This is a work of fiction. Characters, organizations, places and events are either products of the author’s imagination or when factual, used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Please scroll down to earlier chapters as needed.
Copyright © 2019 Theodore A Henning II
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Van Given slid the envelope from Troita out of his pocket and onto his writing desk. Before opening it, he lit the kerosene lamp which cast a warm yellow glow about the cool, damp room; now a day so reminiscent of one back home.
“Troita, Troita my darling. How are you making out in my absence?” he mentally asked himself as he reached for the engraved silver letter opener she had given him for his 30th birthday, a day which now seemed so long ago.
More than six months had passed since Leonard van Given, now the new Regent of Manokwari outpost, had sent word to Troita Inggavird, his beautiful betrothed. He realized before accepting this new posting, an opportunity he could have refused, that he should have been making preparations for his wedding, as he promised. In a word, he himself should have already been back in Amsterdam by this time, just as he had promised. Yet in retrospect his duties for the colonial Resident of Ternate had been so perfunctory, so unchallenging, that now, as then, something deep in his soul, something mysteriously exciting concerning this posting moved him at the mere thought of it. And, the opportunity hadn’t just popped up as a surprise, either. The Resident had been aware of the prior Regent’s serious physical problems, problems that precluded his continuance in the tropics.
There had been discussions within the elite of the rank and file. Van Given was fortunate to have picked up tidbits of information here and there, information leading him to believe early on that he, Leonard van Given, was a running candidate for the job. The choice of a successor had to be made on the criteria of merit and innate ability. It didn’t take the Resident’s elite circle long in coming to a decision. Van Given was offered the Regent’s post at Manokwari, Netherlands New Guinea and without hesitation, he accepted. Now, his posting responsibilities began.
His had been a wordy letter. He tried very hard to convey his love for her, to reassure Troita that his decision was in their best interests for their future. What were two more years in the scheme of a lifetime? Being the Manokwari Regent was a one-time opportunity, a challenge of untold proportions. The steaming hot, untamed jungles, naked aboriginal headhunters, and beautiful mountainous New Guinea, with that stone age ruggedness, simply beckoned to be humanized; it beckoned to be brought more fully under the lordship of the Crown of the Netherlands House of Orange. And this prospect captivated him. He need fulfill his destiny, he need be — Regent van Given.
Carefully he slid the pointed, blunt-edge silver shaft along the top crease of the envelop, making sure not to hook the thin, folded India paper inside. The pressure between his left thumb and index finger tip against the flat, waxy envelope tactilely informed him the leaves were few. He mused what might be the reason for such a short letter. And then it was open, his right thumb and forefinger gently tugged the delicate paper free. Van Given deftly replaced the letter opener, let the empty envelope slide to the desk, and cautiously opened the single leaf of paper, and began to read.
“My Dearest Leonard, I am trusting Divine Providence for this note to reach you in good health. All is well with your father and mother, as is with my family. Everyone misses you so. We were all numbed to learn you would not be returning home as originally planned. Although you articulated your reasons for accepting the new posting quite elaborately, it is I who am vexed in my heart. For days afterwards, I was in utter shock at the news. Our families had been setting down on paper all the details that needed to be arranged in order to move forward, forward with the wedding everyone anticipated, the wedding I anticipated. Oh, Leonard, how we all looked forward to having you with us. I desperately need you.
“Friends from the university were very kind after learning the wedding had been postponed. They looked in on me quite often. I must have been in such a way. Then, almost by accident, I learned through one of them about the Royal Dutch Geographical Society expedition, the scientific expedition to the Dutch East Indies, of which I’m sure you are already well aware. But now, so as to come to the point in the most direct manner, which is your manner, Leonard. One thing led to another, and after much convolution of thought, Providence has born that I should accompany the expeditioners and meet you there in Indonesia, in Netherlands New Guinea, I believe.”
Van Given’s heart began to noticeably pound within his chest. The palms of his hands became moist, followed by a cool clammy sensation that ran down his arms. Had another been present in the room at that moment, his sudden pallor change couldn’t help but be noticed. His breath returned. Inhaling deeply he reread the last sentence a second time, then a third. His thoughts escaped his lips in a breathy whisper, “Troita! My Troita! Why are you making the voyage to the archipelago by yourself! Troita, my love, why…, why come to New Guinea?” His eyes fell upon the remainder of the letter.
“There was no need for you to learn of my decision and protest. With the reserved blessings of both our families, I will board the Swedish ship SS Royal Riiggenvord with the others. I impatiently anticipate our reunion. We will no doubt already be most of the way to Batavia by the time you read this. I love you darling, couldn’t wait any longer for us to be together. Soon we’ll be together, soon.” She had signed it, “With all my love and affection,” penning her signature in a firm yet decisive flare.
Van Given sat there numb, as though he were a wax museum figure, just staring at the paper leaf. Then he turned his head toward the open window. The steeply inclined roof and large overhanging eave protected the vertical wood siding from the biting action of the pelting rain. As his mind momentarily went blank, he casually noticed how wall-like in appearance was the rain-water runoff from the gutterless roof. Contrasted to the steady pelting downpour beyond, it seemed as though he was peering through an unevenly transparent sheet of blown glass. He walked to the sill, placed his hands upon it and continued his gaze out into the mists. His mind was active with questions of concern.
“Where are you now, Troita? Where on the high seas, exposed to the fickle whims of tropical monsoon storms? Why? Oh, why chance the dangers, Troita?” he said aloud to himself, as if she was there and he could gently reprimand her. As he turned away from gazing at the constant watery deluge, all his strength drained away, leaving him limp. He mechanically walked back to his desk, staring at the India paper leaf in unbelief and concern. With his head whirling in thought the earlier feeling of fatigue and melancholy seized him with a suffocating grip as he groggily made his way to his kapok pallet, flopped down, and tightly closed his eyes.