The voices of the captains could now be heard calling for the final spurt. The stroke in all four boats became terrific as, with heads bent, hanging far over the sides, the paddlers drove their blades through the water, recovered and drove them again, almost faster than the eye could follow. Ten yards from the finish the Senecas, paddling in perfect form, seemed fairly to lift their boat from the water. It was magnificent, and as they shot over the line, winners by a scant quarter length, all four tribes joined in giving them the Woodcraft yell.
The Algonquins were second, beating the Delawares by a scant half length. The score was tied.
The single event was next, and in this both Walter and Hal Harrison were entered. It was an eighth of a mile straight away. This event was confined to the younger boys, and Walter felt that he had an even chance for place, though Tobey of the Hurons was generally picked to win. Harrison was a dark horse. No one knew much about his paddling save his chief, who had coached him in private, and was very chary of his opinion to anxious inquirers.
" I'm going to beat you, Walt," said Hal, as they paddled down to the starting line.
" Not if I can help it," replied Walter with a good-natured laugh, " but if I'm going to be beaten there is no one I should rather have win than you, Hal. But the Delawares need those points, and I'm going to get 'em if I can."
It was Hal's first race, his novice event, and he was plainly nervous at the start, so that he got away poorly. But he soon recovered and settled down to his work in a way that brought a smile of satisfaction to the lips of Chief Avery watching from the finish line.
Hal had not told his father that he was entered for any of the events. Mr. Harrison had been talking with Dr. Merriam when the race was called, and had paid no attention to the boys going down to the start. It was not until the race was half over that he focussed his glasses on the canoes.
" Bless me, that looks like my boy out there !" he exclaimed, wiping his glasses to be sure that he saw clearly. Then to the delight of the spectators the man of millions showed that he was wholly human after all. He whooped and shouted like an overgrown boy. " Come on, Hal! Come on, boy I " he bellowed at the top of his lungs. " He's winning ! He's winning I Come on, Hal! Hit her up ! Hit her up I" And all the time he was pounding the man in front of him, quite oblivious of the fact that it was Dr. Merriam himself.
Hal was hitting it up. After the first few minutes of dumb surprise the Senecas had rallied to the support of their new champion, and as the boy heard his name over and over again at the end of the Seneca yell he ground his teeth and redoubled his efforts. Little by little he forged ahead.
Walter was putting up a game struggle, but he found that his grueling swim earlier in the afternoon was telling now, and in spite of all he could do open water was showing between his canoe and Hal's. " I'll get second, anyway," he muttered, and then as before the old slogan, " For the honor of the tribe. For the honor of the tribe," began hammering in his, brain.
It was Hal's race, with Walter second, Buxby third, and Tobey, the expected winner, a poor fourth. Wigwam No. 2 was two points to the good.
The suspense had become almost unbearable as the last event for the afternoon was called. This was a " pack and carry " race, a novelty to most of the spectators, and in some respects the most interesting of all. Four canoes were placed side by side on the ground in front of headquarters. Beside each was spread a shelter tent, blankets and cooking outfit. The four chiefs took their places, each beside one of the outfits. At the signal gun each began to pack his outfit. As soon as he had finished he picked up his canoe, inverted it over his head and carried it to the lake. Returning for his pack he placed it in his canoe, paddled out around a buoy, back to shore, and carried canoe and pack to the starting point.
Woodhull won handily, but big Bob Seaforth, who got a good start and was counted on for second at least, broke a paddle and was put hopelessly out of it. This gave the Senecas and Hurons second and third respectively. The score was once more tied.
It was incredible ! Never in the history of the camp had there been anything like it. The field sports over and the championship undecided! And now it hung on the outcome of a little woodcraft test that hitherto had been simply a pleasant part of the ceremony of lighting the last camp-fire—the test of the fire sticks. It was agreed that the winner should not only have the usual honor of lighting the fire, but that he should score five points for his tribe and wigwam, and that second and third should not count.
Evening mess was a hurried affair. There was too much excitement for eating. Promptly at eight o'clock Dr. Merriam appeared with the other members of the camp force and a few guests who had remained, and the tribes gathered in a circle around the huge pile of fire-wood in front of headquarters. Each chief selected five of his followers to represent his tribe. These squatted in four groups with their fire sticks before them on the ground. Behind each group stood an umpire to announce the first bona fide flame.
The silence was almost painful as Dr. Merriam raised his arm for the starting shot. There was a momentary stir as the boys hastily reached for their sticks, and then no sound save an occasional long breath and the whirr of the fire drills. Twenty seconds, twenty-five, thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three —" Buxby's fire ! " cried a voice sharply, and then a mighty yell arose from the Delawares and Algonquins as Billy leaped forward and thrust his tiny blaze into the tinder of the dark pile before him. Wigwam No. 1 had won !