Jane’s Career: A Story of Jamaica

Chapter 16

“I suppose you think you are smart, eh?”

“I doan’t understand y’u, Mr Curden.”

“You understand me well enough. You can’t tell me y’u didn’t see me yesterday, and y’u know I see you.”

“Yes, I did see you, when I were coming from de burial ground, but I doan’t know what that have to do wid smartness. I told you I was goin’ to a funeral on Saturday mornin’, an’ when you saw me yesterday I was comin’ from de funeral. So I doan’t see what you can mean about I think I am smart.”

“You needn’t form that you don’t understand what I am saying, for I see in your face that y’u do. Why didn’t you tell me plain the other day that you have an ‘intended’? First, y’u say you are living with you’ parents, and I find out that you’ parents are not in Kingston at all; now you want to talk about a funeral when I am talking about your young man. What you pretending for?”

“I have no young man, Mr Curden,” answered Jane. “The gentleman y’u saw me wid yesterday mornin’ was a young man dat living in the same yard wid meself, an’ him and me teck de dead baby to de cemetery. I never know him before.”

Mr Curden laughed scornfully, to intimate that whoever else might be deceived by such a story, he was not likely to be.

“Well!” he exclaimed, shaking his head slowly as he looked Jane full in the face, half-angrily, half-admiringly, “you are a soon one, though! You look so quiet and so innocent, as if butter wouldn’t melt in you’ mouth; and you like to live with you’ parents, and you must go home early every evening! You belong to church too, don’t you? An’ your pupa take round the collection plate? And you teach in a Sunday school?”

Jane’s lips trembled with anger, and it was all she could do to keep from bursting into tears. It cut her to the quick to be ridiculed like this, and with her feeling of anger and sense of humiliation was mingled the fear lest the foreman should find some excuse for sending her about her business. She answered him nothing, but waited to hear what next he might have to say.

He saw that she was angry, and thought that, perhaps, she might be speaking the truth in regard to her relations with the young man with whom he had seen her the day before, though he was naturally inclined to be suspicious.

“If that young man is not your intended now,” he said after a moment’s silence, “I suppose him want to be?”

“I doan’t know anyt’ing about dat. I tell you I doan’t know noten about him. Him is a stranger, an’ it is only two days ago that we become acquaint. If it wasn’t dat de baby die in the yard I doan’t think we would have speak to one anoder. It’s de God’s truth I am telling you, Mr Curden, an’ you shouldn’t doubt me.”

“The only way I won’t doubt y’u is if you promise me you won’t have anything to do with him. You promise?”

“That is easy,” returned Jane, heart-glad of the more favourable turn which the conversation was taking. “I doan’t believe him want to have anyt’ing to do wid me, an’ I know I doan’t partickiler to have noten to do wid him. I doan’t give him a thought!”

Curden did not think it at all likely that the young man should not wish to have anything to do with so prepossessing a girl as Jane: he argued from the particular to the general, and the particular was himself. But he thought it was just possible, though not probable, that she might not care to have anything to do with the young man. One thing at any rate was clear: she wished to stand on good terms with him (Curden), and that showed that as yet there could be little between her and the fellow he had seen her with. He knew by experience that if Jane really had an “intended” she would have answered him very sharply, even if she had not gone so far as to abuse him. She would not so tamely have submitted to his jeering.

“I believe what you say,” he assured her. “I was only teasing you. That young man isn’t better-looking than me”—as a matter of fact Vincent was plainer-looking than Curden—”and he can’t fix you up better than me. So if y’u want a friend-an’ you must want one-you needn’t bother with him. Why don’t you let me give you a place?”

The proposition was out now, and there was no use pretending not to understand it. Jane hung her head. Curden waited. “What you say?” he asked at length.

She took refuge in delay.

“I can’t tell you now. You must wait little.”

“But why can’t you tell me now? You want to give the other fellow a chance?”

“No!” protested Jane; “doan’t I tell y’u I have noten to do wid him? Why y’u go on sayin’ de same thing over and over? I tell you to wait, for y’u can’t expect me to do everyting in a hurry, an’ there is plenty time.”

She was speaking very familiarly now, a change which he noticed with pleasure. She was playing the coquette, was keeping him off for a while; but what she had said indicated plainly that she did not intend to answer no.

“All right, then,” he replied smilingly. I don’t see what you waiting for, but I won’t press you. Don’t keep me longer than a week though!”

“A month,” declared Jane, nodding her head with the expression of one who had the upper hand. “If I can wait, you can wait too;” then she half-walked, half-danced back from Curden’s desk to her seat; observing which, the other girls said nothing. This was the longest conversation the foreman had had with Jane, and it appeared to them to be the most important. Matters having reached such a stage, they felt it would be neither wise nor safe for them to interfere with what was “not their business.” Mr Curden was a man of prompt decision, and they were not indispensable. Besides, they were rather familiar with such incidents.

And Jane? She knew she could not keep him a month for his answer, and that he did not intend to wait so long. She had said that Vincent was nothing to her, and that was true; she had said that she was nothing to him, and that was still more true. But she had been proud to be seen driving with him yesterday, he was much younger than this man, he was single, he was generous too, and was probably quite as well paid as the foreman. But how would that help her?

She did not want to accept Mr Curden’s offer, but she could see no way out of the difficulty. “What to do?” she asked herself several times that day as she sat at her work. Curden had said that she put him off because she wanted to give Vincent a chance, and she had protested against the suggestion. Yet, as she thought the matter over, it was always with reference to what Vincent might do. She wondered if he liked her, and concluded that he did, on no other ground than that afforded by hope. Her promise to the foreman did not affect her in the slightest; she was determined to break it is she could. “Him tecking an advantage of me,” was her comment on his behaviour, and she resented the being taken an advantage of.

But what was she to do? She had thought out no clearly-defined plan by the time she got home evening; nevertheless her actions showed that some intention had begun to form itself in her mind. After having her dinner, she carefully dressed herself in the frock she had worn to Jim’s funeral the day before, discarding only the black ribbon, for which she substituted a sash of red. She surveyed herself as well as she could in the sixpenny looking-glass she had bought (and secreted) while still working with Mrs Mason; she was satisfied with the reflection shown in the mirror, and with tremulous heart she strolled into the yard, knowing that the care bestowed upon her person could hardly fail to be remarked by the other tenants. She took a seat on a chair by the bereaved mother’s room, ostensibly sitting there for the purpose of condoling with the woman. eyes were fixed on the gate, and she started expectantly whenever it was pushed open. “She waiting somebody,” said the tenants who observed and they had no doubt who it was that for.

She remained sitting at the same spot for quite an hour before Vincent made his appearance. Naturally, seeing Jane, he paused to say evening, and she rose to talk with him.

“Good-evening, Miss Burrell,” he said, smiling; “got over the funeral yet?”

“Long ago, Mr Broglie,” Jane replied brightly; “and you get over it too?”

“It didn’t affect me,” he laughed; “I have plenty of things to occupy me mind just now, Besides, it’s only women that are always talking about funerals.”

“A gentleman like you will always have a lot to think about,” said Jane; “but poor me have noten to do but work. You are independent.”

“I am not,” he assured her; “but I will soon be more able to be. That is what I am busy about now.” He looked wise and portentous.

“Yes; an’ while you can make you’self all right, a poor gurl like me have to remain all wrong,” said Jane. “I have it hard, for I have nobody to help me, while as you are a man them can’t teck an advantage of you as them like.”

“What? Anybody taking an advantage of you?” he asked; “or is it only what you females are always saying?”

Should she tell him? And how? As these questions flashed through her brain, Vincent, who did not imagine that she had been complaining of anything particular, remarked, almost without stopping to let her answer his last question:—

“You are dressed up this evening; going out?”

“After I doan’t have anybody to teck me anywhere,” she answered, “It’s lonely for me to go out by meself.”

The suggestion was so obvious that Vincent could not possibly misunderstand it. He smiled and touched her lightly on the cheek.

“I have an engagement to-night,” he said, “or I would take you for a car-drive. However, some other day.”

He moved off as he spoke.

“All right, Mr Broglie,” she called after him. “I am gain’ to remind you of you’ promise.”

“Good!” he called back, and went into his room.

. . . . .

This conversation between Jane and Mr Broglie had not been unremarked by other persons; as a matter of fact, some of the tenants had done their best to overhear every word of it. In more than one room that night it was made the subject of laughter and comment. “She is tryin’ to get a good ‘intended,’” was the general conclusion; “but a young man like him don’t want a gurl like she. Him can get better.”

“She is young but she is bold,” was what was also said; “she not waiting for him to court her; she courting him.”

Jane guessed pretty closely what was being said, and resented this interference with her business. There was a perceptible coldness in her manner the next morning when she greeted some of her neighbours. On their part there was a display of meaning smiles, and one or two of them sneered. But of course they said nothing, having long since learnt the wisdom of pretending to mind their own business.

Mr Curden was very nice to her that day, asking her of him last night. She replied spiritedly: “I didn’t even think of you!” which pleased him much, as, in his opinion, her manner signified that she had been thinking of nothing else. She began to dislike him now, and her dislike took the form of wishing to see him well beaten. Severe corporal punishment was Jane’s conception of poetic justice.

That evening she dressed again; but this time she waited for Vincent outside the gate. He saw her as he came up the lane, and knew she was waiting for him. “That girl is laying herself careless with me,” he observed to himself; nevertheless he was pleased and flattered. He was a favourite with the sex, and many of those he knew would have looked down upon Jane. But he saw that she was a very decent girl, and it came into his mind that it might not be a bad thing to add her to the number of ladies to whom he was more or less attached. But courting meant expenditure with him, for he was not mean. And just then he had neither time nor money to spare.

“Waiting for me?” he asked when he reached the gate. “Don’t you know I am a bad man?”

“You don’t look bad,” she replied. “There is many worse than you. Y’u promise to teck me for a drive last night; so I dress in case you wanted to go to-night.”

“Not to-night,” he answered. “I have to go out presently, and to-morrow morning I am going to Montego Bay.”

This was calamitous news. “When y’u coming back, Mr Broglie?” she asked, her disappointment betraying itself in her voice.

“Not before Saturday! I have to arrange some business connected with the strike. You hear about the strike?”

She had not, but she had some idea of what a strike was; she connected it with losing one’s job.

“But what you have to do wid a strike?” she asked him, thus touching upon a subject that was very near to his heart at that moment.

“Everything,” he assured her. “All the people in my trade going to strike, and we are going to win too. We have put up with a lot, but now no more advantage is going to be taken of us.”

The mention of that word advantage reminded Jane of her own grievance against Curden.

“Worse advantage can be taken of a gurl than a man,” she replied. “If I was to tell y’u what them trying to do wid me, you would sorry for me.”

Vincent was somewhat pressed for time that evening, but as he and his colleagues were just then preparing to utter a vigorous protest against the existing conditions of labour, his sympathy went out to all workers of no matter what class.

“Tell me about it,” he said; “they are trying to rob you?”

“Worse than that,” said Jane, glad to have the opportunity of enlisting him against Curden. “It’s bad enough if them rob you; but when—” She stopped short, not quite knowing how to tell her story.

“When what?”

“I doan’t know what to say, for y’u may think it is my fault. You know a man name Curden, Mr Vin?”

“No; what about him?”

“Him is de foreman at de place I workin’ at, an’ him is a married man. Him over forty, an’ just fancy what him say to me yesterday?”

“Well, how can I know if you don’t tell me?” asked the young man impatiently.

“Him want me to—to—”

She stammered, hesitating, and Vincent burst into a peal of laughter.

“Oh! I see,” he said. “Him want you, and you don’t want him, eh? Well, why don’t you tell him so? You don’t like him?”

“No. But I can’t afford to quarrel wid him, for him is low enough to discharge me if him get vex. That is why I say that worse advantage is taken of me than you.”

“That’s what you say, but you don’t know,” asserted Vincent; “but of course you are not in a safe position. What you going to do?”

“I doan’t know. I want you to advise me.”

“I can’t do that. A man shouldn’t advise anybody else if him can’t back up his advice; and if I was to tell you to send Curden about his business, and you lose you’ job, you would blame me. I am sorry for you, though. Well, I have to be moving on, as I got some important business to attend to. Perhaps it will be all right with Curden. Don’t fret.”

He nodded to her and went inside, leaving her profoundly depressed. She had asked him for help, and he had none to give. He had shown, if not said, that her predicament was none of his business, and had left her to manage her little affair as best she could. She remained standing there till he came out again, but he did not stop to speak to her this time. He had a portmanteau in his hand, and merely told her good-night as he hurried away.


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