Antagonists on WIP Wednesday

Our heroes and heroines need antagonists: some outside force that unites them and allows them to work together. These characters may be outright villains, or they may merely be avaricious matchmaking mothers or interfering relatives. Antagonists, this week’s post is for you.

Authors, please share an excerpt (in the comments) showing your antagonist at his or her disagreeable worst. I have two in my excerpt; my nasty rector and his equally unpleasant sister.

From behind the curtain in the parlour, Lalamani saw Philip arrive at the gate just as the Wagley’s gig pulled up. The two who descended, as Lalamani had noticed at church, were male and female counterparts: tall, gaunt, and elderly; spry, but a little bent. They put Lalamani in mind of herons—sharp features and an alert forward-leaning stance.

Lalamani flicked the curtain back into place and hurried into the front hall in time to introduce Philip.

“Allow me to present Philip Daventry, who works for the Earl of Calne.”

Two pair of pale eyes fixed first on Lalamani and then on Philip. Brother and sister both, Lalamani noted, jutted their chins forward and lengthened their necks, increasing the resemblance to herons. Dr Wagley, dressed top to toe in black, relieved only by a white stock, clearly stinted nothing on the cut and quality of his cloth, and Miss Wagley’s grey silk gown was trimmed with, if Lalamani was not mistaken, real French lace. The contrast between their finery and Aunt Hannah’s worn and much-mended widow’s wear could scarcely be greater.

Dr Wagley surveyed Philip from top to toe, and asked, coldly, “And what do you do here, sirrah? The people of this village think highly of Mrs Thorpe, and will not see her put upon.”

“I’m glad to hear it, Dr Wagley,” Philip answered mildly. “I am here to survey the Hall, to decide what repairs are necessary.”

Miss Wagley furrowed her brow. “You are a Daventry? How closely related are you to the earl, Mr Daventry?”

“The late earl was a connection of my father’s,” Philip prevaricated.

“Did you hear that, Jeremiah?” Miss Wagley tugged on her brother’s arm, but Wagley’s harrumph suggested he was not impressed.

The conversation in the parlour limped from one pronouncement by Dr Wagley after another. He frowned upon the evangelical fervour gripping a nearby parish, was suspicious about the proposed Act of Union, despised the call by radicals to widen the vote, and was scathing about the Speenhamland system of poor relief.

Addy’s invitation to the dining room interrupted a homily on the place of women—silent and obedient.

Over dinner, Lalamani made an effort to turn the conversation. “Mr Daventry was formerly in the army. Before you arrived, he was telling us a little about the markets in Egypt.”

Dr Wagley looked dourer than before. “Nothing unsuitable for a lady, I trust.”

“Oh, Jeremiah,” his sister chirped, “Mr Daventry is a gentleman; a relative of Calne, you know.”

Philip, catching Lalamani’s desperate eye-roll, picked up the conversational ball with a story about a carpet he and his friends had bargained for and how language difficulties had almost left them with a camel instead. He made an amusing tale of it, but only Lalamani laughed.

Dr Wagley spoke into the pause. “Another excellent meal, Mrs Thorpe. Mrs Thorpe sets a fine table, Daventry.”

Lalamani did not try to resist the impulse. “My aunt is very grateful for the charity of the people of the parish, Dr Wagley, without which she would undoubtedly starve. Though…”

She felt a blow on her ankle. Philip, who had clearly guessed she was about to mention her uncle’s provision for his sister. She shot him an accusing glance, but pressed her lips tightly together.

“The care of widows,” Dr Wagley opined, “is, of course, enjoined on us in Scripture. ‘But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.’ Charity begins at home.” He nodded seriously and took another mouthful of the donated chicken.

“And,” his sister added, “it is the duty of every Christian to support the men of the cloth.” She poked suspiciously at the chicken. “I would not like to think our parishioners were stinting their duty.”

“Now, now, Euphrania,” Dr Wagley said. “We do not begrudge Mrs Thorpe a chicken or two, especially when she has visitors. Do you make a long stay, Miss Finchurch? It would not do for you to be a charge on your aunt.” He cast her an admonishing stare over the top of his glasses, which had slipped almost to the tip of his nose.

“My plans are not fixed, Dr Wagley.” Lalamani was going to ask how it was his affair, but Philip spoke first, once again preventing her from antagonising the sour old man.

“How nice that you are able to support your brother in his parish work, Miss Wagley.”

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2 thoughts on “Antagonists on WIP Wednesday

  1. Ooh, I do like your two (well, I dislike them, but you know what I mean). Not sure I’d be able to restrain myself from slapping them both… not that it would help, I suspect…

    My sequel to “Earl of Shadows” (formerly known as “The Long Shadow”) has stalled a bit lately, but I have at least managed to introduce my main antagonist. I can tell already that George Canning is going to be a lot of fun to write.

    Sorry it’s a bit long, but here’s Canning’s introduction (set 1806). For those who intend to read “Earl of Shadows” and haven’t yet, here be spoilers, although not the kind that you wouldn’t be able to pick up from your average history book…

    ***

    Carey said, warningly, ‘My lord.’

    The man’s tone broke through John’s reverie. He raised his eyes at last from his family grave and sought in the shadows. Even though Westminster Abbey was almost empty, another man was approaching the transept – a slight-shouldered figure who nevertheless moved with confidence, making directly for the spot where John and Carey stood.

    John could tell the moment the other man recognised him; he paused briefly in his approach, as though wondering whether to turn back, then kept going. When he was within a few feet the newcomer swept off his high-crowned hat, revealing a glistening bald head surrounded by fine auburn hair. Bright brown eyes studied John with intelligence, and not an ounce of friendliness.

    John returned his bow reluctantly. ‘Mr Canning.’

    ‘Lord Chatham.’ John did not know this man well, although he knew him to be one of William’s “clever young men”, the bright young things who had worshipped John’s brother and with whom John had absolutely nothing in common. ‘You and I have come for a similar purpose.’

    John bit back his instinctive response, which was to ask whether Canning had also come to pay his respects to a departed brother; there was no point needlessly antagonising the man. Besides, Canning had a point. The privacy of John’s moment with his dead had passed. In truth he could never properly have it in such a public place. He restricted himself to a noncommittal, ‘Indeed.’

    Awkward silence re-established itself. John squared his shoulders and looked pointedly down at his family’s grave. Could the man not take a hint? Apparently not. To John’s rising irritation, Canning stepped in closer, held his hat to his mouth as though in thought and muttered behind it, ‘In all honesty, my lord, I am glad to have run into you. I have a message.’

    John did not remove his eyes from the stone slab covering the vault. How typical it was. He had come to Westminster Abbey to remember his brother; but William had always been steeped in politics, from the roots of his hair to the tips of his fingers. Intrigue had surrounded him like an impenetrable fog. Even in death it was not far away. ‘A message from whom?’

    ‘I do not think I need to say.’ This was true, but John said nothing. A pair of vergers in long black gowns walked behind the pillars flanking the transept. Canning stepped back as they passed, lowering his head as though in prayer. When they were out of earshot he moved back and lowered his voice even further. ‘We meet at Portland’s after the birthday.’

    The two vergers came back. Canning’s eyes followed them; the suspicion in their black depths shook John to his core, despite his efforts to remain unmoved. The shadows in the transept seemed suddenly longer and more threatening.

    When they were alone once more, Canning looked back at John. ‘What do you say?’

    ‘The night of the King’s birthday drawing room?’ There was something brilliant in it, John had to admit. A gathering of Mr Pitt’s old friends might provoke gossip under other circumstances, but a dinner party to celebrate the King’s birthday would not cause undue comment. Canning’s dark eyes were on him, full of curiosity and a hint of contempt. Dislike crystallised in John’s heart. This attempt to draw him into something for which he had neither time nor taste, something over which he had no control, turned his stomach. He owed allegiance to nobody. Not to a man five months dead; not to any of the ambitious young men who sought to succeed him. Certainly not to this jumped-up son of an Irish actress, who could not have made it clearer he only tolerated John because John was William’s brother.

    ‘What do you say to it, my lord?’ Canning repeated.

    ‘I have an engagement,’ John said, frostily.

    Canning looked as though he had expected nothing less. His lips twitched in amusement, but he said only, ‘Cancel it.’

    He put his hat back on, bowed and retreated before John could reply. He paused for a moment before William’s grave, a sudden, sad, thoughtful look on his long face. Then he turned his back and walked out. The sound of his footsteps echoed off the vaulted ceiling.

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