by Richard Washburn Childs, © 1911
They pulled with the strength that was in them,
. But ’twas not for the pewter cup,
And not for the fame it would win them
. When the length of the race was up;
For the college stood by the river,
. And they heard with cheeks that glowed
The voice of the coxswain calling,
. At the end of the race, “Well Rowed!”
— From a class poem.
The late afternoon sunlight slanted down into the busy street through the trees of the Public Garden; flower-beds behind the iron fence appeared in the fresh green background as blustering dabs of brilliant color; the air was soft and clean, and smelled of the season. It had been the sort of day which whispers of other scenes, old faces, of gentle memories and painted possibilities. Now along the street came the ebb-tide of the day’s work swept out from the business part of the city and jostling homeward. There was a leavening of summer attire in the stream; straw hats bobbed above the crowd, and women’s gowns were soft and bright. It was spring.
Among the home-goers was a man distinguished little from the rest by a refined and patient expression. His shoulders sloped as if they had borne much; his eyes were open in a wide stare as if astounded at the repetition of life’s misfortunes; and his clothes, from his derby hat, shiny from his wife’s endless brushings, to his shoes, flattened by the monotony of his daily life, told of the practice of much respectable economy. Trouble had felt of his throat, one would say, but never had succeeded in throttling him. There was a quiet reserved strength in the furrows of his forehead and in the solidity of his chin, and the wrinkles at the corner of his blue eyes, extending back to the gray hairs, declared that there was a fund of persistent hope in Carter Clews.
Looking up suddenly from the plodding of his way, he saw four men coming down the steps of a hotel toward an open carriage which had drawn up to the curb. Three were inclined to the stoutness of middle age, and all were laughing prosperously; they were dressed as well and as plainly as affluent American gentlemen, except for gay hatbands, the badge of membership to some college club, and were chatting vociferously of Commencement dinners and baseball games and class reunions; it was evident that they were four successful men on a holiday, and straining to be young again. The clean-shaven man with a crooked nose addressed his tall distinguished companion as “Newt,” and “Newt” in turn spoke of “twenty-fifth annual dinners” to the short man with the prominent ears who was getting into the carriage; while the fourth, whose manners were nervous, dyspeptic, and querulous, shifted his feet with constitutional impatience, and at the same time carried a flickering smile of inherent geniality. An air of importance seemed to surround them so that, as they stood on the sidewalk under the hotel portico, the passing wayfarers stepped aside to avoid the charmed circle, some scowling enviously, others smiling tolerantly and sympathetically.
Carter Clews smiled with boyish pleasure. For one of them was “Newt” Riggs, who used to row on the crew and was now a corporation attorney in Chicago; and there was Billy Drowson, who used to flunk examinations as easily as if he had meant to do it; and the third was Joe Crane, who was making his two hundred thousand a year in metal-refining in Colorado; and the little man was Lapham, the surgeon, who had been marshal of the class. It had been a long time since he had seen any one of them, but he recognized two by their recent pictures in the newspapers, and the others by the similarity to their youthful appearance, which still lurked beneath the changes of twenty-five years.
The last had just seated himself comfortably in the carriage when Clews succeeded in pushing his way into the gap they had left in the crowd. Both Joseph Crane and Lapham, seeing him take a step toward them, opened their eyes in innocent surprise; neither of them recognized him. He stopped for a moment of embarrassed hesitation, and in that moment he felt with a sharp old pang, which years of attempted philosophy had not dulled, that he belonged among them no more. They were successful men.
Upon the four, settled luxuriously in the ample corners of the victoria, there fell a bath of the warm slanting light of the spring sunset, but Carter Clews had stepped back into the gray shadow of the portico. There was no charmed circle around him; a clerk, in haste to get home to his evening meal, bumped him rudely. The carriage started away with a laugh and the scrape of a wheel on the curb.
“Say!” said a man who had been leaning against the wall with the vulgar grace of those who loaf about the doorways of hotels, “did you see that short feller with the Panama hat? That’s William Drowson, the reform governor of ——”
“Oh, thank you,” said Clews, nodding gravely. “He was my roommate when we were in college.”