Jane’s Career: A Story of Jamaica

Chapter 6

Several days came and went, bringing their little trials and troubles to Jane; but nothing eventful happened. It was a rule of Mrs Mason’s establishment that her schoolgirls should not leave the yard after nightfall except on errands, she having strong objections to their “carrying on” with the youth of the neighbourhood, who, according to her, seemed to have nothing to do but “carry on” with the girls, with, sometimes, lamentable results. On two occasions, indeed, this worthy lady had been obliged to despatch incontinently to their parents two girls she had brought from the country to work with her, they not having walked strictly in the paths of the righteous.

It was also a principle of Mrs Mason’s never to accept responsibility for whatever might befall her schoolgirls. So, when she got rid of those two erring ones, she attributed their sins and wickedness to pure perverseness on their part, arguing sagely that if they had not disobeyed her orders, nothing whatever could have happened to them. It never occurred to her that a life of continuous drudgery might possibly prove irksome to a growing girl; she demanded a high standard of conduct from such, and was invariably scandalised when she found her expectations unfulfilled. This was often; hence, so to speak, Mrs Mason lived in an atmosphere of moral indignation. Believing Jane to be no better than the rest, she strictly, forbade her to cross the threshold of the gate after nightfall without permission.

Sarah, being a woman of independent status, could go in and out as she pleased. But Mrs Mason stipulated that she should not remain out later than half-past nine, for, as. the lady put it, “this is not a nager yard, and I will not ‘ave any servant doing what they like.” But Sarah honoured this rule in the breach, and, when she was supposed to be in bed, she sometimes even introduced a friend of hers into the premises, sitting with him at the gate until eleven o’clock and later. On the Wednesday night of Jane’s second week in Kingston one of these gentlemen called to see Sarah. He intimated his arrival by knocking at the gate very gently at about ten o’clock.

“It’s me cousin,” explained Sarah to Jane. “If Miss Mason ask y’u anyt’ing about me, y’u musn’t tell her anybody come to me.” Then, a, thought striking her, she invited Jane to go and sit with her and her friend a little while. This Jane gladly consented to do, and for an hour or more the girls squatted by the gate with the young man, laughing and talking under their breath.

This stolen sweet was very acceptable to Jane, as Sarah had imagined it would be. Sarah, in fact, though she would gladly have wished Jane away, felt that to make her a partner in forbidden actions would be to bind her to silence and co-operation. Presently, she thought, Jane would have male cousins of her own who would come to see her, and thus both of them would enjoy the luxury of visits from affectionate relatives.

Unfortunately the whispering was overheard by Mrs Mason and her nieces. These ladies could not be sure if it were going on in the yard; and they did not care to call out to Sarah at nearly eleven o’clock at night, as that might give the neighbours reason for doubting the superior respectability of the Mason household, a matter of some concern to the family. But the next morning, after the young ladies and Cecil had hurried out to work, Mrs Mason had both Sarah and Jane before her, and, taxed them with having entertained friends in her yard at a late hour the night before. As was usual with her, she made a positive statement instead of asking for information on the subject, it being an article of faith with her that all servants were liars, and that only by the assumption of certainty on her part, when she was by no means certain, could she elicit from them any admission of their guilt.

“So this is the way you use me yard!” was her greeting to both the young women. “You bring you’ dirty friends into me place up-to twelve o’clock at night, and keep me up and disgrace me house. Now, don’t tell me any lie! I not only heard you, but I got out of me bed and saw you; so you can’t tell me that nobody came to see you last night!”

Sarah knew that Mrs Mason may have heard but could not possibly have seen them, since only by coming out into the yard could she have done that. She therefore guessed that the lady was setting a trap for her, and before Jane, with her inexperience, could give them both away, she swept rapidly to the rescue.

“Y’u know, Miss Mason,” she protested, “y’u shouldn’t do that. It’s not becausen I are poor that you should teck such an exvantage of me to use me in dat way; for y’u never catch me tellin’ you any lie yet, ma’am, and you mus’ know dat I wouldn’t bring anybody into you’ yard, for I know y’u don’t like it. I am a female dat don’t like anybody to talk to me an’ cuss me ’bout her yard, for, after all, de street is for everybady dat pay taxes, an’ I can go out into de street if I wants to meet me frien’s. You shouldn’t say such a thing, ma’am; fo’ Jane here can tell y’u dat from de time I wash me foot last night, about half-past nine, till dis marning, I don’t get up out of me bed. If y’u doubts me y’u can ask Jane, for God know I am not a liard, an’ I wouldn’t like anybady call me one, for I might get ignorant, and be rude to dem.”

Thus Sarah rapidly, and with the intention of giving Jane her cue. The latter took it, and having now become a little accustomed to Mrs Mason and her methods, answered boldly enough.

“It wusn’t we, ma’am, you did hear last night, for after I say me prayers, I fall asleep till dis morning, but while I was sleeping I did t’ink I hear a noise, but being I was sleeping, I couldn’t tell what it was, and—”

Here her imagination failed her, and she ended on a weak and uncompleted sentence. Sarah felt that Jane had gone too far in her effort to give an explanation of the noise complained of by Mrs Mason, for that suggested an excuse. This was Mrs Mason’s own opinion. She went straight to the point.

“See here, Jane, I suppose y’u take me for a fool, eh?” she demanded.

“No, ma’am,” stammered Jane, startled that Mrs Mason should have thought her guilty of so terrible a piece of presumption.

“It is evident that you do take me for a fool,” Mrs Mason blazed out, “if y’u think I could believe one word you ‘ave said. I see what it is. You following the example of this wretch Sarah, who will insist upon bringing her nasty frien’s and companions into me place; and y’u dare to tell me a lie to me face! Drat you’ farredness!” and, carried away by anger, Mrs Mason dealt the girl a sharp box on her ear.

Jane’s hands flew to her head to ward off another blow, and she backed away from her irate mistress precipitately, emitting a howl as she did so.

“Stop you’ noise!” cried Mrs Mason, pursuing her, “stop you’ noise in me yard! You mus’ be think you are in you’ mother’s place! Stop you’ noise, I say, stop it!” and she gave Jane another box. This not hurting the girl overmuch, she thought it wise to repress any cry of pain, and thus obey her mistress’s order to make no noise in her yard.

But Jane’s silence under this last blow was attributed by Mrs Mason to an obstinate and rebellious spirit. For though she had ordered Jane to cease making a noise, she yet wanted her to give outward and visible sign and vocal expression of suffering, this being the only way in which (in Mrs Mason’s view) she could expiate her crime of the night before. So she hit the girl again, and still Jane repressed any sound. This was too much for Mrs Mason. Jane, she felt, was openly defying her. She now caught hold of her by the arm and dealt her box after box, uttering with every blow the command, “Cry, I say! Cry! Cry! I tell you, cry!” Thus adjured, and smart..ing from pain, Jane sent forth scream after scream, at the pitch of her voice, and once again Mrs Mason commanded her to cease her “nager noise” immediately, on pain of instantly being turned out of the yard.

How to obey such contradictory orders would have puzzled a wiser person than Jane. What she did was to break away from Mrs Mason and run into the room occupied by herself and Sarah. Her mistress did not pursue her, but turned to vent her displeasure on Sarah, who now stood waiting, defiance in her face, to hear what Mrs Mason might have to say to her.

“You are a forward, worthless woman,” shrieked Mrs Mason at her. “You are not only corrupt yourself, but you trying to corrupt that little girl. You are a liar if you tell me you didn’t ‘ave company here las’ night!”

Sarah felt that the term of her service with Mrs Mason was speedily drawing to an abrupt termination, and at once made up her mind to give word for word, and so leave, at the least, with all the honours of war.

“Who you callin’ liard?” she insolently asked. “Y’u better call you’ two brown niece liard, or your mamparla nephew. You is a liard you’self if y’u say y’u did see me last night. What sort of hie you must be ‘ave to see t’rough board and brick! Y’u tell me about me corrupt? Y’u corrupt you’self!’ In fact, y’u better mind you’ two niece, and you’ ‘Mister Cecil,’ who can’t meck even you’ schoolgal stay in your employments in peace! I never work wid such a disgrunted female like you yet! Y’u call you’self a lady, but I don’t know what kind o’ lady you can be when you always countin’ how much piece of yam come into de table, an’ always followin’ up you’ sarvant. De trute is dat people like you shouldn’t ‘ave sarvant at all! I know I am black, an’ I know that God meck two colour, black an’ white, but it must be de devil meck brown people, for dem is ‘neider black nor white! In fact, y’u better pay me at ‘once, an’ let me go. I not, stayin’ here any longer. Pay me me wages, an’ meck me leave you’ yard.”

“Pay you?” yelled Mrs Mason at the top of her voice. “Pay you? I will kick you out, that’s what I will do, you impudent dog! If y’u don’t leave me yard at once, I will send for a policeman.”

“Who you gwine to send for policeman for?” demanded Sarah, also at the top of her voice, and with arms akimbo. “Me? Y’u must be drunk! Look on de mallata [mulatto] ‘ooman how she stand! Y’u t’ink I am a schoolgal, no? Y’u fink you can teck an exvantage of me? If it wasn’t for one t’ing, I would a hole you in here, an’ gie y’u such a beaten dat you wouldn’t walk for a week. Y’u better pay me, for I tell y’u I am getten very ignorant. Don’t aggravate me, Miss Mason, don’t aggravate me, or I will get meself in trouble! Pay me me money, ma’am, an’ meck me go.”

Such quarrels were common enough in Mrs Mason’s experience. She had fought many a servant before. She was not daunted. She stood her ground boldly and repeated her order that Sarah should leave the yard immediately. Sarah replied by going to the door of her room and planting herself there.

Mrs Mason was equal to the emergency.

“Jane!” she called peremptorily.

The girl came out timidly, brushing past Sarah, who took no notice of her.

“Yes, ma’am,” she answered tearfully.

“Go at once and call me a policeman.”

Sarah laughed scornfully as Jane hurried away, and for the next two or three minutes the two combatants faced one another glaring, no word being uttered on either side. Then the gate opened and Jane came in, followed by the policeman, a young black man of intelligent appearance, who inquiringly looked at Mrs Mason as he entered.

“Hofficer,” said she with dignity, “I send for you to remove that woman, who has been abusing me and using the most shameful expressions in me yard. Please turn her out of this yard at once!”

“What shameful expression I use to y’u?” demanded Sarah.

“I am not having any further talk with you,” said Mrs Mason. “I beg you take that woman out me yard, policeman.”

“Why don’t you leave de lady yard?” asked the policeman, approaching Sarah.

“Because she won’t pay me me wages, which she want to tief,” replied Sarah. “I don’t want to stay in ‘er yard, but I not gwine widout me wages.”

“Y’u ‘ave any wages for her, ma’am?” the policeman asked Mrs Mason.

“She is not entitled to any,” asserted that lady. “If I told you what that woman ‘ave been doing you would agree with me. Just let her leave me yard at once.”

“See here,” said Sarah to the policeman, “I am workin’ here, an’ she tell a lie ‘pon me just now, an’ nearly half-murder ‘er schoolgal. She abuse me an’ want me to leave me pay, for she wants to tief it; but I not leavin’ dis place if I don’t get it. I don’t do noten. I don’t disgrace meself, so she can’t put me in charge. Beg you tell her so for me, sah.”

“Well,” replied the latter hesitatingly, “y’u better pay her an’ let her go. She is workin’ here, an’ I can’t put her out if you have anything for her. She is at present peaceful,” he added, with the air of a judge.

“What you say?” asked Mrs Mason, astounded at the attitude taken up by the policeman.

“That’s the law,” he explained. “She are entitled to be here, for she is workin’ here. If she abuse you, you can brought her up. You have any witness, ma’am?”

“I am not talking about witness, me good man,” said Mrs Mason scornfully. “I couldn’t go into a Court House with a dirty woman like that. I just want her to leave me yard.”

“See here, Miss Mason,” said Sarah quickly. “I tell y’u not to use me, for I will get ignorant again. Don’t call me a dirty woman. Y’u better pay me! I don’t want to get meself in trouble!”

“Yes, you better pay her, ma’am,” advised the policeman soothingly.

But Mrs Mason felt bitterly the humiliation of defeat. She attributed it entirely to the ignorance of the policeman. “Every nager is a nager,” she muttered loudly enough for him to hear, then turned inside to calculate exactly how much Sarah was entitled to for four days’ work. She returned with the money and threw it at the woman. Sarah picked it up contemptuously and laughed at the top of her voice, went into her room and gathered up her few belongings, then fired a parting shot at Mrs Mason.

“De mallata [mulatto] ‘ooman vex because she can’t tief me,” she said, and flounced out of the yard, the policeman following her. Mrs Mason watched them both go, then turned to instruct Jane in the duties of the day.


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