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oar at No. 2. The whole crew were to go for a long training walk the next day, Sunday, in the afternoon; to go down to Abingdon on Monday, just to get into swing in their new places, and then on Tuesday to abide the fate of war. They had half an hour's pleasant talk over Hardy's tea, and then separated.
“I always told you he was our man,” said the captain to Miller, as they walked together to the gates; “we want strength, and he is as strong as a horse. You must have seen him sculling yourself. There is n't his match on the river to my mind.”
“Yes, I think he'll do,” replied Miller; " at any rate, he can't be worse than Drysdale."
As for Tom and Hardy, it may safely be said that no two men in Oxford went to bed in better spirits that Saturday night than they two.
And now to explain how it came about that Hardy was wanted. Fortune had smiled upon the St. Ambrosians in the two races which succeeded the one in which they had bumped Exeter. They had risen two more places without any very great trouble. Of course, the constituencies on the bank magnified their powers and doings. There never was such a crew, they were quite safe to be head of the river, nothing could live against their pace. So the young oars in the boat swallowed all they heard, thought themselves the finest fellows going, took less and less pains to keep up their conditions, and when they got out of earshot of Jervis and Diogenes, were ready to bet two to one that they would bump Oriel the next night, and keep easily head of the river for the rest of the races.
Saturday night came, and brought with it a most useful though unpalatable lesson to the St. Ambrosians. The Oriel boat was manned chiefly by old oars, seasoned in many a race, and not liable to panic when hard pressed. They had a fair though not a first-rate stroke, and a good coxswain; experts remarked that they were rather too heavy for their boat, and that she dipped a little when they put on anything like a severe spurt; but on the whole they were by no means the sort of crew you could just run into hand over hand. So Miller and Diogenes preached, and so the Ambrosians found out to their cost.
They had the pace of the other boat, and gained as usual a boat's length before the Gut; but, first those two fatal corners were passed, and then other well-remembered spots where former bumps had been made, and still Miller made no sign; on the contrary, he looked gloomy and savage. The St. Ambrosian shouts from the shore, too, changed from the usual exultant peals into something like a quiver of consternation, while the air was rent with the name and laudations of “Little Oriel.”
Long before the Cherwell, Drysdale was completely baked (he had played truant the day before and dined at the Weirs, where he had imbibed much dubious hock), but he from old habit managed to keep time. Tom and the other young oars got flurried, and quickened; the boat dragged, there was no life left in her, and, though they managed just to hold their first advantage, could not put her a foot nearer the stern of the Oriel boat, which glided past the winning-post a clear boats' length ahead of her pursuers, and with a crew much less distressed.
Such races must tell on strokes; and even Jervis, who had pulled magnificently throughout, was very much done at the close, and leaned over his oar with a swimming in his head and an approach to faintness, and was scarcely able to see for a minute or so. Miller's indignation knew no bounds, but he bottled it up till he had maneuvred the crew into their dressing-room by themselves, Jervis having stopped below. Then he let out, and did not spare them. “They would kill their captain, whose little finger was worth the whole of them; they were disgracing the college; three or four of them had neither heart nor head, nor pluck.” They all felt that this was unjust, for after all had they not brought the boat up to the second place ? Poor Diogenes sat in a corner and groaned; he forgot to prefix “old fellow" to the few observations he made. Blake had great difficulty in adjusting his necktie before the glass ; he merely remarked in a pause of the objurgation, “In faith, coxswain, these be very bitter words.” Tom and most of the others were too much out of heart to resist; but at last Drysdale fired up:
“You've no right to be so savage that I can see,” he said, stopping the low whistle suddenly in which he was indulging, as he sat on the corner of the table; “you seem to think No. 2 the weakest out of several weak places in the boat.”
“Yes, I do," said Miller. “Then this honorable member,” said Drysdale, getting off the table, “seeing that his humble efforts are unappreciated, thinks it best for the public service to place his resignation in the hands of your coxswainship.”
“Which my coxswainship is graciously pleased to accept,” replied Miller.
“Hurrah for a roomy punt and a soft cushion next racing night—it's almost worth while to have been rowing all this time, to realize the sensations I shall feel when I see you fellows passing the Cherwell on Tuesday.”
“Suave est, it's what I'm partial to, mari magno, in the last reach, a terra, from the towing-path, alterius magnum spectare laborem, to witness the tortures of you wretched beggars in the boat. I'm obliged to translate for Drysdale, who never learned Latin,” said Blake, finishing his tie, and turning to the company. There was an awkward silence. Miller was chafing inwardly and running over in his mind what was to be done; and nobody else seemed quite to know what ought to happen next when the door opened and Jervis came in.
“Congratulate me, my captain,” said Drysdale; “I'm well out of it at last.”
Jervis “pished and pshaw'd” a little at hearing what had happened, but his presence acted like oil on the waters. The moment that the resignation was named, Tom's thoughts had turned to Hardy. Now was the time — he had such confidence in the man, that the idea of getting him in for the next race entirely changed the aspect of affairs to him, and made him feel as “bumptious ” again as he had done in the morning. So with this idea in his head he hung about till the captain had made his toilet, and joined himself to him and Miller as they walked up.
“Well, what are we to do now?” said the captain.
“ That's just what you have to settle,” said Miller; "you have been up all the term, and know the men's pulling better than I.”
“I suppose we must press somebody from the torpid — let me see, there's Burton.”
“He rolls like a porpoise,” interrupted Miller positively; “impossible.”
“Stewart might do then.”
“Then we may lay our account to stopping where we are, if we don't even lose a place,” said Miller.
“ Dust unto dust, what must be, must;
If you can't get crumb you'd best eat crust,”
said the captain.
“It's all very well talking coolly now," said Miller, “but you'll kill yourself trying to bump, and there are three more nights.”
“Hardy would row if you asked him, I'm sure," said Tom.
The captain looked at Miller, who shook his head. “I don't think it,” he said; “I take him to be a shy bird that won't come to everybody's whistle. We might have had him two years ago, I believe – I wish we had."
“I always told you so,” said Jervis; "at any rate, let's try him. He can but say no, and I don't think he will, for you see he has been at the starting-place every night, and as keen as a freshman all the time.”
“I'm sure he won't,” said Tom; “I know he would give anything to pull.”
"You had better go to his rooms and sound him," said the captain; “Miller and I will follow in half an hour.” We have already heard how Tom's mission prospered.
The next day, at a few minutes before two o'clock, the St. Ambrose crew, including Hardy, with Miller (who was a desperate and indefatigable pedestrian) for leader, crossed Magdalen Bridge. At five they returned to college, having done a little over fifteen miles, fair heel and toe walking, in the interval. The afternoon bad been very hot, and Miller chuckled to the captain, “I don't think there will be much trash left in any of them after that. That fellow Hardy is as fine as a racehorse, and, did you see, he never turned a hair all the way.”
The crew dispersed to their rooms, delighted with the per. formance now that it was over, and feeling that they were much the better for it, though they all declared it had been harder work than any race they had yet pulled. It would have done a trainer's heart good to have seen them, some twenty minutes afterward, dropping into hall (where they were allowed to dine on Sundays, on the joint), fresh from cold baths, and looking ruddy and clear, and hard enough for anything.
Again on Monday, not a chance was lost. The St. Ambrose boat started soon after one o'clock for Abingdon. They swung steadily down the whole way, and back again to Sandford without a single spurt; Miller generally standing in the stern, and preaching above all things steadiness and time. From Sandford up, they were accompanied by half a dozen men or so, who ran up the bank watching them. The struggle for the first place on the river was creating great excitement in the rowing world, and these were some of the most keen connoisseurs, who, having heard that St. Ambrose had changed a man, were on the look-out to satisfy themselves as to how it would work. The general opinion was veering round in favor of Oriel; changes so late in the races, and at such a critical moment, were looked upon as very damaging.
Foremost among the runners on the bank was a wiry dark man, with sanguine complexion, who went with a peculiar long, low stride, keeping his keen eye well on the boat. Just above Kennington Island, Jervis, noticing this particular spectator for the first time, called on the crew, and, quickening his stroke, took them up the reach at racing pace. As they lay in Imey Lock the dark man appeared above them, and exchanged a few words, and a good deal of dumb show, with the captain and Miller, and then disappeared.
From Iffley up they went steadily again. On the whole, Miller seemed to be in very good spirits in the dressing-room; he thought the boat trimmed better, and went better than she had ever done before, and complimented Blake particularly for the ease with which he had changed sides. They all went up in high spirits, calling on their way at “The Choughs" for one glass of old ale round, which Miller was graciously pleased to allow. Tom never remenbered, till after they were out again, that Hardy had never been there before, and felt embarrassed for a moment, but it soon passed off. A moderate dinner and early to bed finished the day, and Miller was justified in his parting remark to the captain, “ Well, if we don't win we can comfort ourselves that we have n't dropped a stitch this las; two days, at any rate.”
Then the eventful day arose which Tom and many another man felt was to make or mar St. Ambrose. It was a glorious early summer day, without a cloud, scarcely a breath of air stirring. “We shall have a fair start, at any rate,” was the general feeling. We have already seen what a throat-drying, nervous business the morning and afternoon of a race-day is, and must not go over the same ground more than we can help; so we will imagine the St. Ambrose boat down at the starringplace, lying close to the towing-path, just before the first gin.
There is a much greater crowd than usual opposite the two