Nor would they drive home by themselves.
If your story's true, then our prospects improve.
They'll never trace that driver here.
God damn it, I shall feel like another drink in a moment."
He tilted back his chair and pulled at his pipe.
"You shall drive in your own coach yet, Patience," he said, "and wear feathers in your bonnet, and a velvet cloak, I'm not beaten yet.
I'll see the whole band of 'em in hell first.
You wait; we'll start afresh again, we'll live like fighting cocks.
Maybe I'll turn sober and go to church on Sundays.
And you, Mary, you shall hold my hand in my old age and spoon me my food."
He threw back his head and laughed; but his laugh broke short in the middle, his mouth shut like a trap, and he crashed his chair down on the floor again and stood up in the middle of the room, his body turned sideways, his face as white as a sheet.
"Listen," he whispered hoarsely; "listen…."
They followed the direction of his eyes, fastened as they were upon the chink of light that came through the narrow gap in the shutters.
Something was scraping gently at the kitchen window… tapping lightly, softly, scratching furtively at the pane of glass. It was like the sound made by a branch of ivy when it has broken loose from the trunk and, bending downwards, teases a window or a porch, disturbed and restless with every breath of wind.
But there was no ivy on the slate walls of Jamaica Inn, and the shutters were bare. The scraping continued, persuasive and undaunted, tap… tap… like the drumming of a beak; tap… tap… like the four fingers of a hand.
There was no other sound in the kitchen except the frightened breathing of Aunt Patience, whose hand crept out across the table to her niece.
Mary watched the landlord as he stood motionless on the kitchen floor, his figure shadowed monstrously on the ceiling, and she saw his lips blue through the dark stubble of his beard.
Then he bent forward, crouching on tiptoe like a cat, and, sliding his hand along the floor, his fingers fastened themselves upon his gun that stood against the further chair, never once taking his eyes from the chink of light between the shutters.
Mary swallowed, her throat dry as dust; whether the thing behind the window was friend or enemy to herself made the suspense more poignant, but in spite of her hopes the thumping of her heart told her that fear was infectious, as were the beads of perspiration on her uncle's face. Her hands wandered to her mouth, trembling and clammy.
For a moment he waited beside the closed shutters, and then he sprang forward, tearing at the hinge and pulling them apart, the grey light of afternoon slanting at once into the room.
A man stood outside the window, his livid face pressed against the pane, his broken teeth gaping in an evil grin.
It was Harry the pedlar….
Joss Merlyn swore and threw open the window.
"God damn you, come inside, can't you? he shouted.
"Do you want a bullet in your guts, you blasted fool?
You've had me here standing like a deaf-mute for five minutes, with my gun trained on your belly.
Unbolt the door, Mary; don't lean against the wall there like a ghost.
There's nerves enough in this house without you turning sour."
Like all men who have been badly scared, he threw the blame of his own panic upon the shoulders of another and now blustered to reassure himself.
Mary crossed slowly to the door.
The sight of the pedlar brought back a vivid memory of her struggle in the lane, and reaction came swift upon her.
Her nausea and disgust returned in force, and she could not look upon him.
She opened the door without a word, screening herself behind it, and when he came into the kitchen she turned at once and went to the dull fire, piling the turf upon the embers mechanically, her back towards him.
"Well, have you brought news?" questioned the landlord.
The pedlar smacked his lips in reply and jerked his thumb over his shoulder.
"The country's gone up in smoke," he said. "Every cluttering tongue in Cornwall, from the Tamar to St. Ives.
I was in Bodmin this forenoon; the town was ringing with it, and they're hot mad for blood and justice too.
Last night I slept at Camelford, every man jack in the place shaking his fist in the air and blabbing to his neighbour.
There'll only be one end to this storm, Joss, and you know the name for it, don't you?" He made a gesture with his hands across his throat. "We've got to run for it," he said; "it's our only chance.
The roads are poison, and Bodmin and Launceston worst of all.
I'll keep to the moors, and get into Devon above Gunnislake; it'll take me longer, I know that, but what's the odds if you save your skin?
Have you got a bite of bread in the house, missus?
I've not touched food since yesterday forenoon."
He threw his question at the landlord's wife, but his glance fell upon Mary.
Patience Merlyn fumbled in the cupboard for bread and cheese, her mouth working nervously, her movements clumsy, her mind anywhere but on her mission.
As she laid the table she looked beseechingly at her husband.
"You hear what he says," she pleaded. "It's madness to stop here; we must go now, at once, before it's too late.
You know what this means to the people; they will have no mercy on you; they'll kill you without trial.
For God's sake, listen to him, Joss.
You know I don't care for myself; it's for you…."