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- Hard Cash - 5/145 -

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."

Hard Cash - 5/145

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