The damp walls, the creaking boards, the whispers in the air, and the footsteps that had no name: these were the warnings of a house that had felt itself long threatened.
Mary shivered; and she knew that the quality of this silence had origin in far-off buried and forgotten things.
She dreaded panic, above all things; the scream that forced itself to the lips, the wild stumble of groping feet and hands that beat the air for passage.
She was afraid that it might come to her, destroying reason; and, now that the first shock of discovery had lessened, she knew that it might force its way upon her, close in and stifle her.
Her fingers might lose their sense of grip and touch, and the candle fall from her hands. Then she would be alone and covered by the darkness.
The tearing desire to run seized hold of her, and she conquered it.
She backed away from the hall towards the passage, the candle flickering in the draught of air, and when she came to the kitchen and saw the door still open to the patch of garden, her calm deserted her, and she ran blindly through the door to the cold free air outside, a sob in her throat, her outstretched hands grazing the stone wall as she turned the corner of the house.
She ran like a thing pursued across the yard and came to the open road, where the familiar stalwart figure of the squire's groom confronted her.
He put out his hands to save her, and she groped at his belt, feeling for security, her teeth chattering now in the full shock of reaction.
"He's dead," she said; "he's dead there on the floor. I saw him"; and, try as she did, she could not stop this chattering of her teeth and the shivering of her body.
He led her to the side of the road, back to the trap, and he reached for the cloak and put it around her, and she held it to her close, grateful for the warmth.
"He's dead," she repeated; "stabbed in the back; I saw the place where his coat was rent, and there was blood.
He lay on his face.
The clock had fallen with him.
The blood was dry; and he looked as though he had lain there for some time.
The inn was dark and silent.
No one else was there."
"Was your aunt gone?" whispered the man.
Mary shook her head.
"I don't know.
I did not see.
I had to come away."
He saw by her face that her strength had gone and she would fall, and he helped her up into the trap and climbed onto the seat beside her.
"All right, then," he said, "all right. Sit quiet, then, here.
No one shall hurt you.
There now. All right, then."
His gruff voice helped her, and she crouched beside him in the trap, the warm cloak muffled to her chin.
"That was no sight for a maid to see," he told her. "You should have let me go. I wish now you had stayed back here in the trap.
That's terrible for you to see him lying dead there, murdered."
Talking eased her, and his rough sympathy was good.
"The pony was still in the stable," she said. "I listened at the door and heard him move.
They had never even finished their preparations for going.
The kitchen door was unlocked, and there were bundles on the floor there; blankets too, ready to load into the cart.
It must have happened several hours ago."
"It puzzles me what the squire is doing," said Richards. "He should have been here before this.
I'd feel easier if he'd come and you could tell your story to him.
There's been bad work here tonight.
You should never have come."
They fell silent, and both of them watched the road for the coming of the squire.
"Who'd have killed the landlord?" said Richards, puzzled. "He's a match for most men and should have held his own.
There was plenty who might have had a hand in it, though, for all that.
If ever a man was hated, he was."
"There was the pedlar," said Mary slowly. "I'd forgotten the pedlar.
It must have been him, breaking out from the barred room."
She fastened upon the idea, to escape from another; and she retold the story, eagerly now, of how the pedlar had come to the inn the night before.
It seemed at once that the crime was proven and there could be no other explanation.
"He'll not run far before the squire catches him," said the groom; "you can be sure of that.
No one can hide on these moors, unless he's a local man, and I have never heard of Harry the pedlar before.
But, then, they came from every hole and corner in Cornwall, Joss Merlyn's men, by all accounts.
They were, as you might say, the dregs of the country."