She understood; and with a sudden comprehension of that distant eager clamour she looked up at her companion, horror in her eyes, and from him to the two horses, standing patiently as ever by the slabs of stone.
"Yes," he said, following her glance, "we must let them loose and drive them down to the moors below.
They can serve us no longer now and would only bring the pack upon us.
Poor Restless, you would betray me once again."
She watched him, sick at heart, as he released the horses and led them to the steep slope of the hill.
Then he bent to the ground, gathering stones in his hands, and rained blow after blow upon their flanks, so that they slipped and stumbled amongst the wet bracken on the hillside; and then, when his onslaught continued and their instinct jogged them into action, they fled, snorting with terror, down the steep slope of the tor, dislodging boulders and earth in their descent, and so plunged out of sight into the white mists below.
The baying of the hounds came nearer now, deep-pitched and persistent, and Francis Davey ran to Mary, stripping himself of his long black coat that hung about his knees and throwing his hat into the heather.
"Come," he said. "Friend or enemy, we share a common danger now."
They scrambled up the hill amongst the boulders and the slabs of granite, he with his arm about her, for her bound hands made progress difficult; and they waded in and out of crevice and rock, knee deep in soaking bracken and black heather, climbing ever higher and higher to the great peak of Rough Tor.
Here, on the very summit, the granite was monstrously shaped, tortured and twisted into the semblance of a roof, and Mary lay beneath the great stone slab, breathless, and bleeding from her scratches, while he climbed above her, gaining foothold in the hollows of the stone. He reached down to her, and, though she shook her head and made sign that she could climb no further, he bent and dragged her to her feet again, cutting at the belt that bound her and tearing the handkerchief from her mouth.
"Save yourself, then, if you can," he shouted, his eyes burning in his pale face, his white halo of hair blowing in the wind.
She clung to a table of stone some ten feet from the ground, panting and exhausted, while he climbed above her and beyond, his lean black figure like a leech on the smooth surface of the rock.
The baying of the hounds was unearthly and inhuman, coming as it did from the blanket of fog below, and the chorus was joined now by the cries and the shouting of men, a turmoil of excitement that filled the air with sound and was the more terrible because it was unseen.
The clouds moved swiftly across the sky, and the yellow glow of the sun swam into view above a breath of mist.
The mist parted and dissolved.
It rose from the ground in a twisting column of smoke, to be caught up in the passing clouds, and the land that it had covered for so long stared up at the sky pallid and newborn.
Mary looked down upon the sloping hillside; and there were little dots of men standing knee deep in the heather, the light of the sun shining upon them, while the yelping hounds, crimson-brown against the grey stone, ran before them like rats amongst the boulders.
They came fast upon the trail, fifty men or more, shouting and pointing to the great tablets of stone; and, as they drew near, the clamour of the hounds echoed in the crevices and whined in the caves.
The clouds dissolved as the mist had done, and a patch of sky, larger than a man's hand, showed blue above their heads.
Somebody shouted again, and a man who knelt in the heather, scarcely fifty yards from Mary, lifted his gun to his shoulder and fired.
The shot spat against the granite boulder without touching her, and when he rose to his feet she saw that the man was Jem, and he had not seen her.
He fired again, and this time the shot whistled close to her ear, and she felt the breath of its passing upon her face.
The hounds were worming in and out amidst the bracken, and one of them leapt at the jutting rock beneath her, his great muzzle snuffling the stone.
Then Jem fired once more; and, looking beyond her, Mary saw the tall black figure of Francis Davey outlined against the sky, standing upon a wide slab like an altar, high above her head.
He stood for a moment poised like a statue, his hair blowing in the wind; and then he flung out his arms as a bird throws his wings for flight, and drooped suddenly and fell; down from his granite peak to the wet dank heather and the little crumbling stones.
It was a hard, bright day in early January.
The ruts and holes in the highroad, which were generally inches thick in mud or water, were covered with a thin layer of ice, and the wheel tracks were hoary with frost.
This same frost had laid a white hand upon the moors themselves, and they stretched to the horizon pale and indefinite in colour, a poor contrast to the clear blue sky above.
The texture of the ground was crisp, and the short grass crunched beneath the foot like shingle.
In a country of lane and hedgerow the sun would have shone warmly, with a make-belief of spring, but here the air was sharp and cutting to the cheek, and everywhere upon the land was the rough, glazed touch of winter.
Mary walked alone on Twelve Men's Moor, with the keen wind slapping her face, and she wondered why it was that Kilmar, to the left of her, had lost his menace and was now no more than a black scarred hill under the sky.
It might be that anxiety had blinded her to beauty, and she had made confusion in her mind with man and nature; the austerity of the moors had been strangely interwoven with the fear and hatred of her uncle and Jamaica Inn.
The moors were bleak still, and the hills were friendless, but their old malevolence had vanished, and she could walk upon them with indifference.
She was at liberty now to go where she would, and her thoughts turned to Helford and the green valleys of the south.
She had a queer, sick longing for home in her heart and the sight of warm, familiar faces.
The broad river ran from the sea, and the water lapped the beaches.
She remembered with pain every scent and sound that had belonged to her so long, and how the creeks branched away from the parent river like wayward children, to lose themselves in the trees and the narrow whispering streams.
The woods gave sanctuary to the weary, and there was music in the cool rustle of the leaves in summer, and shelter beneath the naked branches even in winter.
She was hungry for birds and for their flight amongst the trees. She yearned for the homely murmurs of a farm: the cluck of hens, the clarion screech of a cock, and the flustered rasp of geese.
She wanted to smell again the rich, warm dung in the sheds and feel the warm breath of cows upon her hands, heavy footsteps treading the yard, and the clank of pails beside the well.
She wanted to lean against a gate and look upon a village lane, give good night to a passing friend, and see the blue smoke curl from the chimneys. There would be voices she would know, rough and gentle in her ear, and a laugh somewhere from a kitchen window.
She would concern herself with the business of her farm; rise early and draw water from the well, move amongst her little flock with confidence and ease, bend her back to labour and count the strain a joy and an antidote to pain. All seasons would be welcome for the harvest they should bring, and there would be peace and contentment in her mind.
She belonged to the soil and would return to it again, rooted to the earth as her forefathers had been.
Helford had given her birth, and when she died she would be part of it once more.
Loneliness was a thing of poor account and came not into her consideration.
A worker paid no heed to solitude, but slept when his day was done.
She had determined upon her course, and the way seemed fair and good to follow.
She would not linger any more as she had done during the week, faint and indecisive, but make known her project to the Bassats when she returned for the midday meal.
They were kind and full of suggestions — overfull, perhaps, with their entreaties that she should stay amongst them, for the winter at least — and, rather than she should feel a burden upon them, had put to her, with kindly tact, that they would employ her even in some position in the household — have a care, perhaps, for the children, be companion to Mrs. Bassat herself.