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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGlengarry Schooldays - Chapter 2. The Deepole
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Glengarry Schooldays - Chapter 2. The Deepole Post by :andrewteg Category :Long Stories Author :Ralph Connor Date :May 2012 Read :2601

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Glengarry Schooldays - Chapter 2. The Deepole

CHAPTER II. THE DEEPOLE

Archibald Munro had a steady purpose in life--to play the man, and to allow no pain of his--and pain never left him long--to spoil his work, or to bring a shadow to the life of any other. And though he had his hard times, no one who could not read the lines about his mouth ever knew how hard they were.

It was this struggle for self-mastery that made him the man he was, and taught him the secrets of nobleness that he taught his pupils with their three "R's"; and this was the best of his work for the Twentieth school.

North and south in front of the school the road ran through the deep forest of great pines, with underbrush of balsam and spruce and silver-birch; but from this main road ran little blazed paths that led to the farm clearings where lay the children's homes. Here and there, set in their massive frames of dark green forest, lay the little farms, the tiny fenced fields surrounding the little log houses and barns. These were the homes of a people simple of heart and manners, but sturdy, clean living, and clear thinking, with their brittle Highland courage toughened to endurance by their long fight with the forest, and with a self-respect born of victory over nature's grimmest of terrors.

A mile straight south of the school stood the manse, which was Hughie's home; two miles straight west Ranald lived; and Thomas Finch two miles north; while the other lads ought to have taken some of the little paths that branched east from the main road. But this evening, with one accord, the boys chose a path that led from the school-house clearing straight southwest through the forest.

What a path that was! Beaten smooth with the passing of many bare feet, it wound through the brush and round the big pines, past the haunts of squirrels, black, gray, and red, past fox holes and woodchuck holes, under birds' nests and bee-trees, and best of all, it brought up at last at the Deep Hole, or "Deepole," as the boys called it.

There were many reasons why the boys should have gone straight home. They were expected home. There were cows to get up from the pasture and to milk, potatoes that needed hoeing, gardens to weed, not to speak of messages and the like. But these were also excellent reasons why the boys should unanimously choose the cool, smooth-beaten, sweet-scented, shady path that wound and twisted through the trees and brush, but led straight to the Deepole. Besides, this was Friday night, it was hot, and they were tired out; the mere thought of the long walk home was intolerable. The Deepole was only two miles away, and "There was lots of time" for anything else. So, with wild whoops, they turned into the shady path and sped through the forest, the big boys in front, with Ranald easily leading, for there was no runner so swift and tireless in all the country-side, and Hughie, with the small boys, panting behind.

On they went, a long, straggling, yelling line, down into the cedar swamp, splashing through the "Little Crick" and up again over the beech ridge, where, in the open woods, the path grew indistinct and was easy to lose; then again among the great pines, where the underbrush was so thick that you could not tell what might be just before, till they pulled up at the old Lumber Camp. The boys always paused at the ruins of the old Lumber Camp. A ruin is ever a place of mystery, but to the old Lumber Camp attached an awful dread, for behind it, in the thickest part of the underbrush, stood the cabin of Alan Gorrach.

Alan's was a name of terror among all the small children of the section. Mothers hushed their crying with, "Alan Gorrach will get you." Alan was a small man, short in the legs, but with long, swinging, sinewy arms. He had a gypsy face, and tangled, long, black hair; and as he walked through the forest he might be heard talking to himself, with wild gesticulations. He was an itinerant cooper by trade, and made for the farmers' wives their butter-tubs and butter-ladles, mincing-bowls and coggies, and for the men, whip-stalks, axe handles, and the like. But in the boys' eyes he was guilty of a horrible iniquity. He was a dog-killer. His chief business was the doing away with dogs of ill-repute in the country; vicious dogs, sheep-killing dogs, egg-sucking dogs, were committed to Alan's dread custody, and often he would be seen leading off his wretched victims to his den in the woods, whence they never returned. It was a current report that he ate them, too. No wonder the boys regarded him with horror mingled with fearful awe.

In broad day, upon the high road, the small boys would boldly fling taunts and stones at Alan, till he would pull out his long, sharp cooper's knife and make at them. But if they met him in the woods they would walk past in trembling and respectful silence, or slip off into hiding in the bush, till he was out of sight.

It was always part of the programme in the exploring of the Lumber Camp for the big boys to steal down the path to Alan's cabin, and peer fearfully through the brush, and then come rushing back to the little boys waiting in the clearing, and crying in terror-stricken stage whispers, "He's coming! He's coming!" set off again through the bush like hunted deer, followed by the panting train of youngsters, with their small hearts thumping hard against their ribs.

In a few minutes the pine woods, with its old Lumber Camp and Alan's fearsome cabin, were left behind; and then down along the flats where the big elms were, and the tall ash-trees, and the alders, the flying, panting line sped on in a final dash, for they could smell the river. In a moment more they were at the Deepole.

O! that Deepole! Where the big creek took a great sweep around before it tore over the rapids and down into the gorge. It was always in cool shade; the great fan-topped elm-trees hung far out over it, and the alders and the willows edged its banks. How cool and clear the dark brown waters looked! And how beautiful the golden mottling on their smooth, flowing surface, where the sun rained down through the over-spreading elm boughs! And the grassy sward where the boys tore off their garments, and whence they raced and plunged, was so green and firm and smooth under foot! And the music of the rapids down in the gorge, and the gurgle of the water where it sucked in under the jam of dead wood before it plunged into the boiling pool farther down! Not that the boys made note of all these delights accessory to the joys of the Deepole itself, but all these helped to weave the spell that the swimming-hole cast over them. Without the spreading elms, without the mottled, golden light upon the cool, deep waters, and without the distant roar of the little rapid, and the soft gurgle at the jam, the Deepole would still have been a place of purest delight, but I doubt if, without these, it would have stolen in among their day dreams in after years, on hot, dusty, weary days, with power to waken in them a vague pain and longing for the sweet, cool woods and the clear, brown waters. Oh, for one plunge! To feel the hug of the waters, their soothing caress, their healing touch! These boys are men now, such as are on the hither side of the darker river, but not a man of them can think, on a hot summer day, of that cool, shaded, mottled Deepole, without a longing in his heart and a lump in his throat.

The last quarter of a mile was always a dead race, for it was a point of distinction to be the first to plunge, and the last few seconds of the race were spent in the preliminaries of the disrobing. A single brace slipped off the shoulder, a flutter of a shirt over the head, a kick of the trousers, and whoop! plunge! "Hurrah! first in." The little boys always waited to admire the first series of plunges, for there were many series before the hour was over, and then they would off to their own crossing, going through a similar performance on a small scale.

What an hour it was! What contests of swimming and diving! What water fights and mud fights! What careering of figures, stark naked, through the rushes and trees! What larks and pranks!

And then the little boys would dress. A simple process, but more difficult by far than the other, for the trousers would stick to the wet feet--no boy would dream of a towel, nor dare to be guilty of such a piece of "stuck-upness"--and the shirt would get wrong side out, or would bundle round the neck, or would cling to the wet shoulders till they had to get on their knees almost to squirm into it. But that over, all was over. The brace, or if the buttons were still there, the braces were easily jerked up on the shoulders, and there you were. Coats, boots, and stockings were superfluous, collars and ties utterly despised.

Then the little ones would gather on the grassy bank to watch the big ones get out, which was a process worth watching.

"Well, I'm going out, boys," one would say.

"Oh, pshaw! let's have another plunge."

"All right. But it's the last, though."

Then a long stream of naked figures would scramble up the bank and rush for the last place. "First out, last in," was the rule, for the boys would much rather jump on some one else than be jumped on themselves. After the long line of naked figures had vanished into the boiling water, one would be seen quietly stealing out and up the bank kicking his feet clean as he stepped off the projecting root onto the grass, when, plunk! a mud ball caught him, and back he must come. It took them full two hours to escape clean from the water, and woe betide the boy last out. On all sides stood boys, little and big, with mud balls ready to fling, till, out of sheer pity, he would be allowed to come forth clean. Then, when all were dressed, and blue and shivering--for two amphibious hours, even on a July day, make one blue--more games would begin, leap-frog, or tag, or jumping, or climbing trees, till they were warm enough to set out for home.

It was as the little ones were playing tag that Hughie came to grief. He was easily king of his company and led the game. Quick as a weasel, swift and wary, he was always the last to be caught. Around the trees, and out and in among the big boys, he led the chase, much to Tom Finch's disgust, who had not forgotten the spelling-match incident. Not that he cared for the defeat, but he still felt the bite in the master's final words, and he carried a grudge against the boy who had been the occasion of his humiliation.

"Keep off!" he cried, angrily, as Hughie swung himself round him. But Hughie paid no heed to Tom's growl, unless, indeed, to repeat his offense, with the result that, as he flew off, Tom caught him a kick that hastened his flight and laid him flat on his back amid the laughter of the boys.

"Tom," said Hughie, gravely and slowly, so that they all stood listening, "do you know what you kick like?"

The boys stood waiting.

"A h-e-i-p-h-e-r."

In a moment Tom had him by the neck, and after a cuff or two, sent him flying, with a warning to keep to himself.

But Hughie, with a saucy answer, was off again on his game, circling as near Tom Finch as he dared, and being as exasperating as possible, till Tom looked as if he would like a chance to pay him off. The chance came, for Hughie, leading the "tag," came flying past Tom and toward the water. Hardly realizing what he was doing, Tom stuck out his foot and caught him flying past, and before any one knew how it had happened, poor Hughie shot far out into the Deepole, lighting fair on his stomach. There was a great shout of laughter, but in a moment every one was calling, "Swim, Hughie!" "Keep your hands down!" "Don't splash like that, you fool!" "Paddle underneath!" But Hughie was far too excited or too stunned by his fall to do anything but splash and sputter, and sink, and rise again, only to sink once more. In a few moments the affair became serious.

The small boys began to cry, and some of the bigger ones to undress, when there was a cry from the elm-tree overhanging the water.

"Run out that board, Don. Quick!"

It was Ranald, who had been swinging up in the highest branches, and had seen what had happened, and was coming down from limb to limb like a squirrel. As he spoke, he dropped from the lowest limb into the water close to where Hughie was splashing wildly.

In an instant, as he rose to the surface, Hughie's arms went round his neck and pulled his head under water. But he was up again, and tugging at Hughie's hands, he cried:

"Don't, Hughie! let go! I'll pull you out. Let go!" But Hughie, half-insensible with terror and with the water he had gulped in, clung with a death-grip.

"Hughie!" gasped Ranald, "you'll drown us both. Oh, Hughie man, let me pull you out, can't you?"

Something in the tone caught Hughie's ear, and he loosed his hold, and Ranald, taking him under the chin, looked round for the board.

By this time Don Cameron was in the water and working the board slowly toward the gasping boys. But now a new danger threatened. The current had gradually carried them toward the log jam, under which the water sucked to the falls below. Once under the jam, no power on earth could save.

"Hurry up, Don!" called out Ranald, anxiously. Then, feeling Hughie beginning to clutch again, he added, cheerily, "It's all right. You'll get us." But his face was gray and his eyes were staring, for over his shoulder he could see the jam and he could feel the suck of the water on his legs.

"Oh, Ranald, you can't do it," sobbed Hughie. "Will I paddle underneath?"

"Yes, yes, paddle hard, Hughie," said Ranald, for the jam was just at his back.

But as he spoke, there was a cry, "Ranald, catch it!" Over the slippery logs of the jam came Tom Finch pushing out a plank.

"Catch it!" he cried, "I'll hold this end solid." And Ranald caught and held fast, and the boys on the bank gave a mighty shout. Soon Don came up with his board, and Tom, catching the end, hauled it up on the rolling logs.

"Hold steady there now!" cried Tom, lying at full length upon the logs; "we'll get you in a minute."

By this time the other boys had pulled a number of boards and planks out of the jam, and laying them across the logs, made a kind of raft upon which the exhausted swimmers were gradually hauled, and then brought safe to shore.

"Oh, Ranald," said Tom, almost weeping, "I didn't mean to--I never thought--I'm awfully sorry."

"Oh, pshaw!" said Ranald, who was taking off Hughie's shirt preparatory to wringing it, "I know. Besides, it was you who pulled us out. You were doing your best, Don, of course, but we would have gone under the jam but for Tom."

For ten minutes the boys stood going over again the various incidents in the recent dramatic scene, extolling the virtues of Ranald, Don, and Thomas in turn, and imitating, with screams of laughter, Hughie's gulps and splashings while he was fighting for his life. It was their way of expressing their emotions of gratitude and joy, for Hughie was dearly loved by all, though no one would have dared to manifest such weakness.

As they were separating, Hughie whispered to Ranald, "Come home with me, Ranald. I want you." And Ranald, looking down into the little white face, went. It would be many a day before he would get rid of the picture of the white face, with the staring black eyes, floating on the dark brown water beside him, and that was why he went.

When they reached the path to the manse clearing Ranald and Hughie were alone. For some minutes Hughie followed Ranald in silence on a dog-trot, through the brule, dodging round stumps and roots and climbing over fallen trees, till they came to the pasture-field.

"Hold on, Ranald," panted Hughie, putting on a spurt and coming up even with his leader.

"Are you warm enough?" asked Ranald, looking down at the little flushed face.

"You bet!"

"Are you dry?"

"Huh, huh."

"Indeed, you are not too dry," said Ranald, feeling his wet shirt and trousers, "and your mother will be wondering."

"I'll tell her," said Hughie, in a tone of exulting anticipation.

"What!" Ranald stood dead still.

"I'll tell her," replied Hughie. "She'll be awful glad. And she'll be awful thankful to you, Ranald."

Ranald looked at him in amazement.

"I think I will jist be going back now," he said, at length. But Hughie seized him.

"Oh, Ranald, you must come with me."

He had pictured himself telling his mother of Ranald's exploit, and covering his hero with glory. But this was the very thing that Ranald dreaded and hated, and was bound to prevent.

"You will not be going to the Deepole again, I warrant you," Ranald said, with emphasis.

"Not go to the Deepole?"

"No, indeed. Your mother will put an end to that sort of thing."

"Mother! Why not?"

"She will not be wanting to have you drowned."

Hughie laughed scornfully. "You don't know my mother. She's not afraid of--of anything."

"But she will be telling your father."

This was a matter serious enough to give Hughie pause. His father might very likely forbid the Deepole.

"There is no need for telling," suggested Ranald. "And I will just go in for a minute."

"Will you stay for supper?"

Ranald shook his head. The manse kitchen was a bright place, and to see the minister's wife and to hear her talk was to Ranald pure delight. But then, Hughie might tell, and that would be too awful to bear.

"Do, Ranald," pleaded Hughie. "I'll not tell."

"I am not so sure."

"Sure as death!"

Still Ranald hesitated. Hughie grew desperate.

"God may kill me on the spot!" he cried, using the most binding of all oaths known to the boys. This was satisfactory, and Ranald went.

But Hughie was not skilled in deceiving, and especially in deceiving his mother. They were great friends, and Hughie shared all his secrets with her and knew that they were safe, unless they ought to be told. And so, when he caught sight of his mother waiting for him before the door, he left Ranald, and thrilling with the memory of the awful peril through which he had passed, rushed at her, and crying, "Oh, mother!" he flung himself into her arms. "I am so glad to see you again!"

"Why, Hughie, my boy, what's the matter?" said his mother, holding her arms tight about him. "And you are all wet! What is it?" But Hughie held her fast, struggling with himself.

"What is it?" she asked again, turning to Ranald.

"We were running pretty fast--and it is a hot day--and--" But the clear gray-brown eyes were upon him, and Ranald found it difficult to go on.

"Oh, mother, you mustn't ask," cried Hughie; "I promised not to tell."

"Not to tell me, Hughie?" The surprise in the voice was quite too much for Hughie.

"Oh, mother, we did not want to frighten you--and--I promised."

"Then you must keep your promise. Come away in, my boy. Come in, Ranald."

It was her boy's first secret from her. Ranald saw the look of pain in the sweet face, and could not endure it.

"It was just nothing, Mrs. Murray," he began.

"Did you promise, too, Ranald?"

"No, that I did not. And there is nothing much to tell, only Hughie fell into the Deepole and the boys pulled him out!"

"Oh, mother!" exclaimed Hughie, "it was Ranald. He jumped right down from the tree right into the water, and kept me up. You told yourself, Ranald," he continued, delighted to be relieved of his promise; and on he went to give his mother, in his most picturesque style, a description of the whole scene, while Ranald stood looking miserable and ashamed.

"And Ranald was ashamed for me to tell you, and besides, he said you wouldn't let me go to the Deepole again. But you will, won't you mother? And you won't tell father, will you?"

The mother stood listening, with face growing whiter and whiter, till he was done. Then she stooped down over the eager face for some moments, whispering, "My darling, my darling," and then coming to Ranald she held her hand on his shoulder for a moment, while she said, in a voice bravely struggling to be calm, "God reward you, Ranald. God grant my boy may always have so good and brave a friend when he needs."

And from that day Ranald's life was different, for he had bound to him by a tie that nothing could ever break, a friend whose influence followed him, and steadied and lifted him up to greatness, long after the grave had hidden her from men's sight.

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