THE SWORD OF THE LORD

On the afternoon of the following day a wharf at the eastern section of
the city was thronged with people, chiefly black and brown. Scores of
cabs were drawn up at both sides of the entrance to the wharf, and any
number of porters were conveying trunks on their heads to the ship which
lay anchored alongside of the pier. Steam was up; a donkey engine
rattled and clattered as the sailors lowered some packages into the
vessel’s hold; the captain stood on the bridge shouting out his commands
with a fine sense of ultimate authority; the passengers streamed up the
gangway, while their friends and relatives who had come to see them off
stood on the pier and looked with envy and admiration at those who were
about to brave the perils of the deep.

It was a scene characteristically West Indian. The long wooden pier
crowded with a jabbering, multi-coloured throng, the mountains of coal
from which fine particles of coal-dust came flying as the sea breeze
swept over the wharf; the noise, the confusion, the total lack of all
appearance of order—though order of a kind was certainly
maintained—the dark faces, eager or tearful; the ragged porters who
balanced on their heads packages weighing over a hundred pounds each as
though they were feather pillows; the few white men moving perfectly at
ease amongst the excited people; the brilliant sunlight, the great arch
of dazzling sky, the gently-heaving green-tinted water, the crowds of
boys, who, simply clad in a short pair of breeches, swam and dived like
fishes in the sea, shaking their heads as they rose to the surface, and
showing their strong white teeth as they laughed and shouted to the
people on the ship—all this was typical of a British West Indian island
on a day when a vessel leaves the port.

To Susan and Jones it was not strange, and the noise could not possibly
confuse them. They pushed their way through the crowd, followed by Mr.
Proudleigh, his wife, Miss Proudleigh, and Susan’s sisters; but at the
gangway they were stopped by one of the Steamship Company’s officials,
who firmly told them that only passengers were allowed to go on board.
Here they separated. Susan kissed all her folk, Jones shook hands with
them, and then the two climbed up the gangway, and Susan found herself
at last on the deck of the steamer which was to take her to a strange
and distant land.

For the first time doubts assailed her. For the first time she realized
fully that she was leaving her home, perhaps for good; and as she looked
from the deck down upon her people a lump gathered to her throat and she
began to wonder if she were altogether wise. Yet she would not have
given up her purpose for a moment. She was too deeply bitten by the
prevailing desire to go somewhere.

She leaned against the vessel’s rail, now and then exchanging a word at
the top of her voice with Catherine or her father. Jones was as gay as
ever, and was loudly explaining to some of his friends on the pier that
he would have travelled first-class had he not been taking a female with
him. He was in the condition locally known as “merry” (this term
indicating generally a half-way stage between soberness and
intoxication), and seemed to entertain a cheerful expectation of being
shot immediately after arrival in Colon; but Susan saw nothing
exhilarating in such a prospect, and more than once suggested to him
that he should stop talking nonsense.

She was to travel second-class; but for the present she remained
standing amongst the deck-passengers. There were over a hundred of
these, and the deck on which they were gathered was littered with boxes
and trunks containing their clothes, and with the deck-chairs on which
they would sit during the day and sleep at night. It seemed a strange
scene to Susan’s wondering eyes. The beat of the engines stunned her,
the smells nauseated her, she was conscious of a throbbing in her head.
Suddenly it seemed to her as though the pier and the people on it were
moving backwards. She heard a great shout of “Good-bye!” She saw a great
waving of hands. They were going, going, and now she broke down and
began to cry outright.

“Look after the shop good, Kate!” she called out to her sister; and
“Good-bye, mammee—good-bye, papee! good-bye!”

Her mother waved in reply, two big tears stealing down her withered
cheeks. Her father, though much comforted by the reflection that the
shop had been left to the family as a source of revenue, yet felt sad.
But he waved his hat and shouted, “Take care of you’self, Susan, an’
write to me!” and continued waving his hat long after there was any
possibility of its being seen by her. Then, when the crowd on the pier
had become an indistinct mass, Susan went to the second-class
passengers’ deck and began to wonder once more what sort of life awaited
her in Colon. . . .

Steadily Kingston dwindled into a collection of white houses nestling
amidst a forest of trees and backed by a noble range of smoke-blue
mountains. And as the ship steamed through the narrow channel that forms
the entrance to the city’s harbour, the shrill voice of a woman rose in
a quavering chant, and soon all the deckers were singing the words of
some plaintive hymn.

It was their way of bidding farewell to Jamaica.

Thus singing, they left the land behind.

* * * * *

“Susan! get up! This is not a time to sleep.”

Susan, who had been sleeping but fitfully, awoke at once with a start.
Jones was rapping loudly at her cabin door. Something in his voice
startled her.

“What is it?” she asked, frightened.

“The comet! It’s the first time I see it.”

Susan dressed in a minute; she hurried out of the cabin and went to the
well-deck with Jones.

It was about four o’clock in the morning, but there was as yet no sign
of the coming day. A crescent moon was glowing above, but the light of
it paled into insignificance before the radiant splendour of the morning
star. There in the East hung Venus, like a great lamp illumining all
heaven and earth, a diamond set against a magnificent background of
millions and millions of stars. These indeed were strewn almost as
thickly in the sky as sand in a desert; look where you would, you saw
them, some faint, some bright, and some like silver dust scattered
profusely about the lofty silent dome that overarched and covered the
wide circle of the sea. The gleaming planet and scintillating sky were
alone sufficient to impress those who beheld them that morning with a
sense of wonder and of awe. Their serene and lofty beauty, immeasurable
grandeur, and vast incalculable distance must have appealed even to the
most indifferent care-blunted mind. But it was not upon these that
hundreds of eyes were turned when Susan and her lover reached the
starboard of the vessel, where a crowd of persons were already standing.
All looked at but one object—a great band of light that streamed up
from below the eastern horizon and swept across the sky to the
south-west, where it dipped into the sea. Clear and distinct it shone,
in spite of the radiance around it: a flaming portent, as it seemed,
emerging suddenly out of the mysterious depths of space. Most of the
travellers on the ship saw it for the first time that morning. They
looked at it startled, and with palpitating hearts.

“The comet,” whispered Jones again, and—

“The sword of the Lord,” said calmly but distinctly an old man who stood
amongst the deckers.

Almost every one talked in whispers. Something oppressed them—a vague,
uncanny feeling. The women pressed their hands against their hearts.

They were alone on the sea. On land they would not have feared so much,
for nearly all calamities, or imagined indications of calamity, the West
Indian peasant can face with a calmness which springs from his
deep-rooted fatalism. But here they were amidst surroundings strange to
them; they were alone in a world which they regarded with
apprehension—alone upon the sea with the sword of the Lord flaming in
the heavens above them.

The sea ran swiftly, wave racing after wave, black and foam-crested.
They dashed against the sides of the vessel, flinging high into the air
a glistening shower of spray which fell back upon the bosom of the
waters in sparks of liquid fire. The prow of the ship seemed to plunge
into argent flame; in its wake writhed and twisted a long serpent of
light. The phosphorescent gleams of the tropic sea flashed an answer to
the brilliance of the tropic sky above, and fire seemed glancing and
blazing everywhere.

The wind blew steadily from east to west, and the throbbing of the
engines added to the roar of the leaping, hurrying waves. Now and again
a murmuring sound was heard amongst the people on the deck—a sound as
if they prayed.

Long and earnestly they gazed upon the comet; and then into Jones’s mind
came the words of his friend Septimus, spoken so short a time before.

He bent down and whispered in Susan’s ear:

“You think it mean anything, Sue?”

“I don’t know,” she replied, almost inaudibly; “but it’s awful; an’ if
it was to come close an’ we should all dead, where would we go to, Sam?”

As if in reply to her question, the old man amongst the deck passengers,
who had called the comet “The Sword of the Lord,” again lifted up his
voice, this time repeating some words from the Scriptures:

“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither
His ear heavy that He cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated
between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that
He will not hear.”

Susan heard and trembled; a woman in the crowd of watchers groaned out,
“Yes, Lord!”

“Have mercy!” sobbed another.

Some one began repeating the hymn, “Jesus, Lover of my Soul.”

“Christ, have mercy,” prayed the shivering people.

“Sue,” whispered Jones, “I heard on Friday night that the comet won’t
touch the world until Wednesday; so when we get to Colon to-morrow
morning we better married. This sort of life is not one to face death
in. I am not a coward, Sue, but, after all, it will be better to die
right.”

An immense weight seemed lifted off Susan’s heart as she heard these
words. Her present mode of life was called “living in sin” by the
ministers and religious folk of her country; and so persistently had
this view of it been inculcated that, in common with thousands of
others, she had come to regard unsanctified connexions as the one
offence really worth considering. True, she had never gone further than
giving her intellectual assent to this proposition; but then she had
never seen a great comet blazing in the sky before. She now agreed with
it with all her soul.

“You right, Sam,” she whispered; “let us make our peace wid God, in case
anything happen.” And as she spoke the thought flashed through her mind
that, if nothing did happen, she would be Mrs. Jones, a prospect of
social advancement which, even at that tremendous moment, gave her a
thrill of delight.

Some of the deckers were audibly praying now. The old man, who in
Kingston had been a well-known street-preacher, kept on repeating tags
of Scripture and words of warning; but gradually, in spite of his
efforts to terrify the passengers into hysterics and thus establish his
spiritual supremacy, they grew more calm, and soon began to talk at
their ordinary pitch of voice.

For the sky was lightening. Slowly the morning star dimmed her
brightness, the other stars paled and flickered out, the comet shone but
indistinctly, and the moon grew white. Before it was five o’clock “The
Sword of the Lord” had disappeared. And as the sky changed from black to
grey, and from grey to pink and pearl and loveliest azure, as the
phosphorescent brilliance of the water died away and the sun came
surging up out of the sea, a great palpitating globe of golden fire, the
passengers busied themselves with their toilet, and laughed and chatted
as though they had not, but an hour before, been thinking of imminent
death.

The transformation was complete. The sun had restored their courage, and
had banished for the moment all fear from their minds. As for Susan, she
fell sick during the day, her stomach no longer being able to endure the
rocking and vibration of the ship. So she did not talk much about
anything, and did not even trouble to mention the marriage which she and
Jones were to celebrate the next day in Colon, as a sort of spiritual
insurance against the eternal fire with which the greater part of
mankind might be threatened on the 18th and after.

The comet was again visible on the ensuing night, but the horrors of
sea-sickness were too acute, the misery of the passengers far too
intense, for them to care greatly about the future of the world and of
themselves. Word had been passed around the ship that the comet would
not touch the earth for a few days yet, and that was a blessed respite.
In the meantime there was no cessation of the strange agony caused by a
rolling, pitching vessel which was traversing nearly six hundred miles
of the roughest part of the Caribbean Sea. Some of the emigrants were
secretly of the opinion that the comet could not be worse than the ship,
and certainly was not just then interfering with their bodily comfort;
they had also heard the sailors jesting at their fears, and that gave
them a sort of courage, not unmixed with hope. Then the ex-street
preacher, in the midst of one of his urgent appeals for the instant
conversion of all sinners, had been suddenly taken with a desire to rush
to the ship’s side. The people were too ill to laugh, but some of them
smiled faintly at the unfortunate gentleman’s mishap. And smiles,
coupled with sea-sickness, must inevitably reduce religious terrorism to
the ridiculous.

So the second night wore on, and Jones in his cabin, and Susan in hers,
slumbered fitfully, taking comfort as they remembered, when they started
out of a doze, that the morning would bring an end to their present
misery.

As it drew towards morning they found sleep impossible. It was as though
they were in a steam bath, the awful, close, clammy heat was something
they had never experienced before. They struggled out of their bunks, as
did all the other second-class passengers, the perspiration streaming
from their bodies. “This must be the beginning of hell,” Jones muttered
impiously, though not without a certain sense of terror. He was still
sea-sick, and this, and the terrific heat, inclined him to believe that
he had now sounded the ultimate depths of human misery. “I wonder why I
bother come to this infernal place?” he grumbled, as he struggled into
his clothes with the intention of going on deck.

He peeped out of his porthole, trying to peer through the darkness. He
heard outside the labourers jabbering as they moved about the ship; the
swish of water as it poured from the upper deck into the sea warned him
that they were swabbing down the decks, and he guessed that Colon could
not now be far away. He hurried out of his stifling cabin and went to
call up Susan; she was ready dressed, but pale and weak; she gladly came
out, and together they went to the ship’s side, anxious for a first
glimpse of the land.

The prospect was sufficiently depressing. The sky above was dark with
heavy rain-clouds that hung low and the sea ran fiercely—one vast
expanse of slate-coloured water. The rain was falling, not in a
torrential shower, but steadily, pitilessly, unceasingly, and at quick
intervals the pallid lightning flashed upon the scene, and the low
rumble of thunder proclaimed the gathering storm.

“Colon!”

The cry came from one of the watchers on the emigrants’ deck, from one
of the many men who had come to seek their fortune in this land of
adventure of which the world had heard so much for some four hundred
years. “Colon!” The word signified for them the land of promise, the
land of their thoughts and dreams for many a long day. The cry was taken
up and re-echoed from many lips. The sufferers forgot their sickness.
The magic word had charmed it entirely away.

Jones and Susan bent forward quickly, electrified by the shout. In the
distance they saw something like a huge bank of cloud on the horizon,
and at once they thought it was their destination—Colon at last. By
straining one’s eyes one could just perceive it; but it was not Colon,
for that town lay fully fifteen miles away. Still, it was part of the
Isthmus of Panama, and as the sunlight began to fight its way slowly and
painfully through the clouds that hung over land and sea, you could
perceive, stretching away for miles and miles, the low-lying
inhospitable shores of the country which has one of the most romantic
histories in the world.

There the mainland of Panama lay, dreary, ugly, uninviting. One could
see the waves breaking listlessly against the shore, just as though the
very energy of the water were affected by the terrible steaming heat.
There was something unspeakably gloomy about the scene, something that
subdued one to silence; and so it was in silence that almost every one
on board watched the mangrove-covered banks slip by as the ship sped on
her way.

The lightning flickered more frequently, the rumble of the thunder
became louder, more insistent. The deckers, who had never undressed
during the thirty-six hours of the passage, now began to make themselves
presentable for going ashore, and Jones and Susan forced themselves to
re-enter their cabins for the purpose of gathering together their
possessions. It was daylight now, though the sun could not be seen. As
they drew nearer to the town of Colon the rain slackened somewhat. The
steamer slowed down, stopped, and lay idly rolling in the dark, oily
water, waiting until the officials of the port should come on board.

Susan could now see before her the town of which she had heard so much.
To her inquiring eyes it looked a small place: there was a cluster of
ugly wooden piers jutting out into the sea and roofed with corrugated
iron painted black; behind these was a street or road that ran along the
seashore as far as she could follow it, and behind this street rose a
line of frail-looking wooden buildings two or three storeys high. But
farther away to the right, as one gazed landward from the deck of an
incoming ship, could be seen bungalows of a description superior to the
buildings near by; these bungalows stood amidst rows of cocoa-nut palms
and light green shrubs evidently planted and tended by the hand of man.
This touch of tropical scenery redeemed the town from the stigma of
utter ugliness. Even so, and in spite of the well-known enchantment of
distance, Colon stood confessed a mushroom town, a low, damp,
rain-sodden bit of land which accident had made the terminus of a famous
railway, and, after that, the site of the Atlantic entrance of the great
Panama Canal.

Something like disappointment was expressed on Susan’s face and in her
voice as she turned to Jones, saying:

“What you think of it, Sam?”

“Can’t say yet,” he replied dubiously; “howsoever, I am ready to go
ashore.”

He started to stroll away, though he had no idea of where he was going
to, when a swarthy little man unceremoniously sprang in front of him,
caught him by the arm and waved him back. Jones had not observed the
little man before. The latter had come on board at the same time as the
doctor, and perhaps he thought that Jones wanted to disappear from view
when it was necessary that he should be visible. Anyhow, he addressed
Samuel in a perfectly unintelligible tongue, much to our young
Jamaican’s astonishment, and wildly waved his arms. “What you mean?”
indignantly demanded Jones, planting his feet firmly on the deck and
refusing to move.

The little man appeared to be annoyed, and again poured forth a flood of
Spanish. As Jones could not understand what he was saying, and could not
possibly guess what he would be at, he concluded that the man was a
fool, and said so loudly.

“You seem to be preposterously ignorant!” he exclaimed, addressing his
excited aggressor. “You can’t even talk English! What you call
you’self—Chinese or Cuban, or what?”

Now the man could not speak English, but he understood just enough of it
to grasp the fact that Jones was insulting him. So he again addressed
Mr. Jones in a violent manner, and gave him a backward push.

“Look here!” exclaimed Jones. “It’s about time you finish pushing me,
you understand? I am not a Colon man, but an English gentleman, an’ if
you touch me again I will box the head off you’ body!”

The little man was not daunted; indeed, he appeared to increase in
pugnacity. But just then, fortunately, one of the petty officers of the
ship, seeing that a serious quarrel was imminent, interfered.

“You’d better not argue with that man,” he said to Jones; “he’s the
Captain of the Port.”

“But that is no reason why he should push me,” argued Jones, bent upon
establishing at the outset his claim to deferential treatment at the
hands of foreigners. “What he push me for?”

“Thought you were doing something you shouldn’t do, I suppose. They are
rather funny, these people. There are all sorts of rules you have to
obey down here.”

Jones fell back, not at all pleased with his first experience of
Panamanian methods. But he waited quietly till the doctor, who was an
American official, came up the second-class deck and assured himself
that the passengers there had all been vaccinated at home and were
suffering from no serious complaints. It took a longer time to examine
the deckers: the doctor was very strict with these. But it was all over
at last; the officials of the port boarded their respective launches and
sped away (Jones following the launch of the Captain of the Port with
eyes expressive of unmitigated contempt), and then the ship began to
draw towards the dock. The gangways were shoved out, word was passed
that the passengers were free to go ashore. Susan and Samuel prepared to
land, the latter still fuming over his treatment by a little dark fiery
man amongst whose serious offences was his utter inability to speak the
English language.

On the pier they had to hunt for their luggage, which was mixed with
that of other people whose frantic exertions to recover their belongings
impeded themselves. But the baggage was assorted at last, and now came
the inquisition of the Customs officers. These were quite young men,
almost boys, and their slight, emaciated frames, sallow faces, and
leisurely movements did not at all appeal to Jones’s sense of what was
proper in Government officials. He watched them with amazement as they
delved into his boxes and turned up everything, carelessly motioning him
to re-arrange his things when they were through. “Sue,” he observed
impressively, when the ordeal was over, “this is not a civilized
country;” and, having thus announced his discovery, he accepted the
offer of a truck-man, who wheeled their trunks to the gate of the wharf
and then coolly demanded a dollar for the job.

As this bit of work would not have been worth more than a shilling in
Jamaica, if as much, Jones and Susan were scandalized, and protested
loudly against the imposition. But the man called a little policeman to
arbitrate in the matter. This policeman spoke English of a kind, and the
intention of his discourse was to assure Jones that, as he had made no
previous bargain with the man, he must pay what the man asked. He said
this with all gravity, but with a pronunciation so peculiar that Jones
expressed his great anxiety to know at what school he had been educated.
It was rather lucky for him that the “policia” did not grasp his
meaning.

It was drizzling still, but very slightly. The clouds overhead, however,
and the continuous flashes of lightning warned our friends that the
downpour might come on at any moment. They hailed a cab (driven by a
West Indian), and Jones told the man that he wanted to go to the Canal
Commission’s Department of Labour and Quarters. He asked the cabman to
drive slowly, so that they might see something of the town as they went
on. With their luggage piled in front of and around them they began
their ride through the principal street of Colon.

It was a busy thoroughfare. To their left, as they drove towards the
Commission’s Department of Labour and Quarters, were the principal
stores and shops and cafés of the town, wooden buildings all, painted
pink, dull yellow, grey, or light blue, with pointed roofs, broad
verandas running round the first and second floors, and a paved piazza
running along the whole length of the ground floors. The projecting
floors of the verandas above formed a shelter from sun and rain, and the
piazzas were thronged with pedestrians. All sorts and conditions of
human beings were represented in these crowds—West Indian labourers,
East Indian pedlars, Chinese, Greeks; men from every country in Europe;
natives of Panama and Colombia, ranging in colour from pure black to a
sallow white; Americans—the men with their jackets thrown over their
shoulders, energetic, masterful; the women, in cool white dresses and
bareheaded, who walked along as unconcernedly as though they were taking
a stroll in Broadway. Susan noticed that the Panamanian women were
careful to have shawls thrown over their shoulders though their
unstockinged feet were thrust into slippers down at heels. No one seemed
to mind the rain. The shops were stocked with all sorts of showy goods;
the cafés were crowded and business in them appeared to be brisk; the
cabs were well patronized, and their drivers abused one another with a
fluency of bad language that did not argue much for the vigilance or the
good hearing of the Panama police. It was a busy town—that she could
see at once. A peculiar town, too, from her point of view, for bordering
the street were railway lines, and trains were passing or shunting up
and down with a continuous tooting of shrill whistles; while immediately
beyond the train lines was the ragged, sea-beaten shore of Colon,
destitute of a seawall and ugly. She was not sure that she liked Colon
at first sight, yet its bustle, its evident prosperity, appealed to her.
Suddenly, and even while Susan was looking at the shops and houses,
without turning out of the street the cab passed into that part of old
Colon which is known as Christobal and which the Americans had taken
over as part of their territory and converted into an American
settlement.

Here she and Samuel found themselves in the midst of the bungalows and
cocoa-nut trees they had sighted from the sea. There were no shops here,
no noise, no bustle; there was absolute cleanliness and a sense of order
that formed a sharp contrast to the careless life of the Panamanian town
they had just left behind them. Gardens bloomed in front of many of the
houses, the sanitation was perfect; the wire-screened doors and windows
of the buildings gave them the quaint appearance of huge cages, and
behind those wire-screens (a protection against the once-virulent
mosquito of Colon) peered many a white face, the faces of American women
and children who during the long warm days thought wistfully of their
homes in the North. This, to Susan’s mind, looked an eminently
respectable locality. “I would like to live here, Sam,” she remarked,
“more than in the other part of the town.”

The cab stopped in front of a large building near the end of the street,
and Jones jumped out, bidding Susan wait for him. He went into the
office indicated by the cabman, where he found some other men waiting.
He gave his name, and mentioned that he had been engaged in Jamaica by
one of the Canal Commission’s agents, who had promised him quarters in
the Canal Zone. “You must have been expecting me,” he observed, with an
air of consequence.

“I kain’t say we have,” replied the tall American who attended to him,
“but I guess it’s all right. I kain’t give you quarters to-day, anyhow;
I’ve got to see what room we have for mechanics. You kin turn into work
right here in Christobal to-morrow, an’ when you come I’ll see what we
kin do about puttin’ you up.” With that he turned away abruptly to see
what another man wanted, and Jones made his way back outside.

Where were they to go to now? It was the cabman who suggested a way out
of the difficulty. He knew a place, he told them, where they could get a
room for the night if they were willing to pay a dollar for the
accommodation. Jones protested that the price was “ridiculous,” but
agreed nevertheless to be taken to the place, Susan shrewdly suspecting
that they were being victimized by the cabby, who knew that they were
strangers. Back they drove into Colon, stopping for a minute at a shop
to purchase some bread and cheese. Then the cabman took them to a house
at the back of the town, charged them a dollar and a half for the work
he had done, and drove away well satisfied with the innocence or
ignorance of “dose Jamaica fools.” He was a Jamaican himself, but
sophisticated.

The house, in which they secured a room for the night, was a long wooden
barn divided into small apartments. Each room had a wooden shutter for a
window, and the place had originally been built upon a swamp. The piles
driven into the swamp still remained as the building’s foundation; the
land behind the house had only lately been cleared by the American
authorities and was not yet filled up. So the ground was covered with a
sheet of fetid water, and a little behind this the mangrove bushes
flourished, dark green and horrible, a sombre background suggesting
fever and loathsome ailments even to the least observant mind.

A dank heavy smell of rotting vegetation permeated the air. The room was
almost as stifling as the ship’s cabin had been that morning. No sooner
had they taken their things inside when the thunder-storm, which had
been threatening for hours, burst in full force upon Colon; the
lightning writhed like maddened serpents through the blue-black sky, the
crash of the thunder was deafening. Susan shuddered with fear. Even
Jones looked lugubrious. This was a poor sort of welcome to the land of
promise.

They set to and made the best of their circumstances. The room contained
a cot, one wooden-seated chair, a table with a tin basin, a ewer of
water and a glass, and another table, placed in the centre of the
apartment and suggesting by its position that it was intended as a sort
of ornament.

Jones, seated on the chair, placed the edibles he had procured on this
centre table, and pulled a flask of rum out of his pocket. He offered
some of the liquor to Susan, who refused it with a shake of her head. He
helped himself liberally, then ate some of the bread and cheese, while
she watched him sullenly. She felt downhearted, almost inclined to cry.
But the rum had inspirited him, and already he was brighter. “What’s the
matter? You sorry you come?” he asked her.

“Not exactly,” she replied; “but I don’t know a soul here; I feel lonely
an’ miserable, and dis rain——” She could find no words to express her
disappointment. “If I was to stay long in this room, I would dead,” she
plaintively concluded.

“Don’t fret,” he cheerfully advised. “To-morrow we will get good
quarters, an’ even here will soon be better. From all what I hear about
the Americans, they are not the sort of people to procrastinate in
improving conditions. As for you, you are all right now, Sue. I am goin’
to make a woman of you. I am more than a match for anything!” He
suddenly remembered the comet. “That is, if we don’t dead,” he hastily
added, “in which case we had better begin to prepare our soul.”

He relapsed into seriousness again, but not for long: the rum he had
taken fought successfully against an access of melancholy brought on by
the prospect of early death through the agency of ethereal bodies. He
saw with genuine regret that Susan could eat nothing. The bread and
cheese he did not like himself. But the rain soon began to fall less
heavily, and the thunder became more and more distant. Susan not caring
or not able to talk, he waited in silence until only a drizzle remained
of the tremendous downpour. Then he and Susan put on their hats and went
out into the streets of Colon once more.

“The first thing we got to do is to find a place where we can get some
good food,” said Jones, whose mind was just then centred upon practical
matters.

There was an abundance of such places in the narrow streets in which
they soon found themselves, but they were crowded with men and Susan
hesitated about entering them. It seemed to both herself and Samuel that
a very large portion of the house-space of Colon was devoted to bars,
the doors of which stood wide open, thus allowing the passers-by to
stare at will at those who sat inside industriously playing dominoes or
cards, or drinking beer. Now that she was away from the house near the
swamp, and amidst pedestrians whom she could hear talking English, Susan
felt a little easier in mind. But she was painfully aware of her bodily
weakness, caused by sea-sickness and lack of food. She was decidedly
hungry.

In about ten minutes, in a narrow back street of not very prepossessing
appearance, they came upon a building over the doors of whose lower
storey was displayed this legend: “The Jamaican’s Heaven of Rest;
Welcome all to Dine.” Heavens in which hot dinners were provided were
particularly welcome to Susan and Samuel just then, and it was evident
that this place was owned or looked after by some one from “home.” They
gladly entered. The room was dark and not over-clean. Two long tables
covered with greasy cloths, and a number of chairs, constituted all its
furniture. At one end of it, to the right as you entered, was a small
bar well stocked with liquors, of which Colon consumed an extraordinary
quantity; at the other end was a door leading into a kitchen which could
be plainly seen and smelt, and which appeared to be overcrowded with
cooks and waitresses, all slatternly attired, and as greasy as they well
could be. Seated around the tables, some eating, some waiting to be
served, were a number of men. Susan was the only woman guest, so, of
course, all the men in the room paused to have a good look at her as she
and Samuel took their seats.

Lunch was quickly served, and Jones ordered some whisky, which he
promptly drank. After a few minutes of rapid mastication, he looked
about the room with an inquiring air, with the view of engaging in
conversation with some communicative person. One man noticed his look,
and saw that Samuel was a stranger. “Come this morning?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Jones quickly, “by the ship. This is a rainy place, eh? When
you think the rain will stop?”

“About November,” the man answered.

“November! You makin’ fun! Why, man, this is only May!”

“Wait an’ see,” was the significant rejoinder. “When rain commence to
come in dis country, it don’t know when to stop. How is Jamaica when you
leave it?”

“Oh, pretty well,” replied Jones. “Dull as usual, an’ little cash. All
that the people talkin’ about over there is the comet.”

As he mentioned the comet he remembered that he had undertaken to marry
Susan before the dreaded 18th, when the earth would pass through the
comet’s tail. He suddenly grew grave.

“This is a very serious time,” he observed. “In a few hours we may be
all before our Maker.”

This remark, apparently apropos of nothing, astonished those who heard
it. In Panama they were not accustomed to discuss the hereafter at
lunch. Some of the men laughed; the man who had addressed him asked:

“You are a evangelistic preacher?”

“No,” said Jones; “of course not. But don’t y’u know that the comet is
going to destroy the world?”

The other man shook his head doubtingly. “Who say so?” he asked.

“The newspaper,” Samuel answered, mentioning the only source of
information he knew of.

“It can’t be the latest paper, then,” observed the other; “for the
_Star_ and _Herald_ to-day have a telegram that say there is no reason
for anybody to frighten: the comet is not goin’ to come near us.”

“Is that so?” exclaimed Samuel in a voice of profound relief. “Then we
are all right! Sue, you hear?”

“Yes,” replied Susan, “but which newspaper is right?”

“The latest, of course; every day a newspaper learn something new.”

“That may be so,” said the stranger; “but I don’t depend on newspaper to
tell me about the end of de world. I are satisfied to think that this
world was lasting from Adam was a boy; an’ if it don’t get destroy by a
comet all this time, it not likely to destroy now.”

This way of looking at the matter, coupled with the latest statement in
the Isthmian journal, convinced Jones that no danger to his existence
was to be apprehended from the comet. He was so delighted to learn that
the comet was innocuous that he did not pursue the conversation, but
quickly finished his lunch, eager now to explore Colon and to begin that
gay manner of living to which he had looked forward with such
expectation for weeks. He paid the bill and he and Susan left the
eating-house. They had not gone ten yards when Jones heard his name
called by some one behind him.

He turned round, wondering to find himself known already in this strange
town. He saw a black man, short, strongly built, with a genial face on
which there was a smile of recognition. This man was over forty years of
age, and his whole appearance indicated self-confidence and prosperity.
Jones thought he remembered his face, but could not just then remember
his name or where he had met him. Clearly, however, the stranger knew
him, for he clapped him on the shoulder in a friendly way and asked him
what he was doing in Colon.

“I come here to fill an occupation,” Jones replied; “but, to tell the
truth, you have an advantage of me. What’s your name? I am Samuel Josiah
Jones.”

“Oh, I know that well,” laughed the other; “you used to tell us so every
day at de railway. You remember now? Mackenzie? Mac that was at the
railway when you was learning trade?”

“Of course!” cried Samuel, now completely enlightened. “Sue, this is Mr.
Mackenzie, who you always hear me talk about. Shake hands.”

Susan had never heard Mackenzie mentioned before, but did not say so.
She shook hands as directed.

“When you come?” was Mackenzie’s next question.

“This morning, an’ it been raining ever since. Nasty place for rain. I
was just goin’ home, Mac, when you accost me; but now we must go an’
take a drink together for luck. Where can we go?”

“But what about you’ sister?” asked Mackenzie, glancing at Susan and
noticing that she did not seem to relish Jones’s proposal.

“She is my intended,” said Jones (Mackenzie had already guessed as
much), “and she can go home in a ’bus. Sue, my dear,” he went on,
turning to her, “Mr. Mac is a particular friend of mine, an’ I want to
have a little confabulation with him. Take a ’bus an’ go home, like a
good girl. I soon be there.”

If Mackenzie had not been a stranger, Susan would certainly have
protested against being disposed of in so summary a fashion, especially
as this was her first day in Colon. She was wild at being sent back to
the miserable room while Jones was preparing to go about the town and
enjoy himself. But she let him hail a passing cab, into which she got,
and she left the two men standing on the side-walk without saying a
single word to either of them.

It was seven o’clock before Jones went back to her. For hours she had
remained in the wretched den, nursing her misery and her wrath. It had
come on to rain again—a steady rain that held out no promise of
stopping and which had not ceased when Samuel returned. He had been
sufficiently thoughtful to bring with him some bread, a can of preserved
meat, and a pint of whisky, for he judged that she had not been out to
dinner. On these things he proposed that they should dine, and Susan
watched him in silence while he placed them on the table and went
outside to borrow some plates and a knife and fork. She made no effort
to help him. He was not perfectly sober, yet he was sober enough to
perceive that she was angry, and he had somewhere deep down in his heart
an uneasy feeling that there was some justification for her anger. He
became determinedly and manfully cheerful.

“To-morrow,” he remarked, as he began to eat, “we’ll be in better
quarters and will settle down peaceful and regular; in the meantime we
must eat an’ be happy.”

“Why you stay out so long?” Susan asked, speaking for the first time and
showing no inclination either to eat or to be happy.

“Couldn’t help it,”, he replied. “Mac wanted to treat me good, an’ I
wouldn’t have been a gentleman if I refused him.”

A sandwich in one hand, a glass of whisky in the other, he smiled
jovially as if in approval of his own meritorious conduct. But he gave
her no opportunity to comment on his ideas of gentlemanly behaviour.

“You know, Sue,” he observed, “I think you are a lucky girl? I am
acquainted with about twenty other females, an’ them would kill
themselves to be here to-night. But I am a man of emphatic decisiveness,
an’ when I select a gurl I will stick to her—if she behave herself.” He
paused, in order that she might mark the proviso well. Then he added,
“But you will behave you’self.

“Tell you what!” he went on enthusiastically. “I am goin’ to raise cain
as soon as I meet a few more Jamaica boys like Mac. No American man is
goin’ to boss me. A Jamaican is more than a match for anybody; an’ if a
man ever talk to me hard in this country, I kick him!”

“Y’u can’t kick anybody in this country,” said Susan quietly; “it’s not
home.”

“Don’t matter. They got to think a lot of me in this low-down place. I
won’t let a man interfere with you, either. I intend to stick to you.”

Susan, sitting on the cot, shifted her position a little. She had
listened carefully to all that Samuel had said; she had noticed how
persistently he dwelt upon his intention to stick to her—she had
especially noticed that he expected her to behave herself. But to one
matter, which had been in her mind ever since they landed, he had not
once alluded. She intended that it should be discussed that night.

“See here, Sam,” she began, with simple directness, “you say on board
the ship night before last that you was goin’ to marry me as soon as you
get to Colon. But all day to-day y’u don’t say nothing about it. You
goin’ to do it to-morrow?”

Samuel Josiah Jones paused in the act of conveying a glass of whisky to
his lips and stared at Susan with a countenance expressive of
profoundest astonishment. Susan’s question appeared to him a most
unreasonable one. He was silent for some seconds, then in a tone of
voice which was eloquent with reproach, and even with sorrow, he
answered:

“You mean to say that y’u didn’t hear what that man tell us to-day in
the cook-shop?”

“Yes,” said Susan, “I did hear what him say; but that don’t ’ave nothing
to do with what _you_ say on board the ship. Y’u promise to marry me
because we wasn’t living quite correct, an’ if that was true yesterday
morning, it must be true to-night.”

Susan’s rejoinder was so straightforward and clear that Jones could only
reply indirectly.

“Well!” he exclaimed, apostrophizing the ceiling; “I never see people so
unreasonable like Jamaica females. They have no logical perspecuity.
They are so ambitious that I can’t understand them. Susan, you forget
that when I talk to you about marriage an’ all that sort of foolishness
we didn’t expect to live another week? You forget that? I don’t tell you
that if the comet was really goin’ to kill us I wouldn’t get married.
But now, seeing that we are safe, it would be the height of stupidness
in me to pick up meself an’ enter in the bonds of matrimony, which, when
you once get into it, y’u can’t get out of it at all. What you take me
for? Specify!”

“Then you not goin’ to marry me again?” was Susan’s only reply to this
long speech.

“Don’t I have signified to you?” he answered; and as she sat there
looking at him darkly, he hastened to pacify her.

“But you are all right, Sue; you goin’ to live like a queen. After all,
when we leave Jamaica we didn’t think about married. Besides, look what
I do for you already!”

She did not see that he had done much for her at all, for she was not a
woman easily satisfied. But Colon was not Kingston; she had no friends
here; all the advantage would be on Jones’s side if she quarrelled with
him now. She was well aware too that she could scarcely claim that he
had brought her with him under false pretences. Nevertheless she felt
bitterly disappointed, and Jones’s way of looking upon marriage with her
as being only a sensible action when death appeared imminent, wounded
her vanity. If he had not promised to marry her on the ship, she would
not have mentioned the matter; but he had created hope in her, had
awakened a dormant ambition, and she understood how advantageous it
would be for her to have a legal right to his name in this new country.
She now felt, therefore, that she had a grievance, and her resentment
was increased by her sense of entire dependence upon Jones. It was true
that she had boasted in Jamaica about going to Colon as an independent
woman to earn her own living; but her few hours’ experience in that town
had taught her that with girls like herself that was more easily said
than done. Catherine had proved right after all. The young woman who did
not know Panama well must have some one to assist her.

She did not propose to argue any more with Samuel. If her family were
with her, she reflected, the situation might be very different, for
together they would surely be able to earn a decent living, and then she
would not feel so much obliged to tolerate anything like neglect from
Samuel. Or again, if she had some money and knew Panama, she might be
able to make her way about with ease. But she was not prepared to become
a servant. She knew that women of a certain type flourished in Colon,
but to their depths she would not and could never sink. Her mind ran
upon Tom: she knew she had influence with him, and as a last resort she
could always appeal to him for assistance; Truth to tell, however, she
had felt Tom’s departure as a relief after he had left Jamaica: she had
never cared for him. Samuel was wild, unstable, but was not
intentionally unkind. . . . She liked him.

Sitting on the edge of the cot, one leg crooked over the other, her chin
supported by her right hand, she thought the matter over. The sound of
the rain and the thunder’s long roll came to her ears. In the next
apartment a girl was singing—she knew the words, she had heard them in
Jamaica:

“Ef I did hear what me mammee did say
I wouldn’t be in dis wort’less Colon.”

But no one had warned her against Colon; she had wished to come to this
place, she was here, she must make the best of it. She listened to the
singing. It seemed to her that, despite the words, the singer’s voice
was cheerful.

Samuel, on his part, was not worrying. He was not sober. He was quite
satisfied that he was acting with the most becoming propriety and in
strict accordance with the high gentlemanly standards of Samuel Josiah
Jones. His mind was filled with pleasing anticipations of the part he
would play in the society of the town. He had a dazzling vision of
happiness, now that he had recovered from his first feeling of
discontent, and was no longer haunted by fear of approaching
dissolution. He was determined to make Susan comfortable; he would earn
lots of money, dress well, sport, distinguish himself: there were no
spots just then upon the bright sun of his reflections. So he went to
bed in a merry frame of mind; but Susan sat up for some time longer,
thinking. To one thing she had made up her mind when she finally
determined to rest. She would save money, and so secure her personal
independence.

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