Daphne Dumorier Fullscreen Restaurant Jamaica (1936)


She was gazing at Trewartha Marsh once more, where she had wandered that first Saturday, but this time her face was turned to the southeast, and the hills looked different in the brave sunshine.

The brook burbled merrily over the stones, and there was a fording gate across the shallow water. The marsh stretched away to the left of her.

The soft wind blew the waving strands of grass, that shivered in company, and sighed, and rustled; and planted amidst the pale inviting green were tufts of coarse brown-tipped grass with yellow stocky strands.

These were the treacherous bog islands, suggesting solidity by their breadth, but their weight was of thistledown, and a man's foot planted upon them sank immediately, and the little patches of slate-coloured water that rippled here and there would churn into froth and turn black.

Mary turned her back on the marsh and forded the gate over the stream.

She kept to the high ground, with the stream beneath her, and followed its course along the winding valley between the hills.

There were few clouds today to cast their shadows, and the moors rolled away beyond her, sand coloured under the sun.

A solitary curlew stood pensively beside the stream, watching his reflection in the water; and then his long beak darted with incredible swiftness into the reeds, stabbing at the soft mud, and, turning his head, he tucked his legs under him and rose into the air, calling his plaintive note and streaking for the south.

Something had disturbed him, and in a few minutes Mary saw what it was.

A handful of ponies had clattered down the hill beyond and splashed into the stream to drink.

They clod-hopped noisily amongst the stones, pushing into one another, their tails whisking in the wind.

They must have come through a gate on the left, a little way ahead, that stood wide open, propped by a jagged stone, and led to a rough farm track heavy with mud.

Mary leant against the gate and watched the ponies, and out of the tail of her eye she saw a man coming down the track, carrying a bucket in either hand.

She was about to move and continue her walk round the bend of the hill when he waved a bucket in the air and shouted to her.

It was Jem Merlyn.

There was no time to escape, and she stood where she was until he came to her.

He wore a grimy shirt that had never seen a washtub, and a pair of dirty brown breeches, covered with horsehair and filth from an outhouse.

He had neither hat nor coat, and there was a rough stubble of beard on his jaw.

He laughed at her, showing his teeth, looking for all the world like his brother must have done twenty years ago.

"So you've found your way to me, have you?" he said. "I didn't expect you so soon or I'd have baked bread in your honour.

I haven't washed for three days, and I've been living on potatoes.

Here, take hold of this bucket."

He thrust one of the buckets in her hand before she had time to protest, and was down to the water after the ponies.

"Come out of it!" he shouted. "Get back will you, fouling my drinking water!

Go on, you big black devil."

He hit the largest of the ponies on his hindquarters with the end of the bucket, and they stampeded up the hill out of the water, kicking their heels in the air.

"My fault for not shutting the gate," he called to Mary. "Bring down that other bucket; the water's clear enough the other side of the brook."

She took it with her to the stream, and he filled them both, grinning at her over his shoulder.

"What would you have done if you hadn't found me at home?" he said, wiping his face on his sleeve.

Mary could not help smiling.

"I didn't even know you lived here," she said, "and I certainly never walked this way with the intention of finding you.

I'd have turned left if I'd known."

"I don't believe you," he said. "You started out with the hope of sighting me, and it's no use pretending any different.

Well, you've come in good time to cook my dinner.

There's a piece of mutton in the kitchen."

He led the way up the mud track, and, rounding the corner, they came to a small grey cottage built on the side of the hill.

There were some rough outbuildings at the back, and a strip of land for potatoes.

A thin stream of smoke rose from the squat chimney.

"The fire's on, and it won't take you long to boil that scrap of mutton.

I suppose you can cook?" he said.

Mary looked him up and down.

"Do you always make use of folk this way?" she said.

"I don't often have the chance," he told her. "But you may as well stop while you're here.

I've done all my own cooking since my mother died, and there's not been a woman in the cottage since.

Come in, won't you?"

She followed him in, bending her head as he did under the low door.

The room was small and square, half the size of the kitchen at Jamaica, with a great open fireplace in the corner.

The floor was filthy and littered with rubbish; potato scrapings, cabbage stalks, and crumbs of bread.

There were odds and ends scattered all over the room, and ashes from the turf fire covered everything.

Mary looked about her in dismay.