Randy Ford Author- EL CONQUISTADOR Chapter Four

Chapter Four

The arrival of the Cultivator caught Hang merchants by surprise. They were unprepared. They were surprised and unprepared because the Spanish weren’t supposed to trade with them. And they lacked enough money to buy the opium. Silk wasn’t an even exchange. This they apologized for. But there were wealthy families in Amoy with good connections that had the 50,000 Spanish dollars needed. And thus, all at once, Carlos’ problem was solved. Now with the door open, they set sail for Amoy.

Greeted by rugged hills and an old walled city, barbarians sailed through a narrow passage into Amoy’s inner harbor. Junks of every kind caught the eye. Some were decorated with paper lanterns, silken streamers, and voluminous flags; others were war junks, filled with military stores, everything from huge matchlocks to bows and arrows. This spectacle caught Carlos’ imagination. He hadn’t seen anything like it. But peculiar and picturesque scenery interested him more. He couldn’t wait to explore the island of Amoy and small surrounding islands. He would be one of the first westerners to explore them.

An enormous rock, an extraordinary monument near the entrance to the harbor, attracted him first. People there believed the rock held their destiny. They believed that when it decayed the island would fall to a western enemy; or when it fell people of China would be taken into slavery. Curiosity pulled Carlos there. He couldn’t help but be curious. And curiosity also slowed him down. Inexperienced, young and impulsive, he ignored dangers that came from wandering around.

Almost immediately, Carlos ran into prejudice. This came particularly from gardeners, who looked like they’d spit on him. Over centuries, these gardeners achieved magic. They achieved it through patience with beautiful blooms and picturesque landscapes, but had little tolerance for a barbarian who knew little about their land and ways. Everywhere Carlos went, as peasants gathered around him, he met haughtiness, haughtiness, condescension, and rudeness. They felt his clothes. They tugged his clothes and touched him and took away his handbag and cap. Gawking seemed like a national pastime. It seemed like he came from another planet; but until they started throwing pebbles, they didn’t seem malicious.

A crowd followed Carlos closely. They followed him until they came to a spot beyond which they wouldn’t go. Focused on flowers and plants, Carlos largely ignored them and failed to immediately appreciate the significance of suddenly finding himself alone. Drawn toward a massive, granite rock, Carlos, from the summit, admired the beauty of the outer harbor and six islands, with a blue ocean beyond. Along a razor-thin line sea met an azure sky.

Magnificent was the view. It gave no hint of fears that swept the land, or how Chinese felt about foreigners. From Marco Polo’s time, in his entire romantic splendor, to many unhappy ventures with Hollanders and Englishmen, with their differences, with French, Portuguese, Japanese, and scores of merchants from Nanyang, edicts strictly prohibiting trade were often proclaimed. And it was understood that a license to do business could only come from the emperor. No wonder a lone Castilian attracted so much attention. No wonder he attracted so much suspicion and, particularly so, after he stood next to a ponderous rock, like a Twentieth Century tourist posing for a photograph. Judging from masonry work, residents of Amoy thought the giant monument stood in danger of falling. They knew decay had clearly set in. They understood erosion. But Carlos knew nothing of this. Of turmoil his trip to this shrine caused, also nothing.

From on top of the hill, in all directions, he saw banyan trees. Along a beach, he saw cultivated paddy and wheat. Elated with invigorating air and spectacular scenery, this neophyte never sensed that he was in danger or considered himself an intruder. Instead, intoxicated by a blaze of color likes of which he’d never seen before … shimmering reds, purples, yellows, and oranges, green, gold, and white, white of gardenias and shiny green leaves unfamiliar to him … he came down the hill in such a dream world that he didn’t notice that he luckily took a different path.

 His Castilian pride never allowed him to accept defeat. If stopped, he would’ve claimed victory. Even surrender meant triumph to him, while victory could mean weakness had he thought about it. Freed by ignorance, he charged up and down hills. He would rather have died than seem intimidated. Meanwhile, word of the foreigner quickly spread throughout the countryside.

 The main reason Carlos could move about had to do with a contradiction. It was a contradiction he would never have expected. He was surprised to find out that most people of this region were Roman Catholic. Amazingly, Christian missionaries came before him. Amazingly Christian missionaries taught ancestors of these peasants Roman law, that supreme and unshakable expression of justice. Had Carlos paid more intention, he would’ve seen evidence of it. Less evident were other similarities. If he paid more attention, he would’ve seen their cleanliness. And shouldn’t Carlos have recognized subtle niceties they showed each other and charity and humility often illustrated by their bowing? But he attributed his survival to himself. To him, it was just another example of how he succeeded when others failed. And his traipsing around alone again illustrated his naivete.

Any traveler to Amoy then soon learned that morals in a Christian sense had recently changed there (another example of a decaying rock). Murder and robbery were constant facts. A quarrelsome people, frequent disputes arose among them, which almost always ended in bloodshed. For safety, wealthy people lived behind thick walls. Behind thick walls comfort was found. Within those walls gardens were tastefully laid out and banyan trees offered shade. Carlos never knew what to stay away from, as wandered down many of narrow, dirty streets. He never knew what to stay away from in Amoy.

 He found a place to sleep and do other things for a week. A place to sleep cost him five times more than it should have. Food was also expensive. With a room came a madam who fussed over him. To not please him would’ve been unthinkable. It was unthinkable while suspicion lurked behind her politeness. Wariness followed him wherever he went, from pension, in town, throughout the countryside. However, rather than seem ungracious, he accepted the madam’s hospitality, submitted himself completely, which came with an opium pipe, a sand-filled pillow, cups of green tea, and a young girl of peasant origin, who reeked with powder. This girl then took what she could from him.

 Paying for his passage according to his weight in Mexican silver dollars, he left Amoy on a junk. Before then, however, he made a discovery that haunted him for as long as he lived.

An epitaph “Lived Well and Died Happy,” on one of the graves, in Spanish, seemed sacrilegious to Carlos. On a headstone it was almost obliterated by then. Yet it was not an unmarked grave of some forgotten soul. There was a name. There was a name on a headstone, which Carlos could barely read. It was a narrow plot that somehow didn’t seem commensurate with the missionary’s sacrifice. There was no mention of his accomplishments. Nothing about his home.

Carlos didn’t know anything about Christian missionaries, Christian missionaries to China, other than these graves. He knew nothing about the lives missionaries lived or their untiring work of good servants. He knew nothing about their dedication, faith, and unselfish acts of charity. He never knew about their zeal for serving people, zeal that never died. This missionary wore himself out serving people. And like in the Gospels, some seeds fell on fertile ground and some didn’t. Yet, the missionary died a lonely death far, far away from home. Or did he consider Amoy home?

There were better climates than Amoy for a sick man, but he couldn’t leave because his parishioners needed him. And when he was gone, there was no one to replace him. For a while he ran only a slight fever; but his work was too important for him to stop for a mere fever. He prayed hoping to get better. He prayed to get better. Trusting in God, he prayed and showed courage but as his fever and pain increased, spasms wracked his frame. Then death turned out to be a blessing. A blessing! He slipped away, having his life suddenly snatched from him.

Having stumbled upon a grave of a saint, Carlos stood there for a long time. In the stillness he couldn’t hide his sadness. He felt sad because he had an absurd feeling that he somehow knew this long dead countryman, and this allowed him to see into the future. It allowed him to see his future. And he realized that it was more than likely he would die far away from his native Spain; and, as a precaution, buried quickly, and in quicklime.

Randy Ford

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Filed under El Conquistador, Randy’s 2nd Novel

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