Jane’s Career: A Story of Jamaica

Chapter 5

“To teck off de dirt, ma’am.”

Emma only laughed, not being bad-natured; but Mrs Mason, arriving on the scene just then, was exceeding wroth, declaring that she had never heard of such foolishness before.

Then it was presently discovered that Jane was clumsy. While she was setting the table for breakfast that same Sunday morning, one of the plates slipped from her hand and broke in two. She took up the pieces hastily, put them together, and placed them on the dinner-wagon, in the vain hope that the accident would not be discovered just then, and that, later on, it might be attributed to some other person.

But the dinner-wag-n was small; Mrs Mason had not a large stock of crockery; and within five minutes after the plate was broken, that lady had the pieces in her hands and was shrilly calling to Jane to come and explain to her what had happened, although she already knew quite well.

“It fall out of me hand and broke, ma’am,” stammered Jane, with a sinking sensation in her heart. “It just drop like that,” she added, giving this additional bit of information with a view to showing that the accident was entirely the plate’s fault.

Mrs Mason had heard the same. sort of excuse a hundred times before. But as she believed in bringing guilt home by a rigid system of cross-examination, she sat in front of Jane and asked her where she had been standing when the plate fell.

“Right by de table, ma’am,” Jane said, indicating the spot with her finger.

“And what were y’u doing?”

“I was wipin’ it, ma’am.”

“An’ what were y’u looking at?”

“Noten, ma’am.”

“Well, if you were looking at nothing, you couldn’t ‘ave been doing you’ work properly, Jane.”

“I doan’t mean dat, ma’am. I mean dat I was not lookin’ at anyt’ing dat didn’t concern me.”

“Then how the plate come to drop?”

“As I tell you, ma’am. It just teck an’ drop out of me hand, an’ before I could catch it up, it broke in two.”

“Now gurl,” said Mrs Mason, with a fine show of righteous indignation, “don’t talk stupidness to me! How can a plate drop out of your ‘and if you was holding it properly? Why are you telling lies to excuse your carelessness? You ever hear a plate have life? How can it broke itself?”

As Jane had no reply to make to this, Mrs Mason turned to another section of the indictment.

“And why instead of coming to tell me you had broken me plate, y’u try to piece it up, an’ put it on me dinner-wagon? Don’t you see you are not a good gurl? Why did you put the broken plate on me dinner-wagon, I say?”

Jane stood dumbly before her, tears beginning to appear at the corners of her eyes.

“Aren’t y’u going to answer me?” loudly demanded Mrs Mason, who felt that the girl must be brought to a proper state of contrition before final judgment was pronounced against her.

“What’s it, Aunt Charlotte?” asked Cynthia, putting her head and shoulders out of her aunt’s bedroom and looking into the dining-room. Cynthia was dressing for church, and at that moment was in deshabille. But she knew there were no men about, and so felt that her half-clothed appearance did not matter.

“What’s it but this gurl again,” Mrs Mason answered. “She mash me plate and put it back on me dinner-wagon. Don’t you see she getting bad already before she been here two days? They are all alike! You can’t get a decent gurl for love or money, and yet when they are in the country they can only get bananas and herrings to eat! Jane, do you think you ‘ave behaved properly?”

“No ma’am,” said Jane, hoping that by confessing her sins and wickedness she would escape further punishment.

“Give her a chance, Aunt Charlotte,” suggested Cynthia. “She is new.”

“Well,” said Mrs Mason, “I won’t flog y’u this morning, because Miss Cynthia beg for you, and because it is Sunday morning, an’ I. don’t want any nager bawling in my yard. But you ‘ave to thank you’ stars that y’u get off so easy, despite that wicked lie and deceit you ‘ave practised. That plate cost me a sixpence, and I am going to take it out of your wages at the end of the week. In fact,” concluded Mrs Mason with conviction, “I don’t know what I am paying you wages for. Many gurls would be glad to take your place for the food and shelter I am giving you; and I know you are not going to be grateful! I suppose that other wretch, Sarah, is burning up me breakfast now,” and with that she hurried outside to see what Sarah was doing.

Jane had thought the night before, after she had been to the market with Sarah, of the many things she would be able to buy with her money at the end of next week, the sight of “pretty things” having stirred in her the desire of possession. And now, at one fell stroke, Mrs Mason had confiscated one-half of her week’s wage. It was a bitter blow; she would much have preferred the flogging. But she divined that had she got the flogging she would also have lost the sixpence. Cynthia knew this also, so she called Jane to help her to dress, with that obvious kindness which benefactors usually display towards those who have been put under an everlasting obligation to them.

Jane bungled through the business of waiting-maid pretty badly; but saved herself from all blame by expressing intense admiration for the dress spread out on the bed. It was made of some flashing pink stuff, and with it was to be worn a hat trimmed with great feathers that looked like a field-marshal’s plume. Cynthia; was going, to church that morning of the purpose of setting on fire with envy several girls whom she knew, and affectionately styled “my dear,” and most cordially disliked. When she had dressed, she turned herself round and round before the big looking glass in her aunt’s room, and asked Jane how she looked.

“Y’u look nice, ma’am,” Jane declared warmly. Then a happy thought came to her: “Y’u pretty, ma’am. You is fashionable.”

That last word Jane had heard in the country, where it had been applied to Celestina principally; and now she brought it out in the hope of pleasing this stylish young lady who might now and then be able to save her from the wrath to come.

Her diplomacy was an unqualified success. Praise such as this was sweet to the ears of Cynthia, who at once called out to her sister to come and look at her. Her sister was also dressed, though not in new garments, and she heartily endorsed every word that Jane had said. They got on very well together did these two sisters, forming between them an offensive and defensive league against all other young women of their class. They spoke to Jane very nicely while putting the last touches to their toilet, and it was clear enough that they were kindly disposed towards her. Jane decided that Mrs Mason was a terror, but that her nieces were nice young ladies. Yet as they were out at work every day except Sunday, she knew they could not give her any considerable assistance.

As for Mrs Mason’s nephew, he did not go to church that day, but lingered about the house and yard, in slippers and without his jacket, always choosing those spots where, he could watch Jane as she went about her work. It was Sarah. who drew Jane’s attention to this.

“Y’u notice dat mamparla[1] man?” she asked the girl as she scoured a pot with the vehemence of a deadly enemy. “Him won’t teck him eye off you. Him mus’ be think him is pretty!”

“But why him lookin’ at me?” asked Jane, though she had not forgotten Cecil’s winks and signs of the previous evening.

“Don’t y’u know?” replied Sarah. “All him can do is to worry him aunt schoolgal. Rachel wouldn’t even look ‘pon him. Him face favour yabba-pot!”[2]

Jane laughed; yet felt no displeasure because Cecil was devouring her with his glances. At the back of her mind too she had a kind of suspicion that Sarah disliked Cecil because he had never paid her the compliment of his attentions.

“Him doan’t gone to church wid him sister,” said Jane. “Him ever go out on Sunday?”

“Yes, but him won’t go out if him can talk to you. Dat is why him stop home to-day. His aunt sleeping inside, an’ if I ever move from dis spot him will come straight up to you.”

Being convinced of this, and wishing to spite Cecil, Sarah would not move from the place where she sat; but this did not in the least disconcert the young gentleman. He lounged about the yard, smoking one cigarette after another with evident enjoyment; he was a great smoker and a connoisseur in the matter of cigarettes. He used to boast that he had studied the cigarette question very carefully; and it was, indeed, one of the very few questions he had ever studied. He knew every brand of cigarette manufactured in Jamaica. After sampling all, he had come to the conclusion that White Seals were the best, and on this point he was always ready to hold forth at any length, and to give voluminous reasons for the faith that was in him.

“A White Seal cigarette,” he would say, “is strong without being rank, pleasant of odour, and satisfying to the smoker’s palate. You get twelve of them for a penny-ha’-penny, and, if you are careful, that will last you a whole day.” He also contended that the smoking of White Seal cigarettes inculcated the habit of patience; while you watched and waited you could smoke. It was now a staying match between himself an? Sarah, of whose feelings towards him he was well aware. He therefore enlisted his favourite cigarettes against her in this battle of patience; it was White Seal against Sarah, and he backed the former to win. It did.

Doggedly did Sarah sit there, but as doggedly did Cecil loaf about. Cigarette after cigarette he consumed, and the wind blew the smoke of defiance in Sarah’s direction. Sarah had something to do inside the house; so, at last, she was obliged to rise reluctantly and, so to speak, surrender the position to Cecil.

“You watch an’ see ef him doan’t come up an’ talk to you,” she said to Jane, as, eyeing the young man malevolently, she walked away.

It was as she prophesied. No sooner had Sarah disappeared from sight than Cecil turned to what he considered “business.” He strolled nonchalantly in Jane’s direction, and after glancing at the house to see whether anyone was likely to observe him, he remarked:—

“How y’u getting on, Jane?”

Though she might discuss him freely at a distance, Jane felt in his presence something of the awe that overcame her when she was speaking to her mistress. He was Mrs Mason’s nephew, he was Mr Cecil, he was the young ladies’ brother-the gentleman of the house. He was her young master, too, and Sarah had told her that another girl had been abruptly dismissed for being rude to him. If she were dismissed she should not know what to do, for she was in a big, strange city and she had not a friend in it.

Timidly she answered Cecil—”I getten on well, sah.”

“That’s right,” said Cecil heartily, as though he had contributed considerably to her well-being and progress. “A fine-looking gurl like you is bound to get on well. Where you come from?”

“Mount Salas, sah.”

“I don’t know it,” replied Cecil reflectively; though his lack of geographical knowledge was not to be wondered at, seeing that he had never left Kingston once in his life, and regarded books as a superfluity.

“Any more nice-looking gurls up there like you?” was his next question.

Jane answered nothing, but hung her head smiled. She went on with her work.

“You mustn’t be bashful,” said Cecil encouragingly. “You must talk up. Tell me the truth: you me?” Jane did not know what reply to give to this question. She dared say neither yes nor no, and could not with truth at that moment have said either. Her heart beat a little quicker, she became more timid. She knew perfectly well what these advances meant, and she was afraid. Just then, hearing Sarah coming out of the house, Cecil hastily stooped down and, throwing threepence in Jane’s lap (and pinching her arm incidentally as he straightened himself), he quietly told her to take the money as a present, and strolled off as Sarah came back into the yard. Cecil made some pretence at going to light his cigarette at the kitchen fire, while Sarah laughed scornfully and began to sing, “It was under de cocoanut-tree, darling,” in a voice full of meaning.

Jane hid the threepenny bit, and truthfully told Sarah what Cecil had said to her.

“Dat’s de beginning,” commented Sarah sagaciously. “But ef I was you I wouldn’t boder wid him, for if him aunt ever fine out dat him is talkin’ to you, she will ill-treat y’u and turn you away.”

“I not gwine to have noten to do wid him,” Jane declared.

“Y’u right, me child,” agreed Sarah.

  1. Worthless, effeminate: a term of contempt.
  2. A native earthenware. pot, round and ugly.


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