Harry's Island/Chapter 2
THE RACE WITH HAMMOND
THEY scrambled to their feet, slid down the little slope, and crossed the shelving beach to where Chub’s canoe, its crimson sides and gold monogram on the bow a torment to the eyes in such sunlight, was nosing the sand. Chub and Roy took the paddles, while Dick, who had never been able to master the art of canoeing, settled himself in the middle of the craft, his knees level with his chin, and looked like an alert toad. The stern paddle grated through the white sand as the canoe was shoved off, and then after a stroke or two that sent the bow toward the stream, the craft slid gently down the river. They kept to the shaded shallows near the shore of the island until Victory Cove was passed, and then headed out into the sunlight glare and drifted down toward where the flotilla lay about the finish line. It was no difficult matter to find a good berth since the canoe was slender enough to worm its way in between the anchored boats. On the edge of the path left for the crews they found a sail-boat lying a few yards above the finish, and up to this they paddled until they could lay hold of it.
“We’re under the enemy’s flag here,” observed Dick pointing to the cherry-and-black banner flying from the mast.
“We’ll fix that,” Roy answered. “Where’s the flag?”
Dick happened to be sitting on it and the cautious way in which he disentangled it from his feet made the others laugh. Chub fastened it to the bow and received a salvo of applause from the occupants of a near-by punt. The punt was only some ten feet long, but it held eight Ferry Hill boys by actual count. Mr. Buckman, one of the instructors, hailed them from the bow of the judges’ boat, a few yards distant, and warned them that they were on the course, but they pretended not to hear him.
“Just as though a couple of feet were going to make any difference!” growled Chub, disgustedly. “Buckman is stuck on himself to-day.”
“A nice judge he will make,” laughed Dick under his breath. “He will be so excited that he won’t have the least idea which boat crosses the line first!”
“I wonder which will,” murmured Roy.
“Ours will,” replied Chub, stoutly. “I’ll bet you we’ve got ’em beaten already.”
“I hope so,” Roy answered, “but—”
“Whitcomb told me yesterday that he expected to win,” said Dick, “and I guess he wouldn’t say that unless he was pretty certain.”
“Well, if we win the boat-race it’ll make a clean sweep for the year,” said Roy: “foot-ball, hockey, track, base-ball, and rowing. We’ve never done that before, and I’m afraid it’s too much to hope for. You can bet that Hammond will do all she knows how to win one event out of the five.”
“Yes, but we’ve got the crew,” Chub replied, untroubled. “Hammond will have to take it out in trying. You’ll see. They ought to be here pretty quick. Can you see anything, Roy?”
“N-no; at least, I don’t think so. Yes, I can, though. There they are, but the sun’s so strong—”
“Hammond’s in the lead!” cried a voice from the sail-boat, where, clustered at the bow, a group of Hammond supporters were looking intently up the river. The one who had spoken, a youth in white flannels who held a pair of field-glasses to his eyes, was visibly excited.
“Pshaw!” muttered Dick, disgustedly.
“Don’t you believe it,” said Chub. “He can’t tell at this distance.”
“He’s got glasses,” said Roy.
“I don’t care if he’s got a twelve-inch telescope! He doesn’t know which side Hammond has got, and it isn’t likely he can tell red oars from brown at this distance. You wait until they get under the cliff up there, out of the sunlight, and then you can see for yourself.”
By this time the excitement was beginning to tell on the spectators along the shore and at the finish. Cheers for Ferry Hill and for Hammond floated across the water, and flags began to wave. Then, a mile up the stream, the two four-oared crews suddenly shot their slender craft into the shadowed water and so became plainly visible to hundreds of anxious eyes. The boat having the inner course was leading by fully a length, it seemed, but whether that fortunate boat was Hammond’s or Ferry Hill’s it was still impossible to tell since the courses had been drawn just before the start and the result was not known down here at the finish. Behind the two crews came the referee’s launch, a white speck on the water.
Now it was possible to see the rise and fall of the oars, and—a groan of disappointment arose from the Ferry Hill supporters. The leading boat was Hammond’s; the tips of the oars showed brilliantly red as they were lifted dripping from the water. Cheers for Hammond broke forth anew, and the cherry-and-black flags waved bravely in the hot sunlight.
“Pshaw!” muttered Dick again. But Chub was still undismayed.
“That’s all right,” he cried, excitedly. “You wait until they reach the three quarters and then see what will happen. Ed’s letting them wear themselves out. He will catch them before the finish, all right.”
But the three quarters flag was swept astern and still the Hammond crew held the lead; and, moreover, it was plain to all that Ferry Hill’s four was rowing raggedly: Warren at three was splashing badly, and there was a perceptible let-up to the boat between strokes. Even Chub looked worried.
“What’s the matter with Billy Warren?” he muttered. “Must think he’s a blooming geyser! Oh, thunder, Hammond’s just walking away from us! Doesn’t Ed see it? Why doesn’t he hit it up?”
“Because he can’t,” answered Roy quietly. “Our fellows are rowed out; that’s what’s the matter.”
“That’s right,” said Dick, sorrowfully; “we’re beaten good and hard. Well—”
Such of the launches as had whistles began to make themselves heard, and the cheering, triumphant on one side and defiant on the other, was continuous. The rival crews were scarce a quarter of a mile distant now, coming straight down the middle of the narrow course, with Hammond leading by a full two lengths. In the sterns the coxswains bobbed back and forth as the eight oars dipped into the water and came out dripping yards astern, seemed to hang motionless for an instant, and then dropped again under the sunflecked surface. Suddenly there was a low cry from Roy.
“They’ve hit it up!” shouted Chub. “They’re gaining! Come on, Ferry Hill! You can do it! Row, you beggars, row!”
The rear shell was cutting down the stretch of clear water that had separated the two boats, her four oarsmen working despairingly as the finish line drew nearer and nearer. In and out went the long oars, back and forward bent the white-shirted bodies, and the narrow craft responded. In the stern little Perry, the tiller lines clutched desperately in his hands, cried encouragement, entreaty, threats. The bow of the Ferry Hill shell lapped the stern of the Hammond boat by a scant foot. But the effort was costing the crew dearly. Warren was swaying limply above his oar as the battling craft swept into the lane of boats, and in the bow Walker was clipping each stroke woefully. For a moment the two boats clung together, Hammond’s rudder hidden by Ferry Hill’s bow. Then, while whistles shrilled and hoarse voices shouted, a glimmer of open water showed between shell and shell, just a few scant inches, there was a puff of gray smoke over the bow of the judges’ boat and a sharp report and the race was over. For an instant more the brown-tipped oars sank and rose in the wake of the rival shell, and then—
“Let her run!” piped Perry, weakly.
And with the last stroke Warren toppled in his seat.
Chub gave vent to a deep sigh, a sigh that expressed at once disappointment and relief.
“Well, I’m glad it’s over,” he said. “It was a hard race to lose, though, fellows.” Roy nodded, and Dick said:
“I guess Hammond found it a hard race to win. Look at them.”
The Hammond shell was floating broadside to the current a few rods down the stream, and in it only the coxswain and Number Two were taking any interest in affairs. The other occupants were frankly fighting for breath and strength as they leaned forward over their oars. In the Ferry Hill boat Warren and Whitcomb were the worse sufferers, although Walker’s white, drawn face showed that he, too, had felt the pace. He and Fernald were paddling the shell toward the referee’s launch, which was churning the water at a little distance. Perry called out something to Mr. Cobb, a Ferry Hill instructor, who was on the launch, and a slight commotion ensued. Then the shell drew alongside, was seized and held and Warren’s inert form was lifted to the deck.
“By Jove!” cried Roy. “Warren’s done up, fellows!”
The engine-room bell tinkled, and the launch moved cautiously toward the Ferry Hill landing, drawing the shell with it. There was a weak cheer for Ferry Hill from the Hammond crew, and the four remaining occupants of the rival shell returned the compliment. And then, with much good-natured raillery, the flotilla broke up, the Hammond boats sending back cheers as they made for the farther shore. The crimson canoe shot across to the landing and the three disembarked.
“You fellows lift her out, will you?” asked Chub. “I want to see how Warren is.”
He pushed his way through the crowd about the launch until he found himself looking into the white, troubled face of the crew captain.
“Ed, it was a good race,” he said cheerfully and earnestly as he seized Whitcomb’s hand. “We’re proud of you. Did anything go wrong?”
“Billy,” answered the other wearily. “He had a touch of sun at the half mile and had to stop rowing. We had three lengths on them before that.” Chub whistled.
“Say, that was tough luck!” he exclaimed. “What did you do?”
“Soaked Billy with water and pulled three oars for about a quarter of a mile. Then he came around and helped out some, but he wasn’t good for much, poor duffer. He’s down and out now, and Cobb says he’ll have to go to bed. They’ve sent for the doctor.”
“Is he dangerous?”
“No, I guess not. Just a touch of sunstroke. It was frightfully hot up there at the start, and Hammond kept us waiting there in the broiling sun about twenty minutes: something was wrong with one of her slides. Well, I’m going up. I’m pretty well played out. Coming?”
“In a minute. I’ll see you in the dormitory. I’m sorry, Ed.”
Whitcomb nodded and joined the throng which was filing up the path. Chub returned to Roy and Dick with his news. When the canoe was on its rack in the boat-house, the three followed the others up the winding path under the close-hanging branches of the beeches and oaks, through the gate in the hedge which marked the school’s inner bounds and around the corner of Burgess Hall.
“What time is it?” asked Chub as they paused with one consent on the dormitory steps.
“Eighteen minutes of twelve,” answered Dick, glancing at a very handsome gold watch. “Gee, but I’m warm! And hungry!”
“Echo,” said Chub, fanning his flushed face with his cap. “Let’s sit down here and cool off. What shall we do this afternoon?”
“I was thinking of taking my books somewhere where it’s cool and doing a line or two of study,” answered Roy. “Better come along, Chub.”
“What, study on a day like this? In all this heat? And have a sunstroke like Billy Warren? Roy, I’m surprised at you, I really am!”
“That’s all right; but just remember that we’ve got exams in physics and chemistry on Monday. What do you know about that?”
“I don’t know nothing about nothing,” answered Chub, cheerfully; “and I’m proud of it. But I tell you what we’ll do, fellows: we’ll go fishing.”
“Oh, fishing!” scoffed Roy. “The last time we went, we didn’t get a thing but a ducking.”
“Then let’s go ducking, and maybe we’ll get a fish,” laughed Chub. “Come along, Dick?” Dick shook his head soberly.
“I’d better not,” he said. “I’m no star like you chaps, and I can’t learn a thing in five minutes. I’ve got a terror of an exam coming; English, you know. It’ll take me from now until Monday morning to get ready for it, and even then I bet I’ll flunk.”
“Well, what do you care?” laughed Chub. “You’re not graduating.”
“Thank goodness!” said Dick, so devoutly, that the others went into peals of laughter.
“What you want to do,” said Dick, when they had sobered down, “is to get those letters written to your dads so they’ll go to the Cove in time for to-night’s mail. If you don’t they won’t get off until Monday.”
“That’s so,” Chub agreed. “But, say, fellows, there isn’t any use in my asking; the folks won’t let me stay up here. Dad will tell me I’m crazy.”
“Don’t you care,” answered Roy. “The truth won’t hurt you.”
“There’s no harm in asking,” urged Dick.
“All right, I’ll do it now. Come on in and help me.”
“Wait a minute,” said Roy. “Isn’t that Harry coming around the gym?”
“Yes,” answered Dick. “And she missed the race. Let’s walk over and meet her.”
They ran down the steps and followed the curving graveled path which led toward the gymnasium. Approaching them was a girl of fifteen years, a rather slender young lady with a face which, in spite of its irregular features, was undeniably attractive. The tilt of the short nose lent an air of saucy good-humor, the bright blue eyes were frank and pleasing, and the very red hair suggested a temper. And she had a temper, too, did Miss Harriet Emery, a temper which, to quote Roy, was as sharp as her eyes and as short as her nose. That same nose wasn’t by any means free from freckles, wherein it resembled the rest of the face; but already the sun had found its way under the brim of the plain sailor hat, and a healthy coat of tan was hiding the freckles.
Harry—for she hated to be called Harriet—was the daughter of the principal, Doctor Emery. As she was an only child she had been perhaps a little bit spoiled; or, at least, that is what her Aunt Harriet Beverly often intimated; and as she had been born and brought up in a boys’ school she was not unnaturally somewhat of a tomboy, to the extent of being fonder of boys’ games than girls’, and of being no mean hand with oar or paddle, bat or racket. But still she was very much of a girl at heart, was Harry, although she wouldn’t have thanked you for saying so.
At the present moment, in spite of the cool white waist and skirt which she wore, she looked far from comfortable. Her low tan shoes were covered with the dust—for Silver Cove was a full mile distant, and there had been no rain for over a fortnight—her face was very red and her hair, usually decently well-behaved, had lost most of its waviness, and was straggling around her flushed face and around her neck in straight, damp strands. She had been hurrying as she had crossed the athletic field, and had turned the corner of the gymnasium, but at sight of the three boys coming to meet her her pace slackened and an expression of disappointment came into her face.
“Oh, I’m too late!” she cried. “Did we win the race?”
“No,” answered Roy. “Billy Warren had a sunstroke after he’d rowed half a mile, and Hammond won by just a length.”
Harry sank on to a seat under a tree, her face eloquent of sorrow, while the three boys told her the particulars. Finally her face cleared.
“I ran almost half the way,” she said, “and I was never so hot in my life. But,” she added, philosophically, “I’m glad now I was too late. I’m glad I didn’t see Hammond win!”