No. 317.—A Brigantine.
[In honor of the second anniversary of his Celebrated Magazine on the World-Wide Web, Dr. Boli is reprinting a number of his own favorite articles from the past two years.]
NOT SO LONG ago by radiocarbon dating, my friend Ned and I spent a summer by Lake Erie. The constantly shifting aspects of water and shore stimulated our imaginations, and the knowledge that the very scenes before us had formed the setting against which the magnificent deeds of Commodore Perry were enacted, filled our youthful fancies with a desire to emulate his great feats of naval prowess. Indeed, so filled were we with youthful bravado that we imagined ourselves surpassing the great commander, and carving out a great northern empire around the great northern waters. For this purpose we required a brig similar to Commodore Perry’s Niagara.
It was clear to us that, unlike our simple dog-cart (No. 18) and our simple time-machine (No. 241), this was a project that would require a great deal of preparation and dedicated work. But that did not dampen our enthusiasm, for we reflected that we had the whole summer to accomplish our task, and we had never yet encountered an obstacle which we could not overcome by hard work and imagination.
First we needed a great quantity of wood. My uncle, with whom we were staying, had no such materials handy; but luckily his neighbors were away for the summer, and thus would not be needing their house.
For three weeks, Ned and I were up at sunrise every morning with our hammers and saws. We used the roof trusses to form the skeleton of our ship. Having no design or plans other than our memories of the Niagara and other ships we had seen, we naturally made many mistakes and had to do some of the work twice; but by the middle of July we had finished the construction. We had decided to rig our ship as a brigantine rather than a brig, mostly because we found the polysyllabic name more impressive. All that was left, then, was to add sails, for which we made use of our neighbors’ best linens, and to seal the hull against the intrusion of water. We recalled that Noah had sealed the Ark with bitumen, but the local hardware store had run out of bitumen, and was not expecting any more until October. We had come too far, however, to be inconvenienced by a minor setback; and it was Ned who hit on the idea of substituting chewing gum for bitumen. How our jaws ached when we had finished! But our efforts were not in vain: our ship was water-tight and ready to launch. In honor of our hero, we christened our brigantine the Commodore Perry.
Now all we needed was a crew. For this we decided to resort to the old English custom of impressment, which seemed to us the most effective method of assembling a large crew in a short time. We visited a number of disreputable saloons in the east end of town, and, bribing a few of the rowdiest characters there with strong liquor, soon assembled an efficient press gang which did the rest of our work for us. By the next morning we had a large though somewhat baffled crew, and were ready to set sail.
We armed our ship with cannons made from pickle barrels we had found in my uncle’s storeroom and set out on our first adventure, which we had determined should be the conquest of Canada. This we accomplished in short order, as it transpired that the Canadian Great Lakes fleet was disorganized and ill-prepared for an attack from the south. We set up a puppet government in Welland, which was close enough that we could sail home for dinner at my uncle’s house every night, and for a few weeks ruled as absolute dictators. All too soon, however, the autumn was upon us, and we had to go back to our homes and school, filled with the memories of a summer brimming with adventure.