She had forgotten her uncle for nearly ten hours.
At once she remembered the full horror of the past week and the new knowledge that had come to her.
She thought of the interminable sleepless nights, the long days she had spent alone, and the staring bloodshot eyes of her uncle swung before her again, his drunken smile, his groping hands.
"Mr. Davey," she whispered, "have you ever heard of wreckers?"
She had never said the word aloud before; she had not considered it even, and now that she heard it from her own lips it sounded fearful and obscene, like a blasphemy.
It was too dark in the carriage to see the effect upon his face, but she heard him swallow.
His eyes were hidden from her under the black shovel hat, and she could see only the dim outline of his profile, the sharp chin, the prominent nose.
"Once, years ago, when I was hardly more than a child, I heard a neighbour speak of them," she said; "and then later, when I was old enough to understand, there were rumours of these things — snatches of gossip quickly suppressed.
One of the men would bring back some wild tale after a visit to the north coast, and he would be silenced at once; such talk was forbidden by the older men; it was an outrage to decency.
"I believed none of these stories; I asked my mother, and she told me they were the horrible inventions of evil-minded people; such things did not and could not exist.
She was wrong. I know now she was wrong, Mr. Davey.
My uncle is one of them; he told me so himself."
Still her companion made no reply; he sat motionless, like a stone thine, and she went on again, never raising her voice above a whisper:
"They are in it, every one of them, from the coast to the Tamar bank; all those men I saw that first Saturday in the bar at the inn.
The gipsies, poachers, sailors, the pedlar with the broken teeth.
They've murdered women and children with their own hands; they've held them under the water; they've killed them with rocks and stones.
Those are death waggons that travel the road by night, and the goods they carry are not smuggled casks alone, with brandy for some and tobacco for another, but the full cargoes of wrecked ships bought at the price of blood, the trust and the possession of murdered men.
And that's why my uncle is feared and loathed by the timid people in the cottages and farms, and why all doors are barred against him, and why the coaches drive past his house in a cloud of dust.
They suspect what they cannot prove.
My aunt lives in mortal terror of discovery; and my uncle has only to lose himself in drink before a stranger and his secret is split to the four winds.
There, Mr. Davey; now you know the truth about Jamaica Inn."
She leant back, breathless, against the side of the carriage, biting her lips and twisting her hands in an emotion she could not control, exhausted and shaken by the torrent of words that had escaped her; and somewhere in the dark places of her mind an image fought for recognition and found its way into the light, having no mercy on her feelings; and it was the face of Jem Merlyn, the man she loved, grown evil and distorted, merging horribly and finally into that of his brother.
The face beneath the black shovel hat turned towards her; she caught a sudden flicker of the white lashes, and the lips moved.
"So the landlord talks when he is drunk?" he said, and it seemed to Mary that his voice lacked something of its usual gentle quality; it rang sharper in tone, as though pitched on a higher note; but when she looked up at him his eyes stared back at her, cold and impersonal as ever.
"He talks, yes," she answered him. "When my uncle has lived on brandy for five days he'll bare his soul before the world.
He told me so himself, the very first evening I arrived.
He was not drunk then.
But four days ago, when he had woken from his first stupor, and he came out to the kitchen after midnight, swaying on his two feet — he talked then.
That's why I know.
And that's perhaps why I've lost faith in humanity, and in God, and in myself; and why I acted like a fool today in Launceston."
The gale had increased in force during their conversation, and now with the bend in the road the carriage headed straight into the wind and was brought almost to a standstill.
The vehicle rocked on its high wheels, and a sudden shower spattered against the windows like a handful of pebbles.
There was no particle of shelter now; the moor on either hand was bare and unprotected, and the scurrying clouds flew fast over the land, tearing themselves asunder on the tors.
There was a salt, wet tang in the wind that had come from the sea fifteen miles away.
Francis Davey leant forward in his seat.
"We are approaching Five Lanes and the turning to Altarnun," he said; "the driver is bound to Bodmin and will take you to Jamaica Inn.
I shall leave you at Five Lanes and walk down into the village.
Am I the only man you have honoured with your confidence, or do I share it with the landlord's brother?"
Again Mary could not tell if there was irony or mockery in his voice.
"Jem Merlyn knows," she said unwillingly. "We spoke of it this morning.
He said little, though, and I know he is not friendly with my uncle.
Anyway, it doesn't matter now; Jem rides to custody for another crime."
"And suppose he could save his own skin by betraying his brother, what then, Mary Yellan?
There is a consideration for you."
This was a new possibility, and for a moment she clutched at the straw.
But the vicar of Altarnun must have read her thoughts, for, glancing up at him for confirmation of her hopes, she saw him smile, the thin line of his mouth breaking for a moment out of passivity, as though his face were a mask and the mask had cracked.
She looked away, uncomfortable, feeling like one who stumbles unawares upon a sight forbidden.
"That would be a relief to you and to him, no doubt," continued the vicar, "if he had never been involved. But there is always the doubt, isn't there?
And neither you nor I know the answer to that question.