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首页 » 经典英文小说 » Susan Proudleigh » CHAPTER VIII SUSAN’S LUCK
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When the train from Colon came in, Miss Proudleigh was one of the first to step on to the platform, closely followed by her niece and brother. The old man was dressed in a suit once black, but now of a greenish tint and shiny as though it had been polished; he also wore a bowler hat of a pattern that had probably been fashionable thirty years before, but of which few specimens could at this time have been extant.

Catherine and her aunt were attired in white ironed dresses and new straw hats trimmed with black ribbon. Samuel saw that they had come ready-dressed for the funeral, which must take place on the following morning. The severity of Miss Proudleigh’s demeanour indicated that she was about to officiate at a very important function, and the large straw fan which she carried in her right hand would have informed anyone who knew the lady that she had not brought forth her favourite symbol of authority without a determination to establish her claim to precedence and power at any cost.

Jones approached the little group. “I was waiting for you,” he said.

“Then you mean to tell me y’u not arrested?” was the startling question of Miss Proudleigh. “There seems to be no law at all in Panama!”

She edged away from Jones as she spoke, looking as she did so towards an American policeman who was strolling about the platform.

“What am I to be arrested for?” asked the young man, surprised. “What’s the matter with you’ aunt?” he said to Catherine. “She takin’ leave of her senses?”

“Didn’t you’ telegram say that Mackenzie dead?” asked Catherine.

“Yes; but what is that to do with me?”

“I know it wasn’t you dat kill him, me son,” Mr. Proudleigh now observed. “When I get you’ telegram, I said to meself: ‘Mister Jones is a man like me. Him talk a lot, but he wouldn’t hurt a fly: him is too afraid of de court-house.’ But Deborah would insist it was you dat kill Mackenzie, for you leave the house last night in a blind temper, an’ you come up here to-day, an’ Mackenzie dead very sudden.”

“It is very suspicious,” said Miss Proudleigh. “I don’t understand it at all.”

“Well, it is not everything y’u can understand,” said Catherine practically; “and it couldn’t be Mr. Jones that kill Mackenzie, otherwise him would be in jail.”

“Dat is so,” agreed her father; “only, I hear dat in Panama y’u can pay ten dollars an’ kill anybody you like.”

“That is all stupidness,” said Jones impatiently; “it is the Canal that kill Mackenzie, not me. What was I goin’ to kill him for?”

A snort from Miss Proudleigh was her only comment on this speech. She was not willing to be persuaded that Mackenzie had not been a victim of the machinations of Samuel and her niece.

As they went on, Jones explained how Mackenzie had come by his death, and how he himself had been a witness of the tragedy. All of them had heard before of the lives which the Culebra Cut had claimed, and now as Jones spoke doubts rose once more in the minds of Mr. Proudleigh and his sister as to the wisdom and propriety of human beings attempting to unite two oceans.

“I always thought that some great disaster would occur because of the iniquity of man in trying to join what God separate,” said Miss Proudleigh; “but I never dream that de disaster was to come on me own family; for, after all, Mackenzie was my nephew-in-law.”

But she did not seem unduly oppressed by the calamity. She found abundant comfort in the prospect of a funeral, and in the opportunity now given her of bewailing in public her irreparable loss. She could now proclaim her past forebodings and hint at other tragedies that would shortly follow upon this one. Properly managed, this funeral could not fail to afford some edifying exhibitions of religious fortitude, Christian resignation, and personal piety, mingled discreetly with an insulting attitude towards those whom she might happen to dislike.

As for Mr. Proudleigh, at that moment he was chiefly afflicted with fears for his personal safety. If a landslide or something like it could kill Mackenzie, there was nothing to prevent a landslide from killing him. This was a dangerous country.

“We will have to leave this place as soon as poor Mackenzie is in de grave,” he remarked, as he laboured on. “What y’u goin’ to do wid you’self, Mister Jones?”


“To-morrow. After we bury me son-in-law.”

“I don’t know,” said Jones.

“You staying up here wid Miss Susan?”

“That would not be proper,” observed Miss Proudleigh sternly. “It is none of my business, an’ I don’t want to interfere. But if the day after Mackenzie bury, a young man should stay in the same place with the widder, them will put her out of any church she belong to.”

“I don’t think Susan can stay here much longer, now that Mackenzie is dead,” said Jones. “She will have to leave soon, for the American people will want the premises.”

“Well, she better come back to Colon wid me,” said Mr. Proudleigh; “an’ now that Mac is dead, Mister Jones——”

But Samuel, guessing the nature of the old man’s forthcoming proposition, hastily interrupted him with another recital of that day’s tragedy. He was still speaking when they arrived at Susan’s house.

All the doors and windows were open, and three or four persons were moving about within. These were friendly neighbours who had come over to help Susan with her dead.

She was expecting her family. As a matter of fact she had telegraphed to them. But having received Jones’s message earlier, they had left for Culebra before Susan’s telegram was delivered at their house.

She was very quiet and composed. When the news of Mackenzie’s death had been broken to her she had shrieked in terror. Her first thought was that there had been a fight between Samuel and her husband, and that the latter had been murdered. A few words of explanation relieved her mind of this horrible fear, then she wept bitterly as if stricken to the heart. She had never cared greatly for her husband; but his sudden death, the overwhelming memory of how, that very day, she had had to fight against the temptation to abandon him, the recollection of all his kindnesses, touched her to genuine sorrow and regret. She recovered her self-possession a little later on and straightway set about making preparations for the funeral. She was still engaged on these when Samuel and her family arrived.

She hardly appeared to notice Jones, who kept himself in the background. She suffered herself to be embraced by her father, who thought it proper to assure her that he had hastened to comfort her, though he himself was grief-stricken and could not say when he should be able to take an interest in life any more. Mr. Proudleigh then deposited his hat on a table and elaborately wiped his eyes. This ceremony being gone through, he sat down.

But Miss Proudleigh would not sit down. She took Susan by the hand. “It is the will of God,” she loudly proclaimed, “an’ men can only say, ‘Thy will be done.’ We must be prepared to meet our God. We must take up our cross an’ follow Him. Husband-o, son-o, mother-o, wife-o, when the call come we must give them all up to Him who gave them life. We cannot rebel, for the Lord gave an’ the Lord taketh away—blessed be the name of the Lord. We cannot prevent the tears from flowing, for that is nature; but the heart must be submissive.”

She paused to note the effect of her words, which she considered sufficiently stirring to move Susan to tears and the other people in the house to sympathy. But most of the people there did not know Miss Proudleigh and were paying no attention to her; Susan remained dry-eyed; Catherine appeared unsympathetic. Only her brother seemed attentive, and as she did not regard him as an audience worth having, she concluded that spiritual consolations had better be reserved for a later occasion.

“You can go into the dining-room an’ wash you’ hands an’ face if you like, Aunt Deborah,” said Susan quietly. “It is fixed up.”

“What about the body?” demanded Miss Proudleigh.

“The body fixed up already. Everything is arranged. Some of Mackenzie’s friends looking after the funeral.”

It was bitterly disappointing to Miss Proudleigh to find that she had been forestalled; still, opportunities for usefulness might present themselves later on. She went into the dining-room as invited, feeling that Susan’s calmness was most unbecoming at such a moment. A widow, with a proper sense of what was expected of her, should have given way to a wild outburst of grief at the sight of her sympathizing family.

Presently Susan asked her aunt to go into the room where Mackenzie’s body was laid out. Mackenzie had been struck mainly by descending masses of earth; thus he had escaped disfigurement. Miss Proudleigh glanced at the set face, saying with real feeling, “Poor fellow; just as if he was sleeping.” Then she mastered this inclination to weakness, and, laying her hand upon the cold, sheeted figure, she shook her head determinedly. “Not enough ice,” she said.

“Quite enough,” replied one of Susan’s helpers, a young woman who had developed a marked fondness for assisting at funerals.

“You will excuse me,” said Miss Proudleigh with great firmness. “I bury a lot of my relatives an’ friends, an’ therefore it stands to reason that I must know about de treatment of corpses.

“Mr. Mackenzie was my nephew-in-law, an’ I know he would like to bury decently an’ in a good condition; in consequence of which I would advise his wife to take my foolish advice an’ get some more ice. Susan, ’ave you a little gurl?”

“One is outside,” Susan answered.

“Send ’er for more ice!”

“All right, Aunt Deborah,” said Susan resignedly; “you can send ’er.”

This was a victory of considerable importance; it placed Miss Proudleigh in charge of all arrangements affecting the corpse. She adapted her voice to suit her new dignity and now spoke in impressive stage whispers.

But where was Samuel? Susan had lost sight of him; he had quietly slipped out of the house after observing how she was conducting herself; he was glad to see her calm and collected, but a certain delicacy of feeling warned him that he should not remain in the house just now. He was damp and dirty; but there were shops in the town where he could buy some ready-made clothing. He bought a suit and was allowed to put it on in a room behind the shop; if it did not fit him well, at least it was clean and dry.

The day’s work was over in the Cut; everybody he met was talking about the accident. He noticed that they all spoke well of Mackenzie; he wondered whether, if he had died like Mackenzie, his acquaintances would have spoken like that of him.

The rain had ceased entirely, but the sky was sombre still. He remembered that he had eaten nothing from morning, but he had no appetite, did not feel like eating. He lingered about the houses and the shops till long after darkness had fallen. At about eight o’clock, he went back to Susan’s house.

He entered and silently took one of the many chairs that had been borrowed from friendly neighbours for the accommodation of the people who had come and were coming to sit up for a few hours with Susan. Every one was quiet and reverential, and those who talked did so in low and mournful tone.

A solitary light was burning in the room where the body of the dead man lay. Those who wished to do so, stole into the room and peeped at it, then stole back gloomily to their seats. The subdued conversation was about Mackenzie in particular and death in general, and when an elderly woman remarked that Mackenzie was a man who could always be depended upon, and groaned by way of emphasizing her remark, Miss Proudleigh groaned also, as though parting with Mackenzie had been one of the most awful experiences of her life.

Then the young woman who had contradicted Miss Proudleigh in the matter of the ice felt it incumbent upon her to say something.

“I remember poor Mr. Mackenzie when he first come up to Culebra,” she said. “Such a quiet, mannerly gentleman. And to think he die so sudden!”

“In the midst of life we are in death!” retorted Miss Proudleigh aggressively.

“I not stayin’ here one day longer than I can help it,” said Mr. Proudleigh earnestly. “I never did want much to come to Colon at any time; but me children wishin’ to see if them could make a good living over here, I say to meself, ‘I mustn’t desert them. Don’t care what happen to me, it is me juty to go wid dem.’ So I come here, but I not goin’ to stop any longer, because it must be a very funny country where a hill-side broke down without nothing do it, and kill me son-in-law. Ef I are to die, I want to die in me bed in Jamaica.”

“Parents must devote themselves to their children,” said one of Susan’s neighbours.

“That is what I ’ave always done,” said Mr. Proudleigh with dignity. “But if Susan take my advice, she will go back wid me to Jamaica as soon as she bury her husban’. I can’t teck any more risk in Panama.”

“The Lord is strong to save, wherever His people are,” remarked Miss Proudleigh rebukingly. Her laundry was proving very profitable, and she needed no further evidence to assure her of the omnipresent care of Providence.

Just then the young woman who had already angered Miss Proudleigh, feeling that she was being eclipsed, went up to Susan, and, throwing her arms about the widow’s neck, exclaimed, “My heart bleed for you,” and audibly wept. But Miss Proudleigh was mistress of ceremonies, and Susan herself was now subject to her aunt’s authority. That a stranger, an insolent stranger, should have dared to set the example of tears in the midst of a conversation, was more than Miss Proudleigh could stand. Extraneous sympathy must not be allowed to pass the bounds set by decorum and established practice. Happily Miss Proudleigh knew that she was equal to any emergency. Whipping out of her pocket a hymn-book which she had thoughtfully brought with her from Colon, in a shrill and belligerent treble she began to sing “Peace, Perfect Peace.” The hymn sounded like a declaration of war without quarter, and the sobbing young lady recognized it as such and struggled by means of louder sobs to maintain the position she had won. But Miss Proudleigh had great allies. For most of the guests, tired of talking or sitting still, joined in the hymn, singing with genuine feeling.

Rising and falling in measured cadence, the sound floated far away, and men and women in other houses listened, thinking perhaps of the days when they too had watched beside the corpse of some one dear to them. Perhaps their memory was touched, and they thought of a grave somewhere on a mountain-side, under the shade of rustling trees, in some far-off West Indian island which they called home.

The singing ceased; then another hymn, even more pathetic than the first, was started: All took it up, singing softly:

“Days and moments quickly flying

?Blend the living with the dead,

?Soon shall you and I be lying

?Each within his narrow bed.”

A picture of Mackenzie lying alone in the room, cold, motionless, swathed in dripping cerements; a picture of him as he went forth that morning, cheerful, confident, strong, with never a thought of death in his mind, rose before Susan’s mental vision.

She broke down and cried.

Jones wiped his eyes repeatedly.

Others were crying quietly. For the first time that night they felt themselves to be strangers in a strange land, men and women who had come to seek a livelihood in a foreign country from which, for all they knew, they might never return.

When Susan lifted her head a little while after, her eyes caught those of Jones. Each knew what the other was thinking of. In the forenoon of that same day they had wronged Mackenzie in thought, almost in act, and he had died without knowing it. But did he not know? Did he not know now? Neither one could boast of being free from superstition: what if Mackenzie’s spirit were near, reading all that was passing in their minds and hearts? Susan shuddered. Samuel’s heart failed him in spite of his desperate inward struggle with his fears. They lowered their eyes again.

Twelve o’clock came, and most of the people rose to leave. Only a few would remain until the morning. Some, however, would return in time for the funeral. They all endeavoured to persuade Susan to go and lie down, and try to sleep, but she was afraid. She might dream. In her sleep Mackenzie’s spirit might accuse her!

So all night she and Samuel sat in the same room, wakeful, alert, thinking over and over again of what had taken place between them a few hours before, and of the tragedy in Culebra Cut.

At six o’clock in the morning Miss Proudleigh began to set things in order, and, shortly after, the men who were looking after Mackenzie’s funeral arrived. They worked quickly: by seven the body was in the coffin, which was lifted into the sitting-room uncovered, in order that all who knew Mackenzie might take last leave of him. Flowers were scarce at Culebra, but the mourners had gathered a few. These they strewed over the corpse, and the evergreens they had brought were arranged here and there about the room, giving to it a fresh and verdant appearance.

One by one the men and women who had come to attend the funeral stepped up to the coffin, gazed a little while at the dead man’s face, and turned away. Then the minister, a young Englishman connected with Jamaica, who had followed the people to Panama that they might still be kept in touch with the religion of their own country, arrived. The people made way for him respectfully, glancing at him with pride and admiration; he went up to Susan and shook hands with her sympathetically, speaking a few words which he meant to be consoling, but feeling, not for by any means the first time in his life, how poorly words express real sympathy. Then he was taken possession of by Miss Proudleigh, who led him to a chair which she had covered, for no very obvious reason, with a white lace curtain.

“Ready?” he asked her quietly, book in hand.

“Yes, minister; but” (she hesitated a little) “don’t it is right to read the will first?”

“That depends,” said the parson. “Does Mrs. Mackenzie want it read? Is there a will?”

Miss Proudleigh looked at Susan inquiringly. It was not usual to read the will before a funeral; but Miss Proudleigh feared that if she did not make use of the present opportunity she might never know what Mackenzie had left, and whether he had bequeathed his property to Susan alone or not. As for Susan, she was not anxious that her private affairs should be exposed, but her aunt was now the predominant person in the house, and she did not want to appear secretive. “My husband used to keep his papers in his own trunk,” she said; “I will look.”

In a minute or two she returned with a document which she thought must be the will; which it was. Miss Proudleigh took it from her and handed it to the minister, asking him to read it.

So the will was read. A small house in Kingston, ten acres of land in St. Andrew (not far from Kingston), a life insurance policy worth a hundred pounds, and all the money lodged in Mackenzie’s name in a bank in Panama—everything was left to Susan. His will had been made three weeks after Mackenzie’s marriage, and Susan knew that he had at least eighty pounds in the bank. She was well-off! That was her thought as the parson ceased reading. “It is my old luck!”—the words formed themselves in her mind: her good fortune, her luck, never seemed to desert her for long. She was a woman with property, money. She saw in the faces of the people in the room that they were surprised that Mackenzie had left so much.

Miss Proudleigh was conscious of a feeling of resentment, born of envy. But with it struggled a feeling of pride: she was glad that she had asked that the will should be read. For was she not related to all these riches; was it not she who had directed the funeral arrangements in the house of a man who had left his widow in so comfortable a position? There was dignity in her look and voice as she said to the minister:

“Minister, will we proceed?”

The offices of the dead took up but little time. Six strong men lifted the coffin, and, headed by the minister, the funeral cortège moved slowly out of the house.

Susan and her father walked immediately behind the coffin, the rest of the mourners following without regard to precedence. Mr. Proudleigh’s thoughts were not of an unpleasant nature. Never had he heard of any young widow like Susan possessing so much riches. He concluded that she must be worth hundreds of pounds, and to a mind which, for some years, had been content to think financially in terms of sixpence, shilling and eighteenpence, a hundred pounds meant nearly as much as a million. Never had he thought so highly of Mackenzie, never had he felt so pleased with Susan’s marriage. Jones? What was Jones compared with Mackenzie? When would a man like Jones ever be able to accumulate a fortune? He was more likely to waste one; and here Mr. Proudleigh began seriously to think that Susan ought to be warned against having anything to do with Samuel Josiah in the future. Mr. Proudleigh saw his duty as a father plain before him, but gravely doubted whether he should ever muster enough courage to perform it. However, he, as Susan’s father, a parent too who had always been tender and considerate, should now be comfortable for life. He marched bravely on, forgetting to be fatigued. Panama was not such a bad place after all, if you knew just when to leave it.

Catherine wondered at her sister’s luck. She was not of an envious disposition; she felt quite able to make her own way in the world. But Susan seemed to be extraordinarily lucky; even incidents that at first appeared unfortunate were afterwards seen to have contributed to Susan’s good fortune. Catherine wondered why this was so. She had been told at school that there was no such thing as luck, that one only got what one worked for or deserved. She was by no means assured that that was true.

And Jones? He too since the reading of the will had realized that a great change had taken place in Susan’s financial situation. She was actually better off than he was—very much better off. She might care for him. But he could not forget that she had left him to marry Mackenzie, and only yesterday had refused to desert Mackenzie for him. Now therefore that she knew herself to be independent, how would she act? Many men would be glad enough to marry her now: she could afford to wait, and to pick and choose. She was vain; she would try to make the most of her improved position. She was very lucky. But there seemed no end to his ill fortune.

Susan alone, during that procession to the cemetery, did not dwell on her good fortune. After her first thrill of pleasure on hearing the terms of the will, she had become depressed and sad: she was again realizing that Mackenzie’s kindness and thoughtfulness were of sterling worth. And he was dead, dead and gone for ever, this man who had done so much for her, and it was of him she thought. Soon they came to the cemetery. The funeral service was read, the grave filled, and Susan turned away, the one real mourner there that morning. But not the most demonstrative, for Miss Proudleigh, feeling that full justice had not been done to Mackenzie’s memory, burst into loud sobs when the last spadeful of earth was thrown upon the grave, and had to be led away by two unnecessarily sympathetic men.


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