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.
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