The horse bent to the climb, his head low, and it seemed to Mary that the clop of his hoofs rang too loudly on the surface of the road, and she wished they had been more silent.
As they drew near to the summit of the hill, Richards turned and whispered in her ear,
"Would it be best for you to wait here, in the trap, by the side of the road, and I go forward and see if they are there?"
Mary shook her head.
"Better for me to go," she said, "and you follow a pace or two behind, or stay here and wait until I call.
From the silence, it seems as though the squire and his party are not yet come, after all, and that the landlord has escaped.
Should he be there, however — my uncle, I mean — I can risk an encounter with him, when you could not.
Give me a pistol; I shall have little to fear from him then."
"I hardly think it right for you to go alone," said the man doubtfully. "You may walk right into him, and I hear no sound from you again.
It's strange, as you say, this silence.
I'd expected shouting and fighting, and my master's voice topping it all.
It's almost unnatural, in a way.
They must have been detained in Launceston.
I half fancy there'd be more wisdom if we turned aside down that track there and waited for them to come."
"I've waited long enough tonight, and gone half mad with it," said Mary.
"I'd rather come upon my uncle face to face than lie here in the ditch, seeing and hearing nothing.
It's my aunt I'm thinking of.
She's as innocent as a child in all this business, and I want to care for her if I can.
Give me a pistol and let me go.
I can tread like a cat, and I'll not run my head into a noose, I promise you."
She threw off the heavy cloak and hood that had protected her from the cold night air, and seized hold of the pistol that he handed down to her reluctantly.
"Don't follow me unless I call or give some signal," she said. "Should you hear a shot fired, then perhaps it would be as well to come after me.
But come warily, for all that.
There's no need for both of us to run like fools into danger.
For my part, I believe my uncle to have gone."
She hoped now that he had, and by driving into Devon made an end to the whole business.
The country would be rid of him, and in the cheapest possible way.
He might, even as he had said, start life again, or, more likely still, dig himself in somewhere five hundred miles from Cornwall and drink himself to death.
She had no interest now in his capture; she wanted it finished and thrust aside; she wanted above all to lead her own life and forget him, and to put the world between her and Jamaica Inn.
Revenge was an empty thing.
To see him bound and helpless, surrounded by the squire and his men, would be of little satisfaction.
She had spoken to Richards with confidence, but for all that she dreaded an encounter with her uncle, armed as she was; and the thought of coming upon him suddenly in the passage of the inn, with his hands ready to strike, and his bloodshot eyes staring down upon her, made her pause in her stride, before the yard, and glance back to the dark shadow in the ditch that was Richards and the trap.
Then she levelled her pistol, her finger upon the trigger, and looked round the corner of the stone wall to the yard.
It was empty. The stable door was shut.
The inn was as dark and silent as when she had left it nearly seven hours before, and the windows and the door were barred.
She looked up to her window, and the pane of glass gaped empty and wide, unchanged since she had climbed from it that afternoon.
There were no wheel marks in the yard, no preparations for departure.
She crept across to the stable and laid her ear against the door.
She waited a moment, and then she heard the pony move restlessly in his stall; she heard his hoofs clink on the cobbles.
Then they had not gone, and her uncle was still at Jamaica Inn.
Her heart sank; and she wondered if she should return to Richards and the trap, and wait, as he had suggested, until Squire Bassat and his men arrived.
She glanced once more at the shuttered house.
Surely, if her uncle intended to leave, he would have gone before now.
The cart alone would take an hour to load, and it must be nearly eleven o'clock.
He might have altered his plans and decided to go on foot, but then Aunt Patience could never accompany him.
Mary hesitated; the situation had become odd now, and unreal.
She stood by the porch and listened.
She even tried the handle of the door. It was locked, of course.
She ventured a little way round the corner of the house, past the entrance to the bar, and so to the patch of garden behind the kitchen.
She trod softly now, keeping herself in shadow, and she came to where a chink of candlelight would show through the gap in the kitchen shutter. There was no light. She stepped close now to the shutter and laid her eye against the slit.