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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


As the days passed, Mary Yellan settled down to life at Jamaica Inn with a sense of stubborn resolution. It was evident that she could not leave her aunt to face the winter alone, but perhaps, with the coming of spring, Patience Merlyn could be persuaded to see reason, and the pair of them would leave the moors for the peace and quietude of Helford valley.

This was at any rate Mary's hope, and meanwhile she must make the best of the grim six months that lay ahead, and, if possible, she was determined to have the better of her uncle in the long run, and expose hm and his confederates to the law. She would have shrugged her shoulders at smuggling alone, though the flagrant dishonesty of the trade disgusted her, but all she had seen so far went to prove that Joss Merlyn and his friends were not content with this only ; they were desperate men, afraid of nothing and no one, and did not stop at murder. The events of that first Saturday night were never far from her mind, and the straggling rope's end hanging from the beam told its own tale. Mary had not a doubt that the stranger had been killed by her uncle and another man, and his body buried somewhere on the moors.

There was nothing to prove it, however, and, considered in the light of day, the very story seemed fantastic. She had returned to her room that night after the discovery of the rope, for the open door of the bar suggested that her uncle would be back at any moment, and, exhausted with all she had seen, she must have fallen asleep, for when she woke the sun was high, and she could hear Aunt Patience pattering about in the hall below.

No sign remained of the evening's work ; the bar had been swept and tidied, the furniture replaced and the broken glass taken away, and there was no rope hanging from the beam. The landlord himself spent the morning in the stable and the cow-house, pitchforking filth into the yard, and doing the work that a cowman should have done had he kept one ; and when he came into the kitchen at midday, to wolf an enormous meal, he questioned Mary about the farm stock at Helford, and asked for her opinion on a calf that had fallen sick, nor did he make any reference to the events of the preceding night. He seemed in fair good humour, and went so far as to forget to curse his wife, who hovered around him as usual, watching the expression in his eye like a dog who would please his master. Joss Merlyn behaved like a perfectly sober normal man, and it was impossible to believe that he had murdered a fellow-being only a few hours before.

He might be guiltless of this, of course, and the blame rest upon his unknown companion, but at least Mary had seen him with her own eyes chase the naked idiot boy across the yard, and she had heard the boy scream as he felt the lash of the landlord's whip. She had seen him ringleader of that vile company in the bar ; she had heard him threaten the stranger who opposed his will ; and here he sat before her now, his mouth full of hot stew, shaking his head over a sick calf.

And she answered "Yes" and "No" in reply to her uncle, and drank down her tea, watching him over the brim of her cup, her eyes travelling from his great plate of steaming stew to his long, powerful fingers, hideous in their strength and grace.

Two weeks went by and there was no repetition of Saturday night. Perhaps the last haul had satisfied the landlord and his companions, and they were content with that for the while, for Mary did not hear the waggons again, and, though she was sleeping soundly now, she was certain that the noise of wheels would have woken her. Her uncle appeared to have no objection to her wandering on the moors, and day by day she came to know more of the surrounding country, stumbling upon tracks she had not noticed at first and which kept her to the high ground, leading ultimately to the tors, while she learnt to avoid the low soggy grass with tufted tops that by their very harmless appearance invited inspection, only to reveal themselves as the borderline of treacherous and dangerous marsh.

Though lonely, she was not actively unhappy, and these rambles in the grey light of early afternoon kept her healthy at least, and went some way towards tempering the gloom and depression of the long dark evenings at Jamaica, when Aunt Patience sat with her hands in her lap, staring at the turf fire, and Joss Merlyn shut himself up alone in the bar or disappeared on the back of his pony to some unknown destination.

Companionship there was none, and no one came to the inn for rest or nourishment. The driver of the coach had spoken the truth when he told Mary they never stopped now at Jamaica, for she would stand out in the yard to watch the coaches pass twice in the week, and they were gone by in a moment, rumbling down the hill and climbing the farther one towards Five Lanes without drawing rein or pausing for breath. Once Mary waved her hand as she recognised her driver, but he took no notice of her, only whipping his horses the harder, and she realised with a rather helpless sense of futility that so far as other people were concerned she must be considered in the same light as her uncle, and that even if she tried to walk to Bodmin or Launceston no one would receive her, and the doors would be shut in her face.

The future loomed very black at times, especially as Aunt Patience made little effort to be companionable; and though now and again she took hold of Mary's hand and patted it for a few minutes, telling her how glad she was to have her in the house, for the most part the poor woman existed in a dream, pottering about her household duties in a mechanical fashion and seldom uttering. When she did speak, it was to let forth a torrent of nonsense about the great man her husband might have been had not ill luck constantly followed him. Any normal conversation was practically impossible, and Mary came to humour her and talk gently as she would have done to a child, all of which was a strain on her nerves and on her patience.

So that it was in a mood of truculence, following upon a day of wind and rain that had made it impracticable to venture out of doors, that Mary one morning set herself to clean down the long stone passage that ran the full width of the back of the house. The hard work, if it strengthened her muscles, did not improve her temper, and by the time she had finished she was so disgusted with Jamaica Inn and its inhabitants that for very little she would have walked out into the patch of garden behind the kitchen, where her uncle was working, heedless of the rain upon his mat of hair, and thrown her bucket of dirty soapy water into his very face. The sight of her aunt, who with bent back poked at the dull peat fire with the end of a stick, defeated her, and Mary was about to start on the stone flags of the entrance-hall when she heard a clatter of hoofs in the yard, and in a moment someone thundered on the closed door of the bar.

No one had approached Jamaica Inn before, and this summons was an event in itself. Mary went back to the kitchen to warn her aunt, but she had left the room, and, looking out of the window, Mary could see her pattering across the garden to her husband, who was loading turf from the stack into a barrow. They were both out of earshot, and neither could have heard the sound of this new arrival. Mary wiped her hands on her apron and went into the bar. The door must have been unlocked after all, for to her surprise there was a man sitting straddle-legged across a chair, with a glass in his hand filled to the brim with ale, which he had calmly poured out from the tap himself. For a few minutes they considered one another in silence.

Something about him was familiar, and Mary wondered where she had seen him before. The rather drooping lids, the curve of his mouth, and the outline of his jaw, even the bold and decidedly insolent stare with which he favoured her, were things known to her, and definitely disliked.

The sight of him looking her up and down and drinking his ale at the same time irritated her beyond measure.

"What do you think you're doing ?" she said sharply. "You haven't any right to walk in here and help yourself. Besides, the landlord doesn't encourage strangers." At any other moment she would have laughed to hear herself speak thus, as though in defence of her uncle, but scrubbing the stone flags had done away with her sense of humour, if only for the moment, and she felt she must vent her ill temper on the nearest victim.

The man finished his ale, and held out the glass to be refilled.

"Since when have they kept a barmaid at Jamaica Inn ?" he asked her, and, feeling in his pocket for a pipe, he lit it, puffing a great cloud of smoke into her face. His manner infuriated Mary, and she leant forward and pulled the pipe out of his hand, throwing it behind her on to the floor, where it smashed at once. He shrugged his shoulders, and began to whistle, the very tunelessness adding fuel to her flame of irritation.

"Is this how they train you to serve customers ?" he said, breaking off in the middle. "I don't think much of their choice. There are better-mannered maids in Launceston, where I was yesterday, and pretty as paint into the bargain. What have you been doing with yourself? Your hair is coming down at the back, and your face is none too clean."

Mary turned away and walked towards the door, but he called her back.

"Fill up my glass. That's what you're here for, isn't it ?" he said. "I've ridden twelve miles since breakfast and I'm thirsty."

"You may have ridden fifty miles for all I care," said Mary. "As you seem to know your way about here, you can fill your own glass. I'll tell Mr. Merlyn you are in the bar, and he can serve you himself if he has the mind."

"Oh, don't worry Joss ; he'll be like a bear with a sore head at this time of day," came the answer. "Besides, he's never very anxious to see me. What's happened to his wife ? Has he turned her out to make room for you ? I call that hard on the poor woman. You'll never stay with him ten years, anyway."

"Mrs. Merlyn is in the garden, if you want to see her," said Mary. "You can walk out of the door and turn to the left, and you'll come to the patch of garden and the chicken-run. They were both of them down under, five minutes ago. You can't come through this way because I've just washed the passage, and I don't want to do it all over again."

"Oh, don't get excited ; there's plenty of time," he replied. She could see he was still looking her up and down, wondering what to make of her, and the familiar, somewhat lazy insolence in his eyes maddened her.

"Do you want to speak to the landlord or not ?" she asked at length. "Because I can't stand here all day awaiting your pleasure. If you don't want to see him, and you've finished your drink, you can put down your money on the counter and go away."

The man laughed, and his smile and the flash of his teeth struck a chord in her memory, but still she could not name the resemblance.

"Do you order Joss about in that way ?" he said. "He must be a changed man if you do. What a creature of contradictions the fellow is, after all ! I never thought he'd run a young woman alongside his other activities. What do you do with poor Patience of an evening ? Do you turn her out on the floor, or do you sleep all three abreast ? "

Mary flushed scarlet. "Joss Merlyn is my uncle by marriage," she said. "Aunt Patience was my mother's only sister. My name is Mary Yellan, if that means anything to you. Good morning. There's the door behind you."

She left the bar and walked into the kitchen, straight into the arms of the landlord himself. "Who in hell's name were you talking to in the bar ?" he thundered. "I thought I'd warned you to keep your mouth shut ?"

The loudness of his voice echoed in the passage. "All right," called the man from the bar, "don't beat her. She's broken my pipe and refused to serve me ; that sounds like your training, doesn't it ? Come in and let's have a look at you. I'm hoping this maid has done you some good."

Joss Merlyn frowned, and, pushing Mary aside, he stepped into the bar.

"Oh, it's you, Jem, is it ?" he said. "What do you want at Jamaica today ? I can't buy a horse from you, if that's what you're after. Things are going badly, and I'm as poor as a field-mouse after a wet harvest."

He closed the door, leaving Mary in the passage outside.

She went back to her bucket of water in the front hall, wiping the dirty mark from her face with her apron. So that was Jem Merlyn, her uncle's younger brother. Of course, she had seen the resemblance all the time, and, like a fool, had not been able to place it. He had reminded her of her uncle throughout the conversation, and she had not realised it. He had Joss Merlyn's eyes, without the blood-flecked lines and without the pouches, and he had Joss Merlyn's mouth, firm, though, where the landlord's was weak, and narrow where his lower lip sagged. He was what Joss Merlyn might have been, eighteen, twenty years ago--but smaller in build and height, neater in person.

Mary splashed the water on to the stone flags, and began to scrub furiously, her lips pressed tight together.

What a vile breed they were, then, these Merlyns, with their studied insolence and coarseness, their rough brutality of manner. This Jem had the same streak of cruelty as his brother, she could see it in the shape of his mouth. Aunt Patience had said he was the worst of the family. Although he was a head and shoulders smaller than Joss, and half the breadth, there was a certain strength about him that the elder brother did not possess. He looked hard, and keen. The landlord sagged round the chin, and his shoulders weighed on him like a burden. It was as though his power was wasted in some way, and had run to seed. Drink did that to a man, Mary knew, and for the first time she was able to guess something of the wreck Joss Merlyn had become, in comparison to his former self. It was seeing his brother that had shown her. The landlord had betrayed himself. If the younger one had any sense in his head he would pull himself together before he travelled the same road. Perhaps he did not care, though ; there must be a fatality about the Merlyn family that did away with striving forward, and making good in life, and resolution. Their record was too black. "There's no going against bad blood," her mother used to say ; "it always comes out in the end. You may fight it as much as you like, but it will have the better of you. If two generations live clean, that may clear the stream sometimes, but likely as not the third will break out and start it going again." What a waste it all was, what a waste and a pity ! And here was poor Aunt Patience dragged in the current with the Merlyns, all her youth and gaiety gone before her, leaving her--if the truth were faced--very little superior to the idiot boy at Dozmary. And Aunt Patience might have been a farmer's wife at Gweek, with sons of her own, and a house and land, and all the little happy trivialities of a normal happy life : gossip with the neighbours, and church on Sundays, and driving into market once a week ; fruit-picking, and harvest-time. Things she would have loved, things that had foundation. She would have known placidity, and they would be tranquil years that turned her hair in time to grey--years of solid work and calm enjoyment. All this promise she had thrown away, to live like a slattern with a brute and a drunkard. Why were women such fools, so short-sighted and unwise ? wondered Mary ; and she scrubbed the last stone flag of the hall with venom, as though by her very action she might cleanse the world and blot out the indiscretions of her kind.

She had worked up her energy to a frenzy, and, turning from the hall, proceeded to sweep the gloomy, dim parlour that had not seen a broom for years. A cloud of dust met her face, and she beat savagely at the wretched threadbare mat. She was so absorbed in her disagreeable occupation that she did not hear the stone flung at the window of the parlour, and it was not until a shower of pebbles made a crack in the glass that her concentration was disturbed, and, looking out of the window, she saw Jem Merlyn standing in the yard beside his pony.

Mary frowned at him, and turned away, but he made answer with another shower of pebbles, this time cracking the glass in earnest, so that a small piece of the pane splintered on to the floor, with a stone beside it.

Mary unbolted the heavy entrance-door and went out into the porch.

"What do you want now ?" she asked him, conscious suddenly of her loose hair and rumpled dirty apron.

He still looked down at her with curiosity, but the insolence had gone, and he had the grace to appear the smallest bit ashamed of himself.

"Forgive me if I was rude to you just now," he said. "Somehow I didn't expect to see a woman at Jamaica Inn--not a young girl like you, anyway. I thought Joss had found you in one of the towns, and had brought you back here for his fancy lady."

Mary flushed again, and hit her lip in annoyance. "There's nothing very fanciful about me," she said scornfully. "I'd look well in a town, wouldn't I, in my old apron and heavy shoes ? I should have thought anyone with eyes in his head could see I was farm-bred."

"Oh, I don't know," he said carelessly. "Put you in a fine gown and a pair of high-heeled shoes, and stick a comb in your hair, I daresay you'd pass for a lady even in a big place like Exeter."

"I'm meant to be flattered by that, I suppose," said Mary, "but, thanking you very much, I'd rather wear my old clothes and look like myself."

"You could do a lot worse tlian that, of course," he agreed ; and, looking up, she saw that he was laughing at her. She turned to go back into the house.

"Come, don't go away," he said. "I know I deserve black looks for speaking to you as I did, but if you knew my brother as well as I do you'd understand me making the mistake. It looks strange, having a maid at Jamaica Inn. Why did you come here in the first place ?"

Mary considered him from the shadow of the porch. He looked serious now, and his likeness to Joss had fled for the moment. She wished he were not a Merlyn.

"I came here to be with my Aunt Patience," she said. "My mother died some weeks ago, and I have no other relative. I'll tell you one thing, Mr. Merlyn--I'm thankful my mother isn't alive to see her sister now."

"I don't suppose marriage with Joss is a bed of roses," said his brother. "He always had the temper of the Devil himself, and he drinks like a fish. What did she marry him for ? He's been the same as long as I can remember. He used to thrash me when I was a lad, and he'd do the same today if he dared.>/f?"

"I suppose she was misled by his bright eyes," said Mary scornfully.

:Aunt Patience was always the butterfly down in Helford, Mother used to say. She wouldn't have the farmer who asked her, but took herself off up-country, where she met your brother. That was the worst day in her life, anyway."

"You've not much opinion of the landlord, then ? " he said, mocking her.

"No, I have not," she replied. "He's a bully, and a brute, and many worse things beside. He's turned my aunt from a laughing, happy woman into a miserable drudge, and I'll never forgive him for that as long as I live."

Jem whistled tunelessly, and patted his horses neck.

"We Merlyns have never been good to our women," he said. "I can remember my father beating my mother till she couldn't stand. She never left him, though, but stood by him all his life. When he was hanged at Exeter, she didn't speak to a soul for three months. Her hair went white with the shock. I can't remember my grandmother, but they say she fought side by side with granddad once near Callington, when the soldiers came to take him, and she bit a fellow's finger right through to the bone. What she had to love in granddad I can't say, for he never as much as asked for her after he'd been taken, and he left all his savings with another woman the other side of Tamar."

Mary was silent. The indifference in his voice appalled her. He spoke entirely without shame or regret, and she supposed that he had been born, like the rest of his family, lacking the quality of tenderness.

"How long do you mean to stay at Jamaica ? " he asked abruptly, "It's waste for a maid like you, isn't it ? There's not much company for you here."

"I can't help that," said Mary. "I'm not going away unless I take my aunt with me. I'd never leave her here alone, not after what I've seen."

Jem bent down to brush a piece of dirt from his pony's shoe.

"What have you learnt in your short time ? " he questioned. "It's quiet enough here, in all conscience."

Mary was not easily led. For all she knew, her uncle had prompted his brother to speak to her, hoping in this way to obtain information. No, she was not quite such a fool as that. She shrugged her shoulders, dismissing the subject.

"I helped my uncle in the bar one Saturday night," she said, "and I did not think much of the company he kept."

"I don't suppose you did," said Jem. "The fellows who come to Jamaica have never been taught manners. They spend too much time in the county jail. I wonder what they thought of you ? Made the same mistake as I did, I suppose, and are now spreading your fame far and wide about the countryside. You'll have Joss throwing dice for you next time, I daresay, and when he loses you'll find yourself riding pillion behind a dirty poacher from the other side of Roughtor."

"There's not much likelihood of that," said Mary. "They'd have to knock me senseless before I rode pillion with anyone."

"Senseless or conscious, women are pretty much the same when you come down to it," said Jem. "The poachers on Bodmin moor would never know the difference, anyway." And he laughed again, and looked exactly like his brother.

"What do you do for a livelihood ?" asked Mary, in sudden curiosity, for during their conversation she became aware that he spoke better than his brother.

"I'm a horse-thief," he said pleasantly, "but there's not much money in it really. My pockets are always empty. You ought to ride here. I've got a little pony that would suit you handsomely. He's over at Trewartha now. Why don't you come back with me and look at him ?"

"Aren't you afraid of being caught ?" said Mary.

"Thieving is an awkward thing to prove," he told her. "Supposing a pony strays from his pen, and his owner goes to look for him. Well, you've seen for yourself, these moors are alive with wild horses and cattle. It's not going to be so easy for that owner to find his pony. Say the pony had a long mane, and one white foot, and a diamond mark in his ear -- that narrows the field down a bit, doesn't it ? And off goes the owner to Launceston fair with his eyes wide open. But he doesn't find his pony. Mark you, the pony is there, right enough, and he's bought by some dealer and sold away up-country. Only his mane is clipped, his four feet are all the same colour, and the mark in his ear is a slit, not a diamond. The owner didn't even look at him twice. That's simple enough, isn't it ?"

"So simple that I can't understand why you don't ride past Jamaica in your own coach, with a powdered footman on the step," said Mary swiftly.

"Ah, well, there you are," he said, shaking his head. "I've never had the brain for figures. You'd be surprised to learn how quickly money slips through my fingers. Do you know, I had ten pounds in my pocket last week. I've only a shilling piece today. That's why I wantyou to buy that little pony."

Mary laughed, in spite of herself. He was so frank in his dishonesty that she had not the heart to be angry with him.

"I can't spend my small savings on horses," she said. "I'm laying aside for my old age, and if I ever get away from Jamaica I shall need every penny, you may depend on that."

Jem Merlyn looked at her gravely, and then, on a sudden impulse, he bent towards her, first glancing over her head into the porch beyond.

"Look here," he said, "I'm serious now ; you can forget all the nonsense I've told you. Jamaica Inn is no place for a maid--nor for any woman, if it comes to that. My brother and I have never been friends, and I can say what I like about him. We go our own ways and be damned to one another. But there's no reason why you should be caught up in his dirty schemes. Why don't you run away ? I'd see you on the road to Bodmin all right."

His tones were persuasive, and Mary could almost have trusted him. But she could not forget he was Joss Merlyn's brother, and as such might betray her. She dared not make a confidant of him--not yet, anyway. Time would show whose side he was on.

"I don't need any help," she said, "I can look after myself."

Jem threw his leg over the pony's back and stuck his feet into the leathers.

"All right," he said, "I won't worry you. My cottage is across the Withy Brook, if you ever want me. The other side of Trewartha Marsh, at the foot of Twelve Men's Moor. I shall be there until the spring, anyway. Good day to you." And he was off, and away down the road before she had time to say a word in return.

Mary went slowly back into the house. She would have trusted him had his name been other than Merlyn. She was in urgent need of a friend ; but she could not make a friend of the landlord's brother. He was no more than a common horse-thief, a dishonest scoundrel, when all was said and done. He was little better than Harry the pedlar and the rest of them. Because he had a disarming smile and his voice was not unpleasing, she had been ready to believe in him, and he all the time perhaps laughing at her the other side of his face. There was bad blood in him ; he broke the law every day of his life, and whatever way she looked at it there was no escaping from that one unredeemable fact -- he was Joss Merlyn's brother. He had said there was no bond between them, but even that might be a lie to enlist her sympathy, while the whole of their conversation perhaps had been prompted by the landlord in the bar.

No, whatever happened, she must stand alone in this business and trust no one. The very walls of Jamaica Inn smelt of guilt and deceit, and to speak aloud in earshot of the building courted disaster.

It was dark in the house, and quiet once more. The landlord had returned to the peat-stack at the bottom of the garden, and Aunt Patience was in her kitchen. The surprise of the visit had been a little excitement and a breaking-up of the long, monotonous day. Jem Merlyn had brought something of the outer world with him, a world that was not entirely bounded by the moors and frowned upon by tors of granite ; and now that he had departed the early brightness of the day went with him. The sky became overcast, and the inevitable rain came sweeping from the west, topping the hills in mist. The black heather bowed before the wind. The ill temper that had fastened upon Mary at the beginning of the morning had passed away, and in its place had stolen a numb indifference born of fatigue and despair. Interminably the days and weeks stretched themselves before her, with no other sight but the long white road to tempt her, the stone walls, and the everlasting hills./

She thought of Jem Merlyn riding away with a song on his lips, kicking his heels into his pony's side, and he would ride hatless, careless of the wind and the rain, choosing his own road.

She thought of the lane that led to Helford village, how it twisted and turned and wound suddenly to the water's edge, while the ducks paddled in the mud before the turn of the tide, and a man called to his cows from the field above. All those things were progressive, and part of life, and they went their way without a thought of her ; but she was bound here by a promise that she must not break, and the very patter of Aunt Patience's feet as she passed to and fro in the kitchen was a reminder and a warning.

Mary watched the little stinging rain blur the glass of the parlour window, and as she sat there, alone, with her chin in her hand, the tears ran down her cheeks in company with the rain. She let them fall, too indifferent to wipe them away, while the draught from the door she had forgotten to close ruffled a long torn strip of paper on the wall. There had once been a rose pattern, but it was now faded and grey, and the walls themselves were stained deep brown where the damp had turned them. Mary turned away from the window ; and the cold, dead atmosphere of Jamaica Inn closed in upon her.


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