The Digital Adventures

Love of Siam-CH40

Chapter 25A

The demands the French were putting on Phaulkon were a heavy burden that deeply troubled him. It was becoming, to say the least, emotionally draining. He felt, in all honesty, that he could not proceed much longer with their requests. How could he assist the French ambassador and his embassy in converting King Narai and his kingdom to Christianity when he himself had doubts? All his life he had been confused with the tenets of Christianity and no bishop, no priest, no father, no brother, no missionary, not one of them could give him the answers he sought. In the final analysis, he reasoned, how could they? They were fighting among themselves about which scriptures were right and which were wrong.

The most disturbing issue was France’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes. King Narai had lauded the Edict. Issued in 1598 by Henry N of France, it granted French Protestant Huguenots substantial rights in a Catholic nation. The Edict separated civil from religious unity, and opened a path for secularism and tolerance. It offered general freedom of conscience to individuals. King Narai pointed out to Phaulkon, in one of their discussions, that Siam had long been tolerant toward religion. Phaulkon’s very own wife, and her father, had been granted asylum when they fled Japan from religious persecution by the Shogun. And did not the king grant asylum to the Makassars? The Edict of Nantes was an act of toleration which stood virtually alone and separated France from the rest of Europe. Now King Louis XIV was rescinding it. The new Edict of Fontainebleau revoked the Edict of Nantes, retaining Catholicism as the established religion of France. The authorities limited Protestant freedom of worship to specified geographic areas, outside city walls. The Edict did not include Jews or Muslims. Protestantism was declared illegal within city walls. King Narai was aware of what was happening in France and it disturbed him immensely to think the very people who were attempting to convert him were so intolerant and uncompromising.

As the French were making their demands, King Narai was faced with other crises. There were reports that the Dutch, due to French involvement in the kingdom, planned to attack Siamese strongholds in the south and on the Andaman Sea. To further complicate the matters, rumors were that the Muslims were building up strength and becoming progressively more agitated with the French for aligning themselves with King Narai. Reports were that the rebels had set up camps in the jungle outside Kung Thep, a village the French called Bangkok, down river from Ayutthaya on the right bank of the river. The Muslims were not pleased with the French building a fortress on the riverbank across from the village.

These were not unwarranted complaints which Phaulkon pointed out to King Narai but which, he carefully explained, could be handled diplomatically. It was true that the French had constructed a fortress across the river from Bangkok but it was manned with the king’s soldiers as well as a French garrison. The French had also built a fortress for the king in Songkau in the south. About the Muslim rebels amassing another force, no one was certain, not even General Phetracha. Phaulkon informed the king he would send spies to investigate. He would also try to ascertain the allegations of a Dutch threat. One person who might have the answer to the Dutch question was the French Ambassador Chaumont. Phaulkon agreed that he would gladly consult with the Ambassador and bring him before His Majesty.

After leaving the king’s chambers, Phaulkon turned to Diego for help. While Christoph guarded Marie and the baby at their residence in Louvo, Diego went down to the river waterfront to see what he could find out about Muslims massing in the jungle. He put aside his finery and jeweled sword, donned old seamen’s clothes and began scouring the waterfront with the pretense he was looking for work aboard any of the vessels moored on the river. He went from one ship to another, talking to the seamen and wharf laborers. It was by chance and chance alone that he made a colossal discovery, one that he not even remotely expected. Of course, at the time, he was unaware of what he had found. It came totally by accident.

As was the procedure, hundreds of vessels were anchored in the center of the river in lines of twos and threes that stretched miles down steam. Diego hired a skiff to scull him out to the ships. The European square-riggers were harder to approach. Armed marines aboard the vessels turned him away every time he approached; the Japanese junks were much the same; they didn’t want intruders. The easier ones to approach were the Chinese junks, usually very dilapidated and not worth investigating. They had nothing to reveal. Next were the Arab dhows. They didn’t care who came aboard. But the crews had little information of any value.

A copy of the Greek Septuagint

It was getting late and he was about ready to give up, when he saw a weather-beaten Portuguese trader anchored far down river. He went aboard to find that most of the crew were Greek. They were not likely to be knowledgeable about Muslim uprisings but by this time it was late and Diego was tired. He had one last bottle of Jamaican rum which he removed from his sack when he climbed aboard. The Greek sailors, upon seeing the rum, immediately perked up and asked Diego to bring his bottle and sit with them around the capstan at the fo’c’sle. When they learned that Diego was an old hand in the kingdom they bombarded him with questions about Siam and the people. Most of the sailors, long in the service of Portuguese ships, could speak Portuguese. Being the good storyteller that he was, Diego told them what they wanted to know. The conversation drifted from one thing to another and then, quite by accident, one of the seamen mentioned a Holy Book that he had in his possession. Diego asked if he could see it. The seaman was reluctant at first, fearing the goading he would get from his mates for showing something so worthless, but he finally agreed and went below deck to get the book.

Diego was disappointed when the seaman showed him the book, an act that brought laughter from everyone around the capstan. And no small wonder. It was quite tattered and threadbare and the writing was some sort of archaic script. But a thought came to Diego. He was aware of Phaulkon’s disappointment after not being able to obtain a copy of the Holy Book and wondered, perhaps, if this worn old volume might please him. The seaman didn’t want to part with it, but when Diego offered him a price, and with his mates urging him on, he couldn’t refuse and accepted Diego’s offer.

With the book in hand, Diego made his way to Phaulkon’s residence in Louvo. Christoph was on guard when he arrived.

“I see you have come back and I trust that it is with good news you bring,” he said to Diego when he saw him coming up the walkway.

“Yeah, but see what I got here,” Diego said and held up the packet for Christoph to see.

It was the middle of the night and Diego, being in a happy mood, decided, against Christoph’s protests, to wake up Phaulkon and present him with his discovery. It wasn’t necessary. Their ruckus had awoken Phaulkon and he was not pleased with Diego’s sudden outburst. He came to the door and was about to reprimand him but stopped when Diego unfolded the cloth covering that bound the book. Phaulkon was, at first, mystified. What sort of epistle was this? He hesitated, slowly turning to the first page, and then the second. He took the book into the front room, followed by Diego, and lighted several candles. Studying the book closer, he ran his finger over the page. The writing was Greek script which he had learned when a schoolboy. He turned to the title page. It was sudden, like a bolt of lightning hitting him. He was astounded beyond belief. He couldn’t control himself and let out a shout that awoke the whole household and brought Marie running down the stairs.

“Do you realize what you have here?” Phaulkon shouted with glee and threw his arm around Diego and then picked up Marie and spun her around the room. “Do you realize this is a Greek Bible, a Bible written in my own language?” He carefully laid the book down on the table and motioned for Marie and Diego to come closer. “A Greek Bible!” he repeated. “I’ve been trying to find an English Bible for the longest time. I always thought to find one in Greek would be impossible. Then look at this-a Greek Bible!” He stumbled for words. “I have-” He looked at Marie and Diego. “No, we-” he emphasized the word ‘we’-“we have a Greek Bible! In 280 B.C, seventy Hebrew scholars gathered in Alexandria and worked twenty years to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek. They called it the Septuagint.” He became more excited as he explained the Bible. “These are original scriptures that haven’t been changed or altered. Now we can find the answers to our questions.”

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