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CHAPTER III THE MEETING
It had been arranged that Susan should go to see her people as soon as they had settled down in Colon: two weeks later she set out on the journey to the little town she knew so well and missed so much. She started in the forenoon, her plan being to spend the night in Colon and return to Culebra the next day. In less than two hours she arrived, and, taking a cab, drove to the house where her relatives now lived, they having written to give her the address.

She was effusively welcomed by them. They had two small apartments in one of the numerous tenement buildings of Colon. Miss Proudleigh, although preferring dressmaking as a more genteel occupation, had become a private laundress, as more money could be made that way. She had hired a girl to help her; particularly, to go for and to take home the clothes, for that neither she nor Catherine would consent to do. Catherine assisted with the ironing. They were pleased to find that they earned four or five times as much at this work as they would have done in Jamaica. This almost compensated for the menial character of the work. Mr. Proudleigh discovered elements of dignity in it. His only contribution was gratuitous advice.

Catherine had news for Susan.

“Guess who I meet in Colon, Sue?” was her first remark, after Susan had taken off her hat.

“Jones!” said Susan instantly.

“He an’ Tom. Them tell me all about the row, an’ Jones come here sometimes during the day an’ in the evening. Him may come here to-day,” she concluded, with a glance at her sister to see how she took the news.

Susan felt her heart leap as Catherine mentioned the possibility of Jones’s calling at the house while she was there. But she affected indifference.

“I don’t want to see him,” she said; “but it won’t matter.”

“Of course not,” observed her aunt, “for you are a lawfully married woman now.”

“An’ nobody can take dat from you,” Mr. Proudleigh insisted, as though some attempt to rob Susan of her married state was not at all unlikely.

“Nobody need try,” laughed Susan, pluming herself upon being Mrs. Mackenzie; “I have me marriage certificate.”

“That is a very good thing to have,” Mr. Proudleigh agreed. “But y’u needn’t fret that Jones won’t treat you respectful in dis house: he have to! But I must tell you, Sue, that him is a very decent young man. He confine to me all his troubles; an’ I must really tell you that I thinks y’u treat him hard, for he is a noble young man.”

From these remarks Susan gathered that Jones was once more advancing to her father small loans, to be repaid at a hypothetical future date. The old financial relations had been re-established between the two men. But she was not displeased to hear her father speak highly of Samuel. She did not even resent the old man’s mild reproach.

When twelve o’clock came, she found herself anxiously wondering whether Jones would call that day. From twelve to two o’clock he would not be working; he would have ample time for a visit. Her aunt and Catherine were ironing on that part of the veranda upon which their rooms opened. She sat on the veranda talking to them, and every now and then she would glance down into the street to see if anyone she knew was passing. She saw some acquaintances, but always with a feeling of disappointment; as two o’clock drew near she grew silent, a change which Catherine was not slow to notice. When the hour struck and she had to recognize that there was no possibility of Samuel’s coming that afternoon, she made no effort to conceal from herself that she was bitterly disappointed: in her inmost heart, also, she confessed to herself that during all the journey from Culebra to Colon her great hope had been that she should see him, meet him. For what? She had her reason ready. She told herself that she wanted to know how he had taken her sudden departure, how he had fared in the intervening ten weeks, how he would greet her, and whether he had been captured by some other woman. When she reflected on the possibility of his having been captured—just as though his personal responsibility in that matter must be almost nil—she became fiercely antagonistic towards the unknown woman. She resented her existence, hated her bitterly.

During the rest of the afternoon she was rather moody; but when six o’clock came she grew cheerful and talkative once more. An hour passed, and then Catherine suggested that they should go for a walk about the town. She agreed.

As they went along, Susan peeped into all the cafés that they passed. She well knew the old favourite haunt of Samuel, and she led her sister past it; but, though the doors were wide open as usual, she saw no sign of Samuel. They called on one or two of Susan’s friends, and to these the story of her marriage was related; her hearers had no doubt whatever that she had acted wisely in leaving Jones; there was but one opinion on her excellent good fortune. The congratulations she received heartened her greatly; it was much to be a married woman; now she knew she had done a sensible and proper thing. It was half-past nine when she and Catherine went back to the house.

“A stranger is upstairs,” said Catherine, as they ascended the steps; “that is not papee’s voice.”

Susan paused for a moment, her heart beating violently. “It is Jones,” she whispered.

Catherine listened. “Yes,” she said; “him must have been here a long time, for it is late already. Y’u not coming up?” she asked, for Susan was standing still.

Slowly Susan followed her sister. The latter entered the room first. Susan stepped in after her with a well-assumed air of indifference.

Some one rose. She heard his voice addressing her.

“Good evening, Mrs. Mackenzie. I hope I see you well? Your husband’s health is propitious, I presume?”

She was equal to the occasion. “Good evening, Mr. Jones. Yes, thank y’u, Mr. Mackenzie is quite well. He would ’ave sent you his compliments if he did know I would meet you.”

She sat down. Their eyes met.

“That don’t matter,” said Jones, most loftily. “Compliments are only words, an’ nobody don’t mean them. I am not sending anybody any compliments. I have no friends, Mrs. Mackenzie, an’ I compliment nobody. A man don’t know who to trust in this world.”

“Quite true, Mr. Jones, quite true,” observed Miss Proudleigh, who had never forgotten Susan’s reception of her at Culebra. “There is but one Friend who we can trust, an’ to Him we can take all our troubles. When man desert us an’ play us false, we can take them to the Lord in pr’yer.” In this way the good lady endeavoured to convey to Jones her opinion of Susan’s general behaviour.

Jones enjoyed Miss Proudleigh’s sympathy. He felt that he was amongst friends. He had helped them with his advice since they had been in Colon, and Mr. Proudleigh had confessed to him that in Mr. Proudleigh’s opinion Mackenzie was not fit to unloose the latchet of Samuel Josiah’s shoe. At that moment Susan was at a disadvantage.

He was looking at her narrowly. Her sojourn at Culebra had improved her: he did not think he had ever seen her look so well before. She was singularly attractive. Dressed in cool white, she faced him self-possessed, while on the third finger of her left hand gleamed a broad band of gold, the symbol of her new condition. Ever and again his eyes lingered on that ring. He hated it. But he determined to show he was indifferent, as indifferent as she appeared to be; in his most bombastic manner he resumed the conversation.

“I am thinkin’ of returning to me native land. The temperature of Panama is deleterious to my constitution, an’ they have no decent administration in the country. Some people, of course, are contented with it. If you kick some people it will please them. But Samuel Josiah Jones is of a different characteristic; besides, I am one of those men who can make a living in me own country, an’ I didn’t come here to pass all me life digging dirt for American people.”

“I don’t suppose anybody else come here fo’ good, either, Mr. Jones,” replied Susan sharply, feeling it incumbent upon her to defend her absent husband against all covert attacks. “I expect meself to go home before long.”

“Is Mac gwine to Jamaica, Sue?” asked her father quickly. “For, ef so, I wouldn’t mind takin’ a trip meself, an’ I could come back wid you.”

“I don’t know what Mackenzie is goin’ to do, papee,” answered Susan severely. “But perhaps, as you an’ Mr. Jones is so friendly, you can go wid him.”

“Oh, that’s all right!” exclaimed Jones. “I can take the old man. I have the cash, an’ no one ever say yet that Samuel Josiah was mean. When I am goin’, old massa, you can come along.”

“Thank y’u, me son!” Mr. Proudleigh burst out.

“You is the sort of young man I did want for me son-in-law.”

He had no sooner spoken the words than he regretted them. They expressed his true sentiments, but how would Susan take them? Catherine laughed.

“Wishes don’t alter facts,” said Miss Proudleigh sourly, “though some people, in spite of all they may pretends, would be glad if facts could be altered.”

Susan understood this remark and hated her aunt very thoroughly at that moment. “I suppose you been wishin’ for a lot of things you never get—eh, Aunt Deborah?” she said. “You must ’ave wished to get married for a long time before you got old, but I hear you never even had an intended.”

“What!” cried Mr. Proudleigh, before his sister could hurl the full force of her scorn at the offending Susan, “my dear daurter, you don’t know you’ aunt. You grow up an’ find ’er in religion, but she was a little devil when she was young. I remember one night me father half-murder her because she used to stay out late, an’ a young man beat her one day because she was carryin’ on wid another young man, while she was engage to de first one. But when she come near forty, of cou’se, an’ she see she was getting old, she teck to religion an’ becomes an example to you young people.”

“You are an infernal liar!” cried Miss Proudleigh fiercely, roused now to bitterest anger by this gratuitous detailing of her early history, and entirely forgetful of the virtue of Christian forbearance and godly conversation in her desire to maintain her claim to having always led a pure and spotless life. “Since you come to Colon I don’t know what come over you! All you seem to want to do is to make fun of me, an’ abuse me character; but as you remember so many things that never happen, you might as well remember dat it is me who is helping you to live in Colon, an’ not Susan.”

“This don’t need any quarrel,” observed Jones hastily. “If I did want to quarrel I could find plenty of reason, but I bear all the ill-treatment I receive in silence, being disposed thereto by an equanimitous attitude of mind.”

“That is the same like my attitude of mind,” peacefully remarked Mr. Proudleigh, “for if there is a man that don’t like confusion it is me. I didn’t mean to vex Deborah at all, an’ I beg to ask her pardon as she get offended by what I say. In fact, I don’t see how she should think I could want to insult me own sister before a perfec’ stranger like Mister Jones, an’ she is very wrong to think so. But it is because I am old an’ poor. Ef I was a young man, an’ earning me two pounds a week, all de sort of words dat everybody give me now I wouldn’t hear at all. But when a man is poor, dog can bark at him an’ him can’t say a word; so everybody take an advantage of me an’ tell me what them do for me, though them never remember what I do for them. However, I apologize to Deborah, an’ I excuse her, for she was always very ignorant.”

“When you thinkin’ of goin’ home, Mr. Jones?” asked Susan with a view to putting an end to the dispute between her aunt and father. She knew how spiteful Miss Proudleigh could be, and was well aware that if her usually mild parent was once thoroughly annoyed, the recital of his grievances and wrongs would form the main topic of all conversations for the next three or four days.

“I haven’t determined on a date hitherto, Mrs. Mackenzie,” Jones replied, “but I contemplate a speedy departure from these regions. If I wasn’t a man of strong mentality, all the sufferings I have had to put up with in Colon would drive me mad. But I have a solid brain, an’ what would kill some people passes by me like ‘the idle wind which I regard not.’ That is Shakespeare,” he explained.

“Well, it’s a good thing to be able to go home when y’u like, Mr. Jones, an’ you are an independent man with no responsibility. My ’usband have to work hard to keep his wife in comforts, so he can’t travel about like you, an’ go out to see his friends an’ enjoy himself every night. Some people like to ’ave everything, you know, without any responsibility, but Mackenzie is different.”

“I don’t know anything about your husband, Mrs. Mackenzie,” Jones answered superciliously. “He and I was never friends in Jamaica: we didn’t walk in the same street at all. Of course, when a man come to a place like Colon, he get to know a lot of people he would never know at home. I moved in good society in Jamaica. The very night before I leave for Colon I was entertained by a few high-toned educated friends of mine, an’ if I had paid attention to what one of them say to me, I wouldn’t have been made a fool of here. But I was always of a confiding an’ trustful disposition, an’ put a lot of faith in females.”

A sarcastic laugh from Miss Proudleigh, directed at Susan, welcomed this remark. But Susan took no notice of it.

It was now past ten o’clock, and Catherine was repeatedly yawning. Jones rose to leave.

“This has been an unexpected pleasure, Mrs. Mackenzie,” he said, as he bade Susan good night. “If we do not meet again, you may say to Mr. Mackenzie that y’u saw me here in excellent spirits.” He flourished his hat and bowed as he spoke, then marched with stately step out of the room.

“Dat is a perfec’ gen’leman,” said Mr. Proudleigh.

Susan thought so too.

After that visit to Colon, Culebra became more distasteful than ever to Susan. In spite of her possession of “comforts,” her life seemed to her to be singularly uninteresting; she felt that she had nothing new to expect, she experienced no pleasant thrill of anticipated adventures; she loved excitement, and at Culebra, except for the accidents, there was nothing like excitement to look forward to. She might have children. But though she possessed the instinct of motherhood as fully as any other normally developed woman, the coming of children seemed to her to be a mere matter of course, something too that would bind her down more tightly to her humdrum existence as Mackenzie’s wife. She began to regret even the days in Jamaica when she had the shop—days that now seemed so very far away, though only a few months had passed since she had come to Panama.

She had no doubt now, she no longer strove to conceal from herself, that she had made a mistake in marrying Mackenzie. He was a good husband, a steady man; but he was over forty and very uninteresting. She could not even quarrel with him: he did nothing to provoke a quarrel. If she was petulant, he was patient; if she became a little unreasonable, he yielded with a good humour which she instinctively felt was not the result of weakness. She stood in some awe of him; as a friend he had been altogether desirable, but now as her husband she discovered that his disposition was alien to hers; she respected but could not care for him.

She could not even complain that he restricted her liberty, for he did not. She was free in reason to go where she liked; if she had not left Culebra but once since her marriage, that was not because she could not have done so had she wished. The situation, clearly, was hopelessly annoying. As some one had to be blamed for it, she blamed Jones.

It was all his fault. He should have acted differently. It was not because he had refused to marry her that she had left him. It was because he had taken to drinking, gambling, and bad habits generally; because he had made himself objectionable and might at any moment have found himself within the four walls of a prison. She had chosen the best way of escape open to her, and everybody agreed that she had acted wisely. She was in no way at fault.

But this self-vindication did not tend to console her, for, by an apparently perverse arrangement of things, she was the sufferer while Jones was as free as air. Susan was too intelligent not to feel that, however tragically Jones might conduct himself just now, he was likely to find consolation as time went on. She believed profoundly in her lasting influence over every man who had fallen in love with her; there was Tom’s case as an illustration. But she doubted whether that influence would keep anyone like Jones, from falling into the clutches of other women, especially as she was married and separated from him for ever. “The same way he could do without me before I know him, he will do without me now,” she thought ruefully; and this was the more certain if he should return to Jamaica. And if he did return, what chance would there be of his coming back, in a hurry at any rate?

Besides, even if he did come back, how would that help her? They now met as acquaintances merely. She addressed him as Mr. Jones. He spoke to her as Mrs. Mackenzie. Everything was as it should be from the point of view of propriety: he treated her as a married woman ought to be treated. Yet she would have much preferred a bitter quarrel with him, an open flinging of reproaches from one to the other, passionate upbraiding. Why, she did not exactly know, save that the sarcastic politeness of both, and the thinly veiled innuendoes they had indulged in at her relatives’ house on the night of their meeting, seemed to her a mere sham: they had not spoken to one another as they would have liked to speak. They had merely acted a part.

She wondered if all married women felt, as she did, that marriage was an awful bore. And she wondered if her endurance could stand the strain of that boredom for years.


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