Mr. Thomas Wooley had never been credited with strong moral convictions
by anyone who knew him. Among his mild boasts, uttered in the company of
congenial companions, certain alleged breaches by him of the seventh
commandment had frequently flourished: to gain a reputation for
gallantry he had not scrupled to libel himself. But on that night when
he saw Susan and Jones together in the streets of Colon the sacredness
of the marriage tie appealed to him strongly; he felt that a great wrong
was being done to marriage as a civil and religious institution, and he
remembered that he himself had been badly treated by Susan and by Jones.
That, he decided in his mind, had been freely forgiven. He was
magnanimous. But Susan was now a wife, and it was clearly wrong that she
should have anything whatever to do with Jones, who was, in Tom’s
opinion, a desperate and malignant character who pretended to be
friendly with you at first for the purpose of ill-treating you
Tom argued that, shocked though he was, he had no right to interfere
personally with Jones. He would not remonstrate with him on the evil
tenor of his way. But he reflected with intense satisfaction that
Mackenzie was, if anything, Jones’s physical superior, as well as the
rightful lord and master of Susan. Mackenzie, then, could read to Jones
a much-needed moral lesson, could deal with Susan as an outraged husband
should, and, generally, could do all those things which Tom wanted to
see done, but could not do himself.
The problem was, how to acquaint Mackenzie with the atrocious actions of
Susan and her lover? Tom felt that he had been a martyr. He had suffered
much because of Susan. But martyrdom, he was convinced, should not be
allowed to go beyond reasonable limits, and should, as a general rule,
be carefully avoided whenever possible. He had lost his situation in
Kingston, he had been roughly handled and fined in Colon. These things
he had endured without murmuring. He was now prepared to become an
active agent in the work of Susan’s moral redemption, and, incidentally,
in the deserved punishment of Jones; he had no doubt whatever that in
endeavouring to call Mackenzie’s attention to the wrongs of which that
injured man was still ignorant, he would be performing a highly
meritorious act. But caution must be displayed. Jones was very likely to
take a singularly narrow-minded view of his action, if he should ever
think that he, Tom, had meddled with his affairs. There was only one way
in which to approach Mackenzie, and that was through the medium of an
anonymous letter—a letter so worded that suspicion could not possibly
fall on Tom Wooley. Tom had been removed to Christobal. Early the next
morning, with a fine feeling of noble endeavour, somewhat mingled with
apprehension lest, in spite of all his efforts, his identity should be
disclosed, he sat down and wrote to Mackenzie.
The morning after this, on calling at the Post Office on his way to
work, Mackenzie was handed a letter which he opened and read as he
slowly walked away.
“DEAR SIR,” it ran, “this is to inform you that things are not quite
straight. Everybody has a respect for you, and it would be a shame if a
friend of yours do not let you know that your wife is not behaving
towards you as she should.” Here Mackenzie stopped reading and glanced
at the end of the letter to see from whom it came. It was signed, “A
True Friend,” a signature that left him none the wiser. He continued
“Your wife is always in Colon with Jones, the young man she was with
when you married her. I see them together over and over, and this is not
right, for she is your wife and should think of your feelings. I
therefore take this opportunity of making you acquainted with the
Mackenzie read the letter twice, then studied the handwriting: it told
him nothing. He folded the letter, carefully placed it in its envelope,
put it away in his pocket, and went thoughtfully to his work.
Susan had returned the day before. She had told him all about the fire,
of which he had already read a sensational account in that morning’s
papers. She had told him that she and her relatives had run out to see
the fire (which is what he knew they would have done), that they had met
Jones in the crowd, and that she had spoken to Jones. There was nothing
improbable whatever in her story. He remembered that he himself had
advised her to speak to Jones if she should ever meet him. This
anonymous letter said that she was often in Colon with Jones. But he,
Mackenzie, knew that Susan had only been twice to Colon since she had
been his wife. So that assertion was a lie. The person who had written
the letter, whoever it was, must have seen Susan speaking to Jones on
the night of the fire, but Susan had not kept that a secret. This man
too, who signed himself “A True Friend,” must surely bear Susan a
grudge, and perhaps was also an enemy of himself. For the fellow
evidently wanted to make mischief, and that no true friend would do.
Mackenzie did not like the letter; it worried him a little. He did not
care to have Susan’s name coupled with that of Jones: the association
was not pleasant. But he did not, for he could not, believe the story.
He decided he would show the letter to Susan later on.
He handed it to her when he went home for lunch.
“You have some enemy in Colon, Sue,” he said; “or it is my enemy. I get
this letter to-day, an’ it is no good person write it. I wonder if it is
Susan took the letter and glanced at the handwriting. She knew it at
once. Although Tom had tried to disguise his handwriting, and believed
he had succeeded, his endeavour had been at best a clumsy one; she gave
no sign, however, that she knew the author of the anonymous
communication; she did not wish Mackenzie to seek out Tom and demand an
explanation, which might be very inconvenient to her. She read the
letter slowly. She realized that the attempt to make it appear that she
was continually meeting Samuel had defeated its own end. She felt that
only a fool like Tom could have blundered so badly. He hadn’t even
mentioned the fire, so eager was he to conceal his identity. Her heart
was beating quickly, though she tried to appear unconcerned. She strove
to control her voice when she spoke.
“It’s a wonder the person who writes this letter didn’t say I was two
weeks wid Jones,” she said, as she handed the letter back to her
husband. “That’s the way that worthless people tell lies on other
people! They want to rob me of me character because them is envious of
“Well, it is what you have to expect,” said Mackenzie philosophically.
“I know you only go twice to Colon to see you’ family, an’ Jones have
his work to do during the day, so he couldn’t be with you.”
He said this more for the purpose of setting her mind at ease than
because he was any longer interested in the subject of the letter; but
Susan was inwardly too anxious to let the matter rest there. None of her
relatives, not even her aunt, would betray her; but suppose some other
person should follow Tom’s example? A bold idea suggested itself to her.
“I wonder if it is Jones himself write it?” she remarked. Mackenzie was
surprised at the suggestion.
“Why y’u think so?” he asked. “Jones wouldn’t tell a lie on himself?”
“I don’t know about that. P’rhaps him think you couldn’t say anything to
him, but might want to quarrel wid me. Men are bad, an’ Jones might want
to get me into trouble because I wouldn’t take much notice of him the
other night when I saw him at the fire, as I told you.”
Mackenzie looked at the letter he still held in his hand. He shook his
head; the handwriting was not like Jones’s.
“He may have begged one of his friend to write it,” urged Susan.
“Maybe,” admitted Mackenzie; “it may be Jones. But I wouldn’t like to
accuse him till I was sure: that would be foolishness.”
“Well, don’t notice it, then,” said Susan, pleased with Mackenzie’s
prudence. “I don’t care what anybody say about me, so long as me
conscience don’t trouble me an’ it don’t put you out. But I wouldn’t
like anybody else do me a thing like this again, for my character is all
dat I have, and what one person do another may do.”
But as Mackenzie preferred always to deal with facts and not with
possibilities, he let the subject drop, and by the time he returned to
his work that afternoon he had ceased to think about the letter.
Not for an instant, however, did Susan cease to think of it. She was
desperately frightened. As she had said to Mackenzie, what one person
had done another might do, and then Mackenzie would begin to grow
suspicious. She feared to meet Samuel again, yet she wanted to see him
at least once more: she wanted to warn him. How could she see him? . . .
If she risked a meeting some enemy of hers might learn about it, and
this time she might not be able to find a ready excuse. It is true that
Mackenzie had told her she should be polite to Jones if she should see
him, but at that time no anonymous letter had coupled her name with that
of her former lover. And to meet Jones the very next time she went to
Colon would of a surety have a suspicious look.
Should she write to him? Letters went astray sometimes, and Samuel was
Then what was she to do?
She worried herself all that afternoon, trying to think a way out of the
difficulty. Suppose Mackenzie should meet Jones and mention the letter
to him? Jones might say something about his meeting her at her people’s
house . . . and then!
She felt sick of the difficult position in which she found herself,
wearied to death; she had a sensation of being tied hand and foot, of
being a prisoner; she longed for release, and she knew that only one
avenue of escape was open to her. She could leave Culebra, leave Panama,
and go back to Jamaica with Jones. She would be happier there, free,
more like what she used to be before her marriage. What did the
hardships and discontents of that time now seem to her? They were as
nothing; she remembered only that she had been happier, and what was the
good of marriage if it brought but boredom and disgust? But there was
the divorce court to think of also, and her terrible fall from
respectability. Even if Mackenzie did not take the trouble to divorce
her, she would be a byword amongst those persons who should know her as
a woman who had left her husband for another man. She could not face
She decided that she must wait. Nothing might happen in the next couple
of weeks. At the end of that time it would not seem at all strange if
she went to Colon to see her people; then, if she met Samuel, she would
tell him of the letter and put him on his guard.
She felt grateful to Mackenzie for his confidence in her. Such
confidence displayed by a man like Tom would merely have awakened her
contempt; but she saw that her husband was perfectly sincere, and
determined to take her part against her traducers. Had he doubted her he
would have shown it at once, he would have made inquiries, and the
sequel would have been terrible. That, she argued, would have been
unjust to her. She had done nothing deserving of blame. She had met
Jones twice; she had not told her husband the truth about those
meetings; but on the other hand she had refused to fly with Samuel, and
on that demonstration of virtuous feeling she greatly preened herself.
She had behaved splendidly; after such conduct it would have been most
unjust if Mackenzie had acted any differently from how he had acted. And
to think that it was Tom who had tried to injure her; to think too that
nothing painful could be done to him! She thirsted for revenge, yet she
knew that Tom must escape scot-free. The slightest attempt at reprisals
might but lead to exposure. The thought that she could not pay back Tom
with heavy interest was like wormwood to her soul.
When Mackenzie came home that evening she again brought up the subject
of the letter. She thought that if she dwelt upon it, showed no anxiety
that it should be forgotten, her husband’s mind would be cleared of any
shadow of suspicion that, unknown to himself, might be lingering in some
dark corner there. Mackenzie laughed as he listened to her extravagantly
expressed wonder that anyone should be base enough to lie against
another person anonymously.
“I remember,” he said, “about eight years ago, when I was workin’ at the
Jamaica railway, somebody write a letter about me to de manager. He
didn’t sign his name, but I knew all the time who it was, an’ the
manager knew it too. The man wanted me job, an’ he accuse me of robbin’
the railway’s goods an’ sellin’ them outside. But I was more than a
match for him. I could account for every screw that pass through me
hand. All that man ever get for his lie was to lose his job, an’ that
teach him not to write letters against other people in future.”
Mackenzie had never forgotten that incident. It had much to do with his
disbelief in anonymous letters.
“So it is not me alone that them try to injure,” said Susan, glad that
her husband had also been attacked by an anonymous scribe. “However, I
not going back to Colon.”
“That’s stupidness,” said Mackenzie. “You goin’ to make a lie trouble
y’u? You must go an’ see you’ people sometimes.”
This remark was just what she wanted to hear; her husband himself had
now advised her to go to Colon when she wanted! But she would not avail
herself of this advice to rush off to Colon. Although her inclination
was to do so, she fought against it, forcing herself to wait. Her
patience and prudence were rewarded when, five days after, her sister
Catherine appeared at Culebra.
Catherine had come by one of the afternoon trains; as she had
calculated, she found Susan alone.
“I bet you you don’t tell me why I come here to-day?” she said to her
sister, dropping her voice as though she had an important secret to
Susan expressed her inability to guess, but, with the anonymous letter
always in her mind, became feverishly curious to know what had brought
Catherine up to Culebra. Was some scandal about her being circulated in
Catherine produced a sealed, unaddressed envelope and placed it in her
sister’s hand; Susan broke the seal; the letter was from Jones.
Catherine observed Susan’s start of surprise and alarm. She hastened to
explain that Jones had not posted the letter because he would not take
the risk of its falling into any other hands except those of Susan. He
had not even addressed the envelope, lest, inadvertently, the
handwriting should be seen and recognized.
“Samuel pay my trainage from Colon to up here, an’ back again,” said
Catherine. “I didn’t want to come, but he beg me hard, an’ I thought it
was better I bring the letter than that him should ask anybody else.”
She looked inquiringly at Susan, anxious to learn what Jones had written
Susan said nothing. She was reading and re-reading the letter. It was
written in Samuel’s most grandiloquent style, and opened with a
declaration of his intention to poison himself, throw himself on a
railway track to be run over by a train, drown himself, or commit
suicide in some other unpleasant manner if he were compelled to endure
much longer his present agony of mind. He wanted to see Susan to tell
her “something very important.” He had to see her, and he begged her to
go to Colon as early as she could. He ended by saying that he was
leaving for Jamaica in a week’s time, wishing as he did to die in his
own country, and that she would never cease to regret it if she let him
leave Panama without seeing her. She must tell Catherine if she would go
to Colon, and when.
There was a postscript: “And when I am departed hence, forlorn and
forsaken, you will eventually come to find that your desertation of me
was a catastrophe worse than ever you have known; but alas! it will be
“You know what Sam write to me about?” said Susan, searching Catherine’s
face with her eyes.
Catherine shook her head negatively. “Him want you to leave Mackenzie?”
“Not exactly. Him want to see me, but I can’t go to Colon just now at
“Why? No harm can be done. Nobody will know why y’u go.”
“Wait till I tell you something,” said Susan, and she told Catherine of
her conversation with Jones on the night of the fire, of their
accidental meeting with Tom, and of how Tom had acted. She had intended
to keep all this secret, but now was glad to have some one to whom she
could confide her cares.
Catherine listened, breathless, but not surprised at what she heard
about Jones. She had never been deceived by the formal conversations he
had carried on with Susan on the two occasions they had met at the house
in Colon. But with Tom’s treachery she was disgusted. She had once
entertained a kindly feeling for him; now she felt contempt. All her
sympathies were with her sister, and she agreed that it might indeed be
a risk for Susan to go just then to Colon; she had better wait for some
She proposed to return to Colon the next morning, and she promised to
explain to Samuel why Susan could not see him just then; she also
promised to warn him against Tom, at the same time impressing upon him
that any rash action on his part could do no good but might merely
create an unpleasant scandal. All this agreed upon, Susan professed
herself satisfied, then immediately added, “But suppose Sam go away
without I see him?”
That was possible. She did not take seriously his threats of suicide;
they were merely intended to frighten her. But that he was thinking of
returning to Jamaica she could well believe. His restlessness and
impatience might easily cause him to do that, and quickly, and . . . and
she wanted to see him again.
“Tell him,” she said to Catherine after a pause, “that he must ’ave
“But patience for what?” asked Catherine, and Susan could give no
* * * * *
The following morning Catherine returned to Colon. That evening, when
Jones came round to the house as agreed, she quietly took him out on the
veranda and told him the result of her mission.
When they went back into Mr. Proudleigh’s room, Jones solemnly walked up
to Mr. Proudleigh and shook hands with him.
“Old massa, you have nothing to do with it,” he said—“nothing at all.”
Mr. Proudleigh immediately agreed that he hadn’t, and then anxiously
inquired what it was with which he was so entirely unconnected.
“You know that I loved your daughter, didn’t you?” asked Jones.
“In course!” agreed Mr. Proudleigh briskly. “Dat is what I always say. I
’ave seen many a young man all in love all times, but I never see one
like you. Your love is true love, Mister Jones, like mine when I was
young an’ good-lookin’. I remember I was in love wid three different
young lady at one time, an’ I couldn’t say which one I love de most. One
“Very well,” said Jones, who was more anxious to air his grievances than
to listen to the youthful idylls of Mr. Proudleigh. “Y’u know that I
take her away from Kingston, Jamaica, an’ bring her here?”
“Sartinly. I was down at de wharf de day you leave. Sun was hot that
day, me friend!”
“Very well. And y’u know that I bring her here an’ look after her
kindly, an’ nearly went to prison for her?”
“Yes, y’u tell me all about it. But she say it was your fault; but, as I
tell her, a young man——”
“Very well. Now tell me fair an’ square: do you think Susan acted right
to leave me in ruinate in the manner visible?”
“Well, to tell y’u de truth, Mister Jones, you is looking very well just
now. Ef I was you, I wouldn’t bodder me head about a young lady that act
so foolish as to leave me an’ go an’ married. De same thing happen to me
once, but it didn’t make a tooth in me head ache. An’ if you want
another han’some intended, there is Miss Catherine——”
“Please to leave me out of you’ conversation, pupa!” came peremptorily
from Catherine, and Mr. Proudleigh halted promptly in the midst of his
“It don’t matter how I look,” said Jones angrily: “it’s how I feel. If
it wasn’t for one thing, I would throw meself in the sea this very
“That would not be Christianlike, Mister Jones,” said Miss Proudleigh,
who had been listening attentively to the conversation. “We must
patiently bear our crosses. Besides, I don’t see what you worrying
you’self about, for there is some things that is a good riddance. Y’u
don’t see it now, but you will see it later on.”
“That may be true, but I am speaking of now an’ not of later on,” said
Jones. “I want you all to understand that I have been driven like a lamb
to the slaughter by Susan Mackenzie. She get married without my
knowledge; she took away all the money I give her, an’ what she used to
take from me when she thought I didn’t know; an’ now she is living like
a king at Culebra. If it wasn’t for me she might have been in Jamaica
to-day keeping a little shop, without an extra five shillin’s. Yet when
I send her sister to ask her——”
“What y’u going to say now?” cried Catherine, seeing he was on the verge
of blurting out what he had agreed should be kept a secret.
“What I am going to say I am going to say,” replied Jones impetuously.
“I am goin’ away to Jamaica, an’ I send an’ ask Susan to come an’ tell
me good-bye and have a talk before I go. What she do? She say she can’t
come! Is that a decent way to treat a man, especially a man like me?
When she left me I bear it in silence, though I might have been very
disagreeable. Yet now she treat me like if I was a dog!”
This angry outburst was received in silence by those who heard it. They
had never seen Jones in a temper before.
“You know what I am going to do now?” he asked after a moment’s pause.
“I am going straight up to Culebra to tell Susan what I think of her!”
“Y’u can’t do that at all, Mr. Jones,” said Catherine firmly. “I told
you already why Sue can’t come now, an’ you must remember she is married
an’ dat her husband wouldn’t like y’u to bring no confusion into his
“Her husband can go to the devil!” exclaimed Jones. “Who is her
“But suppose him meet you an’ have a fight?” said Mr. Proudleigh,
thinking that such a prospect might have a deterrent effect upon Jones.
“If Mackenzie can fight, I can fight too,” replied the young man. “If he
don’t interfere with me, I won’t interfere with him. But I am going to
“Well, Mister Jones,” said Mr. Proudleigh, “if you determine to go, I
can’t stop y’u. But do, I beg you, don’t say dat we know anyt’ing at all
about it. You see, I don’t ’fraid of any man in de world, but quarrel is
a thing I keep out of. Mackenzie is me son-in-law, so I can’t say
nothing against him, but y’u know what I think; an’ if you take my
foolish advice you wouldn’t go to Culebra.”
“Don’t call my name, whatever you do,” said Catherine. “I sorry I have
anything to do wid your business, for I can see you going to act like a
fool. And after all, what can y’u expect Susan to do? If you go an’ make
any trouble now, her husband will believe what that liar, Tom, write an’
“What is dat?” asked Mr. Proudleigh quickly, but Catherine refused to
reply. Her reticence, coming after her allusion to Tom and Mackenzie,
caused the old man to feel that the situation was more perilous than he
had thought it was.
As for Miss Proudleigh, she loudly lifted up her voice in denunciation
of sin and its consequences, this time with a good deal of sincerity
born of fear.
“Susan have much to answer for,” she cried; “she bring all this trouble
on herself an’ her husband an’ Mr. Jones. Your sin will find you out,
an’ who shall flee from the wrath to come! I have nothing to do with it.
She is me niece, but she never treat me respectfully. She deserve all
she going to suffer, and she going to suffer for true! But I sympathize
wid her, for we are told not to bear any malice.”
As the old lady seemed to be trying to qualify for the position of a
modern Jeremiah, Catherine brusquely demanded if she wanted all the
people in the house to hear what she was saying.
“They will all hear soon enough,” replied Miss Proudleigh grimly. “There
is going to be war an’ rumours of war.”
“An’ I am going to make the war,” said Jones fiercely. “I make up my
mind to die.”
“Don’t do that, me son,” implored Mr. Proudleigh. “Death is not a thing
to meck fun with. Wait an’ have patience.”
“Patience for what?”
As Mr. Proudleigh could not say, he merely suggested that Jones had
better not act rashly, but Samuel would not allow his mind to be
affected by such advice.
He took his hat.
“When you goin’ to Culebra?” asked Catherine, wondering if she would
have time to warn Susan.
“Why you want to know?”
“Never mind, if y’u don’t want to tell me!” she snapped, “but take care
what you doin’.”
“I know what I am doing,” answered Jones, and left the room.
* * * * *
“You think him will really go?” Mr. Proudleigh inquired anxiously of
Catherine, after the door had closed behind Jones.
Catherine pondered a moment.
“If him could go to-night, him would go,” she said; “but he can’t go
to-night. To-morrow him may change his mind. Jones is a man that will do
a thing in a temper, but not otherwise.”
Catherine’s estimate of Samuel’s character was shrewd. But it is not
always possible to foresee the actions of any human being.
It was raining at Culebra—had been raining for days. For miles and
miles the sky was overcast, hour after hour the rain came down, now
swiftly and in showers, now in a light drizzle which gave to the
surrounding country an aspect of greyness, a cheerless, depressing hue.
It was between eight and nine o’clock in the forenoon; her husband had
gone to his work and Susan was busying herself with her household
duties. She was pensive, moving about as one who had no energy; her mind
was not set about what she was doing, her thoughts were far away.
She knew that Catherine must have told Jones on the previous night her
answer to his letter: she was wondering what he had said, whether he had
determined to go back to Jamaica without seeing her, whether all was
over between them now. . . .
There was a knock at the front door: she went to answer it. She opened
the door: on the veranda stood Samuel, the last person in the world she
expected to see at Mackenzie’s house that day.
“You!” she exclaimed. “What y’u doing up here?”
She stood guarding the doorway, as if to prevent him from entering; she
was trembling all over with fear, not of Jones, but lest her husband
should unexpectedly return and find Samuel there.
“You not going to let me in?” asked Jones, with a note of pleading in
his voice; “I have only come to have a talk with you.”
“You shouldn’t come,” she answered. “What a trial is this! I told Kate
to tell you I couldn’t come to Colon now, an’ here you come to Culebra
to make trouble. What’s the good of all this, Sam?”
She did not wait for him to answer.
“You must go right back,” she insisted, “for the neighbours goin’ to
tell Mackenzie dat a strange man come here to-day, an’ if you stay an’
him find out it is you, he will believe what Tom write an’ tell him. You
can’t remain here, Sam.”
Her words, her earnest manner, her evident determination not to let him
enter, left Jones at a loss what to do. He had taken the early morning
train to Culebra; he had left Colon for the purpose of speaking his mind
to her: he wanted to relieve his feelings. While in the train he had
kept his courage up to the sticking point; again and again he had
rehearsed to himself his grievances; even when he left the train and was
climbing the hill he felt that he would be able to go through with the
scene which he had pictured. But when he neared the house which was
pointed out to him as Susan’s, he had been conscious of some hesitation
in his mind, of an inclination to pause and consider whether he was
acting wisely. He had fought down that inclination; he was now standing
face to face with Susan. But she, though frightened, was resolute, and
he stood before her perplexed, uncertain what to do.
“You going to stay at the door all day?” he asked her.
“No, for I don’t expect you goin’ to remain here.”
“You not even going to ask me to take a seat?”
“I am tired. I didn’t sleep all last night; I walk from the train
station to this house, and all you do is to insult me like a dog. I only
came here to tell you good-bye. I am taking the steamer to Jamaica
“Yes. I don’t want to stop here any longer.”
Her eyelids fluttered; she gazed at him in blank silence; she felt that
he had spoken the truth, had made up his mind to leave Panama. In a
little while he would return to the station, in a few hours he would be
on his way . . . home.
The patter of the rain on the roofs and ground played a heavy
accompaniment to the beating of her heart. Through the thick atmosphere
came steadily the booming sound of dynamite explosions in the Cut. Boom,
boom, boom: the heavy noise assaulted the ear, but she herself was
conscious only of a deadly stillness within her. Suddenly Jones put out
his hand. “Good-bye,” he said.
For answer, she stepped backwards. “Come in and sit down a little, if
you tired,” she said.
He entered, glanced carelessly around him, and sat down. She left the
door open, threw open all the windows also, as if there were a dead body
in the house. Anyone passing could see them, no one could imagine or say
that she was entertaining Jones clandestinely. “Mackenzie shouldn’t come
back before half-past twelve,” she remarked; “but if he come you must
tell him that you come up here to tell him an’ me good-bye.”
She sat at some distance from him, and by one of the open windows.
“What you going to do in Jamaica?” she asked.
“I don’t know, an’ I don’t care. I should never have come to this place.
In fact,” he added, breaking out a little, “I am goin’ to kill meself!”
“Stop talking stupidness, Sam,” she said quietly: “you know y’u not
goin’ to do nothing of the sort. I suppose at first you thought you
would make a quarrel wid me up here?”
He feebly protested that such a thought had never entered his mind, but
knew that he did not convince her. He was aware now that a quarrel at
Culebra would have been a hopelessly foolish thing.
Both of them fell into silence after this. There seemed nothing more to
say. Both of them appeared to be listening to the rain, to that
persistent booming of the explosions; both of them were wondering if
this were really their last leave-taking.
One question formed itself again and again in Susan’s mind: “Would it
not be better to sacrifice respectability, religion, and go with him?”
Sitting face to face with him, knowing that to-morrow he would be on his
way to Jamaica, the answer “Yes” was whispered to her from her heart. As
if he knew what was passing in her mind, he asked her suddenly:
“And you won’t make up you’ mind to come with me, Sue?”
If “Yes” rose to her lips, she resolutely shut them. A few seconds
passed before she replied.
“Something tell me, ‘Better not,’ Sam. But I am sorry.”
She covered her face with her hands.
“Kiss me an’ tell me good-bye, Sue.”
He had risen and was standing over her. She got up, glanced quickly
outside: no one was passing. She kissed him.
He left the house, walking hurriedly away. She fell back into her chair,
crying as she had never cried before.
* * * * *
Jones walked rapidly in the direction of the Culebra station. He knew
that Susan cared for him still; he believed that if he waited and
persisted he would be able to break down her resolution. But he might
have long to wait, and he did not feel equal to that. His work at
Christobal had become a dreary drudgery. It would be better to go back
to Jamaica, and that he would do the next day.
He did not blame Susan now; he felt for her nothing but kindness and
affection. It was Mackenzie he blamed; Mackenzie it was who had
inveigled her away from him: Mackenzie was the cause of her unhappiness
and his. But even while he thought this, he felt in his heart of hearts
that he himself had been the first cause of Susan’s desertion of him. He
had promised to marry her and had broken his word. He had made a fool of
himself in Colon. He sought for excuses for his conduct; he found many;
yet his self-accusation persisted: conscience was by no means dead in
He reached the station; there he learnt that there would be no train
leaving for the next couple of hours. This delay he had not foreseen: he
wondered what he should do with himself in the meantime. He could not
return to Susan’s house.
He lounged about the station for a few minutes, but his thoughts
troubled him and inaction was irksome. He must do something, he would
walk about a little: he turned his back to the station and took the road
leading down into the Culebra Cut. He had never been inside the Cut
before. Troubled in mind as he was, the scene there made demands on his
attention. Soon he was looking about him with wondering eyes.
On either hand of him rose lofty walls of rock and earth, carved into
wide terraces which formed the buttresses of the mighty Cut. He was
walking along one of these terraces; on it and on all the others train
lines were laid. The trains were passing up and down, powerful engines
dragging twenty, thirty, forty dump-cars laden with the stones and dirt
that had been dug out of this part of the Canal; and at the bottom of
the ditch and along the sides of it steam shovels were at work.
He watched these shovels curiously. He saw long cranes attached to
engines, and at the end of each crane an iron box with a movable lid and
bottom. The crane swung round, was lowered, the iron box or mouth bit
into a pile of earth and rock shattered by dynamite, gorged itself,
swung round again until it hovered over a dump-car. Then the bottom of
the box opened slowly and a mass of earth and stones was poured into the
car. Again the shovel swung back, and again and again was this process
repeated. He remembered that Mackenzie was engaged on one of those steam
shovels, and thought that perhaps he was, without knowing it, watching
Mackenzie’s shovel at work. Then he resumed his walk, thankful that he
had worn his waterproof that day, for now black and heavy rain-clouds
were brooding over the Cut.
He walked along rapidly, knowing that he had not much more time to
spare. The farther on he went, the more intense became the activity of
the works, the more impressive the scene around him. Thousands of men
were earnestly at work; groups of West Indians were manipulating the
air-drills which bored the holes for the dynamite charges, scores of
steam shovels were toiling to remove the heaped-up debris, dozens of
steam-engines were hurrying to and fro and sending forth shrill screams.
From the escapes of the steam shovels came puffs of greyish smoke, from
the funnels of the engines a thick black smoke was belched, from the
air-drills little spurts of steam darted, and from all around came the
heavy detonation of dynamite discharges, shaking the earth.
Penned in by the high walls on either side, the smoke drifted hither and
thither, forming a gloomy pall. The cliffs of Culebra flung back the
deep boom of the explosions, the hurrying trains seemed to threaten at
every moment to come into violent collision. Jones saw West Indian
labourers carelessly carrying boxes of dynamite on their heads and
shoulders, and remembered that many a man had, through his carelessness,
been shattered to pieces in an instant. He saw more than one of them
trip and the boxes they carried almost hurled to the ground. The men
laughed. Familiarity with danger had rendered them contemptuous of it;
but Jones shuddered; he could not appreciate the indifference and
recklessness of these workers.
Boom, boom, boom: that sound dominated every other. It was answered soon
by a thunder-crash from above, and then the driving rainstorm burst over
Culebra. The rain came roaring down, an opaque volume of rushing water;
objects a yard or two away were completely blotted out of sight; the
blackness of night was above. But still he heard the whistling scream of
the trains, still the heavy detonations warned him that the dynamite was
blasting the solid rock. Nothing could be allowed to stay this work; the
men, clad in their waterproofs, toiled on; the deafening noise ceased
never for a moment.
He was drenched in spite of his cloak. Yet, because of the awful heat,
he was in a profuse perspiration. He began to think he had lost his
train after all; he would have to wait until another one came in from
the city of Panama. Happily the downpour was ceasing; it was too violent
to last. He waited until it became a drizzle, cast a regretful glance
before him, for he wished he had been able to go farther on, and was
about to retrace his steps when a shout from some men in front of him
caused him to look hurriedly opposite, towards where these men were
pointing with wild gestures.
Then he saw a sight that almost paralysed his heart. The mountain-side
immediately opposite to him was slipping, coming down with a rush, as
though it had been struck by an invisible hand and was being hurled to
the bottom of the chasm. Hundreds of tons of loosened rock and earth
were crashing down-wards, and the horror-stricken men who saw what was
happening were shouting, screaming, gesticulating, for well they knew
the fate of any who should be struck unawares by the swift-descending
mass. Jones started to run, then stopped, apprehensive of what might
happen next; he could not be certain that the wall which towered above
him, or even the terrace on which he stood, might not also suddenly slip
away. His mind was dazed; he felt that he had been very near to death,
and, for all he knew, might be near to it still.
He looked about him; hundreds of men were running towards the huge pile
of debris below. He noticed that the train lines down there had been
torn away and twisted as if they were merely wire; some machinery had
been dashed to pieces. Was anyone killed? he wondered.
People were clambering down the sides of the terraces; he ran towards
them, joined them, and found that he could descend without great
difficulty. All the men seemed to know in what direction they should go;
he heard them saying to one another that the rock-fall had not been
unexpected, that the engineers had noticed cracks some days before,
which had led them to believe that once again Culebra would put their
patience to the test. He gathered that on this particular section much
work was not being done; perhaps, then, no one had lost his life. But
the men were not certain; the slide was a bigger one than ordinary. Thus
talking in snatches and exclamations, slipping, climbing, running, they
reached the bottom of the Cut.
Here a crowd was already collected, a crowd working with might and main,
digging away at something as if their lives depended upon it. Jones
pushed his way to the front; he saw that the diggers were at work upon
the earth and shattered rock that covered a steam shovel partly. This
shovel had been in operation when the slide occurred; had it been a few
yards farther back it must have entirely escaped. As it was, the men who
manned it had had no warning, had not been able to leap clear of the
machine and get away in time. It was doubtful if they were yet alive;
but nothing was being left undone to save them, if they could be saved.
“Who are they?” Jones heard one American in the crowd ask another. “Any
“Two, and a coloured man,” was the answer: “poor fellows.”
The news spread; dark faces turned ashen with horror. A thousand people
waited to hear if there was any hope—or none.
“What’s their name?” Jones kept on asking of persons who paid no
attention to him. At last one of them who worked in this part of the
Cut, hearing the question, replied, “The white men name Jackson an’
Campbell; the black man is Mackenzie.”
Jones went suddenly cold. “Mackenzie?” he repeated. “Mackenzie being
suffocated to death?” He fought his way to where the men were digging.
The thought uppermost in his mind was that his old friend was dying,
dying horribly. “Good God!” he exclaimed, and the next instant, seizing
a shovel from the heaps which had been hurriedly brought up, he was
digging amongst the labourers like a man gone wild.
Not as his rival, not as the husband of Susan, did he think of Mackenzie
now. For those few moments of his life Jones was utterly unselfish.
Somebody caught him by the shoulder and pushed him back; his assistance
was not needed.
“Careful now,” said a commanding voice; “bring ’em out carefully.”
“Here’s one,” cried a man, an American like the first.
“Back there, back!” came a peremptory order. Four doctors were already
on the spot; the crowd was being forced back; the same remarkable
organization that made the building of the great Canal a matter of
routine and order was in evidence at this tragedy too. It took less than
a minute for the doctors to pronounce their verdict. The men had been
killed instantly, could not have realized what was happening.
The bodies were placed upon stretchers, and the stretchers were hoisted
into a railway car. The people began to return to their temporarily
interrupted work. Tragedies were not rare at Culebra. One cannot build a
great canal without loss of life.
Wet, muddied, horror-stricken still, Jones slowly followed the returning
labourers, intending to get out of the Cut as quickly as possible. He
realized that the man who had stood between him and Susan had been
removed; but the manner of Mackenzie’s removal terrified him. Had
Mackenzie sickened and died, it is possible that Jones would have seen
the hand of Providence in the circumstance. But this sudden death—a
death, too, which might so easily have overtaken himself had he been on
the opposite side of the chasm—seemed to him to be somewhat devilish;
he was afraid. He vehemently told himself that he had never wished
Mackenzie dead, though he knew he had often done so; then he said to
himself that he had never meant his wish. Whether he had meant it or
not, it was realized. He was startled by the fact. This was no good
thing: why should Mackenzie have died like that, just then? He forgot
the two white men entirely.
He got out of the Cut at last, wondering if he should go and tell Susan
the terrible news. He decided that he would not: she would probably have
heard it already, and he was not exactly the one to inform her how
Mackenzie had come to his end. But there was something he could do. He
hurried to the telegraph station and dispatched a message to Susan’s
people in Colon, telling them what had happened and advising them to
come over to Culebra without delay. After that he went to the coloured
section of the town; he saw many people in and about Mackenzie’s house.
So Susan knew. He went back to the railway station to await the arrival
of Susan’s relatives.
He sat down on the edge of the platform, thinking of all that had
happened that day. If Susan had left the house with him and they had
afterwards heard of this death! What a narrow escape it had been! And
then with his mind’s eye he saw Mackenzie as Mackenzie had greeted him
on the day of his arrival in Colon, a cordial, helpful friend. He saw
him as a visitor, always contented and happy in the house. He saw him as
a corpse on the stretcher, suddenly struck dead. “Poor Mac,” he muttered
again and again, “poor Mac; poor fellow.” And he cried like a child in
contrition and sorrow.