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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s the matter?” asked Jones.

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

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

“Who?” asked Kate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was duly introduced, but would not sit down.

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

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

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

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

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

“What is it?” asked Catherine.

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


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