Old Cap’n Pem was seated on the stringpiece of the wharf, his short black pipe gripped firmly in his mouth, and his wooden leg stretched stiffly before him like the stubby bowsprit of a coasting sloop. Beside him was his crony, Mike, another wooden-legged old mariner, for since a cruise the two had made to the Antarctic on the bark Hector, they had become inseparable companions.
Although they were fast friends, they were ever chaffing each other and made it a point never to agree upon anything.
As Mike said, “Phwhat’s the use av talkin’ if yez don’t be afther arguin’? Shure an’ if yez agrees there’s not a bit more to be said.”
So, as usual, the two ancient mariners were in the midst of a discussion regarding a weather-beaten, disreputable, unkempt craft which was being towed across New Bedford harbor by a fussy little tug.
“Looks like they wuz a-comin’ to berth her here,” remarked Old Pem. “Reckon Dixon mus’ calc’late to fit the ol’ Narwhal out fer a cruise.”
Mike snorted. “B’gorra thin ’twill be a cruise to Davy Jones she’ll be afther takin’!” he exclaimed. “Shure, ’tis l’ave o’ yer sinses ye’re takin’, ye ol’ walrus! ’Tis to junk the schooner they do be towin’ av her here.”
“Walrus yerself!” retorted Cap’n Pem. “Ye’re a Irish lan’lubber if ye think the ol’ Narwhal’s only fit for junk. That there ol’ hooker’s a-goin’ for to fit out, I bet ye. An’, by heck! if she do, I’ll be blowed if I don’t ask Dixon to ship me erlong.”
Mike guffawed. “Glory be!” he cried. “An’ do yez be afther thinkin’ as Dixon’ll be fittin’ out av a floatin’ horspittle, ye ol’ cripple?”
Pem bristled. “Dern yer hide!” he roared. “If he was I’ll be sunk if he wouldn’t grab ye fust, ye peg-legged Harp. I’d——”
Cap’n Pem’s sentence was interrupted by a shout and Jim Lathrop and Tom Chester, who had been with the old whalemen on the Hector in the Antarctic, came racing towards them.
“Hurrah!” cried Tom. “That tug’s coming in here with that old brig. Say, Cap’n Pem, what do you suppose they’re going to do with her?”
“Bless ye, that ain’t no brig,” responded the old man. “That’s a torpsa’l schooner—the ol’ Narwhal. Ain’t seed her afloat fer years. Reckon Dixon’s goin’ fer to fit her out fer a cruise.”
“Cruise!” cried Jim. “Gee, you don’t mean to say any one would be crazy enough to go to sea on her! Why, the old Hector was bad enough, but she was new compared to that tub, and was big enough to hoist this boat up to her davits.”
Mike chuckled. “Glory be!” he exclaimed. “Even the b’ys is afther knowin’ ’tis no cruise she’ll be takin’. Shure, me laddies, Oi wuz just afther tellin’ Pem ’twas a-junkin’ av her they’ll be. But b’gorra, he’ll be havin’ av it his own way an’, phwat’s more, the ol’ idjit’s a-sayin’ as he’ll be afther a-tryin’ to ship along av her.”
The boys laughed. “I thought you were never going to sea again, Cap’n Pem,” cried Tom. “You said you were going to settle down ashore and buy a farm with your share of the Hector’s catch.”
“And you said only an old fool like Mr. Nye would ship a wooden-legged mate,” put in Jim. “Isn’t Mike going too to keep you company?”
“Divvil a bit!” declared Mike positively. “’Tis solid land Oi do be afther wantin’ to feel ben’ath me two feet—an’ me havin’ but wan.”
“Waall, I’ll bet ye she’s a-goin’ fer a cruise annyways,” rumbled Cap’n Pem, “an’ we’ll soon fin’ out.”
Rising, the old whaleman stumped across the dock to where the ancient craft was being moored. At his heels followed the two boys and Mike.
“Hey there, Ben!” shouted the old sailor to the captain of the tug. “What in tarnation ye bringin’ the Narwhal over here fer?”
The tug’s skipper stuck his head from the pilot house, twirled the big wheel with one hand, and jerked the bell pull with the other. “Goin’ for a cruise,” he shouted back. “Heard Dixon’s aimin’ to send her to the Arctic.”
Cap’n Pem turned triumphantly to Mike. “There ye be, ye ol’ derelic’,” he cried. “Didn’t I tell ye?”
“Faith an’ yez did thot,” admitted Mike good-naturedly. “An’ by the same token, ’tis goin’ along av her ye’ll be jus’ fer to be afther provin’ yez was right altogether.”
“Well, I’m ready to believe anything now,” declared Tom. “You remember I thought you were fooling about the Hector when you said she was fitting out, and I never dreamed we’d go on her. And she was a fine old ship! Gosh, do you remember the way she went through that blow in the south Atlantic, Jim?”
“Do I!” replied Jim enthusiastically. “And say, I shouldn’t wonder if this old Narwhal’s just as staunch a ship too, after she’s fixed up.”
“Bet ye she will be!” exclaimed Cap’n Pem. “I tol’ ye whaleships wuz built to las’ forever, and this here Narwhal ain’t so drefful ol’. Why, I can recollec’ when she wuz new. Le’s see, reckon I must ha’ been ’bout the size o’ ye, an’ she warn’t more’n twenty year ol’ then. Yep, I’ll bet she ain’t much older’n I be.”