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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Poldark fic: A Cause Worth Fighting For (1/3)

December 22nd, 2016 (08:55 am)
intimidated

feeling: intimidated

Title: A Cause Worth Fighting For

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

A/N: I started this prior to 2.04, so when Demelza is pregnant with their second child. I don't think it's quite canon-compliant for the rest of the season, but eh. Written for and beta’ed by sockie1000. I am always happy that I get to share my Poldark love with you! Fills my dungeons square for hc_bingo.

Summary: George finds another way to go after Ross, and this time it is Dwight who pays the price.

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE



-o-

Ross was a man who knew what mattered in life.

It was true, he’d been forced to strip his home bare of comforts. He’d cut the money spent on food until he ate sludge along with the servants. And he worked hard for every penny he earned, taking none of it for granted.

To some, this may have seemed like a meager life, a letdown perhaps. It could even be classified as a tragedy in some storybooks.

But Ross survived by his own hand. He retained his freedom. And, most importantly, he had good company to share it with.

The people of the village were part of this, naturally, and he felt beholden to the shareholders at the mine. Even Jud and Prudie, damn their inanities, had a place in his heart, and though he still thought of Elizabeth, it was Demelza who filled him with warmth at night.

She was his, as was the child within her. Neither were things he’d thought to want, but he could not deny how much pleasure they gave him. Even his relationship with Francis was on the up again, showing that there was truly room in this world left for miracles.

“I believe that,” Ross said, pouring another drink and offering it to Dwight. “During the trial, I myself lost hope, but hope prevailed when I counted it as lost. If it breaks in my favor, then surely it will break in yours.”

Dwight scoffed, but he took the drink. “Sometimes I fear you use all the good luck for yourself, and leave none for me.”

Ross took a stout drink, settling himself in the chair in his sitting room. It was one of the few things left, stripped and barren as it was. He’d let Dwight sit in the only comfortable one left, and even it was threadbare and wanting.

“Fortune is not so fickle,” Ross reprimanded him lightly.

Dwight’s lips smirked. “I have to believe that is true,” he said. “Or else you would have been hanged by now.”

It was not so long ago, but Ross still smiled. A jest between friends was valid, especially where Dwight was concerned. He knew Ross’ faults implicitly.

And he was here regardless.

In response, Ross was duly sheepish. “I will not deny it,” he said. But then he nodded roundly. “But that is why you must trust me that all cannot be so bad.”

Dwight groaned, loud. He slumped back in his chair. “I’m afraid I’ve grown rather spoiled out here,” he said. “I have appreciated the simple nature of the common folk. Treating the upper class again--” He shook his head tiredly. “They pay better, but they make truly entitled patients.”

“Ah,” Ross said, pausing for another drink. He tweaked his eyebrows. “Are you not up for the task?”

“Medicine is not a perfect science,” Dwight said. “It comes with no guarantees, and yet that is increasingly what is expected of me.”

“People understand that,” Ross started.

Dwight shook his head. “When everyone else caters to you, you expect doctors to do the same.”

“It is but an inconvenience,” Ross said. “You do your job, as best you can. That is all anyone can ask of you.”

Dwight took a drink of commiseration. “I hope you’re right,” he said. “Or I’m going to need a lot more than alcohol.”

Ross reached for the bottle, passing it over. “You know I will always offer you that,” he said. He winked as Dwight took the bottle with only a second’s hesitation. “And anything else in my power.”

Dwight refilled his glass, placing the bottle between him and Ross. “I have no doubts about that, my friend,” he said, tipping his glass toward Ross. “No doubts at all.”

-o-

It was an idle conversation in an idle afternoon, and Ross was so busy with other things that he did not think much of it. How could he, after all, with Demelza growing heavy with child and work at the mine still on a constant push? He was always scraping his resources together, doing what he could to keep his tenants fed and happy while using whatever he had leftover to create a home fit for a child.

He called on Dwight, naturally, when he had time. But when he was not busy, Dwight was, and he often found the doctor out on house calls in the city. Another virus, rumor said. All the doctors in the region were busy.

Ross thought nothing of it. Dwight had his duty, and Ross had his. Their paths would cross innocently enough.

At least, that was what Ross told himself.

He was loathe to find, one hot afternoon, just how wrong he was.

-o-

The news came from Francis, of all people. Ross probably should have known when Francis called that it was not a purely social visit. It was easy to forget, after all, that Ross had little to offer in terms of hospitality and social refinements. Francis did not necessarily think himself better than Ross; indeed, it was often the opposite persuasion that distanced the two.

But the trial had set Ross free and, inexplicably, Francis alongside him. When Demelza asked to forgive his cousin, Ross had been reluctant to agree and only happy to finally oblige. Of all the strange and wonderful things, he discovered how much he actually liked his cousin for once.

All the same, Ross should have know.

Within two minutes of inviting his cousin inside, he did know. Francis had the worst poker face.

“You do not bear good news,” Ross deducted still pouring the drink for his cousin.

Francis seemed shaken by this conclusion, and half fumbled with the glass as Ross held it out to him. “Well, I--”

Ross put the bottle down, neglecting to fill his own. “Is it Elizabeth?” he asked, the anxiety rising up in his throat.

Francis blinked, as if confused.

Ross remembered himself; he remember his place. More importantly, he remembered Francis’. “Verity, then. Surely not your son?”

“No, no,” Francis said with a dismissive shake of his head. “Everyone in the family is well, be assured.”

Assured, Ross most definitely was not. “It’s financial, then? If the Warleggans have called to collect your loan--”

Francis took an emphatic breath. “It is not the loan,” he said, as definitively as he could. He paused then, taking a moment to wet his lips. “I’m afraid I’ve just been from town, however.”

Ross scoffed, feeling the tension unfurl in his chest. “Idle community gossip does not concern me,” he said. “There are many to-dos, and they only matter if we let them.”


“I’m afraid this is more than gossip,” Francis said.

“Politics?” Ross asked, picking up the bottle to pour the drink for himself belatedly. “Because I hardly think--”

Francis sighed. “It’s your friend, Dr. Enys,” he said.

Ross put the bottle down, face screwed up in confusion. “Dwight? He’s hardly the one for controversy--”

“He’s been arrested,” Francis explained, the drink still untouched in his hands. “For the murder.”

Ross froze, half convinced that what he’d just heard was folly. It couldn’t be true, of course. It was ludicrous. Dwight? Arrested? For murder?

“Who?” Ross demanded. “How? When?”

Francis swallowed, his composure threatening to leave him. “Just this morning, I’m afraid. They came for him at his home. He was still treating a few of the local tenants.”

“On what grounds?” Ross said, increasingly incredulous. “Who could possibly think--”

“A Warleggan,” Francis blurted. His voice wavered, but it was definitive enough. He almost winced. “Another one of George’s cousins, just returned from overseas.”

“Another cousin?” Ross asked with a scoff. “Surely--”

“It’s spurious, at best,” Francis said. “The boat he was on was half condemned with illness--”

“And a judge still agreed that it was murder?” Ross asked, shaking his head in disbelief.

“The man had a title, I’m afraid, and he’d been given a good bill of health in London just a week prior,” Francis explained with a helpless shrug. “And George has the money and connections to buy anything he wants.”

Ross slammed the drink on the table, his ire rising and taking hold. “Not everything.”

Francis implored him now. “I came as a favor, cousin,” he said. “Not to prompt you into acting foolish.”

“George tried to take my life and he failed,” Ross said, holding Francis’ eyes with a flinty gaze. “If he thinks he can do better with my friend--”

“I owe Dwight, even more than I owe George,” Francis said. “That’s why I’m here. So we can figure out some way to help him.”

Ross didn’t have the time to consider the implications of that. He knew things had happened during his time in prison, but any relationship between his cousin and his best friend was not really his business. Moreover, the details of such things were irrelevant for now.

Not when they had more pressing matters at hand.

Resolved, Ross nodded. “Where is he being held?”

“Until he can post bond,” Francis said with a twinge of guilt. “The dungeons.”

“Then come on,” Ross said, reaching for his hat and moving toward the door. “We haven’t a minute to lose.”

-o-

Ross rode hard.

At first, it seemed to startle Francis, but he kept his horse at pace behind him. There was no point in idle conversation at a time like this; there was no point in anything idle at all.

When they arrived in town, Ross slowed down begrudgingly, offering the semblance of decorum to the others in the late afternoon. At the jail, Francis edged ahead of him, sliding off his horse and giving Ross a look of warning.

“Let me get us in,” he said.

Ross hit the ground on numb legs. “And why is that?”

“Because we want to get Dwight out,” Francis reminded him. “Not put you in alongside him.”

“If anyone thinks I’m going to let this injustice stand--”

Francis raised his hand to placate him. “Like I said,” he continued. “Let me.”

-o-

To his credit, Francis was effective. In fact, Ross had never fully noticed it before, just how competent Francis could be. The marked difference, of course, was that for the first time in his life, his cousin actually believed in himself.

The difference, to say the least, was palpable.

The observation was noteworthy, but Ross had no time to dwell on idle reflections. Not with more pressing matters at hand.

They were led through the prison, down to the dungeons. The look -- dark, dank and foreboding -- was exactly how Ross remembered. And the smell? Well, in the heart of summer, during the hottest break of the year, it was worse.

When the jail keeper finally stopped them, Ross was pleased that it wasn’t on the lowest levels. The cell was, however, small and scarcely lit save for a few slivers of light from a high cut-out window in the stone. The bed was scantily made, and at first glance, Ross almost missed Dwight, huddled in the corner of it.

The jail keeper, for his part, rattled the bars soundly with his key. “Visitors,” he growled. He turned toward Ross and Francis with narrowed eyes. “I’ll be by the stairs; don’t try anything.”

Before Ross could make some short reply, Francis smiled and bowed his head slightly. “Of course, thank you.”

With a scowl, the jail keeper wandered off.

Ross turned a critical look to Francis, but his cousin was already at the bars, looking intently at Dwight.

The scene was, indeed, a disturbing tableau. The conditions were dirty and confined, and Dwight appeared to have been caught at work. His coat was nowhere to be scene, and his sleeves were rolled up. On the edge of the bed, he had been sitting with his head dipped into his hands, but he was now looking bleakly up at them.

“You shouldn’t have come,” Dwight said.

“Of course we came,” Francis said quickly.

Dwight nodded absently. “Someone needs to go check on Mrs. Farnum,” he said. “She was nearly ready to have her baby when they called me away. It looks to be an uncomplicated delivery, but…”

“I’m sure someone will look after her,” Francis said.

Dwight looked at him. “It was my job to be with her,” he said. His brow furrowed slightly. “They didn’t even let me stay to explain to her husband what to do.”

At this, Francis’ resolve faltered. It was rather much to witness. Dwight, in the worst of situations, concerned more for his patients than himself. It was typical, of course. Where it made Dwight lost; where it made Francis forlorn; it made Ross mad.

Ross swallowed past the emotions in his throat. “These charges against you; they’re ridiculous,” he blurted with no other pretense or pleasantry. There was no room for that here. “We will get you out.”

Dwight looked at him, almost in surprise. “They are right, though,” he said, far too earnestly. “A man is dead at my hands.”

“But not murder--” Francis said quickly.

Ross shook his head, adamant. He knew Dwight. He knew how he thought. He knew that no matter how much the doctor understood his limits as a doctor, he still took his patients personally. No one had blamed him for the loss of life before, but Ross knew, without a question, that Dwight could remember the name of every man, woman and child who had died under his care. “You can’t let them do that to you,” he said, giving his friend a hard look. “The case against you is ridiculous.”

Dwight gave a helpless shrug to one shoulder. “But if it could have been prevented--”

Frustrated, Ross slammed his hand against the bar.

Dwight’s eyes widened in surprise. Francis jumped, startled.

“Whatever case they are trying to build against you is foolishness,” Ross said strongly. “You will not give it credence with your dejection and self doubt.”

Dwight was staring at him, breath held taut.

“Now,” Ross continued, forcing the moment to its pinnacle. “We’ve come to help you, but first we have to know the details of this case.”

At that, Dwight’s shoulders fell and he let his head drop down again. “I’m afraid I don’t even have the full account myself,” he admitted. “I was not the first doctor involved in this case.”

“Well, where is the other doctor?” Francis said. “Perhaps if we called upon him--”

Dwight lifted his head wearily. “He’s a family associate of the Warleggans in London,” he said bleakly. “When I requested information on my patient’s medical history, that was the most I got.”

Ross’s stomach churned uneasily. If it had not been so plainly obvious what game George was playing, Ross might have thought it too elementary for him. Indeed, it seemed fit to be a joke.

Except there was no laughing with Dwight caged in a dungeon.

“Who was your patient exactly?” Ross pushed. “And how did he come under your care?”

“A Bernard Warleggan, who was by his own estimation a distant relation of George,” he said. “In fact, it had been Bernard’s intention to stay with his relative while visiting the area, but George had refused his calls.”

Francis chuffed, puckering his lips. “That seems like an egregarious lapse in etiquette.”

“It only proves George was no friend of his cousin,” Ross said with a shake of his head. “He wanted nothing to do with the man until he proved himself useful, even in death.”

“He had a lingering cough, which he attributed to a case of influenza he caught after crossing the ocean just a few weeks prior,” Dwight explained. “It seemed reasonable as an explanation; many boats are plagued with illness, and influenza is not even the most dangerous one.”

Francis shuffled his feet. “But it wasn’t so simple?”

With a sigh, Dwight looked toward the ceiling. “I had no reason to doubt him, and the symptoms were vague,” he said. “But that’s when I noticed the bandage on his arm.”

“Another injury?” Ross pressed.

“Also from his journey,” Dwight said. “I asked to see it, but he deferred my attentions, insisting that the doctor in London had seen to it already. I offered to give him a second opinion, or even just a fresh poultice, but he declined.” His lips twisted up ruefully. “I think he was actually being polite. He apologized profusely for taking up so much of my time when I had so many other patients to see.”

“Well,” Francis said with a shrug toward Ross. “He was a distant relation to George.”

Ross refused to smile, doubling back down on Dwight. Though the other man was clearly distraught, Ross could not afford sentimentality at such a time. He understood acutely how important it was to get Dwight out of here.

And that required action.

Action required information.

Ross would stop at nothing to attain it. “There were complications?”

Dwight seemed to refocus his attentions with a vague nod. “I left him with medicine and strict instructions, promising to check in with him by the end of the week,” he said. “But within two days, his servant sent word for me to return as soon as possible.”

“Still no word from George on the matter?” Francis asked. “Surely, for his cousin--”

“I sent word to the Warleggan home at once, of course, because Bernard had grown feverish to the point of being delusional,” Dwight explained. He gestured in futility. “The servant thought it was the influenza, maybe turned into pneumonia, but without his ability to protest, I was able to finally get a look beneath the bandage. One look -- and I already knew it was too late to help him.”

Francis looked aghast. “Infection?”

“Of the worst sort,” Dwight said. He let out a long, dejected breath. “The bandage clearly hadn’t been changed, and the wound was still fraught with dirt and grime.”

“So it was not well cared for in the first place,” Ross concluded. “All the more reason the other doctor should be here to account for his role.”

Dwight looked up at them, face pale through the bars. “That was hardly my concern at the time,” he said. “I did what I could with the wound, but the flesh was rotting on the bone. There was only one thing to do, one last thing that could save his life.”

Francis was standing, dumbfounded, but Ross knew.

Ross remembered too well.

He’d spent time in a field hospital, after all. That was where he’d first met Dwight. Among the smell of blood and the sound of men crying in the night. The sound of metal on bone and pools of blood soaking into the cold American soil.

“You cut it off,” Ross concluded.

“You cut it off?” Francis exclaimed.

“There was no other option,” Dwight said. “The arm was already dead, and leaving it there was a death sentence. The only chance he had of surviving was to lose the arm.”

“And you performed the operation there?” Ross asked, tilting his head.

“I tried not to, and believe me, the inn keeper deeply protested the idea,” Dwight said. “I contacted the Warleggans again, asking for any use of their property, even a barn or storage shed, but they did not reply. After a day of raging fever, I did what was necessary and accepted the consequences as they would be.”

The decisive tone in his voice drew to a pitch, then diminished again.

“He fought for three days before he succumbed,” Dwight reflected, quieter now. “I was with him in the end, even when he had no mind of himself at all. Maybe if I’d looked at the wound that first day; maybe if it’d been treated properly from the start; maybe...”

He trailed off, looking at the dreary stone floor of his cell again.

“All of this,” Francis said. “It’s not your fault in the least. Surely the law can see that.”

“I’m not sure the law can see past the money Warleggan throws at it,” Dwight said miserably.

“But this is an outrage; it simply cannot stand,” Francis insisted.

“My cousin is right,” Ross said. “If this makes it to trial, the prosecution will have no case to stand on.”

“A man of title and money died of a preventable condition,” Dwight said, almost mechanically. “He was under my care.”

“But you did everything you could -- and more,” Francis said.

Ross shook his head, grim. “That’s not what this is about.”

“Then what could it possibly be about?” Francis returned, his incredulity rising.

“It’s about George Warleggan, looking for leverage,” Ross concluded.

Gloomily, Dwight looked up again. “I hate to say it, but I think he’s found it.”

Ross lifted his chin, more resolute now than ever. He was a man who believed in causes. He believed in fighting the good fight without the possibility of losing. He believed in lost causes, desperate causes, good causes.

“He may think so,” Ross said with a stolid bob of his head. “But I intend to have something to say about that on the behalf of us all.”

-o-

It was unsettling, to say the least, to leave Dwight behind. He promised, rather profusely, to visit frequently, and insisted that Dwight send word if he needed anything, anything at all.

Dwight smiled politely and thanked him as Francis went to find the jailer. “It is a strange situation, though,” he commented wryly. “Usually our positions are reversed.”

Ross quirked his lips up, doing his best to embrace levity where little could be found. “Then I shall endeavor to imitate your sound example,” he said. “And I will do everything possible to get you out of here.”

Dwight’s smile turned wan, and he swallowed visibly. “I have to hope you do better,” he admitted. “I wasn’t much help for you.”

“You were the only one who attempted to save me from myself,” Ross said. “I merely got lucky with the jury.”

“People believe you, Ross,” Dwight said, looking smaller than he should on the dingy bed. “They always have.”

Ross stepped forward, hands on the bars. “Then believe me when I tell you this,” he said. “I will get you out of here.”

Resolute as he was, Dwight looked scarcely moved. “I wish I shared your belief.”

“Well, until you can muster it, I shall believe enough for the both of us,” Ross promised. “We’ll have you out of here in now time.”

-o-

Bold words were easy for Ross. In fact, many would argue, they came quite naturally to him. And it wasn’t that he didn’t mean them.

It was just that sometimes he didn’t fully realize how difficult their implications were.

On the outside of the prison, Francis fretted. “I told the jailer to send word for us immediately if Dwight should need anything,” he said. “I offered him a few tokens to ensure his cooperation, but if George has already got to him--”

Ross waved him off, moving instead for their horses. “The loyalties of the jailer are the least of our concerns,” he said.

A step behind him, Francis looked apprehensive. “I just want to be sure they don’t cut off access to him,” he said. “We’re working on the money--”

Ross kept his pace quick. “The bond will make no difference if we cannot get the case dismissed,” he said. “George will do everything he can to keep Dwight in that dungeon as long as he can, the legal limits of the situation notwithstanding.”

Francis quicked to keep up with him. “So what do we do?”

Ross stopped, giving Francis a pointed, knowing look. “The only thing we can do in a situation such as this,” he said, inclining his head. “We pay our condolences.”

-o-

One might think, given the acrimony between them, that George Warleggan would be reluctant to answer when a Poldark called at his door. After all, there was no love lost between the two families, and since Ross had, on multiple occasions, lashed out at George physically, it would be a justified and prudent choice.

It was also one that George would never indulge. No, because George was keen to fight, if only because he was so set on winning. In fact, Ross half suspected that George accepted every social call with an irrational hope that Ross would come and offer his steadfast need and gratitude, accepting every term and condition that George stipulated.

For all that George Warleggan was a smart man, he was fairly stupid. In the very least, he had a blind spot named Poldark.

It was what made him dangerous.

It was what made Ross even more dangerous.

When George entered the sitting room, he had the audacity to smile.

Ross had the sense to curl his fingers into fists and hold his ground. As much as he wanted to slam his fist into Warleggan’s smug face, he had to remember his purpose here. It wasn’t his own pride or sense of justice. It was his best friend, locked up in a dungeon. Ross was impulsive and strong willed, but he knew how to play for the long term when he needed to.

At his side, Francis seethed so hard that he nearly flinched. How strange it was, for once, that Ross was surely going to be the more rational of the two when faced with supreme conflict.

“Ross, Francis,” George said with stunted congeniality. “This is an unexpected surprise.”

“Normally I do not stop by unannounced--” Ross started.

“Or at all,” George contended.

Ross refused to be riled. “But give the most recent circumstances, I thought a visit might be in order.”

Francis shuffled his feet, body so tense that he was nearly twitching.

George cocked his head. “If this has to do with your friend, Dr. Enys--”

“I thought, for you, it would have more to do with your cousin,” Ross returned, words clipped and forceful. “That is what is proper, is it not? To offer condolences when someone suffers loss?”

It wasn’t the answer George was suspected.

Ross put on a brazen smile. “It is unfortunate, though?” He looked at Francis with a modicum of curiosity. “Another cousin perishing upon visiting. What a strange coincidence. I cannot think to hope you have no more cousins, so they may be prevented such a fate,” he said.

George sobered immediately. “It is of no fault of mine, I assure you,” he said.

“No, no, of course not,” Ross said. “Only a fool would think to place blame where nothing but bad luck is at fault.”

The purposeful words were a challenge.

George, to his very little credit, did not back down. He straightened himself primly, pursing his lips. “So this does have to do with your beloved Dr. Enys.”

“You mean the fact that he is sitting in a dungeon for doing his job?” Ross asked.

Bristling, George narrowed his gaze. “My cousin died of a very preventable disease.”

“As people unfortunately do, every day,” Ross said. “As I know all too well.”

“It was also a condition that Dwight had no way of knowing,” Francis added.

“He’s a doctor,” George snapped. “It was his duty to find out.”

“Like the doctor in London?” Ross asked quizzically. “The one employed by your family?”

“That doctor gave him a clean bill of health,” George said, regaining some of his composure. “And Dr. Enys let his condition deteriorate completely by his watch.”

“And you,” Ross interjected, changing his tact. “Where were you?”

George wrinkled his brow. “I was at home, naturally. Minding my own affairs.”

“While your cousin was dying?” Ross asked pointedly.

It was a valid point; one George knew better than to concede. “I wasn’t aware of his condition until it was far too late.”

This, of course, was a lie. It was also a lie that Ross could not prove. Enys’ word was good, but it held no credence against Warleggan. It would have been smarter to let it go.

And Ross was smart.

He just wasn’t always prudent.

He smiled. “Or you didn’t care until you realized it could benefit you,” he concluded brazenly.

Next to him, Francis stiffened anew, as if prepared for a fight.

While it might come to fisticuffs, they weren’t there yet. George had more self control than that.

Barely.

His expression reeked of contempt. “That is an outrageous accusation.”

Ross did not relent. “So is the charge of murder against a doctor who tried in good faith to save a man.”

It was George who broke form first. “Good faith?” he asked with an incredulous snort. “Enys was your main witness at the trial; his bias is unparalleled. His name might as well be Poldark for all that he has catered to you and covered for you.”

“He’s served this community well,” Francis objected.

“Tell that to my cousin,” George said, fuming now. “My cousin had no predilections, and he trusted Dwight Enys with his very heath. Your friend abused that trust and neglected the very obvious problems that claimed my cousin’s life. That neglect, in a position of power and responsibility, is tantamount to murder.”

To George’s credit, at least he’d thought through his argument. Even if it was complete nonsense.

“It’s a charge that will never stick,” Ross said.

“It’s not even a precedent you want to set,” Francis reasoned. “Hang a doctor for doing his job, and no one will come serve the community. More people will die.”

George lifted his chin. “Dr. Enys had a responsibility,” he insisted. “He failed to live up to it.”

Ross shook his head, letting his anger course through him. “You want get away with this,” he said, almost smiling. “I will get Dwight out of this.”

At this, George snorted. It was beyond incredulity; it was deeper than contempt. “You think your influence will help him? It was your influence that got him thrown in prison in the first place. In fact, when your name was mentioned in connection with his person, his bond was denied pending trial.”

The color drained from Ross’ face. Next to him, Francis went very, very still.

George smiled again, the thin line set with superiority. “Risk of your interference carries some weight with the legal system here,” he said. “The judge didn’t want to take a chance with your utter lack of respect for the due process of things. Dwight Enys is a flight risk by association.”

His self control was slipping, as it was wont to do. Ross’ passion was his strength, but it was also his weakness. There wasn’t a person in his life who hadn’t told him to keep his tongue, but the most convincing of which was currently locked up in the dungeons.

Jaw tightening, he kept his gaze steady and unrelenting. Gone was the coy overtures; absent were his confident tete a tetes. All Ross had left was a promise. “You won’t get away with this.”

George was schooled enough to show little emotion. He hedged, if only slightly, softening his disposition enough to be dangerous. “There are ways, you know,” he ventured, almost gently. “To speed things along.”

Ross’ stomach turned. “We don’t need your blackmail,” he said with a dismissive nod. “The law is on our side.”

George’s shrug was equally dismissive. “If you want to stake your friend’s life on that confidence…”

Ross surged forward, but Francis was there, a surprisingly strong hand on his arm. It wasn’t that Francis could stop him, physically. But their relationship had been mended enough that the emotional barrier was enough. Ross wrinkled his nose derisively instead. “Go to hell.”

“Very well.” George’s smile was sickeningly congenial. “Maybe I’ll see your Dr. Enys there.”

-o-

Ross scarcely remembered leaving. Indeed, all he was aware of was the constant pressure of Francis’ hand upon the crook of his elbow, leading him outside. It was only when they were safely beyond the gate of George’s home that Ross remembered to breathe.

“Is that how you planned for it to go?” Francis asked with surprising alacrity.

The venom in his veins was dying away now, and he could feel the vestiges of rational thought once more. He knew enough to wince. “Somewhat.”

“Because I’m not sure we gained very much from that encounter,” Francis said.

Brusquely, Ross straightened himself. “Nonsense. I believe we learned a great deal.”

“That George is a deplorable human being?” Francis asked. “Because I think we already knew that.”

“He tipped his hand, far too early,” Ross said, striding toward their horses now. “He’s made this entirely too personal.”

Francis was in lockstep with him for once. “That much was obvious, but I don’t see how that helps Dr. Enys.”

“This case is personal, not professional,” Ross explained. He stopped, looking at Francis fully. “The law is not on his side, not in the slightest. He’s already lobbying to buy our cooperation.”

“Because that’s what he wants, more than anything,” Francis said. “Dwight is nothing to him.”

“Which is how we know it’s a bluff,” Ross said. “He was too forthcoming in his request. He knows when this goes to trial, there is no judge who will rule in his favor, no matter how many favors he buys.”

Francis inclined his head, as if to concede the point. “I can see that,” he said. “But it’s easy for us to stand here and act nonchalant. Dwight’s the one stuck in the dungeons.”

Ross took the reins of his horse, effortless mounting. “Which means it’s up to us to gather evidence for his case and support for his release,” he said.

Mounting his own horse, Francis looked thoughtful. “I have a few connections in London that are still friendly,” he said. “I could ask around, get more information about the doctor who gave the original diagnosis.”

“And I can rally character support from the villagers,” Ross said.

Francis nodded, then hesitated. “Do you think it will be enough?”

Ross adjusted his head, squinting out across the land at the lowering afternoon sun. “It has to be,” he said, nudging his horse to move. “For Dwight’s sake.”

-o-

When Ross had a plan, Ross had a plan. He was gifted in this, in the way blind determination made him capable of monumental efforts with relative ease. This was how he’d managed to revive the mine; it was how he’d manage to salvage a second. In many ways, it was also how he’d managed to develop a relationship with Demelza.

In the span of a few short hours, after parting ways with Francis, Ross had made the rounds to as many people as he could think of, gathering promises and documented effects of Dwight’s influence in the town. Though he had only lived in the area for a few short years, Dwight’s reputation was well earned and quite near impeccable, the incident with Keren notwithstanding. All the same, the prosecution would struggle with the very simple fact that no one would speak ill of the good doctor.

And Ross had pledges from the vast majority to do just the opposite. After all, Dwight had spared their wives in childbirth. He had healed their children from common ailments. He’d treated the rich and poor alike, with equal vigor and attention. He could be reached at all times of the day or night, and he did not hesitated to take house calls from those who could not pay. When the putrid throat had stalked through the land, he had been at the front lines, doing what little he could to keep it in check.

That had an effect on people.

An effect that George had grossly underestimated in his pursuit of revenge.

He took such pleasure in this that he lost all track of time. It was pitch black by the time he arrived home, only to find Demelza fretting by the lone candle, one hand resting on her growing stomach.

“You’re late,” she said, the accusation impossible to miss in her tone. It was as plain to hear as her concern.

Removing his hat, Ross indulged her in this. “I lost track of time,” he said. He offered her a smile. “I’m sorry.”

She huffed, for all the good that his apology did. The woman was contrary. That didn’t mean she wasn’t right sometimes. “I heard the news,” she said. “It can’t be true, can it? About Dwight?”

“It’s true that they locked him in the dungeon,” Ross said, wearily as ever. Demelza had left his plate from dinner, cold and forgotten on the table. “But it’s not true that he’s even capable of murder.”

“What can be done for him, then?” she asked, rubbing her fingers idly over her belly.

“That’s where I’ve been,” Ross said. “Working on his defense.”

“But doesn’t he have a lawyer?” she wondered. “Even you had a lawyer.”

“And mine was relatively good,” Ross said. “But there’s no guarantee Dwight’s will be. I want to do as much as I can. Besides, if we get out and talk to people first, we can stop them from being poisoned by whatever the Warleggans try to bring up.”

The mention of that name made her flinch, just slightly. “And you think it will be enough?”

The doubt was implicit in her question. For that, Ross could not blame her. By keeping busy, he hadn’t allowed himself to think on anything but success. But now, in the wan light of the candle in his own home, he found his own resolve flickering. “The law is on our side,” he ventured.

Demelza, his Demelza. She was too clever for her own good. And too brazenly naive to know when to keep it to herself. “Sure, but we thought the law was on your side, too.”

Ross picked up the bread, taking a bite. “Hm, you forget, though,” he said, pausing to wash it down. “I was technically guilty of a crime. Dwight is not.”

Clever, naive and stubborn. Demelza shook her head. “Does it make a difference?” she asked. “Where the Warleggans and money are involved.”

Ross mopped up some of the stew with his bread. “I was released, if you recall.”

“Because you’re rash and stupid,” she said, unapologetic. “That mouth of yours gets you into as much trouble as it saves you from. Dwight, though. With his temperament?”

Likely, Ross should have been insulted. Such impertinence would have most husbands raising the back of their hand. But, even if Ross were surprised -- which he was not -- he was too tired to make a show of it. “Dwight is mild and likeable,” he said. “He won’t aggravate the judges.”

“He also won’t assert for himself like he should,” Demelza pointed out. “Even if the law is on his side, this is a fight for his life.”

“And that’s why we’re all going to be fighting for him,” Ross explained, as patiently as he could. “George wants to pay off a few judges and a prosecutor, but we shall rally the whole countryside if we must.”

Demelza nodded, but appeared unswayed by his reassurances. “So you’ve got the judge to release him on bond?”

Ross swallowed another bite, hiding his wince. “No,” he relented. “Not yet.”

Fingers still splayed over the burgeoning bump, Demelza let her point stand.

Sinking down wearily to the chair, Ross shook his head. “I thought you, of all people, would want me to follow the proper legal avenues,” he said. “It is the only option, even if it has its limitations.”

This time, she leaned forward. “But it’s not the only option.”

Ross leaned back, rolling his eyes. “I’m not going to George--”

“But if it will save him,” Demelza said.

“But at what cost?” Ross countered, sharper now. He was tired and worn, and Demelza was his pregnant wife, she was no delicate flower. “No deal George offers will be without its caveats, for Dwight, me, you, the baby. Is that what you want? For me to sell our baby’s future?”

Her eyes flashed protectively. “When you were in prison, I did everything I could.”

“Most of which, you should not have done, even by your own admission,” Ross said.

“But I tried,” she insisted. “All the options were on the table. Francis tried; Dwight tried; Elizabeth tried. If Dwight is your friend, like you claim he is, do we not owe him the same courtesy?”

Her point, though misguided at times, was also valid. “Any concessions we make, even for the best of reasons, will only empower George further. If he knows we are willing to make a deal for Dwight, that will only make all of us more vulnerable,” he explained. “I won’t do that to my family, and Dwight would never ask it of me.”

She grew silent, mulling his answer silently while she watched the candlelight flicker in the darkness. “I know,” she admitted finally. “It’s a terrible thing, though. Watching someone you care about, fight for their life and knowing you could have done more.”

Ross wet his lips. “We will get him out,” he said. “He will be here in time to deliver our child.”

Demelza lifted her eyes. “I hope you’re right.”

Her trust, even more than her honesty, left him gutted. “Me, too.”

With that, Demelza got to her feet. She paused at the table with one last lingering look. “I’m going to bed.”

Watching her, he attempted to smile. “Things will be better in the morning,” he promised. “You’ll see.”

She let her gaze fall on him, just a moment longer. “Is it wrong that I’m grateful? That it’s not you this time?”

He smiled, reaching out to touch her stomach gently. “No.”

She nodded, touching his hand and holding it steady for a moment against the soft flutter of their child. “Be careful, Ross,” she said. “For all our sakes.”

“Demelza,” he said, wrapping her fingers in his own and pressing them to his lips. “You have my word.”

She pulled away after that, moving wordlessly toward the bedroom. He watched her go, the half eaten meal still on his plate. It wasn’t much for a meal, but it was more than Dwight would have received.

He sighed, looking at it again, listening as the blankets on the bed rustled.

He had to hope, in the end, that time would not make a liar out of him.

-o-

Despite his confidence with Demelza and Francis, Ross had his doubts. Indeed, it was a very sleepless night, and he spent much of it pacing the floor of his stripped home. He lay down before dawn for the sake of his wife and his unborn child.

Still, he did not stay for breakfast, excusing himself with some apology before heading back in to town. Demelza, for her worry, understood. He could count on her support in this, even if it made her nervous.

“I don’t like the thought of you in the dungeons again, is all,” she said.

“Just to visit Dwight,” Ross assured her. “I’ll be on the other side of the bars this time.”

“Still,” she said, visibly shuddering. “That place is mere footsteps from the gates of hell.”

He placed a kiss on her cheek. “All the more reason for me to be there on Dwight’s behalf.”

She nodded. “Be careful, Ross.”

He smiled. “I will be on my absolutely best behavior.”

With a snort, she shook her head. “That’s what I’m worried about.”

-o-

Whatever facade he could muster for Demelza, it faltered when he reached the prison again. Without Francis by his side and without the impetus of the unknown to drive him, he found his resolve flagging in the face of the dire circumstances.

These were the dungeons, after all. And the friend who had kept him alive throughout the worst of his time in America was suffering here on account of him. Needless to say, his disposition was dreary by the time he arrived, and it seemed to sink lower as he descended down among the cells.

When he thought it could get no worse, he saw Dwight.

Who greeted him with a smile.

Not just any smile.

But an actual smile.

It was bright, full up in his eyes. He sprang to his feet, meeting Ross at the bars with an exuberance one might expect from a social gathering.

“I did not expect you so early,” Dwight said before Ross could offer his apologies anew.

“I came as soon as I could,” Ross said. “I wanted to make sure Demelza was all right.”

“Of course, of course,” Dwight said. “She’s not experiencing any pain yet, is she? She should still have several months before the delivery, but she should listen to her body.”

“My wife listens to no one, including herself,” Ross quipped. “But all was well when I left.”

“That’s excellent,” Dwight said. “If something should come up, the other doctors in the area are perfectly capable--”

Ross was shaking his head. “There is only one doctor I trust with the life of my wife and child,” he said. “And that is why I’ve come.”

Dwight flitted his hand through the air. “They will never be able to keep me here, at least not once this goes to trial,” he said. “I’ve thought it over very carefully, and there is no precedent by which to get a conviction. Even if they can suggest a notion of bias, the burden of proof will always fall short.”

The optimism was striking, especially in such a place as this. On his way down, Ross had seen the other men in their cells. Curled up on their cots, poking at their sparse rations with bony fingers. Many had grown gaunt and pale from their time; some were shrunken, half-versions of themselves, hardly recognizable as humans.

Dwight, on the other hand, appeared full of energy and, if Ross didn’t know any better, happy.

“All the same, Warleggan will do whatever he can to use you against me,” Ross warned.

“Then you absolutely cannot let him,” Dwight said.

“He will pursue this case with all he has,” Ross said. “The man is unscrupulous.”

“Which is all the more reason why you cannot strike any sort of deal with him, not on my account,” Dwight told him. “I won’t have it.”

“But if it keeps you from the dungeons--”

Dwight shook his head. “They can’t keep me in here forever,” he said. “This is a case I will win; all of the evidence is in my favor.”

The unabashed optimism was tempting; it truly was. But Ross had to keep a sober head about him, and the sight of his best friend through bars was quite enough to do it. “All the same,” he said in measured tones. “We must work hard to make the evidence in your favor overwhelming.”

Dwight nodded readily. “My lawyer should be here later today.”

“Francis and I have already started on our own defenses,” he said. Ross pulled a paper from his coat. “And this list has the names of everyone willing to testify on your behalf on court.”

Taking the paper, Dwight skimmed it. He chuckled, his smile growing even wider. “This is at least half the village.”

“More, including a number of townsfolk of repute,” Ross said.

Grinning, Dwight pocketed the list. “This is excellent, thank you.”

“It is the least I could do, considering my role in this,” Ross said. “I must say, though. I am surprised to see you in such good spirits.”

“Ah,” Dwight said, almost blushing. “I was in a state of shock yesterday, I’m afraid. The suddenness of the arrest was quite severe, and for a time, I did fear the worse.”

“It’s understandable,” Ross agreed.

“But then I woke up this morning, and I realized,” he continued. “I did everything I could for my patient, just as I always have and as I always will. I can sit here and feel sorry for myself, or I can focus on making the most of my time here.”

Ross raised his eyebrows, trying not to appear as skeptical as he felt. “While your optimism is admirable, what do you suggest you can do here to make the time worthwhile?”

Dwight stepped closer to the bars. “On that point, I wanted to ask another favor of you.”

“Anything,” Ross said without hesitation.

“My books,” Dwight said. “And my medical journals. With all the time I’ve spent with patients, I am sorely behind on my reading. This could be an excellent opportunity to devote to study, learn about the latest developments in the medical world. I always complain that I never have enough time for myself, and now here I am. All the time in the world.”

Ross stared at him, still somewhat disbelieving. “You do remember where you are?”

“The dungeons, yes,” Dwight said. “And the food is admittedly horrible, and the smell -- well, I’m fairly sure I could diagnose several ailments from that alone -- but that’s all the more reason to keep myself preoccupied. Otherwise I’m afraid I will be dreadfully bored.”

At that, Ross laughed. “Only you could describe the dungeons as boring.”

“Surely you felt the same,” Dwight countered.

“I was too busy trying to put my affairs in order, dreading how little I had to leave my wife,” Ross said.

“Yes, I suppose that would be problematic,” Dwight said, pausing to chew his lip. “Your case was more dire, however.”

“I would not say your case is necessarily so sunny,” Ross pointed out.

“But I have done nothing wrong,” Dwight insisted, emphatically now. “There isn’t a judge, even one taking bribes, who could find me guilty. This entire case, it’s a wayward blight that will wash away the instant it sees the light of day.”

Ross gathered a breath, nodding. “I am inclined to agree on that last part,” he said. “And how could I not indulge you on the other?”

“So you’ll bring them?” Dwight asked, hopeful.

“I could not deny you that,” Ross said. “It is my fault you are here, and I fear my friendship has proven nothing but a burden to you.”

Dwight, for all that was good, smiled at him again. “A burden I gladly embrace,” he said. “I doubt I would have survived America without you.”

“Yet you were the one to patch me up,” Ross reminded him. “I got you into nothing but trouble.”

Dwight bobbed his head in remembrance. “How do you think I learned such keen lessons on prudence if not by your example to the contrary?”

Dungeons aside, Ross had to laugh. “It seems some things never change.”

“I hope not,” Dwight told him.

Ross nodded, feeling his resolve solidified. “I will be back tomorrow, then,” he said. “Be sure to give those names to your lawyer to follow up.”

Dwight nodded back. “And don’t forget the books.”

“Priorities, man!” Ross chided.

“Priorities,” Dwight agreed, a twinkling lighting in his eye. “This matter will resolve itself in no time. I have no doubts.”