Mary came away from the window and sat down upon the bed.
The cold air blew in onto her shoulders, and she shivered and reached for her shawl.
The thought of sleep now was impossible.
She was too wide awake, too alive in every nerve, and although the dislike and fear of her uncle was as strong as ever within her, a growing interest and curiosity held the mastery.
She understood something of his business now.
What she had witnessed here tonight was smuggling on the grand scale.
There was no doubt that Jamaica Inn was ideally situated for his purpose, and he must have bought it for that reason alone.
All that talk of returning to the home of his boyhood was nonsense, of course.
The inn stood alone on the great highroad that ran north, and south, and Mary could see that it must be easy enough for anyone with a capacity for organisation to work a team of waggons from the coast to the Tamar bank, with the inn itself as halting place and general store.
Spies were needed about the countryside to make a success of the trade; hence the sailor from Padstow, the cobbler from Launceston, the gipsies and the tramps, the vile little pedlar.
And yet, allowing for his personality, his energy, the very fear which his enormous physical strength must engender in his companions, had Joss Merlyn the necessary brain and subtlety to lead such an enterprise?
Did he plan every move and every departure, and had he been making preparations for tonight's work during the past week, when away from home?
It must be so; Mary could see no alternative, and, although her loathing for the landlord increased, she allowed herself a grudging respect for his management.
The whole business must be controlled, and the agents picked, for all their rough manners and wild appearance, otherwise the law could never have been evaded for so long.
A magistrate who suspected smuggling would surely have suspected the inn before now, unless he were an agent himself.
Mary frowned, her chin in her hand.
If it were not for Aunt Patience she would walk out of the inn now, and find her way to the nearest town, and inform against Joss Merlyn.
He would soon be in jail, and the rest of the rogues with him, and there would be an ending of the traffic.
It was useless to reckon without Aunt Patience, however, and the fact that she still held a doglike devotion for her husband made the problem difficult and at the moment impossible.
Mary kept going over and over the question in her mind, and she was not yet satisfied that all was understood.
Jamaica Inn was a nest of thieves and poachers, who, with her uncle as leader apparently, worked a profitable smuggling trade between the coast and Devon.
So much was clear.
But had she seen only part of the game, and was there still more for her to learn?
She remembered the terror in Aunt Patience's eyes, and those words spoken in the hush of that first afternoon, when the shadows of early twilight crept across the kitchen floor:
"There's things happen at Jamaica Inn, Mary, that I've never dared to breathe.
Bad things. Evil things….
I dare not even admit them to myself." And she had climbed the staircase to her room, haunted and pale, dragging her feet like a creature old and tired.
Smuggling was dangerous; it was fraught with dishonesty; it was forbidden strictly by the law of the land; but was it evil?
Mary could not decide.
She needed advice, and there was no one she could ask.
She was alone in a grim and rather hateful world, with little prospect of changing it for the better.
Had she been a man, she would have gone downstairs and challenged Joss Merlyn to his face, and his friends with him.
Yes, and fought them too, and drawn blood, if she were lucky.
And then away on a horse from the stable, with Aunt Patience riding pillion, and so down to the south again, to the friendly Helford shore, setting up as a farmer in a small way up Mawgan way, or Gweek, with her aunt to keep house for her.
Well, there was little use in dreaming; the present situation must be faced, and courageously, too, if any good were to come of it.
Here she was on her bed, a girl of three-and-twenty, in petticoat and a shawl, with no weapons but her own brain to oppose a fellow twice her age and eight times her strength who, if he realised she had watched the scene tonight from her window, would encircle her neck with his hand and, pressing lightly with finger and thumb, put an end to her questioning.
Then Mary swore; a thing she had done only once before in her life, when chased by a bull at Manaccan, and then it had been for the same purpose as now — to give herself courage and a certain bold pretence.
"I'll not show fear before Joss Merlyn or any man," she said, "and, to prove it, I will go down now, in the dark passage, and take a look at them in the bar, and if he kills me it will be my own fault."
She dressed hurriedly and pulled on her stockings, leaving her shoes where they were, and then, opening the door, she stood and listened for a moment, hearing nothing but the slow choking tick of the clock in the hall.
She crept out into the passage and came to the stairs.
By now she knew that the third step from the top creaked, and so did the last.
She trod gently, one hand resting on the bannister and the other against the wall to lighten her weight, and so she came to the dim hall by the entrance door, empty except for one unsteady chair and the shadowed outline of the grandfather clock.
Its husky breathing sounded loud beside her ear, and it jarred upon the silence like a living thing.
The hall was as black as a pit, and, although she knew she stood alone there, the very solitude was threatening, the closed door to the unused parlour pregnant with suggestion.
The air was fusty and heavy, in strange contrast to the cold stone flags that struck chill to her stockinged feet.
As she hesitated, gathering courage to continue, a sudden beam of light shone into the passage that ran at the back of the hall, and she heard voices.
The door of the bar must have swung open, and someone come out, for she heard footsteps pass into the kitchen and in a few minutes return again, but whoever it was still left the door of the bar ajar, as the murmur of voices continued and the beam of light remained.
Mary was tempted to climb the stairs again to her bedroom and seek safety in sleep, but at the same time there was a demon of curiosity within her that would not be stilled, and this part of her carried her through to the passage beyond, and so to crouch against the wall a few paces only from the door of the bar.
Her hands and her forehead were wet now with perspiration, and at first she could hear nothing but the loud beating of her heart.
The door was open enough for her to see the outline of the hinged bar itself, and the collection of bottles and glasses, while directly in front ran a narrow strip of floor.