What would you risk to avoid obscurity?
Aspiring journalist Jim Lloyd jeopardises his future in ways he never could have imagined. He risks his wealthy father’s wrath to ride the coat-tails of Cap-tain Francis Light, an adventurer governing the East India Company’s new trad-ing settlement on Penang. Once arrived on the island, Jim—as Light’s assis-tant—hopes that chronicling his employer’s achievements will propel them both to enduring fame. But the naïve young man soon discovers that years of decep-tion and double-dealing have strained relations between Light and Penang’s le-gal owner, Sultan Abdullah of Queda, almost to the point of war. Tensions mount: Pirate activity escalates, traders complain about Light’s monopolies, and inhabitants threaten to flee, fearing a battle the fledgling settlement cannot hope to win against the Malays. Jim realises that a shared obsession with renown has brought him and Light perilously close to infamy: a fate the younger man, at least, fears more than death. Yet Jim will not leave Penang because of his dedi-cation to Light’s young son, William, and his perplexing attraction to a mercu-rial Dutchman. He must stay and confront his own misguided ambitions as well as help save the legacy of a man he has come to despise.
Inspired by true events, Lies That Blind is a story featuring historical character Francis Light (1740-1794) who, in an effort to defy his mortality, was seem-ingly willing to put the lives and livelihoods of a thousand souls on Penang at risk.
(Protagonist, Jim Lloyd, had set out with his Dutch friend, Pieter Reinaert, and his employer’s young son, William Light, to reach the summit of the island’s Great Hill.)
Pieter extracted a rather fine brass spy glass from his coat pocket, which he handed to me, and pointed in the direction of Fort Cornwallis. Through the lens I could better see George Town, the town sandwiched between the narrow strait that separated this island from the mainland of Queda and a jungle as vigilant and dangerous as a tiger waiting for its chance to raid a village.
I extended my gaze to the opposite coastline, where three vessels flew the horizontal red, white, and blue stripes of the VOC flag at the mouth of the Prai river. “Why are they here?” Had war broken out again between our two countries with the arrival of these Dutch warships?
“It appears Superintendent Light has conjured up fresh trouble for himself,” said Pieter.
At my look of concern he continued, “Sultan Abdullah earlier implored the French at Pondicherry to help him with the military assistance your employer seems incapable of providing. The French turned him down, but the sultan seems to have had better luck with my countrymen,” said Pieter, with as calm an air as if he had been reporting a fine day.
“What do you mean?”
“Exactly that,” shrugged Pieter, retrieving his spy glass and handing it to an eager William with instructions to be very careful with it. “Sultan Abdullah has offered Penang to the Dutch in exchange for ousting the English from his island. You can hardly blame him given the way the Malay raja has been deceived by Light.”
I pulled Pieter away so William could not hear us. Trying to suppress my alarm I whispered, “How do you know all this?”
My friend smiled and said, “Knowledge is power, Jim, and war means money. A wise trader stays ahead of potentially disruptive events.”
“My God, what are we to do if the Dutch attack?”
Pieter had no time to answer before William bounded up and asked what we were whispering about. Despite his young age, Light’s son was intensely observant and intelligent.
“We’ll speak more later,” Pieter told me. “Come with me, young man,” he said to William, pulling him away.
I watched the two of them begin the hill’s descent, Pieter playing chase with William who pretended not to want to give him back his spy glass. Presumably emboldened by their burgeoning friendship, the boy asked what had happened to Pieter’s face.
“One day, although not for the first time, my ship was attacked by pirates,” answered Pieter, drawing William towards him. I hurried close behind. “Their leader was the most fierce, ugly monster I have ever seen. He said I was so pretty I looked like a girl and that he would take great pleasure in cutting me to make me more of a man. We fought long and hard and at one
point he got so close that he did indeed cut my upper lip, just so, with his keris. I told him I would proudly declare it my battle scar, just before I bit off his ear.”
“What happened then?” asked William in wonder.
“I stabbed the pirate in the guts, cut his throat, and threw his body in the drink to rest in Davy Jones’s locker,” said Pieter, mimicking each action. I heard William howl with laughter, but lost sight of them both temporarily as they scampered around a bend.
“That’s enough of that,” I called out, aware that I sounded like a chastising mother. I intended to ask Pieter not to deceive the boy about his disfigurement, although I could understand his reasons; who would wish to get into a discussion with a child about the Devil’s bite? But what concerned me most as I hurried after them was that if it came to a fight with the Hollanders, in which direction would my Dutch friend’s allegiance lie?
At the base of the hill, Pieter drew me to one side out of William’s earshot. “Of course, if my countrymen retake Penang on behalf of the sultan, you should know that we are kinder to our prisoners than the Siamese or Malays.” He then pulled out a keris from inside his coat and made as if to cut his own throat.
At the expression on my face, Pieter began to laugh. “Oh, forgive me,” he chortled and punched me on the shoulder as he returned the dagger to its hiding place. “I find it amusing to see you squirm. Trust me, those Dutch warships won’t anchor in Queda much longer than a few days, a week at most, so you need not wet your breeches. And surely you know that should the need arise, I will protect you.”
Pieter was wrong. The Dutch warships anchored at the mouth of the Prai river refused entry or exit to any ships doing trade between Queda and Penang for much longer than a week. We were embargoed again. The consequences of Light’s lies and dissembling were no longer speculative. The notion that something could happen not an abstract thought now that danger was physically present in the form of three Dutch warships.
Thank you, Rosemary Griggs and The Coffee Pot Book Club
About the Author
E.S. Alexander was born in St. Andrews, Scotland in 1954, although her family moved to England a few years later. Her earliest memories include producing a newspaper with the John Bull printing set she was given one Christmas. She wrote and directed her first play, Osiris, at age 16, performed to an audience of parents, teachers, and pupils by the Lower Fifth Drama Society at her school in Bolton, Lancashire. Early on in her writing career, Liz wrote several short sto-ries featuring ‘The Dover Street Sleuth’, Dixon Hawke for a D.C. Thomson newspaper in Scotland. Several of her (undoubtedly cringe-worthy) teenage po-ems were published in An Anthology of Verse.
Liz combined several decades as a freelance journalist writing for UK maga-zines and newspapers ranging from British Airway’s Business Life and the Daily Mail, to Marie Claire and Supply Chain Management magazine, with a brief stint as a presenter/reporter for various radio stations and television chan-nels, including the BBC. In 2001 she moved to the United States where she earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. in educational psychology from The Uni-versity of Texas at Austin.
She has written and co-authored 17 internationally published, award-winning non-fiction books that have been translated into more than 20 languages.
In 2017, Liz relocated to Malaysia. She lives in Tanjung Bungah, Pulau Pinang where she was inspired to embark on one of the few forms of writing left for her to tackle: the novel.
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/E.S.-Alexan-
Universal Link: https://books2read.com/u/bwaxNe