The doctor and the admiral, with Henry, had betaken themselves from the Hall as we had recorded, and, in due time, reached the cottage where Flora and her mother had found a temporary refuge.
Mrs. Bannerworth was up; but Flora was sleeping, and, although the tidings they had to tell were of a curious and mixed nature, they would not have her disturbed to listen to them.
And, likewise, they were rather pleased than otherwise, since they knew not exactly what had become of Charles Holland, to think that they would probably be spared the necessity of saying they could not account for his absence.
That he had gone upon some expedition, probably dangerous, and so one which he did not wish to communicate the particulars of to his friends, lest they should make a strong attempt to dissuade him from it, they were induced to believe.
But yet they had that confidence in his courage and active intellectual resources, to believe that he would come through it unscathed, and, probably, shortly show himself at the cottage.
In this hope they were not disappointed, for in about two hours Charles made his appearance; but, until he began to be questioned concerning his absence by the admiral, he scarcely considered the kind of dilemma he had put himself into by the promise of secrecy he had given to Varney, and was a little puzzled to think now much he might tell, and how much he was bound in honour to conceal.
“Avast there!” cried the admiral; “what’s become of your tongue, Charles? You’ve been on some cruize, I’ll be bound. Haul over the ship’s books, and tell us what’s happened.”
“I have been upon an adventure,” said Charles, “which I hope will be productive of beneficial results to us all; but, the fact is, I have made a promise, perhaps incautiously, that I will not communicate what I know.”
“Whew!” said the admiral, “that’s awkward; but, however, if a man said under sealed instructions, there’s an end of it. I remember when I was off Candia once—–”
“Ha!” interposed Jack, “that was the time you tumbled over the blessed binnacle, all in consequence of taking too much Madeira. I remember it, too—it’s an out and out good story, that ’ere. You took a rope’s end, you know, and laid into the bowsprit; and, says you, ’Get up, you lubber,’ says you, all the while a thinking, I supposes, as it was long Jack Ingram, the carpenter’s mate, laying asleep. What a lark!”
“This scoundrel will be the death of me,” said the admiral; “there isn’t one word of truth in what he says. I never got drunk in all my life, as everybody knows. Jack, affairs are getting serious between you and I—we must part, and for good. It’s a good many times that I’ve told you you’ve forgot the difference between the quarter-deck and the caboose. Now, I’m serious—you’re off the ship’s books, and there’s an end of you.”
“Very good,” said Jack; “I’m willing I’ll leave you. Do you think I want to keep you any longer? Good bye, old bloak—I’ll leave you to repent, and when old grim death comes yard-arm and yard-arm with you, and you can’t shake off his boarding-tackle, you’ll say, ‘Where’s Jack Pringle?’ says you; and then what’s his mane—oh ah! echo you call it—echo’ll say, it’s d——d if it knows.”