The roof of the carriage was slippery and wet, giving no grip to her fingers, but she struggled and pushed through the gap, and then, with a sickening squeeze and pressure, her hips were through, the frame of the window scraping the flesh and turning her faint.
She lost foothold and balance, and fell backwards through the window to the ground below.
The drop was nothing; but the fall shook her, and she felt a little trickle of blood run down her side where the window had caught her.
She gave herself a moment to recover, and then she dragged herself to her feet and began to creep uncertainly up the lane, in the dark shelter of the bank.
She had not yet formed a plan in her head, but, with her back turned away from the gully and the sea, she would be putting distance between herself and her late companions.
There was little doubt that they had descended to the shore.
This lane, winding upwards and to the left, would take her at least to the high ground of the cliffs, where in spite of the darkness she would be able to make something of the land.
Somewhere there would be a road — the carriage itself must have travelled by one; and if there was a road there would be dwelling houses before long; there would be honest men and women to whom she could tell her tale, and who would rouse the countryside when they heard her story.
She felt her way along the narrow ditch, stumbling now and again over the stones, her hair blowing into her eyes and troubling her, and, coming suddenly round the sharp corner of the bank, she put up her hands to screw back the loose strands from her eyes, and because of this she did not see the humped figure of a man kneeling in the ditch with his back towards her, his eyes watchful of the winding lane ahead.
She came against him, knocking the breath from her body, and he, taken by surprise, fell with her, crying out in mingled terror and rage, smashing at her with his clenched fist.
They fought on the ground, she straining away from him, her hands tearing at his face, but in a moment he was too strong for her, and, rolling her over on her side, he twisted his hands in her hair, pulling at the roots, until the pain forced her to stillness.
He leant on her, breathing heavily, for the fall had winded him, and then he peered closely at her, his gaping mouth showing yellow broken teeth.
It was Harry the pedlar.
Mary lay motionless: the first move should come from him; and meanwhile she cursed herself for a fool in blundering up the lane the way she had, with never a thought of the outpost that even a child at play would have placed in his position.
He expected her to cry or struggle, but when she did neither he shifted his weight to his elbow and smiled at her slyly, jerking his head in the direction of the shore.
"Didn't think to see me, did you?" he said. "Thought I was down on the shore with the landlord and the rest, baiting the pots.
And so you woke up from your beauty sleep and took a walk up the lane.
And now you're here I'll make you very welcome."
He grinned at her, touching her cheek with a black fingernail.
"It's been cold and damp in the ditch," he said, "but that's no odds now.
They'll be hours down there yet.
I can see you've turned against Joss, by the way you spoke to him tonight.
He's no right to keep you up at Jamaica like a bird in a cage, with no pretty things to wear.
I doubt if he's given you as much as a brooch for your bodice, has he?
Don't you mind about that. I'll give you lace for your neck, and bangles for your wrist, and soft silk for your skin.
Let's look now…."
He nodded at her, reassuring her, smiling still, smirking and sly, and she felt his furtive hand fasten itself upon her.
She moved swiftly, lashing out at him, and her fist caught him underneath the chin, shutting his mouth like a trap, with his tongue caught between his teeth.
He squealed like a rabbit, and she struck him again, but this time he grabbed at her and lurched sideways upon her, all pretence of gentle persuasion gone, his strength horrible, his face drained of all colour.
He was fighting now for possession, and she knew it, and, aware that his strength was greater than hers and must prevail in the end, she lay limp suddenly, to deceive him, giving him the advantage for the moment.
He grunted in triumph, relaxing his weight, which was what she intended, and as he moved his position and lowered his head she jabbed at him swiftly with the full force of her knee, at the same time thrusting her fingers in his eyes.
He doubled up at once, rolling onto his side in agony, and in a second she had struggled from under him and pulled herself to her feet, kicking at him once more as he rocked defenceless, his hands clasped to his belly.
She grabbed in the ditch for a stone to fling at him, finding nothing but loose earth and sand, and she dug handfuls of this, scattering it in his face and in his eyes, so that he was blinded momentarily and could make no return.
Then she turned again and began to run like a hunted thing up the twisting lane, her mouth open, her hands outstretched, tripping and stumbling over the ruts in the path; and when she heard his shout behind her once more, and the padding of his feet, a sense of panic swamped her reason and she started to climb up the high bank that bordered the lane, her foot slipping at every step in the soft earth, until with the very madness of effort born in terror she reached the top, and crawled, sobbing, through a gap in the thorn hedge that bordered the bank.
Her face and her hands were bleeding, but she had no thought for this and ran along the cliff away from the lane, over tussocks of grass and humped uneven ground, all sense of direction gone from her, her one idea to escape from the thing that was Harry the pedlar.
A wall of fog closed in upon her, obscuring the distant line of hedge for which she had been making, and she stopped at once in her headlong rush, aware of the danger of sea mist, and how in its deception it might bring her back to the lane again.
She fell at once upon hands and knees, and crawled slowly forward, her eyes low to the ground, following a narrow sandy track that wound in the direction she wished to take.
Her progress was slow, but instinct told her that the distance was increasing between her and the pedlar, which was the only thing that mattered.
She had no reckoning of time; it was three, perhaps four, in the morning, and the darkness would give no sign of breaking for many hours to come.
Once more the rain came down through the curtain of mist, and it seemed as though she could hear the sea on every side of her and there were no escape from it; the breakers were muffled no longer; they were louder and clearer than before.
She realised that the wind had been no guide to direction, for even now, with it behind her, it might have shifted a point or two, and with her ignorance of the coastline she had not turned east, as she had meant to do, but was even now upon the brink of a sagging cliff path that, judging by the sound of the sea, was taking her straight to the shore.
The breakers, though she could not see them because of the fog, were somewhere beyond her in the darkness, and to her dismay she sensed they were on a level with her, and not beneath her. This meant that the cliffs here descended abruptly to the shore, and, instead of a long and tortuous path to a cove that she had pictured from the abandoned carriage, the gullyway must have been only a few yards from the sea itself.
The banks of the gully had muffled the sound of the breakers.
Even as she decided this, there was a gap in the mist ahead of her, showing a patch of sky. She crawled on uncertainly, the path widening and the fog clearing, and the wind veered in her face once more; and there she knelt amongst driftwood and seaweed and loose shingle, on a narrow strand, with the land sloping up on either side of her, while not fifty yards away, and directly in front of her, were the high combing seas breaking upon the shore.
After a while, when her eyes had accustomed themselves to the shadows, she made them out, huddled against a jagged rock that broke up the expanse of the beach: a little knot of men, grouped together for warmth and shelter, silently peering ahead of them into the darkness.
Their very stillness made them the more menacing who had not been still before; and the attitude of stealth, the poise of their bodies, crouched as they were against the rock, the tense watchfulness of their heads turned one and all to the incoming sea, was a sight at once fearful and pregnant with danger.
Had they shouted and sung, called to one another, and made the night hideous with their clamour, their heavy boots resounding on the crunching shingle, it would have been in keeping with their character and with what she expected; but there was something ominous in this silence, which suggested that the crisis of the night had come upon them.
A little jutting piece of rock stood between Mary and the bare exposed beach, and beyond this she dared not venture for fear of betraying herself. She crawled as far as the rock and lay down on the shingle behind it, while ahead of her, directly in her line of vision when she moved her head, stood her uncle and his companion, with their backs turned to her.
They did not move. There was no sound.