Deacon, watching the coach, could almost see his mind working. Now the time had come, the issue clearly defined. Another stroke must be tried and found not wanting, else the annual eight-oared rowing classic between those ancient universities Baliol and Shelburne would be decided before it was rowed.
Deacon flushed as the coach’s glittering eyeglasses turned toward him. It was the big moment of the senior’s four years at college. Four years! And six months of each of those years a galley-slave—on the machines in the rowing-room of the gymnasium, on the ice-infested river with the cutting winds of March sweeping free; then the more genial months with the voice of coach or assistant coach lashing him. Four years of dogged, unremitting toil with never the reward of a varsity seat, and now with the great regatta less than a week away, the big moment, the crown of all he had done.
Words seemed on the verge of the coach’s lips. Deacon’s eyes strained upon them as he sat stiffly in his seat. But no words came; the coach turned away.
“All right,” he said spiritlessly. “Paddle back to the float.”
The coxswains barked their orders; sixteen oars rattled in their locks; the glistening shells moved slowly homeward.
Tingling from his plunge in the river, Jim Deacon walked up the bluff from the boathouse to the group of cottages which constituted Baliol’s rowing-quarters. Some of the freshman crew were playing indoor baseball on the lawn under the gnarled trees, and their shouts and laughter echoed over the river. Deacon stood watching them. His face was of the roughhewn type, in his two upper-class years his heavy frame had taken on a vast amount of brawn and muscle. Now his neck was meet for his head and for his chest and shoulders; long, slightly bowed limbs filled out a picture of perfect physique.
No one had known him really well in college. He was working his way through. Besides, he was a student in one of the highly scientific engineering courses which demanded a great deal of steady application. With no great aptitude for football—he was a bit slow-footed—with little tune or inclination for social activities, he had concentrated upon rowing, not only as a diversion from his arduous studies, an ordered outlet for physical energy, but with the idea of going out into the world with that hallmark of a Baliol varsity oar which he had heard and believed was likely to stand him in stead in life. Baliol alumni, which include so many men of wealth and power, had a habit of not overlooking young graduates who have brought fame to their alma mater.
As Deacon stood watching the freshmen at play, Dick Rollins, the crew captain, came up.
“They sent down the time-trial results from the Shelburne quarters, Deacon.”
Never in his life had one of the great men of the university spoken that many words, or half as many, to Jim Deacon, who stared at the speaker.