And he went out into the yard to call his servant.
Mary patted her aunt's hand and drew her close.
"Try and not tremble so," she whispered fiercely. "Anyone can see you have something to hide.
Your only chance is to pretend you don't mind, and that he can see anything in the house for all you care."
In a few minutes Mr. Bassat returned with the man Richards, who, grinning all over his face at the thought of destruction, carried an old bar he had found in the stable, and which he evidently intended using as a battering-ram.
If it had not been for her aunt, Mary would have given herself to the scene with some enjoyment. For the first time she would be permitted a view of the barred room.
The fact that her aunt, and herself too for that matter, would be implicated in any discovery that was made caused her mixed feelings, however, and for the first time she realised that it was going to be a very difficult task to prove their complete and thorough innocence.
No one was likely to believe protestations, with Aunt Patience fighting blindly on the landlord's side.
It was with some excitement, then, that Mary watched Mr. Bassat and his servant seize the bar between them and ram it against the lock of the door.
For a few minutes it withstood them, and the sound of the blows echoed through the house. Then there was a splitting of wood and a crash, and the door gave way before them.
Aunt Patience uttered a little cry of distress, and the squire pushed past her into the room.
Richards leant on the bar, wiping the sweat from his forehead, and Mary could, see through to the room over his shoulder.
It was dark, of course; the barred windows with their lining of sack kept the light from penetrating the room.
"Get me a candle, one of you," shouted the squire. "It's as black as a pit in here."
The servant produced a stump of candle from his pocket, and a light was kindled.
He handed the candle to the squire, who, lifting it high above his head, stepped into the centre of the room.
For a moment there was silence, as the squire turned, letting the light shine in every corner, and then, clicking his tongue in annoyance and disappointment, he faced the little group behind him.
"Nothing," he said; "absolutely nothing.
The landlord has made a fool of me again."
Except for a pile of sacks in one corner the room was completely empty.
It was thick with dust, and there were cobwebs on the walls larger than a man's hand. There was no furniture of any sort, the hearth had been blocked up with stones, and the floor itself was flagged like the passage outside.
On the top of the sacks lay a length of twisted rope.
Then the squire shrugged his shoulders and turned once more into the passage.
"Well, Mr. Joss Merlyn has won this time," he said; "there's not enough evidence in that room to kill a cat. I'll admit myself beaten."
The two women followed him to the outer hall, and so to the porch, while the servant made his way to the stable to fetch the horses.
Mr. Bassat flicked his boot with his whip and stared moodily in front of him.
"You've been lucky, Mrs. Merlyn," he said. "If I'd found what I expected to find in that blasted room of yours, this time tomorrow your husband would be in the county jail.
As it is—" Once more he clicked his tongue in annoyance, and broke off in the middle of his sentence. "Stir yourself, Richards, can't you?" he shouted. "I can't afford to waste any more of my morning.
What the hell are you doing?"
The man appeared at the stable door, leading the two horses behind him.
"Now listen to me," said Mr. Bassat, pointing his crop at Mary. "This aunt of yours may have lost her tongue, and her senses with them, but you can understand plain English, I hope.
Do you mean to tell me you know nothing of your uncle's business?
Does nobody ever call here, by day or by night?"
Mary looked him straight in the eyes.
"I've never seen anyone," she said.
"Have you ever looked into that barred room before today?"
"No, never in my life."
"Have you any idea why he should keep it locked up?"
"No, none at all."
"Have you ever heard wheels in the yard by night?"
"I'm a very heavy sleeper. Nothing ever wakes me."
"Where does your uncle go when he's away from home?"
"I don't know."
"Don't you think yourself it's very peculiar to keep an inn on the King's highway, and then bolt and bar your house to every passer-by?"
"My uncle is a very peculiar man."
"He is indeed.
In fact, he's so damned peculiar that half the people in the countryside won't sleep easy in their beds until he's been hanged, like his father before him.
You can tell him that from me."
"I will, Mr. Bassat."
"Aren't you afraid, living up here, without sound or sight of a neighbour, and only this half-crazy woman for companion?"