Cambodia Day 6: Of Palaces, Picnics and Museum Pieces

Today was sweltering. An early start to the Royal Palace was decreed.

If Buckingham Palace and a Swiss Chalet hybridised and moved to Essex this is what you might get.

This though is French, built in the 1880s when under colonial rule.

Say what you like about the French, and I do – I was one once as the name attests – they give you a decent bit of rococo splendour when it comes to royalty. Not having their own.

A case in point: the Cambodian King at the time is depicted outside the Silver Pavillion.

He’s sitting on his steed tricorn hat in one hand. Darith, our guide said they think it’s really Emperor Napolean III with a new head. Sort of sums up colonialism in a way, trying to impose your personality on a body by changing the head.

The silver pavilion is, urm, not. Silver that is. Well not so as you’d notice. In fact the silver piece is the floor but as this is a Buddhist temple you take off your footwear so the silver floor is covered in carpet to protect it (from the acid in your sweat) and you (from the potentially sharp edges of the plates).

I guess if silver floors took off, lead on church roofs would be less attractive as a draw for thievery.

Outside amongst the buildings are several ornately carved Stupa containing the residue of kings.

These make the sort of urn we have for granny’s ashes look, frankly a touch small scale. We need to up our game, maybe a fancy water butt would do.

As with the Woman’s Temple at Banteay Srei the carving though draws you in and leaves you dreaming of having a smidge of that talent.

I know, know, I shouldn’t complain but, really, when they were drying my body parts before putting me together the morons left my fingers behind and attached the cloth’s pegs instead.

It is really the only explanation for my totally absence of manual dexterity.

After the Palace it was a picnic.

We visited a local market to buy local produce – while Darith led and the Textiliste and the Vet followed debating the merits of Jack fruit against custard apples, deep fried crickets or grilled frog, I photoed a lot of the wondrous veg and wondered at their names and purpose.

The Beautician (the Lawyer’s girlfriend), who has joined us from Singapore, replacing the Pest Controller who has had to return to the UK to work, found herself surrounded by children which she handled well.

I find this to be the worst aspect of travel to countries less well off than our well blessed Isle, the way children have to beg, or are used as begging tools. As with the homeless at home, you are advised not to give in, if your inclination is to pull out a dollar, as it encourages them and keeps them away from school.

It merely emphasises ones own inadequacy really, wanting to do something but knowing you can’t (or more likely haven’t when you should have in the past).

Promises to oneself to be better, to do that something when you get home always feel like a cop out. Note to self; uphold your promise.

We lugged out purchases to a stilted pavilion, already filling with locals and other tourists where we procured a mat and two hammocks

and enjoyed a pretty tasty feast.

I still had half a mind on grubby urchin hands, reaching out hopefully, though.

The hammocking did distract me for a while as did the somnambulant river slipping by.

My inner 19 year old is never far away.

Full, and wondering at the upcoming clouds we headed for the National Museum. This, too, is a French construct now full of artefacts and statues from the famous sites around Cambodia.

It speaks to its ancient history, not the more visceral recent past, about which we will learn more tomorrow.

I will confess here that Hindu mythology has me confused.

Having a variety of Gods, who have personality, sex and form changes with dizzying regularity leaves me dumb and vertiginous. Personally I’m a Ganesh supporter if I have to pick. Partly for the unlikely combo of man-elephant, partly because I think Elephants need all the love they can get and partly because he sounds like the inside of a chocolate truffle and that’s the sort of mythology I can buy into. So I tended to focus on the Baba the elephant lookalikes.

Not that I photoed any: being in glass cases the reflections make me think of an incompetent selfie-taker so I delete them, quickly.  But I did focus on some skilled workmanship and fine sculpting.

It’s worth noting that the audio guide was as good as I’ve used, although the voice over grated like many a satnav, being by an American whose accent seemed to suggest the bastard love child of David Sedaris and Jane Fonda – a particularly unlikely combo for sure.

While there it poured/deluged/waterfalled with rain – frankly the English language has never had to develop a verb to describe this amount of water dropping this quickly.

I felt like I was autioned for a part in a u-bend.

It had been a full day so we retired to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, a rather splendid throwback to the Indochine days of the French.  Situate on the Riverside, the place where the beautiful and the good promenade it was a balm – especially for those who enjoy happy hour.

And so to today’s tale, which based on this image

The Pest Comtroller who chose it added the requirement that the likely murderer must have left by the window.

Who Killed Cocky Robin

With a sergeant in tow Grain hurried to the rooms. Knocking and being invited to enter Grain opened the door. Inside a clearly well-to-do man in his 50s sat by a fire that was nearly out, a far away look in his eye. He seemed to come to with a start. Grain explained who they were and asked what the man knew.
‘Young Robin is my nephew. He is also my heir. I am devastated to hear of his untimely death.’
‘You were seen on the night he died entering his apartment building. Did you see him?’
‘Sadly not. I came up from my home in Hampshire to discuss a family matter with him but I could hear he had company so I left immediately. I went back today to hear he had died. If only I had stayed. That will haunt me. Have you apprehended the perpetrator?’
‘Not yet sir. And did your nephew have money worries?’
The gentleman hesitated. ‘Not that I know, sir. I gave him a generous allowance to continue his studies here. I’m not aware it was inadequate.’
The Inspector thanked him and left. ‘Nice man,’ said the sergeant. Grain didn’t reply immediately. Then, ‘I think we should find out some more about Mr D’Estrange and his uncle. Can you make enquiries in Hampshire?’
Back in the office, a visitor awaited the Inspector. A haggard looking young man in a soaked coat and without a hat sat in the hall. The constable told Grain he refused to say anything until the Inspector came back.
It was Membank Tweed. ‘I’m sorry sir but I should have come earlier but I…’ He lost his way. The Inspector wanted to hurry him but knew it better to stay silent, giving him the space to order his thoughts. ‘I heard you had found Robin, Mr D’Estrange.’ He stifled a sob. ‘He is dead, isn’t he?’
The Inspector gave a curt nod.
‘I don’t understand but I fear I killed him. He was choking, something stopping his throat so I tried to free it, but, but…’
‘You accidentally strangled him?’ Grain couldn’t hide the surprise in his voice.
Tweed bowed his head.
‘Tell me what happened. From when you arrived at the apartment until now.’
Tweed took a deep breath. ‘Robin was angry about something. All he wanted to do was lose himself in drink. James – Mr Makepeace – is never without a drink so he had an obvious companion and I have rooms below his…’
‘Why do you have two sets of rooms?’
‘I’m working on some new potions, sir. I aspire to be a chemist. There are so many new ideas…’
Grain noted the fervour in his eyes, the passion briefly restored. ‘You are fortunate to be able to afford to rent two apartments. You have a wealthy family, I assume?’
‘Far from it sir. But I.. I have a patron. A benefactor. He is very generous.’
Grain nodded, allowing him to continue. ‘Because of my work I have recently found drink can be upsetting so I restrict myself. It is a recent thing and Robin was not happy. Christopher, too, is not a large imbiber and Robin was hard on him so he drank more than he should. He soon became intoxicated. As did James. I admit to having two cups of strong wine but not so as to be drunk, not like the others. James and Christopher were by now incapable. About midnight, maybe shortly after, a boy came to say Robin had a visitor. He wanted to see Robin privately so he went outside. When he came back he clutched a letter and looked furious. ‘Damn and blast his eyes, Mem.’ He poured us both a glass and added a powder from a twist of paper to his. ‘This will sort me out.’ I thought he meant it would make him feel better but as soon as he drank it he collapsed and clutched his throat. I thought some piece of cork must have stuck. That is when I tried to help but it was hopeless. And I had left marks, telltale marks, making it look like I killed him. I panicked, sir. I was a coward but I couldn’t leave and have our friends accused to I dragged them across the roof and took them home, though I fear I damaged Christopher in doing so.’
He appeared exhausted but looked at the Inspector. ‘I may have killed him sir, but I was trying to save him. Some one else is the real murderer.’
Grain took a moment. ‘Who is your patron?’
Tweed looked confused surprised. ‘It is secret sir. I am duty bound not to say or I will lose the support I have been so generously granted. He doesn’t want others to take advantage of his charity.’
‘And how do you know Mr D’Estrange?’
‘We were at school together.’
‘You know his family?’
Tweed hesitated. ‘I know his circumstances, sir.’
‘Why did you take his drinking glass?’
Tweed was stunned. ‘How did you know?’
‘An educated guess. You think he was poisoned, either by his own hand or a third party and, as a chemist, you thought you might test the glass to see. Yes? Did you? Is that what you have been doing?’
Tweed nodded. ‘Before we left I did wonder at the powder but I could not find the paper. I realised there was a residue in the glass. I tested it today and found a trace of a rare poison, one I have worked with. In its natural state it kills instantly but in small quantities mixed with other minerals I believe it has the power to save lives. One day I will prove it.’
‘Do you have such poison? In your rooms?’
‘No sir. Not yet. I.. I discussed it but decided to continue with other work.’
‘This with your patron?’
Tweed stayed silent. Before Grain could press, the sergeant interrupted them. ‘Sir, a word?’
Outside the sergeant spoke quickly. ‘You are correct sir. The gentleman visited his lawyers recently. From word locally he has been a changed man, angry and ranging since his brother returned from the West Indies some months ago. Apparently people thought him dead. His brother is in fact dying of a fever and felt he had to return to see the gentleman before he joined his maker. Oh and the gentleman has recently had some money worries, I believe.’
Grain said nothing and returned to speak to Tweed. ‘Mr Tweed, you may have hurt Mr D’Estrange and possibly hastened his death but if so you may have done him a favour for surely he was already dying.’
‘I would prefer it if I were the cause, sir, for the thought that Robin took his own life and will be denied paradise is hard to bear.’
Grain composed his face. From what he had heard about D’Estrange he wondered if he was likely to be received in paradise. ‘Sir, upset though your friend was I doubt he took his own life, except in that he swallowed the drink that poisoned him. And while you know that poison it wasn’t you that supplied it. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to leave you to make another visit of the utmost importance.’
Grain hurried to the carriage, barking orders as he went. He rather feared he may be too late but he could but try. On arriving at the lodgings he found the landlady in a state. ‘Oh sir, the gentleman, I don’t understand.’
For a moment Grain was confused. ‘He’s dead?’
‘Why no sir. But he’s gone and left everything here. He was in a precious worry after you went, muttering something about theft.’
Grain absently patted his pocket which contained a note written by the gentleman, D’Estrange’s uncle and which Grain had pocketed after their meeting. It showed the same handwriting as on the note in the deceased hand and on the envelope. He took a chance the man might notice its absence.
‘Did he say where he intended to go?’
‘No sir. That’s just it. I have no forwarding address for his things.’
Grain cursed. Indeed neither did he know where he was headed. To his surprise a coach pulled up and Tweed stepped out. Grain quickly approached the young man. ‘Your benefactor lived here?’
‘Yes, how…’
‘Why have you come?’
‘Your questions, I felt duty bound to tell him of your concerns and ask permission to reveal his name.’
‘Did you know he was your friend’s uncle and his own benefactor?’
‘I did not. Can this be true? I know he was supported by his uncle but we never met.’
‘I suspect your friend mentioned you. You have an unusual name and profession. How long has he been your benefactor?’
‘Some three months. He came to me, said he had heard of my experiments. He was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic. He even helped with the business side, buying equipment and so on. I do not have the head for it.’
Grain turned to his sergeant. ‘I’ll be bound that was shortly after the return of his brother with his confession. You see, Mr Tweed, you now deceased friend survived as he did because your benefactor thought he was his true father but that notion was, I suspect, recently displaced. I would not be surprised if D’Estrange reinforced that idea over time to ensure he was supported and the gentleman felt betrayed, especially given the lifestyle your friend led with his money. The visitor was his uncle and I’ll be bound it was to tell him he was to be cut off and giving him the poison in the hope his despair would make him take it. He expected you all to be so drunk that you would wake to find him dead and you, as the man who had access to the poison would be suspected. But your dislike of alcohol saved you and your friends. Now though it seems he has gone. We will send word to his home, in Hampshire but I expect he will not be there either.’
‘Sir, may I suggest we head, forthwith to the docks. Two days ago, in my laboratory, a man came while we were both there. I overheard them talking about the Indies and a ship, The Cruikshank which sails this evening. I specially remember it as my mother is a Cruikshank.’
‘What part of the Indies!’
‘Jamaica sir.’
Grain clapped his hands. ‘Exactly where his brother’s plantation is. Let us go and see if we can interrupt his travels. And Mr Tweed, given he has sought to do you a grave wrong, perhaps you would like to accompany us?’
Tweed smiled, the first such in days. ‘With the utmost pleasure, Inspector.’

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published four books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars, Salisbury Square and Buster & Moo. In addition I have published two anthologies of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand and Life in a Flash. More will appear soon, including a memoir of my mother's last years. I will try and continue to blog regularly at about whatever takes my fancy. I hope it does yours too. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
This entry was posted in cambodia, creative writing, family, miscellany, short story, travel and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Cambodia Day 6: Of Palaces, Picnics and Museum Pieces

  1. Ritu says:

    Love the ending!!! And some of your food photos … Were there tortoises in there?!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mary Smith says:

    The food photos are fascinating. Ritu’s already asked my question – were they selling tortoises (or turtles)?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That palace is a bit blingy to say the least Geoff, with all that gold (not much silver though)!!
    Some of that food looks a bit dodgy too, I don’t think I could eat tortoise!
    Great ending to the story, looking forward to the next one! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a trip and tale. Architecture (and varying era’s influences) is always fascinating. They certain got the point (Intriguing all the spires and pointed-ness in buildings and sculptures- what was the start of that, I wonder – and why so dominate here and not other places.)
    The vegetable image is very nice. I’m with you on elephants as a choice.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Allie P. says:

    Looks like you are having a fascninating time

    Liked by 1 person

  6. JT Twissel says:

    Napoleon with a new head – haha! Plantation in Jamaica? Oh my, the plot thickens.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. So wonderful to experience another way of life – which lives on despite European interference. I hope you don’t forget the children when you get home too!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Charli Mills says:

    Amazing rich tapestry of a post. What a journey of experiences and moments.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Looks like world class museum but all those deities do look confusing, as you say. Quite handy to have a variety, though! Good videos too.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. You have enough manual dexterity and hand/eye coordination to press the shutter at the right time and with good composition, so all is not lost. Do you ever sleep, by the way?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Eileen says:

    I mostly couldn’t identify the food. Have a feeling I might lose a bit of weight on a visit there! My son tasted a fried Tarantula, but passed on the red ants as seasoning for rice.
    Many of the children on the streets were born HIV positive and when their parents died, they end up on the streets because relatives are afraid or ashamed to take them in. The Clinton Foundation has supplied medicines to the orphanages and to the scattered clinics. There are now medicines to keep a pregnant mother who is HIV positive from passing that to the fetus. And medicines are able to control the progress of the virus and prevent it from becoming AIDS. The problem is lessening, but ignorance and people living far from cities stop them from getting the medicines.
    My son took his fifth grade students to see a large crater in the area near the orphanage complex. They were unable to imagine what it was and were shocked to learn it was created by a bomb that was dropped by Americans. Pol Pot wiped out the educated class and it is taking a long time for Cambodia to retrieve its history.

    Liked by 1 person

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