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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."*
*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 to-day to win, but I am good to pump the Cockney; he is quick, but a little stale--Yours truly,
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