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Second Chances

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After finally telling Demelza about this past, there was an odd few days of adjustment. For the next week or so Ross had kept to himself and continued to wallow in guilt over Geoffrey Charles until Demelza had lost her temper with him. She had been very frank with him and acknowledged that a terrible thing had happened, but at the end of the day they couldn’t have known it would happen and the end result was a living happy Julia. While the guilt never fully went away, Ross found it was more bearable than before.

After helping deal with the shipwreck, Ross had worried for a while that he would be arrested as he had previously. He had done nothing wrong this time, but he still feared that he would be blamed. For one brief selfish moment he had almost regretted getting involved at all, just remembering those months of turmoil he and his family were put through during the trial. He berated himself afterwards for such thoughts. Trying to help had been the right thing to do. In the end, nothing came of the issue. George never accused him on any wrong doing. Instead, Ross had received a formal letter, likely not even written by the man himself, thanking him for his efforts in saving the men. Sampson was still found dead, but Ross was never considered a suspect so the case was left unsolved.

Aside from those few incidents, life went much more smoothly for the Nampara Poldarks. He started to let Demelza know what to expect regarding certain events, and with her help he was able to continue correcting the course of their lives. Within a few months, Ross stepped from the shadows as one of the leaders of the Carnmore Copper Company, confident that there was little George could do at this point. The venture became very profitable, giving them the financial stability that they had previously struggled to achieve. He planned to continue supplementing their income with the tin from Wheal Grace, and with other business opportunities that presented themselves.

George continued to try to befriend him and Demelza. Ross was very careful when it came to these attempts. They accepted enough invitations to remain on good terms with his dangerous opponent, but never allowed for any closer intimacy of friendship. He very politely declined George’s attempts to link their businesses, or begin new ventures together, never fully able to trust him.

As the years went on, Ross and Demelza were closer than ever as their little family continued to expand. Ross took fresh pleasure from raising and getting to know his children, particularly William and Julia who he had not known before. Telling Demelza the truth had lifted a great weight off Ross’s shoulders, but at the same time there came another burden. The knowledge that he would never be able to tell Francis. Unfortunately, while the fate of Ross’s family continued to improve. The same could not be said for the Trenwith Poldarks. As Elizabeth had worried, the couple were not able to get past the death of their son. Their relationship hasn’t been particularly strong before that tragic event, but it had now been broken beyond repair. They lived together as strangers, barely more than cordial to one another.

Just as he had promised, George had extended the hand of friendship to Francis. And with few other options, given his difficulty being around Ross and his family, Francis had accepted it. George had carefully ingratiated himself back into his life, and Ross truly believed that no matter George’s motivations, it had been of help to his cousin. Of course, that had not lasted forever. After a few months, when the searing pain of a lost child had dulled slightly, Ross had helped Francis re-organise his finances. The aim had been to help him and Elizabeth try to get back on their feet. Ross hadn’t counted on Francis using the opportunity to seek comfort from women like Margaret again. It was not a great secret, and only served to further sour things between Francis and his wife.

Much to Ross’s surprise, Elizabeth started calling on Demelza more often. He would have thought she would have stayed away, as Francis had, trying to avoid the painful reminders that the bustling house filled with children would have brought about. But perhaps she had just missed the feel of a child in her arms, a desire that Demelza would not have been cruel enough to deny, even knowing what she did now. With any intimacy between her and Francis rendered non-existent, she could not have hoped for the chance of another child of her own to care for. Or so Ross had thought.

One time, Elizabeth had come calling while Demelza was visiting friends, and only he had been home. He had been polite, offered her refreshments and cordially asked after her and Francis.

“Do you ever have regrets for decisions you made in the past?” She asked.

“Everyone has regrets.” He answered neutrally. “Why?”

“It’s silly.” Elizabeth said dismissively, averting her gaze. “But sometimes, I can’t help but wonder how everything would change, if I had the chance to do it all again.”

She was toying idly with something in her hands, and with a start Ross recognised it as the ring he had returned to her all those years ago. He had thought she would have rid herself of the thing, rather than holding on to it.

“Some events would change,” Ross acknowledged carefully, “but others would remain constant. I think that no matter the circumstances, I would always have been drawn to Demelza. A second chance is a wonderful thing, but it wouldn’t change everything.” It was a subtle put down, a way to firmly quash whatever hopes Elizabeth was alluding to. The words seemed to have the desired effect, and a light dimmed in her eyes. Perhaps now she would finally realise that nothing could or would ever happen between them.

After that day, Elizabeth remained a friend albeit a more distant one. If anything their relationship was more comfortable now that the last uncomfortable hurdle had been cleared. Over time though, Ross found new aspects of her life to worry about. George maintained his closeness with Francis, and particularly Elizabeth. It was not uncommon for George to escort Elizabeth around town, or visit her when Francis was away entertaining other women. The hurt look on her face every time George had to distract her from her husband’s actions slowly dissipated as she grew more immune to Francis’s infidelity. And in parallel, the smug and satisfied look George bore became more and more prevalent.

Ross had not forgotten that George had been infatuated with Elizabeth, but he hadn’t considered that he would be so blatant in his courtship while the woman was still married. He had always seemed to have a measure of restraint in the past, before Francis’s death. But now, with Francis set to live a longer life than before, it seemed as though the other man was starting to lose patience. When the warning signs first started to appear, like the lavish gift of dressmaking silk on Elizabeth’s birthday, Ross had tried to warn Francis. His cousin had laughed off the warning, either disbelieving that Elizabeth would betray him or uncaring.

It turned out later, that it had been the former rather than the latter.

After several months of Ross’s warnings going unheeded, a change came over Elizabeth. Since Geoffrey Charles’s death, there had been a permanent air of melancholy around her. For the first time, it seemed to have lifted. Not entirely, but she appeared more serene and started to smile more. There had been no change in Francis’s behaviour, which told Ross that there was something or someone else lifting her spirits. Much to his surprise, the visits and outings with George stopped soon after, although not for lack of trying on George’s part. Elizabeth appeared to no longer have any need of him, and had tired of his attentions. Instead she spent more time with Demelza and the children, seeming to be content with that.

Ross found out the truth of the matter a while after that, when he found Francis waiting for him at Nampara, pacing the living room in a rage. The truth and accusations came pouring out of him as soon as Ross walked in. It took some time for the unexpected barrage he was assaulted by to sink in.

Elizabeth was with child. Francis hadn’t been with her since before Geoffrey Charles’s death. Francis was certain George was the father. How could she betray him like this? Ross had betrayed him by not warning him of their closeness.

It was like a strange and twisted parody of the events with Valentine. When Ross came back to his senses, he immediately objected to the last of Francis’s accusations. He reminded him sternly that he had warned him about George hanging around Elizabeth and Francis hadn’t taken it seriously. For some reason, it was a struggle for him to reconcile that his infidelity had likely spurned hers on. That it was hypocritical for him to expect her to remain loyal when he was anything but.

Francis broke down when he realised that Ross was not on his side, and that he might have been in the wrong as well as Elizabeth. Shakenly, he asked him what he should do.

“What can you do?” Ross retorted. “You could be unspeakably cruel and throw her out, or you can do the right thing and support her.” Francis did not like either option.

“I won’t have her in my house when she’s carrying on with George.”

“She isn’t anymore.” Ross pointed out simply. Elizabeth had dropped George as soon as she had what she wanted. “Do the right thing.”

Francis had stormed out, but what Ross observed over the next few weeks indicated that he may have taken his advice. In public, Elizabeth and Francis put up a united front, diminishing the rumours of unfaithfulness that had been circling around. Privately, their relationship was still severely strained. Elizabeth’s priority was her unborn child, not her marriage or Francis’s ego.

It might have continued that way, but there were early signs that the pregnancy was a strain on Elizabeth. She tired far more easily than when she had carried Geoffrey Charles, and appeared generally weaker. Her condition melted at least some of Francis’s ire to her. As angry as he might have been about the situation, he did not want her to die. The signs only got worse as her time came nearer, and she ended up bed-ridden for the last month. Demelza had stayed by her side, doing her best to nurse and support Elizabeth, but none of her efforts seemed to work. In tandem, Francis had several doctors come and look at Elizabeth, to try to save both mother and child. All had the same grim outlook, but Francis remained in denial.

As she came closer her time, Elizabeth had summoned up as much strength as she could for a final talk with Francis. She didn’t apologise for what she had done, but she did express regret for how badly their relationship had turned. Not just after Geoffrey Charles, but also before. She admitted that they should probably have never married, because he had always been a better friend to her than a husband. She asked him now, if as a friend, he could promise to care of her baby. To forget the sinful origins of the child and raise them as his own. With some reluctance, Francis had promised. And within a few days that promise was tested. Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter, and as all the doctors had predicted, she bled out soon afterwards, leaving the world in a similar way as she had previously.

Francis named the baby girl Elizabeth, after her mother. And to his credit, he did as Elizabeth asked and claimed the child as his own. If George had tried to raise a fuss, Ross never heard of it. Perhaps it was not enough trouble for a mere girl, or perhaps Francis had outright refused to even entertain the idea of handing her over. George simply slinked away, now the father of two bastard children with no true-borns to carry on his name and legacy. It was for the best. Francis and the little girl, who became known as Beth to all close friends and family, were soon inseparable. Just as Jeremy had helped heal Demelza and Ross, so too did Beth help Francis.

Eventually Francis would confess his regrets to Ross. He regretted blaming Elizabeth for Geoffrey Charles’s death, and not attempting to reconcile thereafter. Most of all he regretted that the rift between them had started so early, even beginning when Ross returned from the war. They should have talked. Really talked. About what Elizabeth wanted, and about what Francis was worried about. Maybe then, their lives would have been better. Ross told him that it was rare for people to be offered second chances, but that he could continue take this opportunity he had been presented with to make amends for his mistakes.

Francis did his best for the child. Even when their financial circumstances worsened, leading to them losing the Trenwith estate to debts, he always put Beth and her needs first. They moved into a much more modest little cottage, but it was honestly a move for the better. The Trenwith estate had too many bad memories associated with it. Charles’s death. Geoffrey Charles. Elizabeth. The new cottage was pure and unstained by any of those events. Francis would eventually re-marry. A sweet girl called Anne with a disposition much better suited to him, who would become a wonderful step-mother to young Beth. 

As for Ross, he continued to live a happy life with Demelza and their children. He used some of his earnings to expand the Nampara estate. With two extra children, it was found to be rather necessary, especially when they started growing up and complaining about having to share. He tirelessly worked to keep everyone in his life happy. And when Ross was old and on his deathbed, as he had been once before, he had no major regrets tethering him to the world. He passed on with a smile on his face, and a legacy that would last generations.

The End