She came at length to the Five Lanes, where the roads branched, and she turned to her left, down the steep hill of Altarnun.
Excitement rose high within her now as she passed the twinkling cottage lights and smelt the friendly smoke of chimneys.
Here were neighbourly sounds that had long been lost to her: the barking of a dog, the rustle of trees, the clank of a pail as a man drew water from a well.
There were open doors, and voices from within.
Chickens clucked beyond a hedge, and a woman called shrilly to a child who answered with a cry.
A cart lumbered past her into the shadows, and the driver gave her good evening.
Here was a drowsy movement, a placidity and a peace; here were all the old village smells she knew and understood.
She passed them by; and she went to the vicarage beside the church.
There were no lights here. The house was shrouded and silent.
The trees closed in upon it, and once again she was vividly aware of her first impression that this was a house that lived in its own past, and slept now, with no knowledge of the present.
She hammered upon the door, and she heard the blows echo through the empty house.
She looked in through the windows, and her eyes met nothing but the soft and negative darkness.
Then, cursing her stupidity, she turned back again towards the church.
Francis Davey would be there, of course. It was Sunday.
She hesitated a moment, uncertain of her movements, and then the gate opened and a woman came out into the road, carrying flowers.
She stared hard at Mary, knowing her a stranger, and would have passed her by with a good night had not Mary turned and followed her.
"Forgive me," she said; "I see you have come from the church.
Can you tell me if Mr. Davey himself is here?"
"No, he is not," said the woman; and then, after a moment,
"Were you wishing to see him?"
"Very urgently," said Mary. "I have been to his house, and I can get no answer.
Can you help me?"
The woman looked at her curiously and then shook her head.
"I am sorry," she said. "The vicar is from home.
He went away today to preach at another parish, many miles from here. He is not expected back in Altarnun tonight."
At first Mary stared at the woman in disbelief.
"Away from home?" she repeated. "But that is impossible. Surely you are mistaken?"
Her confidence had been such that she rejected instinctively this sudden and fatal blow to her plans.
The woman looked offended; she saw no reason why this stranger should doubt her word.
"The vicar left Altarnun yesterday afternoon," she said. "He rode away after dinner.
I ought to know, for I keep house for him."
She must have seen something of the agony of disappointment in Mary's face, for she relented and spoke with kindness.
"If there is any message you would like me to give him when he does return—" she began, but Mary shook her head hopelessly, spirit and courage gone from her in a moment with the news.
"It will be too late," she said in despair. "This is a matter of life and death.
With Mr. Davey gone, I don't know where I can turn."
Once more a gleam of curiosity came into the woman's eyes.
"Has someone been taken sick?" she enquired. "I could point you out where our doctor lives, if that would help you.
Where have you come from tonight?"
Mary did not answer.
She was thinking desperately of some way out of the situation.
To come to Altarnun and then return again without help to Jamaica Inn was impossible.
She could not place confidence in the village people, nor would they believe her tale.
She must find someone in authority — someone who knew something of Joss Merlyn and Jamaica Inn.
"Who is the nearest magistrate?" she said at length.
The woman puckered her brow and considered the question.
"There's no one close by us here in Altarnun," she said doubtfully. "Why, the nearest would be Squire Bassat over to North Hill, and that must be over four miles from here— maybe more, maybe less.
I cannot say for certain, for I have never been there.
You surely would not walk out there tonight?"
"I must," said Mary; "there is nothing else for me to do.