Randy Ford Author- EL CONQUISTADOR Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-three

He was a good husband and a good father. He was good. He was good, but he was also jealous of his wife’s honor, which in spite of her past wasn’t tarnished. He was responsible for it. He was responsible for his wife’s honor yet he was jealous of it. There couldn’t have been any doubt that he loved her, just as he loved playing cards and playing his violin. Carlos was, when in love, loving, but as any human did, he had a secret side. Let’s leave his secret side because it should remain secret. Then for more than thirty years he survived in the Sulus; and during all that time he maintained friendships.

Throughout his life, Carlos was either filled with courage or naivete. This is mentioned in the context of a eulogy. For generations after his death he was remembered for what amounted to exaggerations. For generations his family cherished these anecdotes. His fighting an alligator was their favorite. What some equated with fighting asuangs, others properly dismissed as fiction. There were many stories about him.

Having built stone forts in Zamboanga and on Basilan, the Spanish government obviously felt threatened. They had reasons to feel threatened so after England’s and Holland’s stint in Sulu, Manila once again tried to subjugate the archipelago.

After several years of contact, Carlos confessed that he liked Father Bartholome. He liked him, enjoyed his company and felt stimulated each time he saw him. Carlos still felt a connection with the Catholic Church, and Father Bartholome became his connection. And he often wondered where he’d be had he joined the priesthood. Would he be anything like Father Bartholome? Had he entered an Order would he be like Father Bartholomene and make a great servant of God? Indeed, regardless how long he lived in the Sulus, Carlos could never have been or have the status of a datu, but had he joined the priesthood, he felt sure he could’ve made bishop.

Though neither one knew it at first, he and Father Bartholome also shared more than a passing interest in science. Both loved beauty and diversity found in nature. However, both were pulled away from this love by demands placed on them. They were brought together by shared interests and pulled away by demands placed on them.

Omar heard his friend talk about Father Bartholome, which piqued Omar’s curiosity. Carlos told him that Father Bartholome was a very unhappy Indio, who felt disenchanted with the archbishop. This was the same Father Bartholome he met in Zamboanga and arranged his marriage and baptized his sons. Carlos went on to explain (and this was crucial) that this priest could be trusted because he wasn’t a son of a Spaniard. And since he wasn’t a son of a Spaniard, Father Bartholome faced scorn back in Manila, scorn for “his lack of capacity” and for “dragging down his race” as well.

And much of what Carlos said about Father Bartholome rang true. Ominously, Omar never questioned why his friend wanted him to meet the priest, why he wanted them to know each other. Omar never questioned why he wanted them to meet. It should be noted that Father Bartholome described Carlos in a letter to the Archbishop as a “dull-looking man, with a vacant stare, produced (he supposed) by sin, or more specifically, by too free use of opium.”

Father Bartholome knew that peace in the Sulus couldn’t last forever. He knew it would surely dissolve; and without an end, hostilities would begin again. Caught in the middle of events, Carlos and Father Bartholome were thrown together by the same events, and they both felt obligated to serve the same king. Obligated to the same king, they shared similar interest. And after they began working together, they used a code to keep their activities secret.

Carlos’ notes to Father Bartholome contained detailed descriptions and vast lists of plants, plants divided into categories based on habitat, such as rice, vegetables, weeds, sampaguita, jade vine, boat lily, etc. Often they were arranged in a specific order to convey a message, other times not.

For many years, when Carlos wanted to quickly survey the port and village, he climbed a nearby volcano. Climbing up a steep slope, he knew the trail well and knew how to reach the top in the shortest amount of time. Then puffing up it would be one breathless spy. Coming out from under a canopy of trees, while stepping over roots, he’d follow a deer path a little farther and reach then a cairn that marked the top. From there he could survey the entire port.

Forgetting risks, here Carlos felt relatively safe. But as he gained more confidence, lo and behold stakes became still higher. Then once again, Carlos rose to the occasion. Then time and time again, he misused his position as a trustworthy friend. Then, again, up went the ante. With the same dedication and attention to detail, he served two masters. In the beginning, the information he gave was chiefly geographical.

With a perfect view; his spy glass reduced the view from the top to a magnified circle, which on that day brought into focus, as Brother Bartholome predicted, what became a frequently occurrence. Dutch? A lone schooner. Dutch? A lone schooner, it wasn’t flying a flag. No, British! So once again confirmation of what the governor general most feared.

The Spanish regime recognized how serious the situation was and made every effort to strengthen its fleet. Without Father Bartholome’s information and assessment, this effort wouldn’t have been made. And because the relationship they established, Farther Bartholome felt he could trust Carlos. However, from the beginning, Carlos shrank from giving personal information about Omar. But events that day fell into a different category.

Sitting under the sultan’s own manual punkah and sipping whiskey water, Sir George Porter was something to behold. Boldly dealing in fabrics, silk and gorgram, paper, paper fans, silk stockings and ivory, and bragging about the village of Singapore, Sir Thomas Stanford Raffles, and his queen, Her Royal Highness Victoria, he went on and on with wondrous detail. He seemed like he would never stop. He talked about Raffles spending his last pound on a swamp, a swamp where he envisioned a splendid city. “Along the river, the Esplanade was a better place to build a house than over a swamp, or living in roomah rackits, as somebody called rickety tenements, or raft houses, and keeping the rift-raft away from the Polo Club. Streets of Singapore are lighted; for the first time in Asia, there are a few lamps, with a single glass in front, so this light is of little use. And Mr. Purvis’ godown got broken into!” Sir George noted every detail. He noted every detail and saw the bright side of the worse storms. Was he exaggerating? Yes, a little bit. Wherever he landed….in Jolo, Bencoolen, Calcutta, or Malacca….he spread the gospel of the Tiger Club, Flint Street and Battery Road, of gambling and Freemasonry, while exaggerating a little bit. Taking there his station under the sultan’s punkah, he obviously didn’t fear Spain.

Bordering on the sublime, the exotic exposure of white skin displayed by a Victorian-gowned pair astonished everyone. The display tantalized men who literally believed in a paradise filled with beautiful damsels. So close and within easy reach, the Houris from the Koran “with large dark eyes, like pearls hidden in their shells,” came alive. Their imagination supplied the rest. They engaged in holy wars in order to obtain such a dream, but here was something better than dying a martyr’s death. And these virgins arrived aboard a British schooner.

Exposed to every licentious eye, the folds of their snowy, white bosoms were held by stays cut low and round. It was more appropriate for evening than morning; but being half way around the world from home and dashers of England’s (to use a haughty word) haut monde, the two women didn’t have to fear criticism. That was, assuming they never heard or understood native jeers, “Whores! Whores!” These jeers, so intensely coarse, were alternated with words of adoration and awe. So strikingly incongruent, it flattered the two. They had no idea they were owed an apology.

For weeks, they were cooped up in stuffy quarters. Since they were the only two women on board, Sir George limited their movement. He limited their movements because he knew Amelia reveled in attention, while her maid only felt safe in their cabin. Amelia’s actions often bewildered her servant. However, differences between them fluctuated from day to day. They played this game where either one could find the slightest excuse for a headache or, on a whim, wear rouge. But it was Amelia who pushed up her breast. It was Amelia who had specially built stays to push up her breast.

Native outriggers with green, yellow, and red striped sails circled the schooner. From everywhere came sons of Sulu. For a few silver coins even the most civilized forgot restraint. To get a glimpse of Amelia men forgot restraint, forgot themselves, made fool of themselves, forgot themselves and acted like fools. Amelia pandered them and caused pandemonium by throwing Mexican silver dollars overboard. She appeased begging and prompted a brawl, as several men dove for a single coin. Each time a diver surfaced with one of her coins, Amelia clapped, laughed and clapped, and one didn’t know if she was laughing at them or laughed because they made her happy. She enjoyed the show and expressed her delight by clapping, muffled by tanned leather gloves. Some part of her yearned for this, because her high spirited nature matched her wildest dreams.

While she waited for her bay Sugar to be lowered into an open boat, Amelia amused herself at the expense of a crowd. As she stood there, the expanse of her vision was filled with smiling, gawking people. They surged forward and followed her by the hundreds, old and young by generations. And as the pace of the day quickened, her agitation grew; her temper shortened. All day long she and her maid continued to provoke susceptibilities. Those who were too old to play as spectators criticized the performers.

Even before leaving England, Amelia knew of Moro fire, and the corsairs of the East. She, however, never intended to go to the Sulus, nor thought that she would be welcomed with such unabashed enthusiasm. Once a true Christian, she wanted to serve God. She first traveled to China to place a Testament into as many worthy hands as possible. But once in China, journeying over potholes and ruts, she never felt at ease with what she was doing. She never felt at ease with what she was doing or what she saw. And causes of shock rested in her soul. Then as she got use to the shocking, the shocking wretchedness (as one can get used to anything), she became lonely. Generally, compared to England, China was cold. It was a cold country. To her China was a cold country. To her, it was also twisted and grotesque; and straining sinews of Chinese cities gave little cause for rejoicing. It was cold.

And China tested her faith. Throughout the Middle Kingdom, along unevenly paved streets, here and there, she ran across gambling houses and opium dens. But there was a greater test of faith. No one pretended that preaching the gospel where it was forbidden was safe. Missionaries in China risked their lives. In some places, their mere presence disturbed the equilibrium of wind and water and brought disaster to a community. From altars everywhere rose smoke from incense. These early missionaries lived with dangers and inconvenience to which superstition of their neighbors subjected them.

 To Amelia, China was incomprehensible, cold and incomprehensible. And spreading the light of the Gospel in a cold and dark place seemed impossible to her. Though often gentle and patient, even veterans of the mission field couldn’t mask their disappointment. Trials marked their faces. They were often faced with darkness in a cold country, and so thick and black it was that they couldn’t enjoy sunshine. No one failed to be awed by the fact that China had a population of 400,000,000 then. And for a population that huge, there were only a half dozen missionaries. And the idea of this contributed to Amelia’s feelings of inadequacy. So she quickly realized that she didn’t belong in mission work, a calling in China marked by persecution, bloodshed, and martyrdom. Terrified by customs, by manners, by barriers she faced, she decided she would rather live with bandits and buccaneers than continue her work.

So she garnered all her courage and strength, and gathered all her things (a few comforts from her homeland that all missionaries took with them), and fled by mule cart, wheelbarrow, sedan chair, etc to Guangzhou and Canton. By then streets swarming with people exhausted her. She was stared at, hooted at, grinned at by coolies and rickshaw pullers, shaggy dogs, and dirty children. She fled dead cats, decayed fish, and rotten cabbage. And there were always beggars laying in wait for her. And her presence created a circus. She lived in a fish bowl. She hated living in a fish bowl. She was worshipped; she was mauled. She hated it. But she soon ran into other foreigners and felt relieved.

Then bumping into an English sea captain saved her life. A sea captain saved her life, a man who chose the sea over a wife and who preferred wicked and abandoned women. The young missionary naturally smote him. He was smitten by her. Then giving her tobacco for which she was overjoyed, he fixed his affections on her. This led to a free berth on a ship as comfortable and well appointed as any boat in the east.

Arrangements Sir George thus made with Amelia were bold. It was out of character for him. He normally shied away from religious women. He preferred wicked and abandoned women. He amazed himself and felt amazed that Amelia also seemed attracted to him. There soon came a rush of feelings that resulted in a partnership. It left him not so much in love as surprised. He hadn’t expected to find a soul mate. And under her corset, brickramming and bone stiffening that generally came with tight lacing, he found a soft and yielding waist. Entered then into his life a waist as nature intended. Waists he knew before were as hard as a whalebone. But here was a woman who not only looked like she came out of a fashion book but was not as you would expected, not one of those dear kind silly thoughtless loving lovely fools. Therefore she was worthy of his attention. And he was willing to give her anything; but she never appreciated him enough. Sometimes he complained; other times he exploded with rage.

Her mass of hair, her tiny waist, and her high heels, etc., soon became part of his life. Stays that most women wore and dresses with laces in the back gave him fits and dispelled a laughable notion that he had nimble fingers. He often gave up. He gave up in order to survive and hired a lady’s maid from Singapore. Here was someone to keep Amelia company. She quickly became part of the family, one big happy family.

Sir George honored Amelia and pledged his fidelity; but she was realistic and believed that fidelity among married sailors was impossible. Rather than his heart, she asked for a share of his business. As far as Sir George was concern, while at sea (and as far from home as possible) he could pledge anything and not lose a thing.

Amelia was proud of Sir George and glad she never felt that he brought her on board merely for his amusement. She was useful, useful to him. She made sure she was useful. She had an accurate picture of colonial problems. She believed that it was Britain’s duty to possess colonies and to see that the tropics, ruled by whites, were given the best possible government. Anthropological and ethnological facts interested her. She knew how to read and write and loved to teach. Practically speaking, she kept a diary, listened well, and preceded to write about what she saw and heard. Few details escaped her. At the same time, her appearance was beguiling. As for Sir George, he fully intended to one day take her back to England and make her his lawful wife.

 Once away from Jolo, she had an opportunity to write an explanation why she shed so many tears over the loss of her horse. Truthfully, a replacement the sultan gave her didn’t help. Her grief was still intense, very intense. In her diary she also wrote about her grief, grief for a horse. She also wrote “pantaloons, waistcoats, jackets, sashes and turbans men of Jolo wore …. gaudy, showy, embroidered, and otherwise ornamented …skin-tight below the knees, and loose above.” Somehow her impressions reached London.

With Spanish blood flowing through his veins, Carlos found it impossible to remain impartial. There was no accord between passions he felt for his country and obligations he shared with Omar. It was a major conflict. It was a conflict that often haunted him. It did increasingly so as the first embassies arrived from Singapore. Perhaps, naively he thought he could serve two masters.

Carlos thought he needed to warn Manila (through Father Bartholome) about the coziness that existed between the British sea captain and the sultan. The relationship between the two seemed stronger than Carlos ever thought possible. This relationship was built on commerce. It was built on an exchange of firearms for sea slugs, bird’s nest, and mother of pearl. Carlos saw this buildup of arms, and it particularly disturbed him.

Amelia knew Sugar needed exercise. The horse was coped up too long. Sugar needed exercise and Amelia needed fresh air. Since there was time enough to explore the island, she thought it would be nice to go for a ride. In front of her stretched the same scene Carlos saw from on top of the volcano. There was the same sea with extensive reefs and the same village full of excited activity. Except for volcanoes and a few hills, the island was only a few feet above sea level. So in her mind, Amelia was back in Singapore and not so much because of business. No one saw her thoughts shift back and forth … back and forth, to and from Jolo and Singapore. Jolo and Singapore were similar in many ways. Both were islands, with mangrove, pasture, and gardens. Only Jolo was busier than Singapore. Only in Singapore she liked to ride early mornings and race with Sir George.

Six good men and strong Manila hemp, treaded through large blocks, lowered Sugar over the side. As they lowered the horse, Amelia gazed in her lover’s direction and said to herself, “It won’t take more than a day, and we’ll see how profitable a connection we can make. I’ll only go for a short ride. A short ride and maybe I’ll meet a compatible soul. Ah, the promise of wind in my hair and fresh water from a spring.” She watched and, as her spirited animal fought a hoisting sling, perhaps she recognized her own high-spirited nature. Yes, she was high-spirited … Sir George called her spunky … and she wanted to leave an imprint on everything she touched. She was still the same woman who gave up her native England and suffered from having been cooped up too long. Like Sugar she had been cooped up too long.

After what for the horse was a short distance, she followed for a change a carriage lane, “ascending to the heavens” until she and Sugar came upon a huge house built of hewn stone. Imagine her surprise: a huge house built of hewn stone. At first glance an abstraction caught perhaps in a painting she saw of Spain. She expected something else. She expected another house of bamboo and nipa palm. And then not more than a few yards in front of her, suddenly as if by enchantment, a woman stepped into the lane. Each was startled and then fascinated. That was how Amelia and Sonja met.

So captivated by each other that they didn’t utter a word. Then Sonja asked in her best English, “Who are you? What are you doing here?” She waited; but Amelia out waited her. Amelia didn’t say anything. And Sonja’s surprise was impossible to describe, impossible, but yet not entirely surprising. Not since Manila had she seen a European woman. Her islands had such a bad reputation that European women didn’t go there. Her islands had such a reputation that no civilized woman willingly exposed herself to thousands of dangers they thought were there.

And Sonja remembered lamplight shame she endured in Manila. For that reason, Sonja normally wouldn’t approach a woman like Amelia. But the tables were now turned. Sonja’s status had changed. She had changed. She no longer endured shame. Sometimes she felt different, and other times she didn’t. Most of the time she felt different and a great deal older. Regardless how she felt, custom dictated that she show hospitality to strangers.

 When Amelia got off Sugar, she detected a change in Sonja’s demeanor. Here perhaps was a compatible soul, she thought. Amelia apologized for her small house and said that she didn’t know when her husband would be back. Then she led Amelia up the lane to her home.

To thus be exposed, beginning with servants, hospitality, and food, Amelia began to feel rather foolish. An abundance of household linen (perhaps German), fine Spanish silver, and British dishes … plates, cups, forks, spoons, saltshakers, flagons, all this glassware was apparently used as everyday table service and all of it suggested a luxurious lifestyle, a lifestyle that boggled the English woman’s mind. She later wrote, “I was surprised to see an elegance I didn’t expect to find on a small island so far away from Europe.” Her astonishment increased as she was shown through Sonja’s home and met two stepsons, who looked more Castilian than Asian.

It would be an unforgettable day. It would be an unforgettable day full of surprises and lessons, excuses and accusations. The friendliness of people was unforgettable. Sonja’s hospitality was unforgettable. Amelia enjoyed her ride. It was good to get some air. Both horse and woman needed fresh air and no excuse to run and race. As an oddity herself in a remote part of Asia, Amelia never expected to find a Spanish hacienda. Yes, the day was full of surprises. She hadn’t expected to find a compatible soul. She looked for one but hadn’t expected to find one. She wasn’t prepared for huge crowds either, though she should’ve been prepared after he experience in China. As a white woman, she stood out, and she should’ve anticipated crowds of people. There might’ve been a different outcome had there been a way to hold back curious crowds.

Amelia missed the spaciousness of the Esplanade of Singapore with its avenue of trees. Sugar needed to run. She was cooped up too long and needed to run. Had Amelia been riding in a carriage maybe there wouldn’t have been a tragedy.

Crowds of children running to catch another glimpse of her or touch her skin, innumerable children, it was China all over again. There she was, “a delicate, strange lovely thing,” trapped before she could turn her horse around, surrounded by smiling and good humored faces.

 In character, full of romantic notions, but honestly, in essence, lost and afraid, she ended up feeling betrayed. She ended up thinking that her female form and fair features betrayed her. Maybe, had she been stronger, and if children hadn’t ventured so close. Heavens! No excuses! Heavens! Excuses! And, with hideous screams, a skittish animal cavorted; and horse or crowd trampled to death a child. The death of a child! How tragic!

Shock reverberated throughout the town. Shock reverberated throughout the island. “Farewell!” and again farewell Sugar; and yet again, when Sir. George fired a shot that put an end to Amelia’s horse. “Farewell!” Farewell. Maybe it explained why Amelia sobbed so much.

And Carlos’ cryptographic message to Father Bartholome contained a list of flowers found in England and Singapore.

Randy Ford

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Filed under El Conquistador, Randy’s 2nd Novel

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