Read CHAPTER XII of Young Captain Jack The Son of a Soldier , free online book, by Horatio Alger and Arthur M. Winfield, on ReadCentral.com.

The boat race on the bay.

“I think this is a very foolish proceeding,” observed St. John as they walked along.

“I think it’s going to be lots of fun,” replied Marion. “The one who wins shall receive a lovely bunch of roses from me.”

“Then I’ll win,” said the spendthrift, and bestowed a meaning smile upon her, which instantly made her turn her head.

They used a short cut to the beach, consequently they did not meet Old Ben and Dr. Mackey.

When the boathouse was gained they went to inspect the four boats lying there.

St. John knew the boats well, for he was by no means an unskilled rower.

He picked out the lightest of the craft, one which was long and narrow, and also took the best pair of oars.

Marion was going to remonstrate, but Jack silenced her.

“But, Jack, if you have a poor boat, and carry me, too ” she began, in a whisper.

“I’ll beat him, anyway,” replied our hero. “I know I can do it.”

Soon they had the boats out.

Marion half expected St. John to invite her to enter his craft, but in this she was mistaken. The spendthrift was afraid that the extra weight would prove fatal to his success. Yet it angered him to have his cousin go off with Jack.

“Marion, you ought to remain on shore,” he said. “The race ought to be rowed with both boats empty.”

“Well, if you think best ” she began.

“No, Marion, you are to go with me,” put in Jack hastily. “I said I would row with you in my boat, and I will.”

“But I am quite a weight ”

“Never mind; jump in.”

As there seemed no help for it, Marion entered Jack’s boat and our hero pulled a rod away from the shore.

“Now where is the race to be?” asked St. John, as he followed Jack’s example and pulled off his coat.

“Let Marion decide that,” said the youth promptly.

“Then make it to the Sister Rocks,” said Marion. “Each boat must go directly around the rocks.”

“That suits me,” said Jack.

“It’s a good mile and a half,” grumbled St. John. He had no desire to exert himself in that warm sun.

“It’s no farther for you than for Jack,” answered the girl. “Come, are you ready?”

There was a pause, and then St. John said that he was.

“And you, Jack?”

“All ready, Marion.”

“Then go!” cried the girl.

The four oars dropped into the water and off went the two boats, side by side.

St. John, eager to win for the sake of finding favor in Marion’s eyes, exerted himself to the utmost, and soon forged ahead.

“Oh, Jack! he is going to beat,” cried the girl, in disappointment. “I am too much of a load for you.”

“The race has but started,” he replied. “Wait until we turn the rocks and then see who is ahead.”

On and on went the two boats, St. John pulling strongly, but somewhat wildly a pace he could not keep up. Jack rowed strongly, too, but kept himself somewhat in reserve.

When half the distance to the Sister Rocks was covered St. John was four boat-lengths ahead.

“Ha! what did I tell you!” he cried. “I will beat you, and beat you badly, too!”

“‘He laughs best who laughs last,’” quoted Jack. “Marion, sit a little more to the left, please. There, that’s it now we’ll go along straighter.”

“I wish I could help row,” she said. “But that wouldn’t be fair. But, oh, Jack! you must beat him!”

Slowly, but surely, they approached the Sister Rocks. Being ahead, St. John turned in, to take the shortest cut around the turning-stake, if such the rocks may be called.

“Too bad, Jack, you will have to go outside,” cried Marion.

“Never mind, I’ll beat him, anyway,” answered our hero, and now let himself out.

The added strength to his stroke soon told, and before long he began to crawl close to St. John’s craft. Then he overlapped his opponent and forged ahead.

“Hurrah! you are ahead!” cried Marion excitedly, but in a voice her cousin might not hear. “Keep up, Jack; you are doing wonderfully well.”

Our hero did keep up, and when he reached the first of the Sister Rocks he was more than two boat-lengths ahead.

He knew the rocks well, and glided around them skillfully, with just enough water between the rocks and the boat to make the turning a safe one.

“Now for the home stretch!” he murmured, and began to pull as never before. He felt certain he could defeat St. John, but he wished to make the defeat as large as possible. “He’ll find even a nobody can row,” he told himself, with grim satisfaction.

To have Jack go ahead of him drove St. John frantic, and as he drew closer to the rocks he became wildly excited.

“He must not win this race he a mere nobody,” he muttered. “What will Marion think if he wins?”

The thought was maddening, and he pulled desperately, first on one oar and then on the other. Around the rocks the waters ran swiftly, and before he knew it there came a crash and his craft was stove in and upset. He clutched at the gunwale of the boat, but missed it, and plunged headlong into the bay.

When the mishap occurred Jack was paying sole attention to the work cut out for him, consequently he did not notice what was taking place. Nor did Marion see the disaster until several seconds later.

“St. John will ” began the girl, and then turned deadly pale. “Oh, Jack!” she screamed.

“What’s the matter?” he cried, and stopped rowing instantly.

“Look! look! St. John’s boat has gone on the rocks and he is overboard!” she gasped.

“How foolish for him to row so close,” was Jack’s comment. And then he added, in something like disgust, “I reckon the race is off now.”

“We must go back for him,” went on Marion. “See, he has disappeared.”

The girl was right, the weight of St. John’s clothing had carried him beneath the surface. The swiftly running water had likewise caught him, and when he came up it was at a point fifty feet away from the nearest rock.

“He will be drowned, Jack!”

“Help! help!” came in a faint cry from the spendthrift. “Help me, Jack! Don’t leave me to perish!”

“Keep up, I’m coming!” answered Jack readily, and as quickly as he could he turned his boat and pulled in the direction where St. John had again sunk from sight.

The spendthrift was but an indifferent swimmer, and the weight of his clothing was much against him. Moreover, he was scared to death, and threw his arms around wildly instead of doing his best to save himself.

He had gone down once, and now, as Jack’s boat came closer, he went down a second time.

“Oh, Jack! he will surely be drowned!” gasped Marion, and she placed her hands over her eyes to keep out the awful sight.

“Look to the boat, I am going after him!” cried our hero suddenly, and leaping to the bow, he dove into the bay after the sinking young man.

He had been afraid of bringing the craft closer and hitting St. John. Now he struck out boldly, and then made a second dive, coming up close to the spendthrift’s side.

St. John wished to cry out, but the words would not come. Espying Jack, he grabbed for the lad and clutched him around the throat.

“Don’t hold on so tight!” cried Jack in alarm. “I will save you. Take hold of my shoulder.”

But St. John was too excited to be reasoned with, and instead of letting up, he clung closer than ever, so that soon both were in peril of going down.

“Let up, I say!” repeated Jack, and then, drawing up one knee, he literally forced the young man from him. Then, as St. John turned partly around, he caught him under the arms and began to tread water.

By this time Marion was at the oars, her temporary fear vanishing with the thought that not only St. John, but also Jack, was in peril. With caution she brought the rowboat closer.

“Catch hold there,” said Jack, and seeing the boat, St. John made a wild clutch for the gunwale, nearly upsetting the craft.

“Don’t you’ll have me in the water next!” screamed Marion. Then Jack steadied the boat, and St. John scrambled in over the stern, to fall on the bottom all but exhausted, and so frightened that he could not utter a word. Jack followed on board.

“Oh, St. John, what a narrow escape!” gasped Marion, after Jack was safe. “I thought you would surely be drowned!”

For the moment St. John did not speak. He sat up, panting heavily.

“The race is off,” said Jack. “Shall I go after your boat, St. John?”

“I don’t care,” growled the spendthrift, at last. “Where is she?”

“Caught between the rocks.”

“Let Old Ben get the boat,” put in Marion. “Both of you had better get home with your wet clothing.”

“I’m all right,” answered the spendthrift coolly.

“St. John, Jack saved your life.”

“Oh, I would have been all right although, to be sure, my boat was wrecked.”

“Why, what would you have done?” asked Marion, in astonishment.

“I would have swam to shore, or else crawled on the rocks and signaled Old Ben to come out after me,” answered St. John.

He never thought to thank Jack, and this made Marion very indignant.

“Jack did a great deal for you, St. John,” she exclaimed. “And he won the race, too,” she added, and would say no more.

Without loss of time Jack rowed the boat back to the landing and St. John leaped out. He wished to assist his cousin, but she gave her hand to Jack. Then the three walked toward the plantation in almost utter silence.