It was Joel’s first sight of a boat race, and he found himself becoming very excited, while West, veteran though he was, breathed a deal faster, and talked in disjointed monosyllables.
“Side by side!... No, Hillton’s ahead!... Isn’t she?... Eh ... You can’t... see from here ... which is ... leading.... Get another hold on my ... arm, ... Joel; that one’s black ... and blue! ... Hillton’s ahead! Hillton’s ahead by a half length!”
But she wasn’t. Side by side the two shells swept on toward the first half-mile mark. They were both rowing steadily, with no endeavor to draw away, Hillton at thirty strokes, St. Eustace at thirty-two. The course was two miles, almost straight away down the river. The half-mile buoy was not distinguishable from where Joel stood, but the mile was plainly in sight. Some one who held a stop-watch behind Joel uttered an impatient growl at the slow time the crews were making.
“There’ll be no record broken to-day,” he said. “They’re eight seconds behind already for the first quarter.”
But Joel didn’t care about that. If only those eight swaying forms might pass first beyond the finish line he cared but little what the time might be. The cheering, which had ceased as the boats left the start, now began again as they approached the finish of the first quarter of the course.
“Rah-rah-rah; rah-rah-rah; rah-rah-rah, Hillton!” rang out from the right bank.
“S, E, A; S, E, A; S, E, A; Saint Eustace!” replied the left bank with a defiant roar of sound that was caught by the hills and flung back in echoes across the water. “Saint Eustace! Saint Eustace! Saint Eustace!” “Hillton! Hillton! Hillton!”
Then the cheering grew louder and more frenzied as, boat to boat, the rival eights passed the half-mile buoy, swinging along with no perceptible effort over the blue, dancing water.
“Anybody’s race,” said Outfield West, as he lowered his glasses. “But Hillton’s got the outside course on the turn.” The turn was no more than a slight divergence from the straight line at the one-mile mark, but it might mean from a half to three quarters of a length to the outside boat should they maintain their present relative positions. For the next half mile the same moderate strokes were used until the half-course buoy was almost reached, when Hillton struck up to thirty-two and then to thirty-four, and St. Eustace increased her stroke to the latter number. It was a race for the position nearest the buoy, and St. Eustace won it, Hillton falling back a half length as the course was changed. Then the strokes in both boats went back to thirty-two, Hillton seemingly willing to keep in the rear. On and on they came, the oars taking the water in unison, and shining like silver when the sun caught the wet blades. And back, the wakes seemed like two ruled marks, so straight they were. There was no let up of the cheering now. Back and forth went challenge and reply across the stream, while the watchers on the bridge fairly shook that iron-trussed structure with the fury of their slogans.