"If you write FOR a particular market or FOR a particular editor you will often miss the mark. But if you write because your fingers have danced across the keyboard, because a character has tapped you on the shoulder, because a story has settled in your heart, then even if you never sell it you have done the work you were meant to do. And sometime, dear readers, real magic happens." Jane Yolen

12/5/08

Fiction Fridays: "A Look of Hope"

Welcome to my contribution to Fiction Fridays, hosted this week at Yvonne's Blog, My Back Door. Be sure to stop back over there for more great fiction! Read what is there, or post your own story on your blog and put a link in the Mr. Linky gadget that can be found there.



This story was written over two years ago for the Faithwriters Writing Challenge, and was also published in Faithwriters Magazine. I still really like these characters, and this was my first real venture into "period fiction" (though I didn't realize it at the time!). Hope you enjoy it!


A Look of Hope

"Now Clara, you stop that chatterin’, or Miss Willingston will send you to the corner."

"And Abigail, keep your hands to yourself!"

Cynthia Willingston glared at the ragdolls resting against her bedroom wall. Deciding she had scared them into submission, she returned to her lesson for the day.

"Now class, if you have three apples and then find two more, how many do you have?"

"Miss Cynthia?"

Cynthia turned immediately toward the softspoken, kind voice at her bedroom door and smiled. Margaret had worked at the Willingston homestead for seven years, since Cynthia was a baby. Even though she was a negro, the Willingstons treated her well - not like family, perhaps, but like a human being. Cynthia came the closest to treating the 15-year-old house slave like kin.

"Breakfast time, Miss Cynthia."

Cynthia grabbed one of her ragdolls and walked alongside Margaret as the two descended the staircase of the large plantation home.

"So, Miss Cynthia, whatall was ya playin?"

"School. I was giving Clara and Abigail their ‘rithmetic lesson. They weren’t listening very well. I was about to put Clara in the corner!"

"So that’s why you lef her behine," Margaret tittered, pointing at the one doll in the girl’s hand.

Cynthia nodded sternly.

They could smell the wonderful aroma of sausages and potatoes cooking well before entering the spacious kitchen. As soon as Cynthia reached the landing, her stroll became a trot as she followed her nose to the stove, where Beulah shooed her away from the flame and to the table.

"Dontcha get burnt, Miss Cynthia," the plump, middle-aged negro woman chided. "Sit and Ma’gret will bring ya yo’ food."

Cynthia plopped down on the chair Margaret had pulled out for her, and eagerly watched as Beulah served up scrambled eggs, fried potatoes and sausage. As soon as the plate was in front of her, Cynthia ate with gusto.

"Where’s mamma?" she asked between bites.

Beulah sighed softly. "Still sleepin’, I figger. Fixin’ to go wake her righ now so she can start ya on yo’ lessons."

"Can’t you teach me, Margaret? Then mamma can keep sleeping!"

Margaret began to speak but then hesitated, turning toward Beulah.

"Ma’gret can’t read, Miss Cynthia. Slaves ain’t ‘spose to get no learnin’."

Cynthia stood up, banging her hand on the table.

"Now, that’s just silly! Why reading’s the very best, most wonderful thing in the world!"

After a moment of thought, Cynthia’s face brightened. She did a bit of a pirouette, then walked over and grabbed Margaret’s arm.

"I know! I’ll teach you! You can sit with Clara and Abigail, and you can learn your letters and words and everything! You’ll read good as me soon! I promise not to make you sit in the corner - ever! Oh, please, Margaret, please!"

Beulah shook her head, sighing.

"But the Good Book says ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.’ Why can’t Margaret learn to read if we’re all the same?"

Cynthia, eyes afire, blond ringlets quivering with the tossing of her head, looked straight at Beulah. The woman took a deep breath.

"You ask yo’ mamma, Miss Cynthia."

"Don’t you want to learn to read, Margaret?"

Cynthia glanced Margaret’s way, and for the first time noticed tears running down her ebony cheeks, and a sparkle she had never seen in the eyes of a negro - a look of hope.

"You do, Margaret, don’t you? I can tell! Just come upstairs with me, Margaret! We can start with "A" right now!"

Cynthia grabbed Margaret’s hand and skipped toward the stairway, heading up toward the little girl’s bedroom.

"Cynthia Miriam Willington, what are you doing?"

Both girls stopped short as the matron of the house appeared at the top of the stairs.

Cynthia took a deep breath. "I’m gonna play upstairs with Margaret, mamma. ‘K?"

"That’s fine, dear, but Margaret must get her work done too, and you have your lessons to tend to. Twenty minutes - do you hear me?"

"Yes, mamma."

The girls walked past Mrs. Willingston, entered Cynthia’s bedroom, and closed the door behind them.

**
Galatians 3:28 KJV

Be sure to stop by My Back Door for more great fiction!

Oh - and p.s. - I'm having a giveaway coming up, to celebrate my 100th post (this one happens to be my 99th - so QUITE soon). I'm only giving you one hint: think a week and a half of quiet time (and, of course, a sneak peek at my button for it!).


Hope you'll stop by again soon to participate! It should be up by Monday at the latest.

11 comments:

  1. This is excellent, Jo. Love this one.

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  2. Good story, Jo, from this pre-Civil War time. Did you write anything else with these characters? They would make a good novel!

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  3. You did a great job with the dialect! I love this time period. You ought to do more!

    Vonnie

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  4. Great story, and an excellent reminder of the lessons in history.

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  5. I remember watching "Roots" as a young teen and thinking, "I'd be sneaking around teaching them to read!"
    Thanks for this story with its very easy-to-relate-to characters.

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  6. oh, my - you guys are all so talented!
    i am new to this meme and love it already.

    thanks to all of you for sharing your gift!

    dorinda

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  7. Joanne, I really liked this one, and I'm glad at the ending! Everyone deserves to learn to read!

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  8. I love the way this started, then the total surprise that Miss Willington was a child. I so enjoyed this look into the past. You put me right there. Maybe we'll see these characters again.

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  9. You took a sensitive subject and period of history, and you told a story filled with care and the message of equality. We truly are all equal in the eyes of God.

    Hadn't read this piece before, so I'm glad you re-posted it here.

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  10. I love the enthusiasm of the child.

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  11. Neat-O, JoDear! This one is new to me, and I loved it! I could just see the little girl--very well done!!

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