"It's better to have disease in a country than a family like yours.
You and your brother were born twisted and evil.
Do you never think of what your mother must have suffered?"
Jem looked at her in surprise, the bread and cheese halfway to his mouth.
"Mother was all right," he said. "She never complained. She was used to us.
Why, she married my father at sixteen; she never had time to suffer.
Joss was born the year after, and then Matt.
Her time was taken up in rearing them, and by the time they were out of her hands she had to start all over again with me.
I was an afterthought, I was.
Father got drunk at Launceston fair, after selling three cows that didn't belong to him.
If it wasn't for that I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you now.
Pass that jug."
Mary had finished. She got up and began to clear away the plates in silence.
"How's the landlord of Jamaica Inn?" said Jem, tilting back on his chair and watching her dip the plates in water.
"Drunk, like his father before him," said Mary shortly.
"That'll be the ruin of Joss," said his brother seriously. "He soaks himself insensible and lies like a log for days.
One day he'll kill himself with it. The damned fool!
How long has it lasted this time?"
"Oh, that's nothing to Joss.
He'd lay there for a week if you let him.
Then he'll come to, staggering on his feet like a newborn calf, with a mouth as black as Trewartha Marsh.
When he's rid himself of his surplus liquid, and the rest of the drink has soaked into him — that's when you want to watch him; he's dangerous then.
You look out for yourself."
"He'll not touch me; I'll take good care of that," said Mary. "He's got other things to worry him.
There's plenty to keep him busy." "Don't be mysterious, nodding to yourself with your mouth pursed up.
Has anything been happening at Jamaica?"
"It depends how you look at it," said Mary, watching him over the plate she was wiping. "We had Mr. Bassat from North Hill last week."
Jem brought his chair to the ground with a crash.
"The devil you did," he said. "And what had the squire to say to you?"
"Uncle Joss was from home," said Mary, "and Mr. Bassat insisted on coming into the inn and going through the rooms.
He broke down the door at the end of the passage, he and his servant between them, but the room was empty.
He seemed disappointed, and very surprised, and he rode away in a fit of temper.
He asked after you, as it happened, and I told him I'd never set eyes on you."
Jem whistled tunelessly, his expression blank as Mary told her tale, but when she came to the end of her sentence, and the mention of his name, his eyes narrowed, and then he laughed.
"Why did you lie to him?" he asked.
"It seemed less trouble at the time," said Mary. "If I'd thought longer, no doubt I'd have told him the truth.
You've got nothing to hide, have you?"
"Nothing much, except that black pony you saw by the brook belongs to him," said Jem carelessly.
"He was dapple-grey last week, and worth a small fortune to the squire, who bred him himself.
I'll make a few pounds with him at Launceston if I'm lucky.
Come down and have a look at him."
They went out into the sun, Mary wiping her hands on her apron, and she stood for a few moments at the door of the cottage while Jem went off to the horses.
The cottage was built on the slope of the hill above the Withy Brook, whose course wound away in the valley and was lost in the further hills.
Behind the house stretched a wide and level plain, rising to great tors on either hand, and this grassland — like a grazing place for cattle — with no boundary as far as the eye could reach except the craggy menace of Kilmar, must be the strip of country known as Twelve Men's Moor.
Mary pictured Joss Merlyn running out of the doorway here as a child, his mat of hair falling over his eyes in a fringe, with the gaunt, lonely figure of his mother standing behind him, her arms folded, watching him with a question in her eyes.
A world of sorrow and silence, anger and bitterness too, must have passed beneath the roof of this small cottage.
There was a shout and a clatter of hoofs, and Jem rode up to her round the corner of the house, astride the black pony.
"This is the fellow I wanted you to have," he said, "but you're so close with your money.
He'd carry you well, too; the squire bred him for his wife.