Daphne Dumorier Fullscreen Restaurant Jamaica (1936)


Joss Merlyn was away from home for nearly a week, and during that time Mary came to know something of the country.

Her presence was not required in the bar, for no one came to it when the landlord was from home, and, after giving her aunt a hand with the housework and in the kitchen, she was free to wander where she pleased.

Patience Merlyn was no walker; she had no wish to stir beyond the chicken run at the back of the inn, and she had no sense of direction.

She had a vague idea of the names of the tors, for she had heard them mentioned by her husband, but where they were, and how anyone found them, she did not know.

So Mary would strike off on her own at midday, with nothing but the sun to guide her and a certain deep-grained common sense which was her natural inheritance as a countrywoman.

The moors were even wilder than she had at first supposed.

Like an immense desert they rolled from east to west, with tracks here and there across the surface and great hills breaking the skyline.

Where was their final boundary she could not tell, except that once, away to the westward, after climbing the highest tor behind Jamaica, she caught the silver shimmer of the sea.

It was a silent, desolate country though, vast and untouched by human hand; on the high tors the slabs of stone leant against one another in strange shapes and forms, massive sentinels who had stood there since the hand of God first fashioned them.

Some were shaped like giant furniture, with monstrous chairs and twisted tables; and sometimes the smaller crumbling stones lay on the summit of the hill like a giant himself, his huge, recumbent form darkening the heather and the coarse tufted grass.

There were long stones that stood on end, balancing themselves in a queer miraculous way, as though they leant against the wind; and there were flat altar stones whose smooth and polished faces stared up towards the sky, awaiting a sacrifice that never came.

Wild sheep dwelt on the high tors, and there were ravens too, and buzzards; the hills were homing places for all solitary things.

Black cattle grazed on the moors beneath, their careful feet treading the firm ground, and with inborn knowledge they avoided the tufted, tempting grass that was not grass at all, but soggy marsh that sighed and whispered.

When the wind blew on the hills it whistled mournfully in the crevices of granite, and sometimes it shuddered like a man in pain.

Strange winds blew from nowhere; they crept along the surface of the grass, and the grass shivered; they breathed upon the little pools of rain in the hollowed stones, and the pools rippled.

Sometimes the wind shouted and cried, and the cry echoed in the crevices, and moaned, and was lost again.

There was a silence on the tors that belonged to another age; an age that is past and vanished as though it had never been, an age when man did not exist, but pagan footsteps trod upon the hills.

And there was a stillness in the air, and a stranger, older peace, that was not the peace of God.

As Mary Yellan walked the moors, climbed the tors, and rested in the low dips beside the springs and streams, she thought about Joss Merlyn and what his boyhood must have been, and how he grew athwart like the stunted broom, with the bloom blown out of him by the north wind.

One day she crossed the East Moor, in the direction he had given her that first evening; and when she had gone some way and stood alone upon a ridge of down, surrounded on all sides by bleak moorland, she saw that the land descended to a deep and treacherous marsh, through which a brook burbled and sang.

And rising beyond the marsh, away on the other side, pointing his great fingers to the sky, was a crag like a split hand coming sheer out of the moor, his surface moulded in granite as though sculptured, his slope a venomous grey.

So this was Kilmar Tor; and somewhere amongst that solid mass of stone, where the ridges hid the sun, Joss Merlyn had been born, and his brother lived today.

Below her in the marsh, Matthew Merlyn had been drowned.

In her fancy she saw him stride across the high ground, whistling a song, the murmur of the brook in his ears, and somehow evening came upon him before he was aware, and his footsteps faltered as he turned in his tracks.

In her fancy she watched him pause, and think a moment, and curse softly, and then with a shrug of his shoulders he plunged down into the mist, his confidence returning; but before he had taken five steps he felt the ground sag under his feet, and he stumbled, and fell, and suddenly he was up above his knees in weed and slime.

He reached out for a tuft of grass, and it sank beneath his weight.

He kicked with his feet, and they would not answer him.

He kicked once more, and one foot sucked itself free, but, as he plunged forward, reckless and panic stricken, he trod deeper water still, and now he floundered helplessly, beating the weed with his hands.

She heard him scream in terror, and a curlew rose from the marsh in front of him, flapping his wings and whistling his mournful cry.

When the curlew had flown from sight, disappearing behind a ridge of land, the marsh was still again; only a few grass stems shivered in the wind, and there was silence.

Mary turned her back upon Kilmar and began to run across the moor, stumbling amongst the heather and the stones, nor did she stop until the marsh had sunk beneath the level of the hill, and the crag itself was hidden.

She had come further than she intended, and the way home was long.

It seemed an eternity before the last hill was conquered and behind her, and the tall chimneys of Jamaica Inn stood out before her above the winding road.

As she crossed the yard she noticed with sinking heart that the stable door was open and the pony was inside.

Joss Merlyn had returned.

She opened the door as silently as possible, but it rubbed against the stone flags and grated in protest.

The sound rang in the quiet passage, and in a minute the landlord appeared from the back, bending his head under the beam. His shirt sleeves were rolled above his elbow, and he had a glass in his hand, and a cloth.

He was, it seemed, in high good humour, for he shouted boisterously at Mary, and waved the glass.

"Well," he roared, "don't drop your face a mile at the sight of me.

Aren't you pleased to see me?

Did you miss me much?"

Mary made an effort to smile and asked him if he had had a pleasant journey.

"Pleasant be damned," he answered. "There was money in it, and that's all I care.

I've not been staying in the palace with the King, if that's what you mean."

He shouted with laughter at his joke, and his wife appeared behind his shoulders, simpering in harmony.

As soon as his laughter died away the smile faded from Aunt Patience's face, and the strained, haunted expression returned again, the fixed, almost idiot stare that she wore habitually in the presence of her husband.

Mary saw at once that the little freedom from care which her aunt had enjoyed during the past week was now no more, and she had again become the nervy, shattered creature of before.

Mary turned to go up the stairs to her room, when Joss called her.

"Here," he said, "no skulking up there this evening.

There'll be work for you in the bar, alongside of your uncle.