N.S.B. Cosmic Center
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
It was a nightmare journey of two hours or more to the coast, and Mary, bruised and shaken by her rough handling, lay exhausted in the corner of the carriage, caring little what became of her. Harry the pedlar and two other men had climbed in beside her uncle, and the air became foul at once with the stink of tobacco and stale drink, and the smell of their bodies.
The landlord had worked himself and his companions into a state of wild excitement, and the presence of a woman amongst them brought a vicious tang to their enjoyment, her weakness and distress acting pleasurably upon them.
At first they talked at her and for her, laughing and singing to win her notice, Harry the pedlar bursting into his lewd songs, which rang with immoderate force in such dose quarters and brought howls of appreciation from his audience, stimulating them to greater excitement.
They watched for the effect upon her face, hoping that she would show some sign of shame or discomfort, but Mary was too tired now for any word or song to penetrate her. She heard their voices through a haze of exhaustion ; she was aware of her uncle's elbow thrust in her side, bringing another dull ache to add to her pains, and with throbbing head and smarting eyes she saw a sea of grinning faces through the smoke. What they said or did hardly mattered to her any more, and the longing for sleep and forgetfulness became a torment.
When they saw how lifeless she was, and dull, her presence lost its flavour ; even the songs lost sting, and Joss Merlyn fumbled in his pocket and produced a pack of cards. They turned from her at once to this new interest, and in the momentary lull that blessed her Mary shrank closer in her corner, away from the hot, animal smell of her uncle, and, closing her eyes, she resigned herself to the movement of the swaying, jolting carriage. Her fatigue was such that full consciousness was no longer part of her ; she was swinging in a trance-land across the border. She was aware of pain, and the rocking carriage-wheels, and in the far distance a murmur of voices ; but these things moved away from her and not with her ; she could not identify them with her own existence. Darkness came upon her like a boon from heaven, and she felt herself slip away into it ; and so was lost. Time had nothing to do with her then. It was the cessation of movement that dragged her back to the world ; the sudden stillness, and the cold damp air blowing upon her face through the open carriage window.
She was alone in her corner. The men had gone, taking their light with them. She sat motionless at first, fearing to bring them back and uncertain what had befallen her ; and then, when she leant forward to the window, the pain and stiffness in her body were intolerable. A weal of pain ran across her shoulders where the cold had numbed her, and her bodice was still damp from the rain that had soaked her early in the evening. She waited a moment, and then leant forward again. It was still blowing hard, but the driving rain had ceased, and only a thin cold mizzle pattered against the window. The carriage had been abandoned in a narrow gully-way with high banks on either side, and the horse had been taken from the traces. The gully appeared to descend sharply, the path becoming rough and broken. Mary could not see more than a few yards in front of her The night had thickened considerably, and in the gully-way it was black like a pit. There were no stars now in the sky, and the sharp wind of the moors had become a boisterous thing of noise and bluster, trailing a wet fog for company. Mary put her hand out of the window and touched the bank. Her fingers came upon loose sand and stems cf grass, sodden through with the rain. She tried the handle of the door, but it was locked. Then she listened intently. Her eyes strained to pierce the darkness ahead of her, down the sharp descent of the gully-way, and borne up to her on the wind came a sound at once sullen and familiar, a sound that for the first time in her life she could not welcome, but must recognise with a leap of her heart and a shiver of foreboding.
It was the sound of the sea. The gully was a pathway to the shore.
She knew now why a softness had crept upon the air, and why the mizzle of rain fell on her hand lightly, with a tang of salt. The high banks gave a false feeling of shelter in contrast to the bleak wilderness of the moors, but once away from their deceptive shadow the illusion would be lost and the tearing gale cry louder than before. There could be no stillness where the sea broke upon a rockbound shore. She heard it again now, and continually ; a murmur and a sigh as the spent water gave itself to the strand and withdrew reluctantly, and then a pause as the sea gathered itself for a renewal of effort--a momentary fragment in time--and then once more the thunder and the crash of fulfilment, the roar of surf upon shingle and the screaming scatter of stones as they followed the drag of the sea. Mary shuddered ; somewhere in the darkness below, her uncle and his companions waited for the tide. If she could have heard some sound of them, the waiting in the empty carriage would have been more bearable. The wild shouting, the laughter, and the singing with which they had fortified themselves for the journey would have been a relief, however loathsome ; but this deadly quietude was sinister. Business had sobered them, and they had found work for their hands. Now that her senses were her own again, and her first fatigue cast aside, Mary found inactivity impossible. She considered the size of the window. The door was locked, as she knew, but with straining and wriggling she might yet attempt to squeeze her body through the narrow frame.
The endeavour was worth the risk. Whatever happened tonight, her own life could be counted of little value ; her uncle and his companions could find her and kill her if they wished. This country was known to them, and not to her. They could trace her in a moment if they wanted, like a pack of hounds. She worked and strained at the window, leaning backwards through the gap, the effort made even more difficult because of her stiff shoulder and her back. The roof of the carriage was slippery and wet, giving grip to her fingers, but she struggled and pushed through the gap, and then, with a sickening squeeze and pressure, her hips were through, the frame of the window scraping the flesh and turning her faint. She lost foothold and balance, and fell backwards through the window to the ground below.
The drop was nothing ; but the fall shook her, and she felt a little trickle of blood run down her side where the window had caught her. She gave herself a moment to recover, and then she dragged herself to her feet and began to creep uncertainly up the lane, in the dark shelter of the bank. She had not yet formed a plan in her head, but, with her back turned away from the gully and the sea, she would be putting distance between herself and her late companions. There was little doubt that they had descended to the shore. This lane, winding upwards and to the left, would take her at least to the high ground of the cliffs, where in spite of the darkness she would be able to make something of the land. Somewhere there would be a road--the carriage itself must have travelled by one ; and if there was a road there would be dwelling ouses before long ; there would be honest men and women to whom she could tell her tale, and who would rouse the countryside when they heard her story.
She felt her way along the narrow ditch, stumbling now and again over the stones, her hair blowing into her eyes and troubling her, and, coming suddenly round the sharp corner of the bank, she put up her hands to screw back the loose strands from her eyes, and because of this she did not see the humped figure of a man kneeling in the ditch with his back towards her, his eyes watchful of the winding lane ahead. She came against him, knocking the breath from her body, and he, taken by surprise, fell with her, crying out in mingled terror and rage, smashing at her with his clenched fist.
They fought on the ground, she straining away from him, her hands tearing at his face, but in a moment he was too strong for her, and, rolling her over on her side, he twisted his hands in her hair, pulling at the roots, until the pain forced her to stillness. He leant on her, breathing heavily, for the fall had winded him, and then he peered closely at her, his gaping mouth showing yellow broken teeth.
It was Harry the pedlarcursed herself for a fool in blundering up the lane the way she had, with never a thought of the outpost that even a child at play would have placed in his position.
He expected her to cry or struggle, but when she did neither he shifted his weight to his elbow, and smiled at her slyly, jerking his head in the direction of the shore. "
He nodded at her, reassuring her, smiling still, smirking and sly, and she felt his furtive hand fasten itself upon her. She moved swiftly, lashing out at him, and her fist caught him underneath the chin,
A wall of fog closed in upon her, obscuring the distant line of hedge for which she had been making, and she stopped at once in her headlong rush, aware of the danger of sea-mist, and how in its deception it might bring her back to the lane again. She fell at once upon hands and knees, and crawled slowly forward, her eyes low to the ground, following a narrow sandy track that wound in the direction she wished to take. Her progress was slow, but instinct told her that the distance was increasing between her and the pedlar, which was the only thing that mattered. She had no reckoning of time ; it was three, perhaps four, in the morning, and the darkness would give no sign of breaking for many hours to come. Once more the rain came down through the curtain of mist, and it seemed as though she could hear the sea on every side of her and there was no escape from it ; the breakers were muffled no longer ; they were louder and clearer than before. She realised that the wind had been no guide to direction, for even now, with it behind her, it might have shifted a point or two, and with her ignorance of the coast-line she had not turned east, as she had meant to do, but was even now upon the brink of a sagging cliff path that, judging by the sound of the sea, was taking her straight to the shore. The breakers, though she could not see them because of the fog, were somewhere beyond her in the darkness, and to her dismay she sensed they were on a level with her, and not beneath her. This meant that the cliffs here descended abruptly to the shore, and, instead of a long and tortuous path to a cove that she had pictured from the abandoned carriage, the gully-way must have been only a few yards from the sea itself. The banks of the gully had muffled the sound of the breakers. Even as she decided this, there was a gap in the mist ahead of her, showing a patch of sky. She crawled on uncertainly, the path widening and the fog clearing, and the wind veered in her face once more ; and there she knelt amongst driftwood and seaweed and loose shingle, on a narrow strand, with the land sloping up on either side of her, while not fifty yards away, and directly in front of her, were the high combing seas breaking upon the shore.
After a while, when her eyes had accustomed themselves to the shadows, she made them out, huddled against a jagged rock that broke up the expanse of the beach : a little knot of men, grouped together for warmth and shelter, silently peering ahead of them into the darkness. Their very stillness made them the more menacing who had not been still before ; and the attitude of stealth, the poise of their bodies crouched as they were against the rock, the tense watchfulness of their heads turned one and all to the incoming sea, was a sight at once fearful and pregnant with danger.
Had they shouted and sung, called to one another, and made the night hideous with their clamour, their heavy boots resounding on the crunching shingle, it would have been in keeping with their character and with what she expected ; but there was something ominous in this silence, which suggested that the crisis of the night had come upon them. A little jutting piece of rock stood between Mary and the bare exposed beach, and beyond this she dared not venture for fear of betraying herself. She crawled as far as the rock, and lay down on the shingle behind it, while ahead of her, direct in her line of vision when she moved her head, stood her uncle and his companions, with their backs turned to her.
She waited. They did not move. There was no sound. Only the sea broke in its inevitable monotony upon the shore, sweeping the strand and returning again, the line of breakers showing thin and white against the black night.
The mist began to lift very slowly, disclosing the narrow outline of the bay. Rocks became more prominent, and the cliffs took on solidity. The expanse of water widened, opening from a gulf to a bare line of shore that stretched away interminably. To the right, in the distance, where the highest part of the cliff sloped to the sea, Mary made out a faint pin-prick of light. At first she thought it a star, piercing the last curtain of dissolving mist, but reason told her that no star was white, nor ever swayed with the wind on the surface of a cliff. She watched it intently, and it moved again ; it was like a small white eye in the darkness. It danced and curtseyed, storm-tossed, as though kindled and carried by the wind itself, a living flare that would not be blown. The group of men on the shingle below heeded it not ; their eyes were turned to the dark sea beyond the breakers.
And suddenly Mary was aware of the reason for their indifference, and the small white eye that had seemed at first a thing of friendliness and comfort, winking bravely alone in the wild night, became a symbol of horror.
The star was a false light placed there by her uncle and his companions. The pin-prick gleam was evil now, and the curtsey to the wind became a mockery. In her imagination the light burnt fiercer, extending its beam to dominate the cliff, and the colour was white no more, but old and yellow like a scab. Someone watched by the light so that it should not be extinguished. She saw a dark figure pass in front of it, obscuring the gleam for a moment, and then it burnt clear again. The figure became a blot against the grey face of the cliff, moving quickly in the direction of the shore. Whoever it was climbed down the slope to his companions on the shingle. His action was hurried, as though time pressed him, and he was careless in the manner of his coming, for the loose earth and stones slid away from under him, scattering down on to the beach below. The sound startled the men beneath, and for the first time since Mary had watched them they withdrew their attention from the incoming tide and looked up to him. Mary saw him put his hands to his mouth and shout, but his words were caught up in the wind and did not come to her. They reached the little group of men waiting on the shingle, who broke up at once in some excitement, some of them starting half way up the cliff to meet him ; but when he shouted again and pointed to the sea, they ran down towards the breakers, their stealth and silence gone for the moment, the sound of their footsteps heavy on the shingle, their voices topping one another above the crash of the sea. Then one of them--her uncle it was ; she recognised his great loping stride and massive shoulders--held up his hand for silence ; and they waited, all of them, standing upon the shingle with the waves breaking beyond their feet ; spread out in a thin line they were, like crows, their black forms outlined against the white beach. Mary watched with them ; and out of the mist and darkness came another pin-prick of light in answer to the first. This new light did not dance and waver as the one on the cliff had done ; it dipped low and was hidden, like a traveller weary of his burden, and then it would rise again, pointing high to the sky, a hand flung into the night in a last and desperate attempt to break through the wall of mist that hitherto had defied penetration. The new light drew nearer to the first. The one compelled the other. Soon they would merge and become two white eyes in the darkness. And still the men crouched motionless upon the narrow strand, waiting for the lights to close with one another.
The second light dipped again ; and now Mary could see the shadowed outline of a hull, the black spars like fingers spreading above it, while a white surging sea combed beneath the hull, and hissed, and withdrew again. Closer drew the mast-light to the flare upon the cliff,
Mary could bear no more. She scrambled to her feet and ran down upon the beach, shouting and crying, waving her hands above her head, pitting her voice against the wind and the sea, which tossed it back to her in mockery. Someone caught hold of her and forced her down upon the beach. Hands stifled her. She was trodden upon and kicked. Her cries died away, smothered by the coarse sacking that choked her, and her arms were dragged behind her back and knotted together, the rough cord searing her flesh.
They left her then, with her face in the shingle, the breakers sweeping towards her not twenty yards away ; and as she lay there helpless, the breath knocked from her and her scream of warning strangled in her throat, she heard the cry that had been hers become the cry of others, and fill the air with sound. The cry rose above the searing smash of the sea, and was seized and carried by the wind itself ; and with the cry came the tearing splinter of wood, the horrible impact of a massive live thing finding resistance, the shuddering groan of twisting, breaking timber.
Drawn by a magnet, the sea hissed away from the strand, and a breaker, running high above its fellows, flung itself with a crash of thunder upon the lurching ship. Mary saw the black mass that had been a vessel roll slowly upon its side, like a great flat turtle ; the masts and spars were threads of cotton, crumpled and fallen. Clinging to the slippery, sloping surface of the turtle were little black dots that would not be thrown ; that stuck themselves fast to the splintering wood like limpets ; and, when the heaving, shuddering mass beneath them broke monstrously in two, cleaving the air, they fell one by one into the white tongues of the sea, little black dots without life or substance.
A deadly sickness came upon Mary, and she closed her eyes, her face pressed into the shingle. The silence and the stealth were gone ; the men who had waited during the cold hours waited no more. They ran like madmen hither and thither upon the beach, yelling and screaming, demented and inhuman. They waded waist-deep into the breakers, careless of danger, all caution spent ; snatching at the bobbing, sodden wreckage borne in on the surging tide.
They were animals, fighting and snarling over lengths of splintered wood ; they stripped, some of them, and ran naked in the cold December night, the better to fight their way into the sea and plunge their hands amongst the spoil that the breakers tossed to them. They chattered and squabbled like monkeys, tearing things from one another ; and one of them kindled a fire in the corner by the cliff, the flame burning strong and fierce in spite of the mizzling rain. The spoils of the sea were dragged up the beach and heaped beside it. The fire cast a ghastly light upon the beach, throwing a yellow brightness that had been black before, and casting long shadows down the beach where the men ran backwards and forwards, industrious and horrible.
When the first body was washed ashore, mercifully spent and gone, they clustered around it, diving amongst the remains with questing, groping hands, picking it clean as a bone ; and, when they had stripped it bare, tearing even at the smashed fingers in search of rings, they abandoned it again, leaving it to loll upon its back in the scum where the tide had been.
Whatever had been the practice hitherto, there was no method in their work tonight. They robbed haphazard, each man for himself; crazy they were and drunk, mazed with this success they had not planned--dogs snapping at the heel of their master whose venture had proved a triumph, whose power this was, whose glory. They followed him where he ran naked amongst the breakers, the water streaming from the hair on his body, a giant above them all.
The tide turned, the water receded, and a new chill came upon the air. The light that swung above them on the cliff, still dancing in the wind, like an old mocking man whose joke has long been played, turned pallid now and dim. A grey colour came upon the water and was answered by the sky. At first the men did not notice the change ; they were delirious still, intent upon their prey. And then Joss Merlyn himself lifted his great head and sniffed the air, turning about him as he stood, watching the clear contour of the cliffs as the darkness slipped away ; and he shouted suddenly, calling the men to silence, pointing to the sky that was leaden now, and pale.
They hesitated, glancing once more at the wreckage that surged and fell in the trough of the sea, unclaimed as yet and waiting to be salved ; and then they turned with one accord and began to run up the beach towards the entrance of the gully, silent once more, without words or gesture, their faces grey and scared in the broadening light. They had outstayed their time. Success had made them careless. The dawn had broken upon them unawares, and by lingering overlong they had risked the accusation which daylight would bring to them. The world was waking up around them ; night, that had been their ally, covered them no more.
It was Joss Merlyn who pulled the sacking away from her mouth and jerked Mary to her feet. Seeing that her weakness had become part of her now, and could not be withstood, for she could neither stand alone nor help herself in any way, he cursed her furiously, glancing behind him at the cliffs that every minute became harder, more distinct ; and then he bent down to her, for she had stumbled to the ground again, and threw her over his shoulder as he would a sack. Her head lolled without support, her arms lifeless, and she felt his hands pressing into her scarred side, bruising it once again, rubbing the numb flesh that had lain upon the shingle. He ran with her up the strand to the entrance of the gully ; and his companions, caught up already in a mesh of panic, flung the remnants of spoil they had snatched from the beach upon the backs of the three horses tethered there. Their movements were feverish and clumsy, and they worked without direction, as though unhinged, lacking all sense of order ; while the landlord, sober now from necessity and strangely ineffectual, cursed and bullied them to no avail. The carriage, stuck in the bank half way up the gully, resisted their efforts to extract it, and this sudden reverse to their fortune increased the panic and stampede. Some of them began to scatter up the lane, forgetting everything in a blind concentration on personal safety. Dawn was their enemy ; and more easily withstood alone, in the comparative security of ditch and hedge, than in the company of five or six upon the road. Suspicion would lie in numbers here on the coast, where every face was known, and strangers were remarkable ; but a poacher, or tramp, or gypsy could make his way alone, finding his own cover and his own path. These deserters were cursed by those who remained, struggling with the carriage, and now, through stupidity and panic, the vehicle was wrenched from the bank in so rough a manner that it overturned, rolling upon one side and smashing a wheel.
This final disaster let loose pandemonium in the gully-way. There was a wild rush to the remaining farm-cart that had been left farther up the lane, and to the already over-burdened horses. Someone, still obedient to the leader and with a sense of necessity, put fire to the broken carriage, whose presence in the lane screamed danger to them all, and the riot that followed--fight between man and man for the possession of the farm-cart that might yet carry them away inland--was a hideous scrap of tooth and nail, of teeth smashed by stones, of eyes cut open by broken glass.
Those who carried pistols now had the advantage, and the landlord, with his remaining ally Harry the pedlar by his side, stood with his back to the cart and let fly amongst the rabble, who, in the sudden terror of pursuit that would follow with the day, looked upon him now as an enemy, a false leader who had brought them to destruction. The first shot went wide, and stubbed the soft bank opposite ; but it gave one of the opponents a chance to cut the landlord's eye open with a jagged flint. Joss Merlyn marked his assailant with his second shot, spattering him in mid-stomach, and while the fellow doubled up in the mud amongst his companions, mortally wounded and screaming like a hare, Harry the pedlar caught another in the throat, the bullet ripping the windpipe, the blood spouting jets like a fountain.
It was the blood that won the cart for the landlord ; for the remaining rebels, hysterical and lost at the sight of their dying fellows, turned as one man and scuttled like crabs up the twisting lane, intent only on putting a safe distance between themselves and their late leader. The landlord leant against the cart with smoking, murderous pistol, the blood running freely from the cut on his eye. Now that they were alone, he and the pedlar wasted little time. What wreckage had been salved and brought to the gully they threw upon the cart beside Mary miscellaneous odds and ends, useless and unprofitable, the main store still down on the beach and washed by the tide. They dared not risk the fetching of it, for that would be the work of a dozen men, and already the light of day had followed the early dawn, and made clear the countryside. There was not a moment to spare.
The two men who had been shot sprawled in the lane beside the cart. Whether they still breathed or not was not a matter to be discussed ; their bodies bore witness, and must be destroyed. It was Harry the pedlar who dragged them to the fire. It burnt well ; much of the carriage was already consumed, while one red wheel stuck out above the charred and splintered wood.
Joss Merlyn led the remaining horse to the traces, and without a word the two men climbed into the cart and jerked the horse to action.
Lying on her back in the cart, Mary watched the low clouds pass across the sky. Darkness had gone ; the morning was damp and grey. She could still hear the sound of the sea, more distant and less insistent, a sea that had spent its full fury and now let itself be carried by the tide.
The wind had dropped too ; the tall steins of grass on the banks above the gully were still, and a silence had come upon the coast. There was a smell in the air of damp earth and turnips, of a mist that had lain overnight upon the land. The clouds became one with the grey sky. Once again a thin mizzle of rain fell upon Mary's face, and upon her upturned hands.
The wheels of the cart crunched the uneven lane ; and, turning right, came out upon a smoother surface of gravel that was a road, running northwards between low hedges. From far away, across many fields and scattered ploughlands, came the merry peal of bells, odd and discordant, in the morning air.
She remembered suddenly that it was Christmas Day.