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N.S.B. Cosmic Center

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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


There was something strangely peaceful about the house, something very rare and difficult to define. It was like a house in an old tale, discovered by the hero one evening in midsummer ; there should be a barrier of thorns about it through which he must cut his way with a knife, and then a galaxy of flowers growing in profusion, with monstrous blooms untended by human hand. Giant ferns would mass themselves beneath the windows, and white lilies on tall stems. In the tale there would be strands of ivy clustering the walls, barring the entrance, and the house itself would have slept for a thousand years.

Mary smiled at her fancy, and spread her hands once more to the log fire. The silence was pleasing to her ; it soothed her weariness and took away her fear. This was a different world from Jamaica Inn. There the silence was oppressive and heavy with malice ; the disused rooms stank of neglect. Here it was diflerent. The room in which she was sitting had the quiet impersonality of a drawing-room visited by night. The furniture, the table in the centre, the pictures on the walls, were without that look of solid familiarity belonging to the day. They were like sleeping things, stumbled upon at midnight by surprise. People had lived here once--chappy, placid people ; old rectors with musty books beneath their arms ; and there by the window a grey-haired woman in a blue gown had stooped to thread her needle. That was all very long ago. They slept now in the churchyard beyond the gate, their names indecipherable on the lichened stone. Since they had gone the house had withdrawn into itself and become silent, and the man who lived there now had suffered the personality of those who had gone before to remain unchanged.

Mary watched him as he laid the table for supper, and she thought how wisely he had allowed himself to become submerged in the atmosphere of the house ; for another man would have chattered, perhaps, or made some clatter with the cups, feeling the silence a constraint. Her eyes wandered about the room, and she accepted without question the walls bare of the usual biblical themes, the polished desk empty of papers and books that in her mind were associated with the living-room of a rectory. Standing in the corner was an easel, and on it a half-finished canvas of the pool at Dozmary. It had been painted on a grey day, with the rain-clouds overhead, and the water lacked all brilliance and was slate-coloured, without wind. The scene held Mary's eyes, and fascinated her. She knew nothing of painting, but the picture had power, and she could almost feel the rain in her face. He must have watched the direction of her eyes, for he went to the easel and turned the painting with its back towards her.

"Don't look at that," he said. "It was done in a hurry, and I had no time to finish it. If you like pictures, you shall see something better. But first of all I'm going to give you your supper. Don't move from the chair. I'll bring the table to you."

It was a novelty to be waited upon, but he did it so quietly and made such little show that it seemed a natural, everyday occurrence, and Mary was without embarrassment.

"Hannah lives in the village," he said ; "she leaves every afternoon at four. I prefer to be by myself. I like getting my own supper, and then I can choose my own time. Luckily she made apple-tart today. I hope you can eat it ; her pastry is only moderate."

He poured her out a steaming cup of tea, heaping into it a spoonful of cream. She could not yet accustom herself to his white hair and his eyes ; they were such a direct contrast to his voice, and his black clerical dress made them the more remarkable. She was still tired, and a litde strange to her surroundings, and he respected her desire for silence. Mary swallowed her supper, and now and again she stole a look at him from behind her cup of tea, but he seemed to sense her glance at once, for he would turn his eyes upon her with their cold white stare--like the impersonal and penetrating stare of a blind man--and she would look away again over his shoulder to the lime-green walls of the room, or to the easel in the corner.

"It was providential that I should come upon you on the moor tonight," he said at length, when she had pushed away her plate and sunk once more into the chair, her chin in her hand. The warmth of the room and the hot tea had made her drowsy, and his gentle voice came to her from far away.

"My work sometimes takes me to the outlying cottages and farms," he continued. "This afternoon I helped to bring a child into the world. It will live, and the mother too. They are hardy and care for nothing, these people of the moors. You may have noticed that for yourself. I have a great respect for them."

Mary had nothing to say in reply. The company who came to Jamaica Inn had not impressed her with respect. She wondered what was the scent of roses that filled the air, and then she noticed for the first time the bowl of dried petals on the small table behind her chair. Then he spoke again, his voice gentle as ever, but with a new insistence.

"Why did you wander on the moor tonight ? " he said.

Mary roused herself and looked into his eyes. They stared down at her in infinite compassion, and she longed to trespass, on their mercy.

Scarcely aware of how it happened, she heard her voice reply to his.

"I'm in terrible trouble,"she said. "Sometimes I think I shall become like my aunt, and go out of my mind. You may have heard rumours down here in Altarnun, and you will, have shrugged your shoulders, and not listened to them. I've not been at Jamaica Inn much over a month, but it seems like twenty years. It's my aunt that worries me ; if only I could get her away ! But she won't leave Uncle Joss, for all his treatment of her. Every night I go to bed wondering if I shall wake up and hear the waggons. The first time they came there were six or seven of them, and they brought great parcels and boxes that the men stored in the barred room at the end of the passage. A man was killed that night ; I saw the rope hanging from the beam downstairs. . ."

She broke off, the warm colour flooding her face. "I've never told anyone before," she said. "It had to come out. I couldn't keep it to myself any longer. I shouldn't have said it. I've done something terrible."

For a little while he did not answer ; he let her take her time, and then, when she had recovered herself, he spoke gently, and slowly, like a father who reassures a frightened child.

"Don't be afraid," he said ; "your secret is safe ; no one shall know of this but me. You're very tired, you know, and this is all my fault for bringing you into the warm room and making you eat. I ought to have put you to bed. You must have been on the moor for hours, and there are bad places between here and Jamaica ; the bogs are at their worst this time of the year. When you are rested, I'll take you back in the trap, and I'll make your excuses myself to the landlord if you wish."

"Oh, you mustn't do that," said Mary quickly. "If he suspects half of what I've done tonight he would kill me, and you too. You don't understand. He's a desperate man, and he'd stop at nothing. No, if the worst comes to the worst I'll try and climb up the porch to my bedroom window, and get in that way. He must never know I have been here or that I've met you even."

"Isn't your imagination running away with you a litde ? " said the vicar. "I know I must seem unsympathetic and cold, but this is the nineteenth century, you know, and men don't murder one another without reason. I believe I have as much right to drive you on the King's highway as your uncle himself. Having gone so far, don't you think you had better let me hear the rest of your story ? What is your name, and how long have you been living at Jamaica Inn ? "

Mary looked up at the pale eyes in the colourless face, the halo of cropped white hair, and she thought again how strange a freak of nature was this man, who might be twenty-one, who might be sixty, and who with his soft, persuasive voice would compel her to admit every secret her heart possessed, had he the mind to ask her. She could trust him ; that at least was certain. Still she hesitated, turning the words over in her mind.

"Come," he said with a smile ; "I have heard confession in my time. Not here in Altarnun, but in Ireland and in Spain. Your story will not found as strange to me as you think. There are other worlds besides Jamaica Inn."

His speech made her feel humble and a little confused. It was as though he mocked her, for all his tact and kindness, and supposed her, in the back of his mind, to be hysterical and young. She plunged headlong into her story with jerky ill-framed sentences, beginning with that first Saturday night in the bar, and then working backwards to her arrival at the inn. Her tale sounded flat and unconvincing, even to herself who knew the truth of it, and her great fatigue made her labour in the telling it, so that she was continually at a loss for words, and she kept pausing for reflection, and then going back on her story and repeating herself. He heard her to the end with patience, without comment or question, but all the while she felt his white eyes watching her, and he had a little trick of swallowing at intervals which she came instinctively to recognise, and wait for. The fear she had sustained, the agony and the doubt, sounded to her ears, as she listened, like the worked-up invention of an over-stimulated mind, and the conversation in the bar between her uncle and the stranger had developed into an elaborate piece of nonsense. She sensed, rather than saw, the vicar's unbelief; and in a desperate attempt to tone down her now ridiculous and highly coloured story, her uncle, who had been the villain of it, became the usual hard-drinking bully of a countryman who beat his wife once a week, and the waggons themselves had no more menace than carriers' carts, travelling by night to expedite delivery.

The visit of the squire of North Hill early that day had some conviction, but the empty room struck another note of anti-climax, and the only part of the story that rang with any sense of reality was Mary's losing herself on the moors during the afternoon.

When she had finished, the vicar got up from his chair and began to pace about the room. He whistled softly under his breath and kept playing with a loose button on his coat that was hanging by a thread. Then he came to a standstill on the hearth, with his back to the fire, and looked down upon her--but Mary could read nothing from his eyes.

"I believe you, of course," he said, after a moment or so. "You haven't the face of a liar, and I doubt if you know the meaning of hysteria. But your story wouldn't go in a court of law--not as you've told it tonight, anyhow. It's too much of a fairy-tale. And another thing--it's a scandal and an outrage, we all know that, but smuggling is rife all over the county, and half the magistrates do very well out of it. That shocks you, doesn't it ? But I can assure you it's the truth. If the law was stricter there would be greater supervision, and your uncle's little nest at Jamaica Inn would have been blotted out long ago. I have met Mr. Bassat once or twice, and I believe him to be an honest, genuine sort of fellow, but, between ourselves, a bit of a fool. He'd bluster and talk, but that's about all. He'll keep this morning's expedition quiet, unless I'm much mistaken. Actually he had no business to walk into the inn and search the rooms, and if it becomes known that he did so, and found nothing for his pains, he'll become the laughing stock of the countryside. I can tell you one thing, though : his visit will have scared your uncle, and he'll lie low now for a time. There won't be any more waggons to Jamaica Inn for some while..! think you can be certain of that."

Mary listened to his reasoning with some misgiving. She had hoped he would be appalled, once admitting the truth of her story, but here he was, apparently quite unmoved, taking it all as a matter of course.

He must have seen the disappointment in her face, for he spoke again.

"I could see Mr. Bassat, if you like," he said, "and put your story to him. But unless he can catch your uncle at work, as it were, with the waggons in the yard, there's little chance of convicting him. That's what I must impress upon your mind. I'm afraid I sound very unhelpful, but the position is a difficult one from every point of view. And then again, you don't want your aunt to be implicated in the business, but I don't see how it can be avoided, if it comes to an arrest."

"What do you suggest I should do, then ? " said Mary helplessly.

"If I were you I should play a waiting game," he replied. "Keep a close watch on your uncle, and when the waggons do come again you can report at once to me. We can then decide together what is best to be done. That is, if you will honour me again with your confidence!"

"What about the stranger who disappeared ? " said Mary. "He was murdered. I'm certain of that. Do you mean to say that nothing can ever be done about it ?"

"I'm afraid not, unless his body is found, which is extremely unlikely," said the vicar. "It is quite possible that he was never killed at all, for that matter. Forgive me, but I think you allowed your imagination to run away with you over that. All you saw was a piece of rope, remember. If you had actually seen the man dead, or even wounded--well, that's a different tale altogether."

"I heard my uncle threaten him," persisted Mary. "Isn't that enough ?"

"My dear child, people threaten one another every day in the year, but they don't hang for it. Now, listen to me. I am your friend, and you can trust me. If you ever become worried or distressed in any way, I want you to come and tell me about it. You are not afraid of walking, judging by your performance this afternoon, and Altarnun is only a few miles by the high road. If you come at any time and I'm not in, Hannah will be here, and she will look after you. Now, that's a bargain between us, isn't it ? "

"Thank you very much."

"Now put on your stockings again, and your shoes, while I go to the stable and get the trap. I'm going to drive you back to Jamaica Inn."

The thought of returning was hateful to Mary, but it had to be faced. The contrast between this peaceful room, with the gently shaded candles, the warm log fire, the deep chair, and the cold grim passages of Jamaica Inn, with her own little cupboard of a room over the porch, must be avoided at all costs. There was one thing to bear in mind, and that was that she could come back here when she wished.

The night was fine ; the dark clouds of the early evening had passed away and the sky was ablaze with stars. Mary sat beside Francis Davey on the high seat of the dogcart, wrapped in a greatcoat with a top collar of velvet. This was not the same horse that he had been riding when she met him on the moor ; this was a big grey cob who, fresh from his sojourn in the stable, went like the wind. It was a strange, exhilarating drive. The wind blew in Mary's face, stinging her eyes. The climb from Altarnun had been slow at first, for the hill was steep, but now they were upon the high road, with their faces turned to Bodmin, the vicar pricked the cob with his whip, so that he laid his ears flat to his head and galloped like a mad thing.

His hoofs thundered on the hard white road, raising a cloud of dust, and Mary was flung against her companion. He made no effort to rein in his horse, and, glancing up at him, Mary saw that he was smiling.

"Go on," he said, "go on ; you can go faster than this"; and his voice was low and excited, as though he were talking to himself. The effect was unnatural, a little startling, and Mary was aware of a feeling of discomfiture, as though he had betaken himself to another world and had forgotten her existence.

Seated where she was, she could observe him for the first time in profile, and she saw how clear-cut were his features, how prominent the thin nose ; perhaps it was the peculiarity of nature, creating him white in the beginning, that made him different from any man she had ever seen before.

He looked like a bird. Crouched in his seat, with his black capecoat blown out by the wind, his arms were like wings. He might be any age, and she could not place him at all. Then he smiled down at her, and was human again.

"I love these moors," he said. "You have had a bad introduction to them, of course, so you can't understand me. If you knew them as well as I do, and had seen them in every mood, winter and summer, you would love them too. They have a fascination unlike any other part of the county. They go back a long way in time. Sometimes I think they are the survival of another age. The moors were the first things to, be created ; afterwards came the forests, and the valleys, and the sea. Climb Roughtor one morning before sunrise, and listen to the wind in the stones. You'll know what I mean then."

Mary kept thinking of the parson at her home. He was a cheerful little man with a long string of children exactly like himself, and his wife made damson cheese. He preached the same sermon always on Christmas Day, and his parishioners could have prompted him anywhere. She wondered what Francis Davey said in his church at Altarnun. Did he preach about Roughtor, and the light on Dozmary pool ? They had come to the dip in the road now, where a cluster of trees made a little valley for the river Fowey, and in front of them stretched the climb to the high, unsheltered ground. Already Mary could see the tall chimneys of Jamaica Inn outlined against the sky.

The drive was ended, and the exhilaration went from her. The old dread and loathing for her uncle returned. The vicar stopped his horse just short of the yard, under the lee of the grass bank.

"There's no sign of anyone," he said quietly. "It's like a house of the dead. Would you like me to try the door ?"

Mary shook her head. "It's bolted always," she whispered, "and the windows are barred. That's my room, over the porch. I can scramble up there, if you will let me climb on your shoulder. I've managed worse places than that at home. My window is open at the top ; once on the porch, it will be easy enough."

"You'll slip on those slates," he answered. "I won't let you do it. It's absurd. Is there no other way of getting in ? What about the back ? "

"The door of the bar will be bolted, and the kitchen too," said Mary. "We can slip round, if you like, and make certain."

She led the way round to the other side of the house, and then she turned to him suddenly, her finger to her lips. "There's a light in the kitchen," she whispered. "That means my uncle is there. Aunt Patience always goes early. There are no curtains to the window ; if we pass by he will see us." She leant back against the wall of the house. Her companion motioned her to be still.

"Very well," he said, "I will take care he does not see me. I am going to look in at the window."

She watched him to the side of the window, and he stood there for a few minutes gazing into the kitchen. Then he beckoned to her to follow, that same tense smile on his face she had noticed before. His face looked very pale against his black shovel-hat. "There'll be no argument tonight with the landlord of Jamaica Inn," he said.

Mary followed the direction of his eyes and pressed forward to the window. The kitchen was lit by a single candle stuck sideways into a bottle. It had already burnt down half way, and great blobs of grease clung to the side of it. The flame itself wavered and spluttered in the draught from the door, which was wide open to the garden. Joss Merlyn sprawled at the table in a drunken stupor, his great legs stretched out on either side of him, his hat on the back of his head. He stared before him at the guttering cand|e, his eyes glazed and fixed like a dead man. Another bottle lay with its neck smashed on the table, and beside it in empty glass. The peat fire had smouldered itself to nothing.

Francis Davey pointed to the open door. "You can walk inside and go upstairs to bed," he said. "Your uncle will not even see you. Fasten the door after you, and blow out the candle. You don't want a fire on your hands. Good night to you, Mary Yellan. If you are ever in trouble and need me, I shall be waiting for you at Altarnun."

Then he turned the corner of the house and was gone.

Mary tiptoed into the kitchen, and closed and fastened the door. She could have slammed it had she wished, it would not have roused her uncle.

He had gone to his kingdom of heaven, and the little world was lost to him. She blew out the light beside him and left him alone in the darkness.


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