Aunt Patience made a little murmur of distress, lifting her eyes from the plain slab of bread on the plate before her, but Joss Merlyn kicked at her for silence.
"Let her stay sulky if she has the mind, can't you?" he said. "What does it matter to you if she eats or not?
Starvation is good for women and beasts; it brings 'em to heel.
She'll be humble enough in the morning.
Wait, Mary; you shall sleep sounder still if I turn the key on you.
I want no prowlers in the passage."
His eyes strayed to the gun against the wall and half-consciously back to the shutter, which still gaped open before the kitchen window.
"Fasten that window, Patience," he said thoughtfully, "and put the bar across the shutter.
When you have finished your supper, you too can go to bed.
I shall not leave the kitchen tonight."
His wife looked up at him in fear, struck by the tone of his voice, and would have spoken, but he cut her short.
"Haven't you learnt by now not to question me?" he shouted.
She rose at once and went to the window.
Mary, her candle alight, waited by the door.
"All right," he said. "Why are you standing there?
I told you to go."
Mary went out into the dark passage, her candle throwing her shadow behind her as she walked.
No sound came from the store at the end of the passage, and she thought of the pedlar lying there in the darkness, watching and waiting for the day.
The thought of him was abhorrent to her; like a rat he was, imprisoned amongst his fellows, and she suddenly pictured him with rat's claws scratching and gnawing at the framework of the door, scraping his way to freedom in the silence of the night.
She shuddered, strangely thankful that her uncle had decided to make a prisoner of her as well.
The house was treacherous tonight, her very footsteps sounding hollow on the flags, and there were echoes that came unbidden from the walls.
Even the kitchen, the one room in the house to possess some measure of warmth and normality, gaped back at her as she left it, yellow and sinister in the candlelight.
Was her uncle going to sit there, then, the candles extinguished, his gun across his knee, waiting for something?… for someone?… He crossed into the hall as she mounted the stairs, and he followed her along the landing to the bedroom over the porch.
"Give me your key," he said, and she handed it to him without a word.
He lingered for a moment, looking down at her, and then he bent low and laid his fingers on her mouth. "I've a soft spot for you, Mary," he said; "you've got spirit still, and pluck, for all the knocks I've given you. I've seen it in your eyes tonight.
If I'd been a younger man I'd have courted you, Mary — aye, and won you, too, and ridden away with you to glory.
You know that, don't you?"
She said nothing. She stared back at him as he stood beyond the door, and her hand that held the candlestick trembled slightly without her knowledge.
He lowered his voice to a whisper.
"There's danger for me ahead," he said. "Never mind the law; I can bluff my way to freedom if it comes to that.
The whole of Cornwall can come running at my heels for all I care.
It's other game I have to watch for — footsteps, Mary, that come in the night and go again, and a hand that would strike me down."
His face looked lean and old in the half-light, and there was a flicker of meaning in his eyes that leapt like a flame to tell her, and then dulled again.
"We'll put the Tamar between us and Jamaica Inn," he said; and then he smiled, the curve of his mouth painfully familiar to her and known, like an echo from the past.
He shut the door upon her and turned the key.
She heard him tramp down the stairs and so down into the passage, and he turned the corner to the kitchen and was gone.
She went then to her bed and sat down upon it, her hands in her lap; and, for some reason forever unexplained, thrust away from her later and forgotten, side by side with the little old sins of childhood and those dreams never acknowledged to the sturdy day, she put her fingers to her lips as he had done, and let them stray thence to her cheek and back again.
And she began to cry, softly and secretly, the tears tasting bitter as they fell upon her hand.
She had fallen asleep where she lay, without undressing, and her first conscious thought was that the storm had come again, bringing with it the rain which streamed against her window.
She opened her eyes and saw that the night was still, without a tremor of wind from without or the patter of rain.
Her senses were alert at once, and she waited for a repetition of the sound that had woken her.
It came again in an instant — a shower of earth flung against the pane of glass from the yard outside.
She swung her legs to the floor and listened, weighing in her mind the possibility of danger.
If this was a warning signal, the method was a crude one, and better ignored.
Someone with little idea of the geography of the inn might have mistaken her window for the landlord's.
Her uncle waited below with his gun across his knee in preparation for a visitor; perhaps the visitor had come and was now standing in the yard…. Curiosity gained the better of her in the end, and she crept softly to the window, holding herself in the shadow of the jutting wall.
The night was black still, and there were shadows everywhere, but low in the sky a thin line of cloud foretold the dawn.
She had not been mistaken, though; the earth on the floor was real enough, and so was the figure standing directly beneath the porch: the figure of a man.
She crouched by the window, waiting for his further movement.