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CHAPTER VII SUSAN’S LAST EFFORT
On the following morning Jones was fined ten dollars for a breach of the peace—a light sentence, since the police had at first been inclined to charge him with attempted murder. Tom escaped with a fine of five dollars, presumably because he had not been murdered; and both men were severely warned that the next time they appeared before the court it would go hard with them, and that in the meantime the police would be instructed to keep an eye upon them.

In addition to this Samuel lost half a day’s pay, to say nothing of some hours in a cell shared by insects which vigorously disputed its possession with him.

It was an embittered Jones that went home that afternoon. His friends, instead of going to bail him, had avoided the vicinity of the calaboose; Susan herself had not come near him. He had been deserted by those who should have rallied to his cause, though he himself would have stood by them to the end. He solemnly swore that he never again would put his faith in Jamaicans.

Susan waited until he had voiced his complaints, and had eaten his dinner. Then she opened her attack.

“Sam, you not ashamed of you’self?”

He was, but was not prepared to admit it. That would be a lowering of his dignity. “What for?” he asked her sullenly.

“That you goin’ on in this way to make me fret. You quarrel, an’ fight, an’ drink, an’ gamble, an’ won’t hear what I say. You think you goin’ on right?”

“But what is all this for now?” he demanded angrily. “Instead of feeling vex that them wanted to hang me without a trial in Colon, you begin to ask me all sort of foolish question. You want to provoke me?”

“I don’t want to provoke y’u, but I am going to ask you one plain question. Don’t you think you should try to behave you’self now, an’ marry me, after you bring me to Colon an’ make me mind disturbed night an’ day? Suppose the policeman did kill you last night: what position I would be into to-day?”

“You mean to say you going back to all that foolishness again, Susan?” he cried, scandalized by her persistence in stupidity. “I am not going to talk about marriage, an’ as I can’t have peace in this place, I am going out.” Then, before Susan could make any further remark, he seized his hat and left the room in a temper.

Then Susan locked the door, took pen, ink, and paper out of one of her cupboards, and sat down to write. She had given Samuel a last chance. He had answered her as he had done before. In a sentence or two she informed Mackenzie that she would leave Colon for Culebra by the second train on Saturday morning.

Then she indicted a letter to her father. This was an important epistle, for she calculated upon its being shown to a large number of persons in Kingston. She informed her father that “When these few lines come to hand, hoping it will reach you in the same good health it leave me, your affectionate daughter will be Mrs. John Mackenzie, for I am going to married to a nice gentleman working with the American people up at Culebra. Jones is too bad. He meet Tom the other night at a dance, and make a row and I have to fret too much. But I wouldn’t leave him all the same if I wasn’t a girl that like religion as you brought me up, and beside it is an honourable life to get married. Tell Kate and Eliza them must follow my example, for God bless me and smile on me, and I have everything I want and Mackenzie care for me, otherwise him wouldn’t want to put a ring on me finger. If it wasn’t that I always fear the Lord this good luck wouldn’t happen to me, and I going to pray for all of you. Tell Kate and Eliza them mustn’t keep any bad company in Kingston, and make Maria and her old obeah mother know that I married, for it will hurt them. Tell mammee and Aunt Deborah that I will rite them.—Yours truly loving daughter,

“Susan.”

 

Then an idea occurred to her, and she added a postscript.

“I send some money for all of you out of what I save. It is a wedding present.”

This wedding present consisted of five pounds. Only once before had she written to her people, and then she had enclosed three pounds. She thought, and rightly, that she was acting generously by them.

She regarded this composition with no little pride, then, though fatigued by such unwonted mental exertion, she proceeded to compose another letter. It was brief and to the point.

“Dear Sam,—When I ask you Thursday evening after you leave the jail if you was going to keep your promise on board ship and marry me you say no. Alright then. I am obliged to leave you for I am going to marry another gentleman who you know. Mr. Mac has been good to me, and when you get this letter I will be Mrs. Mackenzie, but if you did behave yourself I wouldn’t go away from you but it is all your own fault.—Yours affectionate,

“Susan Proudleigh.”

She folded these letters, enclosed them in envelopes, and carefully addressed them. She would post Mackenzie’s that evening. To-morrow she would buy postal orders for five pounds and then register the letter to Jamaica; in the meantime the letters that were to be posted the next day were carefully locked away by her in a little box which she kept at the bottom of her trunk. Susan had carefully observed how absconding wives acted in moving-picture dramas. These wrote their last farewells in the space of five seconds, read them over with frowning brows, sealed them, and placed them in a most conspicuous position in order that they should not by any possibility be overlooked. A wife of this type would scarcely have left the house before the husband would return, and there, on the table, would be the letter waiting for him, as large as life. But he never saw it at once. Some occult influence, apparently, kept his eyes away from it. He would look round the room, search the ceiling for the missing one, scrutinize the floor, survey the atmosphere, and would be on the point of leaving the room when his eye would fall upon the table and the letter would be seen. This procedure would probably give him just sufficient time to rush into the street, summon the motor-car that always attends upon the movements of repentant husbands, and dash off to the railway station or the ship’s dock, or the house to which his wife had fled. A second more and he would have been too late. In the moving-picture world, however, time itself is subordinate to the imperious demands of domestic felicity, and the reconciliation takes place dramatically with a public embrace.

That Jones might rush to the railway station, she knew. But instead of a reconciliation there might be a quarrel. There might be an arrest. She concluded that she would post Sam’s letter at one of the stations at which the train would stop while on the way to Culebra; by the time he received it she would have been already married. She went out and posted Mackenzie’s letter, called on a friend to discuss the scene of the preceding night, and returned home to find Samuel waiting for her.

He was much earlier than usual. The truth is, he was still very much frightened and wished to run no further risks with vigilant policemen. He had opinions to express, and he sought the security of his own dwelling to give utterance to them; Susan gathered from his remarks that he would very much like to hoist the standard of revolution in the Republic of Panama, summoning thereto all the West Indians who suffered under the tyranny of the laws. A Jamaican named Preston had many years before been prominently identified with a revolutionary movement in this same country. All Jamaica had rung with his name. Jones’s idea was annexation; Panama should be taken by West Indians for the British Crown, the Protestant religion should be firmly established, the natives, and especially that portion of them attached to the Police Force, should be put in their proper places. Sir Henry Morgan had once burnt the old city of Panama. And Sir Henry had done it with men from Jamaica. “If that could be done in the old days,” said Jones, “we could do more now that we are stronger. A couple of English man-o’-war would soon show them a thing or two!”

But presently he was assailed by doubts as to the part the British Government would consent to play in such a laudable enterprise. He was not sure that England was alive to her opportunities in this part of the world. He confided his misgivings to Susan, who saw in his ambitions clear evidence of a desire for further trouble. But she quietly agreed with everything he said, which pleased him immensely. He noticed too that she did not even remotely approach again the perilous question of marriage. She seemed to accept the existing situation as permanent. In an outburst of confidence he passed from Imperialistic aspirations to her own affairs, and told her how he had been accosted by an old woman on the night before leaving Kingston, who had warned him about her and Tom Wooley.

“That was Mother Smith,” said Susan. “She wanted to injure me.”

“But she has not accomplished her purpose,” he graciously replied; “an’ between you and I an’ the door, I sorry I make a fool of myself last night over a little fellow like Tom Wooley. The fact is, I was drunk. I know you wouldn’t leave Samuel Josiah for anybody here: love me too much! An’ nothing anybody say will make me leave you.”

That closed the conversation. He did not notice that Susan said nothing in answer to these remarks.

Friday night came, the last she was to pass under that roof. Something unusual happened. After dinner, Jones announced that he was not going out, and for an instant she wondered, startled, if he had any inkling of her plans. But her mind was soon at ease. Samuel had not recovered from the effects of those few hours in gaol. He had received a lesson; he did not wish for a repetition. He drank nothing: drinking was largely a matter of show and bravado with him. He had purchased some Jamaica newspapers that day, and diligently read the news while she sat idle, thinking of the plan she would carry out in the morning. Even his views on the annexation of Panama were not mentioned.

Saturday morning came. Had Jones been an observant man he might have noticed that Susan was unusually nervous, and that she bade him “good-bye” when he was going out to work. She watched him go, then hastily made her final preparations. She packed all the things she needed into a trunk and a straw “grip,” ran downstairs, summoned a cab, had her trunk brought down, and gave the key of her apartment to a neighbour, whom she asked to hand it to Samuel when he should come home that afternoon. Then she drove to the railway station at Christobal, half-fearing, half-wishing that Jones might see her. In a few minutes she had passed through the iron gates of the station and had taken her seat in a second-class carriage of the train.

She was conscious now of a strange sensation somewhere about her heart. There was a tightening there; there was a lump in her throat; the inclination was strong upon her to quit the train, to turn back, to leave marriage and Mackenzie alone. She was nervous, excited, but she did not feel happy. In a vague kind of way she realized that she was cutting herself off from the past, entering a new life. . . .

The train moved out of the station. It gathered speed and flew towards Culebra. She looked out of the window, seeing the long low range of buildings in which lived the coloured employees of the railway; she saw the verandas on which the clothes were hung out to dry, where the food was cooked, where fruit of all kinds was exposed for sale and healthy-looking children played to their hearts’ content. Soon the train was running through the swamp outside of Colon and on the mainland of Panama. Long grass grew in the black water, a thick jungle where fever lurked, and deadly tarantulas and all sorts of evil things; but the swamp was passed and now green pastures appeared, and in the distance she could catch a glimpse of green low-lying hills.

The train stopped every now and then at the Labour Towns along the route. Masses of wooden buildings clung to hill-sides, the forest grew beyond them, defiant, the riotous vegetation of this strip of tropical America striving ceaselessly with man for the mastery. These towns seemed alive with workers, there was activity everywhere, an eternal movement. And every now and then an almost interminable train of cars; laden with rocks and earth dug out of the great Cut at Culebra, would rush at full speed by her train with a thunderous deafening roar.

On and on, through the forest. Monteliro was reached, and here she asked a fellow-passenger who had arrived at his destination to post Sam’s letter for her. Frijoles, and now she saw the turbulent Chagres, the problem of the Canal Administration’s engineers, rolling peacefully, a broad and shining river, between its verdant banks. It stretched away into the distance, travelling through a luxuriant country to the sea, its surface lighted up by the sun and breaking into iridescent flashes of silver light.

She saw it all, but half unconsciously. The nature of the ground began to change. The soil was red; low, rounded hills went rising one after another to the far-off horizon; the towns were becoming more numerous too, each one of them a cluster of slate-roofed buildings with well-constructed streets and paths winding in and out amongst them.

San Pablo, Gorgona, Matachin; the land was rising now. Black earth and huge black rocks proclaimed the volcanic nature of the soil. The country became more open, the forests had disappeared. She was nearing Empire. The next station after that would be Culebra. There Mackenzie would be waiting for her; there, in at the latest a couple of hours hence, she would become Mrs. Mackenzie. That thought had never left her mind; it now obsessed her to the exclusion of every other thought. So she was actually going to be married! It was not the sort of wedding she would have preferred, not the sort of ceremony she would have had in Jamaica. In that country the bridegroom would have hired three carriages at least; and six bridesmaids, all dressed in white, would have waited upon her in the church. And all the guests would have been gaily attired; the women unaffectedly excited, the men striving to show how imperturbably serene they could be even in the face of such a crisis. She pictured the scene; her triumphal parade in a carriage to the church, with the black-coated man beside her who was to give her away—her father, of course, though she did not think he became the position well. She was beautifully dressed; a long veil flowed over her head and shoulders; in her right hand she carried a huge bunch of lilies and white roses. The ceremony over, she returned with her husband to the house where the wedding feast was prepared. As she appeared at the door a choir of female voices, led by her friend, Cordelia Sampson, burst into song—“Let us open the Door to the Children, the Door of the Kingdom of Heaven.” Then would come the congratulations, and inquiries would be made of the spinsters as to when they would follow her good example and make a few men supremely happy; something which, as Susan knew, they were quite ready to do at any moment, the only obstacle being the reluctance of the men to be made happy.

And then the wedding feast. She saw the long decorated table covered with cakes and sweets and glasses, and at the head of it all, towering above everything else, the bridal cake. Behind this cake stood herself and her husband, but he did not resemble Mackenzie. His face, his form, his voice, his language, his gestures, were those of Jones; it was Jones who had met her at the church door, Jones who had said, “I will,” Jones who was with her now, ready to respond to the toast to the bride and bridegroom. The speeches were stereotyped: she already knew them by heart. She and her husband were likened first to a pair of turtle-doves, then afterwards to a pair of white pigeons, the winged creation figuring prominently as types of matrimonial constancy and bliss. Then Isaac and Rebecca would be mentioned, and some ambitious speaker, anxious to excel in oratory, but rather weak in scriptural knowledge, might compare them to Ananias and Sapphira. Eventually she and her husband would leave while the dancing was going on, first taking care to make such desperate efforts to escape unobserved that the departure would become as public as a well-advertised show. There would be a shower of rose petals, a chorus of cries——

“Culebra!”

The train stopped. Looking down upon the station and the railway line was a large building the veranda of which was adorned with a flowering vine. And other buildings beside and behind this one, and steps cut, into the high sloping bank which led up to them. Scores of people were hastily descending from the train at this station, she amongst them. She looked round. “The train arrive in time to-day,” said Mackenzie pleasantly.

That afternoon she became Mrs. Mackenzie.



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