Gus was busy stacking firewood when he heard his neighbor shouting his name. “Gus? You got any rope? We got a kid in the pond.”
Gus dropped his ax and ran to his shed where his grandson was puttering with an old lawn mower. “Jack, grab me that rope. Hurry.” Jack snatched it and followed him, running to keep up.
“What's going on?”
“Don says there's a kid fell through the ice.”
Jack felt a shudder run through him. If there was one thing his granddad had pounded into his head was that he was not to go out on the ice without someone with him and certainly not this late in the season.
They broke through the trees to find a dozen or so folks standing on the shore, gesturing across the ice. There was a hole, about twenty feet from shore and a dark head bobbing in the water.
“Crow,” Gus grabbed a tall, thin man. “What can we do?”
“We've called the fire department but I...I don't think we can wait. I tried going out there but the ice won't support my weight.”
“Damn,” Gus looked around. “And you're the lightest one out here.”
“I'll go,” a young voice piped up.
Stunned, Gus whirled around. “Jack!”
“I'm the littlest one here, I don't weigh much.” He thumbed his chest.
“Jack, I am not letting you go out there. No damn way.”
“Gus, we could tie him off, let him crawl out there.”
Gus yelled, “Have you lost your mind? I'm not sending a child out there.”
Jack had grabbed the rope and starting knotting it. “Tie it around my waist.”
“Here,” Crow took the rope.
Gus grabbed Jack by the elbows. “Jack, slow down, think about this.” He stared into intense, suddenly adult brown eyes.
“Granddad, that kid's drowning, we can't just do nothing.”
Gus sighed, then took the rope. “Okay tie it around his waist and loop it though his belt loops. Jack, you holler when you've got hold of him and we'll pull you both in.” He took a deep breath. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“We can't just leave him out there to die.”
Jack inched his way across the ice, holding his breath as if that would make him weigh less. “Hey, hold on, I'm coming,” he shouted.
“Hurry, I can't hold on!” The voice was weak, frightened.
“Okay, grab hold.”
“I can't let go of Freddie!” The boy cried.
“Freddie?” Jack was shocked.
“My dog. If I let go, he's going under.”
“Man, I can't pull both of you out. Reach out, now!”
“No,” the boy was now sobbing.
“For crying...” Jack swore. “Can you pull him out of the water?” He hoped it was a small dog; if it was a big one, they were all three goners.
Jack saw a couple of paws scrabbling for purchase on the ice. He jolted forward, reaching as far as he could and finally got a grip on a sodden hairy leg. He yanked as hard as he could and the dog popped out of the water with a squeal. Without looking, Jack slung the dog behind him. “Come on, give me your hand.”
“I got your damned dog now give me your hands!” Jack got hold of mittens, then worked his way up until he had a good grip of the collar of the boy's coat. “Pull!” He shouted as loud as he could, feeling the boy's weight as he slid up on the ice, which was still slivering ominously. Slowly, they slid away from the hole and onto firmer ice. Jack could hear the continuous cries of “Pull!” behind him.
Wildly, Jack looked around. Freddie was frantically skittering on the ice, his paws slipping and sliding, skidding back toward the center of the pond. Smothering an oath and breathing heavily, he took a better grip with his left hand and released his right hand momentarily, long enough to grasp whatever part of the dog he could get to. “Here,” Jack shoved the dog toward the boy, trapping him between the two of them. “Hang the hell on to him.”
It seemed like hours until Jack finally felt hands on his ankles, then his legs, firmly pulling them off the ice.
“Jack,” he looked up from his seat on the floor in front of the roaring fireplace. The rescued boy and his dog had been whisked away by the fire department and Gus had rushed Jack home for a hot shower, a change of clothes and a mug of chocolate. Gus fumbled, “That was an awful brave thing you did today, buddy.”
Jack ducked his head and blushed. “It was nothing. I knew you guys weren't going to let me fall in or anything.”
“It was still brave. I'm very proud of you.”
Jack hoped his flushed face was because of the fire but he suspected it was the warm feeling of praise from his normally taciturn grandfather. “Well, you and Dad always said that we should help people if we can. And you wouldn't have left him behind either, would you?”
Gus sighed at those earnest brown eyes. “No, I wouldn't. Still,” he looked down at his big strong hands that continued to tremble just a bit. “I...I just think we shouldn't mention this to your mother. At least for a while.”
Jack grinned. “She might be pretty mad, huh?”
Gus grinned back. “No 'might' to it, bud.”