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Jamaica Inn (1916) by Daphne du Maurier
It was a hard, bright day in early January. The ruts and holes in the high road, which were generally inches thick in mud or water, were covered with a thin layer of ice, and the wheel-tracks were hoary with frost.
This same frost had laid a white hand upon the moors themselves, and they stretched to the horizon pale and indefinite in colour, a poor contrast to the clear blue sky above. The texture of the ground was crisp, and the short grass crunched beneath the foot like shingle. In a country of lane and hedgerow the sun would have shone warmly, with a makebelief of spring, but here the air was sharp and cutting to the cheek, and everywhere upon the land was the rough, glazed touch of winter. Mary walked alone on Twelve Men's Moor, with the keen wind slapping her face, and she wondered why it was that Kilmar, to the left of her, had lost his menace, and was now no more than a black scarred hill under the sky. It might be that anxiety had blinded her to beauty, and she had made confusion in her mind with man and nature ; the austerity of the moors had been strangely interwoven with the fear and hatred of her uncle and Jamaica Inn. The moors were bleak still, and the hills were friendless, but their old malevolence had vanished and she could walk upon them with indifference.
She was at liberty now to go where she would, and her thoughts turned to Helford and the green valleys of the south. She had a queer, sick longing for home in her heart and the sight of warm familiar faces.
The broad river ran from the sea, and the water lapped the beaches. She remembered with pain every scent and sound that had belonged to her so long, and how the creeks branched away from the parent river like wayward children, to lose themselves in the trees and the narrow whispering streams.
The woods gave sanctuary to the weary, and there was music in the cool rustle of the leaves in summer, and shelter beneath the naked branches even in winter. She was hungry for birds ; and for their flight amongst the trees. She yearned for the homely murmurs of a farm : the cluck of hens, the clarion screech of a cock, and the flustered rasp of geese. She wanted to smell again the rich, warm dung in the sheds, and feel the warm breath of cows upon her hands, heavy footsteps treading the yard, and the clank of pails beside the well. She wanted to lean against a gate and look upon a village lane, give good night to a passing friend, and see the blue smoke curl from the chimneys. There would be voices she would know, rough and gentle in her ear, and a laugh somewhere from a kitchen window. She would concern herself with the business of her farm ; rise early and draw water from the well, move amongst her little flock with confidence and case, bend her back to labour and count the strain a joy and an antidote to pain. All seasons could be welcome for the harvest they should bring, and there would be peace and contentment in her mind. She belonged to the soil, and would return to it again, rooted to the earth as her forefathers had been. Helford had given her birth, and when she died she would be part of it once more.
Loneliness was a thing of poor account, and came not into her consideration. A worker paid no heed to solitude, but slept when his day was done. She had determined upon her course, and the way seemed fair and good to follow. She would not linger any more as she had done during the week, faint and indecisive, but make known her project to the Bassats when she returned for the midday meal. They were kind and full of suggestions--overful, perhaps, with their entreaties that she should stay amongst them, for the winter at least--and, rather than she should feel a burden upon them, had put to her, with kindly tact, that they would employ her even in some position in the household--have a care, perhaps, for the children, be companion to Mrs. Bassat herself.
To these conversations she had lent a meek and an unwilling ear, committing nothing, studiously polite, and continually thanking them for what they had already done.
The squire, bluff and good-humoured, twitted her at dinner for her silence. "Come, Mary, smiles and thanks are well enough in their way, but you must make up your mind. You are too young to live alone, you know, and I'll tell you to your face you're too pretty. There's a home for you here at North Hill, you know that, and my wife joins with me in begging you to stay. Plenty to do, you know, plenty to do. There are flowers to be cut for the house, and letters to write, and the children to scold. Why, you'd have your hands full, I promise you." And in the library Mrs. Bassat would say much the same, laying a friendly hand on Mary's knee. "We love to have you in the house ; why do you not continue here indefinitely ? The children adore you, and Henry told me yesterday you should have his pony if you but said the word ! And that is a high tribute from him, I can assure you. We would give you a pleasant, care-free time, with no worries or cares, and you would be a companion to me when Mr. Bassat is away. Do you still fret after your home at Helford ? "
Then Mary smiled and thanked her once again, but she could not put into words how much the memory of Helford meant to her. They guessed that the strain of the past months still had its hand upon her, and in their kindness strove to make amends ; but the Bassats kept open house at North Hill, and the neighbours called for many miles around, with, naturally enough, one topic of conversation on their lips. Fifty and a hundred times must Squire Bassat tell his tale, and the names of Altarnun and Jamaica became loathsome to Mary's ear, who would be rid of them for ever.
Here was another reason for departure : she had become too much an object of curiosity and discussion, and the Bassats, with a little show of pride, would point her as a heroine to their friends.
She strove in gratitude to do her best, but she was never at her ease amongst them. They were not her kind. They were another race, another class. She had respect for them, and liking, and goodwill, but she could not love them.
In the kindness of their hearts they would have her enter into conversation when company was present, and strove that she should not sit aside ; while she longed the while for the silence of her own bedroom or the homely kitchen of Richards the groom, whose apple-cheeked wife would make her welcome.
And the squire, flogging his humour, would turn to her for advice, laughing heartily at every word he said. "There'll be the living vacant at Altarnun. Will you turn parson, Mary ? I warrant you'd make a better one than the last " ; and she must smile at this for his sake, wondering that he should be so dull as not to guess the bitter memories his words aroused.
"Well, there'll be no more smuggling at Jamaica Inn," he would say, "and, if I could have my way, no drinking either. I'll sweep the place clean of all those cobwebs, and not a poacher nor a gypsy will dare show his face within the walls when I have done with it. I'll put an honest fellow there who's never smelt brandy in his life, and he shall wear an apron round his waist, and write the word 'Welcome' above
the door. And do you know who shall call upon him first ? Why, Mary, you and I." And he would burst into a shout of laughter, slapping his thigh, while Mary forced a smile in answer, rather than his joke should fail.
She thought of these things as she walked alone on Twelve Men's Moor, and she knew she must go away from North Hill very soon, for these people were not her people, and only amongst the woods and
streams of her own Helford valley would she know peace and contentment again.
There was a cart coming towards her from Kilmar, making tracts in the white frost like a hare. It was the one moving thing upon the silent plain. She watched it in suspicion, for there were no cottages on this moor except Trewartha, away in the valley by the Withy Brook, and Trewartha, she knew, stood empty. Nor had she seen its owner since he had fired at her on Roughtor. "He's an ungrateful rascal, like the rest of his breed," said the squire. "But for me he'd be in jail now, with a long sentence to serve to break his spirit. I forced his hand and he had to knuckle under. I grant he did well after that, and was the means of tracing you, Mary, and that black-coated scoundrel ; but he's never as much as thanked me for clearing his name in the business, and has taken himself to the world's end now, for all I know. There's never been a Merlyn yet that came to any good, and he'll go the way of the rest of them." So Trewartha stood empty, and the horses were gone wild with their fellows and roamed free upon the moors, and their master had ridden away with a song on his lips, as she had known he would.
The cart came nearer to the slope of the hill, and Mary shielded her eyes from the sun to watch its progress. The horse bent to the strain, and she saw that it laboured beneath a strange load of pots and pans, and mattresses, and sticks. Someone was making for the country with his home upon his back. Even then she did not tumble to the truth, and it was not until the cart was below her and the driver, walking by the side, looked up to her and waved that she recognised him. She went down towards the cart with a fine show of indifference, and turned at once to the horse to pat him and speak to him, while Jem kicked a
stone under the wheel and wedged it there for safety.
"Are you better ?" he called, from behind the cart. "I heard you were sick and had taken to your bed."
"You must have heard wrong," said Mary. "I've been about the house there at North Hill, and walking in the grounds ; there's never been much the matter with me except a hatred for my neighbourhood."
"There was a rumour you were to settle there, and be companion to Mrs. Bassat. That's more like the truth, I suppose. Well, you'll lead a soft enough life with them, I daresay. No doubt they're kindly people when you know them."
"They've been kinder to me than anyone else in Cornwall since my mother died ; that's the only thing that matters to me. But I'm not staying in North Hill, for all that."
"Oh, you're not ?"
"No ; I'm going back home to Helford."
"What will you do there ?"
"I shall try and start the farm again, or at least work my way to it, for I haven't the money yet. But I've friends there, and friends in Helston too, that will help me at the beginning."
"Where will you live ?"
"There's not a cottage in the village I couldn't call home if I wanted to. We're neighbourly in the south, you know."
"I've never had neighbours, so I cannot contradict you, but I've had the feeling always it would be like living in a box, to live in a village. You poke your nose over your gate into another man's garden, and if
his potatoes are larger than your own there's a talking upon it, and argument ; and you know that if you cook a rabbit for your supper he'll have the sniff of it in his kitchen. God damn it, Mary, that's no life for anyone."
She laughed at him, for his nose was wrinkled in disgust, and then she ran her eye over his laden cart and the confusion he had there.
"What are you doing with that ?" she asked him.
"I've got a hatred for my neighbourhood the same as you," he said. "I want to get away from the smell of peat and bog, and the sight of Kilmar yonder, with his ugly face frowning upon me from dusk till
dawn. Here's my home, Mary, all I've ever had of it, here in the cart, and I'll take it with me and set it up wherever my fancy takes me. I've been a rover since a boy ; never any ties, nor roots, nor fancies for a length of time ; and I daresay I'll die a rover too. It's the only life in the world for me."
"There's no peace, Jem, in wandering, and no quiet. Heaven knows that existence itself is a long enough journey, without adding to the burden. There'll come a time when you'll want your own plot of ground, and your four walls, and your roof, and somewhere to lay your poor tired bones."
"The whole country belongs to me, Mary, if it comes to that, with the sky for a roof and the earth for a bed. You don't understand. You're a woman, and your home is your kingdom, and all the little familiar things of day to day. I've never lived like that, and never shall. I'll sleep on the hills one night, and in a city the next. I like to seek my fortune here and there and everywhere, with strangers for company and passers-by for friends. Today I meet a man upon the road, and journey with him for an hour or for a year ; and tomorrow he is gone again. We speak a different language, you and I."
Mary went on with her patting of the horse, the good flesh warm and damp beneath her hand, and Jem watched her, the ghost of a smile on his lips.
"Which way will you go ?" she said.
"Somewhere east of Tamar, it doesn't matter to me," he said. "I'll never come west again, not until I'm old and grey, and have forgotten a lot of things. I thought of striking north after Gunnislake, and making for the midlands. They're rich up there, and ahead of everyone ; there'll be fortune there for a man who goes to find it. Perhaps I'll have money in my pockets one day, and buy horses for pleasure instead of stealing them."
"It's an ugly black country in the midlands, " said Mary.
"I don't bother about the colour of the soil," he answered. "Moorland peat is black, isn't it ? And so's the rain when it falls into your pigsties down at Helford. What's the difference ? "
"You just talk for argument, Jem ; there's no sense in what you say."
"How can I be sensible when you lean against my horse, with your wild daft hair entangled in his mane, and I know that in five or ten minutes' time I shall be over the hill yonder without you, my face turned towards the Tamar and you walking back to North Hill to drink tea with Squire Bassat ? "
"Delay your journey, then, and come to North Hill too."
"Don't be a damned fool, Mary. Can you see me drinking tea with the squire, and dancing his children on my knee ? I don't belong to his class, neither do you."
"I know that. And I am going back to Helford because of it. I'm homesick, Jem ; I want to smell the river again and walk in my own country."
"Go on, then ; turn your back on me and start walking now. You'll come to a road after ten miles or so that will take you to Bodmin, and from Bodmin to Truro, and from Truro to Helston. Once in Helston you will find your friends, and make a home with them until your farm is ready for you."
"You are very harsh today, and cruel."
"I'm harsh to my horses when they're obstinate and out of hand ; but it doesn't mean I love them any the less."
"You've never loved anything in your life," said Mary.
"I haven't had much use for the word, that's why," he told her.
He went round to the back of the cart, and kicked the stone away from the wheel.
"What are you doing ? " said Mary.
"It's past noon already, and I ought to be on the road. I've havered here long enough," he said. "If you were a man I'd ask you to come with me, and you'd fling your legs over the seat and stick your hands in your pockets and rub shoulders with me for as long as it pleased you."
"I'd do that now if you'd take me south," she said.
"Yes, but I'm bound north, and you're not a man, you're only a woman, as you'd know to your cost if you came with me. Move off from the trace there, Mary, and don't twist the rein. I'm going now. Good-bye."
He took her face in his hands and kissed it, and she saw that he was laughing. "When you're an old maid in mittens down at Helford, you'll remember that," he said, "and it will have to last you to the end of your days. 'He stole horses,' you'll say to yourself, 'and he didn't care for women ; and but for my pride I'd have been with him now.' "
He climbed into the cart and looked down upon her, flicking his whip and yawning. "I'll do fifty miles before tonight," he said, "and sleep like a puppy at the end of it, in a tent by the side of the road. I'll
kindle a fire, and cook bacon for my supper. Will you think of me or not ?"
She did not listen, though ; she stood with her face towards the south, hesitating and twisting her hands. Beyond those hills the bleak moors turned to pasture, and the pasture to valleys and to streams. The peace and quiet of Helford waited for her beside the running water.
"It's not pride," she told him ; "you know that it's not pride ; there's a sickness in my heart for home and all the things I've lost."
He said nothing, but drew the reins into his hands and whistled to the horse. "Wait," said Mary, "wait, and hold him still, and give me your hand."
He laid the whip aside, and reached down to her, and swung her beside him on the driver's seat.
"What now ?" he said. "And where do you want me to take you ? You have your back to Helford, do you know that ? "
"Yes, I know," she said.
"If you come with me it will be a hard life, and a wild one at times, Mary, with no biding anywhere, and little rest and comfort. Men are ill companions when the mood takes them, and I, God knows, the
worst of them. You'll get a poor exchange for your farm, and small prospect of the peace you crave."
"I'll take the risk, Jem, and chance your moods."
"Do you love me, Mary ?"
"I believe so, Jem."
"Better than Helford ?"
"I can't ever answer that."
"Why are you sitting here beside me, then?"
"Because I want to ; because I must ; because now and for evermore this is where I long to be," said Mary.
He laughed then, and took her hand, and gave her the reins ; and she did not look back over her shoulder again, but set her face towards the Tamar.