Randy Ford Author- EL CONQUISTADOR Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Seventeen

The governor general felt betrayed. He felt trapped and betrayed and in danger. He knew his situation, knew what would happen if he didn’t act. He knew he aligned himself too closely with French people while French people held all the cards. Now the Spanish king was restored, Bonaparte was in exile, and his world was turned upside down again. Why did these things happen? Why did these happen to him, he wondered. Luckily he lived on the periphery of an empire. He knew now he had to act decisively, decisively and quickly. He knew he had to cut off former French friends. He knew he could no longer associate with them and knew he had to suspect them again. They couldn’t be trusted. It was like before when they couldn’t trusted. They were too happy. They own too much of Manila. They were wealthy and own too much of Manila. He should never have let his guard down.

Yet it made him feel sad. He knew what he had to do, but it made him sad. French people who made it to his capital brought with them a touch of home. They arrived in groves and were already numerous. “A share of French wealth doesn’t hurt anyone,” he said. He presented his case in this way.

As long as he ruled through the Cortes, Bonaparte’s decisions seemed even-handed. This was how the governor general rationalized his past loyalty. As governor general, he now treated French people the same as other foreigners. All groups deserved protection, even foreigners. And poor people too. “Poor people deserve your attention as much as rich people,” Archbishop Romero reminded him. And kept reminding him. Rice people shouldn’t be given privileges. They can afford them themselves.

But the old fart didn’t fully understand his dilemma. There were always those who wouldn’t forget. There were always those who remembered how he gave preference to French people when French people were in power. Because of complexities he may not have understood (let’s give him slack), he switched loyalty and toasted the wrong man. Over the years he frequently raised his glass and cheered Bonaparte. And nightly, he gorged on endless courses of French food and dozens of fine French wines. He lived well; too well, but from then on, no more French food. It made him sad, but no more French food. It made him sad. He would miss those years. From then on, no more French food, no more flirting with French women. But he grieved whenever he sopped stew with ordinary bread and drank carafes of Spanish wine. Yes, he knew what he had to do. Yes, he knew what he had to reject. It was suddenly wrong for him to picture himself a connoisseur of anything French.

Thugs saw to it, hired men, no doubt. In one night, searching for loot, criminals mounted raids and killed even children. Murder men, women, and children. But why appear indignant, when he should’ve been applauding? Why not applaud? How could he explain his indignation over a few deaths of a few Frenchmen? But there was no need for recklessness. There was no need. “Ah, life indeed wasn’t a picnic,” he said, knowing he lived on borrowed time. He never underestimated strength of his enemies. He wouldn’t make it easy for them.

He strengthened his resolve against thugs. Recruited another brigade. He acted like he was in charge, but he couldn’t always be on guard. He knew that there were some people who wanted to hack him to pieces and knew they were a determined lot.

He and Archbishop Romero agreed. He had to give the oration of his life. He had to give a great oration. He didn’t have a choice. From his balcony, he praised their beloved monarch and spoke in glowing terms of his Majesty’s restoration. From deep within his heart, he spoke and spoke like he had never hidden his obvious loyalty. And he saw his audience’s joyful response. He saw how they ate it up and felt relieved. Then why not lie? Some people in the audience knew he was lying, some people knew him, but why not lie? He didn’t have anything to lose. Tomorrow he could be shot or poisoned.

With his last bottle of Beaujolais, His High Excellency, the Captain General Governor, for his Catholic Majesty, of the Philippine Islands (permit him his titles; for it reminded him of his responsibilities and of his enemies who were then enemies of Spain) drank himself into oblivion. Listening to his slurred speech, one could feel his frustration. One could sense his feelings of helplessness. At least, the French were civilized. They shared Christianity and disposed of the same emperor. Didn’t they dispose of Bonaparte? Wasn’t Bonaparte in exile? The governor general still planned to one day retire in Paris, where he could live with considerable ease. Just off the Champs-Elysees and possibly marry a French woman.

Foiled again, he now had to make peace with a race of bird’s nest collectors. He also saw that he had to enter with his navy into the nucleus of all the piratical hordes of the seas. To do this, he strengthened his navy with two additional pilot boats and three transport brigs.

And don’t forget the French. After Chinese trade and possession of a port, what were they up to? Frequent appearances of English, Dutch and French ships called for action. But how could he know how strong his enemies were? How could know how strong Spain’s enemies were? How could he know how strong Spain was? Or know who was friend or who was foe? Or know the lay of the land … shores, principal islands, chief strongholds or headquarters of all players? There were too many islands. And distances were too great, and did mattered. He wasn’t sure what mattered anymore. It would be only a matter of time before former friends—French friends–bought the island of Basilan and from the shores of Basilan one could see Zamboanga.

Britain schemed and challenged Holland. Restored Dutch sought to exclude British trade, and Britain signed precautionary treaties with Moro bastards! Manila had two schooners, two junks, and one transport schooner along with additional pilot boats and three transport brigs.

Should a line be drawn somewhere on a map? But with Britain in Singapore, Portugal in Malacca, and Spain in Manila, where would you draw a line? Then when Britain conceded Bencoolen to Holland in exchange for Holland’s withdrawal from India, they all agreed to draw a line at the Equator. Ah, makings of a headache, more reasons to drink.

As Spanish administrator, he barely maintained a D. As military leader, he didn’t know where to begin. “Bad news!” and with it the governor general smashed his fist into a thick oak table. “Find me someone, a spy; for God’s sake we need to send someone! A spy! A spy and a subordinate to go to Amoy, Batavia, Singapore, Jolo, and Turtle Island. We need a spy to find out what’s going on.”

For the time being, he forgot politeness and Paris. He just learned Paris bought Basilan. How could Paris buy Basilan without dealing with him? Constantly worried … constant worry Paris, a worry that dogged him the rest of his life. He pressed Archbishop Romero for ideas. He needed to find out what was going on. Who could he trust? Could he trust anyone? Who could he send? He asked Achbishop Romero about whom could he send. A friar? Yes, a friar. Someone incorruptible. “No pygmy. A Spaniard, of standing, who loved his country?” Who would Archbishop Romero recommend? A toast to this unknown individual, someone they trusted and on whose information they could launch more expeditions.

This agent would have to abandon family. If he were not a friar, he would have to forget a betrothal, and sacrifice marriage for his country. So they needed a friar. And someone willing to leave the confines of Christianity and journey into a brutal, pagan world, though admittedly Muslims weren’t pagan. (In light of recent violence and ever-present intrigue, Manila was anything but paradise.) As for bargaining chips… tinsel, glass beads, shinning mirrors, and other trinkets of society; as long as he could pack them into a trunk, their man could take a few of those things with him.

Sulu was notorious then for its brutality. To that no Spanish civil servant could directly speak. They didn’t really know because the breed never went there. Nor could their man prepare himself by reading. So he could only rely on hearsay, or his imagination before getting there. And before getting there, he imagined the worse. But what could really get him? What could really get him killed? Savages? Savages or suffocating heat? Suffocating heat, burning sun or alcohol? Or a combination? There was a saying then: only Englishmen and mad dogs go out in midday sun. Possibly, he would contract congestion of the brain. He would possibly have to live with excruciating symptoms or delusions of someone poisoning him.

He’d speak gibberish if his mind went. If his mind went, you’d see a face with features contracted and eyes gone wild. Caused by what? Sun, soil, or a notion that he could keep up with natives? Pardon folly, folly of all Spaniards, for thinking they could make a fortune in the tropics.

They thought long and hard about what business would take him to Moroland. Would his business be real? It would have to be real. Could a young man possibly enrich himself fabulously, and eat and drink well while serving his king in Jolo or Turtle Island, and so far away from an office in Manila where profiteering was expected? Maybe he’d get lucky and he would adapt … adapt to Moroland too. Maybe he’d get lucky and get wealthy. Maybe he’d get rich enough to hire servants (not slaves!) to remove his shoes for him and fan him, so he wouldn’t miss home so much. Maybe. Who knew? Who knew what events would bring an enterprising young man, someone not confounded by a foreign language? It was important to find someone fluent in languages. And who knew the local dialect. Who knew … but whom? They also needed someone who looked the part. A Moro … a ferocious looking Moro. There had to be a Moro who was a human being, someone who could be won over; and who was filled with Christian ideals.

The two Casitlians looked at each other and thought the same thoughts. Where, in Heaven, were they going to find such a fool? Someone diligent, a stickler for details who they could trust? Preferably a Castilian. A Castilian, who looked like a Moro. Forget it! A Castilian who was willingly to seek his livelihood in the Sulus and prosper by turning an unforgiving situation into gold. A stubborn fool who could win an enemy’s trust. A native of Spain, who’d remain loyal to the crown. They would test his loyalty. How else would they know if they found the right man?

But where to find him? Was there a poor clerk in their offices who would give up coming in at eight in the morning and leaving at one in the afternoon after earning a wage? Or a chief who came in a carriage at ten o’clock and left before twelve? No, right off hand they couldn’t think of anyone. No, none. None of their friends or subordinates who were used to reading newspapers while smoking would give up their desks. And who could blame them? So they doubted that they would find the right person among their countrymen, anyone who had been in Manila for any length of time, anyone who would give up perks and go. No, not anyone use to closing offices when summer became violent, when work was reduced to talking and gesturing in shade and used to fleeing to wine shops or strolling about. Considering everything, Archbishop Romero and the governor general figured there was no perfect answer, no perfect person, and that they would have to settle for someone right off a ship. Or they could send a defrock friar. But there weren’t many of the latter around because they usually died young, died in front a firing squad.

Randy Ford

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Filed under El Conquistador, Randy’s 2nd Novel

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