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A Boat Race at Yarrow by H. L. Talbot


Yarrow is the place where I am at school while my father and mother are in Europe. My father was ordered to the Mediterranean: that's an awful word to spell. My chum, Sandy, says, "Remember from the Latin Medi-terra," but that's harder than the spelling. I am glad every day that I was sent here, because I don't believe there is another school in the world where you can have such fun. Mr. May is our teacher; and though he is pretty strict always, and sometimes, if a fellow tries to cheat or play sick, he's awful hard on him, yet when everybody is trying to do his best, Mr. May is the quickest to find it out, and it makes him mighty good-natured. Perhaps I should not think Yarrow such a good place to send a boy if it wasn't for the river that is within a stone's-throw from Mr. May's barn. We skate there in winter, and in summer row, swim, and drive logs. Last year we had nothing to row in but the old Pumpkin Seed, broad as she is long, and rows like a ship's yawl. Now she might fill and go to the bottom, for all we cared, for Nate Niles and I have had birthdays, and my uncle Tom sent us each the prettiest double shell, cedar decks, outriggers, spoon oars, and all. I tell you, they were beauties! My uncle knows what's what in a boat, as he used to row, and beat, too, when he was in college. He is always sending me things, because I'm his favorite relation, and my middle name is Thomas. Lately he gives things to Nate, because he is going to marry his sister. Before Nate got his boat, he said he'd a million times rather have her an old maid than have such a chap for a brother. Now, though, he's all right, he likes his boat so much.

Mr. May made a bargain that we were to study hard for a month, and he would give us boards and timber enough to build a boat-house. We couldn't leave such valuable boats as the Arrow and the Edith out-of-doors, and Nate said the cows would hook 'em if we left them in the barn. Mick Murphy (he's Mr. May's man) did most of the carpentering, but we boys helped. Sam Fish got so he could shingle as well as Mick, and keep the nails in his mouth. I pounded my thumb the first day I tried, and the biggest blood-blister I ever saw grew; so I had to give up hammering. Sam says if he can't be a Congressman, he means to be a first-rate shingler, and get the job of shingling all the spires in the country. I sha'n't be that, anyway. If I can't get on better with my arithmetic, and get to be an Admiral, I shall keep a stable, and let my father ride my horses—regular circus horses, and calico-spotted ones—very cheap. Sandy King (he's my chum) helped me that month over my lessons, so I got on swimmingly. Sandy can read Latin as quick as lightning, and knows horse in eight languages, not counting pigeon English. He's a splendid fellow, besides, and I shall never forget how good he was to me when I came to Yarrow, and was the only Democrat, except Mick and his family.

I painted the boat-house, because I had hurt my eyes when Sam's gun burst when I went after a partridge. It turned out to be one of Stuffy Wilson's hens, who lives just across the river, and I had to pay a dollar and a half, and she only weighed four pounds. I thought I was dead, sure, when I dropped the gun, and Mick's boy said he thought so too. I only burned off my eye-winkers, and got some powder in my cheek. Mr. May was awfully severe, and said I broke one of the rules of the school. I guess he always says that when a fellow almost kills himself. He did when Nate lassoed the pig, and she hit him. I only knew the dog and smoking rules. You can't keep one, because, Mr. May says, it eats what would keep a poor human being. I think, though, if I could find a dog that would eat only fat, I could keep him, because I always leave that, and no human being could live on that. Bridget hopes there isn't any such dog to be found, because she is so stingy over her old soap stuff.

When the house was done, the red roof just showing above the alders, and looking so pretty just at the bend in the river, we didn't feel a mite sorry for all the hard work we had put into it; though I do wish I hadn't let Sam try and get the paint off my trousers, for he took cloth and all. I have been mighty unlucky lately with my clothes. I scalded my best shoes, and Polly Burr didn't notice, and wore my best jacket common for two days, and got gravy on it. He's such a funny fellow! He used to use any boy's tooth-brush. We put salt on ours, and cured him of that, though we couldn't use ours for ever so long. My uncle wrote me a solemn letter a little while ago, and said, "Robert Ames, you must never forget you are a poor man's son." That was because I sawed my new gray trousers. I felt solemn for a long while, and now I'm afraid he will write another.

Nate named his boat the Arrow, because he said it went so well with Yarrow. He chose Sam Fish for his stroke, as he is the strongest fellow in the school. I named mine Edith, after my mother, and took Sandy for bow oar. Sandy said he wasn't half so strong as Polly, and wanted to give up; but I wanted just no fellow but Sandy. And then Polly has been scared of boats, and rather a land-lubber, ever since his aunt got blown up on a steamer. Besides, he cares more about his menagerie, and was busy training his ant-eater.

We decided to have a race the 18th of June, as it was Mr. May's birthday. Sam wanted a silver cup for a prize, but we couldn't get money enough. Polly was mighty generous, and gave fifty cents for the prize. We appreciated Polly's generosity, for we knew he didn't care a pin for boating, and the express on his ant-eater cost him ninety cents. The three Freshmen, Fritz Davis, Phil Hayes, and Billy Butler, each gave twenty-five cents toward the prize, Sam a dollar, Nate all he had, forty-three cents, Sandy fifty, and I eighty-three. I hope it wasn't too much for a poor man's son. The boys made me captain and Polly treasurer of the Yarrow Boat Club.

Sandy and I rowed every minute we could get. Every time we got into the boat we liked her better and better: she rowed so easily, and sat like a duck in the water. Sandy got so he didn't dip too deep nor jerk, as he did first. We found out that Sam and Nate were training. They ate rare beef and ran two miles a day. Sandy wanted to train too, but I told him I couldn't, as I only liked the outside of beef, and my only shoes hurt my feet.

"Let them try one way, and we another; the 18th will prove which is best." Sandy and I were getting ready to anchor the Pumpkin Seed up the river for the turning stake on the day of the race, when Polly and his ant-eater came down the hill.

"Any more money, Polly?"

"Yes; great luck. Mick and Bridget each gave ten, and Mick's boy gave twenty-five for a chance to sell corn balls."

"Didn't you see the Sunday-school?"

"I forgot all about it until after they had put their money into the contribution box; but they all said they were coming, sure pop."

We anchored the Pumpkin Seed up the river just a quarter of a mile from the boat-house; that made the distance to be pulled half a mile. Sam sent to Boston for shirts and crimson handkerchiefs for his crew. They both looked splendidly, but Sam's broad back and long stroke rather scared us. Mrs. May fixed us shirts, but they wrinkled round the neck. Then we had two yellow handkerchiefs that Mr. May used to use. The day before the race the small boys made a grand stand at the Oxbow for the spectators. It looked strong, but Mr. May said it wasn't, so Mick had to do it over.

Polly told me the night before that he had kept the time of the two boats for a week, and ours had been the best every time. That would have been grand, if I only could have trusted Polly's watch. But it was a bad one, and he used to set it three times a day.

I walked to the village, and brought back the blue and yellow flag, with the letters Y. B. C. on it, which was to be the prize. The grand stand was to be saved for adults and girls, and Mick was to be in the Pumpkin Seed at the turn. He knows a good deal about races, as his brother owns a trotter. Mr. May was to keep the time, as he had some kind of a thermometer watch. Such a dinner as Mrs. May gave us! I had Sam's and Nate's pieces of lemon pie, as they couldn't eat anything but meat. Mr. May looked over his spectacles, and asked if I was the boy who was to row a race that afternoon.

At one o'clock boys began coming, and took seats on the stand. Mick had to tell them about the girls and adults. Those mean Wilson boys had built a stand in the night, and let the crowd in for five cents! So both banks were full. They are the meanest family in America. They promised to keep every one out of their field. We were mad enough, but we couldn't do anything then.

Sam and Nate were in the Arrow when we got to the river, and they cheered us as we got into our boat, and Polly shoved off our bow. I gave the stroke, and we pulled into the middle of the river, where the prize flag was waving, and looking pretty enough to pull a dozen races for.

"Lay on your oars, and wait the signal." It seemed an hour before Mr. May said, "One, two, three—go!" and Sandy and I began our work, not rowing as we meant to later. The Arrow was to hug the Wilsons' shore, and we our bank. I heard a cheer for the Arrow, and knew she was ahead. It was a strong temptation to look round and see how far ahead she was, and by a spurt bring our boat up with her if possible. I didn't, though, and just rowed away as well as I could, and tried to keep cool.

The boys on the bank kept shouting, "Go it, Arrow!" "You're ahead!" "Brace up, Edith!" We had passed the alders, and were nearing Mick and the turn. We held our port oars, and rounded neatly, and heard Mick say, "Well done, Bob!" Then I told Sandy to "give it to her," and by the spring in the boat I knew that Sandy had been saving his strength for the homestretch. We were doing our best. If we could not get ahead at that rate, the race was lost. But we weren't going to be badly beaten. "The Edith's ahead!" "Good for you, Bob!" That was Polly's voice near us on the bank. When I knew we were ahead, I felt all right. We could row that way long enough, and if Sam and Nate hadn't been saving their strength, we could win. I could see we held our lead; if anything, we added to it.

"You're bating, Robert, you're bating." Bridget had promised to stand near the bars; so we knew we were nearing the boat-house. For saying that, Bridget should come in free, and I meant to return her ten cents.

"Handsomely, Sandy!" and we both put on a little extra muscle that we didn't know was left over, and shot by the flag, about three lengths ahead of the Arrow.

"Three cheers for Captain Bob!" "Well done, Edith!" "Now, Sandy!" Such yells as the boys gave! I've never heard anything like 'em since.

The girls waved their handkerchiefs, and Fritz Davis played his hand-organ. Sam handed the flag to me, and I put Sandy's brown hand on it, and we waved it, and started cheers for the Arrow, as loud as we could. When we rowed ashore, the boys put Sandy and me on their shoulders, and rode us up to the house. Polly waved the Yarrow flag, and Fritz ought to have played the "Conquering Hero," but he made a mistake, and played the "Cruel War." Mr. May says he has no ear. That isn't the matter though, for he has two, and big ones, too.

When we were changing our clothes, we four talked it all over. "By thunder! Bob, I thought we had lost when you ate those corn balls, after all that pie." I never saw Sandy so excited. He's a minister's son, and pretty calm.

"Stuff! Bob has it in him, and nothing he eats makes any odds." Sam thinks, because my father is a sailor, I can row. But father never rows a stroke.

"Well, Sam, the next one, don't let us go into training. I've been hungry ever since we began." Poor Nate had had a hard time of it, because he and I have the biggest appetites at school, and he didn't like rare beef, so he ate mighty little. He says he is always hungry, excepting Thanksgiving afternoons.

"When shall we try again, boys?"

"Fourth of July; and I'll get my father to give a prize," and Sam hit on the thing we all wanted—to try it again.

Mr. May invited all the boys and girls on our side of the river to stay and have lemonade and cake. Sam bought all the corn balls Pat had left, to celebrate the opening race and Mr. May's birthday. That's the way Mr. May served the sneaking Wilsons and their five-cent crowd. But Sam heard they said the cake was molasses gingerbread and the lemonade bitter, and we are going to make the mean sneaks take back every word the next time they bring the milk.

Mick said it was as well conducted a race as he ever saw; and Mr. May said his birthday never had been so honored before; and Sandy and I want to row just such another the coming Fourth of July.