Excerpt of No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie
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The art of sculling is like any other art. It is perfected only with constant practice so that each movement is graceful and is done correctly without thinking about it.
- George Pocock
Notes on the Sculling Stroke as Performed by
Professional Scullers on the Thames River, England
A glance at the sky made her swear aloud. It was later than she'd
thought, darker than she'd realized. Since the clocks had moved
back, night seemed to fall like a bludgeon, and there was a heavy
wall of cloud moving in from the west, presaging a storm.
Heart thumping, she moved across the cottage's shadowy garden
and through the gate that led out onto the Thames Path. Tendrils of
mist were beginning to rise from the water. The river had a particular
smell in the evenings, damp and alive and somehow primeval.
The gunmetal surface of the water looked placid as a pond, but she
knew that for an illusion. The current, swift here as the river made
its way towards the roar of the weir below Hambleden Mill, was a
treacherous trap for the unwary or the overconfident.
Breaking into a jog, Becca turned upriver, towards Henley, and
saw that Henley Bridge was already lit. Her time was running out.
"Bugger," she whispered, and pumped up her pace.
She was sweating by the time she reached Leander, the most renowned
of rowing clubs, tucked into the Remenham side of Henley
Bridge. Lights had begun to come on in the dining room upstairs,
but the yard was twilit and empty, the boatshed doors closed. The
crew would be doing their last training session of the day in the
gym, accompanied by the coaches, and that suited Becca just fine.
Opening the small gate into the yard, she went to the boatshed
and unlocked the doors. Although her boat was up on an outside
rack, she needed access to her oars, which were stored inside. She
flicked on the lights, then stood for a moment, gazing at the gleaming
yellow Empachers, the German-made boats used by most of the
rowing eights. The shells rested one atop another, upside down,
long, slender, and impossibly graceful. The sight of them pierced her
like an arrow.
But they were not for her. She'd never been suited for team rowing,
even at university when she had rowed in the women's eight. A
gawky fresher, she'd been recruited by her college's boat club. All the
boat clubs trawled for innocent freshmen, but they'd been particularly
persistent in their pursuit of her. They had seen something besides
her height and long limbs - obvious prerequisites for a rower.
Perhaps, even then, they'd spotted the glint of obsession in her eyes.
Now, no team would be daft enough to take her on, no matter
how good she had once been.
The thump of weights came from the gym next door, punctuated
by the occasional voice. She didn't want to speak to anyone - it
would cost her valuable time. Hurrying to the back of the shed, she
picked out her own oars from the rack at the rear. The rectangular
tips were painted the same Leander pink as her hat.
She turned, startled, knocking the oars against the rack. "Milo. I
thought you were in with the crew."
"I saw the light come on in the shed." Milo Jachym was small
and balding, with a bristle of graying hair still shading the scalp
above his ears. He had been a renowned coxswain in his rowing
days, and he had also once been Becca's coach. "You're going out."
It was a statement rather than a question, and his tone matched his
scowl. "You can't keep this up with the clocks going back, Becca.
Everyone else has been in for an hour."
"I like having the water to myself." She smiled at him. "I'll be
fine, Milo. Help me get the boat down, will you?"
He followed her out, picking up two folding slings from just inside
the boatshed doors. Becca took her oars through the gate and
laid them carefully beside the launch raft, then walked back into the
yard, where Milo had set up the trestles beside one of the freestanding
boat racks. Her white and blue Filippi rested above two double
sculls, and it took all of Milo's reach to unstrap and lift the bow as
she took the stern.
Excerpted from No Mark Upon Her
by Deborah Crombie. Copyright © 2012 by Deborah Crombie.
Excerpted by permission of William Morrow. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.