He filled the glass half full, and held it between his two hands, watching her all the while over the rim of it.
"You're a good girl," he said. "I'm fond of you, Mary; you've got sense, and you've got pluck; you'd make a good companion to a man.
They ought to have made you a boy."
He rolled the brandy around on his tongue, smiling foolishly, and then he winked at her, and pointed his finger.
"They pay gold for this upcountry," he said; "the best that money can buy.
King George himself hasn't better brandy than this in his cellar.
And what do I pay?
Not one damned bloody sixpence.
We drink free at Jamaica Inn." He laughed and put out his tongue. "It's a hard game, Mary, but it's a man's game, for all that.
I've risked my neck ten, twenty times.
I've had the fellows thundering at my heels, with a pistol shot whistling through my hair.
They can't catch me, Mary; I'm too cunning; I've been at the game too long.
Before we came here I was at Padstow, working from the shore.
We ran a lugger once a fortnight with the spring tides.
There were five of us in it, besides myself.
But there's no money working in a small way; you've got to do it big, and you've got to take your orders.
There's over a hundred of us now, working inland to the border from the coast.
By God, I've seen blood in my time, Mary, and I've seen men killed a score of times, but this game beats all of it — it's running side by side with death."
He beckoned her to his side, winking again, glancing first over his shoulder to the door.
"Here," he whispered, "come close, down here by my side, where I can talk to you.
You've got guts in you, I can see that; you're not scared like your aunt.
We ought to be partners, you and I."
He seized hold of Mary's arm and pulled her on the floor beside his chair.
"It's this cursed drink that makes a fool of me," he said. "I'm as weak as a rat when it has hold of me, you can see that.
And I have dreams, nightmares; I see things that never scare me when I'm sober.
Damn it, Mary, I've killed men with my own hands, trampled them under water, beaten them with rocks and stones; and I've never thought no more about it; I've slept in my bed like a child.
But when I'm drunk I see them in my dreams; I see their white-green faces staring at me, with their eyes eaten by fish; and some of them are torn, with the flesh hanging on their bones in ribbons, and some of them have seaweed in their hair….
There was a woman once, Mary; she was clinging to a raft, and she had a child in her arms; her hair was streaming down her back.
The ship was close in on the rocks, you see, and the sea was as flat as your hand; they were all coming in alive, the whole bunch of 'em.
Why, the water in places didn't come above your waist.
She cried out to me to help her, Mary, and I smashed her face in with a stone; she fell back, her hands beating the raft. She let go of the child, and I hit her again; I watched them drown in four feet of water.
We were scared then; we were afraid some of them would reach the shore…. For the first time we hadn't reckoned on the tide.
In half an hour they'd be walking dry-shod on the sand.
We had to pelt at 'em all with stones, Mary; we had to break their arms and legs; and they drowned there in front of us, like the woman and her child, with the water not up to their shoulders — they drowned because we smashed them with rocks and stones; they drowned because they couldn't stand…."
His face was close to Mary, his red-flecked eyes staring into hers, and his breath on her cheek.
"Did you never hear of wreckers before?" he whispered.
Outside in the passage the clock struck one o'clock, and the single note rang in the air like a summons.
Neither of them moved.
The room was very cold, for the fire had sunk away to nothing, and a little current of air blew in from the open door.
The yellow flame of the candle bowed and flickered.
He reached out to her and took her hand; it lay limp in his, like a dead hand.
Perhaps he saw something of the frozen horror in her face, for he let her go and turned away his eyes.
He stared straight before him at the empty glass, and he began to drum with his fingers on the table.
Crouched on the floor beside him, Mary watched a fly crawl across his hand.
She watched it pass through the short black hairs and over the thick veins to the knuckles, and it ran to the tips of the long slim fingers.
She remembered the swift and sudden grace of those fingers when they cut bread for her that first evening, and how if they chose they could be delicate and light; she watched them drumming now on the table, and in her fancy she saw them curl round a block of jagged stone and fasten upon it; she saw the stone fly through the air….
Once more he turned to her, his whisper hoarse, and he jerked his head towards the ticking of the clock.
"The sound of it rings in my head sometimes," he said, "and when it struck one just now, it was like the tolling of a bell buoy in a bay.
I've heard it come travelling down the air on the westerly wind: one-two-one-two, backwards and forwards the clapper goes against the bell, as though it tolled for dead men.
I've heard it in my dreams, I heard it tonight.