Ralph Connor.

Glengarry School Days: a story of early days in Glengarry online

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Produced by Donald Lainson



By Ralph Connor




















The "Twentieth" school was built of logs hewn on two sides. The cracks
were chinked and filled with plaster, which had a curious habit of
falling out during the summer months, no one knew how; but somehow the
holes always appeared on the boys' side, and being there, were found to
be most useful, for as looking out of the window was forbidden, through
these holes the boys could catch glimpses of the outer world - glimpses
worth catching, too, for all around stood the great forest, the
playground of boys and girls during noon-hour and recesses; an enchanted
land, peopled, not by fairies, elves, and other shadowy beings of
fancy, but with living things, squirrels, and chipmunks, and weasels,
chattering ground-hogs, thumping rabbits, and stealthy foxes, not
to speak of a host of flying things, from the little gray-bird that
twittered its happy nonsense all day, to the big-eyed owl that hooted
solemnly when the moon came out. A wonderful place this forest, for
children to live in, to know, and to love, and in after days to long

It was Friday afternoon, and the long, hot July day was drawing to a
weary close. Mischief was in the air, and the master, Archibald Munro,
or "Archie Murro," as the boys called him, was holding himself in with
a very firm hand, the lines about his mouth showing that he was fighting
back the pain which had never quite left him from the day he had twisted
his knee out of joint five years ago, in a wrestling match, and which,
in his weary moments, gnawed into his vitals. He hated to lose his
grip of himself, for then he knew he should have to grow stern and
terrifying, and rule these young imps in the forms in front of him by
what he called afterwards, in his moments of self-loathing, "sheer brute
force," and that he always counted a defeat.

Munro was a born commander. His pale, intellectual face, with its square
chin and firm mouth, its noble forehead and deep-set gray eyes, carried
a look of such strength and indomitable courage that no boy, however
big, ever thought of anything but obedience when the word of command
came. He was the only master who had ever been able to control, without
at least one appeal to the trustees, the stormy tempers of the young
giants that used to come to school in the winter months.

The school never forgot the day when big Bob Fraser "answered back" in
class. For, before the words were well out of his lips, the master, with
a single stride, was in front of him, and laying two swift, stinging
cuts from the rawhide over big Bob's back, commanded, "Hold out your
hand!" in a voice so terrible, and with eyes of such blazing light, that
before Bob was aware, he shot out his hand and stood waiting the blow.
The school never, in all its history, received such a thrill as the next
few moments brought; for while Bob stood waiting, the master's words
fell clear-cut upon the dead silence, "No, Robert, you are too big to
thrash. You are a man. No man should strike you - and I apologize." And
then big Bob forgot his wonted sheepishness and spoke out with a man's
voice, "I am sorry I spoke back, sir." And then all the girls began
to cry and wipe their eyes with their aprons, while the master and Bob
shook hands silently. From that day and hour Bob Fraser would have slain
any one offering to make trouble for the master, and Archibald Munro's
rule was firmly established.

He was just and impartial in all his decisions, and absolute in his
control; and besides, he had the rare faculty of awakening in his pupils
an enthusiasm for work inside the school and for sports outside.

But now he was holding himself in, and with set teeth keeping back the
pain. The week had been long and hot and trying, and this day had been
the worst of all. Through the little dirty panes of the uncurtained
windows the hot sun had poured itself in a flood of quivering light all
the long day. Only an hour remained of the day, but that hour was to
the master the hardest of all the week. The big boys were droning lazily
over their books, the little boys, in the forms just below his desk,
were bubbling over with spirits - spirits of whose origin there was no
reasonable ground for doubt.

Suddenly Hughie Murray, the minister's boy, a very special imp, held up
his hand.

"Well, Hughie," said the master, for the tenth time within the hour
replying to the signal.


The master hesitated. It would be a vast relief, but it was a little
like shirking. On all sides, however, hands went up in support of
Hughie's proposal, and having hesitated, he felt he must surrender or
become terrifying at once.

"Very well," he said; "Margaret Aird and Thomas Finch will act as
captains." At once there was a gleeful hubbub. Slates and books were
slung into desks.

"Order! or no spelling-match." The alternative was awful enough to quiet
even the impish Hughie, who knew the tone carried no idle threat, and
who loved a spelling-match with all the ardor of his little fighting

The captains took their places on each side of the school, and with
careful deliberation, began the selecting of their men, scanning
anxiously the rows of faces looking at the maps or out of the windows
and bravely trying to seem unconcerned. Chivalry demanded that Margaret
should have first choice. "Hughie Murray!" called out Margaret;
for Hughie, though only eight years old, had preternatural gifts in
spelling; his mother's training had done that for him. At four he knew
every Bible story by heart, and would tolerate no liberties with the
text; at six he could read the third reader; at eight he was the best
reader in the fifth; and to do him justice, he thought no better of
himself for that. It was no trick to read. If he could only run, and
climb, and swim, and dive, like the big boys, then he would indeed feel
uplifted; but mere spelling and reading, "Huh! that was nothing."

"Ranald Macdonald!" called Thomas Finch, and a big, lanky boy of fifteen
or sixteen rose and marched to his place. He was a boy one would look at
twice. He was far from handsome. His face was long, and thin, and dark,
with a straight nose, and large mouth, and high cheek-bones; but he had
fine black eyes, though they were fierce, and had a look in them that
suggested the woods and the wild things that live there. But Ranald,
though his attendance was spasmodic, and dependent upon the suitability
or otherwise of the weather for hunting, was the best speller in the

For that reason Margaret would have chosen him, and for another which
she would not for worlds have confessed, even to herself. And do you
think she would have called Ranald Macdonald to come and stand up beside
her before all these boys? Not for the glory of winning the match and
carrying the medal for a week. But how gladly would she have given up
glory and medal for the joy of it, if she had dared.

At length the choosing was over, and the school ranged in two opposing
lines, with Margaret and Thomas at the head of their respective forces,
and little Jessie MacRae and Johnnie Aird, with a single big curl on
the top of his head, at the foot. It was a point of honor that no blood
should be drawn at the first round. To Thomas, who had second choice,
fell the right of giving the first word. So to little Jessie, at the
foot, he gave "Ox."

"O-x, ox," whispered Jessie, shyly dodging behind her neighbor.

"In!" said Margaret to Johnnie Aird.

"I-s, in," said Johnnie, stoutly.

"Right!" said the master, silencing the shout of laughter. "Next word."

With like gentle courtesies the battle began; but in the second
round the little A, B, C's were ruthlessly swept off the field with
second-book words, and retired to their seats in supreme exultation,
amid the applause of their fellows still left in the fight. After
that there was no mercy. It was a give-and-take battle, the successful
speller having the right to give the word to the opposite side. The
master was umpire, and after his "Next!" had fallen there was no appeal.
But if a mistake were made, it was the opponent's part and privilege to
correct with all speed, lest a second attempt should succeed.

Steadily, and amid growing excitement, the lines grew less, till there
were left on one side, Thomas, with Ranald supporting him, and on the
other Margaret, with Hughie beside her, his face pale, and his dark eyes
blazing with the light of battle.

Without varying fortune the fight went on. Margaret, still serene, and
with only a touch of color in her face, gave out her words with even
voice, and spelled her opponent's with calm deliberation. Opposite her
Thomas stood, stolid, slow, and wary. He had no nerves to speak of, and
the only chance of catching him lay in lulling him off to sleep.

They were now among the deadly words.

"Parallelopiped!" challenged Hughie to Ranald, who met it easily, giving
Margaret "hyphen" in return.

"H-y-p-h-e-n," spelled Margaret, and then, with cunning carelessness,
gave Thomas "heifer." ("Hypher," she called it.)

Thomas took it lightly.


Like lightning Hughie was upon him. "H-e-i-f-e-r."

"F-e-r," shouted Thomas. The two yells came almost together.

There was a deep silence. All eyes were turned upon the master.

"I think Hughie was first," he said, slowly. A great sigh swept over the
school, and then a wave of applause.

The master held up his hand.

"But it was so very nearly a tie, that if Hughie is willing - "

"All right, sir," cried Hughie, eager for more fight.

But Thomas, in sullen rage, strode to his seat muttering, "I was just as
soon anyway." Every one heard and waited, looking at the master.

"The match is over," said the master, quietly. Great disappointment
showed in every face.

"There is just one thing better than winning, and that is, taking defeat
like a man." His voice was grave, and with just a touch of sadness. The
children, sensitive to moods, as is the characteristic of children, felt
the touch and sat subdued and silent.

There was no improving of the occasion, but with the same sad gravity
the school was dismissed; and the children learned that day one of
life's golden lessons - that the man who remains master of himself never
knows defeat.

The master stood at the door watching the children go down the slope to
the road, and then take their ways north and south, till the forest hid
them from his sight.

"Well," he muttered, stretching up his arms and drawing a great breath,
"it's over for another week. A pretty near thing, though."



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

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

"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

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Online LibraryRalph ConnorGlengarry School Days: a story of early days in Glengarry → online text (page 1 of 14)