Jane’s Career: A Story of Jamaica

Chapter 7

Mrs Mason realised that, with Sarah gone, she was now entirely dependent upon Jane for the performance of the household work until she could get another servant. She therefore, though still boiling over with rage, immediately adopted a maternal attitude towards Jane, and delivered to that erring girl a little homily that could not have been bettered by the kindest of mistresses.

“You see, Jane, ‘ow you have made me lose me temper?” she began. “Do you think I find any satisfaction in chastising you? Do you believe your mother would be pleased if I write to her and tell her ‘ow you get up late in the night to carryon with worthless young men?”

Jane, remembering her parents’ admonition as to “keeping herself up,” hung down her head. Mrs Mason observed the movement and knew at once that she was on the right track.

“In fact, I think I ought to write to you’ parents at once and tell them about your behaviour. I ‘ave taken you under my protection to train you and bring you up as a good servant, and nobody can say that you ‘ave been treated unkindly since you been here. An’ I warned you about Sarah. Yet look what you went and do last night. I will ‘ave to write you’ mother and tell her the whole thing. Perhaps I better send you back at the same time I send the letter.”

On hearing this, Jane began to cry quietly. The thought of going home in disgrace, with the censure and ridicule that would attend such a home-coming, frightened her desperately.

“I beg parding, ma’am, I won’t do it again,” she sobbed, and Mrs Mason made a show of relenting.

“Very well, then,” she said, “I will give you a chance this time. But the next time I ‘ave any reason to complain about you, back you go! Now come with me to the kitchen an’ let me show you what you ‘ave to do.”

Jane followed meekly, very glad to be let off on such easy terms. She obeyed orders willingly, Mrs Mason herself assisting, and she was tired to death by the time that Cecil and the girls came home for dinner.

At dinner the events of the morning were related with point and emphasis by Mrs Mason, in the hearing of Jane.

“Well, what a set!” exclaimed Cynthia. “I don’t know what’s coming to the servants in these days! Well!”

“It’s the education they getting,” said Mrs Mason severely. “They go to free schools, an’ we ‘ave to pay for their schooling, and all they can do with it is to forge people’s name and abuse their betters. That’s what the Government doing now; educating all these people instead of teaching them ‘ow to work. If you ‘ad ‘eard that woman abuse me this morning and talk about her rights and the law, you would wonder. An’ the policeman agree with her, too!”

“You should ‘ave pitched her out the place,” said Emma indignantly. “Forward wretch! I wish I was here when she was going on wid her impertinance!” When Emma became excited, her pronunciation left much to be desired.

“But you couldn’t go with a woman like that,” said Cynthia. “You couldn’t fight her. Best thing was to make her leave.”

“Yes. I paid her and ordered her out, and I ‘ave told Jane that the next time she be’ave in that way, I am sending her home. I am not going to ‘ave any skylarking in my yard at night.”

“Jane ought to be ashamed of herself,” said Cynthia. “She look like a decent gurl, and she is very young. What she want with young men?”

“That’s what I ask her,” replied her aunt. “I hope you understand that, Jane?”

The girl declared that she did, though the question was a trifle ambiguous. This was, she took it, another way of advising her to keep perfectly “straight.”

Later on, a couple of the young ladies’ friends called to see them, and Mrs Mason, Emma, and Cynthia sat with the visitors in the drawing-room. Their conversation ran chiefly upon servants, their wickedness, and their general unobservance of the moral law; and, of course, Mrs Mason again related her latest adventure with one of the species, and gave her hearers the impression that she would certainly have been murdered that morning had not the policeman appeared at the most critical moment of Sarah’s attack.

Jane sat at the threshold of her room, more lonely and miserable than she had ever felt since she had come to Kingston. After all, Sarah had been. a companion, and both of them had been united in a common dislike of Mrs Mason. Now she had no one to talk to, and only that morning she had learnt that Mrs Mason’s threats of corporeal punishment were no idle words. She envied Sarah. That indomitable young woman had abused her mistress, defied arrest, and had gone about her business; but she, Jane, could only return to the country if she left her employer, and even that would not be easy to do, Then, it was not pleasant to sleep in the room alone. Ghosts existed; she knew that beyond a doubt. And who was to say that they would not trouble her now that she had to sleep by herself? If she could run away to some other place … but no, that was not to be thought of just now. Later on, when she knew Kingston better, she would do so; but, for the present, she must stay where she was. Perhaps the new servant Mrs Mason would employ would be friendly. In the meantime….

The stealthy approach of some one caused her to look up quickly. It was Cecil, who was dressed for going out, and who might have seemed to anyone to be intending to leave the yard through the gate. This was the impression he wished to convey, and leave the yard he certainly and suddenly would if a third party should unexpectedly come upon the scene. His excuse was ready: he did not care to pass through the drawing room while the visitors were there. A quick change of direction, however, brought him to where Jane sat, and he patted her on the cheek with his hand.

“I hear you get a beating this morning,” he began sympathetically. “It’s a shame. If I had been here I would have begged for you.”

To this speech Jane returned no answer, not knowing what to say.

“It won’t happen again if I am here next time,” said Cecil grandly. “But why did you talk to the man who came here. Him didn’t come to you?”

“No, sah, him come to Sarah, and she tell me to come and keep her company.”

“Tcho! you shouldn’t have listened to her. You don’t want that sort of company. A gurl like you shouldn’t bother with those come-around [common] fellows. If you want a friend you should take a chap like me. Eh? What you say?”

Jane had nothing to say, but hung her head in silence.

Now that Saran was gone she had no courage to repulse a young man who was Mrs Mason’s nephew, and who, she was well aware, might make life very unpleasant for her by complaining of her to his aunt.

“What you say?” he asked again.

“I don’t say nothing, Mister Cecil; you’ aunt—”

“What about me aunt?”

“Mind she come out here an’ see y’u, sah.”

“Well, what about that? I am not afraid of her,” he replied boldly, while he hastily glanced round to see if there was any sign of the lady for whom he professed such contempt.

“But she will blame me if she see me talkin’ to you,” urged Jane. “She beat me dis morning already.”

“She can’t beat y’u again, though, not while I am here. Pooh! you too coward. What y’u do with that money I give you on Sunday?”

“I buy something wid it, sah.”

“Well, here is a sixpence. Get up an’ take it.” As Jane got up to take the sixpenny piece, Cecil slipped it into her hand and put his arm round her waist.

“You mustn’t be afraid,” he advised her. “If me aunt even turn you away I would look after you. You think I couldn’t do it?”

“No,” said Jane, not having Sarah’s knowledge of the young gentleman, and therefore not altogether sharing her contemptuous opinion of him.

“Then what y’u afraid of?”

“Y’u better go inside, Mister Cecil,” was Jane’s answer, insistently given.

But he took no notice of her advice; he concluded that it was only fear that made her ask him to go away.

A thought struck him. “Wait here till I come,” he told her, and went towards the house. He passed inside, tiptoeing, and satisfied himself that his sisters and aunt were all busy in the drawing-room. Indeed, at that moment one of the guests was preparing to sing, and Cecil knew from experience that the song would be followed by several others, all sung by voices of varying degrees of loudness. He went back to Jane.

“I want you to fill me pitcher with water,” he told her, and went into his apartment. She followed him, took the pitcher, filled it at the pipe, and brought it back. As she put it down he seized her arm and asked her if she didn’t love him. She stood stock still, her heart beating wildly. “A regular country girl,” thought Cecil triumphantly.

. . . . .

Jane went about her work with a frightened, subdued demeanour the next day. She blundered more than usual, but this did not draw upon her any extraordinary censure from Mrs Mason, for the latter had not yet secured a servant to take Sarah’s place. Jane avoided looking anyone in the face, and when Cecil came home she never glanced in his direction once. There being no visitors that night, Cecil did not endeavour to talk to her in the yard, and as soon as she could she went into her room and remained there till it was time to go to sleep.

She felt as though she had been a very long time in Kingston instead of but a couple of weeks. Such a number of things had happened! Six months in the country could not have brought so many changes in her life. The advice and admonition of her parents, of Daddy; Buckram, the threats and scolding of her mistress—all these had availed her little. She had not “kept herself up” as she had promised to do. She felt ashamed. yet, strange to say, she also felt more self-reliant now. She was determined to avoid Cecil, whom she did not like.

The next day Mrs Mason employed a new servant, who stipulated for three shillings and sixpence per week. Mrs Mason agreed to pay this reluctantly, and only after much argument. The new servant was a woman about forty-five years of age, and by no means prepared~ as she showed at the start, to deal with Jane on a footing of friendship and equality. She was a married woman, her husband being away in Colon. She agreed to sleep at Mrs Mason’s, and, as she did not go out often at night, and never for long, Cecil had no opportunity for surreptitious conversations with the schoolgirl. This annoyed him immensely, and he soon had one or two quarrels with Amanda, as the new servant was named. But she never took him very seriously, and his aunt saw clear! that he was in the wrong whenever he. complained Amanda. Cecil considered himself a much ill-used person, and also unlucky. Thus two months passed away, Jane gradually becoming more efficient, and thus escaping continuous blame. But her work also increased, for Mrs Mason looked upon idleness in a servant as a terrible sin.

Now and then, of course, Jane broke things, and was made to pay for them out of her shilling a week. And she was always forgetting something. But even her mistress came to see that she was a decent, hard-working girl, and appreciated the fact. Of course, she never told Jane so, for she held praise to be demoralising. She showed her appreciation by giving the girl tasks which she would not ordinarily have expected a schoolgirl to perform.

In those two months Jane learnt a great deal about Kingston. At the end of that time she knew the principal streets and could easily find her way about. She had been allowed to go to church on two or three occasions, she had taken a ride or two upon the cars, she had made a few friends in the neighbourhood. She had admirers, of course, and chaffed these with spirit when they came about her. She would linger to have a chat with some one she knew when she was sent out to buy things at the market or the shop, and she grew more self-assertive with every week that passed. She would answer Mrs Mason now, when that lady blamed her, and Mrs Mason did not venture to strike her again, for she knew her value and was aware that the girl would be able to get another place. Jane had begun to think so too. Whenever her mistress quarrelled with her now she made up her mind to run away. Some day, she felt, she would. But the day had not yet come.

Her feeling of depression at not having kept her promise to her parents had passed away very rapidly. As a matter of fact, a few days after her memorable talk alone with Cecil she was her normal self again. It never occurred to her to worry her mind with moral reflections. She avoided Cecil because she did not like him. It was one of the misfortunes of that youth that he did not inspire much liking or respect in anyone, though he was perfectly persuaded that Jane regarded him with awe. He waited for an opportunity to talk intimately with her once more. In the meantime he devoutly hoped that his aunt, who never kept a servant for much longer than four months, would get rid of Amanda, or make the latter’s life so intolerable that she would leave of her own free will. Then once again he would be able to make love to Jane.


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