He held the horse while his master dismounted, answering as well as he could the rapid questions put to him by the squire, and the little band of men gathered around him too, pressing for news; some of them dismounting also, and stamping their feet on the ground, blowing upon their hands for warmth.
"If the fellow has been murdered, as you say, then, by God, it serves him right," said Mr. Bassat; "but I'd rather have clapped irons on him myself for all that.
You can't pay scores against a dead man.
Go on into the yard, the rest of you, while I see if I can get some sense out of the girl yonder."
Richards, relieved of responsibility, was surrounded at once and treated as something of a hero who had not only discovered the murder but had tackled the author of it single-handed; until he reluctantly admitted that his part in the adventure had been small.
The squire, whose mind worked slowly, did not realise what Mary was doing in the trap, and considered her as his groom's prisoner.
He heard with astonishment how she had walked the long miles to North Hill in the hopes of finding him, and, not content with that, must return again to Jamaica Inn.
"This is altogether beyond me," he said gruffly. "I believed you to be in conspiracy with your uncle against the law.
Why did you lie to me, then, when I came here earlier in the month?
You told me you knew nothing."
"I lied because of my aunt," said Mary wearily. "Whatever I said to you then was for her sake only, nor did I know as much then as I do now.
I am willing to explain everything in a court of law should it be necessary; but if I tried to tell you now you would not understand."
"Nor have I the time to listen," replied the squire. "You did a brave thing in walking all that way to North Hill to warn me, and I shall remember it in your favour; but all this trouble could have been avoided, and the terrible crime of Christmas Eve prevented, had you been frank with me before.
"However, all that for later.
My groom tells me that you have found your uncle murdered, but beyond that you know nothing of the crime.
Had you been a man you should go with me now to the inn, but I will spare you that.
I can see you have endured enough."
He raised his voice and shouted for the servant.
"Take the trap up to the yard and stay beside it with the young woman while we break into the inn"; and, turning to Mary:
"I must ask you to wait in the yard, if your courage permits you; you are the only one amongst us who knows anything of the matter, and you were the last to see your uncle alive."
Mary nodded her head.
She was nothing more now than a passive instrument of the law and must do as she was bidden.
He had at least spared her the ordeal of going once more into the empty inn and looking upon the body of her uncle.
The yard, that had lain in shadow when she came, was now the scene of activity; horses stamped on the cobblestones, and there was the shaking, ringing sound of bit and bridle, and there were the footsteps and the voices of the men, topped by the squire's gruff word of command.
He led the way round to the back, at Mary's direction, and presently the bleak and silent house lost its shuttered air.
The window in the bar was flung open, and the windows of the parlour; some of the men went upstairs and explored the empty guest rooms above, for these windows were unbarred also and opened to the air.
Only the heavy entrance door remained shut; and Mary knew that the landlord's body lay stretched across the threshold.
Someone called sharply from the house and was answered by a murmur of voices and a question from the squire.
The sounds came plainly now through the open parlour window to the yard outside.
Richards glanced across at Mary, and he saw by the pallor of her face that she had heard.
A man who stood by the horses, and who had not gone with the others inside the inn, shouted to the groom. "Do you hear what they say?" he said in some excitement.
"There's another body there, on the landing upstairs."
Richards said nothing.
Mary drew her cloak further around her shoulders and pulled the hood across her face.
They waited in silence.
Presently the squire himself came out into the yard and crossed to the trap.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I have bad news for you.
Perhaps you expected it."
"Yes," said Mary.
"I don't think she suffered at all.
She must have died at once.
She was lying just inside the bedroom at the end of the passage.
Stabbed, like your uncle.
She could have known nothing.
Believe me, I am very sorry.
I wish I could have spared you this."
He stood by her, awkward and distressed, and repeated again that she could not have suffered, that she had not known, but was killed instantly; and then, seeing that Mary were better left alone, and he could not help her, he stamped back across the yard to the inn.
Mary sat motionless, shrouded in her cloak; and she prayed in her own way that Aunt Patience would forgive her and find peace now, wherever she should be, and that the dragging chains of life would fall away from her, leaving her free.
She prayed also that Aunt Patience would understand what she had tried to do; and above all that her mother would be there, and she would not be alone.
These were the only thoughts that brought her a measure of consolation, and she knew if she went over in her mind again the story of the last few hours she would come to the one and only accusation: had she not left Jamaica Inn, Aunt Patience might not have died.