Mary, whose spirits always rose at the sight of the sun, had turned her morning into washing day, and, with sleeves rolled well above the elbows, plunged her arms into the tub, the hot soapy water, bubbling with froth, caressing her skin in exquisite contrast to the sharp stinging air.
She felt well in being, and she sang as she worked.
Her uncle had ridden away on the moors somewhere, and a sense of freedom possessed her whenever he was gone.
At the back here she was sheltered somewhat from the wind, the broad sturdy house acting as a screen, and as she wrung out her linen and spread it on the stunted gorse bush, she saw that the full force of the sun fell upon it, and it would be dry by noon.
An urgent tapping on the window made her look up, and she saw Aunt Patience beckon to her, very white in the face and evidently frightened.
Mary wiped her hands on her apron and ran to the back door of the house.
No sooner had she entered the kitchen than her aunt seized upon her with trembling hands and began to blabber incoherently.
"Quietly, quietly," said Mary. "I cannot understand what you're saying.
Here, take this chair and sit down, and drink this glass of water, for mercy's sake.
Now, what is it?"
The poor woman rocked backwards and forward in her chair, her mouth working nervously, and she kept jerking her head towards the door.
"It's Mr. Bassat from North Hill," she whispered. "I saw him from the parlour window.
He's come on horseback, and another gentleman with him.
Oh, my dear, my dear, what are we going to do?"
Even as she spoke there was a loud knock at the entrance door and then a pause, followed by a thunder of blows.
Aunt Patience groaned aloud, biting the ends of her ringers and tearing at her nails.
"Why has he come here?" she cried. "He's never been before. He's always kept away.
He's heard something, I know he has.
Oh, Mary, what are we going to do?
What are we going to say?"
Mary thought quickly.
She was in a very difficult position.
If this was Mr. Bassat and he represented the law, it was her one chance of betraying her uncle. She could tell him of the waggons and all she had seen since her arrival.
She looked down at the trembling woman at her side.
"Mary, Mary, for the sake of the dear Lord, tell me what I am to say?" pleaded Aunt Patience, and she took her niece's hand and held it to her heart.
The hammering on the door was incessant now.
"Listen to me," said Mary. "We shall have to let him in or he'll break down the door.
Pull yourself together somehow.
There's no need to say anything at all. Say Uncle Joss is away from home, and you know nothing.
I'll come with you."
The woman looked at her with haggard, desperate eyes.
"Mary," she said, "if Mr. Bassat asks you what you know, you won't answer him, will you?
I can trust you, can't I?
You'll not tell him of the waggons?
If any danger came to Joss I'd kill myself, Mary."
There was no argument after that.
Mary would lie herself into hell rather than let her aunt suffer. The situation must be faced, though, however ironical her position was to be.
"Come with me to the door," she said; "we'll not keep Mr. Bassat long.
You needn't be afraid of me; I shall say nothing."
They went into the hall together, and Mary unbolted the heavy entrance door.
There were two men outside the porch.
One had dismounted, and it was he who had rained the blows on the door. The other was a big burly fellow, in a heavy topcoat and cape, seated on the back of a fine chestnut horse.
His hat was pulled square over his eyes, but Mary could see that his face was heavily lined and weather-beaten, and she judged him to be somewhere about fifty years of age.
"You take your time here, don't you?" he called. "There doesn't seem to be much of a welcome for travellers.
Is the landlord at home?"
Patience Merlyn poked at her niece with her hand, and Mary made answer.
"Mr. Merlyn is from home, sir," she said.
"Are you in need of refreshment? I will serve you if you will go through to the bar."
"Damn refreshment!" he returned.
"I know better than to come to Jamaica Inn for that.