MoboReader > Literature > Ruth Fielding At College; or, The Missing Examination Papers

   Chapter 23 THE SQUALL

Ruth Fielding At College; or, The Missing Examination Papers By Alice B. Emerson Characters: 8974

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

The first college eight went off to Gillings, and, as it was only a few miles by rail, half the student body, at least, went to root for the crew. The Ardmore boat was beaten.

"Oh, dear! To come home plucked in such a disgusting way," groaned Helen, who, with Jennie, as well as Ruth, was among the disgruntled and disappointed girls who had gone to see the race. "It is awful."

"It's taught them a lesson, I wager," Ruth said practically. "We have all been rowing in still water. The river at Gillings is rough, and the local eight was used to it. I say, girls!"

"Say it," said Jennie, gruffly. "It can't be anything that will hurt us after what we've seen to-day. Three whole boatlengths ahead!"

"Never mind," broke in Helen. "The races with Hampton and Beardsley will be on our own lake."

"And if there is a flutter of wind, our first eight will be beaten again," from Jennie Stone.

"No, no, girls!" Ruth cried. "I heard the coach tell them that hereafter she was going to make them row if there was a hurricane. And that's what we must do."

"Who must do, Ruthie? What do you mean?" asked Helen.

"The freshman eight."

"E-lu-ci-date," drawled Jennie.

"We must learn to handle our shell in rough water. If there is a breath of wind stirring we mustn't beat it to land," said Ruth, vigorously. "Let's learn to handle our shell in really rough water."

"Sounds reasonable," admitted Jennie. "Shall we all take out accident policies?"

"No. All learn to swim. That's the wisest course," laughed Ruth.

"Ain't it the trewth?" agreed Jennie, making a face. "I'm not much of a swimmest in fresh water. But I never could sink."

The freshmen with the chums in the eight-oared shell proved to be all fair swimmers. And that crew was not the only one that redoubled its practice after the disastrous race at Gillings College.

Each class crew did its very best. The coaches were extremely stern with the girls. Ardmore had a reputation for turning out champion crews, and the year before, on their own water, the Ardmore eight had beaten Gillings emphatically.

"But if we can win races only on our own course," The Jasper, the Ardmore College paper declared, "what is the use of supporting an athletic association and four perfectly useless crews?"

They had all been so sure of victory over Gillings-both the student body and the faculty-that the disgrace of their beating cut all the deeper.

"It is fortunate," said the same stern commenter, "that our races with Hampton, and again with Beardsley, will be on Lake Remona. At least, our crew knows the water here-on a perfectly calm day, at any rate."

"I see Merry Dexter's fine Italian hand in that," Ruth declared, when she and her chums read the criticism of the chief college eight. "And if it is true of the senior shell, how much more so of our own? We must be ready to risk a little something for the sake of pulling a good race."

"Goodness!" murmured Helen. "When we're away off there in the middle of the course between the landing and Bliss Island, for instance, and a squall threatens, it is going to take pluck, my dear, to keep us all steady."

"I tell you what!" exclaimed Jennie Stone.

"Tell it, if you're sure it won't hurt us," laughed Helen.

"Let's get the coach to have us circle the island when we're out in practice. It's always a little rough off both ends of Bliss Island, and we should get used to rough water before our final home races."

For, before the season was over, the four Ardmore eights would compete, and that race was the one which the three under-classes particularly trained for.

Jennie's suggestion sounded practical to her chums; so there were three already agreed when it was broached to the freshmen eight. The coach thought well of it, too; for there was always a motor boat supposed to be in sight of the shells when they were out at practice.

This was in April, and, in Ardmore's latitude, a very uncertain month April is-a time of showers and smiles, calms and uncertain gales. Nevertheless, so thoroughly were the freshmen eight devoted to practice that it had to be a pretty black looking afternoon, indeed, that kept them from stepping into their boat.

The boatkeeper was a weather-wise old man, who had guarded the Ardmore girls against disaster on the lake for a decade. Being so well used to reading the signs he never let the boats out when he considered the weather threatening in any measure.

One afternoon, when

there had been a call passed for the freshmen eight to gather at the boathouse immediately after recitations, Johnnie, as the boatman was called, had been called away from his post. Only a green assistant was there to look after the boats, and he was much too bashful to "look after the girls," as Jennie, giggling, observed.

"I don't see why they don't put blinders on that young man," she said. "Whenever he has to look at one of us girls his freckles light up as though there was an electric bulb behind each individual one."

"Oh, Heavy! Behave!" murmured Helen, yet amused, too, by the bashfulness of the assistant.

"We are a sight, I admit," went on Jennie. "Everything in the shell, girls? Now! up with it. Come on, little Trix," she added to the coxswain. "Don't get your tiller-lines snarled, and bring your 'nose-warmer'"-by which inelegant term she referred to the megaphone which, when they were really trying for speed was strapped to the coxswain's head.

The eight oarswomen picked the light shell up, shoulder high, and marched down the platform to the float. Taking their cue from the tam-o'-shanters the seniors had made them wear early in their college experience, the freshmen eight wore light blue bandannas wound around their heads, with the corners sticking up like rabbit-ears, blue blouses, short skirts over bloomers, and blue stockings with white shoes. Their appearance was exceedingly natty.

"If we don't win in the races, we'll be worth looking at," Helen once said pridefully.

The assistant boatkeeper remained at a distance and said not a word to them, although there was a bank of black cloud upon the western horizon into which the sun would plunge after a time.

"We're the first out," cried one of the girls. "There isn't another boat on the lake."

"Wrong, Sally," Ruth Fielding said. "I just saw a boat disappear behind Bliss Island."

"Not one of ours?" cried Jennie, looking about as they lowered the shell into the water.

"No. It was a skiff. Came from the other side, I guess. Or perhaps it came up the river from the railroad bridge."

"Now," said Trix Davenport, the coxswain, "are we going to ask that boy to get out the launch and follow us?"

"Oh, goodness me! No," said Helen, with assurance. "We don't want him tagging us. Do we, girls?"

"Perhaps it might be better," Ruth said slowly.

But the chorus of the other girls cried her down. Besides, she did not believe there was any danger. Of course, a rowing shell is an uncertain thing; but she had never yet seen an accident on the lake.

All stepped in, adjusted their oars, and the coxswain pushed off. Having adjusted the rudder-lines, Trix affixed the megaphone, and lifted her hand. The eight strained forward, and the coxswain began to beat time.

Ruth set the pace in a long, swinging stroke, and the other seven fell into time. The shell shot out from the landing just as the coach appeared around the corner of Dare Hall, on her way down from the gymnasium. She gave one glance at the sky, and then started to run.

"Those foolish girls!" she exclaimed. "Where's Johnny?"

The freshman eight was far out upon the lake when she reached the boathouse, and she quickly saw that the old boatkeeper was not in sight. She tried to signal the crew of the shell to return; but the girls in the frail craft were too interested in their practice to look back toward the shore. Indeed, in a very few minutes, they swept through the slightly rough water at the eastern end of the island and disappeared behind it. The coach, Miss Mallory, beckoned the assistant boatman and ordered out the launch. But there was something wrong with the engine, and he lost some time before getting the craft started.

Meanwhile, the cloudbank was rolling up from the west. The sun suddenly was quenched. A breath of cold wind swept down the lake and fretted the tiny waves. They sprang up in retaliation and slapped the bow of the launch, which finally got under its sputtering way.

Then a squall of wind swooped down and Miss Mallory was almost swept off her feet. The boatman steered carefully, but the engine was not yet working in good fashion. The coach made a mistake, too, in directing the launch. Instead of starting directly up the lake, and rounding the head of the island to meet the freshman shell, she ordered the boatman to trail the boat that had disappeared.

The launch was some time in beating around the lower end of the island.

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