Walter's next letter acknowledged with much evident gratitude the receiving of the money his father had sent and spoke again of the scholarship opening. That matter, however, would not be settled until a trying out of several applicants for the honour.
Two months later Paul received a short letter from Walter, written evidently in some bitterness, saying the scholarship had been finally given to an upper class man, "one with a pull," Walter declared, adding, "I shall have to keep at the steward business, I suppose. I can't make much more than my board at it, father, and the midterm tuition is due in two weeks. I haven't money enough to settle. My laboratory fees have been doubled since Wallace came in with his expert division work and expenses generally are heavy."
Paul replied by sending Walter another check and writing as encouragingly to him as possible. Walter answered briefly and seemed to be feeling somewhat more reconciled to the disappointment connected with the scholarship matter.
Two weeks later Paul had a letter from the publisher of one of his books, asking him to come East on business relating to the book. He decided hastily to go on and found he could visit Burrton school on the way. He wrote Walter of his intention, giving him the date of the day he should probably reach Burrton. Esther, Helen, and Louis sent many special messages and Paul was glad of an opportunity to see Walter in his school surroundings.
When he reached Burrton it happened to be the date of the great boat race with the Brainerd Technology School. For several stations before the train reached Burrton, crowds came aboard for the college town. When Paul reached Burrton an immense and yelling mob filled the station and swarmed out to the racing course at the meadows, below the school grounds.
Walter was watching for his father, and in the excitement at the time Paul did not note what he afterward could not help marking. When the two were finally seated on the great bank of seats at the end of the river course, just before the crews were given the signal to start, Paul thought to himself he had never seen Walter so nervous or so ill at ease. He attributed it all at first to the general excitement, but the more he looked at Walter and the more he watched his actions, the less he could account for them, even making allowance for all the unusual outbursts of hilarious feeling on the part of two great schools met in rivalry.
"I never thought about the date of the boat race, Walter, when I left home. I'll be glad to see it. I haven't seen a boat race since the Harvard-Yale contest in ninety-three."
"It's going to be a great race, father. We're sure to win, don't you think? Carlisle is a power. We can't lose, can we?"
"You know more about it than I do, of course."
"But they say Brainerd has a great crew. I don't believe they can beat us, though, do you?"
"I don't know a thing about it, Walter. Naturally, I'll yell for Burrton with you."
"We'll win, I think. Yes, I'm sure we will."
Walter grew more and more nervous as the time slipped away and the signal was hoisted up the river that in five minutes the race would be on. His father looked at him curiously, conscious that the boy was unduly excited over something more than the race.
But when the signal went up, Douglas was absorbed with all the rest of the howling, jumping, gesticulating crowd of undergraduates.
A gun went off up the river. The white smoke puff rose gracefully above the trees on the bank. The course was a straight-away three miles. Two thin black streaks side by side on the water began to move toward the red and green goal posts, and the great race was on. The minute the starting gun was fired, Paul saw Walter lean forward and put his face in his hands. He then lifted his head, put both hands on the rail of the seat in front of him, and gazed up the river with a look so intense that even the faces about him by contrast were calm. Paul found himself looking oftener at Walter than at the race. From where they sat it was impossible to tell which crew was in the lead. The black streaks up the river grew more distinct and another gun fired sent the news along the course that the first mile of the race had been covered, with Burrton slightly in the lead.
WHEN the gun marked the second mile of the race there was not a quarter of a boat's length distance between Burrton and Brainerd, but Burrton was leading. By a system of flag signals, the spectators on the grandstand at the end of the course were informed of the relative situation of the two crews at every quarter mile. Both crews were apparently in good condition and rowing in splendid form. The last mile was always the hardest fought. As the boats began to enter the last quarter of this mile, the excitement rose to the highest pitch. First Burrton made a spurt that put them a boat's length ahead of their rivals. Then Brainerd responded to its coxswain's call and closed up the gap, gradually lapping its bow past the stern of the Burrton shell. Then Burrton drew away again for half a boat's length. Brainerd doggedly clung to that position for a short distance and then began slowly to fall behind, as the boats shot into the last eighth of the mile. Only a hundred yards now, and the race was won for Burrton. Pandemonium reigned on the seats at the goal post end of the course. Shouts of "Carlisle! Carlisle!" rose up through the din of megaphones and screech of whistles from the launches. Paul looked at Walter. The boy had risen, flung his hat up anywhere and was waving his arms like a maniac, screaming out the name of Carlisle, the crack stroke of Burrton. And then, without a second's warning, the big stroke, the hero of the Burrton crew, whose name was on a thousand tongues, suddenly bent forward and collapsed over his oar. The oar itself crashed into the line and the Burrton boat lurched over on the opposite side.
"Row on, row on!" screamed the Burrton coxswain. "Only ten yards to the green and red post."
But Brainerd shot by grimly, her bow slipped past the crippled shell and across the line, a winner by more than a length, and the race was over.
For the first few seconds the Burrton crowd did not realise what had happened. The Burrton's shell swung up sideways to the referee's boat and the crew sat sullenly stooping over their oars. Carlisle lay in a huddled heap, a sorry spectacle for a school hero, while the coxswain scooped up handfuls of water and flung them over him.
Then a hubbub of questions rent the air.
"How did it happen?"
"Are we really beaten?"
"Did Brainerd foul?"
"Was Carlisle doped?"
"What was it? Half a length?"
"Ours by a fluke."
"Who was to blame?"
Added to all the rest, Paul was smitten with the torrent of profanity that burst from scores of Burrton men as the truth that they were beaten began to come forcibly home to them. Paul had lived long enough to know that the passion of gambling always rouses the worst exhibitions of human selfishness. But it was a new revelation to him to see these smartly dressed rich men's sons cursing God and profaning the name of Christ because they had bet heavily on their boat crew and lost. In the midst of all their oaths the name of Carlisle came in for heavy scoring. From the heights of the most extravagant hero-worship he had suddenly tumbled into this cesspool of profane unpopularity. All of which goes to prove any number of useful things, among them the necessity, if you are going to be stroke oar of a boat crew, it is best if you would retain your popularity to keep in training until the season is over, and even then it is not certain that you will always escape the other extreme of being overtrained.
But Paul's attention was speedily directed