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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