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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catherine bridled up, Eliza tittered, Susan laughed outright.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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