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.”