Daphne Dumorier Fullscreen Restaurant Jamaica (1936)


She thought of the lane that led to Helford village, how it twisted and turned and wound suddenly to the water's edge, while the ducks paddled in the mud before the turn of the tide, and a man called to his cows from the field above.

All those things were progressive, and part of life, and they went their way without a thought of her, but she was bound here by a promise that she must not break, and the very patter of Aunt Patience's feet as she passed to and fro in the kitchen was a reminder and a warning.

Mary watched the little stinging rain blur the glass of the parlour window, and as she sat there, alone, with her chin in her hand, the tears ran down her cheeks in company with the rain.

She let them fall, too indifferent to wipe them away, while the draught from the door she had forgotten to close ruffled a long torn strip of paper on the wall.

There had once been a rose pattern, but it was now faded and grey, and the walls themselves were stained deep brown where the damp had turned them.

Mary turned away from the window; and the cold, dead atmosphere of Jamaica Inn closed in upon her.

Chapter 6

That night the waggons came again.

Mary woke to the sound of the hall clock striking two, and almost at once she was aware of footsteps beneath the porch, and she heard a voice speak soft and low.

She crept out of bed and went over to the window.

Yes, there they were; only two carts this time, with one horse in harness, and less than half a dozen men standing in the yard.

The waggons looked ghostly in the dim light, like hearses, and the men themselves were phantom figures, having no place in the world of day by day, but moving silently about the yard like some weird pattern in a nightmare fantasy.

There was something horrible about them, something sinister in the shrouded waggons themselves, coming as they did in stealth by night.

This night the impression they left upon Mary was even more lasting and profound; for now she understood the significance of their trade.

They were desperate men who worked this road and carried convoys to Jamaica Inn, and last time they brought their waggons to the yard one of their number had been murdered.

Perhaps tonight yet another crime would be committed, and the twisted length of rope dangle once again from the beam below.

The scene in the yard held a fatal fascination and Mary could not leave the window.

This time the waggons had arrived empty and were loaded with the remainder of the cargo deposited at the inn the time before.

Mary guessed that this was their method of working. The inn served as a store for a few weeks at a time, and then, when opportunity occurred, the waggons set forth once more, and the cargo was carried to the Tamar bank and so distributed.

The organisation must be a big one to cover the ground in the time, and there would be agents scattered far and wide who kept the necessary watch on events. Perhaps there were hundreds implicated in the trade, from Penzance and St. Ives in the south to Launceston on the border of Devon.

There had been little talk of smuggling in Helford, and when there had been, it was with a wink and a smile of indulgence, as though a pipe of baccy and a bottle of brandy from a ship in Falmouth port were an occasional harmless luxury and not a burden on any person's conscience.

This was different, though. This was a grim business, a stern and bloody business, and precious little smiling or winking went with it, from all that Mary had seen.

If his conscience pricked a man, he received a rope round his neck in payment.

There must be no weak link in the chain that stretched from the coast up to the border, and there was the explanation of the rope on the beam.

The stranger had demurred, and the stranger had died.

It was with a sudden sting of disappointment that Mary wondered whether the visit of Jem Merlyn to the Jamaica Inn this morning had significance.

A strange coincidence that the waggons should follow in his train.

He had come from Launceston, he said, and Launceston stood on the Tamar bank.

Mary was angry with him and with herself.

In spite of everything, her last thought before sleeping had been the possibility of his friendship.

She would be a fool if she had hopes of it now.

The two events ran together in an unmistakable fashion, and it was easy enough to read the purpose of it.

Jem might disagree with his brother, but they were both in the same trade.

He had ridden to Jamaica to warn the landlord that he might expect the convoy in the evening.

It was simple enough to understand.

And then, having something of a heart, he had advised Mary to take herself to Bodmin.

It was no place for a maid, he said.

No one knew that better than he did himself, being one of the company.

It was a wretched, damnable business in every way, without a ray of hope in any direction, and here she was in the midst of it all, with Aunt Patience like a child on her hands.

Now the two waggons were loaded, and the drivers climbed in the seats with their companions.

The performance had not been a lengthy one tonight.

Mary could see the great head and shoulders of her uncle on a level with the porch, and he held a lantern in his hand, the light dimmed by a shutter.

Then the carts rumbled out of the yard and turned to the left, as Mary had expected, and so in the direction of Launceston.

She came away from the window and climbed back into bed.

Presently she heard her uncle's footsteps on the stairs, and he went along the further passage to his bedroom.

There was no one hiding in the guest room tonight.

The next few days passed without incident, and the only vehicle on the road was the coach to Launceston, rumbling past Jamaica like a scared blackbeetle.

There came a fine crisp morning with frost on the ground, and for once the sun shone in a cloudless sky.

The tors stood out boldly against the hard blue heaven, and the moorland grass, usually soggy and brown, glistened stiff and white with the frost. The drinking well in the yard had a thin layer of ice.

The mud had hardened where the cows had trodden, and the marks of their feet were preserved in formed ridges that would not yield until the next fall of rain. The light wind came singing from the northeast, and it was cold.