SIMPSON TELLS A SECRET

“Halloo, Blues! What are you doing out here?”

“What are you Whites doing out here?”

“We came out to see you beaten.”

“You did? Then we would advise you to pull ashore immediately, for that
is something you will not see this day.”

“Won’t we, indeed? You’ll soon tell a different tale. In less than an
hour you will pull off those blue rosettes and throw them overboard.”

“On the contrary, in less than an hour the boys who wear those blue
rosettes will be cheering the champions of the State.”

“Ha! Tell that to the marines. Perhaps they will believe it.”

This conversation took place between the occupants of two little
sailboats, the Sunbeam and the Firefly, which had been thrown up into
the wind and now lay almost motionless side by side, while the boys who
made up their passengers and crews lounged on the thwarts, fanning their
flushed faces with their hats, and ever and anon turning their eyes
toward the shore in an eager, expectant manner, as if they were waiting
for something.

From the positions in which the little vessels lay, their crews had a
good view of the bay for ten miles on every side, and the sight
presented to their gaze was one worth going a long way to see. The water
was dotted with small craft of every description—tugs, skiffs,
single-oared shells and sailboats, the latter all flying the colors of
the Lone Star Yacht Club, and the shore in front of the academy was
lined with carriages and people. It was a gala day in Elmwood, and
almost every man, woman and child for miles around had come in to
witness an event that had been the topic of conversation for weeks—a
race between two of the best boat clubs in the State.

Elmwood was situated on an extensive bay which indented the coast of one
of our Southern States. It was a wealthy and thriving place, and in
spite of the fact that the war was only just over, it boasted of as fine
an academy as could be found anywhere. There were two hundred students
and more on the rolls, and although you could have picked out from the
number any number of lazy, mischievous boys—such fellows intrude
themselves everywhere—you could not have found one who did not love the
school and all its surroundings. It was no wonder that the institution
stood high in the estimation of both scholars and patrons, for the
faculty were men who believed in making it a pleasant place for the boys
under their charge. Innocent sports of every kind were not only
tolerated but encouraged, the professors often taking part in them with
as much eagerness as the boys themselves. Just now everything except
aquatics was at a discount, and this state of affairs had been brought
about by accident.

Among the boys who spent all their spare time upon the bay were two
crews who were looked up to by the rest of the students as authorities
on all matters pertaining to boats and rowing. The head man of one of
these crews was Gus Layton, and the owner and stroke of the other was
Bob Nellis, his cousin. The former rowed in a shell called the Mist,
while Bob and his men took their daily airings in a beautiful little
craft called the Zephyr.

One evening, while the crew of the Mist, who called themselves the
champions of Elmwood, were taking a pull on the bay to exercise their
muscles and cool their brains after a long siege of study in the
school-room, they fell in with Bob Nellis and his men, who were out for
the same purpose, and of course a race ensued. The self-styled champions
expected to walk away with their opponents very easily, but to their
intense chagrin and the overwhelming astonishment of fifty or more
students who stood on the shore watching the contestants, the Zephyr
went ahead rapidly, and rounded to in front of the academy the winner by
more than a dozen lengths. Bob and his crew were so highly elated over
the result of the race that they immediately challenged the crew of the
Mist to a contest for the championship, which was promptly accepted, and
this particular day had been set for the trial.

The excitement began to run high directly. The students at once declared
themselves the adherents of one or the other of the rival clubs, and
took to wearing rosettes on their jackets. Bob and his men wore a white
uniform, and Gus and his men dressed in blue, and by looking at the
rosettes a student wore one could tell which side he favored without
asking any questions.

For weeks nothing but the race had been talked of. The enthusiasm of the
students was so contagious that even their fathers, older brothers, and
mothers and sisters became interested. The ladies, old and young, took
to wearing rosettes, and manufactured them by the dozen, blue or white,
as their fancy and their preference dictated. Mr. Sprague, the father of
one of the Mist’s crew, purchased a beautiful pitcher and cup, both
bearing suitable inscriptions, which were to be presented to the winning
crew by the prettiest young lady in Elmwood, and so the young oarsmen
had something besides the championship to work for.

The Blues were confident, as they had reason to be. The crew of the Mist
handled their oars with a grace and skill that were surprising, and the
way they made their light shell dance over the water, when once they
settled fairly down to their work, frightened all the other academy
boys, who allowed them to claim and boast of the championship without a
single contest to prove their superiority. Bob and his men acknowledged
that the odds were against them, and devoted every spare moment to
preparations for the race. Jack Phillips, the coxswain of the Zephyr,
measured off a two-mile course at the upper end of the bay, and twice
each day his crew pulled over it in a heavy yawl. They swung Indian
clubs and dumb-bells to harden their muscles, ran long races over the
road to increase their powers of endurance, and all this while attended
regularly to their school duties and kept pace with their classes. They
were the favorites among the students by long odds, as any one could
have told by counting the rosettes, and it was whispered about among the
students that if all the crew of the Mist were like Gus Layton, its
owner, there wouldn’t have been a blue rosette to be seen. He was the
most unpopular boy in school—so very unpopular, indeed, that any of the
Blues, when asked why they wore his colors, felt called upon to explain
that it was not on his account, but for the sake of Sprague, Haight and
Bright, other members of his crew, whom everybody acknowledged to be
good fellows. No one, not even his particular crony, said that Gus was a
good fellow, and the reason for this will be seen as our story
progresses.

“I say, Johnny,” exclaimed Tom Thayer, continuing the conversation which
we have so unceremoniously interrupted, “you don’t want to see Bob
Nellis beaten. Let me pull off that blue rosette and give you another
that will correctly express your feelings.”

Tom Thayer wore a white rosette and held the helm of the Sunbeam, while
Johnny Parker wore a blue and was seated at the helm of the Firefly.

“I have no sympathy for Gus, that’s a fact,” said Johnny, raising his
arm to shield the colors that were pinned to his breast. “But there’s
Sprague, you know; he is my chum.”

“I am aware of it,” replied Tom; “but with all due respect to you and
him, I must say that he is keeping very bad company. He deserves to be
beaten.”

Johnny had no reply to make to this. It had long been a matter of wonder
and discussion among the students that so good a fellow as Sprague
should associate with such a scamp as Gus Layton, and as Johnny did not
know what to say in defense of his friend’s conduct, he brought the
Firefly before the wind and filled away for the opposite side of the
bay.

“I say, fellows,” continued Tom, as soon as the very light wind that was
blowing had carried the Firefly a hundred yards or so away, “did you
notice how Simpson acted?”

“I was just about to ask the same question,” said one of Tom’s
passengers. “He is almost bursting with some secret or other. Let’s call
him back and find out what it is. Isn’t it strange how that fellow gets
hold of every bit of news that’s floating about?”

The boy referred to was seated in the Firefly with Johnny Parker. Next
to Gus Layton he was the most unpopular boy in school, and the reason
was, because he was an incorrigible tale-bearer. His tongue was so
unruly that he never could keep a secret, no matter how damaging it
might be to others, or even to himself. This unfortunate habit had got
him into numberless scrapes, but he never seemed to learn wisdom by his
rough experience.

While the conversation we have recorded was being held, Simpson kept
twisting about on his seat, smiling and winking at his companions in a
way that would have excited the astonishment and mirth of a stranger,
but which told the boys present as plainly as words that he knew
something which he could hardly keep from telling. By the time the two
boats separated his secret had so swelled within him that he could
contain it no longer.

“The Whites seem confident,” said he, and as he spoke his companions,
who had been lounging about the boat in various attitudes, started up
quickly to hear what was coming, “but I will bet the contents of the
next box I receive from home that the Blues beat them. I’ll even bet
that the Zephyr is not rowed over two hundred yards of the course,” he
added, with a knowing shake of his head.

“You will?” exclaimed Johnny.

“Yes, sir. I suppose we are all friends. We all wear the same colors.”

“Speak out, Simp,” exclaimed one of Johnny’s passengers. “You know you
can’t keep it any longer.”

“And it is a wonder he has kept it as long as he has,” said another.




“I think I have held my tongue pretty still since you fellows poured
that bucket of water over me for telling the professors who it was that
knocked the pickets off the fence,” replied Simpson. “But I will tell
you this, for it is much too good to keep. Bob’s oar is cut half in
two.”

As Simpson said this he leaned back on his elbow in the stern-sheets and
looked from one to the other of his companions to see what they thought
about it. To say that they were astonished would not half express it.
True they had heard of numerous plots, in all of which Simpson was
implicated, to injure the Zephyr so that she could not be pulled in the
race, but the boat and everything belonging to her had been so closely
watched that Bob and his friends were positive that no advantage had
been taken of them.

“Yes, sir,” repeated Simpson. “Bob’s oar will break the very first time
he lays out his strength on it.”

“Did you cut it?” asked Johnny, as soon as he had recovered from his
amazement.

“No, I didn’t; but I know who did. It was Mr. Layton, Gus’s father.”

“Well, now, if that wasn’t a pretty piece of business for a man to
engage in I wouldn’t say so,” cried Johnny, indignantly. “Simp, you and
the crowd you run with are too contemptible for anything!”

“Oh, now, what’s the matter with you?” whined that worthy. “I have a
good notion not to tell you another word. Don’t you want the Blues to
win?”

“How did Mr. Layton get a chance to interfere in this business?”
inquired Johnny, without answering Simpson’s question. “He is a hundred
miles from here.”

“I know it, but he has interfered with it, all the same, no matter if he
is a thousand. You see, Gus is afraid of Bob, and he never intended to
run a fair race. His first idea was to knock a hole in the Zephyr, and
we came pretty near carrying it out, too.”

“_We?_” echoed Johnny. “Did you have a hand in it?”

“Of course I did. I watched at the window of the boat-house while Gus
went in; but just as I handed him the axe, who should come prowling
around but one of the professors, and we had to take to our heels. The
next morning Bob found the window of the boat-house open and the axe
lying on the floor, and knowing in a moment that something had been
going on he set a watch over the building, and we couldn’t get near it
afterward.”

“Well, what has that got to do with the oar that was tampered with?”
demanded Johnny, almost fiercely.

“Now I would just like to know what makes you so cross,” whined Simpson.
“I believe you want our fellows to get beaten.”

“Never mind that. Tell me about the oar.”

“Ain’t I coming to it as fast as I can? The very morning that Bob found
the axe in the boat-house he sprung a row-lock while he and his crew
were practicing, and thinking he might as well have a new rig while he
was about it, he sent to Clifton after another shell and a set of oars.
Mr. Layton—he is Bob’s uncle and guardian, you know—heard of it through
Gus, and countermanded the order as far as the shell was concerned, but
wrote to Bob that the oars should be forthcoming. When they were done he
wouldn’t let the man who made them send them to Bob, but took them to
his own house, removed the leather from Bob’s oar—he could easily tell
it from the rest, because Bob always has his oars made with a larger
grip than the others—sawed it half in two, filled up the crack with
putty or something, so that it could not be seen, and put the leather on
again just as it was before. Then, instead of sending up the oars three
or four days ago, as he promised to do, Mr. Layton kept them until the
last moment, and they arrived only an hour or two ago, so that Bob had
no chance to examine them or practice with them. Oh, his goose is
cooked, I tell you, and the Blues are bound to win. Now, what is the
matter with you fellows? You don’t act as if you were glad at all.”

It was easy enough to see that Johnny and his friends were anything but
delighted at what they had heard. If one might judge by the expression
on their faces they were very much disgusted.