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CHAPTER II JONES CHANGES HIS MIND
“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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