The story "A Silhouette", from "Stories and Sketches
Sir Frank Sweettenham" (Oxford University Press, 1967)
Amongst the Malays of the Peninsula, the most picturesque figure is
of the famous Seyyid.
He is a man of sixty-two; tall and straight, with a face
so striking that
it would attract attention anywhere. His forehead is wide and
his dark eyes rather far apart, with drooping lids that it seems almost
effort to raise. His nose is aquiline and rather long, and his
is hidden by a long and heavy grey moustache. The jaw is massive
the chin square. The eyebrows black , curved and distinctly
while the hair is short and grey. He has a clear yellow complexion,
in spite of his age, there is hardly a line on his face.
The drooping eyelids and hooked nose, the dark eyebrows, grey-almost
with ends curved upwards, and the massive jaw and chin, are very
The elaborately quiet manner of the man, the studied slowness of his
movements, and his voice - so soft and low, it is an effort to catch
words -accentuate the strong feature of his face and fascinate the
as certain snakes are said to fascinate their victims. Only, with the
Seyyid, the eyes attract attention by the little there is to see of
His dress is scarcely less striking. A kerchief of some thin
material, stiffened with a jungle varnish which gives to the outer side
glossy surface, is tied into a fantastic yet becoming head-dress.
cloth is folded closely around the brow and over the scalps but two of
corners, overlapping, stand up in a point, about ten inches high, on
left side of the head, and balance the thick fold of the kerchief which
on the right ear. The cloth is hemmed with a chain stitch, in
all around its edges, and these edges are made to show with great
especially in the upstanding corners. On the glossy side of the
head-covering is painted, in gold leaf, a deep burden of scroll-work,
dotted about, within the border, are conventional flowers, also in gold.
Over a shirt of soft, rich, yellow satin the Seyyid wears a jacket of
silk - dull of surface, but o strange rich colour - into which is woven
design which resembles small cheriot which is gold thread. The
has an upright collar of the same material, is fastened by one gold
at the throat, and discloses a narrow gleam of satin undershirt.
sleeves are tight at the waist, slashed, and fastened by a long row of
buttons. The costume is completed by trousers of dead-black silk,
lower eighteen inches interwoven with a quaint design is silver
The trousers are made almost tight round the ankles, while a gorgeous
sarong or shirt hangs in graceful folds from the waist to the
The saroung itself is a thing of beauty, finest work of the famed
looms. The prevailing colours are soft tones of cunningly-blended
and green, lived by faint gleams of gold thread; but a wide length of
ablaze with gold, crosses the darker folds in flashes of splendour.
He is a man of war, this Seyyid, and was one of the most famous of the
fighting-chiefs in the days that are no more. The stories of his
If his cunning, of his wickedness, are strange and ghastly. He
enemies, and it is charitable to suppose that he has been maligned...
He has been a solider of fortune, and he would be so again. He
not pretend to many virtues, or accomplishments outside his profession
a captain of men.
When I see him, we talk of war - as it is understood on Malaya -
on that subject he can speak with experience.
"It is very annoying, "he remarks at last;" you know what Malays are;
as I walk in the streets, men nudge each other and say, "That is the
Seyyid," and they huddle together like covering cars, which always fall
each otehr in their anxiety to reach a safe place. Of course
is nothing to do now, and while the white men, the officers of the
talk nicely to me, they are always suggesting that I would go away to
other country. I am old, and I have no desire to go elsewhere,
when the Government wanted help, they found me useful.. You know that,
me are old friends, and we have done the Government work together."
I reminded him that once, before those ancient days, he had, by his own
to me, only waited for a signal to fall upon a considerable party of
amongst whom my death was, perhaps, the one most keenly desired.
The Seyyid will not discuss such an unprofitable subject. He
it with a reproachful glance a little deprecatory movement of hi hand,
the remark, "But the signal was never given!"
It was unkind to recall this incident, , and possibly a trifle
so I ask "Is there some title you would like?"
"Ah, yes,"he answers, "there is; but then, I must not forget my old
in arms, the men who fought with me long ago. I would not have
which rightly belongs to one of them."
The Sayyid recently passed the fasting month with the Sultan of Perak,
invited my attention to the fact that "his brother, the Sayyid, "had
very devout, and never missed a prayer. This craving for holy
and the better life is a veyr encouraging sign; and the Famous Seyyid
perhaps, not the first sinner who has turned to religion for excitement
he found the world slipping away from him.
But in his case, at any rate, the old Adam is hardly scotched, for, the
having turned to his recent visit, he says: "I asked the Sultan of
whether he was friend or foe to the State of Paiten, because I thought
could not care for the Raja of that place, and I offered to go and take
from him, if he wanted it." "How did you mean to do it?" I ask
he says, "I should go there with four or five people and make friends
the Paiten folk - fight cocks, and gamble with them, and play at
they like - and all the time my people would be coming in, by twos and
and fours and fives, and working towards the Raja's place, where I
be. And when it was time..."
Then, for an instant, his drooping eyelids rise a fraction of an inch;
glances at me, and they fall again.
"Meng-amok?" I suggest.
He does not answer; but a very slow smile wonders around the
of his mouth, and, as his face turns towards the ghostly pictures seen
the open doorways, it seems to be instinct with the vision of that
and furious might attack in for Paiten.
"It wold not be difficult." I say; " but Lenggang" - naming
State - "would be better worth having."
"Ah!", he answers, "I could not do that, it is a very populous county;
with quite a few men I could take Paitten, and there would some
You see I must think of that. I am a poor man, and if I could get some
I should like to go to Mecca."
"You have been writing while I have talked," says the
I ask what you have written about?"
"I have been trying to make a silhouette of you"
"What is a silhouette?"
"Roughly speaking, it is a profile portrait, in black, on a
"But where have yuou done this?"
"Here," I say, showing him the paper on which I am writing; "
you see I have only used black and white."
"Ah!" he says, "I understand; "it is the black and the white
of me. Do not make it too black. A silhouette can only be true
"Very well," I reply. "I will put in the colours."
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