November 1849, Bombay, India
Lady Katelyn Elizabeth Beaufort, clothed in a shimmering pink silk walking suit, white bows and lace trimmings, with delicate matching gloves and parasol, strode purposely past the market and stopped in front of the hospital. It was the first day she had made her way through the streets of Bombay unaccompanied by a chaperone and felt quite safe and happy with the freedom, but of course stayed within the predominately British district of George Town. A cosmopolitan city, bustling with merchants of every nation along with the various Indian peoples, it all seemed to mingle and function smoothly, the distinct religious sects keeping quietly to themselves. She watched as three ponderous elephants, teenage mahouts sitting on their necks, lumbered by in a slow rhythm. Kate peered at the beasts’ tiny eyes, enormous ears, long trunks, and cropped tusks, but their huge round feet stirred up the yellow dust so she darted into the hospital. A large building of neat brick, erected by the British administration, it was similar to medical facilities in England except for the natives toiling within and hot dry atmosphere. Upon entering the front hall an elderly nurse, small and dark, in a crisp white pinafore, turned from the casualty desk and approached.
“Good morning, miss,” the woman said. “Are you alone today?”
“Good morning. Yes,” Kate responded with a brief nod and smile.
“We’ve moved Dr. Tattersall to a convalescence room.”
“Excellent. I’m happy he’s recovering quickly.” Kate placed her parasol high on a hanger, and shook the dust from her skirt and petticoat.
“His progress is encouraging. Fevers can be unpredictable. He already has a caller this morning.”
“He does?” I wanted to have him to myself. Who else in Bombay even knows he’s here?
“Yes, a soldier. This way please.”
Kate followed the nurse along the halls, wondering why someone from the military might be visiting, or anyone at all.
“I’ve seen you here every day for a week,” the nurse said. “He must be your special young man?”
“Oh…” Kate sensed her face grow warm, and she smiled. “Indeed. Since I arrived in Bombay I’ve done little else but look in on him.”
“When he first came to us, in his delirium, I believe he spoke of you. All the nurses wondered about the girl who sent him here. Now that we’ve seen you, we’re happy for the sick doctor.”
“Goodness.” Kate, despite being trained to always hold her head up, briefly put her chin down and fiddled with her gloves. “I… yes, he was not getting any better in China. My grandfather recommended Dr. Tattersall seek treatment in Bombay. He arranged for his passage with the Royal Navy, so he would travel quickly and be tended by a physician.”
“And you care for Dr. Tattersall?”
“I do… he is quite dear to me. I hope, perhaps, we may court in the near future.”
“How lovely. You’d make an extremely handsome couple, once he recovers.”
“Yes?” Oh, yes! Yes we would! “Thank you!”
The nurse stopped at a doorway, a sun infused white-washed room beyond, and motioned for Kate to enter. Within the ward were a dozen bed spaces, and an arched opening at the end, a pleasant breeze wafting through. There were three patients; two asleep just inside the door, and Henry Tattersall at the far end by the arch. He reclined, stretched out on a low cot, an officer wearing a dark blue uniform seated beside him. The soldier quickly stood to attention.
“Good morning, m’ lady,” he bowed his head.
“Captain,” Kate responded, defaulting to the common rank indicated by a single fringed epaulette on the officer’s left shoulder. “You were expecting me?”
“Lady Kate, this is Captain Gibson,” Henry said, sitting up. “Would you please accompany him to the governor’s office?”
Kate gazed at each man. The soldier stood ramrod straight, emotionless, his polished brass buttons and black boots gleaming. The sick doctor knitted his brow, and smiled faintly, his large grey eyes staring at her.
“I would, Dr. Tattersall,” she said, “but we shall have a moment alone first.”
“Yes, m’ lady.” Gibson took up his helmet and stepped away, moving outside the doorway.
“What’s this all about, Henry?” Kate whispered, immediately dropping formalities.
“I don’t know,” Henry replied, smiling. “Gibson doesn’t seem to have many answers.”
She perched on the chair, swivelled and draped her veil over her hat while bending forward, then kissed his forehead, a quick sisterly peck. There! That was the first time I kissed you without a chaperone watching. During the past week they’d already established a bit of intimacy, and Kate hoped to build on it as Henry grew in strength. In England, if courting, they probably wouldn’t have enjoyed an opportunity to be alone yet, or touch in privacy. Kate thought he was blushing a bit. He shifted and adjusted his pillow, so she took the opportunity to lean over and help him, then realised she was being rather rough. What am I doing? Careful, move slowly. That’s better. Be graceful, the ideal… I could stare into his eyes for… all right, that’s enough, remember propriety! She sat back, feeling a little dizzy. What were we talking about? Ah, yes, Gibson.
“What did he tell you?” Kate asked after a deep breath.
“Only that there’s a letter for me, and the Governor requested a meeting.”
“Now, Henry, how could this have anything to do with me?”
“There were instructions you could receive it in my stead.”
“How curious. Why? Who would be sending letters with instructions to the Governor?”
“Ah, Kate,” he sighed. “It would have to be Palmerston.”
“Of course, Pam,” she nodded, using the career politician’s nickname.
Lord Palmerston, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, and director of a network of clandestine operatives who made up a covert government organization. Kate recalled the odd appointment she attended with Palmerston before leaving England, and how she learned her brother worked for him, providing advanced weaponry and other devices.
“Henry, you’ve never told me, are you a member of the Secret Service?”
“No. But I did consent to aid Palmerston to some degree from Canton,” he replied. “When I went to China I agreed to send information to Foreign Affairs, and would certainly have helped someone stop Napier. An English gentleman dealing in slavery and forcing opium onto the weak deserves execution. When I fell ill, I had no idea you would carry out the task.”
“I see,” Kate said softly, thinking. Did Pam somehow foresee my conduct? When she had arrived in China a few months ago, and found Henry sick, she decided to deal with Napier. The deed still weighed heavily upon her, although it was actually her grandfather who fired the shot that killed the man. Kate couldn’t determine if Palmerston had expected her to act in such a fashion all along. There was something about the way he talked at their meeting in Whitehall just before she sailed that remained puzzling. “I ought not keep Captain Gibson waiting. I’ll visit you again after.”