Mary considered him from the shadow of the porch.
He looked serious now, and his likeness to Joss had fled for the moment.
She wished he were not a Merlyn.
"I came here to be with my Aunt Patience," she said. "My mother died some weeks ago, and I have no other relative, I'll tell you one thing, Mr. Merlyn — I'm thankful my mother isn't alive to see her sister now."
"I don't suppose marriage with Joss is a bed of roses," said his brother. "He always had the temper of the devil himself, and he drinks like a fish.
What did she marry him for? He's been the same as long as I can remember. He used to thrash me when I was a lad, and he'd do the same today if he dared."
"I suppose she was misled by his bright eyes," said Mary scornfully. "Aunt Patience was always the butterfly down in Helford, Mother used to say.
She wouldn't have the farmer who asked her, but took herself off upcountry, where she met your brother.
That was the worst day in her life, anyway.'
"You've not much opinion of the landlord, then," he said mocking her.
"No, I have not," she replied. "He's a bully and a brute and many worse things besides.
He's turned my aunt from a laughing, happy woman into a miserable drudge, and I'll never forgive him for that as long as I live."
Jem whistled tunelessly and patted his horse's neck.
"We Merlyns have never been good to our women," he said. "I can remember my father beating my mother till she couldn't stand.
She never left him, though, but stood by him all his life.
When he was hanged at Exeter, she didn't speak to a soul for three months. Her hair went white with the shock.
I can't remember my grandmother, but they say she fought side by side with Granddad once near Callington, when the soldiers came to take him, and she bit a fellow's finger right through to the bone.
What she had to love in Granddad I can't say, for he never as much as asked for her after he'd been taken, and he left all his savings with another woman the other side of Tamar."
Mary was silent.
The indifference in his voice appalled her.
He spoke entirely without shame or regret, and she supposed that he had been born, like the rest of his family, lacking the quality of tenderness.
"How long do you mean to stay at Jamaica?" he asked abruptly. "It's waste for a maid like you, isn't it?
There's not much company for you here."
"I can't help that," said Mary. "I'm not going away unless I take my aunt with me.
I'd never leave her here alone, not after what I've seen."
Jem bent down to brush a piece of dirt from bis pony's shoe.
"What have you learnt in your short time?" he questioned. "It's quiet enough here, in all conscience."
Mary was not easily led.
For all she knew, her uncle had prompted his brother to speak to her, hoping in this way to obtain information.
No, she was not quite such a fool as that. She shrugged her shoulders, dismissing the subject.
"I helped my uncle in the bar one Saturday night," she said, "and I did not think much of the company he kept."
"I don't suppose you did," said Jem. "The fellows who come to Jamaica have never been taught manners.
They spend too much time in the county jail.
I wonder what they thought of you?
Made the same mistake as I did, I suppose, and are now spreading your fame far and wide about the countryside.
You'll have Joss throwing dice for you next time, I daresay, and when he loses you'll find yourself riding pillion behind a dirty poacher from the other side of Rough Tor."
"There's not much likelihood of that," said Mary. "They'd have to knock me senseless before I rode pillion with anyone."
"Senseless or conscious, women are pretty much the same when you come down to it," said Jem. "The poachers on Bodmin Moor would never know the difference, anyway." And he laughed again and looked exactly like his brother.
"What do you do for a livelihood?" asked Mary, in sudden curiosity, for during their conversation she became aware that he spoke better than his brother.
"I'm a horse thief," he said pleasantly, "but there's not much money in it.
My pockets are always empty.
You ought to ride here.
I've got a little pony that would suit you handsomely.
He's over at Trewartha now.
Why don't you come back with me and look at him?"
"Aren't you afraid of being caught?" said Mary.
"Thieving is an awkward thing to prove," he told her. "Supposing a pony strays from his pen, and his owner goes to look for him.
Well, you've seen for yourself, these moors are alive with wild horses and cattle.
It's not going to be so easy for that owner to find his pony.
Say the pony had a long mane, and one white foot, and a diamond mark in his ear — that narrows the field down a bit, doesn't it?