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Love Across the Ages (ch. 3 of 5)

December 20, 2017 03:45PM
Chapter 3

William Darcy poured himself into his current reading material on Thursday evening, hoping to finish as much as possible by the following day so that he could leave early for the Mass General Hospital benefit dinner. Although he was generally loath to attend any public functions, let alone a black-tie event, this one was important. Not because he was an MGH donor, although he was, albeit anonymously. No, stepping outside his comfort zone for one night was something he owed to two of the most important people in his life—his mother, and his best friend Chase. MGH had provided excellent care for his mother during the days when her health was rapidly declining, and Chase had been there for him in so many ways over the last near decade, including helping him re-acclimate to life in the States over the last six months, after living for six years in Europe.

He thought about how Chase and he had become friends. Both 1L’s at Harvard Law School nine years earlier, they knew each other somewhat from common courses. But their friendship began with Will making a fool of himself, back when he was still known as William Wickham. He was making a very awkward, drunken pass at a woman at a party, and failing miserably. Chase had observed the woman looking disgusted as she walked away, and laughed at him.

“What are you laughing at?!” he had grumbled.

“Sorry, man,” Chase chuckled. “It’s just that you’re a rich, good-looking white boy. Women should be falling all over you. How’d you manage to blow that one?”

“Because life sucks, that’s why!” Will stared down at his beer, wanting another one, but doubting he could even stand up to get it.

“What could possibly be wrong with your life?”

“Like why the hell I’m even at law school, for one thing.”

“To get rich. Or to stay rich. That’s what most of us are here for, right?”

“I was supposed to be here learning how to ‘protect my old man’s business interests.’” Will made finger quotes. “Keep the bastard out of jail is what he really meant. Well, it’s too late for that.”

Chase looked at him curiously. “Your dad’s going to jail?”

Will nodded miserably. “Probably. He was arrested this morning. I hope he dies there, and then rots in hell.”

“Wow,” Chase said softly. “Of all the things you could have said, I definitely didn’t expect that. But I can relate. My dad’s locked up, too.”

And so began a friendship between two young men at the crossroads, trying to figure out how to make different life choices than the men that sired them. Of course, there were many key differences between them. Chase’s dad had made the poor choice to buy and sell drugs because he had few other opportunities. Will’s dad, on the other hand, had had every advantage, and still chose to waste it by defrauding people of their life savings with Ponzi scheme securities.

Chase’s mother was also a much stronger woman than Will’s had been, working hard to keep her kids on the straight and narrow, and eventually sending them to the best colleges in America. Will’s mother, however, had drowned out her shame at the family scandal in alcohol and prescription drugs, until it destroyed her health and killed her. Chase had stayed loyal to him through it all, even as their Harvard classmates began to shun him when it became known that he was the son of the fraudster George Wickham.

Without Chase, he didn’t know how he would have made it, but poor Gia wasn’t so lucky. His sister was in middle school when their dad was arrested, and her classmates treated her brutally, especially because some of their family members had been George Wickham’s victims. His heart broke for her, because he couldn’t do anything about it. His father’s money, what little he had left after paying the lawyers, went to make restitution to the victims. His mother was in and out of the hospital, and he was trying his best to finish school so he could make some kind of life for them.

He turned 25 two weeks before his law school graduation, and knew it was time to make a change. He had come into his trust inheritance from his mother’s side of the family, the Darcy’s, on his birthday. He arranged to have his mother revert to her maiden name, and changed his own and his sister’s last names to the same, updated their passports, and moved his family to Europe. This would give Gia a chance to start over in a place where she was unknown, with a new name that might protect her from nosy kids on social media. And maybe it would lift his mother’s spirits to be away from the terrible publicity. For Gia it had helped; for his mother, who died a few months after they left the U.S., it did not.

He obtained his law license in Brussels, and began working in international contract law. He worked just enough to sustain their lifestyle, but spent much of his time learning about and donating anonymously to charities, to somehow make up for the terrible things his father had done. He laid low during his time in Europe, dating sparsely and socializing little. Chase remained his closest friend, keeping in touch with him during the six years he was overseas, even though he had missed the most important events of Chase’s life, his wedding and the birth of his now three-year-old triplets.

Given all this, the least Will could do was support the gala for the hospital where Chase’s wife worked.

Blind dates were one thing he hated even more than public, black-tie affairs, but in this case, he was open to the idea. Chase’s wife Janet was a sweetheart and a real babe. If her sister was anything like her, he would enjoy meeting her. And a date would at least keep him from having to mingle too much with the other guests, some of whom might recognize him as his father’s son.

Chase even told him that they might find some interesting things to talk about. “She’s a professor of African-American history. Tell her about your project. She might have some insights.”

One of the things Will had inherited from his maternal grandfather, besides his trust, was a piece of property, a building on Joy Street in downtown Boston. When he left for Europe, he placed a property manager in charge of leasing the place. When he returned, he set up a law office in a small suite in the building. Chase had offered to help him get in the door at his firm, but Will still wanted to keep a low profile. After passing the Massachusetts Bar, he maintained a caseload of wills, trusts, and a few of his old international contract clients, but mostly, he did as he had in Belgium—learned about the needs in the community and tried to support them without fanfare.

After Will had settled in, the property manager told him about some archived documents stored in the basement. Curious, Will had had the boxes brought up to his office, and what he had learned when he started perusing through them amazed him.

Will had long known that Beacon Hill, in the shadow of the golden dome of the Massachusetts State House, had been home for centuries to many of the wealthiest Bostonians. What he hadn’t known was that the neighborhood had once had a large African-American population, composed of those who were servants to the rich and well-connected. A short distance from his building was the African Meeting House, the oldest black church in America, and now the home of Boston’s Museum of African American History. And his very building had once been the Darcy School, an early educational institution for black children.

When Gia finished university earlier this year, she had encouraged him to return to the U.S. “You’re done taking care of me,” she told him. “Go live your own life.” He had considered returning to someplace new, maybe on the West Coast, but Gia insisted he go back to Boston. “I don’t know, I just feel like you’re meant to be there,” she said. “Maybe to make peace with our past.”

When he learned about the Darcy School, he began to believe Gia was right. Maybe this was what he had been searching for over the last decade—proof that his family, on one side at least, wasn’t evil, that they had made some good contributions to the world.

He had consulted with the museum, which had begun a project to uncover the story of the school and the many students who had passed through its doors during its sixty-year history. He had donated most of the archives to them, but two weeks ago, the curator had returned a few more personal documents related specifically to his family.

Among them was a journal written by his great-great grandfather, Fitzwilliam Darcy, who had served for a time as headmaster of the school. This was the book that had absorbed so much of his attention recently, and by turns had intrigued him and disturbed him. After reading one passage, he remarked to the air in his best Darth Vader voice, “The condescension is strong with this one.” Fitz, as he had taken to calling his ancestor, had written,

“The Negro children look to us for guidance, for their minds are weak and unable to learn with the quickness of the white race. It is my honor to provide an example for them to aspire to, for although they will never reach my heights of intelligence, they will surpass the many ignorant among their own people.”

Mockery aside, this passage and others like it had shocked him, and he had almost stopped reading. When he told Chase, his friend had laughed. “You didn’t really expect white folks at the turn of the 20th century to be enlightened, did you?”

“No, but man! I didn’t expect my ancestor to be so…”

“Racist?” Chase supplied. “Ignorant?” He shrugged. “Welcome to America, my friend.”

Will had swallowed his discouragement and kept reading, because the journal was so fascinating. He had come to a section from the time in Fitz’s life when he first fell in love. Her name was Eliza, and she was a teacher at the school.

“Each day I arrive at school with great elation, for I will have the chance to see my darling Eliza. At first, I noticed little of her, other than that the children loved her. But soon I found that her face was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. I have begun to make excuses to visit her classroom every day, silently watching to observe her performance as a new teacher, but in truth, I am there to inhale her beauty and etch it into my heart.”

Fitz, you dirty dog! Will grinned. At this point, he couldn’t put the book down, because he wanted to know what had happened to Eliza. He knew Fitz hadn’t married her. Will’s great-great grandmother Sarah was a member of the Lowell family, of the ditty, “And this is good old Boston / The home of the bean and the cod / Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots / and the Cabots talk only to God.”

He didn’t know much about Eliza yet, but he knew that Fitz had loved her dearly. Had she lacked the pedigree of the Lowell family? Had Fitz’s family forbidden him from marrying her? He knew he really should go home for the evening, get some dinner, but not yet. Fitz and his great love Eliza were just too captivating.

He heard the front door of his office suite open, and looked up to see a young black woman enter. His initial impression, based on the long dark dress she wore, was that she was one of the homeless people from the nearby Boston Common who had wandered into the building.

“May I help you?” he asked.

As the woman drew nearer and removed the hood from her cape, he knew that his first impression was wrong. Although she was unadorned by jewelry or makeup and wore her hair pulled back in a severe bun, she was stunningly beautiful, and far too healthy looking to be homeless. His second thought was that she was a re-enactor for an event at the African-American Museum, since he could now see that she was dressed in period clothing.

“Mr. Darcy?” she said. “I was hoping to find you here tonight. If I may have a few moments of your time, I’d like to talk to you.”




Author's note: Michelle and Lucy, thank you very much for your comments!
SubjectAuthorPosted

Love Across the Ages (ch. 3 of 5)

Amy A-NWDecember 20, 2017 03:45PM

Re: Love Across the Ages (ch. 3 of 5)

Lucy J.December 23, 2017 04:54AM

Re: Love Across the Ages (ch. 3 of 5)

EmelynDecember 21, 2017 12:45PM

Re: Love Across the Ages (ch. 3 of 5)

KarenteaDecember 20, 2017 05:12PM

Re: Love Across the Ages (ch. 3 of 5)

Tobe not logged inDecember 21, 2017 03:49AM

Interesting angle :-) (nfm) (nfm)

Sabine C.December 20, 2017 10:19PM

Re: Love Across the Ages (ch. 3 of 5)

MichaDecember 20, 2017 05:06PM



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