“Oh, Tom!” cried Jim Lathrop, as he dashed into his chum’s den, “what do you think? They’re fitting the Hector out for a cruise!”
“Come on, I don’t believe it. You can’t fool me that way,” replied Tom, tossing aside his book. “What’s the joke? Why the oldHector wouldn’t float—she’s had grass growing out of her seams for years.”
“Honest, they are, though,” asserted Jim. “If you don’t believe it come along and see.”
Grabbing his cap, Tom hurried out with his friend, and the two boys ran down the shady, sleepy streets of old Fair Haven towards the water front.
It was little wonder that Tom was incredulous of Jim’s news, for, to the boys, the ancient whaling bark Hector was as much of a fixture as the village church or the town hall. As long as they could remember the old ship had lain on the mud flat beside the abandoned old whaling docks, her dingy, weather-beaten sides rising far above the rotting stringpieces of the wharf; her spars, gray from countless storms and years of sunshine, sagging and awry; her tattered and frayed standing rigging slack and her deck warped and with open seams. Built nearly one hundred years ago, the Hector had for generations been the pride of the great New Bedford whaling fleet, but, long before either of the boys had been born, she had been towed to her resting place upon the Fair Haven flats and abandoned to the elements.
But to the boys of the village she had been a source of never failing amusement. Upon her decks they had played pirate, buccaneer and whaler by turns. Within her tumble-down deck houses imaginary mutineers and freebooters had massacred innumerable officers. From her broad, stout crosstrees the boys had peered forth at countless treasure islands, and within her dark and musty hold they had languished in chains or had stowed away on imaginary voyages.
Somehow, upon the old ship, the boys seemed actually to live in the stirring days they reacted, for old Capt’n Pem, the dock watchman, had spent many an afternoon spinning yarns of his youthful whaling days while seated on the heel of the Hector’s bowsprit. He had related stories of cannibal attacks, of mutinies, of boats stove in and ships rammed by frantic whales. The boys had listened breathlessly to his accounts of men drifting in open whaleboats for thousands of miles after being towed out of sight of their ships by whales, and as he had served as mate on two voyages of the Hector, the boys had but to close their eyes to see the characters he described and the exciting events in which he had taken part. Moreover, Jim, or, as his friends called him, “Jimmy,” had found the old log of the Hector in the Historical Society’s museum across the river in New Bedford, and the boys had read it word for word and had found it more fascinating than any book of fiction, for they knew every inch of the old bark as they did their own homes. They knew the very yardarm from which a mutineer had once been hung; they could still see the holes made by the bullets of Chinese pirates in the stout cabin door; they searched for and found the very bunk wherein the mate had been pinned down by the spear of a Solomon Island cannibal, and the criss-cross cuts where poor “Crazy Ned” had cut his “baccy” on the fo’c’sle steps were still visible. Tom, too—who was forever reading books on strange, far-away lands—had told the other boys of the places the old ship had touched on its many cruises. He painted vivid word pictures of the desolate Croisettes, of little-known Gough Island and volcanic Kerguelan in the storm-lashed Antarctic. He described the queer penguins and broad-winged albatrosses, the palm-fringed coral isles of the tropics, the swift proas of the Malays, the frozen wastes of the Arctic and the blistering doldrums, until he and his friends could transport themselves at will to any part of the world, or any spot in the seven seas, merely by clambering on to the Hector’s warped old decks and setting sail in make believe on a three years’ cruise.