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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 had fallen asleep where she lay, without undressing, and her first conscious thought was that the storm had come again, bringing with it the rain which streamed against her window. She opened her eyes, and saw that the night was still, without a tremor of wind from without or the patter of rain. Her senses were alert at once, and she waited for a repetition of the sound that had woken her. It came again in an instant--a shower of earth flung against the pane of glass from the yard outside. She swung her legs to the floor and listened, weighing in her mind the possibility of danger.

If this was a warning signal, the method was a crude one, and better ignored. Someone with little idea of the geography of the inn might have mistaken her window for the landlord's. Her uncle waited below with his gun across his knee in preparation for a visitor ; perhaps the visitor had come, and was now standing in the yard. . . . Curiosity gained the better of her in the end, and she crept softly to the window, holding herself in the shadow of the jutting wall. The night was black still, and there were shadows everywhere, but low in the sky a thin line of cloud foretold the dawn.

She had not been mistaken, though ; the earth on the floor was real enough, and so was the figure standing directly beneath the porch : the figure of a man. She crouched by the window, waiting for his further movement. He bent again to the ground, fumbling in the barren flowerbed outside the parlour window, and then he raised his hand and threw the little clod of earth at her window, spattering the pane with pebbles and soft mud.

This time she saw his face, and the wonder of it made her cry out in surprise, forgetting the caution to which she had trained herself.

It was Jem Merlyn standing below her in the yard. She leant forward at once, opening her window, and would have called to him, but he lifted his hand for silence. He came close against the wall, skirting the porch which would have hidden her from him, and he cupped his hands to his mouth and whispered up to her, "Come down to the door here, and unbolt it for me."

She shook her head at him. "I cannot do that. I am locked here in my room," she told him. He stared at her, nonplussed and evidently puzzled, and he looked back at the house as though it might offer some solution of its own. He ran his hands along the slates, testing them, feeling for rusted nails used long ago for creeper, that might afford him foothold of a sort. The low tiles of the porch were within his reach, but they had no gripping surface ; he would swing his legs from the ground to no purpose.

"Fetch me the blanket from your bed," he called softly.

She guessed at once his meaning, and tied one end of her blanket to the foot of her bed, throwing the other out of the window, where it dragged limply above his head. This time he had holding power, and twinging himself to the low roof of the jutting porch, he was able to wedge his body between it and the walls of the house, his feet gripping the slates, and in this manner haul himself up the porch on a level with her window.

He swung his legs over, and straddled the porch, his face close to hers now, the blanket hanging loosely beside him. Mary struggled with the framework of the window, but her efforts were useless. The window opened only a foot or so ; he could not enter the room without smashing the glass.

"I shall have to talk to you here," he said. "Come closer, where I can see you." She knelt on the floor of her room, her face at the window gap, and they stared at one another for a moment without speaking. He looked worn, and his eyes were hollow like one who has not slept and has endured fatigue. There were lines about his mouth she had not noticed before, nor did he smile.

"I owe you an apology," he said at length. "I deserted you without excuse at Launceston on Christmas Eve. You can forgive me or not, as you feel ; but the reason for it--that I can't give you. I'm sorry."

This attitude of harshness did not suit him ; he appeared to have changed much, and the change was unwelcome to her.

"I was anxious for your safety," she said. "I traced you to the White Hart, and there I was told you had entered a carriage with some gentleman; nothing beyond that, no message, no word of explanation. Those men were there, standing before the fire, the horse-dealer who spoke with you in the market square. They were horrible men, curious, and I mistrusted them. I wondered if the theft of the pony had been discovered. I was wretched and worried. I blame you for nothing. Your business is your own."

She was hurt by his manner. She had expected anything but this. When she saw him first, in the yard outside her window, she thought of him only as the man she loved, who had come now to her in the night, seeking her presence. His coolness damped her flame, and she withdrew inside herself at once, trusting that he had not seen the blank disappointment in her face.

He did not even ask how she returned that night, and his indifference stunned her. "Why are you locked in your room ? " he questioned.

She shrugged her shoulders, and her voice was flat and dull when she replied.

"My uncle does not care for eavesdroppers. He fears I should wander in the passage and stumble upon his secrets. You appear to have the same dislike of intrusion. To ask you why you are here tonight would be an offence, I suppose ?"

"Oh, be as bitter as you like ; I deserve it," he flashed suddenly. "I know what you think of me. One day I may be able to explain, if you're not out of my reach by then. Be a man for the moment, and send your hurt pride and your curiosity to hell. I'm treading delicate ground, Mary, and one false step will finish me. Where is my brother ?"

"He told us he would spend the night in the kitchen. He is afraid of something, or someone ; the windows and doors are barred, and he has his gun."

Jem laughed harshly. "I don't doubt he's afraid. He'll be more frightened still before many hours are passed, I can tell you that. I came here to see him, but if he sits there with a gun across his knee I can postpone my visit until tomorrow, when the shadows are gone."

"Tomorrow may be too late."

"What do you mean ?"

"He intends to leave Jamaica Inn at nightfall."

"Are you telling me the truth ?"

"Why should I lie to you now ?"

Jem was silent. The news had evidently come as a surprise to him, and he was turning it over in his mind. Mary watched him, tortured by doubt and indecision ; she was thrown back now upon her old suspicion of him. He was the visitor expected by her uncle, and therefore hated by him and feared. He was the man who held the threads of her uncle's life between his hands. The sneering face of the pedlar returned to her again, and his words, that so provoked the landlord to a flame of fury : "Listen here, Joss Merlyn, do you take your orders from one above you ?" The man whose wits made service of the landlord's strength, the man who had hidden in the empty room.

She thought again of the laughing, care-free Jem who had driven her to Launceston, who had swung hands with her in the market square, who had kissed her and held her. Now he was grave and silent, his face in shadow. The idea of dual personality troubled her, and frightened her as well. He was like a stranger to her tonight, obsessed by some grim purpose she could not understand. Warning him of the landlord's intended flight had been a false move on her part ; it might confound the issue of her plans. Whatever Jem had done or intended to do, whether he were false and treacherous and a murderer of men, she loved him, in the weakness of her flesh, and owed him warning.

"You'd best have a care for yourself when you see your brother," she said. "His mood is dangerous ; whoever interferes with his plans now risks his life. I tell you this for your own safety."

"I have no fear of Joss, nor ever had."

"Perhaps not ; but what if he is afraid of you ?"

To this he said nothing, but, leaning forward suddenly, he looked into her face and touched the scratch that ran from her forehead to her chin.

"Who did this ?" he said sharply, turning from the scratch to the bruise on her cheek. She hesitated a moment, and then answered him. "I got them Christmas Eve."

The gleam in his eye told her at once that he understood, and had knowledge of the evening, and because of it was here now at Jamaica Inn.

"You were there with them, on the shore ?" he whispered.

She nodded, watching him carefully, wary of speech, and for answer he cursed aloud, and, reaching forward, smashed the pane of glass with his fist, careless of the splitting sound of glass and the blood that spouted immediately from his hand. The gap in the window was wide enough now for entrance, and he had climbed into the room and was beside her before she realised what he had done. He lifted her in his arms and carried her to the bed, and laid her down upon it ; and, fumbling in the darkness for a candle, he found it at length and lit it, and came back to the bed and knelt beside it, throwing the light upon her face. He traced the bruises with his finger down her neck, and when she winced with the pain he drew in his breath quickly, and again she heard him swear. "I might have spared you this," he said ; and then, blowing out the light, he sat down beside her on the bed and reached for her hand, which he held a moment, tight, and then gave back to her.

"God Almighty, why did you go with them ?" he said.

"They were crazy with drink. I don't think they knew what they were doing. I could no more have stood against them than a child. There were a dozen of them or more, and my uncle ... he led them. He and the pedlar. If you know about it, why do you ask me ? Don't make me remember. I don't want to remember."

"How much have they hurt you ?"

"Bruises, scratches--you can see for yourself. I tried to escape, and I grazed my side. They caught me again, of course. They bound my hands and feet down on the shore, and tied sacking over my mouth so that I could not scream. I saw the ship come through the mist, and I could do nothing--alone there in the wind and the rain. I had to watch them die."

She broke off, her voice trembling, and she turned on her side, her face in her hands. He made no move towards her ; he sat there silently on the bed beside her, and she felt him far from her, wrapped in secrecy.

She was lonelier then than before.

"Was it my brother who hurt you most ?" he said presently.

She sighed wearily. It was all too late and did not matter now.

"I've told you he was drunk," she said. "You know, better than I perhaps, what he can do then."

"Yes, I know." He paused a moment, and then once again he took her hand.

"He shall die for this," he said.

"His death will not bring back the men he killed."

"I'm not thinking of them now."

"If you're thinking of me, don't waste your sympathy. I can revenge myself in my own way. I've learnt one thing at least--to rely on myself."

"Women are frail things, Mary, for all their courage. You are best out of this business now. The issue lies with me."

She did not answer him. Her plans were her own and he did not enter into them.

"What do you intend to do ?" he asked.

"I have not made up my mind," she lied.

"If he leaves tomorrow night, you have little time to decide," he said.

"He expects me to go with him, and Aunt Patience as well."

"And you ? "

"That will depend upon tomorrow."

Whatever she felt for him, she would not hazard her plans into his keeping. He was still an unknown quantity, and above all else an enemy to justice. It came to her then that by betraying her uncle she might also betray him.

"If I ask you to do something, how would you answer me ?" she said.

He smiled then for the first time, mocking and indulgent, as he had done in Launceston, and her heart leapt to him at once, encouraged at the change.

"How can I tell ?" he said.

"I want you to go away from here."

"I'm going now."

"No, I mean away from the moors, away from Jamaica Inn. I want you to tell me you won't return here again. I can stand up against your brother ; I'm in no danger from him now. I don't want you to come here tomorrow. Please promise me you'll go away."

"What have you got in your mind ?"

"Something which has no concern with you, but might bring you to danger. I can't say any more. I would rather you trusted me."

"Trust you ? Good God, of course I trust you. It's you who won't trust me, you damned little fool." He laughed silently, and bent down to her, putting his arms round her, and he kissed her then as he had kissed her in Launceston, but deliberately now, with anger and exasperation.

"Play your own game by yourself, then, and leave me to play mine," he told her. "If you must be a boy, I can't stop you, but for the sake of your face, which I have kissed, and shall kiss again, keep away from danger. You don't want to kill yourself, do you ? I have to leave you now ; it will be daylight within the hour. And if both our plans miscarry, what then ? Would you mind if you never saw me again ? No, of course you would not care."

"I have not said so. You hardly understand."

"Women think differently to men ; they travel separate paths. That's why I have no liking for them ; they make for trouble and confusion. It was pleasure enough to take you to Launceston, Mary, but when it comes to life and death, like my business now, God knows I wish you a hundred miles away, or sitting primly, your sewing in your lap, in a trim parlour somewhere, where you belong to me."

"That's never been my life, nor ever will."

"Why not ? You'll wed a farmer one day, or small tradesman, and live respectably among your neighbours. Don't tell them you lived once at Jamaica Inn, and had love made to you by a horse-thief. They'd shut their doors against you. Good-bye, and here's prosperity to you."

He rose from the bed and went towards the window, climbing through the gap he had broken in the pane ; and, swinging his legs over the porch, with one hand on the blanket, he lowered himself to the ground.

She watched him from the window, instinctively waving him farewell, but he had turned and gone without looking back at her, slipping across the yard like a shadow. Slowly she pulled up the blanket and replaced it on the bed. Morning would soon be here ; she would not sleep again.

She sat on her bed, waiting until her door should be unlocked ; and she made her plans for the evening to come. She must not draw suspicion upon herself during the long day ; she must act passively, sullenly perhaps, as though feeling had at last been stifled in her, and she was prepared to undertake the proposed journey with the landlord and Aunt Patience.

Then, later, she would make some excuse--fatigue perhaps, a desire to rest in her room before the strain of the night journey--and then would come the most dangerous moment of her day. She would have to leave Jamaica Inn secretly and unobserved, and run like a hare to Altarnun. This time Francis Davey would understand ; time would be against them, and he must act accordingly. She would then return to the inn, with his approval, and trust that her absence had remained unnoticed. This was the gamble. If the landlord went to her room and found her gone, her life would be worth nothing. She must be prepared for that. No excuse would save her then. But if he believed her to be sleeping still, then the game would continue. They would make preparations for the journey ; they might even climb into the cart and come out upon the road ; after that her responsibility would end. Their fate would be in the hands of the vicar of Altarnun. Beyond this she could not think, nor had she any great desire to look ahead.

So Mary waited for the day ; and, when it came, the long hours stretched interminably before her ; every minute was an hour, and an hour a particle of eternity itself. The atmosphere of strain was apparent amongst them all. In silence, haggardly, they waited for the night. Little progress could be made during the light of day ; intrusion was always possible. Aunt Patience wandered from the kitchen to her room, her footsteps pattering incessantly in the passage and on the stairs, as she made helpless and ineffectual preparations. She would make bundles of what poor clothes remained to her, and then undo them again, when the memory of some forgotten garment jogged her wandering mind. She pottered in the kitchen aimlessly, opening the cupboards, looking into drawers, and she fingered her pots and pans with restless fingers, incapable of deciding which to take and which to leave behind. Mary helped her as best she could, but the unreality of her task made it the more difficult ; she knew, while her aunt did not, that all this labour was in vain.

Her heart misgave her at times, when she allowed her thoughts to dwell upon the future. How would Aunt Patience act? How would she look when they came to take her husband from her ? She was a child, and must be tended as a child. Again she pattered from the kitchen, climbing the stairs to her room, and Mary would hear her drag her box on the floor, pace up and down, up and down, as she wrapped a single candlestick in a shawl and put it side by side with a cracked teapot and a faded muslin cap, only to unwrap them again and discard them for treasures more ancient.

Joss Merlyn would watch her moodily, cursing her in irritation now and again as she dropped something on the floor, or caught her foot and stumbled. His mood had changed again overnight. His watch in the kitchen had not improved his temper, and the very fact that the hours had been undisturbed and his visitor had not come upon him made him if possible more restless than before. He roamed about the house, nervy and abstracted, muttering to himself at times, peering from the windows as though he expected to see someone come upon him unawares. His nerves reacted upon his wife and Mary. Aunt Patience watched him anxiously, and she too turned her eyes to the window, and would listen, her mouth working, her hands twisting and untwisting her apron.

No sound came from the pedlar in the barred room, nor did the landlord go to him or mention him by name ; and this silence was sinister in itself, strange and unnatural. Had the pedlar shouted obscenities, or thundered on the door, it would have been more in keeping with his character ; but he lay there in the darkness without sound or movement, and for all her loathing of him Mary shuddered at the possibility of his death.

At the midday meal they sat round the table in the kitchen, eating silently, furtively almost, and the landlord, who usually had the appetite of an ox, drummed moodily with his fingers on the table, the cold meat on his plate untouched. Once Mary lifted her eyes and saw him staring at her beneath shaggy brows. The wild fear ran through her mind that he suspected her, and had some knowledge of her plans. She had counted upon his high humour of the preceding night, and had been prepared to fall in with it, if necessary, answer banter with banter, setting up no opposition to his will. He sat sullen, though, wrapped in gloom, and this was a mood she had experienced before, and, she knew now, led to danger. At length she took courage in both hands and asked him what time he intended to leave Jamaica Inn.

"When I am prepared," he told her shortly, and would say no more.

She schooled herself to continue, though, and when she had helped to clear the meal away and, at her own suggestion, adding deceit upon deceit, had impressed upon her aunt the necessity of packing a basket of provisions against the journey, she turned to her uncle and spoke again.

"If we are to travel tonight," she said, "would it not be better if Aunt Patience and myself rested now during the aftenoon and so could start out fresh upon the journey ? There will be no sleep for any of us tonight. Aunt Patience has been upon her feet since daybreak, and I too, for that matter. We do little good, as far as I can see, waiting here for the dusk to fall." She kept her voice as casual as possible, but the tight band across her heart was a sign that she waited his answer with misgiving, and she could not look into his eyes. He debated the matter a moment, and to control her anxiety she turned away and pretended to fumble in the cupboard.

"You may rest if you will," he said at length. "There'll be work for you both, later. You are right when you say there will be no sleep for you tonight. Go then ; I shall be well rid of you for the time."

The first step had been achieved, and Mary lingered awhile with her pretended work in the cupboard, fearing that haste to leave the kitchen should be judged suspicious. Her aunt, who acted always like a dummy to suggestion, followed her meekly upstairs when the time came, and padded along the farther passage to her own room as an obedient child would do.

Mary entered her own little room above the porch and closed the door, turning the key. Her heart beat fast at the prospect of adventure, and she could hardly tell whether excitement or fear had the mastery. It was close on four miles to Altarnun by the road, and she could walk the distance in an hour. If she left Jamaica Inn at four o'clock, when the light was failing, she would be back again soon after six : and the landlord would hardly come to rouse her before seven. She had three hours, then, in which to play her part, and she had already determined upon her method of departure. She would climb out on to the porch, and fall to the ground, as Jem had done this morning. The drop was an easy one, and she would escape with little more than a scratch and a jar to her nerves. At any rate, it would be safer to do this than to risk coming upon her uncle in the passage below. The heavy entrance-door would never open noiselessly, and to go through the bar would mean passing the open kitchen.

She put on her warmest dress, and fastened her old shawl across her shoulders with trembling, hot hands. It was the enforced delay that irked her most. Once she was upon the road, the purpose of the walk would bring courage, and the very movement of her limbs would be a stimulant.

She sat by the window, looking out upon the bare yard and the high road where no one ever passed, waiting for the clock in the hall below to strike four. When it sounded at last, the strokes rang out in the silence like an alarm, pounding her nerves ; and, unlocking the door, she listened for a moment, hearing footsteps echo the strokes, and whispers in the air.

It was imagination, of course ; nothing moved. The clock ticked on into the next hour. Every second was precious to her now, and she must waste no tune to be gone. She shut the door, locking it again, and went to the window. She crawled through the gap, as Jem had done, her hands on the sill, and in a moment she was astride the porch, looking down upon the ground.

The distance seemed greater, now that she crouched above it, and she had no blanket to control her fall and let her swing, as he had done. The tiles of the porch were slippery, and gave no grip to hands or feet. She turned, clinging desparately to the security of the window-sill, that seemed desirable suddenly, and a thing well known ; then she shut her eyes and launched herself into the air. Her feet found the ground almost immediately--the jump was nothing, as she had already foreseen--but the tiles had grazed her hands and arms and brought back to her again a vivid memory of her last fall, from the carriage in the gully-way beside the shore.

She looked up at Jamaica Inn, sinister and grey in the approaching dusk, the windows barred ; she thought of the horrors the house had witnessed, the secrets now embedded in its walls, side by side with the other old memories of feasting and firelight and laughter before her uncle cast his shadow upon it ; and she turned away from it, as one turns instinctively from a house of the dead, and went out upon the road.

The evening was fine--that at least favoured her--and she strode out towards her destination with her eyes fixed upon the long white road that lay ahead. Dusk came as she walked, bringing shadows across the moors that lay on either side of her. Away to the left the high tors, shrouded at first in mist, were gathered to the darkness. It was very still. There was no wind. Later, there would be a moon. She wondered if her uncle had reckoned with this force of nature that would shine upon his plans. For herself it would not matter. Tonight she had no fear of the moors ; they did not concern her. Her business was with the road. The moors lost their significance when unnoticed and untrodden; they loomed beyond her and away from her.

She came at length to the Five Lanes, where the roads branched, and she turned to her left, down the steep hill of Altarnun. Excitement rose high within her now as she passed the twinkling cottage lights, and smelt the friendly smoke of chimneys. Here were neighbourly sounds that had long been lost to her : the barking of a dog, the rustle of trees, the clank of a pail as a man drew water from a well. There were open doors, and voices from within. Chickens clucked beyond a hedge, and a woman called shrilly to a child, who answered with a cry. A cart lumbered past her into the shadows, and the driver gave her good evening. Here was a drowsy movement, a placidity and a peace ; here were all the old village smells she knew and understood. She passed them by ; and she went to the vicarage beside the church. There were no lights here. The house was shrouded and silent. The trees closed in upon it, and once again she was vividly aware of her first impression that this was a house that lived in its own past, and slept now, with no knowledge of the present. She hammered upon the door and she heard the blows echo through the empty house. She looked in through the windows, and her eyes met nothing but the soft and negative darkness.

Then, cursing her stupidity, she turned back again towards the church. Francis Davey would be there, of course. It was Sunday. She hesitated a moment, uncertain of her movements, and then the gate opened and a woman came out into the road, carrying flowers.

She stared hard at Mary, knowing her a stranger, and would have passed her by with a good night had not Mary turned and followed her.

"Forgive me," she said ; "I see you have come from the church. Can you tell me if Mr. Davey himself is there ?"

"No, he is not," said the woman; and then, after a moment, "Were you wishing to see him ?"

"Very urgently," said Mary. "I have been to his house, and I can get no answer. Gan you help me ?"

The woman looked at her curiously, and then shook her head.

"I am sorry," she said. "The vicar is from home. He went away today to preach at another parish, many miles from here. He is not expected back in Altarnun tonight."


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