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HOME > Inspiring Novel > A Son of Courage > CHAPTER XXIV BILLY TO THE RESCUE
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 Nature had crooked a wooded arm about Rond Eau Bay so that her tranquillity seldom was disturbed by the fall gales which piled the waters of Lake Erie high and made her a veritable death-trap for late-sailing ships. To the thunder of heavy waves upon the pine-clad beach the little bay slept sweetly, while half a league beyond the bar a tempest-torn, dismasted schooner might be battered to pieces, or a heavy freighter, her back broken by the twisting seas, might sink to final rest. But there were times when Rond Eau awoke from her dreaming to gnash her white teeth and throw her hissing challenge to man to dare ride her banked-up seas in open boat. At such times only the foolish or venturesome listened. When the gale swept in from the East it transformed the upper waters into a seething cauldron, while, plunging in the nine-mile sweep from the West, it swept water at the foot, frothing and turbulent, across the rushlands.  
At such times expert indeed must be the hand that guides the frail skiff through those treacherous seas. But the slim punt which rounded Mud Point betwixt the darkness and the dawn, in the teeth of an all night gale, was propelled by one who knew every whimsical mood of Rond Eau. Now high on frothy comber, now lost to view between the waves, the little craft beat onward, a speck of driftwood on the angry waves. Sullen daylight was revealing a world of wind-whipped, spray-drenched desolation when the punt at last rounded the point and swept into the comparative calm of the lee shore. Then the rower shipped his oars and glanced at his companion who sat huddled low in the bow of the boat, the collar of his shooting coat turned high about his ears.
"Phew! teacher, some pull, that! Must'a been half an hour beatin' up from Levee."
"It seemed longer than that to me, Billy," laughed Stanhope. "Once or twice I thought we were goners, but you pulled the old girl through nobly."
"I don't know as I ever put her through a rougher sea," said Billy as he began placing the decoys. "We'll get set, then we'll push into the rushes, hide our boat, an' settle down comfortable in our blind. You'll find it warm, an' snug, an' wind-proof as a rat house, soon's I get a fire started in the little stove. Hello!" as a brown shaggy head poked itself from beneath the seat and a cold nose touched his wrist, "did you think I didn't know you was there, Moll?"
Moll whined and wagged her stub of a tail, undoubtedly sensing from her master's words and manner that her offense, in "sneakin' in," had been pardoned. Five minutes later they were seated snugly inside four walls of tightly woven rushes, the blind man's face alive and glowing with the joy of once more feeling the moist kiss of open water, his ears atuned for the first whistle of incoming wings. Billy crouched by his side, gun in hand, eyes sweeping the lighting bay.
Suddenly the spaniel's tail commenced beating a soft tattoo on the rush floor and Billy's grip tightened on the walnut stock.
"How many?" whispered Stanhope.
"Five, bluebill. Comin' right to us."
A moment later the "swowee" of the cutting wings sounded, close in, and the old gun spoke twice.
"Two down," cried Stanhope. "Good work, Billy!"
Billy took his eyes from the pair of dead ducks, floating shoreward and turned wonderingly to his companion.
"Teacher," he said in awed tones, "sometimes I'm sure you kin see. If you can't see how do you find out things like you do? How did you know I killed jest two ducks?"
"Listened for the splash," Stanhope answered. "Are you loaded, Billy? There's another flock coming."
"All ready but cappin'. Now, where's the flock?"
"Coming up from behind, so Moll says."
"Gosh!" whispered Billy. "I should say so; they're right onto us," and almost with the words the old gun roared again and again.
"Good!" exulted Stanhope. "Three down, Billy!"
"Yep, but one dived an' is gettin' away. After him, Moll." The spaniel, with a joyful whine, cleared the rush wall and splashed into the water. "Fine!" cried Billy, as he reloaded, "Moll's goin' to bring him in."
"Wounded whistlers aren't as hard to retrieve as redhead or bluebill," said Stanhope.
"How did you know they was whistlers?" cried Billy.
"By the sound of their wings, of course," laughed the man. "There," as a small duck flashed past the blind, "that's a green-winged teal, and he's flying at the rate of about ninety miles an hour."
Eastward the leaden clouds opened to let an arrow of orange light pierce the damp mists of dawn; then the fissure closed again and tardy daylight disclosed only a dun-colored waste of cowering rushes and tossing water. Far out in the bay a great flock of ducks arose, the beat of their wings growing up above the boom of the wind, stood black against the lowering skies an instant, then swept like a gigantic shadow close down above the curling water. Here and there detached fragments of the flock grew up and drifted shoreward. A flock of widgeon, gleaming snow-white against the clouds as they swerved in toward the decoys, were joined by a pair of kingly canvasbacks. Swiftly they approached, twisted aside just out of range, and then turned and came in with wings set against the wind.
Stanhope heard the splash of their bodies, as they lit among the decoys. He wondered why Billy did not shoot. A tense moment passed and still the old gun gave no voice. Moll was whining low and eagerly. Then, suddenly, there arose the sound of webbed feet slapping water, strong wings lifted to the wind, and Stanhope knew that the ducks had gone.
"Billy!" he cried, "why didn't you shoot?"
"I guess I didn't think about it," said the boy. "There's a boat out yonder, an' she's havin' trouble. I was watchin' her."
"A boat in trouble? Where is she?"
"Out in the middle of the bay. There's two men in her; she must be shippin' water, 'cause she's low down. She's one of Swanson's boats. He ought'a know better than let a couple of greenies out on that sea."
Billy had thrown off his shooting-coat and was climbing out of the blind.
"What are you going to do?" asked Stanhope.
"Goin' out to give a hand," shouted Billy. "No, teacher, you best stay right here; you can't help me any an' I may have to bring them two shooters ashore in the punt."
His last words were drowned in the wind. Already he was dragging the punt from the reeds. A moment later Stanhope heard the dip of his oars as he rounded the point and put the tiny craft into the seas and his cheerful hail, "I'll be back soon, teacher."
With broadening day the gale had strengthened. Stanhope felt a few stinging snow-pellets on his face, as he gazed, unseeing, outward and waited with tense nerves for the hail of his young friend. Half an hour passed—it seemed like hours to the man waiting, hoping, fearing—and still Billy did not come. He replenished the fire and, his hand coming in contact with the coat which Billy had discarded, he held it on his knees, close to the little stove. Slowly the minutes dragged past and a cold dread of what might have happened grew in the blind man's heart. Billy had likely reached the boat only in time to see it founder and in striving to save its exhausted occupants——.
Unable to endure the thought Stanhope sprang to his feet and lifting his arms high shouted with all his strength, "Billy, Billy boy!"
"Ho, teacher!" came an answering voice. "We're comin' straight in with the wind. I've got 'em both."
Stanhope sank back on his box, his relaxed nerves throbbing and his lips forming the words: "Thank God!"
A few minutes later Billy tumbled into the blind. "Quick," he cried, as he drew on his coat. "They're nigh done fer. We've gotta keep 'em movin'. Good! I see you've heated the tea; I'll jest take it along. We'll leave gun an' decoys right here with Moll to watch 'em, 'cause we're likely to have our hands full. Are you ready, teacher?"
"All set," cried Stanhope. "Leave your belt loose so I can hang to it and I'm with you. That's right. Who were they, Billy?"
"Couple of shooters from Cleveland. One of 'em's a big, strong feller, an' he ain't as near done up as the other. I started 'em to shore along the rush-track. They'll be all hunky so long as they keep goin'. We best get 'em to the nearest house."
"Well, that's my place," answered Stanhope. "How am I navigating, Billy?"
"Fine; keepin' up as well as though you saw right where you're goin'. They're only a little ahead now."
As the wooded shore was reached they came up with the rescued men. Billy passed the chilled and wretched two the hot tea and after they had drunk he and Stanhope took the lead through the stumpy fields.
Half an hour later, seated about the roaring fire in Stanhope's cottage, huge cups of hot coffee on their knees, the............
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