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.
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Jamaica Inn (1916) by Daphne du Maurier
The square pane of glass was familiar to her. It was larger than the carriage window, and had a ledge before it, and there was a crack across the pane that she remembered well. She kept her eyes upon it, struggling with memory, and she wondered why she no longer felt the rain on her face and the steady current of wind. There was no movement under her, and her first thought was that the carriage had come to a standstill, thrust against the bank in the gully-way once more, and that circumstance and fate would compel her to re-act in frightful repetition the things she had already performed. When she climbed through the window she would fall and bruise herself, and, heading yet again up the twisting lane, would come upon Harry the pedlar, squatting in his ditch ; but this time she would not have the strength to withstand him. Down on the shingle strand the men waited for the tide, and the great black turtle of a ship rolled flat and monstrous in the trough of the sea. Mary moaned, and turned her head restlessly from side to side ; out of the tail of her eye she saw the brown discoloured wall beside her, and the rusty nail-head where a text had once been hung.
She was lying in her bedroom at Jamaica Inn.
The sight of this room she hated, however cold it was and drear, was at least protection from the wind and the rain, and from the hands of Harry the pedlar. Nor could she hear the sea. The roar of surf would not disturb her again. If death came now, he would be an ally ; existence was not a thing she welcomed any more. Life had been crushed from her anyway, and the body lying on the bed did not belong to her. She had no wish to live. Shock had made a dummy of her, and taken away her strength ; tears of self-pity welled into her eyes.
Now there was a face bending down to her, and she shrank back against the pillow, her hands thrust outward and protesting ; for the puffy mouth and broken teeth of the pedlar were ever in her mind.
Her hands were held gently, though, and the eyes that peered at her, red-rimmed like her own from weeping, were tremulous and blue.
It was Aunt Patience. They clung to one another, seeking comfort in proximity ; and after Mary had wept awhile, easing herself of sorrow and allowing the tide of emotion to carry her to the limit, nature took
command of her again and she was strengthened, something of the old courage and force coming back to her again.
"You know what has happened ? " she asked, and Aunt Patience held her hands tightly, so that they could not be withdrawn, the blue eyes begging dumbly for forgiveness, like an animal punished through no fault of his own.
"How long have I lain here ?" Mary questioned, and she was told that this was the second day. For a moment or two Mary was silent, considering the information, new to her and sudden ; two days was a long time to one who but a few moments ago had watched the dawn break on the coast.
Much could happen in the time, and she had been on her bed here, helpless.
"You should have woken me," she said roughly, pushing away the hands that clung to her. "I'm not a child, to be mothered and pampered because of a few bruises. There's work for me to do ; you don't understand."
Aunt Patience stroked her, the caress timid and ineffectual.
"You could not move," she whimpered. "Your poor body was bleeding and broken. I bathed you while you were still unconscious ; I thought at first they had injured you terribly, but thank the dear God no real harm has come to you. Your bruises will heal, and your long sleep has rested you."
"You know who did it, don't you ? You know where they took me ? "
Bitterness had made her cruel. She knew that the words acted like a lash, and she could not stop herself. She began to talk about the men on the shore. Now it was the elder woman's turn to whimper, and when Mary saw the thin mouth working, the vapid blue eyes stare back at her in terror, she became sickened of herself and could not continue. She sat up in bed, and swung her legs to the floor, her head swimming with the effort, her temples throbbing.
"What are you going to do ?" Aunt Patience pulled at her nervously but her niece shook her aside and began to drag on her clothes.
"I have business of my own," she said curtly.
"Your uncle is below. He will not let you leave the inn."
"I'm not afraid of him."
"Mary, for your sake, for my sake, do not anger him again. You know what you have suffered already. Ever since he returned with you he has sat below, white and terrible, a gun across his knees ; the doors of the inn are barred. I know you have seen and endured horrible, unspeakable things ; but, Mary, don't you understand if you go down now he may hurt you again--he may even kill you ? ... I have never seen him like this. I can't answer for his mood. Don't go down, Mary. I beg you on my knees not to go down."
She began to drag on the floor, clutching at Mary's skirt, clasping at her hands and kissing them. The sight was miserable, unnerving.
"Aunt Patience, I have gone through enough out of loyalty to you. You can't expect me to stand any more. Whatever Uncle Joss may have been to you once, he is inhuman now. All your tears won't save him from justice ; you must realise that. He's a brute, half mad with brandy and blood. Men were murdered by him on the shore ; don't you understand? Men were drowned in the sea. I can see nothing else. I shall think of nothing else to my dying day."
Her voice rose, dangerously high ; hysteria was not far away. She was still too weak for consecutive thought, and saw herself running out upon the high road, crying loudly for the help that would surely be forthcoming.
Aunt Patience prayed too late for silence ; the warning finger was unheeded. The door opened ; and the landlord of Jamaica Inn stood on the threshold of the room. He stooped his head under the beam and
stared at them. He looked haggard and grey ; the cut above his eye was still a vivid scarlet. He was filthy and unwashed, and there were black shadows beneath his eyes.
"I thought I heard voices in the yard," he said. "I went to a chink in the shutters, downstairs in the parlour, but I saw no one. Did you hear anything, from this room ? "
Nobody answered. Aunt Patience shook her head, the little nervous smile that she conjured for his presence trailing uneasily across her face without her knowledge. He sat down on the bed, his hands plucking at the clothes, his restless eyes roaming from the window to the door.
"He'll come," he said ; "he's bound to come. I've cut my own throat ; I've gone against him. He warned me once, and I laughed at him ; I didn't listen. I wanted to play the game on my own. We're as good as dead, all three of us sitting here--you, Patience, and Mary, and I.
"We're finished, I tell you ; the game is up. Why did you let me drink ? Why didn't you break every blasted bottle in the house, and turn the key on me, and let me lie ? I'd not have hurt you ; I'd not have touched a hair of your heads, either of you. Now its too late. The end has come."
He looked from one to the other of them, his bloodshot eyes hollow, his massive shoulders humped to his neck. They stared back at him without understanding, dumbfounded and awed at the expression on
his face they had not seen before.
"What do you mean ?" said Mary at length. "Who are you afraid of? Who warned you ?"
He shook his head, and his hands strayed to his mouth, the fingers restless. "No," he said slowly, "I'm not drunk now, Mary Yellan ; my secrets are still my own. But I'll tell you one thing--and there's no escape for you ; you're in it now as much as Patience there--we have enemies on either side of us now. We have the law on one hand, and on the other ..." He checked himself, the old cunning in his eyes
once more as he glanced at Mary.
"You'd like to know, wouldn't you ?" he said. "You'd like to sneak out of the house with the name on your lips, and betray me. You'd like to see me hanged. All right, I don't blame you for it ; I've hurt you enough to make you remember to the rest of your days, haven't I ? But I saved you too, didn't I ? Have you thought what that rabble would have done to you had I not been there ?" He laughed, and spat on the floor, something of his usual self returning to him. "You can put one good mark against me for that alone," he said. "Nobody touched you last night but myself, and I've not spoilt your pretty face. Cuts and bruises mend, don't they ? Why, you poor weak thing, you know as well as I do I could have had you your first week at Jamaica Inn if I'd wanted you. You're a woman after all. Yes, by heaven, and you'd be lying at my feet now, like your Aunt Patience, crushed and contented and clinging, another God-damn bloody fool. Let's get out of here. The room stinks of damp and decay."
He shambled to his feet, dragging her after him into the passage, and, when they came on to the landing, he thrust her against the wall, beneath the candle stuck in the bracket, so that the light fell upon her bruised, cut face. He took her chin in his hands and held her for a moment, smoothing the scratches with delicate light fingers. She stared back at him in loathing and disgust, the gentle, graceful hands reminding her of all she had lost and renounced ; and, when he bent his hated face lower, indifferent of Patience, who stood beside him, and his mouth, so like his brother's, hovered an instant on hers, the illusion was horrible and complete ; and she shuddered and closed her eyes. He blew out the light ; they followed him down the stairs without a word, their footsteps pattering sharply through the empty house.
He led the way into the kitchen, where even there the door was bolted and the window barred. Two candles were on the table to light the room.
Then he turned and faced the two women, and, reaching for a chair, he straddled his legs across it and considered them, fumbling in his pocket for his pipe meanwhile, and filling it.
"We've got to think out a plan of campaign," he said ; "we've been sitting here for nigh on two days now, like rats in a trap, waiting to be caught. And I've had enough, I tell you. I never could play that sort of game ; it gives me the horrors. If there's going to be a scrap, then, by Almighty God, let's have it in the open." He puffed awhile at his pipe, staring moodily at the floor, tapping his foot on the stone flags.
"Harry's loyal enough," he continued, "but he'd split and have the house about our ears if he thought there'd be profit for himself. As for the rest--they're scattered over the countryside, whining, their tails between their legs, like a blasted pack of curs. This has scared 'em for ever. Yes, and it's scared me too, you can know that. I'm sober now, all right ; I can see the damn-fool unholy mess I've landed in, and we'll be lucky, all of us, if we get out of it without swinging. You, Mary, can laugh if you like, with your white contemptuous face ; it'll be as bad for you as for Patience and I. You're in it too, up to the neck ; you'll not escape. Why didn't you turn the key on me, I say ? Why didn't you stop me from drinking ?"
His wife stole over to him, and plucked at his jacket, passing her tongue over her lips in preparation for speech.
"Well, what is it ?" he said fiercely.
"Why can't we creep away now, before it's too late ?" she whispered. "The trap's in the stable ; we'll be in Launceston and across to Devon in a few hours. We could travel by night ; we could make for the eastern counties."
"You damned idiot !" he shouted. "Don't you realise there are people on the road between here and Launceston who think I'm the Devil himself--who are only waiting their chance to fasten every crime in Cornwall on my head, and get me ? The whole country knows by now what happened on the coast on Christmas Eve, and if they see us bolting they'll have the proof. God, don't you think I haven't itched to get away and save my skin ? Yes, and by doing so have every man in the country point his finger at us. We'd look fine, wouldn't we, riding in the trap on top of our goods and chattels, like farmers on market-day, waving good-bye in Launceston square ? No, we've got one chance, one single chance in a million. We've got to lie quiet ; we've got to lie mum. If we sit here tight at Jamaica Inn they may start scratching their heads and rubbing their noses. They've got to look for proof, mind you. They've got to get the sworn proof before they lay hands on us. And unless one of that blasted rabble turns informer they won't get the proof.
"Oh, yes, the ship's there, with her back broken on the rocks, and there's chunks of stuff lying on the beach--piles of it--ready to take away, put there by someone, they'll say. They'll find two bodies, charred to cinders, and a heap of ashes. 'What's this ?' they'll say. 'There's been a fire ; there's been a scrap.' It'll look dirty, it'll look bad for many of us, but where's your proof? Answer me that. I spent my Christmas Eve like a respectable man, in the bosom of my family, playing cat's cradle and snap-dragon with my niece." He put his tongue in his cheek and winked.
"You've forgotten one thing, haven't you ?" said Mary.
"No, my dear, I have not. The driver of that carriage was shot, and he fell in the ditch, not quarter of a mile down the road outside. You were hoping we'd left the body there, weren't you ? Maybe it will shock you, Mary, but the body travelled with us to the coast, and it lies now, if I remember rightly, beneath a ten-foot bank of shingle. Of course, someone is going to miss him ; I'm prepared for that ; but as they'll never find his carriage it doesn't make much odds. Maybe he was tired of his wife, and has driven to Penzance. They're welcome to look for him there. And now that we've both come to our senses again, you can tell me what you were doing in that carriage, Mary, and where you had been. If you don't answer me, you know me well enough by now. I can find a way of making you talk."
Mary glanced at her aunt. The woman was shivering like a frightened dog, her blue eyes fixed upon her husband's face. Mary thought rapidly. It was easy enough to lie ; time was the all-important factor now, and must be reckoned with and cherished if she and her Aunt Patience were to come out of this alive. She must play upon it and give her uncle rope enough to hang himself. His confidence would go against him in the end. She had one hope of salvation, and he was near, not five miles away, waiting in Altarnun for a signal from her.
"I'll tell you my day, and you can believe it or not," she said ; "it doesn't matter much to me what you think. I walked to Launceston on Christmas Eve, and went to the fair. I was tired by eight o'clock, and when it came to rain and blow I was wet through and fit for nothing. I hired that carriage, and I told the man I wanted him to take me to Bodmin. I thought if I said the Jamaica Inn he would have refused the journey. There, I've nothing more to tell you than that."
"Were you alone in Launceston ?"
"Of course I was alone."
"And you spoke to no one ?"
"I bought a handkerchief from a woman at a stall."
Joss Merlyn spat on the floor. "All right," he said. "Whatever I did to you now, you'd tell the same story, wouldn't you ? You've got the advantage for once, because I can't prove if you're lying or not. Not many maids your age would spend the day alone in Launceston, I can tell you that. Nor would they drive home by themsleves. If your story's true, then our prospects improve. They'll never trace that driver here. God damn it, I shall feel like another drink in a moment."
He tilted back his chair and pulled at his pipe.
"You shall drive in your own coach yet. Patience," he said, "and wear feathers in your bonnet, and a velvet cloak. I'm not beaten yet. I'll see the whole band of 'em in hell first. You wait ; we'll start afresh again, we'll live like fighting-cocks. Maybe I'll turn sober, and go to church on Sundays. And you, Mary, you shall hold my hand in my old age and spoon me my food."
He threw back his head and laughed ; but his laugh broke short in the middle, his mouth shut like a trap, and he crashed his chair down on the floor again, and stood up in the middle of the room, his body turned sideways, his face as white as a sheet. "Listen" he whispered hoarsely ; "listen... ."
They followed the direction of his eyes, fastened as they were upon the chink of light that came through the narrow gap in the shutters.
Something was scraping gently at the kitchen window . . . tapping lightly, softly, scratching furtively at the pane of glass.
It was like the sound made by a branch of ivy when it has broken loose from the trunk and, bending downwards, teases a window or a porch, disturbed and restless with every breath of wind. But there was no ivy on the slate walls of Jamaica Inn, and the shutters were bare.
The scraping continued, persuasive and undaunted, tap . . . tap . . . like the drumming of a beak : tap . . . tap . . . like the four fingers of a hand.
There was no other sound in the kitchen except the frightened breathing of Aunt Patience, whose hand crept out across the table to her niece. Mary watched the landlord as he stood motionless on the kitchen floor, his figure shadowed monstrously on the ceiling, and she saw his lips blue through the dark stubble of his beard. Then he bent forward, crouching on tiptoe like a cat, and, sliding his hand along the floor, his fingers fastened themselves upon his gun that stood against the farther chair, never once taking his eyes from the chink of light between the shutters.
Mary swallowed, her throat dry as dust ; whether the thing behind the window was friend or enemy to herself made the suspense more poignant, but in spite of her hopes the thumping of her heart told her that fear was infectious, as were the beads of perspiration on her uncle's face. Her hands wandered to her mouth, trembling and clammy.
For a moment he waited beside the closed shutters, and then he sprang forward, tearing at the hinge and pulling them apart, the grey light of afternoon slanting at once into the room. A man stood outside
the window, his livid face pressed against the pane, his broken teeth gaping in a grin.
It was Harry the pedlar. . . . Joss Merlyn swore, and threw open the window. "God damn you, come inside, can't you ?" he shouted. "Do you want a bullet in your guts, you blasted fool ? You've had me here standing like a deaf-mute for five minutes, with my gun trained on your belly. Unbolt the door, Mary; don't lean against the wall there like a ghost. There's nerves enough in this house without you turning sour." Like all men who have been badly scared, he threw the blame of his own panic upon the shoulders of another, and now blustered to reassure himsdf. Mary crossed slowly to the door. The sight of the pedlar brought back a vivid memory of her struggle in the lane, and reaction came swift upon her. Her nausea and disgust returned in force, and she could not look upon him. She opened the door without a word, screening herself behind it, and when he came into the kitchen she turned at once and went to the dull fire, piling the turf upon the embers mechanically, her back towards him. "Well, have you brought news ? " questioned the landlord.
The pedlar smacked his lips in reply, and jerked his thumb over his shoulder.
"The country's gone up in smoke," he said. "Every cluttering tongue in Cornwall, from the Tamar to St. Ives. I was in Bodmin this forenoon; the town was ringing with it, and they're hot mad for blood and justice too. Last night I slept at Camelford, every man-jack in the place shaking his fist in the air and blabbing to his neighbour. There'll only be one end to this storm, Joss, and you know the name for it, don't you ? "
He made a gesture with his hands across his throat.
"We've got to run for it," he said ; "it's our only chance. The roads are poison, and Bodmin and Launceston worst of all. I'll keep to the moors and get into Devon above Gunnislake ; it'll take me longer, I know that, but what's the odds if you save your skin ? Have you got a bite of bread in the house, missus ? I've not touched food since yesterday forenoon."
He threw his question at the landlord's wife, but his glance fell upon Mary. Patience Merlyn fumbled in the cupboard for bread and cheese, her mouth working nervously, her movements clumsy, her mind anywhere but on her mission. As she laid the table she looked beseechingly at her husband.
"You hear what he says," she pleaded. "It's madness to stop here ; we must go now, at once, before it's too late. You know what this means to the people ; they will have no mercy on you ; they'll kill you without trial. For God's sake listen to him, Joss. You know I don't care for myself ; it's for you. . ."
"Shut your mouth, can't you ?" thundered her husband. "I've never asked your counsel yet, and I don't ask it now. I can face what's coming to me alone, without you bleating beside me like a sheep. So you'll throw your hand in too, Harry, will you ? Run with your tail between your legs because a lot of clerks and Wesleyans are howling to Jesus for your blood ? Have they proved it on us ? Tell me that. Or has your liver conscience gone against you ?"
"Damn my conscience. Joss ; it's common sense I'm thinking of. This part of the country has come unhealthy, and I'll go from it while I can. As to proof, we've sailed close enough to the wind these last months to be proof enough, haven't we ? I've stuck to you, haven't I ? Come out here today, risking my neck, to give you warning. I'm not saying anything against you, Joss, but it was your damned stupidity brought us into this mess, wasn't it ? You got us mad drunk like yourself, and led us to the shore, on a crazy hare-brained venture that none of us had planned. We took a chance in a million, and the chance came off--too damned bloody well. Because we were drunk we lost our heads, left the stuff and a hundred tracks scattered on the shore. And whose fault was it ? Why, yours, I say." He smashed his fist on the table, his yellow impudent face thrust close to the landlord, a sneer on his cracked lips.
Joss Merlyn considered him for a moment, and when he spoke his voice was dangerous and low. "So you accuse me, do you, Harry ?" he said. "You're like the rest of your kind, wriggling like a snake when the luck of the game turns against you. You've done well out of me, haven't you ? Had gold to burn you never had before ; lived like a prince all these months, instead of at the bottom of a mine, where you belong. And supposing we'd kept our heads the other night, and cleared in order before dawn, as we've done a hundred times before ? You'd be sucking up to me now to fill your pockets, wouldn't you ? You'd be
fawning on me with the rest of the sniffing curs, begging your share of the spoil, calling me God Almighty ; you'd lick my boots and lie down in the dust. Run, then, if you like ; run to the Tamar bank with your tail
between your legs, and be damned to you ! I'll take the world on alone."
The pedlar forced a laugh and shrugged his shoulders, "We can talk, can't we, without cutting each other's throats ? I've not gone against you ; I'm on your side still. We were all mad drunk on Christmas Eve, I know that ; let's leave it alone then : what's done is done. Our lot is scattered, and we needn't reckon with them. They'll be too scared to show their heads and worry us. That leaves you and I, Joss. We've been in this business, the pair of us, deeper than most, I know that, and the more we help each other, the better it'll be for us both. Now then, that's why I'm here, to talk it over and see where we stand." He laughed again, showing his soft gums, and began to beat a tattoo on the table with his squat black fingers.
The landlord watched him coolly, and reached once more for his pipe.
"Just what would you be driving at, Harry?" he said, leaning against the table, and filling his pipe afresh.
The pedlar sucked his teeth and grinned. "I'm not driving at anything," he said. "I want to make things easier for all of us. We've got to quit, that's evident, unless we want to swing. But it's like this. Joss ; I don't see the fun in quitting empty-handed, for all that. There's a mint of stuff we dumped along in the room yonder two days ago, from the shore. That's right, isn't it? And by rights it belongs to all of us who worked for it on Christmas Eve. But there's none of 'em left to claim it but you and I. I'm not saying there's much of value there--it's junk mostly, no doubt--but I don't see why some of it shouldn't help us into Devon, do you ?"
The landlord blew a cloud of smoke into his face. "So you didn't come back to Jamaica Inn because of my sweet smile alone, then ?" he said. "I was thinking you were fond of me, Harry, and wanted to
hold my hand."
The pedlar grinned again, and shifted on his chair, "All right," he said ; "we're friends, aren't we ? There's no harm done in plain speaking. The stuff's there, and it'll take two men to shift it. The women here can't do it. What's against you and I striking a bargain, and be done with it ?"
The landlord puffed thoughtfully at his pipe. "You're teeming with ideas, all strung out as pretty as the fancy trinkets on your tray, my friend. And supposing the stuff isn't there, after all ? Supposing I've disposed of it already ? I've been here kicking my heels for two days, you know, and the coaches pass my door. What then, Harry boy ?"
The grin faded from the face of tne pedlar, and he thrust out his jaw.
"What's the joke ?" he snarled. "Do you play a double game up here at Jamaica Inn ? You'll find it hasn't paid you, if you have. You've been mighty silent sometimes, Joss Merlyn, when cargoes were run and when we had the waggons on the road. I've seen things sometimes I haven't understood, and heard things too. You've made a brilliant job of this trade, month in, month out ; too brilliant, some of us thought, for the small profit we made out of it, who took most of the risks. And we didn't ask you how you did it, did we ? Listen here, Joss Merlyn : do you take your orders from one above you ? "
The landlord was on him like a flash. He caught the pedlar on the point of the chin with his clenched fist, and the man went over backwards on to his head, the chair beneath him striking the stone flags with a crash. He recovered instantly, and scrambled to his knees, but the landlord towered above him, the muzzle of his gun pointed at the pedlar's throat.
"Move, and you're a dead man," he said softly.
Harry the pedlar looked up at his assailant, his little mean eyes half closed, his puffy face yellow. The fall had winded him, and he breathed shortly. At the first sign of a struggle Aunt Patience had flattened herself against the wall, terror-stricken, her eyes searching those of her niece in vain appeal. Mary watched her uncle closely ; she had no clue this time to his state of mind. He lowered his gun, and pushed at the pedlar with his foot.
"Now we can talk reason, you and I," he said. He leant once more against the table, his gun across his arm, while the pedlar sprawled, half kneeling, half crouching, on the floor.
"I'm the leader in this game, and always have been," said the landlord slowly. "I've worked it from the beginning three years ago, when we ran cargoes from little twelve-ton luggers to Padstow, and thought ourselves lucky when we were sevenpence-halfpenny in pocket. I've worked it until the trade was the biggest thing in the country, from Hartland to Hayle. I take orders ? My God, I'd like to see the man who dared to try me. Well, it's over now. We've run our course, and the day is done. The game is up, for all of us. You didn't come here tonight to warn me ; you came to see what you could get out of the smash. The inn was barred, and your little mean heart rejoiced. You scraped at the window there because you knew from experience that the hasp of the shutter is loose, and easy to force. You didn't think to find me here, did you ? You thought it would be Patience here, or Mary ; and you would scare them easy, wouldn't you, and reach for my gun, where it hangs handy on the wall, as you've often seen ? And then to hell with the landlord of Jamaica Inn. You little rat, Harry, do you think I didn't see it in your eye when I flung back the shutter and saw your face at the window ? Do you think I never heard your gasp of surprise, nor watched your sudden yellow grin ?"
The pedlar passed his tongue over his lips and swallowed. He threw a glance towards Mary, motionless by the fire, the round button of his eye watchful, like a cornered rat. He wondered if she would throw in the dice against him. But she said nothing. She waited for her uncle.
"Very well," he said ; "we'll strike a bargain, you and I, as you suggested. We'll come to handsome terms. I've changed my mind after all, my loving friend, and with your help we'll take the road to Devon. There's stuff in this place worth taking, as you reminded me, nor can I load alone. Tomorrow is Sunday, and a blessed day of rest. Not even the wrecking of fifty ships will drag the people of this country from their knees. There'll be blinds down, and sermons, and long faces, and prayers offered for poor sailor-men who come by misadventure by the Devil's hand ; but they'll not go seeking the Devil on the Sabbath.
"Twenty-four hours we have, Harry, my boy, and tomorrow night, when you've broken your back spading turf and turnips over my property in the farm-cart, and kissed me good-bye, and Patience too, and maybe Mary there as well--why, then you can go down on your knees and thank Joss Merlyn for letting you go free with your life, instead of squatting on your scut in a ditch, where you belong to be, with a bullet in your black heart."
He raised his gun again, edging the cold muzzle close to the man's throat. The pedlar whimpered, showing the whites of his eyes. The landlord laughed.
"You're a pretty marksman in your way, Harry," he said. "Isn't that the spot you touched on Ned Santo the other night ? You laid his windpipe bare, and the blood whistled out in a stream. He was a good
boy, was Ned, but hasty with his tongue. That's where you got him, wasn't it?"
Closer the muzzle pressed against the pedlar's throat. "If I made a mistake now, Harry, your windpipe would come clean, just like poor Ned's. You don't want me to make a mistake, do you ?"
The pedlar could not speak. His eyes rolled up in a squint and his hand opened wide, the four fingers spread square, as though clamped to the floor.
The landlord shifted his gun, and, bending down, he jerked the pedlar to his feet. "Come on," he said ; "do you think I'm going to play with you all night ? A jest is a jest for five minutes ; after that it becomes a burden on the flesh. Open the kitchen door, and turn to the right, and walk down the passage until I tell you to stop. You can't escape through the entrance to the bar ; every door and window in this
place is barred. Your hands have been itching to explore the wreckage we brought from the shore, haven't they, Harry ? You shall spend the night in the store-room amongst it all. Do you know, Patience, my dear, I believe this is the first time we've offered hospitality at Jamaica Inn. I don't count Mary there ; she's part of the household." He laughed, in high good humour, his mood switched round now like a weathercock, and, butting his gun into the pedlar's back, he prodded him out of the kitchen and down the dark flagged passage to the store. The door, that had been battered in rough-and-ready manner by Squire Bassat and his servant, had been reinforced with new planking and post, and was now as strong as, if not stronger than, before. Joss Merlyn had not been entirely idle during the past week.
After he had turned the key on his friend, with a parting injunction not to feed the rats, whose numbers had increased, the landlord returned to the kitchen, a rumble of laughter in his chest.
"I thought Harry would turn sour," he said. "I've seen it coming in his eyes for weeks, long before this mess landed on us. He'll fight on the winning side, but he'll bite your hand when the luck turns. He's jealous ; he's yellow-green with it, rotten through and through. He's jealous of me. They're all jealous of me. They knew I had brains, and hated me for it. What are you staring at me for, Mary ? You'd better get your supper and go to bed. You have a long journey before you tomorrow night, and I warn you here and now it won't be an easy one."
Mary looked at him across the table. The fact that she would not be going with him did not concern her for the moment ; he might think as he liked about it. Tired as she was, for the strain of all she had seen and done weighed heavily upon her, her mind was seething with plans.
Some time, somehow, before tomorrow night, she must go to Altarnun. Once there, her responsibility was over. Action would be taken by others. It would be hard for Aunt Patience, hard for herself
at first, perhaps ; she knew nothing of the jingle and complexities of the law ; but at least justice would win. It would be easy enough to clear her own name, and her aunt's. The thought of her uncle, who sat
before her now, his mouth full of stale bread and cheese, standing as he would with his hands bound behind him, powerless for the first time and for ever, was something that afforded her exquisite pleasure, and
she turned the picture over and over in her mind, improving upon it. Aunt Patience would recover in time ; and the years would drain away from her, bringing her peace at last, and quietude. Mary wondered how the capture would be effected when the moment came. Perhaps they would set out upon the journey as he had arranged, and as they turned out upon the road, he laughing in his assurance, they would be surrounded
by a band of men, strong in number and in arms, and as he struggled against them hopelessly, borne to the ground by force, she would lean down to him and smile. "I thought you had brains, uncle," she would say to him, and he would know.
She dragged her eyes away from him, and turned to the dresser for her candle. "I'll have no supper tonight," she said.
Aunt Patience made a little murmur of distress, lifting her eyes from the plain slab of bread on the plate before her, but Joss Merlyn kicked at her for silence. "Let her stay sulky if she has the mind, can't you ?"
he said. "What does it matter to you if she eats or not ? Starvation is good for women and beasts ; it brings 'em to heel. She'll be humble enough in the morning. Wait, Mary ; you shall sleep sounder still if I
turn the key on you. I want no prowlers in the passage."
His eyes strayed to the gun against the wall, and half-consciously back to the shutter, that still gaped open before the kitchen window.
"Fasten that window, Patience," he said thoughtfully, "and put the bar across the shutter. When you have finished your supper, you too can go to bed. I shall not leave the kitchen tonight."
His wife looked up at him in fear, struck by the tone of his voice, and would have spoken, but he cut her short. "Haven't you learnt by now not to question me ?" he shouted. She rose at once and went to the
window. Mary, her candle alight, waited by the door. "All right," he said. "Why are you standing there ? I told you to go." Mary went out into the dark passage, her candle throwing her shadow behind her as she walked. No sound came from the store at the end of the passage, and she thought of the pedlar lying there in the darkness, watching and waiting for the day. The thought of him was abhorrent to her ; like a rat he was, imprisoned amongst his fellows, and she suddenly pictured him with rat's claws scratching and gnawing at the framework of the door, scraping his way to freedom in the silence of the night.
She shuddered, strangely thankful that her uncle had decided to make a prisoner of her as well. The house was treacherous tonight, her very footsteps sounding hollow on the flags, and there were echoes that came unbidden from the walls. Even the kitchen, the one room in the house to possess some measure of warmth and normality, gaped back at her as she left it, yellow and sinister in the candle-light. Was her uncle
going to sit there, then, the candles extinguished, his gun across his knee, waiting for something ? ... for someone ? . . . He crossed into the hall as she mounted the stairs, and he followed her along the landing
to the bedroom over the porch.
Give me your key," he said, and she handed it to him without a word. He lingered for a moment, looking down at her, and then he bent low and laid his fingers on her mouth.
"I've a soft spot for you, Mary," he said ; "you've got spirit still, and pluck, for all the knocks I've given you. I've seen it in your eyes tonight. If I'd been a younger man I'd have courted you, Mary--aye, and won you too, and ridden away with you to glory. You know that, don't you ?"
She said nothing. She stared back at him as he stood beyond the door, and her hand that held the candlestick trembled slightly without her knowledge.
He lowered his voice to a whisper. "There's danger for me ahead," he said. "Never mind the law ; I can bluff my way to freedom if it comes to that. The whole of Cornwall can come running at my heels for
all I care. It's other game I have to watch for--footsteps, Mary, that come in the night and go again, and a hand that would strike me down."
His face looked lean and old in the half-light, and there was a flicker of meaning in his eyes that leapt like a flame to tell her, and then dulled again. "We'll put the Tamar between us and Jamaica Inn," he said ; and then he smiled, the curve of his mouth painfully familiar to her, and known, like an echo from the past. He shut the door upon her and turned the key.
She heard him tramp down the stairs and so down into the passage, and he turned the corner to the kitchen and was gone.
She went then to her bed, and sat down upon it, her hands in her lap ; and, for some reason for ever unexplained, thrust away from her later and forgotten, side by side with the little old sins of childhood and those dreams never acknowledged to the sturdy day, she put her fingers to her lips as he had done, and let them stray thence to her cheek and back again.
And she began to cry, softly and secretly, the tears tasting bitter as they fell upon her hand.