We don't get sore throats at Jamaica." And he laughed at her, and winked, and put out his tongue.
"I'll have a cup of tea if I may," said Mary. "I'm not used to drinking spirits, nor wine neither."
"Oh, you're not?
Well, it's your loss, I'm glad to say.
You can have your tea tonight, but, by God, you'll want some brandy in a month or two."
He reached across the table and took hold of her hand.
"You've a pretty enough paw for one who's worked on a farm," he said. "I was afraid it would be rough and red.
If there's one thing that makes a man sick it's to have his ale poured out by an ugly hand.
Not that my customers are over-particular, but then we've never had a barmaid before at Jamaica Inn." He gave her a mock bow and dropped her hand.
"Patience, my dear," he said, "here's the key.
Go and fetch me a bottle of brandy, for the Lord's sake.
I've a thirst on me that all the waters of Dozmary would not slake."
His wife hurried across the room at his word and disappeared into the passage.
Then he fell to picking his teeth again, whistling from time to time, while Mary ate her bread and butter and drank the tea that he placed before her.
Already a splitting headache tightened her brow, and she was ready to drop.
Her eyes watered from the peat smoke.
But she was not too tired to watch her uncle, for already she had caught something of the nervousness of her Aunt Patience and felt that in some sense they were here like mice in a trap, unable to escape, with him playing with them like a monstrous cat.
In a few minutes his wife returned with the brandy, which she put in front of her husband, and while she finished her cooking of the bacon and served Mary and herself, he fell to drinking, staring moodily before him, kicking the leg of the table.
Suddenly he thumped the table with his fist, shaking the plates and cups, while one platter crashed to the floor and broke.
"I tell you what it is, Mary Yellan," he shouted. "I'm master in this house, and I'll have you know it.
You'll do as you're told, and help in the house and serve my customers, and I'll not lay a finger on you.
But, by God, if you open your mouth and squark, I'll break you until you eat out of my hand the same as your aunt yonder."
Mary faced him across the table. She held her hands in her lap so that he should not see them tremble.
"I understand you," she said. "I'm not curious by nature, and I've never gossiped in my life.
It doesn't matter to me what you do in the inn, or what company you keep.
I'll do my work about the house and you'll have no cause to grumble.
But if you hurt my Aunt Patience in any way, I tell you this — I'll leave Jamaica Inn straight away, and I'll find the magistrate, and bring him here, and have the law on you; and then try and break me if you like."
Mary had turned very pale, and she knew that if he thundered at her now she would break down and cry, and he would have the mastery of her for ever.
The torrent of words had come from her in spite of herself, and, wrung with pity for the poor broken thing that was her aunt, she could not control them. Had she but known it, she had saved herself, for her little show of spirit impressed the man, and he leant back in his chair and relaxed.
"That's very pretty," he said; "very prettily put indeed.
Now we know just what sort of lodger we have.
Scratch her, and she shows her claws. All right, my dear; you and I are more akin than I thought.
If we are going to play, we'll play together.
I may have work for you at Jamaica one day, work that you've never done before.
Man's work, Mary Yellan, where you play with life and death."
Mary heard her Aunt Patience give a little gasp beside her.
"Oh, Joss," she whispered. "Oh, Joss, please!"
There was so much urgency in her voice that Mary stared at her in surprise.
She saw her aunt lean forward and motion her husband to be silent, and the very eagerness of her chin and the agony in her eyes frightened Mary more than anything that had happened that night.
She felt eerie suddenly, chilled, and rather sick.
What had roused Aunt Patience to such panic?
What had Joss Merlyn been about to say?
She was aware of a fevered and rather terrible curiosity. Her uncle waved his hand impatiently.
"Get up to bed, Patience," he said. "I'm tired of your death's-head at my supper table.
This girl and I understand one another."
The woman rose at once and went to the door, with a last ineffectual glance of despair over her shoulder.
They heard her patter up the stairs.
Joss Merlyn and Mary were alone. He pushed the empty brandy glass away from him and folded his arms on the table.
"There's been one weakness in my life, and I'll tell you what it is," he said. "It's drink.
It's a curse, and I know it. I can't stop myself.