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CHAPTER VIII

SHELDON’S SUCCESSOR

SHELDON’S withdrawal from the School made Edward’s position in one respect easier: Jim Payne, who had been displeased by his refusal to play baseball, was now mollified. He came to Edward that very day and said, “Well, I suppose I can’t blame you any longer if you insist on rowing.”

“I certainly hope you won’t blame me,” Edward answered.

“I suppose, with Sheldon gone, you’ll be needed in the boat about as much as on the nine,” Payne conceded. “I wish there were two of you, Edward.”

“I guess you think I’m a great deal better than I am.”

“No, I don’t. I remember the first time I ever saw you stand up to bat, and I knew right off what you could do. You can’t fool me; I know a natural-born hitter when I see one. It’s too bad to think of all that talent being wasted. But as it stands now, I can’t blame you.” Payne sighed and turned away.

When, a few weeks later, Edward learned that Keating had been chosen to play first base on the nine, and saw Keating’s joy, he was more glad than ever that he himself was rowing and so could not deprive his friend of the chance.

Keating treated his “table” to strawberries by way of celebrating his achievement. Edward spoke afterwards to Payne about it and expressed his pleasure that Keating had made the team.

“He’s great on first base,” Payne said. “He can’t miss ’em—pick-ups, wide balls, high ones, he eats ’em all. But at the bat he’s a mess. He can’t hit for little green apples.”

“Maybe he’ll learn.”

“He does n’t seem to. If a fellow has n’t a natural eye for hitting the ball, you can’t teach him much.”

“If you think it might help, I’ll coach him in the noon hour.”

"I wish you would. Look here; bring him down to the field to-morrow.”

As soon as the Greek recitation the next day was at an end, Edward and Keating hurried to the field. Bell and Payne were already there; they threw off coats and neckties and collars and were soon at work practising against the batting-net. Lawrence had come down to look on, and made himself useful in chasing balls.

Keating was, Edward had to acknowledge, a discouraging subject. He was willing enough, but he lacked weight and strength; he could n’t seem to help stepping away from the ball; and he invariably swung his bat in a slant instead of in a horizontal plane. Bell pitched easy curves to him, but Keating knocked almost nothing but pop flies.

Edward took the bat and stood at the plate, stepped forward, swung at an imaginary ball—went through the motions again and again, did them slowly and did them fast; and Keating watched intelligently and listened intelligently, but could n’t himself perform.

“Let me hit out one or two; perhaps then you’ll get on to it better,” said Edward.

He planted himself with the bat over his shoulder. Bell sent a swift inshoot; Edward met it squarely, and the next moment Lawrence was chasing a the ball far in the outfield.

“If I could paste one of those in a lifetime I’d die happy,” sighed Keating.

Bell was rather annoyed at having one of his curves hit so hard.

“I gave you a chance on that ball,” he said. “Bet you can’t do it again, Crashaw.”

“ome on,” said Edward, and squared himself.

The next ball that Bell pitched was wild, and Edward let it go by. Then came a slow out-drop to tempt him; but he refused to strike, and it curved wide of the plate. The third ball he swung at, and drove, again on a line, into left field.

Lawrence was going after it, but Durant, who appeared at that moment, walking with Wallace at the edge of the field, saved him the trouble. After throwing it in, Durant came up to the ball-players. Bell, with his spirit roused, was determined now to strike Edward out; he had pitched two wild balls in the effort when Durant interrupted.

“Crashaw,” he called, “you’ve not quit rowing for baseball, have you?”

“Oh no,” said Edward. “I’m just fooling.”

“Well, look here a moment.” Durant hastened forward. “I think you’d better not do this sort of thing. You must n’t risk getting hit and maybe hurt.”

“There’s not much danger.”

“I know, but you might get a crack on the arm or the wrist or the head that would spoil your rowing for a while. I wish you would n’t.”

“All right.” Edward relinquished the bat to Keating. “There, you see the principle of the thing, Keat; step right out at the ball and meet it with your whole body in the blow; don’t just swipe at it with your arms.”

“What are you doing? Coaching him?” asked Durant curiously.

“Yes—trying to.”

“All right—only don’t stand up to the ball yourself.” Durant strolled away.

“I wish old Tom Sheldon were here; he would n’t have been so fussy,” muttered Payne. “When was Durant elected captain—only yesterday, was n’t he? What’s he trying to do—show his authority?”

“No, he’s all right; I might get hurt, I suppose. I guess Keat sees the idea. Try again, Keat.”

But neither that day nor on subsequent days, when Edward supervised his friend’s batting, did Keating display any improvement.

“I guess I’ll just have to swipe at the ball and trust to luck,” Keating said at last disconsolately. “If I could sometime make one good hit, so as to have some confidence! ”

But he went through the Pythian-Corinthian series without ever achieving that single hit; his position at the foot of the batting list was assured.

The days grew warm; it was the most pleasant season of all the school year. With the scent of the lilacs coming through the windows, with the glimpse of the sunny bright rectory lawn to take one’s eye from the text-book, it was harder to fix one’s attention in the class-room than it had been during the dreary days of winter; yet the confinement was in a way less irksome too. There was so much more to look forward to when one did get out of doors! And out of doors Edward was sure he had never had so good a time. Every afternoon to drive with the crew the two miles to the pond, shouting songs, breathing in the fragrance of the pines along the road, yelling at the chipmunks that raced on stone walls and up tree-trunks—that was a fine way of settling one’s comfortable training-table dinner.

Then there was a pleasant scramble down a forest path, with columbines and lady-slippers all along it to snatch for one’s buttonhole—except that usually one was too busy undressing as one ran. In the boat-house it was a race to see who could strip first; always within seven minutes they had the shell in the water and were bending to the stroke.

There was an hour and a half of practice, not all hard work; much of the time they would be paddling leisurely or resting on their oars while Mr. Burns coached them from the motor-boat; or they would be studying the performance of their rivals, the Corinthians, on the farther side of the lake, and prowling about in the Corinthian neighborhood as unassumingly as possible.

But at the last there would be a racing start and a sprint that always brought them to the float with brown bodies glistening and foreheads bedewed and chests heaving—so that the two buckets of water allowed each man seemed utterly inadequate, and they longed tremendously for the debilitating and forbidden swim!

Still, after they had made the most of their two buckets and had rubbed down and dressed and were seated again in the big open wagon, with the cool breeze drying their second sweat, they had no regrets—none at least if they had prepared that morning for the afternoon recitations to which now they were speedily whirled.

Edward enjoyed it all, though the race itself with the Corinthians was disappointing. It had been generally predicted that the Corinthians would win, but not by a margin of about ten lengths; they trailed the Pythians from the start.

Edward, who rowed seven in the Pythian boat, the important position which Sheldon had vacated, was much cast down and wondered if he was more than one eighth to blame, and if after all he might not be given the expected place in the School boat.

His misgivings proved unfounded; the disastrous “break” in the Pythian boat had occurred behind him; numbers three and four caught crabs, and two weakened; in fact, the general opinion was that only Davis at stroke and Edward at seven had rowed in first-crew form.

And they were the only ones from the Pythian crew to be chosen for the School boat; the other six were all Corinthians. Durant was stroke, Edward was put in at seven and Davis at six; then followed five Corinthians in the same order in which they had rowed on their own club crew.

Now the training became more severe; the School crew, as thus made up, was much heavier than the Pythian crew had been; and Durant called on them for harder work. But Edward was strong enough for that and liked it; there was a different feeling in the boat from what there had been in the Pythian; it was inspiring to be aware of the smoothness, the rhythm, the speed. It was a good crew. And they all grew browner every day, until you could tell a crew man at once by his color; beside him a member of the nine or a mere track athlete looked pale.

There was one day of rest for the crew—the day when they with all the others of St. Timothy’s School accompanied the nine to St. John’s to witness the annual baseball game.

Durant, who enjoyed the reputation of being the best-dressed boy in St. Timothy’s, and who was constantly endeavoring to raise the standard of those with whom he associated, conceived the idea of uniforming his crew for this occasion.

A perquisite of membership in the crew was a white flannel coat, with S.T.S. worked in a red monogram on the breast-pocket; no one had ever discovered any special usefulness for this garment except to be photographed in it. Durant, however, suggested that they invade St. John’s wearing these coats and white flannel trousers to match; also red sashes and red neckties. The idea appealed to the crew; and when on that morning they emerged in their dazzling raiment, they excited immense enthusiasm.

Wallace, who was to conduct the somewhat uncertain brass band, rushed up to them.

“You fellows must head the procession,” he exclaimed. “We’re not going to drive from the station all the way to the St. John’s field; we’re going to leave the barges at the big gate and march round their buildings and down to the field. You fellows must head the procession.”

“Just behind the band?” said Durant.

And Wallace laughed and answered, “Oh, of course, just behind the band.”

They could not help admiring themselves and each other, and during the journey in the train Edward was mainly occupied in preserving the crease in his trousers and the unwrinkled spotlessness of his coat.

They lunched at a railway restaurant on sandwiches, pies, doughnuts, and bananas. Durant was a good deal disturbed about the possible consequences of such a diet, but as he found there was nothing else to eat, he overcame his scruples and indulged himself as freely as his men.

At the railway station where they left the train there were a number of big wagons and barges waiting for them,—one decorated with red and white bunting. That was for the nine, and all the other boys stood round and watched the nine climb in.

Edward gave a farewell squeeze to Keating’s hand.

“Swat the ball a good one for me, Keat,” he said.

“Don’t I wish I might!” answered Keating.

He hopped on board; Jim Payne climbed up beside the driver; and then Durant, who was to lead the cheering that afternoon, called for three times three for the nine. They were no sooner ended than the band burst out into a joyous blare, and the decorated barge trundled away before those in it could recognize the tune.

The other barges followed so slowly that the nine were soon lost to sight. Edward sat looking out on either side with eager eyes.

Soon they left behind the pretty white New England village; the road ran between meadows and pastures and orchards and at last ascended a long slope. At the top of that, among the trees, the roofs and towers of St. John’s were revealed.

Before a brick gateway, through which there was a view of green lawns and handsome buildings, the barges stopped, and the boys got out and formed for their procession. First the band, then after an interval the crew, headed by Durant and Edward, numbers eight and seven respectively; after the crew the Sixth Form, then the Fifth, and so tapering down to the little boys at the end. They unfurled their red flags, the band struck up, and the procession moved.

Inside the gate Edward saw the St. John’s buildings, arranged in a quadrangle about a smooth green which was shaded by great elms. Walled in and secluded on its hill-top, St. John’s was not like St. Timothy’s, which lay spread out and rambling in the open valley.

“It’s a good-looking place, but I like ours better,” Edward said to Durant.

But he did not give much thought to the buildings or the grounds, for there, swarming out of the two dormitories at the farther end of the triangle, came the St. John’s boys.

St. Timothy’s marched straight up and passed as it were in review before them, while St. John’s crowded the dormitory steps and overflowed upon the lawn. The band was doing its best to render “Marching through Georgia;” St. John’s clapped and laughed as it went by.

But the crew awakened their greatest enthusiasm and received instant recognition.

“Crew, hey, crew!” was the cry, taken up by one St. John’s boy after another, and finally shouted by all together. “Crew, crew, crew!”

There was great clapping, and the crew men took off their hats with the red hatbands and saluted politely.

Edward caught a glimpse of his brother Charles in the top row on the steps, and Charles, catching Edward’s eye, thrust out his elbows and chest and gave a burlesque imitation of a cake-walk.

The procession passed and swung out behind the dormitories into the road to the athletic field a quarter of a mile away. Already the St. Timothy’s nine was on the field practising; and as soon as the procession was marshalled to its place back of the first-base line, Durant, stepping out in front, hushed the band and called for the first great cheer for the nine.

Just after that, the infield gave a demonstration of their abounding vitality; each one seemed to want to show how hard he could shoot the ball at Keating; and Keating smothered every throw in his big mitt with perfect confidence and nonchalance.

Pretty soon down marched the St. John’s procession, also headed by a band. It went round behind the third-base line and was cheered by St. Timothy’s. Some of the boys broke away and ran over to welcome friends among the visitors; Charles came up to Edward.

“You’re easy to find; my, but you’re conspicuous!” he said. “Afraid of grass stains or spoiling the crease, that you stand up?”

The taunt brought Edward down, and they sat together on the grass and talked. Edward complimented Charles on his nose in return for Charles’s pleasant words about his clothes. The St. John’s nine appeared and had their practice; Charles invited Edward to notice how superior they were at all points of the game. When at last St. Timothy’s took the field and Dinsmore, St. John’s short-stop, went to the bat, Charles scrambled to his feet.

“I’m going back to my own side,” he said. “From now on you’re beyond the pale. But I’ll see you after the game—in case you feel like seeing anybody!”