But these apprehensions proved to be groundless. As we rowed around the bend next morning into view of the creek-head the man stood there alone, awaiting us. He saw us at once, and lifted his hat in welcome.
“Do you know him, Harry?” asked Miss Belcher.
“No,” said I, pretty confidently, and then—“But, yes—in the garden, that evening—the day you went up to Plymouth for the sale!”
“Eh? The garden at Minden Cottage? What on earth was he doing there?”
“Nothing, ma’am—at least, I don’t know. He seemed to be taking measurements, and he gave me a guinea. I rather think, ma’am, he was the man that attended the auction.”
“You never saw him until that evening?”
“Only that once, ma’am.”
“Oh!” said Miss Belcher.
A BOAT ON THE BEACH.
As we drew to shore the stranger stepped down the beach and lifted his hat again.
“Welcome, ladies; and let me thank you and all your party for this confidence. The boy here—bless my soul, how he has grown in these few months!—the boy and I have had the pleasure of meeting before. Eh, Harry Brooks? You remember me? To the Captain I must introduce myself. Shake hands, Captain Branscome. I am proud to make your acquaintance. . . . But what is the meaning of these baskets? You have brought your own provisions? Come, Miss Belcher, that is unkind of you, when we agreed—yes, surely we agreed?—that you were to be my guests.”
“We were not sure, sir—” began Miss Belcher.
“That I should keep my word? Worse and worse! Or possibly you distrusted the entertainment of a solitary bachelor on a desert island? But I must prove that you did me an injustice.” He pointed to a goodly hamper on the beach and to a frail or carpenter’s basket from which half a dozen bottles protruded their necks, topped with red and green seals. “As proprietor of Mortallone—you will forgive my laying stress on it—I may surely claim the right to do the honours. Stay a moment, my good man,” he added, as Mr. Goodfellow made a motion to lift out our own hamper. “Miss Plinlimmon, I believe, is an admirer of natural scenery, and, if the ladies will step ashore for a few minutes, there is a waterfall above which may reward her inspection; not by any means, ma’am, the grandest our island can show, yet charming in its way and distant but a short five minutes’ walk. Captain Branscome will bear me out, and Harry, too— yes, Harry, too, if I mistake not, visited it yesterday.”
He put out a hand to assist the ladies to disembark, at the same time hitching back the gun on his bandolier.