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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


She watched his profile in the half-light ; sharp it was and clear, the prominent thin nose thrust downward like the curved beak of a bird. His lips were narrow and colourless, pressed firm together, and he leant forward with his chin resting on a long ebony cane that he held between his knees.

For the moment she could see nothing of his eyes ; they were veiled by the short white lashes ; and then he turned in his seat and considered her, his lashes fluttering, and the eyes that looked upon her were white also transparent and expressionless as glass.

"So we ride together for the second time," he said, and his voice was soft and low, like the voice of a woman. "Once more I have the good fortune to help you by the wayside. You are wet through to the skin ; you had better take off your clothes." He stared at her with cold indifference, and she struggled in some confusion with the pin that clasped her shawl.

"There is a dry rug here that will serve you for the rest of the journey," he continued. "As for your feet, they will be better bare. This carriage is comparatively free from draught."

Without a word she slipped out of her soaking shawl and bodice and wrapped herself in the coarse hair blanket that he held out to her. Her hair fell from its band and hung like a curtain about her bare shoulders. She felt like a child that has been caught on an escapade, and now sat with hands folded meekly together, obedient to the master's word.

"Well ?" he said, looking gravely upon her, and she found herself at once stumbling into an explanation of her day. As before at Altarnun, there was something about him that made her untrue to herself, made her sound like a fool and an ignorant country girl, for her story was poor telling and she came out of it badly--just another woman who has cheapened herself at Launceston fair and had been left by the man of her choice to find her way home alone. She was ashamed to mention Jem by name, and she introduced him lamely as a man who lived by breaking horses, and whom she had met once when wandering on the moor. And now there had been some trouble in Launceston over the sale of a pony, and she feared he had been caught in some dishonesty.

She wondered what Francis Davey must think of her, riding to Launceston with a casual acquaintance, and then losing her companion in disgrace and running about the town bedraggled and wet after nightfall, like a woman of the streets. He heard her to the end in silence, and she heard him swallow once or twice, a trick she remembered.

"So you have not been too lonely after all ?" he said at length. "Jamaica Inn was not so isolated as you supposed ? "

Mary flushed in the darkness, and, though he could not see her face, she knew that his eyes were upon her, and she felt guilty, as though she had done wrong and this was an accusation.

"What was the name of your companion ?" he asked quietly ; and she hesitated a moment, awkward and uncomfortable, her sense of guilt stronger than ever.

"He was my uncle's brother," she replied, aware of the reluctance in her voice, the admission dragging from her like a confession.

Whatever his opinion of her had been hitherto, he was unlikely to raise it after this. Barely week had passed since she had called Joss Merlyn a murderer, and yet she had ridden from Jamaica Inn with his brother without compunction, a common barmaid who would see the fun of the fair.

"You think ill of me, of course." she went on hurriedly. "Mistrusting and loathing my uncle as I do, it was hardly in keeping to make a confidant of his brother. He is dishonest and a thief, I know that ; he told me as much at the beginning ; but beyond that..." Her words trailed off with some uncertainty. After all, Jem had denied nothing ; he had made little or no attempt to defend himself when she accused him. And now she ranged herself on his side, she defended him instead, without reason and against her sane judgment, bound to him already because of his hands upon her and a kiss in the dark.

"You mean the brother knows nothing of the landlord's trade by night ?" continued the gentle voice at her side. "He is not of the company who bring the waggons to Jamaica Inn?"

Mary made a little gesture of despair. "I don't know," she said ; "I have no proof. He admits nothing ; he shrugs his shoulders. But he told me one thing : that he had never killed a man. And I believed him. I still believe him. He said also that my uncle was running straight into the hands of the law, and they would catch him before long. He surely would not say that if he was one of the company."

She spoke now to reassure herself rather than the man at her side, and Jem's innocence became suddenly of vital importance.

"You told me before you had some acquaintance with the squire," she said quickly. "Perhaps you have influence with him too. You could no doubt persuade him to deal mercifully with Jem Merlyn when the time comes ? After all, he is young ; he could start life afresh ; it would be easy enough for you in your position."

His silence was an added humiliation, and, feeling those cold white eyes upon her, she knew what a little graceless fool he must think her, and how feminine. He must see that she was pleading for a man who had kissed her once, and that he despised her went without saying.

"My acquaintance with Mr. Bassat of North Hill is of the slightest," he told her gently. "Once or twice we have given one another good afternoon, and we have spoken of matters relating to our respective parishes. It is hardly likely that he should spare a thief because of me, especially if the thief is guilty and happens to be the brother of the landlord of Jamaica Inn."

Mary said nothing. Once again this strange man of God had spoken words of logic and wisdom, and there was no argument in reply. But she was caught in the sudden fever of love that devastates reason and makes havoc of logic, therefore his words acted as an irritant and created fresh turmoil in her brain.

"You appear anxious for his safety ?" he said ; and she wondered whether it was mockery she heard in his voice, or reproof, or understanding; but quick as a flash of lightning he continued ; "And if your new friend was guilty of other things, of conspiring with his brother against the belongings and perhaps the lives of his fellow-men, what then, Mary Yellan ? Would you still seek to save him ?" She felt his hand upon hers, cool and impersonal ; and, because she was on edge after the excitement of the day, and was both frightened and frustrated in one, and loved a man against her judgment who was now lost to her through her own fault, she broke down, and began to rave like a child deprived.

"I didn't bargain for this," she said fiercely. "I could face the brutality of my uncle, and the pathetic dumb stupidity of Aunt Patience ; even the silence and tlie horror of Jamaica Inn itself could be borne without shrinking and running away. I don't mind being lonely. There's a certain grim satisfaction in this struggle with my uncle that emboldens me at times, and I feel I'll have the better of him in the long run, whatever he says or does. I'd planned to take my aunt away from him, and see justice done, and then, when it was all over, to find work on a farm somewhere, and live a man's life, like I used to do. But now I can't look ahead any more ; I can't make plans or think for myself; I go round and round in a trap, all because of a man I despise, who has nothing to do with my brain or my understanding. I don't want to love like a woman, or feel like a woman, Mr. Davey ; there's pain that way, and suffering, and misery that can last a lifetime. I didn't bargain for this ; I don't want it."

She leant back, her face against the side of the carriage, worn out by her torrent of words and already ashamed of her outburst. She did not care what he thought of her now. He was a priest, and therefore detatched from her litde world of storm and passion. He could have no knowledge of these things. She felt sullen and unhappy.

"How old are you ?" he asked abruptly.

"Twenty-three, " she told him.

She heard him swallow in the darkness, and, taking his hand away from hers, he placed it once more upon the ebony stick and sat in silence.

The carriage had climbed away from the Launceston valley and the shelter of the hedges and was now upon the high ground leading to the open moorland, exposed to the full force of the wind and the rain. The wind was continuous but the showers were intermittent, and now and again a wild star straggled furtively behind a low-sweeping cloud and hung for an instant like a pin-prick of light. Then it would go, obscured and swept away by a black curtain of rain, and from the narrow window of the carriage nothing could be seen but the square dark patch of sky.

In the valley, the rain had fallen with greater steadiness, and the wind, though persistent, had been moderate in strength and checked in its passage by the trees and the contour of the hill. Here on the high ground there was no such natural shelter ; there was nothing but the moor on either side of the road, and, above, the great black vault of the sky ; and there was a scream in the wind that had not been before.

Mary shivered, and edged closer to her companion like a dog to his fellow. Still he said nothing, but she knew that he had turned and was looking down upon her, and for the first time she was aware of his proximity as a person ; she could feel his breath on her forehead. She remembered that her wet shawl and bodice lay on the floor at her feet, and she was naked under her rough blanket. When he spoke again she realised how near he was to her, and his voice came as a shock, confusing suddenly, and unexpected.

"You are very young, Mary Yellan," he said softly ; "you are nothing but a chicken with the broken shell still around you. You'll come through your little crisis. Women like you have no need to shed tears over a man encountered once or twice, and the first kiss is not a thing that is remembered. You will forget your friend with his stolen pony very soon. Come now, dry your eyes ; you are not the first to bite your nails over a lost lover.

He made light of her problem, and counted it as a thing of no account ; that was her first reaction to his words. And then she wondered why he had not used the conventional phrases of comfort, said something about the blessing of prayer, the peace of God, and life everlasting. She remembered that last ride with him, when he had whipped his horse into a fever of speed, and how he had crouched in his seat, with the reins in his hands ; and he had whispered words under his breath she had not understood. Again she felt something of the same discomfort she had experienced then ; a sensation of uneasiness that she connected instinctively with his freak hair and yes, as though his physical departure from normality was a barrier between him and the rest of the world. In the animal kingdom a freak was a thing of abhorrence, at once hunted and destroyed, or driven out into the wilderness. No sooner had she thought of this than she reproached herself as narrow and un-Christian. He was a fellow-creature and a priest of God ; but as she murmured an apology to him for having made a fool of herself before him, and talking like a common girl from the streets, she reached for her clothes and began to draw them on furtively under cover of the blanket.

"So I was right in my surmise, and all has been quiet at Jamaica Inn since I saw you last ?" he said after a while, following some train of thought. "There have been no waggons to disturb your beauty-sleep, and the landlord has played alone with his glass and his bottle ?"

Mary, still fretful and anxious, with her mind on the man she had lost, brought herself back to reality with an effort. She had forgotten her uncle for nearly ten hours. At once she remembered the full horror of the past week, and the new knowledge that had come to her. She thought of the interminable sleepless nights, the long days she had spent alone, and the staring bloodshot eyes of her uncle swung before her again, his drunken smile, his groping hands.

"Mr. Davey," she whispered, "have you ever heard of wreckers?"

She had never said the word aloud before ; she had not considered it even, and now that she said it from her own lips it sounded fearful and obscene, like a blasphemy. It was too dark in the carriage to see the effect upon his face, but she heard him swallow. His eyes were hidden from her under the black shovel hat, and she could only see the dim outline of his profile, the sharp chin, the prominent nose.

"Once, years ago, when I was hardly more than a child, I heard a neighbour speak of them," she said ; "and then later, when I was old enough to understand, there were rumours of these things--snatches of gossip quickly suppressed. One of the men would bring back some wild tale after a visit to the north coast, and he would be silenced at once ; such talk was forbidden by the older men ; it was an outrage to decency. I believed none of these stories ; I asked my mother, and she told me they were the horrible inventions of evil-minded people ; such things did not and could not exist. She was wrong. I know now she was wrong, Mr. Davey. My uncle is one of them ; he told me so himself."

Still her companion made no reply ; he sat motionless, like a stone thing, and she went on again, never raising her voice above a whisper.

"They are in it, every one of them, from the coast to the Tamar bank, all those men I saw that first Saturday in the bar at the inn. The gypsies, poachers, sailors, the pedlar with the broken teeth. They've murdered women and children with their own hands ; they've held them under the water ; they've killed them with rocks and stones. Those are death waggons that travel the road by night, and the goods they carry are not smuggled casks alone, with brandy for some and tobacco for another, but the full cargoes of wrecked ships bought at the price of blood, the trust and the possession of murdered men. And that's why my uncle is feared and loathed by the timid people in the cottages and farms, and why all doors are barred against him, and why the coaches drive past his house in a cloud of dust. They suspect what they cannot prove. My aunt lives in mortal terror of discovery ; and my uncle has only to lose himself in drink before a stranger and his secret is spilt to the four winds. There, Mr. Davey ; now you know the truth about Jamaica Inn."

She leant back, breathless, against the side of the carriage, biting her lips and twisting her hands in an emotion she could not control, exhausted and shaken by the torrent of words that had escaped her : and somewhere in the dark places of her mind an image fought for recognition and found its way into the light, having no mercy on her feelings ; and it was the face of Jem Merlyn, the man she loved, grown evil and distorted, merging horribly and finally into that of his brother.

The face beneath the black shovel hat turned towards her ; she caught a sudden flicker of the white lashes, and the lips moved.

"So the landlord talks when he is drunk ?" he said, and it seemed to Mary that his voice lacked something of its usual gentle quality ; it rang sharper in tone, as though pitched on a higher note ; but when she looked up at him his eyes stared back at her, cold and impersonal as ever.

"He talks, yes," she answered him. "When my uncle has lived on brandy for five days he'll bare his soul before the world. He told me so himself, the very first evening I arrived. He was not drunk then. But four days ago, when he had woken from his first stupor, and he came out to the kitchen after midnight, swaying on his two feet--he talked then. That's why I know. And that's perhaps why I've lost faith in humanity, and in God, and in myself ; and why I acted like a fool today in Launceston."

The gale had increased in force during their conversation, and now with the bend in the road the carriage headed straight into the wind and was brought almost to a standstill. The vehicle rocked on its high wheels, and a sudden shower spattered against the windows like a handful of pebbles. There was no particle of shelter now ; the moor on either hand was bare and unprotected, and the scurrying clouds flew fast over the land, tearing themselves asunder on the tors. There was a salt, wet tang in the wind that had come from the sea fifteen miles away.

Francis Davey leant forward in his seat. "We are approaching Five Lanes and the turning to Altarnun," he said ; "the driver is bound to Bodmin and will take you to Jamaica Inn. I shall leave you at Five Lanes and walk down into the village. Am I the only man you have honoured with your confidence, or do I share it with the landlord's brother ?"

Again Mary could not tell if there was irony or mockery in his voice. "Jem Merlyn knows," she said unwillingly. "We spoke of it this morning. He said little, though, and I know he is not friendly with my uncle. Anyway it doesn't matter now ; Jem rides to custody for another crime."

"And suppose he could save his own skin by betraying his brother, what then, Mary Yellan ? there is a consideration for you."

Mary started. This was a new possibility, and for a moment she clutched at the straw. But the vicar of Altarnun must have read her thoughts, for, glancing up at him for confirmation of her hopes, she saw him smile, the thin line of his mouth breaking for a moment out of passivity, as though his face was a mask and the mask had cracked. She looked away, uncomfortable, feeling like one who stumbles unawares upon a sight forbidden.

"That would be a relief to you and to him, no doubt," continued the vicar, "if he had never been involved. But there is always the doubt, isn't there ? And neither you nor I know the answer to that question. A guilty man does not usually tie the rope around his own neck."

Mary made a helpless movement with her hands, and he must have seen the despair in her face, for his voice became gentle again that had been harsh hitherto, and he laid his hand on her knee. "Our bright days are done, and we are for the dark," he said softly. "If it were permitted to take our text from Shakespeare, there would be strange sermons preached in Cornwall tomorrow, Mary Yellan. Your uncle and his companions are not members of my congregation, however, and if they were they would not understand me. You shake your head at me. I speak in riddles. 'This man is no comforter,' you say ; 'he is a freak with his white hair and eyes.' Don't turn away ; I know what you think. I will tell you one thing for consolation, and you can make of it what you will. A week from now will bring the New Year. The false lights have flickered for the last time, and there will be no more wrecks ; the candles will be blown."

"I don't understand you," said Mary. "How do you know this, and what has the New Year to do with it ? "

He took his hand from her, and began to fasten his coat preparatory to departure. He lifted the sash of the window and called to the driver to rein in his horse, and the cold air rushed into the carriage with a sting of frozen rain. "I return tonight from a meeting in Launceston," he said, "which was but a sequel to many other similar meetings during the past few years. And those of us present were informed at last that His Majesty's Government were prepared to take certain steps during the coming year to patrol the coasts of His Majesty's country. There will be watchers on the cliffs instead of flares, and the paths known only at present to men like your uncle and his companions will be trodden by officers of the law.

"There will be a chain across England, Mary, that will be very hard to break. Now do you understand?" He opened the door of the carriage, and stepped out into the road. He bared his head under the rain, and she saw the thick white hair frame his face like a halo. He smiled again to her, and bowed, and he reached for her hand once more and held it a moment. "Your troubles are over," he said ; "the waggon-wheels will rust and the barred room at the end of the passage can be turned into a parlour. Your aunt will sleep in peace again, and your uncle will either drink himself to death and be a riddance to all of you, or he will turn Wesleyan and preach to travellers on the high road. As for you, you will ride south again and find a lover. Sleep well tonight. Tomorrow is Christmas Day, and the bells at Altarnun will be ringing for peace and goodwill. I shall think of you." He waved his hand to the driver, and the carriage went on without him.

Mary leant out of the window to call to him, but he had turned to the right down one of the five lanes, and was already lost to sight.

The carriage rattled on along the Bodmin road. There were still three miles to cover before the tall chimneys of Jamaica Inn broke upon the skyline, and those miles were the wildest and the most exposed of all the long one-and-twenty that stretched between the two towns.

Mary wished now that she had gone with Francis Davey. She would not hear the wind in Altarnun, and the rain would fall silently in the sheltered lane. Tomorrow she could have knelt in the church and prayed for the first time since leaving Helford. If what he said was true, then there would be cause for rejoicing after all, and there would be some sense in giving thanks. The day of the wrecker was over ; he would be broken by the new law, he and his kind ; they would be blotted out and rased from the countryside like the pirates had been twenty, thirty years ago ; and there would be no memory of them any more, no record left to poison the minds of those who should come after. A new generation would be born who had never heard their name. Ships would come to England without fear ; there would be no harvest with the tide. Coves that had sounded once with the crunch of footsteps on shingle and the whispered voices of men would be silent again, and the scream that broke upon the silence would be the scream of a gull. Beneath the placid surface of the sea, on the ocean-bed, lay skulls without a name, green coins that had once been gold, and the old bones of ships : they would be forgotten for evermore. The terror they had known died with them. It was the dawn of a new age, when men and women would travel without fear, and the land would belong to them. Here, on the stretch of moor, farmers would till their plot of soil and stack the sods of turf to dry under the sun as they did today, but the shadow that had been upon them would have vanished. Perhaps the grass would grow, and the heather bloom again, where Jamaica Inn had stood.

She sat in the corner of the carriage, with the vision of the new world before her ; and through the open window, travelling down upon the wind, she heard a shot ring out in the silence of the night, and a distant shout, and a cry. The voices of men came out of the darkness, and the padding of feet upon the road. She leant out of the window, the rain blowing in on her face, and she heard the driver of the carriage call out in fear, as his horse shied and stumbled. The road rose steeply from the valley, winding away to the top of the hill, and there in the distance were the lean chimneys of Jamaica Inn crowning the skyline like a gallows. Down the road came a company of men, led by one who leapt like a hare and tossed a lantern before him as he ran. Another shot rang out, and the driver of the carriage crumpled in his seat and fell. The horse stumbled again and headed like a blind thing for the ditch. For a moment the carriage swayed upon its wheels, rocked, and was still. Somebody screamed a blasphemy to the sky ; somebody laughed wildly ; there was a whistle and a cry.

A face was thrust in at the window of the carriage, a face crowned with matted hair that fell in a fringe above the scarlet, bloodshot eyes. The lips parted, showing the white teeth ; and then the lantern was lifted to the window so that the light should fall upon the interior of the carriage. One hand held the lantern, and the other clasped the smoking barrel of a pistol ; they were long slim hands, with narrow pointed fingers, things of beauty and of grace, the rounded nails crusted with dirt.

Joss Merlyn smiled ; the crazy, delirious smile of a man possessed, maddened, and exalted by poison ; and he levelled the pistol at Mary, leaning forward into the carriage so that the barrel touched her throat.

Then he laughed, and threw the pistol back over his shoulder, and, wrenching open the door, he reached for her hands and pulled her out beside him on the road, holding the lantern above his head so that all could see her. There were ten or twelve of them standing in the road, ragged and ill-kept, half of them drunk as their leader, wild eyes staring out of snaggy bearded faces ; and one or two had pistols in their hands, or were armed with broken bottles, knives, and stones. Harry the pedlar stood by the horse's head, while face-downwards in the ditch lay the driver of the carriage, his arm crumpled under him, his body limp and still.

Joss Merlyn held Mary to him and tilted her face to the light, and when they saw who she was a howl of laughter broke from the company of men, and the pedlar put his two fingers to his mouth and whistled.

The landlord bent to her, and bowed with drunken gravity ; he seized her loose hair in his hand and twisted it in a rope, sniffing at it like a dog.

"So it's you, is it ?" he said. "You've chosen to come back again; like a little whining bitch, with your tail between your legs ? "

Mary said nothing. She looked from one to the other of the men in the crowd and they stared back at her, jeering, hemming in upon her and laughing, pointing to her wet clothes, fingering her bodice and her skirt.

"So you're dumb, are you ?" cried her uncle, and he hit her across the face with the back of his hand. She called out and put up an arm to protect herself, but he knocked it away and, holding her wrist, he doubled it behind her back. She cried with the pain, and he laughed again.

"You'll come to heel if I kill you first," he said. "Do you think you can stand against me, with your monkey face and your damned impudence ? And what do you think you do, at midnight, riding on the King's highway in a hired carriage, half naked, with your hair down your back ? You're nothing but a common slut, after all." He jerked at her wrist, and she fell.

"Leave me alone," she cried ; "you have no right to touch me or speak to me. You're a bloody murderer and a thief, and the law knows it too. The whole of Cornwall knows it. Your reign is over, uncle Joss. I've been to Launceston today to inform against you."

A hubbub rose amongst the group of men ; they pressed forward, shouting at her and questioning, but the landlord roared at them, waving them back.

"Get back, you damned fools ! Can't you see she's trying to save her skin by lies ?" he thundered. "How can she inform against me when she knows nothing ? She's never walked the eleven miles to Launceston. Look at her feet. She's been with a man somewhere down on the road, and he sent her back on wheels when he'd had enough of her. Get up -- or do you want me to rub your nose in the dust ?" He pulled her to her feet and held her beside him. Then he pointed to the sky, where the low clouds fled before the scurring wind and a wet star gleamed.

"Look there," he yelled. There's a break in the sky and the rain's going east. There'll be more wind yet before we're through, and a wild grey dawn on the coast in six hours' time. We'll waste no more of it here. Get your horse, Harry, and put him in the traces here ; the carriage will carry half a dozen of us. And bring the pony and the farm-cart from the stable ; he's had no work for a week. Come on, you lazy drunken devils, don't you want to feel gold and silver run through your hands ? I've lain like a hog for seven crazy days, and, by God, I feel like a child tonight and I want the coast again. Who'll take the road with me through Camelford ?"

A shout rose from a dozen voices, and hands were thrust into the air. One fellow burst into a snatch of song, waving a bottle over his head, reeling on his feet as he stood ; then he staggered and fell, crumpling on to his face in the ditch. The pedlar kicked him as he lay, and he did not stir ; and, snatching the bridle of the horse, he dragged the animal forward, urging him with blows and cries to the steep hill, while the wheels of the carriage passed over the body of the fallen man, who, kicking for an instant like a wounded hare, struggled from the mud with a scream of terror and pain, and then lay still.

The men turned with the carriage and followed it, the sound of their running feet pattering along the high road, and Joss Merlyn stood for a moment, looking down upon Mary with a foolish drunken smile ; then on a sudden impulse he caught her in his arms and pulled her towards the carriage, wrenching the door once more. He threw her onto the seat in the corner, and then, leaning out of the window, he yelled to the pedlar to whip the horse up the hill.

His cry was echoed by the men who ran beside him, and some of them leapt onto the step and clung to the window, while others mounted the driver's empty seat, and rained at the horse with sticks and a shower of stones.

The animal quivered, sweating with fear ; and he topped the hill at a gallop, with half a dozen madmen clinging to the reins and screaming at his heels.

Jamaica Inn was ablaze with light ; the doors were open, and the windows were unbarred. The house gaped out of the night like a live thing.

The landlord <>iplaced his hand over Mary's mouth and forced her back against the side of the carriage. "You'd inform against me, would you ?" he said. "You'd run to the law, and have me swinging on a rope's end like a cat ? All right, then, you shall have your chance. You shall stand on the shore, Mary, with the wind and the sea in your face, and you shall watch for the dawn and the coming in of the tide. You know what that means, don't you ? You know where I'm going to take you ? "

She stared back at him in horror ; the colour drained from her face, and she tried to speak to him, but his hands forbade her.

"You think you're not afraid of me, don't you ?" he said. "You sneer at me with your pretty white face and your monkey eyes. Yes, I'm drunk ; I'm drunk as a king, and heaven and earth can smash for all I care. Tonight we shall ride in glory, every man jack of us, maybe for the last time ; and you shall come with us, Mary ; to the coast. . ."

He turned away from her, shouting to his companions, and the horse, startled by his cry, started forward again in his stride, dragging the carriage behind him ; and the lights of Jamaica Inn vanished in the darkness.


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