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CHAPTER IV

IN VACATION

IT was well enough to have the knowledge that the fellows for whom one most cared did not despise one for one’s weakness; but for a long time soreness lingered in Edward’s heart. He felt that he had been treated more generously than he deserved.

“I was nothing but a quitter,” he thought to himself moodily, time and again. He would stop to hold debates with himself about it while he was dressing, while he was taking a bath; the sight of his own muscles seemed particularly to exasperate him. “You played out, you big beef!” Thus at such moments he would address himself. “You lay down; that’s all there was to it.”

Jackson became a mere ordinary boy in retrospect, no such giant of strength and endurance after all. And when Edward’s indulgent side pleaded the memory of his sleepless night as an excuse, the prosecutor who had his inner ear scathingly replied, “Yes, and why could n’t you sleep? It was because you were scared before the game. You lay down before ever it began. You’re a quitter; that’s all you are. Excusing yourself because you were tired!”

With this morbid idea implanted in his mind, Edward was for some days quite morose. In his letter about the game to his mother he did not go into details; he said that he himself played very badly and that was why St. Timothy’s lost, but that Charles had played very well, and it was rather a pity that she and his father could n’t have been there to see Charles play; they would n’t have got much satisfaction out of watching him.

The tone of the letter was so disconsolate that his mother answered it at once; she said Charles’s account did not coincide with his at all, for Charles had written that Edward had done splendidly, except that he had got rather tired towards the end—which was only natural in one so young; Mrs. Crashaw ended her letter by advising her son that there were other things in the world besides football games, and it was bad to take one’s defeats, or victories either, for that matter, so intensely.

Edward felt that this was good advice, but that after all she did n’t and could n’t understand; it was n’t a matter of the defeat or the victory, it was a matter of his own character. He was a “quitter,” and he felt that Charles in his heart of hearts, and in spite of the brotherly sympathy and affection which had done so much to tide him over the first bad hour, knew it and was ashamed. He felt that Charles must be in a measure glad now that he had not come to St. John’s. Those were the thoughts that burnt deepest. There had never been anything of the quitter in Charles.

Edward cheered up after a time, of course, but the experience had left its scar. There was no other outdoor activity now into which he could plunge and so shake off the persistent self-reproach; there was no way of vindicating his spirit. Here he was,—a new boy who had had a phenomenal success at the start, who had been elected president of his form and taken up by the best of the older fellows—and now he had collapsed like a pricked bubble!

Snow and ice came soon, and then hockey was the sport that invited the attention of the boys. But Edward was a “duffer” at hockey—to the surprise and chagrin of those who had seen his brother play the year before on the St. John’s team.

“Funny you don’t play better,” said Lawrence to him one day. “Your brother’s a perfect whirlwind on skates.”

“I know,” said Edward. “I never seemed to get the knack.”

Because they liked him so much, and were always glad to have him round, his friends would never leave him out when they were choosing up sides; usually they put him in to guard the goal, an unexciting position which he filled acceptably enough.

Now and then one of the others, winded by the more active play, would relieve him, and he would take his place among the forwards, and sometimes get his stick on the rubber disk and run with it clumsily a little way, but he never kept it long. It seemed as if anybody could get it away from him—even a midget like young Vance. Even Keating, in spite of his toeing in and his tendency to walk on his ankle-bones, skated better than Edward.

It was endlessly humiliating—and yet it was all rather good fun; and Edward found himself just as eager each day for that scrub game as he had ever been for the football or baseball games in which he more noticeably shone.

Keeping goal, he had plenty of opportunity to watch the crack hockey-players, who were having their practice near by; Bell and Payne and Durant and Sheldon were the best of them. Blanchard was temporarily out of the game on account of his injured knee, but hoped to be all right after the Christmas vacation, and able to take part in the Pythian-Corinthian matches and the game with St. John’s.

“He’s the best scorer we have,” Lawrence said to Edward. “And I guess your brother is the best for St. John’s. I saw the game last year, and the way those two played was enough to scare you; they’re terribly aggressive. I thought one of ’em would be knocked out sure.”

“Charles handles himself pretty well,” Edward replied. “He’s never yet been knocked out in football or anything.”

Nevertheless when, a week later, Edward went home for the Christmas vacation, he found his brother, who had preceded him by a day, nursing a badly discolored eye and a sprained thumb.

“Gee, Charley, but you’re a mess!” were Edward’s first words. “What have you been doing to yourself?”

“Oh, just got smashed up a little in the last hockey practice. I don’t suppose I can go to any parties looking like this.” Charles examined himself ruefully in the glass. “Are they going to put you on the St. Timothy’s hockey team, Ned—so that I can go for you again?”

“You need n’t have asked that,” said Edward.

Something in his voice caused Charles to turn from the mirror where he had been examining his face. He saw the injured look in Edward’s eyes, the flush on his cheeks, and he said with quick compunction,—

“I did n’t think; I ought not to have jollied you there. But honestly, I wondered if you were getting on to hockey any better than you used to.”

“No. I ’m as much a chump as ever. I go out and play with little kids, and they stick me in to keep goal, and I fall all over myself when anybody comes at me with the puck. I’ll be glad when baseball begins again; I think that’s one thing anyway I can do.”

“You’d better take up rowing instead of baseball; you’re just the build for it, and it’s a great deal more fun.”

“How do you know?” Edward laughed. “You never played ball enough to find out.”

“Well, you try rowing; you’ll see. I’ve got a new toy I want to show you; I’ll let you play with it maybe if you ’re good. Come up to my room and see it.”

Charles’s room had always had a fascination for the younger brother. It was at least twice as large as Edward’s own, and as Charles had grown and waxed great in athletic prowess and ambition he had equipped it more and more as a gymnasium.

Only within the last year or two had he admitted Edward into it on equal terms; before that, it had been chiefly as an admiring spectator that Edward had come and had been received; and not until Charles had finished showing off with his Indian clubs and his punching-bag and his horizontal bar,—on which he believed he could do the giant swing if the ceiling were high enough to let him,—not until he had given a display of his superior attainments would he condescend to let Edward try the apparatus and to instruct him.

But the time had come at last when Edward was privileged to walk in and make use of the place just as if it were his own gymnasium; when Charles became indeed shy of putting on the boxing-gloves and standing up to him; and when, if Charles taunted Edward with his inferiority on the horizontal bar, Edward could reply by putting the fifty-pound dumbbell straight up from his shoulder and saying,—

“Come on; let’s see you do this.”

The room looked the same as when Edward had last seen it, with the punching-bag suspended in the middle, the foils and boxing-gloves hung on the walls, the chest-weights by the head of the bed, and the trophies, the medals and cups on the mantel-piece; it was all the same except for one quite noticeable addition.

That was a rowing-machine, of the kind that Edward had seen in the gymnasium at St. Timothy’s. There was the little sliding seat that ran in steel grooves, there was the foot-rest with the toe-straps—all constructed just as they would be in a racing shell; there was an oar which fitted into the socket of a swivel, and pressed, as one pulled, against an air-cushion.

“I wrote to father and asked him to have it set up for me,’’ Charles explained. “You see, I’ll be playing hockey a good deal next term and won’t get as much rowing practice in the gym as some of the other fellows. But this will help me to keep even with them; I can use it in the Easter vacation, too. I’ll coach you if you want me to, Ned.”

“They don’t let anybody use these things in our gymnasium except the crew men,” said Edward. “And they haven’t begun practising yet—so I’ve never seen the thing work. I always wanted to try one.”

He sat down on the sliding seat, and picking up the oar began shooting hack and forth.

“Oh shucks, you don’t know the first thing about it. Why, you begin by bending your back like a bow one way and end up by bending it like a bow in the other! I’ll have to show you.”

"Of course I can’t row in proper form with all my clothes on,” said Edward. "I’ll bet I could soon learn. I don’t believe it’s in it with baseball, so far as skill goes.”

"Ho, is n’t it! You have to be born to do it—or else you can never really learn.”

“Are you a born oarsman?”

“Well, more or less.” Charles disliked having to make this personal application of the principle. “I’ll tell you, Ned, the real reason why I wanted this thing. It looks as if they’d put me in to stroke the crew this year; there’s nobody else who’s right for the place in weight and so on. It’s important that a stroke should have a wonderful sense of time—so that he should know instinctively when he’s rowing thirty-two strokes to the minute and when he’s rowing thirty-four, and so that he should be able to keep the pace even and not be hitting it up and then dropping it again. Now I don’t know how good I may be at that; and I thought if I could sit here and row every day, with a clock in front of me, and count the strokes and watch the second hand, I’d get the sense of time after a while. Don’t you think there’s something in that?”

“You’re a great fellow for using your head and thinking things out, are n’t you, Charley?” Edward gave his brother a look of admiration. “I should never have thought of doing a thing like that—being so thorough. No wonder they made you captain at St. John’s!”

“Oh, you learn to use your head as you grow older,” Charles said graciously. “And I’ll tell you what I’ll do this vacation; I’ll teach you the St. John’s stroke. It’s the same as St. Timothy’s, so it won’t be giving away any secrets. And maybe some day you’ll develop into an oarsman.”

Edward felt grateful, and Charles felt that he had made amends for the jeer which had touched his brother in a sensitive spot. Each day he put Edward to work on the rowing-machine, and before the vacation was over he had quite fired him with zeal for this new sport.

“I really think you have the makings of a good oar,” Charles said one day toward the end. “When you go back to St. Timothy’s, you start right in and train with the crew. I believe you can make it.”

“If I make the crew I can’t play baseball,” objected Edward.

“If you can make the crew I don’t see why you should want to play baseball,” replied Charles.

“Because it’s so much more fun.”

“You can’t tell how much fun rowing is from simply practising on a machine. It’s not a fair test. Besides, Ned, think what sport it would be for us to buck up against each other in a race. You’d have your chance maybe to get your revenge.”

“That would be great, would n’t it!” Edward rose from the sliding seat and took his brother gently by the neck. “I’d like to help lick you once before you leave that bum school.”

Sometimes Mrs. Crashaw climbed the stairs to see what the boys were about; she could not understand the fascination of the rowing-machine, and after watching Edward working on it a while and hearing Charles’s comments, such as, “Don’t rush your slide! Don’t swing crooked! Don’t hang at the full reach!” she would be apt to say, “Dear me, but you’re two ridiculous boys!”

Yet they liked to have her around to say that, and they were delighted one day when she asked to be allowed to row on the machine herself; they whooped with joy at her efforts to pull the oar and slide at the same time.

Another day their father came up, and he too expressed a desire to show what sort of an oarsman he was; he took off his coat and shoved himself back and forth, and pulled so hard that the perspiration came on his forehead.

“I guess you might have been something of an athlete if only you’d gone to boarding-school when you were young,” was Charles’s condescending comment.

“You get some power into your stroke, but you have n’t any form,” added Edward.

“A race between you and mother might be quite exciting,” said Charles.

“Young man,” rejoined Mr. Crashaw with dignity, “I am accustomed to rowing in real water in a real boat,—man’s size, too,—a rowboat or a dory, and if ever you want to take me on in a contest of that sort—”

“We got a rise out of him all right,” Charles murmured quite audibly to Edward.

“Humph!” said Mr. Crashaw. “Humph!” And he withheld his amused smile until he was safely on the stairs.

It pleased Charles at the end of his vacation to have his mother say when she was bidding him good-bye:—

“Edward has told me what a good brother you’ve been to him during these holidays, dear. He thinks you were fine to give up so much time to his rowing. Of course I don’t understand such things; but when Edward admires you so and is so grateful, it makes me proud of both my boys. You used to be rather domineering and dictatorial with Edward; you’re ever so much nicer with him now.”

Charles was touched by that, but he did n’t care to show it. “Oh, don’t you and Edward fool yourselves,” he said airily. “I’ve been teaching him to row just the way you’d fatten a pig for killing.”

His mother laughed and kissed him.