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CHAPTER IX JONES IS WARNED
In the meantime Jones had gone to meet his friends. On leaving Susan, he turned southwards, and as he emerged from the lane on to a crossing an old woman approached him, as if with the intention of speaking to him. Thinking she was a beggar, he took no notice of her, but hurriedly continued on his way. In about ten minutes he came to a saloon, over the principal entrance of which was a huge signboard with the encouraging invitation, “Welcome to All.”

He went up a short flight of steps, pushed the slat door, which swung back on its hinges behind him, and found himself in a large well-lighted room. He knew the place well. Facing the entrance was a long bar of dark polished wood, and behind it, against the wall, were a number of shelves arranged in the form of a pyramid. These shelves were stocked with bottles of all sorts and shapes, all of them containing liquors. In the centre of the pyramid was a huge mirror, the only one in the room. At one end of the bar was a great pitcher of iced water, and scattered about it were glasses and ice-bowls and long silver-plated ice-spoons.

Behind the bar stood two bright-looking dark girls, gaily dressed and busily attending to the orders of the customers. One or two of the latter were lounging against the bar, but the most of them were seated at little marble-topped tables scattered here and there about the room. The people who frequented this place were nearly all clerks, shopmen, and superior artisans. It was towards one of the tables, round which four or five men were seated, that Jones walked immediately on entering the saloon.

One of the men held a newspaper in his hand, and was talking loudly. “Hullo, Sam!” he shouted, when he caught sight of our friend, “I thought you weren’t comin’ again. Make room, boys, make room!”

They made room for Jones, who sat down.

“What’ll you have?” said the same speaker, who was known to his friend’s as the Professor. “Order something good, old boy: won’t see you after to-morrow, y’u know. What is your drink?”

Jones decided on gin and ginger beer; ordered a pack of cigarettes, then settled down to enjoy his beverage, his smoke, and a last friendly chat.

“So you going to leave us, eh?” said a dark, serious-looking man, who sat stirring a bit of ice in a glass with his finger. “Going away! I travel once meself to Colon when the French was diggin’ the Canal. I nearly die, an’ when I came back to Jamaica I swear I never would go away again. A man don’t have long to live, an’ it’s just as well to remain here till his time come.”

“Why you talking like that?” asked Jones. “You not sick? When I come back y’u will be alive and kicking, Septimus, an’ yet you talking to-night like a dying duck in a thunder-storm. You are too pessimistical, man.”

“You don’t know what y’u saying,” replied the serious Septimus seriously. “I know you are a man don’t read the newspaper, but you should hear what Professor been reading to-night!”

Curious, Jones turned to the Professor, who impressively read from a local journal the views of a European astronomer on Halley’s Comet, then visible in the morning sky. Jones had heard of the comet, like most other people in the island, and, like them, had not given it much thought. Now, however, he listened to what the newspaper had to say about it with a great deal of interest. It appeared that somebody in Europe believed that he had discovered certain green bands in the tail of the comet, which indicated a poisonous gas, and now that astronomer was warning the inhabitants of the earth of their possible extermination at an early date. The whole article was read out aloud by the Professor (for the third time), and nearly everybody in the room listened intently. When the reader stopped, the serious man again took up the burden of his lamentations.

“There you are!” he exclaimed dismally. “I have been expecting that thing for I don’t know how long. It is written in the Book of Revelations that before the last day there shall be signs and wonders. The Kingston earthquake was a sign. An’ this comet is a perfect wonder; for when I saw it the first time a few days ago it only had a head, an’ yesterday morning I only saw its tail! Oh! you can laugh as y’u like” (Jones had laughed) “but I tell you the situation is serious.”

The seriousness of the situation so overcame him that he called for another drink.

“Well,” said Jones, “I wouldn’t trouble about that. I don’t see the comet yet; an’ you say you only see the tail. But if you see the tail, you see the comet. An’ if you see the comet, the head must be somewhere.”

This reasoning appealed to the Professor, a light-complexioned man of about thirty, who had once been an elementary schoolmaster.

“I agree with you, Jones,” he said. “Besides, the Book of Revelations is unscientific. There is something about a three-footed horse in it, isn’t there?”

“A pale horse,” said Septimus reprovingly. “A three-footed horse is a Jamaica duppy[1] story.”

“Even so,” said the Professor, “a horse cannot be pale.”

“What’s to hinder it?” asked the serious man. “If a man can be pale, a horse can be pale too. The pale horse in Revelations was a sign; an’ I tell you that everything y’u read in that book is coming true. I wouldn’t leave Jamaica now, me brother! All we can do in these last days is to watch and pray. I think I’ll take a little rum.”

He took it, then—“It’s rather hard,” he said, “that after a man spend his whole life looking after his family, a comet should come like this to destroy him. What have I done?”

Jones found the conversation distinctly depressing, though there was no denying that many persons in the room were listening to it with very serious faces. He was going away next day, and he began to fear that, at sea, he might be more directly exposed to danger from the comet than those on land.

“I like to talk about big scientific things, meself,” he said, “but I don’t see the good of talkin’ about the end of the world.”

“Well, perhaps you are right,” said the serious man. “It’s not everybody who can face these questions like me. You know, I was brought up very religious. Me gran’mother was a very strict woman; she used to make me say me prayers every morning, an’ she flog me whenever I didn’t want to go to Sunday school. That’s why I turn out so well.”

This claim to superiority nettled Jones. “I have been brought up religious meself,” he said, a little indignantly. “Suppose we have a game of billiards?”

“No, Sam,” Septimus replied gravely. “This is not a time for billiards. I think I shall go to church on Sunday. It is time to turn our thoughts to higher things. I nearly got killed two years ago, an’ since then I not taking any risk with my soul. Y’u going to join Church when you go to Panama?”

“No,” said Jones, “I don’t have nothing to do with churches; the fact is, I don’t understand them at all.”

A chorus of approval greeted these words. “Something should be done to reform the churches,” said the Professor. Then he added impressively, “Something is going wrong somewhere.”

“If the churches were better,” said Jones, “there would be less sin in the world. That’s what I always say.”

“That is so,” said Septimus; “the churches are to blame.” Then calling to the younger barmaid, he said, “Missis, you hear about this comet?”

“I am prepare,” the girl answered, “whenever the call shall come.”

“That’s a fine girl,” said Jones approvingly. “If I wasn’t taking one with me to Panama, I would take her.”

He spoke loudly enough for the barmaid to hear him, and she (though prepared for instant death) imagining that he was making fun at her, promptly faced him with an indignant rejoinder.

“See here, Mister Jones! you really wouldn’t be rude to me to-night. It’s not because y’u see me servin’ behind a bar that you must think y’u can laugh at me! I am a lady, though I am poor; an’ if me dead father should know I was workin’ here, him would dead again from grief!”

“I wasn’t making any fun!” protested Jones. “I was only admiring you. An’ I meant what I said!”

“Stop!” said his serious friend. “You really takin’ a female with you?”

“Yes,” said Jones gaily. “You didn’t hear?”

“No! y’u don’t mean to tell me you married an’ didn’t let me know? You will regret it, me friend! You don’t know what marriage mean yet! A man who have a wife an’ children have a feeling of responsibility he can’t get over, no matter how hard he try, an’ I tell you I have tried very hard. However, we all have to shoulder our burden, an’ do our duty, an’ so let our light shine.”

Here the elder barmaid happening to pass near by him, he (for he seemed to be on terms of surprising familiarity with her) tried to put his arm round her waist. She drew away giggling, and he nearly lost his balance. But his good humour was imperturbable in spite of his fears of the comet, and of the heavy responsibility of wife and children, which, as he alleged, weighed him utterly down.

Jones speedily reassured him and his other anxious friends.

“It’s only a female I taking with me,” he said. “She and I became acquainted recently.”

“What’s her name?” asked one of the men who had hitherto taken no part in the conversation.

“Miss Susan Proudleigh. Fine girl, man! Fall in love with me the same day she see me. I am going to cut a dash with her in Colon.”

“Proudleigh?” asked the Professor, lifting his eyebrows as if trying to remember something. “I think I know that name. . . . Yes, she had a case in court some time ago.”

“What’s that?” Jones asked sharply. “You make a mistake, me friend. She is not the sort of girl anybody can take to court-house. She is a perfect incomparable, man!”

“I didn’t say anybody take her to court-house, Sam; but she did have a case. I don’t remember it exactly, but I think she brought up a girl.”

“It can’t be so,” said Jones, “for I never hear anything about it. It must be somebody else.”

“Perhaps so,” said the Professor, who had no special object to gain by contending he was right, and who knew also that there might be other Susan Proudleighs in Kingston besides the one he remembered having read about.

“Yes, y’u can make a mistake about a name,” said Septimus, “but you can’t make any mistake about this comet. The newspaper say it have sanatogen in its tail, an’ sanatogen is not a thing to fool with.”

“Cyanogen,” corrected the Professor; “sanatogen is a tonic—something you drink.”

“Well, whatever y’u call it, it’s a dangerous thing. However, let us hope for the best. Jones, old man, if we even don’t meet again, let’s have a drink before we part.”

He led the way to the bar, and each of them ordered the liquor he most preferred. It was a farewell glass, and the sincerity with which Jones’s health was drunk showed that his friends really liked him. Under their hilarity there was emotion concealed. Which of them could know for certain that he would ever see Samuel Josiah again?

This last glass was the signal for the breaking up of the party.

Jones lived to the west of the city, and the Professor said he was going that way. So they bade the other fellows good-bye at the tavern door, and started homewards.

They had hardly gone fifteen yards when an elderly, respectable-looking woman boldly accosted them; she spoke to Jones, calling him by name: could she speak to him for a moment?

She was close enough for him to perceive that she could not be a beggar. He wondered what she could have to say to him. He stopped, and asked his invariable question:

“What’s the matter?”

“Y’u mustn’t vex because I stop you out here, my gentleman,” said the old woman: “but I came up to speak to you in Luke Lane to-night, an’ you walk on before I could stop y’u. I only want to tell y’u one thing. I hear y’u going away some time dis month wid Susan Proudleigh. That is your business. But let me tell you—for I don’t believe she tell you herself—dat she has a young man in Colon already, an’ is only making you a fool. You can ask her to-night about Tom Wooley! I don’t like to see a nice-lookin’ young gentleman like you deceive; so I tell you about the sarpent you is nourishin’ in you’ bosom.”

She ceased and said good night, having done the work she had been striving for several nights to accomplish. The oath that she had taken on the night when Susan had fought with Maria had been by no means forgotten, for Mother Smith was a revengeful woman, and, bitterly disliking Susan, would have gone far to injure her. To think that Susan had been more fortunate than Maria was gall and wormwood to her already bitter spirit. Only one chance of striking at Susan was open to her and she had seized it. She wanted Jones to know the truth about Susan; how he would act she could not guess, but she hoped for the worst.

“Tom Wooley,” said Samuel’s companion as the woman walked away—“why, that’s the name of the man mentioned in the case I was telling you about.”

Jones, who had been astonished at the old woman’s reason for stopping him, continued his walk.

“I don’t see through this whole business,” he said to his friend. “What she mean?”

Professor, who had read the case in the newspapers, had easily grasped the situation. He explained:

“The old woman’s daughter was the girl your intended brought up; so the old lady want to put a spoke in her wheel.”

“Yes, of course!” said Jones; “what a woman, eh? She nearly frightened me! Now what she think I can do, me dear sir?”

A question which showed that he intended to do nothing; which indeed was the decision he had arrived at. As he had never had any reason to suppose that he was Susan’s first lover, he could not profess to feel shocked at learning that a former flame of hers was now in Colon. Nor did he really feel aggrieved, for even though she had not told him of the case, there was clearly nothing to her discredit about it, since she had been the prosecutor. He would have liked to ask her about it, and said to himself that he would do so some day; but the truth is that he already knew Susan well enough to understand that she might lose her temper if questioned about anything she did not want to discuss. On the whole, he did not see that Susan’s past mattered to him, any more than his could matter to her. This conclusion was characteristic of Jones. Before he had reached his house he had begun to talk of another subject having no relation whatever to Mother Smith and her story.
Ghost.


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