"Perhaps not," he said at length, "but you'll come to know, if you stay long enough.
Why does your aunt look like a living ghost — can you tell me that?
Ask her, next time the wind blows from the northwest." And he began to whistle again softly, his hands in his pockets.
Mary stared back at him in silence.
He spoke in riddles, but whether it was to frighten her or not she could not say.
Jem the horse stealer, with his careless, impecunious manner, she could understand and allow for, but this was a new departure. She was not sure whether she like it as well.
He laughed shortly and shrugged his shoulders.
"There'll be trouble between Joss and myself one day, and it's he that'll be sorry for it, not I," he said.
And with that cryptic remark he turned on his heel and went off onto the moor after the pony.
Mary watched him thoughtfully, her arms tucked into her shawl.
So her first instinct had been right, and there was something behind the smuggling, after all.
The stranger in the bar that night had talked of murder, and now Jem himself had echoed his words.
She was not a fool, then, nor was she hysterical, whatever she was considered by the vicar of Altarnun.
What part Jem Merlyn played in all this it was hard to say, but that he was concerned in it somewhere she did not doubt for a moment.
And if he was the man who crept so stealthily down the stairs behind her uncle — why, he must know well enough that she had left her room that night, and was in hiding somewhere, and had listened to them.
Then he, above all men, must remember the rope on the beam, and guess that she had seen it after he and the landlord had gone out onto the moor.
If Jem was the man, there would be reason enough for all his questions.
"How much do you know?" he had asked her; but she had not told him.
The conversation had cast a shadow on her day.
She wanted to be off now, and rid of him, and alone with her own thoughts.
She began to walk slowly down the hill towards the Withy Brook.
She had reached the gate at the bottom of the track when she heard his running footsteps behind her, and he flung himself first at the gate, looking like a half-bred gypsy with his growth of beard and his filthy breeches.
"Why are you going?" he said. "It's early yet; it won't be dark till after four.
I'll walk back with you then as far as Rushyford Gate.
What's the matter with you?" He took her chin in his hands and looked into her face. "I believe you're frightened of me," he said. "You think I've got barrels of brandy and rolls of tobacco in the little old bedrooms up above, and that I'm going to show them to you, and then cut your throat. That's it, isn't it?
We're a desperate lot of fellows, we Merlyns, and Jem is the worst of the pack.
Is that what you're thinking?"
She smiled back at him in spite of herself.
"Something of the sort," she confessed, "but I'm not afraid of you; you needn't think that.
I'd even like you if you didn't remind me so much of your brother."
"I can't help my face," he said, "and I'm much better looking than Joss, you must allow me that."
"Oh, you've conceit enough to make up for all the other qualities you lack," agreed Mary, "and I'll not deprive you of your handsome face.
You may break as many hearts as you please.
Now let me go; it's a long walk back to Jamaica Inn, and I don't fancy losing myself on the moors again."
"And when did you you lose yourself before?" he asked.
Mary frowned slightly. The words had escaped her.
"The other afternoon I was out on the West Moor," she said, "and the fog came on early. I wandered some time before I found my way back."
"You're a fool to go walking," he said.
"There's places between Jamaica and Rough Tor that would swallow a herd of cattle, to say nothing of a slip of a thing like you.
It's no pastime for a woman anyhow.
What did you do it for?"
"I wanted to stretch my legs. I'd been shut in the house for days."
"Well, Mary Yellan, next time you want to stretch your legs you can stretch them in this direction.
If you come through the gate you can't go wrong, not if you leave the marsh on your left-hand side as you did today.
Are you coming to Launceston with me on Christmas Eve?"
"What will you be doing over to Launceston, Jem Merlyn?"
"Only selling Mr. Bassat's black pony for him, my dear.
You'd be best away from Jamaica Inn that day, if I know anything about my brother.
He'll be just recovering from his brandy bed by then and looking for trouble.
If they're used to you gallivanting over the moors they'll not say anything at your absence.