The Company's Reward

A Dutchman in 17th Century Siam

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THE SECOND TOUR, 1633-1636

SCHOUTEN LAID HIS QUILL BESIDE THE DAGHREGISTER, the journal in which the Director recorded all the factory’s business.  What a thrill to be back in Siam, he thought to himself, all those memories of starting out as a cog in the company’s machine, pushing himself up the ranks.  The work had finally paid off.  After three years in Japan, a new Governor General had selected him to reopen the Ayudhya office.  Director at last.

The Governor General’s instructions were clear.  Schouten had under a year to prove that the factory could turn a profit.  Shortly after the new year 1634, he was to sail to Batavia and report on the potential of the Siamese market.  Then the Governor General would consult with his council and determine whether to continue the factory.

His tour in Japan had honed his talents for maneuvering through the political and business intrigues of life in the East.  The Siamese nobility might appear haughty at times, but they were mild-mannered when compared with the arrogant Japanese.  Schouten had spent his years in Japan accompanying mission after mission to the Emperor’s council at Nagasaki, hoping to secure the release of Peter Nuyts, imprisoned for extracting a silly revenge on some Japanese captain.  He had watched as the Japanese officials delivered humiliating ultimatums, everything from demands that foreigners trample on the image of Jesus to orders to abandon the factory on Formosa and acknowledge Japanese suzerainty over the island.  Any compliance only confirmed the Japanese air of superiority and led to more contemptuous commands.  Resistance only led to the torture of natives sympathetic to the Dutch plight, burning to death in sacks of straw or plunging into hot springs to boil.

Nonetheless Schouten’s superior Willem Jansz and his lieutenant Francis Caron had managed to maintain the Dutch foothold on Hirado.  Although the Japanese would continue to taunt and threaten for years to come, they had convinced the Shogun of the benefits of reopening his borders.  Schouten was determined to draw on their example as he rebuilt the Dutch position in Siam.

The knowledge gained of Japanese markets would also prove invaluable.  With Dutch ships again allowed into the Emperor’s ports, the Siam factory was perfectly positioned.  Siamese goods were in high demand, and the Shogun refused to let Siamese junks trade directly.  Nor did he want his own citizens leaving the islands on trading missions.  Schouten was determined to beat the other European powers in filling the middleman role.

He did not intend to stop there.  He would continue to supply staples to Batavia as well, but he really had his sights set on India and Europe.  If he could build markets for Siamese products in those areas, the profits could be enormous and his reputation would be unsurpassed.

He felt he was off to a quick start.  When he arrived in April, Reijner van Tzum and Issac Moerdijck had shown him the stocks.  These assistants had remained in Ayudhya during the years the factory was closed, and although they had no real authority, the two Dutchmen had been able to collect the company’s outstanding debts and to maintain contacts with the local suppliers.  He immediately put them to work buying deerhides and sapanwood.  He wanted to get a shipment dispatched as soon as the winds were favorable.

So much had changed while he was gone.  Despite the correspondence he had maintained, it still shocked him.  Ong Lai had needed less than a year to capture absolute power.  He had precipitated a crisis by cremating his father with honors reserved exclusively for the direct relatives of a king.  When the young King Chetta reproached him, his men stormed the palace and put the king to death with a sandalwood stake through the stomach.  Yamada insisted that the king’s 10-year old brother be crowned, but Ong Lai needed little more than another month to depose and murder him.  In the meantime, he dispatched Yamada to quell a rebellion in the vassal state of Ligor and had him poisoned by the rebel leader’s brother.  Ong Lai was thus free to mount the throne himself.  He now reigned as Prasat Thong, “King of the Golden Palace.”

Other vassals had used this usurpation as a pretext to revolt.  The Queen of Patani refused to send tribute to a monarch she regarded as no better than a rascal and murderer.  She had allied herself with the Portuguese to resist the new king.  The Cambodians were also threatening, stirred up by the Japanese.  Many had fled there when Prasat Thong burned their community and expelled them from the country for not properly supporting his ascension.

Prasat Thong’s old crony still held the post of Phrakhlang, so Schouten revived the relationship he had built before his departure.  This friendship would be the key to secure the trading privileges he needed to get the factory off the ground and to insinuate himself back into the Court.  But it was proving costly.  The gratuities necessary to accomplish any business had risen dramatically during his absence, as had the prices of many goods which the king had monopolized to enrich his own treasury.  This inflation, coupled with the expenses of military support the king was demanding, would challenge the factory to produce the returns expected in Batavia.

Schouten felt confident he was up to the task.  In addition to opening new markets, he intended to undertake a vigorous program to expand the factory’s physical plant in Ayudhya.  He had begun negotiations for land to house a large compound and for a satellite warehouse downstream at the rivermouth.  Most importantly, he had quickly assumed the mantle of Nai, leader of the Dutch community.  As such, the Court would hold him responsible for the behavior of his countrymen.  He was well suited for the role.  Abiding by local customs was critical to dealing with the Siamese elite, and he knew he was adept at adopting the habits of the natives.  His superiors might be horrified by how far he carried some of the local practices, but they need not trouble themselves about what they did not know.

He closed the Daghregister.  He was quickly learning a Director’s work was never done.  If not making money, he was involved with some crisis with the Court, some squabble among his Dutchmen, or other nonsense.  But the rest of this evening would be devoted to pleasures.


THE OKYA MEEN HAD SENT THENEW DIRECTOR a bolt of silks soon after his arrival, promising a worthier gift as soon as Schouten was able to call on him.  Tonight he would renew their acquaintance and indulge in whatever token of the flesh his friend offered.  His mouth watered thinking of the tastes he had missed so long.

The ladies of the willow world had of course always satisfied his physical yearnings.  But they were constantly pressing for a better business deal, urging him to take a long term contract on one of his favorites.  And while their creatures were every bit as eager to please, they had none of the fun-loving ease which the Siamese would reveal behind drawn curtains.

When the elderly matron ushered him in to await his friend, he marveled at the variety the merchant managed to draw into his house.  In Japan, most of the ladies were trained from childhood.  Foreign bloodlines were tainted goods.  Siam yielded so much more, a dark Moorish maiden or a bronzed islander if one tired of the native offerings.  Schouten had learned that the best way to experience all the possibilities was to place himself in the hands of the Okya Meen.

His friend swept into the room, a teenage flower on one arm, an athletic youth on the other.  He held out both for Schouten’s perusal.  The Dutchman took one by the hand and was led further into the house.


“DIRTY FREETRADERS,” SCHOUTEN SCREAMED IN ANGER.  A Moor from Tenasserim was spreading a story that a Dutchman Jan van Meerwijck had attacked one of the king’s ships outside the port of Mergui.  He justified this action as revenge for being cheated by one of the king’s Muslim factors and finding no recourse in the courts.

“They killed one officer and wounded two others,” Van Vliet, the factory’s second-in-command, continued.  “The Siamese ship escaped, so van Meerwijck wasn’t satisfied with the damage done.  He captured another group of merchants, and after stealing their money, dumped them on some isolated island.”

 “Damn privateers have been ruining trade with a flood of Indian cottons and now they are trying to get us thrown out of the country!  How’s the king responding?”

“He’s threatening to seize our flyboat the Velsen.  Evidently, he is so enraged he even said he would send an ambassador to Manila and invite the Spanish back into his kingdom.”

Schouten shook with his own rage, the color of his face matching the betel juice dripping down a coolie’s chin.  “Draft orders to all the captains that van Meerwijck’s ship is to be seized on sight.  I will have the Governor General issue a warrant for the son of bitch.  In the meantime, I better see the Phrakhlang.”

Schouten calmed the Phrakhlang enough to prevent him from confiscating the Velsen.  But the incident exacerbated the difficulties he had been having wringing commercial concessions.  He desperately wanted a monopoly on the export of deerhides, but the Phrakhlang was pressing for him to commit Dutch military aid against the rebellious state of Patani before granting any privileges.  With this episode, the negotiations took a turn for the worse.  From now on, the Phrakhlang informed him, the Dutch would deal not with him directly, but with the Okluang Chiat, the Nai of the Muslims.

“This will cause insurmountable obstacles,” Schouten complained to Van Vliet.  “He also ordered me to send all our cloth to the king’s factors, but I refuse to sell it at the ridiculous price he is offering.”

The Dutchmen discussed strategy and finally decided they had no choice but to do something to defuse the tension.  Schouten sent for the Okphra Rai Montri, the Translator, who fortunately had been a tremendous help reopening the factory.  “Draw up a list of gifts that will appease the king and this minister,” ordered the Director.  It proved to be an expensive but successful outlay.  The Translator brought back word that the king wanted to return to the former set up.  The negotiations with the Phrakhlang resumed, though without much progress.


SCHOUTEN AND VAN VLIET WERE COMPLETING THEIR MORNING ROUNDS when they spotted Oeset Pegu returning from the palace.  She created quite a spectacle, with her golden headdress towering over the retinue of servants escorting her back from a visit to the king’s harem.  “A regal lady, you have captured,” Schouten commented to Van Vliet.  He kept any sarcasm out of his voice.  Oeset had, in fact, used all her charms to worm her way into the factory’s life.

Schouten himself had been her target when she lost the Dutch freetrader who had been her first husband.  She still had a lithe young body, and she knew the sway of the hips that would stir a Dutchman’s loins.  One evening as he was returning to the factory from an evening of pleasure, Oeset had stepped into his path.  Her gaze met his own provocatively, so unusual for the timid Siamese.  Her words were subtle but it was clear she was offering herself.  Schouten had seen her dealing in the bazaar and he knew immediately that she was really seeking a business arrangement, not a casual liaison.  He was indeed attracted, more by her mental prowess than her body.  But he had learned long before to wall his sexual affairs off from his business.

When he offered no encouragement, she turned her attentions to his assistant.  She had easily taken Van Vliet in with a demure look and a soft caress.

Of course, Schouten had instantly seen the value of the relationship and had encouraged Van Vliet to take her as his wife.  She was a shrewd lady.  The factory was already benefiting from the trade she had brokered, even as she siphoned off a sizable cut for her own account.  The intelligence she gathered through her confidences with the royal consorts was even more valuable, and the reason the two men hurried to meet her.

She sat calmly as her maid removed the headdress, then the scarf draping her shoulders.  She’s toying with us, Shouten observed, she must have worthy gossip.  He looked at the swell of her breast, growing heavier than he remembered, her dark nipples expanding.  And a slight bulge rounding out her abdomen.  Soon another baby would be wailing around the compound.

“His Highness is very irritable.  Poor Thepka has bruises across her back.”  Oeset referred to one of the king’s more recent wives, who was evidently the current recipient of both the royal pleasures and frustrations.  “The king grows ever more obsessed with the Queen of Patani.”

Shouten groaned inwardly, knowing he could not avoid the issue of the Patani revolt much longer.  The king had spent months lobbying the Dutch for military aid to support the attack he planned in the spring.  This cloud had even thrown a shadow on the visit by Jan Joosten de Roij in September to deliver another letter from the Prince of  Orange.  The king had expressed no enthusiasm in receiving the message, choosing only to press his agenda for war.  The Dutch had remained noncommittal.

Already, the Phrakhlang was assembling the army under his command. Thirty thousand men had been mustered. The infantry and horse cavalry were a motley collection armed almost entirely with bows, lances, and swords.  But the hundreds of war elephants, each with a three-man crew, would strike terror into the soldiers of an upstart vassal.

“The king has reached the limit of his patience with your hesitation,” Oeset continued.  “Okun Trongpanit is to take over as Translator.”

Schouten grimaced.  “A spy in our midst who will do nothing but obstruct our trade.”

“Yes.  You must yield.  But realize the king’s anger shows how badly he needs your help.  He will surely grant a valued concession in return.  Insist on the monopoly.”

You are clever, Schouten apprised the young woman silently, as she met his stare.  You know how much the factory needs to corner the hide trade, and how many coins that trade will put in the folds of your pagne.  A promise to the king will risk only my neck should the Governor General refuse my request.  “Very well, we will see the Phrakhlang.”

The staff rejoiced later in the week when Van Vliet brought word that the king had granted a hide monopoly for the next year.  It would very likely be the savior of the factory.  Schouten tempered his own enthusiasm with the understanding that everything depended on how effectively he pleaded the case with the Governor General.  As he was preparing to sail to Batavia, the king blessed him with a reward that would strengthen his argument:  a silver betel box and the title of Okluang at the Court.  Oeset smiled as she congratulated him, her wry expression letting him know that she expected a reward for the role she had played in furthering his cause.


SCHOUTEN LEFT THE COUNCIL CHAMBER FEELING ECSTATIC.  His voyage to Batavia had been a nightmare of storms, but since his arrival, everything had proceeded brilliantly.  The Governor General Hendrik Brouwer had listened patiently as he outlined his plans for the factory.  How successfully they had initiated the Japan trade.  The opportunities in Europe and India, the potential even for supplying Formosa with goods for sale in China.  The status the Dutch were gaining in the Siamese Court.  Brouwer even accepted his arguments that King Prasat Thong was justified in waging war against Patani and that the Company could expect generous repayment for any aid they furnished.

Now the Council had approved six ships.  The fleet would sail first to Patani to invade with the king’s soldiers.  It would proceed onward to Ayudhya to unload its cargo of bullion, armaments, and other merchandise and to take on Siamese goods.  The ships would then go their various ways, to Japan, Toyan, or the Pescadores, fulfilling Schouten’s dream of extending the Siamese trade in all directions.

The Governor General gave Schouten final instructions a few days before his departure.  “The present building will never support the volume of goods passing through it.  It’s poorly located away from the river and in tumble-down condition.  You must secure permission to build a new godown.”

“The king has already offered access to new wharves.  I am sure I can convince him to give us a plot of land.  But I must have men to build, carpenters and masons.”

“I will assign some to go with you.  Now remember, we want this business to ourselves.  Do whatever you can to turn the king against any competitors.  I am particularly concerned about the Japanese, who seem to be reviving their interest in taking the trade for themselves.  The Shogun has for years considered Prasat Thong a pariah for usurping the throne and treating his Japanese subjects so harshly.  You must remind the king of these intolerable insults and the indignities he has suffered at the hands of the Emperor’s Court.”

Schouten departed, anxious to set sail.  He had gotten on well with the Governor General, but the strictures of Batavia society, as much like an outpost of Europe as the Orient, felt so confining after the freedom he enjoyed in Siam.  And he had no time to lose.  It was already mid-May, thanks to the delays imposed by the inclement weather on the voyage in.  The king’s troops would be waiting.


AS THE YACHT WAPEN VAN DELFT CRUISED UP THE RIVER, Schouten felt nothing but apprehension about his reception.  The fleet had reached Patani in early June to find the Siamese army had retreated.  To show their faith, the Dutch vessels had shelled the city and captured two local junks.  He would deliver the cargo and the crew in hopes of assuaging the king’s temper.  But with the generals no doubt desperate to excuse their failure, they would blame the Dutch absence for forcing the withdrawal.

The king was indeed riled, so much that he forbade all his subjects from speaking or trading with any Dutchman.  Nonetheless, Schouten managed to secure an audience to present his side of the story.  He must have been at his most persuasive because he convinced the king that the army had withdrawn prematurely.  The Royal officers’ incompetence generated the collapse of the invasion.  To Schouten’s surprise since the king normally acted precipitately, Prasat Thong elected a special committee to investigate before deciding who to punish.  Of course, the luxurious gifts the Governor General had sent helped win the case.

Eventually, the special committee concluded that the generals had Patani in their grasp but had not pressed for victory.  The king’s justice was swift, though not as severe as the factory staff was betting.  Only one commander was beheaded.  The king proclaimed that he would simply expose the other culprits to the scorn and disdain of the nation.  His guards marched the guilty ministers, including the Phrakhlang, through the streets to a post on which the unlucky commander’s head had been speared.  There they remained for three days, with orders to view their compatriot and ponder whether he had been punished in the appropriate way.

Schouten ignored the wails issuing forth as the punishment dragged on.  His years in the East had inured him to such brutalities.  He had advanced by adopting local customs, not resisting them, and now was a time to find opportunities for exploiting the situation.  With the king grateful for the military aid, however useless it had turned out, he renewed his demands for concessions.  The king agreed to provide land and to halve the usual customs fees.  Adding to Dutch prestige even more, he awarded Schouten a gold betel box.  The rise in rank which the gift symbolized entitled Schouten to sit in the king’s council.  Now he would be able to represent Dutch interests to the king directly, without any obstructions of the Phrakhlang intervening.

The factory council laughed that evening when Schouten and Van Vliet, who had received a title as well, joked about their “saakdina.”  Literally, the king had given them power over fields.  The produce of the saakdina could potentially make them rich men, but they had no idea where their fields lay and never expected to be enlightened.


AN ELEPHANT TRUMPETING CAPTURED THE ATTENTION OF THE CROWD.  From his position atop a mound overlooking the exhibition ground, Schouten watched all eyes swing toward a cloud of dust in the distance.  A dozen beasts barreled toward them, prodded by several handlers with blunt lances.

The king had promised a great celebration to honor the passing of the westerners’ new year of 1635.  A huge entourage had journeyed to the outskirts of the city to witness the taming of the elephants.  The nobility had taken their places on the elevated terraces surrounding the field.  Inside the terraces, a palisade of stout timbers, each just far enough from its neighbor to allow a man to squeeze through, enclosed the ground.

The king’s wives and their ladies in waiting were dressed in full regalia, the king’s wealth manifested by their finery, his prowess evidenced by their beauty and the many young princes jumping excitedly between the levels.  The matronly queen, no longer the favorite for his physical affections but still a trusted advisor, placed her broadening hips in the seat of honor.  The object of the king’s current desires took her place next.  Thepka’s beauty was legendary, and Schouten discreetly took the opportunity to judge for himself.  Indeed, her face retained a delicate youth, her lips an inviting pout, even as her body matured to womanhood.

A dozen ministers clothed in scarlet frocks and peaked caps seated themselves cross-legged in front of the platform designated for the king.  When the footmen heralded his arrival, these officials swung around and prostrated themselves on knees and elbows, their rears facing the field and their eyes glued to the ground.  With the ministers exhibiting this obeisance throughout the ceremony to unfold, the remainder of the crowd could relax from the strict protocol that ensured the monarch received the proper respect.

But the crowd was not relaxed, Schouten observed, rather it waited with tense anticipation.  As the elephants burst through the gate at one end of the arena, a sexual energy seemed ready to ignite the air.  Two enormous tuskers chased a herd of females, not yet realizing they had been decoyed into an enclosure from which they could not escape.

The larger bull emitted another loud blast and marked his territory.  His musky scent mixed with the rising dust.  He sniffed at the females, his organ growing to the size of a man’s leg.  As he mounted a cow, she pushed into the bunched herd, unwilling to satisfy his need.

The bulls’ frustrations were only beginning.  The handlers urged the tame females forward through a gate at the far end of the ground.  The two bulls found themselves alone, stampeding belligerently around the palisade.  The nearly naked handlers, their pagnes tied up around their loins and their muscles glistening with sweat, darted back into the enclosure, baiting and tormenting the animals.  One agile young man flashed up the left side of one bull and delivered a hard blow just below the chin.  The enraged beast let out a mighty bellow and charged after the fleeing Siamese.  As the elephant bore down to trample his enemy beneath the huge feet, the nimble handler jumped between two timbers and the elephant crashed into the palisade.  The stunned animal had barely regained his balance when another man stabbed his thigh and he was off on another futile chase.

The elephants soon grew tired.  The watching crowd seemed to be expending almost as much energy, its own odor and excitement hanging in the haze.  But a tension kept all eyes riveted on the arena to see if somehow the bulls could turn on their tormentors and reverse their fortunes.  It was not to be.  The gate at the far end opened again and the pair, seeing their chance for escape, charged through.  They found themselves trapped in a small corral, the temptresses that had led them to this fate ready to corner them further.  The handlers looped a rope around each foot and secured the other end to one of the cows.  Each animal was towed to an even narrower stall, where the men slipped planks under his belly and hoisted him up so that his feet barely reached the ground.

“He will remain that way until he becomes the king’s servant,” the Translator explained to the gathered Dutchmen, “several days or possibly weeks.  Then he will go to the king’s stable, where he will be given a home that befits his noble personality.  He will have several grooms to tend his needs and mistresses whenever he seeks their company.”

He needs a mistress now, thought Schouten.

As the animals’ bellowing filled the wind with their frustrations, the afternoon waned and the people slowly dispersed.  The dust that burned in the eyes and clogged the lungs had taken their toll, but a sense of  unrequited desires lingered in the aftermath of the spectacle.


THE OKYA MEEN'SHOUSE WAS BUSY THAT EVENING.  Schouten cursed to himself.  His own fondness for the Okya Meen’s services was well known.  The men thought he had a real taste for the native ladies.  As the Dutchmen’s leader, many naturally followed his example and partook themselves,  although unlike van der Elst, he seldom discouraged those who preferred to spend their leisure drinking and gaming.

The consequence was that he had to increase his own discretion.  With so many prying eyes around, he vowed to stick to the more traditional pleasures on this particular night.  A young Moor new to the house sat in the corner.  Her hair was jet black, hanging past her shoulders.  Her body exhibited youthful curves, not the slenderness of a Siamese girl, whose hips and breasts would show little sign of ripening at that age.  Not to his usual tastes, but since his favorite dish was off-limits tonight, he decided to try her.  The Okya Meen insisted on a few extra coins, arguing that he had trained the girl well but that she remained untouched. 

The merchant ushered them into a corner room, and after a few words with the girl, personally drew the curtain tight and assured Schouten that he would not be disturbed.  The glow of the candle filled the room.  The girl lay on the mat, watching her client undress.  When he reclined beside her, she got to her knees and blew out the flame.  Putting her hand to his mouth to ensure his silence, she pulled the curtain aside.  Another shadow moved into the room.

With the two youth resting on either side, Schouten explored the choices the Okya Meen was serving.  How well the merchant knew his client!  The new visitor would surely draw this customer away from his virgin flower, preserving her purity for another sale.  And the client would receive a satisfaction he had feared he must discreetly forgo on this particular occasion.


THE ASSISTANT MOERDIJK LED SCHOUTEN AND VAN VLIET ACROSS THE PLANT FLOOR, where a dozen slaves were preparing deerhides.  They stopped at a table piled high with “three-sort,” bundles of hides with prescribed amounts of three qualities.  “We are moving forward with a sort into five classes,” Moerdijk explained.  “There is simply too much variation in the skins we’re getting.”

“I have written the Hirado factory.  The Director there thinks the new scheme will help him in the Japanese market,” replied Schouten.  “His distributors have been complaining about the lack of standards.  It’s a shame this won’t help us in Europe.”  The factory had abandoned hope of shipping deerskins homeward because the Canadians delivered a much superior product.

“We’ve refined our packing techniques,” Moerdijk continued.  “I don’t think we will have a problem with worms this year.”

I hear that promise every year, Schouten mused to himself, and every year, a quarter of the crop is ruined before we even ship it.  No matter, this young man is showing plenty of initiative.  “Well done.  Let’s check the warehouse.”

Schouten felt extraordinarily pleased on this tour of the factory’s commercial sections.  In fact, the entire compound was beginning to seem like home.   They had occupied the new facility in mid-1635, and it was gaining a reputation throughout the East as one of the finest of its kind, Dutch or otherwise.  For all intents and purposes, Schouten presided over a self-sufficient community.  Vegetable gardens and orchards supplied the kitchen.  Stables housed the horses and farm animals.  The men lodged in various dwellings according to rank, and their native wives and children gave the place a real sense of family.  Even the location was an asset, a bit downriver from the king’s island, but safe from the fires that had devastated the city early in the year. 

“The indigo plants have arrived from Agra.”  Van Vliet pulled him back from his reverie when they reached the garden.  “We will begin planting when the waters recede.”

“I’m anxious over this experiment,” Schouten responded.  “We have had such limited success finding anything for the western markets.  This could be a lucrative product if we can grow it.”  He was confident van Vliet would give it a good shot.  With his wife Oeset to guide him, Schouten expected his second to be ready to assume the Directorship in only a short time.  He looked forward to handing over the reins and taking his own next step.


THE KING DELIVERED HIS JUDGMENT AT THE EVENING COUNCIL.  Oye Piselouck, one of the richest and most powerful officials in the country, was condemned.  The king’s old crony, who as Phrakhlang had played a key role in the succession struggle that led Prasat Thong to the throne, had accused the heir apparent of plotting to seize the crown.  But an investigation turned up no evidence to substantiate a conspiracy.  Even worse, the Royal Astrologers warned that the accuser’s fortuitous birth promised him nothing less than sovereign power.  That implied threat did not escape the king’s attention and further doomed the once-valued minister.

The ruling did not surprise Schouten.  Since he began attending the councils, he had marveled at how the king kept all real power in his own hands.  The brutalities were the surface:  his guards virtually exterminated the family of his predecessor and thousands of others suffered grisly deaths.  But the subtleties of the king’s mind ran much deeper than mere physical violence.

Prasat Thong understood the sources of power well.  After all, he had proved he was the supreme practitioner of political intrigue.  He reorganized the ministries to keep those sources divided among many officials, lest one become a threat.  Geographic control he split north and south from the capital.  The registers of freemen liable for service, traditionally the greatest powerbase, he placed in an altogether different department.  Economic control he consolidated for himself through monopolies on commodities and foreign managers for his businesses.

Schouten remained awed by the splendor of the Court, but he truly appreciated it only after watching this master manipulate the ceremonies to maintain his absolute authority.  Once an insignificant minor noble, the king now assumed a God-like stature, an intimidating remoteness.  He recruited a Brahmin, an expert at this craft, to manage the ceremonial functions of the Court.

The Brahmin’s family was becoming a power in its own right as it seamlessly insinuated itself into Siamese society.  Schouten had always prided himself on how well he melded into the local scene, but he knew he was handicapped because any violation of European mores would bring the wrath of the Company down on him were he discovered.  No such inhibitions held these Indians back.

Schouten enjoyed matching wits with the king, though he would never let on that he considered maintaining the Dutch position at the Court a game.  That would be fatal; he visibly adopted a posture of respect and subservience.  The king used the carrot and stick to manipulate all his subjects, including the Dutch.  Schouten responded only with the carrot, even if that meant eating crow on occasion.  He might dole out the favors at a snail’s pace, but he never wielded the club of Dutch military might.

As the drama of Oye Piselouck’s demise played out, first with the soles of his feet roasted over an open flame and finally with his body hacked into three pieces, Schouten congratulated himself on his own restraint.  Lately, despite his caution, the king had concluded that the Dutch might need to be curbed.  He had shown so much animosity toward the Portuguese and Spanish that they no longer provided any counterbalance should the Hollanders get out of hand.  Schouten noted the increasing tension when the Court gossiped that the king had made overtures to the other European powers, but he calmly wrote his superiors that with an iron grip on the trade, he could easily bring the king to reason.


SCHOUTEN CARESSED THE SMOOTH SLENDER THIGH.  The Okya Meen had certainly delivered a delightful parting gift.  I will miss these sweet evenings, he told himself, pondering the innocent face.

Schouten was nearing his last days in Siam.  He had turned the factory over to Van Vliet early in 1636, but had secured one final visit to his beloved kingdom to bring another letter from the Prince of Orange.  He had made the rounds to express his gratitude to all the Siamese who had befriended him over the years and to say his farewells to the Europeans.  The remaining hours he had saved for himself, to revisit each of the sights and sounds that had thrilled him ever since he first sailed up the Menam River.

During an afternoon cruise, he had taken in the full panorama of the metropolis.  The profiles of the enormous Bhuddas with so many worshipers at their feet, the sky filled with colorful kites, the bathers modestly turning away as the boat floated past, all revealed the softer side of the Siamese personality of which he had grown so fond.  What a contrast these scenes made with the character of the king, to whom he would pay his respects on the morrow.

A dance entertained him during the evening.  The ladies bobbed tall golden headdresses and arched elongated fingers to the rhythm of a high-pitched melody.  Schouten slipped away early to find a treat more to his personal taste, as the Okya Meen had promised.

He rolled the taut body onto the stomach and admired the narrow hips.  How his fellow Europeans could abhor such natural pleasures he would never understand.  His own body filled with heat as he bent lower.



“I am tolerably pleased with its success, Your Majesty,” Schouten replied, “and beg your blessing to depart the Kingdom.”  This final Audience of Leave offered a last look at the glory of the Court.  Despite the king’s recent paranoia directed at the Dutch, he was according Schouten every honor for his years of loyalty.  He expressed his pleasure at the emerald-encrusted crown the Dutchman presented by promising to wear it on all his campaigns, although in his usual condescending manner indicated he would have preferred a more pyramidal shape.

Schouten gratefully acknowledged the gold garland and rich gown the king gave him and crawled from the hall.  He would sail to Batavia with an enormous satisfaction at his accomplishments in Siam.  His tenure had begun when the Dutch East India Company was little more than an irritating gnat buzzing around the Portuguese, waiting to be swatted away.  Now, the Dutch were the power to be reckoned with in this part of the world.  He had played no minor role in seizing the enemy’s standard.

The factory represented a legacy that he hoped would endure for decades to come.  With an able Director and an enviable of string of profits since it reopened, the prospects looked bright.  Van Vliet would need to keep his hot temper in check, but Schouten knew his wife Oeset could guide him smoothly through the intricacies of court diplomacy.

His own future looked bright as well.  He had recently come to the attention of Philips Lucasz, the Director-General of the Company back home in The Hague.  At his request, Schouten was preparing a treatise on Siam.  He hoped to deliver it personally on a well-earned leave to Europe.  The boroughs of Rotterdam seemed so far away, in space and time but mostly in experiences.  With luck, the Prince of Orange might even request his presence.  How fascinating it would be to regale the stodgy Dutch court with tales of Siamese splendor.

Of course, the spotlight shined with a price.  He would lose his freedom to cross between cultures.  No longer could he pretend to civilized proprieties while reveling in Oriental mysteries.  His European colleagues would never appreciate the pleasures of the East.  On company ships, those practicing the darker attractions could be lashed together and cast over the side to drown.  No, he would have to bury much of what he had learned deep within his soul until he ventured back.  But venture back he would, for the Indies were in his blood.



SCHOUTEN ENTERED THE GOVERNOR GENERAL'S OFFICE IN RESPONSE TO HIS SUMMONS.  Van Dieman had been in charge when Schouten returned to Batavia from the Netherlands in 1640.  The two men had developed a close relationship over the years.  When the Company encountered trouble in Malacca and Achin, Schouten had gone as the Governor General’s envoy and imposed agreements on the local monarchs.  The Company continued to prosper from the commercial concessions he had wrung.

For the last two years, he had stayed close to Batavia, enjoying his position as counselor of state to his new friend.  He spent his days advising the Governor General on trade and political issues or preparing reports on Asian economies and cultures for the Company’s directors back home.

Java was not as fascinating as Siam, its coastal principalities not attaining the splendor of the Siamese monarchy.  The politics also were different, with the Dutch much more prone to impose their will on the islanders through violence and enslavement.  They would never have considered such an approach with the Siamese.

Nor was it quite as easy to slip away to enjoy the delights of the East.  Sitting in council, with its members dressed in their frock coats and lace collars, Schouten at times felt transported back to a stuffy European drawing room.  But he enjoyed the prestige that came with his position, and he still managed to find occasional evenings to discreetly lose himself in the alleys of the native community.

Van Dieman showed a well dressed gentleman into the room.  Schouten recognized him as the Company’s solicitor, who served as the attorney general within its territories.  Two guards from the local garrison stationed themselves beside the door.

The solicitor unfurled a scroll of parchment.  “Writ for the Arrest of Justus Schouten” stretched across the top of the page.  The Governor General spoke up, no sympathy showing on his face.

“You are accused of an inexcusable crime.  I have reviewed the evidence.  The boy has confessed his part in the act and his master has admitted that this abomination has been going on for some time.  You will hear the details in court.  I personally was sickened reading them.”

Schouten gulped and prepared to respond.  But the Governor General was nearly apoplectic and shut him off with a call to the guards.  They pulled Schouten out of his chair and hauled him away.


THE STARS FADED AS THE FIRST RAYS OF DAYLIGHT CURVED OVER THE HORIZON.  The prisoner shivered with a tropical chill.  Since the trial ended, he had been utterly alone in his cell, except for his guards and that evil minister come to torment him with threats of final tortures of the flesh and eternal damnation in the hereafter.

His confession had finally come rushing out.  His dual life had been pent up for almost 20 years, one side gratified with professional praise, the other with sensual release.  Now they both seemed like empty shells, the experiences as far removed as his Rotterdam childhood.

Yet a seed of hope remained in his despair.  The service, the glory, will bring a reprieve, Schouten begged himself to believe.  His triumphal reception in Europe when he arrived from Siam.  His voyage back as Admiral of the Fleet.  All the loyalties stemming from careers he promoted.  Surely these pieces added up to the mercy for which he prayed.

The keys of the jailer rattled him alert.  The guard’s face remained impassive, he noticed thankfully, at least not reflecting the loathing embedded in the judge’s verdict for the temptation he could not resist.  “Guilty of the filthy and vile act of sodomy, a sin so abominable in the eyes of God that He has destroyed Land and Cities with fire from Heaven as a warning to the whole world.”

He shuffled out of the cell after the guard.  The stench from the dank rooms off the passageway reminded him of the overcrowded ship that had first brought him to the Indies, crammed amongst his dirty countrymen, many sick or dying.  No wonder the ways of the Siamese had seemed so captivating, helping him advance in his own world while surrounding his senses with pleasure.  Now he had come full circle, back at the bottom of his society and covered in filth.

As the executioner tied him to the stake, the final hopes vanished, but the irony did not escape him.  He had maneuvered brilliantly through the intrigue and barbarities of the Siamese court, only to be shamed in his own culture by a penchant for young men, a taste his oriental hosts had regarded as an acceptable indulgence.  Now the civilized society to which he had returned condemned him to a punishment as brutal as any that Prasat Thong inflicted on his rivals.

The executioner tightened the chord around the prisoner’s neck.  His second sparked the torch into a fiery blaze.

The ashes blew in the wind.


Go to:  Part 1

Bill's Books

Sex, Suffrage, & Scandal
in Gilded Age New York


A nonfiction narrative of 1872 New York, a city convulsing with social upheaval and sexual revolution and beset with all the excitement and challenges a moment of transformation brings.
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And from New York's Dutch Era

A Novel of New Amsterdam

The Mevrouw Who Saved Manhattan


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