They had outstayed their time. Success had made them careless.
The dawn had broken upon them unawares, and by lingering overlong they had risked the accusation which daylight would bring to them.
The world was waking up around them; night that had been their ally, covered them no more.
It was Joss Merlyn who pulled the sacking away from her mouth and jerked Mary to her feet.
Seeing that her weakness had become part of her now, and could not be withstood, for she could neither stand alone nor help herself in any way, he cursed her furiously, glancing behind him at the cliffs that every minute became harder, more distinct; and then he bent down to her, for she had stumbled to the ground again, and threw her over his shoulder as he would a sack.
Her head lolled without support, her arms lifeless, and she felt his hands pressing into her scarred side, bruising it once again, rubbing the numb flesh that had lain upon the shingle.
He ran with her up the strand to the entrance of the gully; and his companions caught up already in a mesh of panic, flung the remnants of spoil they had snatched from the beach upon the backs of the three horses tethered there.
Their movements were feverish and clumsy, and they worked without direction, as though unhinged, lacking all sense of order; while the landlord, sober now from necessity and strangely ineffectual, cursed and bullied them to no avail.
The carriage, stuck in the bank halfway up the gully, resisted their efforts to extract it, and this sudden reverse to their fortune increased the panic and stampede.
Some of them began to scatter up the lane, forgetting everything in a blind concentration on personal safety.
Dawn was their enemy, and more easily withstood alone, in the comparative security of ditch and hedge, than in the company of five or six upon the road.
Suspicion would lie in numbers here on the coast, where every face was known and strangers were remarkable; but a poacher, or tramp, or gypsy could make his way alone, finding his own cover and his own path.
These deserters were cursed by those who remained, struggling with the carriage, and now, through stupidity and panic, the vehicle was wrenched from the bank in so rough a manner that it overturned, falling upon one side and smashing a wheel.
This final disaster let loose pandemonium in the gullyway.
There was a wild rush to the remaining farm cart that had been left further up the lane, and to the already over-burdened horses.
Someone, still obedient to the leader and with a sense of necessity, put fire to the broken carriage, whose presence in the lane screamed danger to them all, and the riot that followed — fight between man and man for the possession of the farm cart that might yet carry them away inland — was a hideous scrap of tooth and nail, of teeth smashed by stones, of eyes cut open by broken glass.
Those who carried pistols now had the advantage, and the landlord, with his remaining ally Harry the pedlar by his side, stood with his back to the cart and let fly amongst the rabble, who, in the sudden terror of pursuit that would follow with the day, looked upon him now as an enemy, a false leader who had brought them to destruction.
The first shot went wide and stubbed the soft bank opposite; but it gave one of the opponents a chance to cut the landlord's eye open with a jagged flint.
Joss Merlyn marked his assailant with his second shot, spattering him in mid-stomach, and while the fellow doubled up in the mud amongst his companions, mortally wounded and screaming like a hare, Harry the pedlar caught another in the throat, the bullet ripping the windpipe, the blood spouting jets like a fountain.
It was the blood that won the cart for the landlord; for the remaining rebels, hysterical and lost at the sight of their dying fellows, turned as one man and scuttled like crabs up the twisting lane, intent only on putting a safe distance between themselves and their late leader.
The landlord leant against the cart with smoking, murderous pistol, the blood running freely from the cut on his eye.
Now that they were alone, he and the pedlar wasted little time. What wreckage had been salved and brought to the gully they threw upon the car beside Mary — miscellaneous odds and ends, useless and unprofitable, the main store still down on the beach and washed by the tide.
They dared not risk the fetching of it, for that would be the work of a dozen men, and already the light of day had followed the early dawn and made clear the countryside. There was not a moment to spare.
The two men who had been shot sprawled in the lane beside the cart.
Whether they still breathed or not was not a matter to be discussed; their bodies bore witness, and must be destroyed.
It was Harry the pedlar who dragged them to the fire.
It burnt well; much of the carriage was already consumed, while one red wheel stuck out above the charred and splintered wood.
Joss Merlyn led the remaining horse to the traces, and without a word the two men climbed into the cart and jerked the horse to action.
Lying on her back in the cart, Mary watched the low clouds pass across the sky.
Darkness had gone; the morning was damp and grey.
She could still hear the sound of the sea, more distant and less insistent, a sea that had spent its full fury and now let itself be carried by the tide.
The wind had dropped too; the tall stems of grass on the banks above the gully were still, and a silence had come upon the coast.
There was a smell in the air of damp earth and turnips, of a mist that had lain overnight upon the land.
The clouds became one with the grey sky.
Once again a thin mizzle of rain fell upon Mary's face and upon her upturned hands.
The wheels of the cart crunched the uneven lane, and, turning right, came out upon a smoother surface of gravel that was a road, running northwards between low hedges.
From far away, across many fields and scattered ploughlands, came the merry peal of bells, odd and discordant, in the morning air.
She remembered suddenly that it was Christmas Day.
The square pane of glass was familiar to her.
It was larger than the carriage window and had a ledge before it, and there was a crack across the pane that she remembered well.
She kept her eyes upon it, struggling with memory, and she wondered why she no longer felt the rain on her face and the steady current of wind.
There was no movement under her, and her first thought was that the carriage had come to a standstill, thrust against the bank in the gullyway once more, and that circumstance and fate would compel her to react in frightful repetition the things she had already performed.
When she climbed through the window she would fall and bruise herself, and, heading yet again up the twisting lane, would come upon Harry the pedlar, squatting in his ditch; but this time she would not have the strength to withstand him.
Down on the shingle strand the men waited for the tide, and the great black turtle of a ship rolled flat and monstrous in the trough of the sea.
Mary moaned and turned her head restlessly from side to side; out of the tail of her eye she saw the brown discoloured wall beside her, and the rusty nailhead where a text had once been hung.
She was lying in her bedroom at Jamaica Inn.
The sight of this room she hated, however cold it was and drear, was at least protection from the wind and the rain and from the hands of Harry the pedlar.
Nor could she hear the sea. The roar of surf would not disturb her again.
If Death came now, he would be an ally; existence was not a thing she welcomed any more.