A mournful, weary sound, Mary, is a bell buoy out in the bay.
It rubs on your nerves and you want to scream.
When you work on the coast you have to pull out to them in a boat and muffle them; wrap the tongue in flannel. That deadens them. There's silence then.
Maybe it's a misty night, with patches of white fog on the water, and outside the bay there'll be a ship casting for scent like a hound. She listens for the buoy, and no sound comes to her.
And she comes in then, driving through the fog — she comes straight in to us who are waiting for her, Mary — and we see her shudder suddenly, and strike, and then the surf has her."
He reached for the bottle of brandy and let a little liquid trickle slowly into the glass. He smelt it and rolled it on his tongue.
"Have you ever seen flies caught in a jar of treacle?" he said. "I've seen men like that; stuck in the rigging like a swarm of flies. They cling there for safety, shouting in terror at the sight of the surf.
Just like flies they are, spread out on the yards, little black dots of men.
I've seen the ship break up beneath them, and the masts and yards snap like thread, and there they'll be flung into the sea, to swim for their lives.
But when they reach the shore they're dead men, Mary."
He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and stared at her.
"Dead men tell no tales, Mary," he said.
His face nodded at her, and narrowed suddenly, and was blotted out.
No longer was she kneeling on the kitchen floor, her hands gripping the table; she was a child again, running beside her father on the cliffs beyond St. Keverne.
He swung her up onto his shoulder, and there were other men running with them, who shouted and cried.
Somebody pointed to the distant sea, and, clinging to her father's head, she saw a great white ship like a bird rolling helplessly in the trough of the sea, her masts broken short and her sails trailing in the water beside her.
"What are they doing?" asked the child that had been herself; and nobody answered her; they stood where they were, staring in horror at the ship that rolled and plunged.
"God have mercy upon them," said her father; and the child Mary began to cry, calling for her mother, who came at once from amongst the crowd and took her in her arms, and walked away with her out of sight of the sea.
There all memory snapped, and vanished, and there was no ending to the story; but when she grew to understanding, and was no longer a child, her mother would talk of the day they had gone to St. Keverne, when a great barque had sunk with all on board, her back broken on the dreaded Manacles.
Mary shivered and sighed, and once more her uncle's face loomed before her in its frame of matted hair, and she was kneeling beside him again in the kitchen at Jamaica Inn.
She felt deadly sick, and her hands and feet were icy cold.
She longed only to stumble to her bed and bury her head in her hands, pulling the blanket and pillow over her for greater darkness. Perhaps if she pressed her hands against her eyes she would blot out his face and the pictures he had painted for her.
Perhaps if she thrust her fingers in her ears she would muffle the sound of his voice and the thunder of the surf upon the shore.
Here she could see the pale faces of drowned men, their arms above their heads; she could hear the screams of terror and the cries; she could hear the mournful clamour of the bell buoy as it swayed backwards and forward in the sea.
Mary shivered again.
She looked up at her uncle, and she saw that he had sloped forward in his chair, and his head had fallen on his chest.
His mouth was wide open, and he snorted and spluttered as he slept.
His long dark lashes swept his cheeks like a fringe. His arms rested on the table before him, and his hands were clasped as though in prayer.
On Christmas Eve the sky was overcast and threatened rain.
It had turned mild, too, in the night, and the mud in the yard was churned where the cows had trodden.
The walls of Mary's bedroom felt damp to her hand, and there was a great yellow patch in one corner caused by the shrinking plaster.
Mary leant out of the window, and the soft wet wind blew upon her face.
In an hour's time Jem Merlyn would be waiting for her on the moor, to take her to Launceston fair.
Whether she met him or not depended upon herself, and she could not make up her mind.
She had grown older in four days, and the face that looked back at her from the spotted, cracked mirror was drawn and tired. There were dark rings beneath her eyes, and little hollows in her cheeks.
Sleep came late to her at night, and she had no appetite for food.
For the first time in her life she saw a resemblance between herself and her Aunt Patience.
They had the same pucker of the forehead, and the same mouth.
If she pursed up her lips and worked them, biting the edges, it might be Aunt Patience who stood there, with the lank brown hair framing her face.
The trick was an easy one to catch, as was the nervous twisting of the hands, and Mary turned away from the telltale mirror and began to pace up and down her cramped room.
During the past few days she had kept as much as possible to the privacy of her own room, excusing herself on the score of a chill. Mary could not trust herself to speak to her aunt at present — not for any length of time. Her eyes would have betrayed her.
They would look at one another with the same dumb horror, the same hidden anguish; and Aunt Patience would have understood. They shared a secret now, a secret that must never be spoken between them.
Mary wondered how many years Aunt Patience had kept that knowledge to herself in an agony of silence.
No one would ever know how greatly she had suffered.
Wherever she would go in the future, the pain of that knowledge would go with her. It could never leave her alone.
At last Mary was able to understand the pale, twitching face, the hands that plucked at the dress, the wide, staring eyes.
The evidence screamed at her now that she knew.
At first she had felt sick, deadly sick; she had lain on her bed that night, praying for the mercy of sleep, and it had been denied her.
There were faces in the darkness that she had not known; the worn and weary faces of drowned people.