A month after the Rajah's departure, there suddenly appeared before the fort a crafty, ferocious Malay chief, with a thousand of his warriors, who demanded money from the Ranee, on the pretext that they were about to join the Rajah's expedition. Every man was armed to the teeth, and the chief, a giant in stature, was clad in a war cloak of bristling plumes and heavy brass and copper ornaments, which jangled as he walked. Coarse tufts of hair, shorn from the dead, hung from his shield, and he emphasised his words violently with his spear. It was a situation to daunt any woman, but the Ranee recognised that to display fear would only court disaster, and perhaps death.
"Had I been a man," her Highness naively observed afterwards, "I should have felt very much afraid." The remark did not impute lack of courage to the male sex, but was merely expressive of a belief in Dyak chivalry, which, upon this occasion, was rather misplaced. The Ranee refused to give the chief one cent, and his "eyesblazed with anger " as he advanced in a threatening attitude. "You forget," he hissed, "that I have a thousand men below, and you have none here. Take heed," he added expressively, "this evening by sunset that money must be mine. If not-------"
And then, at this dramatic moment, there was heard the sound of the war chant of the victorious warriors of the Rajah's expedition, who returned just in the nick of time, and thus probably saved the life of the Ranee.
It is a striking tribute to the personality of the Rajah and his wife, however, that they are treated with every respect, although they live in the midst of 600,000 people of various nationalities, all of whom still possess, more or less, under the veneer of law-abiding habits imbued by European influence, certain savage instincts; and, although the Rajah is still forced at times to make expeditions inland to quell small rebellions, he rules his kingdom without the aid of warships and 12-inch guns. "Trust in my people is the great safeguard of my position," he says.
You would be astonished to see how simply it is all done. I am accessible to all, and the people come to me at any hour of the day. The one thing which appeals to them all is that I give them my personal attention, advice, and even friendship."
And this is exactly the secret of the affection and admiration which is bestowed upon the Ranee by the women of Sarawak. " You and all your race are among the most charming people that God has put into the world." These are the words which the Ranee said one day to her great friend, Datu Sahada, the wife of the eldest son of Datu Bandar, one of the chiefs of the council which assists the Rajah in his government of Sarawak, as, taking the native woman's hands in her own, she took her leave of Sahada after a walk through one of the Malay suburbs. Is it surprising, when she holds such sentiments as these, that the Ranee occupies pride Of place in the hearts of the women of Sarawak?
It was when she went to Sarawak as the bride of Sir Charles that the Ranee became friends with Datu Sahada, and this friendship has never changed. " Whenever I return to Sarawak, after however long an absence," says the Ranee in an interesting account of " A Day Spent in Kuching," which she has written, " I meet with the same affection and kindness as in former years. The same subjects interested us both, and together we learned to read and write in the Arabic characters. In our youthful days she taught me to embroider raised flowers in gold on silk and satin cuffs, and to thread the blossoms of the Cape jasmine in intricate patterns to wear round our necks instead of gold or jewels. Sometimes we made tassels of the same flower to wear in our hair. But, alas ! those days are gone with the flowers of yester-year, and our grandchildren now fashion those fragrant chains. In these later days, when I am at Kuching, my friend and I are content to potter over knitting-needles, teaching the young girls to knit woollen jerseys to preserve husbands and fathers from the evil effects of morning and evening dew. Sometimes we decipher Malay legends written in Arabic with spectacles on our noses."
It is a delightful description, beautifully worded, of the simple, homely life of the Ranee of Sarawak. But it is not easy to imagine this lady, who still retains much of her youthful beauty and grace, and who is known in this country as a skilled musician, clever linguist, and brilliant conversationalist, sitting cross-legged on the carpet of her boudoir in the Malay costume, surrounded by attendants to whom she is explaining the intricacies of some fancy knitting stitch. To the Ranee, however, the society of Malay women is far more fascinating and attractive than that of the women of her own country. They may not be beautiful, but there is much to compensate, in the opinion of the Ranee, for their lack of good looks.
"For instance," she says, "a Malay woman's hair is superb, and remains so until she is somewhat advanced in years. Her hands and feet are almost always beautiful, with delicate wrists and ankles, and long, tapering fingers. She is graceful and noiseless, and, when young, a Malay woman's walk has the flowing easy movement of a panther. The dress is also very pretty. A gold-spangled veil is thrown over the head, and a gaily coloured petticoat reaches to the ground. It is worn under a satin jacket, dark in colour, upon which are sewn ornaments of pure gold. The jacket is closed at the neck by great wings of pure gold, and out of doors a silk scarf, wide and long, envelops the head and shoulders, and can be worn to hide the face at the wearer's will.
"The older women adopt sombre clothes, but the younger ones look like brilliantly coloured butterflies. The veils are red, blue, pink, or green. The colours of the jackets are also exceedingly bright, and the petticoats are made of dark or of light red silk. One of the delightful signs of a Malay woman's presence is the pretty music made as she moves about a room. Her silk draperies rustle like the fronds of an areca palm stirred by the breeze, and her gold and silver bangles tinkle like little bells."
The Ranee tells an amusing story of a reply made on one occasion by some of her women attendants, who, when they are out walking with her, regard it as etiquette to walk in single file. Conversation is not easy under such circumstances, but the Ranee endeavours to enliven these walks as much as possible. "Tired?" she asked on one occasion, in a tone of polite inquiry. "Oh, no," they all answered, at once bending low; "it is delightful to eat the air."
Another amusing story told concerning the Ranee is connected with a visit she paid to this country some time ago. She is a strict vegetarian, and was asked by the secretary of a vegetarian society to open their bazaar. The Ranee kindly consented, and the fact was duly announced. Judge of the secretary's surprise when he received a note from one of the members of the society saying that he did not think the Ranee was a suitable person to perform the ceremony The secretary was too busy to worry over everybody's little fads, so he thought no'more about the matter until, just after the Ranee had declared the bazaar open, he was buttonholed by the complaining member. "I'm glad you thought better of it," he said. "Thought better of what? " asked the secretary. "Why, of getting the Ranee of Sarawak to open the bazaar." ' But she did open it," the mystified secretary exclaimed. "Good gracious ! Was that the Ranee?" gasped the other. "I expected she would be black!"
Kuching is a town of bazaars, a typical Oriental market, where one can buy almost anything and everything, for the country is rich in agricultural produce and minerals. Coal exists in large quantities, as well as gold, silver, diamonds (one of the largest in the world, known as the "Star of Sarawak," was found here), antimony, and quicksilver. And the mention of Sarawak coal recalls a story told by Mr. de Windt of an incident which occurred when he was at Irkutsk, in Siberia, and was consulting a map of Asia with the governor of the province. The latter was unaware that Mr. de Windt was in any way connected with Sarawak. "That's a curious place," said the Russian, pointing to it on the map. "It belongs to a private individual, a mad Englishman; I forget his name. Of course, in the event of war with England, we should occupy it at once. There is coal there."
Mr. de Windt is no less enthusiastic about the beauties of Kuching than his sister. "Never have I beheld such a fairyland of flowers," he says, in regard to the environs of Kuching. "There are places where the rarest orchids grow like nettles in an English meadow, and where overhanging palms, clear, rushing streams, and brightly hued birds and butterflies resemble a transformation scene at Drury Lane."
There is, however, another side to the picture. In spite of its picturesque people and natural beauties, Kuching is apt to prove somewhat dull and monotonous after a while to the European visitor. It has its English club, while at the Rajah's palace one may meet the elite of the European residents or distinguished visitors who are travelling round the world, for Sarawak is on the track of such tourists. But the climate is too warm to venture out of doors before afternoon or evening, and the visitor finds little to do beyond riding or driving. Nevertheless, although she has passed so many years in this far corner of the globe, the Ranee of Sarawak desires nothing more than to spend the remainder of her life there. She has many friends in this country, but far more among the people who regard her as their Queen. "The Rajah governs, but the Ranee reigns-in our hearts." And in this tribute, expressed by a Malay councillor, the reason of the Ranee's voluntary exile reveals itself.