?

Log in

No account? Create an account
do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Poldark fic: A Cause Worth Fighting For (2/3)

December 22nd, 2016 (09:01 am)
apathetic

feeling: apathetic

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE



-o-

Dwight was idealistic and somewhat naive.

He was also right.

In all his life, Ross had never walked away from the dungeons feeling quite so upbeat. He still had several people he wanted to talk to on Dwight’s behalf, and the ride to Dwight’s home would take some time. On his way back to home in the early afternoon, he realized he was but a stone’s throw from Trenwith. With all of the luck he’d had in gathering witnesses, he could only hope Francis was having similar successes. Given that Demelza would not expect him until late, Ross thought that an unexpected call upon his cousin’s company would not be out of order.

Or out of sorts.

He and Francis had had a strained relationship, but even that was on the upswing once more. Forgiveness was not in Ross’ nature, but he did find it freeing indeed.

This was his intention when he stopped at Trenwith.

This was his intention until Elizabeth called on him first.

And Ross remembered all the things that might have been.

He kept expecting such things to pass. He expected the memories to fade, the emotions to dull. It had been years, after all. He’d let go of Elizabeth as much as he’d let go of her, and they had spouses and children and lives now. They were separate people on separate paths, and whoever they had been once, they were no more.

That was what Ross told himself.

Until he was standing in a room with her by himself.

She’d been the thing that kept him alive in America; that dream, impossible though it seemed, so important to his being. Now that he was back, now that he had made a life for himself, he scarcely needed such a dream. Indeed, it was no longer his to dream.

He still wanted it, though.

More than he knew how to explain.

“I’ve come for Francis,” he said, sounding more abrupt than he intended and less practiced than he hoped.

“He’s out, I’m afraid,” she said, the blush of a smile on her cheeks. “Business in town.”

It was vague enough that Ross might suspect she was diverting him, but there was no deception in her expression. No hesitation in her visage. “Business?”

She pressed her lips together, momentarily considering her words. “He has been quite preoccupied with the case against your Dr. Enys.”

The words were like a cold splash of water, and Ross’ attentions returned to the here and now. “Oh.”

She fretted a little, playing with a loose ringlet of hair. “He is quite upset about it,” she continued. “I didn’t think they were such good friends, but after sharing a room together at the trial, I suspect they learned quite a bit about each other.”

“They would make easy friends, I think,” Ross said. “Dwight is a very amenable man, and Francis is, well--”

“Changed,” Elizabeth supplied for him. “Another fact I think we can attribute, in part, to our Dr. Enys.”

There was something in that, something no one was quite saying. In truth, Ross had been so preoccupied with his own station at the time that he had not fully considered the impact on his friends and family. Whatever had transpired mattered more than he knew.

“At any rate,” she said, a proper smile on her face again. “He’s been fully devoted to the case for the last day. If you want to talk to him, you will probably be best served in town.”

“I see,” Ross said. He paused. “Do you know if he’s had any luck?”

Her hesitation this time was more telling. Her eyes diverted away from his; it was news she did not want to share.

“Elizabeth--”

She looked up again, face full of apology. “All of his friends in the legal system have refused to talk,” she said. “It seems as though the case has been proceeding in secret.”

Ross frowned. “Secret? But how is that possible?”

“The judge in charge is citing security concerns to restrict access to the facts and the full docket of information,” she said.

“Security concerns?” Ross said with an air of incredulity.

“Worse,” Elizabeth said. “The doctor in London is no longer available. We sent allies in person to check on his whereabouts, and his practice is shut down with no forwarding information. He’s just gone.”

The smile that twisted Ross’ lips was bitter. “Now that is convenient.”

“Terribly,” Elizabeth agreed. “Taking all things into account, Francis speculates that George must have invested a great deal of money into this.”

This conclusion was, invariably, accurate. Ross had not thought to itemize the cost, but to build a case of this magnitude with so little evidence -- it could not be a cheap venture. Ross shook his head, thoughtful. “It’s risky, though,” he said. “Riskier than I would expect from someone like George.”

“Is it?” Elizabeth asked, lifting her eyebrows. “Because it seems like exactly something George would do. This feud between the Poldarks and the Warleggans. It consumes him more than he wants to admit.”

“Then it will be his downfall more than ours,” Ross said, steadfast and sure.

“I wish I had your confidence,” Elizabeth demurred. “So far, his tactics seem unnervingly effective.”

“It’s typical,” Ross countered. “His maneuvers lack substance. He can buy anything he wants, except the truth. Except for me.”

Elizabeth pressed her lips thinly. “You will accept no offers, then?”

“From him?” Ross asked. “Never.”

“Not even for your friend’s life?”

Ross scoffed. “The law is on our side.”

“Indeed,” Elizabeth said. “But time may not be.”

He leveled his gaze at her, seeing through her manners and her airs. Seeing through the ring on her finger and the title she carried as Francis’ wife. Seeing all the way into who she was, the woman he’d fallen in love with and offered himself to completely. She had known him better than anyone else, which was why it had hurt so much when she still chose Francis.

She knew him.

And her question cut him, as only it could coming from her lips.

“And what would you have me do?” he asked, throat tight.

Her expression softened, and her affections could not be hidden. “Just remember, Ross, that being right is not the only thing that matters,” she said. “In fact, some might say it’s not even the most important thing.”

She could make him feel small; she could make him feel weak. She could make him feel need. She could make him do anything, if only she realized her power and took control of it. She was too good for that, though. She was too good. “And if it’s all I have left?” he asked, voice barely above a whisper.

She crossed toward him, fingers ghosting across his hand. “Then you’re not looking very hard.”

-o-

Back at home, Ross intended to keep up his work, but there was news from the mine. They needed his thoughts -- and his money -- for the next round of work.

“It’ll just take a few hours, but we do need you out there,” the attendant said, hat in hand by way of apology.

To make matters more complicated, Demelza had preoccupied herself in the kitchen, the pitcher of water still on the counter instead of in the sitting room where their company was.

“Is there really time for this?” he asked pointedly, reaching for the pitcher himself.

Demelza, though, merely laughed. When she looked up at him, her eyes were bright. “It’s doing flips and turns,” she said, the palm of her hand pressed to her belly. She beckoned him over. “Come feel, come feel.”

Ross hesitated. There was work to be done, for Dwight, at the mine.

Demelza giggled again. “Ross!”

Time wasn’t on his side, this much he knew.

But such things were easy to forget.

Crossing the room, he came up alongside Demelza, easing himself around her and letting his hand rest on the round of her stomach. For a moment, he felt nothing and he was ready to return to his duties, but then the flutter of movement caught his attention.

Then another.

Followed by a kick.

Ross had no choice but to smile. “It’s a strong child.”

“It’s a stubborn thing,” Demelza said.

The baby inside wiggled again, turning head over heels against Ross’ hand.

“I could sit here all day, just feeling it,” Demelza said.

Ross, transfixed by the life before him, could only agree.

-o-

It wasn’t the Ross forgot, not really.

It was just that Ross had other business to attend to.

He checked in with Dwight frequently, with visits almost daily during the first two weeks of his incarceration. He brought plenty to do with books and journals and the like, but when they had a big project at the mine, when Demelza needed help around the house, Ross had no choice but to delay his visits.

Dwight assured him it was okay. “I’m fine,” he said, as brightly as one could from the inside of a prison cell. “Life does not simply stop.”

“It has for you,” Ross said, somewhat fretfully. “Hasn’t your lawyer given you any indication when the trial will be?”

“There are apparently some complications behind the scenes,” Dwight said. He sighed. “Legal wrangling, no doubt.”

“Warleggan wrangling, more likely,” Ross said. “It hardly seems fair they won’t release you on bond.”

“Ah,” Dwight said. “I’m making quite a lot of friends down here. I’ve made several diagnoses without even seeing the patient, just by talking through the cell walls. And I do believe that I’ve earned the good will of the night jailer after lancing a boil on his behalf.”

Ross made a face. “Surely this punishment is too cruel, even for the accusation of murder!”

Dwight chuckled. “All of which is to say, I’m fine,” he said. “You do not have to burden yourself with daily visits.”

“They are no burden,” Ross objected.

“And yet you have a mine in peril and a wife with child,” Dwight said. “You have proven your loyalty; your friendship is not in question.”

Ross nodded, grave. “It seems wrong, to go about living as usual with you here.”

Dwight stepped toward the bars earnestly. “It’s the only thing that’s right,” he said. “It’s another sign that George has not won, even now.”

“Funny,” Ross said with a self deprecating chuckle. “That you would comfort me. It should be the other way around.”

“I will take comfort in knowing that all is well with you, your family and the village,” Dwight said.

“I will be back soon,” Ross promised.

Dwight flitted his hand through the air. “There’s no rush,” he said. He inclined his head with a twinkle in his eye. “You know where I’ll be.”

-o-

Dwight’s blessing made it easier.

The frenetic pace of Ross’ life did the rest.

It was, however, the inevitable passage of time that was impossible to resist, even for a man as stubborn as Ross Poldark.

The nights fell with a bleakness that seemed eternal, but every morning awoke with the same trembling hope as before. Moreover, there were never enough hours for all the tasks, and as Ross flitted from one thing to the next, he spared a guilty thought for those who were not there.

It was not even so much his preoccupation that bothered him the most. He had a duty to his workers, his tenants and his family, and Dwight would gain nothing for such a forfeiture.

No, it was the fact that he enjoyed it so damn much.

Things were, after all, going unaccountably well. Progress at the mine was slow, this much was true, but it was steady nonetheless. His foreman was optimistic about the prospects, and Ross’ plan to rebuild Wheal Grace looked to be a promising venture to end George’s economic domination once and for all.

Moreover, Demelza was radiant. Needless to say, his wife was always impressive, but motherhood agreed with her in ways he had not fully expected. While Ross still felt hesitations about their impending arrival, Demelza had embraced the child with the fullness of her heart and soul. To be sure, she grew exasperated with Ross’ choices and questioned his decisions more than he should, but it was hard to hold any of it against her in her present condition. Not so much that she was pregnant, but that she was so expressly happy in it.

Ross, within a few short months, had turned his life around from the brink of disaster and reclaimed it with far more vigor and hope than he might have thought possible. Some nights, the darkness did not even seem as bleak. And the mornings, Ross found himself greeting with a smile.

Therein was the rub, quite naturally. That Ross should live his life so completely, so fully, while Dwight languished in the dungeons.

Such a juxtaposition could not be fixed no matter how many letters Ross wrote or how many books he brought.

It was ironic that Dwight was the one with charges held against him.

And Ross was the one who was guilty.

-o-

The heat broke, giving way to the rainy season. This made the dungeons less oppressive, but no less dangerous.

“The numbers have started to dwindle,” Dwight reported with a sad shake of his head. “I can hardly sleep with all the coughing.”

Ross took his hat in his hands, running his fingers along the brim. He himself had thought how pleasant the cooler temperatures were, but the damp air hung stagnant in the dungeons with a density that reeked of illness.

“All the more reason to focus on your case,” Ross said. “I talked to your lawyer--”

“He has lined up a full docket of witnesses,” Dwight said, managing a small smile. “And an impressive amount of established case law in our favor.”

“I am pleased he is competent,” Ross said. “But he still has made no progress on setting the trial date?”

Dwight shook his head, his smile falling. “He’s been effectively blocked from all motions and he has no idea why,” he said. “He says he’s never seen anything like it, but the judge does have a great deal of discretion on these matters.”

“Discretion must be paired with impartiality,” Ross said. “I’m afraid your judge has sold his discretion to the highest bidder.”

Dwight sighed. “Warleggan, no doubt.”

“We’ve learned that he’s due to report back to London in several weeks,” Ross said. “So it seems only reasonable that they will have your trial by then.”

Hope lightened on Dwight’s face, but it only served to show Ross how much time had passed. Dwight’s constitution had paled significantly, and no amount of intellectual stimulation could make up for the dank isolation. The hollows of his cheeks were growing visible, and the dark shadows under his eyes never went away. Though normally well kept, Dwight looked worn.

Whatever his guilt or innocence, Dwight was paying a dear price.

“That’s why my lawyer told me as well,” Dwight said. “And Francis has been very optimistic.”

They had taken turns, the two of them. Alternating their visits by day and then by week. It had seemed like a reasonable compromise for them.

Not so much for Dwight.

“He does make efforts to find alternative legal avenues,” Ross reported, wishing he had more to say on the matter. Because while Francis had dedicated himself to the task, he had come up with very little to show for it. “It is, unfortunately, hard to question a judge of standing.”

“Well, we must trust the system,” Dwight said with a note of resignation.

“The system has held you in here without cause for a month now,” Ross pointed out.

“Regrettably mostly for my patients,” Dwight said. “Are they well?”

Ross rolled his eyes. “They are more concerned with you, if I must be honest.”

“I’m fine, truly,” Dwight said, evincing as much certainty as he could. Gaunt face, tired eyes, and the undying hope of a man who truly believed. “I know my innocence, and that much will prevail.”

Ross nodded, chewing his lower lip. “You cling impressively to hope,” he said. “I, myself, found the dungeons to be prone to despair.”

“It is tempting,” Dwight started, his voice trailing off as he surveyed the dingy walls. He still rallied a smile back to Ross. “But the other men down here, almost all of them. They’ve been left for dead. I see them come in; I watch them waste away. Some are taken to the gallows never to return. They die alone, but not me. Because I know, beyond a doubt, I am not alone in this.”

Ross took the bars in his hand with a resolute nod. “Not in the least.”

“Then that is all I need until the truth prevails,” Dwight said.

“Very good then,” Ross said. “Is there anything else I can get for you?”

“Any medical supplies you can find at my home, if possible,” Dwight said. “You’ll have to clear them with the guards, but I do believe they will be of great service.”

“How?” Ross asked. “What patients do you have here?”

Dwight nodded toward the hallways, dark and narrow. “What patients do I not have?”

“Do you think of nothing but work?” Ross asked.

“In a place like this, what else would you have me think of?” Dwight inquired.

“Point taken,” Ross said, putting his hat back on his head. “I shall be back tomorrow, then.”

Dwight tilted his head wryly. “And I’ll be here waiting.”

The irony twisted in Ross’ gut as he tried to smile.

Indeed, though, he felt quite ill instead.

-o-

When he got outside, the weather had worsened. The damp air had finally broken, and the low rumble of thunder as accompanied by the starting pitter patter of the rain. Setting his face grimly, Ross adjusted his hat and lifted the collar on his coat. He was ill prepared for this, but there was nothing to be done. He couldn’t very well go back into the dungeons.

Setting out, he kept his pace brisk, dodging the other villagers scurrying through the streets before they turned to mud. The rain was starting to pick up, and another peal of thunder resounded across the sky, echoing all the way into the hollowness of Ross’ chest.

As he came to his horse, he looked up, catching sight of the pub. While most people were ducking inside, willing to pay a few pennies to get out of the rain, there was a commotion coming out as a large umbrella unfurled. And under it, well protected from the coming deluge, was George.

Prim and proper, George hastened his way into the street, letting the rain slick off his umbrella to the peasants around him.

Stiff, Ross mounted his horse, trying to turn away before George saw him. He was too late, however. Even through the rain, their eyes met, and for a moment, they were suspended in the tableau together.

Ross, soaked through, mounting his horse alone.

George, dry and put together, protected for his whole journey home.

Smiling, George tipped his hat at Ross.

Ross did his best not to grimace, nudging his horse to turn back toward home.

-o-

With the rains, work in the mine became harder to come by, a fact which distressed Ross’ shareholders, but gave him the chance to focus more surely on Dwight’s case. He has amassed even more witnesses, and he was feeling rather optimistic when Francis came calling one sunny afternoon.

The weather had been dreary for days, but the rays splitting the clouds seemed like a good omen as Ross greeted his cousin warmly.

“If the rain breaks, we should be able to return our efforts to Wheal Grace,” he said, offering his cousin a seat. “But surely you bring other news.”

Shuffling his feet, Francis removed his hat and took the seat. He hemmed, striving to be polite. “Unfortunately, it is not as sunny as the weather forecast.”

Sitting down across from Francis, Ross frowned. “But I thought you were expecting good news regarding Dwight’s case?”

“I was,” Francis said, emphatic on that. “I had found a very sympathetic judge to hear my account, and I did implore him for justice.”

“And?” Ross prompted.

“And he refused to break the silence of the case,” Francis said.

Ross huffed in exasperation. “But if he is a principled man, as you say--”

“He has the highest reputation,” Francis said. “And he said while he understood my concerns, he could not bring himself to interfere.”

“How can anyone interested in justice accept the unlawful incarceration of an innocent man?” Ross demanded.

“The charges hold weight until they have been dismissed,” Francis explained meekly. “He said it would be a detriment to our system if he sought to interfere now, that it would set a precedent--”

Ross’ fingers curled subconsciously. “A precedent for what? A justice system that looks roundly at the needs of its people instead of its elite?”

“Here,” Francis said, pulling a wrinkled letter from his pocket. “You can read his position yourself.”

Accepting the letter, Ross unfolded it and let his eyes start to skim its content. The pleasantries were well enough, but the line of reasoning as it progress made Ross’ skin crawl. The justification for waiting, the reasons listed to stay silent. “Respect,” Ross muttered crossly. “The only thing the legal system respects is itself. Selfish, self-seeking, every one of them.”

“He did assure me in person that he expected the case to come to a quick end, once it arrived before the judge,” Francis said, trying to levy some form of hope. “He said there is no substance to the charge.”

“And yet he can justify letting it protract?” Ross questioned.

Francis demurred, ducking his head. “A point I made, repeatedly,” he said. He looked apologetic. “I’m sorry, cousin.”

Grinding his teeth together, Ross sought to contain his temper.

He sought to remember the real enemy.

Mustering his reserves, he plastered a smile on his face. “You did what you could,” he said. “We will simply have to stay the course, then.”

“I’ll relay the news to Dwight,” Francis said, getting to his feet.

But Ross pocketed the letter. “Allow me,” he said, standing as well. “I feel it is my duty, as the one most responsible for his position.”

Francis nodded his head. “If you wish,” he said. He hesitated, nodding toward the sunlight. “I thought I might head to the mine. I don’t know if the good weather will last.”

Ross followed his gaze out the window. “Somehow,” he said, darkly now. “I doubt it will.”

-o-

He saw Francis out, promising to meet up with him tomorrow to discuss more of their venture at Wheal Grace. Outside, the clouds were already gathering again in the distance, but Ross refused to accept that.

Instead, he went back inside, and reread the letter again.

It had been their best hope, though neither of them would admit that now. Francis had spared very little in pursuing a meeting with the judge, hoping to at least force George’s hand. After all, George could afford a judge, maybe even two, but the entire judicial system?

Surely not, but the disheartening truth was that the system was stacked against them. That was how George gained a good deal of leverage. He didn’t know simply how to circumvent the system; he knew how to use it to his advantage.

While it does seem likely that your friend is innocent, you must simply wait for his day in court and trust that the right decision will be made.

Wait and trust.

Wait and trust?

They had waited; they had trusted; and to what end? What good came of it? How long could they possibly be expected to endure? Because as the days passed by, Dwight was still in the dungeons on Ross’ behalf and that was something he could no longer abide.

Angry, he lashed out, upending one of the tables and sending its contents flying. Papers fluttered and the tankard clattered noisily across the ground. The upheaval brought the servants running. The kitchen maid fluttered in shock, trying to clean it up while Prudie bustled hotly.

“Heavens, what is this?”

“Are you hurt, sir?”

The retort on his tongue was hot and angry, and his fingers were still curled into a fist.

It was Demelza, naturally, who intervened on behalf of them all.

“It’s nothing, it’s nothing,” she said, shushing them both. “Back to the kitchen now.”

The girl looked lost for a moment, and Prudie had the audacity to glare at Ross.

“Come on,” Demelza ordered, picking up the table and straightening it. “This is no matter to you.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the girl said with a half hearted curtsy before seeing herself out.

Prudie clucked her tongue. “Temper on that one,” she muttered before following suit.

Demelza stood up, flattening her hand over her stomach and drawing a breath before looking at Ross flatly.

Only then was he chagrined. “I did not mean to scare anyone.”

She gave a derisive snort. “You and your best intentions,” she said. Then, she softened. “The news from Francis -- it wasn’t good, was it?”

Ross held out the crumpled letter, letting her take it. “The judge agrees that there is no case against Dwight.”

“Well, that’s good,” Demelza said, starting to scan it.

“He also refuses to intervene,” Ross said. “He says we have to let it play out.”

Demelza stopped reading, looking up at Ross with concern. “But it’s dragged out so long.”

Ross sighed, rubbing a weary hand over his face. “I would have thought surely it would be done by now,” he said. “I do not know how George has gained so much control over this case.”

“He’s a nasty one,” Demelza said disdainfully. “He did try to have you killed.”

“And now he takes it out on a friend?” Ross asked, shaking his head. “Dwight has done nothing to him.”

“But everything to you,” Demelza pointed out. “He’s not stupid.”

Ross drew his brows together thoughtfully. “I can outwait George in the worst of situations,” he said. “But this isn’t my freedom at stake.”

“I thought Dwight was faring well?” Demelza asked.

Ross took the letter back, crumpling it further. “He maintains his spirits admirably, but it’s not right.”

“You could talk to George,” Demelza said, tilting her head.

Ross flinched, his gaze hardening toward her. “And let him win?”

“Winning and losing,” Demelza said. “Is it just a question of your pride?”

“It’s a question of how much we cede before we lose everything,” Ross explained. “If we let George own us, he will indeed own us. And he will not be benevolent about it. It puts our family at risk, our child’s future. Not to mention the well being of our servants, our tenants. Even Dwight’s practice. George makes offers that are veiled in pleasantries, but make no mistake. He will not stop once we have ceded anything. Every concession only makes him stronger.”

“You have your answer, then,” Demelza said.

Ross let his shoulders slump. “That’s what bothers me,” he said. “That I have to let my friend suffer in the dungeons.”

Demelza stepped forward, putting a hand gently on his arm. “But he knows why,” she said. “And he doesn’t blame you.”

Ross looked at her, afraid to let himself be vulnerable. “You speak as though that is enough.”

She smiled faintly. “I don’t know if it’s enough,” she said. “But at this point, it’s all we have.”

-o-

Ross meant to get back earlier -- truly, he did -- but the break in the weather lasted just long enough to push forward work at the mine, and Ross found himself unequivocally preoccupied. They worked through the rains another several days before the lower levels of Wheal Leisure were unsafe and found the inactivity more unappealing than being face to face with Dwight’s position.

Besides, he had amassed several more books from benevolent donors, and although he could not say if they would be interesting enough for his friend’s curious mind, he at least took comfort in knowing he would not arrive empty handed.

He did, however, arrive wet. The weather had not only turned rainy again, but the mild temperatures had taken a chill to them. He could feel the bitter moisture in his own lungs at home, snug next to Demelza with the fire stoked all night. He could only imagine how it felt beneath the streets.

Apparently, he was not going to find out. When he arrived, books in hand and a spot of bread from Demelza, the guard just shook his head.

“We’re closed to visitors,” he said with a gruff nod. He crossed his arms over his chest in some attempt to be imposing.

Stout though he was, Ross was not imposed. “Closed?” he asked. “By whose orders?”

“The doctor, of course,” the guard said, knitting his brows together forcefully. “Least, he made it a suggestion, given the sickness down there.”

“The sickness?” Ross repeated, too aware of how simple he sounded. The answer seemed like it should have been obvious, but Ross could not bring his mind to fathom it.

“He gave it a name, but I can’t remember it,” the jailer continued. “But I’ve seen what it’s done to those stuck down there. I can’t say I want any part of going down.”

Standing in the muddy street, books tucked under his coat, Ross found himself at a loss. “But,” he started, not knowing quite how to continue. “By whose authority?”

“The doctor,” the guard said, sounding more than a little exasperated. “He said that if this got out, people could die. Lots of people.”

“Dr. Enys?” Ross asked, trying to see if he had reasoned this correctly. “The man currently in one of your cells?”

“You think we could get another doctor to come?” the guard asked. “He made a compelling case, though.”

“But he’s a prisoner,” Ross said, hoping for some self evident truth to make itself known.

“Man like that ain’t no criminal,” the guard said, rocking back on his heels with a smug lift of his chin. “And if I can spare my youngens exposure from this malady, then God almighty, I will.”

This was not what Ross had expected, but it was not wholly unsurprising. Incarcerated as he was, Dwight was still a doctor. Moreover, he was a man without substantial scruples and the inalienable need to serve. That he would find a way to make his talents useful in the dungeons was probably only to be expected.

Even if it was inconvenient.

The jailer was looking at him. “You’re Poldark, aren’t you?”

Ross scowled at him. “What’s it to you?”

He dug a letter out of his pocket. “Dr. Enys asked me to give this to you when you called,” he said.

Any retort Ross might have had died quickly in his throat.

“Been holding it for three or four days now,” the jailer admitted. “Didn’t have the heart to tell him you hadn’t come.”

Duly chagrined, Ross took the letter hastily, removing the books and half shoving them into the arms of the jailer. “I brought these for him,” he said, leaving no room for argument. “I assume books are not being barred entry.”

Looking put out, the jailer gave him a look. “I shouldn’t take ‘em on account of your manners,” he said. “But for Dr. Enys, I might as well.”

“Very well,” Ross said, tucking the letter away as securely as he could from the rain. “I shall return when the weather clears.”

The jailer laughed as Ross retreated. “Whenever that may be!”

-o-

Ross had planned to spend the better part of the day in town, but he’d finished his meetings with the banker in the morning, and he had little desire to talk to anyone for business or pleasure. In fact, all he wanted was the comfort of a warm fire and the care of his wife.

Since neither was in ready supply, he would settle for a pint.

The pub was crowded with travelers seeking refuge from the rain, and Ross found himself a seat tucked away toward the back among the crowd. The drink was bitter, but Ross relished the burn of alcohol all the way down into his gut. Miserable, he spread out the note and read it again.

Ross,

I am sure that you will object to the news I share in this letter, but I have learned over the years that your opinion cannot always be trusted to remain objective. You must remember, after all, that you are not the only person who can take a principled stand on an issue. Surely you can understand that I could not be idle when my skills are so desperately needed. I had always known the conditions in the dungeons to be bad, but I never suspected just how bad. It is my duty to not only treat these people, but to try to contain this sickness until the weather has cleared and their good constitutions have been marginally restored.

It was Dwight, ever the doctor. Not even the violence of America could rip it out of him, and Ross could hardly be surprised that the dungeons had little effect on it either. It would be infuriating, perhaps, if it weren’t so quintessential to who he was. Dwight was a man of integrity, and this was a large reason why.

The good news is that the recent spread of illness has renewed my personal vigor. No longer do I have to spend long hours trying to amuse myself. Now I am flush with work to do. The jailkeepers have been quite helpful in this, allowing me to leave my cell with an escort to view the other prisoners as needed. I believe this goes against protocol, but they are simply pleased at the notion of limiting their own exposure. Besides, I do not get the impression that they think I am a criminal mastermind. Part of me feels I should be insulted by this, but it is entirely correct.

Ross smiled at that. Dwight was, undoubtedly, not a criminal mastermind. He was smart and capable, to be sure, but he lacked scruples. In all of their questionable ventures together, he had been a faithful ally and useful friend -- but never, in all of their dealings, the mastermind. It had made his attempt to defend Ross on the stand all the more meaningful. Dwight, under normal circumstances, would never try to subvert the authorities.

It was something, however, that even the jailers understood Dwight must be innocent. Jailers who trained themselves to see every man as a criminal. It made George’s venture all the more ridiculous.

All the more insidious.

This is all a welcome distraction for me since my case seems to be going nowhere. My lawyer remains optimistic about my chances, but there is simply no way he can see to persuade the judge to either set a trial date or secure my bond. He said it is not quite unprecedented but certainly abnormal. The judge has taken a full docket of cases in another city, however, further delaying my cause. His official declaration is that public sentiment is too tenable right now and that the trial must be postponed to allow for better conditions for the jury. They are afraid, it seems, that the jury is being swayed against the workings of the law. In the name of impartiality, the trial must wait.

Ross gritted his teeth together and forced himself to take another drink. It was a twisted logic in that it held a semblance of truth. The jury would be biased -- and rightfully so. Dwight was innocent, and if George thought buying time could poison that, he was wrong.

This gives us more time to prepare, at least, and make the case even stronger than it already was. There is no doubt in my mind that I will be found innocent. It is only a matter of time.

Time, of course, was also the problem. The case could be make stronger, but Dwight could be made weaker.

Ross could be made weaker.

It was a cruel reality.

Do not worry yourself unnecessarily about me. I am doing well and keeping in good spirits. I am grateful to find some use of my skills, even in a place such as this. I do hope you are staying out of trouble and keeping your wife comfortable as she grows heavier with child. If the weather clears, I should be able to take visitors in another week. Until then, I will write to you if I need anything.

Your Friend,
Dwight

The worst of it was that the letter lacked affectation. Dwight was not putting on airs for him; there was nothing ingenuine about this. He was sincere; he meant it.

All Ross wanted to do was break him out of there, now. He could, too. He could stage a break out, and he had no qualms about the act, either. He had done worse for lesser causes.

Yet, it was not what Dwight wanted. Indeed, even if he did succeed in breaking in, he had no doubt that Dwight would refused to go with him. There was an order of things, an order that Dwight respected, even now.

Dwight was, of course, an idiot.

He was also Ross’ best friend.

Gathering a breath, Ross folded the letter again, slipping it back into his pocket. He finished his drink, leaving the tankard on the table. He could learn from Dwight’s example for once. Not to calmly accept fate or possess blind optimism. No, those traits were for Dwight and Dwight alone.

But, in the face of the impossible, Ross could keep himself busy.

Or fear the consequences of his own behavior otherwise.

So decided, Ross got to his feet and slipped through the crowd, making his way back into the rain.

-o-

With the weather being as dreary as it was, work was at nearly a standstill. He could not expect his workers to risk their lives underground when the upswell of water could be unpredictable and dangerous. He still had select men surveying portions of the mine, and he had approved several excavations to keep flooding to a minimum, but Wheal Leisure was not his primary interest.

It was funny, how the mine he’d seen as his salvation had quickly turned into another stepping stone for him. Ross had bigger plans, better plans. Moreover, he accepted no plan as destiny, not when George Warleggan still threatened his independence.

Foolish, maybe. Demelza had chided him as much. But Ross had learned the hard way that dreams could never be absolute. It was simply a matter of knowing what could be compromised.

And what could not.

Wheal Grace would take more work, more risk and more tenacity than Wheal Leisure. For some reason, Ross took some comfort in that. If he could make this work in the face of George’s interference, he could make anything work.

At least, he had to believe that much, for Dwight’s sake.

They had taken some effort to start preparing Wheal Grace, cleaning her up and getting things in order. If they wanted to irrigate well enough to restart production, the whole area needed to be made safer.

It was hard, tedious work.

Which was exactly what Ross wanted at the moment.

Tying up his horse, Ross drew up his collar, ignoring the feeling of water soaking between his toes. Soaked as he was, a little more time in the muck and mire would hardly be a problem. Trudging inside, he took some satisfaction in seeing there were few leaks in the overhead supports.

The ground, on the other hand.

“Sort of makes you wonder if we’re crazy, doesn’t it?”

Ross startled. Absorbed as he was in his own thoughts, he’d failed to see Francis standing at the far end of the opening corridor. His cousin was caked with mud, the sleeves of his shirt rolled up and coat discarded. The muck coated his boots so that it was impossible to tell where they stopped and his pant legs began.

“I didn’t see your horse,” Ross said, as if that somehow explained his lack of observation.

Francis shrugged. “I tied her up on the far side where there was some protection from the rain,” he said. “I’m not sure it will do much good.”

“No,” Ross agreed, lying his own jacket on top of Francis’. There was a distinct chill in the air, but he had few good coats. It was easy to dry such a garment, but he hated to think of Demelza trying to wash away the mud stains while so heavy with child. “This weather is quite persistent.”

Francis made a face, going back to his task. “It is unlucky that the weather turned this fast and this early,” he said, working to shore up one of the support beams. “We should have had another month or two of good weather to work with.”

“Yes,” Ross mused, coming in beside him to lend a hand. He braced the wood in place for Francis to hammer. “If I didn’t know better, I would suspect George of paying off God to make the conditions favorable for his purposes.”

That elicited a snort of laughter from Francis. “I wouldn’t put it past him to try,” he said. He paused, reflective. “I wonder how long we can keep this from him, though.”

Ross picked up another piece of wood, pressing it up along the frame. “We will try for as long as we are able,” he said. “We’ve seen now, how relentless he can be.”

“His treachery knows no bounds,” Francis agreed, readying another nail. “And his pride refuses all defeat.”

Ross watched as Francis nailed the next board in place, inspecting it for a moment. “I just came from the prison.”

“Ah,” Francis said. “I was there yesterday. I don’t suppose they’ve allowed visitors yet?”

It was perhaps a relief that Francis already knew this. The mere act of saying it felt like a confession of failure. “Dwight is too dedicated to medicine for his own good.”

“I gathered as much from the letter he left for me,” Francis said, sounding apologetic. “But if anyone can stand under such conditions, I am inclined to believe it would be him.”

“That’s my fear,” Ross admitted. “I’m not sure, after weeks without trial, he can stand much longer.”

Francis drew himself upright with a frown. “You’re worried,” he said. “But Dwight has seemed so positive, even in the face of all the obstacles George has created.”

“Dwight may seem positive in any situation only because he does not fully understand the risks,” Ross said. “I’ve been in the dungeons, not as long as he has, but long enough. Even with all of his skills and all of his optimism, he cannot hold the entire underground community up with his own two hands.”

“He’s a smart man,” Francis said. “Surely he knows.”

Ross gave him a plaintive look. “He is a man who has had a prison shut down from the inside in an effort to treat the prisoners within,” he said. “He is not looking out for his own self interest.”

Francis sighed in concession. “Still, if it keeps him preoccupied.”

“Of that I cannot disagreed,” Ross said. “I would never dissuade his optimism. But I fear that the conditions will do that to him without my intervention.”

“You think it will get that bad?” Francis asked, a little guardedly.

“I think the conditions in the dungeons will not differentiate between the good and the bad, the guilty or the innocent,” he said. “The sick and the doctors.”

It was a dreary prediction, naturally. The weather would be easy to blame, but George’s reach had proved more oppressive than he cared to admit.

“It makes me wish there was more I could do,” Francis said finally. “It’s a hard thing, I suppose. Finally knowing the right thing to do for the first time in my life.”

Ross nodded in commiseration. “And having no means by which to do it.”

Francis smiled, the sense of solidarity growing between them. “It is some comfort that Dwight will not face this alone.”

“Indeed, he shall not,” Ross said. “None of us shall.”

-o-

It was an apt distraction, working the Francis in the mine. Just months ago, he would have thought such a partnership to be futile and fruitless. Side by side, though, they were as close as they had ever been. It was more than the mine, truly. It was even more than the pledge he’d made Demelza to give the family a second chance.

They were united in cause and spirit, and George could have all the money in the world, but that much he could never touch.

This was likely what Demelza had been trying to show him all along, but leave it to Dwight to make the message plain enough that even Ross, hard headed as he was, could not overlook it. It was encouraging, at least. If there was hope for Ross and Francis, then anything was well and truly possible.

Even Dwight’s salvation from the dungeons.

Ross was not given to blind belief, but he believed in that.

For all their sakes.

-o-

The rain, for all the optimism and hope in the world, would not yield. It persistent, drenching the land and washing away the livelihood of most people in the region. Ross had plenty to do, keeping things in working order. He was available to help his tenants with salvage what they could when the creeks overran their banks, and he endeavored to protect his own homestead from any damage from the constant deluge.

Inside, Demelza set up buckets to catch the leaks, chastising Ross only enough to make sure he patched the roof above the waiting cradle. For as little as they had, Demelza made the most of it, until the stark interior felt downright homey.

It was a blessing, to be sure, to toil hard all day and come home to a warm bed and a willing wife.

Indeed, at times, Ross almost forgot.

-o-

In turn, however, Ross could never forget.

He checked in town once a week, just to find the orders unchanged. The guard had soured on the outlook until the third week of the closure, a new guard was there.

“What happened to your colleague who usually mans this gate?” Ross inquired.

“He’s taken ill,” was the gruff reply. “We’re burning the bodies now, for what it’s worth. Doctor’s orders.”

For what it’s worth, Ross told himself as he returned home.

For what it was worth.

-o-

One month had turned into two. Two into three.

Demelza was very near her delivery, and flooding was at record levels. Ross kept on as best he could, but the correspondence from Dwight had grown as melancholy as the sky outside.

Things are not well, I’m afraid. It seems that three distinct illness have taken hold in the dungeons, all of which are treatable but not under these conditions. No one can be expected to recover from the common cold when there is such limited warmth and no access to clean water and hearty food. I have had the displeasure of burying a third of my cell mates here, and the smell of death is greedy. I am doing everything I can, but it is woefully inadequate for the conditions I am faced with in the dungeons.

To make matters worse, my lawyer says there is no progress. The judge had intended to be back by now, but he has been unexpected waylaid. I suggested that it is no longer so unexpected, but now I digress.

Stay away, Ross. Keep you and your family safe and dry. I have enclosed the name of several other doctors nearby who should be able to attend to you when Demelza’s time comes. I must apologize now, because I do not think I shall be there after all.

It was the apology that did him in. Ross could endure the hardships; he could handle the ongoing wait. But to have Dwight apologize? To him?

It was untenable.

It was unconscionable.

And Ross would endure it no longer.

-o-

Heedless of the day or other obligations, Ross made straight away for Trenwith. He failed to bid Demelza farewell, which she would berate him for later given her current condition, but the matter simply could not wait. He scarcely waited for an invitation before charging into the sitting room, calling for Francis.

It was Elizabeth who descended the stairs.

Just like that, Ross forgot why he’d come.

She had that effect on him; the ability to stop him cold. The world, no matter how vast and complex he built it, still revolved around her. How was she capable of such effortless grace? How did she manage to possess perfection without so much as a pause? There was something surreal about her, which was why she was still like a dream he could never quite awaken from.

“Ross,” she said with a smile, crossing the floor toward him. “This visit is unexpected.”

It was then that Ross remembered he was supposed to speak. It took him another moment to remember why.

“Yes,” he said, trying to recover his self control and possibly his dignity. “Yes, I’ve come for Francis.”

“I estimated as much,” she said with a wry smile. “He is out tending to some of the lowlands on our eastern border. Given the weather, it may take some time, but you are welcome to wait.”

The offer was tempting, if only because she was the one who offered it. But Ross was not so smitten against his will to forget his purpose. “I’m afraid that is impossible,” he said. “I’ve come to seek his help in the situation concerning Dwight.”

“So there is no good news yet, then?” she asked.

Ross tried not to let on his supreme disappointment. “I am quite worried about his health,” he said. “In these dank conditions, I am afraid no one could survive down there.”

The news appeared to bother Elizabeth quite sincerely. “It is inhumane,” she said, shaking her head. “Especially since he has done nothing wrong.”

“It is inhumane for most of those unfortunate enough to find themselves there,” Ross said. “But the injustice being done to Dwight, the endless postponement of his trial – it is more than anyone should be expected to bear.”

“You cannot say it is surprising,” Elizabeth said, regretful.

“That George is so doggedly defiant?” Ross asked.

“That he is so purposeful,” she said.

“He still has no case, no matter how long he defers,” Ross replied.

“Which is why it has not gone to trial,” Elizabeth said. “Surely it is obvious. The longer he can delay the trial, the more leverage he gains over you and Francis and the entire Poldark legacy. He knows he cannot wager Dr. Enys’ life in the courtroom, so he will continue to do so in the dungeons. I do worry that he will let the good doctor deteriorate in those conditions until he can bring you to your knees.”

Her assessment was telling; it was more self aware than he might have given her credit for. She knew what she was talking about, and she made perfect sense. Elizabeth had always been clever, but this wasn’t just her quick wit.

Elizabeth understood George.

Better than she should.

This was distressing, but Ross had to keep his priorities in order. “Not even George can drag this out forever,” Ross said.

Elizabeth demurred. “He may not have to,” she said. “If the conditions worsen; if the illness spreads; then Dr. Enys’ life is already on the line without ever stepping foot in the courtroom.”

The assessment was grim.

The assessment was accurate.

He would deal with Elizabeth and her knowledge of George Warleggan later.

For now, he had other matters to attend to.

“Very well, then,” he said. He bowed his head politely, scarcely remembering his manners. “Thank you for your time.”

As he turned to leave, Elizabeth called after him. “Shall I leave a message for Francis?”

He paused, turning back. “Tell him that I will call for him when I need him,” he said. “And that the time for such measures may be soon.”

“I do hope you’re not planning anything stupid,” Elizabeth said with a frown. “For Demelza’s sake, if not your own.”

Ross tipped his hat toward her. “I plan only what I must,” he said, forcing a small, fleeting smile. “Elizabeth.”

She said nothing as he left, because she likely knew better.

Not even Elizabeth, in her beauty and impossibility, could stop him now.

-o-

Ross was a mess by the time he reached George’s estate, and despite the butler’s insistence that he stay in the entryway, Ross let himself into the parlor. With purposeful steps, he traipsed across the floor, tracking thick mud as he went.

From his desk, George got up. One might think it was a sign of his good manners that he managed to offer Ross a smile under such conditions.

One would be wrong.

The glow in his eyes was all Ross needed to see.

George thought he’d come to capitulate.

Ross had come, but not for that.

“Set the date,” he demanded flatly. “Call the judge and tell him to set the date.”

George feigned confusion. “If I had such power, I would happily comply. It is quite stressful for the family, having the nasty business drawn out this way,” he said. His sincerity was painfully lacking. “But it would be highly questionable for me to take such an active role in a case I am so intimately involved with.”

Ross would not play with such pleasantries. “Intimately not by familial connection, but money,” he said, the words falling venomously from his lips. “You know you cannot win this case in the court, so you have sought to delay it, but no more. The tactic will not work. Set the date and find a new way of tormenting me.”

“Why, Ross, I had no idea this was so affecting to you,” George said dully. He smiled sickly. “Given your lack of progress, I had thought Dr. Enys was not as dear a friend as most people supposed.”

Ross lurched forward, barely containing his rage. “I know the trick you are trying to play, and it won’t work,” he said. “You are wasting your money and the life of a very good man.”

“I am merely allowing the law to work as it is supposed to,” George deferred with an effortless shrug.

“You’re a damn coward,” Ross seethed, feeling the rain still dripping from the curls of his hair. “If you want me, then come after me. Don’t use innocent people to advance your cause.”

“Well, Dr. Enys’ innocence is yet to be proven,” George reminded him.

“You know he is innocent,” Ross said, letting a harsh exhale out through his nose.

“The judge will decide that,” George said. “Once he returns from his affairs in London. He is unfortunately quite busy.”

“Counting his extra income, no doubt,” Ross said.

George tsked his tongue. “It will not help your cause to insult the revered man of the law in charge of your friend’s fate,” he admonished. He paused, as if to consider his position again. “Of course, as a key party of the prosecution’s case, I suppose I do hold a certain sway.”

The nonchalance of it all turned Ross’ stomach.

George, sensing his opportunity, did not back down. “I could be persuaded to make such a request.”

“How?” Ross all but growled.

“Your assets,” he said. “All of them. If you cooperate with me now, I will even leave Trenwith alone, allowing your cousin to continue the line of the Poldarks as long as he is able.”

“You would bargain for so little?” Ross asked with a scoff.

“And you would hold out for even less,” George pointed out with a tilt of his head. “And here I thought you cared for Dr. Enys.”

“I do,” Ross said, shaking his head. “But I will not let his sacrifice be in vain.”

“Then I’m afraid the sacrifice could be his life,” George said with a seasoned look of apology.

“Not even you could pay a judge and jury to find him guilty,” Ross spat.

“Haven’t you heard?” George asked. “Dr. Enys has fallen gravely ill. Not quite as serious as the putrid throat, but the illness settles in the lungs. They’re drowning in their own lungs in the dungeons, one right after another. I worry there will be no defendants left by the time the judge comes back.”

His hatred swelled nearly uncontrollably. Ross had seen horrible things during the war. He had lived through atrocities. He knew the way war twisted a man, made him dark.

George had lived no horror, however, except the one he created in his own mind. It had turned him twisted, nonetheless, and the evil he exhibited was more nefarious than anything Ross had observed while fighting a losing war on American soil.

It would not stop George, not in the least. Ross could give him everything he requested, and it would still not be enough. Because what George wanted, he could never have. What George envied, he would never be able to attain.

Dignity could not be bought.

Respect could not be wagered.

Fulfillment could not be blackmailed.

And George Warleggan could not be placated.

No, he had to be defeated.

Ross held his head high, raising his chin. He let his fists uncurl and he smiled. “It will be a pity, then.”

George raised his eyebrows. “To bury your friend so prematurely?”

“To see you put so much money and time into a case just to see it lose,” Ross said, almost bringing his lips into a smile. “Again.”

The humor on George’s face faded; the amenable façade nearly crumbled before his eyes.

Ross bowed, letting water shake from his head. He tapped his heels together, letting more mud slough off onto the polished floors. Then he strode out without a goodbye or invitation to leave.

He hadn’t got what he’d come for, maybe.

Yet he took some satisfaction in knowing that George hadn’t either.

If Ross could not win a battle, he was content not to lose it this time around.