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CHAPTER V THE SUBSCRIPTION PARTY
One afternoon Susan was sitting alone in her apartment when the door was abruptly pushed open and three young women, friends of hers, rushed in. They were so excited that they did not even trouble to apologize for their unceremonious entrance.

“This is a business visit!” exclaimed the first, who appeared to act as leader of the others. “We come wid a written invite to a subscription dance that some gentlemen givin’ next week Wednesday at Mrs. Driscole house.”

“You don’t tell me!” cried Susan, delighted with the prospect of something new.

“Yes, see the invite; read it for you’self,” said her friend, shoving into Susan’s hand an open envelope containing a gilt-edged card with letters of gold, which Susan hastily pulled out and perused.

The invitation was addressed to

Miss Susan Proudleigh

and

S. J. Jones, Esq.

and set forth that “A unique entertainment in the form of a refined dance will take place (D.V.) at Mrs. Driscole’s establishment. Your attendance is earnestly requested: subscription, two and a half dollars for males, ladies free if brought by gentlemen. Refreshments will be provided; subscriptions payable three days in advance. Only ladies and gentlemen will be admitted. R.S.V.P.”

The card was signed by four persons describing themselves as “The Dance Committee,” and Susan read it over three times with pleasure. It was the most stylish thing in the way of invitations that had yet come her way, and she argued from the elegant appearance of the invitation card, as well as from the amount of the subscription asked, that the dance would be a very high-class affair indeed.

“Lots of people goin’?” she asked, and the leader of the girls promptly answered:

“Any amount. Invitations post to all parts of the Zone, an’ some young men as far as Empire coming on Wednesday. I take six to deliver meself, an’ I bring yours. You will come?”

“I will try an’ get Sam to bring me,” said Susan; “I would really like to come.”

Then the young women departed to invite other ladies to the dance, and the next day, after talking over the matter with Jones, Susan sent ten shillings to the Dance Committee.

She was glad of the coming diversion. Mackenzie had been removed some three weeks before to Culebra, some forty miles away “up the line,” and Samuel still persisted in spending his evenings with his gaming companions. She could go out when she pleased, and this she often did, but she was now bitterly discontented with Jones. She could not accuse him of positive unkindness, and he was as generous as ever. But she felt that he neglected her, and this she resented. He readily consented to go with her to the dance, however, which pleased her greatly.

Wednesday evening came in due time, and she and Samuel started out early for the dance. It happened to be a fine evening, for Colon; it was warm, but had not rained for a couple of days. There was a moon visible, and a clear blue sky. In spite of these weather conditions Samuel insisted upon driving to Mrs. Driscole’s in a cab, explaining as his reason that it was absolutely necessary to “do the thing in style.”

Mrs. Driscole lived in Bolivar Street, where she made a mysterious living by providing for the amusement of her fellow-creatures. Her floor was at the disposal of anyone with money enough to pay for its use; to-night it was to be utilized by the Dance Committee and their guests, and she had pulled down a partition and thrown two rooms into one, which formed a dance-hall of fairly large size. In this and in two of the adjoining rooms the guests were rapidly assembling when Susan and Jones arrived. Dark ladies clothed in dresses of pink and white and blue, their well-combed hair plaited tightly and tied with white or pink ribbon, their necks and arms laden with silver and even golden ornaments; swarthy gentlemen, some in tweed suits, the more punctilious (and these were not a few) in regulation dress-suits—these formed quite a merry, laughing crowd. Many knew one another. Strangers were formally introduced, then immediately afterwards introduced themselves, and the ceremony proceeded in this fashion:

“Mr. Smith, Miss Brown; Miss Brown, Mr. Smith.”

“Glad to meet you, Miss Brown. My name is Ezekiel Smith.”

“The same I am glad to meet you, Mr. Smith; my name is Rosabella Brown.”

Then they would shake hands politely, and Mr. Smith, or whoever the gentleman might be, would invariably declare that this was the hottest night he had ever known, an opinion with which the lady would invariably agree.

Susan glanced round the ball-room as she entered, her eyes lighting up as she saw so many gaily-dressed people. The room was decorated; the musicians were tuning their instruments. Jones whispered to her that he would shortly return, and went to join some men whom he knew. Susan just then caught sight of the girl who had brought her the invitation, and started to go over to speak to her. Half-way across the room she halted suddenly as a young man turned and looked, surprised, into her face.

“Susan!”

“Tom!”

Thus they greeted one another. Then Susan put out her hand, which Tom shook lightly.

“I knew you was in Colon,” he said at once, but speaking quietly. “You’ sister, Catherine, write me last week to answer a letter I write you about a month ago, an’ which she open an’ read. She said you leave Kingston with a young man named Jones, an’ that you only write them once since you leave home. Susan, you think you treat me fair?”

“What you mean by if I treat you fair?” she asked, almost hissing the words. “From the time you leave home till the time I come to Colon, you ever send anything for me? You only write me one letter, an’ you surely couldn’t expect me to live on wind in Jamaica? If I didn’t come here wid Jones, I might have been dead of starvation by this time.”

Everybody was talking and laughing, and the musicians still were coercing their instruments into the proper pitch of musical perfection. But Susan was uneasy lest they should be overheard.

Her answer staggered Tom for a second or two, but he put the question that had been in his mind ever since he had heard from Catherine: “Well, what you goin’ to do now?”

“Do? What you expect me to do?” was her answer.

He hesitated as to his reply, and she saved him the trouble of replying.

“See here,” she said; “let us understand one another this same time. I don’t want you to make any trouble here between me and Jones, for I not leavin’ him to come to you. Y’u leave me alone in Jamaica, though I beg you hard to bring me wid you. I come here with another young man, who pay me passage an’ been supporting me all the time I am here, an’ so what was between you an’ me is dead an’ gone. I don’t want no sort of confusion here now. Y’u hear?”

Tom Wooley heard and his heart was as water. He subsided, not finding words with which to blame the fickle fair. He had been cruelly used; he felt sure of that. But he knew that he might be still more cruelly used, and by Jones, who, if he might lack Susan’s sharp tongue, might more than make up for that disadvantage by his hard fists. Thomas Wooley was a man of peace when sober, and by no means belligerent when drunk. So he merely answered, “Yes, Susan,” and asked her to point out Jones to him.

That gentleman had already noticed the whispered conference between the two, and was actually going up to them when Tom made his humble request. Susan decided that the best thing to do was to introduce them, and this she did, remarking at the same time that Tom was a friend of her family, and had been very kind to her parents.

As Samuel Josiah heard the name, he remembered what Mother Smith had told him about Tom and Susan on the night before he left Kingston for Colon. The story had long since passed out of his mind. Now also he recalled what his friend, Professor, had said about the case in which Susan had figured, and he observed that Susan was anxious to speak of Tom as a sort of casual friend. Tom Wooley was short, so Jones looked down upon him. And from the lofty standpoint of physical as well as intellectual and financial superiority he condescendingly addressed the young man who had once been Susan’s lover.

“How is it I never see you in Colon before?” was his question.

“I workin’ up the line,” said Tom—“at Pedro Miguel. But I used to be in Colon, an’ as I get an invitation to the dance, I come.”

“I see,” said Jones; “well, come an’ have a drink, Mr. Wooley, which is the best thing we can do when we boys meet together from Jamaica.”

Tom accepted the invitation. Susan heard and was delighted. She was certain that Tom would say nothing about their old relations in Jamaica, and she was equally certain that Jones could know nothing of those relations. Again, she felt, her luck was in the ascendant. Then, some one touched her on the arm, and, turning, she saw Mackenzie.

The two moved quickly to a corner of the room, for the dancers were now preparing to begin a waltz. Mackenzie explained that he had received an invitation to this party, and almost at the last moment had accepted, thinking that Susan would probably be there. He had come over to Colon by a late train. “Sam don’t seem to like me much now,” he remarked; “that’s why I don’t take a run over on a Sunday to see both of you, though I find it sort of lonely up at Culebra.”

Then he asked her to dance, and she consented, and they joined the slowly whirling groups.

The room was terribly warm. Although the windows were all wide open, no breath of wind was stirring that night, and the movements of the dancers in the crowded “ball-room” caused the perspiration to stream from their faces and drench their bodies. Only West Indians would have found pleasure in dancing under such circumstances, and even these felt the discomfort of the heat after a time.

“Lord! it hot!” panted a fat lady as she bounded across the room—they were now dancing a set of lancers. “I suffocate,” giggled a thin creature, as a burly fellow clasped her to his breast. But still the musicians played with undiminished energy, and still the dancers danced. And the stamping of feet upon the floor ceased only when one dance was at an end and a new set was being formed.

Tom had two drinks with Jones, and then returned to the dancing-hall, where he stationed himself against a wall, watching Susan and reflecting on his forlorn state. Those two drinks had reduced him to a maudlin condition, and just then his loss appeared to him as the one calamity of the world, though he had managed to bear it with equanimity since leaving Jamaica. Jones had also returned, had danced once with Susan and once with another lady, and then had adjourned to the refreshment-room, where, on a long table surrounded by chairs, stood a number of bottles containing various liquors, and some huge dishes filled with ham, beef, and chicken sandwiches. A few men were seated round this table, and these Jones joined. Conversation ensued, and this, probably because of the drink imbibed, soon turned to topics connected with their old life in Jamaica. Being Jamaicans, these men had grievances. Being British subjects, their grievances were against the Jamaica Government.

“De Jamaica Government don’t take enough care of we,” observed a heavy-looking man, who, when in Jamaica, had displayed extraordinary ingenuity in evading the payment of his taxes. “We ’ave no protection in dis place, an’ so these foreigners here can treat a Jamaican like a dawg.”

“Thet is a fact,” agreed a dapper little fellow who sported eyeglasses, and who was a clerk in one of the mercantile houses of Colon (he had been a lawyer’s clerk in Kingston). “There is no protection here whatever. A man’s rights are not regarded. The labourers are badly treated and have no redress. Representations should at once be made to the British Government about the Jamaica Government, who are neglectful. It is my intention to write to the Jamaica papers in re the matter.”

Jones at once recognized in this speaker a man of distinguished ability. He asked him to have a drink with him, and then made his contribution to the conversation.

“You are right,” he said. “There is no justice or jurisprudence in this place. I am a British subject, but it’s no use a man going to the British Consul here, for he don’t even want to listen to you.

“It’s more than hard,” he continued reflectively. “A man can’t get a good job in his own country, an’ when he come to a God-forsaken foreign land he has no protection at all. In Jamaica you have to die of starvation, an’ here you lucky if you don’t die of neglect.”

“In Jamaica it is only taxes you hear about all de time,” said the heavy-looking man. (All his remarks invariably gravitated towards the subject of taxation.) “The Gov’nment don’t care what become of you so long as them can get the taxes. It’s a shame!

“Look what them do wid a man down here. I live out at Gatun an’ them won’t even let me keep a female helpmeet in a respectable way. Them want me to married! Now don’t you see that if the Jamaica Government did look after us as it should, all that sort of advantage couldn’t be take of a man?”

“Yes,” assented Jones. “I have a female meself, an’ I have to live in Colon because they won’t let her come to Christobal. They put me to any amount of expense, all for the sake of form.”

“The thruth of the matter,” observed the erstwhile lawyer’s clerk, is this: “the American methods are conducive to immorality. If a man leaves his gurl in Colon, how is he to know that some other fellow is not going after her?” He put the question with an air of conviction. He himself had a great reputation for gallantry, and might be supposed to be speaking from experience.

“You know, you are right!” exclaimed Jones, staring at him with semi-drunken gravity. This aspect of the situation had apparently not occurred to him before. Now, however, it began to loom large in his muddled brain. He grew indignant. He voiced an imaginary wrong. “Fancy,” he cried, “just fancy a man working hard all day an’ supporting a female in comfort an’ proficiency, and another man goin’ to the house in the daytime an’ enjoying himself at my expense!” He foresaw himself being wronged, all through the neglect of the British Government and the faulty methods of the Canal Administration.

“Ah!” sighed the ex-lawyer’s clerk sympathetically, “a man has a lot to put up with in this country. He cannot be too careful. What I say, gentlemen, is: don’t trust any wemen, not even you’ own mother.”

This advice strongly appealed to Jones. It inspired him with a desire to be vigilant. That young man, Tom Wooley, who was even now in the dancing-hail where Susan was—what base designs might he not be harbouring against the domestic peace of Samuel Josiah Jones? He had been warned against Susan. Her friendliness towards Tom was apparent. Yes, he was not being treated fairly, he was sure of it; neither the Government of Jamaica nor Susan was treating him fairly. He became suddenly angry. “Gents,” he said, rising, “I have enjoyed you’ company, but a man must protect himself. An advantage is being taken of poor Samuel. I must go inside an’ look after me rights.”

The heavy man nodded a solemn acquiescence, and Jones, with lurching steps, proceeded to the dancing-hall, where the dancers were now clapping their hands and stamping their feet in a perfect ecstasy of enjoyment.


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