Once again, though, there came a murmur of excitement from the house, and this time there was shouting, and the sound of running feet, and several voices raised in unison; so that Richards ran to the open parlour window, forgetting his trust in the excitement of the moment, and thrust his leg over the sill.
There was a crash of splintering wood, and the shutters were torn away from the window of the barred room, which no one, apparently, had entered up to now. The men were tearing away the barricade of wood, and someone held a flare to light the room; Mary could see the flame dance in the draught of air.
Then the light vanished, and the voices died away, and she could hear the sound of footsteps tramping to the back of the house; and then round the corner to the yard they came, six or seven of them, led by the squire, holding amongst them something that squirmed and wriggled and fought for release, with hoarse bewildered cries.
"They've got him!
It's the murderer!" shouted Richards, calling to Mary; and she turned, brushing aside the hood that covered her face, and looked down upon the group of men who came to the trap.
The captive stared up at her, blinking at the light they flashed in his eyes, his clothes cobweb covered, his face unshaven and black: and it was Harry the pedlar.
"Who is he?" they shouted. "Do you know him?"
And the squire came round in front of the trap and bade them bring the man close, so that she could see him.
"What do you know of this fellow?" he said to Mary. "We found him in the barred room yonder lying on some sacks, and he denies all knowledge of the crime."
"He was of the company," said Mary slowly, "and he came to the inn last night and quarrelled with my uncle.
My uncle had the better of him and locked him up in the barred room, threatening him with death.
He had every reason to kill my uncle, and no one could have done it but he.
He is lying to you."
"But the door was locked upon him; it took three of us or more to break it down from the outside," said the squire. "This fellow had never been from the room at all.
Look at his clothes; look at his eyes, dazzled still by the light.
He's not your murderer."
The pedlar glanced furtively from one to the other of his guards, his small mean eyes darting to right and left, and Mary knew at once that what the squire had said was no more than the truth; Harry the pedlar could not have committed the crime. He had lain in the barred room since the landlord put him there, over twenty-four hours ago.
He had lain there in the dark, waiting for release, and during the long hours someone had come to Jamaica Inn and gone again, his work completed, in the silence of the night.
"Whoever did it knew nothing of this rascal, locked in the room yonder," continued the squire, "and he's no use to us as a witness, as far as I can see, for he heard and saw nothing.
But we'll have him in jail for all that, and hang him too, if he deserves it, which I'll be bound he does.
But he shall turn King's evidence first and give us the names of his companions.
One of them has killed the landlord for revenge, you may depend on that, and we'll track him down if we set every hound in Cornwall on his heels.
Take this fellow to the stable, some of you, and hold him there; the rest come back to the inn with me."
They dragged the pedlar away, who, realising that some crime had been discovered and suspicion might possibly rest upon him, found his tongue at last and began to blab his innocence, whining for mercy and swearing by the Trinity, until someone cuffed him to silence and threatened him with the rope, there and then, above the stable door.
This silenced him, and he fell to muttering blasphemies beneath his breath, turning his rat's eyes now and again to Mary, who sat above him in the trap, a few yards away.
She waited there, her chin in her hands and the hood fallen away from her face, and she neither heard his blasphemies nor saw his furtive narrow eyes, for she remembered other eyes that had looked upon her in the morning, and another voice that had spoken calm and cold, saying of his brother,
"He shall die for this."
There was the sentence, flung carelessly, on the way to Launceston fair:
"I have never killed a man yet"; and there was the gypsy woman in the market square:
"There's blood on your hand; you'll kill a man one day."
All the little things she would forget rose up again and clamoured against him: his hatred of his brother, his streak of callous cruelty, his lack of tenderness, his tainted Merlyn blood.
That, before all things, would betray him first.
Like to like. One of a kind.
He had gone to Jamaica Inn as he had promised, and his brother had died, as he had sworn.
The whole truth stared up at her in ugliness and horror, and she wished now that she had stayed, and he had killed her too.
He was a thief, and like a thief in the night he had come and was gone again.
She knew that the evidence could be built against him piece by piece, with herself as witness; it would be a fence around him from which there would be no escape.
She had only to go now to the squire and say,
"I know who it is that has done this thing," and they would listen to her, all of them; they would crowd around her like a pack of hounds panting for the chase, and the trail would lead them to him, past Rushyford, and through Trewartha Marsh, to Twelve Men's Moor.
He slept there now perhaps, forgetful of his crime and caring not at all, stretched on his bed in the lonely cottage where he and his brother had been born.
When morning came he would be gone, whistling perhaps, throwing his legs across a horse, and so away and out of Cornwall forever, a murderer like his father before him.
In her fancy she heard the clop of his horse upon the road, far distant in the quiet night, beating a tempo of farewell; but fancy became reason, and reason became certainty, and the sound she heard was not the dream thing of her imagination but the live tapping of a horse upon the highway.
She turned her head and listened, nerves strung now to the limit; and the hands that held the cloak around her were clammy and cold with sweat.
The sound of the horse drew nearer still.
He was trotting at a steady, even pace, neither hurried nor slow, and the rhythmic jogging tune that he played on the road had echo in her throbbing heart.
She was not alone now as she listened.
The men who guarded the pedlar murmured to one another in low tones and looked towards the road, and the groom Richards, who was with them, hesitated a moment and then went swiftly to the inn to call the squire.
The beat of the horse's hoofs rang loud now as he climbed the hill, sounding like a challenge to the night so silent and still, and as he topped the summit and rounded the wall into view the squire came out of the inn, followed by his man.
"Stop!" he called. "In the name of the King. I must ask your business on the road tonight."
The horseman drew rein and turned into the yard.