N.S.B. Cosmic Center
This page will take you into pieces of literature that are carefully selected for their great content at the literary, scientific, or philosophical level. A short selection will be presented in full. A long one will be divided into sections that will be refreshed regularly. Emphasis and highlights are mostly ours, not made by the original author.
Here is our current selection:
Jamaica Inn (1916) by Daphne du Maurier
Joss Merlyn was away from home for nearly a week, and during that time Mary came to know something of the country.
Her presence was not required in the bar, for no one came to it when the landlord was from home, and, after giving her aunt a hand with the housework and in the kitchen, she was free to wander where she pleased. Patience Merlyn was no walker ; she had no wish to stir beyond the chicken-run at the back of the inn, and she had no sense of direction. She had a vague idea of the names of the tors, for she had heard them mentioned by her husband, but where they were, and how anyone found them, she did not know. So Mary would strike off on her own at midday, with nothing but the sun to guide her and a certain deep-grained common sense which was her natural inheritance as a country-woman.
The moors were even wilder than she had at first supposed. Like an immense desert they rolled from east to west, with tracks here and there across the surface and great hills breaking the skyline.
Where was their final boundary she could not tell, except that once, away to the westward, after climbing the highest tor behind Jamaica, she caught the silver shimmer of the sea. It was a silent, desolate country though, vast and untouched by human hand ; on the high tors the slabs, of stone leant against one another in strange shapes and forms, massive sentinels who had stood there since the hand of God first fashioned them.
Some were shaped like giant furniture, with monstrous chairs and twisted tables ; and sometimes the smaller crumbling stones lay on the summit of the hill like a giant himself, his huge, recumbent form darkening the heather and the coarse tufted grass. There were long stones that stood on end, balancing themselves in a queer miraculous way, as though they leant against the wind ; and there were flat altar-stones whose smooth and polished faces stared up towards the sky, awaiting a sacrifice that never came. Wild sheep dwelt on the high tors, and there were ravens too, and buzzards ; the hills were homing places for all solitary things.
Black cattle grazed on the moors beneath, their careful feet treading the firm ground, and with inborn knowledge they avoided the tufted, tempting grass that was not grass at all, but soggy marsh that sighed and whispered. When the wind blew on the hills it whistled mournfully in the crevices of granite, and sometimes it shuddered like a man in pain.
Strange winds blew from nowhere ; they crept along the surface of the grass, and the grass shivered ; they breathed upon the little pools of rain in the hollowed stones, and the pools rippled. Sometimes the wind shouted and cried, and the cry echoed in the crevices, and moaned, and was lost again. There was a silence on the tors that belonged to another age ; an age that is past and vanished as though it had never been, an age when man did not exist, but pagan footsteps trod upon the hills. And there was a stillness in the air, and a stranger, older peace, that was not the peace of God.
As Mary Yellan walked the moors, climbed the tors, and rested in the low dips beside the springs and streams, she thought about Joss Merlyn and what his boyhood must have been, and how he grew athwart like the stunted broom, with the bloom blown out of him by the north wind.
One day she crossed the East Moor, in the direction he had given her that first evening ; and when she had gone some way and stood alone upon a ridge of down, surrounded on all sides by bleak moorland, she saw that the land descended to a deep and treacherous marsh, through which a brook burbled and sang. And rising beyond the marsh, away on the other side, pointing his great fingers to the sky, was a crag like a split hand coming sheer out of the moor, his surface moulded in granite as though sculptured, his slope a venomous grey.
So this was Kilmar Tor ; and somewhere amongst that solid mass of stone, where the ridges hid the sun, Joss Merlyn had been born, and his brother lived today. Below her in the marsh, Matthew Merlyn had been drowned. In her fancy she saw him stride across the high ground, whistling a song, the murmur of the brook in his ears, and somehow evening came upon him before he was aware, and his footsteps faltered as he turned in his tracks. In her fancy she watched him pause, and think a moment, and curse softly, and then with a shrug of his shoulders he plunged down into the mist, his confidence returning ; but before he had taken five steps he felt the ground sag under his feet, and he stumbled, and fell, and suddenly he was up above his knees in weed and slime. He reached out for a tuft of grass, and it sank beneath his weight. He kicked with his feet and they would not answer him. He kicked once more, and one foot sucked itself free, but, as he plunged forward, reckless and panic-stricken, he trod deeper water still, and now he floundered helplessly, beating the weed with his hands. She heard him scream in terror, and a curlew rose from the marsh in front of him, flapping his wings and whistling his mournful cry. When the curlew had flown from sight, disappearing behind a ridge of land, the marsh was still again ; only a few grass stems shivered in the wind, and there was silence.
Mary turned her back upon Kilmar, and begun to run across the moor, stumbling amongst the heather and the stones, nor did she stop until the marsh had sunk beneath the level of the hill, and the crag itself was hidden. She had come farther than she intended, and the way home was long. It seemed an eternity before the last hill was conquered and behind her, and the tall chimneys of Jamaica Inn stood out before her above the winding road. As she crossed the yard she noticed with sinking heart that the stable door was open, and the pony was inside. Joss Merlyn had returned.
She opened the door as silently as possible, but it rubbed against the stone flags, and grated in protest. The sound rang in the quiet passage, and in a minute the landlord appeared from the back, bending his head under the beam. His shirt-sleeves were rolled above his elbow, and he had a glass in his hand, and a cloth. He was, it seemed, in high good humour, for he shouted boisterously at Mary, and waved the glass.
Mary made an effort to smile, and asked him if he had had a pleasant journey. "
As soon as his laughter died away the smile faded from Aunt Patience's face, and the strained, haunted expression returned again, the fixed, almost idiot stare that she wore habitually in the presence of her husband.
Mary saw at once that the little freedom from care which her aunt had enjoyed during the past week was now no more, and she had again become the nervy, shattered creature of before.
Mary turned to go up the stairs to her room, when Joss called her. "
Mary paused to think. She was losing count of time. Was it Monday's coach she had taken ? That made today Saturday--Saturday night. At once she realised what Joss Merlyn meant. Tonight there would be company at Jamaica Inn.
They came singly, the people of the moors, crossing the yard swiftly and silently, as though they had no wish to be seen. They lacked substance, in the dim light, and seemed no more than shadows as they skirted the wall and passed under the shelter of the porch to knock upon the door of the bar and gain admittance. Some carried lanterns, the fitful glare of which appeared to worry the bearers, for they attempted to screen the glow by covering it with their coats. One or two rode into the yard on ponies, whose hoofs rang sharply on the stones, and the clatter sounded strangely in the still night, followed as it was by the creaking of the stable door yawning on its hinges, and the low mutter of voices as the men led their ponies to the stalls. Others were yet more furtive, bearing neither flare nor lantern, but flitting across the yard with hats pulled low and coats muffled to the chin, betraying by the very secrecy of their movements their desire to remain unseen. The reason for stealth was not apparent, for any passing traveller upon the road could see that tonight Jamaica Inn gave hospitality. The light streamed from the windows, usually so shuttered and barred, and, as the evening darkened and the hours went by, the sound of voices rose upon the air. There was singing at times, and shouting, and the rumble of laughter, showing that those visitors to the inn who came so furtively, as if in shame, had lost their fear when under cover of the house, and once packed close to their companions in the bar, with pipes alight and glasses filled, had thrown all caution aside.
They were a strange assortment gathered there, grouped around Joss Merlyn in the bar. Securely separated by the counter itself, and half screened by a barrier of bottles and glasses, Mary could look down upon the company and remain unobserved. They straddled the stools and sprawled upon the benches ; they leant against the wall ; they slouched beside the tables ; and one or two, whose heads or stomachs were weaker than the rest, already lay full length upon the floor. They were dirty for the most part, ragged, ill-kept, with matted hair and broken nails ;
Her aunt did not appear before the company, though Mary was aware of her shadow behind the door at times, and a footstep in the passage, and once she caught sight of her frightened eyes peering through the crack in the door. The evening seemed interminable, and Mary longed for release. The air was so thick with smoke and breath that it was hard to see across the room, and to her weary, half-closed eyes, the faces of the men loomed shapeless and distorted, all hair and teeth, their mouths much too large for their bodies, while those who had drunk their fill and could take no more lay on the benches or the floor like dead men, their faces in their hands.
Those who remained sufficiently sober to stand had crowded round a dirty little blackguard from Redruth, who had established himself wit of the assembly. The mine where he had worked was now in ruins, and he had taken to the road as tinker, pedlar, bagman, and had stored up in consequence a string of loathsome songs, gleaned perhaps from the bowels of the black earth where he had once entombed himself, and with these jewels he now provided entertainment to the company at Jamaica Inn.
The laughter that greeted his sallies nearly shook the roof, topped, of course, by the bellow of the landlord himself, and to Mary there was something appalling in this ugly, screaming laughter, which, in some strange way, held not a note of mirth, but echoed down the dark stone passages and into the empty rooms above like a tortured thing. The pedlar was making bait of the wretched idiot from Dozmary, who, crazy from drink, had no control of himself, and could not rise from the floor, where he squatted like an animal. They lifted him on to a table, and the pedlar made him repeat the words of his songs, complete with actions, amid the frenzy of laughter from the crowd ; and the poor beast, excited by the applause that greeted him, jigged up and down on the table, whinnying delight, plucking at his spotted purple birthmark with a broken finger-nail. Mary could bear it no longer. She touched her uncle on the shoulder, and he turned to her, his face blotched with the heat of the room and streaming with perspiration.
He wiped the sweat from his forehead with his shirt-sleeve and stared down at her. She was surprised to see that, although he had been drinking during the evening, he was himself sober, and even if he was the ringleader of this riotous, crazy company, he knew what he was doing. "
He lowered his voice ; bending down to her ear and seizing her wrist, he doubled it behind her back, until she cried out in pain.
He turned away from her, and, frowning still, picked up a glass from the bar in front of him, turning it over and over in his hands, rubbing it slowly with a cloth. The contempt in her eyes must have irritated him, for his good humour had left him in a flash, and he flung aside the glass in a fit of ill temper, splitting it to fragments.
The pedlar and his group yelled in delight, and, throwing the wretched half-wit on his back, began to tear off his coat and breeches, while the bewildered fellow flapped out at them with useless hands, bleating like a sheep.
Mary ran out of the room, slamming the door behind her, and as she went up the rickety stairs, her hands over her ears, she could not keep out that sound of laughter and wild song that echoed down the draughty passage, following her to her room, penetrating through the cracks of the floor-boards.
She felt very sick, and threw herself on her bed, her head in her hands. There was a babel of noise in the yard below, and yells of laughter, while a stream of light from a tossing lantern cast a beam up to her window. She got up, and pulled down the blind, but not before she had seen the outline of a quivering, naked form bound across the yard with great loping strides, screaming like a hare, and pursued by a handful of hooting, jeering men, with Joss Merlyn's giant figure in the lead cracking a horsewhip above his head.
Then Mary did as her uncle had told her. She undressed hurriedly and crept into bed, pulling the blanket over her head, stuffing her fingers in her ears, her only thought now to be deaf to the horror and the revelry below ; but even with eyes shut and face pressed tight against the pillow, she could see the purple-blotched face of the poor idiot man upturned towards his captors, and she could hear the thin echo of his cry as he stumbled into the ditch and fell.
She lay in that half-conscious state that waits on the borderland of sleep, when the events of the past day crowd into the mind and make a jumble of confusion. Images danced before her, and the heads of unknown people, and though at times she seemed to be wandering on the moor, with the great crag on Kilmar dwarfing the neighbouring hills, she was aware of the little path of light made by the moon on her bedroom floor, and the steady ratlle of the window-blind. There had been voices, and now there were none ; somewhere far away on the high road a horse galloped, and wheels rumbled, but now all was still. She slept ; and then, without warning, she heard something snap in the peace of mind that had enfolded her, and she was awake suddenly, sitting up in bed, with the moonlight streaming on her face.
She listened, hearing nothing at first but the thumping of her own heart, but in a few minutes there came another sound, from beneath her room this time--the sound of heavy things being dragged along the stone flags in the passage downstairs, bumping against the walls.
She got out of bed and went to the window, pulling aside an inch of blind. Five waggons were drawn up in the yard outside. Three were covered, each drawn by a pair of horses, and the remaining two were open farm-carts. One of the covered waggons stood directly beneath the porch, and the horses were steaming.
Gathered round the waggons were some of the men who had been drinking in the bar earlier in the evening ; the cobbler from Launceston was standing under Mary's window, talking to a horse-dealer ; the sailor from Padstow had come to his senses and was patting the head of a horse ; the pedlar who had tortured the poor idiot was climbing into one of the open carts and lifting something from the floor. And there were strangers in the yard whom Mary had never seen before. She could see their faces clearly because of the moonlight, the very brightness of which seemed to worry the men, for one of them pointed upwards and shook his head, while his companion shrugged his shoulders, and another man, who had an air of authority about him, waved his arm impatiently, as though urging them to make haste, and the three of them turned at once and passed under the porch into the inn. Meanwhile the heavy dragging sound continued, and Mary could trace the direction of it without difficulty from where she stood. Something was being taken along the passage to the room at the end, the room with the barred windows and the bolted door.
She began to understand. Packages were brought by the waggons and unloaded at Jamaica Inn. They were stored in the locked room. Because the horses were steaming, they had come over a great distance--from the coast perhaps--and as soon as the waggons were unloaded they would take their departure, passing out into the night as swiftly and as silently as they had come.
The men in the yard worked quickly, against time. The contents of one covered waggon were not carried into the inn, but were transferred to one of the open farm-carts drawn up beside the drinking-well across the yard. The packages seemed to vary in size and description ; some were large parcels,, some were small, and others were long rolls wrapped round about in straw and paper. When the cart was filled, the driver, a stranger to Mary, climbed into the seat and drove away.
The remaining waggons were unloaded one by one, and the packages were either placed in the open carts and driven out of the yard, or were borne by the men into the house. All was done in silence. Those men who had shouted and sung earlier that night, were now sober and quiet, bent on the business in hand. Even the horses appeared to understand the need for silence, for they stood motionless.
Joss Merlyn came out of the porch, the pedlar at his side. Neither wore coat or hat, in spite of the cold air, and both had sleeves rolled to the elbows.
So the waggons and the carts departed from Jamaica, creaking out of the yard, one after the other in a strange funereal procession, some turning north and some south when they came out on to the high road, until they had all gone, and there was no one left standing in the yard but one man Mary had not seen before, the pedlar, and the landlord of Jamaica Inn himself.
Then they too turned, and went back into the house, and the yard was empty. She heard them go along the passage in the direction of the bar, and then their footsteps died away, and a door slammed.
There was no other sound except the husky wheezing of the clock in the hall and the sudden whirring note preparatory to the strike. It rang the hour--three o'clock--and then ticked on, choking and gasping like a dying man who cannot catch his breath.
Mary came away from the window and sat down upon the bed. The cold air blew in on to her shoulders, and she shivered, and reached for her shawl.
The thought of sleep now was impossible. She was too wide awake, too alive in every nerve, and although the dislike and fear of her uncle was as strong as ever within her, a growing interest and curiosity held the mastery. She understood something of his business now. What she had witnessed here tonight was smuggling on the grand scale. There was no doubt that Jamaica Inn was ideally situated for his purpose, and he must have bought it for that reason alone. All that talk of returning to the home of his boyhood was nonsense, of course. The inn stood alone on the great high road that ran north and south, and Mary could see that it must be easy enough for anyone with a capacity for organisation to work a team of waggons from the coast to the Tamar bank, with the inn itself as halting-place and general store.
Spies were needed about the countryside to make a success of the trade ; hence the sailor from Padstow, the cobbler from Launceston, the gypsies and the tramps, the vile little pedlar.
And yet, allowing for his personality, his energy, the very fear which his enormous physical strength must engender in his companions, had Joss Merlyn the necessary brain and subtlety to lead such an enterprise ? Did he plan every move and every departure, and had he been making preparations for tonight's work during the past week, when away from home?
It must be so ; Mary could see no alternative, and, although her loathing for the landlord increased, she allowed herself a grudging respect for his management.
The whole business must be controlled, and the agents picked, for all their rough manners and wild appearance, otherwise the law could never have been evaded for so long. A magistrate who suspected smuggling would surely have suspected the inn before now, unless he were an agent himself. Mary frowned, her chin in her hand. If it were not for Aunt Patience she would walk out of the inn now, and find her way to the nearest town, and inform against Joss Merlyn. He would soon be in jail, and the rest of the rogues with him, and there would be an ending of the traffic. It was useless to reckon without Aunt Patience, however, and the fact that she still held a dog-like devotion for her husband made the problem difficult, and at the moment impossible.
Mary kept going over and over the question in her mind, and she was not yet satisfied that all was understood. Jamaica Inn was a nest of thieves and poachers, who, with her uncle as leader apparently, worked a profitable smuggling trade between the coast and Devon. So much was clear. But had she seen only part of the game, and was there still more for her to learn ? She remembered the terror in Aunt Patience's eyes, and those words spoken in the hush of that first afternoon, when the shadows of early twilight crept across the kitchen floor : "
Smuggling was dangerous ; it was fraught with dishonesty ; it was forbidden strictly by the law of the land ; but was it evil ? Mary could not decide. She needed advice, and there was no one she could ask. She was alone in a grim and rather hateful world, with little prospect of changing it for the better. Had she been a man, she would have gone downstairs and challenged Joss Merlyn to his face, and his friends with him. Yes, and fought them too, and drawn blood, if she were lucky. And then away on a horse from the stable, with Aunt Patience riding pillion, and so down to the south again, to the friendly Helford shore, setting up as a farmer in a small way up Mawgan way, or Gweek, with her aunt to keep house for her.
Well, there was little use in dreaming ; the present situation must be faced, and courageously too, if any good were to come of it.
Here she was on her bed, a girl of three-and-twenty, in a petticoat and a shawl, with no weapons but her own brain to oppose a fellow twice her age and eight times her strength, who, if he realised she had watched the scene tonight from her window, would encircle her neck with his hand, and, pressing lightly with finger and thumb, put an end to her questioning.
Then Mary swore ; a thing she had only done once before in her life, when chased by a bull at Manaccan, and then it had been for the same, purpose as now--to give herself courage and a certain bold pretence. "I'll not show fear before Joss Merlyn or any man," she said, "
She dressed hurriedly, and pulled on her stockings, leaving her shoes where they were, and then, opening the door, she stood and listened for a moment, hearing nothing but the slow choking tick of the clock in the hall.
She crept out into the passage, and came to the stairs. By now she knew that the third step from the top creaked, and so did the last. She trod gently, one hand resting on the banister and the other against the wall to lighten her weight, and so she came to the dim hall by the entrance door, empty except for one unsteady chair and the shadowed outline of the grandfather clock. Its husky breathing sounded loud beside her ear, and it jarred upon the silence like a living thing. The hall was as black as a pit, and, although she knew she stood alone there, the very solitude was threatening, the closed door to the unused parlour pregnant with suggestion.
The air was fusty and heavy, in strange contrast to the cold stone flags that struck chill to her stockinged feet. As she hesitated, gathering courage to continue, a sudden beam of light shone into the passage that ran at the back of the hall, and she heard voices. The door of the bar must have swung open, and someone came out, for she heard footsteps pass into the kitchen and in a few minutes return again, but whoever it was still left the door of the bar ajar, as the murmur of voices continued and the beam of light remained, Mary was tempted to climb the stairs again to her bedroom and seek safety in sleep, but at the same time there was a demon of curiosity within her that would not be stilled, and this part of her carried her through to the passage beyond, and so to crouch against the wall a few paces only from the door of the bar. Her hands and her forehead were wet now with perspiration, and at first she could hear nothing but the loud beating of her heart. The door was open enough for her to see the outline of the hinged bar itself, and the collection of bottles and glasses, while directly in front ran a narrow strip of floor. The splintered fragments of the glass her uncle had broken still lay where they had fallen, and beside them was a brown stain of ale, spilt by some unsteady hand. The men must be sitting on the benches against the farther wall, for she could not see them ; they had fallen to silence, and then suddenly a man's voice rang out, quavering and high, the voice of a stranger.
The voice was pitched high, trembling on the final note, as though the speaker was carried away by the force of his feelings and had lost command of his tongue. Someone--the landlord himself, no doubt --made reply in a low tone, and Mary could not catch his words, but his speech was broken by a cackle of laughter that she recognised as belonging to the pedlar. The quality of it was unmistakable--insulting and coarse.
He must have hinted a question, for the stranger spoke again swiftly in self-defence. "
Mary heard the scraping of a chair, and the man rise to his feet, but at the same time someone thumped his fist on the table and swore, and her uncle lifted his voice for the first time.
There was a sudden scuffle and a cry, and the sound of someone falling, and at the same time the table crashed to the floor, and the door to the yard was slammed. Once more the pedlar laughed, odious and obscene, and he began to whistle one of his songs."
Mary could hear the stranger breathe heavily, and he must have been hurt in the scuffle, for when his voice came it was jerky and contracted, as though he were in pain. "
There was a silence, and then Joss Merlyn spoke again. "
Outside in the passage Mary felt her neck and her forehead go clammy with sweat, and her arms and legs were weighted suddenly, as though with lead. Little black specks flickered before her eyes, and with a growing sense of horror she realised that she was probably going to faint.
She had one thought in her mind, and that was to grope her way back to the deserted hall and reach the shadow of the clock ; whatever happened she must not fall here and be discovered. Mary backed away from the beam of light, and felt along the wall with her hands. Her knees were shaking now, and she knew that at any moment they would give beneath her. Already a surge of sickness rose inside her, and her head was swimming.
Her uncle's voice came from very far away, as though he spoke with his hands against his mouth. "Leave me alone with him, Harry," he said ; "
Somehow Mary found her way to the hall, and, hardly conscious of what she was doing, she turned the handle of the parlour door and stumbled inside. Then she crumpled in a heap on the floor, her head between her knees.
She must have fainted quite away for a minute or two, because the specks in front of her eyes grouped themselves into one tremendous whole, and her world went black ; but the position in which she had fallen brought her to herself quicker than anything else could have done, and in a moment she was sitting up, propped on one elbow, listening to the clatter of a pony's hoofs in the yard outside. She heard a voice curse the animal to stand still--it was Harry the pedlar--and then he must have mounted and driven his heels into the pony's side, for the sound of the hoofs drew away and out of the yard, and disappeared in the distance down the high road, and so were lost beneath the slope of the hill. Her uncle was alone now in the bar with his victim, and Mary wondered whether it would be possible for her to find her way to the nearest dwelling-place on the road to Dozmary and summon help. It meant a walk of two or three miles across a moorland track before the first shepherd's cottage was reached, and somewhere on that same track the poor idiot boy had flown, earlier in the evening, and was even now perhaps wailing and grimacing by the side of the ditch.
She knew nothing of the inhabitants of the cottage ; possibly they belonged to her uncle's company, in which case she would be running straight into a trap. Aunt Patience, upstairs in bed, was useless to her, and, if anything, an encumbrance. It was a hopeless situation, and there seemed no way of escape for the stranger, whoever he should be, unless he himself came to some agreement with Joss Merlyn. If he had any cunning he might be able to overpower her uncle ; now that the pedlar had gone they were evenly matched as far as numbers went, though her uncle's physical strength would tell heavily in his favour. Mary began to feel desperate. If only there were a gun somewhere, or a knife, she might be able to wound her uncle, or at least disarm him while the wretched man made his escape from the bar.
She felt careless now for her own safety ; it was only a matter of time, anyway, before she was discovered, and there was little sense in crouching here in the empty parlour. That fainting attack had been a momentary affair, and she despised herself for her weakness. She got up from the floor, and, placing both hands on the latch for greater silence, she opened the door a few inches. There was not a sound in the hall but the ticking of the clock, and the beam of light in the back passage shone no more. The door of the bar must be shut. Perhaps at this moment the stranger was fighting for his life, struggling for breath in the great hands of Joss Merlyn, shaken backwards and forwards on the stone floor of the bar. She could hear nothing, though ; whatever work there was behind that closed door happened in silence.
Mary was about to step out into the hall once more and creep past the stairs to the farther passage, when a sound from above made her pause and lift her head. It was the creaking of a board. There was silence for a minute, and then it happened again : quiet footsteps pacing gently overhead. Aunt Patience slept in the farther passage at the other end of the house, and Mary herself had heard Harry the pedlar ride away on his pony nearly ten minutes ago. Her uncle she knew to be in the bar with the stranger, and no one had climbed the stairs since she had descended them. There, the board creaked again, and the soft footsteps continued. Someone was in the empty guest-room on the floor above.
Mary's heart began to thump in her side again, and her breath came quickly. Whoever was in hiding up above must have been there many hours. He must have lain in waiting there since the early evening ; stood behind the door when she had gone to bed. Had he gone later she would have heard his footsteps on the stairs. Perhaps he had watched the arrival of the waggons from the window, as she had done, and had seen the idiot boy run screaming down the road to Dozmary. She had been separated from him by a thin partition of wall, and he must have heard her every movement--the falling on to her bed, and later her dressing, and her opening of her door.
Therefore he must wish to remain concealed, otherwise he would have stepped out on to the landing when she had done ; had he been one of the company in the bar he would have spoken with her, surely ; he would have questioned her movements. Who had admitted him ? When could he have gone into the room ? He must have hidden there so that he should remain unseen by the smugglers. Therefore he was not one of them ; he was enemy to her uncle. The footfalls had ceased now, and, though she held her breath and listened intently, she could hear nothing. She had not been mistaken, though, she was convinced of that. Someone--an ally perhaps--was hiding in the guest-room next to hers, and could help her save the stranger in the bar. She had her foot on the lowest step of the stairs when the beam of light shone forth once more from the back passage, and she heard the door of the bar swing open. Her uncle was coming out into the hall. There was no time for Mary to climb the stairs before he turned the corner, so she was forced to step quickly back into the parlour and stand with her hand against the door. In the blackness of the hall he would never see that the door was not latched.
Trembling with excitement and fear, she waited in the parlour, and she heard the landlord pass across the hall and climb the stairs to the landing above. His footsteps came to a halt above her head, outside the guest-room, and for a second or two he waited, as though he too listened for some alien sound. Then he tapped twice, very softly, on the door.Once more the board creaked, and someone crossed the floor of the room above and the door was opened. Mary's heart sank within her, and her first despair returned. This could be no enemy to her uncle, after all. Probably Joss Merlyn had admitted him in the first place, early in the evening when she and Aunt Patience had been preparing the bar for the company, and he had lain in waiting there until all the men had departed. It was some personal friend of the landlord's, who had no wish to meddle in his evening's business, and would not show himself even to the landlord's wife.
Her uncle had known him to be there all the time, and that was why he had sent the pedlar away. He did not wish the pedlar to see his friend. She thanked God then that she had not climbed the stairs and knocked on the door.
Supposing they went into her room to see if she were there and asleep ? There would be little hope for her once her absence was discovered. She glanced behind her at the window. It was closed and barred. There was no road of escape. Now they were coming down the stairs ; they stopped for an instant outside the parlour door. For one moment Mary thought they were coming inside. They were so close to her that she could have touched her uncle on the shoulder through the crack of the door. As it was, he spoke, and his voice whispered right against her ear.
Screened as she was by the door, Mary could neither see nor hear her uncle's new companion, and whatever gesture or sign he made in return escaped her. They did not linger outside the parlour, but turned back along the hall to the farther passage, and so down it to the bar beyond.
Then the door closed, and she heard them no more.
Her first instinct was to unbar the entrance and run out into the road, and so be away from them ; but on reflection she realised that by doing this she would gain nothing ; for all she knew, there might be other men--the pedlar himself perhaps, and the rest of them--posted at intervals along the high road in the anticipation of trouble.
It seemed as though this new man, who had hidden all evening in the room above, could not have heard her leave her bedroom after all ; had he done so he would by now have acquainted her uncle with the fact, and they would search for her ; unless they dismissed her as being of no importance whatsoever in the general scheme of things. The man in the bar was their first concern ; she could be attended to later.
She must have stood for ten minutes or more waiting for some sound or signal, but everything was still. Only the clock in the hall ticked on, wheezing slowly and impervious to action, a symbol of age and indifference. Once she fancied she heard a cry ; but it was gone and lost in an instant, and was so faint and far a thing that it might have been some strange conjuring of her imagination, whipped as it was by all she had seen since midnight.
Then Mary went out into the hall, and so through to the dark passage. No crack of light came under the skirting of the door to the bar. The candles must have been extinguished. Were they sitting there inside the room, all three of them, in darkness ? They made an ugly picture in her mind, a silent, sinister group, ruled by some purpose that she did not understand ; but the very snuffing out of the light made the quietude more deadly.
She ventured as far as the door, and laid her ear against the panel. There was not even the murmur of a voice, nor that unmistakable suggestion of living, breathing people. The old fusty drink smell that had clung to the passage all evening had cleared, and through the keyhole came a steady draught of air. Mary gave way to a sudden uncontrollable impulse, and, lifting the latch, she opened the door and stepped into the room.
There was nobody there. The door leading to the yard was open, and the room was filled with the fresh November air. It was this that caused the draught in the passage. The benches were empty, and the table that had crashed to the ground in that first scuffle still lay upon the floor, its three legs pointing to the ceiling.
The men had gone, though ; they must have turned to the left outside the kitchen and walked straight on to the moor, for she would have heard them had they crossed the road. The air felt cold and sweet upon her face, and now that her uncle and the strangers had left it the room seemed harmless and impersonal once more. The horror was spent.
A last little ray of moonlight made a white circle on the floor, and into the circle moved a dark blob like a finger. It was the reflection of a shadow. Mary looked up to the ceiling and saw that a rope had been slung through a hook in the beam. It was the rope's end that made the blob in the white circle ; and it kept moving backwards and forwards, blown by the draught from the open door.