He swung the lantern to and fro before her, and suddenly he laughed and took hold of her arm, pulling her roughly inside the porch.
"Oh, it's you, is it?" he said. "So you've come to us after all?
I'm your uncle, Joss Merlyn, and I bid you welcome to Jamaica Inn."
He drew her into the shelter of the house, laughing again, and shut the door, and stood the lantern upon a table in the passage.
And they looked upon each other face to face.
He was a great husk of a man, nearly seven feet high, with a creased black brow and a skin the colour of a gypsy.
His thick dark hair fell over his eyes in a fringe and hung about his ears.
He looked as if he had the strength of a horse, with immense powerful shoulders, long arms that reached almost to his knees, and large fists like hams.
His frame was so big that in a sense his head was dwarfed and sunk between his shoulders, giving that half-stooping impression of a giant gorilla, with his black eyebrows and his mat of hair.
But for all his long limbs and mighty frame there was nothing of the ape about his features, for his nose was hooked, curving to a mouth that might have been perfect once but was now sunken and fallen, and there was still something fine about his great dark eyes, in spite of the lines and pouches and the red blood flecks.
The best things left to him were his teeth, which were all good still, and very white, so that when he smiled they showed up clearly against the tan of his face, giving him the lean and hungry appearance of a wolf.
And, though there should be a world of difference between the smile of a man and the bared fangs of a wolf, with Joss Merlyn they were one and the same.
"So you are Mary Yellan," he said at length, towering above her, his head bent to observe her more closely, "and you've come all this way to look after your uncle Joss.
I call it very handsome of you." He laughed again, mocking her, his laugh bellowing through the house, acting like a lash on the strung nerves of Mary.
"Where is my Aunt Patience?" she asked, glancing around her in the dimly lit passage, cheerless with its cold stone flags and narrow rickety staircase. "Is she not expecting me, then?"
" 'Where's my Aunt Patience?'" mimicked the man. "Where's my dear auntie to kiss and daddle me, and make much of me?
Can't you wait an instant without running to her?
Haven't you a kiss for your uncle Joss?"
Mary drew back.
The thought of kissing him revolted her.
He was either mad or drunk, anyway.
She did not want to anger him, though; she was too frightened for that.
He saw the question pass through her mind, and he laughed again.
"Oh, no," he said, "I'm not going to touch you; you're safe as a church with me.
I never did like dark women, my dear, and I've better things to do than to play cat's cradle with me own niece."
He jeered down at her contemptuously, treating her like a fool, tired of his joke. Then he lifted his head to the stairs.
"Patience," he roared, "what in hell are you doing?
Here's the girl arrived, whimpering for you.
She's sick of the sight of me already."
There was a little flutter at the head of the stairs, and a footsteps dragged. Then the flicker of a candle, and an exclamation. Down the narrow stairs came a woman, shielding the light from her eyes.
She wore a dingy mobcap on her thin grey hair, which hung in elflocks to her shoulders. She had turned the edges of her hair in a vain attempt to recapture ringlets, but the curl had gone.
Her face had fallen away, and the skin was stretched tight across her cheekbones. Her eyes were large and staring, as though they asked perpetually a question, and she had a little nervous trick of working her mouth, now pursing the lips and now relaxing them.
She wore a faded striped petticoat that had once been cherry coloured and was now a washed-out pink, and over her shoulders was flung a much-mended shawl.
She had obviously just strung a new ribbon in her cap in some small attempt to brighten her dress, and it struck a false, incongruous note. It was bright scarlet and showed up in horrible contrast to the pallour of her face.
Mary stared at her dumbly, stricken with sorrow.
Was this poor tattered creature the bewitching Aunt Patience of her dreams, dressed now like a slattern, and twenty years her age?
The little woman came down the stairs and into the hall; she took Mary's hands in hers and peered into her face.
"Have you really come?" she whispered. "It is my niece Mary Yellan, isn't it?
My dead sister's child?"
Mary nodded, thanking God that her mother could not see her now.
"Dear Aunt Patience," she said gently, "I'm glad to see you again.
It's so many long years since you came to us at Helford."
The woman kept pawing her with her hands, stroking her clothes, feeling her, and suddenly she clung to her, burying her head against her shoulder, and she began to cry, loudly and fearfully, drawing her breath in gasps.
"Ah, stop that," growled her husband. "What sort of a welcome is this?
What have you got to squark about, you damned fool?
Can't you see the girl wants her supper?
Get her out to the kitchen and give her some bacon and a drink."
He bent down and shouldered Mary's box as though it weighed less than a paper packet.