When I explained that my business was to obtain new masts and rigging I was directed to the house of an Arab named Mahomet Achmet, a carpenter and ship chandler, if such he could be called, who traded with vessels visiting the island, and dealt with them in the matter of repairs or refitting. Mahomet, like all the inhabitants of Sumatra, spoke the Malayan language, but we occasionally helped each other with Spanish or Dutch words, of which he had acquired the meaning by his intercourse with crews of these nationalities. When I told him we required masts as well as rigging, he seemed to consider my request unreasonable. There were masts on the island, he said, good ones too, made of beech, but they belonged to the king, who set great store by them, since they had come to him as the result of a victory by the fort over a foreign vessel which had attempted to raid the island and take by force what could only honestly be obtained by trade. On my asking to see the king Mahomet turned up his eyes with an exclamation of astonishment at my audacity. No foreigners were permitted to see the king, he said. It was death to enter without permission the inner apartments of the palace where the king lived. But when I produced one of my rubies he became less demonstrative in his protestations against my proposed visit.
“It is for these toys that I would trade with the king,” I said to him, as I held up the red crystal to the light in order that he might see it better.
“Such toys the king likes well,” answered Achmet. “Give it me, and I will send it to the king, and ask if he will receive you.”
“Nay, Achmet,” I answered, “I will not part with my jewels save only to the king himself. Send, therefore, and tell him that a rich merchant from the East is here to trade for gems such as are only fit for kings to handle.”
I could now see that Mahomet Achmet was on the horns of a dilemma. His natural cupidity urged him to rob me of my jewels, but should this come to the king’s knowledge he would doubtless suffer for having taken the law into his own hands. Finally he consented to send a message to the king on my promising that not only would I pay him liberally for such ship-chandlery as he might supply us with, but that if all went well I would present him with a ruby of equal value to that which I had shown him before I left the island.
While the messenger was absent on his mission, Mahomet gave me some interesting information regarding his Malayan Majesty. The king, he said, owned a large number of horses, as well as elephants, all having magnificent trappings. He was at no expense in time of war, for all his subjects were obliged to march at their own expense, and to carry with them provisions for three months. In peace time his Majesty’s living and that of his household cost him nothing, for his subjects supplied him with all kinds of provisions. He was, besides, heir to all those of his people who died without male issue, and to all foreigners who died within his territories, while he succeeded to the property of all those who were put to death for offences against the law.