"All right," he said; "we're friends, aren't we?
There's no harm done in plain speaking.
The stuff's there, and it'll take two men to shift it.
The women here can't do it.
What's against you and I striking a bargain, and be done with it?"
The landlord puffed thoughtfully at his pipe.
"You're teeming with ideas, all strung out as pretty as the fancy trinkets on your tray, my friend.
And supposing the stuff isn't there, after all?
Supposing I've disposed of it already?
I've been here kicking my heels for two days, you know, and the coaches pass my door.
What then, Harry boy?"
The grin faded from the face of the pedlar, and he thrust out his jaw.
"What's the joke?" he snarled. "Do you play a double game up here at Jamaica Inn?
You'll find it hasn't paid you, if you have.
You've been mighty silent sometimes, Joss Merlyn, when cargoes were run and when we had the waggons on the road. I've seen things sometimes I haven't understood, and heard things too.
You've made a brilliant job of this trade, month in, month out; too brilliant, some of us thought, for the small profit we made out of it, who took most of the risks.
And we didn't ask you how you did it, did we?
Listen here, Joss Merlyn: do you take your orders from one above you?"
The landlord was on him like a flash. He caught the pedlar on the point of the chin with his clenched fist, and the man went over backwards onto his head, the chair beneath him striking the stone flags with a crash.
He recovered instantly and scrambled to his knees, but the landlord towered above him, the muzzle of his gun pointed at the pedlar's throat.
"Move, and you're a dead man," he said softly.
Harry the pedlar looked up at his assailant, his little mean eyes half closed, his puffy face yellow.
The fall had winded him, and he breathed shortly.
At the first sign of a struggle Aunt Patience had flattened herself against the wall, terror stricken, her eyes searching those of her niece in vain appeal.
Mary watched her uncle closely; she had no clue this time to his state of mind.
He lowered his gun and pushed at the pedlar with his foot.
"Now we can talk reason, you and I," he said.
He leant once more against the table, his gun across his arm, while the pedlar sprawled, half kneeling, half crouching, on the floor.
"I'm the leader in this game and always have been," said the landlord slowly. "I've worked it from the beginning three years ago, when we ran cargoes from little twelve-ton luggers to Padstow and thought ourselves lucky when we were seven-pence-halfpenny in pocket.
I've worked it until the trade was the biggest thing in the country, from Hartland to Hayle.
I take orders?
My God, I'd like to see the man who dared to try me.
Well, it's over now. We've run our course, and the day is done. The game is up, for all of us.
You didn't come here tonight to warn me; you came to see what you could get out of the smash.
The inn was barred, and your little mean heart rejoiced.
You scraped at the window there because you knew from experience that the hasp of the shutter is loose and easy to force.
You didn't think to find me here, did you?
You thought it would be Patience here, or Mary; and you would scare them easy, wouldn't you, and reach for my gun, where it hangs handy on the wall, as you've often seen?
And then to hell with the landlord of Jamaica Inn.
You little rat, Harry, do you think I didn't see it in your eye when I flung back the shutter and saw your face at the window?
Do you think I never heard your gasp of surprise, nor watched your sudden yellow grin?"
The pedlar passed his tongue over his lips and swallowed.
He threw a glance towards Mary, motionless by the fire, the round button of his eye watchful, like a cornered rat's. He wondered if she would throw in the dice against him.
But she said nothing. She waited for her uncle.
"Very well," he said; "we'll strike a bargain, you and I, as you suggested.
We'll come to handsome terms.
I've changed my mind after all, my loving friend, and with your help we'll take the road to Devon.
There's stuff in this place worth taking, as you reminded me, nor can I load alone.
Tomorrow is Sunday, and a blessed day of rest.
Not even the wrecking of fifty ships will drag the people of this country from their knees.