The splintered fragments of the glass her uncle had broken still lay where they had fallen, and beside them was a brown stain of ale, spilt by some unsteady hand.
The men must be sitting on the benches against the further wall, for she could not see them; they had fallen to silence, and then suddenly a man's voice rang out, quavering and high, the voice of a stranger.
"No, and no again," he said. "I tell you for the final time, I'll not be a party to it.
I'll break with you now and for ever, and put an end to the agreement.
That's murder you'd have me do, Mr. Merlyn; there's no other name for it — it's common murder."
The voice was pitched high, trembling on the final note, as though the speaker were carried away by the force of his feelings and had lost command of his tongue.
Someone — the landlord himself, no doubt — made reply in a low tone, and Mary could not catch his words, but his speech was broken by a cackle of laughter that she recognised as belonging to the pedlar. The quality of it was unmistakable — insulting and coarse.
He must have hinted a question, for the stranger spoke again swiftly in self-defence.
"Swinging, is it?" he said. "I've risked swinging before, and I'm not afraid of my neck.
No, I'm thinking of my conscience and of Almighty God; and though I'll face any man in a fair fight, and take punishment if need be, when it comes to the killing of innocent folk, and maybe women and children amongst them, that's going straight to hell, Joss Merlyn, and you know it as well as I do."
Mary heard the scraping of a chair, and the man rise to his feet, but at the same time someone thumped his fist on the table and swore, and her uncle lifted his voice for the first time.
"Not so fast, my friend," he said, "not so fast.
You're soaked in this business up to your neck, and be damned to your blasted conscience!
I tell you there's no going back on it now; it's too late; too late for you and for all of us.
I've been doubtful of you from the first, with your gentleman's airs and your clean cuffs, and by God I've proved myself right.
Harry, bolt the door over there and put the bar across it."
There was a sudden scuffle and a cry, and the sound of someone falling, and at the same time the table crashed to the floor, and the door to the yard was slammed.
Once more the pedlar laughed, odious and obscene, and he began to whistle one of his songs
"Shall we tickle him up like Silly Sam?" he said, breaking off in the middle. "He'd be a little body without his fine clothes.
I could do with his watch and chain, too; poor men of the road like myself haven't the money to go buying watches.
Tickle him up with the whip, Joss, and let's see the colour of his skin."
"Shut your mouth, Harry, and do as you're told," answered the landlord. "Stand where you are by the door and prick him with your knife if he tries to pass you.
Now, look here, Mr. Lawyer-Clerk, or whatever you are in Truro town, you've made a fool of yourself tonight, but you're not going to make a fool of me.
You'd like to walk out of that door, wouldn't you, and get on your horse, and be away to Bodmin?
Yes, and be nine in the morning you'd have every magistrate in the country at Jamaica Inn, and a regiment of soldiers into the bargain.
That's your fine idea, isn't it?"
Mary could hear the stranger breathe heavily, and he must have been hurt in the scuffle, for when his voice came it was jerky and contracted, as though he were in pain.
"Do your devil's work if you must," he muttered. "I can't stop you, and I give you my word I'll not inform against you. But join you I will not, and there's my last word to you both."
There was a silence, and then Joss Merlyn spoke again.
"Have a care," he said softly. "I heard another man say that once, and five minutes later he was treading the air. On the end of a rope it was, my friend, and his big toe missed the floor by half an inch.
I asked him if he liked to be so near the ground, but he didn't answer.
The rope forced the tongue out of his mouth, and he bit it clean in half.
They said afterwards he had taken seven and three-quarter minutes to die."
Outside in the passage Mary felt her neck and her forehead go clammy with sweat, and her arms and legs were weighted suddenly, as though with lead. Little black specks flickered before her eyes, and with a growing sense of horror she realised that she was probably going to faint.
She had one thought in her mind, and that was to grope her way back to the deserted hall and reach the shadow of the clock; whatever happened, she must not fall here and be discovered.
Mary backed away from the beam of light and felt along the wall with her hands.
Her knees were shaking now, and she knew that at any moment they would give beneath her. Already a surge of sickness rose inside her, and her head was swimming.
Her uncle's voice came from very far away, as though he spoke with his hands against his mouth.
"Leave me alone with him, Harry," he said: "there'll be no more work for you tonight at Jamaica.
Take his horse and be off, and cast him loose the other side of Camelford.
I'll settle this business by myself."
Somehow Mary found her way to the hall, and, hardly conscious of what she was doing, she turned the handle of the parlour door and stumbled inside. Then she crumpled in a heap on the floor, her head between her knees.
She must have fainted quite away for a minute or two, because the specks in front of her eyes grouped themselves into one tremendous whole, and her world went black; but the position in which she had fallen brought her to herself quicker than anything else could have done, and in a moment she was sitting up, propped on one elbow, listening to the clatter of a pony's hoofs in the yard outside.
She heard a voice curse the animal to stand still — it was Harry the pedlar — and then he must have mounted and driven his heels into the pony's side, for the sound of the hoofs drew away and out of the yard and disappeared in the distance down the highroad, and so was lost beneath the slope of the hill.
Her uncle was alone now in the bar with his victim, and Mary wondered whether it would be possible for her to find her way to the nearest dwelling place on the road to Dozmary and summon help.
It meant a walk of two or three miles across a moorland track before the first shepherd's cottage was reached, and somewhere on that same track the poor idiot boy had flown, earlier in the evening, and was even now perhaps wailing and grimacing by the side of the ditch.
She knew nothing of the inhabitants of the cottage; possibly they belonged to her uncle's company, in which case she would be running straight into a trap.
Aunt Patience, upstairs in bed, was useless to her, and if anything an encumbrance.
It was a hopeless situation, and there seemed no way of escape for the stranger, whoever he should be, unless he himself came to some agreement with Joss Merlyn.
If he had any cunning he might be able to overpower her uncle; now that the pedlar had gone they were evenly matched as far as numbers went, though her uncle's physical strength would tell heavily in his favour.