The Digital Adventures

Love of Siam-CH51

Chapter 28B
Mounting Accusations

The short interlude caused Samuel to change his mind. He realized he was in a no-win situation. Besides, he knew Phaulkon was no slacker. He backed off. Without saying a word he picked up his pith helmet that had been knocked to the floor and stormed out of the office, banging the door behind him.

Samuel White went to the first grog shop he could find. In short time he became quite drunk. He then remembered Samuel Potts and his cohorts were aboard a British ship anchored in the river. He had a boat boy scull him out to the ship and he stumbled aboard. He went below deck to find Samuel Potts drinking with the crew. He began immediately, without provocation from the others, cursing Phaulkon. “He’s a traitor, I tell you, a bloody traitor,” he ranted. “He tricked the Barcalon and the king into believing that he was innocent when in fact he was on his way to sell arms to the Muslims when his ship sank in the storm.” His voice carried beyond the cabin. It reached topside. On every ship on the river, foreign and Siamese as well, General Phetracha had informers stationed.

When General Phetracha received the news that there was proof that Phaulkon had been selling arms to the Muslims, he rushed to see the king to tell him what he had heard. Samuel Potts could testify to it, he emphasized. Phetracha accused Phaulkon unequivocally of treason.

“Now tell me,” King Narai said calmly, “was the act that Phaulkon is accused of doing committed before or after he had been employed by the Barcalon. If it was before, then Phaulkon is not guilty of anything let alone treason. Besides, we do not really know if this is rumor or the truth. Phaulkon has incurred many enemies due to his position, a position that cannot be easily filled, which you so well know, and which we have discussed time and time again.”

The king then tried to soften Phetracha’s heart about Phaulkon, reiterating all the good he had accomplished in the ten years that he had been in Siam, but his efforts were in vain. Phetracha asked to be excused and left in a huff. If the king wouldn’t listen, Phetracha knew someone who would.

Phaulkon was walking from his office to his home when he met Bishop Laneau in the street. “You haven’t been coming to church,” the bishop scolded.

Phaulkon made an excuse, using the Makassar revolt, for his reason for not going to church.

“Is it really your work that hinders you from coming to church?” Laneau asked. “Or is it something else?”

“I don’t quite know what you mean,” Phaulkon said. “Perhaps you mean the time that it takes to build the new church.”

“This is not about building churches,” the bishop said. “It’s about the time you stay awake at night reading what the church forbids you to read.”

Phaulkon found himself welling up in anger. “I would like to discuss the matter with you but at another time,” he said, wanting to avoid an argument.

The bishop began shaking his head. “You know you are going against the Church by reading the Bible. It is forbidden for laymen to read the Bible.”

”And why is that?” Phaulkon asked but he already knew the answer. “Because you cannot understand it, and that is why,” the bishop said. “Common people cannot understand the Bible. You end up interpreting the Bible, a duty that is only for the clergy but not for you.”

“If the Bible is the word of God, the same God the Catholic Church worships, why would reading it be wrong? Cannot the layman read as well as the clergyman? And mine is a Greek Bible. You mean I cannot understand my own language?” Phaulkon asked, but Bishop Laneau would hear no part of it and began walking away.

Phaulkon knew then that he had made another enemy just when he needed friends the most.

But the day did bring some good news. Word reached Phaulkon that the Siamese Embassy to France had reached Batavia and would soon be on the last leg of its voyage to Ayutthaya. All three ambassadors had made it and were returning home safely. Phaulkon rushed to the palace to break the news to King Narai. The king was thrilled and had Phaulkon promise he would inform His Majesty the moment the embassy arrived down river, at any time of the day or night.

Phaulkon had the shock of his life when he returned to his office after seeing the king. He had been singing aloud to himself a Greek ditty he knew from his youth but he stopped short when he entered his office. There in his office sat Father Guy Tachard, all tanned and healthy looking, more like a seaman than a man of the cloth. “Father, what are you doing here?” Phaulkon cried and embraced the priest. They exchanged pleasantries but Phaulkon couldn’t hold back asking the question he wanted to know most. “Father, I have waited all these months to hear from you. You did tell the French my plan, that if Siam is to be converted to the Catholic faith, it could only be done gradually through the people.”

“I did just that,” Father Tachard said. “I told them that France must send qualified people, navigation experts, construction engineers, teachers and medical practitioners, men trained in military science, and that these people must be scattered in posts around the country.”

“And what did they say?” Phaulkon asked in earnest.

“I am afraid, as hard as I tried, I failed,” Tachard replied with great sadness. “They would not listen. Your idea of working slowly with the people did not sit well with the church. They want immediate action.”

“But you have come back,” Phaulkon said gleefully. “And you must have some good tidings that you bring? Why are you here and not aboard ship down river?”

“They await news from me,” Tachard said.

“Await news! What news?” Phaulkon asked, the smile vanishing from his face. “Where are they?”

“They are on their way from Batavia. I came ahead by a fast packet boat.” He went on to explain that he had arrived that morning, with the news that the Second French embassy was soon to arrive at the mouth of the river, and with them was the Siamese envoy returning from France.

“What news are they waiting for you to bring?” Phaulkon asked again.

“The French want to present their terms to the king before their embassy arrives in the Kingdom,” he said.

“And what are these terms?” Phaulkon asked.

Tachard took a deep breath and explained to Phaulkon that the second French Embassy consisted of two separate envoys, La Loubere and du Boullay. The envoys are aboard two men-of-war and four other ships with crews of six hundred and thirty-six officers and soldiers. The troops are under the command of General Des Farges, Marshal of France. As for the French terms, Phaulkon was much surprised to learn that so many French troops had arrived, a circumstance which he did not expect; and then came the most distressing news. The turnover of Bangkok to the French, rather than Singora, was the expedition’s immediate goal.

“But I had only asked for fifty or sixty men of good character to be placed in the chief centers of the kingdom.” Phaulkon said, stunned by the news. “As a matter of fact I expected the French to send troops to the garrison in Singora and not to Bangkok. Why so many?” It was a question he didn’t have to ask. He knew. His mind began racing ahead.

“This embassy is far more imposing than the one Chaumont led,” Father Tachard said. “I am afraid they want Bangkok and Mergui as their possessions and they have explicit instructions to take them by force in the event King Narai refuses.”

Both men grew silent. Phaulkon had to take a seat. After a thoughtful moment he spoke up.

“We had promised the French Singora, not Bangkok nor Mergui,” he said.

“That I know,” Father Tachard replied, “and the French know that too but this is what they want now, Bangkok and Mergui.”

“This is ridiculous,” Phaulkon stormed.

“What can I do?” Father Tachard said. “I am only a messenger. These are their terms and I am to take your acceptance to them. They await your answer.” “It is not my answer to give,” Phaulkon said. “I cannot hand over Bangkok to the French. That would surely cause an uprising with the Siamese.” Finally, after a moment’s thought, he said, “There is still hope. I will work something out. I have to, Father Tachard. I have to for the sake of King Narai and Siam.”

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