He bent again to the ground, fumbling in the barren flower bed outside the parlour window, and then he raised his hand and threw the little clod of earth at her window, spattering the pane with pebbles and soft mud.
This time she saw his face, and the wonder of it made her cry out in surprise, forgetting the caution to which she had trained herself.
It was Jem Merlyn standing below her in the yard.
She leant forward at once, opening her window, and would have called to him, but he lifted his hand for silence.
He came close against the wall, skirting the porch which would have hidden her from him, and he cupped his Lands to his mouth and whispered up to her,
"Come down to the door here, and unbolt it for me."
She shook her head at him.
"I cannot do that. I am locked here in my room," she told him.
He stared at her, nonplussed and evidently puzzled, and he looked back at the house as though it might offer some solution of its own.
He ran his hands along the slates, testing them, feeling for rusted nails used long ago for creepers, that might afford him foothold of a sort.
The low tiles of the porch were within his reach, but they had no gripping surface; he would swing his legs from the ground to no purpose.
"Fetch me the blanket from your bed," he called softly.
She guessed at once his meaning and tied one end of her blanket to the foot of her bed, throwing the other end out of the window, where it dragged limply above his head.
This time he had holding power, and, swinging himself to the low roof of the jutting porch, he was able to wedge his body between it and the walls of the house, his feet gripping the slates, and in this manner haul himself up the porch on a level with her window.
He swung his legs over, and straddled the porch, his face close to hers now, the blanket hanging loosely beside him.
Mary struggled with the framework of the window, but her efforts were useless.
The window opened only a foot or so; he could not enter the room without smashing the glass.
"I shall have to talk to you here," he said. "Come closer, where I can see you."
She knelt on the floor of her room, her face at the window gap, and they stared at one another for a moment without speaking.
He looked worn, and his eyes were hollow, like the eyes of one who has not slept and has endured fatigue.
There were lines about his mouth she had not noticed before, nor did he smile.
"I owe you an apology," he said at length. "I deserted you without excuse at Launceston on Christmas Eve.
You can forgive me or not, as you feel; but the reason for it — that I can't give you.
This attitude of harshness did not suit him; he appeared to have changed much, and the change was unwelcome to her.
"I was anxious for your safety," she said. "I traced you to the White Hart, and there I was told you had entered a carriage with some gentleman; nothing beyond that, no message, no word of explanation.
Those men were there, standing before the fire, the horse dealer who spoke with you in the market square.
They were horrible men, curious, and I mistrusted them.
I wondered if the theft of the pony had been discovered.
I was wretched and worried.
I blame you for nothing.
Your business is your own."
She was hurt by his manner.
She had expected anything but this.
When she saw him first, in the yard outside her window, she thought of him only as the man she loved, who had come now to her in the night, seeking her presence.
His coolness damped her flame, and she withdrew inside herself at once, trusting that he had not seen the blank disappointment in her face.
He did not even ask how she returned that night, and his indifference stunned her.
"Why are you locked in your room?" he questioned.
She shrugged her shoulders, and her voice was flat and dull when she replied:
"My uncle does not care for eavesdroppers.
He fears I should wander in the passage and stumble upon his secrets.
You appear to have the same dislike of intrusion.
To ask you why you are here tonight would be an offence, I suppose?"
"Oh, be as bitter as you like; I deserve it," he flashed suddenly.
"I know what you think of me.
One day I may be able to explain, if you're not out of my reach by then.
Be a man for the moment, and send your hurt pride and your curiosity to hell.
I'm treading delicate ground, Mary, and one false step will finish me.
Where is my brother?"
"He told us he would spend the night in the kitchen.