"It seems a funny thing to come to this place to settle," said Mary. "He couldn't have chosen much worse, could he?"
"It's near his old home," said her aunt.
"Your uncle was born only a few miles away, over on Twelve Men's Moor.
His brother Jem lives there now in a bit of a cottage, when he's not roaming the country.
He comes here sometimes, but your uncle Joss does not care for him much."
"Does Mr. Bassat ever visit the inn?"
"Why not, if he sold it to my uncle?"
Aunt Patience fidgeted with her fingers and worked her mouth.
"There was some misunderstanding," she replied.
"Your uncle bought it through a friend.
Mr. Bassat did not know who Uncle Joss was until we were settled in, and then he was not very pleased."
"Why did he mind?"
"He had not seen your uncle since he lived at Trewartha as a young man.
Your uncle was wild as a lad; he got a name for acting rough.
It wasn't his fault, Mary, it was his misfortune.
The Merlyns all were wild.
His young brother Jem is worse than ever he was, I am sure of that.
But Mr. Bassat listened to a pack of lies about Uncle Joss, and was in a great way when he discovered that he'd sold Jamaica to him.
There, that's all there is to it."
She leant back in her chair, exhausted from her cross-examination. Her eyes begged to be excused further questioning, and her face was pale and drawn.
Mary saw she had suffered enough, but with the rather cruel audacity of youth she ventured one question more.
"Aunt Patience," she said, "I want you to look at me and answer me this, and then I won't worry you again: What has the barred room at the end of the passage to do with the wheels that stop outside Jamaica Inn by night?"
As soon as she had spoken she was sorry, and, like many a one before her who has spoken too hastily and too soon, she yearned for the words to be unsaid.
It was too late, though, now. The damage had been done. A strange expression crept upon the woman's face, and her great hollow eyes stared across the table in terror. Her mouth trembled, and her hand wandered to her throat. She looked fearful, haunted.
Mary pushed back her chair and knelt by her side.
She put her arms round Aunt Patience, and held her close, and kissed her hair.
"I'm sorry," she said. "Don't be angry with me; I'm rude and impertinent.
It's none of my business, and I've no right to question you, and I'm ashamed of myself.
Please, please forget what I said."
Her aunt buried her face in her hands. She sat motionless and paid no attention to her niece.
For some minutes they sat there in silence, while Mary stroked her shoulder and kissed her hands.
Then Aunt Patience uncovered her face and looked down at her.
The fear had gone from her eyes, and she was calm.
She took Mary's hands in hers and gazed into her eyes.
"Mary," she said, and her voice was hushed and low, scarcely above a whisper. "Mary, I can't answer your questions, for there's many I don't know the answer of myself.
But because you are my niece, my own sister's child, I must give you a word of warning." She glanced over her shoulder, as though she were afraid that Joss himself stood in the shadows behind the door.
"There's things that happen at Jamaica, Mary, that I've never dared to breathe.
Bad things. Evil things.
I can't ever tell you; I dare not even admit them to myself.
Some of it in time you'll come to know. You can't avoid it, living here.
Your Uncle Joss mixes with strange men, who follow a strange trade.
Sometimes they come by night, and from your window above the porch you will hear footsteps, and voices, and knocking at the door.
Your uncle lets them in, and takes them along that passage to the room with the locked door.
They go inside, and from my bedroom above I can hear the mutter of their voices through the long hours. Before dawn they are away, and no sign left that they have ever been.
When they come, Mary, you will say nothing to me or to your Uncle Joss. You must lie in bed, and put your fingers to your ears.
You must never question me, nor him, nor anyone, for if you came to guess but half of what I know, your hair would go grey, Mary, as mine has done, and you would tremble in your speech and weep by night, and all that lovely careless youth of yours would die, Mary, as mine has died."
Then she rose from the table and pushed aside her chair, and Mary heard her climb the staircase with heavy, faltering feet, and go along the landing to her room, and close the door.
Mary sat on the floor beside the empty chair, and she saw through the kitchen window that the sun had already disappeared behind the furthest hill, and that before many hours had passed the grey malevolence of a November dusk would have fallen upon Jamaica once again.