A PASSAGE-AT-ARMS

“I know I ’ave enemies,” said Susan bitterly; “I know I am hated in this
low neighbourhood. But I don’t see what them should hate me for, for I
never interfere wid any of them.”

“Them hate y’u because you are better than them, and because y’u don’t
mix with them,” sagaciously answered Catherine, her second sister.

“That they will never get me to do,” snapped Susan. “I wouldn’t mix with
a lot of people who are not my companions, even if them was covered from
top to toe with gold. It is bad enough that I have to live near them,
but further than that I am not going. It is ‘good morning’ and ‘good
evening’ with me, an’ that is all.”

“Then them will always hate you,”, said Catherine, “and if them can
injure y’u them will try to do it.”

Catherine referred to most of the people living in the immediate
vicinity, between Susan and whom a fierce feud had existed for some
months. It was born of envy and nurtured by malice, and Susan knew that
well. She dressed better than most of the girls in the lane, she lived
in a “front house,” while most of them had to be content with ordinary
yard-rooms. She frequently went for rides on the electric cars, whereas
they could only afford such pleasure on Sundays and on public holidays.
She carried herself with an air of social superiority which was gall and
wormwood to the envious; and often on walking through the lane she had
noticed the contemptuous looks of those whom, with greater contempt, she
called the common folks and treated with but half-concealed disdain. On
the whole, she had rather enjoyed the hostility of these people, for it
was in its way a tribute to her own importance. But now a discomforting
development had taken place in the manner in which the dislike of the
neighbourhood habitually showed itself.

This evening Susan sat by one of the windows of the little house in
which she lived, and which opened on the lane. It contained two tiny
rooms: the inner apartment was her bedroom, her two sisters sleeping
with her; the outer one was a sitting-room by day and a bedroom at
night, when it was occupied by her father and mother. The house had
originally been painted white and green, but the dust of Kingston had
discoloured the painting somewhat; hence its appearance was now shabby
and faded, though not as much so as that of the other buildings on
either side of it. Opposite was an ancient fence dilapidated and almost
black; behind this fence were two long ranges of rooms, in which people
of the servant classes lived. The comparison between these and Susan’s
residence was all in favour of the latter; and as this house overlooked
the lane, and was detached from the buildings in the yard to which it
belonged, its rental value was fairly high and its occupants were
supposed to be of a superior social position.

The gutters on both sides of the lane ran with dirty soap-water, and
banana skins, orange peel and bits of brown paper were scattered over
the roughly macadamized ground. Lean dogs reclined in the centre of the
patch, or prowled about seeking scraps of food which they never seemed
to find. In the daytime, scantily-clad children played in the gutters; a
few slatternly women, black and brown, drawled out a conversation with
one another as they lounged upon the doorsteps; all during the long
hours of the sunlight the sound of singing was heard as some industrious
housewives washed the clothes of their families and chanted hymns as
they worked; and now and then a cab or cart passed down the lane,
disturbing for a little while the peaceful tenor of its way.

There were no sidewalks, or rather, there were only the vestiges of
sidewalks to be seen. For the space which had been left for these by the
original founders of the city had more or less been appropriated by
householders who thought that they themselves could make excellent use
of such valuable territory. Here a house was partly built on what was
once a portion of the sidewalk; there a doorstep marked the encroachment
that had taken place on public property; between these an empty space
showed that the owner of the intermediate yard had not as yet been
adventurous enough to extend his fence beyond its proper limits. Most of
the houses that opened on the lane were of one storey, and built of
wood, with foundations of red brick. An air of slow decay hung over
nearly all of them, though now and then you saw a newly painted building
which looked a little out of place in such surroundings.

Susan saw that hers was by no means the shabbiest of these houses, and
Susan knew that she was the finest-looking young woman in that section
of the lane in which she lived. It was her physical attractions that had
helped her to comparative prosperity. In the euphemistic language of the
country, she was “engaged” to a young man who was very liberal with his
money; he came to see her two or three times a week; and though of late
he had not seemed quite so ardent as before, Susan had not troubled to
inquire the reason of his shortened visits. He had never hitherto failed
on a Friday night to bring for her her weekly allowance, and that she
regarded as a sufficiently substantial proof of his continued affection.

But now she felt that she must take some thought of the future. Thrice
during the current week she had been openly laughed at by Mother Smith,
a peculiarly objectionable old woman who lived about a hundred yards
farther up the lane. Mother Smith had passed her house, and, looking up
at the window, had uttered with a malignant air of triumph, “If you
can’t catch Quaco, you can catch his shirt.” Meaningless as the words
might have appeared to the uninitiated, Susan had immediately divined
their sinister significance. She knew that Mother Smith had a daughter
of about her own age, whose challenging attractiveness had always
irritated her. Because Maria, though black, was comely, Susan had made a
point of ignoring Maria’s existence; she had never thought of Maria as a
possible rival, however, so confident was she of her ascendancy over her
lover, and so certain was she that Maria could never be awarded the
prize for style and beauty if Susan Proudleigh happened to be near.
Still, there could be no mistaking the triumphant insolence of Mother
Smith’s glance or the meaning of her significant words.

Tom’s growing coldness now found an explanation. The base plot hatched
against her stood revealed in all its hideous details. What was she to
do? She did not want to quarrel with Tom outright, and so perhaps
frighten him away for ever. That perhaps was precisely what her enemies
were hoping she would do. After thinking over the matter and finding
herself unable to decide what course of action to adopt, she had put the
problem before her family; and her aunt, Miss Proudleigh, happening to
come in just then, she also had been invited to give her opinion and
suggest a plan.

Susan soon began to realize that she could not expect much wisdom from
their united counsel. They all knew that she was not liked by the
neighbours; unfortunately, Mother Smith’s design was a factor in the
situation which seemed to confuse them utterly. They had gone over the
ground again and again. Catherine had said the last word, and it was the
reverse of helpful. For a little while they sat in silence, then Susan
mechanically repeated Catherine’s words, “If them can injure me, them
will try to do it.”

“They does dislike you, Susan,” agreed her aunt, by way of continuing
the conversation, “an’ if them can hurt you, them will do it. But, after
all, the Lord is on your side.” This remark proved to Susan that at such
a crisis as this her family was worse than hopeless. She turned
impatiently from the window and faced Miss Proudleigh.

“I don’t say the Lord is not on my side,” she exclaimed; “but Mother
Smith is against me, an’ the devil is on her side, an’ if I am not
careful Mother Smith will beat me.”

As no one answered, she went on, “Mother Smith wouldn’t talk like she is
talking if she didn’t know what she was talking about. She want Tom for
Maria, her big-mouth daughter. She an’ Maria tryin’ to take Tom from
me—I know it. But, Lord! I will go to prison before them do it!” She
had risen while speaking, and her clenched hands and gleaming eyes
showed clearly that she was not one over whom an easy victory could be
obtained.

She was of middle height, slimly built, and of dark brown complexion.
Her lips were thin and pouting, her chin rather salient; her nose stood
out defiantly, suggesting a somewhat pugnacious disposition. Her hair,
curly but fairly long, was twisted into several plaits and formed a sort
of turban on her head; her eyes, large, black, and vivacious, were the
features of which she was proudest, for she knew the uses to which they
could be put. As her disposition was naturally lively, these eyes of
hers usually seemed to be laughing. But just now they were burning and
flashing with anger; and those who knew Susan well did not care to cross
her when one of these moods came on.

Her father saw her wrath and trembled; then immediately cast about in
his mind for some word of consolation that might appease his daughter.
He was a tall, thin man, light brown in complexion, and possessed of
that inability to arrive at positive decisions which is sometimes
described as a judicial frame of mind. He was mildly fond of strong
liquors; yet even when under their influence he managed to maintain a
degree of mental uncertitude, a sort of intellectual sitting on the
fence, which caused his friends to believe that his mental capacity was
distinctly above the average. By these friends he was called
Schoolmaster, and he wore the title with dignity. By way of living up to
it he usually took three minutes to say what another person would have
said in one. That is to say, he delighted in almost endless
circumlocution.

It was even related of Mr. Proudleigh that, one night, no lamp having
yet been lit, he surreptitiously seized hold of a bottle he found on a
table and took a large sip from it, thinking the liquor it contained was
rum. It happened to be kerosene oil; but such was his self-control that,
instead of breaking into strong language as most other men would have
done, he muttered that the mistake was very regrettable, and was merely
sad and depressed during the remainder of the evening. Such a man, it is
clear, was not likely to allow his feelings to triumph over his
judgment, though upon occasion, and when it suited his interests, he was
ready to agree with the stronger party in any argument. Though he now
felt somewhat alarmed by Susan’s suspicions, and knew it was a matter of
the first importance that Tom, her lover, and especially Tom’s wages,
should be retained as an asset in the family, he could not quite agree
that Susan had very good cause for serious apprehension as yet. Up to
now he had said very little; he was convinced that he had not sufficient
evidence before him on which to pronounce a judgment. He thought, too,
that his hopeful way of looking at the situation might help her at this
moment; so, his mild, lined face wearing a profoundly deliberative
expression, he gave his opinion.

“I don’t think you quite right, Susan,” he observed; “but, mind, I don’t
say y’u is wrong. Mother Smit is a woman I don’t like at all. But de
Scripture told us, judge not lest we be not judged, an’ perhaps Mother
Smit don’t mean you at all when she talk about Quaco.”

On hearing this, Susan’s mother, a silent, elderly black woman with a
belligerent past, screwed up her mouth by way of expressing her
disapproval of her husband’s point of view. Mrs. Proudleigh was a firm
believer in the unmitigated wickedness of her sex, but judged it best to
say nothing just then. Susan, however, annoyed by the perverseness of
her father, burst out with:

“Then see here, sah, if she don’t mean me an’ my young man, who can she
mean? Don’t Mother Smith always say I am forward? Don’t she pass the
house this morning an’ throw her words on me? Don’t Maria call out ‘Look
at her’ when I was passing her yard yesterday? Tut, me good sah, don’t
talk stupidness to me! If you don’t have nothing sensible to say, you
better keep you’ mouth quiet. I am going to Tom’s house to-night,
to-night. And Tom will ’ave to tell me at once what him have to do with
Maria.”

“I will go with you,” said Catherine promptly. She was a sturdy young
woman of nineteen years of age, and not herself without a sneaking
regard for Tom. Hence, on personal as well as on financial grounds, she
objected to Tom’s being taken possession of by Maria and Maria’s mother.

The old man, rather fearing that Susan’s wrath might presently be turned
against himself, discreetly refrained from making any further remark;
but his sister, an angular lady of fifty, with a great reputation for
intelligence and militant Christianity, seeing that Susan’s mind was
fully made up as to Maria’s guilt, and being herself in the habit of
passing severe comment on the conduct of the absent, determined to
support her niece.

“But some female are really bad!” she observed, as if in a soliloquy.
“Some female are really bad. Now here is poor Susan not interfering wid
anybody. She got her intended. He take his own foot an’ he walk down the
lane, an’ he fall in love with her. It is true she don’t marry him yet,
but she is engaged. She is engage, and therefore it is an unprincipled
sin for any other female to trouble her intended an’ take him away from
her. If Maria want a young man, why don’t she go an’ look for one? Why
she an’ her mother want to trouble Susan’s one poor lamb, when there is
ninety and nine others to pick an’ choose from? Really some female is
wicked!”

A speech like this, coming from a woman whose lack of physical charms
was more than made up for by strength of moral character, was naturally
hailed with great approval by Susan, Catherine, and their mother. The
old man himself, never willing to be permanently in a minority, now went
so far as to admit that the whole affair was “very provocating,” and
added that if he was a younger man he would do several things of a
distinctly heroic and dangerous character.

But all this, though in its way very encouraging, was not exactly
illuminating. It only brought Susan back to the point from which she had
started. “What am I to do?” she asked for the last time, reduced to
despair, and sinking back into her seat despondently.

“If I was you,” said Catherine at last deliberately, “I would catch hold
of Maria, and beat her till she bawl.”

This advice appealed to Susan; it corresponded with the wish of her own
heart. But she doubted the efficacy of physical force in dealing with a
difficult and delicate situation. No: a beating would not do; besides,
in the event of an encounter, it might be Maria who would do the
beating! Susan saw plainly that no word of a helpful nature would be
forthcoming from any of the anxious group, who usually appealed to her
for advice and assistance. So when Miss Proudleigh was again about to
give some further opinions on the general wickedness of females, she got
up abruptly, saying that she was going round to Tom’s house to see him.
Catherine rose to accompany her, and after putting on their hats the two
girls left the room.

It was about eight o’clock; and, save for a few lights gleaming faintly
here and there in the yards and the little houses, the lane was in
darkness. It was quiet, too; only three or four persons were to be seen
moving about, and the innumerable dogs would not begin to bark until
nearly everybody had gone to bed. A stranger standing at one of the
numerous crossings that intersected the lane, and looking up or down the
narrow way, might imagine he was peering into some gloomy tunnel were it
not for the brilliancy of the stars overhead. The cross-streets were
very much brighter and livelier, and that one towards which Susan and
her sister directed their steps was particularly bright.

A Chinaman’s shop at the lane corner opened upon this street. To the
right of this, and also opening on the street, was another shop presided
over by an elderly woman. It was small, but contained a comparatively
large quantity of things which found ready sale in the neighbourhood;
such as pints of porter, little heaps of ripe bananas, loaves of bread,
coarse straw hats, charcoal, pieces of sugar-cane, tin whistles, reels
of thread and peppermint cakes. On the opposite side of the crossing
were other shops, and on either hand, east and west, as far as the eye
could reach, were still more shops standing between fairly large
two-storeyed dwelling-houses of brick and wood. On the piazzas women
squatted selling native sweetmeats and fruit. To the west, in the middle
distance, two or three taverns blazed with light; away to the east was a
great crowd of people singing, and in the midst of this crowd jets of
flame streamed upwards from the unprotected wicks of huge oil-lamps.
These lamps gave off thick columns of black smoke which slowly drifted
over the heads of the sable, white-clothed revivalists who passionately
preached on the always approaching end of the world, and called upon
their hearers to repent them of their sins.

People were continually passing up and down. They passed singly or in
groups, the latter discussing loudly their private affairs, careless as
to who might hear: even love-making couples ignored the proximity of
other human beings, and laughed and chatted as though there was no one
within a mile of them. Many of these pedestrians were barefooted, but
most of them wore shoes or slippers of some sort. A few were in rags,
but the majority were fairly well dressed, for this was a populous
thoroughfare, and the people took some pride in their appearance. A
number of children hung about, playing with one another or gazing idly
at the passing show; a fine grey dust lay thick upon the ground;
gas-lamps placed at wide distances apart burned dimly, so that large
spaces of the street were in shadow. Cabs conveying passengers home or
on visits drove by frequently, and every now and then the electric cars
flew by, stirring up a cloud of dust which almost blinded one, and which
for a moment shrouded the street with a moving, impalpable veil. There
was life here, there was movement, and while the revivalists prayed and
preached in the distance, the candy sellers near by plaintively invited
the young to come and purchase their wares, the proprietors of little
ice-cream carts declaimed vociferously that they sold the best cream
ever manufactured, and the vendors of pea-nuts screamed out that baked
pea-nuts were strengthening, enlivening, and comforting. This was the
life of the street.

At the right-hand corner of the lane, where the Chinaman’s shop stood,
was a gas-lamp, and the gossiping groups about the spot indicated that
it was a favourite rendezvous of the people of the vicinity. Susan never
condescended to linger for a moment there; that would have been beneath
her dignity. But Maria, her rival, sometimes paused at the corner when
going for a walk, to talk for a while with a possible admirer or with a
friend if she should happen to meet one. To-night Maria was standing
under the gas-lamp conversing gaily with two girls. Evidently she was in
a happy frame of mind.

“Yes,” she was saying, in answer to a question put to her by one of the
girls, “I am goin’ to tell her so. She is proud an’ she is forward; but
she will soon sing a different tune. I wonder what she would say now if
she did know dat her lover write me two letters last week, an’ say that
him love me! I don’t answer him yet, but him say him coming to see me
to-morrow night. You watch! If I want to teck Tom from her, I have only
to lift me little finger. An’ I am not too sure I won’t do it.”

She laughed as she spoke of her prospective victory over Susan; but her
friends, though they hated Susan, were not particularly delighted with
the news they heard. They were agreed that Susan ought to be humbled,
but that was no reason why Maria should be exalted. It was, therefore,
not altogether in a cheerful tone of voice that the elder one asked
Maria:

“Y’u think Tom going to come to you?”

“Him almost come to me already,” replied Maria, with pride. “Look what
him send for me last night!”

She thrust her hand into her pocket as she spoke. As she was taking out
Tom’s present, Susan and her sister emerged into the light.

Both Susan and Maria caught sight of each other at the same moment. And
each realized in a flash that the other knew the true position of
affairs. The glare of hate from Susan’s eyes was answered by a
contemptuous stare and a peal of derisive laughter from Maria. Susan’s
sister and Maria’s friends at once understood that a desperate struggle
had begun between the two.

Maria’s ringing jeer was more than any ordinary woman could tolerate.
Susan tried to answer it with a laugh as contemptuous, but failed, her
wrath choking her. Then she put all pretence aside, and swiftly moving
up to Maria she thrust her face into the face of the other girl. “See
here, ma’am,” she hissed, “I want to ask you one thing: is it me you
laughing at?”

“But stop!” exclaimed Maria, backing away a little, and defiantly
placing her arms akimbo. “Stop! You ever see my trial! Then I can’t
laugh without your permission, eh?” Saying which she laughed again as
contemptuously as before, and swung round with a flounce so as to bring
one of her elbows into unpleasant proximity to Susan’s waist.

“I don’t say you can’t laugh, an’ I don’t care if y’u choose to laugh
till you drop,” cried Susan bitterly; “but I want to tell you that y’u
can’t laugh at _me_!”

“So you’re better than everybody else?” sneered Maria. “Y’u think you
are so pretty, eh? Well! there is a miss for you! She can’t even behave
herself in de public street, though she always walk an’ shake her head
as if she was a princess, an’ though she call herself ‘young lady.’ But
perhaps she think she lose something good, an’ can’t recover from the
loss as yet!” And again that maddening peal of laughter rang out.

Susan did not answer Maria directly. She eyed that young woman swiftly,
and noticed that her dress was old and her shoes poor and dusty. This
gave her the advantage she needed in dealing with a girl who was all
contempt while she herself was all temper. She turned to her sister and
to Maria’s friends, and pointed to Maria with scorn.

“Look at her!” she cried. “Look how she stand! Her face is like a
cocoa-nut trash, and she don’t even have a decent frock to put on!”

Maria might have passed over the reference to her face; she knew it was
only spiteful abuse. But the allusion to the scantiness of her wardrobe
was absolutely unforgivable. If not exactly true, it yet approached
perilously near the truth, and so it cut her to the quick. No sooner
were the words uttered than Maria’s forefinger was wagging in Susan’s
face, and:

“Say that again, an’ I box you!” she screamed.

“Box me?” hissed Susan. “Box me? My good woman, this would be the last
day of you’ life. Take you’ hand out of me face at once—take it out, I
say—take it out!”—and without waiting to see whether Maria would
remove the offending member, she seized it and pushed Maria violently
away.

In a moment the two were locked in one another’s arms. There was a sound
of heavy blows, two simultaneous shrieks of “Murder!” and a hasty
movement of about forty persons towards the scene of the combat.

Catherine now thought it time to interfere. She threw herself upon the
combatants, making a desperate but vain attempt to separate them.
Maria’s friends protested loudly that Susan was ill-treating Maria,
though, as the latter was at least as strong as Susan, it was difficult
to see where the ill-treatment came in. A dignified-looking man standing
on the piazza loudly remonstrated with the crowd for allowing “those two
females to fight,” but made not the slightest effort himself to put a
stop to the struggle. The little boys and girls in the vicinity cheered
loudly. The one thing lacking was a policeman. Noticing this, the
dignified-looking man audibly expressed his opinion on the inefficiency
of the force.

“Let me go, I say, let me go!” gasped Susan, her head being somewhere
under Maria’s right arm.

“You wants to kill me!” stammered Maria, whose sides Susan was squeezing
with all the strength she possessed—“murder, murder!”

But neither one would let the other go. Neither one was much hurt as
yet. The struggle continued about a minute longer, when some one in the
crowd shouted, “Policeman coming!”

Then indeed both Susan and Maria came to their senses. They separated,
and vainly tried to put on an appearance of composure. It was time, for
yonder, moving leisurely through the crowd, now composed of over a
hundred persons, was the policeman who had been spied by one of the
spectators. The girls made no effort to run, for that would surely have
provoked the policeman to an unusual display of energy, and, justly
angered at having been compelled to exert himself, he might have
arrested them both on the charge of obstructing him in the execution of
his duty. They waited where they stood, their eyes still flashing, their
bosoms heaving, and their bodies trembling with rage.

But angry as she was, Susan had already begun to feel ashamed of
fighting in the street. She had always had a horror of street scenes;
people of her class did not participate in them; before this event she
would not have thought it possible that she could ever be mixed up in
such an affair as this. Oh, the humiliation of being handled by a
constable! She heartily wished she were a thousand miles from the spot.

In the meantime the policeman, having arrived at the outskirts of the
crowd, began busily to work his way through to the centre. True to its
traditions, the crowd was hostile to him and friendly to the culprits;
so some of the women managed to put themselves in his way, then angrily
asked him what he was pushing them for.

“What is all dis?” was his first question as he came up to the spot
where Susan and Maria stood. “What is de meaning of this?” He looked
fixedly at the gas-lamp as if believing that that object could give him
the most lucid explanation of the circumstances.

Nobody answered.

“What is all dis, I say?” he again demanded in a more peremptory tone of
voice.

“These two gals was fighting, sah,” explained a small boy, in the hope
of seeing somebody arrested.

“Mind your own business, buoy!” was all the reward the policeman gave
him for his pains, and then the arm of the law, feeling that something
was expected of him, proceeded to deliver a speech.

“The truth of de matter is dis,” he observed, looking round with an air
of grave authority: “You common folkses are too ignorant. You are
ignorant to extreme. You ever see white ladies fight in de street?
Answer me that!”

No one venturing to answer, he continued:

“White people don’t fight in de street, because them is ladies and
gentleman. But I can’t understand the people of my own colour; they have
no respect for themself!”

He spoke more in sorrow than in anger; almost as though he were bitterly
lamenting the deficiencies of the working classes. But Susan, though in
trouble, would not even then allow herself to be classed with the
policeman and others in the category of “common folkses.” “I am not
common,” she answered defiantly; “I am not your set!”

“Silence, miss!” thundered the policeman, scandalized. “I am the law! Do
you know dat?”

“I never see a black law yet,” cheekily replied Susan, who thought that,
if she had to be arrested, there would be at least some satisfaction in
humiliating the policeman.

“If y’u say another impertinence word I will arrest you!” was the
policeman’s threat. “Now de whole of you walk right off! Right off, I
say, or I teck you all to jail!” He included the crowd with one
comprehensive sweep of his arm, perceiving that his edifying attempt to
awaken in his audience a sense of respectability had not been favourably
received.

There was no disputing his authority, especially as he had begun to get
angry. Susan knew, too, that she had mortally offended him by claiming
to belong to a better class than his: which remark had also lost her the
sympathy of the greater part of the crowd. So she was the first to take
advantage of his command, and Maria followed her example by disappearing
as quickly as she could. In another minute or two the normal activity of
the street had been resumed, and the policeman had again started upon
his beat, hoping that he would no more be disturbed that night. But both
Susan and Maria knew that the fight would have a sequel. For war had now
openly been declared between them.

“I will have to bring ’er up!”

It was Susan who spoke. She had returned to the house, where the news of
the fight had preceded her. The whole family had been on the point of
issuing forth to her rescue when she appeared, and now they were again
assembled in full conclave to discuss at length this new aspect of the
situation.

“‘Vengeance is mine,’” quoted her aunt; “but there is a time for all
things. An’ if y’u don’t teach a gurl like Maria a lesson, she will go
far wid you.”

“She is a very rude young ooman!” exclaimed Mr. Proudleigh with
indignation, following up his sister’s remark; he felt that he must lend
his daughter his moral support. “Ef I was a younger man,” he went on, “I
would . . . I would . . . well, I don’t know what I wouldn’t do! But
Mother Smit is a dangerous female to interfere wid, and de cramps is
troubling me in me foot so badly dat I wouldn’t like ’er to put ’er hand
’pon me at all.”

“Ef she ever touch you,” his wife broke in, “old as I is, she an’ me
would have to go to prison.”

“You was always a courigous gal, Mattie,” said the old man approvingly;
“but I don’t want to see y’u get into any quarrel; an’ to tell you de
trute, I don’t t’ink I could help you at all. Susan is goin’ to bring up
Maria, an’ that is a satisfaction. I are going to de court-house wid ’er
to encourage her.”

“But suppose Susan lose the case?” Catherine suggested. She had been a
witness of the encounter, and though she fully intended to forget every
fact that would make against Susan in the court-house, she was sagacious
enough to realize that Maria’s friends would not do likewise.

“Lose me case?” asked Susan incredulously. “That can’t be done! She
provoked me first, an’ the judge must take note of that. Besides, I am
goin’ to put a good lawyer on her: not a fool-fool man that can’t talk,
but a man who will question her properly an’ make her tell de truth.”

“Dat is right,” said Mr. Proudleigh with proud anticipation of coming
victory. “Sue, I advise you to get de Attorney-General.”

“I never hear about him,” Miss Proudleigh remarked; “an’ it won’t do for
Susan to get a lawyer we don’t know. But who to get?”

As Mr. Proudleigh knew nothing about the leader of the local bar except
his name, he decided not to urge the claims of that high official upon
his daughter. One after another, the names of the several lawyers of
whom the family had heard were mentioned, and their various merits were
discussed. As this was to be the most important case ever tried—or at
least so the family thought—it was of the utmost importance that the
brightest legal luminary should be obtained: the difficulty was to
select one from the many whose reputation for ability commended them all
as fit and proper persons to prosecute Maria Bellicant for assault and
abusive language. At last Miss Proudleigh suggested a lawyer whose
cleverness in handling witnesses determined to perjure themselves had
often appealed to her admiration. Having once mentioned his name with
approval, the worthy lady thought it was incumbent upon her to argue
away all that might be said against him and all that might be urged in
favour of other solicitors; and at length Susan decided that she would
go to see Lawyer Jones in the morning. Miss Proudleigh was so delighted
with the prospect of having Mr. Jones proceed against Maria, that during
the rest of the time she remained at the house she could talk of nothing
but that lawyer’s merits. But on leaving she reminded Susan of the value
of prayer as a consolation for all the troubles of life, and suggested
that supplications made properly and in a reverent spirit might lead to
Maria’s being afflicted with manifold ills throughout the rest of her
days.

After Miss Proudleigh had left, the family sat up until twelve o’clock
discussing the fight and the coming case. And in many of the yards and
houses of the lane the fight also formed the topic of discussion. In the
yard where Maria lived some thirty persons assembled to express their
sympathy with her and to give fervent utterance to the hope that she had
beaten Susan properly. They were comforted on learning from Maria that
she had. Mother Smith herself performed a sort of war dance about the
premises, showing in pantomime what she would do as soon as she should
lay hands upon Susan and Susan’s people, down to the third and fourth
generation. Everybody agreed that Maria had been most shamefully
ill-treated, and one of the girls who had been with Maria at the street
corner went so far as to “think” she had seen Susan draw a pair of
scissors out of her pocket, presumably to stab Maria. Indeed, in some of
the tenement yards it was actually reported that blood had been drawn,
one eye-witness even undertaking to describe the wounds. Altogether, it
was a very exciting night in that section of the lane in which the girls
lived, and almost every one was glad that Susan had at last met her
match.

The excitement was kept alive the next day by the news that Susan had
brought up Maria. Maria had been expecting this, for she had rightly
calculated that no girl in Susan’s financial position would forgo the
luxury of a case in court after such a fight. Maria was poor, but she
felt that the only proper thing to do in the circumstances was to “cross
the warrant”; so she went and crossed it that same day, and Mother Smith
began to sell some of her scanty stock of furniture to raise enough
money to employ a lawyer.

Susan acted very rapidly when her mind was made up. After leaving the
court-house she had sent a note to Tom telling him to come round to see
her that night; and Tom, who had already heard about the fight, came as
requested.

He was a short, stoutish young fellow of about twenty-six years of age,
and somewhat lighter in complexion than Susan. His watery eyes, weak
mouth, and tip-tilted nose showed a man of little strength of character;
you would rightly have described him as a nondescript sort of person. He
took great pride in his appearance, always used cheap scents on Sundays,
and carried on his amours as surreptitiously as possible. He had a
horror of domestic quarrels, and though it was true that he had been
attracted by Maria’s appearance, fear of Susan’s temper had kept him
fairly faithful to his vows of eternal constancy. He had flirted just a
little with Maria. He had made her one or two presents. He had written
her a couple of letters; he was rather (perhaps dangerously) fond of
writing letters. But Susan overawed him, and in the midst of these
amorous exercises he had devoutly hoped that she would never suspect him
of even speaking to Maria. Judge of his consternation, therefore, when,
after greeting him coldly and saying that she had sent for him because
he did not seem to care now about coming to see her as often as before,
she launched out upon a sea of reproaches, and overwhelmed him with
perfectly just accusations. Naturally, he denied all intercourse with
Maria, though remembering with a sinking heart that his own handwriting
might be produced against him. But Susan evidently knew nothing about
those letters: perhaps he could induce Maria to return them to him. He
began to take heart—too soon. For Susan did not believe a word he said,
though she pretended to do so in order to gain the end she had in view.
She heard him out to the end, and after he had expressed his indignation
at the conduct of Maria, and agreed with Susan that that young woman
deserved severest punishment, she quietly said:

“I bring Maria up to-day.”

Tom was thunderstruck.

“You mean,” he stammered, “that you going into a court-house with that
girl?”

“Yes,” she answered; “I make up me mind.”

“An’ then,” he protested heatedly, “my name will be called, an’ I will
be mixed up in it! What you talkin’ about, Sue?”

“You’ name won’t be called,” she answered inflexibly. “What you fretting
about? If you know, as you say, that you have nothing to do with Maria,
you needn’t trouble you’self. It is me bringing her up, not you. Who is
to call you’ name?”

Tom looked into her face, and realized that there was no turning her
from her purpose. The two were alone in the day-sitting-room; but even
if the rest of the family were there, he reflected ruefully, that would
hardly assist him.

“I don’t like it,” he muttered dismally.

“Don’t fret about anything,” she cheerfully advised him as he bade her
good-night. “You’ name won’t come into the case.”

But Tom left her with a sinking heart.

* * * * *

The eventful day of the case dawned at last, and found Susan and her
family in a state of intense excitement. The case was to be tried in the
Police Court, a building which had once been a barracks for the Imperial
soldiers when troops were stationed in the city of Kingston. The
courtyard of this building opened on one hand upon the city’s central
park, a large plot of land planted out in umbrageous evergreens and
flowering shrubs; on the other hand, it opened upon one of the city’s
busiest thoroughfares. Thus on the one side was an oasis of peace and
beauty, while in the adjoining street to the west all was squalor and
confusion. This street itself was filled with little shops and crowded
with clamouring, gesticulating people. A market was there, and the
echoes of shrieks of laughter and sudden volleys of abuse sometimes came
to the magistrates and lawyers as they transacted their business in the
court; but they accepted these minor interruptions as part of the
settled order of things, and never complained about them. Carts rattling
over the brick pavement, electric cars passing at frequent intervals and
incessantly sounding their gongs to warn the careless people out of
their way, diminutive venders shouting out the nature and superior
quality of their wares—all this, with the inevitable clouds of dust
which swept over and enveloped everything, made up the life and activity
of the street. And dominating the whole scene stood the weather-worn,
ugly, two-storeyed building which to so many thousands of the people was
the awe-inspiring symbol of a vague and tremendous power called Law.

Both Susan and Maria knew the place well. They arrived there with their
attendant retinues at a little before ten o’clock, the hour at which the
court began to sit. Policemen were to be seen about the large courtyard,
clad in white jackets and blue serge trousers and white helmets. They
were the visible and self-conscious representatives of might, majesty,
dominion, and power. Habitual criminals made remarks about them as they
passed up and down amongst the scores of people who loitered in the
courtyard; but they paid no attention to these, for freedom of ambiguous
speech is the privilege of all habitual criminals.

Soon after their arrival, Susan and Maria entered the court-room with
their friends to wait until their case should be called. They had been
there more than once before as spectators, but now, as the principal
actors in such a tremendous drama, they gazed about them with new and
strange sensations.

The room was furnished in the plainest manner possible. At the southern
end of it was a platform, on which stood a desk and a chair: these were
for the magistrate. To the magistrate’s right was the witness box, and
just below his desk was a table, with a number of chairs around it. Here
the court serjeant, one or two police inspectors, and the lawyers sat.
Behind these, and facing the magistrate, was the dock; behind this dock
were ranged a few wooden benches without backs, and apparently designed
for the purpose of inflicting the maximum amount of physical discomfort
on those who might choose to sit on them. These were for the use of the
spectators.

A case over, a trifling thing relating to a young lady with fifteen
previous convictions for abusive language, the case of Susan Proudleigh
_v._ Maria Bellicant was called. Maria, as the accused, took up her
stand behind her lawyer, who rose and informed the magistrate that he
appeared for her.

“Susan Proudleigh!” called the court serjeant, and Susan rose. But the
policeman at the door, who acted as the crier of the court, would not be
defrauded of his privilege of shouting out her name; so immediately his
voice was heard screaming, “Su—u—u—san Pounder! Su—u—u—san
Pounder! Su—u—u—san Pounder!” And another policeman outside took up
the cry with, “Su—u—u—san Plummer! Su—u—u—san Plummer! Su—u—san
Plummer!” and was about to return the verdict of “No answer,” when he
learnt that the lady was inside.

Susan was motioned towards the witness box after Maria had vehemently
pleaded not guilty to the charge of assault and battery. She felt
nervous as she gazed around the crowded room, but she was comforted by
the reflection that she looked very well in her white lawn frock trimmed
with blue ribbons, with hat to match.

She took the book in her hand as directed, and swore that she would tell
nothing but the truth. Then she stated her case.

“My Honour, I was walking me way quite quiet an’ peaceful down Blake
Lane on Thursday night last week; I was goin’ for a walk, my Honour, an’
thinking about——”

“Never mind what you were thinking about,” said the magistrate; “go on.”

“Yes, my Honour. I was thinkin’ about me poor old father at home, when
all of a sudden I see Maria Bellicant at the corner. I was goin’ to tell
’er good evening, because as I know I never do her nothing, I had no bad
feelings against ’er, and——”

“Oh, never mind all that!” interrupted the magistrate impatiently; “we
don’t want to hear about your feelings. Tell us the facts.”

This was distinctly disconcerting. Susan, who had been trying to
manipulate her th’s properly so as to make a good impression upon His
Honour, now began to think he was prejudiced against her. However, she
went bravely on.

“I go up to Maria, my Honour, an’ I was going to say, ‘Good evening,
Maria,’ when she look at me an’ laugh. An’ she say, ‘Look at this
wort’less gal!’ I say to her, ‘But, Maria, why you call me wort’less?’
an’ I go up nearer up to ’er in a friendly spirit; an’ she take ’er
elbow an’ push me, an’ I hold ’er hand, an’ she collar me an’ begin to
beat me, an’ I bawl for murder.”

She paused, for this was her version of the truth, the whole truth, and
nothing but the truth. Her lawyer asked her a few questions, the answers
to which all tended to corroborate her story. She felt quite satisfied,
believing that she had already won the case; but Maria’s lawyer rose
very quietly, and intimated that he desired to ask her a few questions.

“Your name is Susan Proudleigh?” he asked, the tone of his voice
suggesting that he thought the name might be an _alias_.

“Yes.”

“You live at No. 101 Blake Lane?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Your intended’s name is Thomas Wooley?”

“What has that to do with the case?” asked the magistrate.

“A great deal, your Honour,” answered the lawyer. “Now, Susan,” he went
on, “remember you are on your oath! Your sweetheart’s name is Thomas
Wooley, isn’t it?”

Susan looked at him dumbly. But his “Answer me!” was too peremptory to
be disobeyed.

“Yes,” she answered, and her heart sank, for she remembered what she had
said to Tom about his name not being called.

“And he is tired of you, isn’t he?” her questioner continued
mercilessly, rejoicing in her confusion.

“What you mean?”

“Answer my question, miss!” was again the command.

“No; him never tell me so.”

“Ah, now, don’t you know that Thomas is in love with Maria?”

“I don’t know dat at all; in fact, you ’ave no business——”

“Don’t you dare argue with me! Now when you met Maria Bellicant that
night, and when you told her that she had stolen the clothes she had
on——”

“I never tell ’er so!” Susan burst forth. “I tell ’er she didn’t ’ave a
decent dress to wear!”

“Oh! so you provoked her, did you?”

Susan perceived that she had blundered, but the lawyer did not give her
a chance to recover herself.

“Why did you provoke her? Answer me at once!” he insisted, and she was
about to blunder further, when her lawyer rose and asked the magistrate
if his client was to be intimidated and bullied in that fashion? He
suggested that Susan had offered no provocation whatever, and, although
the magistrate promptly stopped him, Susan caught the cue. She had to
admit, however, that she had struck Maria after she herself had been
struck, and Maria’s lawyer was satisfied that Susan’s principal witness
would admit far more than that.

This witness was a young man, one Hezekiah Theophilus Wilberforce.
Catherine had taken ill almost at the last moment, fear of the
court-house having much to do with her sudden illness; so Susan had had
to fall back upon the assistance of Hezekiah. Had she been sophisticated
she might have tried to obtain the services of a professional witness. A
few of these are always to be found in every West Indian town of any
importance, and they perform the useful function of swearing to things
they never saw. You relate the circumstances to them, and they find that
they were in the vicinity of the occurrence (whatever it was) on the day
or night in question; and, if they were not seen by any of the other
witnesses, that may be attributed to the fact that the excitement was
intense.

These men are well known to the magistrates and lawyers, and sometimes
they are called upon to explain their astonishing ubiquity. But a man is
by British law considered honest until he is proven to be a scoundrel,
so these witnesses continue to flourish like green bay trees. Susan,
however, knew nothing of the high mysteries of the law and the customs
of the court. So Hezekiah had been selected by her, chiefly on the
strength of his own recommendation, as a person most likely to give a
graphic and satisfactory account of the ill-treatment she had suffered
at the hands of Maria Bellicant.

Hezekiah had always had an ambition to figure as something in a court of
justice. Not being able to prosecute anybody himself, he longed for the
time when he should “kiss de book,” and then proceed to tell a story
which should assist in sending a fellow-creature to prison. On his name
being called, he came into the court all smiles, and holding high his
shining head, as one who realized the importance of being a witness. He
repeated the story that Susan had told, varying it only by a detailed
description of the treatment to which she had been subjected. Asked by
the magistrate why he had not attempted to separate the girls, he
replied with a grin that “horse don’t have business in cow’s fight,” a
reason which, he thought, amply explained his apparent cowardice. That
said, he was about to step down from the box, not anticipating that
anything further would be required of him, when Maria’s lawyer abruptly
asked him where he was going to?

He paused, confused by the sharp and even threatening tone of the
lawyer, who knew his type well.

“Hezekiah, what do you do for a living?” was the first question put to
him.

The question was quite unexpected, and it was simply impossible for
Hezekiah to answer it straightforwardly. For the truth was that he did
nothing for a living. While he stared open-mouthed at the lawyer,
wondering what to say, the latter called His Honour’s attention to the
fact that the witness could not answer a simple question about his own
means of livelihood, and then suggested that Hezekiah must either be a
thief or a loafer.

The magistrate was peremptory. “What do you do for a living?” he asked.

“Me mother help me, sah, an’ me uncle,” stammered poor Hezekiah, reduced
to the sad extremity of telling the truth.

“Now, sir!” thundered the lawyer, “do you mean to tell me that a big man
like you is living on a poor old woman? And have you nothing better to
do than come to the court-house and tell lies?”

“I don’t tell no lie, sah!” grumbled Hezekiah.

“Don’t be impertinent, sir! Now remember you are on your oath: didn’t
the Chinaman at the lane corner once threaten to put you in charge for
stealing a pack of Rosebud cigarettes off his counter?”

The question came like a thunder-clap. Hezekiah’s love for these
cigarettes was well-known to all his friends, but he had fondly hoped
that that little episode, which might have had so unpleasant a
termination, had been forgotten by the Chinaman himself. How did the
lawyer know of it? In his bewilderment it did not dawn on him that his
whole life-history, in so far as Maria knew it, had been told with point
and circumstance to Maria’s lawyer.

Fear now took possession of him—abject fear. A few more questions like
the last, and his reputation in the lane would be ruined for ever. He
moved about in his circle as a man of some importance, for he played the
guitar, swore with remarkable fluency, and claimed superiority on the
ground that he neither worked nor wanted. This examination was not at
all what he had bargained for. As he explained afterwards, the lawyer
took a mean advantage of him. But the fierce interrogatory had had its
effect; for when the lawyer asked him, “Now, didn’t you see Susan
Proudleigh assault Maria Bellicant first?” he meekly answered, “Yes.”

After that the truth, or as much of it as Hezekiah could remember, came
out. All that Susan’s lawyer could do was to prove that Maria had been
as quick to quarrel as Susan. Long before the witnesses were finished
with, it had become clear to the magistrate that he had here a simple
case of jealousy to deal with, and, as he had acquired something of a
reputation as a maker of compromises (which satisfied nobody) he thought
he would interpose at this point and so still further add to his fame as
a peacemaker.

Looking sternly at Susan, he told her that she could go on with the case
if she liked; but that though it was clear that he would have to fine
Maria for provoking her to a breach of the peace, by putting her hand in
her (the prosecutor’s) face, which act amounted to a technical assault,
he saw clearly that when Maria Bellicant’s case came on he would also
have to fine the present prosecutor. Both had used insulting words; both
were to blame. So he would advise them to make up their differences out
of court, especially as they appeared to be two decent young women.

Being a man of decided views on morality, he was particularly hard on
Tom.

“That young man, Tom Wooley,” he said, “has really been the cause of
this quarrel. I wish he was here so that I could deal with him. But I
hope that some one will tell him what I say. He seems to be a very loose
character, and I fear that there are only too many such in Kingston. I
have no doubt that he is deceiving a number of other women, and his acts
may lead to some of them going to prison one day.” The speaker glanced
at the reporters to see if they were taking down his little speech.
Satisfied that they were, he went on to urge upon the girls the
necessity of leading a respectable and self-sacrificing life. This they
most faithfully promised to do, all the while thinking him an old crank
who interfered too freely with other people’s business. Much pleased
with the apparent result of his efforts to rescue Susan and Maria from
the broad and easy way, and proud that he had effected another
compromise, he ordered the serjeant to call the next case, and the young
women and their several friends left the court.

Maria was delighted, for Susan had to all intents and purposes lost her
case. Hezekiah was dazed, his mind being awhirl with new and
uncomplimentary thoughts about His Britannic Majesty’s courts. They were
to him places where mean advantages were taken of truthful witnesses,
and in his heart of hearts he knew also that he had fallen from grace
for ever, in so far as Susan was concerned. As for Susan, she was
furious. She had not succeeded in getting Maria punished. She had been
lectured by an “ole fool” as she called the learned magistrate. Worst of
all, Tom’s name had been repeatedly mentioned during the trial. It had
been an entirely miserable affair, and, for her, a humiliating defeat.

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