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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


It was a long while before Mary moved away from the stairs. Something of her own strength had ebbed away, leaving her powerless, like the figure on the floor. Her eyes dwelt upon little immaterial things : the fragments of glass from the smashed clock-face that were bloodstained too, and the discoloured patch of wall where the clock had stood.

A spider settled on her uncle's hand ; and it seemed strange to her that the hand stayed motionless and did not seek to rid itself of the spider. Her uncle would have shaken it free. Then it crawled from his hand and ran up his arm, working its way beyond the shoulder. When it came to the wound it hesitated, and then made a circuit, returning to it again in curiosity, and there was a lack of fear in its rapidity that was somehow horrible and desecrating to death. The spider knew that the landlord could not harm him. Mary knew this too, but she had not lost her fear, like the spider.

It was the silence that frightened her most. Now that the clock no longer ticked, her nerves strained for the sound of it ; the slow wheezing choke had been familiar and a symbol of normality.

The light of her candle played upon the walls, but it did not reach to the top of the stairs, where the darkness gaped at her like a gulf.

She knew she could never climb those stairs again, nor tread that empty landing. Whatever lay beyond her and above must rest there undisturbed. Death had come upon the house tonight, and its brooding spirit still hovered in the air. She felt now that this was what Jamaica Inn had always waited for and feared. The damp walls, the creaking boards, the whispers in the air, and the footsteps that had no name : these were the warnings of a house that had felt itself long threatened.

Mary shivered ; and she knew that the quality of this silence had origin in far-off buried and forgotten things.

She dreaded panic, above all things ; the scream that forced itself to the lips, the wild stumble of groping feet and hands that beat the air for passage. She was afraid that it might come to her, destroying reason ; and, now that the first shock of discovery had lessened, she knew that it might force its way upon her, close in and stifle her. Her fingers might lose their sense of grip and touch, and the candle fall from her hands. Then she would be alone, and covered by the darkness. The tearing desire to run seized hold of her, and she conquered it. She backed away from the hall towards the passage, the candle flickering in the draught of air, and when she came to the kitchen and saw the door still open to the patch of garden, her calm deserted her, and she ran blindly through the door to the cold free air outside, a sob in her throat, her outstretched hands grazing the stone wall as she turned the corner of the house. She ran like a thing pursued across the yard, and came to the open road, where the familiar stalwart figure of the squire's groom confronted her. He put out his hands to save her, and she groped at his belt, feeling for security, her teeth chattering now in the full shock of reaction.

"He's dead," she said ; "he's dead there on the floor, I saw him" ; and, try as she did, she could not stop this chattering of her teeth and the shivering of her body. He led her to the side of the road, back to the trap, and he reached for the cloak and put it around her, and she held it to her close, grateful for the warmth.

"He's dead," she repeated ; "stabbed in the back ; I saw the place where his coat was rent, and there was blood. He lay on his face. The clock had fallen with him. The blood was dry ; and he looked as though he had lain there for some time. The inn was dark and silent. No one else was there."

"Was your aunt gone ?" whispered the man.

Mary shook her head. "I don't know. I did not see. I had to come away."

He saw by her face that her strength had gone, and she would fall, and he helped her up into the trap and climbed on to the seat beside her.

"All right, then," he said, "all right. Sit quiet, then, here. No one shall hurt you. There now. All right, then." His gruff voice helped her, and she crouched beside him in the trap, the warm cloak muffled to her chin.

"That was no sight for a maid to see," he told her. "You should have let me go. I wish now you'd have stayed back here in the trap. That's terrible for you to see him lying dead there, murdered."

Talking eased her, and his rough sympathy was good. "The pony was still in the stable," she said. "I listened at the door and heard him move. They had never even finished their preparations for going. The kitchen door was unlocked and there were bundles on the floor there ; blankets too, ready to load into the cart. It must have happened several hours ago."

"It puzzles me what the squire is doing," said Richards. "He should have been here before this. I'd feel easier if he'd come, and you could tell your story to him. There's been bad work here tonight. You should never have come."

They fell silent, and both of them watched the road for the coming of the squire.

"Who'd have killed the landlord ? " said Richards, puzzled. "He's a match for most men and should have held his own. There was plenty who might have had a hand in it, though, for all that. If ever a man was hated, he was."

"There was the pedlar," said Mary slowly. "I'd forgotten the pedlar. It must have been him, breaking out from the barred room."

She fastened upon the idea, to escape from another ; and she re-told the story, eagerly now, of how the pedlar had come to the inn the night before. It seemed at once that the crime was proven, and there could be no other explanation.

"He'll not run far before the squire catches him," said the groom ; "you can be sure of that. No one can hide on these moors, unless he's a local man, and I have never heard of Harry the pedlar before. But, then, they came from every hole and corner in Cornwall, Joss Merlyn's men, by all accounts. They were, as you might say, the dregs of the country."

He paused, and then : "I'll go to the inn if you would care for me to, and see for myself if he has left any trace behind him. There might be something . . ."

Mary seized hold of his arm. "I'll not be alone again," she said swiftly. "Think me a coward if you will, but I could not stand it. Had you been inside Jamaica Inn you would understand. There's a brooding quiet about the place tonight that cares nothing for the poor dead body lying there."

"I can mind the time, before your uncle came there, when the house stood empty," said the servant, "and we'd take the dogs there after rats, for sport. We thought nothing of it then ; just a lonely shell of a place it seemed, without a soul of its own. But the squire kept it in good repair, mind you, while he waited for a tenant. I'm a St. Neot man myself, and never came here until I served the squire, but I've been told in the old days there was good cheer and good company at Jamaica, with friendly, happy folk living in the house, and always a bed for a passing traveller upon the road. The coaches stayed here then, what never do now, and hounds would meet here once a week in Mr. Bassat's boyhood. Maybe these things will come again.


Mary shook her head. "I've only seen the evil," she said ; "I've only seen the suffering there's been, and the cruelty, and the pain. When my uncle came to Jamaica Inn he must have cast his shadow over the good things, and they died." Their voices had sunk to a whisper, and they glanced half-consciously over their shoulders to the tall chimneys that stood out against the sky, clear-cut and grey, beneath the moon. They were both thinking of one thing, and neither had the courage to mention it first ; the groom from delicacy and tact, Mary from fear alone. Then at last she spoke, her voice husky and low.

"Something has happened to my aunt as well ; I know that ; I know she is dead. That's why I was afraid to go upstairs. She is lying there in the darkness, on the landing above. Whoever killed my uncle will have killed her too."

The groom cleared his throat. "She may have run out on to the moor," he said ; "she may have run for help along the road. . ."

"No," whispered Mary, "she would never have done that. She would be with him now, down in the hall there, crouching by his side. She is dead. I know she is dead. If I had not left her this would never have happened."

The man was silent. He could not help her. After all, she was a stranger to him, and what had passed beneath the roof of the inn while she had lived there was no concern of his. The responsibility of the evening lay heavy enough upon his shoulders and he wished that his master would come. Fighting and shouting he understood ; there was sense in that ; but if there had really been a murder, as she said, and the landlord lying dead there, and his wife too--why, they could do no good in staying here like fugitives themselves, crouching in the ditch, but were better off and away, and so down the road to sight and sound of human habitation.

"I came here by the orders of my mistress," he began awkwardly ; "but she said the squire would be here. Seeing as he is not . . ."

Mary held up a warning hand. "Listen," she said sharply. "Can you hear something ? "

They strained their ears to the north. The faint clop of horses was unmistakable, coming from beyond the valley, over the brow of the farther hill.

"It's them," said Richards excitedly ; "it's the squire ; he's coming at last. Watch now ; we'll see them go down the road into the valley."

They waited, and when a minute had passed the first horseman appeared like a black smudge against the hard white road, followed by another, and another. They strung out in a line, and closed again, travelling at a gallop ; while the cob who waited patiently beside the ditch pricked his ears, and turned an enquiring head. The clatter drew near, and Richards in his relief ran out upon the road to greet them, shouting and waving his arms.

The leader swerved, and drew rein, calling out in surprise at the sight of the groom. "What the devil do you do here ? " he shouted, for it was the squire himself, and he held up his hand to warn his followers behind.

"The landlord is dead, murdered," cried the groom. "I have his niece here with me in the trap. It was Mrs. Bassat herself who sent me out here, sir. This young woman had best tell you the story in her own words."

He held the horse while his master dismounted, answering as well as he could the rapid questions put to him by the squire, and the little band of men gathered around him too, pressing for news ; some of them dismounting also, and stamping their feet on the ground, blowing upon their hands for warmth.

"If the fellow has been murdered, as you say, then, by God, it serves him right," said Mr. Bassat ; "but I'd rather have clapped irons on him myself for all that. You can't pay scores against a dead man. Go on into the yard, the rest of you, while I see if I can get some sense out of the girl yonder."

Richards, relieved of responsibility, was surrounded at once and treated as something of a hero, who had not only discovered the murder, but had tackled the author of it single-handed ; until he reluctantly admitted that his part in the adventure had been small. The squire, whose mind worked slowly, did not realise what Mary was doing in the trap, and considered her as his groom's prisoner.

He heard with astonishment how she had walked the long miles to North Hill in the hopes of finding him, and, not content with that, must return again to Jamaica Inn. "This is altogether beyond me," he said gruffly. "I believed you to be in conspiracy with your uncle against the law. Why did you lie to me, then, when I came here earlier in the month ? You told me you knew nothing."

"I lied because of my aunt," said Mary wearily. "Whatever I said to you then was for her sake only, nor did I know as much then as I do now. I am willing to explain everything in a court of law should it be necessary ; but if I tried to tell you now you would not understand."

"Nor have I the time to listen," replied the squire. "You did a brave thing in walking all that way to Altarnun to warn me, and I shall remember it in your favour ; but all this trouble could have been avoided, and the terrible crime of Christmas Eve prevented, had you been frank with me before.

"However, all that for later. My groom tells me that you have found your uncle murdered, but beyond that you know nothing of the crime. Had you been a man you should go with me now to the inn, but I will spare you that. I can see you have endured enough." He raised his voice and shouted for the servant. "Take the trap up to the yard, and stay beside it with the young woman while we break into the inn "; and, turning to Mary : "I must ask you to wait in the yard, if your courage permits you ; you are the only one amongst us who knows anything of the matter, and you were the last to see your uncle alive." Mary nodded her head. She was nothing more now than a passive instrument of the law, and must do as she was bidden. He had at least spared her the ordeal of going once more into the empty inn and looking upon the body of her uncle. The yard, that had lain in shadow when she came, was now the scene of activity ; horses stamped on the cobble stones, and there was the shaking, ringing sound of bit and bridle, and there were the footsteps and the voices of the men, topped by the squire's gruff word of command.

He led the way round to the back, at Mary's direction, and presently the bleak and silent house lost its shuttered air. The window in the bar was flung open, and the windows of the parlour ; some of the men went upstairs and explored the empty guest-rooms above, for these windows were unbarred also, and opened to the air. Only the heavy entrance-door remained shut ; and Mary knew that the landlord's body lay stretched across the threshold.

Someone called sharply from the house, and was answered by a murmur of voices, and a question from the squire. The sounds came plainly now through the open parlour window to the yard outside. Richards glanced across at Mary, and he saw by the pallor of her face that she had heard.

A man who stood by the horses, and who had not gone with the others inside the inn, shouted to the groom. "Do you hear what they say ?" he said in some excitement. "There's another body there, on the landing upstairs."

Richards said nothing. Mary drew her cloak further around her shoulders and pulled the hood across her face. They waited in silence. Presently the squire himself came out into the yard, and crossed to the trap.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I have bad news for you. Perhaps you expected it."

"Yes," said Mary.

"I don't think she suffered at all. She must have died at once. She was lying just inside the bedroom at the end of the passage. Stabbed, like your uncle. She could have known nothing. Believe me, I am very sorry. I wish I could have spared you this." He stood by her, awkward and distressed, and repeated again that she could not have suffered, that she had not known, but was killed instantly ; and then, seeing that Mary was better left alone, and he could not help her, he stamped back across the yard to the inn.

Mary sat motionless, shrouded in her cloak ; and she prayed in her own way that Aunt Patience would forgive her, and find peace now, wherever she should be, and that the dragging chains of life would fall away from her, leaving her free. She prayed also that Aunt Patience would understand what she had tried to do ; and above all that her mother would be there, and she would not be alone. These were the only thoughts that brought her a measure of consolation, and she knew if she went over in her mind again the story of the last few hours she would come to the one and only accusation : had she not left Jamaica Inn, Aunt Patience might not have died.

Once again, though, there came a murmur of excitement from the house, and this time there was shouting, and the sound of running feet, and several voices raised in unison ; so that Richards ran to the open parlour window, forgetting his trust in the excitement of the moment, and thrust his leg over the sill. There was a crash of splintering wood, and the shutters were torn away from the window of the barred room, which no one, apparently, had entered up to now. The men were tearing away the barricade of wood, and someone held a flare to light the room ; Mary could see the flame dance in the draught of air.

Then the light vanished, and the voices died away, and she could hear the sound of footsteps tramping to the back of the house ; and then round the corner to the yard they came, six or seven of them, led by the squire, holding amongst them something that squirmed and wriggled, and fought for release with hoarse bewildered cries. "They've got him ! It's the murderer !" shouted Richards, calling to Mary ; and she turned, brushing aside the hood that covered her face, and looked down upon the group of men who came to the trap. The captive stared up at her, blinking at the light they flashed in his eyes, his clothes cobweb covered, his face unshaven and black : and it was Harry the pedlar.

"Who is he ? " they shouted. "Do you know him ? " And the squire came round in front of the trap and bade them bring the man close, so that she could see him well. "What do you know of this fellow ?" he said to Mary. "We found him in the barred room yonder lying on some sacks, and he denies all knowledge of the crime."

"He was of the company," said Mary slowly, "and he came to the inn last night and quarrelled with my uncle. My uncle had the better of him, and locked him up in the barred room, threatening him with death. He had every reason to kill my uncle, and no one could have done it but he. He is lying to you."

"But the door was locked upon him ; it took three of us or more to break it down from the outside," said the squire. "This fellow had never been from the room at all. Look at his clothes ; look at his eyes, dazzled still by the light. He's not your murderer."

The pedlar glanced furtively from one to the other of his guards, his small mean eyes darting to right and left, and Mary knew at once that what the squire had said was no more than the truth ; Harry the pedlar could not have committed the crime. He had lain in the barred room since the landlord put him there, over twenty-four hours ago. He had lain there in the dark, waiting for release, and during the long hours someone had come to Jamaica Inn and gone again, his work completed, in the silence of the night.

"Whoever did it knew nothing of this rascal, locked in the room yonder," continued the squire, "and he's no use to us as a witness, as far as I can see, for he heard and saw nothing. But we'll have him in jail for all that, and hang him too, if he deserves it, which I'll be bound he does. But he shall turn King's evidence first, and give us the names of his companions. One of them has killed the landlord for revenge, you may depend on that, and we'll track him down if we set every hound in Cornwall on his heels. Take this fellow to the stable, some of you, and hold him there ; the rest come back to the inn with me."

They dragged the pedlar away, who, realising that some crime had been discovered and suspicion might possibly rest upon him, found his tongue at last and began to blab his innocence, whining for mercy and swearing by the Trinity, until someone cuffed him to silence and threatened him with the rope, there and then, above the stable door. This silenced him, and he fell to muttering blasphemies beneath his breath, turning his rat's eyes now and again to Mary, who sat above him in the trap, a few yards away.

She waited there, her chin in her hands and the hood fallen away from her face, and she neither heard his blasphemies nor saw his furtive narrow eyes, for she remembered other eyes that had looked upon her in the morning, and another voice that had spoken calm and cold, saying of his brother, "He shall die for this."

There was the sentence, flung carelessly, on the way to Launceston fair : "I have never killed a man yet"; and there was the gypsy woman in the market square : "There's blood on your hand ; you'll kill a man one day." All the little things she would forget rose up again and clamoured against him : his hatred of his brother, his streak of callous cruelty, his lack of tenderness, his tainted Merlyn blood.

That, before all things, would betray him first. Like to like. One of a kind. He had gone to Jamaica Inn as he had promised, and his brother had died, as he had sworn. The whole truth stared up at her in ugliness and horror, and she wished now that she had stayed, and he had killed her too. He was a thief, and like a thief in the night he had come and was gone again. She knew that the evidence could be built against him piece by piece, with herself as witness ; it would be a fence around him from which there would be no escape. She had only to go now to the squire and say, "I know who it is that has done this thing," and they would listen to her, all of them ; they would crowd around her like a pack of hounds panting for the chase, and the trail would lead them to him, past Rushyford, and through Trewartha Marsh, to Twelve Men's Moor. He slept there now perhaps, forgetful of his crime and caring not at all, stretched on his bed in the lonely cottage where he and his brother had been born. When morning came he would be gone, whistling perhaps, throwing his legs across a horse, and so away and out of Cornwall for ever, a murderer like his father before him.

In her fancy she heard the clop of his horse upon the road, far distant in the quiet night, beating a tempo of farewell ; but fancy became reason and reason became certainty, and the sound she heard was not the dream thing of her imagination but the live tapping of a horse upon the highway.

She turned her head and listened, nerves strung now to the limit; and the hands that held the cloak around her were clammy and cold with sweat.

The sound of the horse drew nearer still. He was trotting at a steady, even pace, neither hurried nor slow, and the rhythmic jogging tune that he played on the road had echo in her throbbing heart.

She was not alone now as she listened. The men who guarded the pedlar murmured to one another in low tones, and looked towards the road, and the groom Richards, who was with them, hesitated a moment, and then went swiftly to the inn to call the squire. The beat of the horse's hoofs rang loud now as he climbed the hill, sounding like a challenge to the night so silent and still, and as he topped the summit and rounded the wall into view the squire came out of the inn, followed by his man.

"Stop !" he called. "In the name of the King. I must ask your business on the road tonight."

The horseman drew rein, and turned into the yard. The black riding-cape gave no clue to his identity, but when he bowed and bared his head, the thick halo of hair shone white under the moon, and the voice that spoke in answer to the squire was gentle and sweet. "Mr. Bassat of North Hill, I believe," he said, and he leant forward in his saddle, with a note in his hand. "I have a message here from Mary Yellan of Jamaica Inn, who asks my help in trouble ; but I see by the company assembled here that I have come too late. You remember me, of course ; we have met before. I am the vicar of Altarnun."


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