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CHAPTER IV WHAT CAME OF THE CASE
The thing about the trial that seemed to Miss Proudleigh the unkindest cut of all was the utter failure of Lawyer Jones to rise to the occasion and pulverize his legal opponent with arguments. She had accompanied Susan to the court-house with proud expectancy. Lawyer Jones had been recommended by her, and she felt that she had certain proprietary rights in him; that she was, in a way, responsible for his good behaviour as a lawyer. And now he had failed, failed miserably; he had disgraced her; she regarded him as guilty of a base deception. On the way home she urged this point of view upon Susan, and her brother agreed that the lawyer had indeed acted most strangely.

“The whole of them cheat me!” said Susan bitterly. “There is no justice in dis country at all. From the judge down, them is all a set of thief!”

“Solomon say that it is better to chop a baby in two dan go to law,” observed Mr. Proudleigh, “an’ I see to-day dat him is quite right. Now if you did half murder Maria, them would only fine you, an’ you would have de satisfaction to know that you give it to her properly. Instead of dat, you bring ’er up in a respectable style, an’ put a lawyer on ’er, an’ pay him two pounds to persecute her, an’ all de justice you get is dat the judge tell y’u to make up de quarrel or him will fine you too!”

“Leave them all to God!” said Miss Proudleigh piously.

“Leave them to de devil, you mean!” Susan rapped out. “The judge abuse me about me intended, an’ the lawyer take me money and don’t do nothing for it; an’ now you tell me to leave them to God! The truth of de matter is that all these judge an’ all these lawyers is simply humbugging poor people in this country. Them want nothing better than for we to leave them to God, so long as them can get de money. But while we walk to church to pray, them drive in motor-car!”

Wrath had made Susan a rebel, and contemptuous of the things she had always regarded with respect; but Miss Proudleigh had her Christian reputation to think of, and she could not join her niece in her violent protest. As for her father, though he was inclined to think Susan was right, he did not care to express his opinion of the judge too freely in the open street.

When they got home, Susan stationed herself by the window, her favourite point of vantage, and there she sat for hours nursing her anger. Now and then, as she looked around her, the pride of possession filled her soul. The room contained two American rocking-chairs, and five cane-seated chairs of a yellowish hue. There was a long wooden bench without a back placed against one of the walls, and two dealboard tables, both covered with gaudy worsted spreads. On one of them was a kerosene lamp, a couple of hymn books, and a few earthenware ornaments. The other was crowded with thick tumblers, some of fantastic shapes, and a heap of cheap crockery ware. On the walls hung coloured prints of the King and the Royal Family, and pictures of ladies dressed in exiguous garments, and smoking cigarettes with an air of enjoyment. All these things belonged to her. They had been given to her by Tom. And in the inner room she had an iron bed on which was a straw mattress, and two more chairs, and a big trunk containing her clothes, and a basin-stand, on which she kept her “china” basin and ewer. She had, besides, a large looking-glass on a little table in the room. And all these household gods were comparatively new.

She took pride in her furniture. Only married people of her class usually had as much, and certainly Maria had not. “After all,” she more than once muttered to herself, “I ’ave a comfortable house to come to, an’ perhaps Maria don’t ’ave a penny to-day.”

Yet she was not long comforted by this reflection. Maria had practically triumphed, and her success at the court-house might embolden her to attempt to capture Tom outright. Susan did not care much for Tom; in fact, she rather despised him. But times were hard in Kingston, and lovers were not easy to obtain; so if Maria should succeed. . . . “But that can’t be done,” she concluded; for what was Maria when compared with her?

Susan was not given to following out a train of thought for any length of time; she usually jumped from one subject to another as it came up in her mind. But the experience of that morning, and its unknown but dreaded consequences, caused her now to dwell lengthily upon the days before she became acquainted with Tom. Her past had not been a pleasant one. Her father was a carpenter, and when in good health he had earned a fair amount of money by working at his trade. But some sixteen years before he had been prostrated by a severe attack of rheumatism, and when he recovered he found that he had almost lost the use of his lower limbs. Then her brother went away to Nicaragua, and only wrote occasionally, sometimes sending a few dollars to his parents. After her father’s illness her mother had turned washerwoman, and what the old woman earned helped to keep the family from starvation. Her father did a few light jobs, when he could get them, but these did not bring in much. Susan herself, on leaving the Government elementary school when a little over fourteen years of age, had tried to find a situation; but there was hardly anything she could do at that age.

In those days she lived in a yard-room with the rest of the family. She could remember herself as often standing at the gate of the yard, her feet thrust into a pair of slippers, and looking with envy at those girls who could afford to wear shoes and go to all the Sunday-school picnics and treats. There were days when she went to bed without dinner, a fate by no means unknown to hundreds of other persons in her position. On other days she was glad if her dinner consisted of a piece of dry bread. The rent of the room her family occupied was always the great problem that faced them continually; for if it was not paid their few belongings might be levied upon, and the old people would have to go to the almshouse. Semi-starvation was better than that, so they not infrequently starved.

When she was nearly eighteen, what she called “a luck” befell her. She was in the habit of attending, every Wednesday evening, a little church near where she lived. There had been revival meetings in that church a short time before she had taken to going to the services, and nearly everybody in its immediate neighbourhood had been converted. Amongst these converts was a young fellow of nineteen, a clerk by occupation; and seeing Susan in the church once or twice, he was moved to attempt the saving of her soul. He only succeeded in losing his heart.

For some months he gave her five shillings a week out of the fifteen he earned; then he unfortunately lost his situation, and Susan’s father awoke to a sense of outraged morality. It was edifying to hear Mr. Proudleigh lecture that young man on the moral obliquity of endeavouring to “draw a youthful feminine away from religion.” There was no arguing with him, for very little argument is left in any youth who has lost his situation; so the young man quietly drifted out of Susan’s life.

For some time longer the family was compelled to exist on the mother’s earnings and on what Mr. Proudleigh’s son in Nicaragua occasionally sent home. It was then that Susan tried her hardest to obtain work of some kind. But it required influence to secure a position as a barmaid; the small shops had as many assistants as they required, and in any case usually employed young women fairer than she was; as for crochet-making, that had become so common that very few persons now cared to trim their clothes with crochet. She might have got a situation as nurse in one of the wealthier families of Kingston, but to domestic work she had a strong aversion. It was not, in her opinion, genteel. She did not want to be what she called “a common servant.” So she waited in idleness day after day, a prey to discontent, and wondering if her luck would ever turn.

It did turn when she was twenty years of age. She was standing at the gate of her yard one Sunday afternoon, very plainly dressed, but with her hair neatly combed and plaited. Tom was walking down the lane, with no object in particular, and seeing her all alone he thought he might as well try to make her acquaintance and have a little chat with her. As he was well dressed, from his polished yellow boots up to his new straw hat, Susan did not object to his inquiry after her health; and being thus encouraged he made further advances.

That afternoon he talked of trifling things for about a quarter of an hour. The following evening he again walked down the lane, and Susan was once more at the gate. On the subsequent night, when Tom met her by appointment, she asked him why he did not come inside, and on his accepting her invitation he was welcomed by her family with every mark of cordiality and respect. In fact, they all went out of the room and left him with Susan, so that the young couple’s conversation might not be interrupted in any way.

A week after that, she removed into the house which she now occupied. Thus she had realized, at a bound, one of the great ambitions of her life.

But now Maria was trying to come between her and Tom. And this case—now that she had lost it, she was rather sorry she had taken it to court. Tom’s name had been repeatedly called, and he had warned her against that. And her money, the money he had originally given her, had gone for nothing. If that had been all she would not have cared much, but she felt sure she had not yet heard the last of the fight and the trial. She wished she could believe that she had.

It was in an uneasy frame of mind that she ate her dinner by the window that evening, putting her plate on a chair in front of her. She was still eating when her aunt returned to the house for the purpose of further discussing the details of the case; and it was only then that Susan’s father and the others came into the sitting-room, which they had avoided all during the day, perceiving that Susan was too sorely sick at heart to appreciate conversation.

Miss Proudleigh, who, more than all of them together, was versed in the newspaper reports of the courts, had conceived a brilliant idea, and wished to lose no time before letting Susan know of it.

“I thinks, Susan,” she said, after she had sat down, “that the case was not try fair. An’ I thinks you ought to appeal.”

“Appeal?” asked her brother. “What is dat?”

Now Miss Proudleigh did not know exactly. So she answered vaguely, “Something to make de case try right.”

“That won’t help,” said Susan decisively. “De judge tell me I better drop the case, an’ I agree. It is all done away wid now. What is bothering me is the way de judge talk about Tom. It’s going to be all over Kingston to-morrow, for I saw the newspaper man writing it down. What a piece of bad luck fall upon a poor gurl to-day! An’ I didn’t do a single soul anyt’ing.”

“But don’t it finish now?” asked the old man hopefully.

“I don’t know about dat,” Susan replied. “Tom’s name call, an’ him going to vex.”

This was indeed what everybody feared; but Miss Proudleigh had a never-failing source of comfort in her principles as a religious woman.

“Susan,” she said, “you must have faith. When did you’ intended see you de first time? Wasn’t it on a Sunday evening? Now if it was on a Monday or a Saturday or any other day of de week, you would say it was a sort of accident. But when an important events take place on a Sunday, all of a sudden, it is you’ business to acknowledge that the Lord have made special interposition in your behalf. You mustn’t be ungrateful, Sue. The Lord is not mocked. Blessed is de man that trusteth in Him. An’ though the text says ‘man’ it mean woman too. Everything is goin’ to go right. Tom won’t vex too much.”

“That is what I thinks meself,” agreed Susan’s father, who was only too glad to catch at any ray of hope. “Susan is de child of many pr’yers. From the day she born to dis day, I been prayin’ for her. Not a thing can happen to her! De night before she became acquaint wid Mister Tom, I dream dat a mango tree grow up in me room, an’ I know that same time that somet’ing was going to happen. Now last night I dream dat a cow maltreat Mother Smit, an’ at first I thoughted that Susan was goin’ to win de case. But I see now dat it mean that Mister Tom is not goin’ to ’ave nothing more to do wid Maria.”

“Well, sah,” answered Susan petulantly, “all I have to say is, that you’ prayers didn’t ’elp me much this morning!”

This, Susan’s latest expression of infidelity, simply startled her audience. Their Providence was one that struck with blindness or instant death any of His creatures who dared to question His wisdom or goodness, and who bestowed no blessings upon those who worked on the Sabbath Day. To other sins He was lenient. He always allowed ample time to the sinners to repent of them. One could also think hard things of Him, for what was not spoken aloud might escape the hearing even of the higher Powers. But so openly to doubt the efficacy of prayer, as Susan had done, was to tempt Providence; and she herself felt a little frightened after the words had escaped her.

Miss Proudleigh, who herself had much of Susan’s temper, and who could never forget that she stood high in the estimation of her “leader” in the Wesleyan chapel of which she was an honoured and vocal member, would not allow this last speech of Susan’s to pass without reproof.

“If you goin’ to talk like that, Susan,” she said severely, “I will ’ave to leave the premises. I can’t sit down an’ hear you laugh at pr’yer. I don’t want to be include in the general judgment; for when the Lord’s time come to laugh, Him going to laugh for true.”

Her indignation having been expressed, faith immediately rose to higher heights, and she went on.

“As fo’ Maria, she will be punished, an’ you an’ me will live to see Mother Smith beggin’ bread. ‘He will smite the oppressor, an’ the wicked He will utterly destroy.’ I am goin’ to pray for Maria an’ her mother. I am goin’ to pray that them won’t have bread to eat; an’ when a woman like me kneel down an’ pray, her pr’yers must be heard!”

“I gwine to pray too,” cried the old man, with enthusiasm. “Four knees is better than two. I are going to church next Sunday night to offer up me supplication against all Susan’s enemy. Sue,” he concluded, turning to his daughter, “you don’t happen to have a small coins about y’u to lend your ole fader? I feel weak in me chest, an’ a little rum an’ anisou would help de feeling.”

This request for a loan, coming after his expressed determination to pray against her enemies, could not well be refused by Susan; and she was about to hand him threepence, when the front door opened quickly and Tom stepped into the room.

As he entered, the old man rose and gave him a military salute. But on this occasion Tom simply brushed past him without saying anything, and went at once to Susan. Such brusqueness was unusual, and Mr. Proudleigh, still in the military attitude, stared at Tom with wonder in his eyes.

The young man was angry. They all saw that. At any other time they would have left him alone with Susan, but now curiosity got the better of respect, and they remained to hear what he had to say.

“Susan,” he began, without even bidding her good evening, “didn’t I tell y’u not to take the case to court?”

“You goin’ to quarrel wid me about it now?” was her answer. “It’s not my fault dat I lose it! It’s Hezekiah wid his foolishness. An’ instead of sympathizing with me, you walk into the house, like a nager man, an’ don’t speak to nobody! See here, Tom, if it’s because I lose the money you give me, I will work an’ pay you back.”

“Never mind, Susan, never mind,” interposed her aunt, anxious to play the blessed part of peacemaker. “Mr. Tom don’t say anything of an aggravating nature. Two young people mustn’t quarrel. You is to live in peace, an’——”

“I don’t want to hear anything from you,” snapped Susan. “Tom ’ave no right to come into de house like this.”

Thus she tried to put Tom in the wrong, feeling that if she frightened him by a display of temper he would not say very much about his name being called in the court-house, a circumstance which she herself regretted greatly.

But the old man, alarmed at Tom’s attitude, and fearing lest Susan should drive him away at a time when Maria, and probably others, were spreading their nets for him, thought that now was the opportunity for proving to Tom that in every important domestic crisis he would have the head of the family on his side.

“Susan,” he commenced, with some fear in his heart as to how she would receive his admonition, “I don’t exprove of you’ conduct. Mister Tom is a young man, an’ a young man is supposed to get aggravated. Ef I did know that him tell you positive not to take de case to court, I would have tell you the same meself. The fact of de matter is, I did tell you so. For when you look upon one thing, an’ also upon another——”

But Susan would listen to no more. She sprang from her chair. “See here!” she asked, looking rapidly at each of them in turn, “you all want to abuse me to-night? What I do any of you? Eh? What you interfering with me for?”

But Tom was now in a desperate mood, and Susan’s rage did not seem to frighten him.

He glared back at her. “Didn’t I tell you I didn’t want me name call in the court-house?” he demanded. “Y’u had no business to fight with Maria. If you didn’t speak to her, she couldn’t have troubled you. But you infernal women——”

“Don’t call me infernal, Taam! Don’t y’u call me infernal! It’s not because you paying me rent that you must use me an’ take an advantage of me as if I was a common street gurl. Don’t y’u do it, Tom!”

“Well, whether you like it or not, I say it already,” replied Tom bitterly. “As to the rent, y’u will have to pay it yourself next month!”

“Oh yes?” retorted Susan. “So you gwine to Maria, eh? Well, I tell you straight that I will pull every plait out of she head! An’ as for you, me good man, I don’t know what foot you goin’ to take to walk go to Maria’s house!

“Lor-r-rd!” she screamed. “Look what this man come an’ tell me to me face! Him say him going to this woman, Maria, an’ is leaving me!” and she burst into angry tears.

“I didn’t say that at all,” Tom muttered sullenly. “I said I am not going to pay any rent next month. Somebody go to-day an’ tell Mr. Jacobs all that de judge say about me, and Mr. Jacobs pay me two weeks’ wages and tell me him don’t want me any more.”

It was only too true. Tom had many friends who envied him his job, and it was one of these who had hastened to his employer with a full account of Susan’s case. In his narration this friend had managed to convey the impression that Susan and Maria were not the only two ladies who enjoyed the good things of life at Tom’s expense; and as Mr. Jacobs thought that it was not Tom, but he himself, who might later on suffer through Tom’s excessive gallantry, he concluded that the wisest thing to do was to get rid of his philandering employee at once. Thus had the blow fallen with dramatic swiftness. Susan realized what it meant. She ceased sobbing. This was no time for angry tears. Even her aunt felt that a religious text would not relieve the gravity of the situation. The old man gazed in blank amazement at Tom. Susan’s mother and sister were dumbfounded.

“Then what y’u going to do, Tom?” It was Susan who asked the question; she knew she was the cause of the crisis, but did not wish to face the blame. “P’rhaps,” she went on, without waiting for an answer, “you will get another job? Mr. Jacobs can’t say y’u rob him, an’ him must give you a character paper.”

Tom shook his head despondently. “When a man lose his job in Kingston,” he said, “it is the hardest thing for him to get another one.”

He had sat down, no longer angry, but a prey to despair. His natural weakness was beginning to reassert itself.

“But you can’t live widout working?” said Susan. “You mean to say that y’u don’t know anybody who will hire you? Don’t you have education?”

“Yes, Mister Tom,” her father remarked encouragingly, dipping into the conversation; “a ejucated gen’leman like you is not common. Trust to God!”

But Tom was not to be comforted. “I been with Mr. Jacobs six years,” he said, “an’ everybody is goin’ to say that it is funny him discharge me all of a sudden.”

“Then what you goin’ to do?” Susan asked again.

“I’m going to Colon.”

“Colon?” repeated Susan, with mingled hope and fear in her heart.

“Yes; Colon.”

“Well, Colon is a very good place,” said the old man reflectively. He was entertaining hopes of being taken to Colon himself. “I thinks Miss Susan will like it.”

“I can’t take her. I don’t have sufficient money.”

“Then what you goin’ to do wid me?” asked Susan, seeing her worst fears about to be realized. “Leave me here?”

“I will send for y’u, Sue,” Tom answered, “if I get a job. But I don’t know what is goin’ to happen. . . . It’s all your fault.”

This was so true that the rebuke was accepted in silence. But Susan did not wish to be left behind, for Maria and her mother to triumph over her downfall.

“Tom,” she pleaded, “take me with you! I can work, an’ there is plenty o’ work in Colon.”

“We all can work,” said her father anxiously, though why he should have included himself was something of a mystery. “I have always wanted to go oversea like me son. The fambily could makes you very happy, Mister Tom.” He paused, for he saw that nobody was paying any attention to him.

Tom, in fact, was explaining to Susan how impossible it was for him to take her to Colon with him, and was mingling his explanations with weak reproaches. Susan listened dumbly. She was thinking how few of her friends and acquaintances would sympathize with her; how the front house would have to be given up, and perhaps some of her furniture sold. Nor was that all. For if Tom did not send for her, as he promised, the old life might have to be resumed; and that would be more intolerable now than before. She would miss all that she had become accustomed to. She might have to face actual want—she who had for one full year enjoyed what she considered luxury. . . .

“When you goin’?” she asked at length, after Tom had said his say.

“Saturday.”

This was Wednesday night: three days more and he would be gone.

She cried, this time in real distress. Tom was touched, or he thought, erroneously, that she was crying because he was going to a foreign land where he would be far away from her.

“Don’t fret, Sue,” he said, trying to soothe her. “Colon is a place where a lot o’ money is making now. If I strike a job, you will be all right. In the meantime y’u must do you’ best.”

What that best was, and how it was to be done, was not apparent to Susan. But the old man faithfully promised Tom that Susan would do her best.

“An’ when you is arrive, Mister Tom, write to de ole man,” Mr. Proudleigh added, rising, for Tom had risen to go.

“God bless you, me son,” said his wife, as Tom shook hands with her; “you has been kind to Miss Susan.”

“Put your trust in de Lord,” said Miss Proudleigh, “an’ He shall renew thy strength.”

Susan’s sisters said nothing; Susan herself put on her hat to walk with him a portion of the way home, partly for the purpose of discussing certain financial matters, partly to make sure that he did not call at Maria’s yard.

They went out together, and then Catherine remarked:

“If Susan didn’t take de case to court, this wouldn’t happen.”

“What we gwine to do now?” asked Mr. Proudleigh dolefully.

No one answered the question.



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