• Spice Islands – Part Two

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    SPICE – PART TWO

    On his twenty-second birthday, he and his parents had a servant drive their covered carriage down to the Club for an evening of dancing, drinking and eating. Midway through the meal his father called for quiet and then announced that he and Helena were returning permanently to Holland within the year. This meant that Jon would have the plantation. There was surprise all around and Jon stood to applause with an astonished look on his face – he had no idea this was coming. To have this responsibility at this age of Twenty-two was frightening.

    Later that night, his parents told him that they were sending him back to England with the express mission to find a wife. They knew he had dalliances with native girls on Lontar and other islands and were concerned about it. He assured them that he had no half-caste children. “We want you to leave in the next two weeks, spend some time in Holland and then the balance in England.” said his mother. “Don’t come back until you have a wife. We have letters of introduction to some of the best families in Amsterdam and in London.” They had previously looked over the women in the surrounding Islands and even Batavia, but could not find a white woman that was suitable for Jon and frankly none that would be interested in him.

    Because of his size (now 245 pounds) about the only women in Holland that showed any inclination as a marriage partner were very chubby themselves and/or were looking to be rescued from situations that had left them poverty stricken or desperate. None were up to what Jon believed he was entitled to. He left Holland and went to London. At first the reaction was the same. He wasn’t handsome or wealthy, and his future wife would have to look forward to a life in the Far East with not even a doctor on the island to deliver children. He did live in a mansion with servants but it was hot and rainy with twenty-five-foot pythons, poisonous sea snakes, misquitoes, centipedes, and yellow fever. He didn’t even get a whisper of interest from the ladies he was introduced to.

    Then a friend of Jon’s father said that he knew a lady that might be of interest. She had been born into a wealthy family, but her father, Lord Fontanel, and his brother, Lord Darby had put everything they owned – including borrowing against all their property – into a gold mine in Rhodesia.

    After a year the entire endeavor went bust and all of the assets of the two brothers were lost, including their manor homes (Fontanel Hall and Darby House) – estates that had been in the families for generations. Even the children’s clothing was confiscated. Lord Fontanel shot himself and his brother fled to Canada, leaving his wife and children to fend for themselves. Lydia was the only child of Lord Fontanel, alone now that her mother had died of shame over the scandal. Lydia was 27, and had received many offers of marriage, but was fickle and turned all suitors down, waiting for the perfect husband to appear. Now she had nothing, and was temporarily staying with a cousin, who also had nothing. They were both desperate and destitute. Jon’s contact thought they might have to both go into service, the height of degradation. After a life of luxury, Lydia could well end up in the kitchen of a large household.

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    A meeting was arranged. Lydia was striking, with blond hair and blue eyes, which matched Jon’s. She was probably half his weight and five years older. A narrow waist with white shoulders and bosom. Her whole being was delicate. During the first meeting at a friend’s house she was coy and still pretended that nothing had happened in her family, talking about the season in London and what fashions were in. She asked him a few questions about the Far East but he could tell she had no real interest.

    After their meeting, she talked to her cousin Edward and told him that Jon was repulsive to her and that she would rather starve than move to Indonesia among uncivilized people. Edward told her to not count Jon out quite yet. “We have just enough money until the end of the month, then nothing and nothing to borrow against. I think you should meet with him again. Perhaps there will be a way for you could come back to England with funds for a good life – strange things happen in the East Indies.”

    Jon came again, kissed Lydia’s hand and got right down to business. Look, he said, “You are up against it and I need a wife. I think we might be a good pair. I know I’m not the most handsome man to look at and you’re the opposite, but I think you’ll find I’ll make a very good husband.”

    Lydia was still coy and did not talk much but thanked him for his interest and said no more. Jon left and decided he better continue his search elsewhere. Then he got a letter from her asking to meet for a third time. When he got to her sitting room, she was there, her face pale. “I’m inclined to take your offer,” she said. “You need to know that I don’t believe I have a choice. I have decided to leave all of my disappointments and the promises of my father behind and start a new life. I think I can do so as your wife. I do not love you and may never do so, and you have not known me long enough to know your own feelings. I only have one favor to ask. As you know I am staying with my cousin Edward, the son of my father’s brother. His circumstances are similar to my own. Could you bring him to the islands with us and give him some sort of employment?” This gave Jon a start. He really did not want to bring any down at the heels relative back in the islands. Lydia wept tears as she made her request, and Jon’s tender heart led him to tell her “yes, Edward could come.”

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    The bans were read and the marriage took place a month later in a side chapel off the nave of St. Paul. Only a few close friends attended. The honeymoon was a one-day affair at the Langham Hotel. Then they immediately left on the Kosmopolitel Steamer for Jakarta.

    Jon had not understood that the two cousins were so attached to one another. Edward had a thin mouth, a thin nose and dark hair that he was inordinately proud of. His lanky frame seemed to lack any muscle mass. Edward occasionally tried to impress Jon with the days of glory that they used to enjoy and all of the famous and wealthy people they knew. Jon would reply dryly, occasionally mentioning that it was too bad those good people did not come to your rescue. Jon began to think that allowing Lydia to bring her cousin was a mistake. But she seemed most happy around him and that made Jon content.

    After eighty-one days they got to Batavia and then made their way to Lontar. Lydia was excited to see the wonderful mansion where they lived and that she would have two maidservants to take care of her every need and to fan her day and night.

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    It did not take long before she started to dislike the island – the heat, the natives, the diseases, the nutmeg, and the constancy of her husband. She felt half sick and restrained. She thought about asking Jon to end the marriage and send her home – surely someone would take pity on her. But then the other ladies on Lontar made a fuss over her and told her how lucky she was to have married Jon Arrington. She was welcomed at the club as was Edward. Life started to settle into a routine and she had a measure of happiness. Jon arranged for Edward to work for a planter about two miles away so as to learn the Nutmeg business from someone else. But Edward was most interested in the trading of other spices, such as cinnamon, pepper and cloves. He believed that vast amounts of money could be made from speculating in these spices, and felt like learning to manage nutmeg groves was no better than being a tradesman or a farmer. He constantly was trying to figure out a way to lock in the selling price and then count on a declining cost for the spice seeds. Jon did not agree with speculating and maintained that locking the cost down before trying to resale anything was by far the best policy. Edward tried to reason with him, but Jon was firm and would not commit any capital to his schemes.

    Jon was happy. He liked the companionship of his wife, the plantation was going well, the price of nutmeg was up again, and his trading in other spices had also gone well. Edward finally quit pestering him about other trading schemes. His parents had left for Holland, and he wouldn’t see them for two years. He missed his mother and father, but he was busy with the plantation, trying to supervise his employees and spending time with Lydia, plus his responsibilities of an Island Councilor and President of the Traders Association.

    Then came a period of uneasiness. Like all planters he got up at 6:00 AM, ate a hearty breakfast and was out with his 250 workers among the Nutmeg trees, fertilizing, cultivating, pruning and transplanting. Around 6:00 PM, he would quit, come home, shower and dress for dinner. He still went to the lake about every other day for a cool swim – he found he enjoyed quiet times there by himself – to think and ponder and plan. After Lydia was asleep in her bedroom, he would sometimes slip out late at night, to lie on his back in the pool and look at the stars and the moon.

    Then Lydia had become less affectionate. While never demonstrative in this area, it was even worse now. She read during the day, went to visit neighbors and went to the club in the evenings, sometimes without him. He could tell she was getting bored. Then all of a sudden she became more animated, talkative, cheerful and overly loving. She welcomed him into her bedroom and he started to hope for an heir, as his father and grandfather before him had produced.

    But there was something about the way she acted that made him suspicious. She was almost too joyful. He watched her with Edward at dinner. Her eyes sparkled and they talked of things back in England when they were children together, laughing and poking fun at one another – many times leaving Jon out of the conversation. He finally put his suspicions down to the differing moods of all women and didn’t think much more about it, but the feeling of unease continued.

    One day his friend James came to see him. He was an overseer on the plantation now. His head was bowed and he didn’t want to speak at first. “James, Jon said, “Speak up, damn it, what do you have to say?” “Only this Sir, I think you should keep a close eye on Edward.” “What do you mean?” “I am not sure, but I think he is meddling in areas he should not.” Jon thought immediately of Edward’s clumsy attempts at trading with the Arabs. “Don’t worry about him trying financial transactions; no one would ever think he speaks for me.” James left with his head bowed.

    A week went by and James came again – this time at around 3:00 PM. “What is it James?” said Jon. “I think you should come with me and see for yourself.” Jon trusted James completely, so he came immediately without asking about what he needed to see. After a mile, James whispered to him to be very quiet as they climbed the hill over the lake. He had brought along a brass telescope. As Jon looked through it into the secluded nook in the lake, he could see Lydia and Edward. At first he started to chastise James for wasting his time, then he looked again and realized that both were naked. He sat down with a grunt. “I can’t believe it,” he said. Then they both stole away. Jon was crying, and James walked behind so he wouldn’t see. When they were out of hearing Jon said to James, “I want you to keep an eye on Lydia and then report to me every day. If you need to take time off from the trees, then do so.

    James did as he was asked and found that Edward and Lydia were meeting at least every other day. For weeks things went on as normal, but Jon was sad and depressed, and his attempts to overcome it were not successful, and if fact was getting worse. When Lydia asked, he said that it was just the worry and stress of the plantation and that he would be better soon. He went to the lake everyday to relax and think about what he was going to do.

    Right in the middle of all this Lydia announced she was pregnant and was due in about six months. While Jon was exuberant, he soon realized that he was not sure he was the father. He would know when the baby was born – he and Lydia both had fair completions, blue eyes and blond hair. Edward was dark, with brown hair and eyes. Now with a child on the way, hopefully a son, there might be a way to salvage the marriage. But when asked, James said that Edward and Lydia were still meeting.

    This news infuriated Jon and the next day he asked Edward to go for a late afternoon swim in the lake. Jon told Edward he had discovered something that looked like gemstones by the northern volcanic embankments where they ran down below the water. They would have to dive about twenty feet with their polished tortoise shell diving goggles. When they got to the spot, Jon had Edward tied to him by an eight-foot rope in case anything happened. Then they each put a twenty-pound rock in their hands, took deep breaths and went down. The rough black bottom was almost invisible. Suddenly Jon moved under an outcropping ledge pulling Edward toward him. Edward pointed to the surface showing he was nervous since they had been under for more than a minute. Then there was a current and Jon pulled Edward under the outcropping and into some sort of tunnel.

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    Edward yanked on the rope, but he was caught in the suction. He started to gasp and drown. Thirty seconds later, he was dragged to the surface and pulled on to a ledge. It was pitch black except for a pinhole of light far above. He could tell he was in some sort of volcanic cavern.

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    Jon thought back to the day when James had brought him here, signaling for him to stay as deep as he could so that he wouldn’t scrape his back on the volcanic rock roof of the tunnel. How he thought he was going to drown, and then terrified when they arrived at the ledge, dark except for a tiny stream of sunlight way above. James had told him that this was the stream that finally led to the ocean. There was this small ledge to sit on.

    James explained that he wanted Jon to get back in the water, because he would need to hold his breath for another thirty seconds. Jon was terrified, but trusted James completely. James put a rope around him again and they slid into the water, which was now much slower. It eventually came out in another cavern, there was no ledge just a shallow pool about twenty feet across. The water had almost stopped and was only about two feet deep. Once again there was a pinhole of light up high. James quickly showed him some faint handholds on the downside wall of the stream and they climbed up – over 100 feet to an opening on the side of the Volcano. There was just room to squeeze through the volcanic crack. Jon cut his hands doing so. The entrance was invisible from the outside. Then they walked down to the ocean.

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    Jon wanted to know that day if the stream had any other outlets. James told him that his father had let him down stream in the second cavern by a rope – 125 feet, but there were no more openings, the tunnel got smaller and smaller. He couldn’t hold his breath beyond that. His father said that in the old days, when someone wanted to remove an enemy he would drag him down into the lake. James believed he was the only person alive who knew about the hidden entrance at the lake bottom or exit from the stream – the knowledge had been handed down to the oldest child in his family for generations.

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    Now Jon turned to Edward, who was still coughing and sputtering on the ledge. Jon had turned him face down and pounded his back until he was finally starting to breath normally.

    “What, what are we doing here?” cried Edward. “I think you know, Edward,” John said. Why don’t you tell me about the relationship between yourself and Lydia?” Edward puffed up and assumed his superior stance and said, “You wouldn’t understand, we were brought up in an aristocratic society and now we are here in this God Forsaken Place at the End of the Earth.” “But you haven’t answered my question,” said Jon. Is there anything between you and Lydia other than being cousins?”

    “Of course not, said Edward, It would be like incest.” “Edward, I’ll give you one more chance and if you answer me truthfully, I’ll spare your life.” Said Jon. “What in the Bloody Hell are you talking about? I’m not a criminal and you have my word as a gentleman, that Lydia and I are close cousins, nothing more.” Said Edward.

    “Alright,” said Jon. “Let me tell you where we are. You are in the stream that leaves the lake and goes to the ocean. It’s an underground stream, as you know from watching it flow up into the sea. We are sitting in a cavern that has that high opening above you, the small pencil of light is just visible. I have never found a way out. However there is another cavern downstream, and if you can hold your breath long enough and keep your wits about you, there lies the way out. If not, this will be your tomb.”

    “What are you talking about, said Edward. This is foolishness. You are mad to talk this way.” “Be that as it may, I wish you good luck.” And with that, Jon dived into the stream and disappeared.

    That evening when Edward did not appear, Lydia was very concerned. Her husband told her not to worry; perhaps Edward had found a native girl he fancied. Lydia gave him a nasty look and said that wasn’t possible.

    A day, a week and then a month went by and no Edward. Lydia was in hysterics. Jon had the island searched, the search parties led by James – and James never ask him if he knew what had happened to Edward. Eventually everyone decided that he must have gotten drunk and drown or maybe the sharks or sea snakes got him.

    Lydia cried and cried and begged to go back to England. Jon told her to wait until the baby came and then they could talk about it. He had arranged for the Doctor from Serum Island to come the week before the scheduled birth.

    James and he were sitting by the lake in the evening about two weeks before Lydia was due. They sat and smoked in silence. Finally James asked Jon if he was excited about the baby. Jon didn’t answer right away, but then said yes he was, but he would have to make some decisions right after the birth. If the child had blond hair and blue eyes, he would probably try to go forth with the marriage and make the best of it. In any event he would never let Lydia or anyone else remove the child from the island.

    “But if the child has dark eyes and dark hair?” Said James. Jon looked over at him with an imperious gaze. “I shall raise the child as my own. It has no control over its entry into this world.”

    “And Lydia?” said James. “That is a different story altogether, said Jon. It depends on how I feel about her after the baby comes – and how she acts. It may be that I will take her for a swim at the north end of the lake.” He turned away and missed the stare of anguish and then the shudder that came over James.

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    Adrian closed his great grandfather’s journal and dropped it to his side, deciding whether or not he wanted to know if Lydia disappeared. He thought about these people who lived so long ago and shivered, rubbing his hands through his dark brown hair.

    Joseph Ollivier
    Talesuntold.net
    January 2014

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