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The sacking of Luang Prabang

Even though for Pavie the journey continued without any great interest, alarming and contradictory news abounded. The Hos had taken the town of Theng. Pavie, abandoned by his Siamese officer and his secretary, found himself obliged to retrace his steps. He returned to Luang Prabang on 10 May. The Siamese military chief, the Chao Meun, had left for Bangkok five days ago with his soldiers. Pavie asked to join the second king who had left in front of the Hos. "The second king is infirm. My presence with my Cambodians will encourage those who march with him. If the king should want to give the armed men the order to obey me, I would take charge of defence." However he was not wanted. It was suggested he went to Paclay, a three-day journey away. "[…] I once again observed that no-one wanted to see me take an active part in what was going to happen. No doubt reproaches from Bangkok were feared."

What made Pavie act like this? Over and above his attachment to this new country, his desire to show the French presence in a favourable light, he had proved his great courage and obstinacy. "It is doubtful whether the inhabitants of Luang Prabang, poorly armed and with a lack of confidence in a leader equal to the terror the Chinese inspire in them, will defend themselves […]. As for the King, what he fears above all are reproaches from Bangkok, either for useless resistance causing the ruin of the country or for preparing for the invasion of neighbouring regions by too willing a submission. What I believe to be true is that the Thai functionary puts the desire to remove Luang Prabang from French influence far above the desire to save it from Chinese pillaging […]. It has not escaped anyone here that the commissioner fears seeing me in evidence at the expense of Siamese prestige."

The Hos entered Luang Prabang on 7 June. The real reason for their attack seemed to be the kidnap of three sons of Deo Van Seng, the chief of the Lai district, by the Siamese who took them hostage, and perhaps also the attraction of royal treasure. The city was abandoned and the King was alone. "I fear for the King", said Pavie to his Cambodians. "Take these revolvers, carry your shotguns and as soon as you arrive rendezvous close to him. Say I am worried by the way things are going, he only has to say the word and I will join him. Then do not leave him and enlarge his troop. If he fights, fight yourselves; if he must flee, save him." This is what the Cambodian Keo did. "This Cambodian who would allow his own king to perish rather than touch his sacred person, without scruples carried this old man, whose safety I had entrusted to him, under uninterrupted fire." They fled in boats to Paclay which they reached on 13 June. The king refused to leave for Bangkok and lost his temper with the Kaluoung.

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"You want to force me to go to Bangkok to remove us from danger. I will not leave my people. At Luang Prabang when it seemed there was nothing to fear you managed everything with complete assurance. When things became serious you abandoned me, all the Laotians saw it. You prevented me from accepting the help of Mr Pavie. It was his men who saved me! Since my misfortune it is he who looks after me and my family. I wear his clothes and I have his mat for my bed! I fled almost naked. Did you bother to come to my aid? According to the letter from Bangkok which you showed me, your duty was always to be between me and Mr Pavie, a forced intermediary in our conversations. For four days you have behaved like runaways [...] I am old, I feel the need to trust someone, to be led by him. My grown sons are absent. Tell me can I have confidence in you now! Come onto Mr Pavie's boat, take advice from him, because his is the only advice I want to follow."

This change of mind by the king was spectacular. His disaster and that of his people made him seek assurance. From now on Pavie was the one to whom everyone turned.