Captain Hamilton Miggs had found the liquor of the Cock and Cowslip so very much to his taste, in spite of its vitriolic peculiarities recorded in a preceding chapter, that he rejoined his ship in a very shaky and demoralized condition. He was a devout believer in the homoeopathic revelation that like may be cured by like, so he forthwith proceeded to set himself straight by the consumption of an unlimited quantity of ship’s rum. “What’s the good of having a pilot aboard if I am to keep sober?” he hiccoughed to his mate McPherson. After which piece of logic he shut himself up in his cabin and roared comic songs all the way from London to Gravesend. He was so exhausted by his performance that he fell fast asleep, and snored stertorously for fifteen hours, at the end of which time he came on deck and found that the Black Eagle was lying off Deal, and that her anchor was just being hoisted for a start up Channel.
Captain Hamilton Miggs watched the sail-setting with his hands in his pockets, and swore promiscuously at every one, from the mate downwards, in a hearty comprehensive way, which showed a mind that was superior to petty distinctions. Having run over all the oaths that he could think of, he dived below and helped himself from the rum bottle, a process which appeared to aid his memory or his invention, for he reappeared upon deck and evolved a new many-jointed expletive at the man at the wheel. He then strode in gloomy majesty up and down the quarter-deck, casting his eyes at the sails and at the clouds in a critical way calculated to impress the crew generally with a sense of their captain’s extraordinary sagacity.
The Blank Eagle had gone about for the second time, and was just about to free herself from the Goodwins and reach out into the Channel, when Miggs’ eye happened to fall upon the fishing boat in pursuit and the white flutter in her bows. He examined her with his glass, steadying it as well as he could by leaning it across the rail, as his hand was very shaky. After a short inspection, a look of astonishment, followed by one of resignation, stole over his features.
“I’ve got them again, Mac,” he remarked to the mate.
“Got what, sir?”
“The diddleums, the jumps, the visions. It’s the change of air as has done it.”
“You look all right,” remarked the mate in a sympathetic voice.
“So I may; but I’ve got ’em. It’s usually rats—rats, and sometimes cockroaches; but it’s worse than that this time. As I’m a livin’ man, I looked through the glass at that fishing-boat astern of us, and I saw young Muster Ezra Girdlestone in it, and the old boss standin’ up wi’ a yachtin’-cap at the side of his head and waving a towel. This is the smartest bout that ever I have had. I’ll take some of the medicine left from my last touch and I’ll turn in.” He vanished down the companion, and having taken a strong dose of bromide of potassium, tumbled into his bunk, cursing loudly at his ill luck.
The astonishment of McPherson upon deck was as great as that of Captain Miggs, when, on looking through the glass, he ascertained beyond all doubt that both of his employers were in the fishing-boat. He at once ordered the mainyard to be hauled back and awaited their arrival. In a few minutes the boat was alongside, a ladder thrown down, and the two Girdlestones were on the deck of their own ship.
“Where’s the captain?” asked the head of the firm.
“He’s below, sir. He’s no very salubrious.” The mate’s love of long words rose superior to any personal emotion.
“You can square the yard,” said Ezra. “We are going with you.”
“Ay, ay, sir. Square away that yard there!” It swung round into position, and the Black Eagle resumed her voyage.
“There is some business to be looked after in Spain,” Girdlestone remarked to McPherson. “It came up suddenly or we should have given you notice. It was absolutely necessary that we should be there personally. It was more convenient to go in our own vessel than to wait for a passenger ship.”
“Where will you sleep, sir?” asked the mate. “I doubt the accommodation’s no very munificent.”
“There are two settees in the cabin. We can do on them very well. I think we can’t do better than go down there at once, for we have had a long and tiring journey.”
After they had disappeared into the cabin, McPherson trod the deck for the remainder of his watch with a grave and a thoughtful face. Like most of his countrymen he was shrewd and long-headed. It struck him that it was a very strange thing for the two partners to be absent at the same time from their business. Again, where was their luggage? Grave misgivings arose in his mind as to the reason of it all. He kept them to himself, however, and contented himself with remarking to the carpenter that in all his experience he had never met with a more “monumentous episode.”