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Literary Adventures

This page will take you into pieces of literature that are carefully selected for their great content at the literary, scientific, or philosophical level. A short selection will be presented in full. A long one will be divided into sections that will be refreshed regularly. Emphasis and highlights are mostly ours, not made by the original author.

Here is our current selection:

Jamaica Inn (1916) by Daphne du Maurier


Mary woke to a high wind from the west, and a thin watery sun. It was the rattling of the window that roused her from her sleep, and she judged from the broad daylight and the colour of the sky that she had slept late, and that it must be past eight o'clock. Looking out of the window and across the yard, she saw that the stable door was open, and there were fresh hoof-marks in the mud outside. With a great sense of relief she realised that the landlord must have gone from home, and she would have Aunt Patience to herself, if only for a little time.

Hurriedly she unpacked her trunk, pulling out her thick skirt and coloured apron, and the heavy shoes she had worn at the farm, and in ten minutes she was down in the kitchen, and washing in the scullery at the back.

Aunt Patience came in from the chicken-run behind the house with some new-laid eggs in her apron, which she produced with a little smile of mystery. "I thought you'd like one for your breakfast," she said. "I saw you were too tired to eat much last night. And I've saved you a spot of cream for your bread." Her manner was normal enough this morning, and in spite of the red rims round her eyes, which bespoke an anxious night, she was obviously making an effort to be cheerful. Mary decided it was only in the presence of her husband that she went to pieces like a frightened child, and when he was away she had that same child's aptitude for forgetting, and could seize pleasure from little situations such as this of making breakfast for Mary, and boiling her an egg.

They both avoided any reference to the night before, and Joss's name was not mentioned. Where he had gone, and on what business, Mary neither asked nor cared; she was only too relieved to be rid of him. Mary could see that her aunt was eager to speak of things unconnected with her present life; she seemed afraid of any questions, so Mary spared her, and plunged into a description of the last years at Helford, the strain of the bad times, and her mother's illness and death.

Whether Aunt Patience took it in or not she could not tell; certainly she nodded from time to time, and pursed her lips, and shook her head, and uttered little ejaculations; but it seemed to Mary that years of fear and anxiety had taken away her powers of concentration, and that some underlying terror prevented her from giving her whole interest to any conversation.

During the morning there was the usual work of the house, and Mary was thus able to explore the inn more thoroughly.

It was a dark, rambling place, with long passages and unexpected rooms. There was a separate entrance to the bar, at the side of the house, and, though the room was empty now, there was something heavy in the atmosphere reminiscent of the last time it was full : a lingering taste of old tobacco, the sour smell of drink, and an impression of warm, unclean humanity packed one against the other on the dark stained benches.

For all the unpleasant suggestion that it conjured, it was the one room in the inn that had vitality, and was not morne and drear. The other rooms appeared neglected or unused ; even the parlour by the entrance-porch had a solitary air, as though it were many months since an honest traveller had stepped upon the threshold and warmed his back before a glowing fire. The guest-rooms upstairs were in an even worse state of repair. One was used for lumber, with boxes piled against the wall, and old horse-blankets chewed and torn by families of rats or mice. In the room opposite, potatoes and turnips had been stored upon a broken-down bed.

Mary guessed that her own small room had been in much the same condition, and that she owed it to her aunt that it was now furnished at all. Into their room, along the farther passage, she did not venture. Beneath it, down a passage that ran parallel to the one above, long and in the opposite direction from the kitchen, was another room, the door of which was locked. Mary went out into the yard to look at it through the window, but there was a board nailed up against the frame, and she could not see inside.

The house and outbuildings formed three sides of the little square that was the yard, in the centre of which was a grass bank and a drinking-trough. Beyond this lay the road, a thin white ribbon that stretched on either hand to the horizon, surrounded on each side by moorland, brown and sodden from the heavy rains. Mary went out on to the road and looked about her, and as far as her eyes could see there was nothing but the black hills and the moors. The grey slate inn, with its tall chimneys, forbidding and uninhabited though it seemed, was the only dwelling-place on the landscape. To the west of Jamaica high tors reared their heads ; some were smooth like downland, and the grass shone yellow under the fitful winter sun ; but others were sinister and austere, their peaks crowned with granite and great slabs of stone. Now and again the sun was obscured by cloud, and long shadows fled over the moors like fingers. Colour came in patches ; sometimes the hills were purple, ink-stained, and mottled, and then a feeble ray of sun would come from a wisp of cloud, and one hill would be golden-brown while his neighbour still languished in the dark. The scene was never once the same, for it would be the glory of high noon to the east, with the moor as motionless as desert sand ; and away to the westward arctic winter fell upon the hills, brought by a jagged cloud shaped like a highwayman's cloak, that scattered hail and snow and a sharp spittle rain on to the granite tors. The air was strong and sweet-smelling, cold as mountain air, and strangely pure. It was a revelation to Mary, accustomed as she was to the warm and soft climate of Helford, with its high hedges and tall protecting trees. Even the east wind had been no hardship there, for the arm of the headland acted as a defence to those on land, and it was only the river that ran turbulent and green, the wave-crests whipped with foam.

However grim and hateful was this new country, however barren and untilled, with Jamaica Inn standing alone upon the hill as a buffer to the four winds, there was a challenge in the air that spurred Mary Yellan to adventure. It stung her, bringing colour to her checks and a sparkle to her eyes ; it played with her hair, blowing it about her face ; and as she breathed deep she drew it through her nostrils and into her lungs, more quenching and sweeter than a draught of cider. She went to the water-trough, and put her hands under the spring. The water ran clear and icy-cold. She drank some, and it was unlike any water she had drunk before, bitter, queer, with a lingering peat taste like the smoke from the turf fire in the kitchen.

It was deep and satisfying, for her thirst went from her.

She felt strong in her body and emboldened in spirit, and she went back into the house to find Aunt Patience, her appetite sharp for the dinner that she hoped awaited her. She fell to with a will upon stewed mutton and turnips, and, her hunger appeased now for the first time for four-and-twenty hours, she felt her courage return to her, and she was ready to question her aunt and risk the consequences.

"Aunt Patience," she began, "why is my uncle the landlord of Jamaica Inn?" The sudden direct attack took the woman by surprise, and for a moment she stared at Mary without reply. Then she flushed scarlet, and began to work her mouth. "Why," she faltered, "it's--it's a very prominent place here, on the road. You can see that. This is the main road from the south. The coaches pass here twice a week. They come from Truro, and Bodmin, and so on, to Launceston. You came yourself yesterday. There's always company on the road. Travellers, and private gentlemen, and sometimes sailors from Falmouth."

"Yes, Aunt Patience. But why don't they stop at Jamaica?"

"They do. They often ask for a drink in the bar. We've a good custom here."

"How can you say that when the parlour is never used, and the guest-rooms are stored with lumber, fit only for rats and mice? I've seen them for myself. I've been to inns before, smaller ones than this by far. There was an inn at home, in the village. The landlord was a friend of ours. Many a time mother and I had tea in the parlour; and upstairs, though there were only two rooms, they were furnished and fitted up in style for travellers."

Her aunt was silent for a moment, working her mouth and twisting her fingers in her lap. "Your Uncle Joss doesn't encourage folk to stay," she said at length. "He says you never know who you are going to get. Why, in a lonely spot like this we might be murdered in our beds. There's all sorts on a road like this. It wouldn't be safe."

"Aunt Patience, you're talking nonsense. What is the use of an inn that cannot give an honest traveller a bed for the night? For what other purpose was it built? And how do you live, if you have no custom?"

"We have custom," returned the woman sullenly. "I've told you that. There's men come in from the farms and outlying places. There are farms and cottages scattered over these moors for miles around, and folk come from there. There are evenings when the bar is full of them."

"The driver on the coach yesterday told me respectable people did not come to Jamaica any more. He said they were afraid."

Aunt Patience changed colour. She was pale now, and her eyes roved from side to side. She swallowed, and ran her tongue over her lips.

"Your Uncle Joss has a strong temper," she said ; "you have seen that for yourself. He is easily roused ; he will not have folk interfering with him."

"Aunt Patience, why should anyone interfere with a landlord of an inn who goes about his rightful business? However hot-tempered a man may be, his temper doesn't scare people away. That's no excuse."

Her aunt was silent. She had come to the end of her resources, and sat stubborn as a mule. She would not be drawn. Mary tried another question.

"Why did you come here in the first place? My mother knew nothing of this ; we believed you to be in Bodmin; you wrote from there when you married."

"I met your uncle in Bodmin, but we never lived there," replied Aunt Patience slowly. "We lived near Padstow for a while, and then we came here. Your uncle bought the inn from Mr. Bassat. It had stood empty a number of years, I believe, and your uncle decided it would suit him. He wanted to settle down. He's travelled a lot in his time ; he's been to more places than I can remember the names. I believe he was in America once."

"It seems a funny thing to come to this place to settle," said Mary. "He couldn't have chosen much worse, could he?"

"It's near his old home," said her aunt. "Your uncle was born only a few miles away, over on Twelve Men's Moor. His brother Jem lives there now in a bit of a cottage, when he's not roaming the country. He comes here sometimes, but your Uncle Joss does not care for him much."

"Does Mr. Bassat ever visit the inn?"


"Why not, if he sold it to my uncle?"

Aunt Patience fidgeted with her fingers, and worked her mouth.

"There was some misunderstanding," she replied. "Your uncle bought it through a friend. Mr. Bassat did not know who Uncle Joss was until we were settled in, and then he was not very pleased."

"Why did he mind?"

"He had not seen your uncle since he lived at Trewartha as a young man. Your uncle was wild as a lad; he got a name for acting rough. It wasn't his fault, Mary, it was his misfortune. The Merlyns all were wild. His young brother Jem is worse than ever he was, I am sure of that. But Mr. Bassat listened to a pack of lies about Uncle Joss, and was in a great way when he discovered that he'd sold Jamaica to him. There, that's all there is to it."

She leant back in her chair, exhausted from her cross-examination. Her eyes begged to be excused further questioning and her face was pale and drawn. Mary saw she had suffered enough, but with the rather cruel audacity of youth she ventured one question more.

"Aunt Patience," she said, "I want you to look at me and answer me this, and then I won't worry you again. What has the barred room at the end of the passage to do with the wheels that stop outside Jamaica Inn by night?"

As soon as she had spoken she was sorry, and, like many a one before her who has spoken too hastily and too soon, she yearned for the words to be unsaid. It was too late, though, now. The damage had been done.

A strange expression crept upon the woman's face, and her great hollow eyes stared across the table in terror. Her mouth trembled, and her hand wandered to her throat. She looked fearful, haunted.

Mary pushed back her chair and knelt by her side. She put her arms round Aunt Patience, and held her close, and kissed her hair.

"I'm sorry," she said. "Don't be angry with me ; I'm rude and impertinent. It's none of my business, and I've no right to question you, and I'm ashamed of myself. Please, please forget what I said."

Her aunt buried her face in her hands. She sat motionless, and paid no attention to her niece. For some minutes they sat there in silence, while Mary stroked her shoulder and kissed her hands.

Then Aunt Patience uncovered her face and looked down at her.

The fear had gone from her eyes, and she was calm. She took Mary's hands in hers and gazed into her face.

"Mary," she said, and her voice was hushed and low, scarcely above a whisper, "Mary, I can't answer your questions, for there's many I don't know the answer of myself. But because you are my niece, my own sister's child, I must give you a word of warning."

She glanced over her shoulder, as though she were afraid that Joss himself stood in the shadows behind the door.

"There's things that happen at Jamaica, Mary, that I've never dared to breathe. Bad things. Evil things. I can't never tell you ; I can't even admit them to myself. Some of it in time you'll come to know. You can't avoid it, living here. Your Uncle Joss mixes with strange men, who follow a strange trade. Sometimes they come by night, and from your window above the porch you will hear footsteps, and voices, and knocking at the door. Your uncle lets them in, and he takes them along that passage to the room with the locked door. They go inside, and from my bedroom above I can hear the mutter of their voices through the long hours. Before dawn they are away, and no sign left that they have ever been. When they come, Mary, you will say nothing to me or to your Uncle Joss. You must lie in bed, and put your fingers to your ears. You must never question me, nor him, nor anyone, for if you came to guess but half of what I know, your hair would go grey, Mary, as mine has done, and you would tremble in your speech and weep by night, and all that lovely careless youth of yours would die, Mary, as mine has died."

Then she rose from the table and pushed aside her chair, and Mary heard her climb the staircase with heavy, faltering feet, and so along the landing to her room, and close the door.

Mary sat on the floor beside the empty chair, and she saw through the kitchen window that the sun had already disappeared behind the farthest hill, and that before many hours had passed the grey malevolence of a November dusk would have fallen upon Jamaica once again.


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