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Title: Drops Of Water
Author: Fred M White
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eBook No.: 1200811h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: January 2012
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FRED M. WHITE

DROPS OF WATER
A "GIPSY" STORY

ILLUSTRATED BY CHARLES J. CROMBIE

Published in The Windsor Magazine, Vol XLII, Jun 1915, pp 61- 66


IN the course of Gipsy's researches in the fields of unwritten drama, he occasionally came across a character that he found it difficult to place, and the man called David Granadus was one of them. This was all the more annoying because outwardly, at any rate, Granadus was just the type to fill in a cast that lacked a suitable villain. Granadus was a huge man, with the muscles of an ox and a fine capacity for continuous labour, so long as it was plodding and mechanical, and not too feverishly strenuous. He was dark and swarthy as Gipsy himself, and undoubtedly there was some Zingari blood in his veins. He was quiet and moody, quick to resent anything in the way of a personality, and, when in drink, decidedly dangerous. Gipsy felt instinctively that great pluck was not one of the outstanding virtues of this man, big and powerful though he was. He had come to the Settlement a few weeks before, bringing with him his little girl, who appeared to be the one thing in life he cared for—that was, so long as he kept away from the canteen. When he did yield to temptation, then the child Zara was terribly neglected for days, and sometimes depended on charitable neighbours for food. More than one kind-hearted navvy's wife had suggested to Granadus that the child should board with her; but he refused to listen, and so father and daughter "kept" in the hut which had been assigned to the man, where they managed after a fashion of their own. A pretty child was Zara, a child of engaging manners and ways, wild as a hawk and without an atom of shyness. Further up the valley certain married engineers dwelt in what had once been farmhouses, and in some of these Zara was a welcome guest. More than one of these leaders of labour had spoken to Granadus on the subject of the child, only to be sullenly told to mind their own business.

Zara and Gipsy were great friends, and for the little girl's sake Gipsy tolerated Granadus. He was almost inclined to make the big, moody man into a suffering hero, whose one object in life was the little girl, the sole offspring of a broken romance. But this was only when Granadus chose to behave himself, and the villain theory found most favour, especially when the lure of the canteen was too strong for Granadus.

Just now Gipsy was particularly annoyed, because Zara had been ailing for some days, and Granadus was more than usually neglectful. He had been drinking heavily for the last week, he was insolent and insubordinate, so that one morning he found himself in contact with one of the divisional engineers, and chose to be flagrantly mutinous before a gang of men, most of whom had made trouble on more than one occasion. Engineer Leslie's firm-cut lips snapped together, and those grey eyes of his gleamed. He was not a big man, but every ounce of him was wire and whipcord, and he was an athlete to his finger-tips. And he knew how to use those hands of his, and here was an opportunity he had been seeking for a long time. There was no hatred in his heart, only a cool, grim determination to break this mutinous spirit and put Granadus in his place. Leslie knew all about Zara—indeed, the child was a free visitor at his own house, up in the spur of the big valley where one of the huge dams was under construction. And only that morning Mrs. Leslie had been telling her husband what a shame it was that that dear little girl should be so terribly neglected when she was obviously sickening for some illness, and, furthermore, she had suggested that her husband should speak firmly to Granadus about it. And now the light of battle was shining in Leslie's eyes.

"Do you want me to make you?" he asked crisply.

The other men, grinning over their work, listened hopefully. They grew more hopeful still as Granadus flung an insult over his shoulder at his chief and dropped his pick. A second later, and something struck Granadus under his left ear with the force of a kicking mule. The red light danced before his eyes as he advanced to battle, all his primitive passions were aroused now; his one simple desire was to kill Frank Leslie out of hand. He was big enough and strong enough to do it, but it was a question of brute strength clumsily applied against science and agility and grim, calculating coolness. Still, it was a good fight as long as it lasted, though from the very first the engineer had all the best of it. He waited patiently till his antagonist began to gasp and blow and stagger at the knees, and then he closed. It was as if a dozen iron blows were striking the unhappy Granadus simultaneously. He could feel them on his face, rattling on his ribs, then all the force was jolted out of his body by one tremendous blow on the point of the chin, and he lay there on the heather, spent and beat to the world.

"You asked for that," Leslie said quietly. "There are one or two more here who seem to be anxious for an argument. If they are ready—well, I am."

But apparently the argument was conclusive enough, and Leslie went his way with the pleasing assurance that he had not been wasting his time. All the same, he had made a bitter enemy, who would take his revenge all in good time, as Gipsy was not long in finding out. He went out of his way to warn the engineer, who was a favourite of his, but Leslie merely laughed. For the rest of the week Granadus brooded and drank deeply, and the sick child up in the hut yonder was more neglected than ever. Gipsy's imagination was touched now; he could scent tragedy in the air, he had a feeling that it was not far off. He reflected that Leslie's little thatched farmhouse was situated in a tiny amphitheatre in one of the spurs of the valley—in fact, the very spot that the spirit of tragedy might indicate as the scene of a cold-blooded murder. It was on the Saturday night that Gipsy heard something from the wife of one of the navvies that sent him uneasily scouting up the valley.

There had been a good deal of rain lately, and here and there were large volumes of flood-water behind such temporary stanks* as had been made to keep the spates back, so that the hands could work the valley cuttings under normal conditions. If one of these stanks gave way, then the consequences might be serious, especially in the case of a lonely house like that which had been given over to Leslie and his wife. If trouble came in the night, the spur would be washed out by the flood, and every living soul there beyond the reach of recovery. There was no real danger, for the work had been effectively done, and Gipsy was almost inclined to ask himself what he was afraid of.

[* stank: A dam or mound to stop water.]

He forged his way up the valley quietly and with that absence of noise which is an instinct of the born poacher. He came at length to the narrow track that led down the spur towards the house where Leslie and his wife were installed. So far everything seemed all right, and Gipsy smiled at his fears. But only for a moment, and then there broke on his quick ear the unmistakable sound of a pick striking on stones. The noise came again and again, many times repeated, before Gipsy could locate it. Those quick eyes of his were almost like those of a cat in the dark; he crouched and advanced on his hands and knees, and then it became plain as daylight.

There was Granadus at work on a huge boulder of rock which formed the foundation-stone of one of the stanks. Once that gave way a head of water three feet in diameter would spout with the force of a battering-ram through the opening; it would tear away the rest of the stank like so much rotten cheese. Five minutes more, and something like the full force of fifty million gallons of water would roar over the shoulder of the spur and carry everything before it like thistledown before a raging gale.


There was Granadus at work...

As Gipsy rose to his feet, he could see that the huge boulder was quivering and shaking, and that already a thin trickle of moisture ran over it like a perspiration. He could hear Granadus grunting with his exertions, he could see the pick swung over those massive shoulders for a final effort.

But that effort never came. Gipsy did not wait to count the heavy odds against him. He grabbed for a fragment of granite and brought it down with a cruel swing on to the head of Granadus. As the big man dropped, Gipsy turned him over and hammered on his face in a convulsion of rage and fury. When at length Granadus came to himself, Gipsy was sitting on his chest with his bands gripping the other's throat.

"Yer murderous devil!" he screamed. "So that's yer game, is it? I'll kill yer, yer dog ! Now listen to me. Get up I I'm not afraid of yer, and I'll know 'ow ter deal with yer presently. If that there stone gives way, then it's all up with the people down at the thatched cottage. Lor, talk about Nemesis! Now 'ere's a situation, if yer only knew it—an' yer don't—as 'ud make the fortune of any play. But I ain't goin' ter tell yer wot it is—least, not yet. I don't suppose yer never read a book by a chap wot's called Dickens. Never 'eard o' Ralph Nickleby, I expect. Well, yer will later on. It's lucky I come along ter save yer from a fate wot's worse than death. If yer've got a spark o' goodness in yer, yer '11 give a 'and. If yer won't, I'll blooming well make yer!"

But apparently there was no more fight left in Granadus. Beyoud doubt the wild fury of Gipsy's onslaught had sobered him.

He stood there uneasy and dejected, a beaten man, ready to do now exactly what he was told.

"Come on!" Gipsy cried. "It's all a matter o' minutes. If that there rock gives way, then nothin' can save them people down the spur yonder. And there's no time ter go down an' warn 'em, either. 'Ere, yer shove that light crane along them rails, whilst I goes an' gets 'old of a jack. Then we'll jack up one o' the wheels an' turn the 'ead o' the crane over agin that stone. See wot I mean? Upset the crane agin the stone an' form a sort of iron support for it. With a bit o' luck that stone'll 'old till I can get 'old of a cartridge or two an' blow a breach in the stank on the far side o' the slope. If I can manage that, then the situation's saved—if yer understand wot I mean, which yer don't. Now, then, get a move on, unless yer wants ter finish at the end of a rope!"

Granadus started to work mechanically; he slaved like a man in a dream. All his moodiness seemed to have gone now; he listened to Gipsy and followed his instructions as if he had been a gigantic child. It required all his abnormal strength to turn the crane, but the wheels began to move at last, and presently the huge mass of steel came to a halt in front of the trembling rock that was now holding the great flood of water back by so slender a tenure. Gipsy came staggering out of the darkness, dragging a jack behind him. The little man was sweating from head to foot with the force of his exertions; he trembled lest be should be too late. For if once the barrier of rock gave way, then the passage of a minute would see a roaring torrent of water sweeping headlong down the spur. Even now the rock groaned and creaked. Through a dozen orifices many yellow spurts gushed out. Then Gipsy worked the jack under the wheels of the crane, and cursed Granadus for standing there doing nothing.

"Give a 'and, yer owl!" he panted. "That's better! Now, then, up she goes, an' over she goes! Got it!"

The towering weight of metal heaved over, paused a second, and then, with a crashing force, dropped right in the centre of the rock. The wheels locked in the mud, and, so far as Gipsy could see, the situation was saved. That steel barrier would hold, perhaps, till the damage that Granadus had done had been properly repaired, and the only danger that Gipsy could see now lay in the chance of the rock slipping sideways, in which case the remedy would be no better than the disease.

It was all a question of time now. It would take a good quarter of an hour to get to the bottom of the spur and arouse the people in the thatched cottage. It would take a little longer to wake them and bring them back, and Gipsy was calculating in his quick way whether it would not be far wiser to break into one of the huts further up the valley and lay hands on a dynamite cartridge or a gun-cotton charge with a short time-fuse attached. If he could do this within the next ten minutes, then all would be well, for it would not be a difficult matter to blow out a hole in the far side of the stank and empty that cruel flood of water like a bucket into the valley, where it would run back in the main stream and do no particular harm.

Ten to twelve breathless, precious minutes could be saved this way, and that was the plan that Gipsy decided to adopt.

"Now, yer stop 'ere an' fight," he said. "Pile up as many o' them stones as yer can. Every little 'elps. I'll be off for the dynamite. If yer can 'old on 'ere till my popgun goes off, then yer neck's all right. If yer can't—"

With this significant suggestion, Gipsy raced away up the valley as if the whole weight of the world was on his shoulders. By the time he reached the first hut and had smashed in the lock with a big stone, he was trembling from head to foot and gasping painfully for breath that seemed to be denied him. For the moment he had forgotten that he was playing the part of hero in his own drama, but that knowledge would come presently. Just now he was a hard-pressed little navvy working like a Trojan to save five innocent lives. He found what he wanted presently—a powerful hand-charge of some high explosive with a short time-fuse. There would be trouble to-morrow over this breaking into one of the ammunition huts, but Gipsy trusted to his native wit and plausibility of explanation to get himself out of the mess. As he raced across the embankment to the far side of the flood, he was suddenly conscious of the heat of the night and his own dripping, perspiring body. He was himself again now; he was once more the born playwright working out his plot. He found the very spot he wanted presently—a deep hole in the side of the embankment—and far into this he thrust the explosive. He was not afraid of any noise, for the bank was too soft for that. There would be no more than a dull thud, and then the bank would crumble away like butter in the sun. Gipsy felt the earth quiver, then part of the bank slid greasily down into the valley, and a yellow, turgid flow of water followed. The thing was done and the situation saved, if only the steel battering-ram had stood on the far side of the stank.

Gipsy ran round to see how Granadus was getting on. The big man was spent and exhausted, but the barrier still held and the great rock was beginning to dry. Gipsy dropped down into the heather and wiped the moisture from his steaming face.

"Well, that's all right," he gasped. "Now I 'ope as you're properly ashamed of yerself . My lad, d'yer realise as I've saved yer from standin' in the dock on a charge o' murder?"

Granadus looked up vaguely. He might have been a man just coming to the surface after being submerged in a flood of evil dreams. The horror of the nightmare was still in his eyes, and he rubbed them as if to wipe out some ghastly sight.

"I was mad!" he snid hoarsely. "It's the drink as does it, Gipsy. I oughtn't to ever touch a drop—a doctor friend o' mine told me so long ago. But I've 'ad a lot o' bitter trouble in my time, an' there's moments when I sort o' fly to it. And then I ain't safe—I ought to be locked up. An' It ain't as if I bore any grudge against Leslie."

"Oh, yer don't, don't yer?" Gipsy jeered.

"I can't think 'ow I come to do it," Granadus repeated. "Now, look 'ere, mate, if you won't say nothin' abaht this, then I swear as I'll never touch another drop. I don't want those chaps down there in the canteen—"

Gipsy gave a snort of contempt. He demanded to know what Granadus took him for. For the drama was at full blast now, and the little man had his limitations. It was more than flesh and blood could stand to forego a dramatic triumph like this and none be any tbe wiser. And Gipsy was beginning to see his way. He turned solemnly to his companion.

"I don't want to be 'ard," he said magnanimously, "an' I never 'it a bloke when 'e's down; but yer've got ter come along o' me, all the same. This way, if yer please."

"Wot—down to the engineer's?" Granadus asked.

"Yer've guessed it the first time," Gipsy said. "It ain't late, so we'll just take a little stroll along the spur an' 'ave a few words along o' Mr. Leslie. You're goin' ter tell 'im as you're sorry yer give 'im that bit o' lip the other day, an' say as in future yer've swore off. Got that?"

Granadus shrugged his big shoulders, but made no further objection. He strode silently down the spur by the side of Gipsy, until they reached the low thatched house where Leslie and his wife dwelt. It was a bungalow with a long verandah in front, the type of farmer's house which at one time they built there up in the hills. Very soon the whole thing would be submerged, but it looked snug and homelike now, with the lamps burning in the windows, one of which was open, disclosing the bedroom beyond. Gipsy stepped quietly on to the verandah and looked in. Then he suddenly seemed to stiffen with rapt attention, and, when he came back to Granadus, his features were twitching strangely.

"In all my life," he whispered, "I never see the like o' this! I said somethin' ter yer just now 'bout Nemesis. Lor, I didn't 'arf know the meaning o' the word! Now look 'ere. 'Ow long ago yer been on the drink? 'Ow long is it since yer've been inside that 'ut o' yourn?"

"Three days," Granadus said shame-facedly.

"Ah, I thought so. Now yer come this way an' tread soft. Don't say nuthin', but take yer tip from me. If yer opens yer mouth, then yer spoils the finest situation I ever see."

Granadus obeyed meekly enough. Standing there in the darkness on the verandah, he could see into the lighted bedroom through the open window. On the bed lay a child, a pretty dark child with long hair flowing over her white night-dress. She was half supported in the arms of a smiling woman in evening-dress, who was holding a glass of milk to her lips. On the foot of the bed Leslie was seated, watching the picture with a pleasant smile upon his face.

"And now you are going off to sleep, little one," he said. "Oh, you need not worry about your daddy—he's all right. He shall come up and see you to-morrow, and you can tell him all about it. We shan't want the doctor any more—in fact, you are going to be quite well in a day or two."

The child reached up and kissed the woman's smiling face, then she lay down contentedly and closed her eyes. A minute or two later and she was fast asleep.

"I think she'll do now," Leslie murmured. "She's had a sharp turn—as near pneumonia as makes no matter—and she owes her lucky escape to you, old girl."

"Oh, I couldn't do anything less, Frank," Mrs. Leslie said. "Those women were doing their best, of course, but they have their own children to look after. If I had my way with that man Granadus, I'd send him to gaol. Is he in his right senses, do you think? I can't understand a parent like that. I'm told he fairly idolises the child one week, and utterly neglects her the next. It really is disgraceful, Frank. It ought not to be allowed. Can't you speak to the man? Can't you get him to come up here and make him see how wicked he is behaving?"

"Well, I had some idea of the sort," Leslie said. "But Granadus is a queer chap. I don't think he is very vindictive when he is sober, but there are certain men who ought never to touch alcohol, and he's one of them. When he is drunk, he's a dangerous man. I have given him one lesson, but I don't think he's much the better for it. If we can only touch the brute, if we can only penetrate that thick hide of his, then the kiddy ought to be safe for the future."

"Perhaps if he knew what we had done for Zara "

"Um, perhaps!" Leslie interrupted. "You have certainly saved her life. But a man like Granadus is just as likely to think that we have done all this because we are afraid of him. Still, I will see him to-morrow."

Gipsy laid a quick, detaining hand upon Granadus's arm. He fairly dragged the big man off the balcony into the heather. He could see how the other's face was quivering.

"No, yer don't!" he said fiercely. "Not to-night, anyhow. Yer don't spoil the finest situation I ever come across with any of yer blunderings, so I tell yer. Yer can come up in the mornin' an' do an' say just as you've a mind. But not to-night, mate. To-night you've got ter leave those two grand characters alone. Yer've got ter go back to yer 'ut an' thank 'Eaven on yer knees for keepin' yer from murder—from takin' the lives, not only of yer best friends, but of yer own child, too. An' I suppose yer don't believe as they're afraid of yer, do yer?"

"Don't rub it in too 'ard, Gipsy," Granadus said humbly. "An' if you won't say no thin' down at the canteen "

"Me!" Gipsy said scornfully. "Just as if—But wot do you know about the feelings of a dramatist?"


THE END

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