THE ANNOUNCEMENT

“We must take a ’bus,” said Jones, when he and Susan alighted from the
train at Kingston. “Don’t bother with the car. It’s late already.”

He hailed a cab, and both of them, after bidding Letitia good-bye, got
into the cab and drove off, but not before the cabman had exchanged some
sharp words with the policeman who was regulating the traffic. Jones
wanted to take sides with the cabman, partly through a natural
inclination for argument, partly from a desire to impress Susan with his
utter contempt for the guardian of the law. But she urged the cabman to
drive on, fearing any serious quarrel at the very beginning of her new
career; and the cabman obeyed after some grumbling, though he was
clearly in the wrong.

She was glad to be back in Kingston, glad to be riding once more through
the ill-lighted streets, to be amongst the slow-moving, chattering
people, to feel the dust of the city in her face. She thrilled with
excitement at the thought of her parents’ surprise; the whole yard would
wonder who it was that had brought her home so splendidly from the
picnic. Then she remembered the room and felt ashamed.

“The place shabby,” she again warned Jones. “Me an’ me family are poor;
but we are decent. Me father ’ave cramps in his feet; that is why we
’ave to live in a little room.”

She said nothing about Tom and the house in Blake Lane; Jones again
declared that the place she lived in did not matter to him.

“I can’t stay long,” he said, when the cab stopped at Susan’s gate. “I
will have to go home for me dinner.”

He entered the yard jauntily, and Susan took him up to the room, sitting
near the door and at the threshold of which were her father and mother
and sisters, and her aunt who had dropped in to see them, as she so
frequently did.

They were expecting Susan, but when they heard the cab stop at the gate
they had not imagined it was she who had come home in it. Seeing her now
with a tall young man whose face they could not distinctly make out in
the darkness, they all rose, each one looking at him intently.

“This is Mr. Jones,” said Susan; “I met him at the picnic.”

“My best respects, sir,” said Mr. Proudleigh, taking off the remains of
the hat he wore—“my distant respects.”

“Same to you, sir,” said Jones, feeling a trifle awkward.

“Won’t you step inside?” asked Miss Proudleigh. “The place is small, but
de heart is warm. Susan, show the gentleman inside.”

She stepped inside herself as she spoke, being curious to know who the
gentleman was and what he had come for. That he had some sort of design
upon Susan she had no doubt whatever; for no man could take a young
woman home without a very definite interpretation being given to this
ostensibly innocent act. Susan led Jones into the room. Mr. Proudleigh
transferred into the apartment two chairs from his part of the room, and
on these he and his sister sat; Jones took the one remaining chair, and
Susan sat on the bed. Catherine and Eliza stood by the doorway, curious,
while their mother disappeared, as usual, being a woman who rarely
indulged in conversation or obtruded her presence upon anyone.

“Very noice picnic, Mr. Jones?” inquired Mr. Proudleigh. “Plenty of
music and enjiements? Hope you enjie you’self?”

“Magnanimously,” said Jones; “I met you’ daughter an’ we had a nice
conversation. You have a beautiful daughter, Mr. Proudleigh.”

“Cho!” said Susan deprecatingly, but nevertheless pleased.

“Oh yes, sir,” agreed Mr. Proudleigh; “she take after me. She have my
features and my disposition. I always say she is me own daurter.”

“Hi! papee,” cried Eliza, a trifle indignant; “don’t we are you’ own
daughter too?”

“Of course,” assented her father; “but Sue is de most oldest; an’ she
take the world upon her shoulder.”

The world was really himself and the rest of the family, and a good deal
of the deference he showed to Susan was inspired by the fear that she
might some day throw the burden off.

“Yes,” said Jones, wishing to come to the point at once; “I seldom see a
female like Miss Susan. She is perfectly emphatic.”

“Quite true, sir,” said Miss Proudleigh; “but we must remember that
beauty is only skin deep, and except a young lady have the fear of de
Lord in her heart, she can’t prosper. What society you belongs to, Mr.
Jones?”

“Society? Me?” said Jones; “I never belong to any society since I use to
go to Sunday school when I was a boy.

“Church is a very good thing,” he continued, “but a young man is wild.”

“Yes,” said Mr. Proudleigh, “I didn’t jine society meself till I was
long time over forty. Then I felts that I was a ripe man, an’ could do
me duty. I don’t like to see a young man goin’ too much to church. That
is like de Scribes an’ Pharisee; it is hypocritical.”

“Well,” his sister was beginning, but here Susan’s impatience got the
better of her manners.

“Why don’t you tell them what you ’ave to tell them?” she asked Jones.

Every one’s ears were pricked up. What was it that he could have to say?
Miss Proudleigh forgot entirely the remark she had been about to make.
Catherine glanced quickly from Jones to Susan, and back again.

“I am goin’ to take away your daughter altogether from you,” said Jones
to the old man, and struck an attitude.

So that was it! Everybody had heard the “altogether,” and Mr. Proudleigh
and his sister immediately came to the conclusion that Jones wished to
marry Susan. It was a most unexpected announcement, but Mr. Proudleigh
loved dramatic climaxes, and, fearing lest his sister should forestall
him, he quickly rose from his chair and grabbed Jones by the hand.

“I esteem y’u, sir!” he exclaimed. “It is true I never meet you before;
but Miss Susan is a big ooman an’ must judge for herself. Besides, I can
look ’pon you an’ tell dat you are a honourable gen’leman. Miss Susan
will makes a good wife, better dan all——”

He stopped, seeing that Jones was shaking his head decisively.

“I didn’t say I was going to married—yet,” Jones explained; then he
looked at Susan as if expecting her to complete the explanation.

“It’s all right,” she said; “papee understand.”

Mr. Proudleigh sat down again. He was sorry he had not grasped the
purport of Jones’s words from the start, for it was rather embarrassing
to have mentioned marriage when marriage was not immediately intended.

But Miss Proudleigh rose to the occasion. “Ef Susan are satisfied,” she
said, “there is nobody to interfere. A respectable young man may not
feel like marrying now, an’ yet that does not signify that he is to
remain widout a partner in life. After all, who make the marriage
service? Don’t it is man? Read the Bible, an’ y’u won’t find a word of
it there. Isaac an’ Rebecca didn’t married in a church; an’ yet look how
lovin’ them live together. I am a Christian woman, an’ I know what is
right from wrong. But I don’t agree wid all those stiff-neck people who
say that everybody ought to married right off. That is not a practical
view.”

Mr. Proudleigh saw the golden bridge which his sister had built for him,
and he went flying over it.

“That is my own opinions,” he remarked with emphasis. “When Mister Jones
mention dis matter, I did thought it was funny that . . . I mean that I
thought dat a young man would want to know the sort o’ female him goin’
to get married to. Before I married, I was along wid Susan’s mother for
ten years. I had the twins that dead, an’ me son who is now oversea—a
good buoy that. Then I married, an’ Susan was born. An’ p’rhaps I
wouldn’t married at all ef the parson of de church I use to attend
sometimes didn’t talk to me an’ tell me I ought to jine society an’
don’t live no more in sin. I don’t regret I are married, but I wouldn’t
tell any young man to married right off if him don’t wants to.”

“That is what I say meself,” put in Catherine from the door. “If a gurl
get a young man, she would be foolish to drive him away because him
don’t want to married at once. After all, if him is free, she is free
too.”

Now Catherine had no young man in view, so far as Miss Proudleigh was
aware. And though many excellent arguments might be found to show that
Susan and Jones were doing almost the right and proper thing in the
circumstances existing, Miss Proudleigh felt that a stricter code of
morality ought to be enforced in so far as Catherine and Eliza were
concerned, at any rate until the time should come when moral theory
might wisely be dispensed with on the tacit understanding of a marriage
in perspective.

She pursed up her mouth. “I doesn’t thinks,” she observed, “that a young
gurl should talk in that way. Susan is different. But you an’ Eliza
don’t know de world yet, an’ you should be modest. When I was young, me
parents wouldn’t allow me to make such a remarks.”

Catherine bridled up, Eliza tittered, Susan laughed outright.

Catherine made a peculiar noise with her mouth which is locally known as
“sucking your teeth,” and which expresses both contempt and defiance.
Miss Proudleigh would have volubly resented this, had not her brother
interrupted her by going to the door and calling his wife.

“Mattie,” he explained, when she answered the summons, “Mister Jones is
takin’ Susan as an intended. Him is a decent young gen’leman, an’ I tell
him we is pleased to welcome him.”

“Yes,” said his wife; “we very pleased, sah.” She looked at Jones as she
spoke, not liking him as well as she had liked Tom, but yet feeling that
Susan was woman enough to make her own choice.

“I am goin’ to make you’ daughter very comfortable, old lady,” said
Jones, involuntarily glancing round the little room. “When we go to
Colon we going to have fine times.”

He spoke loudly and gaily, for the effect of the liquor he had been
drinking had by no means worn off, and he held himself to be something
of a hero who had arrived just in time to rescue a good-looking girl
from poverty and distress.

The old woman smiled, then asked: “You an’ Miss Susan goin’ to Colon,
sah?”

“Yes; three weeks’ time. They offered me an occupation down there, an’ I
am taking Susan with me.”

“Well! there is coincidence!” exclaimed Miss Proudleigh. “P’rhaps, Sue,
you will meet T——”

“What you goin’ to say now, ma’am?” asked Susan, in a threatening tone.

Miss Proudleigh heard and understood in time. “I was sayin’ that p’rhaps
you might meet you’ brother; but I just remember he gone to Nicaragua
an’ not Panama,” she replied, with admirable presence of mind.

“Sue did want to go to Colon all this time,” said her mother; “an’ now
she can go.” She glanced again at Jones, and left the room; then that
gentleman rose to bid them good night, saying as he did so that they
would see him on the following night.

Susan accompanied him to the gate, where they remained talking for a
little while. When she returned she was clinking a few silver coins in
her hand, and smiling gaily.

“Well!” she said, “you see me luck don’t desert me! I did think I would
’ave to work an’ save before I could go away; an’ before I save a
shillin’ I get a friend to take me.”

“An’ you remember, Sue,” said her father, “that it was me who strongly
advise y’u to go to de picnic. I had a sort of feeling that you should
go. Something say to me, ‘Make her go.’ I am a man who follow me feeling
all de time; an’ p’rhaps if I didn’t do it, you wouldn’t have gotted
such a chance to go foreign.

“Well, nobody can say I don’t do me best fo’ me children,” he proceeded,
in a self-satisfied tone. “An’ if them should forget me, the curse of
God must fall on them. All night long I lay down and thinks about them.
When you believe I are sleeping I am thinking about you.”

If snoring be a proof of wakefulness, then it must be admitted that Mr.
Proudleigh spent all the long hours of the night in anxiously reflecting
on his children’s future welfare. In fact, on the strength of such
evidence, it might reasonably be contended that he never knew what it
was to sleep. On the other hand, it was difficult to reconcile his
claims to habitual insomnia with his habit of frequent dreaming; for
every morning he had at least one dream to relate, and nearly every
dream of his was fraught with prophetic meaning.

That he should now be anxious to bind his children, and especially
Susan, to him by the bonds of gratitude was natural. And the reason was
obvious. If Susan went to Panama and did not take the others with her,
or agree to send something regularly for them, the prospects of himself
and the old woman might again become serious, however it should fare
with the two girls. In mentioning the vengeance of God upon ungrateful
children, therefore, he felt he had struck a note that would vibrate to
good effect, and inwardly congratulated himself on his diplomacy. Susan,
however, did not need to be reminded of the necessity of doing something
for her people before she left; she had already made up her mind as to
that while driving home from the railway station. So by way of answer to
her father’s remarks, she began to tell them of her plans.

“I can’t take Kate wid me again, as I was goin’ to do if I did go by
meself,” she explained. “An’ I can’t promise to send for any of you, for
Sam not going to like it. If Kate can manage to come to Colon by
herself, after I get down there, dat will be all right, for I would like
some of me own family near me. But I not sending for her. And I don’t
see what you would do in Colon, sah,” she went on, turning to her
father, “for you’re old, an’ you can’t work.”

“Me!” exclaimed Mr. Proudleigh indignantly; but Susan calmly continued
with her statement, without taking any notice of his protest, or giving
him the opportunity of showing how extremely useful just such a man as
he would be in a country devoted to the strenuous task of building a
great canal.

“I am going to leave the shop, an’ all of you can look after it, same as
if I was in Jamaica. It getting on well, an’ if you don’t act foolish
you will make a profit every week. An’ I will send something for y’u
whenever I can. And see here! Remember that I don’t want nobody to talk
about Tom when Sam come to see me. Aunt Deborah nearly do it a little
while ago when Sam was here, an’ it is all that sort of stupidness I
don’t like.”

“You needn’t express you’self in that way, Susan,” protested Miss
Proudleigh severely. “I didn’t mean anyt’ing. It only occur to me that
Jones might meet Tom, an’ Tom might make confusion.”

“Him make confusion!” retorted Susan scornfully. “What about? What him
send for me since him gone away? I only hear from him once, an’ him say
that if he don’t get sick him will send for me; an’ he didn’t even put a
dollar in de letter. It’s two months now since him gone. If I didn’t
look for meself I might have been dead by this time. Besides, after all,
I am me own woman, an’ if I choose to get another intended, that’s my
business!”

“But suppose Jones meet Tom in Colon?” said Catherine.

“Well, what about dat? Jones couldn’t think that he is me first lover. I
am not his first sweetheart. I don’t want him to hear anyt’ing about
Tom, for I don’t want any chat in Kingston before I leave; but if him
meet Tom an’ I see any confusion goin’ to come, I will simply look for
something to do, like I been doing here since Tom leave. Once I am in
Colon I will be all right.”

But Miss Proudleigh, not pleased with Susan’s confidence and
self-assertion, and perhaps resenting her niece’s continued good
fortune, assumed a dismally prophetic air and uttered this doleful
prediction:

“I don’t quite like this, Susan. This young man’s name is Jones, an’ the
lawyer who lose you’ case against Maria is Jones. Now if you put two an’
two together, an’ reflect in a general way on the coincidence, y’u will
see that there is trouble before you. Howsoever——”

“Howsoever,” flamed out Susan, “it would be a good thing if everybody
mind them own business. It wasn’t me who select Lawyer Jones; an’ a lot
of people in Kingston have the same name. Those who envy me can think
an’ believe what them like.”

Then she asked for her dinner, which she had been too excited all this
time to think of; and about an hour after eating it she went to bed.

But her excitement prevented her from sleeping; and with the excitement
was mingled some anxiety lest Jones should change his mind in the
morning and not come back to see her after all. That was not improbable,
for a man sober might think much differently from the same man who,
according to his own admission, had taken “a few good drinks” during the
day. Yet she was inclined to believe that he had been in earnest. He had
given her five shillings when bidding her good-bye at the gate, and no
one who was not very much in earnest would have done so. On the whole,
after thinking the matter over, she felt she was certain of him.

She began to think about her approaching migration. To her, Colon and
Panama meant one and the same place, the lesser thus being made to
include the greater. She could form no idea of what the town might be
like, but of one thing she was certain: she would enjoy herself there
immensely and all the time. She would have plenty of money to spend. She
would have many fine dresses to wear. If Jones did not treat her nicely?
Well, she was not the sort of young woman to submit to bad treatment.
She would not stay with him. But she liked Samuel Josiah; he was
attentive and generous. She speedily decided that they would get on
excellently together. . . .

As for all those who disliked her, how she had triumphed over them! They
would hear of her good luck, and gnash their teeth with envy. Maria?
Mother Smith? They were entirely beneath her notice now.

She dwelt upon this thought with delight for some time, then gradually
fell asleep.

Unlike Susan, Jones slept very soundly that night. It was not until the
next morning that he thought over the proposal he had made to Susan, and
he did not regret it. He was attracted by her, more so than he had been
by any other woman he could remember. He did not know the reason, and
would have been the last person in the world to have thought about
reasons in such a connexion. He simply believed he was in love with her,
and not in quite the same way that he had been in love some twenty times
before.

He felt happier now about going to Colon. The truth is that Jones, in
spite of all his talk, had been rather uneasy about leaving Jamaica and
going to a land where he might meet with no one whom he knew intimately.
Susan’s will was stronger than his. Hers was a more determined
character. That was one cause of the attraction she had for him;
impulsive, uncertain, volatile, and talkative as he was, it was not
surprising that a girl who usually knew her own mind in matters that
directly concerned her, and who could stick to her own point with
remarkable tenacity, should exercise considerable influence over him
almost from the moment of their first meeting. Then she was
good-looking, lively, and of excellent figure. She was not common
either, he was sure, for she had not welcomed his advances at the start
as so many other girls would have done. Consequently he was satisfied
with the arrangements of the previous day; and he lost no time that
evening in going to see her. When he appeared, Susan’s last doubt
vanished. She was now quite certain of him.

Soon Mr. Proudleigh began to speak of him as his son-in-law, and Susan’s
sisters regarded him as their brother-in-law. Calling Jones
brother-in-law appealed to the girls’ sense of propriety, while it
suited their aunt’s religious views to consider Jones as almost married
to Susan. The family’s standards of respectability demanded that some
deference, if only in words, should be paid to the conventions of
recognized propriety.

Jones went to see Susan every night, sometimes taking her out for long
car rides. Usually they were left alone when at home, for, as Mr.
Proudleigh put it, “A courting couple don’t like disturbation.” On these
occasions the rest of the family distributed themselves amongst the
other people who lived in the yard, or sat together in the yard on boxes
talking about Susan’s good luck. Both Catherine and Eliza would then
dearly express the hope that a similar stroke of good fortune might
befall them, for they were heartily tired of their present way of life.
But whenever they voiced their discontent Mr. Proudleigh would ask them
to have patience, assuring them at the same time that he was praying for
them as he had prayed for Susan, and was expecting a similar answer at
any moment.

One night it rained, and then all of them were obliged to assemble
indoors. It was then that Mr. Proudleigh took the opportunity of
mentioning certain fears that he professed to feel in regard to Samuel’s
and Susan’s future; though, if the truth must be told, he had begun to
think that as Jones already had a good situation in Jamaica, he might as
well remain in the island with Susan and endeavour to be happy, instead
of going to a place where he (Mr. Proudleigh) might not be able to
follow them. Not without some hope of dissuading Jones from leaving
Jamaica, he remarked:

“You know, Mister Jones, I been hearing dat Panama is a dangerous place
for a young man. A person tell me this morning dat the Americans don’t
like Jamaica people at all; an’ that the first word you say to them,
them shoot y’u.”

“That don’t frighten me,” said Jones. “No American man is going to shoot
Samuel Josiah. I can do my work, an’ when the work is done, I go about
me own business, an’ leave the Americans to themselves. Besides, I hear
that all y’u have to do is to tell an American you are a British
subject, an’ he wouldn’t put a finger on you.”

“So I hear meself,” said Susan. “If you belongs to another race, them
will take an advantage of you. But so long as them know y’u are an
English subject, them will respect y’u.”

“Is dat so?” asked the old man, rather disappointed at hearing that
British citizenship was such a sure protection against the dangers of
which he was warning Samuel; “but how is it that I hear them sometimes
illstreat folkses that go away from here?”

“It can’t be Americans do it,” said Jones, quite positively.

Now Mr. Proudleigh, although not gifted with particular quickness of
wit, could perceive that there was something lacking in Jones’s reply.
“Not reburting you, Mister Jones,” he said, “but even ef it wasn’t de
Americans who half-murder the Jamaica mens, it was somebody. An’ those
people didn’t seem to mind dat Jamaica people was British subjects.”

This way of looking at the matter was certainly of some importance;
Jones, however, was not one to allow himself to be easily beaten in an
argument.

“The Jamaica people couldn’t have been Jamaica people at all,” he
answered. “For a British subject can’t be touched.”

“I don’t see how dat can be,” said Mr. Proudleigh doubtfully, “for those
Jamaica people did really born in Jamaica.”

“Then they were a set of fools,” replied Jones shortly. “Most Jamaica
people is foolish; they have no cranium whatsoever. I bet you those men
never told they were British subjects. Now, if it was me, I would have
made everybody to understand that I was an Anglo-Saxon, an’ that if they
touch a hair of me head, war would be declared. That’s the way to talk
in a foreign country. I wouldn’t make a man bluff me out. No, sir!”

“Dat is all right, Mister Sam,” said the old man. “But p’rhaps them
wouldn’t care what y’u call you’self till after them finish beat y’u.
An’ then I don’t see how it would help y’u, even if them publicly
expologize to you as you are a British subjec’.”

“But why y’u want to frighten Samuel, papee?” asked Susan, who now began
to suspect that her father had some motive in arguing like this. “Don’t
y’u think Sam can look after himself? An’ don’t a lot of other people
gone to Colon an’ nothing ’appen to them? Why you talking like that?”

Mr. Proudleigh may never have heard of the proverb which asserts that
discretion is the better part of valour, but he certainly lived up to
both the spirit and the letter of it.

“Y’u misunderstand you’ poor ole father, Sue,” he answered, with the
suggestion of a reproach in his voice. “I only wanted to hinform Mister
Sam as to what I hear. I know him can look after himself. Him is as
brave as a . . . a . . .” He cast about in his mind for a term of
comparison that would transcend all such other commonplace terms as
“lion” and “tiger,” and finally came out with—“as a hedgehog.” He had
not the faintest conception what sort of animal a hedgehog might be; but
that in itself induced him to think of it as possessing remarkable
qualities of courage. His children, who had read at the elementary
school of the hedgehog and its ways, laughed outright; but Jones was not
at all offended.

“You are right, old massa,” he observed, “if y’u put your hand on a
hedgehog, he stick you with his porcupines, an’ that’s like me. I am a
word and a blow all the time. If any man interfere with me, he get the
worst of it.”

“But nobody going to interfere wid you,” Sue insisted. “Y’u will mind
your own business, an’ leave everybody else alone.”

Given Jones’s temperament, this was highly improbable. But he agreed
with her.

“Besides,” he added, “it is quite true that they can’t do what they like
with a British subject. That’s undiscussable.”

“I wonder why dat is so?” asked Mr. Proudleigh. “I always hear so, but I
don’t understand de reason.”

“It is the King,” explained Catherine. “Them ’fraid of the King. If y’u
do one British subject anything, an’ the King hear about it, him send
ships to fight for you. Him ’ave sojers an’ ships, an’ nobody can beat
them. And as Jamaica belongs to him, him protect us.”

Catherine’s display of political knowledge deeply impressed her father.
“I see!” he remarked. “It’s like what Queen Victoria used to do. I hear
dat when she come to the throne she get up one day an’ say, ‘I don’t
want any more slave in Jamaica,’ an’ the moment she say so, them send
an’ free every slave! That was a good ooman. An’ that is why she live so
long that I was beginning to think she would never dead. An’ her
children take after her, or them wouldn’t protect us when we go
foreign.”

“It’s not only the King,” said Jones, anxious to show that he knew much
about such matters. “It’s the Parliament as well. The Parliament look
after British subjects wherever them go to.”

“Yes, eh?” said Mr. Proudleigh, still more deeply impressed; “what is de
Parliament?”

Jones thought for an instant, then answered, “It’s something like our
Legislative Council. A lot of dukes; an’ they all discuss an’ argue. I
hear, too, men are elected to it; big men, like lords, and that
sometimes them fight, but them don’t fight often. They are all white,
for in England y’u never see a black man. But if a black man go there
an’ just say he is a British subject, they do anything for him. They
love him, y’u know, because he is born under the British flag.”

“That’s a place I would like to go to,” said Mr. Proudleigh. “I would
like to see de King. Howsoever, ef he protect Jamaica people in Colon,
you an’ Miss Susan will be all right there.”

Then the talk drifted to other subjects, and Mr. Proudleigh made no
further attempts to persuade Jones to remain.

The days flew by quickly. During the last week that she was to remain in
Kingston Susan busied herself in going round to her debtors and letting
them know that Catherine would collect the moneys due to her, in going
to see her friends to bid them good-bye, and in going for long car rides
in the evenings with Jones. It was when she was returning from one of
these rides one night that she stopped suddenly and looked back at a
woman who was walking slowly at some distance behind her.

“What’s the matter?” asked Jones.

“Nothing,” she replied. “I thought I did know that person back of us;
but I can’t see her face. I must be mistaken.” But that night after
Jones had left she said to Catherine:

“Kate, y’u know who I could swear I thought I saw in the lane to-night?”

“Who?” asked Kate.

“Mother Smith. As I was coming down, I pass a person that look familiar.
An’ something say to me, ‘Turn back.’ An’ when I look back, the person
seem to be Mother Smith, but I wasn’t sure; an’ as Sam was wid me I
couldn’t go up to her.”

“But what is Mother Smith doin’ here?” asked Catherine. “Maria was with
’er?”

“No. P’rhaps it wasn’t her, after all. If it was ’er, she must ’ave been
walkin’ this way to see what sort o’ young man Sam is, for Hezekiah must
’ave told her an’ her big-mouth daughter that I going to Colon. I hope
she see what she come to see! Thank God! She can’t interfere wid me any
more—the old wretch!” Then she dismissed Mother Smith from her mind.

She was to sail on Saturday, so on Friday night quite a number of her
friends came to see her. She had specially invited them; for though, the
exigencies of space forbidding, she could not give a dance, she had
heard that rich people had “at homes,” and she saw no good reason why
she should not have one herself. She did not call it an “at home”; she
merely told her friends it was to be “a joke”; but she meant it to be a
very serious and fashionable joke, which was what she conceived an “at
home” to be.

Letitia was there, and Cordelia Sampson, a reddish-brown young lady,
very much freckled, and with a voice of astonishing shrillness. Cordelia
sang in the choir of an Episcopalian mission church in one of the
suburbs of the city, always spoke of herself as “a choir,” and was
always alluded to as “a choir” by those who knew her. She was the terror
of the mild-mannered clergyman who, for some utterly inexplicable
reason, believed that she was endowed with a splendid voice, and that
her resignation, so frequently threatened, would mean a great loss to
the church. You sometimes had to persuade her to sing when she came to
see you; but, once she began, the problem was how to persuade her to
stop. She was clothed in pink this evening, and was aggressively
prepared to be musical; in fact, she had brought a music folio with her,
and she sat with it in her lap, so as to be ready for all emergencies.
There were four other girls, two of them black, and the other two of the
dark brown shade known as sambo. All of these were dressed in light
white frocks which fitted them to perfection. No men had been invited,
except Letitia’s brother; for Susan did not think highly of the few
young men she knew.

The cloth partition in the room had been taken down, and the beds
removed. Some chairs had been borrowed from the people in the yard, who,
since they had heard of Susan’s good fortune, treated her with marked
respect and never neglected to address her as Miss Susan. There was
therefore room for the guests, who, if they did sit rather close to one
another, and perspired profusely, did not seem to mind that much. As for
refreshments, Susan had laid out eight shillings in cakes, aerated
waters and syrups, being determined that no one should call her mean.
She was expecting Samuel; but he, she told her friends, might not come
until nine o’clock.

There was but one thing to talk about, of course.

“I may ’ave to sing at you’ wedding, Sue,” said Miss Sampson. “For if a
young man can fall in love with a young lady at first sight, an’ take
’er away with ’im, it is likely he may marry ’er.”

“I believe so!” said Letitia. “The moment I saw Sue an’ Jones together,
I know ’im love ’er. Y’u should see the way him look on ’er. Sort of
funny, y’u know . . . in fact, you could see love all over his face.”

“Well,” said Susan complacently, “if it’s my luck to married, I will
married. But I not putting me head on that. After all, a lot of people
married an’ don’t better off than me to-day; so ef I don’t married I
won’t fret.”

“Y’u right, me child,” said Letitia. “What’s de good of getting married
if you ’ave to work ’ard? I know some married woman that toils like a
slave from morning to night, an’ I don’t see what them get for it. That
wouldn’t suit me!”

“Nor me,” observed one of the other girls. “What any woman going to kill
herself for?”

“But I say, Sue,” she went on, inadvertently turning the conversation;
“y’u ever hear anything about that gurl y’u brought up in de
court-house? I never see y’u since dat time, an’ I wanted to ask you
about ’er.”

“I never see her. I don’t ’ave no bad feelings for ’er now, for if she
didn’t interfere wid me, I wouldn’t be goin’ away to-morrow. But I glad
she didn’t get Tom, for that teach people like she not to interfere wid
other gurls’ intendeds,” Susan replied.

“She an’ her mother must be cursing y’u,” said Cordelia with a shrill
laugh. “You are all right, an’ they are all wrong! Y’u ought to sing
‘Sound the loud Timbrel o’er Egypt’s Dark Sea,’ Sue, because y’u really
beat them out,” and she fingered her song folio suggestively.

“Ladies,” said Susan, taking the hint, “don’t you think Miss Sampson
should favour us with a song?”

Her careful pronunciation and formal speech was, as it were, a call to
order; it meant that the serious business of the evening was about to
begin.

Miss Sampson simpered, opened her book, said, “You must ’elp me with the
chorus,” and then uttered a terrifying scream.

In the choir she must have been a disturbing element. As a soloist she
was indisputably remarkable. Yet that did not prevent the company from
assisting her with the chorus to the best of the ability of their lungs;
and when the song was ended they expressed themselves as enraptured.

It was after that that Susan’s sisters handed round glasses of kola and
bits of cake in saucers, and while the guests were enjoying these
refreshments Jones came in.

He was duly introduced, but would not sit down.

“Some friends of mine,” he explained, “want to give me a send-off; so
while you girls enjoyin’ you’selves here, I will go an’ enjoy meself
with a few males.”

This was disappointing to the girls, who had already begun to find the
society of their own sex a little dull.

“We would like to enjoy you’ conversation, Mr. Jones,” Cordelia
suggested. “I’ve just rendered a song, an’ now we would like you to say
something.”

But Jones would not be prevailed upon to say something. He shook hands
with them, told Susan at what hour he was coming for her the next day,
and went out. Susan followed him to the gate, as usual, and her friends,
finding the ceremonial of an “at home” much too stiff for enjoyment,
began to discuss him and Susan and their own affairs in an intimate
manner, and without paying any special and irksome attention to the
pronunciation of their words or the grammatical sequence of their
sentences. This sort of talk was congenial to Susan herself, and she
heartily joined in it when she returned to the room. And when her
friends were leaving her at a little past eleven o’clock, she agreed
that she had had a very fine evening, and that the “joke,” although not
by any means as lively as a joke with music and dancing, had
nevertheless been a very good joke of its kind.

Yet, when all the guests had gone, her sisters noticed a puzzled look on
Susan’s face.

“What is it?” asked Catherine.

Susan wrinkled her brows. “I am sure Mother Smith was outside this yard
to-night,” she answered. “I saw her when I went to de gate wid Sam. What
is dat woman coming about me for? What can she mean?”

In the meantime Jones had gone to meet his friends. On leaving Susan, he
turned southwards, and as he emerged from the lane on to a crossing an
old woman approached him, as if with the intention of speaking to him.
Thinking she was a beggar, he took no notice of her, but hurriedly
continued on his way. In about ten minutes he came to a saloon, over the
principal entrance of which was a huge signboard with the encouraging
invitation, “Welcome to All.”

He went up a short flight of steps, pushed the slat door, which swung
back on its hinges behind him, and found himself in a large well-lighted
room. He knew the place well. Facing the entrance was a long bar of dark
polished wood, and behind it, against the wall, were a number of shelves
arranged in the form of a pyramid. These shelves were stocked with
bottles of all sorts and shapes, all of them containing liquors. In the
centre of the pyramid was a huge mirror, the only one in the room. At
one end of the bar was a great pitcher of iced water, and scattered
about it were glasses and ice-bowls and long silver-plated ice-spoons.

Behind the bar stood two bright-looking dark girls, gaily dressed and
busily attending to the orders of the customers. One or two of the
latter were lounging against the bar, but the most of them were seated
at little marble-topped tables scattered here and there about the room.
The people who frequented this place were nearly all clerks, shopmen,
and superior artisans. It was towards one of the tables, round which
four or five men were seated, that Jones walked immediately on entering
the saloon.

One of the men held a newspaper in his hand, and was talking loudly.
“Hullo, Sam!” he shouted, when he caught sight of our friend, “I thought
you weren’t comin’ again. Make room, boys, make room!”

They made room for Jones, who sat down.

“What’ll you have?” said the same speaker, who was known to his friend’s
as the Professor. “Order something good, old boy: won’t see you after
to-morrow, y’u know. What is your drink?”

Jones decided on gin and ginger beer; ordered a pack of cigarettes, then
settled down to enjoy his beverage, his smoke, and a last friendly chat.

“So you going to leave us, eh?” said a dark, serious-looking man, who
sat stirring a bit of ice in a glass with his finger. “Going away! I
travel once meself to Colon when the French was diggin’ the Canal. I
nearly die, an’ when I came back to Jamaica I swear I never would go
away again. A man don’t have long to live, an’ it’s just as well to
remain here till his time come.”

“Why you talking like that?” asked Jones. “You not sick? When I come
back y’u will be alive and kicking, Septimus, an’ yet you talking
to-night like a dying duck in a thunder-storm. You are too
pessimistical, man.”

“You don’t know what y’u saying,” replied the serious Septimus
seriously. “I know you are a man don’t read the newspaper, but you
should hear what Professor been reading to-night!”

Curious, Jones turned to the Professor, who impressively read from a
local journal the views of a European astronomer on Halley’s Comet, then
visible in the morning sky. Jones had heard of the comet, like most
other people in the island, and, like them, had not given it much
thought. Now, however, he listened to what the newspaper had to say
about it with a great deal of interest. It appeared that somebody in
Europe believed that he had discovered certain green bands in the tail
of the comet, which indicated a poisonous gas, and now that astronomer
was warning the inhabitants of the earth of their possible extermination
at an early date. The whole article was read out aloud by the Professor
(for the third time), and nearly everybody in the room listened
intently. When the reader stopped, the serious man again took up the
burden of his lamentations.

“There you are!” he exclaimed dismally. “I have been expecting that
thing for I don’t know how long. It is written in the Book of
Revelations that before the last day there shall be signs and wonders.
The Kingston earthquake was a sign. An’ this comet is a perfect wonder;
for when I saw it the first time a few days ago it only had a head, an’
yesterday morning I only saw its tail! Oh! you can laugh as y’u like”
(Jones had laughed) “but I tell you the situation is serious.”

The seriousness of the situation so overcame him that he called for
another drink.

“Well,” said Jones, “I wouldn’t trouble about that. I don’t see the
comet yet; an’ you say you only see the tail. But if you see the tail,
you see the comet. An’ if you see the comet, the head must be
somewhere.”

This reasoning appealed to the Professor, a light-complexioned man of
about thirty, who had once been an elementary schoolmaster.

“I agree with you, Jones,” he said. “Besides, the Book of Revelations is
unscientific. There is something about a three-footed horse in it, isn’t
there?”

“A pale horse,” said Septimus reprovingly. “A three-footed horse is a
Jamaica duppy[1] story.”

“Even so,” said the Professor, “a horse cannot be pale.”

“What’s to hinder it?” asked the serious man. “If a man can be pale, a
horse can be pale too. The pale horse in Revelations was a sign; an’ I
tell you that everything y’u read in that book is coming true. I
wouldn’t leave Jamaica now, me brother! All we can do in these last days
is to watch and pray. I think I’ll take a little rum.”

He took it, then—“It’s rather hard,” he said, “that after a man spend
his whole life looking after his family, a comet should come like this
to destroy him. What have I done?”

Jones found the conversation distinctly depressing, though there was no
denying that many persons in the room were listening to it with very
serious faces. He was going away next day, and he began to fear that, at
sea, he might be more directly exposed to danger from the comet than
those on land.

“I like to talk about big scientific things, meself,” he said, “but I
don’t see the good of talkin’ about the end of the world.”

“Well, perhaps you are right,” said the serious man. “It’s not everybody
who can face these questions like me. You know, I was brought up very
religious. Me gran’mother was a very strict woman; she used to make me
say me prayers every morning, an’ she flog me whenever I didn’t want to
go to Sunday school. That’s why I turn out so well.”

This claim to superiority nettled Jones. “I have been brought up
religious meself,” he said, a little indignantly. “Suppose we have a
game of billiards?”

“No, Sam,” Septimus replied gravely. “This is not a time for billiards.
I think I shall go to church on Sunday. It is time to turn our thoughts
to higher things. I nearly got killed two years ago, an’ since then I
not taking any risk with my soul. Y’u going to join Church when you go
to Panama?”

“No,” said Jones, “I don’t have nothing to do with churches; the fact
is, I don’t understand them at all.”

A chorus of approval greeted these words. “Something should be done to
reform the churches,” said the Professor. Then he added impressively,
“Something is going wrong somewhere.”

“If the churches were better,” said Jones, “there would be less sin in
the world. That’s what I always say.”

“That is so,” said Septimus; “the churches are to blame.” Then calling
to the younger barmaid, he said, “Missis, you hear about this comet?”

“I am prepare,” the girl answered, “whenever the call shall come.”

“That’s a fine girl,” said Jones approvingly. “If I wasn’t taking one
with me to Panama, I would take her.”

He spoke loudly enough for the barmaid to hear him, and she (though
prepared for instant death) imagining that he was making fun at her,
promptly faced him with an indignant rejoinder.

“See here, Mister Jones! you really wouldn’t be rude to me to-night.
It’s not because y’u see me servin’ behind a bar that you must think y’u
can laugh at me! I am a lady, though I am poor; an’ if me dead father
should know I was workin’ here, him would dead again from grief!”

“I wasn’t making any fun!” protested Jones. “I was only admiring you.
An’ I meant what I said!”

“Stop!” said his serious friend. “You really takin’ a female with you?”

“Yes,” said Jones gaily. “You didn’t hear?”

“No! y’u don’t mean to tell me you married an’ didn’t let me know? You
will regret it, me friend! You don’t know what marriage mean yet! A man
who have a wife an’ children have a feeling of responsibility he can’t
get over, no matter how hard he try, an’ I tell you I have tried very
hard. However, we all have to shoulder our burden, an’ do our duty, an’
so let our light shine.”

Here the elder barmaid happening to pass near by him, he (for he seemed
to be on terms of surprising familiarity with her) tried to put his arm
round her waist. She drew away giggling, and he nearly lost his balance.
But his good humour was imperturbable in spite of his fears of the
comet, and of the heavy responsibility of wife and children, which, as
he alleged, weighed him utterly down.

Jones speedily reassured him and his other anxious friends.

“It’s only a female I taking with me,” he said. “She and I became
acquainted recently.”

“What’s her name?” asked one of the men who had hitherto taken no part
in the conversation.

“Miss Susan Proudleigh. Fine girl, man! Fall in love with me the same
day she see me. I am going to cut a dash with her in Colon.”

“Proudleigh?” asked the Professor, lifting his eyebrows as if trying to
remember something. “I think I know that name. . . . Yes, she had a case
in court some time ago.”

“What’s that?” Jones asked sharply. “You make a mistake, me friend. She
is not the sort of girl anybody can take to court-house. She is a
perfect incomparable, man!”

“I didn’t say anybody take her to court-house, Sam; but she did have a
case. I don’t remember it exactly, but I think she brought up a girl.”

“It can’t be so,” said Jones, “for I never hear anything about it. It
must be somebody else.”

“Perhaps so,” said the Professor, who had no special object to gain by
contending he was right, and who knew also that there might be other
Susan Proudleighs in Kingston besides the one he remembered having read
about.

“Yes, y’u can make a mistake about a name,” said Septimus, “but you
can’t make any mistake about this comet. The newspaper say it have
sanatogen in its tail, an’ sanatogen is not a thing to fool with.”

“Cyanogen,” corrected the Professor; “sanatogen is a tonic—something
you drink.”

“Well, whatever y’u call it, it’s a dangerous thing. However, let us
hope for the best. Jones, old man, if we even don’t meet again, let’s
have a drink before we part.”

He led the way to the bar, and each of them ordered the liquor he most
preferred. It was a farewell glass, and the sincerity with which Jones’s
health was drunk showed that his friends really liked him. Under their
hilarity there was emotion concealed. Which of them could know for
certain that he would ever see Samuel Josiah again?

This last glass was the signal for the breaking up of the party.

Jones lived to the west of the city, and the Professor said he was going
that way. So they bade the other fellows good-bye at the tavern door,
and started homewards.

They had hardly gone fifteen yards when an elderly, respectable-looking
woman boldly accosted them; she spoke to Jones, calling him by name:
could she speak to him for a moment?

She was close enough for him to perceive that she could not be a beggar.
He wondered what she could have to say to him. He stopped, and asked his
invariable question:

“What’s the matter?”

“Y’u mustn’t vex because I stop you out here, my gentleman,” said the
old woman: “but I came up to speak to you in Luke Lane to-night, an’ you
walk on before I could stop y’u. I only want to tell y’u one thing. I
hear y’u going away some time dis month wid Susan Proudleigh. That is
_your_ business. But let me tell you—for I don’t believe she tell you
herself—dat she has a young man in Colon already, an’ is only making
you a fool. You can ask her to-night about Tom Wooley! I don’t like to
see a nice-lookin’ young gentleman like you deceive; so I tell you about
the sarpent you is nourishin’ in you’ bosom.”

She ceased and said good night, having done the work she had been
striving for several nights to accomplish. The oath that she had taken
on the night when Susan had fought with Maria had been by no means
forgotten, for Mother Smith was a revengeful woman, and, bitterly
disliking Susan, would have gone far to injure her. To think that Susan
had been more fortunate than Maria was gall and wormwood to her already
bitter spirit. Only one chance of striking at Susan was open to her and
she had seized it. She wanted Jones to know the truth about Susan; how
he would act she could not guess, but she hoped for the worst.

“Tom Wooley,” said Samuel’s companion as the woman walked away—“why,
that’s the name of the man mentioned in the case I was telling you
about.”

Jones, who had been astonished at the old woman’s reason for stopping
him, continued his walk.

“I don’t see through this whole business,” he said to his friend. “What
she mean?”

Professor, who had read the case in the newspapers, had easily grasped
the situation. He explained:

“The old woman’s daughter was the girl your intended brought up; so the
old lady want to put a spoke in her wheel.”

“Yes, of course!” said Jones; “what a woman, eh? She nearly frightened
me! Now what she think I can do, me dear sir?”

A question which showed that he intended to do nothing; which indeed was
the decision he had arrived at. As he had never had any reason to
suppose that he was Susan’s first lover, he could not profess to feel
shocked at learning that a former flame of hers was now in Colon. Nor
did he really feel aggrieved, for even though she had not told him of
the case, there was clearly nothing to her discredit about it, since she
had been the prosecutor. He would have liked to ask her about it, and
said to himself that he would do so some day; but the truth is that he
already knew Susan well enough to understand that she might lose her
temper if questioned about anything she did not want to discuss. On the
whole, he did not see that Susan’s past mattered to him, any more than
his could matter to her. This conclusion was characteristic of Jones.
Before he had reached his house he had begun to talk of another subject
having no relation whatever to Mother Smith and her story.

—–

[1] Ghost.

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