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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.
WINNING boat-races was all very fine; but a hundred such victories could not compensate Mr. Kennet's female hearers for one such defeat as he had announced--a defeat that, to their minds, carried disgrace. Their Edward plucked! At first they were benumbed, and sat chilled, with red cheeks, bewildered between present triumph and mortification at hand. Then the colour ebbed out of their faces, and they encouraged each other feebly in whispers, "Might it not be a mistake?"
But unconscious Kennet robbed them of this timid hope. He was now in his element, knew all about it, rushed into details, and sawed away all doubt from their minds. The sum was this. Dodd's general performance was mediocre, but passable; he was plucked for his Logic. Hardie said he was very sorry for it. "What does it matter?" answered Kennet; "he is a boating-man.
"Well, and I am a boating-man. Why, you told me yourself, the other day, poor Dodd was anxious about it on account of his friends. And, by-the-bye, that reminds me they say he has got two pretty sisters here."
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