IT was a bright hot day in June. Mrs. Dodd and Julia sat half reclining, with their parasols up, in an open carriage, by the brink of the Thames at one of its loveliest bends.
About a furlong up stream a silvery stone bridge, just mellowed by time, spanned the river with many fair arches. Through these the coming river peeped sparkling a long way above, then came meandering and shining down; loitered cool and sombre under the dark vaults, then glistened on again crookedly to the spot where sat its two fairest visitors that day; but at that very point flung off its serpentine habits, and shot straight away in a broad stream of scintillating water a mile long, down to an island in mid-stream: a little fairy island with old trees, and a white temple. To curl round this fairy isle the broad current parted, and both silver streams turned purple in the shade of the grove; then winded and melted from the sight.
This noble and rare passage of the silvery Thames was the Henley racecourse. The starting-place was down at the island, and the goal was up at a point in the river below the bridge, but above the bend where Mrs. Dodd and Julia sat, unruffled by the racing, and enjoying luxuriously the glorious stream, the mellow bridge crowded with carriages — whose fair occupants stretched a broad band of bright colour above the dark figures clustering on the battlements — and the green meadows opposite with the motley crowd streaming up and down.
Nor was that sense, which seems especially keen and delicate in women, left unregaled in the general bounty of the time. The green meadows on the opposite bank, and the gardens at the back of our fair friends, flung their sweet fresh odours at their liquid benefactor gliding by; and the sun himself seemed to burn perfumes, and the air to scatter them, over the motley merry crowd, that bright, hot, smiling, airy day in June.
Thus tuned to gentle enjoyment, the fair mother and her lovely daughter leaned back in a delicious languor proper to their sex, and eyed with unflagging though demure interest, and furtive curiosity, the wealth of youth, beauty, stature, agility, gaiety, and good temper, the two great universities had poured out upon those obscure banks; all dressed in neat but easy-fitting clothes, cut in the height of’ the fashion; or else in jerseys white or striped, and flannel trousers, and straw hats, or cloth caps of bright and various hues; betting, strolling, laughing, chaffing, larking, and whirling stunted bludgeons at Aunt Sally.
But as for the sport itself they were there to see, the center of all these bright accessories, “The Racing,” my ladies did not understand it, nor try, nor care a hook-and-eye about it. But this mild dignified indifference to the main event received a shock at 2 p. m.: for then the first heat for the cup came on, and Edward was in it. So then Racing became all in a moment a most interesting pastime — an appendage to Loving. He left to join his crew. And, soon after, the Exeter glided down the river before their eyes, with the beloved one rowing quietly in it: his jersey revealed not only the working power of his arms, as sunburnt below the elbow as a gipsy’s, and as corded above as a blacksmith’s, but also the play of the great muscles across his broad and deeply indented chest: his oar entered the water smoothly, gripped it severely, then came out clean, and feathered clear and tunably on the ringing rowlock: the boat jumped and then glided, at each neat, easy, powerful stroke. “Oh, how beautiful and strong he is!” cried Julia. “I had no idea.
Presently the competitor for this heat came down: the Cambridge boat, rowed by a fine crew in broad-striped jerseys. “Oh, dear “ said Julia, “they are odious and strong in this boat too. I wish I was in it — with a gimlet; he should win, poor boy.”
Which corkscrew staircase to Honour being inaccessible, the race had to be decided by two unfeminine trifles called “Speed” and “Bottom.”
Few things in this vale of tears are more worthy a pen of fire than an English boat-race is, as seen by the runners; of whom I have often been one. But this race I am bound to indicate, not describe; I mean, to show how it appeared to two ladies seated on the Henley side of the Thames, nearly opposite the winning-post. These fair novices then looked all down the river, and could just discern two whitish streaks on the water, one on each side the little fairy isle, and a great black patch on the Berkshire bank. The threatening streaks were the two racing boats: the black patch was about a hundred Cambridge and Oxford men, ready to run and hallo with the boats all the way, or at least till the last puff of wind should be run plus halloed out of their young bodies. Others less fleet and enduring, but equally clamorous, stood in knots at various distances, ripe for a shorter yell and run when the boats should come up to them. Of the natives and country visitors, those who were not nailed down by bounteous Fate ebbed and flowed up and down the bank, with no settled idea but of getting in the way as much as possible, and of getting knocked into the Thames as little as might be.
There was a long uneasy suspense.
At last a puff of smoke issued from a pistol down at the island; two oars seemed to splash into the water from each white streak; and the black patch was moving; so were the threatening streaks. Presently was heard a faint, continuous, distant murmur, and the streaks began to get larger, and larger, and larger; and the eight splashing oars looked four instead of two.
Every head was now turned down the river. Groups hung craning over it like nodding bulrushes.
Next the runners were swelled by the stragglers they picked up; so were their voices; and on came the splashing oars and roaring lungs.
Now the colours of the racing jerseys peeped distinct. The oarsmen’s heads and bodies came swinging back like one, and the oars seemed to lash the water savagely, like a connected row of swords, and the spray squirted at each vicious stroke. The boats leaped and darted side by side, and, looking at them in front, Julia could not say which was ahead. On they came nearer and nearer, with hundreds of voices vociferating “Go it, Cambridge “ “Well pulled, Oxford!” “You are gaining, hurrah!” “Well pulled Trinity!” “Hurrah!” “Oxford!” “Cambridge!” “Now is your time, Hardie; pick her up!” “Oh, well pulled, Six!” “Well pulled, Stroke!” “Up, up! lift her a bit!” “Cambridge!” “Oxford!” “Hurrah!”
At this Julia turned red and pale by turns. “O mamma!” said she, clasping her hands and colouring high, “would it be very wrong if I was to pray for Oxford to win?”
Mrs. Dodd had a monitory finger; it was on her left hand; she raised it; and that moment, as if she had given a signal, the boats, fore-shortened no longer, shot out to treble the length they had looked hitherto, and came broadside past our palpitating fair, the elastic rowers stretched like greyhounds in a chase, darting forward at each stroke so boldly they seemed flying out of the boats, and surging back as superbly, an eightfold human wave: their nostrils all open, the lips of some pale and glutinous their white teeth all clenched grimly, their young eyes all glowing, their supple bodies swelling, the muscles writhing beneath their jerseys, and the sinews starting on each bare brown arm; their little shrill coxswains shouting imperiously at the young giants, and working to and fro with them, like jockeys at a finish; nine souls and bodies flung whole into each magnificent effort; water foaming and flying, rowlocks ringing, crowd running, tumbling, and howling like mad; and Cambridge a boat’s nose ahead.
They had scarcely passed our two spectators, when Oxford put on a furious spurt, and got fully even with the leading boat. There was a louder roar than ever from the bank. Cambridge spurted desperately in turn, and stole those few feet back; and so they went fighting every inch of water. Bang! A cannon on the bank sent its smoke over both competitors; it dispersed in a moment, and the boats were seen pulling slowly towards the bridge — Cambridge with four oars, Oxford with six, as if that gum had winged them both.
The race was over.
But who had won our party could not see, and must wait to learn.
A youth, adorned with a blue and yellow rosette, cried out, in the hearing of Mrs. Dodd, “I say, they are properly pumped, both crews are:” then, jumping on to a spoke of her carriage-wheel, with a slight apology, he announced that two or three were shut up in the Exeter.
The exact meaning of these two verbs passive was not clear to Mrs. Dodd; but their intensity was. She fluttered, and wanted to go to her boy and nurse him, and turned two most imploring eyes on Julia, and Julia straightway kissed her with gentle vehemence, and offered to ruin and see.
“What, amongst all those young gentlemen, love? I fear that would not be proper. See, all the ladies remain apart.” So they kept quiet and miserable, after the manner of females.
Meantime the Cantab’s quick eye had not deceived him; in each racing boat were two young gentlemen leaning collapsed over their oars; and two more, who were in a cloud, and not at all clear whether they were in this world still, or in their zeal had pulled into a better. But their malady was not a rare one in racing boats, and the remedy always at hand: it combined the rival systems; Thames was sprinkled in their faces — Homoeopathy: and brandy in a teaspoon trickled down their throats — Allopathy: youth and spirits soon did the rest; and, the moment their eyes opened, their mouths opened; and, the moment their mouths opened, they fell a chaffing.
Mrs. Dodd’s anxiety and Julia’s were relieved by the appearance of Mr. Edward, in a tweed shooting-jacket sauntering down to them, hands in his pockets, and a cigar in his mouth, placidly unconscious of their solicitude on his account. He was received with a little guttural cry of delight; the misery they had been in about him was duly concealed from him by both, and Julia asked him warmly who had won.
“Cambridge! Why, then you are beaten?”
“And you can come here with that horrible calm, and cigar, owning defeat, and puffing tranquillity, with the same mouth. Mamma, we are beaten. Beaten! actually.”
“Never mind,” said Edward kindly; “you have seen a capital race, the closest ever known on this river; and one side or other must lose.”
“And if they did not quite win, they very nearly did,” observed Mrs. Dodd composedly; then, with heartfelt content, “He is not hurt, and that is the main thing.”
“Well, my Lady Placid, and Mr. Imperturbable, I am glad neither of your equanimities is disturbed; but defeat is a Bitter Pill to me.
Julia said this in her earnest voice, and drawing her scarf suddenly round her, so as almost to make it speak, digested her Bitter Pill in silence. During which process several Exeter men caught sight of Edward, and came round him, and an animated discussion took place. They began with asking him how it had happened, and, as he never spoke in a hurry, supplied him with the answers. A stretcher had broken in the Exeter? No, but the Cambridge was a much better built boat, and her bottom cleaner. The bow oar of the Exeter was ill, and not fit for work. Each of these solutions was advanced and combated in turn, and then all together. At last the Babel lulled, and Edward was once more appealed to.
“Well, I will tell you the real truth,” said he, “how it happened.” (Puff.)
There was a pause of expectation, for the young man’s tone was that of conviction, knowledge, and authority.
“The Cambridge men pulled faster than we did.” (Puff.)
The hearers stared and then laughed.
“Come, old fellows,” said Edward, “never win a boat-race on dry land! That is such a plain thing to do; gives the other side the laugh as well as the race. I have heard a stretcher or two told, but I saw none broken. (Puff.) Their boat is the worst I ever saw; it dips every stroke. (Puff.) Their strength lies in the crew. It was a good race and a fair one. Cambridge got a lead and kept it. (Puff.) They beat us a yard or two at rowing; but hang it all, don’t let them beat us at telling the truth, not by an inch.” (Puff.)
“All right, old fellow!” was now the cry. One observed, however, that Stroke did not take the matter so coolly as Six; for he had shed a tear getting out of the boat.
“Shed a fiddlestick!” squeaked a little sceptic.
“No” said another, “he didn’t quite shed it; his pride wouldn’t let him.”
“So he decanted it, and put it by for supper, suggested Edward, and puffed.
“None of your chaff, Six. He had a gulp or two, and swallowed the rest by main force.”
“Don’t you talk: you can swallow anything, it seems.” (Puff.)
“Well, I believe it,” said one of Hardie’s own set. “Dodd doesn’t know him as we do. Taff Hardie can’t bear to be beat.”
When they were gone, Mrs. Dodd observed, “Dear me! what if the young gentleman did cry a little, it was very excusable; after such great exertions it was disappointing, mortifying. I pity him for one, and wish he had his mother alive and here, to dry them.”3
3 Oh where, and oh where, was her Lindley Murray gone?
“Mamma, it is you for reading us,” cried Edward, slapping his thigh. “Well, then, since you can feel for a fellow, Hardie was a good deal cut up. You know the university was in a manner beaten, and he took the blame. He never cried; that was a cracker of those fellows. But he did give one great sob, that was all, and hung his head on one side a moment. But then he fought out of it directly, like a man; and there was an end of it, or ought to have been. Hang chatterboxes!”
“And what did you say to console him, Edward?” inquired Julia warmly.
“What — me? Console my senior, and my Stroke? No, thank you.”
At this thunderbolt of etiquette both ladies kept their countenances this was their muscular feat that day — and the racing for the sculls came on: six competitors. two Cambridge, three Oxford, one London. The three heats furnished but one good race, a sharp contest between a Cambridge man and Hardie, ending in favour of the latter; the Londoner walked away from his opponent Sir Imperturbable’s competitor was impetuous, and ran into him in the first hundred yards; Sir I. consenting calmly. The umpire, appealed to on the spot, decided that it was a foul, Mr. Dodd being in his own water. He walked over the course, and explained the matter to his sister, who delivered her mind thus —
“Oh! if races are to be won by going slower than the other, we may shine yet: only, I call it Cheating, not Racing.”
He smiled unmoved; she gave her scarf the irony twist, and they all went to dinner. The business recommenced with a race between a London boat and the winner’ of yesterday’s heat, Cambridge. Here the truth of Edward’s remark appeared. The Cambridge boat was too light for the men, and kept burying her hose; the London craft, under a heavy crew, floated like a cork. The Londoners soon found out their advantage, and, overrating it, steered into their opponents water prematurely, inn spite of a warning voice from the bank. Cambridge saw, and cracked on for a foul; and for about a minute it was anybody’s race. But the Londoners pulled gallantly, and just scraped clear ahead. This peril escaped, they kept their backs straight and a clear lead to the finish. Cambridge followed a few feet in their wake, pulling wonderfully fast to the end, but a trifle out of form, and much distressed.
At this both universities looked blue, their humble aspiration being, first to beat off all the external world, and then tackle each other for the prize.
Just before Edward left his friends for “the sculls,” the final heat, a note was brought to him. He ran his eye over it, and threw it open into his sister’s lap. The ladies read it. Its writer had won a prize poem, and so now is our time to get a hint for composition:
“DEAR SIR— Oxford must win something. Suppose we go in for these sculls. You are a horse that can stay; Silcock is hot for the lead at starting, I hear; so I mean to work him out of wind; then you can wait on us, and pick up the race. My head is not well enough today to win, but I am good to pump the Cockney; he is quick, but a little stale — Yours truly,
Mrs. Dodd remarked that the language was sadly figurative; but she hoped Edward might be successful in spite of his correspondent’s style.
Julia said she did not dare hope it. “The race is not always to the slowest and the dearest.” This was in allusion to yesterday’s “foul.”
The skiffs started down at the island, and, as they were longer coming up than the eight oars, she was in a fever for nearly ten minutes. At last, near the opposite bank, up came the two leading skiffs struggling, both men visibly exhausted — Silcock ahead, but his rudder overlapped by Hardie’s bow; each in his own water.
“We are third,” sighed Julia, and turned her head away from the river sorrowfully. But only for a moment, for she felt Mrs. Dodd start and press her arm; and lo! Edward’s skiff was shooting swiftly across from their side of the river. He was pulling Just within himself, in beautiful forum, and with far more elasticity than the other two had got left. As line passed his mother and sister, his eyes seemed to strike fire, and he laid out all his powers, and went at the leading skiffs hand over head There was a yell of astonishment and delight from both sides of the Thames. He passed Hardie, who upon that relaxed his speed. In thirty seconds more he was even with Silcock. Then came a keen struggle: but the new comer was “the horse that could stay:” he drew steadily ahead, and the stern of his boat was in a line with Silcock’s person when the gun fired; and a fearful roar from the bridge, the river, and the banks, announced that the favourite university had picked up the sculls in the person of Dodd of Exeter.
In due course he brought the little silver sculls, and pinned them on his mother.
While she and Julia were telling him how proud they were, and how happy they should be, but for their fears that he would hurt himself, beating gentlemen ever so much older than himself, came two Exeter men with wild looks hunting for him.
“Oh, Dodd! Hardie wants you directly.”
“Don’t you go, Edward,” whispered Julia; “why should you be at Mr. Hardie’s beck and call? I never heard of such a thing. That youth will make me hate him.”
“Oh, I think I had better just go and see what it is about,” replied Edward: “I shall be back directly.” And on this understanding he went off with the men.
Half-an-hour passed; an hour; two hours, and he did not return. Mrs. Dodd and Julia sat wondering what had become of him, and were looking all around, and getting uneasy, when at last they did hear something about him, but indirectly, and from an unexpected quarter. A tall young man in a jersey and flannel trousers, and a little straw hat, with a purple rosette, came away from the bustle to the more secluded part where they sat, and made eagerly for the Thames as if he was a duck, and going in. But at the brink line flung himself into a sitting posture, and dipped his white handkerchief into the stream, then tied it viciously round his brow, doubled himself up with his head in his hands, and rocked himself hike an old woman — minus the patience, of course.
Mrs. Dodd and Julia, sitting but a few paces behind him, interchanged. a look of intelligence. The young gentleman was a stranger; but they had recognised a faithful old acquaintance at the bottom of his pantomime. They discovered, too, that the afflicted one was a personage: for line had not sat there long when quite a little band of men came after him. Observing his semi-circularity and general condition, they hesitated a moment; and then one of them remonstrated eagerly.: “For Heaven’s sake come back to the boat! There is a crowd of all the colleges come round us; and they all say Oxford is being sold. We had a chance for the four-oared race, and you are throwing it away.”
“What do I care what they all say?” was the answer, delivered with a kind of plaintive snarl.
“But we care.”
“Care then! I pity you.” And he turned his back fiercely on them, and then groaned by way of half apology. Another tried him: “Come, give us a civil answer, please.”
“People that intrude upon a man’s privacy, racked with pain, have no right to demand civility,” replied the sufferer, more gently, but sullenly enough.
“Do you call this privacy?”
“It was, a minute ago, Do you think I left the boat, and came here among the natives, for company? and noise? With my head splitting?”
Here Julia gave Mrs. Dodd a soft pinch, to which Mrs. Dodd replied by a smile. And so they settled who this petulant young invalid must be.
“‘There, it is no use,” observed one, sotto voce, “the bloke really has awful headaches, like a girl, and then he always shuts up this way. You will only rile him, and get the rough side of his tongue.”
Here, then, the conference drew towards a close. But a Wadham man, who was one of the ambassadors, interposed. “Stop a minute,” said he. “Mr. Hardie, I have not the honour to be acquainted with you, and I am not here to annoy you, nor to be affronted by you. But the university has a stake in this race, and the university expostulates through us — through me, if you like.”
“Who have I the honour?” inquired Hardie, assuming politeness sudden and vast.
“Badham, of Wadham.”
“Badham o’ Wadham? Hear that, ye tuneful nine! Well, Badham o’ Wadham, you are no acquaintance of mine; so you may possibly not be a fool. Let us assume by way of hypothesis that you are a man of sense, a man of reason as well as of rhyme. Then follow my logic. Hardie of Exeter is a good man in a boat when he has not got a headache.
“When he has got a headache, Hardie of Exeter is not worth a straw in a boat.
“Hardie of Exeter has a headache now.
“Ergo, the university would put the said Hardie into a race, headache and all, and reduce defeat to a certainty.
“And, ergo, on the same premises, I, not being an egotist, nor an ass, have taken Hardie of Exeter and his headache out of the boat, as I should have done any other cripple.
“Secondly, I have put the best man on the river into this cripple’s place.
“Total, I have given the university the benefit of my brains; and the university, not having brains enough to see what it gains by the exchange, turns again and rends me, like an animal frequently mentioned in Scripture; but, nota bene, never once with approbation.”
And the afflicted Rhetorician attempted a diabolical grin, but failed signally; and groaned instead.
“Is this your answer to the university, sir?
At this query, delivered in a somewhat threatening tone, the invalid sat up all in a moment, like a poked lion. “Oh, if Badham o’ Wadham thinks to crush me auctoritate sua et totius universitatis, Badham o’ Wadham may just tell the whole university to go and be d —— d, from the Chancellor down to the junior cook at Skimmery Hall, with my compliments.”
Ill-conditioned brute!” muttered Badham of Wadham. “Serve you right if the university were to chuck you into the Thames.” And with this comment they left him to his ill temper. One remained; sat quietly down a little way off, struck a sweetly aromatic lucifer, and blew a noisome cloud; but the only one which betokens calm.
As for Hardie, he held his aching head over his knees, absorbed in pain, and quite unconscious that sacred pity was poisoning the air beside him, and two pair of dovelike eyes resting on him with womanly concern.
Mrs. Dodd and Julia had heard the greatest part of this colloquy. They had terribly quick ears and nothing better to do with them just then. Indeed, their interest was excited.
Julia went so far as to put her salts into Mrs. Dodd’s hand with a little earnest look. But Mrs. Dodd did not act upon the hint. She had learned who the young man was: had his very name been strange to her, she would have been more at her ease with him. Moreover, his rudeness to the other men repelled her a little. Above all, he had uttered a monosyllable and a stinger: a thorn of speech not in her vocabulary, nor even in society’s. Those might be his manners, even when not aching. Still, it seems, a feather would have turned the scale in his favour, for she whispered, “I have a great mind; if I could but catch his eye.”
While feminine pity and social reserve were holding the balance so nicely, and nonsensically, about half a split straw, one of the racing four-oars went down close under the Berkshire bank. “London!” observed Hardie’s adherent.
“What, are you there, old fellow?” murmured Hardie, in a faint voice. “Now, that is like a friend, a real friend, to sit by me, and not make a row. Thank you! thank you!”
Presently the Cambridge four-oar passed: it was speedily followed by the Oxford; the last came down in mid-stream, and Hardie eyed it keenly as it passed. “There,” he cried, “was I wrong? There is a swing for you; there is a stroke. I did not know what a treasure I had got sitting behind me.”
The ladies looked, and lo! the lauded Stroke of the four-oar was their Edward.
“Sing out and tell him it is not like the sculls. We must fight for the lead at starting, and hold it with his eyelids when he has got it.”
The adherent bawled this at Edward, and Edward’s reply came ringing back in a clear, cheerful voice, “We mean to try all we know.”
“What is the odds?” inquired the invalid faintly.
“Even on London; two to one against Cambridge; three to one against us.”
“Take all my tin and lay it on,” sighed the sufferer.
“Fork it out, then. Hallo! eighteen pounds? Fancy having eighteen pounds at the end of term. I’ll get the odds up at the bridge directly. Here’s a lady offering you her smelling-bottle.”
Hardie rose and turned round, and sure enough there were two ladies seated in their carriage at some distance, one of whom was holding him out three pretty little things enough, a little smile, a little blush, and a little cut-glass bottle with a gold cork. The last panegyric on Edward had turned the scale.
Hardie went slowly up to the side of the carriage, and took off his hat to them with a half-bewildered air. Now that he was so near, his face showed very pale; the more so that his neck was a good deal tanned; his eyelids were rather swollen, and his young eyes troubled and almost filmy with the pain. The ladies saw, and their gentle bosoms were touched: they had heard of him as a victorious young Apollo trampling on all difficulties of mind and body; and they saw him wan, and worn, with feminine suffering: the contrast made him doubly interesting.
Arrived at the side of the carriage, he almost started at Julia’s beauty. It was sun-like, and so were her two lovely earnest eyes, beaming soft pity on him with an eloquence he had never seen in human eyes before; for Julia’s were mirrors of herself; they did nothing by halves.
He looked at her and her mother, and blushed, and stood irresolute, awaiting their commands. This sudden contrast to his petulance with his own sex paved the way. “You have a sad headache, sir,” said Mrs. Dodd; “oblige me by trying my salts.”
He thanked her in a low voice.
“And, mamma,” inquired Julia, “ought he to sit in the sun?”
“Certainly not. You had better sit there, sir, and profit by our shade and our parasols.”
“Yes, mamma, but you know the real place where he ought to be is Bed.”
“Oh, pray don’t say that,” implored the patient.
But Julia continued, with unabated severity, “And that is where he would go this minute, if I was his mamma.”
“Instead of his junior, and a stranger,” said Mrs. Dodd, somewhat coldly, dwelling with a very slight monitory emphasis on the “stranger.”
Julia said nothing, but drew in perceptibly, and was dead silent ever after.
“Oh, madam!” said Hardie eagerly, “I do not dispute her authority, nor yours. You have a right to send me where you please, after your kindness in noticing my infernal head, and doing me the honour to speak to me, and lending me this. But if I go to bed, my head will be my master. Besides, I shall throw away what little chance I have of making your acquaintance; and the race just coming off!”
“We will not usurp authority, sir,” said Mrs. Dodd quietly; “but we know what a severe headache is, and should be glad to see you sit still in the shade, and excite yourself as little as possible.”
“Yes, madam,” said the youth humbly, and sat down like a lamb. He glanced now and then at the island, and now and then peered up at the radiant young mute beside him.
The silence continued till it was broken by — a fish out of water. An undergraduate in spectacles came mooning along, all out of his element. It was Mr. Kennet, who used to rise at four every morning to his Plato, and walk up Shotover Hill every afternoon, wet or dry, to cool his eyes for his evening work. With what view he deviated to Henley has not yet been ascertained. He was blind as a bat, and did not care a button about any earthly boat-race, except the one in the AEneid, even if he could have seen one. However, nearly all the men of his college went to Henley, and perhaps some branch, hitherto unexplored, of animal magnetism drew him after. At any rate, there was his body; and his mind at Oxford and Athens, and other venerable but irrelevant cities. He brightened at sight of his doge, and asked him warmly if he had heard the news.
“No: what? Nothing wrong, I hope?”
“Why, two of our men are ploughed; that is all,” said Kennet, affecting with withering irony to undervalue his intelligence.
“Confound it, Kennet, how you frightened me! I was afraid there was some screw loose with the crew.”
At this very instant, the smoke of the pistol was seen to puff out from the island, and Hardie rose to his feet. “They are off!” cried he to the ladies, and after first putting his palms together with a hypocritical look of apology, he laid one hand on an old barge that was drawn up ashore, and sprang like a mountain goat on to the bow, lighting on the very gunwale. The position was not tenable an instant, but he extended one foot very nimbly and boldly, and planted it on the other gunwale; and there he was in a moment, headache and all, in an attitude as large and inspired as the boldest gesture antiquity has committed to marble — he had even the advantage in stature over most of the sculptured forms of Greece. But a double opera-glass at his eye “spoiled the lot,” as Mr. Punch says.
I am not to repeat the particulars of a distant race coming nearer and nearer. The main features are always the same; only this time it was more exciting to our fair friends, on account of Edward’s high stake in it. And then their grateful though refractory patient, an authority in their eyes, indeed all but a river-god, stood poised in air, and in excited whispers interpreted each distant and unintelligible feature down to them:
“Cambridge was off quickest.”
“But not much.”
“Anybody’s race at present, madam.”
“If this lasts long we may win. None of them can stay like us.”
“Come, the favourite is not so very dangerous.”
“Cambridge looks best.”
“I wouldn’t change with either, so far.”
“Now, in forty seconds more, I shall be able to pick out the winner.”
Julia went up this ladder of thrills to a high state of excitement; and, indeed, they were all so tuned to racing pitch, that some metal nerve or other seemed to jar inside all three, when the piercing, grating voice of Kennet broke in suddenly with —
“How do you construe [Greek text]?”
The wretch had burrowed in the intellectual ruins of Greece the moment the pistol went off, and college chat ceased. Hardie raised his opera-glass, and his first impulse was to brain the judicious Kennet, gazing up to him for an answer, with spectacles goggling like supernatural eyes of dead sophists in the sun.
“How do you construe ’Hoc age’? you incongruous dog. Hold your tongue, and mind the race.”
“There, I thought so. Where’s your three to one, now? The Cockneys are out of this event, any way. Go on, Universities, and order their suppers!”
“But which is first, sir?” asked Julia imploringly. “Oh, which is first of all?”
“Neither. Never mind; it looks well. London is pumped; and if Cambridge can’t lead him before this turn in the river, the race will be ours. Now, look out! By Jove, we are ahead!”
The leading boats came on, Oxford pulling a long, lofty, sturdy stroke, that seemed as if it never could compete with the quick action of its competitor. Yet it was undeniably ahead, and gaining at every swing.
Young Hardie writhed on his perch. He screeched at them across the Thames, “Well pulled, Stroke! Well pulled all! Splendidly pulled, Dodd! You are walking away from them altogether. Hurrah, Oxford for ever, hurrah!” The gun went off over the heads of the Oxford crew in advance, and even Mrs. Dodd and Julia could see the race was theirs.
“We have won at last,” cried Julia, all on fire, “and fairly; only think of that!”
Hardie turned round, grateful to beauty for siding with his university. “Yes, and the fools may thank me; or rather my man, Dodd. Dodd for ever! Hurrah!”
At this climax even Mrs. Dodd took a gentle share in the youthful enthusiasm that was boiling around her, and her soft eyes sparkled, and she returned the fervid pressure of her daughter’s hand; and both their faces were flushed with gratified pride and affection.
“Dodd!” broke in “the incongruous dog,” with a voice just like a saw’s. “Dodd? Ah, that’s the man who is just ploughed for smalls.”
Ice has its thunderbolts.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59