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BOOK III CHAPTER I THE FAMILY ARRIVES
“This hill really hard to climb, an’ de cramps is troubling me feet so much that it make me feel funny,” said Mr. Proudleigh dolorously.

“The longest journey must hend at last,” his sister consolingly observed, as Mr. Proudleigh halted in the middle of the steep path and gazed upwards at the height which yet remained to be climbed.

“If you did know you couldn’t walk it, pupa, you shouldn’t come,” said Catherine irreverently. “Old people shouldn’t try and do what them know them can’t do.”

“Y’u don’t have no feelings for you’ poor ole father, Kate,” replied Mr. Proudleigh sternly. “If I was a young gal, I would treat the old folkses respectably. There is a commandment in de Bible which say that forty she bear destroy the children that mock at Elijah, and——”

“You are misquoting de Scripture, Jim,” cried his sister; “an’ though Kate should treat you respectfully, which is your own daughter, yet I really thinks you should make an endeavour to reach Susan house before night come down.”

Mr. Proudleigh groaned, but struggled manfully forward. After the party had toiled slowly upwards for another couple of minutes they saw coming towards them two young Americans busily engaged in conversation. When these drew near enough Mr. Proudleigh accosted them, giving them his favourite military salute.

“Gentlemen,” he panted, “can you direct de old man to where Mrs. Susan Mackenzie live? De Lord will bless y’u ef you can render——” But the young men had passed on without even looking at him.

“Well, what manners!” exclaimed Mr. Proudleigh. “Nobody ever treat me like dat before!” With this remark he made a movement as if he would sit down by the roadside, perhaps for the purpose of reflecting on the discourteous treatment just received.

But Catherine was obdurate. “You can’t sit down, pupa,” she insisted, with something of Susan’s severity. “You got to try an’ walk it, even if you tired. An’ don’t ask any more American the way to Susan’s house, for them not going to answer you, an’ it is not to be supposed that them can know where everybody live. If we see a man from Jamaica we can ask him; but we not goin’ to meet anybody if we loiter here.”

Again Mr. Proudleigh groaned, and again he feebly tottered forward, too exhausted now to indulge in any further observation.

Presently they came to more level ground; as they reached this they saw yawning, to their left, a tremendous chasm, into the depths of which they plunged their eyes affrighted, for they had had no idea of what they would come upon. The three of them halted simultaneously, Mr. Proudleigh delighted with any excuse to pause for a moment. They were accustomed to the steep precipices of Jamaica, declivities of a thousand feet and more, with almost sheer perpendicular walls, vast openings in the earth, to peer down into which might make one sick and dizzy. But this was different.

On either side of the great Cut had been carved gigantic terraces, a sort of giant’s stairway, and along the whole length of these terraces, as far as their eyes could reach, were railway lines, and along these lines long trains were passing continuously, and men were everywhere below, moving up and down, and looking like pygmies in the distance.

It was but a small section of the Culebra Cut, and not the busiest, that Mr. Proudleigh and his womenfolk saw that afternoon. Little given as they were to speculation or to thinking, about things that did not directly concern them, they perceived that a great mountain had been cleft in twain by the hand of man, and the wonderful signs of intense energy that the busy scene below presented could not fail to impress them. But not for long. Mr. Proudleigh was weary, and so was more intent just then upon finding out where Susan lived than upon admiring the work that was being carried on before his eyes. Miss Proudleigh, on the other hand, perceived a comparison between the dividing of Culebra Hill and the parting of the waters of the Red Sea for the safe passage of the escaping Israelites. The latter she naturally approved of. But this work on the hill afflicted her mind with misgivings.

“If the Lord did intend the hill to cut in two,” she said, as they resumed their walk, “He would have cut it Himself. But now man think he can improve God’s handiwork, an’ p’rhaps he is only provoking the Lord to wrath.”

“That is so,” her brother agreed; “dis Canal may bring a judgment. If them offer me a job on it, I won’t teck it! What them want to dig out all dis dirt for? I remember that when the Car Company was layin’ de electric car line in Kingston, I dream one night——”

“You will have to both sleep an’ dream out here to-night, sah, if you go on talkin’ foolishness an’ don’t hurry up!” exclaimed Catherine, now thoroughly impatient. “If them didn’t commence diggin’ the Canal, Susan wouldn’t married, an’ you would now be in Jamaica instead of here.”

Viewed as a contributory cause of Susan’s good fortune, Mr. Proudleigh instantly agreed that there was a great deal to be said for the Canal. He would have explained its good points at length, but Catherine absolutely refused to listen. In silence, therefore, they continued upon their way.

They could already see before them a number of wooden buildings, one, two, and three storeys high; it was obvious to them that they were now approaching a town of no inconsiderable size.

They saw people too, and they gladly observed that some of these were coloured men. Catherine undertook to question one of them. Did he know Mrs. Mackenzie? He did not, but thought that Catherine would easily find the person she was seeking if she inquired at the quarters where the coloured people lived. These were a little farther away, and there was nothing for it but that they should proceed thither, without delay.

Mr. Proudleigh would have protested, but even he realized that protests would be of no avail. Happily, they had not a long distance to go. And when the old man caught sight of the neat verandaed wire-screened cottages provided for the skilled coloured employees of the Canal Commission, his spirits revived wonderfully. Catherine soon found some one who knew where Susan lived. This man was kind enough to guide them to the place.

It was a four-roomed single-storey house, built upon high foundations and provided with a comfortable little veranda. Though Susan’s relatives had been expecting to find her comfortably situated, this house was distinctly superior to anything they had imagined she would have. Mr. Proudleigh immediately calculated that in Jamaica its rental value would be at least two pounds a month, and the class of persons who could afford to live in such residences were, from his point of view, very well off indeed. As the front door and windows were closed, Catherine timidly knocked at the door. “Come in,” said a voice, which, they at once recognized.

They opened the door and entered.

Susan was sitting in a rocking-chair, sewing something that looked like a waist. As she caught sight of her visitors she started up with an exclamation.

“Kate! Papee! What’s the matter? Why you come?”

The persons thus addressed faced her a little confusedly. Miss Proudleigh remained in the rear, thus discreetly leaving it to the others to bear the brunt of Susan’s questioning.

“Me dearest daughter!” exclaimed Mr. Proudleigh, evading any direct reply just then by a magnificent display of paternal solicitude, “I can’t tell you how you’ poor ole father is glad to see you! From you leave me in Jamaica I been fretting after you, an’ now to think dat I see you wid me own eye in your own mansion!”

He seated himself as he spoke, somewhat disconcerted to observe that Susan showed no inclination to kiss him, but still continued looking at him and at the others with a puzzled stare.

“What’s the matter?” she asked again. “Where is mammee an’ Eliza? Why y’u come here?”

“Mammee an’ Eliza quite well, Sue,” said Catherine. “Them both remain behind in Jamaica.” She paused, leaving it to the others to explain why they had come to Panama. She had followed her father’s example and sat down. So had Miss Proudleigh.

“The sea voyage was very rough, Susan,” remarked the latter lady, as though a recital of her sufferings would sufficiently explain her reason for coming to Panama, as well as relieve the obvious embarrassment of the situation. “I never was so sea-sick before. I couldn’t move for a whole day.”

“Nor me,” asseverated Mr. Proudleigh promptly. “I never sick like dat before. I thought I would vomit me heart out, an’ de more I sick, the more de vessel roll. But I comfort meself wid the reflections that I would soon see me own daurter again, who was married to a noble gentleman; an’ when I dwelted upon that, it sort of seem to me that I didn’t sick so much.”

He glanced at Susan’s face to see how this authentic account of the effect of fatherly affection on sea-sickness had appealed to her. Not very much encouraged by her look, he hurried on.

“I nearly died; nevertheless, thanks be to God, I survive me agonies, an’ now that I see you once more, I can die in peace. You remember dat old man in the Scriptures, Sue, who say, ‘Lord, now let Thy servant depart in peace’?——”

“You mean to tell me, pupa, that you only come here to see me, and then die afterwards?” demanded Susan.

“Well, not exactly, Sue, for I are not prepared fo’ death.”

“Then what y’u come for?”

Driven to his last ditch, Mr. Proudleigh determined to offer no defence, but to cast himself upon the enemy’s clemency.

“Sue,” said he pathetically, “you don’t appears to be glad to see me. But if it was you who did come to Jamaica, I would have killed the fatted calf for you.” This reference to the fatted calf was not only intended to convince Susan that she would have been welcomed by him, but also to indicate that bodily refreshment would be most acceptable at that moment.

Susan would not immediately take the hint. But she had by now recovered from her first feeling of astonishment and was beginning to be glad to see some of her people once more. She knew her father and her aunt, however; she was well aware that they would have written to tell her of their coming had they thought she would have approved of the reason for it. She was still suspicious; they had as yet explained nothing. She turned to Catherine with a view of getting at the bottom of the mystery at once, when her father, as if suddenly inspired, started out without further circumlocution on the perilous path of truth.

“The fact of de matter, Sue,” he said, “is that I did always want to come to Colon. An’ when I got you’ letter that say you was going to married, an’ receive the five pounds, for which God is goin’ to bless you, if Him don’t bless you already, I say to you’ mother: ‘I am goin’ to follow me daurter to Colon an’ keep her company, for she must be lonely.’ An’ I tell them to sell the things in the little shops, which was not doin’ too well since you lefted us, an’ I advise them all to come wid me. But you’ mother misjudge you, an’ say you wouldn’t like it; but I know you wouldn’t mind, for it is me that bring you up since you was born, an’ look after you, an’ train you in the way you should go, an’ I persuaded meself that you was not goin’ to be ungrateful. But you’ mother wouldn’t come, an’ Eliza had to stay wid her; but your aunt and Kate come with me, an’ they are sensible, for you always hear me say I would like to come to Colon, an’ if you didn’t want me to come you wouldn’t send five pounds for me in you’ letter.”

“Then you mean to tell me, pupa,” cried Susan, “that—that y’u come here to live in this house, an’ didn’t even write to tell me?”

“We wanted to give you a pleasant surprise, Sue,” said Miss Proudleigh, to whom prevarication did not appear as a heinous offence.

“You mean you know that I wouldn’t want you to come, so you keep it secret!” exclaimed Susan. “I never hear of such a madness before. What y’u going to do now? You can’t stay here: Mackenzie wouldn’t like it.”

Catherine had been fearing some such announcement. Now, in self-defence, she said, “I didn’t want to come, Sue.”

“But you are more all right than pupa an’ Aunt Deborah,” said Susan. “You are young an’ can work; an’ I don’t think Mackenzie would mind if you stay with me. But Aunt Deborah an’ papee shouldn’t come here at all, for them don’t have much use for old people in this country.”

“Hexcuse me, Susan,” said Miss Proudleigh with impressive dignity, “but I objects to being called old. I am only forty.”

“I thought you was fifty,” said Susan rudely.

“You right, Sue!” exclaimed Mr. Proudleigh. “I am sixty year of age, an’ I remember the very day you’ aunt was born. I don’t see why she want to hide ’er age; age is no disgrace, an’ if a ooman keeps herself respectfully she should have no concealment from her fambily. Now, when you’ aunt was born——”

Shocked by the desertion of Mr. Proudleigh at a moment when it was vital that the invading forces should present a solid front to the enemy, Miss Proudleigh deemed it advisable to leave the age question severely alone and adopt a pacific attitude before her brother should adduce the damaging testimony of days and dates against her. She cut him short with a diplomatic remark.

“I am not young an’ strong like you, Sue,” she said, with a propitiatory smile, “an’ the Lord have not blessed me like you, though I am not ungrateful for His manifold kindness. But I didn’t come here to live on you. Things is very hard in Jamaica, an’ as I know that you married an’ have influence over here, I thought as you might help me to get a little dressmakin’ or washing so as to keep me independent. I don’t want anything but work.”

“Nor me,” said Catherine sturdily. “Nobody can tell me that I can’t make a good living in Panama, though I couldn’t be a servant.”

Mr. Proudleigh said nothing. Now that the talk was of work, and he was actually in Panama, he did not care to remind anyone that while in Jamaica he had never lost an opportunity of proclaiming his readiness to earn his own living whenever the chance of so doing should present itself to him.

But Susan wasn’t thinking of his capabilities just then. In her aunt’s suggestion she saw a way out of the difficulty. “You can get plenty of washin’ if you want it,” she said quickly, “either up here or in Colon. You an’ pupa will ’ave to live together by you’self, but Kate can stop with me.”

“I prefer to go back to Colon,” said Kate. “I like what I see of it, an’ this place look dull.”

“It dull for true!” agreed Susan, “an’ though I would like you to stay with me, I know Colon livelier than up here.”

Mr. Proudleigh, who had been secretly hoping to spend at least some months in the comparative calm of Culebra, did not approve of the suggestion that he should live with his sister or that he should return to Colon. Nor did he like Susan’s reference to the dullness of the labour town in which she lived. It did not argue a contented mind. The house she was mistress of, the furniture she possessed, the leisure she evidently enjoyed seemed to him enough to make any woman happy for the rest of her life, especially if to all these things could be added the blessing of a father’s presence and words of cheer.

“You should be very comfortable, Sue,” he suggested. “A young married ooman like you shouldn’t have a thing to fret her.”

“Don’t you are now a member of society, Sue?” asked her aunt.

“Yes; I belong to de Baptist church up here, an’ I going to join the choir.”

“And don’t you’ husband treat you good?” inquired her father.

“Of course! I didn’t say him didn’t!”

This sharp answer, given in the form of a threatening question, checked at once the impending flow of Mr. Proudleigh’s interrogatory. But further to prevent any more personal inquiries, and remembering that her relatives must be hungry, Susan invited them into the dining-room, where they found a table covered with a clean cloth, a meat-safe, and a few chairs. She took some cold food out of the meat-safe and placed it before them, offering the older folk, in addition, a little Jamaica rum, which Mackenzie always kept in the house. This they drank at once, Mr. Proudleigh secretly hoping for a further supply of the same liquor. He expressed his astonishment at the thirst created by the Panamanian climate, then prepared himself to dine.


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