Daphne Dumorier Fullscreen Restaurant Jamaica (1936)


Mary began to feel desperate.

If only there were a gun somewhere, or a knife, she might be able to wound her uncle, or at least disarm him while the wretched man made his escape from the bar.

She felt careless now for her own safety; it was only a matter of time, anyway, before she was discovered, and there was little sense in crouching here in the empty parlour.

That fainting attack had been a momentary affair, and she despised herself for her weakness.

She got up from the floor, and, placing both hands on the latch for greater silence, she opened the door a few inches.

There was not a sound in the hall but the ticking of the clock, and the beam of light in the back passage shone no more. The door of the bar must be shut.

Perhaps at this moment the stranger was fighting for his life, struggling for breath in the great hand of Joss Merlyn, shaken backwards and forwards on the stone floor of the bar.

She could hear nothing, though: whatever work there was behind that closed door happened in silence.

Mary was about to step out into the hall once more and creep past the stairs to the further passage, when a sound from above made her pause and lift her head. It was the creaking of a board.

There was silence for a minute, and then it happened again: quiet footsteps pacing gently overhead.

Aunt Patience slept in the further passage at the other end of the house, and Mary herself had heard Harry the pedlar ride away on his pony nearly ten minutes ago.

Her uncle she knew to be in the bar with the stranger, and no one had climbed the stairs since she had descended them.

There, the board creaked again, and the soft footsteps continued.

Someone was in the empty guest room on the floor above.

Mary's heart began to thump in her side again, and her breath came quickly.

Whoever was in hiding up above must have been there many hours.

He must have lain in waiting there since the early evening; stood behind the door when she had gone to bed.

Had he gone later she would have heard his footsteps on the stairs.

Perhaps he had watched the arrival of the waggons from the window, as she had done, and had seen the idiot boy run screaming down the road to Dozmary.

She had been separated from him by a thin partition of wall, and he must have heard her every movement — the falling onto her bed, and later her dressing, and her opening of her door.

Therefore he must wish to remain concealed, otherwise he would have stepped out onto the landing when she had done; had he been one of the company in the bar he would have spoken with her, surely; he would have questioned her movements.

Who had admitted him?

When could he have gone into the room?

He must have hidden there so that he should remain unseen by the smugglers.

Therefore he was not one of them; he was enemy to her uncle.

The footfalls had ceased now, and, though she held her breath and listened intently, she could hear nothing.

She had not been mistaken, though; she was convinced of that.

Someone — an ally perhaps — was hiding in the guest room next to hers and could help her save the stranger in the bar.

She had her foot on the lowest step of the stairs when the beam of light shone forth once more from the back passage, and she heard the door of the bar swing open.

Her uncle was coming out into the hall.

There was no time for Mary to climb the stairs before he turned the corner, so she was forced to step quickly back into the parlour and stand with her hand against the door.

In the blackness of the hall he would never see that the door was not latched.

Trembling with excitement and fear, she waited in the parlour, and she heard the landlord pass across the hall and climb the stairs to the landing above. His footsteps came to a halt above her head, outside the guest room, and for a second or two he waited, as though he too listened for some alien sound. Then he tapped twice, very softly, on the door.

Once more the board creaked, and someone crossed the floor of the room above and the door was opened.

Mary's heart sank within her, and her first despair returned.

This could be no enemy to her uncle, after all.

Probably Joss Merlyn had admitted him in the first place, early in the evening when she and Aunt Patience had been preparing the bar for the company, and he had lain in waiting there until all the men had departed.

It was some personal friend of the landlord's, who had no wish to meddle in his evening's business and would not show himself even to the landlord's wife.

Her uncle had known him to be there all the time, and that was why he had sent the pedlar away.

He did not wish the pedlar to see his friend.

She thanked God then that she had not climbed the stairs and knocked on the door.

Supposing they went into her room to see if she was there and asleep?

There would be little hope for her once her absence was discovered.

She glanced behind her at the window. It was closed and barred. There was no road of escape.

Now they were coming down the stairs; they stopped for an instant outside the parlour door.

For one moment Mary thought they were coming inside.

They were so close to her that she could have touched her uncle on the shoulder through the crack of the door.

At it was, he spoke, and his voice whispered right against her ear.

"It's for you to say," he breathed; "it's your judgement now, not mine.

I'll do it, or we'll do it between us.