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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


Mary sat alone in the living-room at the vicarage and watched the smouldering turf fire. She had slept long, and was now rested and refreshed ; but the peace for which she craved had not yet come to her.

They had been kind to her and patient ; too kind perhaps, coming so sudden and unexpected after the long strain ; and Mr. Bassat himself, with clumsy, well-meaning hands, patted her on the shoulder as he would a hurt child, and said to her in his gruff kind way, "Now you must sleep, and forget all you have gone through, and remember it's behind you now, and over. I can promise you that we shall find the man who killed your aunt soon, very soon, and he shall hang at the next Assizes. And when you are a little recovered from the shock of these last few months, you shall say what you would like to do, and where you would like to go."

She had no will of her own ; they could make decisions for her ; and, when Francis Davey offered his home for shelter, she accepted meekly and without feeling, conscious that her listless word of thanks savoured of ingratitude. Once more she knew the humility of being born a woman, when the breaking down of strength and spirit was taken as natural and unquestioned.

Were she a man, now, she would receive rough treatment, or indifference at the best, and be requested to ride at once perhaps to Bodmin or to Launceston to bear witness, with an understanding that she should find her own lodging and betake herself to the world's end if she wished when all questions had been asked. And she would depart, when they had finished with her, and go on a ship somewhere, working her passage before the mast ; or tramp the road with one silver penny in her pocket and her heart and soul at liberty. Here she was, with tears ready to the surface and an aching head, being hurried from the scene of action with smooth words and gestures, a nuisance and a factor of delay, like every woman and every child after a tragedy.

The vicar had driven her himself in the trap--with the squire's groom following behind on his horse--and he at least had the gift of silence, for he questioned her not at all, nor murmured sympathy to be both wasted and ignored, but drove swiftly to Altarnun, and arrived there as his church clock struck one.

He roused his housekeeper from the cottage near by, the same woman that Mary had spoken with in the afternoon, and bade her come with him to the vicarage to prepare a room for his guest, which she did at once, without chattering or exclaiming in wonder, bringing the aired linen from her own home to lay on the bed. She kindled a fire in the grate and warmed a rough woollen nightdress before it, while Mary shed her clothes, and when the bed was ready for her, and the smooth sheets turned back, Mary allowed herself to be led to it as a child is led to a cradle.

She would have closed her eyes at once but for an arm suddenly around her shoulders, and a voice in her ear, "Drink this," persuasive and cool, and Francis Davey himself stood beside the bed, with a glass in his hand, and his strange eyes looking into hers, pale and expressionless.

"You will sleep now," he said, and she knew from the bitter taste that he had put some powder in the hot drink which he had brewed for her, and that he had done this in understanding of her restless, tortured mind.

The last that she remembered was his hand upon her forehead and those still white eyes that told her to forget ; and then she slept, as he had bidden her.

It was nearly four in the afternoon before she woke, and the fourteen hours of sleep had done the work that he intended, turning the edge of sorrow and blunting her to pain. The sharp grief for Aunt Patience had softened, and the bitterness too. Reason told her that she could not put the blame upon herself : she had done only what her conscience had commanded her to do. Justice had come first. Her dull wit had not foreseen the tragedy ; there lay the fault. There remained regret, and regret could not bring Aunt Patience back again.

These were her thoughts on rising ; but when she was dressed, and had gone below to the living-room, to find the fire burning and the curtains drawn, and the vicar abroad upon some business, the old nagging sense of insecurity returned to her, and it seemed to her that responsibility for the disaster lay on her shoulders alone. Jem's face was ever present with her as she had seen it last, drawn and haggard in the false grey light, and there had been a purpose in his eyes then, and in the very set of his mouth, that she had wilfully ignored. He had been the unknown factor from the beginning to the end, from that first morning when he had come to the bar in Jamaica Inn, and deliberately she had shut her eyes to the truth. She was a woman, and for no reason in heaven or earth she loved him. He had kissed her, and she was bound to him for ever. She felt herself fallen and degraded, weakened in mind and body, who had been strong before ; and her pride had gone with her independence.

One word to the vicar when he returned, and a message to the squire, and Aunt Patience would be avenged. Jem would die with a rope round his neck as his father had done ; and she would return to Helford, seeking the threads of her old life, that lay twisted even now and buried in the soil.

She got up from the chair beside the fire and began to walk the length of the room, with some idea that she wrestled now with her ultimate problem, but even as she did so she knew that her very action was a lie, a poor trick to appease her conscience, and that the word would never be given.

Jem was safe from her, and he would ride away with a song on his lips and a laugh at her expense, forgetful of her, and of his brother, and of God ; while she dragged through the years, sullen and bitter, the stain of silence marking her, coming in the end to ridicule as a soured spinster who had been kissed once in her life and could not forget it.

Cynicism and sentimentality were two extremes to be avoided, and as Mary prowled about the room, her mind as restless as her body, she felt as though Francis Davey himself was watching her, his cold eyes probing her soul. The room held something of him after all, now that he was not here, and she could imagine him standing in the corner by the easel, his brush in his hand, staring out of the window at things that were dead and gone.

There were canvases with their faces to the wall close to the easel, and Mary turned them to the light in curiosity. Here was an interior of a church--his church, she supposed--painted in the twilight of midsummer it would seem, with the nave in shadow. There was a strange green afterglow upon the arches, stretching to the roof, and this light was something sudden and unexpected that lingered in her memory after she had laid the picture aside, so that she returned to it, and considered it once more.

It might be that this green afterglow was a faithful reproduction, and peculiar to his church at Altarnun, but, for all that, it cast a haunting and uncanny light upon the picture, and Mary knew that had she a home she would not care for it to hang upon her walls.

She could not have put her feeling of discomfort into words, but it was as though some spirit, having no knowledge of the church itself, had groped its way into the interior and breathed an alien atmosphere upon the shadowed nave. As she turned the paintings, one by one, she saw that they were all tainted in the same manner and to the same degree ; what might have been a striking study of the moor beneath Brown Willy on a spring day, with the high clouds banked up behind the tor, had been marred by the dark colour and the very contour of the clouds that dwarfed the picture and overwhelmed the scene, with this same green light predominating all.

She wondered, for the first time, whether by being born albino, and a freak of nature, his colour-sense was therefore in any way impaired, and his sight itself neither normal nor true. This might be the explanation but, even so, her feeling of discomfort remained after she had replaced the canvases with their faces to the wall. She continued her inspection of the room, which told her little, it being sparsely furnished anyway, and free of ornaments and books. Even his desk was bare of correspondence, and looked seldom used. She drummed with her fingers on the polished surface, wondering if he sat here to write his sermons, and suddenly and unpardonably she opened the narrow drawer beneath the desk. It was empty ; and at once she was ashamed. She was about to shut it when she noticed that the paper with which the drawer was laid had one corner turned, and there was some sketch drawn upon the other side. She took hold of the paper and glanced at the drawing. Once again it represented the interior of a church, but this time the congregation was assembled in the pews, and the vicar himself in the pulpit. At first Mary saw nothing unusual in the sketch ; it was a subject natural enough for a vicar to choose who had skill with his pen ; but when she looked closer she realised what he had done.

This was not a drawing at all, but a caricature, grotesque as it was horrible. The people of the congregation were bonneted and shawled, and in their best clothes as for Sunday, but he had drawn sheep's heads upon their shoulders instead of human faces. The animal jaws gaped foolishly at the preacher, with silly vacant solemnity, and their hoofs were folded in prayer. The features of each sheep had been touched upon with care, as though representing a living soul, but the expression on every one of them was the same--that of an idiot who neither knew nor cared. The preacher, with his black gown and halo of hair, was Francis Davey ; but he had given himself a wolf's face, and the wolf was laughing at the flock beneath him.

The thing was a mockery, blasphemous and terrible. Mary covered it quickly and replaced the paper in the drawer, with the white sheet uppermost ; then she shut the drawer and went away from the desk and sat once more in the chair beside the fire. She had stumbled upon a secret, and she would rather that the secret stayed concealed. This was something that concerned her not at all, but rested between the draughtsman and his God.

When she heard his footstep on the path outside, she rose hurriedly, and moved the light away from her chair so that she would be in shadow when he came into the room, and he could not read her face.

Her chair had its back to the door, and she sat there, waiting for him ; but he was so long in coming that she turned at last to listen for his step, and then she saw him, standing behind her chair, having entered the room noiselessly from the hall. She started in surprise, and he came forward then into the light, making apology for his appearance.

"Forgive me," he said ; "you did not expect me so soon, and I have blundered into your dreams."

She shook her head, and stammered an excuse, and then he asked at once after her health, and how she had slept, stripping himself of his greatcoat as he spoke, and standing before the fire in his black clerical dress.

"Have you eaten today ?" he said, and, when she told him she had not, he took out his watch and noted the time--a few minutes before six--which he compared with the clock upon his desk. "You have supped with me before, Mary Yellan, and you shall sup with me again," he said ; "but this time, if you do not mind and if you are rested enough, you shall lay the table and fetch the tray from the kitchen. Hannah will have left it prepared, and we will not trouble her again. For my part, I have writing to do ; that is, if you have no objection."

She assured him that she was rested, and would like nothing better than to make herself useful, and he nodded his head then and said, "At a quarter to seven," turning his back on her ; and she gathered she was dismissed.

She made her way to the kitchen, put something out of countenance at his abrupt arrival, and she was glad that he had given her an added half-hour to herself, for she had been ill prepared for conversation when he found her. Perhaps supper would be a brief affair, and, once over, he would turn to his desk again and leave her to her thoughts. She wished she had not opened the drawer. The memory of the caricature lingered with her unpleasantly. She felt much as a child does who acquires knowledge forbidden by his parents, and then hangs his head, guilty and ashamed, fearful that his tongue will betray him. She would have been more comfortable could she have taken her meal alone here in the kitchen and been treated by him as a hand-maid rather than a guest. As it was, her position was not defined, for his courtesy and his commands were curiously mingled. She made play then of getting the supper, at home amongst the familiar kitchen smells, and awaited reluctantly the summons of the clock. The church itself chimed the three-quarters and gave her no excuse, so she carried the tray to the living-room, hoping that nothing of her inner feeling showed upon her face.

He was standing with his back to the fire, and he had pulled the table in readiness before it. Although she did not look at him, she felt his scrutiny upon her, and her movements were clumsy. She was aware, too, that he had made some alteration to the room, and out of the tail of her eye she saw that he had taken down his easel, and the canvases were no longer stacked against the wall. The desk, for the first time, was in disorder, with papers and correspondence piled upon it, and he had been burning letters too, for the yellow, blackened scraps lay amongst the ashes under the turf.

They sat down together at the table, and he helped her to the cold pie.

"Is curiosity dead in Mary Yellan that she does not ask me what I have done with my day ?" he said at length, mocking her gently, and bringing the flush of guilt to her face at once.

"It is no business of mine where you have been," she answered.

"You are wrong there," he said, "and it is your business. I have meddled in your affairs the livelong day. You asked for my help, did you not ?"

Mary was ashamed, and hardly knew what to reply. "I have not thanked you yet for coming so promptly to Jamaica Inn," she said, "nor for my bed last night and my sleep today. You think me ungrateful."

"I never said that. I wondered only at your patience. It had not struck two when I bade you sleep this morning, and it is now seven in the evening. Long hours ; and things do not stand still by themselves."

"Did you not sleep, then, after you left me ?"

"I slept until eight. And then I breakfasted and was away again. My grey horse was lame and I could not use him, so progress was slow with the cob. He jogged like a snail to Jamaica Inn, and from Jamaica Inn to North Hill."

"You have been to North Hill ?"

"Mr. Bassat entertained me to luncheon. There were eight or ten of us present, I daresay, and each one of us shouting his opinion to the deaf ear of his neighbour. It was a lengthy meal, and I was glad when we came to the end of it. However, we were all of one accord that the murderer of your uncle will not remain at liberty for long."

"Does Mr. Bassat suspect anyone ?" Mary's tone was guarded, and she kept her eyes on her plate. The food tasted like sawdust in her mouth.

"Mr. Bassat is ready to suspect himself. He has questioned every inhabitant within a radius of ten miles, and the number of strange persons who were abroad last night is legion. It will take a week or more to have the truth from every one of them ; but no matter, Mr. Bassat is not deterred."

"What have they done with--with my aunt ?"

"They were taken, both of them, to North Hill this morning, and are to be buried there. All that has been arranged, and you need not concern yourself. As for the rest--well, we shall see."

"And the pedlar ? They have not let him go ?"

"No, he is safe under lock and key, screaming curses to the air. I do not care for the pedlar. Neither, I think, do you."

Mary laid aside the fork she had lifted to her lips, and put down the meat again untasted.

"How do you mean ?" she said, on the defensive.

"I repeat, you do not care for the pedlar. I can well understand it, for a more unpleasant and disagreeable fellow I have never clapped eyes on. I gather from Richards, groom to Mr. Bassat, that you suspected the pedlar of the murder, and said as much to Mr. Bassat himself. Hence my conclusion that you do not care for him. It is a pity for all of us that that barred room proves him innocent. He would have made an excellent scapegoat, and saved a deal of trouble."

The vicar continued to make an excellent supper, but Mary was only playing with her food, and when he offered her a second helping she refused.

"What has the pedlar done to incur your displeasure to such an extent ?" he enquired, harping upon the subject with persistence.

"He attacked me once."

"I thought as much. He is true to a particular type. You resisted him, of course ?/f>"

"I believe I hurt him. He did not touch me again."

"No, I do not suppose he did. When did this happen ?"

"On Christmas Eve."

"After I left you at Five Lanes ?"


"I am beginning to understand. You did not return, then, to the inn that night ? You fell in with the landlord and his friends upon the road ?"


"And they took you with them to the shore to add to their sport ?"

"Please, Mr. Davey, do not ask me any more. I would rather not speak of that night, neither here nor in the future, not ever again. There are some things that are best buried deep."

"You shall not speak of it, Mary Yellan. I blame myself for having allowed you to continue your journey alone. Looking at you now, with your clear eye and skin, and the way you carry your head, and, above all, the set of your chin, you bear little trace of what you endured. The word of a parish priest may not go for much--but you have shown remarkable fortitude. I admire you."

She looked up at him, and then away again, and fell to crumbling a piece of bread in her hand.

"When I consider the pedlar," he continued, after a while, helping himself generously to stewed damsons, "I feel it very remiss of the murderer not to have looked into the barred room. It may have been that he was pressed for time, but a minute or two could hardly have affected the issue, and he would most certainly have made the whole affair more thorough."

"In what way, Mr. Davey ?"

"Why, by putting paid to the pedlar's account."

"You mean, he might have killed him too ?"

"Precisely. The pedlar is no ornament to the world while he lives, and dead he would at least make food for worms. That is my opinion. What is more, had the murderer known that the pedlar had attacked you, he would have had a motive strong enough to kill twice over."

Mary cut herself a slice of cake she did not want, and forced it between her lips. By making a pretence of eating she gave herself countenance. The hand shook, though, that held the knife, and she made a poor job of her slice.

"I don't see," she said, "what I have to do in the matter."

"You have too modest an opinion of yourself," he replied.

They continued to eat in silence, Mary with lowered head and eyes firm fixed upon her plate. Instinct told her that he played her as an angler plays the fish upon his line. At last she could wait no longer, but must blurt him a question. "So Mr. Bassat and the rest of you have made little head-way, after all, and the murderer is still at large ?"

"Oh, but we have not moved as slowly as that. Some progress has been made. The pedlar, for instance, in a hopeless attempt to save his own skin, has turned King's evidence to the best of his ability, but he has not helped us much. We have had from him a bald account of the work done on the coast on Christmas Eve--in which, he says, he took no part--and also some patching together of the long months that have gone before. We heard of the waggons that came to Jamaica Inn by night among other things, and we were given the names of his companions. Those he knew, that is to say. The organisation appears to have been far larger than was hitherto supposed."

Mary said nothing. She shook her head when he offered her the damsons.

"In fact," continued the vicar, "he went so far as to suggest that the landlord of Jamaica Inn was their leader in name only, and that your uncle had his orders from one above him. That, of course, puts a new complexion on the matter. The gentlemen became excited, and a little disturbed. What have you to say of the pedlar's theory ?"

"It is possible, of course."

"I believe you once made the same suggestion to me ?"

"I may have done. I forget."

"If this is so, it would seem that the unknown leader and the murderer must be one and the same person. Don't you agree ?"

"Why, yes, I suppose so."

"That should narrow the field considerably. We may disregard the general rabble of the company, and look for someone with a brain and a personality. Did you ever see such a person at Jamaica Inn ?"

"No, never."

"He must have gone to and fro in stealth, possibly in the silence of the night when you and your aunt were abed and asleep. He would not have come by the high road, because you would have heard the clatter of his horse's hoofs. But there is always the possibility that he came on foot, is there not ?"

"Yes, there is always that possibility, as you say."

"In which case the man must know the moors, or at least have local knowledge. One of the gentlemen suggested that he lived near by--within walking or riding distance, that is to say. And that is why Mr. Bassat intends to question every inhabitant in the radius of ten miles, as I explained to you at the beginning of supper. So you see the net will close around the murderer, and if he tarries long he will be caught. We are all convinced of that. Have you finished already ? You have eaten very little."

"I am not hungry."

"I am sorry for that. Hannah will think her cold pie was not appreciated. Did I tell you I saw an acquaintance of yours today ?"

"No, you did not. I have no friends but yourself."

"Thank you, Mary Yellan. That is a pretty compliment, and I shall treasure it accordingly. But you are not being strictly truthful, you know. You have an acquaintance ; you told me so yourself."

"I don't know who you mean, Mr. Davey."

"Come now. Did not the landlord's brother take you to Launceston fair ?"

Mary gripped her hands under the table, and dug her nails into her flesh.

"The landlord's brother ?" she repeated, playing for time. "I have not seen him since then. I believed him to be away."

"No, he has been in the district since Christmas. He told me so himself. As a matter of fact, it had come to his ears that I had given you shelter, and he came up to me with a message for you. 'Tell her how sorry I am.' That is what he said. I presume he referred to your aunt."

"Was that all he said ?"

"I believe he would have said more, but Mr. Bassat interrupted us."

"Mr. Bassat ? Mr. Bassat was there when he spoke to you ?"

"Why, of course. There were several of the gentlemen in the room. It was just before I came away from North Hill this evening, when the discussion was closed for the day."

"Why was Jem Merlyn present at the discussion ?"

"He had a right, I suppose, as brother of the deceased. He did not appear much moved by his loss, but perhaps they did not agree."

"Did--did Mr. Bassat and the gentlemen question him ?"

"There was a considerable amount of talk amongst them the whole day. Young Merlyn appears to possess intelligence. His answers were most astute. He must have a far better brain than his brother ever had. You told me he lived somewhat precariously, I remember. He stole horses, I believe."

Mary nodded. Her fingers traced a pattern on the tablecloth.

"He seems to have done that when there was nothing better to do," said the vicar, "but when a chance came for him to use his intelligence he took it, and small blame to him, I suppose. No doubt he was well paid."

The gentle voice wore away at her nerves, pin-pricking them with every word, and she knew now that he had defeated her, and she could no longer keep up the pretence of indifference. She lifted her face to him, her eyes heavy with the agony of restraint, and she spread out her hands in supplication.

"What will they do to him, Mr. Davey ?" she said. "What will they do to him ?"

The pale, expressionless eyes stared back at her, and for the first time she saw a shadow pass across them, and a flicker of surprise.

"Do ?" he said, obviously puzzled. "Why should they do anything ? I suppose he has made his peace with Mr. Bassat and has nothing more to fear. They will hardly throw old sins in his face after the service he has done them."

"I don't understand you. What service has he done ?"

"Your mind works slowly tonight, Mary Yellan, and I appear to talk in riddles. Did you not know that it was Jem Merlyn who informed against his brother ?"

She stared at him stupidly, her brain clogged and refusing to work. She repeated the words after him like a child who learns a lesson.

"Jem Merlyn informed against his brother ?"

The vicar pushed away his plate and began to set the things in order on the tray. "Why, certainly," he said ; "so Mr. Bassat gave me to understand. It appears that it was the squire himself who fell in with your friend at Launceston on Christmas Eve, and carried him off to North Hill as an experiment. 'You've stolen my horse,' said he, 'and you're as big a rogue as your brother. I've the power to clap you in jail tomorrow and you wouldn't set eyes on a horse for a dozen years or more. But you can go free if you bring me proof that your brother at Jamaica Inn is the man I believe him to be.'

"Your young friend asked for time ; and when the time was up he shook his head. 'No,' said he ; 'you must catch him yourself if you want him. I'm damned if I'll have truck with the law.' But the squire pushed a proclamation under his nose. 'Look there, Jem,' he said, 'and see what you think of that. There's been the bloodiest wreck on Christmas Eve since the Lady of Gloucester went ashore above Padstow last winter. Now will you change your mind ? ' As to the rest of the story, the squire said little in my hearing--people were coming and going all the time, you must remember--but I gather your friend slipped his chain and ran for it in the night, and then came back again yesterday morning, when they thought to have seen the last of him, and went straight to the squire as he came out of church and said, as cool as you please, 'Very well, Mr. Bassat, you shall have your proof.' And that is why I remarked to you just now that Jem Merlyn had a better brain than his brother."

The vicar had cleared the table and set the tray in the corner, but he continued to stretch his legs before the fire and take his ease in the narrow high-backed chair. Mary took no account of his movements. She stared before her into space, her whole mind split, as it were, by his information, the evidence she had so fearfully and so painfully built against the man she loved collapsing into nothing like a pack of cards.

"Mr. Davey," she said slowly, "I believe I am the biggest fool that ever came out of Cornwall."

"I believe you are, Mary Yellan," said the vicar.

His dry tone, so cutting after the gentle voice she knew, was a rebuke in itself, and she accepted it with humility.

"Whatever happens," she continued, " I can face the future now, bravely and without shame."

"I am glad of that," he said.

She shook her hair back from her face and smiled for the first time since he had known her. The anxiety and the dread had gone from her at last.

"What else did Jem Merlyn say and do ?" she asked.

The vicar glanced at his watch, and replaced it with a sigh.

"I wish I had the time to tell you," he said, "but it is nearly eight already. The hours go by too fast for both of us. I think we have talked enough about Jem Merlyn for the present."

"Tell me one thing--was he at North Hill when you left ?"

"He was. In fact, it was his last remark that hurried me home."

"What did he say to you ?"

"He did not address himself to me. He announced his intention of riding over tonight to visit the blacksmith at Warleggan."

"Mr. Davey, you are playing with me now."

"I most certainly am not. Warleggan is a long trek from North Hill, but I daresay he can find his way in the dark."

"What has it to do with you if he visits the blacksmith ?"

"He will show the nail he picked up in the heather, down in the field below Jamaica Inn. The nail comes from a horse's shoe ; the job was carelessly done, of course. The nail was a new one, and Jem Merlyn, being a stealer of horses, knows the work of every blacksmith on the moors. 'Look here,' he said to the squire. 'I found it this morning in the field behind the inn. Now you have had your discussions and want me no more. I'll ride to Warleggan, with your leave, and throw this in Tom Jory's face as bad workmanship.' "

"Well, and what then ?" said Mary.

"Yesterday was Sunday, was it not ? And on Sunday no blacksmith plies his trade unless he has great respect for his customer. Only one traveller passed Tom Jory's smithy yesterday, and begged a new nail for his lame horse, and the time was, I suppose, somewhere near seven o'clock in the evening. After which the traveller continued his journey by way of Jamaica Inn."

"How do you know this ?" said Mary.

"Because the traveller was the vicar of Altarnun," he said.


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