"Just my luck," Bob said. "Faster, fellows! Go! Come on, Mansfield, faster! Well rowed, Hoyt! All clear, come on!"
A forty-nine-foot shell had shot out of the trees sheltering a narrow adjoining channel with the speed of a lightning bolt. Six flashing oars creased the surface of the river in synchronized strokes, throwing off white streaks behind them. The rowers were bare from the waist up, with crimson handkerchiefs wrapped around their heads, and their flexing muscles glistened in the strengthening sun. As Marcus peered back at them, they looked like highly educable pirates, and he knew it would be a lost cause to attempt to elude whatever this boat was.
"Who are they?" he marveled.
"Blaikie," Bob explained as the three of them pulled as hard as they could. "His is the best Harvard six there ever was, they say. Will Blaikie - he's the stroke oar. I'd rather stare into the mouth of the serpent."
Edwin wheezed between strokes, "Blaikie... was... at Exeter... with Bob and me."
The other vessel came on with a spurt too powerful to shake, now just a length behind.
"Plymouth!" cried the lantern-jawed lead rower on the lightning bolt. The boat went by theirs and then reversed and ranged alongside of them.
"Why, it is you, Plymouth!" said the stroke oar, Blaikie, to Bob with a gleaming smile. Even seated in his shell, he presented the particular mincing swagger of a Harvard senior. "It's been ages. You're not forming a randan team, are you?"
"We've been borrowing a shell from the boat club," said Bob, motioning for his friends to stop rowing. Marcus could not remember seeing his classmate so deflated.
"Don't tell me you're still dragging your heels over at that embryo of a college, Plymouth?" Blaikie asked.
"We are seniors now, like you."
"Tant pis pour vous," interjected one of the Harvard boys, eliciting chuckles from the others.
"I fear civilizing your classmates into respectable gentlemen will take more than teaching them to grip an oar," Blaikie went on cheerfully. "Science cannot substitute for culture, old salt. I used to agonize, Plymouth, what I would most rather be, stroke of the Harvard, president of the Christian Brethren, or First Scholar of the class. Now I know what it is to be all three." He was reminded by one of his oarsmen not to forget president of one of the best college societies. "Yes, Smithy! But it is best not to speak of the societies to outsiders."
"We are doing things far more important - things you wouldn't begin to understand, Blaikie."
"Just how many of you Technology boys are there?"
Throwing out his chest, Bob answered, "Fifteen men in the Class of '68. About thirty-five in the other three classes, and we expect more than ever in the next freshman group."
Excerpted from The Technologists by Matthew Pearl. Copyright © 2012 by Matthew Pearl. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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