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Duck Lake
Chapter I. The Burning of Duck Lake Hotel

WHEN Dodge slunk away into the bush, with the Warden’s threat upon him, he ground his teeth in silent rage. Was he not one of the first settlers here? —yes, he and old John Miller were the first that came into that section to take up land. They had wrested it from a wilderness, had built roads through it, and had induced others to come in and settle. They had organized the district, built the school, and made it what it is to-day.

The truth of the matter was that while Dave Dodge and John Miller were the first settlers, Miller was first, and plunged into the bush with his axe and stout heart. He soon had a clearing and a log cabin, to which he brought a bride as capable and stout-hearted as himself. Then came in Dodge, a shrewd, unscrupulous man, fond of drink, and when drunk, surly and quarrelsome; but he was a sociable fellow when sober, and had some other good qualities.

He took up land by the lake. A situation that was somewhat superior to John Miller’s, and in time, because of its location on the lake front, proved the more valuable possession. He built himself a little shanty, and spent most of his time hunting and trapping. When lumbermen came in, he shrewdly fore-stalled them by cutting all the pine himself and selling It—on the plea of clearing his land for farming. He thus netted himself some good hard cash, enlarged his house, and went to a neighbouring village, where he secured a wife. Several other men came in and took up land, and Miller petitioned the Government for a grant to build a road through their district. This was readily given, for the Government was ready to encourage its settlers, especially in new districts. Miller was given the contract for a portion of the road, and Dodge secured it for another section. Miller sought a road expert, and, though the condition of his section was the worst imaginable from rocks, ledges, ravines, still his road is creditable to this day, and the bridges were well made. Dodge had a much leveller piece of ground, and only a couple of narrow streams to bridge; but from the first his road was dangerous, and was a nightmare to all travellers after dark. Within three months, Miller with the other settlers had to turn out and rebuild the bridges and relay most of Dodge’s corduroy road. The most important part of the business to Dodge seemed to be to draw the money from the Government. With that money he secured permission to turn his house into a backwoods saloon and lay in his first supply of liquor. When the lumbermen had camps near by he held high carnival every night, and began to think himself the most important man in the whole district.

Instead of helping to secure the school, he threw every obstacle possible in its way. He bullied the settlers, and tried to drive Miller from his purpose. But he fought in vain. The Government’s inducements to the settlers were tempting, and the needs of their children were pressing, and so John Miller had the honour of leading his fellow settlers in a bee to build their log schoolhouse, which he saw was the very best that could under the circumstances be built. From that time the contest for improvement was fought by John Miller, and his determined enemy was always the saloon-keeper, Dave Dodge. But this was only a small portion of the inimical work of Dodge. His saloon became the centre of backwoods brawls, and evils that wrecked many lives and even some of the homes of the settlers. The place became so lawless that the Government had to take special measures to maintain order.

But as Dodge went home from the little Parsonage he was full of self-righteousness and self-justification. All that was good and beneficent in the neighbourhood he and Miller had done, and, in his estimation, Miller’s honour by no means outshone his. And now, after all this service to his district, and the tourists beginning to find out the beauties of the country, and to flock in scores and hundreds in the summer-time, thus making hotel business very profitable, to have this upstart of a Warden to threaten lifelong imprisonment over his head because of his mistakes—not to say diabolical sins—against his fellows, if he did not leave the country within a week!

Lanky was awed by Dodge’s manner, and had not been with him for years without knowing when silence was the better part of discretion. When Dodge reached his home, a very little provocation was needed to bring heavy penalty upon the first culprit. This one, unfortunately, happened to be his wife. The poor overworked creature had lain down on her hard couch in the kitchen and had gone to sleep. Two passing shantymen had called for a drink, and finding the bar-room unoccupied and no one in the house but a sleeping woman, they had helped themselves. Then, with a liberal supply of bottles of whisky and other liquors, they hastened away.

Raging as he was when he entered his bar-room, Dodge saw that nearly every bottle of liquor in sight was gone. He hurried into the kitchen, only to find his wife asleep.

‘Who’s been here to buy whisky?’ he demanded of his wife.

The wife sprang to her feet, rubbing her eyes.

‘Eh?’ she asked.

‘Who’s been here for liquor?’ he thundered again.

‘No one that I know.' she replied.

Then with an oath, he said—

‘You’ve allowed some rascals to rob me, you sleeping idiot!’ and with another oath of rage he struck her full in the face. With a screech the poor woman fell back on the couch with a broken nose.

Dodge hastened back into the bar-room, and after consoling himself that his till was not touched—whisky provoking the thieves sooner than gold—he pulled out another case of liquor, uncorked a bottle of whisky, and without the assistance of a glass poured it down his throat. When Dodge finished his drink, it was only to fall into a profound stupor. The demon of thirst was aroused, and when he awakened it was only to demand more whisky.

When John Miller came home from his visit to the Parsonage he told his wife many things, but he did not mention the sentence that hung over Dave Dodge. He pondered over it, and became more quiet than ever. His prayers at the family altar, night and morning, took on a greater intensity. He did not forget to pray for his pastor’s recovery, for God’s blessed Spirit and sustaining power to dwell with More in beginning the new life, and for grace to increase in the hearts of all the neighbours; he earnestly besought God to purify their hearts from all manner of evil thoughts, prejudice, and unforgivingness, and also that God would gird His saints with power to lay down their lives, if need be, for their fellows. He chose his passages of Scripture carefully, reading the sixth chapter of Matthew, the twelfth of Romans, and the fourth of Ephesians.

Mrs. Miller noted these things and tried to fathom their meaning, but though she was usually very shrewd she did not succeed.

‘John,’ she said one day, ‘do you despair of our preacher’s life?’

‘Oh no, Mary. Thanks to God and kind friends, he is coming around all right.'

‘Is More holding true?’ she ventured again.

‘As true as steel, praise His name!'

‘Then, John, why are you growing so white and quiet like? I never heard you pray so in your life.’

‘Mary, my good wife, I never needed God’s light and grace so much. The Warden has ordered Dave Dodge to leave the country within a week—dear me, and this is—this is the morning of the fourth day now. And you know, and God knows, that I haven’t fully forgiven him for burning our barn.’

‘No, I don’t know that,’ replied Mrs. Miller, stoutly. ‘You didn’t send him to jail, as he ought to have gone. You have pardoned him time and again for killing sheep and hogs. He stole a calf. You merely told him that he did it, and you could prove it. He drove you off with curses. You have prayed for him, night and morning, and never allowed an unkind word to be said about him.’

‘And would you speak one now? Why, where will he go to? He is most as old as me, and we have always lived here together. What would I do without him?’

‘Why, you’d have a chance to live in peace, and his dirty, little hell-hole would be shut up.’ Mrs. Miller seldom spoke as warmly. She had a large heart, and forgave many things; but her faith and love were limited. Dave Dodge was beyond the pale, and she could not understand why her husband clung so tenaciously to the old rascal.

‘Mary,’ said Miller, quietly, ‘I want you to pray earnestly for me, for I am going to see Dave to-day, and see what I can do for him.'

‘I’ll pray that God will send you back to me alive,’ said Mrs. Miller. And added quickly, when she saw the look that came upon her husband’s kindly face, ‘Yes, John, I believe that you are right. May God bless you, whatever happens!’

‘And God bless you, my dear, and fill you with the sweet love of Jesus!’

Then John Miller turned his attention to his morning’s work. After it was all completed, he dressed himself with much care, and bidding his wife good-bye, he went down the road to the ‘Duck Lake Hotel.’

On the same morning, the fourth day of Dodge’s debauch, his wife, poor creature, with her bandaged face, became alarmed at his terrible condition, and begged of Lanky and Huddy not to supply him with any more liquor. So the men desisted.

Dodge was in his bedroom over the kitchen and helplessly stupid. He begged, pleaded and coaxed, but all in vain. Then he stormed and threatened. His strength came to him suddenly as that of ten men, and he sprang up in a fury. The men ran for their lives down to the kitchen. They locked the door going into the bar-room, and then fastened the kitchen door on the outside. Dodge came down, breathing curses and threatenings. When he found the door to the bar-room locked, his fury knew no bounds. He sought a billet of wood, but found none; then, to the horror of the people watching through the windows, he opened the stove door, took out a stick of wood that was burning a little at one end, and with that pounded open the bar-room door. Then, throwing down the stick, he made a rush for a bottle of liquor; but in doing so he fell, and in falling brought down a shelf of bottles. Some of these broke. The liquor ran out, took fire when it touched the burning stick, and spread with astonishing rapidity. Dodge jumped up, seized a bottle of whisky and hurried back to the kitchen, unmindful of the flames. Then he hastened upstairs, and getting into his bed he broke the top off the bottle on the side of the bed, drank deeply, and fell into a stupor.

The flames made terrific headway in the dry old house, and as the smoke began to pour out of the bar-room door, Mrs. Dodge exclaimed—

‘Oh! my Dave will be burned—my Dave will be burned!’ And before the men could stop her she had pulled away the barricade at the kitchen door, and run in and up the stairs.

The men secured some pails, and, bringing water from the lake, dashed it ineffectually on the burning building. The fire raged with most fury in the bar-room up to the roof, and then back to the kitchen. So the stairs had not caught fire.

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