Envoy to France Lost at Sea
The baptism should have been a happy affair. Everyone had looked forward to it. For Phaulkon and Marie, especially Marie, it was to be a great event with every detail planned well in advance. A number of people had been invited and they all came bearing gifts and good wishes. Most proud, of course, was Fanique, the infant’s grandfather. He now had a grandson to carry on his tradition, if not his name. And there was George White and his lady Myra, and Phaulkon’s mentor, Richard Burnaby. Samuel White, George White’s brother, had come up from Mergui with his wife Mary and their two young daughters. There was Walter McManus and Diego and Christoph. Phaulkon’s respected teacher Thamnon came in his long black robe with the badge of the Golden Pheasant on his chest. And a number of other close friends came, members of the East India Company, interlopers and merchants. Even Abu Omar came. He and Thamnon were the only non-Christians. Samuel Potts, agent for the East India Company, did not come. He wasn’t invited.
The ceremony, as planned, took place in the Chapel at the Portuguese Church in Ayutthaya and Father Thomas was to give the blessing. The boy was to be named George. Both Marie and Phaulkon were as excited as new parents could be. But their happiness was brought short, along with everyone else’s present that day. Just as Father Thomas was about to begin, a messenger came running, panting and out of breath. He was from Phaulkon’s office at the Palace. He had instructions for Phaulkon to report without delay to the Barcalon’s office at the palace.
The news spread around the small gathering like a grass fire caught in the wind. “It must be something very important,” Father Thomas said, giving the indication that he would halt the ceremony. Whispers were voiced and everyone agreed the matter had to be important. Perhaps something had happened to the king.
Phaulkon had an idea what it might be and, if he was right, it could wait. He instructed Father Thomas to get on with the ceremony but it was most difficult for everyone to be at ease with the bleak thought that something grave must have taken place. The mood had been set. The moment young George was baptized, Phaulkon kissed Marie and the baby, told everyone to enjoy the special Portuguese port wine and left without further delay for the Barcalon’s office.
Phaulkon assumed Samuel Potts was the culprit, the cause of his being called to the Barcalon’s office. The trouble began a few months before when an East India Company warehouse burned to the ground, a warehouse that was under the supervision of Potts. Potts made the report to the home office in London about the fire and the total loss of all goods in the warehouse. Phaulkon sent his men to investigate the fire and he learned that the night before the fire all of the goods in the warehouse had been removed, supposedly at the order of Samuel Potts. Potts was up to his old tricks again. Phaulkon had gathered enough evidence to send him to prison but he was waiting for the right moment when some of the goods would turn up on the black market, making the conviction certain. It was just a matter of time. Phaulkon had feelers out everywhere and nothing moved without his knowledge. But now, on his way to the Barcalon’s office, Phaulkon wondered why the sudden urgency. Surely the Barcalon knew how important the baptism was to the Christian community. He could have waited. Phaulkon hurried that much more.
“I have some bad news,” the Barcalon said when Phaulkon entered the office. He looked worried.
“I can’t imagine what it might be,” Phaulkon replied, trying to act surprised. But what he was about to hear came not only as a surprise but also as a shock. He was stunned. It had nothing to do with Potts.
“I have received news about the king’s envoy to France,” the Barcalon began. He hesitated, at a loss for words, and then continued. “The mission didn’t make it. The ship was wrecked in a storm off the coast of Africa with its royal gifts and everyone lost.”
Phaulkon had to sit down. His first thought was the king. The news must have been devastating to the king, he thought. Aside from some of the trusted members of the royal community, the king’s half-brother Prince Lek was among them.
“How did the king take the news?” Phaulkon asked after he had regained his composure.
“I didn’t tell him,” the Barcalon replied.
“You didn’t tell him!” Phaulkon stormed and jumped to his feet. “He should have been informed immediately.”
“I thought that you might want to tell him,” the Barcalon replied sheepishly. He then, after a moment’s delay, admitted, “I, I don’t have the courage to tell him.”
Phaulkon’s anger quickly passed and he could not be upset with the Barcalon. The Barcalon was having a difficult time with the position and, Phaulkon felt, that in spite of the burden imposed upon him, he was doing the best job he could. Phaulkon had come to like him and, aside from their business association, they had become rather good friends. Phaulkon softened his tone and told the Barcalon that he understood. Besides, it was his duty to tell the king and not the Barcalon.
Phaulkon had no choice but go to see the king himself and inform him of the tragedy. It was not an easy thing to do. For one thing, King Narai was unaccustomed to Phaulkon coming to see him in the morning, especially without a prior announcement.
“Well,” the king said, upon seeing Phaulkon, “is not today the second most important day in the life of your child?” Before Phaulkon could answer, he asked, “Why are you here instead?”
“There is a matter that is very important, Your Majesty,” Phaulkon said. “It grieves me to bring you much sad news.”
“What is it that stands more important between your god and your son’s baptism?” he asked.
As painful as it was, Phaulkon had to break the terrible news. He told the king as politely as he could about the shipwreck, about the loss of his brother and all those on board and all the royal gifts. The king turned frightfully pale, as though he might faint. The color drained from his face. Phaulkon had not seen him like this before. He had no idea the news would be so devastating. The king had long waited for news of the mission’s arrival in France but when no word came his fears mounted steadily. He sat now in silence. Phaulkon did not need to ask but he knew the king regretted sending his half-brother Prince Lek on the mission. Phaulkon asked if His Majesty would want him to mount an expedition to search for the lost ship. The king replied there was nothing that he, Phaulkon, or anyone else could do. The king appreciated his offer and said it was enough that someone knew how he felt. Phaulkon said he would send a message through the missionaries to King Louis XIV of France about the lost envoy and that preparations for a memorial service would be made.
As Phaulkon was about to depart after informing King Narai about the loss of the mission, he was astounded by what the king had to say next. ”A king must not mourn his losses. He must think of his people and the kingdom and be an inspiration to them.” He ordered Phaulkon to begin arrangements for another mission to France, for one to leave as soon as possible.
Arranging for another mission to France, however, was even more complicated than the others. This time Phaulkon called upon Father Vachet to assist and to actually lead the mission. But he would not be making the journey alone. Siamese officials would accompany him. There would be interpreters and an official letter from the Barcalon to the French Foreign Minister. Phaulkon labored over the letter. He knew not to be demanding and, out of politeness, he gathered suggestions from others as to how bonds between the two countries could be strengthened. He went back to King Narai and asked if His Majesty had anything special he wanted to say to King Louis.