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CHAPTER V THE ANONYMOUS LETTER
Mr. Thomas Wooley had never been credited with strong moral convictions by anyone who knew him. Among his mild boasts, uttered in the company of congenial companions, certain alleged breaches by him of the seventh commandment had frequently flourished: to gain a reputation for gallantry he had not scrupled to libel himself. But on that night when he saw Susan and Jones together in the streets of Colon the sacredness of the marriage tie appealed to him strongly; he felt that a great wrong was being done to marriage as a civil and religious institution, and he remembered that he himself had been badly treated by Susan and by Jones. That, he decided in his mind, had been freely forgiven. He was magnanimous. But Susan was now a wife, and it was clearly wrong that she should have anything whatever to do with Jones, who was, in Tom’s opinion, a desperate and malignant character who pretended to be friendly with you at first for the purpose of ill-treating you afterwards.

Tom argued that, shocked though he was, he had no right to interfere personally with Jones. He would not remonstrate with him on the evil tenor of his way. But he reflected with intense satisfaction that Mackenzie was, if anything, Jones’s physical superior, as well as the rightful lord and master of Susan. Mackenzie, then, could read to Jones a much-needed moral lesson, could deal with Susan as an outraged husband should, and, generally, could do all those things which Tom wanted to see done, but could not do himself.

The problem was, how to acquaint Mackenzie with the atrocious actions of Susan and her lover? Tom felt that he had been a martyr. He had suffered much because of Susan. But martyrdom, he was convinced, should not be allowed to go beyond reasonable limits, and should, as a general rule, be carefully avoided whenever possible. He had lost his situation in Kingston, he had been roughly handled and fined in Colon. These things he had endured without murmuring. He was now prepared to become an active agent in the work of Susan’s moral redemption, and, incidentally, in the deserved punishment of Jones; he had no doubt whatever that in endeavouring to call Mackenzie’s attention to the wrongs of which that injured man was still ignorant, he would be performing a highly meritorious act. But caution must be displayed. Jones was very likely to take a singularly narrow-minded view of his action, if he should ever think that he, Tom, had meddled with his affairs. There was only one way in which to approach Mackenzie, and that was through the medium of an anonymous letter—a letter so worded that suspicion could not possibly fall on Tom Wooley. Tom had been removed to Christobal. Early the next morning, with a fine feeling of noble endeavour, somewhat mingled with apprehension lest, in spite of all his efforts, his identity should be disclosed, he sat down and wrote to Mackenzie.

The morning after this, on calling at the Post Office on his way to work, Mackenzie was handed a letter which he opened and read as he slowly walked away.

“Dear Sir,” it ran, “this is to inform you that things are not quite straight. Everybody has a respect for you, and it would be a shame if a friend of yours do not let you know that your wife is not behaving towards you as she should.” Here Mackenzie stopped reading and glanced at the end of the letter to see from whom it came. It was signed, “A True Friend,” a signature that left him none the wiser. He continued reading.

“Your wife is always in Colon with Jones, the young man she was with when you married her. I see them together over and over, and this is not right, for she is your wife and should think of your feelings. I therefore take this opportunity of making you acquainted with the facts.”

Mackenzie read the letter twice, then studied the handwriting: it told him nothing. He folded the letter, carefully placed it in its envelope, put it away in his pocket, and went thoughtfully to his work.

Susan had returned the day before. She had told him all about the fire, of which he had already read a sensational account in that morning’s papers. She had told him that she and her relatives had run out to see the fire (which is what he knew they would have done), that they had met Jones in the crowd, and that she had spoken to Jones. There was nothing improbable whatever in her story. He remembered that he himself had advised her to speak to Jones if she should ever meet him. This anonymous letter said that she was often in Colon with Jones. But he, Mackenzie, knew that Susan had only been twice to Colon since she had been his wife. So that assertion was a lie. The person who had written the letter, whoever it was, must have seen Susan speaking to Jones on the night of the fire, but Susan had not kept that a secret. This man too, who signed himself “A True Friend,” must surely bear Susan a grudge, and perhaps was also an enemy of himself. For the fellow evidently wanted to make mischief, and that no true friend would do. Mackenzie did not like the letter; it worried him a little. He did not care to have Susan’s name coupled with that of Jones: the association was not pleasant. But he did not, for he could not, believe the story. He decided he would show the letter to Susan later on.

He handed it to her when he went home for lunch.

“You have some enemy in Colon, Sue,” he said; “or it is my enemy. I get this letter to-day, an’ it is no good person write it. I wonder if it is a woman?”

Susan took the letter and glanced at the handwriting. She knew it at once. Although Tom had tried to disguise his handwriting, and believed he had succeeded, his endeavour had been at best a clumsy one; she gave no sign, however, that she knew the author of the anonymous communication; she did not wish Mackenzie to seek out Tom and demand an explanation, which might be very inconvenient to her. She read the letter slowly. She realized that the attempt to make it appear that she was continually meeting Samuel had defeated its own end. She felt that only a fool like Tom could have blundered so badly. He hadn’t even mentioned the fire, so eager was he to conceal his identity. Her heart was beating quickly, though she tried to appear unconcerned. She strove to control her voice when she spoke.

“It’s a wonder the person who writes this letter didn’t say I was two weeks wid Jones,” she said, as she handed the letter back to her husband. “That’s the way that worthless people tell lies on other people! They want to rob me of me character because them is envious of me!”

“Well, it is what you have to expect,” said Mackenzie philosophically. “I know you only go twice to Colon to see you’ family, an’ Jones have his work to do during the day, so he couldn’t be with you.”

He said this more for the purpose of setting her mind at ease than because he was any longer interested in the subject of the letter; but Susan was inwardly too anxious to let the matter rest there. None of her relatives, not even her aunt, would betray her; but suppose some other person should follow Tom’s example? A bold idea suggested itself to her. “I wonder if it is Jones himself write it?” she remarked. Mackenzie was surprised at the suggestion.

“Why y’u think so?” he asked. “Jones wouldn’t tell a lie on himself?”

“I don’t know about that. P’rhaps him think you couldn’t say anything to him, but might want to quarrel wid me. Men are bad, an’ Jones might want to get me into trouble because I wouldn’t take much notice of him the other night when I saw him at the fire, as I told you.”

Mackenzie looked at the letter he still held in his hand. He shook his head; the handwriting was not like Jones’s.

“He may have begged one of his friend to write it,” urged Susan.

“Maybe,” admitted Mackenzie; “it may be Jones. But I wouldn’t like to accuse him till I was sure: that would be foolishness.”

“Well, don’t notice it, then,” said Susan, pleased with Mackenzie’s prudence. “I don’t care what anybody say about me, so long as me conscience don’t trouble me an’ it don’t put you out. But I wouldn’t like anybody else do me a thing like this again, for my character is all dat I have, and what one person do another may do.”

But as Mackenzie preferred always to deal with facts and not with possibilities, he let the subject drop, and by the time he returned to his work that afternoon he had ceased to think about the letter.

Not for an instant, however, did Susan cease to think of it. She was desperately frightened. As she had said to Mackenzie, what one person had done another might do, and then Mackenzie would begin to grow suspicious. She feared to meet Samuel again, yet she wanted to see him at least once more: she wanted to warn him. How could she see him? . . . If she risked a meeting some enemy of hers might learn about it, and this time she might not be able to find a ready excuse. It is true that Mackenzie had told her she should be polite to Jones if she should see him, but at that time no anonymous letter had coupled her name with that of her former lover. And to meet Jones the very next time she went to Colon would of a surety have a suspicious look.

Should she write to him? Letters went astray sometimes, and Samuel was careless.

Then what was she to do?

She worried herself all that afternoon, trying to think a way out of the difficulty. Suppose Mackenzie should meet Jones and mention the letter to him? Jones might say something about his meeting her at her people’s house . . . and then!

She felt sick of the difficult position in which she found herself, wearied to death; she had a sensation of being tied hand and foot, of being a prisoner; she longed for release, and she knew that only one avenue of escape was open to her. She could leave Culebra, leave Panama, and go back to Jamaica with Jones. She would be happier there, free, more like what she used to be before her marriage. What did the hardships and discontents of that time now seem to her? They were as nothing; she remembered only that she had been happier, and what was the good of marriage if it brought but boredom and disgust? But there was the divorce court to think of also, and her terrible fall from respectability. Even if Mackenzie did not take the trouble to divorce her, she would be a byword amongst those persons who should know her as a woman who had left her husband for another man. She could not face that shame.

She decided that she must wait. Nothing might happen in the next couple of weeks. At the end of that time it would not seem at all strange if she went to Colon to see her people; then, if she met Samuel, she would tell him of the letter and put him on his guard.

She felt grateful to Mackenzie for his confidence in her. Such confidence displayed by a man like Tom would merely have awakened her contempt; but she saw that her husband was perfectly sincere, and determined to take her part against her traducers. Had he doubted her he would have shown it at once, he would have made inquiries, and the sequel would have been terrible. That, she argued, would have been unjust to her. She had done nothing deserving of blame. She had met Jones twice; she had not told her husband the truth about those meetings; but on the other hand she had refused to fly with Samuel, and on that demonstration of virtuous feeling she greatly preened herself. She had behaved splendidly; after such conduct it would have been most unjust if Mackenzie had acted any differently from how he had acted. And to think that it was Tom who had tried to injure her; to think too that nothing painful could be done to him! She thirsted for revenge, yet she knew that Tom must escape scot-free. The slightest attempt at reprisals might but lead to exposure. The thought that she could not pay back Tom with heavy interest was like wormwood to her soul.

When Mackenzie came home that evening she again brought up the subject of the letter. She thought that if she dwelt upon it, showed no anxiety that it should be forgotten, her husband’s mind would be cleared of any shadow of suspicion that, unknown to himself, might be lingering in some dark corner there. Mackenzie laughed as he listened to her extravagantly expressed wonder that anyone should be base enough to lie against another person anonymously.

“I remember,” he said, “about eight years ago, when I was workin’ at the Jamaica railway, somebody write a letter about me to de manager. He didn’t sign his name, but I knew all the time who it was, an’ the manager knew it too. The man wanted me job, an’ he accuse me of robbin’ the railway’s goods an’ sellin’ them outside. But I was more than a match for him. I could account for every screw that pass through me hand. All that man ever get for his lie was to lose his job, an’ that teach him not to write letters against other people in future.”

Mackenzie had never forgotten that incident. It had much to do with his disbelief in anonymous letters.

“So it is not me alone that them try to injure,” said Susan, glad that her husband had also been attacked by an anonymous scribe. “However, I not going back to Colon.”

“That’s stupidness,” said Mackenzie. “You goin’ to make a lie trouble y’u? You must go an’ see you’ people sometimes.”

This remark was just what she wanted to hear; her husband himself had now advised her to go to Colon when she wanted! But she would not avail herself of this advice to rush off to Colon. Although her inclination was to do so, she fought against it, forcing herself to wait. Her patience and prudence were rewarded when, five days after, her sister Catherine appeared at Culebra.


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