The Digital Adventures

Love of Siam-CH16

Chapter 11A

Among the documents given to Phaulkon by Abu Umar was a navigation chart-Golfe de Siam, by French engineer M. La Mare. Someone, perhaps George White, had drawn the course which they were to follow. Phaulkon was surprised how remarkably accurate and detailed the French had charted the area. France was obviously focusing her attention on Indochina and Siam, and Phaulkon now wondered if the French might be involved in arming the rebels. He noted their destination-Point of Ligor. It was not far from where the French had built their fort in Songkau. Phaulkon followed their course on the chart. They passed “Pulo Sengor Isle” and “Pulo Gorman Isle” well to their starboard, and it was when they neared Point of Ligor that the storm broke. It was a sudden outburst. The winds and seas seemed to materialize out of nowhere. It just happened, without warning. Phaulkon knew that the seas in the Gulf of Siam and the Malay coast were notorious for sudden storms, for the ocean bottom was shallow and tremendous waves could suddenly build up. But he never expected a storm to happen as rapidly as this one did. The old ship with it heavy cargo was not fit for such violence. Almost instantly her seams began to open up and water started to pour in. Their ship was doomed.

Phaulkon, of course, could have made a more noble effort to save the stricken vessel, but he didn’t. When the crew grew tired and stopped working the pumps, he didn’t admonish them. When the water began to rise in the bilge, he could have had the men turn to with buckets and begin to bail, but he let it rise. It was almost as though he had planned for the storm to happen. Even before they began to ship in water, he had the crew start emptying the gunpowder barrels, and with boards from the broken crates he had them fashion two rafts. Even before the ship went down, they climbed aboard. Instead of being distraught from the loss of the ship, Phaulkon seemed relieved. Like a sinner absolved from his sins, he was exonerated from his crime of smuggling arms to the enemy.

When dawn broke the storm had passed. There was no land in sight, only the scattered wreckage of the ship over the face of the ocean, rising and falling with the ocean swells .. They were farther from land than they thought. Phaulkon along with Diego and Christoph had boarded one raft and the Arabs boarded the other. In the blackness of night Phaulkon could hear the Arabs arguing among themselves, and panic followed. They began paddling, but not knowing the direction of land. When dawn came their raft was nowhere in sight. The vast ocean had swallowed them up. Phaulkon had called out to them that they were wasting their energy but they didn’t hear him. Perhaps, even if they had, they would not have paid heed to his advice. In any event, when the sun rose, they were gone.

Phaulkon judged by the motion of the sea that the current was carrying them toward land, and again he hoped it would take them into Siamese territory. Only time would tell, and they had plenty of that.

For two days they were at the mercy of an unrelenting sun beating down upon them. Without cover, nor a drop of water to drink, they blistered in the heat. Their lips cracked like the bark on a gum tree; their tongues turned into leather. To talk was an effort. They became delirious. Phaulkon listened quietly, in a daze himself, to Christoph uttering to Diego about dying and the afterlife. “They are sending us to hell,” Christoph mumbled.

“Who is sending us?” Diego asked.

“They are. They are sending us to hell,” he repeated, not making any sense.

Diego replied. “There is no hell, I tell you, The Holy Book says there is no hell.”

“Holy Book! Holy Book!” Christoph lamented. “Death is death.

Isn’t it better to go down fighting than to die a slow death as this.” He was quiet a moment and then spoke up. “Per chance there is a hell. Let’s hope. Then at least we’ll all be together.”

“No, we will all be together but it will be here on earth,” Diego insisted, not finding Christoph’s comment humorous. “I tell you we will be back here on the earth. The old man showed us the book, but no hell. The Holy Book doesn’t teach such a thing.”

“What about the padres,” Christoph said, “they read the Holy Book and they say there’s a hell.”

“Are you saying you trust them more than me, your good friend.”

“I am not saying that,” Christoph answered. “Yes you did.”

And so it went, into the night of the second day.

None of them were awake when the surf dumped them on to the beach. They lay there in the sand, lifeless bodies, and awoke only when the light of dawn came, and when Siamese soldiers gave them water to drink. The soldiers at first were friendly, however, they were not too pleased when they discovered the survivors’ raft had been constructed from empty barrels. They knew instantly the barrels were powder kegs. The shipwrecked sailors were smugglers. They hurriedly marched them to the office of the Governor of Ligor.

”And what do we have here,” the Governor said when he saw the men. “Gun runners and smugglers. Where are the guns?”

“They went down with the ship,” Phaulkon said, addressing the Governor and his officers in Malay.

The Governor, who had been sitting, stood and rose up to his full height. He smiled, a smile of victory. “Smuggling,” he said, “arming the Muslims, a crime punishable by a hundred deaths.” He motioned for the guards with their lances to come forth.

Diego and Christoph were aghast. They could not for the world of them understand why Phaulkon admitted that they were carrying guns. There was no proof that they had been. Now Phaulkon admitted to the crime. Had the sun gotten to him? When they looked over at Phaulkon, he grinned at them. He then did the most unexpected thing. He addressed the Governor and his officers in high Siamese, the language of the royal court. Diego and Christoph looked at him beyond belief now. Was this their master talking.

“I am here on a mission,” he said. His voice, and the manner in which he spoke, baffled the Governor. He and his officers could do little more than stand there looking at the three prisoners. They remained mum. The Governor, of course, did not want to admit that he couldn’t fully understand Phaulkon when he spoke in high Siamese. Sensing this, and not wanting to embarrass him and do further harm, Phaulkon now spoke to him in local Siamese. “Perhaps I should address you in Tai,” he said, “so that your men will understand.” The tension passed. “As I said,” Phaulkon continued, “we are here on a mission.” They listened now as Phaulkon explained their circumstances.

He announced he was taking full responsibility, admitting he was the captain of the ship, and he asked the Governor to release him and his crew. The Governor was dumbfounded. Who is this foreigner who speaks in such elegant Siamese? He questioned Phaulkon further.

Phaulkon remained calm, surprising even his own men. In a strong and clear voice, he explained that what had happened was exactly the opposite of what the Governor might think. He told that he and his men were working for an organization of foreign traders who are concerned about the rebel activities in the kingdom that threatens the trade industry. His orders were to be kept secret, but since the mission ended the way it did, he feel compelled to divulge the truth of the matter. He was delivering cargo from Ayutthaya to various towns down south. His mission was to arm the Siamese for a surprise attack against the Muslim rebels in Songkau. Phaulkon also told the Governor he had information that the Dutch were arming the rebels.

The Governor did not know what to say nor what to do. As the governor of a Siamese province, his chief duty was tax collecting for the king. He questioned Phaulkon further but he could not get him to change his story. Not wanting to accept the grave responsibility of making a decision as what to do with Phaulkon and his men, he announced he would send them back to Ayutthaya, under guard. He further made it clear that the Governor of Ayutthaya would receive the full report.

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