They fastened upon her, and searched her, as though her very thoughts could not be hidden, and Mary felt herself relax before him and give way; and she did not mind.
His hair was white, too, under his black shovel hat, and Mary stared back at him in some perplexity, for his face was unlined, and his voice was not that of an elderly man.
Then, with a little rush of embarrassment, she understood the reason for his abnormality, and she turned away her eyes.
He was an albino.
He took off his hat and bared his head before her.
"Perhaps I had better introduce myself," he said, with a smile. "However unconventional the meeting, it is, I believe, the usual thing to do.
My name is Francis Davey, and I am the vicar of Altarnun."
There was something strangely peaceful about the house, something very rare and difficult to define.
It was like a house in an old tale, discovered by the hero one evening in midsummer; there should be a barrier of thorns about it through which he must cut his way with a knife, and then a galaxy of flowers growing in profusion, with monstrous blooms untended by human hand.
Giant ferns would mass themselves beneath the windows, and white lilies on tall stems.
In the tale there would be strands of ivy clustering the walls, barring the entrance, and the house itself would have slept for a thousand years.
Mary smiled at her fancy and spread her hands once more to the log fire.
The silence was pleasing to her; it soothed her weariness and took away her fear.
This was a different world from Jamaica Inn.
There the silence was oppressive and heavy with malice; the disused rooms stank of neglect.
Here it was different.
The room in which she was sitting had the quiet impersonality of a drawing room visited by night.
The furniture, the table in the centre, the pictures on the walls were without that look of solid familiarity belonging to the day. They were like sleeping things, stumbled upon at midnight by surprise.
People had lived here once — happy, placid people; old rectors with musty books beneath their arms; and there by the window a grey-haired woman in a blue gown had stooped to thread her needle.
That was all very long ago.
They slept now in the churchyard beyond the gate, their names indecipherable on the lichened stone.
Since they had gone the house had withdrawn into itself and become silent, and the man who lived there now had suffered the personality of those who had gone before to remain unchanged.
Mary watched him as he laid the table for supper, and she thought how wisely he had allowed himself to become submerged in the atmosphere of the house; for another man would have chatted, perhaps, or made some clatter with the cups, feeling the silence a constraint.
Her eyes wandered about the room, and she accepted without question the walls bare of the usual biblical themes, the polished desk empty of papers and books that in her mind were associated with the living room of a rectory.
Standing in the corner was an easel, and on it a half-finished canvas of the pool at Dozmary.
It had been painted on a grey day, with the rain clouds overhead, and the water lacked all brilliance and was slate coloured, without wind.
The scene held Mary's eyes and fascinated her.
She knew nothing of painting, but the picture had power, and she could almost feel the rain in her face.
He must have watched the direction of her eyes, for he went to the easel and turned the painting with its back towards her,
"Don't look at that," he said. "It was done in a hurry, and I had no time to finish it.
If you like pictures, you shall see something better.
But first of all I'm going to give you your supper.
Don't move from the chair.
I'll bring the table to you."
It was a novelty to be waited upon, but he did it so quietly and made such little show that it seemed a natural everyday occurrence, and Mary was without embarrassment.
"Hannah lives in the village," he said; "she leaves every afternoon a four.
I prefer to be by myself.
I like getting my own supper and then I can choose my own time.
Luckily she made apple tart today. I hope you can eat it; her pastry is only moderate."
He poured her out a steaming cup of tea, heaping into it a spoonful of cream.
She could not yet accustom herself to his white hair and his eyes; they were such a direct contrast to his voice, and his black clerical dress made them the more remarkable.
She was still tired, and a little strange to her surroundings, and he respected her desire for silence.
Mary swallowed her supper, and now and again she stole a look at him from behind her cup of tea, but he seemed to sense her glance at once, for he would turn his eyes upon her with their cold white stare — like the impersonal and penetrating stare of a blind man — and she would look away again over his shoulder to the lime-green walls of the room, or to the easel in the corner.
"It was providential that I should come upon you on the moor tonight," he said at length, when she had pushed away her plate and sunk once more into the chair, her chin in her hand. The warmth of the room and the hot tea had made her drowsy, and his gentle voice came to her from far away. "My work sometimes takes me to the outlying cottages and farms," he continued. "This afternoon I helped to bring a child into the world.
It will live, and the mother too.
They are hardy and care for nothing, these people of the moors.
You may have noticed that for yourself.
I have a great respect for them."
Mary had nothing to say in reply.