The Passions of Dr. Darcy moves away from the Darcys most familiar with, and travels back in time to 1789. Spanning thirty-plus years, this is the epic story of George Darcy, uncle to Mr. Darcy. Introduced within the Darcy Saga, Dr. Darcy’s colorful life in India is recounted in vivid detail.
This chapter is the fifth, shared in its entirety for your reading pleasure and enticement for more!
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Chapter Five ~ Mysore, September 1796
With a groan, George fell into the padded Pidha chair under the shaded porch. One hand reached for the waiting glass of chilled mango juice while the other snapped open the folded fan. Fanning his moist face and drinking large gulps of the refreshing beverage occupied all his attention for a good minute. Finally, he glanced to the woman sitting in the matching chair and gasped, “Your sons are exhausting me! How is it possible for a group of youngsters to have so much energy?”
“Is that truly the problem, dear George? Or have they beaten you at the game again?”
“It isn’t fair, Jharna,” George whined, pitching his voice like a sulky child. “I taught them how to play so should prevail each time!”
Jharna lifted one corner of her mouth but did not look up from her painting. “Is this game named after a chirping insect vitally important to your pride and manliness?”
“Cricket”—he used the English name then returned to Hindi—“is the greatest sport on Earth, an English sport,” he declared with mocking indignation. “No Indian, especially a child, should play better than an Englishman.”
“Then perhaps you should stop the purposeful mistakes that allow them to win. I would hate to see your pride suffer an irreversible blow.”
“I seriously doubt that would ever happen,” he harrumphed, referring to the second charge and not denying the first.
George was staring toward the grassy makeshift cricket field where a dozen boys and girls of varying ages were laughing and shrieking as they played the unusual game. Three months ago, shortly after arriving in Saliom, a suburb of Mysore City, the tall, lanky English stranger had boldly walked out onto the open area with a ball, six wickets, and four blade-like wooden bats tucked under his arms. While the timidly wary children observed, he gouged lines in the soft turf and pounded the wickets into groups of three at either end of a designated zone, whistling as he prepped the rectangular pitch to his specification with the assistance of the Ullas boys, Nimesh and Sasi. Once done, he turned his attention to the group of youngsters who were by then more curious than afraid and, flashing his patented Darcy grin, asked them in Hindi if they wanted to learn how to play a game more fun than any other. That was all it took. From that day forward, Dr. Darcy was sought by every child in the village nearly as often as the adults sought his medical services.
“No, Komali!” He leapt to his feet. “Stand in front of the wickets… the post things, yes… that’s a girl. Now get ready… no, don’t look at me! Watch the bowler… Yes!” He whooped when she hit the ball, clapping and shouting encouragement to run. “Ah, that girl is going to be the best player of them all, mark my words. She already has beaten Nimesh in sprinting speed, to his annoyance.”
“That must be why he was dashing up and down the hall yesterday. Raveena banished him to his room for making such a clatter. Humility will serve him well, especially after taunting Sahib Dutta’s daughters for not being able to read as well as he.”
“Underestimating the worth of a woman will not be a fault of his for long.” George resumed his place on the chair and stretched his bare legs across to a terra-cotta planter, casually crossing his ankles on the wide edge. “He sees you trounce me at chess often enough to know women have keen intellects.”
“Winning a game of chess with you is not all that difficult.”
“Oh ho ho! Methinks I detect an insult and challenge in those words, Mrs. Ullas! I believe a rematch is in order!”
“Are you sure your pride can take such a hit twice in one day, Dr. Darcy?”
“Probably not, so it is fortunate for my bruised ego that I will not be able to test myself until tomorrow. I am due to meet your husband in an hour,” he explained when she looked up from the plate she was painting, teasing eyes asking a silent question. “We are performing the surgery on Bai Dalmiya. That will take all afternoon and part of the evening, but tomorrow I should have time to redeem myself and prove my superiority. Be warned.”
“Noted. So that is why you feigned exhaustion and quit the cricket field?”
“Partly feigned. They do possess a stamina I wish I could bottle in some way.” Pausing for another deep drink of the sweet juice, George smilingly observed the playing youths for several minutes. “I have decided that my favorite sound in all the world is that of children laughing. Remember when we were discussing that and you suggested I discover it?”
“I do.” Jharna sat the paintbrush aside and turned her attention to her companion. “It was nearly three years ago. You said you had to think about it, which is wise. One’s favorite sound above all others is not to be hastily decided, although it may change as one grows older. Why children’s laughter?”
George shrugged. “Oh, I could name a hundred reasons, but the simple fact is that no other sound gives me such joy.” He met her thoughtful stare. “Now I have told you. What is your favorite sound in all the world, Jharna?”
Smiling smugly and cocking her head, she replied, “That is my secret.”
“Hey! Not fair! I told you!”
“I never asked you to tell me. I recommended the exercise as part of your life journey. Whether you share the revelation or not is your prerogative. I choose not to.”
“You are a damned infuriating woman, Jharna Ullas. Do you know that?”
“I am a woman,” she stated simply, smug smile intact.
George glowered for a few more seconds then chuckled and shook his head. Conversation with Kshitij’s wife was never boring. No wonder his mentor and friend loved her so profoundly. Nimesh and Sasi were blessed with incredible parents, a fact borne true by the boys’ fine characters and delightful personalities. Daily, George counted his blessings in being gifted with the honor of being an adopted member of their family.
In the four and a half years they had traveled together, George never once regretted his decision to leave Bombay.
The first two months after Dr. Ullas enticed Dr. Darcy away from his comfortable post were passed on Salsette Island as they gathered supplies and finalized their plans. Guides and servants were hired, and medical personnel interested in the excursion were interviewed along with British soldiers, the numbers swelling their party to over thirty before they departed. That number grew when reaching Thana to retrieve the Ullas family and personal servants. Since then the company varied, as some chose to return home or tarry behind while new recruits joined in along the way. Upon occasion, it was only the Ullas household and George with Anoop.
Mysore was always part of the agenda. Partly that was Kshitij’s desire to reacquaint himself with his estranged kinsmen and to share his past with his current family, but also due to the busy hospital and school of Ayurvedic medicine in Mysore City. George had desired this since the beginning of their association, but with the third war between Tipu Sultan of Mysore and the British having reached a peace agreement the same year they set out, it was judged sensible to wait for matters to calm. They left the western coast to press east as far as Hyderabad Deccan before veering south two years into their journey, opportunities to practice medicine and learn presenting themselves as they kept moving.
Their longest stay in one place was Madras. The booming city, established as the administrative headquarters of the British East India Company, offered vast educational experiences for all of them. The physicians zealously launched into the work available among the British and native peoples. It was an exciting time, even Kshitij supplanting his personal irritation at the exalted, imperialistic attitude of the British with the positive aspects present in the region. They might have dwelt longer if not for Jharna’s yearning to study the famed painting techniques of the Tanjore in Tamil Nadu. That movement further south led to a brief voyage to Ceylon, the physicians heeding a summons to assist the Dutch for a handful of months in early 1796 while Jharna and the boys remained in Tanjore. It wasn’t the first time they had embarked on missions of a limited duration away from the others, Kshitij opting to leave his family where it was safe if they were entering an unstable or unknown environment. The jaunt to Ceylon gave George a taste of the unique culture and was not nearly long enough to satisfy his hunger to learn all that was possible, but it was better than nothing.
From Tanjore they diverted west, rather than further south to Cape Comorin, as originally intended. The waters surrounding Tipu Sultan were far from calm, but after four years, the pull of Mysore proved too great to resist. For the past four months, they had resided in Saliom. Kshitij and Jharna dwelt in the residence of his youngest brother and family. George rented a modest bungalow on the banks of the tiny river running to the north, preferring the solitude, although the walk to his friends’ abode was less than ten minutes.
“You do intend to wash and don clothing more respectable before you perform surgery, do you not?”
Jharna’s query broke into his reverie, George looking over at her with eyes wide with false shock. “Are you implying that this lovely kurti is not fit for surgery?” He tugged on the dirt-stained multicolored cloth of the tunic covering his chest. “Or is this an implication that my legs are a problem?” He raised one of the extremities in question off the pot’s edge, the hem of the knee-length lungi slipping to reveal an inch of thigh. “Admit it, these are fine looking legs. Manly and muscular. All the way around excellent examples of how a man’s legs should be.”
Jharna quirked one brow over her glittering, dark eyes but said nothing.
“Fine. I’ll change.” He groaned. “Besides, your husband would skin me alive if I wasn’t presentable before getting drenched in blood and yuck.”
Not that he disagreed or would do otherwise, as they knew, Jharna laughing and shaking her head. “When are you going to wear the shalwar kameez that Vani sewed for you?”
“How did you know of that?” he blurted, truly surprised this time.
“She showed it to me before she began,” Jharna answered calmly, daubing her brush into the pot of paint and ignoring his expression. “She was afraid the colors were too bold, which I assured her was impossible for you. I assume it fit well?”
“Yes,” he spluttered after a moment, “quite well.”
“It should. She does know your size, after all.” She glanced upward then chuckled. “Oh, George! Why the embarrassment? You should know by now that personal affairs never remain secret in a close-knit community like Saliom.”
“I do. It is just… Well, it is Vani, and I was not sure how… Does Kshitij know?”
Jharna flashed him a look that cleared that redundant question. George winced. “Don’t be ridiculous, George. As if Kshitij would care who shares your bed as long as no one is being harmed.”
“Yes, but Vani is his daughter—”
“And she is a grown woman, a widow with her own life and the ability to make choices, all of which she has done without her father’s influence or permission. You two are good together. Vani is happy and fond of you.”
“You have no cause for concern, mitra. As I said, Vani is a grown woman. She understands how it is with you, that we will be leaving in time, and she is content with the situation. Honestly, not to further bruise your fragile ego so soon after a cricket and chess defeat, but Vani would probably not have you permanently if you offered.” She burst out laughing at the abrupt wounded cast to his face. “Men! All the same no matter where they hail from. Please do not take it personally, George.”
George opened his mouth and shut it without speaking. Few things flustered him and he was not sure if it was the fact that his liaison with Vani was common knowledge—and to her father no less—or that he was discussing it with Jharna! Either way, it was best to close the topic right now. Fortunately, two interruptions served as perfect diversions.
“Vaidya! Come play with us. Komali’s team is winning and we need your help!”
“Please, chacha-jee!” Nimesh and Sasi pleaded in unison, drowning the three other male voices begging for delivery from the girls. “You are our best player!”
“That is because I am taller than all of you combined.”
The drama may have gone on indefinitely if not for the appearance of Dr. Ullas, his soft tones cutting through the tumult.
“Dr. Darcy, we have another case of hydrophobia, so I have just been informed, and I am questioning why you halted the smallpox inoculations.”
Kshitij shooed the children away. They left with hanging heads and shuffling feet until reaching the edge of the lawn, whereupon they dashed back into the fray on the field, apparently having decided that girls were not going to win. George leaned his head back to peer up at Kshitij. Whenever addressed as “Dr. Darcy” among family, George knew it was a sign that he was in trouble.
“Chapal and Loy took ill after their doses, more so than normal, and the inoculation sites are inflamed and ulcerated. I do not think they will die but judged it wise to wait until we know they are well. In the interim, I have Partha and his team concocting fresh inoculant, just in case there was a contaminant or miscalculation. It isn’t an exact science, as you know, and that bothers me. The whole idea of inoculation bothers me, as you also know. I definitely want to be as certain of the safety of this batch before we start with the children.”
“The risks with inoculation outweigh the outcome of smallpox.”
“Usually,” George amended. “I concede that it is a principle that has merit and data to support, but there are cases proving otherwise. I haven’t forgotten Chittoor. Eight people dead and a dozen infected with the very disease we were trying to prevent. And the scarring?” He brushed his fingertips along the inner surface of his upper left arm where a sovereign-sized silvery mark was the sign of his smallpox inoculation done years ago. Barely visible on his fair skin, the same scar on darker skin was typically more pronounced. In a tiny percentage of individuals, the reaction to the serum containing live smallpox cells increased, with resultant scarring that was unsightly and ofttimes painful and debilitating.
“Scarring from smallpox, if one survives, is far worse, Dr. Darcy. In India we have inoculated for a thousand years.”
“Stop ‘Dr. Darcy-ing’ me, Kshitij. You know I agree with all you say. Still, you can’t argue that there are risks. Besides, we have exerted caution before in circumstances like this. At the present, there aren’t any cases of smallpox here, so we have time. I’ll make sure it gets done, Kshitij. Trust me. Now, what about the case of rabies?”
Kshitij grudgingly conceded, reaching for the pitcher of juice and pouring a glass. “A man was bitten by a wild dog while hunting. Three weeks ago. Fool dressed the wound on his hand with some homemade poultice and did not seek medical care because he feared amputation. Sadly his gamble has been lost. Losing a limb is unfortunate, but it is a cure. Maybe draining or cauterizing the wound would have sufficed. Now he is symptomatic and we know the probable outcome.”
Kshitij sat on the divan beside his wife, a light caress over her knee the first and only gesture indicating he was aware of her presence. Jharna carried on with her painting. George barely noticed the exchange and spared not a moment’s thought to their reserve. He could count on one hand the number of times he had seen the Ullases kiss, and those had been swift presses of closed lips. Long ago, his gift for reading people helped him discern the love they shared, just as he discerned that Jharna placidly accepted her husband’s inhibitions, following his preference, though her wish was to be more demonstrative. Curiosity at the relationship between his mentor and wife had once sparked George to observe closely and ask subtle questions, but now they were his adopted family and that was enough.
“We can examine him before we begin Bai Dalmiya’s eye surgery,” Kshitij continued. “It has not been long since the initial infection, and his symptoms are mild so perhaps we will have luck with the salix leaf and silene root.”
“Maybe a stronger dosage this time.” George offered a handful of additional suggestions, the physicians discussing the merits of possible treatment plans with cool, clinical detachment. Underneath, the hint of doubt was audible, neither holding much hope of a positive outcome. Rabies was fatal almost one hundred percent of the time.
Kshitij stood. “We should leave soon. You will be washing and changing clothes, yes?”
George lifted a brow at the question that was not a question at all but a command. “What is it with you two and my attire? Never have I seen two people so concerned with the garments one wears.”
Jharna coughed loudly at that nonsense. Kshitij’s expression did not alter. Instead, he crossed his arms over his chest and stared pointedly.
“Very well. If I must don a new suit, I will.” George sighed and rose to his feet.
“Don’t wear the outfit Vani sewed for you though. That one is too fine. Save it for dinner tomorrow at Sahib Rettadi’s house. Wear one of your usual gaudy tunics. That will restore Bai Dalmiya’s sight as well as our skills.”
And with the same inscrutable expression, Kshitij pivoted and entered the house, leaving a stunned George with mouth wide open and Jharna shaking with laughter.
* * *
The surgery to remove the shard of metal from Bai Dalmiya’s eye was a success. A week after the delicate procedure, the bandages were removed for the final time and the warrior who had received the wound while practicing battle drills was allowed to open his eyes. His vision was blurred but the orb healing nicely. Both doctors were confident that his eyesight would improve, and as the days passed, this proved to be true.
Unfortunately, the outcome for the man with rabies was not as kind. Weeks of treatment with every known medicine only prolonged the man’s torture.
George left the hospital at dusk on the evening of his death. Weary, dirty, and heartsick, he opted to walk rather than accept the offer of a horse-drawn cart. Diverting to the sandy trail skirting the edge of the trees and bank of the creek, George breathed deeply of the clean air as he walked at a moderate pace. At times like this, on shady paths covered with moldering leaves and the only sounds those of nature and the dim murmur of laughter and voices from the distant houses, George could almost imagine he was in Derbyshire, strolling along one of the numerous trails cutting through the woods. It was far warmer than in England, the air moist and heavy with tropical smells alien at home, and of course, the vegetation was nothing that would grow in the cool climes of the north. Yet like in Derbyshire, George found solace in the out of doors. Perhaps the simplicity of life among the plants and animals that existed without the troubles that beset humans spoke to a hidden need within his soul.
Veering off the path at an unmarked point, George parted low-hanging branches of a copse of tamarind trees, several of the long, bean-shaped pods yanked off as he passed through and stuffed into the bag hanging over his shoulder. The medicinal qualities were numerous, and although he grabbed handfuls every time he walked this way so that a huge pile of tamarind pods and seeds covered one end of the herb table in his bungalow, it had become a habit. Weaving through the fragrant leaves, George unerringly followed the foot-wide rut in the dirt that feebly passed for a trail until reaching an area of the creek where an ages-past dead tamarind had fallen over to form a dam, the water backing up and eroding the spongy soil until a shallow pond resulted. It wasn’t much, especially for a broad-shouldered man three inches over six feet, but enough to lie down in while the steady stream of water cooled by the thick trees flowed over his skin. Dropping the bag to the ground, George stripped and entered the water with a sighing groan. Anoop would be at their bungalow waiting with a washbasin, buckets of fresh water for rinsing, soap, and clean towels. Cleanliness was not attained in a slow running creek, but the refreshment found when floating in water and staring at the stars was unmatched.
George frequently diverted to this secluded spot after a long day. Years of living among Hindus had taught him to relish these opportunities to sink into a relaxed state, where his mind could rest and body rejuvenate. Practicing the deep breathing exercises of yoga, he allowed his brain to grow quiet. He dwelt on nothing in particular and opened his senses to the calming sounds of nature and his heart to the gentle whispers from heaven. Through these processes, George had deepened his faith over time, forging a communion with the God he had always believed in but largely taken for granted. He sensed His presence, not talking to him in a defined way but touching his spirit with a loving, soothing Hand. Disconnected yet strangely attuned to everything, peace fell like a cleansing flood to wash away the bulk of his weariness and heavy heart.
Death of any patient was never easy for him. He knew he took such realities of life too personally. Dr. Ullas was constantly reminding him that, at best, physicians could only serve as helpers to the gods but would never have the final authority on how one’s fate was decided. That philosophy wasn’t far off the Christian perspective, and logically, George accepted it. However, logic and emotion conflicted, the chaotic aftermath assuaged while floating in the pond. George was able to walk through the door of his bungalow with a consoled heart.
Anoop waited with bathing implements and a hot meal at the ready. After five years, the two had fallen into a comfortable routine, with Anoop nearly indispensable. He was an outstanding cook, that skill the one above all others that George appreciated. Additionally, he was a masterful steward and housekeeper, whatever dwelling place they inhabited instantly organized and kept clean. George had made it very clear that he could take care of himself, was essentially a private man, and finicky about his property. It hadn’t taken long for Anoop to figure out what was safe to touch and what was not!
For three years, George had argued with Anoop over their personal relationship, begging him not to refer to him as, “My haakim, the exalted Vaidya Darcy,” or some such similar rot. Anoop listened, smiled, and nodded as George explained his reasoning, and then promptly ignored his orders. It drove George crazy, primarily because he respected Anoop and abhorred the idea of the younger man believing he was nothing but a servant under the boot of the autocratic Englishman. George encountered that attitude among his countrymen, and it sickened him. George paid Anoop a substantial wage, trusted him with great responsibility, and talked to him in an intelligent manner with dignity and friendly humor. The attitude went a long way toward narrowing the self-imposed gap, but for Anoop, there was forever an air of master/servant that he refused to relinquish.
Gradually George came to realize that, for Anoop, it was a matter of honor to serve him, not because he was English but because he was a vaidya who served all of mankind. To Anoop, a Hindu through and through, he was lifted high and esteemed due to his faithful service, and would be rewarded in the afterlife. It was never a matter of seeing himself as beneath George but rather the proper position for him to inhabit to maintain the careful balance of life, what they call dharma. Once George grasped this, as well as he could not being a Hindu, he no longer fought Anoop. Their friendship and cohabitation settled after that, their mutual accord established and comfortable.
Therefore, as typical for them, George retreated to the tiny veranda at the back of the house while Anoop cleaned the kitchen area. Sitting on a swinging bench with his legs extended to the railing and gently propelling the swing into motion, George sipped a cup of tea and stared into the darkness. Moonlight and starlight bathed the small yard and faintly illuminated the trees and bushes that swayed in the mild breeze. A lit candle sat on the table, the glow needed to read the book laying on the cushion beside him—a copy of Ramayana written in Hindi that he was reading to perfect his command of the language and learn more of Indian history. The peace attained in the pond clung to him, and while tired, he was wide awake. Anoop was singing a ballad, his fine tenor drifting through the open windows, adding a pleasant ambience. Day after tomorrow, George would be traveling to the EIC base in Coorg for a week to two-week engagement with the medical corps, so was enjoying the solitude.
Briefly, he considered walking to the Ullas house where he was never considered a visitor. However, he knew Kshitij was as exhausted as he and deserved to pass the evening sedately with his wife and children. His thoughts drifted to Vani. It had been five days since they last spent time together and that was a family gathering with the entire Ullas clan. It had been longer still since they had been alone together. The prospect was very tempting, although strangely it was not sex foremost on his mind. Vani was a tender and loving woman. Being with her was soothing more than passionate, her sweetly simple nature a great comfort whether they went to bed or not. On a night like tonight, the idea of lying in a woman’s arms merely to feel a necessary human connection was enticing, and the only reason he didn’t leave the swing was because he never imposed upon Vani in that way. She was an independent woman and not his merely for the taking. If she wanted him, she would ask.
George sighed and reached for the book, but before he cracked it open, he detected movement in the shadows of the trees. It only took a second to recognize the shape outlined by the pale light from the sky, George chuckling under his breath as he rose from the swing and crossed the lawn.
“I made a fresh batch of gulab jamun. Mine are better than Anoop’s and I thought you might want some.”
“Thank you, Vani.” George took the covered bowl from her hands. “You do make it better than Anoop, but forgive me if I do not admit that. He cooks most of my other food and washes my clothes. I’d rather not be punished by biting into a bhut jolokia pepper hidden in my puri or have my paijamas starched.”
“I understand. I am sorry to hear about the man with rabies, Sahib. Dessert is a small consolation.”
“It is a better consolation than you might think, Vani. You know me well enough to trust it will do the trick.”
Her merry eyes were detectable even in the darkness. “Then perhaps you would be interested in some rasmalai as well? After that I can open the jar of tailam oil and massage your muscles. If you wish to stay at my house past that, you are welcome, Sahib.”
George honestly could not say which item sounded more appealing: food, an excellent massage, or loving. Taken all together, it was a package deal no red-blooded man would reject, so with a smile and gentlemanly offer of his arm, they turned and headed back up the path to her house.
* * *
The volatile situation between the British East India Company and the ruler of Mysore, Tipu Sultan, promised to escalate to another war. Diplomatic missions were ongoing, but no one seriously thought the warrior king could be swayed from his prior intent to convert all Hindus to Islam and to drive the English permanently off India’s shores, especially after being soundly humiliated in 1792. That war ended with the Sultan forced to cede nearly half his realm and surrender two of his sons as hostage, pending payment for the cost of the campaign against him. That debt had been paid long ago, his sons returned as the EIC promised, and thus far the treaty held. Rumors of his renewed plotting with the French circulated, this a particular threat due to Napoleon’s personal vengeance against Britain and desire to rule the world. Largely speculation at this point, taken as a whole, it nonetheless meant the region was not overly favorable to foreigners unless sanctioned directly by the Tiger of Mysore, and naturally, EIC soldiers were not welcomed with open arms.
For this reason, George and Kshitij wisely decided to leave any English members of their group in Dindigul before crossing the border into Mysore. It wasn’t the first time they had struck out on their own without military or official company escorts, nor was it likely to be their last. The association between the EIC and the numerous Indian states ran the gamut from absolute control to strong alliance to bare tolerance to frank hostility. Like it or not, George was forced to pay attention to politics and the winds of change far more than he ever intended.
Early in their travels, while still crossing the friendly Deccan Plain of Maharashtra, Jharna suggested he dress in native fashion as a way to blend in, at least as much as possible for a man fairer and taller than most Indians. Additionally, it served to pacify his patients, many of whom, right or wrong, held a less than favorable opinion of Westerners. This suggestion George embraced wholeheartedly. The truth was he loved the loose, comfortable, cool, and colorful designs of Indian garments. Once used to the radical switch from restrictive, hot,layered suits in bland colors, George rarely donned one. He kept his wavy hair long, the Ullases rightfully suspecting it was not so much a sentimental observance of British style but because he liked to tie his ponytail with a flashy strip of fabric as just another way to stand out in a crowd. As if anyone could miss him. As time passed, George adapted to the culture he lived in, mastered the Hindi language and bits of the various dialects heard, and above all cultivated a true love for the Indian people. The latter, more than anything, was sensed instinctively by the natives he met, so much so that rarely was anyone dubious of him for more than a few minutes.
Therefore, difficulties had been nonexistent. Caution had been applied, Kshitij insisting that his wife and sons dwell in larger cities where the races tended to reside in harmony and where the government, whether British or Indian or a combination, kept the peace. Trips he and George undertook to less-populated zones were done alone and nothing too frightening had occurred. Nor had they encountered problems since entering Mysore, those suspicious authorities dealt with along the way not able to argue Dr. Ullas’s right to be in the area nor displeased to permit trained physicians. In order to abide by the treaty, Tipu Sultan could not very well order the immediate arrest of every white man seen in Mysore as much as he might like to. George certainly wasn’t the only one wandering about, and once settled into Saliom near Mysore City, he became an oft seen addition to the populous and was forgotten by those in command. Or so he thought.
Days after his return from Coorg, George was working with Dr. Ullas in the hospital when a commotion from the front of the building gained their attention. Leaving the bedside of the patient they were tending, the two men walked around the corner for a better view of the tumult, neither suspecting it had anything to do with them.
A group of Mysore soldiers stood in the entryway, their red turbans and bayoneted muskets out of place in the sterile environment of a hospital. The leader was talking to one of the orderlies, who seconds later glanced in George and Kshitij’s direction and, with an expression of relief, pointed at them. The soldier’s eyes followed his indication, George’s brows lifting when the soldier gestured for them to join the cluster.
“This does not bode well,” Kshitij murmured.
“Might be exciting though,” George murmured back, earning a sour grimace from his partner.
The leader inclined his head respectfully when they stopped before him, George hoping that was a positive sign. “Honored vaidyas, his most high exaltedness Sultan Fateh Ali Tippu requests most humbly your professional services in a matter of extreme delicacy. A carriage waits without to convey you in comfort and honor to Seringapatam.”
Sweet words such as “honor” and “request” did not fool either of them. This was a demand, pure and simple, and one they could not ignore. They obtained little information from the commander other than the assurance that it was a medical issue and nothing more. He wasn’t exactly the most readable man George had ever met, stony face and iron eyes free of emotion, but the sense was that his words were truthful. Of course, whether because that was all he had been told or because it actually was a medical emergency was another story. A hastily scribbled note for Jharna was written while George gathered their traveling bags, and within thirty minutes, they were wheeling out of the city.
George had never been north of Mysore City nor had he laid eyes on the cosmopolitan capitol of the Sultan’s powerful state. The nineteen miles of terrain separating Mysore City and Seringapatam was flat with gentle hills and sparse vegetation obstructing the view. Long before entering the gates, George and Kshitij could see the white walls spanning the breadth of the city with the towering pillars of Tipu’s palace, the square pinnacle of the Ranganathaswamy Temple among numerous other Muslim temples, and the twin minarets of the Jumma Masjid rising above. As fascinating as it was, sightseeing was not on the agenda. Their escort traveled at a fast clip and presumably expected the citizens to get out of their way, because they did not slow considerably once entering the gates. George and Kshitij were too busy holding on to the seats to avoid undue bouncing to talk. Shared glances sufficed, however. The haste spoke volumes as to the purpose of the summons.
Therefore, they were not surprised to arrive at the residential palace and be ushered through a secondary entrance with no one greeting them other than servants and a refined gentleman in courtly attire who identified himself with a title in a language George did not know. A whispered translation from Kshitij as they rushed along in his wake revealed he was a sort of seneschal or steward and guessing by the genuflections automatically granted by every person they passed, he was indeed someone of importance to the Sultan’s household. Information was scant other than that their medical services were required for one of Tipu Sultan’s sons, a royal shahzada prince.
There wasn’t time to linger on speculations, and upon reaching their final destination, they no longer cared.
The chamber was an enormous bedroom crammed with dozens of people, perhaps more, although it was difficult to ascertain with the heavy drapes shut and the only illumination weak, smoking, oil lamps. A boy of approximately seventeen lay on the bed, propped into a half-sitting position that did nothing to aid his labored respirations, each strangled gasp echoing around the tapestry-draped walls. He weakly writhed on the sheets, the dimness not hiding the twisted grimaces of agony etched deeply into his sweating face. Groans and whines of pain were interspersed with his ragged breathing. An untrained idiot could instantly recognize this was a situation of direst extremity.
Immediately, the physicians snapped into their professional roles. Dr. Ullas spoke the Mysore dialect better than Dr. Darcy, so it was he who commanded the drapes be pulled and windows opened wide as the first order of business. The hesitation was negligible, the shine from the sun revealing seconds later what they suspected. The youngster was suffering from pneumonia and some sort of lung collapse with death an approaching certainty if treatment of a radical nature was not performed soon.
George knelt by the boy’s side, Dr. Ullas naturally assuming the role of assistant. This was not only due to his ability to translate but because they both knew that when it came to ailments of the heart and lungs, Dr. Darcy was the expert. For reasons that probably related to how Alex died, George’s specific interest had lead to studying anatomy and physiology of the connected systems more than the other body organs combined. There wasn’t a treatment for a single disease involving the heart and lungs that Dr. Darcy did not know and hadn’t used. He fearlessly attempted procedures of the most radical nature and had mastered a number of them, gaining a reputation that had apparently migrated to the ear of someone associated with the Sultan.
“He is burning with fever.” George laid the back of his hand over the boy’s forehead then peeled one eyelid. “Stuporous from diminished oxygen. Ashen and diaphoretic. Severe cyanosis.” He rattled off the symptoms so that Dr. Ullas could translate to the medical men observing. The blankets were flipped aside and shirt lifted, baring a broad, well-built chest destined to be that of a muscled warrior. Fine breeding and strength was definitely an asset in this case. George bent to press one ear against the defined chest that was laboriously straining to continue the fundamental act of breathing. Closing his eyes and sticking his index finger into the free ear canal so as to concentrate and block extraneous input, George listened. First to the upper left, then to the upper right, down to the axilla, then the peripheral base, and so on, until the entire chest area had been covered. He was nothing if not thorough, although within seconds he had known the diagnosis and treatment necessary if the prince was to survive.
“They say he has been ill for nearly a week.” Dr. Ullas had been busy while George auscultated. Their medical cases were open at the foot of the bed and he was retrieving instruments and medications, servants and healers tending to his orders for boiling water and clean cloths. “Properly diagnosed as lung fever and treated appropriately from what I can gather. The Sultan employs well-trained healers. Three are Ayurvedic vaidyas and two Persian Yūnānīs from Nepal. There is also a French doctor about. It was he who heard of you and your skills. This is Abdul-Qahaar.” Kshitij nodded toward a tall man in blue robes standing on the far side of the bed, the man bowing respectfully when George glanced up. “He is Yūnānī and in charge of the patient. Any guesses on what will happen to him if the shahzada dies?”
George met Kshitij’s expressionless face and bobbed his head once. No need to verbalize further. Two lives were at stake, perhaps more, adding to the pressure of the situation. Luckily, Dr. George Darcy had never been one to crumble under pressure.
“Explain that the prince is suffering from acute hemopneumothorax secondary to the pneumonia. The collection of blood and fluid in the pleural space has increased the thoracic pressure and it is now under tension, displacing the lungs and heart to the right. I must remove the fluid immediately or he will die. Does he understand?”
Dr. Ullas repeated Dr. Darcy’s words in broken Persian, his use of the language from more than a decade past during his travels north. It was adequate to get the point across, Abdul-Qahaar nodding. Another Yūnānī healer standing nearby translated in Arabic, other bilingual speakers picking it up and translating for the Hindu speakers until there was a steady stream of languages spoken in soft tones around the room.
Gestures went a long way too, the “come here and help me turn the prince onto his side” pantomime comprehended easily. Three men leaned onto the bed to assist, holding the shaking prince as still as possible while George ripped the shirt away and wiped the sweat-drenched skin with a cloth soaked in an herbal antiseptic solution. The latter was handed to him by Dr. Ullas, George not even looking up but simply holding out his hand in trusting anticipation.
“Only a drop or maybe two,” George answered. “He is close to unconscious as it is, and I don’t want to suppress his respiratory drive any further. Keep it handy though. The tharra is in the far right bottle. Use it to clean the scalpel and reed, please. That stuff kills healthy stomach tissue so should effectively eradicate any invisible organisms.” He gestured for one assistant to remove the pillows so that the prince was flat and to hold his left arm over his head. Hastily, George wiped the wet cloth over the young man’s left torso, all the way to the breastbone while assessing his pinched, blue face and shallowly rising chest.
Lips pursed and jaw clenched, George palpated down the midaxillary line of the ribcage, counting until reaching the recessed space between the fourth and fifth ribs. Sliding his left index finger along the ridge posteriorly to the precise point sought for, George marked the spot with his fingertip and reached his right hand to grasp the handle of the scalpel Dr. Ullas held out for him. After a swift scan to make sure everyone was alert and prepared, George sliced cleanly through the prince’s skin and muscle underneath. A jerk and low moan was the only indication of awareness of what was being done to him.
“Hold him tight,” he commanded in Hindi, the message clear even to those not sure of the words.
The hollow reed Dr. Ullas handed George was blunt on one end but shaved to a sharp point on the other. It was the pointed end that George pressed into the bleeding incision, easing through the tissue until resistance was felt. He paused for a second, his broad left hand spanning the ribcage and bracing, and then with a controlled thrust the hardened reed pierced through the tough membrane protecting the lungs. Another jerk was the prince’s response, but the helpers had listened well and kept a firm grip on him.
Immediately, cloudy, blood-tinged fluid began to flow from the blunt end of the reed, Dr. Ullas collecting it into a cup for later examination.
“Not too thick and translucent. Odor not foul and minimal blood. All good signs, but I will need to leave the drainage tube in for a while to make sure.” George flicked his discerning gaze back and forth from the fast-filling cup, the patient’s chest, and then his face. The first cup was replaced with a new one before improvement was detected. Initially, there was a faint increase in the lift to his chest as each inhale grew deeper, the alarming blue tint receding incrementally. Then as the second cup hit the halfway point, the young man gasped and shuddered, his nostrils flaring and mouth opening wide as he drew in a ragged breath followed by another and another. Healthy color suffused his face, not completely but a vast improvement over the deathly cyanosis of minutes prior, and the chest rose higher with each harsh inspiration.
“I have seen this I don’t know how many times now and it still amazes me. Well done, Dr. Darcy.”
George said nothing. He was too busy wrapping a clean cloth around the puncture site, holding tight to the reed while gently rolling the youth back to rest on a pillow wedged against his back.
“Well, look who is waking up!” George smiled into the fluttering eyes of the rallying prince. “A drop or two of opium,” he said to Dr. Ullas while keeping his gazed fixed on the bewildered eyes staring up at him. “Do you understand me, Your Highness? Excellent. I am Dr. Darcy and this is Dr. Ullas. We are vaidyas from Mysore City…”
In simple language and cadenced tones, George explained what had been done to him, hands simultaneously checking his pulse and applying pressure to precise points until the prince fell into a deep, untroubled sleep, opium, exhaustion, and Ayurvedic application combining in a sedative effect. Only once assured the critical situation was under control did George leave the bed. Taking the wet cloth from Kshitij and wiping his bloodstained hands, George grinned at his colleague, mentor, and friend.
“See? I told you it would be exciting.”
* * *
“Yes, that is truly what he said. ‘I told you it would be exciting.’ And then he laughed.”
“It blows off the tension,” George explained with a straight face.
The two men were sitting across from each other in the dining room of the Ullas house in Saliom. They had returned home an hour prior, after a week in Tipu Sultan’s palace, and of course, the boys had flocked around them with questions gushing. Delaying until settled with food and refreshing beverages in front of them, they were recounting their adventures to a captive audience.
“So what happened next? Did he die?”
“Of course not! Would I or your father allow that to happen? Never!”
Jharna rolled her eyes. Sasi looked vaguely disappointed, as if the death of a prince would be much more dramatic. Nimesh beamed with pride.
“We continued to treat him, with the aid of the other healers. He was an acutely ill young man. Dr. Darcy had to replace the drainage tube once when it obstructed with exudate, but within a day he was able to leave it out. The prince’s strength enabled him to recuperate, thankfully.”
Interruptions were frequent. Nimesh inquired on the medications and techniques while Sasi attempted to steer the conversation into descriptions of the palace.
“At what point did you meet the Tiger of Mysore?”
“Not for four days,” Kshitij replied to his wife’s query.
Her expression was serene, showing no overt sign of the intense fear she had lived with for eight interminable days. George could sense her distress, however, as did Kshitij, and it was why they were jesting and painting a glorified picture. Neither had felt overcome with anxiety while residing in the palace, yet the fact remained that they were, for all intents, hostages whose fates were at the whimsical mercy of a tyrannical man not know for being merciful. How he would have reacted if his son had died is anyone’s guess.
They had been treated with due respect throughout their stay, with every personal need attended to. Not a soul was rude, yet the guards posted sent a clear message that they were not to wander beyond the designated wing where the ill prince lay. A thirty-foot square garden courtyard was the only allowed exterior area. The prisoner sensation hung over their heads and the curiosity over whether the Sultan was aware of his son’s illness or their presence remained a mystery, both hoping they could slink away as quietly as they had come.
Still, as George would later say to Kshitij, there aren’t too many people, especially Westerners, who can say they dwelt for a time in the palace of Tipu Sultan and entered his throne room to carry on a conversation.
“We did not ask for an audience, that’s for sure.” George popped a fig into his mouth. “But it was exciting when we were summoned. Well, it was! You can’t deny it.” He wagged a finger at Kshitij, who shook his head and laughed. “You should have seen it, boys. A massive chamber dripping with gold and jeweled tapestries.” He leaned forward, eyes wide and hands gesturing, his voice dropped into an awestruck pitch as he went on, elaborating upon the furnishings with explicit detail only slightly exaggerated for effect. He painted a picture with his words, relating features that Kshitij barely remembered, Sasi and Nimesh open mouthed and silent. The Sultan he described perfectly, from his attire to physical appearance to changing expressions. Practically word for word, he quoted Tipu’s thanks for saving his son and praise for their skill.
“Then he stepped off his throne, descended the dais, and after retrieving a casket from a waiting servant, he walked right up to us. ‘Payment for services rendered,’ he said, handing the casket to your father. Then, ‘Let it be known that Sultan Fateh Ali Tippu treats fairly with his English and Hindu neighbors.’ He bowed and we thought that would be the end of it, but he snapped his fingers and another servant hurried forward. In his hands, he held two chains with dangling pendants that he placed over our heads. We were out of the room before we could see what it was.”
Reaching inside his kurta, George withdrew a chain of gold. The unadorned links were small but thick, falling to midbreastbone with a two-inch-long replica of a roaring tiger in gold plated with black and orange enamel, the eyes tiny ambers, fastened with three wide rings.
The boys whistled and Jharna gasped. Kshitij pulled his out of his pocket and handed it to his wife. “Keep it safe. It is worth a small fortune, I imagine, but I have no desire to wear it.”
“I do!” George shrugged when they collectively gaped at his vehemence. “Not because I care for who gave it to me but because it is incredible. Just look at it!” He dropped it onto his chest, the gold flashing in the sunlight. “Quite the eye-catcher isn’t it? Think of the conversations this little beauty will start. The ladies will love it, and then I can tell of our adventure into the tiger’s den. Nothing like a man of undaunted bravery to stir up enthusiasm, is there Jharna?”
His cheeky grin and egotistical chuckle sent them all into gales of laughter. Kshitij mouthed a silent thank you and George winked. Best to keep the topic light and not let on how appreciative they were to be safely back with their family. Excitement aside—and it had been exciting, as far as George was concerned—coming face to face with a man some considered on par with the devil was not exactly fun.
Kshitij took over answering the endless questions from his sons, George slipping out and returning with the casket given as payment. It was a small chest, approximately eight inches square of polished silver etched and painted with Persian designs. It was a work of art, Jharna’s eyes shining and fingertips reverentially tracing the exquisite patterns.
“A treasure chest!” Sasi breathed.
“That about sums it up,” George agreed, lifting the lid with agonizing slowness until the contents were revealed to the eager trio. Inside, it was filled with coins. Some bore Persian and Arabic writing, but most were the gold pagoda, silver rupee, or paisa copper elephant coins commonly seen in town. The lesser value coins were overwhelmed by the larger denomination gold ones, it easily calculable without separating and counting that the physicians had been paid more for this one patient than all others combined for the past six months.
“We were already rich, Nimesh. We do not need this and will not keep it.”
“Pati!” The wails were in unison. Jharna said nothing, but the stricken look on her face made George burst out laughing.
“Don’t fret, Jharna. Kshitij intends to let you keep the casket. Now tell them the good news, Kshitij, before they perish from broken hearts.”
“You two can each select five coins to keep. That is all. Sasi, there are some rare ones in there. I think I saw a Persian safavid that will make a fine addition to your collection. Once done, we will be donating the money to the hospital. Before we leave permanently, Dr. Darcy and I can make sure they have a new microscope at least.”
The boys were no longer listening. Treasure hunting had taken over! They would all end up with souvenirs of their sojourn in Mysore, just as they had from every other place traveled to, but none with a story quite like this one attached.
* ~ * ~ *
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