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Love Across the Ages (ch. 2 of 5)

December 17, 2017 06:03PM
Chapter 2

“What the hell?!” Beth began to close the door, but the man inserted his foot and prevented her from doing so.

“Eliza, please,” he begged again, stepping inside and closing the door behind him.

Oh no, he’s some sort of psycho! Beth thought. What was she supposed to do now? Her phone was in the kitchen. Could she run in time to get it before he grabbed her and did whatever sick thing was on his mind? Probably not, so she started scanning the room for a weapon.

Spotting the fireplace poker, she darted over to it, and braced it in front of her body. “You have three seconds to leave this house before I bash you in the head with this!”

The man’s eyes widened, and he held out his hands. “What are you doing? I know your parents aren’t home and I shouldn’t be here, but it’s the only opportunity I have to speak to you in private.”

Although her heart was racing, Beth’s confusion began to overtake her fear. Was this some mentally ill dude having a hallucination? Maybe he was harmless, but maybe not. Keeping her eyes on the man and the poker at the ready, she started moving slowly backwards toward the kitchen. “I’m going to get my phone and call my sister, okay? She works at MGH and can get you some help.”

“No, don’t call Jane!” he said. “Please, allow me five minutes to talk to you.”

Beth was now standing in the entrance to the kitchen. She could see her phone, less than four feet away, from the corner of her eye. She gripped the poker harder. “All right, then. You have five minutes. Don’t come any closer to me.”

He nodded, and then began to pace across the living room. Finally, he spoke. "In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. I love you, Eliza, with all my heart!”

Beth's astonishment was beyond expression. Who was this man, and why did he keep calling her Eliza, the very name of the great-aunt whose journal she had just been reading?

“From the day I first met you at the Darcy School...”

Beth stared. Through Eliza's journal, she had become familiar with the Darcy School, which had been established to educate black children with the support of a wealthy white family named the Darcys. Eliza had started writing in her journal on the day she began teaching there after completing Teacher’s College at Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School, the HBCU* founded by Mary McCleod Bethune. This man was calling her Eliza, and referring to the Darcy school! It couldn’t be a coincidence.

“Is this some sort of joke?” she asked. “Did my sisters put you up to it?” She couldn’t imagine her sisters doing something like that, but how else would this man know about all this?

“Your sisters?” he repeated. “No, of course not. Eliza, I know that neither your family nor mine would approve of our union. Indeed, mine would consider it a degradation for me to marry a colored woman. I know that our races are not equal, that you are my inferior, and we would be outcasts in society if I were to attach myself to you. Yet despite all my endeavors, I have not been able to conquer my feelings for you. Please, dear Eliza, end my suffering and reward me by accepting my hand!”

In spite of being stunned, Beth could sense the sincerity of the man's affection, and she was at first sorry for the pain he was about to receive; until, pissed off by his racist language, she lost all her compassion. She tried, however, to compose herself to answer him with patience. It would be stupid to anger a guy who was possibly having a psychotic break.

As she looked at him, she could easily see that he had no doubt of a favorable answer to his bizarre proposal. He spoke of apprehension and anxiety, but his face expressed real security. His cockiness ticked her off, but she had to know something before she responded. “What’s your name?”

His confusion at her question removed the smile from his face. “Are you toying with me, Eliza? You know my name, Fitzwilliam Darcy.”

He’s F, thought Beth. Eliza’s F. And if he was some re-enactor portraying the love of Eliza’s life, it was no wonder she had remained single.

He was waiting for her response, so she took a deep breath, and tried to speak in a way that someone thinking he was living back in 1912 would understand. "In situations like this, I believe I'm supposed to say thank you for the feelings you expressed. And if I could feel gratitude, I would thank you. But I can't. I wasn't expecting your proposal, and you have certainly offered it to me unwillingly.”

F looked extremely puzzled, but she continued. “I'm sorry to cause you any pain, and I hope it won’t last. And since it would be a degradation for you to marry a black woman anyway, I sure you’ll overcome your feelings pretty easily.”

F, who was leaning against the mantlepiece with his eyes fixed on her face, seemed to catch her words with no less resentment than surprise. His complexion became pale with anger, and the disturbance of his mind was visible in every feature. He was struggling for the appearance of composure, and would not open his lips till he believed himself to have attained it. After some time, in a voice of forced calmness, he said, “And this is all the reply which I am to have the honor of expecting! I might, perhaps, wish to be informed why, with so little endeavor at civility, I am thus rejected!”

"I might as well ask,” Beth retorted, "why with so obvious a plan to offend and insult me, you chose to tell me that you loved me despite the fact that I’m such a degradation and inferior to you? How could I not respond with incivility, if that’s what you want to call it?” She stopped suddenly, realizing she was speaking as herself and not as the ancestor he had so insulted. It didn’t matter. The jerk needed to hear her response. “Eliza is a black woman with a college degree. Do you know how few women of any color had college degrees in 1912? Do you know what our ancestors overcame? I doubt your family could have endured the struggles ours has and come out with their humanity and sanity intact! How dare you think that you’re somehow superior to us!”

As she pronounced these words F changed color. "And this," he cried, as he walked with quick steps across the room, "is your opinion of me! This is the estimation in which you hold me! I thank you for explaining it so fully. My faults, according to this calculation, are heavy indeed! But perhaps," he added, stopping in his walk, and turning towards her, "these offences might have been overlooked, had not your pride been hurt by my honest confession of the scruples that had long prevented my forming any serious design. These bitter accusations might have been suppressed, had I concealed my struggles, and flattered you into the belief of my being impelled by unqualified, unalloyed inclination; by reason, by reflection, by everything. But disguise of every sort is my abhorrence. Nor am I ashamed of the feelings I related. They were natural and just. Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your skin color? -- to congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?”

Beth felt herself growing angrier every moment; yet she tried to the utmost to speak with composure when she said, “You’re mistaken if you think I’m just upset about how you proposed. No, what you said is what’s in your heart. Your racism, arrogance, and bigotry are disgusting to me. With attitudes like that, you’re the last man in the world I would ever marry!”

Again his astonishment was obvious, as was hers, since she had once more forgotten that she wasn't actually Eliza receiving an obnoxious proposal from an arrogant white man. F looked at her with an expression of mingled incredulity and mortification. “You have said quite enough, madam. I perfectly comprehend your feelings, and have now only to be ashamed of what my own have been. Forgive me for having taken up so much of your time, and accept my best wishes for your health and happiness.”

With that, he turned and walked out of the house, slamming the door shut behind him. Several minutes passed before Beth felt herself calm down. She double-locked the door, put the poker away, and then briefly considered calling Janet to tell her what had just happened. Then she laughed. Who would ever believe such a story? The only person who might understand what had just happened, she realized, was Eliza. And so she returned to her great-great-great Aunt’s journal, hoping to uncover the mystery of Eliza and F.

* An HBCU is a "historically black college and university," created after the Civil War and throughout the segregation era to serve African-Americans who were barred from attending most predominantly white institutions of higher learning. Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School was later renamed Bethune-Cookman College, and still exists to this day.

Love Across the Ages (ch. 2 of 5)

Amy A-NWDecember 17, 2017 06:03PM

Re: Love Across the Ages (ch. 2 of 5)

Michelle AnneDecember 18, 2017 03:12AM

Re: Love Across the Ages (ch. 2 of 5)

Lucy J.December 20, 2017 03:36AM


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