“We?” gasped Mr. Rogers, and again gazed around; but we others had no attention to spare for him. “We? Who are ’we’?”
“Why, all of us, sir, if I might dare to propose it; or at least as many as possible of us whom the hand of Providence has so mysteriously brought together. I will confess that while you were talking just now, discussing this secret which properly speaking belongs to Harry alone, I doubted the prudence of it—”
“And, by Jingo, you were right!” put in Miss Belcher.
“With your leave, ma’am,” Plinny went on, “I have come to think otherwise. To begin with, but for Captain Branscome the map would never have found its way to the Major’s room, where Harry discovered it; but might—nay, probably would—have been stolen by the wicked man who committed this crime to get possession of it. Again, but for Mr. Goodfellow this written narrative would undoubtedly have been lost to us, and the map, if not meaningless, might have seemed a clue not worth the risk of following. In short, ma’am”—Plinny turned again to Miss Belcher—“I saw that each of us at this table had been wonderfully brought here by the hand of Providence. And from this I went on to see, and with wonder and thankfulness, that here was a secret, sought after by many evildoers, which had yet come into the keeping of six persons, all of them honest, and wishful only to do good. Consider, ma’am, how unlikely this was, after the many bold, bad hands that have reached out for it. And will you tell me that here is accident only, and not the finger of Providence itself? At first, indeed, we suspected Captain Branscome and Mr. Goodfellow: they were strangers to us, and, as if that we might be tested, they came to us under suspicion.” Here Mr. Goodfellow put up a hand and dubiously felt his nose, which was yet swollen somewhat from his first encounter with Mr. Rogers. “But they have proved their innocence; Harry gives me his word for them; and I do not think,” said Plinny, “that you, ma’am, can have heard Captain Branscome’s story without honouring him.”
Miss Belcher, thus appealed to, answered only with a grunt, at the same time shooting from under her shaggy eyebrows an amused glance at the Captain, who stared at the table-cloth to hide his confusion, which, however, was betrayed by a pair of very red ears.
“All this,” pursued Plinny, “I saw by degrees, and that it was marvellous; but next came something more marvellous still, for I saw that if one had gone forth to choose six persons to carry out this business, he could not have chosen six better fitted for it.”
From the effect of this astounding proposition Miss Lydia Belcher was the first to recover herself.
“Thank you, my dear,” she murmured; “on behalf of myself and the company, as they say. It is true that in all these years I have overlooked my qualifications for a buccaneering job; but I’ll think them out as you proceed.”