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CHAPTER II CATHERINE LEARNS SOMETHING
Susan was no longer annoyed with her people for their unexpected appearance. Now that it had been decided that they were to live by themselves and do something to earn their living, she felt glad that they had come to Panama. They would not be very far from her; she could go to see them fairly often; the old associations, severed when she left Jamaica, were renewed once more. With her elbows on the table and her entwined fingers supporting her chin, she watched them eat with a pleasant glow of hospitality. “Tell me all about home,” she said. “You ever see Maria?”

“No,” said Catherine; “but I meet Hezekiah one day, an’ him tell me that Maria hear that you married: somebody write from Colon to tell her. She will never get a man to put a ring on her finger. You ever see Tom an’ Jones since you married, Sue?”

“No; I don’t think them ever come up this way; an’ since I married, going eight weeks now, I never leave Culebra once.”

“Jones never write you?” asked her aunt.

“No! Him couldn’t do that. I have nothing more to do wid him.”

“I never did like dat young man,” said Mr. Proudleigh with grave deliberation. “He talk too much, an’ him always using big words dat I couldn’t understand. I never thoughted that you would be happy with him, Sue.”

“Did Jones ever do you anything, pupa?” asked Susan sharply.

“Me? No. Him couldn’t do me anyt’ing. I wouldn’t make him take a liberty wid me!”

“An’ when you used to borrow a shillin’ from him every now an’ then, behind my back, though you know you couldn’t pay him back, he ever refused you?”

This little matter of the loans Mr. Proudleigh had hitherto regarded as an entirely private business arrangement between Samuel Josiah and himself; indeed, he had always prefaced his request for a loan with a speech on the wisdom of not letting one’s left hand know what one’s right hand did. He had never failed to intimate clearly that Susan was one of those symbolical left hands that had always better be kept in ignorance of all important financial transactions between man and man. But now that, to his intense surprise, Susan mentioned his past obligations to Jones, he asserted with assurance, “I goin’ to pay him back every farden. I will write an’ send de money.” An excellent resolution, though he did not trouble to mention when he would write or where the money was to come from.

“Well, seeing that Jones was kind to you in Jamaica, I don’t see why y’u should say you don’t like him,” Susan continued. “We didn’t get on too well sometimes in Colon, for him was a little wild an’ he got into bad company. That is why I leave him an’ married Mackenzie. But I don’t ’ave anything to say against him, for him didn’t stint me in anything, an’ him never ill-treat me.”

“I always liked Mr. Jones, though I never borrow any money from him,” said Miss Proudleigh untruthfully, pleased at being able to get even with her brother for his recent attempt to establish her age at fifty. “He was always polite an’ gentlemanly.”

Mr. Proudleigh had in the meantime filled his mouth to its utmost capacity, with a view of showing that he could not without grave inconvenience take any further part in a conversation which was becoming unpleasantly personal. Catherine had finished eating. Seeing this, Susan invited her into the kitchen, on the excuse that she wished to prepare something for Mackenzie.

“You have it dull, Sue?” asked Catherine, as soon as the two found themselves alone.

“Lord, yes! Every day it is one thing over an’ over. I know some of de people here, but you can’t make a dance when you like, or ’ave much merriment.”

“But you have you’ husband.”

Susan twisted her mouth slightly, a facial contortion which Catherine interpreted as meaning that Mackenzie’s existence did not contribute materially to making life bright at Culebra.

“Mac is all right enough,” Susan explained, “but him is very quiet an’ serious.”

After a moment’s hesitation, she added:

“Jones was livelier.”

“Then why you leave Jones?”

Susan let the question pass.

“Marriage is dull,” she said: “you are not you’ own mistress. It is true you ’ave a honourable position, but what is the good of that if it don’t make you any happier?”

With unconscious inconsistency she continued. “Sam promised to marry me when we was at sea, but he wouldn’t do it afterwards. It would have been better for him if he did keep his word.”

Catherine was looking at her narrowly as she spoke. She saw quite clearly that Susan was not satisfied with her present situation. And yet she was in a position that hundreds would have envied.

“Perhaps if you did wait, Jones would have married you,” Catherine suggested.

“I don’t think so. Him was wild an’ foolish, an’ thought that I care for him so much that I wouldn’t leave him. If he was different I would be with him now, even if him didn’t married me.”

Catherine looked wise. “I always say it is better not to married too quick,” she observed; “for you may find you make a mistake, an’ then you can’t do nothing.”

But here Susan thought that perhaps she had said too much, even to her sister. So she remarked, with emphasis, that, after all, she was very comfortable, and that Mackenzie was kind to her and never quarrelled with her. “I don’t ’ave a word to say against him,” she asserted truthfully.

Then she and Catherine rejoined the others, for she was now expecting her husband at any moment.

He came in presently, glanced inquiringly at Susan, who was about to say who the strangers were, when Mr. Proudleigh, who for a week had been rehearsing a little speech he had prepared to greet Mackenzie with, stood up in haste and unceremoniously interrupted his daughter. The old man had been an Odd Fellow in his younger days, and had frequently figured as “chaplain” in the lodge. He now chose to regard Mackenzie as an embodied Odd Fellows Society, and forthwith addressed him as such:

“My noble king! When first I hear that you married Miss Susan, who is the best daurter I have, an’ when I hear about you from all de people who come back to Jamaica from here—for I can tell you you are well beknown—I say to meself: I will arise an’ never be happy till I see me son-in-law. An’ here I come, though sea-sickness nearly kill me, to welcome you into de fambily; an’ I can tell you at once that I are going to do everything to make you comfortable. We don’t acquainted well yet, but when we are acquaint——”

What would happen when the further acquaintanceship hinted at by Mr. Proudleigh should have developed, will never be known. For just then Mackenzie quietly put a stop to his oratory by remarking:

“So you are Sue’s father? I am glad to see you, sir,” and then shook hands with him.

He greeted Miss Proudleigh and Catherine with similar cordiality, assuring them that he was happy to see them. Then they all sat down.

“Come on a trip, or to do business?” he inquired of Miss Proudleigh, who somehow he took to be the leader of the party.

“Things being bad in Jamaica,” that lady replied, “I took a thought an’ came with me brother an’ niece to see if I could get a little work in Colon. I am a hard-working woman, an’ so long as I can make an honest living, I are satisfied.”

“Quite right,” said Mackenzie; “nothing like independence, ma’am. You goin’ to stop too, sir?” he asked Mr. Proudleigh.

“Well, yes,” said his father-in-law; “I thinks I will. I like up here well; it’s a nice climate.”

“Well, you can stop here a few days; glad if y’u would,” said Mackenzie hospitably, but this limited invitation finally put an end to Mr. Proudleigh’s lingering hope of being invited to stay for good. “I hope Sue been treating you good?” Mackenzie went on, “and that we have something nice fo’ supper. Sue, we must get some beer an’ spend a nice evening. It’s not all times we have friends from home.”

He asked to be excused while he went out to get the beer. Both Catherine and Miss Proudleigh concluded that he was a kind man, easily satisfied, and generous in a thoughtful, cautious sort of way. But Mr. Proudleigh felt that Mackenzie’s invitation to him implied a narrow and unappreciative spirit. Mr. Proudleigh already voted Mackenzie a failure as a son-in-law.

That night they sat up until late discussing the condition of Jamaica. From Mr. Proudleigh’s remarks, a stranger would have gathered that a perfectly peaceful island was just then on the eve of revolution. He did most of the talking, Mackenzie agreeing with what he said with all the politeness of a host.

For four days did the visitors remain at Culebra. Susan tried to prevail upon Catherine to stay with her for good, but that her sister would not do; she was bored at Culebra. She noticed that Susan and Mackenzie seemed to get on very well with one another, and that Mackenzie was apparently quite satisfied with his marriage. But she was convinced that Susan was not. “She don’t love him,” thought Catherine; “she don’t happy. Better she didn’t married.”

But though she felt sorry for Susan, she would not share her loneliness. She went with her father and her aunt to Colon.


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