A LADY IN WAITING
When George White returned home that night, Myra was still awake, waiting for him in the foyer. Upon seeing her, all perfumed and pretty, he picked her up in his arms and swung her around and around. After throwing himself into his favorite fanback chair in the salon, he pulled her down into his lap. He squeezed her tightly.
“Darling, you are very happy this evening,” she said in her soft Portuguese accent.
“Maybe because I have you,” he replied and kissed her kindly on the cheek.
“Me?” she sighed.
“Yes, you,” he answered.
He was about to tell her what he meant but then he thought it was best not to. He didn’t want to confuse the matter more than it already was. On his way home he had been troubled over Phaulkon’s fascination with Fanique’s daughter. What was her name-Marie. What an odd name for a Japanese woman, he thought. But then she was Christian, living not in the Japanese quarter but in the Portuguese quarter. He couldn’t understand it, not at all. What was wrong with Phaulkon? White searched his brain for an answer as he walked the streets to his house, but he could find none. Phaulkon had the choice of practically any young maiden in Ayutthaya that he wanted. He was handsome beyond question, still young and virile, always jolly and easy with words, and he had a pleasant manner about him. Women liked him, that was certain. In the less than a year in the kingdom he had already had two serious affairs, and came near to marrying one of the two ladies involved. There was Catona, the daughter of Don Joseph Castillan of Manila. She was beautiful. And there was Monica Suarez, no less beautiful. Monica was a ‘creacaon,’ a name given by the Portuguese to the children brought up by them, whether belonging to their domestic slaves or being orphans. White was sure Phaulkon’s affair with Monica would be lasting. She was the one he had sent to Phaulkon to help decorate his apartment. They got along splendidly together. And then Catona came along, and everyone thought that Don Joseph Castillan would kill Phaulkon for taking up his daughter. Phaulkon did have difficulty in shaking off Monica. Finally Senor Suarez, to White’s displeasure, had to send Monica to Manila. Now everyone was certain that Catona had won and it looked like marriage. But Phaulkon drew the line when he refused to turn Roman Catholic. Several Englishmen in British India had traveled to Rome under similar circumstances and Phaulkon was told he could follow. He wouldn’t concede. The church ended their relationship. White was worried that Phaulkon had made enemies with the Jesuits in Ayutthaya. It didn’t seem to bother Phaulkon. Regardless, Catona and Monica were no longer in the picture. As White kicked up dust walking home, he wondered if it might not be that Phaulkon was after Marie for the challenge. A man like Phaulkon thrives on challenges.
Still, challenge or not, White could not fathom the attraction Phaulkon had for a Japanese girl. A girl, not yet a woman. White liked voluptuous, spirited women, and he thought that Phaulkon did too, until Marie came into the picture. She was in White’s opinion, far too young, not more than sixteen years old, and inexperienced. She was attractive, that was certain and men did turn heads when she passed, but she was not beautiful. She was too pasty white, he thought, nor did she have the kind of figure that might lure a man to temptation. He thought about that for a while. With all her kimonos and obis and sashes, it was difficult to tell what might lie beneath her garments. Maybe it was the anticipation that got the best of Phaulkon, his not knowing, his uncertainty. But it wasn’t very likely Phaulkon would ever find out. Mr. Fanique would make sure of that. Phaulkon would have to find out the facts for himself, and this is what he did not tell Myra as she curled up in his arms. He did not tell her about Phaulkon and his love affairs. Instead, he told her about a funny story he heard that day, and she was happy when he carried her up the steps to their room.
Phaulkon took charge of the shipment as planned. With Diego and Christoph’s help he saw that the oxen cart was properly loaded, and he followed the cart and driver to the Portuguese quarter as Fanique had instructed. They came after sunset and entered the back gate. “He doesn’t want to take any chances,” Phaulkon thought as he pulled a cord and rang a bell somewhere within the compound.
Presently a guard arrived and swung the heavy gate open, and Phaulkon and his cartload of booty entered. Mr. Fanique came boldly out of the house, and at first he did not recognize Phaulkon. Then, when he did, he stumbled for words. “You, you-” he began.
“Yes, me,” Phaulkon interrupted. “Remember, George White’s party. We met.” “I thought-“
“You thought I was with the EiC,” Phaulkon announced. “Well, I am with the company. That’s correct. But I also do a few chores for Mr. White every now and then.”
Fanique was perplexed. Who was this man, this uncouth seaman masquerading as someone he wasn’t? Fanique was always quick to make snap judgements. Now he was not sure about himself He wanted to pursue the conversation further but Phaulkon did not want to enter into a play of words, not now. He had something else in mind and definitely not a tete-a-tete with a Japanese warlord. No, he came in hope of seeing the man’s daughter.
As Phaulkon and the others walked toward the house, he kept looking about, perhaps to catch sight of her. Finally, when they entered the house, he saw her. She was standing in the very center of the inner courtyard. She was talking to someone but pillars at the edge of the courtyard blocked Phaulkon’s view.
Perhaps White would have changed his mind about her had he seen her there as Phaulkon did that evening. She was radiant. She was without kimonos and sash, and wore only a thin gown. She wore no heavy white make- up nor were her lips painted red. She was, in fact, without make-up of any kind. She was as fresh as a newborn babe. Even from the distance, Phaulkon could see her soft white skin that had never known a ray of sun, and her hair was not black but brown, long and wavy, not straight as that of most women of Asia.
As Phaulkon gazed upon her, his mind raced back to when he was a boy back home in Greece. He had wandered into the garden of a nobleman, and there in the shadow of olive trees he saw a marble statue of a Greek goddess. So perfect was the statue, so beautiful that he wanted to reach up and touch her, to run his hands over her body, to caress her. But he dared not. He learned then, as a young boy, it was possible to fall in love with a statue, as Pygmalion, the King of Cyprus had done. It was a tale every Greek schoolboy knew. The king was also a sculptor and he sculpted a statue of a goddess and so beautiful was she that he fell in love with her. The story told was that when he kissed the statue she came to life. And now, many years later, in the courtyard of a Japanese Samurai in an eastern kingdom called Ayutthaya, a statue had come to life. She was real, alive. But unlike the statue of the King of Cyprus, if someone kissed this lovely Japanese girl, as fair as any princess, as any goddess, would she be the opposite and turn to stone? What a horrible thought. She could never be stone. One day he would kiss her.
But Phaulkon’s moment of lofty ecstasy was short lived. The girl was not alone. She was surrounded by many suitors, all pressing to win her favor by presenting her with garlands of flowers and tiny gifts wrapped in silk. One young man, obviously a prince from the way he was dressed, and with his hair fashioned in a knot atop his head, attempted to read poetry to her. He tried to be sincere but his voice cracked and he was nervous. He was ridiculed by the others but he didn’t seem to mind.
She took it all so light-heartedly but nevertheless it was obvious she enjoyed the attention. Fanique then noticed Phaulkon’s interest in his daughter, and pulled him behind a curtain to look upon the scene up close. Fanique was not aware of the tenseness of the matter. He did not know that Phaulkon had hidden feelings for his daughter. He merely wanted to show Phaulkon how popular she was, like any proud father would be. He pointed out to Phaulkon that one of the suitors was the son of General Phetracha, the king’s trusted general. How much higher could one strive?
Fanique may have been pleased but Phaulkon’s outlook was not the same. He recognized the prince at once. He had seen him about and was warned to keep a safe distance from him. His name was Sorasak. He was arrogant and rude, and he flaunted his authority at anyone who crossed his path. He was disliked by everyone, and feared by them. Fanique whispered to Phaulkon that Sorasak brings his daughter expensive gifts. After a few minutes, fearing that he and Phaulkon, an errand boy, might be seen together, Fanique led Phaulkon back the way they came. But they were not as quiet leaving as Fanique had wanted them to be. His daughter, knowing now that someone was stirring, looked up, and caught sight of them. She stopped and grew still, and then she smiled at Phaulkon.
Fanique was not pleased. After paying Phaulkon off, he hastily pushed him out of the door.
A few days later, Phaulkon met George White and tried to be circumspect with him while trying to find out more about Fanique’s daughter. White knew what Phaulkon was after. “You’re interested in Marie,” he said, straight to the point without playing on words.
“Marie?” Phaulkon repeated.
“Yes, Marie, you know who I mean.”
“Marie is a Western name,” Phaulkon said, not wanting to admit his interest.
“It’s also Japanese,” White said. “You went to her house the other night. What do you think, that she’s ready to fall madly for your charms?”
“I hardly got a good look at her. I only saw her from a distance,” Phaulkon said in defense.
In very polite words, without wanting to offend him, White explained to Phaulkon that he was wasting his time. Marie’s father was a tyrant, especially when it came to his daughter. He was grooming her for better things. A young, unschooled suitor like Phaulkon, no matter how grand a picture he presented to the world, would not have a chance. “If it will make you any happier, you can come with me tomorrow night. I have a shipment of bolts of Chinese silk that Fanique wants to see. Then you might see your goal is hopeless.”
“Perhaps, but can I not find out for myself?” Phaulkon said.
“I don’t know why I am doing this but maybe because I am a fool,” White said.
“Maybe it’s because you like some excitement,” Phaulkon added. “Maybe because I think it is the best way for you to get it out of
your system,” White said and smiled. “We will see,” Phaulkon replied.
They agreed to meet the next evening.