NSB Cosmic Center Image

N.S.B. Cosmic Center

NSB Cosmic Center Image

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


That night the waggons came again. Mary woke to the sound of the hall clock striking two, and almost at once she was aware of footsteps beneath the porch, and she heard a voice speak soft and low. She crept out of bed and went over to the window. Yes, there they were ; only two carts this time, with one horse in harness, and less than half a dozen men standing in the yard.

The waggons looked ghostly in the dim light, like hearses, and the men themselves were phantom figures, having no place in the world of day by day, but moving silently about the yard as some weird pattern in a nightmare fantasy. There was something horrible about them, something sinister in the shrouded waggons themselves, coming as they did in stealth by night. This night, the impression they left upon Mary was even more lasting and profound ; for now she understood the significance of their trade.

They were desperate men who worked this road and carried convoys to Jamaica Inn, and last time they brought their waggons to the yard one of their number had been murdered. Perhaps tonight yet another crime would be committed, and the twisted length of rope dangle once again from the beam below.

The scene in the yard held a fatal fascination, and Mary could not leave the window. This time the waggons had arrived empty, and were loaded with the remainder of the cargo deposited at the inn the time before. Mary guessed that this was their method of working. The inn served as a store for a few weeks at a time, and then, when opportunity occurred, the waggons set forth once more, and the cargo was carried to the Tamar bank and so distributed. The organisation must be a big one to cover the ground in the time, and there would be agents scattered far and wide who kept the necessary watch on events. Perhaps there were hundreds implicated in the trade, from Penzance and St. Ives in the south to Launceston on the border of Devon. There had been little talk of smuggling in Helford, and when there had been, it was with a wink and a smile of indulgence, as though a pipe of baccy and a bottle of brandy from a ship in Falmouth port was an occasional harmless luxury, and not a burden on any person's conscience.

This was different, though. This was a grim business, a stern and bloody business, and precious little smiling or winking went with it, from all that Mary had seen. If his conscience pricked a man, he received a rope round his neck in payment. There must be no weak link in the chain that stretched from the coast up to the border, and there was the explanation of the rope on the beam. The stranger had demurred, and the stranger had died. It was with a sudden sting of disappointment that Mary wondered whether the visit of Jem Merlyn to the Jamaica Inn this morning had significance. A strange coincidence that the waggons should follow in his train. He had come from Launceston, he said, and Launceston stood on the Tamar bank. Mary was angry with him and with herself. In spite of everything, her last thought before sleeping had been the possibility of his friendship. She would be a fool if she had hopes of it now. The two events ran together in an unmistakable fashion, and it was easy enough to read the purpose of it.

Jem might disagree with his brother, but they were both in the same trade. He had ridden to Jamaica to warn the landlord that he might expect the convoy in the evening. It was simple enough to understand. And then, having something of a heart, he had advised Mary to take herself to Bodmin. It was no place for a maid, he said. No one knew that better than he did himself, being one of the company. It was a wretched, damnable business in every way, without a ray of hope in any direction, and here she was in the midst of it all, with Aunt Patience like a child on her hands.

Now the two waggons were loaded, and the drivers climbed in the seats with their companions. The performance had not been a lengthy one tonight.

Mary could see the great head and shoulders of her uncle on a level with the porch, and he held a lantern in his hand, the light dimmed by a shutter. Then the carts rumbled out of the yard, and turned to the left, as Mary had expected, and so in the direction of Launceston.

She came away from the window, and climbed back into bed. Presently she heard her uncle's footsteps on the stairs, and he went along the farther passage to his bedroom. There was no one hiding in the guest-room tonight.

The next few days passed without incident, and the only vehicle on the road was the coach to Launceston, rumbling past Jamaica like a scared blackbeetle. There came a fine crisp morning with frost on the ground, and for once the sun shone in a cloudless sky. The tors stood out boldly against the hard blue heaven, and the moorland grass, usually soggy and brown, glistened stiff and white with the frost. The drinking-well in the yard had a thin layer of ice. The mud had hardened where the cows had trodden, and the marks of their feet were preserved in formed ridges that would not yield until the next fall of rain. The light wind came singing from the north-east, and it was cold.

Mary, whose spirits always rose at the sight of the sun, had turned her morning into washing-day, and, with sleeves rolled well above the elbows, plunged her arms into the tub, the hot soapy water, bubbling with froth, caressing her skin in exquisite contrast to the sharp stinging air.

She felt well in being, and she sang as she worked. Her uncle had ridden away on the moors somewhere, and a sense of freedom possessed her whenever he was gone. At the back here she was sheltered somewhat from the wind, the broad sturdy house acting as a screen, and as she wrung out her linen and spread it on the stunted gorse-bush, she saw that the full force of the sun fell upon it, and it would be dry by noon.

An urgent tapping on the window made her look up, and she saw Aunt Patience beckon to her, very white in the face and evidently frightened.

Mary wiped her hands on her apron and ran to the back door of the house. No sooner had she entered the kitchen than her aunt seized upon her with trembling hands, and began to blabber incoherently.

"Quietly, quietly," said Mary. "I cannot understand what you're saying. Here, take this chair and sit down, and drink this glass of water, for mercy's sake. Now, what is it ?"

The poor woman rocked backwards and forwards in her chair, her mouth working nervously, and she kept jerking her head towards the door.

"It's Mr. Bassat from North Hill," she whispered. "I saw him from the parlour window. He's come on horseback, and another gentleman with him. Oh, my dear, my dear, what are we going to do ?"

Even as she spoke there was a loud knock at the entrance-door and then a pause, followed by a thunder of blows.

Aunt Patience groaned aloud, biting the ends of her fingers, and tearing at her nails. "Why has he come here ? " she cried. "He's never been before. He's always kept away. He's heard something, I know he has. Oh, Mary, what are we going to do ? What are we going to say ?"

Mary thought quickly. She was in a very difficult position. If this was Mr. Bassat and he represented the law, it was her one chance of betraying her uncle. She could tell him of the waggons and all she had seen since her arrival. She looked down at the trembling woman at her side.

"Mary, Mary, for the sake of the dear Lord, tell me what I am to say ? " pleaded Aunt Patience, and she took her niece's hand and held it to her heart.

The hammering on the door was incessant now.

"Listen to me," said Mary. "We shall have to let him in or he'll break down the door. Pull yourself together somehow. There's no need to say anything at all. Say Uncle Joss is away from home, and you know nothing. I'll come with you."

The woman looked at her with haggard, desperate eyes, "Mary," she said, "if Mr. Bassat asks you what you know, you won't answer him, will you ? I can trust you, can't I ? You'll not tell him of the waggons ? If any danger came to Joss I'd kill myself, Mary."

There was no argument after that. Mary would lie herself into hell rather than let her aunt suffer. The situation must be faced, though, however ironical her position was to be.

"Come with me to the door, "she said ;" we'll not keep Mr. Bassat long. You needn't be afraid of me ; I shall say nothing."

They went into the hall together, and Mary unbolted the heavy entrance-door. There were two men outside the porch. One had dismounted, and it was he who had rained the blows on the door. The other was a big burly fellow, in a heavy top-coat and cape, seated on the back of a fine chestnut horse. His hat was pulled square over his eyes, but Mary could see that his face was heavily lined and weather-beaten, and she judged him to be somewhere about fifty years of age.

"You take your time here, don't you ? " he called. "There doesn't seem to be much of a welcome for travellers. Is the landlord at home ?"

Patience Merlyn poked at her niece with her hand, and Mary made answer.

"Mr. Merlyn is from home, sir," she said. "Are you in need of refreshment ? I will serve you if you will go through to the bar."

"Damn refreshment ! " he returned. "I know better than to come to Jamaica Inn for that. I want to speak to your master. Here, you, are you the landlord's wife ? When do you expect him home ? "

Aunt Patience made him a little curtsey. "If you please, Mr. Bassat," she said, speaking unnaturally loudly and clearly, like a child who has learnt a lesson, "my husband went out as soon as he had his breakfast, and whether he will be back before nightfall I really cannot say."

"H'mph," growled the squire, "that's a damned nuisance. I wanted a word or two with Mr. Joss Merlyn. Now look here, my good woman, your precious husband may have bought Jamaica Inn behind my back, in his blackguardly fashion, and we'll not go into that again now, but one thing I won't stand for, and that's having all my land hereabouts made a byword for everything that's damnable and dishonest round the countryside."

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean, Mr. Bassat," said Aunt Patience, working her mouth and twisting her hands in her dress. We live very quietly here, indeed we do ; my niece here will tell you the same."

"Oh, come, I'm not such a fool as that," answered the squire. "I've had my eyes on this place for a long while. A house doesn't get a bad name without reason, Mrs. Merlyn, and Jamaica Inn stinks from here to the coast. Don't you pretend to me. Here, Richards, hold my confounded horse, will you ?"

The other man, who by his dress appeared to be a servant, held the bridle, and Mr. Bassat climbed heavily to the ground.

"While I'm here I may as well look round," he said, "and I'll tell you here and now that it's useless to refuse me. I'm a magistrate, and I have a warrant."

He pushed his way past the two women, and so through to the little entrance-hall. Aunt Patience made a movement as though to deter him, but Mary shook her head and frowned. "Let him go," she murmured. "If we try and stop him now we shall only anger him the more."

Mr. Bassat was looking about him in disgust. "Good God," he exclaimed, "the place smells like a tomb. What in the world have you done to it ? Jamaica Inn was always rough-cast and plain, and the fare homely, but this is a positive disgrace. Why, the place is as bare as a board ; you haven't a stick of furniture."

He had thrown open the door of the parlour, and pointed to the damp walls with his crop. "You'll have the roof about your ears if you don't stop that," he said. "I've never seen such a thing in my life. Go on, Mrs. Merlyn, lead the way upstairs."

Pale and anxious, Patience Merlyn turned to the staircase, her eyes searching those of her niece for reassurement.

The rooms on the landing were thoroughly explored. The squire peered into the dusty corners, lifted the old sacks, and prodded the potatoes, all the while uttering exclamations of anger and disgust.

"Call this an inn, do you ? " he said. "Why, you haven't even a bed fit to sleep a cat. The place is rotten, rotten right through. What's the idea, eh ? Have you lost your tongue, Mrs. Merlyn ?"

The poor woman was past replying ; she kept shaking her head and working her mouth, and Mary knew that both she and her aunt were wondering what would happen when they came to the barred room in the passage below.

"The landlord's lady appears to be momentarily deaf and dumb," said the squire drily. "What about you, young woman ? Have you anything to say ? "

"It's only lately I've come to stay here," replied Mary. "My mother died, and I'm here to look after my aunt. She's not very strong ; you can see that for yourself. She's nervous and easily upset."

"I don't blame her, living in a place like this," said Mr. Bassat. "Well, there's nothing more to see up here, so you'll kindly take me downstairs again and show me the room that has barred windows. I noticed it from the yard, and I'd like to see inside."

Aunt Patience passed her tongue over her lips and looked at Mary. She was incapable of speech.

"I'm very sorry, sir," Mary replied, "but if you mean the old lumber room at the end of the passage, I'm afraid the door is locked. My uncle always keeps the key, and where he puts it I don't know."

The squire looked from one to the other in suspicion.

"What about you, Mrs, Merlyn ? Don't you know where your husband keeps his key's ?"

Aunt Patience shook her head. The squire snorted and turned on his heel. "Well, that's easily settled," he said. "We'll have the door down in no time." And he went out into the yard to call his servant. Mary patted her aunt's hand, and drew her close.

"Try and not tremble so," she whispered fiercely. "Anyone can see you have something to hide. Your only chance is to pretend you don't mind, and that he can see anything in the house for all you care."

In a few minutes Mr. Bassat returned with the man Richards, who, grinning all over his face at the thought of destruction, carried an old bar he had found in the stable, and which he evidently intended using as a battering-ram.

If it had not been for her aunt, Mary would have given herself to the scene with some enjoyment. For the first time she would be permitted a view of the barred room. The fact that her aunt, and herself too for that matter, would be implicated in any discovery that was made, caused her mixed feelings, however, and for the first time she realised that it was going to be a very difficult task to prove their complete and thorough innocence. No one was likely to believe protestations, with Aunt Patience fighting blindly on the landlord's side.

It was with some excitement, then, that Mary watched Mr. Bassat and his servant seize the bar between them and ram it against the lock of the door. For a few minutes it withstood them, and the sound of the blows echoed through the house. Then there was a splitting of wood and a crash, and the door gave way before them. Aunt Patience uttered a little cry of distress, and the squire pushed past her into the room. Richards leant on the bar, wiping the sweat from his forehead, and Mary could see through to the room over his shoulder. It was dark, of course ; the barred windows with their lining of sack kept the light from penetrating the room.

"Get me a candle, one of you," shouted the squire. "It's as black as a pit in here." The servant produced a stump of candle from his pocket, and a light was kindled. He handed the candle to the squire, who, lifting it high above his head, stepped into the centre of the room.

For a moment there was silence, as the squire turned, letting the light shine in every corner, and then, clicking his tongue in annoyance and disappointment, he faced the little group behind him.

"Nothing," he said ; "absolutely nothing. The landlord has made a fool of me again."

Except for a pile of sacks in one corner the room was completely empty. It was thick with dust, and there were cobwebs on the walls larger than a man's hand. There was no furniture of any sort, the hearth had been blocked up with stones, and the floor itself was flagged like the passage outside.

On the top of the sacks lay a length of twisted rope.

Then the squire shrugged his shoulders, and turned once more into the passage.

"Well, Mr. Joss Merlyn has won this time," he said ; "there's not enough evidence in that room to kill a cat. I'll admit myself beaten."

The two women followed him to the outer hall, and so to the porch, while the servant made his way to the stable to fetch the horses.

Mr. Bassat flicked his boot with his whip, and stared moodily in front of him.

"You've been lucky, Mrs, Merlyn," he said. "If I'd found what I expected to find in that blasted room of yours, this time tomorrow your husband would be in the county jail. As it is ... "

Once more he clicked his tongue in annoyance, and broke off in the middle of his sentence.

"Stir yourself, Richards, can't you ? " he shouted. "I can't afford to waste any more of my morning. What the hell are you doing ?"

The man appeared at the stable door, leading the two horses behind him.

"Now, listen to me," said Mr. Bassat, pointing his crop at Mary. "This aunt of yours may have lost her tongue, and her senses with them, but you can understand plain English, I hope. Do you mean to tell me you know nothing of you uncle's business ? Does nobody ever call here, by day or by night ?"

Mary looked him straight in the eyes. "I've never seen anyone," she said.

"Have you ever looked into that barred room before today ?"

"No, never in my life."

"Have you any idea why he should keep it locked up ?"

"No, none at all."

" Have you ever heard wheels in the yard by night ?"

"I'm a very heavy sleeper. Nothing ever wakes me."

"Where does your uncle go when he's away from home ?"

"I don't know."

"Don't you think yourself it's very peculiar, to keep an inn on the King's highway, and then bolt and bar your house to every passer-by ?"

"My uncle is a very peculiar man."

"He is indeed. In fact, he's so damned peculiar that half the people in the countryside won't sleep easy in their beds until he's been hanged, like his father before him. You can tell him that from me."

"I will, Mr. Bassat."

"Aren't you afraid, living up here, without sound or sight of a neighbour, and only this half-crazy woman for companion ?"

"The time passes."

"You've got a close tongue, haven't you, young woman ? Well, I don't envy you your relatives. I'd rather see any daughter of mine in her grave than living at Jamaica Inn with a man like Joss Merlyn."

He turned away, and climbed on to his horse, gathering the reins in his hands.

"One other thing," he called from his saddle. "Have you seen anything of your uncle's younger brother, Jem Merlyn, of Trewartha ?"

"No," said Mary steadily ; "he never comes here."

"Oh, he doesn't ? Well, that's all I want from you this morning. Good day to you both." And away they clattered from the yard, and so down the road and to the brow of the farther hill.

Aunt Patience had already preceded Mary to the kitchen, and was sitting on a chair in a state of collapse.

"Oh, pull yourself together," said Mary wearily. Mr. Bassat has gone, none the wiser for his visit, and as cross as two sticks because of it. If he'd found the room reeking of brandy, then there would be something to cry about. As it is, you and Uncle Joss have scraped out of it very well."

She poured herself out a tumbler of water and drank it at one breath. Mary was in a fair way to losing her temper. She had lied to save her uncle's skin, when every inch of her longed to proclaim his guilt. She had looked into the barred room, and its emptiness had hardly surprised her when she remembered the visitation of the waggons a few nights back ; but to have been faced with that loathsome length of rope, which she recognised immediately as the one she had seen hanging from the beam, was almost more than she could bear. And because of her aunt she had to stand still and say nothing. It was damnable ; there was no other word for it. Well, she was committed now, and there was no going back. For better, for worse, she had become one of the company at Jamaica Inn. As she drank down her second glass of water she reflected cynically that in the end she would probably hang beside her uncle. Not only had she lied to save him, she thought with rising anger, but she had lied to help his brother Jem. Jem Merlyn owed her thanks as well. Why she had lied about him she did not know. He would probably never find out anyway, and, if he did, he would take it for granted.

Aunt Patience was till moaning and whimpering before the fire, and Mary was in no mood to comfort her. She felt she had done enough for her family for one day, and her nerves were on edge with the whole business. If she stayed in the kitchen a moment longer she would scream with irritation. She went back to the wash-tub in the patch of garden by the chicken-run, and plunged her hands savagely into the grey, soapy water that was now stone-cold.

Joss Merlyn returned just before noon. Mary heard him step into the kitchen from the front of the house, and he was met at once with a babble of words from his wife. Mary stayed where she was by the wash-tub; she was determined to let Aunt Patience explain things in her own way, and, if he called to her for confirmation, there was time enough to go indoors.

She could hear nothing of what passed between them, but the voice of her aunt sounded shrill and high, and now and again her uncle interposed a question sharply. In a little while he beckoned Mary from the window, and she went inside. He was standing on the hearth, his legs straddled wide, and his face as black as thunder.

"Come on !" he shouted. "Out with it. What's your side of the story ? I get nothing but a string of words from your aunt ; a magpie makes more sense than she. What in hell's been going on here ? That's what I want to know."

Mary told him calmly, in a few well-chosen words, what had taken place during the morning. She omitted nothing--except the squire's question about his brother--and ended with Mr. Bassat's own words--that people would not sleep easy in their beds until Joss Merlyn was hanged, like his father before him.

The landlord listened in silence, and, when she had finished, he crashed his fist down on the kitchen table and swore, kicking one of the chairs to the other side of the room.

"The damned skulking bastard ! " he roared. "He'd no more right to walk into my house than any other man. His talk of a magistrate's warrant was all bluff, you blithering fools ; there's no such thing. By God, if I'd been here, I'd have sent him back to North Hill so as his own wife would never recognise him, and, if she did, she'd have no use for him again. Damn and blast his eyes ! I'll teach Mr. Bassat who's got the run of this country, and have him sniffing round my legs, what's more. Scared you, did he ? I'll burn his house round his ears if he plays his tricks again."

Joss Merlyn shouted at the top of his voice, and the noise was deafening. Mary did not fear him like this ; the whole thing was bluster and show ; it was when he lowered his voice and whispered that she knew him to be deadly. For all his thunder he was frightened ; she could see that ; and his confidence was rudely shaken.

"Get me something to eat," he said. "I must go out again, and there's no time to lose. Stop that yawling, Patience, or I'll smash your face in. You've done well today, Mary, and I'll not forget it."

His niece looked him in the eyes.

"You don't think I did it for you, do you ? " she said.

"I don't care a damn why you did it, the result's the same," he answered. "Not that a blind fool like Bassat would find anything anyway; he was born with his head in the wrong place. Cut me a hunk of bread, and quit talking, and sit down at the bottom of the table where you belong to be."

The two women took their seats in silence, and the meal passed without further disturbance. As soon as he had finished, the landlord rose to his feet, and, without another word to either of them, made his way to the stable. Mary expected to hear him lead his pony out once more and ride off down the road, but in a minute or two he was back again, and passing through the kitchen, he went down to the end of the garden and climbed the stile in the field. Mary watched him strike across the moor, and ascend the steep incline that led to Tolborough Tor and Godda. For a moment she hesitated, debating the wisdom of the sudden plan in her head, and then the sound of her aunt's footsteps overhead appeared to decide her. She waited until she heard the door of the bedroom close, and then, throwing off her apron and seizing her thick shawl from its peg on the wall, she ran down the field after her uncle. When she reached the bottom she crouched beside the stone wall until his figure crossed the skyline and disappeared, and then she leapt up again and followed in his track, picking her way amongst the rough grass and stones. It was a mad and senseless venture, no doubt, but her mood was a reckless one, and she needed an outlet for it after her silence of the morning.

Her idea was to keep Joss Merlyn in view, remaining of course unseen, and in this way perhaps she would learn something of his secret mission. She had no doubt that the squire's visit to Jamaica had altered the landlord's plans, and that this sudden departure on foot across the heart of the West Moor was connected with it. It was not yet half-past one, and an ideal afternoon for walking. Mary, with her stout shoes and short skirt to her ankles, cared little for the rough ground. It was dry enough underfoot--the frost had hardened the surface--and, accustomed as she was to the wet shingle of the Helford shore and the thick mud of the farm-yard, this scramble over the moor seemed easy enough. Her earlier rambles had taught her some wisdom, and she kept to the high ground as much as possible, following as best she could the tracks taken by her uncle.

Her task was a difficult one, and after a few miles she began to realise it. She was forced to keep a good length between them in order to remain unseen, and the landlord walked at such a pace, and took such tremendous strides, that before long Mary saw she would be left behind. Codda Tor was passed, and he turned west now towards the low ground at the foot of Brown Willy, looking, for all his height, like a little black dot against the brown stretch of moor.

The prospect of climbing some thirteen hundred feet came as something of a shock to Mary, and she paused for a moment, and wiped her streaming face. She let down her hair, for greater comfort, and let it blow about her face. Why the landlord of Jamaica Inn thought it necessary to climb the highest point on Bodmin Moor on a December afternoon she could not tell, but, having come so far, she was determined to have some satisfaction for her pains, and she set off again at a sharper pace.

The ground was now soggy beneath her feet, for here the early frost had thawed and turned to water, and the whole of the low-lying plain before her was soft and yellow from the winter rains. The damp oozed into her shoes with cold and clammy certainty, and the hem of her skirt was bespattered with bog and torn in places. Lifting it up higher, and hitching it round her waist with the ribbon from her hair, Mary plunged on in trail of her uncle, but he had already transversed the worst of the low ground with uncanny quickness born of long custom, and she could just make out his figure amongst the black heather and the great boulders at the foot of Brown Willy. Then he was hidden by a jutting crag of granite, and she saw him no more.

It was impossible to discover the path he had taken across the bog ; he had been over and gone in a flash, and Mary followed as best she could, floundering at every step. She was a fool to attempt it, she knew that, but a sort of stubborn stupidity made her continue. Ignorant of the whereabouts of the track that had carried her uncle dry-shod over the bog, Mary had sense enough to make a wide circuit to avoid the treacherous ground, and, by going quite two miles in the wrong direction, she was able to cross in comparative safety. She was now hopelessly left, without a prospect of ever finding her uncle again.

Nevertheless she set herself to climb Brown Willy, slipping and stumbling amongst the wet moss and the stones, scrambling up the great peaks of jagged granite that frustrated her at every turn, while now and again a hill sheep, startled by the sound of her, ran out from behind a boulder to gaze at her and stamp his feet. Clouds were bearing up from the west, casting changing shadows on the plains beneath, and the sun went in behind them.

It was very silent on the hills. Once a raven rose up at her feet and screamed ; he went away flapping his great black wings, swooping to the earth below with harsh protesting cries.

When Mary reached the summit of the hill the evening clouds were banked high above her head, and the world was grey. The distant horizon was blotted out in the gathering dusk, and thin white mist rose from the moors beneath. Approaching the tor from its steepest and most difficult side, as she had done, she had wasted nearly an hour out of her time, and darkness would soon be upon her. Her escapade had been to little purpose, for as far as her eyes could see there was no living thing within their range.

Joss Merlyn had long vanished ; and for all she knew he might not have climbed the tor at all, but skirted its base amongst the rough heather and the smaller stones, and then made his way alone and unobserved, east or west as his business took him, to be swallowed up in the folds of the farther hills.

Mary would never find him now. The best course was to descend the tor by the shortest possible way and in the speediest fashion, otherwise she would be faced with the prospect of a winter's night upon the moors, with dead-black heather for a pillow and no other shelter but frowning crags of granite. She knew herself now for a fool to have ventured so far on a December afternoon, for experience had proved to her that there were no long twilights on Bodmin Moor. When darkness came it was swift and sudden, without warning, and an immediate blotting out of the sun. The mists were dangerous too, rising in a cloud from the damp ground and closing in about the marshes like a white barrier.

Discouraged and depressed, and all excitement gone from her, Mary scrambled down the steep face of the tor, one eye on the marshes below and the other for the darkness that threatened to overtake her. Directly below her there was a pool or well, said to be the source of the river Fowey that ran ultimately to the sea, and this must be avoided at all costs, for the ground around was boggy and treacherous and the well itself of an unknown depth.

She bore to her left to avoid it, but by the time she had reached the level of the plain below, with Brown Willy safely descended and lifting his mighty head in lonely splendour behind her, the mist and the darkness had settled on the moors and all sense of direction was now lost to her.

Whatever happened she must keep her head, and not give way to her growing sense of panic. Apart from the mist the evening was fine, and not too cold, and there was no reason why she should not hit upon some track that would lead ultimately to habitation.

There was no danger from the marshes if she kept to the high ground, so, trussing up her skirt again and wrapping her shawl firmly round her shoulders, Mary walked steadily before her, feeling the ground with some care when in doubt, and avoiding those tufts of grass that felt soft and yielding to her feet. That the direction she was taking was unknown to her was obvious in the first few miles, for her way was barred suddenly by a stream that she had not passed on the outward journey. To travel by its side would only lead her once more to the low-lying ground and the marshes, so she plunged through it recklessly, soaking herself above the knee. Wet shoes and stockings did not worry her ; she counted herself fortunate that the stream had not been deeper, which would have meant swimming for it, and a chilled body into the bargain. The ground now seemed to rise in front of her, which was all to the good, as the going was firm, and she struck boldly across the high downland for what seemed to be an interminable distance, coming at length to a rough track bearing ahead and slightly to the right. This at any rate had served for a cart's wheels at one time or other, and where a cart could go Mary could follow. The worst was past ; and now that her real anxiety had gone she felt weak and desperately tired.

Her limbs were heavy, dragging things that scarcely belonged to her, and her eyes felt sunken away back in her head. She plodded on, her chin low and her hands at her side, thinking that the tall grey chimneys of Jamaica Inn would be, for the first time perhaps in their existence, a welcome and consoling sight. The track broadened now, and was crossed in turn by another running left and right, and Mary stood uncertainly for a few moments, wondering which to take. It was then that she heard the sound of a horse, blowing as though he had been ridden hard, coming out of the darkness to the left of her.

His hoofs made a dull thudding sound on the turf. Mary waited in the middle of the track, her nerves a-jingle with the suddenness of the approach, and presently the horse appeared out of the mist in front of her, a rider on his back, the pair of ghostly figures lacking reality in the dim light. The horseman swerved as he saw Mary, and pulled up his horse to avoid her.

"Hullo," he cried, " who's there ? Is anyone in trouble ?"

He peered down at her from his saddle, and exclaimed in surprise.

"A woman ! " he said. "What in the world are you doing out here? "

Mary seized hold of his rein and quietened the restive horse.

"Can you put me on the road ? " she asked. I'm miles from home and hopelessly lost."

"Steady there," he said to the horse. "Stand still, will you ? Where have you come from ? Of course I will help you if I can."

His voice was low and gentle, and Mary could see he must be a person of quality.

"I live at Jamaica Inn," she said, and no sooner were the words out of her mouth than she regretted them. He would not help her now, of course ; the very name was enough to make him whip on his horse and leave her to find her own way as best she could. She was a fool to have spoken.

For a moment the man was silent, which was only what she expected, but when he spoke again his voice had not changed, but was quiet and gentle as before.

"Jamaica Inn," he said, You've come a long way out of your road, I'm afraid. You must have been walking in the opposite direction. You're the other side of Hendra Downs here, you know."

"That means nothing to me," she told him. " I've never been this way before ; it was very stupid of me to venture so far on a winter's afternoon. I'd be grateful if you could show me to the right path, and, once on the high road, it won't take me long to get home."

He considered her for a moment, and then he swung himself off the saddle to the ground. "You're exhausted," he said, " you aren't fit to walk another step ; and, what's more, I'm not going to let you. We are not far from the village, and you shall ride there. Will you give me your foot, and I'll help you to mount."

In a minute she was up in the saddle, and he stood below her, the bridle in his hand.

"That's better, isn't it ? " he said. "You must have had a long and uncomfortable walk on the moors. Your shoes are soaking wet and so is the hem of your gown. You shall come home with me, and dry those things and rest awhile, and have some supper, before I take you back myself to Jamaica Inn."

He spoke with such solicitude, and yet with such calm authority, that Mary sighed with relief, throwing all responsibility aside for the time being, content to trust herself in his keeping. He arranged the reins to her satisfaction, and, looking up at her, she saw his eyes for the first time from beneath the brim of his hat. They were strange eyes, transparent like glass, and so pale in colour that they seemed near to white ; a freak of nature she had never known before. They fastened upon her, and searched her, as though her very thoughts could not be hidden, and Mary felt herself relax before him, and give way ; and she did not mind. His hair was white, too, under his black shovel hat, and Mary stared back at him in some perplexity, for his face was unlined, and his voice was not that of an elderly man.

Then, with a little rush of embarrassment, she understood the reason for his abnormality, and she turned away her eyes. He was an albino.

He took off his hat and bared his head before her.

"Perhaps I had better introduce myself," he said, with a smile. "However unconventional the meeting, it is, I believe, the usual thing to do. My name is Francis Davey, and I am the vicar of Altarnun."


NSB Cosmic Center Image

N.S.B. Cosmic Center

NSB Cosmic Center Image