Scared you, did he?
I'll burn his house round his ears if he plays his tricks again."
Joss Merlyn shouted at the top of his voice, and the noise was deafening.
Mary did not fear him like this; the whole thing was bluster and show; it was when he lowered his voice and whispered that she knew him to be deadly.
For all his thunder he was frightened; she could see that; and his confidence was rudely shaken.
"Get me something to eat," he said. "I must go out again, and there's no time to lose.
Stop that yawling, Patience, or I'll smash your face in.
You've done well today, Mary, and I'll not forget it."
His niece looked him in the eyes.
"You don't think I did it for you, do you?" she said.
"I don't care a damn why you did it, the result's the same," he answered.
"Not that a blind fool like Bassat would find anything anyway; he was born with his head in the wrong place.
Cut me a hunk of bread, and quit talking, and sit down at the bottom of the table where you belong to be."
The two women took their seats in silence, and the meal passed without further disturbance.
As soon as he had finished, the landlord rose to his feet and, without another word to either of them, made his way to the stable.
Mary expected to hear him lead his pony out once more and ride off down the road, but in a minute or two he was back again, and, passing through the kitchen, he went down to the end of the garden and climbed the stile in the field.
Mary watched him strike across the moor and ascend the steep incline that led to Tolborough Tor and Codda.
For a moment she hesitated, debating the wisdom of the sudden plan in her head, and then the sound of her aunt's footsteps overhead appeared to decide her.
She waited until she heard the door of the bedroom close, and then, throwing off her apron and seizing her thick shawl from its peg on the wall, she ran down the field after her uncle.
When she reached the bottom she crouched beside the stone wall until his figure crossed the skyline and disappeared, and then she leapt up again and followed in his track, picking her way amongst the rough grass and stones.
It was a mad and senseless venture, no doubt, but her mood was a reckless one, and she needed an outlet for it after her silence of the morning.
Her idea was to keep Joss Merlyn in view, remaining of course unseen, and in this way perhaps she would learn something of his secret mission.
She had no doubt that the squire's visit to Jamaica had altered the landlord's plans, and that this sudden departure on foot across the heart of the West Moor was connected with it.
It was not yet half past one, and an ideal afternoon for walking.
Mary, with her stout shoes and short skirt to her ankles, cared little for the rough ground.
It was dry enough underfoot — the frost had hardened the surface — and, accustomed as she was to the wet shingle of the Helford shore and the thick mud on the farmyard, this scramble over the moor seemed easy enough.
Her earlier rambles had taught her some wisdom, and she kept to the high ground as much as possible, following as best she could the tracks taken by her uncle.
Her task was a difficult one, and after a few miles she began to realise it.
She was forced to keep a good length between them in order to remain unseen, and the landlord walked at such a pace, and took such tremendous strides, that before long Mary saw she would be left behind.
Codda Tor was passed, and he turned west now towards the low ground at the foot of Brown Willy, looking, for all his height, like a little black dot against the brown stretch of moor.
The prospect of climbing some thirteen hundred feet came as something of a shock to Mary, and she paused for a moment and wiped her streaming face.
She let down her hair, for greater comfort, and let it blow about her face.
Why the landlord of Jamaica Inn thought it necessary to climb the highest point on Bodmin Moor on a December afternoon she could not tell, but, having come so far, she was determined to have some satisfaction for her pains, and she set off again at a sharper pace.
The ground was now soggy beneath her feet, for here the early frost had thawed and turned to water, and the whole of the low-lying plain before her was soft and yellow from the winter rains.
The damp oozed into her shoes with cold and clammy certainty, and the hem of her skirt was bespattered with bog and torn in places.
Lifting it up higher, and hitching it round her waist with the ribbon from her hair, Mary plunged on in trail of her uncle, but he had already traversed the worst of the low ground with uncanny quickness born of long custom, and she could just make out his figure amongst the black heather and the great boulders at the foot of Brown Willy.
Then he was hidden by a jutting crag of granite, and she saw him no more.
It was impossible to discover the path he had taken across the bog; he had been over and gone in a flash, and Mary followed as best she could, floundering at every step.
She was a fool to attempt it, she knew that, but a sort of stubborn stupidity made her continue.
Ignorant of the whereabouts of the track that had carried her uncle dryshod over the bog, Mary had sense enough to make a wide circuit to avoid the treacherous ground, and, by going quite two miles in the wrong direction, she was able to cross in comparative safety.
She was now hopelessly left, without a prospect of finding her uncle again.
Nevertheless she set herself to climb Brown Willy, slipping and stumbling amongst the wet moss and the stones, scrambling up the great peaks of jagged granite that frustrated her at every turn, while now and again a hill sheep, startled by the sound of her, ran out from behind a boulder to gaze at her and stamp his feet.
Clouds were bearing up from the west, casting changing shadows on the plains beneath, and the sun went in behind them.
It was very silent on the hills.
Once a raven rose up at her feet and screamed; he went away flapping his great black wings, swooping to the earth below with harsh protesting cries.
When Mary reached the summit of the hill the evening clouds were banked high above her head and the world was grey.
The distant horizon was blotted out in the gathering dusk, and thin white mist rose from the moors beneath.
Approaching the tor from its steepest and most difficult side, as she had done, she had wasted nearly an hour out of her time, and darkness would soon be upon her.
Her escapade had been to little purpose, for as far as her eyes could see there was no living thing within their range.
Joss Merlyn had long vanished; and for all she knew he might not have climbed the tor at all, but skirted its base amongst the rough heather and the smaller stones, and then made his way alone and unobserved, east or west as his business took him, to be swallowed up in the folds of the further hills.