"I believe you, of course," he said, after a moment or so. "You haven't the face of a liar, and I doubt if you know the meaning of hysteria.
But your story wouldn't go in a court of law — not as you've told it tonight, anyhow.
It's too much of a fairy tale.
And another thing — it's a scandal and an outrage, we all know that, but smuggling is rife all over the country, and half the magistrates do very well out of it.
That shocks you, doesn't it?
But I can assure you it's the truth.
If the law was stricter there would be greater supervision, and your uncle's little nest at Jamaica Inn would have been blotted out long ago.
I have met Mr. Bassat once or twice, and I believe him to be an honest, genuine sort of fellow, but, between ourselves, a bit of a fool.
He'd bluster and talk, but that's about all.
He'll keep this morning's expedition very quiet, unless I'm much mistaken.
Actually he had no business to walk into the inn and search the rooms, and if it becomes known that he did so, and found nothing for his pains, he'll become the laughingstock of the countryside.
I can tell you one thing, though: his visit will have scared your uncle, and he'll lie low now for a time.
There won't be any more waggons to Jamaica Inn for some while.
I think you can be certain of that."
Mary listened to his reasoning with some misgiving.
She had hoped he would be appalled, once admitting the truth of her story, but here he was, apparently quite unmoved, taking it all as a matter of course.
He must have seen the disappointment in her face, for he spoke again.
"I could see Mr. Bassat, if you like," he said, "and put your story to him.
But unless he can catch your uncle at work, as it were, with the waggons in the yard, there's little chance of convicting him.
That's what I must impress upon your mind.
I'm afraid I sound very unhelpful, but the position is a difficult one from every point of view.
And then again, you don't want your uncle to be implicated in the business, but I don't see how it can be avoided, if it comes to an arrest."
"What do you suggest I should do, then?" said Mary helplessly.
"If I were you I should play a waiting game," he replied. "Keep a close watch on your uncle, and when the waggons do come again you can report at once to me. We can then decide together what is best to be done.
That is, if you will honour me again with your confidence."
"What about the stranger who disappeared?" said Mary. "He was murdered.
I'm certain of that.
Do you mean to say that nothing can ever be done about it?"
"I'm afraid not, unless his body is found, which is extremely unlikely," said the vicar. "It is quite possible that he was never killed at all, for that matter.
Forgive me, but I think you allowed your imagination to run away with you over that.
All you saw was a piece of rope, remember.
If you had actually seen the man dead, or even wounded — well, that's a different tale altogether."
"I heard my uncle threaten him," persisted Mary. "Isn't that enough?"
"My dear child, people threaten one another every day in the year, but they don't hang for it.
Now listen to me.
I am your friend, and you can trust me.
If you ever become worried or distressed in any way, I want you to come and tell me about it.
You are not afraid of walking, judging by your performance this afternoon, and Altarnun is only a few miles by the highroad.
If you come at any time and I'm not in, Hannah will be here, and she will look after you.
Now that's a bargain between us, isn't it?"
"Thank you very much."
"Now put on your stockings again, and your shoes, while I go to the stable and get the trap. I'm going to drive you back to Jamaica Inn."
The thought of returning was hateful to Mary, but it had to be faced.
The contrast between this peaceful room with the gentle shaded candles, the warm log fire, the deep chair, and the cold grim passages of Jamaica Inn, with her own little cupboard of a room over the porch, must be avoided at all costs. There was one thing to bear in mind, and that was that she could come back here when she wished.
The night was fine; the dark clouds of the early evening had passed away, and the sky was ablaze with stars.
Mary sat beside Francis Davey on the high seat of the dogcart, wrapped in a greatcoat with a top collar of velvet.
This was not the same horse that he had been riding when she met him on the moor; this was a big grey cob who, fresh from his sojourn in the stable, went like the wind.
It was a strange, exhilarating drive.
The wind blew in Mary's face, stinging her eyes.
The climb from Altarnun had been slow at first, for the hill was steep, but now they were upon the highroad, with their faces turned to Bodmin, the vicar pricked the cob with his whip, so that he laid his ears flat to his head and galloped like a mad thing.