Beautiful Sceneries of Ayutthaya
They passed through one quarter after another, quarters that were assigned to foreigners: Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese, Muslims and Moors and Europeans. The houses where these foreigners lived were brick, and well built. The streets were all cobblestoned. Foreigners lived splendidly. Burnaby was impressed.
At times it was a chore to make their way through the masses of people shoving and pushing every which way through streets, people of every dress, from every country of the East. More than once they lost sight of the Sikhs leading the way and had a trying time locating them again. Fortunately the Sikhs with their turbans stood a head taller than the smaller Siamese and their other Asian cousins. Some streets were less crowded than others, those without shops and storehouses, and these were lined with trees that provided shade and made walking much easier. A few streets were paved with bricks, while others, the majority, were rutted from the wheels of heavy oxen carts, and these were dusty. Elephants with carved howdahs upon their backs where passengers sat, stirred up dust as they wobbled down the center of the streets and roadways. Elephants always had the right of way. Water buffalos by the scores grazed along the banks of the klongs. Young boys attending the buffalos lay sound asleep and stretched out, face down, on their wide generous backs, their naked bodies mud covered as were those of the buffalos. At other klongs boys, frolicking as boys do everywhere, dove from the banks and others from trees into the muddy water, shouting and screaming as they did, calling attention to the two white men as they passed. The entire city was intersected by klongs, and some klongs had become slums where the people lived aboard the tiny sampans. The stench here was terrible. Over the klong were bridges, not merely a few but bridges at every turn. One was never out of sight of a bridge over a klong. Some bridges were arched, elaborately made, constructed of brick, while others were fashioned from bamboo, so narrow and flimsy only skilled nimble walkers could pass over them. A real balancing act, Burnaby thought, and he wondered if the day would come when he too would be able to manage them.
At one street where there were fewer people White stopped suddenly, and grabbing Burnaby’s arm, he whispered, “You are about to meet a very remarkable man.” He pointed up the street, and Burnaby looked in that direction. A priest in a black ankle-length robe stood there, herding a group of young children into a courtyard. “That’s Father Thomas,” he said. When the priest saw them approaching, he greeted them with cupped hands, as the Siamese do.
Father Thomas was beyond middle age, very gray, with a long gray beard and sad, watery blue eyes. His fingers were long and slender, and when he shook hands with Burnaby, Burnaby was surprised to find how cold they were to the touch. What’s the saying, he thought, cold hands, warm heart.
“So fine of you to come to our city. We’ve been waiting for you,” he said. His accent was Portuguese, and like White he called it “our” city. He glanced toward the children who were already inside the courtyard and getting away from him. “You have to excuse me,” he said, “but we will see more of each other, shortly.” In the next instant he was gone.
“He’s a Jesuit,” White said as they resumed their walk. “He runs a school for Siamese orphans. The Catholic French Missionaries don’t get along with him but they have to. He’s the king’s favorite. He’s an engineer, and an architect, and a good one too. He’s worked on a couple of projects for the Icing.”
George White lived in the Japanese quarters. He didn’t admit it openly to Burnaby but he did hint that since he was no longer officially with the East India Company it was best he lived someplace else other than the English quarter. His apartment was simple, well lighted, with few furnishings. What caught Burnaby’s immediate attention when he entered was White’s collection of weapons. They occupied one entire wall, and were both Western and Siamese arms. There were muzzle loaders and pistols in one section, and next to them hung swords with jeweled handles, gilded krises, cutlasses long and slender, and many sharp-bladed weapons of the Siamese. Burnaby was admiring the weapons, White called for his servant, and as silent as a shadow a manservant appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, on hands and knees, his head touching the floor. White gave an order, and when Burnaby looked again, the man had vanished, as silently as when he appeared. Time had hardly passed and he was there again, this time carrying a richly engraved silver tray. “We haven’t received our shipment of import beer,” White apologized. “You will try Siamese beer. Poor stuff but what the hell!”
Burnaby did not hear a word White had said. His attention fell upon a figure standing behind the manservant-a strikingly beautiful woman. She was not a white woman, nor an Asian. She was a mixture of the two, and the best of both. She was part Portuguese, he could tell that. Her hair was thick and black, so black that it made her face look very white. She was tall, very tall in fact, with firm breasts that protruded out from her Spanish lace cotton blouse. Her skirt, embroidered at the hem with dainty flowers, was long down to her ankles, and she wore tiny golden slippers upon her feet. She was a breath of beauty, and as she came across the room, no, as she flowed across the room, she stood beside White who was seated in his cane, fan-back chair. He affectionately put his arm around her slender waist, indicating, “She’s mine.”
“This is Myra,” he said, squeezing her slightly. “Her real name is more complicated so it’s Myra we use.”
Myra left White’s side and came to where Burnaby stood; as she did she brought with her a pleasing scent of fine perfume. She stretched out a hand and on her wrists were bracelets that clanged when she moved. Burnaby took hold of her delicate hand but was at a loss for words. He wanted to say something that would please her but he could not speak, for he was too taken by the unexpected, and then, when he had composed his thoughts, it was too late. A guard from the outside announced visitors had arrived. Without further ado Myra was gone. Only the scent of her perfume lingered on.
Walter McManus was one visitor. He apologized for his not meeting Burnaby when he arrived. “The king’s shipment arrived the same time, and I had to make sure it reached the godown all in one piece,” he said, and in the next breath mentioned that Potts was still at the godown and couldn’t come.
“Give the devil a chance, and you just did. No telling what he’s up to now,” White said to McManus. Then to Burnaby he said, “Potts, Samuel Potts, a scoundrel if there ever was one. Not much we can do about him though. He’s supposed to guard the godowns for the EIC.” Burnaby knew the name immediately. He had been instructed at the head office in London to beware of Potts. Potts was one of the reasons he was being sent to Ayutthaya, to check the records and books that Potts kept.
Others from the East India Company came and went, making brief appearances in the line of duty. Most of them were traders, Arabs and Jews, Portuguese and Dutch. A few Asians appeared, one a dark Japanese gentleman in a naval uniform, but, as White said when he was gone, he was an interloper and not an officer many navy.
The lunch was European, to White’s liking, and served in the garden. In a lull in their conversation, McManus asked how the voyage from India to Melaka was.
“Most interesting,” Burnaby replied, and then remembering a promise he had made to the Greek gunner, he turned to White. “I met an interesting chap and he asked me to give you his regards.”
”And who might that be?” White asked.
”A Greek. We called him gunner, a good man, but his name-” “Gerakis,” White interrupted. “That bastard, what do you know, he’s still with the company. Good on him. Great guy, great seaman, good with weapons and good with his fists-“
”And good with languages. He can speak half a dozen languages.” “More than half a dozen. Great chap. Lucky he’s alive. Could have lost his head had it not been for the governor turning soft. His two mates were turned loose and are still knocking around Ayutthaya.
I see them now and then. They’re doing well for themselves. And Gerakis, where is he now?”
Burnaby was quick to reply. He told how he and Gerakis had met, and that Gerakis was now waiting in Mergui for the monsoon to change so that he could ship back to India. Then he added, “I could make use of someone like him, with all his skills and his languages.”
“You say he’s in Mergui,” White said, lingering on the thought a moment, and then continued, choosing every word carefully. “The monsoons haven’t changed. The Greek is probably still there.”
“I imagine he is, still,” Burnaby replied with a chuckle. “The mate of the Hopewell said he found himself a half cast Indian lady that he fancies, to keep him company while he’s in port.”
”An Anglo-Indian, you don’t say,” White said and chucked to himself. “It must be that Greek blood. The ladies go for him.”
“You do all right,” McManus said, pointing to the upstairs. White didn’t respond. His thoughts were elsewhere far away. He was thinking about Gerakis, the gunner. He was hatching an idea. He knew well he wasn’t governed by the rules of the East India Company. He could do pretty much what he pleased. “You say you could use someone like him,” White said, not as a question but as a statement. “Then why don’t we bring him here?”
“You serious?” Burnaby questioned.
”As serious as I am White!”
“He’s banished from the kingdom.”
“A shipwrecked seaman who dared look at the king is banished. It shouldn’t have happened! I saw him when they were loading him aboard that frigate to take him away. He was a pathetic looking fool. There was nothing anyone could do. You don’t break rules when it comes to royalty. We couldn’t help him, even if we wanted to. Anyway Ayutthaya is full of derelicts, outcasts, white men, drunkards, swindlers, henchmen, just name it, men with a price on their head, men who would sell their souls for a pittance. What was to separate him from all the other riffraff? Good riddance everyone thought when he left. Anyone would have been a fool to try to defend him. No matter, he was getting off light, and with his head. He was in chains, and one could hardly recognize him. Change his name and who would know the difference?”
“Getting him here might be the problem,” Burnaby said.
“No problem,” White said. He seemed to feed on a new challenge. “We would have no difficulty smuggling the Greek back into Ayutthaya. The monsoon hasn’t changed yet, which means that he would still be in Mergui. My brother Samuel, as you know, is holed up there, working for the king, and I know Muslim merchants operating in the south. The Greek can cross the peninsula with them, on one of their smuggling trips to Songkau where the Greek can ship aboard one of my vessels sailing to Ayutthaya.”
Burnaby was quite surprised that White talked openly about smuggling and illegal trading with members of the East India Company present, himself included.
It was decided by all, Gunner Gerakis would come to Ayutthaya, but not as Gerakis. They would give him a new identity. “Constantine Gerakis, his name in English, translates to ‘falcon,”‘ McManus said. “Another spelling for falcon is phaulkon.”
“That’s it,” said White jubilantly. “That’s it. His name henceforth is Phaulkon. That’s it-Phaulkon. Never again shall the name Gerakis be mentioned. It’s Constantine Phaulkon. I’ll draw up the papers and dispatch a message to Mergui.” The manservant uncorked another bottle of East India rum.