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moored two punts, in which reclined at their ease some dozen young gentlemen, smoking; several of these were friends of Drysdale, and hailed him as the boat passed them.
“What a fool I am to be here!” he grumbled, in an undertone, casting an envious glance at the punts in their comfortable berth, up under the banks, and out of the wind. “I say, Brown, don't you wish we were well past this on the way up
“ Silence in the bows!” shouted Miller.
“ You devil, how I hate you !” growled Drysdale, half in jest and half in earnest, as they sped along under the willows.
Tom got more comfortable at every stroke, and by the time they reached the Gut began to hope that he should not have a fit, or lose all his strength just at the start, or cut a crab, or come to some other unutterable grief, the fear of which had been haunting him all day.
“ Here they are at last! - come along now-keep up with them," said Hardy to Grey, as the boat neared the Gut; and the two, who had been waiting on the bank, trotted along downward, Hardy watching the crew, and Grey watching him.
“ Hardy, how eager you look !”
Grey shambled on in silence by the side of his big friend, and wished he could understand what it was that moved him so.
As the boat shot into the Gut from under the cover of the Oxfordshire bank, the wind caught the bows.
“ Feather high, now," shouted Miller; and then added in a low voice to the captain, “it will be ticklish work starting in this wind.”
“Just as bad for all the other boats," answered the captain.
“Well said, old philosopher!” said Miller. “It's a comfort to steer you ; you never make a fellow nervous. I wonder if you ever felt nervous yourself, now?”
“ Can't say,” said the captain. “ Here's our post; we may as well turn.'
“Easy, bow side -- now, two and four, pull her round — back water, seven and five!” shouted the coxswain ; and the boat's head swung round, and two or three strokes took in to the bank.
Jack instantly made a convulsive attempt to board, but was sternly repulsed, and tumbled backward into the water.
Hark!- the first gun. The report sent Tom's heart into his mouth again. Several of the boats pushed off at once into the stream; and the crowds of men on the bank began to be agitated, as it were, by the shadow of the coming excitement. The St. Ambrose fingered their oars, put a last dash of grease on their rowlocks, and settled their feet against the stretchers.
• Shall we push her off ?” asked bow.
“No; I can give you another minute,” said Miller, who was sitting, watch in hand, in the stern; “ only be smart when I give the word.”
The captain turned on his seat, and looked up the boat. His face was quiet, but full of confidence, which seemed to pass froin him into the crew. Tom felt calmer and stronger, as he met his eye. “Now mind, boys, don't quicken,” he said, cheerily; “ four short strokes to get way on her, and then steady. Here, pass up the lemon."
And he took a sliced lemon out of his pocket, put a small piece in his own mouth, and then handed it to Blake, who followed his example, and passed it on. Each man took a piece ; and just as bow had secured the end, Miller called out:
“Now, jackets off, and get her head out steadily.”
The jackets were thrown on shore, and gathered up by the boatman in attendance. The crew poised their oars, No. 2 pushing out her head, and the captain doing the same for the stern. Miller took the starting-rope in his hand.
" How the wind catches her stern,” he said ; “ here, pay out the rope one of you. No, not you
some fellow with a strong hand. Yes, you 'll do,” he went on, as Hardy stepped down the bank and took hold of the rope; “let me have it foot by foot as I want it. Not too quick; make the most of it — that'll do. Two and three, just dip your oars in to give her way."
The rope paid out steadily, and the boat settled to her place. But now the wind rose again, and the stern drifted in toward the bank.
“ You must back her a bit, Miller, and keep her a little further out or our oars on stroke side will catch the bank.”
“So I see; curse the wind. Back her, one stroke all. Back her, I say !” shouted Miller.
It is no easy matter to get a crew to back her an inch just now, particularly as there are in her two men who have never rowed a race before, except in the torpids, and one who has never rowed a race in his life.
However, back she comes; the starting rope slackens in Miller's left hand, and the stroke, unshipping his oar, pushes the stern gently out again.
There goes the second gun! one short minute more, and we are off. Short minute, indeed! you would n't say so if you were in the boat, with your heart in your mouth and trembling all over like a man with the palsy. Those sixty seconds before starting-gun in your first race - why, they are a little lifetime.
" By Jove, we are drifting in again," said Miller, in horror. The captain looked grim but said nothing; it was too late now for him to be unshipping again. “Here, catch hold of the long boat-hook, and fend her off.”
Hardy, to whom this was addressed, seized the boat-hook, and, standing with one foot in the water, pressed the end of the boat-hook against the gunwale, at the full stretch of his arm, and so, by main force, kept the stern out. There was just room for stroke oars to dip, and that was all. The starting rope was as taut as a harp-string; will Miller's left hand hold out?
It is an awful moment. But the coxswain, though almost dragged backward off his seat, is equal to the occasion. He holds his watch in his right hand with the tiller rope.
“ Eight seconds more only. Look out for the flash. Remember, all eyes in the boat."
There it comes, at last -- the flash of the starting gun. Long before the sound of the report can roll up the river, the whole pent-up life and energy which has been held in leash, as it were, for the last six minutes, is loose, and breaks away with a bound and a dash which he who has felt it will remember for his life, but the like of which will he ever feel again ? The startingropes drop from the coxswain's hands, the oars flash into the water, and gleam on the feather, the spray flies from them, and the boats leap forward.
The crowds on the banks scatter, and rush along, each keeping as near as may be to its own boat. Some of the men on the towing-path, some on the very edge of, often in, the water; some slightly in advance, as if they could help to drag their boat forward ; some behind, where they can see the pulling better ; but all at full speed, in wild excitement, and shouting at the top of their voices to those on whom the honor of the college is laid.
“ Well pulled all!” “Pick her up there, five!” “ You 're gaining every stroke!” 66 Time in the bows !”
“ Bravo, St. Ambrose !"
On they rush by the side of the boats, jostling one another, stumbling, struggling, and panting along.
For a quarter of a mile along the bank the glorious, maddening hurly-burly extends, and rolls up the side of the stream.
For the first ten strokes, Tom was in too great fear of making a mistake to feel or hear or see. His whole soul was glued to the back of the man before him, his one thought to keep time and get his strength into the stroke. But as the crew settled down into the well-known long sweep, what we may call consciousness returned ; and, while every muscle in his body was straining, and his chest heaved, and his heart leapt, every nerve seemed to be gathering new life, and his senses to wake unto unwonted acuteness. He caught the scent of wild thyme in the air, and found room in his brain to wonder how it could have got there, as he had never seen the plant near the river, or smelt it before. Though his eye never wandered from the back of Diogenes, he seemed to see all things at once. The boat behind, which seemed to be gaining – it was all he could do to prevent himself from quickening on the stroke as he fancied that; the eager face of Miller, with his compressed lips and eyes fixed so earnestly ahead that Tom could almost feel the glance passing over his right shoulder; the flying banks and the shouting crowd; see them with his bodily eyes he could not, but he knew, nevertheless, that Grey had been upset and nearly rolled down the bank into the water in the first hundred yards; that Jack was bounding and scrambling and barking along by the very edge of the stream; above all, he was just as well aware as if he had been looking at it, of a stalwart form in cap and gown, bounding along, brandishing the long boat-hook, and always keeping just opposite the boat; and amid all the Babel of voices, and the dash and pulse of the stroke, and the laboring of his own breathing, he heard Hardy's voice coming to him again and again, and clear as if there had been no other sound in the air, “ Steady, two! steady! well pulled ! steady, steady.” The voice seemed to give him strength and keep him to his work. And what work it was! he had had many a hard pull in the last six weeks, but never aught like this.
But it can't last forever; men's muscles are not steel, or their lungs bull's hide, and hearts can't go on pumping a hundred miles an hour long, without bursting. The St. Ambrose boat is well away from the boat behind ; there is a great gap between the accompanying crowds; and now, as they near the Gut, she hangs for a moment or two in hand, though the roar from the bank grows louder and louder, and Tom is already
aware that the St. Ambrose crowd is melting into the one ahead of them.
“ We must be close to Exeter!” The thought flashes into him, and, it would seem, into the rest of the crew at the same moment; for, all at once, the strain seems taken off their arms again; there is no more drag; she springs to the stroke as she did at the start; and Miller's face, which had darkened for a few seconds, lightens up again.
Miller's face and attitude are a study. Coiled up into the smallest possible space, his chin almost resting on his knees, his hands close to his sides, firmly but lightly feeling the rudder, as a good horseman handles the mouth of a free-going hunter; if a coxswain could make a bump by his own exertions surely he will do it. No sudden jerks of the St. Ambrose rudder will you see, watch as you will from the bank; the boat never hangs through fault of his, but easily and gracefully rounds every point. “You're gaining ! you ’re gaining !” he now and then mutters to the captain, who responds with a wink, keeping his breath for other matters. Is n't he grand, the captain, as he comes forward like lightning, stroke after stroke, his back flat, his teeth set, his whole frame working from the hips with the regularity of a machine ? As the space still narrows, the eyes of the fiery little coxswain flash with excitement, but he is far too good a judge to hurry the final effort before the victory is safe in his grasp.
The two crowds are mingled now, and no mistake; and the shouts come all in a heap over the water. “Now, St. Ambrose, six strokes more.” “ Now, Exeter, you're gaining; pick her up.” “ Mind the Gut, Exeter.” “Bravo, St. Ambrose !” The water rushes by, still eddying from the strokes of the boat ahead. Tom fancies now he can hear their oars and the workings of their rudder, and the voice of their coxswain. In another moment both boats are in the Gut, and a perfect storm of shouts reaches them from the crowd, as it rushes madly off to the left to the foot-bridge, amidst which “Oh, well steered, well steered, St. Ambrose !” is the prevailing cry. Then Miller, motionless as a statue till now, lifts his right hand and whirls the tassel round his head. “Give it her now, boys; six strokes and we're into them.” Old Jervis lays down that great broad back, and lashes his oar through the water with the might of a giant, the crew catch him up in another stroke, the tight new boat answers to the spurt, and Tom feels a little shock behind him, and then