The Boys of Columbia High on the River/Chapter 12
IT LOOKS LIKE COLUMBIA'S DAY
"Hold up, here, what do you mean by saying that to me?" exclaimed Frank, as he laid a hand on the arm of his chum, and whirled him around.
Lanky grinned good naturedly, as he made answer.
"Just what I said—green paint! Nothing could be clearer to you, I guess, when you stop to think a little."
"My boat that was smashed in the river was painted green before I put on that outside coat of varnish. I happen to know that you've been on the lookout for a launch that shows marks of green around her bow. Do you mean to tell me you've been and gone and done it—found the nasty little motor-boat that knocked into us the other night?" demanded Frank, eagerly.
"Sure!" came the ready reply, as Lanky nodded his head up and down several times.
"Whose was it, then?"
"No you don't, Frank. I'm not going to open my mouth, just yet!" answered Lanky, setting his jaws in the determined way Frank knew only too well.
"But why keep it from me of all fellows? Wasn't it my boat that was battered, and didn't I have to swim alongside you to get on shore? You ought to tell me," said Frank, in a wheedling tone, which was however wasted.
"That's just one of the reasons why I'm not going to tell right now. It would help to break you up for the race," Lanky retaliated.
"Humbug! A little thing like that wouldn't bother me. I can give a pretty good guess as it is, you know," continued Frank, aggressively.
"Alright. You're at liberty to do all the guessing you want; but I'm not going to blab what I know—not yet, anyhow."
"You've got another reason," remarked Frank, scanning his face closely.
"Have I, now?" laughed Lanky, in no wise taken aback.
"Yes, and I can see where the shoe pinches, too," Frank went on.
"Put me wise, then. You're a mind reader, I reckon, if you do," was the muttered words of the other.
"Listen then. You're afraid that if you denounce the rascal it will interfere with the chances of Columbia winning another race besides the eight-oared one."
"Oh! am I?" but despite his words Lanky looked uneasily at the speaker.
"You've found signs of green paint on the bow of a particular motor-boat; and it happens that that same craft is entered in the power-boat race!" Frank declared, with positive conviction.
Lanky took in a big breath.
"Keep right on guessing; I'm not going to own up to anything," ho said, starting away again; but Frank still held on to his arm.
"I won't ask you again, Lanky, because I understand just what a feeling of loyalty to old Columbia you are showing in keeping this information back. You mean to give this fellow a chance to win that race! If you denounced him now perhaps the committee might debar him from taking part. While I don't exactly agree with you, I honor you for your motive," and Frank squeezed the hand of his chum strenuously.
"Forget it, won't you, Frank? Perhaps I did have such a foolish notion in my head. But here, let's get to the front. The four-oared race is going to be started, and you don't want to miss a speck of that."
Lanky pushed to the river bank, and Frank followed close behind him. The scene was a striking one. All boats that were not concerned in the race had been compelled to put in near the shore. The umpire was calling out his last instructions through a megaphone, so that every one within reasonable distance could hear what he said.
From his position on the power-boat that was to accompany the rowers on their four-mile course he could see nearly every move made. It was against apparent fouls that he warned the three contestants most of all. Every boat was to keep in its own water, or at least, if it ventured into that of a competitor, it did so at great risk, being held liable for any accident, and under such conditions must be disqualified.
Coach Willoughby was acting as Starter. He knew just how to get a fair start to a race, no matter whether on land or water. The three beautiful shells had been ranged with their sterns at a given line, and with the crack of the pistol every suspended oar fell into the water. Like three machines they were off, heading up the river toward the island that was to be used as the halfway stake.
Amid a salvo of cheers, howls, and braying through horns and megaphones the start was made in perfect allignment. Never had the boats gotten away before with less confusion, thanks to the excellent judgment of the starter.
Coach Willoughby's work being done in that particular, he now mounted his motor-cycle, and started up the river road, ready to shout directions to the Columbia crew as he saw they needed them.
Back of the racers several launches came kicking up a swirl, that however could have no effect on the dainty shells. And the single powerful boat on which the umpire had taken his stand, kept alongside the contestants, so that the eagle eye of the official might be constantly on the trio before him.
From time to time he would shout out warning words, as he discovered an evident intention on the part of some contesting crew to foul the others. If the misdemeanor proved too flagrant he would order that boat out of the race.
So the three shells vanished from the view of the great crowd that had gathered on either side of the river near the railroad bridge, where the goal stake had been planted, with a white cord across the water to mark the end.
Presently, as they eagerly listened, there came floating down to their ears a tremendous shout. It was being taken up by the patches of people lining the shores all the way up to Rattail Island.
"They're rounding the upper stake!" exclaimed "Crackers" Smith, one of Frank's crew, as he joined a group of anxious Columbia boys near the boat-house.
"Yes, and and it seems to me that I can make out the Columbia yell above everything else," declared Frank, with a smile of pleasure.
"You're right, Frank!" cried Jonsey, quivering with eagerness, as he placed a trembling hand on the arm of his coxswain; "and I take it that means our boys have been the first to turn the stake up there. Hurrah!"
Frank eyed the speaker, while a slight frown passed across his forehead. Truth to tell he was more than anxious about Jonsey; and this positive sign of intense excitement did not go to allay his feeling.
"Take it cool, Jonsey. Time enough to yell after we get home ourselves. Let the other people do the shouting now," he said, soothingly.
But Jones was too brimful of nervousness to contain himself. He pushed forward to where a man had a pair of marine glasses, through which he was surveying the river far up at the bend. When the first boat poked its long narrow prow around this bend he would be able to discern to which school it belonged, and could give the information to others.
The shouting seemed to be traveling rapidly down the river. It had almost reached the bend now, and in a few more seconds they would know what it all meant.
Frank was not disturbed. He had easily discovered by now that the Columbia yell far outranked all other noise, and from that could judge what it portended. The boat propelled by the home four must be leading. Perhaps it was a close race, and that last half mile on the home stretch might produce as pretty a race as had ever been rowed on the famous Harrapin river.
He could not help being deeply interested himself, no matter how much he tried to master his emotions and remain cool.
Next to being in the winning boat himself, this seeing his schoolmates coming in ahead of all competitors was the real thing. The spirit of the school forged to the front, and when it was seen by every one that Columbia was really ahead, with her crew pulling like clockwork, the sounds that arose might have made one believe himself near some lunatic asylum, for they beggared description.
Down came the three shells, speeding with the current until they appeared to be next to flying over the water. Bellport seemed distressed, and was losing way; but Clifford hung on to the stern of Columbia with a determination to do or die, nor could the leaders even by a wonderful spurt shake them off.
Still, a length was all that was needed, and much more, to win. The two boats shot under the bridge the same distance apart, and a shrieking of whistles, tooting of horns, added to the shouts of five
thousand people, told that the four-oared race had become history.
Columbia High had won!
Students wearing the favorite gold and purple literally fell into each other's arms, weak from much frantic shouting. Flags fluttered along the banks of the river; and a little cannon commenced to boom the good news to the whole of Columbia that did not happen to be present.
Frank had watched the close of the drama with eager eyes. He noted the swing of the rowers in that Columbia shell, and particularly of the stroke oar, who was no other than the "Ginger" Harper, of whom he and Seymour had been talking.
"It was a big mistake to let him go," muttered Frank; "I said so at the time. But Jonsey is a good fellow, and had many friends to push his candidacy, so he got on. But I'd feel considerable more confidence if we had that fellow with us!"
He sighed as he spoke. It seemed hard to think that a single mistake might cost them the victory, and the cup go to either Clifford or Bellport, probably the former as they seemed to be better in river work than they had been on the diamond.
But it must not be imagined from this that Frank had given up hope, by any means. Far from it. He was just as determined as ever that he would jockey his team along the way to victory. Only he hoped Jonsey would hold out through the grilling four mile pull, half of it against a current that tried the sturdiest of muscles.
There was to be the power-boat race next, and then the morning's sports would conclude with the most interesting event of all, the trial between the rival crews of the eight-oared shells, picked fellows of the various schools, and supposed to be evenly matched for such a long and arduous pull.