PHAULKON COMES TO DINNER
Excitement spread in the house of Fanique when it was learned that Phaulkon was coming to dinner. Preparations began a week before. When the day finally arrived, with the help of her maid, Nana, Marie tried on one dress after another, all Western gowns, attempting to determine which one would impress Phaulkon the most. She tried on a long gown with a low-cut front and asked Nana if it was too provocative.
The maid suggested that she not show Phaulkon too much of herself and expressed her thoughts. “Phaulkon is no longer a very young man,” she said. “He may not be moved by passion. I think he is the kind of man who prefers virtue rather than passion.”
“You’re wrong, Nana,” Marie exclaimed. “I can see it in his eyes.
I can feel it in my heart. Oh yes! Constantine is a man of passion.” At home she called him by his Greek name, not by Phaulkon.
“Shh, you’re not to talk that way,” Nana said. “You must not let him know how you feel. You must control yourself.”
“But why?” Marie asked. “I want him to know. I’m sure he would want to know how I feel.”
“I am sure he already knows,” Nana answered. “But you are young and must be cautious. Love increases with more obstacles in the way.”
“Oh, Nana, you don’t really believe that,” Marie responded happily. “I know, but we are different, Constantine and I. We don’t need rules for courtship. We already love each other. We already know we belong to each other. We do, Nana, we do! We just want to be together now and forever.”
“Shh, keep your voice down,” Nana said glancing at the door beyond Marie. “You talk as if you already know Master Constantine. He hasn’t even spoken words of love to you.”
“Oh, but he has, Nana,” Marie exclaimed with sincerity. “When our eyes meet we speak to each other. I know how he feels just as much as he knows how I feel. Don’t you understand, Nana? You’ll never understand. No one will ever understand, but Constantine and I do, and that’s enough. Besides, talking about obstacles, father is enough of an obstacle. I don’t want him to make Constantine feel uncomfortable this evening. Oh please pray that father will be nice tonight, even just for this one night.” She stopped talking when Nana placed the sapphire necklace around her neck.
Phaulkon arrived in style at the house of Fanique. A few guests, friends of Fanique, had been invited, and they stood in the courtyard waiting for Marie to make her appearance. Torchlights gave dancing reflections throughout the yard. The stage was set. Fanique looked towards the stairs and at the top landing Marie appeared. She appeared subtly, like an apparition coming to life. Even from afar, her beauty took everyone in the room by with awe. She was young, still a child, and although her beauty was the beauty of youth, there was something ethereal about her. She was more like a Madonna than anything else. Slowly she descended the stairs, holding the tips of her long dress in both hands, and just before she reached the bottom, Phaulkon stepped forth. With an outstretched hand he guided her down the last two steps of the staircase. When she saw him looking at her low-cut dress, she blushed and made the comment that her maid had chosen the dress for her.
During dinner Phaulkon and Marie could hardly take their eyes from one another. Fanique proved to be the perfect host. He expressed his admiration of Phaulkon’s policy that gave special privileges to the interlopers over the East India Company traders. He continued throughout the meal to talk business. At one lull in the conversation, he addressed Phaulkon and asked him if he liked the wine. “A shipment just arrived a few days ago,” Fanique said.
“A present from France for the French missionaries, and from them to us for this gracious evening.”
When the meal ended and the guests were milling in the courtyard, Phaulkon asked Fanique if he could walk Marie to school the next day. He used the excuse that he would like to see the school. Fanique agreed but he reminded Phaulkon that Marie was a very busy teacher and had many children to take care of. It was the opening he wanted. He then said: “Maybe you should spend your time more wisely by studying the doctrine of the Catholic faith, and get yourself baptized. That would please Marie.”
“I will do everything to make her happy, to be my wife,” Phaulkon said. “If that requires me to go to church and learn the Catholic ways, then so be it.” Like some inexorable force compelling him to say these words, words that surprised even him, he announced for everyone’s benefit what Fanique wanted to hear. Phaulkon then added, “I do it for Marie.”
“Not for Marie but for your soul,” Fanique replied.
Then, having said the last word, he excused himself and instructed the servants to serve dessert and coffee on the balcony overlooking the courtyard. He told Phaulkon and Marie to go ahead and he would join them later. Phaulkon led Marie to the balcony where they were alone. They talked not about trade and commerce, nor about the affairs of the state; they talked about love. “How do you know you love me?” Marie asked.
Phaulkon took her hand in his. “I knew when I first saw you,” he whispered. “I knew from the very beginning there could be no other woman.”
Marie reached up and touched his face, softly, and said, “No one has spoken words to me like that before.”
Phaulkon gently took her hand down from his face and kissed it. ”And no one before has ever touched me as you have,” he said sincerely.
They embraced, and for that moment they forgot the world around them. They kissed, intending to be circumspect but it hardly turned out that way. Fanique, on his way to the balcony, saw them in each other’s arms, kissing, and froze in his path. Servants coming from the kitchen, carrying trays of dessert and coffee, saw them too, and stopped dead in their tracks. All were aghast. One servant dropped the tray with desert. The noise of breaking glass caused everyone to look toward the balcony. Embarrassed by their behavior, Fanique stood on a step and spoke to his gathered guests. “This man, this Mr. Constantine Phaulkon, the Minister of Trade, has asked my daughter’s hand in marriage.” He cleared his throat, while all waited, and continued. “I am considering his proposal. Mr. Phaulkon has a few things to learn first.” Face was saved and everyone clapped their hands in approval.
Later, when the guests had departed, Marie, turning to her father, begged him, in front of Phaulkon, to allow them to marry. Fanique, still in a state of anger and confusion, but knowing he had the upper hand, told Marie that a marriage proposal does not come from the woman but from the man.
“You know, Sir, I would lay down my life for your daughter,”
Phaulkon quickly said.
“Anyone can say they will lay a life down for another, but let’s see you lay down your pride,” Fanique said. “Make a public confirmation of your faith at church! Father Thomas would be glad to announce it. Then we will talk about marriage.”
Marie, still holding Phaulkon’s hand, squeezed it tightly. She as much told him that everything now depended upon him.
The following Sunday, Phaulkon went to church and sat within view of Marie. He went through all the motions required of devoted Catholics, but deep inside he questioned his hypocrisy, not his belief in God but the manner in which God was revered. The more he delved into the religion, the more difficult he was finding it to accept Catholic doctrine on faith alone. He was deeply disturbed. How could he possibly answer questions the king would ask when he himself did not have the answers. This is what bothered him. So, to appease everyone, he went along with the routine. He went to confession and partook in Holy Communion. During confession, the priest asked, “And what have you to confess, my son?”
Phaulkon answered bluntly, “I have nothing to confess. I have not done anything wrong that I am ashamed of nor that I regret, but I was told unless I come in here, I cannot marry the woman I love. So then, tell me, what am I supposed to do?”
“God is with you, my son,” the priest said and gave him penitence to say.
Thus Phaulkon, hypocrite as he was and hating himself for it, became a Catholic, perhaps not in spirit but certainly in appearance. A few months later after his becoming Catholic, Phaulkon and Marie married on her 18th birthday in a small chapel in the Portuguese quarter. They moved into their own home, also in the Portuguese quarter.
Phaulkon and Marie enjoyed their new home. They enjoyed their time together. Phaulkon bared his soul to her. He told her that his home is Siam, not Greece or any place else. It was Siam. She was his family, his only family. He promised that he would build her the finest house in the entire kingdom, and that she was his queen. Marie responded by saying nothing mattered to her but her husband, and he was all that she wanted. It mattered not where they lived.
In reply, Phaulkon told her she would have her palace in which to live, and all the sapphires money could buy, and all the children she wanted. Marie answered that she already had all the children she wanted, at the school where she taught. Phaulkon said, “No, I mean your own children, our children.”
Marie confided in Phaulkon her fears. They were both foreigners, she said, and their children would be even more foreign than they. Where would their children belong? Greece or Japan? She confessed about her secret fears of not really belonging to Siam.
“And Japan, what about Japan?” he asked. “No, not Japan either,” she replied.
“You see, Siam is our home,” Phaulkon answered. He then assured her that their children will be children of Siam, and eventually she, being his wife, would find Siam to be her home in the land in which he found his. “I will build you a fine house,” he said, “and when you have your own house on your own land with gardens and gates and guards and servants, you will feel at home and nothing will ever change that.”
Marie was happy and like her husband she had no other home, no other place but Siam. But, still, she had fears she could not conquer, try as she did.