingly, instead of going to sleep, as had hitherto been their practice during the day, they all plotted together to hide themselves behind the many-tinted curtain of their monarch's chariot, and to watch his movements, in order to discover the cause of the singular attraction that drew him forever towards the earth, while he left his own vaulted and ethereal hemisphere to the tendencies of stray suns or wandering comets.

Having ratified with many an oath and many a vow their wicked compact, the treacherous Dow‚str‚s, instead of going to bed like the dutiful children of a kind and beneficent ruler, only pretended to sleep, but all the while kept opening and shutting and blinking their bright, inquisitive little eyes, winking at one another and peering behind the golden curtains of the royal chariot at their unconscious master, who, fully believing that all his subjects were sound asleep, grew brighter and brighter, while over his round, genial face there beamed forth a smile of ineffable radiance as he approached the earth. At this very moment the rebellious Dow‚str‚s, wondering at the blissful face of their monarch, peered out from behind the rainbow-hued drapery of the celestial chariot and turned their penetrating eyes towards the earth, where, to their astonishment, they beheld the matchless form and the divinely beautiful face of Vela Chow, who was lulling her wearied father to rest with the music of her sweet voice.

"Ah! ah!" laughed the wicked Dow‚str‚s, "now we have found out the secret."

As soon as she had soothed her father to sleep, the lovely Vela Chow, all unconscious of what was happening around her, sauntered forth among the unfrequented woods and dells, making the voiceless hills and rocks reecho her merry notes in melodious sounds; now culling rare wild flowers to wreathe round her lovely brow, now bathing her little feet in the cool crystal waters of a purling brook that murmured gently through the mountain caves and caverns, and anon raising her glad heart in thanksgiving and praise to the great, beneficent, and glorious P'hra Athiett.

At length she sat herself down in the deep solitude to rest; and as she listened to the gentle zephyrs that fanned her yellow tresses or rustled amidst the topmost boughs of the "green-haired" forest trees, the birds plucked for her the ripest and the sweetest fruits, and some dropped them at her side, and others, less timid, hovered around her, holding them in their tender bills, each fluttering against the other and striving to be the favored one to whom she would open her sweet mouth to be fed; and while the many-hued birds were thus rivalling each other in their delicate attentions to the lovely maiden, it chanced that a gorgeous butterfly, more glorious than any she had ever before seen, alighted on a neighboring flower. Up sprang Vela Chow, and away she flew after it, from flower to flower, from shrub to tree, until at last the tantalizing butterfly flew so high in the air that the eager damsel could do no more than raise her fair face and sparkling eyes to follow its airy flight through the bright sky. Just at this moment P'hra Athiett's golden chariot was coming over the hill, and he smiled a smile of such ineffable delight when he caught sight of her, that he dazzled the eyes of the poor little maiden; and as she could no longer see the beautiful butterfly, she was obliged to relinquish all idea of capturing it. So she retraced her disconsolate steps to her lonely mountain stream, and plunged into its waters, in the hope of finding therein refreshment and forgetfulness of her cruel disappointment.

But P'hra Athiett was not to be thus baffled; so he noiselessly climbed higher and higher, and approached nearer and nearer, and smiled so much more warmly than ever, that he once more quite overpowered the weary maiden, who suddenly vanished from his sight, sought refuge in her favorite mountain cavern, and there fell sound asleep.

For a moment poor P'hra Athiett was disconcerted, and a great pain, like a dark heavy cloud, shot up from his heart and overspread his bright, happy face, and he knew not what to do; but the next, he broke forth into a more joyous smile than ever, for he was just as foolish was old, and had been on the lookout all these thousands of years, night and day, hoping to catch a glimpse of this incomparable maiden; the moment he did so, he fell desperately in love with her, and he could not make up his mind to perform his journey without one more look at her sweet, pure face; therefore, instead of on his way through the sky, he changed his course, and drove at a furious rate down the mountain-side towards the cavern, alighted from his chariot, and crept softly into the cave where the lovely Vela Chow slumbered, and smiled upon her with such rapturous tenderness that the sleeping maiden's heart was penetrated and completely captivated. She opened her beautiful eyes with a joyful sense of a new and delicious emotion upon P'hra Athiett, who beamed upon her so lovingly and with such irresistible pleadings in his godlike eyes, that she could not refuse to return his affection, and they there and then exchanged vows of eternal friendship and love.

But alas! while the all-unconscious and happy lovers were thus fondly conversing together, and P'hra Athiett was painting in glowing words the beauty of his heavenly dwelling-place, the wicked Dow‚str‚s in all haste rushed to the mountain-side, drove off the golden chariot, and unharnessed the swift-winged coursers. Having thus cut off his retreat, they raised a shout of triumph, deposed their infatuated monarch, and established a republic among themselves, permitting neither stray suns nor wandering comets to have anything to do with their government

Poor P'hra Athiett, who was now about to conduct his sweet happy bride to his celestial kingdom, found, to his consternation and grief, that his golden chariot had vanished. He bowed his head, and his great joyous face became suddenly overcast; all its light and glory departed, while large tears like mountain torrents rolled from his godlike eyes, and streamed upon the earth, and were there and then transformed into nuggets of the purest gold.

Then the mountains, pitying his sufferings, opened their hearts, and revealed to him a secret passage by which he might regain his heavenly abode.

P'hra Athiett bade a sad adieu to the lovely Vela Chow, and, with promise of speedy return, set out, shedding golden tears all along the way, in search of his missing chariot. And as for the unhappy Vela Chow, the moment she lost sight of her beloved P'hra Athiett, she drooped her fair head in unspeakable sorrow, and followed him with aching heart and faltering step all the way, searching for the lost chariot, and shedding abundantly her bright beautiful tears, which, as they fell upon the rocky sides of the mountains, changed their flinty arteries into veins of the purest and most precious silver.

Thus the grief of these two godlike hearts served to enrich the country with endless wealth.

At the end of twelve hours, however, the wicked stars repented of their cruel conduct, and a fresh compact was made between the republican Dow‚str‚s and the godlike lover P'hra Athiett, wherein it was expressly agreed that for a fortnight in every month he should pick up his beautiful bride at the mouth of the cavern and take her with him to his celestial home; but that for the rest of the month she should unveil her matchless face, and reveal her exquisite beauty to the Dow‚str‚s, and rule over them in the sky, ó for they all, it seems, had also fallen desperately in love with her, ó and it was distinctly stipulated that P'hra Athiett should never attempt to approach her while she reigned as their queen and mistress in the heavens; and to distinguish her in her new regal character, the Dow‚str‚s changed her name from "Vela Chow" to "Rupea Chandra," ó the Silver Moon.

To all this P'hra Athiett readily assented; for he was impatient to regain his chariot, and to bear away his lovely bride.

But it is said that even to this day, while Vela Chow is presiding in queen-like splendor over the jealous Dow‚str‚s, P'hra Athiett is foolish enough at times (for now and then he cannot restrain his affection) to attempt to kiss her. When all the Siamese, fearing lest he should again be dethroned, turn out en masse, and shout, and fire cannons, and beat drums, to warn him of the impropriety of his proceedings; which in the space of two or three hours ó this being the time, it is said, that sound takes to travel to the sun and moon ó generally produces the desired effect of recalling the monarch to himself

Thus are the gold and silver mines, and the lunar and solar eclipses, accounted for in the Siamese legends; and annual pilgrimages are still made to the cavern where the lovely Vela Chow plighted her troth to P'hra Athiett.

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