The Digital Adventures

Love of Siam-CH54

Chapter 30

One morning, before the heat of day descended upon the city, La Loubere and de Boullay from the French Embassy arrived at Phaulkon’s office at the Royal Palace and disregarding the nobles and officials who waited in the reception room, demanded from Christoph that they see Phaulkon immediately. Christoph informed them that Phaulkon, the Foreign Minister of Trade, was quite busy and that there were others in line before them. As they were about to protest, Phaulkon, who had heard the commotion, came out of his office, made an excuse to those waiting, and escorted the two men into his office and closed the door. The two men, feeling it was their importance that prompted Phaulkon to see them first, were mistaken. Phaulkon was perturbed but he managed to keep cool and composed. He asked politely what he could do for them.

“We do not accept the procrastination by you or the king any longer,” La Loubere blurted out. “We want the matter of French control of Bangkok and Mergui to be settled immediately or we will insist that General Des Farges take action immediately.”

Every man has a breaking point and Phaulkon had reached his. He could no longer control himself. He went into a rage and for a moment the two men thought he might strike them in his anger. They backed off, fearing for a moment he might draw the saber that lay across his desk and cut them into pieces. He was that angry.

“Let me tell you, gentlemen,” Phaulkon began, “no one gives me orders or tells me what to do except the king. And I do not see any crowns on your heads.” He forced them to be seated. “Isn’t it enough that I have stationed your troops, French troops, in Bangkok and your officers are treated with honor and respect and given the best accommodation the kingdom has to offer? Why is it that you want to own what is not yours? Do the Siamese envoys who travel to France claim a piece of France? Certainly not. It is true, Siam seeks the friendship of France but does that mean that the greatest Kingdom in Europe should require payment for this friendship? Isn’t Siam’s friendship in return sufficient?”

Phaulkon did not let them answer. He went on without hesitation.

“And regarding the king’s conversion that you so insist upon, you people have taken him for a fool. This king is wiser than you have imagined. He has intellect that cannot be dominated by any foreign power, not with guns or with cleverness. His people love him but he is not fear inspiring. I do not intentionally disregard religious dialogues between him and the French ambassadors, that is, to shield him from the truth but I omit it for the sake of saving the French from losing face. This king, King Narai who you take to be a puppet, has a mind so powerful that he can present you with questions regarding your own faith that you, and even the Pope, cannot answer.”

The two men of the holy cloth attempted to speak but Phaulkon would not let them. “I want you to listen,” he said. “So what happens when you cannot answer King Narai’s questions? Will you take him and his kingdom by force and make the Siamese lose face? As Westerners you don’t know what losing face means to these people! You might as well talk bloodshed. Is that the way of teaching the world that this God you serve is a God of love and justice and mercy? Is that all you know? I will arrange an audience with the king if you wish, but may God help you.” Phaulkon then ordered them to leave. He had no more he wanted to say.

Phaulkon went to see the king that afternoon. The king’s sister and daughter were at his side attending to him. They excused themselves and quietly left the room. Phaulkon was pleased to see that the king had recovered somewhat from his illness, although he was not completely well. The king noticed the concern on Phaulkon’s face and asked him to be seated. “Have I placed too much of a burden in your hands?” he asked compassionately.

“Just because things do not work out the way one expects does not mean one has made a wrong decision,” Phaulkon answered trying to sound encouraging. He searched for words to cheer up the king.

“I have always admired your good spirit and strong will and I know without any doubt that I have chosen the right man to take charge of my affairs,” the king said. “I believe I know you inside out but there is just one thing I am not sure about.” King Narai slowly pushed himself up to a sitting position.

“What does Your Majesty not know about me that I don’t?” Phaulkon asked. He was caught off guard. He had no idea what the king might say.

“The walls have ears and they speak many languages and they tell me the French ambassadors are twisting your arm to convert Siam into their faith in exchange for arms.”

Phaulkon confirmed with a nod that this was true. He felt somewhat relieved.

“Then tell me honestly,” said the king in a very serious tone, “what do you really believe? It seems to me that you have been using this religion of the French only to secure Siam’s future, yet I also believe you strongly believe in the same God. You are not the kind of man who would compromise his soul. What is it you believe? I do want to know.”

“It is a very complex matter, Your Majesty,” Phaulkon replied, hoping the king would change the subject.

The king waited and then said, “Put Siam and me aside, and simply tell me what you do believe. I have listened to you and have found your wisdom very helpful. Just try to tell me.”

Phaulkon had long felt that he could be at ease with the king, and he felt that way now. He admitted to the king that it was true he had used the promise of helping to convert Siam into the Catholic faith in exchange for French alliance against the Dutch and the English. And he admitted that it was true that he believed in the same God as the French ambassadors. “But there is a difference in their understanding of God and man,” Phaulkon said. “This is what troubles me. Their church alters their doctrine to fit their needs. For this reason they forbid the common man to read the Bible, and yet this doctrine is what they want me to teach,” “How can two people who worship the same God differ in their faith?” asked the king, bewildered.

“It is a long story, Your Majesty. I do not wish to bore you.” “I know I am going to die one day, and that day may be soon, but today is not the day so we have time,” King Narai said. “Now, tell me how your God differs.”

“Well if today is not the day, Your Majesty, we have many days to continue this discussion,” Phaulkon said, hinting the king should rest.

“Is that why you do not permit the French to convert me, because you do not believe in their doctrine?” the King asked but Phaulkon did not come forth with an immediate answer. “If you had the same beliefs as the French ambassadors, would you have permitted them to twist my arm, as you say in English?”

“No, I would not allow the French or anyone to twist the arm of Your Majesty. But neither would I deprive Your Majesty of the truth. It is God’s desire, I believe, that He wants everyone to know Him. But, if one cannot be faithful to the service of his God neither can he be faithful to his king.”

“How do you know the desires of your God?” King Narai asked earnestly.

“It is written in the Holy Book,” explained Phaulkon.

“Does the Holy Book say if we have a soul?”

The king began coughing. Phaulkon reminded the king that he was exerting himself far too much, but in reply to his question he promised they would discuss the matter about the soul one day soon. “Your Majesty must rest now,” he said and quietly departed.

The French Embassy, along with Bishop Laneau, had bypassed both the Barcalon and Phaulkon and went directly to see the king but they were told they had to wait. No reasons were given. They had no choice but to wait. The hours passed and still they waited. It was then, at this time, that one of Phetracha’s men saw the French waiting to see the king and, being suspicious, he hurried to tell the general that the French were getting ready to convert the king. Samuel Potts was at Phetracha’s office at the time, informing the general that Phaulkon was about to give Bangkok away and already the king had given Mergui to the French. The French, Potts said, were prepared to take Bangkok by force and, with Phaulkon’s cooperation, they would crown him King of Siam. “It will be so easy,” Potts said. “French troops already occupy the Bangkok fort. Phaulkon has expelled even his best friend Samuel White from Mergui, giving the position to a French nobleman.” Potts was a master at agitation. He twisted the facts to suit his purpose.

Samuel Port’s words were like a raging fire to Phetracha’s ears. He didn’t have to ponder what Potts had said. He didn’t stop to consider that Potts might be lacking soundness of mind. He rushed to see the chief monk and insisted that he go with him to see the king immediately and put an end to this foreign madness. The monk agreed and together they hurried to the palace. The French ambassador and Bishop Laneau were waiting outside the king’s door at that moment. Without waiting to be announced, Phetracha and the chief monk brushed past the guards and charged into the king’s quarters. They found him calmly eating his noon meal.

“And what is this disturbance may I ask?” the king asked. Phetracha announced that he had heard that His Majesty was critically ill and that he brought the chief monk to pray for him.

King Narai didn’t fall for this excuse, but caution on his part was essential. He knew that Phetracha still feared him and he had to use that to his advantage. He told Phetracha that he might be ill but he was not dying and asked if he could eat in peace. He was careful to show respect to the chief monk and asked that the monk bless him, which the monk did. Before departing, Phetracha wanted to know what the ambassador and bishop were waiting for. The king answered that when he finished his meal he would find out. Phetracha offered to have the chief monk stay with him, for his spiritual welfare, but the king said that would not be necessary.

Phetracha and the chief monk left the king in his room and out in the hall they found the French ambassador and Bishop Laneau still waiting. Phetracha took notice that the guards were Phaulkon’s guards. Later that day Phetracha returned with his own guard detachment with the intent to replace Phaulkon’s guards, but they refused to surrender their posts.

The king, disturbed by Phetracha and the monk’s appearance, and not feeling well, canceled the meeting with La Loubere and the bishop. They were terribly upset and left the palace grumbling.

The next day the French envoy dropped a bombshell. They announced to Phaulkon that La Loubere had decided to return to France and that de Boullay would proceed to Mergui with the French soldiers from the garrison in Bangkok to fortify the position there. Phaulkon was shocked at the news and informed the French that he had not yet made arrangements regarding Siam’s next embassy to France. It was the king’s wish to send one he stated. But it was too late. La Loubere openly admitted that he was giving up the fight. He was vanquished, too tired and worn out to continue. Dealing with Asian minds was not like dealing with countrymen back home. Secretly he admired Phaulkon for his stamina and dogged perseverance.

Phaulkon expressed his wish that La Loubere would stay longer but nevertheless he would make arrangements for his departure. Phaulkon then went to King Narai and suggested he grant the embassy one last audience before they leave. In the meantime, there were things to do.

Foremost, as a result of La Loubere’s sudden decision to cut short the mission, the French envoys reminded Phaulkon that there was no need to send embassies to France each time they had to communicate. Sending a letter via their own ships would suffice. Phaulkon knew to the contrary that it was gifts from Siam that opened the eyes of Europeans. A bag of peppercorn from the Spice Islands, unknown to the tables of Europe, was worth its weight in gold. And so Phaulkon began preparing gifts for the ambassadors to carry to King Louis. He knew what gifts would please the nobles of France. He chose those things that were commonplace in Siam and the East but not known in Europe. These were beautifully glazed Japanese plates and urns, wrought agates from mines in the north, a great many fine china dishes of all sizes, Chinese nightgowns, bezoar-stones, ginseng root that was worth eight times its weight in silver, other spices like turmeric, basil and nutmeg, a hard wood called teak and excellent tea in great quantity. These presents, so insignificant in Siam, were considered of great value on the other side of the world. They were the priceless, sought-after treasures of Asia.

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