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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Comic characters on WIP Wednesday

Dickens was the master of using the secondary character to provide a bit of light relief, and this week I’m looking for excerpts about those people. The bratty little sister. The nervous secretary. The bossy maid. The matchmaking mama. The wild and silly brother.

Mine is from Lord Calne’s Christmas Ruby, which is in final editing. My heroine’s man of business has ventured into the country, and he is not happy.

The following morning, Philip escorted his uncle and the man of business on the two-mile walk to Aunt Hannah’s. Uncle Henry, country born and still a fit active man in his early sixties, thoroughly enjoyed the trek. The rain had cleared, and the mud had dried between the ruts so that, by stepping carefully, one could avoid the worst of the puddles.

Mr Wiggens regarded the hedgerows with suspicion, the sheep with distaste, and the cows with alarm.

“You are not accustomed to the country, Mr Wiggens,” Philip observed.

“I am a London man, sir. This place… the noises, the smells, the animals… How do people stand it?”

“Country people say the same when they come to London,” Uncle Henry said. “But you were here once before, Wiggens?”

“Yes, my lord, when I came down to—as I thought—put in place measures for Mrs Thorpe’s welfare. I blame myself, my lord. I blame myself very much. Had I not been so anxious to return to London… But a gentleman of the cloth, my lord, and so concerned for her, seemingly!”

“Yes, well, what’s done is done, Wiggens. Is this the place, Philip? But I have been here before! Visiting your great grandmother with your father, Philip. It is surely the estate’s dower house.”

In the thin winter sunshine, it looked better than it had on Philip’s first visit. The windows sparkled, cleaned inside and out, Kareema had holystoned the front door slab and Philip had painted the front door a fresh green.

Philip had sent the pot boy ahead of them to warn the ladies of the visit, and morning tea was laid out in the parlour, where Aunt Hannah waited to preside over the tea pot, still in her faded black, but with a clean white fischu Kareema had brought for her and a white lace cap decorated with pretty pink ribbons that Philip had watched Kareema making one afternoon while Mrs Thorpe slept.

“Lord Henry, this is such an honour. I do not know if you remember me, my lord, but I had the privilege of meeting you when you came here with the earl’s father. Back when you were at school, that would have been.”

“Indeed I remember,” Uncle Henry agreed, bowing over her hand. “You gave us a great slab of gingerbread each. I still remember how delicious it was.”

Aunt Hannah beamed. “Won’t you take a seat, my lord? And, Mr Wiggens, how very kind of you to come all this way. Please sit down, sir. How very delightful this is, to be sure. Why, I do not remember when I last had such visitors.”

Philip waited for her to get over her first fluster and to pour tea for Kareema to carry to each of the guests. Once everyone was settled, he turned to Mr Wiggens. “Mr Wiggens, will you explain to Mrs Thorpe why we are here today?”

“Oh dear,” Mr Wiggens said. He put down his cup, pulled some papers out of his omnipresent briefcase, and pushed his glasses back up his nose. “Mrs Thorpe, may I first say how very, very sorry I am.”

Aunt Hannah was bewildered. “Why, whatever can you mean, Mr Wiggens?”

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Book Blurbs on WIP Wednesday

Ask most writers what they find hardest to write, and they’ll tell you book blurbs. Probably as a close-running second to the dreaded synopsis.

So this week’s WIP Wednesday is about the book blurb. Feel free to post yours in the comments. Feel free to suggest how I can improve mine. It’s for Lord Calne’s Christmas Ruby, the Christmas novella I’m completing at the moment.

Fashionable London holds nothing for wealthy merchant’s niece, Kareema Finchurch. Except perhaps for an earl with a twisted hand and a charming smile. Why is it that, for all the fortune hunters she has fended off since returning from India, the one man who seems to like her is so against marrying for money?

Philip has inherited an earldom so impoverished that his only two choices are to marry for money or to abandon Society altogether and return to his work as an engineer. Which is no choice at all, and he intends heading back north to his canal, until a tiny woman with beautiful eyes and a fine mind dances with him on his last night in London.

When they meet again in a small country village, they join forces to uncover larceny and deceit, to rescue Kareema’s aunt from poverty, and to discover that pride is a poor reason to refuse a love for a lifetime.

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First meetings on WIP Wednesday

The theme for this week is first meetings. Or at least first meetings of your hero and heroine in this particular book, since parted lovers or old enemies or childhood friends can be fun, too. Please put your excerpt into the comments, as always.

Mine puts together two people who have not met until the first chapter of my story. I’ve picked up a deleted scene from several years ago and begun turning it into a new novella for Christmas, with a brand new beginning and a heap of edits throughout. It’s going to be called Lord Calne’s Christmas Ruby, and I’m enjoying my reluctant earl who can barely wait until he offloads the last of his impoverished estate and gets back to building aqueducts, and my feisty Nabob’s heiress cast unwillingly upon the ton, who is counting the days until she turns twenty-five and has full control of her fortune.

The next room was dark, but the one after was lit, the door partly open, though not enough to see into the room. Women’s voices indicated the room was in use, and he paused to listen. He would not intrude on a private conversation.

“Really, Miss Finchurch, I cannot imagine what Lady Carngrove is thinking, bringing you here to mingle with your betters.”

Another voice; a vicious purr somehow familiar to Philip. “Perhaps she imagines that the perfume of Miss Finchurch’s wealth will overcome the stench of her origins?”

This was definitely not the card room. Harpies of this stamp would not attack so openly in front of an audience, and Uncle Henry would not stand by while they did. Philip should do something. While he hesitated, those inside continued to talk.

“I do not believe so, girls. Lady Carngrove intends all that lovely money for her darling Ceddie. As if he would even consider such a thing! Why, Miss Finchurch is quite old!”

The next voice was crisp, but with a bubble of a laugh running through it. “My goodness, I must really worry you, for you to descend to such a puerile level of nursery bullying.”

Philip grinned. The victim was not entirely helpless then.

Before the babble of rejoinders sorted themselves out, he pushed the door open. “Miss Finchurch? Ah, there you are.” It was a small reading room, lined with bookshelves and with comfortable chairs grouped around low tables, just the right height for a drink and a book.

The target of the others’ spite was clearly the one at bay, seated by the fire with an open book on her lap. She turned her face to him an instant before the others. Old? True, she was not a girl fresh from the schoolroom, but rather a lady in her mid-twenties, unlined face a perfect oval, with large brown eyes under arched brows, a tilt-tipped nose, and a quantity of light brown hair pulled up into a confection of hair atop her head, a few strands pulled loose to frame the delightful whole.

She met his smile with a quizzical tip of the head, and he ignored the five ladies standing over her. “Our dance is in a few minutes, Miss Finchurch, so I came to find you. Would you care to take a short stroll while we wait?”

Would she take the rescue, he wondered, glancing from her to the others. Three were strangers. One, he vaguely recognised. But the remaining woman… He nodded a polite but cold acknowledgement Lady Markhurst, who had pretended to accept his courtship when he was last in Society four years ago, after recovering from the injuries that ended his army career and brought him home to England.

Lady Markhurst had soon made it clear his only attraction was his unwed cousins, one an earl and one the heir to an earl. Philip wasn’t close to either, and had not seen her since she discovered that fact. He assumed her pursuit was unsuccessful; certainly, she had wed before the end of that season, to a lowly and rather elderly baron who proved to be not as wealthy as rumour had painted.

Clearly, Philip’s attractiveness had increased, since Lady Markhurst fluttered her fan and her eyelashes, and fingered the diamond drop that dangled from her ornate necklace into the valley between her breasts. “Why, Lord Calne. Surely you cannot intend to dance with a merchant’s daughter. Your inheritance cannot be in such a dire state as that. Let me save you from such a fate by offering myself as a partner instead.” The throaty note in her last sentence made it a naughty innuendo.

He ignored Lady Markhurst and her outstretched hand, offering Miss Finchurch his bad arm, which functioned well enough as a prop for a lady. Lady Markhurst’s face flushed and then whitened. She had not learned to control her temper, then.

Miss Finchurch made up her mind, set her book to one side, and stood to slip her hand into his elbow, and he turned to the door, but Lady Markhurst launched another attack before they reached it.

“Do be warned, Miss Finchurch. The Calne title comes with a bankrupt estate and a crippled earl.”

Miss Finchurch gripped his arm, making him wince, and she sensed it, too, the fires she was about to turn on Lady Markhurst doused by her concern for him. He took another step towards the door.

“Ignore Lady Markhurst, Miss Finchurch. I would say her disappointment in her ambitions has made her bitter, but she was always a scold.”

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