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CHAPTER VII

FAREWELL TO A HERO

EDWARD met his father and mother at the station; his mother spied him before he saw her, and ran to him along the platform, her bright, eager face radiant, her eyes shining. He saw her then and with a spring seized her in his arms; and after he had kissed her and his father she clung to him and looked up into his face enraptured.

“Come, Helen,” said Mr. Crashaw at last. “Let the husky boy lug one of these bags for the old man.”

Edward seized both the bags and carried them to a cab; during the drive to the hotel his mother sat beside him caressing his hand.

“Oh, my dear, it’s good to see you and touch you and hear you again!” she exclaimed. “And you’re getting to be almost good-looking!”

“Mother,” Edward entreated, don’t be an old silly!”

She answered with the low laugh that he loved, and sat caressing his hand.

“I hope you won’t mind,” he said. “I’ve invited Francis Keating and Joe Lawrence to come in and dine with us to-night; you know, they’re about my best friends.”

“Of course we want to meet your friends, Edward; I’m glad you invited the boys.”

She could not help being glad, for Keating and Lawrence revealed to her sympathetic eyes the most devoted affection and admiration for Edward; and besides that, their appreciation of the hotel food was so appealing!

“Just think!” exclaimed Lawrence, after acknowledging that he would like a second plate of ice-cream, “this is the night for corned-beef hash, Edward!”

“And prunes,” Keating reminded him.

“The worst of it is, I can’t stuff myself the way you fellows can,” complained Edward. “I have to row to-night.”

He kept looking anxiously at his watch, and the moment they had finished dinner he hurried them out of the hotel and into a carriage. He himself sat on the box with the coachman; and so during the drive to the School Lawrence and Keating were able to carry on their eulogy of him without embarrassment or interference.

“He’s about the best-liked fellow in our form,” said Lawrence.

“He’s one of the most popular fellows in the whole school,“ declared Keating.

“He’s never stood at the head of his class,” observed Mr. Crashaw.

“Oh, Keat here always has that place cinched,” answered Lawrence.

“I’d be glad to change with Edward if I could do the things he can!”

The wistful, honest admiration in Keating’s voice touched Mr. Crashaw, and he made no other jocularly disparaging comment about his son.

When Mr. and Mrs. Crashaw were seated in the front rank of the spectators in the gymnasium and Edward had gone to dress for the rowing exhibition, Keating and Lawrence pointed out the various personages of the School. Mrs. Crashaw was especially interested in seeing Blanchard and Payne and other boys whom Edward had mentioned often in his letters.

The gymnasium filled rapidly; nearly all the floor-space was occupied with benches; only at the end was reserved a place for the performers; there were set up the rowing-machines, the parallel bars, the horizontal bar, and the inclined ladders.

The rattle of talk and laughter was suddenly submerged in applause; ten little First Formers, clad in white gymnasium suits and carrying, each one, a pair of tiny Indian clubs, emerged from the stairway at the left and trotted forward in front of the rowing-machines. Then they began swinging their clubs, all keeping time together, their small bare arms twinkling, their chests out, some of them with smiling faces, some of them serious and intent.

“The little dears!” exclaimed Mrs. Crashaw.

They executed intricate twirls and flourishes smoothly and in unison; and at last, with a simultaneous flourish, they tucked their clubs under their arms, bobbed a little bow, and amidst applause pattered off to the stairway.

Next came the vaulting contest, won by Watts, captain of the School track team; Sheldon was second. Then two Fifth Formers with basket-like helmets on their heads and padded sweaters on their shoulders engaged in a spirited but bloodless fencing-bout; after which Payne and Blanchard, who were two of the best boxers in the School, had a sparring-match which was not quite bloodless and which provoked great hilarity among the boys.

Mrs. Crashaw thought that was almost too much, even though assured by Lawrence that Payne and Blanchard were bosom friends; she preferred the performances on the horizontal bar and on the parallel bars, in both of which Sheldon took part,—not very gloriously, for he failed in attempting feats which the others executed. Mrs. Crashaw had by that time begun to notice him; she commented on his splendid muscles, the ease with which they served him.

“And yet he never seems to he quite the best in anything,” she observed with some disappointment, after the competition on the parallel bars had been awarded to a Fifth Former named Bird. “I’m sorry, for I’ve heard Edward speak of him, and I know how much he likes him.”

“He’s the best oarsman in school, I guess,” said Lawrence. “And he’s good in nearly everything, even if he isn’t always the best.”

Standing on the stairs with the other members of the crew, all dressed for rowing, Edward had been looking on at the performances, watching Sheldon especially, and feeling somehow disappointed, too, because Sheldon did not do better. He failed on feats which Edward had seen him accomplish with ease before a group of admiring little kids.

Charles’s remark about Sheldon, “He’s a quitter,” flashed into Edward’s mind. Could his brother after all be right in that? Charles was so seldom wrong!

The Corinthian crew filed out and took their seats on the rowing-machines.

“Attention!” cried Cole, the captain, and they all came forward to the full reach and waited.

“Stroke!” They began to row.

Edward from the stairway watched them critically. Durant was rowing stroke, and Edward admired the way in which he gradually raised the speed until in the last minute of the exhibition the Corinthian crew were swinging through it just as rhythmically as at the beginning, yet with a tremendous acceleration of power.

“I wonder if we’re as smooth a crew as that,” thought Edward. It would be a severe test to go on after such an exhibition.

But when the Pythians rowed, there was at least one person in the audience who was quite unconscious whether they were doing it well or not.

Mrs. Crashaw saw but one member of that crew; on him she held her eyes. And when they had finished, and Lawrence said, “They don’t row as smoothly as the Corinthians, do they?” she answered, “Don’t they? I was just watching Edward.”

Edward himself knew that they had n’t rowed as well—knew it before even the applause, so much lighter than that which the Corinthians had received, informed him. From his place at number three he had seen the break just behind Sheldon.

“Shucks! We were rotten!” Dillaway, the bow oar, exclaimed on the stairway.

“Oh, well,” Sheldon answered, “races are n’t won on just form.”

The ladder-climbing was the next event on the programme; Fraser and Sheldon were the only entries, and Fraser was in the Infirmary with the measles. So Sheldon stepped out alone.

Edward waited on the stairs before going down to dress. He saw Sheldon rub his hands with resin, then start springing up the long, slanting ladder, slap, slap, slap, chinning himself and jumping up from each rung.

Halfway up his speed slackened; each leap seemed to require a greater gathering of himself for the effort; at last he changed to the easier hand-over-hand method, and even with that was unable to reach the top. Six or eight rungs below the horizontal ladder his strength failed, and he stopped.

There was a great outburst of applause for him as he came slowly down; but Edward on the stairs was disappointed again. Sheldon brushed past him and went downstairs on the run.

Edward glanced at him from time to time while they dressed; he had never seen Sheldon so silent.

After a while Sheldon said to him, though just as if he were talking to himself, “What’s the use of practising stunts if you can’t do them when you want to!”

“You did them all pretty well,” said Edward.

“Pretty well!” answered Sheldon in a tone of scorn, and walked away.

Edward knew exactly how he was feeling, and he was so sympathetic he wished he could run after him and say, “I've been there too; I know what it is.” But he was younger than Sheldon and diffident; he felt that it might be fresh to do that.

He knew that Sheldon was thinking himself exactly what Charles had thought him, and that he was unhappy about it and disheartened. Somehow, having been so close to him in the moment when he had revealed the feeling depressed Edward. He had liked Sheldon from the first, and in spite of all the boy’s defects as a captain had grown to like him more and more.

When Edward rejoined his father and mother, he was rather subdued; they attributed it to the fact that the Corinthian crew had done better than the Pythians.

At the end of the exhibition Mr. Barclay made a little speech and awarded the medals to the prize-winners; when he called out. “Ladder Climbing, won by T. P. Sheldon,” there was a faint whisper of laughter which was not quite extinguished by the applause. Edward was sorry again for Sheldon and angry at those who laughed; it was bad enough to win a prize when no one else had contested for it; to have the award received with even the least mocking laughter was too much.

“Just the same,” Edward said to Keating and Lawrence, “it was sandy of Sheldon to go into that thing all by himself. It took nerve.”

“Um,” said Lawrence. “Don’t see why he didn’t do better, though.”

Even on the next day, Easter Sunday, Edward’s pleasure was clouded. He had brought Sheldon up to his father and mother, and Mr. Crashaw had congratulated the boy on his athletic prowess.

Sheldon, without meaning to be ungracious, said, “Oh, I don’t deserve to be congratulated on that, Mr. Crashaw. Anybody can win an event if he’s the only one in it.”

“But I was thinking of the showing you made in so many events—your versatility,” said Mr. Crashaw.

Sheldon could find no answer except a doleful smile. Afterwards when he saw Edward alone for a moment he said to him, “I guess your father thinks I’m an awful stiff. But I feel so differently from the way he supposes I do—that’s all.”

Edward understood: he knew that a fellow who feels that he has been a quitter likes most of all to shut himself off from the world, and least of all to hear well-intended compliments. Sheldon was still in low spirits the next morning when Edward said good-bye to him.

At home the Crashaw family found Charles, who had arrived from St. John’s by an earlier train. Edward was disappointed by Charles’s nose, which looked just as swollen and distorted as when he had last seen it; and Mrs. Crashaw, quite unprepared for such a disfigurement, was shocked by it. She insisted on his placing himself in the hands of a specialist at once.

In consequence Charles submitted the next day to an operation, from which he returned with his nose in a plaster bandage.

“Always something in a sling when I have a vacation,” he grumbled. “A hand or a nose or something.”

Being sensitive about his appearance, he kept closely to the house and spent even more time on the rowing-machine than he had done during the Christmas holidays. And on account of the surgeon’s requirements, his return to school was delayed for a week after the vacation had expired and after Edward had gone back to St. Timothy’s.

So Edward did not see the nose when it at last emerged; but Charles sent him a glowing account of it.

“Not larger but handsomer than before,” he wrote. “I am sorry you could not be present at the unveiling. Everything came off without a hitch, and once more I have the kind of nose that mother used to like. I’m off for St. John’s to-morrow.”

This good news reached Edward on the day when the candidates for the St. Timothy’s baseball nine were called out. Jim Payne made an earnest appeal to Edward to give up rowing; he was needed on first base; it would be the weakest batting nine that St. Timothy’s had had in years.

But Edward had now had his first experience of rowing on the pond and was enjoying it; and he knew that his chances of being chosen on the School crew were good. So he had not been moved by Payne’s appeal, and the captain had departed gloomily.

It was just after the last recitation of the morning, and Edward still lingered on the Study steps, taking long breaths and exulting in the freshness of the wind and sun.

This was the first morning in which there had been the premonitory warmth and softness of summer; the birds were singing gayly from the rectory hedge, the sunlight illuminated the heart of every young-leaved tree, flooded through elm and maple, tinting the green with gold, and swept, chasing the shadow of a cloud, over the chapel lawn.

Edward was thinking how fine it would be that afternoon to be rowing bare-armed on the pond, to be feeling for the first time warm without a sweater and strong with all the freedom of naked muscles;—he drew in another deep breath; and just at that moment Lawrence came up to him with a portentous face.

“Well, is n’t it fierce?” said Lawrence.

“What?” asked Edward.

“Have n’t you heard? Sheldon has to leave school.”

“What do you mean?”

“He flunked his exams; they told him this morning.”

“They’ve fired him!” Edward exclaimed, aghast.

“No, not that exactly. The Rector said that he was n’t up to doing Sixth Form work, and that if he really wanted to enter college next fall, he would have to leave school and tutor. So he’s going to-morrow.”

“Who told you all this?”

“Joe Davis, on your crew. He wanted me to tell you there would n’t be any rowing to-day—and then he told me why.”

“It’s tough!” said Edward. “Poor old Sheldon!”

“He’s all broken up about it, Davis says.”

They walked away together in a sorrowful silence.

At the School that day at luncheon every one was talking of the calamity. There was general depression; it was not merely because the loss of the captain of the crew would be serious, but it was also a tribute to Sheldon’s personality.

There were other boys in the Sixth Form who were more respectfully admired because they had greater force—Blanchard, for instance, and perhaps Durant and Payne; but Sheldon’s following adored him. There was hardly a Third Former who frequented the gymnasium who had not had the privilege of feeling Sheldon’s muscles and calling him Tom; he was kind and friendly to them all, and always pretended to know them even if he could n’t remember their names; and his very enjoyment of their admiration endeared him to them.

“If everybody is so gloomy about it here,” said Lawrence, “it must be a regular funeral over at the Upper; I wonder how Tom stands it.”

“It must be pretty hard for him,” agreed Edward. “But sort of nice too.—I don’t suppose he’ll want to see many fellows to say good-bye—just a few of his best friends,” he added rather wistfully.

That afternoon he loitered by the edge of the pond and watched the Corinthian crew row; Cole had his men out in spite of the tragedy. One or two Pythians who stood by, moping like Edward, were disposed to criticize him for it; they thought it would have shown a better feeling if he had ordered a day of rest in recognition of his adversary’s misfortune.

Discussion of the point offered them some desultory amusement, but Edward did not pay much attention to it. He would have liked to be out on the pond with the Corinthians; perhaps he was heartless even to think of such a thing! His fine green and gold day had turned dreary—and what must it be for Sheldon!

Davis came up and touched him on the shoulder.

“Tom would like to see you, Crashaw,” he said. “He’s in his room at the Upper.”

There Edward found Sheldon sitting inefficiently with a trunk half-packed and a muss of books, clothes, and athletic trophies on the floor and on the bed.

“I always hate to pack,” he said, with a doleful smile. “And this is worse than usual.”

“I’m pretty good at it,” said Edward. “Let me help.”

“No, thanks.” Sheldon spoke more briskly. “I’m the only fellow that can handle this mess. I’ll have lots of time when you and the others are in Study. I thought I might n’t see you again, Edward, and I wanted to say good-bye.”

“I’m awfully sorry you’re going, Tom.”

“So am I. Well, it’s my own fault. If I had n’t been such a stupid dolt! It was n’t altogether stupidity, either; that’s the worst of it.”

“You’ve been doing so many things,” Edward said consolingly.

“Yes, and letting everything slide that was worth while! I’ll tell you what my trouble was, Edward. I wanted to be picked at the end of the year as the greatest all-round athlete in the School. I thought I could be—football, hockey, rowing, all those things—all I needed to clinch it was to show off in the gymnasium besides. But when it came really to the point, with the audience there and all—I did only about half as well as I’d done in practice. That’s the way I’ve been in everything; that’s the way I was in these exams that threw me down. I’m a great big showy duffer—and no good at all in the crisis. But I’m going to be good”—he caught up the pillow from the bed and slammed it viciously at the wall. “You bet I am. I’m going to get into college this fall if I have to study twenty-four hours a day. And when I get in!—” He gave the pillow a finishing punch.

Edward was rather embarrassed at such an outpouring of soul; he did not know quite what to say.

“Don’t you suppose nearly everybody has sort of given up at times, when really they might have had a little more fight left in them?” he asked.

“At times, maybe, but it seems as if it had got to he a habit with me,” responded Sheldon gloomily. “I know that you fellows must have been thinking I was a mighty poor crew captain; but I’d come back this term meaning to stick to my job and show you I was n’t a mistake—and somehow I never thought of being tripped up by those examinations.”

“I guess we would all have known you were n’t a mistake,” said Edward.

“But I was! A captain that has to quit his crew!—Well, I did n’t mean to get you up here just to cry on your shoulder. I wanted to do the last thing I can as captain: I wanted to have a little talk with every fellow that’s sure of a place in the St. Timothy’s boat. You’re one.”

“You really think so?”

“Of course. Mr. Burns has you picked all right. There will be you and Davis and Durant and Cochrane and Quinby; you five are sure. I hope you’ll elect Durant captain. He really ought to have been captain instead of me; that’s one thing I wanted to say to you. Another is: I’m coming up to see the race with St. John’s if my tutor lets me. And if they lick you, why, I shall feel it was probably because of my leaving and busting up the crew that had chosen me captain; but if you win, I’ll feel—well, that I was captain of you for a little while and that I might have been there too.”

He turned away and stood for a moment gazing out of the window. Then he came back to Edward, who had been sitting with downcast eyes, unwilling to see Sheldon’s emotion or to show his own.

“You like me enough to want me to have a good time when I come back, and not a poor one—don’t you, Edward?”

There was an affectionate playfulness in Sheldon’s voice, in his smile; and Edward, looking up, only nodded; he felt too uncertain of his voice to speak.

“All right,” Sheldon continued, “that’s all I wanted to say to you as captain of the crew. But it was n’t just as captain that I wanted to see you, Edward, and say good-bye. It’s because I like you too—and I hope that we'll still be friends a couple of years from now when we ’re both in college.”

He held out his hand, and Edward grasped it.

“Thank you,” he said. guess we will. I guess everybody that goes from this school to college with me will be a friend of yours, Tom.”

He went down the stairs of the Upper School with a dimness in his eyes which even the bright sunshine of the afternoon did not immediately clear away.

The next morning, a few moments before chapel, when most of the boys were waiting in front of the Study for the bell to ring, a carriage with a trunk strapped on behind drove up to the gate. From it alighted Blanchard and Davis and Durant, and last of all Sheldon.

Soon a group had gathered round him, Edward among them and Mr. Barclay and Mr. Burns, and many little boys. Sheldon was busy shaking hands; there was a good deal of laughter and forced gayety.

“Don’t forget and mark me absent from chapel this morning, Mr. Barclay,” he said.

And Mr. Barclay answered with a mournful smile, “I wish that I could, and that you’d be here to-morrow to write the report, Tom.”

Sheldon’s lip quivered then for the first time; he stiffened it and caught Edward’s hand.

“Good-bye again, old man,” he murmured. “Wait, I’ve got a present for you;” and he put into Edward’s hand the pocket-mirror over which their acquaintance had begun.

Edward smiled and glanced at it with blurred eyes.

A small boy at Sheldon’s side, one of his gymnasium satellites, was looking up timidly.

“Hello, Jasper!” Sheldon patted the small one’s shoulder. “You’ll not forget how to skin the cat, will you?”

The chapel bell began to ring. Sheldon stepped back into the carriage; the driver touched the horses with the whip.

“Good-bye!” shouted the boys.

“Good-bye!” cried Sheldon.

As the carriage mounted the hill, other boys hurrying down on the way to chapel took off their hats and waved and caught Sheldon’s farewell salute; and only one boy who was late, and who therefore had no right to see it, had a glimpse of Sheldon sitting there dabbing his handkerchief to his eyes.