Don't you know what day of the week it is?"
Mary paused to think.
She was losing count of time.
Was it Monday's coach she had taken?
That made today Saturday. Saturday night.
At once she realised what Joss Merlyn meant.
Tonight there would be company at Jamaica Inn.
They came singly, the people of the moors, crossing the yard swiftly and silently, as though they had no wish to be seen.
They lacked substance, in the dim light, and seemed no more than shadows as they skirted the wall and passed under the shelter of the porch to knock upon the door of the bar and gain admittance.
Some carried lanterns, the fitful glare of which appeared to worry the bearers, for they attempted to screen the glow by covering it with their coats.
One or two rode into the yard on ponies, whose hoofs rang sharply on the stones, and the clatter sounded strangely in the still night, followed as it was by the creaking of the stable door yawning on its hinges and the low mutter of voices as the men led their ponies to the stalls.
Others were yet more furtive, bearing neither flare nor lantern, but flitting across the yard with hats pulled low and coats muffled to the chin, betraying by the very secrecy of their movements their desire to remain unseen.
The reason for stealth was not apparent, for any passing traveller upon the road could see that tonight Jamaica Inn gave hospitality.
The light streamed from the windows, usually so shuttered and barred, and, as the evening darkened and the hours went by, the sound of voices rose upon the air.
There was singing at times, and shouting, and the rumble of laughter, showing that those visitors to the inn who came so furtively, as if in shame, had lost their fear when under cover of the house, and once packed close to their companions in the bar, with pipes alight and glasses filled, had thrown all caution aside.
They were a strange assortment gathered there, grouped around Joss Merlyn in the bar.
Securely separated by the counter itself, and half screened by a barrier of bottles and glasses, Mary could look down upon the company and remain unobserved.
They straddled the stools and sprawled upon the benches; they leant against the wall; they slouched beside the tables; and one or two, whose heads or stomachs were weaker than the rest, already lay full length upon the floor.
They were dirty for the most part, ragged, ill kept, with matted hair and broken nails; tramps, vagrants, poachers, thieves, cattle stealers, and gipsies.
There was a farmer who had lost his farm through bad management and dishonesty; a shepherd who had fired his master's rick; a horse dealer who had been hounded out of Devon.
One fellow was a cobbler in Launceston, and under cover of his trade passed stolen goods; he who lay in a drunken stupor on the floor was once mate of a Padstow schooner and had run his ship ashore.
The little man who sat in the far corner, biting his nails, was a Port Isaac fisherman, and rumour had it that he kept a store of gold rolled up in a stocking and hidden in the chimney of his cottage — but where the gold came from no one would say.
There were men who lived near by, under the very shadow of the tors, who had known no other country but moorland, marsh and granite; one had come walking without a lantern from the Crowdy Marsh beyond Rough Tor, taking Brown Willy in his stride; another came from Cheesewring, and sat now with his face in a mug of ale, his boots on a table, side by side with the poor half-witted fellow who had stumbled up the lane from Dozmary.
This last had a birthmark that ran the whole length of his face, blazing it purple, and he kept plucking at it with his hands, and pulling out his cheek, so that Mary, who stood in line with him, for all the bottles that divided them, turned sick and nearly faint at the sight of him; and what with the stale-drink smell, and the reek of tobacco, and the foul atmosphere of crowded unwashed bodies, she felt a physical disgust rise up in her, and she knew she would give way to it if she stayed there long.
Luckily she did not have to move amongst them; her duty was to stand behind the bar, hidden as much as possible, and then do what washing and cleaning of glasses was required, refilling them from tap or bottle, while Joss Merlyn himself handed them to his customers or lifted the flap of the bar and strode out into the room, laughing at one, flinging a coarse word at another, patting someone on the shoulder, jerking his head at another.
After the first hilarious outburst, the first curious stare, the shrug of the shoulder and the chuckle, the company gathered in the inn ignored Mary.
They accepted her as niece of the landlord, a sort of serving-maid of Merlyn's wife, as she was introduced, and, though one or two of the younger men would have spoken to her and plagued her, they were wary of the eye of the landlord himself, fearing that any familiarity on their part might anger him, as he had probably brought her to Jamaica for his own amusement.
So Mary was left undisturbed, greatly to her relief, though had she known the reason for their reticence she would have walked out of the bar that night in shame and loathing.
Her aunt did not appear before the company, though Mary was aware of her shadow behind the door at times, and a footstep in the passage, and once she caught sight of her frightened eyes peering through the crack in the door.
The evening seemed interminable, and Mary longed for release.
The air was so thick with smoke and breath that it was hard to see across the room, and to her weary, half-closed eyes, the faces of the men loomed shapeless and distorted, all hair and teeth, their mouths much too large for their bodies, while those who had drunk their fill and could take no more lay on the benches or the floor like dead men, their faces in their hands.
Those who remained sufficiently sober to stand had crowded round a dirty little blackguard from Redruth, who had established himself wit of the assembly.
The mine where he had worked was now in ruins, and he had taken to the road as tinker, pedlar, bagman, and had stored up in consequence a string of loathsome songs, gleaned perhaps from the bowels of the black earth where he had once entombed himself, and with these jewels he now provided entertainment to the company at Jamaica Inn.
The laughter that greeted his sallies nearly shook the roof, topped, of course, by the bellow of the landlord himself, and to Mary there was something appalling in this ugly, screaming laughter, which in some strange way held not a note of mirth, but echoed down the dark stone passages and into the empty rooms above like a tortured thing.
The pedlar was making bait of the wretched idiot from Dozmary, who, crazy from drink, had no control of himself and could not rise from the floor, where he squatted like an animal.
They lifted him onto a table, and the pedlar made him repeat the words of his songs, complete with actions, amid the frenzy of laughter from the crowd; and the poor beast, excited by the applause that greeted him, jigged up and down on the table, whinnying delight, plucking at his spotted purple birthmark with a broken fingernail.
Mary could bear it no longer.
She touched her uncle on the shoulder, and he turned to her, his face blotched with the heat of the room and streaming with perspiration.
"I can't stand this," she said. "You'll have to attend to your friends yourself.
I'm going upstairs to my room."
He wiped the sweat from his forehead with his shirt sleeve and stared down at her.
She was surprised to see that, although he had been drinking during the evening, he was himself sober, and even if he was the ringleader of this riotous, crazy company, he knew what he was doing.
"Had enough of it, have you?" he said. "Think yourself a little bit too good for such as we?
I'll tell you this, Mary: You've had an easy time behind the bar, and you ought to go down on your knees and thank me for it.
Because you're my niece they've let you alone, my dear, but if you hadn't had that honour — by God, there wouldn't be much left of you now!"
He shouted with laughter and pinched her cheek between his finger and thumb, hurting her.
"Get out, then," he said; "it's close on midnight anyway, and I don't want you.
You'll lock your door tonight, Mary, and pull down your blind.
Your aunt's been in bed an hour with the blanket drawn over her head."
He lowered his voice; bending down to her ear and seizing her wrist, he doubled it behind her back, until she cried out in pain.