' I thank you for the honour,' cautiously replied John.
' Only who are you, madam ? For, you see, I should
like to get one that is just.'
c Well and good ! For, you see, I am Justice ! '
' Justice ! ' exclaimed John, full of terror. ' Lord
have mercy on us ! So it is you who preside over
courts and pass judgment at trials ? '
' Yes, it is I.'
'Oh, no ; it will not do at all ! For you are much
too harsh and, see rightly. More than once, madam,
have you executed innocent people while murderers
were set at liberty by you. It also happens that you
sometimes punish just because some one may have
crossed your path whom you do not like. No, no, I do
not wish you as a godmother to my son.'
You wretch ! You are offending Justice. W T ait,
I will pay you for this ! '
However, Unlucky John had a pair of strong legs.
He ran away as fast as he could, without looking behind.
and when he stopped in order to catch breath he found
himself in a cemetery.
And suddenly a woman stood before him, wrapped
in a white shroud, and with tresses falling down upon her
340 UNLUCKY JOHN
shoulders. The shroud also covered her face, and when
she walked her limbs made a dry, crackling noise, like
the pattering of hail upon the roof.
' Where are you off to, my man ? ' she asked.
' I am looking for a godmother for my son.'
' Take me.'
' I want a just one.'
' More just than I you will not find.'
' Ah, dear lady, many say so. And who are you ? '
' I am Death.'
John paused a second, and then said : ' Indeed,
it is true what you say. You are really just. To
you all are equal young and old, rich and poor, lord
or commoner, prince or peasant. The hour strikes,
and you carry off all, taking no heed of either tears or
prayers. You are not to be enticed by promises, nor
bribed by gold or silver. You knock at all doors, and
when you say, " Come ! " one must obey. Yes, you are
just ; one may trust you. Be, then, the godmother of
And Unlucky John, taking Death by the hand, led
her into his hut, and Death stood godmother to his son.
After the ceremony was over, John gave a feast, and
they ate and drank in the small hut until late in the
When the time came to take leave, Death said to
John : ' You are a good man, my friend, and as a
reward for your confidence in me I will help you. I
will teach you a profession which will make you rich.'
What kind of profession is that ? ' asked John, in
* A doctor ? I ? But I cannot even read and
write ! '
That's nothing. You merely listen to what I tell
you. When you are called to a patient you first of all
look at the head of the bed. If you see me without
UNLUCKY JOHN 341
tresses then you will know that the patient will recover
his health, and you ean give him what you like -
even pure water you will cure him. But when the
shadow on the wall reflects my tresses, then all is over :
call for the priest.'
Thus it was settled. Death went away. John
bought himself a black suit and a hat and became a
doctor. He was very bold, and boldness, as every one
knows, is the sister of success, and thus John became
famous and was called to patients from far and wide.
He examined the pulse and, mindful of the order given
to him by Death, he was never mistaken. When he
said of a patient, That's all right ; he'll get over it,'
everybody knew already that he would live. His fame
grew, not day by day, but hour by hour. Gold rained,
as it were, upon John, and he became very wealthy.
His son grew up a nice boy. John, on the contrary,
grew old, and his hair turned quite grey. From time to
time, when Death happened to be on business in the
neighbourhood, she called to see her godson and his
father, who now lived in a magnificent palace. On
these occasions an extra fowl was added to the dinner
repast, and one or two bottles of wine were uncorked.
Death petted her godson, took some snuff out of John's
snuff-box, and went away.
Once Death said to the doctor, ' I frequently call on
you, but you, dear friend, have never paid me a visit
* There's plenty of time yet,' replied John, with a
forced smile. ' Should I come to you who knows ?-
perhaps you may not want to let me return again.'
' Oh, no ; I never take any one before his time. You
know how just I am ; therefore don't be afraid, and come
to me to supper.'
After some time had passed by, John at last decided
to call upon his friend. He met her in the forest and
they went together. They walked over hills and dells
342 UNLUCKY JOHN
and through thick forests. At last Death brought John
to a deserted place, whereon was erected a gloomy
palace, the walls of which were dark and covered all over
' Here we are at home,' said Death, opening the door
and allowing her friend to step in first.
' It's time we were home,' moaned Unlucky John ;
' I can scarcely hold myself on my legs.'
Death placed a supper before her guest and also
put some w r ine on the table. When he had finished
eating, and after he had rested a little while, she led
him into a large parlour and paused near the window.
Through this window one could survey a vast expanse
of space, strewn all over with thousands of candles,
stuck in the ground.
Meanwhile, night had overtaken them. Numberless
candles were lighted up, illuminating the darkness with
a mysterious glare. There were all sorts of candles
here large, middle-sized, and quite small ones. Some
of them scarcely smouldered, others burnt evenly, while
others flashed with a bright, dazzling light.
John was greatly struck by this spectacle.
' Heavens ! ' he exclaimed, and, after a short pause,
he asked his hostess, ' What is the meaning of all these
candles ? '
' These are the lights of life,' said Death.
* The lights of life ? What does it mean ? I don't
You will soon understand. Every being living on
earth has got here his or her light.'
' Ah, that's what it means,' murmured John. * But
why are they all so different from one another ? Some
large, others small ; some glittering, others scarcely
visible ? '
' Because in life, too, it is like this. One is growing,
another is in the full possession of his strength and
powers, while a third is already dying away. Every
clay children are bom into this world and old people un-
' I see,' muttered John, who felt a cold shiver creep
down his back. ' Just there opposite is a grand
' This is the light of a new-born child.'
THESE ARE. THE LIGHTS OF LIFE SAID DE/VTK .
* And this ? How it glitters ! '
' This light belongs to a youth of twenty years of age.'
' Tell me, dear friend,' said John timidly, ' where,
then, is my light ? '
' Here, in front of you.'
' Impossible ! ' cried he, turning pale. ' But the
whole of its wick is nearly burnt up ! '
344 UNLUCKY JOHN
Yes, my poor friend ; to you are left but three more
days of life.'
' What ? What did you say ? Only three days !
Look here, Death, we are friends, are we not ? Is it
not possible to give me a longer life ? Indeed, are you
not mistress here ? Make my light a little bigger ;
take a little wax off this big candle and add on to
' I cannot. It is the light of your son. It would be
unjust were I to fulfil your desire, and, you know, I am
' It's true,' sighed John, hanging his head.
' All I can do for you,' said Death, ' is to make you
still older, in order that it may be easier for you to die.'
And, indeed, when Unlucky John returned home, he
was so old, so infirm, that he fell on the steps of his
staircase, just like a heap of ashes, at the very moment
when, in the palace of the just godmother, his light
Adapted from the Russian by Dora Zhook.
HOW THE SIAMESE AMBASSADORS
REACHED THE CAPE
WHILE the English Kings during the fifteenth century
were trying to get possession of the whole of France
or fighting for the crown of England, their cousins in
Portugal were sending out expeditions over the Atlantic,
discovering lands containing undreamed-of wonders
down the coasts of Africa, and establishing a settlement
in the west of India at the town of Goa. Once there, the
merchants did not rest till they had sailed round the
Indian peninsula and on to Burmah and Siam, seeking
markets for their European goods, and buying in ex-
change all kinds of rich stuff's and beautiful things made
in the East.
Somewhere towards the end of the seventeenth
century the King of Portugal fitted out an embassy to
the King of Siam for the purpose of making a fresh
treaty with him, and in 1684 the King of Siam felt it-
was his duty to return it.
So he chose out three of his greatest mandarins or
nobles and six others not quite so great, and a large
number of servants and attendants to wait on them,
and informed them that in the month of March they
were to go on board a ship commanded by a Portuguese
captain and set sail for Europe. Of course everything
was to be as magnificent as possible, and the presents
he provided were to be finer than any that had been seen
before. They were to halt first at Goa, and then take
346 THE AMBASSADORS OF SIAM
the long voyage round the Cape of Good Hope. One of
the mandarins was called Occum Chamnam, and he has
written an account of all their strange and terrible
adventures both by sea and land.
It was the intention of the King of Siara that the
.ship in which the embassy embarked should reach Goa
in time to join the trading fleet for Europe : but owing to
terrific storms and ignorant pilots it was five months on
the way, and when at last the captain cast anchor in
Joa harbour it was only to learn that the fleet had
already started and they must wait for the next. The
Siamese gentlemen were well treated, and enjoyed seeing
the splendid houses and churches and being entertained
by the Portuguese viceroy at the expense of his master.
It was in January 1686 that they set forth once more
in a vessel manned by 150 men, containing besides
passengers of all nations.
For three months they sailed the Indian Ocean, and at
the end of April sighted some land, declared by both
pilots and sailors to be the Cape of Good Hope. Cer-
tainly, the Portuguese seamen of that day must have
i>een very different from their forefathers who had won
such fame, for these men seem to have been both stupid
.and careless. The ship rounded the promontory which
they imagined to be the Cape, and then steered to the
north. No look-out was kept, and both crew and
passengers went to bed with light hearts. One among
them was, however, unable to sleep, and this was
Occum Chamnam, the Siamese.
Finding the cabin that he shared with several others
"very hot, he went on deck. The sky was clear and there
was a bright moon, but as he looked round him he was
startled to see a huge dark mass close on their right.
He instantly roused the pilot, who, exclaiming ' Land !
Land ! ' ordered the steersman to put down the helm,
but no sooner had the order been obeyed than the ship
struck on a rock and was held fast there.
THE AMBASSADORS OF SIAM 347
Now that it was too late everything possible was
done, but it was of no use. She began to fill rapidly,
and the deck was a scene of the wildest confusion. Some
seized empty casks or sails or ropes anything that
came to hand, and threw themselves into the sea, where
they all perished ; others made rafts of the planks and
masts which had been cut away and trusted to them to
be carried on shore. Among these was Occum Cham-
narn, who had prudently put on his two ' good habits '
or best suits of clothes, while the second ambassador (a
noted swimmer) succeeded in reaching land with his
despatches tied to a sabre.
In one way or another about two hundred people
saved themselves from the wreck, but they seemed only
to have exchanged one death for another, as they had
nothing to eat or drink, and very little to cover them.
Even the ' two good habits ' did not keep Occum
Chamnam from shivering, so he returned to the ship,
(which was still above water,) on a hurdle to see what he
could find in the way of garments and provisions, not for
himself alone but for the unfortunate victims on the
rock, some of whom were literally naked. But the sea
had forced its way into nearly every part of the vessel,
and nothing was to be got but some pieces of gold stuff,
a small case with six flasks of wine, and some biscuit.
These he fastened on the hurdle and set out for the rock.
The gold stuffs he at once gave to the Siamese to wrap
themselves in, and strange indeed their gorgeous clothes
must have looked in that desolate place, while the
biscuit was equally divided.
This done, a council was held, and it was decided
to move forward at once, before the men were too weak
from hunger to walk. Luckily, the Portuguese had
brought away with them some muskets, with powder
and shot, both for protection against the Kaffirs, and for
the purpose of shooting game. Both the captain and
the pilots declared that the Dutch settlement at the
348 THE AMBASSADORS OF SIAM
Cape of Good Hope could not possibly be more than
twenty miles distant, and their hearers were only too
anxious to believe them.
' In a couple of days at most we shall be there,' said
these blind guides, who were to be proved as ignorant
of the land as they were of the sea. ' Only a couple of
days ; therefore leave any food you have got behind you,
except just what you need for that time.'
Trusting in this foolish advice, the little company
started on their journey, without even carrying water
with them. The sun was hot, and even with two halts
they made but slow progress. At length at four o'clock
they reached a large pond, and here they flung them-
selves down and quenched their raging thirst, aftei
which they felt strong enough to catch some crabs,
which they boiled on the fire. Then they stretched
themselves out and w r ent to sleep, and the Dutch settle-
ment appeared as far off as ever.
Now the Siamese nobles were not used to walking
or indeed to exercise of any kind, and they suffered
from the hardships far more than the Portuguese or
other Europeans. The chief of the ambassadors ir
particular was old and w y eak, and it was with great
difficulty that he was dragged along. A plan of march
was agreed on and the party divided into four. First
went the Portuguese, in whose steps the rest were to
follow, and who were never to be lost sight of by the
next in order, so that all might keep in touch one with
the other. But this arrangement was soon upset by the
Siamese ambassador protesting that he was too ill to
go any further, and that he wished the remainder oi
his countrymen to leave him where he was and join the
rest. When they reached the Dutch town, which by
this time could not be far off, they could send him some
food, and a litter to carry him, if he was still alive.
The Siamese were much troubled when they heard
his words, but they felt he was right. Yet it seemed a
THE AMBASSADORS OF SIAM 349
dreadful thing to leave a sick man to die of starvation
alone in a desert spot. They were still hesitating, when
a boy of fifteen, son of the ambassador's oldest friend,
flung himself on his knees on the ground, and declared
that whatever the old man's fate might be, he would
share it, and as one of the servants offered to remain also,
the others departed with comparatively light hearts,
promising to return as soon as possible.
But with the best will in the world they appeared
never to get nearer the Cape. In vain they toiled after
the Portuguese, who travelled much faster than they ; it
was with the greatest difficulty that they reached their
halting place on the top of a high mountain, and, half
dead from exhaustion, sank to sleep beside the fire. Next
day, Occum Chamnam was so weak from hunger that
during the march he several times fell down unconscious,
and would have died where he lay had it not been for the
kindness of another mandarin. In their extremity, one
of the party ate some leaves he found by the stream,
and finding that they satisfied his pangs, bade the rest
They had now been travelling five days, and each
morning they confidently expected their journey to end
before sunset. At one moment their hopes were raised
high by the sight of some men on the horizon. ' The
Dutch,' they said with a smile, but alas ! they were
no Dutch, but Hottentots armed with spears. They
came quite close, but when they beheld such a large
number of men, they altered their minds as to the
wisdom of attacking them, and made signs to the
Portuguese to follow them to their village. ' Surely we
shall get some food at last,' was the thought of every
man, but the villagers were too much occupied in staring
at the Siamese, and at what was left of the gold stuffs,
to have leisure to attend to them. At length the
starving guests could contain themselves no longer, and
350 THE AMBASSADORS OF SIAM
opening their mouths wide, pointed to them, and then
to the sheep and oxen grazing on the rich grass. The
Hottentots understood clearly, but only shook their
heads ; ' Tabac,' ' Patacas,' was all they would say,
and two large diamonds offered by Occum Chamnam
were scornfully put aside. Happily the pilot possessed
some ' patacas,' the only coin whose existence they
knew of, and in exchange for four of these they gave
him an ox. But as he divided it solely among his own
countrymen the Portuguese, the rest were not better off.
In this sad plight a brilliant idea darted into the
mind of one of the mandarins. He knew that though
savage races often were ignorant of the value of money,
they were always very fond of ornaments which they
could hang about them. Therefore he fastened some
gold clasps and buckles he had with him into his hair,
and walked carelessly among the Hottentots, who
instantly crowded round him, pointing to his head. At
first he took no notice, but this only made them more
greedy. Then he pointed to a sheep, and to one of the
ornaments. They answered by signs that in return for
a clasp they would give him a quarter of sheep, and
though this was much less than he expected or wanted,
it was better than nothing.
Emboldened by this, another Hottentot approached
Occum Chamnam, and fixed his eyes on the gold buttons
the Siamese was wearing.
; You may have it in exchange for some food,'
signed Occum Chamnam, and the Hottentot nodded,
and beckoned to him to follow.
' Perhaps I shall be lucky, and get a whole sheep
for myself,' thought the Siamese ; but he was not lucky
at all, and had to be contented with a small earthen pot
of milk. Even the Portuguese saw that they would
gain no advantage by staying on with the Hottentots,
and gave orders that next day they should continue
their march by way of the coast.
THE AMBASSADORS OF SIAM :;5I
That night no one went to bed, for the Hottentots
were holding counsel and dancing their war dance till
daybreak, and at any moment the strange camp might be-
attacked. At sunrise the word of command was given r
and the foreigners started southwards, determined to
follow the line of the shore, where they were thankful
to find the rocks covered with mussels. These they ate
greedily, and collected a large store to carry with them.
By this time both the captain and the pilots had
confessed what everybody else knew that they had
not the faintest idea where they were, or how far from
the Dutch settlement. After talking over the matter
with the mandarins, it was decided that the expedition
should henceforward stick to the coast, where they could
at least be certain of finding enough shell-fish to feed
them, together with water from the rivers which flowed
into the sea. When they reached the coast they were
further cheered by the sight of a high mountain, which
they w r ere assured by the pilots was the Cape of Good
Hope, but this turned out to be as untrue as before, as
the company discovered when they reached it.
It was only on their arrival at the place of halt, which
was happily close to the seashore, that one of the
mandarins was discovered to be missing. Unlike the
rest, he had been unable to eat the leaves and flowers
which had kept them alive, and, too weak to march over
the rough ground, had fallen unperceived out of the
ranks. This was not the first man to whom such a
thing had happened, and Occum Chamnam observes that
though at any other time he would have wept bitterly
over his friend, his thoughts were now entirely absorbed
in wondering if he should ever live to reach the Dutch
An evening of mist followed by drenching rain re-
duced them to the last stage of misery. At any rate they
felt as if they could suffer no more, till the morning
352 THE AMBASSADORS OF SIAM
dawned and they saw that during the night the Portu-
guese had abandoned them. At this last blow every-
thing grew ten times worse, and they were too wretched
even to speak ; but from this stupor of despair they
were roused by a speech of the second ambassador.
It was he and not his chief, the old man they had been
forced to desert, who was the real leader. It was he who
had swum with his master's credentials from the wreck
to the mainland ; who had fastened them to a stick on
the highest part of whatever mountain they were en-
camped on, or on the plains had tied them to the top of
the tallest plant. Now, in case of his death, he bade his
successor take the same care as he had done, to preserve
his master's despatches from insult, and if need be, to
bury them in some secret place. Meanwhile they were
to take courage and pursue their way.
' We walked very quickly,' says Occum Chamnam,
* at least what seemed quick to us, though in fact our
progress was but slow, and at mid-day we arrived on the
banks of a river about sixty feet wide.' In their anxiety
to get on and to join the Portuguese, whom they
imagined to be on the other side, some of the Siamese
plunged in, but the current was so swift that it was all
they could do to struggle back to shore. They were, how-
ever, resolved to cross somehow, and at length one of the
mandarins, who was a famous swimmer, bade them knot
all their scarves together, and undertook to carry the
line over and tie it to a tree, so that the rest might have
a rope to cling to when they made the passage. But
the rush of the water was too much even for him. The
line was torn from his grasp and he was swept against
a rock on the other side, where he regained his feet,
badly hurt and with his shoulder much bruised. As
soon as he was able to stand, he walked some distance
up the stream, where the river was calm, and then swam
back to his companions. All this time they had nothing
but water to support them, and were even reduced to
THE AMBASSADORS OF SIAM :t;V,
boiling Occum Chamnam's old shoes till the leather \va-
quite soft ; they then carved them and gave each man a
small piece, trying to think they \vere only eating very
tough mutton. Strange to say ' it was not intolerable,'
and they were emboldened to cook a cap belonging to one
of the attendants. But though the cap was broiled
almost to a cinder, it was too hard even for shipwrecked
men to eat.
Following the river, the Siamese came upon the dead
body of one of their interpreters, all of whom had dis-
appeared with the Portuguese. By now the condition
of the little party was so desperate that they decided
that they had better offer themselves to the Hottentots
should they find any as slaves ; and meantime
they would go back to the seashore, where at least they
could get mussels and fresh water.
Little though they guessed it, the sufferings of the
poor people were nearly at an end. After resting a few
days, and feeling quite strong after a diet of mussels,
they set out again, and soon fell in with some friendly
Hottentots, who had half a sheep with them. This they
readily sold for six gold buttons, and the Siamese thought
it cheap at the price when they sat down to the first
good dinner they had eaten since they were wrecked.
The Hottentots signed to the men to follow them,
but they were all so weak that even the strongest were
unable to keep up, while seven out of the fifteen were so
ill that they declared they could go no farther. The
bad water, which was often all they could get, had so
swollen their bodies that they hardly looked like human
creatures, and they could not use their feet at all. Dread-
ful though it seemed to abandon them in such a plight,
the remaining men resolved to leave all the dried mussels