“Less than a quarter of a mile, boys. In the stretch. Now—my God!”
Following the coxswain’s broken exclamation, Deacon felt an increased resistance upon his blade.
“Innis has carried away his oarlock.” The eyes of the coxswain strained upon Deacon’s face.
Deacon gulped. Strangely a picture of his father filled his mind. His face hardened.
“All right! Tell him to throw his oar away and swing with the rest. Don’t move your rudder now. Keep it straight as long as you can.”
From astern the sharp eyes of the Shelburne cox had detected the accident to Baliol’s Number Six. His voice was chattering stridently.
Deacon, now doing the work practically of two men, was undergoing torture which shortly would have one of two effects. Either he would collapse or his spirit would carry him beyond the claims of overtaxed physique. One stroke, two strokes, three strokes—a groan escaped his lips. Then so far as personality, personal emotions, personal feelings were concerned, Jim Deacon ceased to function. He became merely part of the mechanism of a great effort, the principal guiding part.
And of all those rowing men of Baliol only the coxswain saw the Shelburne boat creeping up slowly, inexorably—eight men against seven. For nearly a quarter of a mile the grim fight was waged.
“Ten strokes more, boys!”
The prow of the Shelburne shell was on a line with Baliol’s Number Two.
“One—two—three—four——” The bow of the Shelburne boat plunged up abeam Baliol’s bow oar.
The voice of the coxswain swept upward in a shrill scream. A gun boomed; the air rocked with the screech and roar of whistles.
Slowly Deacon opened his eyes. Seagraves, the coxswain, was standing up waving his megaphone. Rollins, at Number Seven, lay prone over his oar. Innis, who had broken his oarlock, sat erect; Wallace, at Number Five, was down. So was the bow oar. Mechanically Deacon’s hand sought the water, splashing the body of the man in front of him. Then suddenly a mahogany launch dashed alongside. In the bow was a large man with white moustache and florid face and burning black eyes. His lips were drawn in a broad grin which seemed an anomaly upon the face of Cephas Doane.
If so he immediately presented a still greater anomaly. He laughed aloud.
“Poor old Shelburne! I—George! The first in four years! I never saw anything quite like that. We’ve talked of Baliol’s rowing-spirit—eh! Here, you Deacon, let me give you a hand out of the shell. We’ll run you back to quarters.”
Deacon, wondering, was pulled to the launch and then suddenly stepped back, his jaw falling, his eyes alight as a man advanced from the stern.
“Yes,” chuckled Doane. “We came up together—to celebrate.”
“You mean—you mean—” Jim Deacon’s voice faltered.