The Digital Adventures

Love of Siam-CH10

Chapter 7B
Japanese Client

“His name is Fanique, a most unusual fellow”, White said later. “I see that,” Phaulkon answered.

“It’s not what you can see, but what you can’t see, that is important. He is mad and, with madness in men like him, we must take care.” White spoke in a hushed voice. “And he has a beautiful daughter,” he added, “a daughter who brings him contentment and at the same time concern.” He let it stand and said no more.

In time Phaulkon would know everyone he met that night, by name as well as by face. In the meantime he had a myriad of things that had to be done. Topping the list was his desire to find two friends from the shipwreck, the two men who nursed him back to life in prison-Diego and Christoph. He had heard that someone had seen them in Ayutthaya but that was all the information he had to go on. He searched everywhere. He knew they were devoted Christians and he asked the missionaries if they could assist in helping him find them. There was little else he could do but wait.

Then there was the matter of a place to live. That was solved when the East India Company found him a house within a short walk from his office. With the help of a young Portuguese woman named Monica, a friend of George White whom he had sent to help, he decorated the place much like the palaces of Constantinople he had seen in his travels. It even had a horseshoe-shaped staircase that led to an enclosed courtyard. He and Monica decorated the large living room in blue brocade and hung Persian drapes upon its walls. And like they have in the Middle East, it had a throne room, his bedchamber. Then came his dress. White took him to an Indian tailor and outfitted him in a new wardrobe. White instructed Phaulkon that the white man must maintain proper Western wear. “Your dress is important,” he said, “for it’s the dress that proclaims a man, that sets him apart from others. You must not go native for then you lose respect.”

Phaulkon disagreed but he kept his thoughts to himself and acquiesced to White’s instructions. He let the tailor do as White had bid. The truth, however, was that Phaulkon liked much better the clothes worn by the Siamese-sarongs and loose fitting blouses, sashes and cummerbunds, to tuck things into, and soft cotton footwear. Phaulkon thought it was a pity the way foreigners dressed, both men and women. They cared not that they were in the tropics, and forgoing comfort for fashion they dressed as they might in London or Paris. Their clothing was terribly uncomfortable. Western men wore tight woolen trousers, tunics and long coats with vests. They wore kerchiefs about their necks to stop the perspiration, and they carried small towels tucked into their waist coats to use to mop their brows. They wore heavy cumbersome leather boots. They perspired profusely, and their clothing was testimony to the fact. Westerners had a foul odor about them which the Siamese found offensive. But the Siamese, being as considerate as they were, never mentioned it.

Western men were overdressed, but their women were more ridiculous. They clad themselves in hooped skirts with layer upon layer of petticoats and other such undergarments. They wore high-neck lace blouses with puffed-up sleeves. They favored flowing curls to simple hairstyles of the Siamese. Phaulkon watched one western woman in her hooped skirt and as she was crossing the road she got caught up in a sudden wisp of wind that knocked her off her feet. She fell over and was unable to get up, lying there on her side, kicking her feet in the air in desperation. The Siamese, uncertain what to do, and fearful of touching a foreign women as they were with their own nobility, scurried past her without giving a helping hand. Phaulkon came to her aid and pulled her to her feet. She stood there, unsteady, dusting herself off, and cursed the Siamese for their indifference. She stormed off without acknowledging Phaulkon for his help.

From the first day that Phaulkon stepped ashore, he was drawn by the beauty of the Siamese women. He admired their slender bodies, their firm breasts, their unblemished skin. He liked every• thing about them, the way they walked, the way they bowed their heads in coquettish displays of flirtation, and above all he liked their gay laughter. They laughed at everything. If he innocently tripped over a stone along the roadside, they laughed; if he flinched touching a cup of hot tea, they laughed; if he mispronounced a word, they laughed. Their laughter was in jest and not in mockery. They played with their world as a child would play with toys.

Siamese women adorned themselves with an abundance of jewelry-rings and pendants, bracelets and earrings. The dress of noble women was extremely rich and elegant; their tunics were composed of scarlet silk with brocaded gold flowers. Their underskirts were of green and gold, with frills of exquisite work, from their elbows to the wrists.

One morning on his way to Burnaby’s office, where he now had a desk, Phaulkon saw a young Japanese lady disembarking from a klong boat, and being polite and gentlemanly he nodded to her. She ignored him completely, as if he didn’t exist, and turned away. Phaulkon was amazed, startled by her beauty, especially her white skin, whiter than the whitest cloud. Her lips were tinted a brilliant red and resembled a rose bud about to open. The red lips made her skin look even whiter. Her eyelashes were black, coal black, and her hair was drawn straight and tied up in a bun in the back. A heavy comb held her hair neatly in place. Not a strand of hair was out of place. She wore no jewelry, but with her bright kimono and scarlet sash she needed no other adornment. She was beauty in motion. Phaulkon watched her, mesmerized by the image of her, and in the next instant she was gone, almost as though she never existed. When he reached the office George White was in conference with Burnaby and, when they broke, Phaulkon asked him who the lovely Japanese woman was that he saw. White said, after Phaulkon described her, that there was only one Japanese in all the kingdom like her, so it had to be Mr. Fanique’s daughter, the Japanese gentleman he met at the party upon his arrival. She lived with her father in the Portuguese quarter.

“But who is she?” Phaulkon asked.

“You are persistent,” White said. “You are not satisfied with the Portuguese woman I sent you?” Then, with a smile, he continued. “You are better off if you stay clear of her. Stay far away. She is from a group of Japanese Christians who fled to Siam from Japan. Her father, the Japanese gentleman you met, is part Bengalese. An American square-rigger carrying a group of missionaries became shipwrecked on the Japanese coast and found refuge in an isolated village. Those missionaries who managed to survive succeeded in converting the villagers into Christians. When they were discovered, the Shoguns persecuted them and drove them off. The King of Siam granted them asylum and allowed them to settle in the country. Being Christians they have to live in the Portuguese quarter and not in the Japanese section. The girl’s father is a tyrant, and protective of his daughter. He has groomed her for better things than the likes of common seamen like us.”

Phaulkon laughed out loud. “I have heard of this man,” he said. “I know who he is and he is no noble. He’s a black marketer.”

Now it was White and Burnaby’s turn to smile. “Best some things not said,” White replied, and then told them they were about to meet Samuel Potts. “Now there’s your scoundrel if there ever was one,” he said. “He’s one of your East India Company officers who was sent out to take charge of checking company accounts. He can’t be trusted. Avoid him. He wrote to the home office in England complaining that the books were not in order. We know he pockets money from the Siamese merchants, and there is no way of catching him. You will hear him telling you that he is underpaid.”

Phaulkon easily made friends with sailors and merchants at the godowns along the docks. He knew that seamen are the best source of information a man can have. He learned that one of the major grievances with merchants is that the king’s merchant’s ships can sail only as far as India and China, a ruling forced by the Dutch after they blockaded the river. It was an unfavorable trade agreement forced upon their King Narai by the Dutch. Either Indians or English seamen must man ships that sail to India. Ships that go to China, by Chinese. Phaulkon’s mind began to work. There must be some way the king can disavow the trade agreement.

Later Phaulkon took up the matter with Burnaby, and voiced his opinion about how unfair he thought the agreement was. Burnaby set him straight. “The king is more clever than you might think,” he said. He explained to Phaulkon that the Crown’s motives for developing relations with the Dutch were twofold. First, as a powerful and advanced state as the Dutch were, Siam welcomed trade with them not only for a source of revenue but also as a way to obtain superior weapons. The Siamese wanted guns and ammunition and personnel to teach them how to operate them. Once they were well armed and trained, Ayutthaya could quash any unrest that might challenge the kingdom from Angkor and Burma, or from rival hordes in the north. Phaulkon was finding that he admired the king for his shrewdness, and he vowed that one day he would meet this king.

While Phaulkon worked the waterfront and soon learned the ins-and-outs of trade in Ayutthaya, Burnaby dove into his work with a vengeance. He checked manifests and invoices and verified the wares in the godowns. He studied the bills of lading and looked over contracts. He worked long hours, beginning at daylight and continuing until dark. But he was very much annoyed for Potts was forever at his heels, looking over his shoulder, nibbling into his affairs. Phaulkon’s first flare-up with Potts came when he was at the docks. A merchant, learning that he was with the East India Company and thinking he was an accomplice of Potts, told him that he had money set aside for Potts, and for Potts to come and collect it. Phaulkon approached Potts in the presence of Burnaby and told him what he had learned. “You are making side-deals,” he said to Potts. Potts wormed his way out, but there was fire in his eyes when he looked at Phaulkon.

Phaulkon became Burnaby’s right-hand man, but he also ran errands for his friend George White. As his reputation grew, he was called upon for advice and for information, and sometimes for help. One night when he was in his apartment, George White visited him unexpectedly. He was carrying a flask of Jamaican rum.

“I hear you are at loggerheads with Mr. Potts,” White began after he had poured the rum.

Phaulkon was astonished how rapidly news passed. He was also curious how the confrontation with Potts fell into the hands of George White so soon. As an interloper, White was an outsider with the East India Company and, officially, there was little he had to do with the company. He was an interloper, a free trader in competition with the East India Company, yet he maintained he was an Englishman first. In good faith, he keep the East India Company informed with what was going on in the underworld. The East India Company respected him and tolerated his activities as an independent trader.

White explained to Phaulkon that he was well aware of Potts’ behavior. He knew all about his shifty methods. “Potts hires local bandits,” he said, “bandits to steal from his own warehouse and he then divides the loot with them. He’s dangerous, but he is prone to error and sooner or later the ax will fall. But beware, he may strike you down first.” He paused, poured two more rums and announced, “Enough about Potts. There is other news that I bring you, unofficially that is.” They drank a toast. Phaulkon wondered what it might be.

White told him that a shipment of Portuguese wine had slipped by the king’s customs and was offered up on the black market. “What does this have to do with me?” Phaulkon asked. He didn’t care to engage in illegal activities that might put him back in prison. He was being cautious.

“You can handle the shipment.” White replied.

“Why are you asking me?” he questioned. “There’s hardly much of a profit in a shipment of wine to make it worth the risk.” “We are not talking about profit,” White said.

“If not profit, then what?” he asked.

‘There’s a buyer for the shipment, someone that might interest you.” Immediately Phaulkon thought it might be Potts. Could this be the downfall of Potts? “You must mean Potts,” Phaulkon said.

“No, nothing so uninteresting. The party who wants to buy the shipment is none other that Mr. Fanique, the father of the beautiful daughter who interests you.”

Phaulkon didn’t hesitate. This could be his chance to meet Fanique’s daughter. He jumped at the offer. He would deliver the cargo himself.

“I accept,” he said to George White.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” George White said. A smile crossed his face. “You’re smiling. What is it that can make an old grouch like you smile?” Phaulkon asked

“You’ll see,” he said and pointed to the door. “There are two men waiting there to see you.”

Phaulkon rushed to the door and opened it. There on the stone steps sat Diego and Christoph. Upon seeing their lost shipmate they jumped to their feet and all three men embraced. “Tell me,” shouted Phaulkon, “what have you two been up to? No, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. It doesn’t matter. I’ve been searching for you two, and I need you. You are going to come work for me.”

Diego and Christoph agreed. They would start to work the very next day for Phaulkon by delivering a shipment of wine.

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