His wife stole over to him and plucked at his jacket, passing her tongue over her lips in preparation for speech.
"Well, what is it?" he said fiercely.
"Why can't we creep away now, before it's too late?" she whispered. "The trap's in the stable; we'll be in Launceston and across to Devon in a few hours.
We could travel by night; we could make for the eastern counties."
"You damned idiot!" he shouted. "Don't you realise there are people on the road between here and Launceston who think I'm the devil himself — who are only waiting their chance to fasten every crime in Cornwall on my head and get me?
The whole country knows by now what happened on the coast on Christmas Eve, and if they see us bolting they'll have the proof.
God, don't you think I haven't itched to get away and save my skin?
Yes, and by doing so have every man in the country point his finger at us.
We'd look fine, wouldn't we, riding in the trap on top of our goods and chattels, like farmers on market day, waving good-bye in Launceston square?
No, we've got one chance, one single chance in a million. We've got to lie quiet; we've got to lie mum.
If we sit here tight at Jamaica Inn they may start scratching their heads and rubbing their noses.
They've got to look for proof, mind you. They've got to get the sworn proof before they lay hands on us.
And unless one of that blasted rabble turns informer they won't get the proof.
"Oh yes, the ship's there, with her back broken on the rocks, and there's chunks of stuff lying on the beach — piles of it — ready to take away, put there by someone, they'll say.
They'll find two bodies, charred to cinders, and a heap of ashes.
'What's this?' they'll say.
"There's been a fire; there's been a scrap.'
It'll look dirty, it'll look bad for many of us, but where's your proof?
Answer me that.
I spent my Christmas Eve like a respectable man, in the bosom of my family, playing cat's cradle and snapdragon with my niece." He put his tongue in his cheek and winked.
"You've forgotten one thing, haven't you?" said Mary.
"No, my dear, I have not.
The driver of that carriage was shot, and he fell in the ditch, not a quarter of a mile down the road outside.
You were hoping we'd left the body there, weren't you?
Maybe it will shock you, Mary, but the body travelled with us to the coast, and it lies now, if I remember rightly, beneath a ten-foot bank of shingle.
Of course, someone is going to miss him; I'm prepared for that; but as they'll never find his carriage it doesn't make much odds.
Maybe he was tired of his wife and has driven to Penzance.
They're welcome to look for him there.
And now that we've both come to our senses again, you can tell me what you were doing in that carriage, Mary, and where you had been.
If you don't answer me, you know me well enough by now.
I can find a way of making you talk."
Mary glanced at her aunt.
The woman was shivering like a frightened dog, her blue eyes fixed upon her husband's face.
Mary thought rapidly.
It was easy enough to lie; time was the all-important factor now and must be reckoned with and cherished if she and her aunt Patience were to come out of this alive. She must play upon it and give her uncle rope enough to hang himself. His confidence would go against him in the end.
She had one hope of salvation, and he was near, not five miles away, waiting in Altarnun for a signal from her.
"I'll tell you my day, and you can believe it or not," she said; "it doesn't matter much to me what you think.
I walked to Launceston on Christmas Eve and went to the fair.
I was tired by eight o'clock, and when it came to rain and blow I was wet through and fit for nothing.
I hired that carriage, and I told the man I wanted him to take me to Bodmin.
I thought if I said the Jamaica Inn he would have refused the journey.
There, I've nothing more to tell you than that."
"Were you alone in Launceston?"
"Of course I was alone."
"And you spoke to no one?"
"I bought a handkerchief from a woman at a stall."
Joss Merlyn spat on the floor.
"All right," he said. "Whatever I did to you now, you'd tell the same story, wouldn't you?
You've got the advantage for once, because I can't prove if you're lying or not.
Not many maids your age would spend the day alone in Launceston, I can tell you that.