I want to speak to your master.
Here, you, are you the landlord's wife?
When do you expect him home?"
Aunt Patience made him a little curtsey.
"If you please, Mr. Bassat," she said, speaking unnaturally loudly and clearly, like a child who has learnt a lesson, "my husband went out as soon as he had his breakfast, and whether he will be back before nightfall I really cannot say."
"H'mph," growled the squire, "that's a damned nuisance.
I wanted a word or two with Mr. Joss Merlyn.
Now look here, my good woman, your precious husband may have bought Jamaica Inn behind my back, in his blackguardly fashion and we'll not go into that again now, but one thing I won't stand for, and that's having all my land hereabouts made a byword for everything that's damnable and dishonest round the countryside."
"I'm sure, I don't know what you mean, Mr. Bassat," said Aunt Patience, working her mouth and twisting her hands in her dress. "We live very quietly here, indeed we do; my niece here will tell you the same."
"Oh, come, I'm not such a fool as that," answered the squire.
"I've had my eyes on this place for a long while.
A house doesn't get a bad name without reason, Mrs. Merlyn, and Jamaica Inn stinks from here to the coast.
Don't you pretend to me.
Here, Richards, hold my confounded horse, will you?"
The other man, who by his dress appeared to be a servant, held the bridle, and Mr. Bassat climbed heavily to the ground.
"While I'm here I may as well look round," he said, "and I'll tell you here and now that it's useless to refuse me.
I'm a magistrate, and I have a warrant."
He pushed his way past the two women, and so through to the little entrance hall.
Aunt Patience made a movement as though to deter him, but Mary shook her head and frowned.
"Let him go," she murmured. "If we try and stop him now we shall only anger him the more."
Mr. Bassat was looking about him in disgust.
"Good God," he exclaimed, "the place smells like a tomb.
What in the world have you done to it?
Jamaica Inn was always roughcast and plain, and the fare homely, but this is a positive disgrace.
Why, the place is as bare as a board; you haven't a stick of furniture."
He had thrown open the door of the parlour and pointed to the damp walls with his crop.
"You'll have the roof about your ears if you don't stop that," he said. "I've never seen such a thing in my life.
Go on, Mrs. Merlyn, lead the way upstairs."
Pale and anxious, Patience Merlyn turned to the staircase, her eyes searching those of her niece for reassurement.
The rooms on the landing were thoroughly explored.
The squire peered into the dusty corners, lifted the old sacks, and prodded the potatoes, all this while uttering exclamations of anger and disgust.
"Call this an inn, do you?" he said. "Why, you haven't even a bed fit to sleep a cat. The place is rotten, rotten right through.
What's the idea, eh?
Have you lost your tongue, Mrs. Merlyn?"
The poor woman was past replying; she kept shaking her head and working her mouth, and Mary knew that both she and her aunt were wondering what would happen when they came to the barred room in the passage below.
"The landlord's lady appears to be momentarily deaf and dumb," said the squire dryly. "What about you, young woman? Have you anything to say?"
"It's only lately I've come to stay here," replied Mary. "My mother died, and I'm here to look after my aunt.
She's not very strong; you can see that for yourself.
She's nervous and easily upset."
"I don't blame her, living in a place like this," said Mr. Bassat. "Well, there's nothing more to see up here, so you'll kindly take me downstairs again and show me the room that has barred windows.
I noticed it from the yard, and I'd like to see inside."
Aunt Patience passed her tongue over her lips and looked at Mary. She was incapable of speech.
"I'm very sorry, sir," Mary replied. "But if you mean the old lumber room at the end of the passage, I'm afraid the door is locked.
My uncle always keeps the key, and where he puts it I don't know."
The squire looked from one to the other in suspicion.
"What about you, Mrs. Merlyn?
Don't you know where your husband keeps his keys?"
Aunt Patience shook her head.
The squire snorted and turned on his heel.
"Well, that's easily settled," he said. "We'll have the door down in no time."