Jane’s Career: A Story of Jamaica

Chapter 14

One Monday morning when she got down to work she found the girls already there in something like a flutter of excitement. As a rule, the changes which took place at Mr Repburn’s moved them not at all; they had no interest in the establishment beyond doing their work and getting their wages on Saturday afternoons. But this morning a new man was to take the place of the old supervisor or foreman, who had been transferred to some other branch of the same establishment; and as this man would directly have to do with them, they confessed to some curiosity as to his disposition.

In advance, they were antagonistic.

“I wonder what sort o’ boss him will be?” asked one young woman, familiarly known to her friends as “Chichi.” “Maybe him is one of those sort o’ people who is never satisfied.”

“Boss?” queried another, “boss? I don’t see we have any boss here at all. If y’u say him is the foreman, well, I can understand y’u; but ‘boss’ is anoder thing altogether. The only boss I know is Mr Repburn himself, an’ he is not interfering wid anybody. An’ I may just as well tell you, me love, that if dis new foreman, or ‘boss’ as you call him, is goin’ to be ignorant, I meck up my mind to clear out an’ leave de work.”

“Hi! what’s up!” exclaimed Chichi. “Things must be all right with you if y’u can leave like dat.”

“No; I don’t know what I will do if I leave here, but dat wouldn’t hinder me. My mother still alive, an’ so long as she have strength an’ can work, I can’t starve.”

“But why them bring a new man in de place?” asked Jane. “We was all getten on so nice wid Mr Charley. Why them discharge him? I doan’t like new people meself, but I can’t afford to chuck up me job too easy.”

“I doan’t think them discharge him,” said Chichi. “I heard Saturday evening that him was goin’ somewhere else.”

“An’ fancy him didn’t say a word about it to any of we!” observed the lady who had already begun to prepare for departure at any moment that the new foreman should offend her. “Them don’t count people in dis place. Them treat y’u as if y’u was a stick. Y’u mean to say Mr Charley couldn’t even say, ‘Good-bye, dog,’ when him was goin’ away Saturday night? An’ now this other man will do de same. In another country it is different; only in Jamaica your labour don’t count.”

She knew no other country; nevertheless she was satisfied that labour elsewhere was more highly regarded than in Jamaica, and her audience agreed with her.

“What kind o’ man him is?” wondered Jane. “Him is old like Mr Charley?”

“I doan’t know,” answered Chichi, “but I hear him is a married man, so him can’t be too young.” Chichi had evidently been making some inquiries about Mr Charley’s successor.

“It’s not because him married him must be old,” objected Jane; “doan’t young man get married too?”

Chichi was about to make some reply when entrance of the person under discussion prevented any further direct reference to him. He proved to be a man about forty years of age, well-set-up, and just a shade above black. He had an energetic manner. He well dressed and was plainly a responsible sort of person. He said good-morning to the assembled girls and immediately set himself to work. Acting on the principle that a new broom should sweep clean, he had everything put in order at once, muttered now and then his disgust at the conditions which he found, wondered if any care had ever been taken of the place, and confirmed the girls in their opinion that he was likely to prove a disagreeable supervisor to work under.

At lunch-time they held a solemn council and positively asserted that he was likely to prove a tyrant.

“Y’u can see how him begin already!” protested Jane; “him is gwine to find all sort of fault; if I can get anoder situation I will leave!” Her determination was applauded by the rest, though most of them knew it was but rhetoric.

“I am goin’ to be rude to him!” declared the girl who had already said that with her mother to help her she could afford to be independent; and it was clear that she meant her words. The truth was, she was rather tired of working at the same place and was rather glad of an opportunity to show her independence. She carried out her threat that very afternoon, but, before she could hurl her resignation at the new foreman, he told her that she had better take her hat and go. His promptitude in dealing with insubordination gave pause to the other workers. During the remainder of the week they were in a subdued and chastened frame of mind, and he on his part gave them no particular cause for offence.

Jane especially had no reason to complain of his treatment. He was very lenient with her, he was positively kind, he was friendly. She felt pleased with him. She confidentially admitted to the girls one day, while they were at lunch, that she preferred him to old Charley.

“There’s one in the ring,” thereupon sang one of those to whom she spoke; “there’s another in the ring,” chanted a second comrade. The others laughed.

“What y’u mean?” asked Jane, worldly-wise enough now to know that these expressions contained a significant implication. “I only say what all of you know. Him doan’t turn out so bad as we did expec’, an’ we all ought to glad of it. What y’u singin’ about?”

“Oh, Miss Burrell! don’t form like you don’t understand!” cried Chichi. “Doan’t y’u see that Mr Curden like you? There is one in the ring!”

“And, as she like him, there’s another in the ring,” laughed the young woman who had sung this line before.

Jane was nettled. “Y’u forget him is a married man?” she demanded. “What I goin’ to do wid him?”

“That’s not making much difference in these days,” declared Chichi with conviction.

“It meck a difference to me,” replied Jane. “A gurl would be very foolish to have anyt’ing to do wid a man when she know him can’t do anyt’ing good for her; an’ I am not a fool. I doan’t want anybody wife to pray God for me. I have enough boderation already, an’ if I go and teck up some more it would be my fault. So dere is nobody in any ring; y’u can teck my word for dat.”

“That’s what you say now,” Chichi answered. “That’s what you tell us. But y’u not goin’ to tell Mr Curden dat?” Then seeing that Jane was seriously getting angry, she remarked: “But it’s none of our business, Miss Burrell; we only meckin’ a little fun. Everybody mus’ follow her own mind.”

“Yes, it’s nobody business but Miss Burrell’s own,” agreed, another girl. “But y’u mean to say, Miss Burrell, dat y’u would have noten to do wid Mr Curden?”

“True!” protested Jane. “Him is ole enough to be me fader, an’ him is a big married man. What I gwine to do wid him?”

“Sometimes we say one thing an’ do anoder, you know,” sagely commented her interlocutor; “an’ you can never know what y’u goin’ to do in dis world till you do it. We can only wait an’ see. But I hope y’u don’t think we are too fast!”

“No, I doan’t say you too fast, for I know you doan’t mean anyt’ing,” Jane replied; “but, you see, I am right not to let anybody couple me name wid a person dat I doan’t have noten to do wid, for presently y’u begin to hear a lot of t’ings about me, an’ none of dem true. If a t’ing is true, you can’t mind it, for it is you’ own fault; but when it’s not your own fault you must vex. P’rhaps it may come to Mr Curden hearing dat I say him like me, an’ him may go say I impertinent. And I wouldn’t like dat.”

“Him wouldn’t say you impertinent at all,” Chichi answered with conviction. “Him would like to hear it. You may not see what we see, but it’s true all de same. Y’u think him would be so polite and kind ef him didn’t want you to like him? Why him don’t do it to nobody else? You have only to say de word an’ you will be all right.”

“I don’t want to be all right wid any married man,” Jane again protested, and she meant it.

“So you say,” said Chichi, “an’ you right. But I wouldn’t quarrel wid de foreman: it doan’t pay. Besides, as everything is goin’ now, there’s not much use in being too particular. What you doan’t do another one will do.”

“But dat’s no reason why everyone should do it,” interpolated a girl who had not hitherto taken part in the conversation, and who shared. Jane’s views in this particular matter.

“That is what I say meself,” Jane asseverated, proud to find that her doctrine of moral perfection was not regarded as mere nonsense. “It’s not because one man tief dat anoder is to tief, for oderwise everybody would be in prison.”

“Everybody who they catch,” gaily commented Chichi. “That is the difference. Some do a thing, an’ nobody know, and when other people do it, them find them out. It all depends.”

And here the conversation turned upon luck and chance, and continued till it was time for the girls to go back to their work.

But Jane now had something to think of. She had noticed the foreman’s consideration and had been pleased with if; she had attributed it to kindness. The reason why she had not imagined it to have any peculiar significance was because he was so much older than herself, and his position so high a one. Above all, he was married. But now that the girls had put upon his attitude towards her a construction quite different from her own, she was inclined to think they were probably right; even while she was arguing with them she had been by no means convinced that they were wrong. And, if the truth must be told, she felt flattered. It was something to be proud of, this; it proved to her that she had been quite right to set a high value on herself.

But she grew cautious also. From that evening she began to leave work punctually with the other girls, and to walk home with one or the other of them; and this because Mr Curden had more than once of late kept her talking on the sidewalk of the building after the day’s work was done. He hadn’t delayed her for long, nor had his conversation extended beyond a few commonplace remarks and a compliment or two. “But that must be only a beginning,” she sagaciously remarked to herself, and she knew now that the girls had taken note of the circumstance and had come to a definite conclusion upon it. If she were to avoid having her name connected with that of the foreman she must leave with the others, and must not be seen talking with him.

But he noticed the change. After a few days he found an opportunity to remark to her one morning:—

“Y’u seem to be in a great hurry to leave in the evening, Miss Burrell; what’s the matter?”

“Nothing, Mr Curden,” said she; “only, I live far.”

“Where y’u live?” was his question, which she had not foreseen.

She gave him her number correctly—as a matter of fact he knew it already—whereupon he said, casually, as it seemed.

“I must come an’ see you some spare evening or the other.” Here was a ticklish proposition, but Jane’s wits were equal to the emergency.

“I doan’t know if me parents will like it, Mr Curden. I never invite any visitor to them place.”

The other girls knew that Jane’s parents did live in Kingston, but Curden had as yet made no inquiries of them about Jane. And as it was quite natural that she should be living with her own people, as indeed he had all the time believed so, he did not dream of doubting her word. Nor had he any intention or desire to visit Jane at her own place. The offer to do so was merely what he would have called “a feeler.”

“I am sorry for that; but you are big enough to have a place of you’ own now; don’t y’u think so?”

Jane’s work was being checked, and she and Curden were standing at some little distance away from other persons in the room. He talked very quietly, so that his words might not be overheard; Jane answered in a similar tone of voice.

“No. I am quite comfortable. I couldn’t live by meself, an’ there is no necessity, for I am well look after.”

The checking continued slowly.

“But it’s better to be you’ own mistress than to have to be under other people all the time. You can’t stand that much longer?”

“I like it so,” said Jane, and her positive assertion made the foreman suspect that it was intended as an answer to his unspoken proposal.

When Jane returned to her seat to resume her labelling, there was a smile on the face of every girl. They had not heard a word of what had passed between her and Mr Curden, but the mere fact that a conversation had been carried on in an undertone was more than sufficient for their active imaginations. They looked wise though they said nothing. And Jane understood their look.

Nothing more passed between herself and Mr Curden for a few days after this; but he was cold and distant and very exacting in his supervision of her work. This a little alarmed her; but she was only sullen when he was by, pouting her mouth and showing that she could be annoyed as well as he. She instinctively understood that though he did have power to dismiss her he would not exercise it now: she had not openly offended him in any way. Yet she was secretly afraid of even doing so, she was not in the position of the young woman he had summarily discharged so soon after his arrival. He might believe that she lived with her parents, and that was a help. But if, offended with her, he should get rid of her—

She dismissed the thought of such a contingency. She would not worry about the future until actually obliged to do so.


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This work (Jane's Career: A Story of Jamaica by Herbert G. de Lisser) is free of known copyright restrictions.