Jane’s Career: A Story of Jamaica

Chapter 8

The third month of her career in Kingston had passed when, one forenoon, in coming in from the shop to which she had been sent by her mistress, Jane was greeted by her mother and Kate, the latter being one of the girls with whom, it will be remembered, she had discussed her prospects in Kingston on the day before she left the country for the city.

“Hi!” she exclaimed, genuinely surprised. “I dream of you two a week ago, but I never expec’ to see such a person like you. How y’u do, mumma? How y’u do, Kate?”

The mother rose from the doorstep on which she had been sitting, and shook hands cordially with her daughter, Kate following her example. Mrs Mason, standing at the door, beamed upon the group as though conscious that the happiness of this reunion was entirely due to her forethought and arrangement.

“Well, Jane,” said her mother, “I more than glad to see y’u. How y’u getten on? But I needn’t ask you dat, for you’ schoolmissis tell me all about y’u already. As I was tellin’ her before y’u come in, I did know from de first dat she was de proper sort of lady to look after y’u and see you broughted up properly. Yes, ma’am” (turning to Mrs Mason), “I told her fader so de very day I did bring Jane to y’u to show her to y’u. She is improve already, an’, wid de help of God, will get on nicely. But y’u know she is growin’, ma’am? Yes, ma’am, she is really growin’. She will soon meck me feel small. Kingston an’ good treatment agree wid her.”

Mrs Mason immediately seized the opportunity comment in a modest way upon her own virtues.

“I am doing the best I can for Jane, Mrs Burrell,” she said, with unctuous rectitude. “Perhaps she don’t appreciate it, but 1 know you do, for if 1 didn’t know the sort of person you are, I wouldn’t ‘ave taken Jane at all. Girls don’t understand the feelings of we established people, Mrs Burrell, an’ that is why when y’u speak to them for their own good, they think you unkind. I always say to her: ‘Jane, you’ expect me to train you decently and to see you grow up to be a credit to her, and therefore, though don’t understand me now when 1 speak to you, know you’ mother will appreciate it.’ Don’t I tell you so, Jane?”

There was no way of avoiding the trap, though Jane saw it plainly. “Yes, ma’am,” she said, knowing that by so saying she had given Mrs Mason a certificate character which the lady did not, in her opinion, at all deserve. Mrs Mason, full of knowledge as to the ways and wiles of schoolgirls when their family came to see them, had adopted this method of demanding from them open testimony as to her care and treatment of them when some responsible relative of theirs was present; after that, she usually arranged that the girl should not have any time alone with her visitor “to carry lie and story,” as she put it. When Jane had caught sight of her mother on coming in, her first impulse had been to seize the opportunity to tell her of Mrs Mason’s character; but that astute lady, by appealing to the mother and laying down the dictum that “established people” differed in their views of what was right and proper from girls like Jane, had won the old woman completely over. This was apparent from the next thing the old woman said.

“Jane will has to appreciate y’u, ma’am, for I put her wid y’u, an’ you is suppose to speak to her if y’u see her doin’ anything y’u don’t like. And y’u is even suppose to chastise her if she don’t obeys y’u; for we are not to spare de rod and spile de child. Jane know that when she was at home, neider her fader nor me tolerated rudeness, so she will has to hear you just as if it was me, for I put my aut’ority in your han’s.”

To give Jane’s mother her due, she was the kindest of parents, and she usually left Jane much to her own devices. She, however, for the purpose of pleasing Mrs Mason, and also because she wished to show her own conception of what elderly people were entitled to expect from the young, spoke in affected tones of severity, thus practically giving Mrs Mason a warrant to deal with Jane as she should think fit.

But here the girl found courage.

“I do me work, an’ I don’t do noten for anybody to beat me for,” she said, with a note of defiance in her voice. She was not so glad to. see her mother now. She felt that one who should have been her friend had gone completely over to the enemy.

“Yes,” Mrs Mason hastened to admit. “I couldn’t say I think Jane a bad gurl, Mrs Burrell. I couldn’t say that at all!”

“I bring a little present for you’ schoolmissis, Jane,” her mother continued, now quite satisfied that the relations existing between Mrs Mason and the girl were all that could be desired, and anxious that her daughter should know that something from the country had been brought for the child in Kingston. For the present to which Mrs Burrell alluded, though nominally intended for Mrs Mason, was chiefly meant for Jane. The object was to show her that she had not been forgotten at home. Mrs Mason knew the custom well; many was the occasion on which she had received similar presents from mothers of her schoolgirls, very little of which had ever given to those girls, for did they not always have enough?

Jane would much have preferred if her mother had brought her portion of the gift separately, for she shrewdly suspected that Mrs Mason would regard the whole of it as hers. She glanced at the small, heap of yams, potatoes, and ripe bananas which still lay at the threshold of the doo.r; seeing this glance, Mrs Mason stooped down and with reckless generosity broke off two of the bananas and handed one each to the girls, saying at the same time to Jane:

“You better take you’ friend into the room with you, if you want to talk to her. I wish to ‘ave a little conversation with you’ mother.”

Jane, followed by Kate, went to the room, and, when the door was closed–

“How is things?” eagerly asked Kate, who was deeply impressed with this her first visit to Kingston, and wanted to know more of city life.

“I caan’t tell y’u, me child,” said Jane piteously. “It’s de devil. If you ever see how me work from morning to night you would sorry for me. You hear how dat ole beast tell mumma how she look after me? Not a word of it true. She is a regular ole screech!”

“Lard!” exclaimed Kate. “Y’u mus’ be sarry y’u come to Kingstown!”

“Well, not exactly,” Jane confessed. “It livelier here dan in de country, an’ I more use to it now. But I don’t t’ink I goin’ to stop wid Miss Mason long. I can’t stand her!”

“I wanted was to come to Kingstown meself,”. Kate confessed, “and as you’ moder was comin’ last night, I beg her meck me walk wid her. I like de place, ma’am! My! it big an’ full of people! But I wouldn’t like to come here an’ have to work like you say you workin’. Where you gwine to go when y’u leave here?”

“I don’t know yet. I don’t meck up me mind. But you don’t tell me anyt’ing about me friends at home. How them getten on? Them doan’t send no message for me?”

“Yes,” Kate hastened to answer, “all de buoy send dem love, and Celes say to tell y’u dat she will come an’ see y’u if she come to town. But why y’u never write we?”

“I have no time, me love, I gots to work too hard. But y’u fink I doan’t miss y’u? I miss y’u for true! If some of you could come an’ live in town, dat would be all right.”

“P’rhaps it will happen,” said Kate hopefully. “Who is to tell? But y’u mean to say y’u doan’t have no friend here?”

“What sort of friend y’u mean?”

“Female; y’u got any oder?”

“No. But I meck one or two gurl frien’s since I come here.”

“But think Celes’ did say dat Kingstown have such a lot of nice young man?”

“So-so; but being I workin’ here wid dis ole ‘ooman, I caan’t meck any acquaintanceship wid any dat is worth while.”

“Tcho!” exclaimed Kate reflectively. “I doan’t see de use of livin’ in town ef all y’u have to do is to work, an’ y’u can’t enjie you’self. It dull up at home, but y’u doan’t have to kill you’self.”

“I couldn’t come back home,” said Jane decisively.

“I get too use to Kingston already. Besides, doan’t I tell y’u I not gwine to stay wid Miss Mason much longer? Now dat I been here an’ have experience, an’ know a few frien’s, I can make me own way. To tell y’u de trute, too, Kate, Miss Mason have a nephew dat boder me all de time when him have a chance. Him use to talk to me when I come here firs’, but I keep clear of him now. Sometimes y’u see him come out into de yard, forming as if him is lookin’ fo’ somet’ing, but I know it’s me him lookin’ for. Him dodge all ’bout, meanwhile I in my room watchin’ him. I doan’t even meck him see me! Ef I did know better when I come here firs’, I wouldn’t meck him talk to me at all.”

Kate looked at her inquiringly, with something like comprehension in her eyes.

“I was a fool,” Jane continued confidentially. “But, of course, what to do?”

Kate, who could not possibly claim the right to be censorious in matters of conduct, having had her own experiences long before Jane, laughed a little and then seemed inclined to make inquiries about Cecil. Jane, on the other hand, was still eager to learn more about her friends at home.

She called by name all the persons she had known in the village, was glad to learn that none of them had died, was deeply interested in a scandalous story in which Celestina and the brown shopkeeper figured prominently, and hoped that her brother would succeed in Panama, whither he had gone.

In the meantime Mrs Mason kept Mrs Burrell occupied, offered her some refreshment, assured her repeatedly that Jane, after a couple of years with her, would be a wonder in the way 01 servants, and then began to look dissatisfied when the old woman showed signs of outstaying her welcome.

A long pause occurring in the conversation between the two, Jane’s mother perceived that Mrs Mason had nothing more to say to her, and rose to go. Mrs Mason called to Jane and Kate, and the two girls came out of the room.

“Your mother going, Jane,” she said, “an’ I tell her she, must come back soon to see y’u.”

“Yes, ma’am, thank you, ma’am,” said Mrs Burrell, curtseying. “Now, Jane, y’u mus’ behave you’self an’ meck you’ schoolmistress give y’u a good name. And keep yu’self up like you been doin’. Good-bye, Misses.”

Mrs Mason graciously shook hands with her and nodded to Kate. Jane also shook hands with the two, then followed her mother to the gate, Mrs Mason’s watchful eye upon her all the while. The girl saw her mother and her friend go, then turned back into the yard with a heavy heart.

Her mother and herself had, in a way, become strangers. This she felt more than thought; for such a proposition she never would have been able to formulate clearly in her mind. Her mother’s way of looking at things seemed more or less that of Mrs Mason, and between Mrs Mason and herself there was a great gulf fixed. Mrs Mason looked upon her as a little servant-girl merely, but Jane felt she was an individual with feelings, desires, and rights of her own. Her mother had left her entirely in Mrs Mason’s hands, and there she was perfectly determined not to remain. If she went away, her mother and father would probably blame her, but this she could not help. Kingston was big, she had become accustomed to it, she would probably be able to make her way in it as other people were doing. One by one the ties that bound her to the past were being loosened, unknown to herself. What she did feel was that she was free to do as she pleased.


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