"I promise," said Mary, but her heart was heavy and distressed at the thought of a future so insecure and changed, with all that she had known and loved gone from her, and not even the comfort of familiar trodden ground to help her through the days when they came.
Daily her mother weakened; daily the life ebbed from her.
She lingered through harvest-time, and through the fruit picking, and through the first falling of the leaves.
But when the mists came in the morning, and the frosts settled on the ground, and the swollen river ran in flood to meet the boisterous sea, and the waves thundered and broke on the little beaches of Helford, the widow turned restlessly in her bed, plucking at the sheets.
She called Mary by her dead husband's name, and spoke of things that were gone and of people Mary had never known.
For three days she lived in a little world of her own, and on the fourth day she died.
One by one Mary saw the things she had loved and understood pass into other hands.
The livestock went at Helston market.
The furniture was bought by neighbours, stick by stick.
A man from Coverack took a fancy to the house and purchased it; with pipe in mouth he straddled the yard and pointed out the changes he would make, the trees he would cut down to clear his view; while Mary watched him in dumb loathing from her window as she packed her small belongings in her father's trunk.
This stranger from Coverack made her an interloper in her own home; she could see from his eye he wanted her to be gone, and she had no other thought now but to be away and out of it all, and her back turned for ever.
Once more she read the letter from her aunt, written in a cramped hand, on plain paper.
The writer said she was shocked at the blow that had befallen her niece; that she had had no idea her sister was ill, it was so many years now since she had been to Helford.
And she went on:
"There have been changes with us you would not know.
I no longer live in Bodmin. but nearly twelve miles outside, on the road to Launceston.
It's a wild and lonely spot, and if you were to come to us I should be glad of your company, wintertime.
I have asked your uncle, and he does not object, he says, if you are quiet-spoken and not a talker, and will give help when needed.
He cannot give you money, or feed you for nothing, as you will understand.
He will expect your help in the bar, in return for your board and lodging.
You see, your uncle is the landlord of Jamaica Inn."
Mary folded the letter and put it in her trunk.
It was a strange message of welcome from the smiling Aunt Patience she remembered.
A cold, empty letter, giving no word of comfort, and admitting nothing, except that her niece must not ask for money.
Aunt Patience, with her silk petticoat and delicate ways, the wife of an innkeeper!
Mary decided that this was something her mother had not known.
The letter was very different from the one penned by a happy bride ten years ago.
However, Mary had promised, and there was no returning on her word.
Her home was sold; there was no place for her here.
Whatever her welcome should be, her aunt was her own mother's sister, and that was the one thing to remember.
The old life lay behind — the dear familiar farm and the shining Helford waters.
Before her lay the future — and Jamaica Inn.
And so it was that Mary Yellan found herself northward bound from Helston in the creaking, swaying coach, through Truro town, at the head of the Fal, with its many roofs and spires, its broad cobbled streets, the blue sky overhead still speaking of the south, the people at the doors smiling, and waving as the coach rattled past.
But when Truro lay behind in the valley, the sky came overcast, and the country on either side of the highroad grew rough and untilled.
Villages were scattered now, and there were few smiling faces at the cottage doors.
Trees were sparse; hedges there were none.
Then the wind blew, and the rain came with the wind.
And so the coach rumbled into Bodmin, grey and forbidding like the hills that cradled it, and one by one the passengers gathered up their things in preparation for departure — all save Mary, who sat still in her corner.
The driver, his face a stream of rain, looked in at the window.
"Are you going on to Launceston?" he said. "It'll be a wild drive tonight across the moors.
You can stay in Bodmin, you know, and go on by coach in the morning.
There'll be none in this coach going on but you."
"My friends will be expecting me," said Mary. "I'm not afraid of the drive.
And I don't want to go as far as Launceston; will you please put me down at Jamaica Inn?"
The man looked at her curiously.
"Jamaica Inn?" he said. "What would you be doing at Jamaica Inn?
That's no place for a girl.
You must have made a mistake, surely." He stared at her hard, not believing her.
"Oh, I've heard it's lonely enough," said Mary, "but I don't belong to a town anyway.
It's quiet on Helford River, winter and summer, where I come from, and I never felt lonely there."