THE KING’S FAVORITE TAKES HIS STAND
“Only doing my duty,” Phaulkon replied politely. “Nothing more, just duty, that’s all.” It took great effort for Phaulkon to remain calm and passive.
Potts beamed with satisfaction. Here finally, he thought, was a man who could match wits with Phaulkon.
“You understand, I have to deal directly with the king,” Strangh said. He made it sound like a threat. By his tone he wanted it made clear he was not from the British under class of workers and peasants. He meant business. He was not a subaltern.
“Certainly,” Phaulkon replied. “With due respect you want to deal with His Majesty directly and I assume no one else. That’s very admirable of you.” Phaulkon hesitated, preparing himself for the next round, and then asked, ”And what is this other mission you have that Mr. Potts mentioned?”
“Mr. Yale and I have been instructed to investigate the fire and the loss of EiC goods,” he replied.
“I see, that’s what it is,” Phaulkon remarked coldly. He could no longer refrain himself. “Then maybe your investigation should begin with Mr. Potts.”
Potts Hew into a terrible rage. ”And what do you mean by that uncalled for remark?” he demanded.
“Perhaps we can go over these matters in a more amicable surrounding,” Phaulkon said. “Why don’t you all come to my home in Louvo for dinner this evening?” Strangh thought it was a commendable idea but it took a bit of cajoling on his part to convince Potts to agree. Finally they accepted. Phaulkon arranged for a klong boat to take them to Louvo where a carriage would await them.
The dinner was a lavish affair with Marie being the gracious hostess. Upon seeing her, as lovely as she was, dressed in her finest silk kimono of a beautiful beige color, Strangh oozed with charm and oiled with flattery. He even remarked, with authority, that the wine was acceptable. The meal was over and brandy poured when Strangh brought up the subject of the fire. He asked Phaulkon what he knew about it.
“Are you certain you want me to tell you?” Phaulkon asked.
“Of course, why not?” he said. Potts suddenly grew tense and quickly attempted to change the subject. He didn’t succeed.
“Then I must tell you that all the evidence I have been able to uncover points to Mr. Potts, the gentleman sitting here.”
“This is a joke,” Strangh said. “You can’t be serious.”
“But I am serious,” Phaulkon replied, his demeanor having completely changed. “I have a witness who saw what happened.” Everyone in the room fell silent. All conversation stopped. Potts finally spoke up. He had two words to say: “Paid witness.”
“You had better be prepared to back up what you declare,” Strangh threatened. “I do not intend to get involved in rumors and accusations. I came to Siam to talk to the king about England’s new trade policy. England sent me to make a treaty with the king in which Siam is to buy thirty-thousand pounds worth of goods every year from England in cash. Also, I might add, that England does not intend to deal with the interlopers. If Siam insists, the English will close their factories in Siam.”
Phaulkon had enough. “England has no right to dictate how Siam should trade with other nations,” he said. He then reminded Strangh that Siam’s trade policy would remain the same, and that he, Strangh, must follow Siam’s trade regulations by offering his goods first to the treasury before he offered them to the open market.
Strangh, now in anger, reminded Phaulkon that he had not come to Siam to discuss this matter with him nor anyone else but only with the king himself. He further stated, getting up from the table, that he did not need Phaulkon’s help to make an appointment with the king. He could request an audience by himself. “I am on a diplomatic mission,” he shouted. “You don’t seem to understand that.”
Phaulkon’s anger reached a high pitch when Strangh criticized him for being a traitor, and for his forgetting that if it was not for the East India Company he would not be where he was now. He also criticized Phaulkon for his lack of being a gentleman, for dressing up like a Siamese and living like one of these pagans when he was a Christian and not Siamese. He accused Phaulkon of being nothing more than a pretender and a traitor.
Phaulkon did not defend himself, which came as a surprise to everyone there. He knew that action was more important than words. His action was yet to come. He thanked his guests for coming and announced that a boat was waiting to take them back to Ayutthaya. Without more said, Strangh and his companions left.
That night Marie comforted her husband. She told him that Strangh was wrong. “I think my husband is very handsome in his Siamese garments,” she said. Taking his hands and standing back, while looking at him admiringly, she continued, “It is only fitting for you to dress as you do. After all, you do work in Siamese courts. You would stand out more as a foreigner if you dressed differently than anyone else.”
“You are wonderful,” Phaulkon said to his loving wife and kissed her warmly.
Strangh, Yale and their companions spent the night aboard Mexico Merchant. The next morning Potts went to see them to tell them that Phaulkon was only speaking for himself, to save his own skin, and that the Barcalon did not readily agree with Phaulkon. Potts added that if they wanted an appointment with the Barcalon, he could arrange one. Furthermore, he added, the Barcalon would certainly like to meet Strangh and his team.
Word reached Phaulkon about Potts attempting to intercede with the king on behalf of Strangh. Phaulkon knew what the outcome would be. No one sees the king except through him. But that was not what bothered Phaulkon; His concern was with Potts and his arrogant behavior. It was time he acted before Potts did more damage. He had let it go on too long, hoping, perhaps, that it might go away by itself. But that wasn’t going to happen. Acting quickly now that he made up his mind that something had to be done, he ordered the police to search Potts’ storehouse for contraband, which they did. Unfortunately for Potts, they found much of the stolen property from the warehouse that burned. Phaulkon instructed his guards to have Potts arrested. A squad of armed soldiers marched Potts to prison, his head in a yoke, his arms tied behind his back with lengths of bamboo lashed together with strips of rattan. A few days later, knowing he had achieved his purpose, Phaulkon authorized the release of Potts. Phaulkon knew all the while that Potts was responsible for the fire. He had procrastinated in arresting Potts hoping he would make amends himself for his wrongdoings. But he didn’t. Phaulkon had to display to Strangh and Yale, and to others who looked to him for favors, that he was not merely a figurehead holding office, nor a toady for the crown. He had to show that he meant business. He did what he had to, but in doing so, he shocked other Europeans living in the kingdom. His was a nasty business. How did he end up this way, he asked himself many times. He was not out to enrich himself, or to make a name. All he wanted to do was to come to Siam and live peacefully away from the troubled world that he had known. He was disheartened by the wars in Europe and the French with their edicts denouncing the Protestants. Now it seemed all the trouble of Europe followed him to Siam.
When Potts was still in prison, Phaulkon sent for Strangh and Yale and warned them that unless the East India Company took Siam seriously instead of dictating and imposing their own trade policies, neither the king nor his ministers would be interested in what they had to say. Phaulkon reminded Strangh that even France, who had a longer trade history with Siam than the East India Company, did not dictate to the king. In fact, France sent their missionaries to help develop Siam. The King of France wrote to the King of Siam thanking him for the protection accorded to French traders and missionaries. England, he said, had no care for Siam. Why should the East India Company be so forceful in their demands?
Strangh announced emphatically to Phaulkon, as he was preparing to leave the office, that he would discuss these matters with the Barcalon and King Narai personally. They were the real authorities in Siam, not an upstart cabin boy.
“You English have a lot to learn,” Phaulkon said to Strangh as he was leaving the office.
“We’ll see about that,” Strangh replied and left.
The next day Strangh received word that the Barcalon was ready to see him. Strangh was proud to announce to everyone that he was meeting with the Barcalon and mostly likely shortly after with King Narai himself. He stated he would inform the Barcalon about Phaulkon’s abuse of power and how he, not Potts, was responsible for the burning of the East India Company warehouse, for it was he who wanted to destroy company records. This was what Potts had informed him. Before seeing the Barcalon, Strangh explained to his associates his plan of operation. He said he would be straightforward with the Barcalon. As a result of Potts’ investigation, he must recommend that the East India Company no longer do business with Siam as long as Phaulkon was in charge of trade. He would insist that the East India Company close down their factories in Siam and seek its business elsewhere. “Maybe then Siam will come to its senses,” he stressed. Strangh’s companions, those who had been in Siam any length of time, attempted to talk him out of being too harsh, and asked that he be sensible about the whole thing. They asked him not to let his dislike for Phaulkon ruin the privileges already granted to the East India Company in Siam. But Strangh answered that he was not afraid of Phaulkon, nor anybody, and that he must speak the truth and let the world know the English will not trade with corrupt nations. “This is the British way, the only way, to teach others a lesson,” he said. He put on his best white uniform with all its gold braid, placed his peaked cap squarely upon his head, and marched off to see the Barcalon.