The black riding cape gave no clue to his identity, but when he bowed and bared his head, the thick halo of hair shone white under the moon, and the voice that spoke in answer to the squire was gentle and sweet.
"Mr. Bassat of North Hills, I believe," he said, and he leant forward in his saddle, with a note in his hand. "I have a message here from Mary Yellan of Jamaica Inn, who asks my help in trouble; but I see by the company assembled here that I have come too late.
You remember me, of course; we have met before.
I am the vicar of Altarnun."
Mary sat alone in the living room at the vicarage and watched the smouldering turf fire.
She had slept long and was now rested and refreshed; but the peace for which she craved had not yet come to her.
They had been kind to her and patient; too kind perhaps, coming so sudden and unexpected after the long strain; and Mr. Bassat himself, with clumsy, well-meaning hands, patted her on the shoulder as he would a hurt child and said to her in his gruff kind way,
"Now you must sleep, and forget all you have gone through, and remember it's behind you now and over.
I can promise you that we shall find the man who killed your aunt soon, very soon, and he shall hang at the next Assizes.
And when you are a little recovered from the shock of these last few months, you shall say what you would like to do, and where you would like to go."
She had no will of her own; they could make decisions for her; and, when Francis Davey offered his home for shelter, she accepted meekly and without feeling, conscious that her listless word of thanks savoured of ingratitude.
Once more she knew the humility of being born a woman, when the breaking down of strength and spirit was taken as natural and unquestioned.
Were she a man, now, she would receive rough treatment, or indifference at the best, and be requested to ride at once perhaps to Bodmin or to Launceston to bear witness, with an understanding that she should find her own lodging and betake herself to the world's end if she wished when all questions had been asked.
And she would depart, when they had finished with her, and go on a ship somewhere, working her passage before the mast; or tramp the road with one silver penny in her pocket and her heart and soul at liberty.
Here she was, with tears ready to the surface and an aching head, being hurried from the scene of action with smooth words and gestures, a nuisance and a factor of delay, like every woman and every child after tragedy.
The vicar had driven her himself in the trap — with the squire's groom following behind on his horse — and he at least had the gift of silence, for he questioned her not at all, nor murmured sympathy to be both wasted and ignored, but drove swiftly to Altarnun and arrived there as his church clock struck one.
He roused his housekeeper from the cottage near by, the same woman that Mary had spoken with in the afternoon, and bade her come with him to the vicarage to prepare a room for his guest, which she did at once, without chattering or exclaiming in wonder, bringing the aired linen from her own home to lay on the bed.
She kindled a fire in the grate and warmed a rough woollen nightdress before it, while Mary shed her clothes, and when the bed was ready for her, and the smooth sheets turned back, Mary allowed herself to be led to it as a child is led to a cradle.
She would have closed her eyes at once but for an arm suddenly around her shoulders and a voice in her ear,
"Drink this," persuasive and cool, and Francis Davey himself stood beside the bed, with a glass in his hand and his strange eyes looking into hers, pale and expressionless.
"You will sleep now," he said, and she knew from the bitter taste that he had put some powder in the hot drink which he had brewed for her, and that he done this in understanding of her restless, tortured mind.
The last that she remembered was his hand upon her forehead and those still white eyes that told her to forget; and then she slept, as he had bidden her.
It was nearly four in the afternoon before she woke, and the fourteen hours of sleep had done the work that he intended, turning the edge of sorrow and blunting her to pain.
The sharp grief for Aunt Patience had softened, and the bitterness too.
Reason told her that she could not put the blame upon herself: she had done only what her conscience had commanded her to do. Justice had come first.
Her dull wit had not foreseen the tragedy; there lay the fault.
There remained regret, and regret could not bring Aunt Patience back again.
These were her thoughts on rising; but when she was dressed, and had gone below to the living room, to find the fire burning and the curtains drawn, and the vicar abroad upon some business, the old nagging sense of insecurity returned to her, and it seemed to her that responsibility for the disaster lay on her shoulders alone.
Jem's face was ever present with her as she had seen it last, drawn and haggard in the false grey light, and there had been a purpose in his eyes then, and in the very set of his mouth, that she had wilfully ignored.
He had been the unknown factor from the beginning to the end, from that first morning when he had come to the bar in Jamaica Inn, and deliberately she had shut her eyes to the truth.
She was a woman, and for no reason in heaven or earth she loved him. He had kissed her, and she was bound to him for ever.
She felt herself fallen and degraded, weakened in mind and body, who had been strong before; and her pride had gone with her independence.
One word to the vicar when he returned, and a message to the squire, and Aunt Patience would be avenged.
Jem would die with a rope round his neck as his father had done; and she would return to Helford, seeking the threads of her old life, that lay twisted even now and buried in the soil.
She got up from the chair beside the fire and began to walk the length of the room, with some idea that she wrestled now with her ultimate problem, but even as she did so she knew that her very action was a lie, a poor trick to appease her conscience, and that the word would never be given.
Jem was safe from her, and he would ride away with a song on his lips and a laugh at her expense, forgetful of her, and of his brother, and of God; while she dragged through the years, sullen and bitter, the stain of silence marking her, coming in the end to ridicule as a soured spinster who had been kissed once in her life and could not forget it.
Cynicism and sentimentality were two extremes to be avoided, and as Mary prowled about the room, her mind as restless as her body, she felt as though Francis Davey himself were watching her. his cold eyes probing her soul.
The room held something of him after all, now that he was not here, and she could imagine him standing in the corner by the easel, his brush in his hand, staring out of the window at things that were dead and gone.
There were canvases with their faces to the wall close to the easel, and Mary turned them to the light in curiosity.
Here was an interior of a church — his church, she supposed— painted in the twilight of midsummer it would seem, with the nave in shadow. There was a strange green afterglow upon the arches, stretching to the roof, and this light was something sudden and unexpected that lingered in her memory after she had laid the picture aside, so that she returned to it and considered it once more.
It might be that this green afterglow was a faithful reproduction, and peculiar to his church at Altarnun, but for all that, it cast a haunting and uncanny light upon the picture, and Mary knew that had she a home she would not care for it to hang upon her walls.
She could not have put her feeling of discomfort into words, but it was as though some spirit, having no knowledge of the church itself, had groped its way into the interior and breathed an alien atmosphere upon the shadowed nave.
As she turned the paintings, one by one, she saw that they were all tainted in the same manner and to the same degree; what might have been a striking study of the moor beneath Brown Willy on a spring day, with the high clouds banked up behind the tor, had been marred by the dark colour and the very contour of the clouds that dwarfed the picture and overwhelmed the scene, with this same green light predominating all.
She wondered, for the first time, whether by being born albino, and a freak of nature, his colour sense was therefore in any way impaired, and his sight itself neither normal nor true.
This might be the explanation, but, even so, her feeling of discomfort remained after she had replaced the canvases with their faces to the wall.
She continued her inspection of the room, which told her little, it being sparsely furnished anyway, and free of ornaments and books.
Even his desk was bare of correspondence and looked seldom used.
She drummed with her fingers on the polished surface, wondering if he sat here to write his sermons, and suddenly and unpardonably she opened the narrow drawer beneath the desk.
It was empty; and at once she was ashamed. She was about to shut it when she noticed that the paper with which the drawer was laid had one corner turned, and there was some sketch drawn upon the other side.