Against the Wind | Daily News


Against the Wind


When the sky turns dark and the sun goes to bed in the middle of the day, when the branches in the old mango tree groan as if in pain, when dried leaves blow indoors and windows creak on their hinges, when ten o’ clock in the morning feels like twelve midnight, when raindrops fall on the roof with a vengeance, it’s impossible not to let my thoughts turn to the bleak, lonely moors of Cornwall. The rough moorland, covered in mist and rain, stretching interminably into space, no trees, no roads, no cluster of cottages or hamlet, but mile upon mile of bleak land, dark and untraveled, rolling like a desert to some unseen horizon...

Then, when the rain ceases and a sleepy sun returns, to walk along the stream that lay in a valley between the hills, the water gurgling merrily over the stones, the grass that covered the marsh, sighing softly and rustling in the company of the wind, to cautiously avoid the treacherous bog islands and watch a solitary curlew gazing at his reflection in the water...Yes, now that the rainy season is upon us, it is easy to remember the afternoon walks in Cornwall...

In the company of Mary Yellen. It was on an afternoon like today, when the sun finally returned to the sky after allowing the rain gods to have their way, that Mary goes for a walk towards the East-Moor and strikes out in the direction of Kilmar. After walking for about an hour or more she reaches the stream, and seeing Jem Merlyn in the distance stands still until he reaches her, carrying two buckets in each hand. Before she knew it, he had bade her carry one bucket and invited her to cook him a meal in what used to be his mother’s kitchen. Jem is the opposite of the men she had known back in her hometown, Helford, but there is an undeniable power in him that touches Mary’s heart. On her first meeting with him, when she asks him, “What do you do for a livelihood?” he answers quite pleasantly, “I’m a horse-thief.” But this knowledge and Jem’s uncanny resemblance to his elder brother, Joss, who makes Mary’s life a living nightmare in the battered, desolate Inn he runs called Jamaica, does not prevent her from stepping inside Jem’s house and preparing a meal for him or from agreeing to go with him to Launceston to sell the pony he stole from the sheriff.

Although, Jem is closer to her own age, and “spoke better than his brother,” Mary cannot forget that Jem is just as evil, that he might be a common smuggler and a rogue exactly like his brother. He also seems to have the uncanny ability to read her mind. The second time they meet he asks. “What’s the matter with you?” he took her chin in his hands and looked into her face. “I believe you are frightened of me,” he said, “We are a desperate lot of fellows, we Merlyns, and Jem is the worst of the pack. Isn’t that what you are thinking?”

She smiled back at him in spite of herself. “Something of the sort,” she confessed. “But I am not afraid of you. You needn’t think that. I’d even like you if you didn’t remind me so much of your brother.”

“I can’t help my face. And I am much better looking than Joss, you must allow me that,” he said...”

Daphne Du Maurier

A few hours later, Mary is back in the only home she has left, now that her mother is dead, with the four winds raging against the wooden structure as it stood alone on top of the hill, surrounded by moorland, dark and sodden from the heavy rains. And here we must leave Mary in her bare little room with only a bed covered in thin blankets and a box turned upside down to serve as a dressing-table, to dream about Jem in spite of his bad reputation and to worry herself to death about the nefarious activities of her Uncle Joss and the harsh life of her Aunt Patience, who had once been a happy, young woman.

If you wish to know more about Mary, it would be best to take a trip to Cornwall, across the Bodmin moor to Joss Merlyn’s Inn. Daphne Du Maurier will take you there through the pages of her 1936 novel, ‘Jamaica Inn.’

When you meet Mary Yellen you will realize she is not as romantic a figure as many of her counterparts in fiction. Her attitude towards romance is almost as cynical as Mercutio’s. She is aware that love fades quickly under the cares and woes of everyday life. She is also a strong woman though barely out of her teens – the suspicion that her Uncle might be a smuggler does not give her a fit of the vapors or the need to inhale smelling-salts. And it is Mary who keeps our hearts in our mouths as we crouch in the dark kitchen or the passageway of Jamaica Inn, or out on the rain-lashed tor.

For, ultimately, Jamaica Inn is a novel about evil. Not the kind of evil that men like Joss can effect, but something much worse – a force that Du Maurier puts into words, with an eerie and shocking kind of power, in the novel’s astonishing final act. When Mary finally meets her real enemy, he accuses her of having gained her knowledge of the world from “old books … where the bad man wears a tail beneath his cloak and breathes fire through his nostrils.”

And he is right. To Mary, and to us as we turn the pages, Joss is the bad man breathing fire. But the evil that has crept up on Mary while she was looking the other way is something quite other: a primal force whose roots lie in the bleak landscape around her, and the people who lived there, who are totally different from ordinary people, “twisted like blackened broom.” Everywhere around her she sees “a whisper of unrest bred deep in the soil.”

Du Maurier gives Mary a chance to decide whether she will remain in this land of evil, or return to Helford or get into Jem’s cart and ride towards the sun, knowing deep in her heart that she is making the same choice her Aunt Patience would have made back in her youth.

The rain has ceased again, momentarily. Let’s put on some warm clothes and go for a walk on Twelve Men’s Moor and watch the cart coming towards us from Kilmar, “making tracks in the white frost like a hare.” We will see Mary watching the cart, and Jem, waving to her. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hold our breath until Mary makes up her mind whether to return to Helford or go with Jem who can only promise her, “the sky for a roof and the earth for a bed.”

See you on the moor and if you get lost try to make your way to Trewartha. You will find shelter there.

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The real story behind the story

One day in 1936, Daphne and a friend rode horses through the “dark, diabolical beauty” of nearby Bodmin Moor. Lost for hours in mist and rain, they fell at midnight into a welcome hostelry, Jamaica Inn. Built in 1750 as a coaching house for travelers from Launceston to Bodmin, Jamaica Inn soon became the dropping-off point for contraband, including tea, tobacco, silk, and brandy. (It probably took its name from the latter.) Daphne’s vivid imagination soon put the inn into one of her most successful books, filled with smugglers, cutthroats, and, of course, forbidden love. Reviewed as “perhaps the most accomplished historical romance ever written.”

Today visitors can still dine and sleep at the inn. There, a sound-and-light show takes them to the world of smugglers, some of Daphne’s artifacts are on view and one of 15 assorted ghosts might appear in their bedrooms or gallop ominously through the courtyard.

Jessica Brown Findlay as Mary Yellan, in the TV series

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