The Measure of the Rule - Robert Barr - ebook
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Robert Barr has been almost completely overlooked by critics and anthologists of Canadian literature, in part because, although he was educated in Canada, he spent most of his life in the United States and England. However, since most of his serious novels are either set in Canada or have some Canadian connection, Barr deserves attention. „The Measure of the Rule” is a 1907 coming-of-age novel about a country teacher who migrates to the city to study engineering, but is forced by dint of circumstance to go to a teacher’s training college, where he meets his wife-to-be. In this novel, Barr is exorcising unhappy memories and is ironic, even bitter, about the school’s system and school’s quality of education, the rigid discipline observed by its staff and their indifference to their students, and the sexual segregation practiced. A number of men under whom Barr actually studied are vividly caricatured.

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Liczba stron: 436

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER I

Perhaps thou wert a Mason, and forbiddenBy oath to tell the secrets of thy trade.

Address to an Egyptian Mummy.

The short winter day, increasingly cold, was drawing to a close as the train, ninety minutes late, came to a standstill under the lofty canopy of the Union Station. For hours and hours it had crunched along over a frozen land, losing time because of slippery rails and accumulated snow. With the ending of that railway journey a section of my own life had reached its conclusion; for, like the train that carried me, hitherto I had been losing time. On the previous day an ambitious friend, solemnly bidding me farewell, suddenly realized to the full the importance of the plunge I was making, and put the question–

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-three,” I replied. “How old are you?”

“Thank God, I’m only nineteen,” was his fervent answer.

To-day, I being well on in years, there seems an element of humour in that brief conversation, but it was serious enough at the time, and, for a moment, this four years’ handicap pressed its weight upon my shoulders.

Heretofore my life had been spent first in the labour of tilling a backwoods farm; second, in the labour of teaching a backwoods school. It is delightful to read in books about farming, and even the periodical press contains now and then articles upon agriculture so charmingly written that the reader is soon convinced of the simplicity, healthfulness and independence which a rural existence presents to its votaries, and as I peruse these contributions I am filled with a vague longing to go back to the land. Candour compels me to state, however, that at the time I was engaged in this vocation the prospects which look so well in print had not been presented to me. I was quite willing to leave to others the delights of raising wheat while I earned my bread in some other manner. Being thus determined to exchange the complex existence of a farm for the simple life of the city, I spent my evenings and wet days in study of one kind and another, reading everything in the shape of a book that came to my hands, discovering thus a very pretty taste for mathematics and science, finding algebra as interesting as the puzzle column in our weekly paper, while Euclid’s problems seemed to be much better constructed than the average short story, with conclusions that were invariably more logical and satisfactory than the efforts of even our best authors, and thus it came about that one day I journeyed to our county town, passed certain examinations inflicted by the State, and emerged from the ordeal with a third-class certificate, licensing me to teach school for the term of three years from the date thereof.

I now got my first lesson regarding the nonsense talked by those charming writers who show the advantages of farming life. My day’s work, instead of beginning anywhere from four to six o’clock in the morning, started at nine, and ended at four, while my recompense was half-a-dozen times the amount I could have earned at farm work, though I toiled all day and half the night. I have owned farms since that time, but laboured on them merely by proxy, earning my bread, as Artemus Ward said, by the sweat of the hired man’s brow.

The forced economy of the farm was part of my nature, so I determined in that three years covered by my teacher’s certificate to save enough money to enable me to grapple with a college. I knew that my future lay along one of two paths: mathematics or science. Science fascinated me, and on more than one occasion I had nearly blinded myself with premature explosions. A young man with a lean purse, and thirty miles between him and the nearest chemist’s shop, one would think had little opportunity for research, nevertheless so successful were some of my experiments that the inhabitants of the house where I boarded were compelled on several occasions to camp out in the green fields while the breezes of heaven blew noxious vapours through the open windows. I achieved in some sort a local reputation, but the desire to have me board at some one else’s house became exceedingly general throughout our neighbourhood. I dreamed of ultimately receiving the thanks of the Royal Society by discovering some new and particularly objectionable compound.

On the other hand, there was a chance that I might be a success in mathematics, perhaps as a grave college professor, or who knows what else. A young man whose taste for light reading is such that he goes through six books of Euclid like a ravaging bush-fire, and yearns for more, seems adapted for progression along that line.

At the moment when the respective claims of mathematics and science swung in equal adjustment, there was slowly approaching me across the fields and through the woods a young man of my own age who was destined to settle the matter. Looking out of the window of the white school-house on the hill one afternoon, I saw this young man with bent back and wide-spread legs in the field below, peering through a little telescope on a tripod. He was making incantations with his hands, waving now the right, now the left, and far down the valley stood another chap, holding upright a red and white wooden pole taller than himself, which he adjusted this way or that in response to the manual signs made by his chief. I knew at once what was afoot. These were the advance scouts of the railway which had been talked about for years and years. Nobody in the neighbourhood believed it would ever be built, and yet the other day I read that the world’s record of railway speed had been broken along the line this young man was surveying.

It was nearly four o’clock in the afternoon, and as no pupil is likely to complain if the school is dismissed a few minutes too soon, I let the class go, climbed a fence, crossed a field, and struck up an acquaintance with the civil engineer. The young man was as glad to meet me as I was to meet him, for as the sun declined he became anxious about a stopping place for the night. On this point I was able to relieve his mind. I lived at a house some two miles further west, and there I assured him he could secure a room, and something to eat, such as it was. He was accompanied by a retinue of axe men who slashed their way through the forest when tall timber intercepted the line. The choppers were a rough crowd, given to profanity and chewing tobacco. Their days were employed in cutting a straight and narrow path, but not necessarily in following it. This gang slept in barns, with or without permission, or in the woods if night overtook them there. So, indeed, did the civil engineer and his super, who carried the wooden pole, when they could do no better, but the two young men preferred more civilized environment when they could get it.

We spent a red-letter evening after supper. The engineer was an excellent story-teller, and he recited extract after extract out of a book then just published, entitled The Innocents Abroad, written by a man I had never heard of, named Mark Twain. I resolved to buy the book, for the author seemed to have touched on several points overlooked by my ancient comrade, Euclid. But the most startling thing I learned that evening was the compensation received by an engineer running a railway line. The sum seemed incredible in its hugeness, and I resolved at once to join so lucrative a profession. I wrote to the University several hundred miles away, asking particulars of the civil engineering course, and received a printed slip of paper which gave a list of books, and various interesting items from which I gathered that two years from entering the University I might, if reasonably diligent, write C.E. after my name. And thus it was that on a particular evening in the early part of January I found myself one of the crowd emerging from the train at the Union Station of the city that contained the University.

Leaving my trunk in custody of the railway company, and taking only a small hand-bag, for I should need to stop at an hotel for a night or two, until I learned whether I should be assigned rooms at the University, or be directed to lodgings outside, I walked up a slight hill, and came to the main street of the town, the crisp snow creaking under my feet. The weather was intensely cold, but very dry, and the air seemed as exhilarating as if some magician had taken all the nitrogen out of it. I needed no stimulant, however, for I was already in a state of such exaltation that the snow I trod might have been the clouds of heaven. Although the lamps were lit in two long lines, stretching so far that they seemed to merge into one another, on either side of the main street, darkness had not yet set in. I stood for a moment, and gazed down past the Union Station to the great lake upon whose shore the city stood. To the eye it was as expansive as the ocean, for in the clearest day no man can see to the other side. Motionless it lay, and sailless; frozen, and pure white with the wreathed snow that covered it to the horizon. Along the water front rose innumerable masts of ships locked in the iron grip of winter. A mile or more away a curved island partially enclosed a bay that faced the city, and the surface of this bay, dark as slate, was of smooth, clear ice, from which the wind seemed to have swept every vestige of snow.

In the deepening gloom it looked like a liquid lake forgotten by the frost, and this illusion was strengthened by two or three belated ice-yachts skimming over its surface, their huge sails, out of all proportion to the hulls, making them, in the haze of distance, to resemble low-flying gulls of incredible swiftness. The street cars were gliding along on runners, tuneful bells jingling on the necks of the horses; the rails temporarily abandoned under the snow. But I did not patronize the company. My tip for the next two years was rigid economy, and it cost nothing to walk. On my right hand I passed a huge hotel, which seemed to me the largest in the world, occupying the greater part of a whole city block. That hotel might be mine some day after the letters C.E. had been attached to my name, but not to-night, yet poverty seemed simply a good joke, a merely temporary inconvenience. Life was full of such amazing possibilities. I had just stepped across the threshold of the world, so I snapped my fingers at the big hotel, and cried aloud–

“Some day, my friend, we’ll meet again.”

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