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

December 22nd, 2016 (09:03 am)
crushed

feeling: crushed

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE



-o-

Angry as he was, Ross was not blind. His malice toward George would run its course in due time, but there were more pressing matters to consider.

Dwight’s condition. Not merely in the dungeons and among the desolate, but if he had indeed fallen ill…

It was possible, certainly, that George had lied to him or, at the very least, exaggerated the state of his friend. Such types of manipulation were not beyond George; he had been ready to send Ross to the gallows, after all.

That said, as a lie, it didn't strike Ross as credible. The short-term gain of deception would be undercut by the obviousness of the truth. Surely George knew, after all this time, that Ross would not yield without some confirmation of the truth. And if George was caught in a lie, it would undermine his position, make him seem desperate.

No, this was not a wager based on a bluff.

Ross’ stomach roiled and he felt ill as he mounted his horse, turning her toward town.

This time, George really was holding all the cards.

-o-

The ride to town was slow, marred by the cold rain against his face and the loose mud beneath his horse’s hoofs. Though he felt the need to move quickly, he could not risk the safety of his horse, and he was reduced to an unsteady trot for most of the journey. He could feel the chill down deep in his bones by the time he arrived, and he had no patience for pleasantries.

“I need to be admitted,” he demanded at the gate, making no effort to protect himself from the rain at this point.

The guard knew Ross by now, and his face wrinkled up with compunction. “You know that ain’t possible.”

Ross pressed his lips into a grim line. “I understand the orders,” he said. “But I demand entry anyway. Surely you make exceptions.”

“For lawyers and the like,” the guard said. “We can’t deny no one, not even criminals, their legal rights.”

“Accused criminals,” Ross clarified for him. “Most of the men down there are still awaiting trial.”

The guard shrugged, apparently indifferent at the distinction. “All the same,” he said. “We don’t let no one in.”

Ross drew a breath, measuring the man in front of him. He had maintained a cordial relationship with the guards, understanding both their power and their limits. This was a working man, same as any other, and yet he had the power to make a prisoner’s life so much better.

Or worse.

Dwight had earned a great deal of latitude by his virtues alone. It had been Ross’ aim to not give the guards reason to doubt that. He had, therefore, been respectful, proper and dutiful.

Until now.

“I have been informed that Dr. Enys has fallen ill,” he said, maintaining his decorum as much as he could. “It is my intention to determined whether these rumors are the truth.”

At this, the guard seemed to flinch. His expression alone confirmed everything Ross had set out to know.

“So he has taken ill?” Ross asked, pressing closer. “How bad?”

“Hey, look, now,” the guard said. “I’m not a doctor, here.”

“No, but you have direct communication with one of the best,” he said. “Besides, I would suspect you have seen more than your share of men die in these dungeons. You know what it looks like.”

Even more color drained from the guard’s cheeks. “What happens down there,” he started, shaking his head by way of a denial. “It ain’t nothing to do with me.”

“You ensure that every time you turn a blind eye,” Ross told him pointedly.

“Hey!” the guard yelped in protest. “What would you have me do? I risk my life every day, coming here.”

“And you think that absolves you from their suffering?” Ross asked. “These men are not so different than you, just less fortunate. And yet you sit up here and willingly resign them to a death they may or may not deserve.”

Puffing his chest up, the guard edged himself closer to Ross. “You got no business, coming here, talking like that.”

Ross relented, remembering himself. More importantly, remembering Dwight. “I apologize,” he said with as much dignity as he could spare. “I am merely concerned for the well being of my friend.”

This mollified the guard, and he visibly eased himself back.

“However,” Ross continued, using his words carefully. “I still must demand admittance.”

The scoff as loud, even amid the rain.

“You have spoken fondly of Dr. Enys, and you know him to be a good man,” Ross reasoned. “I am merely asking to see him and assess his condition for myself.”

With a deepening scowl, the guard shook his head. “The policy—“

“Was set by Enys himself,” Ross reminded him. He raised his eyebrows expectantly. “You know for a fact that short of an epidemic the crown has no concern about disease among the commoners, prisoner or otherwise.”

The guard was shaking his head.

Ross pushed on. “Dwight Enys is a good man; he is an innocent man. Give me leave to see him.”

“I don’t know,” the guard said, chewing his lip. “The doctor was very specific.”

“So he will die for his specificity?” Ross asked. “Good men are hard to find in this world. For the sake of one more, let me pass.”

The guard was moved but not swayed, Ross could see it plainly on his face.

With a sigh, Ross dug into his pocket. “If you will not do it for your humanity, do it for your greed,” he said, holding all the spare bills he had in his pocket. “For if one cannot be bought, I feel certain the other can.”

The guard’s eyes widened, and he reached a dirty hand up, wrapping it around the money and taking it. “It’s your money,” he said with a shrug of absolution. He smirked. “And your life.”

-o-

Ross was no stranger to peril. He had nearly lost his life in America, laid low on a battlefield he cared nothing about. During his own time in the dungeons, he had come as close as he ever had to despair, and he remembered the feeling well.

To say, then, that this was difficult would not be an understatement. In those other situations, he had been concerned primarily with his own well being. Here, he was struck by the deplorable conditions and he could feel his compassion tremble down to his very core.

The air reeked with illness, and the smell of death and decay was so poignant that Ross could almost taste it, thick in his throat. The dank air had become almost like a mist, and the cold leached into the stone floor and walls with a intensity that threatened to freeze him. Normally, men could be seen at the bars, watching anxiously as a visitor passed by.

Today, however, no one moved. Men were curled up on their beds, some sprawled lifelessly on their sides. It was impossible to tell who was alive and who had already perished, save for a few groans as his boots made noise across the ground.

Whatever crimes these men had committed, Ross doubted they deserved this. To suffer and die alone, wasting away in the dark. He could only imagine with dread how many of these men had warranted this fate because of their desperation and poverty.

Whatever sense of injustice he felt, it was all short lived when he finally came to Dwight’s cell. It had been disconcerting to see his friend over the last several months, but today, Ross’ heart nearly stopped beating in his chest.

With a gasp, he rushed forward, yanking in futility on the bars. It was not so much that he wanted to get Dwight out, but more that he wanted to get in. Because Dwight was no longer smiling. Indeed, Dwight appeared to be barely conscious, curled up under a scratchy blanket. Though much of his face was obscured, Ross could see the deep flush of fever in his cheeks. The books were abandoned on the floor nearby, alongside his untouched daily rations.

He looked bad; as bad as Ross had ever seen. The only thing worse had been watching his own child succumb to illness before his very eyes.

“Dwight,” he said, gritting out the name as he shook the bars again. “Dwight.”

From the bed, Dwight stirred, shuddering himself into awareness. With bleary eyes, the doctor appeared completely befuddled, and Ross winced guiltily to himself.

“Dwight,” he said again, more gently now. “It’s me. It’s Ross.”

Ever faithful, Dwight turned his head in Ross’ direction. Blinking several times, he seemed to make a great effort in focusing. The hint of recognition dawned in his eyes before Dwight was promptly shaken with a fit of coughing. The reaction was violent, deep and hacking, and Dwight nearly fell to the floor with the effort. When he was done, he took a wheezing breath as he tried to straighten himself, eyes up on Ross once more.

“Ross,” Dwight said, but his voice was badly garbled. He took another railing breath. “You’re not supposed to be here.”

Clutching the bars, Ross wished for nothing more than to go to his friend. “Neither are you,” he said with a note of sympathy in his voice.

The subtlety was lost on Dwight. He blinked several more times, apparently trying to gather his badly scattered wits. It took such effort that Ross wished for nothing more than to stop him.

“Easy,” Ross coaxed, cursing his position behind the bars. Dwight tried to push himself up, but his legs wobbled badly. “There is no need to get up on my account.”

“Seems impolite,” Dwight said, voice no more than a murmur. With another noisy inhalation, he seemed to clear his head a bit more. When he peered up at Ross again, there was more awareness in his fever-stricken eyes. “But I told them to keep all visitors out.”

“A wish I respected for as long as I could,” Ross said. “But I could not simply leave you here.”

“But you can’t exactly get me out,” Dwight said. “The only thing your visit does is expose you to this virus.”

“I had to see you with my own two eyes,” Ross said. “I could scarcely count on you to provide me with an accurate picture of what was going on down here. You should have told me it was this bad.”

Dwight slumped dejectedly. “I was going to,” he said, eyes flitting about his cell and settling on an abandoned piece of parchment and a dried out quill. “I’m afraid I ran out of energy, though.”

“Because you have caught your death,” Ross scolded. “It’s bad enough to be stuck down here, but did you have to go and treat every sick person around you?”

“They were sick,” Dwight protested. “I’m a doctor.”

“And a man unjustly locked up in the dungeons,” Ross said. “If there was ever a time to look out for your own well being—“

“Should you really talk?” Dwight asked, coughing into his hand. “The man who swoops into an infected dungeon when his wife is heavy with child at home?”

The criticism was well placed, and Ross could not deny that he had failed to consider the full range of implications.

Shuddering again, Dwight took up the thin blanket, wrapping it about his shoulders. “I appreciate your concern, Ross,” he said. “But there’s nothing you can do for me. Not while I’m here.”

Ross wanted to argue. He wanted to protest.

The problem was – and it was a real problem – that Dwight was right. His assessment, though nihilistic, was not inaccurate. There was nothing Ross could do for Dwight as long as he was locked up in the dungeons, as long as his case was delayed from trial day in and day out.

“You’re right,” Ross said finally, the words forced and stilted. He pulled himself away from the bars, squaring his shoulders. “So we’ll have to get you out of here.”

Clouded as he was by fever, Dwight still looked horrified. “You will not break me out—“

“I will not break you out,” Ross promised.

Dwight stopped, furrowing his brows together in confusion. “But…”

“We simply need to move your trial date up,” Ross said.

“We’ve tried,” Dwight said, his confusion deepening. “My lawyers, you, Francis—“

Ross shook his head, fully adamant now. “I promise you, with all I have, the next time we meet shall be in the courtroom when the jury finds you not guilty.”

In this, Dwight’s weakness was even more apparent. “Ross—“ he said, his voice breaking.

“You rest, take care of yourself by any means possible,” Ross said. “You simply need to hold on a little longer.”

With a ragged breath, Dwight almost smiled. “I’m not sure I can.”

Ross eyed him with an unwavering gaze. “You can, and you will,” he said. “You never give up on a patient, and the sickest one I’ve yet to see is sitting right before me.”

The conversation was wearing on Dwight visibly, and he looked at Ross with beseeching eyes. His entire body was trembling with the exertion, the fever breaking him down to the barest elements. “Ross,” he croaked, swallowing with effort over his congested throat. His eyes were blood shot; his visage was sweaty. “You can’t save everyone.”

“Maybe,” Ross said, holding his jaw as steady as he could. “But I can save you.”

-o-

Ross had a plan.

At least, he had an inkling of a plan. A notion, really.

It was rash, reckless and probably ill advised.

Which was why it seemed like the perfect solution to Ross.

He did, however, have enough common sense to realize he could not charge out in the name of friendship and justice without taking a few things into consideration first. For that reason, he did not set out directly but made his way home.

It was only when he arrived that he realized just what a state he was in. Covered in mud, soaked to the bone. Demelza gasped, hand to mouth, when she saw him.

“Ross, you look affright,” she exclaimed, coming over to help him undress. “I knew you were gone, but I didn’t think—“

Ross stepped away from her well intended help. “Leave it,” he said. “I have to head back out.”

“But you’ll catch your death,” Demelza said, looking at the trail of mud Ross had tracked across the floor. “Surely, whatever errand you must run—“

“Cannot wait,” Ross said, reaching down to swipe a piece of bread from the plate on the table. He’d forgotten about meals; he’d forgotten about everything. “Dwight has taken ill.”

Demelza, for all her keenness, did not seem to fully understand. “I know that you said illness had swept through the dungeons—“

Ross took a hasty swig of wine. “And it has left no victim standing,” he said, tearing another bite out of the bread. “I just came from him now.”

“But I thought it was closed off—“

“And I opened it,” Ross told her, leaving no room for argument. He picked up a few turnips and shoved them into his mouth before chewing rapidly. “I had to assess his condition for myself.”

She visibly kept at bay, nodding her head. “And?”

“And I can delay no longer,” Ross said, resituating his hat on his wet curls again. “George Warleggan will let Dwight die in the name of revenge, and just because I cannot give him what he so desperately wants does not mean I cannot take what I need in return.”

“How?” she asked. “I thought you’d exhausted all your options.”

“Here, yes,” Ross said. “But if the judge has departed to London, then I must depart there as well.”

She shook her head with a small scoff. “You can’t talk to the judge and expect to get any leniency,” she argued. “Trust me.”

Ross almost smiled, because he knew her implication. He knew what she did not want to talk about; he knew that she had refused to accept his situation in the dungeons just as much as he refused to accept Dwight’s. “I will not appeal to the judge.”

Demelza furrowed her brows together in confusion. “But then—“

He made haste to the door, planting a kiss on her cheek briefly. “I must sway someone who does hold power over the judge.”

“And you know such a person?” Demelza asked, clearly skeptical.

“I have a few ideas, yes,” Ross said.

“And you think they’ll help you? A person of power and persuasion?” she asked.

“Me, perhaps not,” Ross said. “But Dwight? I’m hoping.”

At length, Demelza nodded. Then she retreated abruptly to the bedroom.

Ross frowned, following her. “I know it is close to your time,” he said. “If I thought there was another option, I would not go, I assure you.”

She was in the wardrobe, rustling about.

Sighing, Ross gestured gently. “I cannot sit idle and let my feud with George take Dwight’s life. I simply cannot.”

Getting to her feet again, Demelza took a steadying breath. “I know,” she said. She held out her hand. “That’s why you need to take this.”

In her palm was a pile of money, bills and coins. Nothing extravagant but more than spare change. For a moment, Ross forgot himself. “Where did you get this?”

“My own side ventures,” she said with a due nod. “I wasn’t hoarding the money, or anything like that. But I thought if I saved it up, had enough of it, we could invest it in the right cause. A new cow. A horse.”

Ross looked up at her, entirely off guard. “You went behind my back.”

“You can chide me later,” she said, forcibly putting the money in his hand. “After you ride to save Dwight.”

Dumbly, Ross folded his fingers over the money. “You truly do support me in this, don’t you?”

“I hate when you’re rash and reckless, but I understand that some risks are worth taking,” she said, holding his gaze steadily. “Sometimes you have to do the right thing just because it’s right.”

He had never deserved her, not really. He had resigned himself to living alone before she came into his life. And who would have that, beneath the grime and ill manners, was a creature so beautiful, so smart, so supreme? True, she did not have Elizabeth’s softness, but sometimes he had to think her tenacity was the better quality.

Overcome, he leaned over and kissed her again.

To this, she rolled her eyes. “Go on,” she scolded, plucking the wet hat off his head. “At least take the other one. It’s by the door.”

“I will be back as soon as possible,” Ross promised her.

She smiled. “You better be,” she said, rubbing her hand over his stomach. “For all our sakes’.”

-o-

There was just one more thing Ross needed to do.

Rather, one more thing Ross wanted to do.

He grappled with that admission to himself as he knocked on the door at Trenwith, acknowledging for the first time that indeed, he did not need his cousin, but he certainly liked the company.

“Ross, you look a mess,” Francis said, greeting Ross at the entryway. “Please, come in out of the rain. We can get you some dry clothes.”

Ross shook his head. “There’s no need,” he said. “I will be riding out again shortly, and for a greater distance.”

Francis tilted his head, confused. “Business trip?”

“A mission of mercy, I think,” Ross said. “I’ve been to see Dwight.”

At this, Francis sobered immediately. “How bad off is he?”

“Worse than I’d feared,” Ross said.

A muscle tightened in Francis’ jaw. “George will kill him out of spite.”

“Only if we let him,” Ross said.

“But what else can we do?” Francis asked. “We’ve tried everything.”

Ross did not waver. “Not everything.”

Hesitating, Francis hedged toward him cautiously. “What did you have in mind?”

Ross did not soften his expression; he did not coddle his intensity. “Ride with me to London and find out.”

There was a time, perhaps, when Francis would not have come. When Francis would have bowed out, respectfully of course, and left the matter to Ross. There was a time when Francis would have been too weak, too afraid, too uncertain.

That time, however, had passed.

Today, Francis drew a breath, squared his shoulders and nodded. “Just give me a few moments,” he said. “I need to ready my horse.”

-o-

When Francis had saddled up his horse, pack in hand, Ross was already waiting for him. They needed no permission; they needed no conversation.

They understood each other now.

As they set out, the rain finally parted and as they pressed on toward the evening, the clouds cleared for the first time in weeks.

-o-

It was not an easy trip, to be sure. The ride was long and hard, and even with the weather finally clearing, the roads were a mess. They took lodging as they were able, but still arrived in London weary and worse for wear. Ross only consented to take lodging once more because he knew that appearances mattered for the next person they would call on.

“Are you sure this is going to work?” Francis asked, trying to get his half-dried clothes to look presentable again.

Ross had mostly given up on his own ensemble. The bottoms of his pants were still stained dark with mud, and the rumpled appearance of his jacket was out matched only by its musty smell. “I think it is our best chance.”

“We look like ruffians,” Francis commented, ruefully adjusted his neck piece.

Ross did his best to ring out his hair. “It will only increase the appearance of our desperation,” he said. “I am not above seeking pity.”

Francis nodded, smoothing out his sleeves in vain. “We’ve sought pity before, to no avail.”

Ross turned, looking at his cousin squarely. “We’ve sought justice,” he said. “Now we seek a personal favor.”

“This could turn out very well or it could be a complete disaster,” Francis observed.

With a terse smile, Ross nodded. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

-o-

Caroline Penvenan was not of age, which meant she was not to take part in society’s most important events. She was, however, allowed to receive visitors at her leisure, and Ross suspected that she took her leisure with some deal of importance.

As an heiress, that was her right.

Most of the time, Ross accepted that indulgence with as little thought as possible. He did his best not to judge how those of power used their rights, and indeed, he would never have given Caroline a second consideration except for how fondly Dwight spoke of her.

Entirely professional, of course. He spoke of her affluence, her wit, her sophistication. These were the things that had made Ross conclude, quite early on, that Dwight was infatuated with her. He had seen many women, and never taken any such things into account before.

Then he had spoken of her generosity, her willingness to learn. He had told him of oranges, of all things. That had been all he needed to conclude that Dwight’s affections were returned, even if his friend was too obstinately blind to see it. What business did an heiress have, after all, delivering fruit to the needy? Yes, Ross believed she could be a benevolent soul, but he had met the girl. Altruism would never come naturally to her.

Those two facts, combined with her obvious power, privilege and connections, had led Ross to conclude that she was not only their best hope, but quite possibly their last as well.

When she came into the room, she almost glided. “When they said I was being called on by a Mr. Ross Poldark and a Mr. Francis Poldark, I nearly didn’t respond,” she mused with a coy smile. She folded herself neatly into an arm chair across from where Francis was sitting. Ross, for his part, was still pacing. She watched him a moment, head tilted. “But then I figured, such a meeting, out of the blue and against all expectations, might be amusing in the very least.”

“We apologize for the inconvenience,” Francis said, clearly placating her. “I know the nature of this call may be cast as some as imprudent.”

She arched her eyebrows. “An heiress can receive no visitors without an ulterior motive?” she asked. “And one wonders why I find society so unappealing.”

Francis fiddled with his head, hemming for another word.

Ross could not abide it. “For that matter, we have come for a favor.”

“Ah,” she said with an overly dramatic sigh. “So even with all my etiquette and accomplishments, I’m still but a tool.”

“We make no claim on the subject,” Ross said, unwavering. “But I believe we have a matter of mutual concern.”

“Oh?” she asked, playing with one of the ringlets about her shoulder. “It must be pressing to see the two of you appear before me like this. I swear, I’m amazed the footman even permitted you to enter.”

“It did take some convincing,” Francis explained with a pained smile.

“But as we assured your footman, I will assure you now,” Ross said. “We bring news you will want to hear.”

She collected herself, appearing at the height of boredom. Whatever she had expected from this visit, it clearly was not living up to those standards yet. “Very well, then,” she said. “Do enlighten me.”

“We have a mutual friend in dire need of assistance,” Ross said.

“I’m afraid you will need to be more specific,” she deigned.

“Dwight Enys,” Ross said flatly. “He’s been arrested – unjustly – for murder and kept in the dungeons without a trial for months.”

The words had the effect Ross had hoped. Though she tried to hide it, the news startled her. “But Dr. Enys is a physician,” she said. “Surely, the law cannot think one such as himself capable of murder.”

“The entire case is a farce,” Francis said.

“A ploy, enacted by a jealous, wrathful man,” Ross added.

To this, Caroline clearly hesitated. She weighed her response, the proper one against the one she wanted to have. “Even if what you say is true,” she ventured. “What does any of this have to do with me?”

Francis swallowed, looking expectantly at Ross. He stepped forward, taking a seat on the couch next to Francis and leaning forward intently. “This is not a question of his guilt or innocence – we are convinced that when his case is brought before the court, justice will be done.”

She shook her head. “Then I’m not certain—“

“The judge keeps delaying the court date, citing security concerns or something equally ridiculous,” Ross said. “Even now, he bides his time in London while Dwight withers away in a dungeon.”

The force of his words had an effect on her. The humor had faded from her cheeks. “And you assume this would concern me?”

“I would assume that as someone clearly invested in the well being of the people, you would take an active interest in the well being of their doctor,” Ross said, as diplomatically as he could. “What good are fresh oranges without a doctor who disseminate them as needed?”

It was a calculated response, not just to appeal to her emotions, but to give her the logical hold she needed to take action. Ross understood, after all, that as a young woman, all her privilege was still limited. She would need to have grounds to act, and Ross could scarcely expect her to cite her unrealized feelings toward a man she had no right to be interested in.

In this, Ross had come fully prepared. To convince her heart and her head.

For a moment, she seemed to ponder this, eyes flitting between Ross and Francis. Finally, she raised her chin a little, regarding them with the same calculation that Ross had taken upon her. “I would hate to see my investment be squandered so quickly,” she said. “Tell me, then. What did you have in mind?”

-o-

After everything Ross had gone through in the last several days, it was probably ironic that waiting was the hardest part. He had agreed, somewhat reluctantly, to pass another night or two in London. It would give them time to recover, according to Francis, and if Caroline Penvenan’s efforts failed, they would be able to respond with an alternative venture.

This made good sense, and for once, Ross was willing to submit to his cousin’s lead.

That didn’t mean he did so happily.

Confined to a small room with nothing to do but literally dry out, Ross was restless.

“You are far too tense,” Francis murmured from his bed. He was resting, arms across behind his head as he lounged back on the pillow.

Ross gave him a scowl, which frustratingly, Francis did not see. “I cannot see how you are so calm.”

“Do not mistake exhaustion for indifference,” Francis said, opening his eyes to squint up at Ross. “Besides, I am aware of my own limitations. I have given up striving to control things that are clearly out of my hands.”

Sighing, Ross took to pacing again, back and forth along the scant confines of their rented space. “It goes against my nature. I do not like accepting whatever fate gives me.”

Francis gave a short, harsh laugh. “Have you really never considered that there may be a few flaws – one or two, even – to your nature?”

Ross could not argue that. He shook his head sullenly. “I would feel better if we could go to the judge ourselves.”

“That would do more harm than good, no doubt,” Francis said, closing his eyes again. “Involvement from the Poldark family is what got this case to this point to begin with.”

Francis had a point, but Ross was loathe to cede it. “We are literally entrusting Dwight’s entire future to a spoiled heiress with no real world experience.”

“But every connection and all the wiles,” Francis said. He opened his eyes again. “Honestly, Ross. This was your idea.”

“I know, I know,” Ross said, utterly exasperated as he ran a hand through his untamed coif. “Caroline Penvenan has the connection, the influence and the motivation to make sure that justice is done. She is the absolute perfect choice for this task, because she has the ability to make a difference and the will to do so.”

“See,” Francis said. “We’ve done all we can do.”

“And now we lounge here in comfort while Dwight rots away,” Ross muttered, stopping at the window to look out onto the street. “It feels wrong to cater so willingly to a system that has been so abused against us.”

At this, Francis sat up, leaning forward sympathetically to swing his legs off the bed. “I have often believed that fate is not on the side of the Poldarks. If there is a universal balance, it weighs against our family. Luck and fortune are things reserved for other people.”

Turning toward Francis, Ross drew his lips down. “Is that your encouragement?”

“Yes,” Francis said, allowing himself to start to smile. “Because Caroline Penvenan is not a Poldark. And neither is Dwight Enys.”

As stressful as the situation was, Ross would concede that point with a smile. He bobbed his head, looking toward the window, where the morning sun was shining bright. “You may be right about that, cousin.”

Francis clucked his tongue, flopping back on the bed. “Today really is a day for miracles.”

“How do you figure?” Ross asked.

“Look at you! Telling me I’m right!” Francis said, winking. “And look at me, being right.”

This time, Ross laughed. “The world shall right itself soon enough, and Dwight will be let out of prison,” he said. “And you will go back to being wrong.”

Francis grinned. “I can hardly wait.”

-o-

Caroline did not call for them again, but on the second morning she left a short note for them with the innkeeper.

I regret that I shall not be able to entertain your company again. I am, however, due to visit the country very soon. I have learned from my uncle that we are expecting one of London’s most renowned judges at the estate, and I do dearly wish to catch up with him about his current cases. Since he will be working during his visit, I must make haste. With courtesy, Caroline Penvenan

“I’ll round up our things and settle the bill,” Francis was saying as he folded the letter. He turned, surprised to find Ross already pulling on his coat. “Can you ready up the horses?”

“Consider it done,” Ross said, hastily fixing his collar. “I want to ride straight through, if we can.”

“Of course,” Francis agreed, glancing toward the open window. “It is remarkable how well the weather has cleared.”

Ross started to smile. “Remarkable, indeed.”

-o-

They rode fast; they rode hard. They stopped only when necessary, and talked little. There was no need to talk. For once, the lack of words was not the distance between them but the closeness. What was there to say when they knew what there was to say. All their years as cousins, and this was the first ride they’d completed as friends.

Cousins, rivals, business partners, friends.

Not a bad evolution, if Ross had to say so himself.

Not that he would, to be clear.

He took some comfort in that.

He took even more in knowing that Francis knew anyway.

-o-

Demelza came out to meet him, all smiles and breathless. “You made it!”

Dismounting, Ross handed off his horse to the servant. “Made it for what?” he asked.

“The trial,” she said, eyes wide. “I thought you would know!”

“I had reason to hope,” Ross said, taking her by the arm. “Is it official, then?”

Demelza beamed. “Two days from now,” she said.

“And Dwight?”

Her smile fell, somewhat. “No news,” she admitted. “But no news can’t be bad.”

He gave her a squeeze, beaming back at her. “In this case, it certainly can’t be,” he said, bending down to give her a kiss. “Now come. I have been riding without ceasing; I am starving.”

“Well, you’re in luck then, because dinner’s on the table,” she said.

“I don’t suppose we’ve managed to afford anything other than—“

“Turnips,” she said. “But the bread is freshly cooked.”

“Ah,” Ross said. He shrugged. “A warm meal and a loving wife—“

“Not to mention a trial date!” Demelza interjected.

Ross kissed her again. “Life may finally be turning in our favor.”

-o-

News spread fast, being whispered throughout the mine and amongst the villagers. Everyone was eager to have their doctor back, to say the very least, and they thought it a sign of justice to be finally served. Spirits were high, and Ross’ the highest of them all.

He tried to visit Dwight again, but this time the jailer accepted no bribe. “The doctor wants to be fit as he can be for the trial tomorrow,” he said stoically. “I’m not to let anyone in.”

Ross wanted to argue, but the fact that Dwight had made the request was sign enough for him. “Tell him I will see him tomorrow.”

The jailer dared to smile, nodding his head. “I know he’s looking forward to it.”

“It is long overdue,” Ross agreed, turning back toward the street. “Very long, indeed.”

-o-

It was reassuring to see so many people concerned with Dwight’s freedom, and Ross made note to tell his friend just how much his patients respected him. The groundswell of support was nearly unprecedented. Even for Ross’ vigor and candor, he could not ingratiate himself to the people like Dwight could with kindness and compassion.

It was perhaps more, reassuring, however, that no one came or left from the Warleggan home. The gates were closed, and they did not receive visitors. Still grieving, said the servants.

The loss of a cousin, Ross doubted.

The loss of a bargaining chip, Ross was very sure.

As far as Ross was concerned, it was all very good news.

-o-

Ross was there, bright an early. While most of Dwight’s friends and well wishers were assembling in the courtroom, Ross took a different tact. He met up with Dwight’s lawyer outside the jail, being as deferential as possible to get invited down for Dwight’s long overdue trip up to the surface.

The dungeons were less dreary than before, if only for the sunlight creeping through the scant windows. The smell had improved, if only marginally, with less death and more human excrement in the air. Even the rats seemed more lively, scurrying away from Ross’ feet as he made his way to Dwight’s cell.

When they arrived, Ross realized that he wasn’t sure what he was expecting. It was to be their day of triumph, that much was certain, but the last time Ross had been here, Dwight had been as bad off as Ross had ever seen him. For the last week, Ross had been so transfixed on the trial, that he had very nearly forgotten the reality of the dungeons.

And they were a harsh reality. Even without the chill in the air, Ross knew a place like this could leech into the soul. Where George Warleggan failed, the unforgiving nature of stone walls could still prevail.

On the bed, Dwight was hardly a reassuring sight. Curled up on his side, the doctor’s eyes were closed and, bathed in the pale sunlight from above, he looked pale and sickly. No news of his health had seemed like a positive sign, safe from his own home. Here, seeing the reality of it, was much less so. Certainly, Ross wanted Dwight to live, but that was not all he wished.

He wanted to see his friend vibrant, alive, free.

From the bed, Dwight stirred, and Ross struggled to find his voice as he sat up.

His wits failed him, though, and he settled for a smile.

Dwight took a labored breath, squinting his still red eyes up at Ross in what looked like disbelief. “Pardon me,” he said. “But please tell me we’re not in hell.”

Ross chortled. “Am I such a poor sight?”

With a groan, Dwight attempted to stretch. “Just one that I am not supposed to see yet,” he said. Staggering, he got to his feet. For a moment he wavered, but corrected himself. “You’re supposed to be at the trial.”

“As are you,” Ross pointed out. “But we have waited this long. What could a few more minutes hurt?”

Dwight regarded him skeptically. “If you paid off the jailer again—“

“I merely asked, and your lawyer admitted me,” Ross told him, honestly as possible.

“But your wife—“

“Is already waiting at the courtroom, saving me a seat,” Ross said. “It’s expected to be a full house in there today. I wanted to make sure we had a good seat.”

Dwight looked somewhat befuddled.

“Everyone is coming, you know,” Ross said.

“But why?” Dwight asked, pausing to clear his throat. He coughed on the garbled mess and shook his head. “Surely people have better things to do.”

“Maybe,” Ross said. “But you’ve had better things to do for the last few months, so I think we’re all more than willing to return the favor.”

Dwight watched him, and though he still looked weak, his eyes were as clear as ever. “You had something to do with this.”

“They have come of their own accord,” Ross said.

“No, the trial,” Dwight clarified. “My lawyer was surprised we got a date so quickly after so much silence. He had no idea why, but wasn’t about to question it.”

Ross lifted one shoulder, non-committal. “Justice was long overdue.”

Dwight shook his head, eyes narrowed. “You never trust the system.”

“And you supposedly do,” Ross returned.

Exhaling, Dwight steadied himself for another moment. “You’re going to explain it to me someday, Ross. All of it, from the very start.”

“You have my word,” Ross pledged.

“But for now,” Dwight said, taking a faltering step forward. He reached to the bars, holding them to draw himself closer and steady his stance. He smiled. “For now, I’m quite glad you’re here.”

“I could not be here when you were sent to the dungeons,” Ross said, clapping his friend on the hand through the bars. “But I fully intend to be here when you get out.”

-o-

Dwight was weak, but he climbed each stone step on his own. Flanked by his lawyer on one side and Ross on the other, he took his first step into the sunlight with a surety not born of physical strength, but a strength of will.

They were all almost blinded by the light, but they forged ahead anyway.

The truth would out today.

Justice would shine.

Ross had got them this far.

Dwight would do the rest.

-o-

After three long months, the case was dismissed within a matter of minutes.

In fact, it took longer for Dwight to walk himself into the courtroom than it did for the judge to hand out his verdict.

“I know this day has been long in coming, and I want to thank all parties for their patience,” the judge began while Ross settled into his seat next to Demelza.

In front of him, in the defendant’s seat, Dwight was sitting a little too erect, as if trying to keep himself upright by sheer force of will.

Languidly, the judge pushed at the papers in front of him, peering down at them through his glasses. “It is clear to me, now that we have given this case time to simmer, that the facts plainly speak for themselves. Now that we can be certain that bias is no longer an issue, I believe a determination can easily be reached.”

Across the courtroom, behind the prosecution, George Warleggan looked at his hands, his expression pinched and untenable.

The judge did not look at him, but he gave a cursory glance toward Caroline Penvenan and her uncle, seated in a prominent position on the side.

“While I am confident that both sides have prepared ample testimony for the court to consider, I simply do not see a reason to prolong this case any longer,” he said. “I find no further grounds to pursue this case, and although the loss of life is regrettable, all claims of bias have proven to be spurious. The facts, as I can tell, are unimpeachable. Hereby, all charges against Dr. Dwight Enys are dropped and he is free to leave.”

There was a collective gasp, and a spattering of cheering. In front of him, Dwight sat stiff and still, almost in shock.

“That’s it,” Ross said, almost unable to believe it himself. He reached out, grabbing Demelza by the arm. “That’s it!”

It was louder than he intended, a whoop of a war cry that echoed across the chamber. If it displeased the judge, he had no way of stopping it as the swell of support grew louder and everyone from the jury to the witnesses broke out in cheers.

George and the rest of his family got up abruptly, cutting their way through the crowd toward the exit without a look back in protest.

Three months of waiting.

Three minutes to resolve it.

Justice could be long in coming, but it was sweet indeed.

-o-

It didn't take much, in Ross’ experience, to rally the people. All you needed was a noble cause and a mountain of adversity. Given the way society was structured against the common man, the latter was never in short supply. The former could be more difficult to find, but a man like Dwight embodied it well. A dedicated doctor; a benevolent man.

The people had come to support him.

They would celebrate in his victory as much as if it were their own.

Ross could debate whether or not they had that right – indeed, he did not begrudge people their sense of worth – but in the melee, he could not forget the one person that mattered.

For all the cheering, Dwight was nearly dwarfed. Standing next to his lawyer, he dropped his head, bracing himself. As the court officials tried to clear the crowd, Ross made his way against the bodies toward his friend.

“Dwight!” he called, edging his way around another few patrons. “Dwight!”

At the table, Dwight showed no signs of hearing him, but given the raucous cheers, this was hardly a surprise. Ross easily made his way around the last few chairs and came face to face with Dwight’s lawyer.

The man, who Ross had met more than a few times, stuck out his hand and beamed. “Better than I expected!” he said, grasping Ross’ hand with an enthusiastic shake. “Better than I expected!”

Ross could have pointed out that such an admission did not bode well for his legal prowess, but that was hardly the time or place. Moreover, the lawyer seemed more concerned with his reputation than his client, and while Ross was grateful that he had been competent, they had no need for each other now.

“I appreciate your work,” Ross said, as a matter of perfunctory obligation. He was almost relieved when the other man scarcely heard him, already making his way across the aisle to talk to the other lawyers in the room. Well wishes, maybe. Gloating, perhaps. That was not Ross’ business, nor his concern.

The crowd was swelling now, despite the court’s best efforts to disperse them. George had sought revenge on Ross through one man, but he’d failed to account for the fact that one man was everyman. That was how he’d lost Ross’ trial; it was how he’d let this one spiral so badly out of control. George could calculate for everything except the integrity of an honest man. No matter how much George bribed and colluded, he would never have that.

“Dwight,” Ross said again, closing the last of the distance. Dwight was still standing, head bowed, hands resting on the tabletop. Three months in the dungeons; Ross could hardly blame him. Freedom would seem like an illusion still. Smiling, Ross reached out, a hand on his shoulder. “My friend—“

Dwight lifted his head, almost startled. The color had drained from his features, and whatever strength he had summoned this morning had been depleted by the excitement. Convulsively, he swallowed, eyes wet.

Ross’ smile fell, turning into a frown. “Dwight,” he said. “Are you--?”

He was going to ask if Dwight was well, which was a stupid question altogether. Because of course he wasn’t well. He’d been sick – near death, most probably – and more than that, he’d been kept in the dungeons for doing his job. He’d been locked for sunlight and fresh air and his friends and his patients and freedom. And he’d endured that with a smile and good nature; he’d worked hard, and he’d never blamed Ross, not once.

That was the thing, of course. Having a cause was great for the people; it was not as great for the cause. Ross had tasted that, if only briefly, when locked in the dungeons himself. He had not fully considered how it would affect Dwight for three months.

Indeed, this matter could not be so easily resolved emotionally.

Not that it mattered. Dwight’s complexion went translucent, and his eyes rolled back, and he was falling to the floor before Ross realized what was happening. He caught the other man – if only barely – and yelled for help.

The crowd closest to him gasped, parting away. Ross found himself awkwardly clutching Dwight, trying to keep his head up and failing to do so gracefully. It was Demelza who cut through the crowd, tsking her tongue and nodding to one of the guards. “Go get a stretcher, and call for a coach.”

“You can use ours,” Francis said, coming up behind them with Elizabeth by the hand. “We brought it to town—“

“I will make sure that the guards gather Dwight’s things to take as well,” Elizabeth said.

“Might have to make two trips, all the books we brought him,” Demelza said. “But his bag of doctoring, we might be needing that.”

Ross nodded, grateful at them all, but another voice disturbed his thoughts.

“There’s no need – for fuss,” Dwight said, trying to sit himself up.

Ross let go reluctantly, but did not pull back.

Dwight swallowed heavily, pressing a hand to his forehead. “I merely overdid it this morning,” he said. “I’m fine.”

As if to prove his point, Dwight started to get to his feet.

He was rapidly overcome by dizziness. Going pale, he sunk back down.

Ross huffed. “You were saying?”

Dwight offered a sheepish smile. “I will be fine,” he clarified. “If I could just have some assistance back to my home—“

“You are in no condition for that!” Demelza exclaimed.

“You are hardly in any condition to stand!” Elizabeth said.

“You do look dreadful,” Francis said.

Dwight looked almost forlorn as the censure. Ross forced a chuckle, clapping his friend gently on the back. “You toiled in the dungeons for three months on my behalf,” he said. “At least let me return the favor by staying in my home a mere three days while you recover.”

“I could not—“ Dwight started.

Ross raised his eyebrows. “What you cannot do is walk or stand on your own,” he said. “What you can do, however, is allow me to repay your generosity with a meager smattering of my own.”

It was plain how much Dwight wanted to protest. But Elizabeth was earnest, and Francis was eager, and Demelza was unwavering. It was some consolation that the crowd had started to thin; the commotion had subdued the villagers, and they filed out of the courtroom in a more orderly fashion, taking their self righteous indignation with them to the nearest pub instead.

“Come on,” Ross said, taking Dwight by the arm and hoisting him up. He stood close while the doctor got his footing, closer still as he straightened and found his balance. “Let’s go.”

Tired, weary, and much worse for wear, Dwight finally smiled. “Honestly,” he said. “That’s the best thing I’ve heard in three months.”

-o-

Despite the courtroom drama, Dwight assured them all, many times, that he was really on his way to recovery. According to his expert medical opinion, he had merely exerted himself too forcefully, too soon. The fact that he had been living on prison rations without any fresh air or sunlight surely did not help matters, but none of them had the gall to mention that. Moreover, the overwhelming emotionality of finally having the case dismissed was enough to wear them all out.

These reasons, more than Dwight’s lackluster self diagnosis, gave Ross confidence that the assessment was correct and that the outlook was, in fact, quite positive.

It helped that Dwight was staying with them. Though they had little by way of amenities, they had plenty of attention and devotion to give, and they offered both to Dwight unabashedly. All of Dwight’s protestations aside, he accepted their generosity with alacrity.

And, in the simplest reality, Dwight did little more than sleep, tucked into bed under an open window with his face turned toward the sunlight. It was impossible to say which affected him most positively: the sunlight, the air, the food or the company.

The good news was that they did not have to hold anything back. Dwight had full access to everything he needed, and Ross would be sure to provide it to him, no questions asked.

Still, he found himself standing in the doorway, watching his friend sleep. Demelza came up next to him, slipping an arm around his back. “Makes me anxious to fill the bed again,” she mused. “Another life to take care of.”

“Since we’re doing so well with the ones in our charge already?” Ross asked ruefully.

She elbowed him playfully “I don’t know,” she said, voice still hushed so as not to disturb their patient. “We’re all here, aren’t we? Getting better?”

He nodded, studying the easy rise and fall of Dwight’s chest. He wrapped an arm around her, pulling her closer. “Yes,” he agreed. “Things are definitely getting better.”

-o-

Although they tried to keep things quiet for Dwight’s sake, Ross allowed Francis to call. He came with a sheepish smile and a basket of vegetables from Elizabeth, which Dwight accepted with more gratitude than seemed necessary. Ross considered lingering, this was his home after all, but there was something between the two of them that seemed private, somehow.

Francis was as much a part of George’s vendetta as Ross was, and Francis had done more than his share in getting Dwight his day in court. Ross wasn’t sure who owed who at this point, but he smiled politely and asked them to forgive him, but he had greatly neglected his chores as of late.

Francis looked downright relieved when he left, and Dwight tipped his head in understanding. Sometimes friendship was the big things, like getting one out of the dungeon.

Other times, though, it was the little things.

Ross could take that for granted no longer.

-o-

On his way out, Francis made a point to stop in the fields. Ross had been spending most of his time in the mine – that was where his fortune, if there were to be any, lay – but he could not neglect the fields that kept them fed. At any rate, it was good to keep himself busy.

This was a fact he was confident Francis finally understood.

“He seems well,” Francis said, pausing while he looked out over Ross’ work. “He’s making a quick turnaround.”

“When you consider how much he’s been through, that does appear to be the case,” Ross agreed, resting himself on his hoe to catch his breath.

“I can scarcely believe it,” Francis mused, smiling a little. “All that time spent waiting, and the thing never even went before the jury.”

“There was never any case, we knew that,” Ross said.

Francis nodded. “I suppose,” he said. “I rather liked thinking that George wasn’t as powerful as that.”

“George is not powerful, but desperate,” Ross said with a scoff. “That he willfully constructed such a shoddy case on nothing but money and vengeance does not reflect well on him.”

“True,” Francis said, rocking back a little on his heels. He gave Ross an uncertain glance. “But it also does not leave us on very sure ground, does it?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Ross said. “If this is the best scheme he can come up with, I think we may have a lead on him after all.”

“That is easy for us to say,” Francis said. “We did not spend three months in the dungeons.”

That fact settled bitterly in the pit of Ross’ stomach. “He bears it with no resentment,” he said, shaking his head. “I sometimes wonder how I stumbled into such a friendship.”

“Indeed,” Francis said, letting his lips tip up. “So do we all.”

He regarded Francis with the natural camaraderie they had perhaps always been destined for. It was hard to believe, sometimes, this was the same cousin he’d quarreled with so vigorously. They had made good adversaries.

They made better friends.

“There is some consolation, at least,” Ross venture.

“Oh?”

“This sort of thing surely cannot happen again,” Ross said, the mischievous glint forming in his eyes. “I think by now George should be running out of cousins.”

Francis laughed outright, and he did not disagree.

Indeed, between the two of them, there was nothing left to disagree on.

-o-

As it was, this incident had changed little.

Ross was still poor, betting his hopes on wild dreams and ambitious plans. He still took solace in his family, a family he had never planned on and probably did not deserve. He still had ideas bigger than he was, and he still lacked all common sense that made most folk sensible. In all, he was still a man who knew what mattered in life.

Now, more acutely, than ever.

Because for all that had not changed, Ross was keenly aware of what might have. He was not so foolish as to think himself impervious to risk, nor was he so brash to think that he had not come very close to losing the best friend he had never deserved. Standing in the aftermath, he found this to be reassuring, if somewhat hard to believe.

How was it possible, then, that life would go on so freely?

How was it possible to live like none of this had happened at all?

These were questions that could only be answered by the steady passage of time itself, and Ross tried to assure himself with that.

Nonetheless, he found himself lingering.

Much to Dwight’s annoyance. “I’m not going to faint again,” Dwight said, puttering around the bedroom as he gathered his things.

“You’re still recovering,” Ross said.

“Is that your medical opinion?” Dwight asked, raising his eyebrows.

Ross had the decency to blush. Barely. “It is my opinion as your friend.”

Dwight chuffed. “You shouldn’t hover, Ross,” he said. “It doesn’t suit you.”

Ross drew a breath and let it out. “This was a near thing, you know.”

“They never had a case—“

“Your health,” Ross countered. “You didn’t have to be guilty to die in the dungeons.”

Dwight said nothing to that, folding the last of his shirts thoughtfully. “I’m a doctor,” he said. “I know how easy it is to die many places, even beyond the dungeons.”

“You cannot be cavalier—“

Dwight put his bag down, turning more fully toward Ross. “I understand your concern, I do,” he said. “But may I suggest that it is not me who needs to hear this lecture?”

Ross felt the color drain from his face, but he could not deny it.

Dwight smiled, a little bittersweet. “I don’t say it to shame you, Ross, believe me. But do not think me naïve, nor should you think me cavalier. The risk is not in who I treat or how I treat them; the risk is my friendship with you.”

Swallowing hard, Ross’ throat felt tight. “I fear that’s not a cause worth all this suffering.”

“I seem to remember a man willing to die for much less,” Dwight reflected. “Throwing himself into battle, fighting for a cause he didn’t believe in on a land he had no claim to.”

Ross drew himself a little taller “And I seem to remember a man who would not let me, no matter how hard I tried.”

Dwight’s lips turned into a smile. “You always have had a way of rallying people to your cause.”

“For all the good it does them,” Ross commented ruefully.

Dwight paused, cocking his head. “It was never your speeches that inspired me,” he said.

“Oh?” Ross asked.

“No,” Dwight continued. “I mean, yes, you have always been good with your words, at pulling emotions whichever way you please, but it was your dedication. It was always more than words with you. The things you said, you followed through on. You did not offer empty promises or idle pledges. We were fighting a losing war then, and you made me realize there were many ways to win.”

Those times had been long ago, almost longer than Ross wanted to remember. He had lost many things in America, but the fact that he had returned with a lifelong friend was a fact he would not overlook. “Still,” Ross said. “We may be fighting a losing battle again, and I cannot promise you it is without risk to yourself.”

“I know,” Dwight said, nodding his head. “But George Warleggan made a miscalculation, I think.”

“How do you figure?” Ross asked.

“He forgot that I’m more than a doctor; I’m a soldier, too,” he said. “A losing battle doesn’t scare me, especially not when the cause is worth fighting for.”

“And is it?” Ross asked. “A cause worth fighting for?”

Dwight gave him a taut, resolute nod. “Without a doubt.”

Ross’ face broke into a smile, and he had to swallow back the swell of emotions. “I’m quite glad you’re free again.”

“So am I,” Dwight quipped.

“Are you sure you won’t stay longer?” he pressed.

“I have stayed long enough, and I do miss my things,” Dwight said, going back to his bag. “Besides, I’ve seen the way Demelza is carrying. I suspect I’ll be back this way before you know.”

“I look forward to it, then,” Ross said.

Dwight shouldered his bag, making his way to the door. He stopped, offering Ross his hand. “We survived the war; we survived the dungeons,” he said. “I strongly suspect, at this point, that we can survive anything.”

“Very likely,” Ross said, shaking his friend’s hand heartily. “But perhaps we ought not to test that theory.”

Dwight chuckled. “No arguments from me.”

-o-

Ross saw him out, walking him across the field and watching as he mounted his horse and disappeared into the horizon.

It was over, then. All that fuss, all that drama, and it was over as though it had never happened. George would stew, of course. His next overture toward Ross would be more virulent, more dangerous.

Sure, George had money. He even had a smattering of intelligence and an abundance of connections.

But Ross reflected on Dwight. On Delmeza and Francis and even Elizabeth.

Sometimes, he thought George hardly had a chance.