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CHAPTER VI JONES DEMONSTRATES
Jones entered the room with a stride that was intended to be impressive. Unhappily, the one or two persons who observed it merely laughed, and this did not tend to sweeten his temper. He glared round the room, and presently saw Susan dancing with some one he did not know; his eyes searched the company again. He was looking for Tom; the desire uppermost in his mind just then was once and for all to prevent that young man from ever thinking of Susan in the light of a lover, or even as a friend. “This thing got to stop at once,” he muttered. “I must demonstrate.”

What he intended to do, precisely what steps he proposed to take to banish all amorous thoughts or conjugal ambitions from the mind of the offending Tom Wooley, he did not know himself. He was perfectly satisfied that just then he was bent upon the accomplishment of an utterly heroic task; something had to be done and he was the man to do it. He smiled proudly as he thought of his entire devotion to duty. His eyes soon found the man he was looking for.

Tom was still leaning against the wall, and still engaged in following Susan’s movements with reproachful glances. The influence of those two drinks was upon him still, and he too imagined that he presented a romantic figure, that his appearance at that moment constituted an eloquent appeal even to hard-hearted Sue. She had seen him all the time without appearing to do so. Now and then her upper lip curled with conscious contempt. Susan had no respect for the lover sighing like a furnace; such a man was “too soft,” in her opinion.

It happened that Jones caught sight of Tom at a moment when the latter’s gaze was more than usually ardent. Susan was whirling by her ex-intended at the moment, and her eyes caught his; the next moment she was a couple of yards away. But Jones saw what he instantly believed to be an exchange of meaning glances. Straightway he became convinced that a most dishonest plot was being hatched against his domestic happiness.

Nothing could, in his opinion, surpass the dignity with which, to the intense amazement and confusion of the dancers, he strode across the room towards where Tom was standing. He shouldered the men aside, brushed the women away as if they did not count, disturbed and brought to an abrupt termination the dancing, and so, of course, aroused the ire of a score of persons at once. Notwithstanding his tremendous dignity, he found the maintenance of his equilibrium a task of exceeding difficulty; he could not for the life of him understand why the floor was so uneven and why the electric lights would persist in moving out of place. Nevertheless he succeeded in planting himself before Tom, and then, with portentous solemnity, and unheeding the indignant wonder of the guests, he addressed his rival.

“Mr. Wooley,” said he, “I don’t want no quarrel to mar the felicity of this festivity; but I shall have to interrogate you on one point: where did y’u know Susan from?”

Tom was startled, both by the question put to him and by the attitude of the questioner. At the moment his mind was unpleasantly dominated by a sense of Jones’s height and strength. He discreetly answered, “From home.”

“I know you must know her from home,” replied Jones severely, “for I am not a fool, though you seem to take me for one. But . . . but that is not the question. The position is this: what did you have to do wid her at home?”

Tom realized that it might not be safe to tell the truth. He hurriedly explained that he had known Susan casually, through her being a friend of his sister—a being of hitherto unknown existence.

“But how,” persisted Jones, with a cunning leer, “how if she was only an acquaintance through you’ sister, you could take such a interest in her parents? She didn’t tell me anything about you’ sister a little while ago. An’ a man like you isn’t going to be friendly with old people for nothing.”

Tom saw that his questioner was trying to trap him, that Jones entertained suspicions which evasive answers might only inflame. Tom noticed too that an astonished group had gathered round them, and that the men especially did not seem to be kindly disposed towards Jones. He became defiant.

“What right have you to ask me any question about meself?” he demanded, endeavouring at the same time to edge away from Jones.

“What right I have?” asked Jones, as if the question were an act of high treason. “What right I have? Well! What right have you to be here? That is what I got to know to-night. Y’u think I didn’t see you when you was whispering to Susan before she introduce your miserable carcase to me? What right I have to ask you any question? I will soon tell you! Come outside an’ let me beat the skin off you’ body! Come outside and let me gyrate upon your personality! I will show you the difference between me and a—a——” But here Samuel Josiah lost the thread of his speech, and could not remember the comparison he wished to institute. Nothing, however, would satisfy him but that Tom should immediately proceed outside to undergo corporal punishment, and as Mr. Wooley firmly declined that invitation, Jones abruptly grabbed him by his shirt collar, proposing to remove him by sheer force.

This of course was the signal for an uproar. A dozen men sprang forward to drag Jones away; the women shrieked in fright; Susan, terror-struck at the attitude of Jones, uttered the word which rose so easily to the lips of all frightened Jamaican women—“Murder!” A peremptory rap at the outer door, followed by the tramp of feet, was the immediate answer to the clamour and exclamation.

Jones, confused, and, if the truth must be told, not a little frightened himself, stared around him in bewilderment. Tom, seeing so many friends at his side, became heroically valiant and manfully glared at his foe from behind an impregnable barricade of two strong men. But his look of defiance gave place to one of fear when three diminutive-looking persons entered the room. They were dressed in the uniform of the Panamanian policia.

The insignificant size of these policemen gave no indication of their ferocity when roused to anger. They had been feeling of late that it was incumbent upon them to do something which should show how thoroughly they realized their obligation to maintain law and order. They had heard the cry of “murder,” they knew it came from Mrs. Driscole’s house. At once they determined to make an example of her and of some of her guests, being moved to that moral determination by the certainty of the prisoners being able to pay to the Republic a fine, and of Mrs. Driscole herself effecting a compromise with them in so far as her share in the disorder was concerned.

The moment the guests caught sight of the policemen, they rapidly made a lane through which the little men could advance towards the offenders. It is regrettable to relate that so anxious were one or two of the company to escape even the appearance of evil that they did not hesitate to point out Jones and Tom as the culprits to the preservers of the peace.

The two young men were sensible enough not to make any effort to move or to resist, being aware of the Panamanian policemen’s habit of arguing with their clubs instead of with words. As for Mrs. Driscole, she appeared on the scene, fat, trembling, obsequious, and protesting volubly in broken Spanish that she was innocent of any intention of breaking the laws of the Republic. As she implored the policemen to come back the next day, so as to give her the opportunity of proving her innocence, they left her alone. They knew she would be able to offer substantial proof (in specie) of her ignorance of any crime with which she might be charged. But they had already found Jones and Tom guilty, and so they motioned these towards the door with some not very gentle prods from their clubs.

This indignity brought tears to the eyes of Jones. Only in the last resort would a Jamaica policeman have ventured to enter a private house when a dance was going on. And the most he would have done, in the absence of visible wounds, would have been to take the names of the proprietor and the parties accused of disturbing the peace. Yet here was he, Samuel Josiah Jones, being dragged off to gaol by men he would have laughed at in Jamaica!

In his excitement he completely forgot Susan, who was at that moment almost frantic with terror. She knew nothing about Panamanian law, and, of course, feared the worst. Sam might be sent to prison without the option of a fine; she herself might be arrested as the first cause of the quarrel. It was Mackenzie who came to her rescue. He had not interfered with the young men; he had been keeping his eye on Susan all the time. When Tom and Jones had been taken away he went up to her. “You better come home,” he said.

When they got outside, she broke down completely.

“You think him will go to prison, Mr. Mac?” she asked, between her sobs.

“Prison? what for?” said Mackenzie. “Them can only fine him to-morrow; that’s all.”

“But what about his job?” said Susan, who never quite lost sight of the financial aspect of any question.

“His job is all right,” Mackenzie replied. “What happen in Colon don’t concern the people in de Zone.”

“Then I don’t too sorry him gone to the calaboose,” said Susan spitefully. “Him is always boasting an’ thinking him can do what him like! To-night will teach him a good lesson.”

“Jones have no lesson to learn, Miss Sue,” said Mackenzie sententiously. “He is a young man that will always get himself in trouble. Him talk too much. What did he want to fight the other young man for to-night?”

“Because I did know Tom from home,” replied Susan.

“You was friendly wid him?” asked Mackenzie bluntly.

“Yes.”

“Did Jones know?”

“No; I will tell you why I didn’t tell him.”

She told Mackenzie quite truthfully all about Tom. “There was no occasion for Sam to go on like that to-night,” she added in conclusion; “I wasn’t goin’ to ’ave anything to do with Tom. I am not that sort of gurl, Mr. Mac; if I have one intended I stick to him. But Sam not behaving himself now, an’ I going back home to Jamaica.”

They had arrived at her home. Afraid to be left alone, yet also fearing that if Mackenzie went in with her there might be some talk about it amongst the neighbours of a suspicious turn of mind, she stopped and hesitated.

“It is late,” said Mackenzie, “but I want to have a talk with you, so I will come in for a little.” After this, of course, she could say nothing.

“You mean to tell me,” he said, as he sat down, “that Jones not goin’ on no better than before?”

“No, Mr. Mac; him gamble too much, an’ stay out late every night. He won’t hear what I say to him at all.”

“What you goin’ to do?”

“I make up me mind. I am goin’ back to Jamaica.”

He was silent for the space of a minute. Then:

“Instead of goin’ back, why don’t you get married?” he asked.

The proposal was made so simply—for Susan understood it as such quite well—that it took her breath away. She knew that Mackenzie liked her, but it had never occurred to her that he would ever want to marry her. He had been a good friend, but had never shown any sentiment; he had even tried to induce Jones to keep in her good graces. Now that she had said that she was returning to Jamaica (though, in spite of her emphatic words, she was not at all sure that she meant it)—only now did Mackenzie reveal his innermost feelings.

She was surprised. Confused too, for she did not quite know what answer to give. She began picking at an end of her handkerchief with her teeth, while she revolved in her mind this strange, unexpected turn of events. Marriage meant a great deal to her. It would give her position, security . . . and she had more than sufficient excuse for leaving Jones.

Nevertheless she hesitated to agree. Mackenzie was fully twice her age. She liked him as a friend, not as she had liked Samuel; and marriage—that was very different from an engagement.

“If you go back to Jamaica, what y’u going to do?” Mackenzie asked, seeing that she could not make up her mind.

“I don’t know,” she answered frankly.

Mackenzie was well aware of the importance of the proposal he had made. It was much to offer marriage to Susan, for though she was good-looking and a capable housewife, and would easily find some one to take care of her if she deserted Jones and remained in Panama, there were not many men in his position who might be willing to marry her. And if she returned to Jamaica her chances of a comfortable living would not be many. But he also knew that Jones was a much younger man than he, a more dashing kind of man; and perhaps Susan would prefer another of the same type, even though he might not offer her marriage. He, Mackenzie, however, would not break his heart if Susan refused him. There was not much passion in his composition.

Susan remembered how Jones had promised to marry her, and then had broken his promise. She had never quite forgiven him that. Then the habit of drinking might grow upon him. She was well aware that he drank, not so much through inclination, as from a desire to vie with others who did so. His ambition was to be considered “a sport,” but he might become a drunkard. And she had no claim upon him.

Mackenzie was a steady man. If she married him, she could become a member of a church. That would mean a definite rise in the social scale; her respectability would then be beyond challenge, beyond question. The ring on her finger would be the outward and visible sign of her right to respectful treatment on earth below, and also the promise of an uninterrupted passage to heaven in the unfortunate event of death. When she had thought of all these things she came to a provisional decision.

“I can’t answer you right away, Mr. Mac,” she said, “for it is like dis. When a gurl goin’ to take a step like marriage it is right she should think well what she doin’. Don’t I right?”

Mackenzie nodded his agreement.

“Well, then, I will write y’u on Friday an’ tell you me answer. I know you will treat me kind, Mr. Mac.”

“Tell you what we better do, then,” said Mackenzie, who believed in businesslike arrangements. “If you write me on Friday morning, I will get the letter during the day. If it is all right, I will get a licence from de judge at Culebra, an’ he will perform the ceremony when you come. When you think you will come?”

“Saturday. But I would prefer a parson to marry me.”

“That not easy, for we don’t have time. The judge married almost everybody in de Zone. You going to tell Jones?”

“No! Why you ask dat?”

“I don’t see why you shouldn’t tell him. Him would only talk an’ bluster, but him is not the sort of man to do anything. Howsoever, follow you’ own mind.”

He said good night without any attempt at endearment. Susan saw him downstairs; it was very late. Being much too tired to do any thinking, she went to bed and fell asleep, spitefully hoping that Jones would reflect upon his conduct all night in the calaboose of Colon.



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