With these words, which I did not understand in the least, he turned and left me, passing out into the lane by the side-gate. A minute later I heard the coach pull up, and yet a minute later roll on again, conveying him towards Plymouth. I stole a glance at the water, at the summer-house, at the tree behind it. Somehow in the twilight they all wore an uncanny look. On my way home—for I decided to return and take my bath in the house, after all—my mind kept running on a story of Ann the cook’s, about a man (a relative of hers, she said) who had once seen the devil. And yet the stranger had tipped me a guinea at parting, nor was it (except metaphorically) red hot in my pocket.
Next evening Miss Belcher rode back to us from Plymouth with the announcement that Minden Cottage was hers. She had not attended the sale in person, but Maddicombe, her lawyer, had started the bidding (under her instruction) at precisely the sum which she had privately offered Messrs. Harding and Whiteway. There was no competition. In fact, Maddicombe reported that, apart from the auctioneers and himself, but six persons attended the sale. Of these, five were local acquaintances of his whom he knew to be attracted only by curiosity. Of the sixth, a stranger, he had been afraid at first, but the man appeared to be a visitor, who had wandered into the sale by mistake. At any rate, he made no bid.
“What sort of man?” I asked.
“As to that, Maddicombe had no very precise recollection, or couldn’t put it into words. A tall man, he said, and dressed in black; a noticeable man—that was as far as he could get—and, he believed, a foreigner.”
HOW WE SAILED TO THE ISLAND.
The business of the sale concluded, we had nothing to detain us, and an order was at once sent to Captain Branscome to book our passages in the next packet for the West Indies. Meanwhile we held long discussions on details of outfit, for since our impedimenta included two moderately heavy chests—the one of guns and ammunition, the other of spades, picks, hatchets, and other tools—and since on reaching Jamaica we must take a considerable journey on muleback, it was important to cut our personal luggage down to the barest necessities. We did not forget a medicine-chest.
On August 28 we received word from Captain Branscome that he had taken berths for us on the Townshend packet, commanded by an old friend of his, a Captain Harrison. She was due to sail on the 1st. Accordingly, on August 30 we travelled down by Royal Mail to Falmouth, Mr. Rogers following that same noon by the Highflyer; spent a busy day in making some last purchases, and a sleepless night in the noisiest of hotels; and went on board soon after breakfast, to be welcomed there by Mr. Goodfellow, who had got over his parting three days before, at Plymouth, and professed himself to be in the very jolliest of spirits. At the head of the after-companion Captain Branscome met us and conducted us below, to introduce us to our quarters and be complimented on the thought and care he had bestowed in choosing them and fitting them up—for the ladies’ comfort especially. He himself lodged forward, in a small double cabin which he shared with Mr. Goodfellow.