Jane’s Career: A Story of Jamaica

Chapter 9

It was some three weeks after Jane’s mother had been to see her that what Cecil had long hoped for happened at last. Amanda had given a fair amount of satisfaction during her first month or so, and Mrs Mason had begun to congratulate herself that Sarah’s place had been taken by a responsible person who, being a married woman and of comparatively advanced age, did not need to seek pleasure in the company of indifferent young men. But after a while she began to discover that respectability has its disadvantages. For not for a single moment did it appear that Amanda could forget she was a married woman, and, as such, entitled to much respect and consideration. If she treated Jane as a being of infinite inferiority, she also exacted respectful consideration from Mrs Mason herself. As she became more accustomed to the establishment, she offered suggestions as to what should and should not be done, contradicted Mrs Mason, ignored Cecil entirely, and did not pay any particular attention to the young ladies. When six weeks had elapsed, she demanded a larger wage; three shillings and sixpence a week being altogether too small an amount to keep her, as she averred. This shocked Mrs Mason immensely; she had never in her life paid more than three shillings a week to any servant. Yet she was obliged to yield, for servants’ wages were gradually rising in Kingston, owing (according to Mrs Mason’s explanation) to the amount of unnecessary education which the people were receiving from the Government. Amanda asked for a shilling a week more. After arguing the matter with her for two days, Mrs Mason agreed upon a compromise of sixpence. But in the argument some straight talk had taken place between both parties, and this had not served to promote cordial relations between them.

A few weeks later Amanda gave further offence by insisting that she should have her two Sundays in the month, as agreed upon when she first came to work with Mrs Mason. This the latter considered most unreasonable. It is true she had mentioned “every other Sunday” as belonging to the servant, but she did not expect the concession to be insisted on as a right, or even taken advantage of to any considerable extent. As she could not deny that she had told Amanda she could have two Sundays a month, she took refuge in “throwing words on her,” a process which Amanda understood perfectly, it forming part of the diplomatic correspondence between most persons in Jamaica. Thus one Saturday night, when Amanda reminded her that she would not be at work the next day, she replied:—

“All right, Amanda. I hope goin’ to church will do you good. Everybody go to church now; in fact, the church is making ladies and gentlemen of everybody. It don’t prevent people from lying and stealing, though! If you were only to think of one thing, and not of another, you would wonder why anybody go to church at all, the little good it’s doin’ them.”

“Do y’u means me, Mrs Mason?” asked Amanda with tremendous dignity, the dignity of a married woman who was also connected with a church.

“You? Why, what make you think so, me good soul? I suppose I am entitled to talk in my own house?”

“I not sayin’ y’u not entitle to talk, ma’am; but your word sound very funny after I tell y’u I am not comin’ to-morrow. I am used to going to me church to worship me God, and nobody can say dat I act in any way to disgrace me connection. Dat is why I ask y’u de question.”

“Well, Amanda,” said Mrs Mason, “you are a very funny woman. If the cap didn’t fit you, why should you wear it?”

“But hexcuse me, ma’am; y’u saying some very funny t’ings to-night,” returned Amanda. “You’ word seem to have two meanin’s. Ef you doan’t satisfy wid me, y’u can tell me so, an’ I won’t bodder come back Monday mornin’. But y’u musn’t throw words upon me.”

“Look here, Amanda,” replied Mrs Mason, with just a suggestion of irritability in her voice, “I am not prepared to ‘ave any talk with anybody to-night. If you don’t want to come back on Monday, you needn’t come back. I am not telling y’u not to come back. You ‘ave no right to pick up me words like that. When I address meself to you, then it is time for you to answer me; but not before.”

As this was, in some sort, a withdrawal of the remarks of which Amanda had complained, she pretended to be satisfied. Yet, being human, and taking a natural satisfaction in her victory, she could not refrain on her part from giving expression to her feelings. “Moses dead, but God remain,” she said to no one in particular as she moved away, thus intimating that if she left Mrs Mason she would easily obtain other employment. Mrs Mason heard, and a little later on she remarked to her nieces and nephew,—

“I can see that Amanda is not goin’ to suit me much longer. She wanted to be rude to-night, but I keep me temper an’ let her say what she like. But I don’t intend to put up with her insolence again. I would have sent her right away; but I know it is not easy to get a servant just when y’u want one, so I will quietly look out for one, an’ then bundle that woman out me yard. I will have a little patience and bear with her a little more.”

“She told me yesterday that she hear from her ‘usband,” said Cynthia. “I suppose he must be send something for her, that’s why she so independent.”

“Yes, that must be it,” agreed Mrs Mason. “When them have ‘usbands you can’t say a word to them, though I really don’t see why they bother married, for they are always leaving their ‘usbands, or their ‘usbands leaving them. Just as well they don’t get married.”

This was a common remark of Mrs Mason’s, and yet, as she invariably condemned the illicit relationships of the working classes most vigorously, it was difficult to see how she could reconcile with such condemnation her general attitude towards their marriages. It seemed that her ideal for them was that they should all be celibates, religious without going too often to church, and hard-working without any expectation of liberal pay. As no domestic she had ever known had ever accepted that ideal, or appeared at all willing to do so, the servant problem was to her mind insoluble, and servants were a race of beings who had come into the world for the purpose of tormenting the lives of persons of a better class.

Cecil listened to this conversation with the utmost satisfaction. He even joined in it.

“What did I tell you?” he asked in the tone of a man who has simply been waiting on time to justify his prognostications. “I saw from the very first that woman wouldn’t suit you; but when I used to complain about her you used to say it was my fault. You know better now.”

Mrs Mason said nothing in reply to this, for she was well aware that when she had supported Amanda the latter had been clearly in the right. Yet now that she had determined that Amanda was impossible, she wished to see nothing good in her. Cecil went to bed that night in a jubilant frame of mind. He felt that Amanda’s doom was sealed Her going was now but a matter of days.

It was a matter of a fortnight. In that interval the relations between mistress and servant had become more strained, for Amanda, having offered to leave and been practically asked to remain, felt that she was mistress of the situation and gave herself airs. She answered Mrs Mason very often now, she argued about everything, she fought for her own way. It was a clash of wills and of temperaments all the time, and while Amanda thought she was establishing her supremacy, Mrs Mason was busy looking out for another servant, and Cecil was doing his best to egg his aunt’s anger on.

Then, on a Saturday morning, Mrs Mason’s patience was rewarded. A younger woman than Amanda knocked at the gate after the latter had been sent to the market, and inquired whether “the lady” wanted a servant. Asked what she could do, she replied “everything,” an answer which suited Mrs Mason well enough, since she did not like her servants to bargain for one particular kind of work only. The woman had one or two good-character papers, but would not consent to sleep on the premises. This was not satisfactory; nevertheless there was Jane, who did sleep, and it was not absolutely necessary that two servants should be within call at night. Mrs Mason agreed to employ her at Amanda’s wages; she was to come to work early on Monday morning, The agreement having been signed and sealed, so to speak, Mrs Mason at once prepared the field for the coming battle between herself and Amanda; she planned out her strategy, and, like a wise general, left her tactics to be decided by the exigencies of the moment.

The pride of Amanda was in her Christian character; and comparative honesty she regarded as necessary to the Christian life. Any suspicion as to her purchases, therefore, cut her to the heart, and Mrs Mason knew this. Consequently when the woman returned from marketing, Mrs Mason judicially took up every article she had bought and weighed it in her hand with a critical and suspicious air. This was not done merely for the purpose of provoking Amanda, for Mrs Mason sincerely believed that dishonesty was the general rule of the average servant’s life. She wanted, also, before sending Amanda away, to show her that she thought her no better than any other domestic, in spite of her married state and her church connections.

“What’s de matter, ma’am?” demanded Amanda belligerently, as she saw Mrs Mason pause suspiciously over a little heap of sweet potatoes.

“You must know, Amanda,” replied that lady as if surprised at the question. “Sweet potato is now selling five for a quattie, and you only bring me four. I don’t understand what you could have been doing with me money.”

“Well, ma’am, I doan’t eat you’ money, an’ I doan’t tief it. An’ ef you think y’u can get five sweet potato for a quattie, y’u can send to de market an’ try an’ get it.”

“Don’t answer me in that way, Amanda,” rapped out Mrs Mason sharply. “If I want to send to the market, I will send to the market. You couldn’t prevent me. I say that there is something funny about these potatoes, an’ if you don’t like what I say, you can lump it. The idea! I am not even to speak now about me own money an’ me own provisions. You must be the mistress here!

“I couldn’t expect to be mistress in your ‘ouse, Mrs Mason,” retorted Amanda quite as warmly. “But I won’t allow you or anybody else to insult me. I am a married woman like you’self, an’ manners due to dog much less to a human being.”

“I don’t care who manners due to,” sneered Mrs Mason. “All that I know is that you are my servant, an’ you suppose to take orders from me, an’ to give me no back answer. Don’t forget you’self with me!”

“I couldn’t feget meself wid you, ma’am,” Amanda fired back at her. “Y’u must tell dat sort of thing to Jane, not to me.”

“I tell it to who I like,” quickly came Mrs Mason’s rejoinder; “whether to you or Jane. I don’t see any difference; you are both my domestic. I will say just what I please to you.”

“Well, see here, Miss Mason,” said Amanda, producing her trump card, “there is no need fa’ you an’ me to quarrel. Separation can always come. Meck it come at once. I will go my way, and you can get somebody else.”

This speech was precisely what Mrs Mason was waiting for. Her answer was ready.

“I am not going to pay you before you done your work, I can assure you of that, me good woman. So if you want to go before you finish you’ work, you can go. But not a penny will you get from me. Sarah teach me a good lesson. You not goin’ to teach me another.”

With that she got up and went inside, and for the rest of the day peace reigned between her and Amanda. For the latter, now that Mrs Mason had told her she could go if she wished, after completing her week’s work, was by no means very anxious to be taken at her word. She therefore went about her business rather briskly, gave no back answers, and did her best to please Mrs Mason. This that lady noticed with a great deal of satisfaction, for she knew that the blow she intended to inflict upon Amanda later on would fall all the more severely because of Amanda’s evident wish to remain. It delighted Mrs Mason’s soul that she should be able to get even with a woman whose “impudence,” as she expressed it, “flesh and blood could not bear.”

Night came, and Amanda had finished all her work. She went to Mrs Mason for her wages, and that lady, standing on the low step that led from the yard into the house, carefully counted out four shillings. Had Amanda been observant, she would have noticed that Mrs Mason’s two nieces were standing just behind their aunt, and that her nephew was hovering about with an expectant demeanour. This was a rather unusual assembly, but Amanda felt certain, because Mrs Mason had said nothing more to her after the quarrel in the morning, that amicable relations had been established once more.

“Amanda,” said Mrs Mason calmly, as she handed the woman her pay, “it is your Sunday to-morrow, no?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Amanda cheerfully; “but if y’u want me I will come.”

This was an extraordinary concession, which Mrs Mason would not have hesitated to take advantage of under different conditions. But now-

“No, Amanda,” she replied sweetly, “I know you like to go to you’ church, an’ it is right that a decent married woman like you should be in church every Sunday. I wouldn’t make you come here tomorrow for anything.”

Consideration of this kind was puzzling; but still Amanda was unsuspicious.

“All right, den, ma’am,” she said. “I will come soon Monday morning.”

“I wouldn’t bother do that if I was you, Amanda,” Mrs Mason returned, “for I will be having no further use for your services. If you ‘ave anything here y’u better remove it at once. You know I told you I didn’t give or take notice.”

The woman, astonished, stared at her. Mrs Mason returned her look, the personification of triumphant calm. Cecil laughed loudly in sheer exuberance of spirits.

“Then y’u mean that y’u discharge me, ma’am?” Amanda asked Mrs Mason, after a moment’s pause.

“You don’t suit me, Amanda,” replied Mrs Mason judicially. “You see, you are a married woman, an’ of course you think it hard to be a servant. But I don’t want independent people to work with me, for if you 1independent you can’t want to work. So we better part. I hope you’ next employer will give you every Sunday.”

Sudden dismissal of this sort was a terrible humiliation. It is true Mrs Mason had stipulated that she should neither give nor take notice, but Amanda had hoped for some clear indication of her intentions before the sentence of banishment was pronounced. To be thus taken unawares, to be outflanked by the enemy, as it were, was a blow from which she could not recover at the moment. Her dignity was shattered. She had no argument left in her. She wanted to say something of a telling nature, but her voice broke as she began, and—.

“All right, Mrs Mason, de same God dat you pray to is de same God dat I pray to,” was all she could think of. She meant that she left Mrs Mason to the vengeance of God, and Mrs Mason understood her perfectly.

“Very well, Amanda,” she replied with dignity, “that is enough, quite enough. I don’t want any rudeness. Just take you’ things an’ go.”

She stood there while Amanda went room to gather up her few belongings. Her triumph was complete. She had demonstrated how easy it was to replace one servant with another.

Jane stood by the kitchen door watching the scene. Mrs Mason, catching sight of her, reflected that it was a good object lesson for her. Jane, on her part, determined that she would never give Mrs Mason the opportunity of turning her off “like a dawg.”



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