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Duck Lake
Chapter II. To the Rescue

WHILE the men were engaged in throwing water on the building Mr. Miller came running up, his face full of horror at the sight of the fire, and almost breathless from running.

‘Where’s Dave Dodge?’ he asked of the men.

‘Inside, raving drunk!’ replied Lanky.

‘Where’s his missus?'

*Inside too. Trying to get old Dave out.’

‘And you here, not trying to help her!’ said Miller, with a look of contempt and scorn at the cowards.

Then, turning, he whipped off his coat, and holding it over his head as a shield, he plunged into the smoke. He found the stairs, and saw Mrs. Dodge shaking her drunken husband and trying to awaken him to a sense of his perilous position.

‘Oh, Mr. Miller, save Dave, won’t you?’ she cried, and sank to the floor unconscious from the smoke.

‘You first,’ said the good old man, as he threw a blanket over her head and gathered the woman up in his stout arms.

He carried her downstairs and handed her out to the men, and then rushed back for Dave. He seized him by the head and arms and dragged him downstairs, and had him nearly out of danger outside the door when the roof fell. Some of the burning timbers fell on Mr. Miller and pinned him to the ground, burning him severely as they did so. The men, roused by the old man’s heroism, rushed to his rescue. They got Dodge away with little injury, but before Mr. Miller was released he was terribly burned. However, he was delighted and full of thanksgiving to God that he had rescued the people, and though the building might go, no lives would be lost.

Mr. Miller told Lanky to go and secure help and take them all to his place, and tell Mrs. Miller to get an extra bed ready.

Lanky sped away to secure help, while Huddy took charge of the patients. He wanted to help Mr. Miller, but though he was suffering intensely he said—

‘No, my man, dash some water in the woman’s face and bring her to.’

Huddy obeyed, and was rewarded by the woman opening her eyes and looking around in alarm.

‘Where’s Dave?' she asked.

'Over there, beside Mr. Miller,' replied Huddy.

‘Oh yes, now I know,’ she said. ‘Mr. Miller saved him.’

‘Yes, he did missus, and you too.’

‘Then let me up,’ she said; but in trying to raise herself she fell back in weakness.

Huddy then attempted to see what effect a little water would have on Dodge’s face.

‘Where am I?’ he growled, opening his eyes.

‘You were pretty nearly gone,’ said Huddy, ‘only John Miller pulled you out of the fire.’

‘Where is he?’

‘Right here, nearly killed from trying to rescue you.’

Dodge rose on his elbow. He looked stupidly at the burning building, and tried to comprehend the situation; but his drugged senses were slow and halting.

‘Is that my house?’

‘It is,’ replied Huddy, amused at the man’s stupidity and the distortions of his face as he tried to see clearly.

‘Who set it on fire?’

‘You did, when you chased us and went for more liquor.’

‘Chased you?’

‘Yes, you chased Lanky and me, broke open the bar-room door with a burning stick of wood from the kitchen stove. You knocked some liquor down, got some more, and ran back to bed. Don’t you remember?’

‘You’re a liar!’

‘Why, there’s your poor broken-nosed missus. Ask her. Do you remember smashing her nose?’

Dodge looked as black as thunder at Huddy.

‘Then, as true as you did that, you did the whole thing.’

‘And who brought me here, out of my bed?’

‘John Miller, I told you. There he lies, behind you, nearly smashed and burned to death when the roof fell.’

‘John Miller, John Miller! When the roof fell!’ said Dodge, half stupidly to himself. ‘Why did John Miller save me? I never did him a good turn in my life.’

‘Better ask him why he saved you, suggested Huddy.

‘Where is he?'

‘Oh, Dave, Dave, come here! I am so glad that Mr. Miller got you out safely,’ said Mrs. Dodge, as she looked over at her husband.

Dodge looked at her for a moment.

‘What’s the matter with you, missus?’ he asked half kindly.

‘Why, man,’ said Huddy, ‘she nearly died trying to save you; but she couldn’t, and then Mr. Miller had to save you both, see.'

Dodge reached over and took his wife’s extended hand, and pressed it half-unconsciously, half-affectionately. The world was whirling around him. He remembered distinctly hitting his wife, and now she nearly perished trying to rescue him. He remembered a hundred mean, tricky, dishonest things he had done to John Miller, but that John Miller should come and drag him out of his burning house he did not comprehend so distinctly.

‘And what was John Miller doing in my house?’ he asked.

‘Come here, Dave, and I’ll tell you,’ said Mr. Miller, when he heard the question.

Dodge struggled to his feet with a blanket around him and walked over as a man in a dream. Though suffering great pain, and his exertion increased it fourfold, he held up his blackened and badly burned hand to Dodge.

‘Take that, Dodge, and say that you forgive me.'

'Forgive you!’ stammered Dodge.

‘Yes; God says that we are to forgive one another as He, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven us. I’ve had some hard thoughts about you, Dave; I want them forgiven.’

‘I should think you had.’

‘Will you forgive them?' repeated Mr. Miller, almost pleadingly.

‘The score’s all on the other side, Miller. Don’t say anything more about it,’ said Dodge, as he dropped his hand and turned to see all who had come. Lanky returned with Woods, Farley, Mr. Green, the school-teacher, and half a dozen boys.

The teacher took charge of the wounded while the other men looked after the burning hotel. The sides had now fallen, and all that was left was only a mass of burning and smoking timbers and debris. There was some danger of the fire spreading to the stable, in which Dodge had some cows and hogs. But the men soon stopped this, and made any further damage from the fire an impossibility.

Mr. Green had some stretchers made of blankets that had been brought, and birch poles cut from the forest, and then, on the instruction of Mr. Miller, had the three wounded ones carried over to his house.

When Mrs. Miller first heard the news of the fire and the accident to her husband, she was nearly prostrated, but the request for another bed quickly roused her housewifely instincts, while the idea of receiving Dodge and his wife brought many mingled motives into play. When the men arrived with the patients, Mrs. Miller busied herself to get them all properly attended to. Mr. Miller was taken to his own bed, Dodge was put in the spare bedroom, while Mrs. Dodge, who had nearly recovered, was permitted to rest on the parlour lounge.

Mrs Miller brought out her ointments, and the teacher applied them to the wounds; but Mr. Miller’s condition was so serious that he ordered Huddy to get the best horse he could find in the neighbourhood and hasten away to Sandy Bay for the doctor. Mr. Miller was very quiet and patient.

‘Thank you, my dear,' he said to his wife; ‘that will do now. Let me rest, and you 'tend Dave. He got some burns too.'

And so the good old body drew up the blanket, tucked it around her husband, pulled the blind down, and left.

When she came to Dodge, she found that the teacher had bathed him and anointed his wounds. He was sitting up in the bed, robed in one of Mr. Miller's spotless nightgowns. In spite of all the care and attention, the cleansing water and soothing ointment, he was not sure of himself, and was very restless.

‘Lie down and rest,' said the teacher.

But Dodge treated him with a far-away look. The young man could not understand his thoughts, he seemed to say, and so he kept silent. But when Mrs. Miller entered his face changed.

‘I’m ashamed to come under your roof, Mrs. Miller,’ he said.

‘You well might be, Dave, for you’ve been a bad man to us, burnin’ our barn, killing our sheep, and stealing our calves. You’ve got a lot to answer for. I hope that you’ll repent of your sins ere it is too late,’ said the good woman; but she busied herself to fix the pillows and sheets and make the man more comfortable.

'Perhaps I’d better not bother you any more,’ said Dodge, ‘and get the men to take me to some other home.’

‘And where will you go to, Dave? John’s the best friend you’ve got in the whole place.’

‘I thought he was my worst enemy.’

‘That shows what a blind fool you were, Dave. John has prayed for you night and mornin’, and he wouldn’t hear a word said agin ye, though you did him many a mean turn sure enough. May the good Lord forgive you, Dave!’

Dodge groaned in spirit under the woman’s honest, straightforward words. The axe was not ‘laid’ at the root of the tree. It was in the hands of a pure, stout-hearted woman, and was, in purest honesty and unconsciousness, wielded with accuracy against a tree of stubborn bitterness. Dodge’s mind was very much alert. The journey through the woods had brought fresh air to his lungs, and the pain of his wounds awoke every slumbering faculty. The events of the morning were related again and again amongst his carriers until he understood the enormity of his own actions and the prompt and heroic work of John Miller. The unstinted kindness of the teacher, who told him that Mr. Miller had instructed him to render Dodge any assistance that he could, greatly impressed him. Dodge would have been less than a man if such kindness and self-sacrifice had not roused his noblest manhood. The actions of Mrs. Miller were full of kindliness; while her words—so full of truth—reminded him of the evil nature that was not dead, but only dormant or stunned within him. As he thought of it all, he shut his eyes for a moment.

‘Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?’ he groaned in agonizing thought.

Mrs. Miller turned from tidying up the room and looked at him.

‘That’s the right kind of a cry, Dave. You’re not the first man that cried it, either.’

‘Was ever a man so guilty and sinful?’ ‘Well, Dave, whether he was or not, I’m not the one to say, but the teacher will read about the one in the Bible who was wretched because of his sins, and cried to be relieved. The preacher or John will tell you how you may get peace, and you’ll come out all right yet.’

‘Do you think so, Mrs. Miller?'

‘Well, Dave, John has faith in you, and I’m beginnin’ to have some too, and I know that the Lord Jesus is no respecter of persons. He can save you as well as He can save anybody, and He just loves a good, heavy lift, Dave. Yes, He does, when a chap’s away down, man or woman. He loves to get right down under them and lift them right up. “For when we were without strength, Christ died for the ungodly.” He’s got to go down a long way to get you, hasn’t He, Dave?’

‘Yes,’ groaned Dave.

‘Well, Dave, look to Jesus Christ. The teacher’s here, and he’ll read to you about the “wretched man.” I’ll send ye up some nice gruel in a few minutes.’

And the good woman hastened away to the kitchen to prepare gruel and other good things for all her patients.

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