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Edward's letter was short enough, and Mrs. Dodd allowed Julia to read it to her, which she did with panting breath, and glowing cheeks, and a running fire of comments.
"'Dear Mamma, I hope you and Ju are quite well----'"
"Ju," murmured Mrs. Dodd plaintively.
"'And that there is good news about papa coming home. As for me, I have plenty on my hands just now; all this term I have been ('training' scratched out, and another word put in: C -- R -- oh, I know) 'cramming.'"
"Yes, that is the Oxfordish for studying."
Mrs. Dodd contrived to sigh interrogatively. Julia, who understood her every accent, reminded her that "smalls" was the new word for "little go."
"'--Cramming for smalls; and now I am in two races at Henley, and that rather puts the snaffie on reading and gooseberry pie' (Goodness me), 'and adds to my chance of being ploughed for smalls.'"
"What does it all mean?" inquired mamma, "'gooseberry pie'? and 'the snaffle'? and 'ploughed' ?"
"Well, the gooseberry pie is really too deep for me: but 'ploughed' is the new Oxfordish for 'plucked.' O mamma, have you forgotten that? 'Plucked' was vulgar, so now they are 'ploughed.' 'For smalls; but I hope I shall not be, to vex you and Puss.'"
"Heaven forbid he should be so disgraced! But what has the cat to do with it?"
"Nothing on earth. Puss? that is me. How dare he? Did I not forbid all these nicknames and all this Oxfordish, by proclamation, last Long."
"Hem! last protracted vacation."
"'--Dear mamma, sometimes I cannot help being down in the mouth,' (why, it is a string of pearls) 'to think you have not got a son like Hardie.'" At this unfortunate reflection it was Julia's turn to suffer. She deposited the letter in her lap, and fired up. "Now, have not I cause to hate, and scorn, and despise le petit Hardie?"
"I mean to dislike with propriety, and gently to abominate-- Mr. Hardie, junior."
"'--Dear mamma, do come to Henley on the tenth, you and Ju. The university eights will not be there, but the head boats of the Oxford and Cambridge river will; and the Oxford head boat is Exeter, you know; and I pull Six.'"
"Then I am truly sorry to hear it; my poor boy will overtask his strength; and how unfair of the other young gentlemen; it seems ungenerous; unreasonable; my poor child against so many."
"'--And I am entered for the sculls as well, and if you and "the Impetuosity"' (Vengeance!) 'were looking on from the bank, I do think I should be lucky this time. Henley is a long way from Barkington, but it is a pretty place; all the ladies admire it, and like to see both the universities out and a stunning race.' Oh, well, there _is_ an epithet. One would think thunder was going to race lightning, instead of Oxford Cambridge."
"'--If you can come, please write, and I will get you nice lodgings; I will not let you go to a noisy inn. Love to Julia and no end of kisses to my pretty mamma. --From your affectionate Son,
They wrote off a cordial assent, and reached Henley in time to see the dullest town in Europe; and also to see it turn one of the gayest in an hour or two; so impetuously came both the universities pouring into it--in all known vehicles that could go _their_ pace--by land and water.
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
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