Daphne Dumorier Fullscreen Restaurant Jamaica (1936)


There was a child with broken wrists; and a woman whose long wet hair clung to her face; and the screaming, frightened faces of men who had never learnt to swim.

Sometimes it seemed to her that her own mother and father were amongst them; they looked up at her with wide eyes and pallid lips, and they stretched out their hands.

Perhaps this was what Aunt Patience suffered, alone in her room at night; the faces came to her too, and pleaded, and she pushed them away. She would not give them release.

In her own way Aunt Patience was a murderer too.

She had killed them by her silence.

Her guilt was as great as Joss Merlyn's himself, for she was a woman and he was a monster. He was bound to her flesh, and she let him remain.

Now that it was the third day, and the first horror had passed, Mary felt indifferent, rather old, and very tired. Most of the feeling had gone from her.

It seemed to her that she had always known now; that at the back of her mind she had been prepared.

The first sight of Joss Merlyn, standing beneath the porch with a lantern in his hands, had been a warning; while the sound of the coach rattling away down the highroad and out of her hearing had rung like a farewell.

In the old days at Helford, there had been whispers of these things: little snatches of gossip overheard in the village lanes, a fragment of story, a denial, a shake of the head, but men did not talk much, and the stories were discouraged.

Twenty, fifty years ago, perhaps, when her father had been young; but not now, not in the light of the new century. Once more she saw her uncle's face pressed close to hers, and she heard his whisper in her ear,

"Did you never hear of wreckers before?"

These were words that she had never heard breathed, but Aunt Patience had lived amongst them for ten years….

Mary did not consider her uncle any more.

She had lost her fear of him. There was only loathing left in her heart, loathing and disgust.

He had lost all hold on humanity. He was a beast that walked by night.

Now that she had seen him drunk, and she knew him for what he was, he could not frighten her.

Neither he nor the rest of his company.

They were things of evil, rotting the countryside, and she would never rest until they were trodden underfoot, and cleared, and blotted out.

Sentiment would not save them again.

There remained Aunt Patience — and Jem Merlyn.

He broke into her thoughts against her will, and she did not want him.

There was enough on her mind without reckoning with Jem.

He was too like his brother. His eyes, and his mouth, and his smile.

That was the danger of it.

She could see her uncle in his walk, in the turn of his head; and she knew why Aunt Patience had made a fool of herself ten years ago.

It would be easy enough to fall in love with Jem Merlyn.

Men had not counted for much in her life up to the present; there had been too much to do on the farm at Helford to worry about them.

There had been lads who had smiled at her in church and gone with her to picnics harvest-time; once a neighbour had kissed her behind a hayrick after a glass of cider.

It was all very foolish, and she had avoided the man ever since; a harmless enough fellow, too, who forgot the incident five minutes later.

Anyway, she would never marry; it was a long while since she had decided that.

She would save money in some way and do a man's work on a farm.

Once she got away from Jamaica Inn and could put it behind her, and make some sort of a home for Aunt Patience, she was not likely to have time on her hands to think of men.

And there, in spite of herself, came Jem's face again, with the growth of beard like a tramp, and his dirty shirt, and his bold offensive stare.

He lacked tenderness; he was rude; and he had more than a streak of cruelty in him; he was a thief and a liar.

He stood for everything she feared and hated and despised; but she knew she could love him. Nature cared nothing for prejudice.

Men and women were like the animals on the farm at Helford, she supposed; there was a common law of attraction for all living things, some similarity of skin or touch, and they would go to one another.

This was no choice made with the mind.

Animals did not reason, neither did the birds in the air.

Mary was no hypocrite; she was bred to the soil, and she had lived too long with birds and beasts, had watched them mate, and bear their young, and die.

There was precious little romance in nature, and she would not look for it in her own life.

She had seen the girls at home walk with the village lads; and there would be a holding of hands, and blushing and confusion, and long-drawn sighs, and a gazing at the moonlight on the water.

Mary would see them wander down the grass lane at the back of the farm — Lovers' Lane they called it, though the older men had a better word for it than that— and the lad would have his arm round the waist of his girl, and she with her head on his shoulder. They would look at the stars and the moon, or the flaming sunset if it was summer weather, and Mary, coming out of the cowshed, wiped the sweat from her face with dripping hands, and thought of the newborn calf she had left beside its mother.

She looked after the departing couple, and smiled, and shrugged her shoulders, and, going into the kitchen, she told her mother there would be a wedding in Helford before the month was past.

And then the bells would ring, and the cake be cut, and the lad in his Sunday clothes would stand on the steps of the church with shining face and shuffling feet with his bride beside him dressed in muslin, her straight hair curled for the occasion; but before the year was out the moon and the stars could shine all night for all they cared, when the lad came home at evening tired from his work in the fields, and calling sharply that his supper was burnt, not fit for a dog, while the girl snapped back at him from the bedroom overhead, her figure sagging and her curls gone, pacing backward and forward with a bundle in her arms that mewed like a cat and would not sleep.

There was no talk then of the moonlight on the water.

No, Mary had no illusions about romance.

Falling in love was a pretty name for it, that was all.

Jem Merlyn was a man, and she was a woman, and whether it was his hands or his skin or his smile she did not know, but something inside her responded to him, and the very thought of him was an irritant and a stimulant at the same time.

It nagged at her and would not let her be. She knew she would have to see him again.