Jane’s Career: A Story of Jamaica

Chapter 18

Mr Curden beckoned to Jane in a somewhat mysterious manner when the girls were leaving their seats at noon the next day. Jane had been silent and thoughtful all during the forenoon. Vincent’s annoyance of the evening before, her forced acceptance of Curden’s proposal, her dread lest he should have seen her in the car with Vincent—of all this she had been thinking while at work, and with every moment her misery and depression had increased. Her colleagues had noticed her abstraction. They attributed it to something done or threatened by the foreman, and, though not at all willing to lose their situations by interfering with matters that did not concern them, they were quite ready to take Jane’s part against constituted authority should she directly appeal to them for sympathy and aid. Cowards they were not, and even their prudence could not be depended upon to prevent them from making a demonstration of disapproval on the impulse of a moment’s indignation.

It was this disposition to throw all fear of consequences to the winds, even if they should regret having done so an hour afterwards, that imposed a kind of check upon their masters. To deal with one of them was easy enough: to deal with all of them was entirely a different matter. And you could never be certain that they would not all take fire at a grievance, real or imaginary, without a moment’s warning. Had Jane appealed to them that morning, putting her case before them plainly, they would have talked loudly about it (calling no names), made a song out of it, given the foreman to understand clearly that they knew all about it, and thought he was taking a mean advantage of one of them, and thus would have compelled him to leave Jane alone for a time. Knowing how they could and would talk, he would not have dared to persecute her further, or to interfere with her just then. The truth becoming plainly known, he might have been reprimanded by his employer and have been heartily laughed at by all who heard of the matter.

The reprimand he might not have minded much. The laughter would have cut him to the quick. But, in the end, Jane would have had to go. Some really good reason would have been found for sending about her business. The assistance of the other girls, rendered to-day, would hardly have been tendered a second time: we get tired of helping others. Jane knew only too well that no permanent dependence was to be placed on her colleagues, and, as a matter of fact, did not intend or wish to provoke a quarrel with Mr Curden. There was nothing to be gained by that; Vincent was unsympathetic and even angry, and there was nothing in the world to prevent her from breaking with Curden the moment she wanted to do so in the future, and found herself able to do it without material loss. When she obeyed his furtive summons, therefore, the fear uppermost in her mind was whether he had seen her the evening before in the car. She was trying to think out an excuse as she waited to hear his possible remonstrance.

His first words reassured her, though of themselves they were not pleasant to hear.

Mr Curden pointed to a heap of bottles that had to be labelled that day, with a view to giving all curious persons to understand that his interview with Jane was strictly about business; needless to say, he deceived no one. Looking away from her and towards the bottles, he modulated his voice so that no one should overhear his words.

“I saw a nice place that would suit you well,” he muttered, “on the Beaconsfield Road. It face the street, and there are some other rooms in the yard, but that won’t interfere with you. It is a quiet, secluded spot; quite peaceful. You better go and look about it this evening; inquire the rent—it can’t be much—and if it’s reasonable, I will give you the money and you can take it tomorrow.”

Jane fenced a little.

“But what about furniture? Y’u can’t get a place wid noten in it?”

“That is all right. When you get the place you can buy some furniture. You can get the furniture after you make you’ other arrangements. I will have the money ready.”

There was no further objection to urge after this; Jane nodded her head and went to her lunch.

That evening, at about eight o’clock, she took a walk to the Beaconsfield Road to look at the house which Mr Curden had found out and had commended to her. As he had said, it was situated in a quiet and rather unfrequented part of the city; it was a single room, but detached and facing the street; on inquiring what was the rent asked for it, she was told ten shillings a month.

For herself, she would have preferred a house in a livelier part of the town, but this place was clearly Mr Curden’s choice. She told the woman who was in charge of the yard that she would come back the next evening with the first month’s rent, and on the Tuesday morning she informed Curden that the place in Beaconsfield Road would do as well as any other, but that she would not find it convenient to move into it before Monday morning next. For one thing, she had to get a dress which she had given out to make, and which would not be finished before Saturday afternoon (local dressmakers having acquired the habit of completing their work on pay-day). Then she did not want to leave her present home too suddenly, as this might give some persons the impression that she had reasons, not very creditable to her, for hastening her departure. These were genuine objections on her part to immediate removal, for though she had told Mr Curden that she had already given notice of leaving her room, she had as a matter of fact not yet done so; and having left both Mrs Mason and Sathyra in a hurry, her pride revolted at the idea of another departure which might suggest flight. Deep down in her heart, too, was a reluctance to say good-bye to the yard where she had met, Vincent, and where he still lived.

“Very well,” said Curden; “that will suit me. You must carry the month’s rent to the landlady to-night; then next week Monday I will give you some money to get some pieces of furniture, and you can remove what you have at the same time. You can’t come to work that day, but that will be no difficulty, for you can get the day off.”

“Don’t you better give me the money for the furniture Saturday evening?” Jane remarked. “How can I get it on Monday if I don’t come to work?”

Mr Curden thought a moment. The amount which he had determined to spend on furniture was two pounds, and he did not wish to trust Jane for too long a time with so considerable a sum. With two pounds in her hands on Saturday night, and her week’s wages, it might enter her head to refuse to come back to work and to have anything further to do with him. He saw quite clearly that there was no enthusiasm in her acceptance of his proposals; she entered into the arrangements with reluctance. It was a case of necessity with her; remove that necessity, even if but temporarily, and she would throw him over without a moment’s hesitation. He expected that in any event she would do so some day, but what might happen in the future did not disturb him. On his side, he did not intend this -connection to be permanent.

He decided not to place in her hand the money for the furniture before it was absolutely necessary to do so.

“You can come down Monday morning,” he said, “and ask me to let you off for the day. Then I will give you the money. I can’t give it to you before, because I won’t get it before Sunday night. You can buy what y’u want on Monday, and go up to the place to receive it and you can get everything fixed up. I will see you in the evening.”

“All right,” said Jane, “dat will do.” And that evening she went and rented the one-roomed house.

. . . . .

The meetings of the compositors were very frequent now. Their committee met continuously in the hall where the Union men assembled; the members of it took their meals on the premises, and at almost any hour of the day, and up to eleven o’clock at night, there was something in the nature of a speech being delivered. The most enthusiastic members of the Union were the men who were out of work, and had been so for some time. Their support was moral, for it was long since they had been in a position to contribute financial aid to anything; steady work had never appealed to them, it being regarded by them in the light of tyranny and oppression. They had been admitted into the Union for reasons of policy: the idea was to prevent them from taking the places of the regular workers when these should go on strike. They would, of course, receive assistance during the strike, and this occurred to them as being so eminently fair an arrangement that they were ceaseless in advocating extreme measures at once; it was they who most loudly declared their intention of “buying out” the newspaper offices as soon as these should have been compelled to suspend operations, and already they saw themselves in control of all the offices. They were very fierce in their denunciation of any suggestion of compromise; they were prepared to heap contempt upon anyone who should show signs of timidity at this crisis. Their devotion to the cause was nothing less than beautiful. Yet, in spite of their enthusiasm, it was evident that, as the fateful Saturday approached, a few of the compositors were wavering. To reanimate the courage of these a great meeting was called at noon on Wednesday, and special addresses prepared.

From this meeting only three or four of the Union members were absent, and this for the first time since the printing offices had received notice of the corning strike. Their absence was remarked, for they happened to be amongst those suspected of vacillation. It was generally felt that they were withdrawing themselves from the movement, and the thought of this defection gave more than one man present a twinge of uneasiness.

But this soon gave way to the old transports of enthusiasm. The labour leader was a good speaker, and to-day he did his best.

“We have funds,” he said, as he came to the end of his speech. “We have enough money of our own to last us for two months, and an agent of the American Federation of Labour will be here in two weeks’ time to offer us assistance.” He dramatically drew a letter from his pocket as he spoke, and waved it in the air; as he did so the audience burst into loud applause.

“What have we to fear, then? What are any of us frightened for? The employers say they won’t meet us? Well, we will buy them out!”

At this, those members of the Union who had nothing to lose in the way of situations, and whose determination was therefore unmovable, rose as one man and cheered the speaker. For a minute and more the only words that could be heard were, “Buy them out! Buy them out!”

“Yes,” continued the orator, “we will buy them out; and then what will become of these people who ‘rat’ to-day? Do you think we are going to have anything to do with them? Do you think so?”

The workless members of the Union were very certain that they would have nothing to do with anyone who should “rat.” They made that clear with one thunderous “No!”

“We have gone too far to go back now,” the speaker went on. “Any man who draws back will only be a tool in the hands of his master, and we will treat him as a coward and a traitor: we will give him—!”

He left unuttered the punishment to be meted out to the backslider, and prepared to end his remarks.

“The whole island is with us. All the tradesmen are sending us words of encouragement. They tell us to go on and. win, and we are going to go on and win. The people in Montego Bay have told our friend and fellow member, Mr Broglie, that they are behind us. But I had better let Mr Broglie speak for himself. He will tell you what everybody is saying about this strike!”

Vincent rose on this invitation, and for a little while he could not make himself heard, so enthusiastic was his reception. The noise was music in his ears. He flung out his right hand as he began. Whatever the consequences of the approaching strike, there could be no doubt that the agitation was affording unlimited enjoyment to those taking an active part in it.

He told the meeting what most of those present had heard before: how he had gone to Montego Bay, how the compositors there were enthusiastically on the side of the Union, but had decided not to strike just then, there being no urgent necessity to do so. They would, however, if necessary later on, be glad to assist the Kingston strikers with money; in the meantime they were looking on, and they strongly advised their Kingston brothers to go on and win.

Somehow, it seemed to Vincent even as he spoke that the people in Montego Bay had not rendered them much help after all. They had treated him very well, had hailed him as a hero, had seen him off with acclamation, and when he returned to Kingston it had been with the feeling that the second town in the island was ready to support anything that the Kingston compositors might propose. He had told the committee this, and the Union members; had told them this rhetorically; and they had been as content as he himself with the result of his mission, being quite ready to accept fine words as deeds. They knew that the printing offices would be disorganised by the strike. Beyond this palpable fact they did not see or care to see. They laughed at the threat of introducing linotype machines. They had never seen such machines at work; consequently they could not imagine hand-workers being replaced by them. They knew it would take some time to train compositors, and, in the interval, what would the offices do? As they saw no escape for the employers, they persuaded themselves that they had nothing to fear. And now America was sending them aid—or a labour union man which, to them, amounted to the same thing. American dollars would soon come pouring into Jamaica, and all because the local Compositors’ Union had a few’ weeks before affiliated itself with an American Union. They fed themselves up with words, and Vincent had done the same as much as anyone else of them.

But as he spoke now he felt doubts crowding into his mind. As a matter of fact they had assailed him before, and he had fought them off. Since Sunday he had not spoken to Jane, and would listen to no one who would not uphold the cause of the Union; but, try how he would, the question would force itself upon him—suppose the strikers should lose? It was in his mind at this moment; he had seen the letter from America which his leader had produced so dramatically a little while ago, and he knew that it contained no promise of financial help: a man was being sent to inquire into the affairs of the local Union and to assist to organise it properly; that was about all. A week ago, he himself would have seen in that letter the promise of monetary assistance; now that he was on the brink of losing what he knew was a good situation, his own rhetoric failed to convince him.

Yet he spoke on.

“Wherever I have gone to, I have heard the same thing. Our labour has been robbed, and everybody sympathises with us. Those who don’t sympathise know why they don’t. They are getting something for it, or they are robbing other people like us. But we don’t mind what they say; they can’t frighten us. We are going to win. We can’t lose!”

He ended upon that note, and the applause was tremendous. Everybody shook hand with everybody else when the meeting broke up, and Vincent left the hall with an air of pride and satisfaction. He went back late to his work, fully determined to give “the boss” a piece of his mind should the latter say anything to him about his overstaying his hour. But not a word was said to him. He was a good workman, and his employer was genuinely sorry that he had joined a movement which, even if it succeeded, could not help him personally. It was not until Saturday night, when he went to get his wages, that “the boss” attempted to talk to him about the strike.

“Can I say a word to you, Broglie?” he asked.

This was just what Vincent wanted to avoid; but, without being positively rude, he could not refuse to hear what Mr Deemster had to say to him, and his mind was not now inflamed by recent speeches.

Mr Deemster took him aside.

“I am sorry you are going away, Broglie,” he began. “I thought you would have changed your mind at the last moment, and I don’t think you have thought carefully over what you are going to do. You get a good pay here, and you know you are comfortable. You are a good man, but you have allowed yourself to be led away by those other chaps who—”

“How long you going to stay there, Broglie, talking to that man?” called out one of his colleagues of the office. The men were in a belligerent frame of mind, for they had hoped for surrender on the part of the employers that evening. All day they had been mutinous, and now that they saw Vincent talking to Mr Deemster they were becoming suspicious.

“I am coming,” he called back, and made a movement as if to go.

“Well, come along then, and don’t let that man talk stupidness to you. It is no fun now,” the same man answered roughly.

Vincent felt ashamed of this rudeness. “Don’t mind what him say, sir,” he said to Mr Deemster; “I am hearing you.”

“I have nothing more to say to you, Broglie,” replied Mr Deemster. “If you have made up your mind I can’t stop you from doing what you want to do. But you will find in a few weeks that you will be in a bad position, and even if I might like to do something for you then, I might not be able to. If you choose to come back on Monday morning, you can do so. I leave it all to you.”

Vincent shook his head slowly. “I am sorry to part, Mr Deemster,” he said, “but it can’t be helped. We printers suffer a lot, and even if I am all right, it is not so with a lot of us. We must take our chances.”

“Very well,” said Mr Deemster, and then the men went out.

They went to a meeting. For hours that night did they consult and make speeches, and wonder what the offices would do; but now that the final step had been taken, there was fear in the hearts of most of them. The enthusiasm had quite evaporated. A reaction had set in. There was as much noise as ever, and that section of them which looked forward to a few weeks of sustenance out of the strike fund was as loud as ever in expressing its determination to buy the employers out. Vincent got home at about twelve o’clock, and in spite of the whisky he had drunk that evening he could not forget the warning which Jane and his employer had given him. Again and again he asked himself the question: “Suppose the men should lose, suppose they should be beaten?” And he suspected that some of them were also asking that vital question.

He went out the next morning early, not returning till after nightfall. There was another great meeting of the strikers to be held that night; but all day there had been meetings, and he had had enough of them. When he got home he found Jane waiting for him; she came up to him as he entered, and addressed him first.

“Ask you’ pardon, Mr Vin, but I thought as I would tell y’u good-bye,” she said, and she held out her hand.

“You going away?” asked Vincent. “Oh, yes; I did hear from somebody in the yard this week that you was leaving, but I was so busy I didn’t give it a second thought. Where you going to?”

“To a place in Beaconsfield Road.” She described the locality and the house, which had no number.

“We’ll miss you,” he returned. “But I must come and see you sometimes. Why you leaving?”

“You won’t miss me, neither you or anybody here, except Miss Lucy, de lady who did have the baby dat you an’ me carry to de burial ground. An’ you mustn’t come to see me, for dat will bring confusion.” Jane spoke with a break in her voice.

“Phew!” whistled Vincent. “I see! You going to Mr Curden, no?”

“Yes,” said Jane, a little defiantly. “Can’t do better, an’ it’s no use forming independent when y’u know that y’u can’t afford it. That’s why I say you mustn’t come where I am living, for Mr Curden wanted to quarrel wid me about you already, and now that him is paying my rent, him will be worse. But,” she added, after a thought, “I may see y’u sometimes all the same. You goin’ to live here long?”

“To tell you the truth,” said Vincent, “I don’t know. We strike yesterday evening, and if we lose I will have to leave here!”

“Y’u mean to say you really leave, Mr Vin?” exclaimed Jane. “Y’u leave your good, good situation for noten at all? What you do it for? But I mustn’t ask you, for it is de same t’ing dat you vex wid me about last Sunday. I ask you’ pardon, but you really meck a mistake, Mr Vin. What you gwine to do now?”

“You needn’t ask me pardon,” said Vincent, “for you didn’t mean any harm. I am sorry I was vex with you. Well, what is done can’t be undone. Let us talk about something else. When you going?”

“To-morrow, an’ I wish it was never! I hate dat man! I wish it was you, Mr Vin!”

She had not intended to say this, but she felt it, and the words had slipped out of her mouth before she was aware of them. She was not ashamed of them, however; love-making is explicit enough on the part of both sexes in Jamaica.

“Me!” exclaimed Vincent. “Well, there is many a worse girl than you, Jane; I like you. But that was all very well some time ago. Things may be hard with me now.”

“I doan’t mind that,” said Jane eagerly. “If y’u tell me not to go to dat man Curden, I won’t go. It doan’t matter to me if y’u don’t have anyt’ing now. It is not because you have or you doan’t have a job that I like you, Mr Vin. If I love you an’ you love me, it’s all right. I doan’t mind for anyt’ing else!”

Vincent had been made love to many times before, but on those occasions he had been in a good situation. This was a unique experience for him. He was troubled in mind, too, and felt the need of sympathy.

“You are a good girl, Jane; you not only looking for what you can get from a man. You are the kind of girl a man can depend on.”

“Yet y’u goin’ to let me go to Curden.”

“Not a bit of that!” said Vincent with emphasis. “I am goin’ to make you teach Curden a good lesson for his forwardness and cheek!”

. . . . .

Monday came, and Mr Curden waited anxiously for Jane to make her appearance. He was rather pleased when an hour or so passed, and she was still absent. “She is fixing up her things,” he remarked to himself, and when another hour had flown he was still content. But at ten o’clock he felt that she should have come by then, though she still had lots of time to buy what she wanted and to fix up the little house in Beaconsfield Road. At eleven o’clock he became decidedly impatient; but a little while after he was all smiles as he saw Jane enter the building, dressed as if for a special purpose.

He put his hand in his pocket, taking out the money for her and concealing it till he should be able to slip it into her hand. As she was late, he had to make some remark for the benefit of others.

“You not in time this morning, Miss Burrell,” he called out loudly, while she was still at some distance from him; “what’s the matter?”

Instead of going up to him, as he expected, Jane walked up to where the girls were sitting.

She tapped Chichi on the shoulder.

“I am off, me love; I am off, young ladies. I come to tell you good-bye.”

They all stopped working at once to learn the cause of this unexpected announcement on the part of Jane. As for Mr Curden, he was at a loss to understand what she could mean.

“Y’u going away?” asked Chichi.

“Yes, my dear; it seems as if because y’u can’t like some people y’u working wid, you can’t keep your job; but I am all right, an’ as I doan’t want to be friendly wid any common sort of man, an’ to throw away meself, I meck up me mind to leave here. You must all come an’ see me sometimes. Doan’t you know where I am living?”

Curden heard it all, and not a word had he to say. And not a word would Jane say to him. Everyone present knew that Jane was leaving because of him, and every one realised that she must have bettered her position, so merry and confident and scornfully defiant were her looks.

“You must come an’ see me and my beau,” she remarked, this being her parting shot. “Of course, I can’t come back here, where I may be ordered outside. But dat don’t matter. I am off. Don’t fo’get to come!” She went out of the building with a magnificent flounce, leaving the girls tittering, and whispering to one another. She never even looked at Curden, who realised with dismay that she had made him the laughing-stock of the whole establishment!


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