Jane’s Career: A Story of Jamaica
Any one passing along the main street in Campbell Town, an interesting little suburb to the north-west of Kingston, on a certain Saturday night about two years ago, might have noticed in one of the little wooden houses which abound in the “Town” an unusual display of light. Had the passer-by paused to observe the reason of this, he would easily have seen, by simply looking into the house, that a celebration of some sort was in progress, and that a good many guests were present. The frail fence of wood and mesh-wire stood not more than four feet high, and behind it, not farther than a couple of yards away, was the single-story house of two rooms, with its two front sash-windows thrown wide open. On the walls of the room thus exposed to the public view sprigs of croton and other evergreens were hung; overhead swung festoons of coloured paper; on a long table covered with a white cloth were two or three flower-pots, and these were full of white roses and red, with bits of elder-flower, sprigs of lace-plant, and tubes of flowering cañas.
Bright was the little hall, and merry were the dozen or so of persons who were crowded in it. Men and women, some dark, some slightly fairer, they were all well-dressed; the men in tailor-made suits, the women in white muslin, and in pink and blue. The latter wore ribbons in their hair, and there was a gleam of gold ornaments against a background of firm and healthy flesh. One could see from outside that they were eating cake and drinking wine and aerated waters. The sound of their voices came clearly into the street, and now and then distinct sentences could easily be made out. One, indeed, could have heard everything being said had one chosen to lean against the fence, and this action, far from being resented, would have been much appreciated by the people inside. For, if the truth must be told the entertainment, celebration, or whatever you may choose to call it, was one to which it was desired to call public attention. And public attention meant the attention of the neighbours and of any decent person who might happen to be passing.
Listen attentively: one of the men is speaking.
“Yes,” he says. “I am never tired of remembering how I save my job. I told you about it before, didn’t I?”
“I never hear it yet, Mr Broglie,” replies one of the young women; the others have heard it often, as they hasten to declare.
“Well, it was like this. When I went down to work the Monday morning after the printers’ strike—you remember the strike?—it was only me and another young fellow that was there. I felt a little ashamed to begin as usual; but I had had a talk with Jane the night before, and I couldn’t fo’get what she said to me about suppose I lose me job. So, sir, I walked in. ‘Turning in to work, B.?’ the boss ask me. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘just as cheap.’ ‘You right,’ he said, ‘those people who gone on strike sure to regret it. You stick by me and I will stick by you. I am glad you follow what I said to you on Saturday.”
“Well, sir, it was all I could do to remain in the place during that day. It was so peculiar with everybody gone away, and only me and another fellow workin’. I felt sort of small, you know; but the boss was in the office most of the time, talking friendly-like, and so I remained. When I left the office in the evening, I meet a few of the people who strike, and they began to tease me; so I went straight home, and after about two weeks the whole thing was over. The Union leader went away, and some of the men find out that they had been deceived, and came back. My pay was raised, for I had to do a lot of work, and the boss made me foreman about six weeks after.
“And that wasn’t everything either—no, sir! It was through that same strike that Jane an’ me came together. She was always warning me about the strike, and telling me that I would lose me job, and what made me make up me mind at last to go on quietly with me work was when she told me about a man at the place she was workin’ at, who was treating her bad and forcing her to come to him. His name was—aam—aam—what aas that man’s name, Jane?”
“Curden,” answers one of the ladies present; “but why y’u bother going back so far? Nobody want to hear all them old story and things!”
“Yes,” continued the speaker imperturbably, “Curden; that’s the name. I know him too, though I never speak to him. A most ignorant-looking man working at Repburn’s place. I believe they will soon kick him out. You know what I hear him do one day? I hear—”
“But, Vin,” interrupts the lady who has just answered him, “you talkin’ all sort of foolishness that doan’t have nothing to do with what you was telling you’ friends!”
“Oh, yes! I was forgetting. Well, as I was telling you, Jane told me the whole story, and I could see that she wanted me to assist her, for she knew I was a man with a big heart, and a gentleman. I was so disgusted with that low fellow Curden that I thought I would teach him a thing or two, and the only way to do that was not to give up me job, for when a man out of a job in this country, it better him dead!”
“True word!” was the exclamation that burst simultaneously from the lips of the men who listened to the speaker.
“So I thought the whole matter over that night, and the next day I told her that on Monday morning she should go down to where Curden work, and send him to the devil independently. I told her I everything, and keep my job to help her, and I would look after her. You think she wasn’t glad!”
“Not glad at all!” interrupts the lady sharply. “It was you who was glad not to leave you’ job, like the other foolish people was doin’, and if it wasn’t for me you would have really leave it! I would have been all right, for I was independent of Curden an’ you’self. I can always work for meself!”
“Hear her talk now!” the speaker resumes; “but she didn’t talk like that at the time, though! However, I made up me mind and settled down, and to-night we are celebrating our first birthday. Tell me the truth now; what you think of the kid?”
“Oh, he is sweet,” comes in a chorus from all the ladies, while the men show their appreciation of “the kid” by reaching out for the decanters of wine on the table.
“Nice little child,” resumes Vincent; “and though he is only one year old, to-day—or stop, yesterday, no?—Well, whether it was yesterday or to-day don’t matter, for ‘as I was saying, I was sayin’—”
“You better not teck any more wine, Vin,” says Jane with a laugh; but it is Jane transformed. In her white muslin dress, with her hair done up with ribbons, wearing high-heeled shoes and looking as though she had been born to entertaining guests, Jane is not very like the little girl we have seen sitting mute and frightened as she drove into Kingston with Mrs Mason. She is not much like the girl we saw sharing apartments with Sathyra. She looks very much to-night as if she has “kept herself up”; her body is now fully developed; she has the lover she cares for, and in the other room lies “the kid” whom all the women declare to be the “dead image” of his father, while all the men see the mother chiefly in his lineaments. It is Jane perfectly contented at last, and dreaming of no higher fortune. It is Jane, who now herself employs a schoolgirl, who submissively calls her “Miss Jane,” and obeys her slightest command.
“You are right,” says Vincent, with semi-sober gravity. “I won’t take any more wine. Since you advise me about that strike, I always take your advice when you are right. But mark, boys, I never follow her when she is wrong. No, sir, I say a man must rule his household, or he is not a man. Jane, I don’t think another glass would hurt me?”
Jane says nothing to this, but keeps the wine away from him.
“Well, give me some kola then. But I can’t always let her have her own way,” he continues, as he sips the non-alcoholic drink.
“That is right, Mr Broglie,” agrees one of the lady guests. “We ladies mustn’t ‘ave our own way, though we ‘ave it all the same. Mrs Broglie—”
“She is not Mrs Broglie,” Vincent corrects her, having a passion at this moment for strict accuracy of statement.
The assertion surprises no one, for the fact is known to all. It disconcerts no one either. Jane merely says: “I not lookin’ for that title, me child,” and stuffs a piece of spongecake into her mouth. “Some-day it will come,” asserts the lady who was speaking.
“Why not?” asksVincent, suddenly fired desire to do something new and daring, something that should make him a marked man among his acquaintances for quite a long time. “Why not? Gentlemen and ladies, what you say about my getting married?”
“Why not, to be sure?” chorus the ladies. The men attempt a cheer, but modify it somewhat not knowing but that a similar sacrifice may be expected some day of those of them that are unmarried, and thinking Vincent not sufficiently sober to be aware of what he is saying.
“What do you think of it?” he asks, addressing them portentously.
“Well,” answers one man, rendered courageous by port wine, “marriage has many disadvantages.” He is one of the two married men present, and his wife is at home. He feels that he can speak with authority.
The other married man says nothing, but looks at Vincent with an expression of profoundest sympathy.
The bachelors, reflecting that, after all, it is not they who are proposing to get married, and wishing to gain the approval of the ladies, now launch out loudly in praise of matrimony. “It’s a grand thing,” says one of them, in a tone of voice which betrays an utter lack of conviction.
“Best thing in the world,” says another, whose practical attitude towards marriage must lead one to conclude, after this remark, that he is too unselfish ever to want the best things for himself.
“Well,” says Vincent, “I am going to get married. Jane, you hear that?”
But Jane is already being congratulated by all the ladies; it is now Mrs Broglie, and Mrs Broglie, and Mrs Brogli from everyone of them. The guest who at first used the “title” when speaking of Jane a little while ago, is now very anxious to claim credit for having “made the match”. She repeatedly says, “Well, just look how I called you ‘Mrs Broglie,’ and now you are going to get married!” Vincent surveys the scene proudly. He has created a sensation. He is the master of the situation.
And Jane? What does she say? Secretly proud as a peacock, she merely tosses her head as if her coming marriage mattered nothing whatever to her.
“Tcho!” she exclaims, “it’s all the same to me, me dear,” but no one is deceived by her attempted assumption of indifference.
. . . . .
Daddy Buckram carefully helped himself to another drink of old Jamaica rum, mixed it with but a few drops of water, slowly drank it, and resumed the burden of his remarks.
“Tell her for me, sister, that I always did know she would keep in mind de good advice I give her when she was goin’ to know de world. Jane was a gal I teck an interest in from she was ever so small” (he held out his right hand, palm downwards, about two feet above the floor, to show Jane’s height at the time he first saw her), “and if it wasn’t fo’ that, she couldn’t turn out so good.”
“Quite so, sah,” agreed Jane’s mother, respectfully smiling her approbation of the old gentleman’s claim to be the chief author of Jane’s good fortune. “No doubt if it, Daddy, you advise her well.”
“Yes; I told her to behave herself, an’ I remember I say to her, ‘If sinners entice thee, consent thou not.’ An’ when dat lady that took her away from here write you to say that Jane run away, what said I to meself? I said, ‘Buckram, that little gal remember you’ advice; she know why she run away. Don’t fret about her.’ An’ now, don’t you see I was right?”
As a matter of fact, when the news of Jane’s sudden departure from Mrs Mason had come to the village, the old man had privately expressed the opinion that the girl had always been bad, and that he had expected nothing different. But now he had forgotten that little incident completely.
“Jane is a good gal,” observed her father proudly; “I want to see dat little gran’chile she have. I am teckin’ two pair of fowl for it, an’ a pig.”
“When you got her letter, Broder Burrell?” inquired the old Elder.
“Yesterday, Daddy, an’ we starting next week to see her; we wi’ stay in Kingstown a whole week till she married.”
“She have most of her t’ings already,” explained Jane’s mother. “All she want is a wedden dress, and she say de dressmaker is hurryin’ up wid dat.”
“Yes, we must be clothe in de wedding garments,” commented Daddy Buckram. “Pass de bottle for me, broder. Stop! not too much water, it spoile de liquor. Too much water don’t go well wid rum.”
He sipped his drink, smacking his lips with loud appreciation, then took up the bottle and slowly read the label pasted upon it.
“’Myers’s Rum,’” he ruminated; “I hear ’bout dat rum for some time now. It’s a good rum, Sister Burrell; it warm de stomach, and de flavouring of it is just what I like!” He looked at the bottle thoughtfully and repeated, “It’s a nice rum.”
“I are goin’ to put some of it in a little bottle for you, Daddy,” said Mrs Burrell, anxious to please the old man. “Y’u can teck it wid y’u when you goin’ home.”
“That is very kind of you, sister; you’ thoughtfulness show you’ kind heart. It is not everybody would think of such a thing.”
He, however, had been thinking of it for the last fifteen minutes, and had done everything he could in the way of suggestion to bring Mrs Burrell’s thoughts into harmony with his own. He watched her pour some of the liquor into a pint bottle with obvious satisfaction; and when she corked the bottle and handed it to him, he again observed that it was a fine rum and had put his stomach in excellent condition.
“Those who have no wedding garments cannot be bidden to de feast,” he continued unctuously, taking up the burden of his previous discourse. “But you are bidden, and it must meck you’ head feel proud to think that a chile of yours keep herself up, an’ remain virtuous in spite of the tribulations and trials of a city like Kingston, till at last she goin’ to married to a gentleman. Well, I always tell dese pickney gal up here dat if they hear what I say, them will be all right, an’ Jane prove it. Tell her I send me blessing for her, sister, and dat she mus’ remember de ole man sometimes, an’ send all de good she have for him. Don’t fo’get me message. I am saying good night, Sister Burrell.”
“Good night Daddy,” said Mrs Burrell, respectfully helping the old man to the door.
“Walk good, sah,” advised Mr Burrell.
“Dat’s a good man,” said Mr Burrell, as the form of the Elder disappeared among the shadows of the rocks and trees.
“Jane have a lot to thank him for,” agreed his wife.
. . . . .
“Aunt!” almost shouted Cynthia, rushing up to Mrs Mason the Sunday after Daddy Buckram had sent his blessing for Jane—“Aunt, guess what I heard in church this morning?”
Cynthia’s sister was but a little behind her, and it seemed to be a race between them as to who should first communicate the precious news which had, it was clear, thrown them both into a state of excitement.
“What’s it?” asked Mrs Mason quickly; she suspected scandal, and was never averse from listening to it.
“Guess who is going to get married?” asked Emma triumphantly, dexterously coming to the front as the bearer of important tidings.
Both girls waited impatiently as Mrs Mason ran over in her mind the names of those of her acquaintance who might be in the way of matrimony.
She mentioned a few of these persons, but her nieces shook their heads emphatically; there was here some mystery beyond her solution, as she saw in a minute or two.
“Who is it?” she asked at length, not being able to think who it could be; “anybody I know?”
“Yes,” said Cynthia; “you remember that girl—”
“Who run away from you?” asked Kate, completing the question, and thus sharing in the joy of surprising her aunt.
“Well, so many of them. run away from me—the little wretches—that I can’t tell which of them you mean,” returned Mrs Mason sententiously. “Is it the last one? But it can’t be she, for she is more likely to go to prison than to get married. Who it is?”
“Jane! Jane Burrell!” exclaimed both Cynthia and Emma at once. “Her banns give out to-day. We could hardly believe our ears when we heard it. Fancy Jane geting married!”
“Wonders never cease,” commented Mrs Mason. “Over three years now we never heard a word about that gurl, and to-day we hear she is to be married! I don’t know what wont happen next!” Mrs Mason spoke as though quite prepared now for any extraordinary visitation which fate might have in store.
“Remember I told you about a year ago that I thought I saw her down-town in a store?” said Emma. “It must have been she, though she was quite like a woman, an had on a spanking piece of a dress. But I wonder what make her give out her banns in Coke Church, for she not a member there, and I never see her there.”
The strangeness of this proceeding on Jane’s part put them to thinking, but it never entered their minds that Jane had deliberately told Vincent to have her banns published in that church because Cynthia and Emma, and Mrs Mason occasionally, went there. Jane had never forgotten that, and she dearly wished that her former mistresses should know of her great triumph. But a greater pleasure still was in store for her.
“If the wedding is in the evening, we must try and go to see it,” said Emma to her sister. “After all, Jane wasn’t a bad girl. You will go, Aunt Charlotte?”
“Am I in the ‘abit of going to seenager people weddings?” asked Mrs Mason with overwhelming dignity. “You can do what you like, but there is nothing extraordinary in a servant wedding.” Then she relaxed a little. “I am glad she going to get married, for that is what most of them never do. But she was a decent gurl when she was here, and she owe a lot to me. I try my best with her, and now she reaping the benefits of it.” Mrs Mason thereupon determined that Jane’s success in life should in future be pointed out to all her schoolgirls as proof positive of the happiness that came to those who walked in the path indicated by Mrs Mason.
When Cecil came in later in the day, he also was told the news about Jane, which, he graciously remarked, was better than he could ever have expected to hear about her. He did not take the trouble to add that he had seen her several times since she had run away, but that she had taken no notice whatever of him.
His sisters found out that the wedding was to take place at half-past five on a Wednesday afternoon at Coke Church, and, accordingly, they were there long before the bride could make her appearance. As is usual on such occasions, there was a small crowd of sightseers assembled in the churchyard, and some members of it commented audibly on the appearance of the wedding guests as they arrived.
Clearly it was “a big wedding.” The guests were many. They came in carriages, the coachmen wearing white favours, the heads of the horses being decorated with rosettes of white silk ribbon. Most of the men wore dress suits, with black derby hats; one or two wore morning coats; and the women were resplendent in pink and blue and cream dresses, were covered with lace, and glistening with cheap jewellery. There was one young woman who flounced up the broad steps of the church in a manner that caused the crowd to stare, which was precisely, her intention. In a flaring blue dress and high-heeled blue shoes, and carrying a big bunch of red and white roses in her hand, she stationed herself by the church door and calmly surveyed all those that looked at her—in her we recognise Celestina. She too had been invited to come and see Jane married, that she might take back to the country a properly exaggerated account of Jane’s wedding, and she had come.
The guests continued to arrive, and the spectators to pass remarks on them; then, presently, there was an eager movement amongst the crowd. This was occasioned by the arrival of Vincent and his best-man, and now the spectators were able to indulge to their heart’s content in loud expressions of opinion on his appearance and on the manner in which he bore himself.
Next to the bride, he was the most important personage of the day. He felt this himself. He had bestowed much thought on the fitting of his evening coat, the polish of his patent-leather shoes, the whiteness of his new kid gloves. On the day previous he had held animated arguments with his friends as to whether or not he should go to church smoking a cigar; and at one moment he had inclined to the affirmative, and at another had decided against the cigar. He was no smoker, yet that mattered nothing to his friends. The majority of these had decided, putting it to the vote as it were, that it would never do for him to go to be married as though he were a boy and not a man, and this way of considering the matter had eventually determined him to sacrifice personal comfort to the exigencies of a manly appearance. It was also his friends who had solemnly voted that only a Machado “For Gentlemen” cigar would be appropriate on such an occasion: “a man,” said one of them, “should have the best, when him is going to be married or going to be hanged.” So with a fine cigar between his lips (his best-man being also similarly provided and sitting in a carriage with an assumption of being at ease, he had driven through the streets to the church. He hid attracted attention—that was part of the enjoyment of the proceedings. Repeatedly he had been enthusiastically hailed as “Mr Bride” by the crowds who had rushed out of yards and houses on hearing that a wedding procession was passing down the street. He sprang out of the carriage with the look of a man to whom getting married was an everyday occurrence, yawned as though slightly bored by the whole affair, tossed away his cigar and walked slowly up the steps and to the door of the church, his best-man lagging a pace or two behind so that the people should have a good opportunity of appreciating him also. These all agree that Vincent carried it off very well indeed; and now there was no one left to come except the bride and her father.
Jane’s mother was to remain at the house where the wedding feast was spread, to protect it, and Jane’s sister had come with Celestina. There was nothing to keep back the bride, but minute after minute slipped away, and still there was no sign of her. Jane knew that they would be anxiously expecting her, and she had too keen a sense of dramatic values to lessen the period of restless expectation by a second. More than once Vincent’s best man drew his watch out of his pocket, consulting it with a thoughtful air, as though every moment were of importance now. Other gentlemen consulted their watches. Those ladies who wore watches consulted them also, holding them long enough in their hands for everyone to see.
“Half-past five,” at last said the best-man: he looked serious.
“Not quite,” said Vincent; “my watch says twenty-eight past five.”
“Wrong!” returned the other, determined to argue the matter out. “I set mine by the twelve o’clock gun to-day, so I must be right. Hope nothing serious happen to you’ bride.” Two ladies audibly expressed their fear that something serious had happened.
“It might be a good thing if—” began one of them, but what her suggestion was to be will never be known, for at that moment there was a cry from a ragged contingent of watchers in the street—
Every man, woman, and child in the churchyard and by the door bent forward at the word, catching sight as they did so of an open carriage which dashed at full speed down the street towards the church. The coachman drove in grand style, and pulled up his horses magnificently in front of the wide-open gates. As he did so the spectators burst into a chorus of approval.
“God bless you, my dear!”
“Oh, she look pretty!”
“How her ole fader must be proud!”
Jane heard, and her heart almost stood still, so intense was her delight. Then, with her long veil streaming behind her, an orange-blossom wreath bedecked with silver leaves crowning her head, the heavy train of her white satin dress impeding her movements, she was handed by her father out of the carriage. Her bridesmaids hastened to arrange themselves behind her and to lift the train; at the church door they paused for a moment, and at that moment the organ pealed forth march and the choristers began to sing.
Up the long aisle the procession proceeded, everything appearing blurred and indistinct before Jane’s eyes. She heard the singing and the music, knew that she was to be married at last; but her mind was in a whirl, and, as she afterwards expressed it, “it was all just as if she had been standing on her head.”
She gave the answers she was told to give, the ring was slipped on her finger; she was Mrs Broglie—“the title” was hers in very fact! Then there was some signing of names to be done, and congratulations to be received, and her father manifested a strong disposition to make a speech in the church, and had to be prevented.
It was over now. Down the aisle on the arm of her husband, her veil thrown off her face, the organ sounding triumphantly. At the door of the church she stopped for a second, and as she did so a shower of rose petals fell over her. Instantly she recognised who had thrown them, and lingered to speak.
“Let us congratulate you, Ja—Mrs Broglie,” Emma said, hastily correcting herself. “We came to see your wedding.”
Herself and her sister put out their hands, and Jane’s cup of joy was full.