The Digital Adventures

Love of Siam-CH45

Chapter 26B
Impending Danger

Outside in the reception hall he found Abu Omar, the Arab merchant, waiting impatiently. He informed Phaulkon that the Muslims were planning a revolt. When Phaulkon asked how he knew, Abu told him the Muslims had been recruiting fighters underground and had even approached one of his servants. Phaulkon promised him a reward for the information and instructed him not to tell anyone else.

Phaulkon instructed Diego to go to the governor of Ayutthaya and inform him about a possible Muslim revolt but for him not to panic the people with the news. Phaulkon further instructed Diego to bring some of his best men to Louvo and stay with Marie and his son.

As Diego was departing, another messenger arrived. King Narai summoned Phaulkon to appear before him. Phaulkon called Laneau aside and cautioned him about the pending crisis but forewarned him not to worry Chaumont. He instructed Christoph to add more guards and security around the French Envoy without causing concern or alarm.

As Phaulkon was departing after explaining to the ambassador that an emergency had arisen, the ambassador called to him. “Wait,” he said, “what does the Catholic faith have that the Buddhists do not have? You didn’t say what it was.”

“That I didn’t,” Phaulkon said.

“Well, what is it?” the ambassador asked.

Phaulkon stood for a moment at the door, looked at the ambassador still sitting at the table with the Abbe about to pour him a drink, and said, “I thought, Ambassador Chaumont, it is for you to decide.” In another instant he was gone.

Phaulkon appeared before the king, thinking the king summoned him because of the rumor going around about the Muslims. The King politely informed Phaulkon that Phetracha had registered a complaint against him and, before he could pass judgment, he wanted an explanation. Did he order monks to work in the fields and to do menial construction labor? “Did you not know that monks are exempt from public service since they are holy servants of the temple?” he asked.

“I am aware of this, Your Majesty,” Phaulkon replied. “I am also aware that the French missionaries and the Jesuits are also considered holy people devoted to sacred service. If these missionaries and Jesuits can put aside their sacred service and help build forts and hospitals and schools for the Siamese people, which gives them a sense of pride and importance, I did not have to think twice that perhaps the monks should not be deprived of such accomplishments. After all, it is also for their kingdom, their people and their children that these buildings are erected. And let it be known to Your Majesty that I did not order these holy men to work but I personally invited them to volunteer their time if they wished to. This is the truth, Your Majesty. However, if this is displeasing to Your Majesty and upsetting to his good friend the general, I will make urgent changes to exclude the holy monks from such projects and ask for His Majesty’s forgiveness.”

Phaulkon added that if it would make the king happy, His Majesty could pacify the general himself by granting him the permission to pass a law excluding all monks from all future building projects.

The king thanked Phaulkon for his sincere honesty and concern for all people involved. He admitted to Phaulkon that he himself did not see anything wrong with Phaulkon’s arrangements. However, he regretted to say the Siamese people can only think in terms of tradition, not logic, and to avoid unnecessary trouble, it is best that monks should not be seen in such projects. Phaulkon left with the king deep in thought.

It wasn’t long after that King Narai passed a law which was read in public stating monks were excluded from public building projects. No man, or person, is allowed to sequester monks to work at such menial tasks, except under one condition, that monks volunteer to do so. When the law was read, the monks at construction site began to lay down their tools, but when they heard the part about such work being voluntary on their part, they picked up the tools again.

When Phetracha heard about the law, he immediately rode on horseback to the nearest construction site. He saw the monks working, dismounted and grabbed tools from their hands. “Don’t you have any pride?” he shouted. The monks were confused and knew not what to do. They just stood there in awe, like statues in the palace grounds. Phetracha looked upon them in disgust and when he realized there was little he could do, he rode away in anger. What was this foreigner doing to his kingdom? What were all the foreigners doing? Could not the king see this? What was the price for these innovations they brought from the West? Who could answer him?

At Wat Arun, Phetracha went to see the head monk. “Haven’t you seen enough?” he said to him. “Haven’t you heard enough? The French are converting our king! A Greek is taking over our kingdom! And even our monks are losing their pride! What am I supposed to do?” He kneeled and bowed down to the monk.

“I am only a monk,” the man answered. “I only exist to give divine guidance to those who seek it. I do not know what to do with affairs of the state and beyond. You are the general. The purpose of your existence is to protect Siam from its enemies. Find out who your enemies are and deal with them deservedly. That is the job of a military leader. When you find out what your job may require of you, come back and together we will make offerings for divine guidance.”

Phaulkon tried harder than ever to placate the French envoy. He entertained them lavishly and constantly sent them expensive gifts. He showed them plans and sites for new churches and missionary schools. He made arrangements with Siamese families to send their sons to France to study. He even asked the ambassador to let him know what local customs conflict with French etiquette and he would have them abolished or corrected.

He also told the ambassador he had further conversations with the king concerning religion and the king was more reasonable this time and there was much hope for his conversion. “We must wait for God’s own good time,” he said to the ambassador.

Chaumont reminded Phaulkon that the envoy’s departure time was drawing near and he wanted another religious discussion with the king. Phaulkon managed to change the subject and pressed for France’s military alliance with Siam against the Dutch. Chaumont told him he had not received instructions regarding this subject and could only express his wishes for the prosperity of Siam.

Phaulkon in turn reminded Chaumont that ever since his arrival in Siam, he had repeatedly declared his desire on behalf of the King of France for friendship between the two sovereigns, that this declaration needed to be implemented by action which alone was the test of sincerity. If he wished to show King Narai that he spoke with the voice of truth, he could do so by letting it be known that King Louis reciprocated this friendship, and that Siam and France were allies. It was a small gesture but one that would be deeply appreciated. Chaumont fell into the trap and agreed.

Phaulkon added that King Narai had requested from the French Envoy the loan of the services of the Chevalier de Forbin and of Monsieur La Marr to help train the Siamese army and to supervise the building of a new fortress. De Forbin was given the royal title Phra Sakdi Song Khram. Phaulkon put complete and unquestioning trust in de Forbin, a young and promising officer who had arrived with the Envoy. He put him to modernizing the fortress of Bangkok and taking command of its defense. The king had granted the request but soon after Phaulkon wondered if perhaps he had made a mistake in judgment of character. It was a massive undertaking for a young officer. The fortress at Bangkok was as volatile as a keg of black powder with a fuse set in place, and he had placed the grave responsibility upon the young, untested, officer.

In return, Phaulkon granted the French favorable trade concessions. He gave the French the right to open factories in such places they deemed suitable. The French were exempt from paying duties on imports and exports, and they were given the sole rights to trade in Junk Ceylon and Songkau to the exclusion of all other nations. Junk Ceylon, marked “Phuket” on some charts, was valuable for its tin mining. King Narai, not lacking discretion, appointed French medical missionary, Brother Rene Charbonneau, governor with his capital based at Thalang on the east coast of the island.

With the departure of the French Envoy soon to take place, Phaulkon expressed to the king the importance of having Ambassador Chaumont carry only good news about Siam to the King of France. King Narai knew well how important French support meant to Siam. “I am aware of the consequences of declining the ambassador’s attempt to instruct me in the doctrine of the Catholic Faith, but I must stand fast in my beliefs,” King Narai said.

“That being the case,” Phaulkon said, “with your permission, may I beg, knowing the French ambassador as a person with much pride, that we not, Your Majesty, prove the ambassador to be inferior in reason. We must handle him with care even if it means honoring him and flattering him.”

Phaulkon further explained to the king that although he was a Christian, devoted and faithful to his God, he did not agree with all of the teachings of the Catholic Church and disliked the ambassador very much for putting His Majesty in a difficult position.

The king announced that he would see the ambassador for the last time and that Phaulkon must put his mind to rest. “I will not compromise the security of my country, the future of my people, nor will I compromise my integrity. I will continue, as always, to speak the truth, for unless I do so, I would fail in my duties as king. But I will be cautious with my tongue. You have my word on this, and I say this not for myself but for the sake of Siam.”

Phaulkon left contented. A lavish farewell party was held for the Envoy at the palace. Phaulkon apologized for the king’s absence as he was quite ill but he would receive the ambassador later in his room. The time came and Chaumont, Choisy and Laneau, accompanied by Phaulkon, entered the king’s room. He was lying in bed, ill of asthma, attended by his devoted sister and daughter. He told the women to leave, and then, as a complete surprise, he asked Phaulkon to do the same, to leave with the women.

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