To these conversations she had lent a meek and an unwilling ear, committing nothing, studiously polite, and continually thanking them for what they had already done.
The squire, bluff and good-humoured, twitted her at dinner for her silence.
"Come, Mary, smiles and thanks are well enough in their way, but you must make up your mind.
You are too young to live alone, you know, and I'll tell you to your face you're too pretty.
There's a home for you here at North Hill, you know that, and my wife joins with me in begging you to stay.
Plenty to do, you know, plenty to do.
There are flowers to be cut for the house, and letters to write, and the children to scold.
Why, you'd have your hands full, I promise you."
And in the library Mrs. Bassat would say much the same, laying a friendly hand on Mary's knee.
"We love to have you in the house; why do you not continue here indefinitely?
The children adore you, and Henry told me yesterday you should have his pony if you but said the word!
And that is a high tribute from him, I can assure you.
We would give you a pleasant, carefree time, with no worries or cares, and you would be a companion to me when Mr. Bassat is away.
Do you still fret after your home at Helford?"
Then Mary smiled and thanked her once again, but she could not put into words how much the memory of Helford meant to her.
They guessed that the strain of the past months still had its hand upon her, and in their kindness strove to make amends; but the Bassats kept open house at North Hill, and the neighbours for many miles around called, with, naturally enough, one topic of conversation on their lips.
Fifty and a hundred times must Squire Bassat tell his tale, and the names of Altarnun and Jamaica became loathsome to Mary's ear, who would be rid of them for ever.
Here was another reason for departure: she had become too much an object of curiosity and discussion, and the Bassats, with a little show of pride, would point her as a heroine to their friends.
She strove in gratitude to do her best, but she was never at her ease amongst them.
They were not her kind.
They were another race, another class.
She had respect for them, and liking, and good will, but she could not love them.
In the kindness of their hearts they would have her enter into conversation when company was present, and strove that she should not sit aside; while she longed the while for the silence of her own bedroom or the homely kitchen of Richards the groom, whose apple-cheeked wife would make her welcome.
And the squire, flogging his humour, would turn to her for advice, laughing heartily at every word he said.
"There'll be the living vacant at Altarnun.
Will you turn parson, Mary?
I warrant you'd make a better one than the last"; and she must smile at this for his sake, wondering that he should be so dull as not to guess the bitter memories his words aroused.
"Well, there'll be no more smuggling at Jamaica Inn," he would say, "and, if I could have my way, no drinking either.
I'll sweep the place clean of all those cobwebs, and not a poacher nor a gypsy will dare show his face within the walls when I have done with it.
I'll put an honest fellow there who's never smelt brandy in his life, and he shall wear an apron around his waist, and write the word 'Welcome' above the door.
And do you know who shall call upon him first?
Why, Mary, you and I." And he would burst into a shout of laughter, slapping his thigh, while Mary forced a smile in answer, rather than his joke should fail.
She thought of these things as she walked alone on Twelve Men's Moor, and she knew she must go away from North Hill very soon, for these people were not her people, and only amongst the woods and streams of her own Helford valley would she know peace and contentment again.
There was a cart coming towards her from Kilmar, making tracks in the white frost like a hare.
It was the one moving thing upon the silent plain.
She watched it in suspicion, for there were no cottages on this moor except Trewartha, away in the valley by the Withy Brook, and Trewartha, she knew, stood empty.
Nor had she seen its owner since he had fired at her on Rough Tor.
"He's an ungrateful rascal, like the rest of his breed," said the squire. "But for me he'd be in jail now, with a long sentence to serve to break his spirit.
I forced his hand and he had to knuckle under.
I grant he did well after that and was the means of tracing you, Mary, and that black-coated scoundrel; but he's never as much as thanked me for clearing his name in the business, and has taken himself to the world's end now, for all I know.
There's never been a Merlyn yet that came to any good, and he'll go the way of the rest of them."
So Trewartha stood empty, and the horses were gone wild with their fellows and roamed free upon the moors, and their master had ridden away with a song on his lips, as she had known he would.
The cart came nearer to the slope of the hill, and Mary shielded her eyes from the sun to watch its progress.
The horse bent to the strain, and she saw that it laboured beneath a strange load of pots and pans and mattresses and sticks.
Someone was making for the country with his home upon his back.
Even then she did not tumble to the truth, and it was not until the cart was below her and the driver, walking by the side, looked up to her and waved that she recognised him.
She went down towards the cart with a fine show of indifference and turned at once to the horse to pat him and speak to him, while Jem kicked a stone under the wheel and wedged it there for safety.
"Are you better?" he called from behind the cart. "I heard you were sick and had taken to your bed."
"You must have heard wrong," said Mary. "I've been about the house there at North Hill and walking in the grounds; there's never been much the matter with me except a hatred for my neighbourhood."
"There was a rumour you were to settle there and be companion to Mrs. Bassat.