The wind tore at her hair, and the small stunted trees bowed and curtseyed before it.
It would be a wild, wet dawn to Christmas Day.
She went away down the road, driven like a leaf before the wind, and out of the darkness she saw a carriage crawling up the hill towards her.
It looked like a beetle, stubby and black, and its progress was slow, with the full force of the weather against it.
She watched it with dull eyes; the sight conveyed no message to her brain, except that somewhere on an unknown road Jem Merlyn travelled to his death perhaps by the same manner.
The carriage had crept up to her and was passing by, before she ran towards it on an impulse and called to the driver wrapped in a greatcoat on the seat.
"Are you taking the Bodmin road?" she cried. "Have you a passenger inside?"
The driver shook his head and whipped on his horse, but before Mary could step aside an arm came out of the carriage window, and a hand was laid on her shoulder.
"What does Mary Yellan do alone in Launceston on Christmas Eve?" said a voice from within.
The hand was firm, but the voice was gentle.
A pale face stared at her from the dark interior of the carriage: white hair and white eyes beneath the black shovel hat.
It was the vicar of Altarnun.
She watched his profile in the half-light; sharp it was and clear, the prominent thin nose thrust downward like the curved beak of a bird.
His lips were narrow and colourless, pressed firm together, and he leant forward with his chin resting on a long ebony cane that he held between his knees.
For the moment she could see nothing of his eyes; they were veiled by the short white lashes; and then he turned in his seat and considered her, his lashes fluttering, and the eyes that looked upon her were white also, transparent and expressionless as glass.
"So we ride together for the second time," he said, and his voice was soft and low, like the voice of a woman. "Once more I have the good fortune to help you by the wayside.
You are wet through to the skin; you had better take off your clothes." He stared at her with cold indifference, and she struggled in some confusion with the pin that clasped her shawl.
"There is a dry rug here that will serve you for the rest of the journey," he continued. "As for your feet, they will be better bare.
This carriage is comparatively free from draught."
Without a word she slipped out of her soaking shawl and bodice and wrapped herself in the coarse hair blanket that he held out to her.
Her hair fell from its band and hung like a curtain about her bare shoulders.
She felt like a child that has been caught on an escapade, and now sat with hands folded meekly together, obedient to the master's word.
"Well?" he said, looking gravely upon her, and she found herself at once stumbling into an explanation of her day.
As before at Altarnun, there was something about him that made her untrue to herself, made her sound like a fool and an ignorant country girl, for her story was poor telling, and she came out of it badly — just another woman who had cheapened herself at Launceston fair and had been left by the man of her choice to find her way home alone.
She was ashamed to mention Jem by name, and she introduced him lamely as a man who lived by breaking horses and whom she had met once when wandering on the moor.
And now there had been some trouble in Launceston over the sale of a pony, and she feared he had been caught in some dishonesty.
She wondered what Francis Davey must think of her, riding to Launceston with a casual acquaintance and then losing her companion in disgrace and running about the town bedraggled and wet after nightfall, like a woman of the streets.
He heard her to the end in silence, and she heard him swallow once or twice, a trick she remembered.
"So you have not been too lonely after all?" he said at length.
"Jamaica Inn was not so isolated as you supposed?"
Mary flushed in the darkness, and, though he could not see her face, she knew that his eyes were upon her, and she felt guilty, as though she had done wrong and this were an accusation.
"What was the name of your companion?" he asked quietly; and she hesitated a moment, awkward and uncomfortable, her sense of guilt stronger than ever.
"He was my uncle's brother," she replied, aware of the reluctance in her voice, the admission dragging from her like a confession.
Whatever his opinion of her had been hitherto, he was unlikely to raise it after this.
Barely a week had passed since she had called Joss Merlyn a murderer, and yet she had ridden from Jamaica Inn with his brother without compunction, a common barmaid who would see the fun of the fair.
"You think ill of me, of course," she went on hurriedly. "Mistrusting and loathing my uncle as I do, it was hardly in keeping to make a confidant of his brother.
He is dishonest and a thief, I know that; he told me as much at the beginning; but beyond that…" Her words trailed off with some uncertainty.
After all Jem had denied nothing; he had made little or no attempt to defend himself when she accused him.
And now she ranged herself on his side, she defended him instead, without reason and against her sane judgment, bound to him already because of his hands upon her and a kiss in the dark.
"You mean the brother knows nothing of the landlord's trade by night?" continued the gentle voice at her side. "He is not of the company who brings the waggons to Jamaica Inn?"
Mary made a little gesture of despair.
"I don't know," she said; "I have no proof.
He admits nothing; he shrugs his shoulders.
But he told me one thing: that he had never killed a man.
And I believed him. I still believe him.
He said also that my uncle was running straight into the hands of the law, and they would catch him before long.
He surely would not say that if he was one of the company."
She spoke now to reassure herself rather than the man at her side, and Jem's innocence became suddenly of vital importance.
"You told me before that you had some acquaintance with the squire," she said quickly. "Perhaps you have influence with him too.