The wild fear ran through her mind that he suspected her and had some knowledge of her plans.
She had counted upon his high humour of the preceding night and had been prepared to fall in with it if necessary, answer banter with banter, setting up no opposition to his will.
He sat sullen, though, wrapped in gloom, and this was a mood she had experienced before, and, she knew now, led to danger.
At length she took courage in both hands and asked him what time he intended to leave Jamaica Inn.
"When I am prepared," he told her shortly and would say no more.
She schooled herself to continue, though, and when she had helped to clear the meal away and, at her own suggestion, adding deceit upon deceit, had impressed upon her aunt the necessity of packing a basket of provisions against the journey, she turned to her uncle and spoke again.
"If we are to travel tonight," she said, "would it not be better if Aunt Patience and myself rested now during the afternoon, and so could start out fresh upon the journey?
There will be no sleep for any of us tonight.
Aunt Patience has been upon her feet since daybreak, and I too, for that matter.
We do little good, as far as I can see, waiting here for the dusk to fall."
She kept her voice as casual as possible, but the tight band across her heart was a sign that she waited his answer with misgiving, and she could not look into his eyes.
He debated the matter a moment, and to control her anxiety she turned away and pretended to fumble in the cupboard.
"You may rest if you will," he said at length.
"There'll be work for you both, later.
You are right when you say there will be no sleep for you tonight.
Go then; I shall be well rid of you for the time."
The first step had been achieved, and Mary lingered awhile with her pretended work in the cupboard, fearing that haste to leave the kitchen should be judged suspicious.
Her aunt, who acted always like a dummy to suggestion, followed her meekly upstairs when the time came, and padded along the further passage to her own room as an obedient child would do.
Mary entered her own little room above the porch and closed the door, turning the key.
Her heart beat fast at the prospect of adventure, and she could hardly tell whether excitement or fear had the mastery.
It was close on four miles to Altarnun by the road, and she could walk the distance in an hour.
If she left Jamaica Inn at four o'clock, when the light was failing, she would be back again soon after six; and the landlord would hardly come to rouse her before seven.
She had three hours, then, in which to play her part, and she had already determined upon her method of departure.
She would climb out onto the porch and fall to the ground, as Jem had done this morning.
The drop was an easy one, and she would escape with little more than a scratch and a jar to her nerves.
At any rate, it would be safer to do this than to risk coming upon her uncle in the passage below.
The heavy entrance door would never open noiselessly, and to go through the bar would mean passing the open kitchen.
She put on her warmest dress and fastened her old shawl across her shoulders with trembling, hot hands.
It was the enforced delay that irked her most.
Once she was upon the road, the purpose of the walk would bring courage, and the very movement of her limbs would be a stimulant.
She sat by the window, looking out upon the bare yard and the highroad where no one ever passed, waiting for the clock in the hall below to strike four.
When it sounded at last, the strokes rang out in the silence like an alarm, pounding her nerves; and, unlocking the door, she listened for a moment, hearing footsteps echo the strokes, and whispers in the air.
It was imagination, of course; nothing moved.
The clock ticked on into the next hour.
Every second was precious to her now, and she must waste no time to be gone.
She shut the door, locking it again, and went to the window.
She crawled through the gap, as Jem had done, her hands on the sill, and in a moment she was astride the porch, looking down upon the ground.
The distance seemed greater, now that she crouched above it, and she had no blanket to control her fall and let her swing, as he had done. The tiles of the porch were slippery and gave no grip to hands or feet.
She turned, clinging desperately to the security of the window sill, that seemed desirable suddenly, and a thing well known; then she shut her eyes and launched herself into the air.
Her feet found the ground almost immediately — the jump was nothing, as she had already foreseen — but the tiles had grazed her hands and arms and brought back to her again a vivid memory of her last fall, from the carriage in the gullyway beside the shore.
She looked up at Jamaica Inn, sinister and grey in the approaching dusk, the windows barred; she thought of the horrors the house had witnessed, the secrets now embedded in its walls, side by side with the other old memories of feasting and firelight and laughter before her uncle cast his shadow upon it; and she turned away from it, as one turns instinctively from a house of the dead, and went out upon the road.
The evening was fine — that at least favoured her — and she strode out towards her destination with her eyes fixed upon the long white road that lay ahead.
Dusk came as she walked, bringing shadows across the moors that lay on either side of her.
Away to the left the high tors, shrouded at first in mist, were gathered to the darkness.
It was very still. There was no wind.
Later there would be a moon.
She wondered if her uncle had reckoned with this force of nature that would shine upon his plans.
For herself it would not matter.
Tonight she had no fear of the moors; they did not concern her. Her business was with the road.
The moors lost their significance when unnoticed and untrodden; they loomed beyond her and away from her.