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Love Across the Ages (ch. 5 of 5)

December 26, 2017 07:37PM
Thank you, everyone, for your encouraging comments! And now, the finale* of my tale.

* Well, not quite. I have a short Christmas outtake about Eliza and Fitz that will appear beneath this final chapter.



Chapter 5

“You look phenomenal!” Janet told Beth as she descended the stairs of her sister’s home.

Beth had to admit that she looked pretty good. As far as dressing up, she had only brought a little black dress with her from Washington, in case she connected with some of her high school friends and they invited her to go out dancing. Janet had told her that simply wouldn’t do for a formal event, and insisted she come over early enough to try on some of Janet’s full-length gowns. Beth had selected a form-fitting burgundy halter dress, and borrowed a pair of Janet’s stiletto heels. Even that wasn’t enough to convince her sister that, as Janet made her repeat to much laughter by both sisters: “I am no longer a graduate student. I am a grown, professional woman.” No, to satisfy Janet, Beth had to get completely made up and wear a pair of Janet’s gold and pearl teardrop earrings and matching necklace.

Chase shared his wife’s praise. “I’m going to have to scrape Will off the ground when he sees you.”

Beth rolled her eyes. “Chase, please. I’m going to go and be nice to your friend, but don’t make a big deal out of it. Remember that I’m going back to Olympia in two weeks.”

Chase laughed and promised to be chill about the evening. After hugging and kissing the couple’s triplets, the three adults loaded into Chase’s BMW and drove to the Sheraton at Copley Place. Shortly after leaving their coats with the coat check, Chase approached a tall man with dark hair whose back was to them. The two men embraced, and then turned to walk back toward Janet and Beth.

Beth’s mouth dropped. The crazy man, the one claiming to be Eliza’s F, was walking toward her!

The man came to an abrupt halt and stared at her. Then he smiled, as if he were happy to see her even after their blowup the previous day, which really freaked her out. This was Chase’s friend?!

Will barely noticed Janet giving him a kiss on the cheek and telling him it was good to see him. All he saw before him was the woman who had portrayed Eliza. She had been beautiful the previous evening; tonight, she was exquisite. “It’s you,” he breathed, unable to contain his joy.

Beth glared at him in response. “It’s you!” she replied in a voice that was decidedly less happy.

A baffled Chase looked back and forth between the two. “Do you already know each other?’

“No!” “Yes!” They spoke in unison, the No coming from Beth.

They spoke simultaneously again. “Okay, maybe.” “Kind of.”

Janet took her husband’s arm. “Baby, do you think we should get something to drink and let them get acquainted? Or re-acquainted, or whatever?”

Chase made a funny face, indicating that he was extremely curious about whatever was going on, but nodded and let his wife lead him away.

Although Beth was tempted to beg her sister and brother-in-law not to leave her alone with this guy, she had never been one to back down from a challenge. As soon as she watched them enter the ballroom where the gala was taking place, she turned to the man with her fiercest expression. “What the hell were you doing at my parent’s house yesterday?”

“I wasn’t at your parent’s house. You came to my office last night!”

Beth folded her arms across her chest. “Really? You’re just going to deny it?”

As much as he wanted to get to know this woman, he was starting to wonder what kind of game she was playing. “Yes, I categorically deny it! I was at my office all day yesterday, I have no idea where your parents live, and I’d never seen you before in my life before you came to my office last night pretending to be Eliza!”

Beth stared at him. He knew who Eliza was. It had to be him! “What kind of joke is this? You came to my house yesterday, pretending to be the man who loved Eliza, and proceeded to spew a bunch of racist garbage!”

“Why would I do something like that? First of all, I would never, ever spew racist garbage! And it had to be you at my office last night. Your face is unforgettable, and how else would you know who Eliza is?”

“How do you know who Eliza is? Did Janet tell you, and you decided to play some sick joke?”

Will stopped responding, feeling much more hurt than angry. He didn’t understand what was going on, and being accused by a woman he found so attractive was painful. One thing he knew, he didn’t want to argue with her anymore.

When he finally felt calm enough to speak again, he answered softly, “I read about Eliza in my great-great grandfather’s journal.”

His words seemed to arrest her anger. “What’s his name?” she asked.

“My great-great grandfather? Fitzwilliam Darcy.”

“Oh my God,” she said. She chewed her lip, like she was mulling it over. She seemed as confused and troubled as he was, making him regret that he had doubted her.

“Hey, can we start over? We haven’t even been properly introduced.” He held out his hand. “I’m Will Darcy. I was born and raised in the Boston area, but I lived in Belgium for the last six years before moving back home six months ago. I’ve known Chase since our first year in law school, and he can vouch for my honesty.”

Beth hesitated. Should she trust this guy? She considered the fact that Chase trusted him, and decided that it at least merited giving him a chance. She exhaled, and slowly reached out to shake his hand. “I’m Beth Bennet. Also born and raised in Boston, but I now live in Washington State. And although they’d probably tell you that I’m a smart mouth extraordinaire, Janet and Chase would vouch for my honesty, too.”

He smiled. “Nice to meet you, Beth. I mean that. Chase and Janet have told me a lot of great things about you.”

Beth ignored his flattery. “It seems like we both had a weird experience yesterday. Maybe we can talk about it, and try to figure out what’s going on.”

He nodded and asked if she wanted to go first.

“Sure,” Beth said. She told him about finding Eliza’s journal, learning about a man Eliza called F, and then the arrival of her strange visitor “who looked exactly like you, and called himself by the same name as your great-great-grandfather, which coincidentally starts with an F.”

“It wasn’t me,” Will reiterated.

“So you say. For now, I’ll take your word for it. Anyway, he claimed to be there to propose to Eliza, who he thought was me. I can’t even begin to describe how awful his proposal was.”

Will groaned and covered his eyes. “Was it….atrocious?”

Beth laughed, and Will’s heart jumped. She laughed just like the woman calling herself Eliza.

“Atrocious is a good word for it. Sounds like you know something about it.”

“That’s how the woman who called herself Eliza described it. She thought I was him.”

“Was she as ticked off as I was? I went off on him, and he stormed out of the house, thank God.”

“Not anymore. A couple of years had passed since he made the proposal, and she said she had forgiven him.” He chuckled. “She probably went off on him when it first happened, though. She said her words were harsh.”

Beth blew out her breath. “Okay, this is more and more bizarre. Tell me more about this Eliza.”

“She was beautiful and charming. She looked and sounded just like you.”

“It wasn’t me!”

Will grinned. “So you say. For now I’ll take your word for it.”

She smirked. “Nice comeback. So do we have a pair of doppelgängers going around re-enacting our distant ancestors?”

“That’s unlikely.”

“What else could it be?”

“Time travel?” he suggested.

Beth rolled her eyes.

“Hey, come on! The whole thing is weird, so the explanation probably is, too!”

“All right, I’ll bite. If it was time travel, how? There are no DeLorean time machines around.”

“You said you were reading Eliza’s journal just before it happened. Well, I was reading Fitz’s. Maybe the journals are some sort of portal between eras, and they came through it.”

Beth nodded. “Okay, that’s a possibility. Or maybe they were ghostly apparitions.”

Will shook his head. “No, Eliza was too real.”

“How do you know? Did you touch her?”

“No, but…”

“No, you’re right. F pushed his way into my front door. I don’t think a ghost could do that.”

“He did what? Did you call the police?”

“My phone was in the kitchen. And I’m not eager to call the cops anyway. I grabbed a poker and was prepared to use it if I had to. Why are you laughing?”

“Because here I am feeling protective of you from someone who was basically me. And then I learn that you were ready to stab me with a poker.”

“I thought you said it wasn’t you.”

“But it kind of is me. Just like Eliza is kind of you.”

“What, we’re like their reincarnations? This is getting too deep for me.”

“Or maybe we met our doubles from an alternate universe.”

“Like when your counterpart from another universe comes through a breach!” Beth said excitedly. They were both laughing now, which seemed to be the most appropriate response to their shared, improbable encounters.

“Or maybe they’re from the Upside Down. Nah, that’s too creepy.”

“Actually, F was kind of creepy. He was a—”

“Big honkin’ racist,” Will said grimly. “I know. It’s amazing that he fell in love with Eliza.”

“Go to any black family reunion and you’ll see people of every color and shade. How do you think that happened? Racism doesn’t stop sexual attraction.”

“It’s still mind-blowing that he proposed to her.”

“But he screwed up big-time by letting his racist freak fly. The sad thing is, he probably didn’t even realize it. He probably thought he was doing her a big favor by asking for her hand.” Beth shook her head. “Anyway, I think her rejection was for the best. Life would have been very hard for them if they had tried to marry in that society, and Eliza certainly wouldn’t have put up with someone who didn’t see her as his equal.”

Will nodded, feeling a little heart-broken for their star-crossed ancestors. “Beth, why do you think we received these visitations? There has to be a reason.”

“Perhaps I’m supposed to tell their story,” Beth suggested. “I am a historian, after all.”

Will had a different idea, although he was a bit nervous to share it. “Or maybe it’s because you and I were meant to meet each other.” And more? he wondered.

She raised her eyebrows—just like Eliza had!—and smiled, so he presumed that she wasn’t completely opposed to that idea.

“Glad to see you two getting along.” Chase’s voice startled them both, and made them wonder if he had overheard any of their conversation.

“What are you talking about?” Janet asked.

“Nothing. We’re just geeking out on sci-fi stuff,” Beth said quickly.

“Well, you pair of geeks, they’re about to serve dinner. Come join us.”

Will and Beth glanced at each other, silently communicating. “I’m not very hungry,” he said. He actually was, but he wasn’t ready to end his conversation with Beth.

“Neither am I,” Beth added.

“Oh come on, you have to eat!”

“Chase.” Will looked at his friend sternly. “Go away.”

Janet smirked. “Baby, they’re trying to get rid of us.” Beth was now making “shoo!” gestures at them.

“You get that sense, too? What should we do?”

Janet started laughing. “I think we should give them some space.”

Chase gave an exaggerated sigh. “I guess we have no choice. Y’all be good now.” He held out his arm to his wife, and they walked away.

Will and Beth both laughed as they watched them go. “If we do miss dinner, maybe we can grab something later.”

Will nodded. “I’d like that. Hey, do you want to go up to the top of the Pru? I haven’t been there in years.”

“Neither have I. Let’s go!”

Prudential Tower, the second tallest building in Boston, was adjacent to the Sheraton. Its top floor Skywalk Observatory provided a 360-degree view of Greater Boston. They rode the elevator up and purchased tickets, even though the security guard informed them that only a half hour remained before the Observatory’s 8 PM closing.

They walked around, looking at different parts of the city through mounted binoculars stationed every few feet. Will pointed out the location of the Darcy School and his office building.

“Wow!” Beth said. “You’re right by the African Meeting House. My parents took us to functions there all the time when we were kids. Where do you live?”

“Right here in Back Bay, off Dartmouth Street.”

“Did you walk?”

“Actually, I took a Lyft. It’s a little too cold tonight.”

“You don’t have a car?”

He shook his head. “I haven’t had one since I moved to Europe. I got used to biking and car sharing there. When the weather’s good, I bike here in Boston, too. It’s a lot easier than trying to deal with traffic and parking.”

Beth grinned. “Me, too! I bike all over Olympia.”

“So…” he said slowly, “the next time you’re in Boston, or if I happen to visit Olympia, and the weather is nice, maybe we can go for a bike ride together?”

She glanced at him with a smile. “Are you asking me out, Will?”

He smiled back. “Yes, yes, I am. What do you think about that?”

Beth breathed in, wondering how in about half an hour she had gone from thinking Will was either crazy or a sick prankster, to dying to go out with him. It’s the tux, she thought. He looks so good in that tux! But she knew it was more than that. It was his warmth, his sense of humor, the fact that he seemed to be as quirky as she was, and their shared connection to Eliza and Fitz. Somehow, it created a bond that made it seem as if she had known Will forever.

She hadn’t answered him yet, so she assured him, “I would love to.” Will’s smile broadened, and he took her hand, interlacing their fingers together.

“It seems like you like sci-fi as much as I do. Have you seen the new Star Wars movie yet?” she asked.

“I haven’t.”

“Do you want to go this weekend?”

“Are you asking me out?” he grinned.

“Yes, I am. Especially because good weather in Olympia or Boston is a long way off, and I want to see you again a lot sooner than that.”

He looked at her with a tender expression. “So do I.”

They walked around a bit more, and he asked her to show him her family’s home. She pointed out the steeple of the First Church of Roxbury. “We’re a few blocks away. We’re planning to sell it, which is why I’ve been cleaning it out. It’s going to be very sad to give up our childhood home. What about you? Where’s your childhood home?”

"Weston, but we sold it a long time ago." He exhaled, thinking about how they'd had to sell it to pay legal bills, and knew he needed to tell her something that he'd never discussed with any woman he had dated over the last nine years. But Beth was special, and he couldn't withhold his heart from her. He had to know upfront that she wouldn't withhold hers from him. "Listen, before we go out again, you should know that my dad's a felon. He's serving 25 years in a federal penitentiary."

It didn’t seem to faze Beth. “So?” she said.

“In case you want to change your mind.”

“Why would I? You’re not your dad.”

“He’s a notorious criminal.”

“Is he a serial killer?”

“No. A conman. But he hurt a lot of people. I’ve been trying to make up for it, but I don’t know if I ever can.”

“Why do you feel like it’s your job to make up for your father’s wrongs?”

“It has weighed on me for the last nine years. I feel like I have to, or else…”

“Or else what? Do you think you’ll become like him?”

Will shrugged.

Beth turned to face him, taking both his hands into her own. “Will, I know we just met tonight, but I feel as if I’ve known you forever. Does that make sense?”

“It makes perfect sense. I feel the same way.”

“Because of that connection, I know what a good man you are. You’re special and caring, and I’m thrilled to see what our future holds. But it sounds like you’ve spent the last nine years not really living, all because of your dad. And I think you should stop. You deserve a full, wonderful, amazing life.”

Will’s heart swelled as Beth slipped her arms around his waist. He held her tightly, realizing that she was right, and that for the first time in years, he wanted to be fully alive—with her.

“Five minutes until closing,” the security guard warned. Other people strolling along the Observatory began to walk toward the elevators.

Beth started to pull away. “I guess we should head back.”

“Beth, wait,” Will said. He took her face in his hands, and she drew closer. They shared their first kiss, and Will wouldn’t have ended it until the security guard kicked them out, except that he spotted something.

“What are you looking at?” Beth asked, and then turned her head and gasped.

“You see them, too,” he whispered.

“Yes,” she said. Fitz and Eliza, wearing the clothing they had worn during their visits, were standing on the opposite side of the deck and looking at them with warm smiles. Only now they were fainter, more ghostly. Neither she nor Will wanted to move, afraid that the images would disappear.

“We still haven’t figured out how they’re doing this,” Beth said.

“We have time. I’m sure this is a topic you and I will discuss for years to come.”

“She did love him, you know. She didn’t realize it until after his proposal. Although she couldn’t accept that he didn’t see her as his equal, she finally had to admit to herself how much she cared for him.”

Will nodded, warmed by the realization. “She changed him. He took her words to heart, and started changing how he viewed and treated the teachers and students at the school, and other African-Americans he encountered.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Beth said. “He changed her, too. She became a suffragette because of him.”

Will smiled. “I know.”

“Okay, time to go,” the security guard announced.

Will finally released Beth, and hand-in-hand, they started walking to the elevators. They looked back once more at Fitz and Eliza, whose images were slowly vanishing. Just before they disappeared, Fitz waved, and Eliza blew them a kiss.

They had given Will and Beth their blessings.

THE END




I would love to hear your thoughts about this story! Also, please read on. On another site, someone wrote that they wanted to learn more about Fitz and Eliza, inspiring me to write this Christmas story.




Christmas Eve, 1911

The Fellowship Hall at the African Meeting House smelled of pine needles, candles, and delicious food as Eliza Bennet entered. A potluck supper had been organized following Christmas Eve services. Folks were already filling up plates and finding places to sit. They would enjoy a wonderful meal, followed by the students’ presentation.

Eliza, Lucy, and Annabelle had been working for weeks to prepare the children’s choir, and their voices, demonstrated first in church that morning, were angelic. They knew everything had to be perfect for the afternoon’s ceremony. Mrs. Darcy, the wife of the founder of the Darcy School and the mother of its current headmaster, was coming this afternoon to present gift baskets for the children, collected by members of her Ladies’ Auxiliary. The last thing Eliza wanted was for the Darcys to believe they were anything other than deeply grateful.

She and her fellow teachers were organizing the stage, making sure it was clean and neat for the presentation, when a voice came from behind her. “You’re looking fine today, Miss Eliza.”

Eliza turned. “Well, I thank you, Mr. Taylor. And Merry Christmas to you.”

Solomon Taylor, doffed in a handsome suit and a well-trimmed moustache, was a childhood neighbor who had just returned for Christmas break from his third year of college at Howard University. Since that time, he had sought Eliza out repeatedly. “And to you. I was wondering if you might like to go ice skating tomorrow. They say the Frog Pond will be nice and frozen.”

Eliza forced herself not to sigh. “I appreciate the offer, I really do. But you know my daddy. No playing on the Lord’s Day.”

Solomon smiled. “I believe today is the Lord’s Day, so he can have no objection to me taking you out tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow is Christmas, the holiest day of the year. In my daddy’s eyes, that’s the same thing. But I do thank you.” She turned to gesture to Lucy. “Lucy is quite the skater. She might be available.”

Her friend’s eyes grew big as Solomon looked her over. “Perhaps your daddy is right,” he said. “Christmas is a holy day, one to be spent with family and the Good Book.” He nodded at the three women, and then quickly moved away to the buffet table.

“Eliza!” Lucy cried after he was gone. “Why did you do that? You embarrassed me.”

Eliza felt badly for her friend; she hadn’t thought Solomon would react like that. “I’m so sorry, Lucy. I know you’re sweet on him, and I’m not. I thought that if he just had the chance to get to know you, he’d see what a lovely woman you are and stop trying to court me.”

Annabelle laughed. At twenty-seven, she was the oldest teacher at the school since Charlotte had married Billy Collins. Although she was nearly a spinster, she seemed to understand the ways of men, and often gave the younger teachers advice. “It doesn’t work like that, Eliza. When a man wants you, he’s not likely to give up.”

“Billy Collins did,” Lucy protested. Indeed, Billy Collins had pursued Eliza for about a month, before marrying their friend Charlotte.

Annabelle harrumphed. “That’s because Billy doesn’t have the sense God gave him. It’s a good thing he now has Charlotte for a wife. Otherwise he wouldn’t even know how to put on his pants in the morning.” At that image, Annabelle and Eliza laughed.

Instead of joining in their laughter, Lucy looked as if she might cry. Eliza reached out to hug her friend. “If Solomon Taylor can’t see what a good woman you are, then he doesn’t deserve you.” Lucy was plain in looks, but very sweet and kind.

Lucy nodded. “I just wish I was so pretty like you. All the men like you, Eliza. Even Mr. Darcy. He looks at you all the time.”

Eliza’s eyes widened. “What nonsense is this? Mr. Darcy is only looking at me to find fault. Ever since I came to this school, he has treated me as the worst teacher he’s ever had, and argued with every word out of my mouth.”

“No, she’s right,” Annabelle objected. “You don’t think we haven’t noticed him going by every day to observe your classroom?”

“He observes every teacher’s classroom.”

“For two or three days, not every day since September!”

Eliza shook her head. “That’s because he thinks I’m a terrible teacher! I try my best, and the children are learning, but he still thinks I’m not good enough.”

“Eliza Bennet!” Lucy said sternly. “He looks at you like Solomon Taylor looks at you.”

Eliza’s heart started thumping. She wasn’t sure what she was feeling—frightened, perhaps? Or was she excited? “Lucy, he’s a white man!” she whispered. “There is no way on God’s green earth that Mr. Darcy is looking at a colored woman like that!”

Annabelle shook her head. “Come now, Eliza, you know better. You know how many high yellow folks are running around because some white man looked at a colored woman like that?”

“Both of you, stop now, please!” Eliza shook her head. “It’s hard enough being at this school and dealing with his stares without you putting this drivel into my head. Mr. Darcy is our employer, and we owe him the respect not to gossip about him or malign his motives.”

“That’s sound advice,” Annabelle said. “Just… be careful around him, Eliza.”

Eliza nodded. Why wouldn’t she be? He might mean to alarm her with his critical eye, but her courage always rose with every attempt to intimidate her.

~~%~~




After assuring that his man Thomas had safely loaded all the gift baskets in the wagon for transport, Fitzwilliam Darcy helped his mother into their Model T to make the short drive to the African Meeting House. She had balked at the idea of going to a place with such a name, wondering if it were festooned with artifacts from the Dark Continent.

“It’s a church, Mother,” he had assured her. “It looks little different than most white churches, although much plainer.”

“I just don’t see why we can’t meet at the school!”

“The children have prepared a program for us. They needed a stage, which the school lacks and the church does not.”

Mother sniffed, but seemed to accept his explanation.

They arrived and entered, to much welcome by the people gathered there. “I’d like to introduce you to my teachers, Mother. They especially wanted to express their gratitude for your generosity.”

“As indeed they should,” Mother replied.

As they approached the group of young women near the Fellowship Hall’s stage, Annabelle, his most experienced teacher, spoke first. “Good afternoon, Headmaster Darcy. We’re very honored to have you here today.”

“Good afternoon, Annabelle. Mother, this is Miss Annabelle Jackson. She teaches the children who are ages eleven to thirteen. Annabelle, my mother, Mrs. Catherine Darcy.”

Annabelle gave a small curtsey. “A pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Darcy.”

“And this is Miss Lucy Smith, who teaches our eight to ten-year olds.”

“Ma’am,” Lucy said, also curtseying.

“And finally, this is Miss Eliza Bennet, who teaches our youngest children, ages five to seven. Since the departure of Miss Charlotte Lucas, who taught the other class of little ones and married last month, she has absorbed the additional students and now manages the largest classroom in the school. It was also her idea to offer the children’s choir program today.”

Fitz bit his tongue. Why had he shared these extra bits of information? Although he was quite proud of Eliza, he certainly hadn’t wanted to make his admiration so obvious. Now the young woman had attracted his mother’s curiosity.

“Your idea?” his mother said, peering closely at Eliza. “What brought that to your mind?”

“I’m new to the school this year, ma’am. I learned that for many years, you and your Ladies’ Auxiliary have provided generous gifts to the children at Christmastime. I thought it might be nice to give you something in return, to thank you.”

“And you think that colored children have something to offer me, besides their gratitude?”

“Oh, yes, ma’am! They’re quite talented and very excited about singing for you today.”

“We shall see. Where were you educated, young lady?”

“At Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School in Florida, ma’am.”

“Is that one of those Negro schools?”

“Indeed it is.” Eliza’s eyes twinkled. “I could hardly attend Radcliffe, now, could I?”

“I should say not!” Mother looked quite offended. “What would a Negro woman do in a place meant to develop the jewels of white womanhood?”

Fitz wondered for a moment what might happen if he were to inform them that at least one Negro woman had already graduated from Radcliffe. Most colored women would not have the intellect to succeed at such a place, but he imagined that a few shining stars existed in every race. Eliza, he felt certain, was one of them.

Eliza seemed to relish sparring with his mother, but the other teachers appeared to have become quite uncomfortable with the conversation. “Headmaster Darcy, Mrs. Darcy, we have provided some chairs for you upfront as our guests of honor today,” Annabelle said quickly.

As he led his mother to their seats, she remarked, “That young woman gives her opinion very decidedly for one of her race and station.”

Fitz didn’t answer, fearing that anything he said might give away his feelings for Eliza. He resolved to be particularly careful that no further sign of admiration should now escape him. He really believed that, were it not for the inferiority of her skin color, he should be in some danger.

~~%~~




The children sang beautifully, performing renditions of “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” and “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” The final song, “The First Noel,” was to begin with a solo performance by 6-year-old Matthew Jefferson, one of the students in Eliza’s class. Although he was one of her most mischievous students, the young boy had a celestial voice. Selecting him for this solo was one way that Eliza was trying to encourage him to channel his energies in positive directions.

The room was silent as Matthew’s clear sweet voice rang out. By the time the other children joined him in singing the chorus, Eliza’s heart had swelled with pride. When they finished, the congregants and parents gave them a standing ovation. Even Mrs. Darcy were standing! Eliza could see the joy on Matthew’s face, knowing he had accomplished something special. She was so happy for him, finally understanding that he was more than “that naughty Matthew,” as the other teachers often called him.

In the minutes that followed, as the children were embraced by their families, Mr. Darcy and his mother approached her. “That was indeed a pleasure,” said Mrs. Darcy. “There are few people in Boston, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learned to sing, I should have been a great proficient.”

“Thank you very much, ma’am,” Eliza smiled. “I’m glad you enjoyed it.”

“Mother,” Mr. Darcy said, “I need to speak with Eliza for a moment. Will you please excuse us?”

“Yes, of course. You must extend your congratulations to your best teacher!”

Eliza blushed at the praise as Mr. Darcy led her aside to a corner of the room. She was therefore astounded to see the angry look on his face. “Mr. Darcy, is something the matter?”

“How could you,” he said, his voice sharp, “allow Matthew Jefferson to perform that solo?”

“He has the best voice, sir. You heard him! He was lovely!”

“And he is also a child who is currently on punishment for bringing a frog to school and dropping it down a girl’s dress!”

“Sir, that was weeks ago, and school is no longer in session!”

“But you have been practicing for this performance for weeks, when school was still in session. When did you select Matthew for this piece?”

Eliza looked down, knowing Mr. Darcy wouldn’t be happy with her answer. “A few days into the rehearsals, sir. We had the children audition.”

“So you rewarded a wrong-doer with the leading role in a performance meant to honor my mother? How could you, Eliza?”

Eliza swallowed hard. It was as she had known and told Lucy and Annabelle. Mr. Darcy looked at her for no other reason than to find fault.

Regardless of Mr. Darcy’s dislike of her, she knew it was incumbent upon her to defend Matthew and her decision. Gathering her courage, she looked him in the eye. “Mr. Darcy, it is Christmas. A time when we honor the Savior who came here for all of us wrong-doers! If Christmastime doesn’t remind you that we have all received forgiveness and undeserved second chances, then how dare you call yourself a Christian!”

Eliza gasped and covered her mouth. Had she really just said such a disrespectful thing to her employer? He would fire her for certain, so she knew she should do the righteous thing and quit. “I’m so sorry, sir,” she said quickly. “I should never have said such a thing. Please forgive me. I will clear out my classroom first thing after the holidays.”

Mr. Darcy gave no reply. Instead, he stared at her, his face pale and his expression troubled. He peered at her with a gentleness and sadness that pierced her heart. Standing so close to him, Eliza noticed his eyes for the first time. They were brown, the brown of coffee with just a touch of cream, and like coffee, were deep pools of richness and warmth. His eyes are beautiful, Eliza thought, and then blushed that she should be thinking such a thing.

“Eliza, please don’t do that,” he said softly. “My mother was right, you are my best teacher, and I would never want to lose you. And you are right. My attitude toward Matthew was very un-Christian. I hope that in the New Year, I can learn to do better in adopting some of your perspective about the children’s potential.”

He turned and walked away, leaving Eliza shaking and overwhelmed. She still had a job, thank goodness. Even more, she now knew that she worked for a very good man. One who would accept reproof from a woman, and a Negro woman at that, was a man with true goodness in his heart. She wondered briefly what it might be like if Lucy were right about Mr. Darcy fancying her. She shook her head. That would never be possible.

She watched him now from across the room, greeting parents, congratulating children, and even giving young Matthew a handshake. Merry Christmas, Mr. Darcy, she thought.

~~%~~



From the journal of Fitzwilliam Darcy, January 5, 1914

“Eliza Bennet came to see me today. Until I saw her face, I had not thought that she could still hold such power over my heart, especially since my marriage to Sarah. I remembered the moment on that Christmas Eve some years ago when I first realized that my feelings for Eliza were not just fascination, but love. Today Eliza was everything gracious, congratulating me on my nuptials and wishing us happiness. I was not surprised to learn that since leaving my school, she had become a suffragette. A woman with her fire and passion would certainly be at the forefront of striving to help women obtain the right to vote.

“As I think back on her visit, I cannot help but be filled with remorse at my unkind words to her—‘atrocious,’ she called them, with that same twinkle in her eye that always delighted me—and anger at a society that declares that Negro and white can never be together. And yet, our fates have already been cast. I can only do as Scripture exhorts us, ‘forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before.’ I must leave behind the ‘what ifs’ with Eliza, and devote myself to Sarah, to the children we might one day have, and the children of the Darcy School. I am grateful to Miss Bennet, for I am a better man for having known her. Perhaps someday, I might teach these lessons to my son, or to those that come after, that they might live their lives without regret.”


~~%~~

THE END



Thank you for reading! Again, your comments would be most appreciated!

Notes:

- The African Meeting House in downtown Boston was built in 1806 and is the oldest still-standing black church building in the United States.

- Originally a watering hole for cows, Frog Pond on the Boston Common was revamped by the city in the 1850s for public use. To this day, it is a public wading/spray pool in the summer, and an ice skating rink in the winter.

- A mentioned in an earlier footnote, Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School was founded in 1904, as one of the HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities). It was later renamed Bethune-Cookman College (now University), and still exists to this day. Howard University, where Eliza’s unwanted suitor Solomon attends, is also an HBCU, located in Washington, DC.

- The first African-American woman to attend Radcliffe College (Harvard’s former sister school) was Alberta Virginia Scott, who graduated in 1898.
SubjectAuthorPosted

Love Across the Ages (ch. 5 of 5)

Amy A-NWDecember 26, 2017 07:37PM

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

AlanJuly 22, 2018 09:02PM

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

Lucy J.December 28, 2017 02:02AM

Mods: Archiving request

Amy A-NWDecember 26, 2017 11:22PM



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