She waited, and presently she heard footsteps from within, and the door was opened by a manservant.
He called sharply at the dogs, who thrust their noses at the door and sniffed at Mary's feet.
She felt inferior and small and was conscious of her old dress and shawl before this man who waited for her to speak.
"I have come to see Mr. Bassat on very urgent business," she told him. "He would not know my name, but if he could speak to me for a few minutes I would explain.
The matter is of desperate importance, otherwise I would not disturb him at such an hour, and on a Sunday night."
"Mr. Bassat left for Launceston this morning," answered the man. "He was called away hurriedly, and he has not yet returned."
This time Mary could not control herself, and a cry of despair escaped her.
"I have come some way," she said, in an agony of feeling, as though by her very distress she could bring the squire to her side. "If I do not see him within the hour something terrible will happen, and a great criminal escape the hands of the law.
You look at me blankly, but I am speaking the truth.
If only there was someone I could turn to—"
"Mrs. Bassat is at home," said the man, stung with curiosity. "Perhaps she will see you, if your business is as urgent as you say.
Follow me, will you, to the library.
Never mind the dogs; they will not hurt you."
Mary crossed the hall in a dream, knowing only that her plan had failed again, through chance alone, and that she was powerless now to help herself.
The wide library, with its blazing fire, seemed unreal to her, and, accustomed as she was to the darkness, she blinked at the flood of light that met her eyes.
A woman whom she recognised immediately as the fine lady from Launceston market square was sitting in a chair before the fire, reading aloud to two children, and she looked up in surprise when Mary was shown into the room.
The servant began his explanation in some excitement.
"This young woman has very grave news for the squire, madam," he said. "I thought it best to show her in to you directly."
Mrs. Bassat rose to her feet at once, dropping the book from her lap.
"It isn't one of the horses, is it?" she said. "Richards told me Solomon had been coughing and that Diamond would not take his food.
With this undergroom anything may happen."
Mary shook her head.
"Your household is not in trouble," she said gravely. "I bring news of another kind.
If I could speak to you alone—"
Mrs. Bassat appeared relieved that her horses were not affected, and she spoke quickly to her children, who ran from the room, followed by the manservant.
"What can I do for you?" she said graciously. "You lock pale and frightened.
Won't you sit down?"
Mary shook her head impatiently.
"Thank you, but I must know when Mr. Bassat is returning home."
"I have no idea," replied his lady. "He was obliged to leave this morning at a moment's notice, and, to tell you the truth, I am seriously concerned about him.
If this dreadful innkeeper shows fight, as he is certain to do, Mr. Bassat may be wounded, in spite of the soldiers."
"What do you mean?" said Mary swiftly.
"Why, the squire has set out upon a highly dangerous mission.
Your face is new to me, and I conclude you are not from North Hill, otherwise you would have heard of this man Merlyn who keeps an inn upon the Bodmin road.
The squire has suspected him for some while of terrible crimes, but it was not until this morning that the full proof came into his hands.
He departed at once for Launceston to summon help, and from what he told me before he went, he intends to surround the inn tonight and seize the inhabitants.
He will go well armed, of course, and with a large body of men, but I shall not rest until he returns."
Something in Mary's face must have warned her, for she turned very pale and backed towards the fire, reaching out for the heavy bellpull that hung on the wall.
"You are the girl he spoke about," she said quickly, "the girl from the inn, the niece of the landlord.
Stay where you are; don't move, or I'll summon my servants.
You are the girl.
I know it; he described you to me.
What do you want with me?"
Mary put out her hand, her face as white as the woman's by the fire.
"I won't hurt you," she said. "Please do not ring.
Let me explain.
Yes, I am the girl from Jamaica Inn."
Mrs. Bassat did not trust her.
She watched Mary with troubled eyes and kept her hand upon the bell rope.
"I have no money here," she said. "I can do nothing for you.