If you have come to North Hill to plead for your uncle, it is too late."
"You misunderstand me," said Mary quietly.
"And the landlord of Jamaica Inn is a relative to me by marriage only.
Why I have been living there does not matter now, and the story would take too long in the telling.
I fear and detest him more than you or anyone in the country, and with reason.
I came here to warn Mr. Bassat that the landlord intended to leave the inn tonight, and so escape justice.
I have definite proof of his guilt, which I did not believe Mr. Bassat to possess.
You tell me that he has already gone, and perhaps even now is at Jamaica Inn.
Therefore I have wasted my time in coming here."
She sat down then, her hands in her lap, and stared blankly at the fire.
She had come to the end of her resources, and for the moment she could not look ahead.
All that her weary mind could tell her was that her labour of the evening had been purposeless and in vain.
She need never have left her bedroom at Jamaica Inn.
Mr. Bassat would have come in any case.
And now, by her secret meddling, she had blundered into the very mistake she had wished to avoid.
She had stayed away too long; and by now her uncle would have guessed the truth and in all probability made his escape.
Squire Bassat and his men would ride to a deserted inn.
She lifted her eyes once more to the lady of the house.
"I have done a very senseless thing in coming here," she said hopelessly. "I thought it clever, and I have only succeeded in making a fool of myself and of everyone else.
My uncle will discover my room is empty and guess at once that I have betrayed him.
He will leave Jamaica Inn before Mr. Bassat arrives."
The squire's lady let go of the bell rope now and came towards her.
"You speak sincerely, and you have an honest face," she said kindly. "I am sorry if I misjudged you at first, but Jamaica Inn has a terrible name, and I believe anyone would have done the same had they been confronted suddenly with the landlord's niece.
You have been placed in a fearful position, and I think you very brave to come here tonight, all those lonely miles, to warn my husband.
I should have gone mad with fear.
The question is this: what would you have me do now?
I am willing to help you in any way you think best."
"There is nothing we can do," said Mary, shaking her head. "I must wait here, I suppose, until Mr. Bassat returns.
He won't be overpleased to see me when he hears how I have blundered.
God knows I deserve every reproach…."
"I will speak for you," replied Mrs. Bassat. "You could not possibly know my husband had already been informed, and I will soon smooth him down if he needs it.
Be thankful you are here in safety meanwhile."
"How did the squire learn the truth so suddenly?" asked Mary.
"I have not the slightest idea; he was sent for very suddenly this morning, as I have told you already, and he only gave me the barest details before his horse was saddled and he was gone.
Now, won't you rest yourself, and forget for the time the whole hateful business?
You are probably famished for want of food."
Once more she approached the fireplace, and this time she pulled the bell rope three or four times, For all her worry and distress, Mary could not help seeing the irony of the situation.
Here was the lady of the house offering hospitality, who a moment ago had threatened her with seizure by the same servants who would now bring her food.
She thought also of the scene in the market square when this same lady, in velvet cloak and feathered hat, had paid a high price for her own pony, and she wondered whether the trickery had been discovered.
If Mary's own part in the deception should come to light, Mrs. Bassat would hardly be so lavish with her hospitality.
Meanwhile the servant appeared, his inquisitive nose in the air, and was told by his mistress to bring a tray of supper for Mary, and the dogs, who had followed him into the room, came now to make friends with the stranger, wagging their tails and pushing their soft noses into her hands, accepting her as a member of the household.
Her presence in the manor house at North Hill was still without reality, and, though Mary tried, she could not throw aside anxiety and relax.
She felt she had no right to be sitting here before a glowing fire, when outside, in the darkness, life and death fought hand to hand before Jamaica Inn.
She ate mechanically, forcing herself to swallow the food she needed, aware of the prattle of her hostess at her side, who in the mistaken kindness of her heart believed that incessant conversation about nothing at all was the only method of alleviating worry.
The chatter, had she but realised, increased it, and when Mary had finished her supper and sat once more with her hands on her lap, staring at the fire, Mrs. Bassat, searching in her mind for suitable distraction, fetched an album of her own water colours and proceeded to turn the pages for the benefit of her guest.
When the clock on the mantelpiece chimed eight o'clock in piercing tones, Mary could bear it no longer.
This dragging inactivity was worse than danger and pursuit.
"Forgive me," she said, rising to her feet; "you have been so kind, and I can never thank you enough; but I am anxious, desperately anxious.
I can think of nothing but my poor aunt, who at this moment may be suffering the tortures of hell.
I must know what is happening at Jamaica Inn, if I walk back there myself tonight."