The Crashaw Brothers/Chapter 11

CHAPTER XI

THE BOAT RACE

IN the next week there was an opportunity for Edward to have his head turned; perhaps his father feared something of the kind.

“I wish I could have seen your spectacular performance,” wrote Mr. Crashaw. “I’m immensely pleased that you should have risen so adequately to the occasion. What I want to he sure of now is that you can measure up just as well to the long steady pull next week—where it’s not merely a grand-stand play of the moment. Your mother and I have decided to go down to St. John’s and see the race. It is n’t so easy for us to decide how we’ll cheer. I guess I will wait for her to make her choice, and then I’ll choose the other.”

The morning of the race came, a fine bracing morning, with a keen northwest wind. There was an early start from St. Timothy’s, for the race was to be rowed at noon. The school had chartered a special train; when the boys arrived at the station to take it, there was Tom Sheldon to greet them.

He rushed up to the crew men first of all, and shook hands and frolicked around them like a great overgrown, affectionate puppy; and then he turned his attention to his other friends.

Yes, his tutor had said he was doing splendidly and had thought he was entitled to this holiday; gee! but he had become the grind; ten hours a day was nothing to such a student as he. But it was great to see them all again; he had n’t minded a bit getting up at four that morning to make the connection with their train.

Of course Sheldon had a seat in the parlor car with the crew; but he left it after a while to visit the other cars and shake hands with the little boys.

When he came back, however, he settled down for a serious talk with Durant; they had their heads together for some time, and it was apparent that Durant was outlining a plan and that Sheldon was favorably impressed.

“They’re fit; I can see it,” Sheldon exclaimed at last. “And the huskiest, strongest set of fellows that ever pulled in a St. Timothy’s boat. Man for man, they’re stronger right through than St. John’s.”

He glanced up and saw that Edward, who had heard the last words, was looking at him with eager eyes.

“Now there’s Edward—” and Sheldon reached over and pinched his leg. “He took Keating’s place at the bat, and he’s taken my place in the boat—whenever Edward takes anybody’s place it means trouble for St. John’s.”

Edward laughed, but such an expression of confidence pleased him.

“Do you feel as if you could hold a sprinting stroke all the way from the start, Edward?” asked Durant.

“Yes. Why?”

“We’re going in to row St. John’s down—wear ’em out. We’ve a stronger set of men and I’m going to set a killing pace—if you think you can back me up in it. Thirty-eight to the minute to begin with, and never lower than thirty-six.”

“That’s all right,” said Edward.

It was not altogether a surprise to him, the announcement of these tactics; in the last week of practice Durant had been testing his crew pretty severely, and they were all hoping that he would let them attempt this very thing; they were all confident of their strength and of their ability to row St. John’s down. Whereas, if they did not take the aggressive at the outset and maintain it, but let their opponents set the pace, they might not have at the end the sprinting power of the lighter and—from what news had come to them—the more finished crew. So now that the word was passed round that it was to be a row-down from the start, they were all elated.

“Besides,” said Davis, pointing to the trees which were swaying in the wind, “it looks like St. Timothy’s weather.”

“Yes,” said Durant. “A little rough water will be a good thing.”

It was almost noon when, after a three-mile drive from the railroad station, the St. Timothy’s crew arrived at the St. John’s boat-house—a pretty red-shingled building, with low sloping roof arched over by great willows.

In the wide doorway the St. John’s crew waited to welcome the visitors, all but Charles, who was standing off under the willows with his father and mother. Edward alighting from the barge ran up to them, and for a moment the Crashaw family forgot all about the crews.

“Which side of the lake are you going to see the race from?” asked Edward. St. Timothy’s or St. John’s?”

“Dear me, how are we to decide!” exclaimed Mrs. Crashaw.

“There is really a better view from the St. Timothy’s side,” Charles said magnanimously. “You see up here we’re always polite and give the visitors the best of everything.”

“All right,” said Mr. Crashaw. “We’ll join the visitors.”

“We’re going to cheer for whoever is behind,” said Mrs. Crashaw.

Edward and Charles accompanied them to the path which led round the end of the lake and up to the open hillside where St. Timothy’s were assembled. Then the two boys hurried back to the boat-house.

Already the others were undressing; by the float the launch was in readiness to take the crews to the upper end of the lake where the start was to be made.

The fresh breeze came whipping through the open doors of the boat-house; the lake was rippling under it, but the decision of the referee had been that it was not too rough to race.

“A head wind too,” murmured Durant to Edward gleefully, as they bent over side by side lacing up their canvas shoes.

The crews put their shells into the water and fastened them to the launch; then they wrapped their blankets round them and stepped aboard.

Slowly the launch swung away; and from the partisans on either shore there was a shout; red flags waved on the eastern hill and blue on the western; and then there rolled out the long St. Timothy’s cheer, followed by the quicker, sharper St. John’s.

Edward, wrapped in his warm red blanket and sitting in the sun, shivered with excitement. Beside him Sheldon sat and talked reminiscently.

“It was just there two years ago that they took their spurt when we’d held ’em neck and neck all the way,” he said, pointing to a big boulder which rose out of the water a hundred feet or so from the eastern shore. “And they had just a little more left in them than we had, to spurt with. But it won’t be so to-day.” He lowered his voice still further. “Some of ’em look a little too fine. Your brother—is n’t he sort of drawn and pale?”

“Oh, I guess not,” Edward answered. But he had had the same thought the moment when he had first seen Charles; and somehow Sheldon’s corroboration of that thought was unwelcome.

Sheldon, however, seemed not to imagine that it could be so and continued,—

“I’m pretty sure he is. One or two of the others look the same way, only not quite so much.”

Edward glanced at Charles again uneasily; Charles was talking with Davis and Durant and seemed in high spirits, and with his face laughing and lighted up he had no longer the look which had prompted Sheldon’s comment.

So Edward dismissed the uneasiness from his mind, and sat trying to strengthen and nerve himself for the ordeal instead of worrying over his brother’s fitness for it.

He stretched himself out on the deck of the launch and gazed off at the St. Timothy’s shore; already they were leaving the shouting crowd and the waving banners far behind. A few were clambering along the hillside, intent on establishing themselves some distance from the finish, so that they might run down with the crews; soon the trees that grew close to the edge of the water hid even these from Edward’s view.

The lake widened, the shores grew more wooded; Edward relaxed all his muscles and closed his eyes. Gradually the talk of the others quieted; they were approaching the starting-point, and that meant a general tendency toward silence.

“Get ready, fellows,” said Durant at last.

Edward stood up with the others and with them let drop his blanket. They all stood there stripped to the waist, sixteen of them, brown and strong. The two coxswains, who were just as lightly clad, looked puny in the midst of them.

The St. Timothy’s crew brought their boat alongside first and got into it, then paddled off and waited for St. John’s. Pretty soon both boats were lined up for the start; the oarsmen slid forward with oars at the full reach and waited for the word.

“Ready, St. Timothy’s?” shouted the referee from the launch.

“Yes, sir,” replied Durant.

“I wish he’d hurry,” thought Edward; it was like sitting for the photographer to take one’s picture and feeling that one could n’t hold still another moment. The referee was very deliberate.

“Are you ready, St. John’s?”

“Yes, sir.”

The pistol glittered in the sunlight, there was a puff and a crack, and the oars swept through the water.

They had taken four strokes when Gardner, the St. Timothy’s coxswain, shouted,—

“We’re leading ’em! We’ve got the start!”

With the head wind and the rough water Durant was setting a stroke for his crew of thirty-five to the minute—which was really as severe as thirty-eight would have been under normal conditions.

“Let me know if they’re hanging to us,” he said to the coxswain.

“Yes, right where they were,” cried Gardner. “They’re half a length behind—but they’re not falling behind.—Stroke, fellows, stroke, stroke!”

So he shouted to help them with the rhythm, leaning forward with each shout.

Edward, just behind Durant, was feeling all the exhilaration of a good start. The muscles that had seemed quivering and flabby just before the referee had raised the pistol were now working smoothly, strongly; already the pulse that had been beating too hard was quieting. He did not once take his eyes from Durant’s back. He wished he could look out and see what kind of a stroke Charles was setting, but he would not indulge that brotherly interest.

A humorous thought came to console him: “When we get far enough ahead I’ll be able to sneak a look.”

In spite of the cool breeze the perspiration was springing on his face and neck; the sun was beating down with a sudden surprising warmth; for all the intentness of his gaze at Durant’s sinewy brown back, he was conscious of the glare on the water. Gardner was chanting monotonously,—

“Stroke—stroke—they’re just where they were, fellows—stroke—stroke—they’re not gaining any—stroke—stroke—halfway down we’ll drop them, I guess—stroke—stroke.”

“How far have we gone now?” breathed Durant, after a time.

“Just about a quarter of the course,” answered the coxswain.

“Fellows all look strong?”

“Fine,” said Gardner.

“All right; we’ll keep right on,” murmured the captain.

They reached the mile mark, the halfway point; the coxswain continued to report, “They’re hanging on, just where they were; we don’t shake ’em off.” His voice was getting more excited, more anxious. The shouts of the distant spectators came faintly to their ears—the shouts from both shores blending and indistinguishable. The pull was beginning to wear on Durant’s crew; Edward was breathing hard, and he heard Davis’s measured grunts behind him.

Durant muttered something to the coxswain; the coxswain through the megaphone strapped to his mouth interpreted it to the crew. “Anybody that thinks he can’t keep this pace up for a mile more better speak.”

No one spoke.

“You’re all smooth enough,” the coxswain added reassuringly. “They’re lapping us still—but we’ll leave ’em pretty soon now.”

In a few moments the St. Timothy’s cheer reached them, faint but clear.

“There!” cried Gardner. “They see we’re ahead. Even way down there they know! Whoop it up, fellows; whoop it up—only three quarters of a mile to go!”

Then came even more distinctly the St. John’s cheer; and then again both St. John’s and St. Timothy’s together, and so much louder that Edward felt sure both crowds must be rushing up along the banks. He was sure of it a moment later; he heard yelling and shouting abreast of him on either side; they had reached the advanced guard of the spectators, and from now on they would be accompanied by the stimulus of shouts and cheers all the way.

“Half a mile more only!” cried Gardner shrilly. “They’re still lapping us! It’s a great race, fellows; clinch her right here! Stroke—stroke—stro— Hi! Hi! We’re leaving ’em—they’re not lapping us any more—four’s splashing—and stroke—look at stroke!—No, don’t look at him, keep on rowing, keep on. Keep—”

“What’s the matter?” Durant and Edward jerked the question out in the same breath, and in that instant there was a sudden outburst from St. Timothy’s compared to which all the cheers heretofore had been but as melancholy ululation.

“He’s groggy!” shrieked Gardner through the megaphone. “Their stroke’s groggy! He was splashing—their coxswain’s throwing water on him—he’s slumped on his oar—no, he ’s sitting up again—yes, he’s quit—he’s quit—look, they’ve all quit! We’ve rowed ’em down, we’ve rowed ’em down— Hi-i-i-i!”

There was no keeping eyes in the boat then, least of all for Edward. Amid the wild, delighted shouts from the St. Timothy’s shore, Durant slackened the stroke while he and all his crew gazed at the St. John’s boat drifting astern. The St. John’s crew were resting on their oars, all but the stroke, who had collapsed utterly and seemed to have fallen forward almost against the coxswain.

“He’s a dead one!” screamed Gardner in his juvenile jubilation; he was only a Third Former after all. “He’s passed away! He’s all in!”

“Shut up!” commanded Durant savagely. “Have n’t you any sense?”

Gardner subsided, with a stricken glance at Edward; for the time being he had forgotten entirely who the St. John’s stroke was. Edward had been slow to take in all the disaster to his brother; it had for the moment stupefied him. Now he rowed mechanically, and suddenly his eyes filled with tears. Poor Charles! To have a thing like that happen! After all his brilliant record at St. John’s, to finish off with this!

With what? A sudden appalling thought cleft Edward to the soul. Charles was huddled there motionless; St. John’s were not even trying to row; what had happened?

“I’m afraid—” Edward gulped, panic was in his voice, but he went on rowing steadily while he spoke to Durant. “I’m afraid maybe it’s serious.”

“Oh no.” Durant spoke cheerfully. “One or two of the others are almost as done up—I could see. He just rowed himself out, that’s all. See, the launch is coming up to take him on board; he’ll be all right.”

That might be true, but Edward could not help being apprehensive, and the thought of how his mother must be feeling, and his father too, with no one at hand to relieve their anxiety, disturbed him still more. And meanwhile along the shore St. Timothy’s were following their now leisurely rowing crew, waving flags and hats and yelling as if it was the most exciting finish that ever was.

Edward wished they would n’t cheer; it seemed heartless, and it must hurt his mother even more than it did him, to be there and suffering in the midst of it all.

He saw Charles lifted from the shell into the launch, a limp figure. Then, just as the St. Timothy’s boat crossed the line, the beaten crew again took up their oars. They came on, accompanied by the launch, and from the St. John’s shore, which had so long been silent, was evoked a gallant cheer for the vanquished.

The victors paddled up to the float and there sat awaiting the St. John’s crew. Edward glanced off at the St. Timothy’s shore, but he could not anywhere see his father or his mother. St. Timothy’s were not done yet with waving their flags and shouting; but as the defeated crew of seven men approached the finish line, St. Timothy’s paused in their shouting and instead began to clap. So, applauded by friends and foes alike, St. John’s rowed to the float.

They were a tired-looking set of fellows; they saluted St. Timothy’s with melancholy smiles, and Braddock, their captain, said chokily,—

“Durant, you were too strong for us,—congratulations.”

“Thank you,” said Durant. “I hope Crashaw’s all right?”

There was no answer to that question, for just then the launch came up, and the oarsmen got out on the float and lifted their shells from the water. Edward saw his brother wrapped in a blanket leaning against Sheldon’s shoulder, looking very white; but it was enough for Edward that he was sitting up, and smiling, even though so sadly.

Edward and Sheldon helped him to walk across the float into the boat-house; Edward felt almost ashamed of the healthy rugged brownness of his skin beside the grayish pallor of Charles’s face.

In a corner of the house Charles lay down.

“I’m getting better,” he said. “I’ll be all right in a little while. Go off and get dressed, everybody; please don’t bother with me.”

They saw that he meant it; Edward knew that for the time being Charles did not want even him around. So he drew Sheldon aside and said,—

“Tom, would you mind hunting up my father and mother and telling them he’s all right? They were on the St. Timothy’s side; I guess they’re hanging round near the boat-house now. My father’s a big man in a gray suit; he has a brown moustache. My mother’s a little woman in a blue dress with white dots on it.”

“I’ll find them,” said Sheldon.

After he had gone, Edward stripped and poured bucket after bucket of water over himself; it was refreshing not to have to stint one’s self any longer in one’s bath. Somebody touched him on his bare shoulder, and he turned to see Charles, stripped also, standing there.

“Pour a couple on me, will you?” said Charles. “That’s all I need to brace me up.”

Edward doused him and rubbed him down; the color had begun to come back into his face.

“How you feeling, Charley?” called Braddock, who was putting on his clothes.

“Well enough to wonder why I should have passed away,” answered Charles gloomily.

"If you had n’t when you did, there are two or three of us who’d have dropped a moment later,” said Braddock. “No use talking, Charley; we were up against a wonderful rough-weather crew—well,”—he glanced humorously at Durant,—“let’s just say, a wonderful crew.”

Then others cut in and began to talk about the race—how under the circumstances it was n’t possible for St. John’s to have rowed otherwise than as they did; how they could never have overtaken St. Timothy’s if they had allowed them to win a great lead at the start, and so on.

Charles muttered to Edward, “They’re just trying to make it easy for me;” and Edward remembered the football game of the autumn and how after it he had had that thought.

“What happened to you anyhow?” Edward asked. “I thought before the race you looked over-trained.”

“I suppose I was a little. I was just trying to keep up with you fellows, and it came harder and harder, and at last, what with the way my lungs and heart were pumping, it seemed as if I just could n’t pull another stroke. But I did pull a little longer, and then suddenly I collapsed; our coxswain threw water on me and that brought me to, and I made another stab with my oar and caught cramps in my arms and my legs, and then I don’t know—I just seemed to die.”

“It must have been ghastly,” said Edward.

“This is almost the worst of it,” answered Charles. “To face the crowd and know that I’m the one! I guess I’ve been too lucky while I’ve been here; I guess maybe it’s a good thing something like this happened to me at the last.” He was silent while he finished lacing up his shoe. Then he stood up and took Edward’s arm and said, “Well, old man, you got even with me for that football game, didn’t you?”

“I know now just how you felt when you said you did n’t enjoy winning that game a bit,” said Edward softly.

“Ah, but you ought n’t to feel that way.
 
P 220--The Crashaw brothers.jpg

LOOKING AT HIM WITH A TREMBLING SMILE

 
You did n’t do it to me—the way I did it to you. And you fellows rowed a great race; you ought to feel like celebrating—you ought n’t to feel any other way. Just think! You’re the only St. Timothy’s crew that

ever rowed St. John’s to a standstill!”

“It’s just that that I don’t feel like celebrating,” said Edward. “I guess mother and father are waiting to see you, Charley.”

They were indeed; they were waiting with Sheldon just outside the boat-house, and near by were waiting a great throng of boys of both schools too.

When Edward and Charles emerged, Mrs. Crashaw started forward, with lips quivering and shining eyes; she caught Charles in her arms.

“My poor boy, my poor dear boy!” she murmured; she could n’t go on, she felt that in the presence of all those staring big and little boys she must control herself; so she bit her lip and pressed his hand and stood looking at him with a trembling smile.

He pressed hers in answer and said, “Thank you, mother.” Then his eyes twinkled across at his father and he said, “But have n’t you a single word for Edward, either of you?”

At that moment Blanchard in the crowd of onlookers shouted, “Now then, St. John’s and St. Timothy’s both together, three times three for the Crashaw brothers! One, two, three!”

Out the crowd came with it joyously, nine rahs and then—“Crashaw brothers!”

That was almost the best thing that had ever happened to them, the two boys thought. Perhaps there was one thing that day that they liked better; that was at the railway station when their father said, just before bidding them good-bye,—

“You boys have gone away to rival schools and fought each other, and it seems to me it’s only made you care the more for each other. I’m proud of you both. I don’t know which is the better boy—or which is the better school.”

 

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