Going down DeWolf Street, where it makes a turn to the left, the broad crimson banner of the boat-club caught my sight. I thought of the time, about a year ago, when, at its first unfurling, one of Harvard's dashing old oars predicted that it would be the harbinger of victory; and, in spite of my apathy, I could not help feeling proud that the prediction had come to pass. The bright folds were now stretched by the wind, and showed the dear old word to which, when we are out of Cambridge, we all so fondly cling.
A few more steps past the lumber wharf, through a crowd of dirty children, half-starved dogs, and belligerent cats, brought me to the boat-house. For the benefit of the Freshmen and others who may never have visited the boat-houses, I will state that the large commodious building in the centre is the University House, that on the right the Club House, and the farthest one, on the left, the workshop of the ingenious boat-builder, John Blakey. The lower stories of the two houses contain the boats; the upper stories, lockers and dressing-rooms. The University House has also a bath-room and a large room for meetings, etc. This house has a balcony, from which one gets a magnificent view of the river.
Passing through the house, I saw on the river near by a few single sculls, propelled by arms that, from the splashing of the oars, seemed inexperienced. A few fellows in rowing-clothes were lounging about the floats and gangways, waiting for others to come and help form a crew. Soon the words, "Get ready, fellows!" struck my ear, and I saw a half-dozen stalwart forms hasten up the stairs to the dressing-rooms. In a few minutes they appeared in their rowing-clothes, and took their places beside a ponderous craft, called the "Barge," which, with its iron keel, outriggers, and inside fixtures, looked more like a Rebel war-ram than a practical rowing-boat. "Ready! Let her go!" and out they march, carrying the heavy boat between them as easily as though it were made of paper. At the word the boat is put in the water, the crew take their oars and get in, while the diminutive coxswain, looking still smaller in contrast with the big fellows around him, takes his seat.
The boat is pushed off and paddled by one or two oars a short way up stream. For a minute or two the crew rest at ease, then they straighten up and sit for an instant as rigid and still as so many marble statues. "Ready!" says the coxswain; the eight backs reach out. "Go!" Up come the heads together, and away they go up the river, around the bend with a long swinging stroke, the crimson blades flash in the sunlight as they dip the water, and the regular "swash, swash," of the stroke floats down the river. It was high tide, and from the balcony I could see the boat glide past the piles and through the bridge, shoot on past the gas-house and the upper stone-works, turn with the river to the left, then to the right, and finally stop off the Winchester estate, with its groves and lawns and picturesque boat-house.
On the day of my visit about thirty fellows had come down; some to see the "Varsity" go out, and others to row. A few sixes and fours had put off, and were rowing down the river. These, with the few singles, suggested what a lively sight there might be if the fifty or sixty boats that are lying on the rests were on the river, and a few hundred more students of "the first University in the country" would think it a greater accomplishment to swing an oar than to roll a cigarette.
But by this time I caught sight of the "Varsity" again, as they swept down the river, helped on by the tide; and as, after shooting the bridge, the stroke quickened and the boat came swiftly towards the float, a voice at my elbow said, with a strong Scotch accent, "The lads is pulling a bit hard to-night," and the bluff old boat-builder smiled approval. "Let her run!" comes sharp and clear from the boat, the machine-like action stops, the boat glides up to the float, out come the oars, and eight hearty-looking fellows after them, - fellows full of life and spirits, health and strength, who have taken an hour from their studies because they enjoy the exercise, because they know it does them good, and because they know that when they sit down to their books again, they will study with redoubled vigor.
What do they care what they are thought of? They know they are building up good strong constitutions that will stand by them in after life, and they don't know what a headache or a weak stomach is. Some of them have pulled victorious oars for the honor of the old University; and they all mean to, if they are so lucky as to get a chance.
After all, pondered I, doesn't it pay to row, and, with a judicious expenditure of time, doesn't rowing help studying?