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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS T.C. BRIDGES)

WATER RIGHTS

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As published in
The Australian Town and Country Journal,
Sydney, 10 July 1918

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2021
Version Date: 2021-10-11

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

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STOUT Mr. Marvin finished his tea, set his cup down in his saucer, and addressed his wife.

"Mary," he said deliberately, "I'm going to ask Mr. Barton for his room."

Mrs. Marvin, who was as plump and prosperous-looking as her husband, the landlord of the Anglers' Arms, looked up quickly.

"Whatever do you mean, John?"

"Mr. Barton sits up too late. He makes too much noise. Mr. Eccles complained of him this morning—said he was kept awake for two hours last night."

John Marvin was very much master in his own house. Mrs. Marvin seldom opposed his decisions. But now she faced him resolutely. "It's not Mr. Eccles, John," she said; "and it's not the noise, either. That's not the real reason you want to get rid of Mr. Barton. It's because of Janie. Mr. Barton is getting too fond of our Janie, and that's why you want to turn him out."

John Marvin's broad cheeks crimsoned.

"And what if I do?" he blustered. "It's true, isn't it? Didn't I catch him only last night holding her hand out in the garden there? And do you think that I'm going to give our girl to a chap like that—a beggarly bank clerk, who has to save up for a twelvemonth to get enough for a fortnight's holiday?"

Mrs. Marvin stuck to her guns.

"Mr. Barton may not have much money, John, but he is a nice young man, and comes of a nice family. Good-looking, too, and plenty of brains. Seeing that you were a butler and me a lady's maid, I must say I think Janie might do a deal worse."

Nothing more deeply annoyed Mr. Marvin than to be reminded of his comparatively humble antecedents.

"Good-looking," he rumbled. "That's all you women think of. I'm master here, let me tell you, and when I say a thing I mean it. Out he goes, and before any of us are a day older."

With this he stumped out of the room and proceeded down the passage to the bar.


IT was the hour at which the fishermen returned from their day's sport and displayed their catches on dishes ready laid out on the bar counter. Marvin had hardly reached the bar before Mr. Samuel Eccles came in. He was a middle-aged man who had made a fortune on the Stock Exchange, and whose only gods were money, trout, and his own comfort and well-being.

A surface good nature rendered him usually affable, but now he looked extremely annoyed.

"What, no sport, sir?" said Marvin.

"Sport," snapped the, other. "How the devil can you expect sport without water?"

"Water!" repeated Marvin vaguely. "You didn't complain of lack of water yesterday."

"No, because there was plenty. To-day you could walk across the Arrow anywhere dry-shod, except in the pools. What's up? What's happened? What damn fool trick has been played on us?"

Marvin shook his big head gravely.

"I know as little as you do, sir. I can't think what's wrong, unless maybe there's been a fall of the bank somewhere up on the moor."

"You'd better find out then, and see that it's put right," snarled Eccles. "I haven't had a takeable fish to-day, and I'm hanged if I'm going to waste time fishing in a dry ditch."

"Come, now. It's not quite so bad as that," broke in another voice, as a tall, well-set-up young fellow entered the bar. "I've got three or four."

Eccles swung round and glared at Phil Barton.

"You must have tickled them," he sneered.

"No, got 'em with a dry fly in the pools. Still it's bad enough. Something's very wrong, Mr. Marvin. The river's down a foot since yesterday. It's not natural. Something or someone has cut the water off."

Marvin's ruddy cheeks paled perceptibly. If this was true, if the flow of the river was stopped, it would spell ruin or something like it for him. His visitors, with very few exceptions, were fishermen attracted by the excellent sport afforded on the long reach of the Arrow, which he leased from the Duchy.

Barton realised this as clearly as his landlord.

"Don't you worry, Mr. Marvin," he said. "I'll go up stream first thing in the morning, and see what's wrong. Very likely it's only a bank fall up in the gorge, in which case it will burst of itself before morning."

"Thank you, Mr. Barton," said Marvin, and remembering his recent conversation, felt a twinge of shame. But it was only momentary. He had quite made up his mind that Janie was not to marry a bank clerk on a hundred and twenty a year.


ALL the talk at dinner that night was of the sudden and mysterious fall of the river, and Marvin realised more clearly than ever what it would mean to him if the fishing were really spoilt.

Early next morning he went down himself to the bank, and was horrified to notice the mere trickle that had replaced the swirling current of two days earlier.

Barton, he found, had started at dawn, and it was no more than ten o'clock when, as Marvin sat gloomily over his accounts in the empty bar, the young man came swinging in.

"I've solved the mystery, Mr. Marvin. They've opened the leat up beyond Eagle Head. The whole stream has been turned into it, and we are getting nothing but the drainage from below."

Marvin dropped his pen with a clatter.

"The Silver Dagger Mine leat!" he groaned. "It's that there Prance. Good Lord! I might ha' known it."

"Prance! Who's Prance!"

"Chap as was my partner years ago." When excited, Marvin lost his usual careful speech. "Treated me bad, he did, and we quarrelled. He always said as he'd get even with me, and now he's done it."

"But surely he has no earthly right to collar the water out of the river!" said Barton. "I thought, if a leat were used, compensation water had to be allowed."

"Not up here, Mr. Barton. It's one of the old charters made before ever compensation water was heard of. Miners in them days had a right to all the water they could take, and fishing wasn't accounted anything of."

"Then you mean that this man Prance has bought or leased the Silver Dagger, and is opening it up?"

"He's leased it right enough," Marvin answered bitterly. "As for working it, he's not fool enough for that. There isn't tin left to pay wages, let alone working costs. No, he's done it just to spite me and spoil my business."

"But this is a swindle."

"Of course it's a swindle, but what can I do? Suppose I goes to law, even if I wins it would be months before I could get an injunction. And what's to happen meantime?"

He dropped back in his chair, looking suddenly ten years older. Barton waited a moment, racking his brains for something to say. But he could find nothing, so went quietly out.


A TALL slip of a girl with a complexion all roses and cream was standing at the door of Marvin's private sitting room.

"What is it, Phil?" she asked anxiously. "Have you found out what is wrong?"

Barton glanced round to make sure no one was looking, then slipped his arm around her slim waist and drew her back into the room.

"Yes, Janie, dear, I have found out. The Silver Dagger leat has been opened, and your father says that it is the work of a man called Prance, who seems to have a grudge against him."

Janie's blue eyes filled with dismay.

"Prance—the man who was his partner when he first came here. Oh, Phil!"

"As bad as that, eh?" said Barton.

"It could not be worse, Phil. Mr. Prance tried to swindle father, and father caught him. He would not prosecute, but insisted on breaking the partnership. That is nine years ago, but I can remember the scene as plainly as if it were yesterday. I can still hear that man saying: 'You mark my words, John Marvin, I'll be even with you if it takes me twenty years.'

"He has been nursing his grudge all these years," she went on, "and now I suppose he has saved up enough money to lease the old mine, so as to cut off the water. And you know as well as I do, Phil, how little this hotel will he worth without the fishing."

"But won't he try blackmail?" suggested Barton. "I should think he would try to make your father buy him out."

Janie shook her pretty head.

"You don't know him, Phil. It is not money he is after, but revenge. He is a horrible man. Even as a child I was always afraid of him."

"He must he a pretty average sweep," said Barton. "But, see here, Janie dear, we must not let the beggar have it all his own way. You and I must put our heads together and find some way to defeat him."

"I wish we could, Phil," sighed Janie. "I only wish we could. But, you see, he has the law on his side, and I don't see anything that we can do."

Her big blue eyes were swimming; she looked so adorably sweet and charming that Barton did what any other sensible young man would have done in his place—put both his arms round her and kissed her tears away.

It was at this rather inopportune moment that Mr. Marvin entered the room.

Thoroughly upset already, the stout landlord lost his temper completely.

"Go to your room, Janie," he thundered. "As for you, Mr. Barton. I'll ask you to leave this hotel at once."

Janie looked at her lover.

"Yes, go, Janie," he said quietly, "I will talk to your father."

"There's no call for talk, Mr. Barton," snapped Marvin, as his daughter slipped away. "I've said all that needs to be said."

Barton faced the angry man calmly.

"Mr. Marvin, if you insist on my going I shall go, but I want to tell you that Janie and I are engaged to be married, and that I shall not give her up, even if you do turn me out."

"You'll never see her again if I know anything about it."

"What objection have you got to me as a son-in-law?" questioned Barton calmly.

"Janie's not for any beggarly bank clerk," stormed Marvin.

"But I shall not always be a beggarly bank clerk," replied Barton with a smile. "It may seem conceited, but I am not quite a fool, and I hope to be a manager some day."

"Aye—twenty years hence. And is Janie to starve on your salary till then?"

"Janie's tastes are as simple as mine. We should do very well."

"That's fools' talk. I know what genteel poverty means. Seen a lot of it in my time. No, you can talk till you're black in the face, but I'll not have it."

Barton kept his temper admirably.

"Janie is your only child, Mr. Marvin?" he said.

Marvin stared at him.

"You know that as well as I do," he snorted.

"Then presumably at your death, or retirement, this place will come to her?"

"Of course it will." He paused a moment. "So that's what you're after," he added with a sneer. "I might have knowed it."

"As I told you, I'm not a fool, Mr. Marvin. I happen to be very much in love with Janie, and I would marry her gladly if she had not a penny. But if she is to succeed to this place I presume she will have to manage it. Doesn't it strike you that a husband who had some knowledge of business, and was at least honest and sober might be useful to her then?"

Marvin stared a moment, then burst into scornful laughter.

"A nice fist you'd make of it! I think I sees a fine gentleman like you running this place!"

Barton remained unmoved.

"But I can quite fancy myself doing it, always supposing that there is anything left to run."

Marvin's face darkened. For the moment he had forgotten all about the shrunken river and its danger to his business.

"What are you driving at?" he demanded sullenly.

"This," Barton answered quietly. "You are evidently under the impression that I am fit for nothing but an office stool. I want to convince you that I can do more than that. See here, if I can settle this man Prance, if I can stop his water-stealing, what then?"

Marvin's eyes opened wide. For some seconds he remained silent. When he spoke again it was in a changed tone.

"How could you do that?" he asked.

"I'm not going to tell, because I don't know for certain. But I have a glimmer of an idea."

"Glimmers ain't no good," replied Marvin sceptically. "And for myself I don't see how you can do anything. But all the same I'll give you a chance. You fix it up so the water's back in the river before the end of the week, and if you and Janie are still of the same mind I'll not say No."

Barton showed no elation.

"That's a bargain, then. I make no promises, but I'll do my best."

He was turning away when the other stopped him.

"You—you'll stay on here for the rest of the week," he said rather awkwardly.

"Seeing there is no other place, I must," replied Barton grimly.


HE went straight out, got his bicycle and rode off towards the little market town of Taviton. It was just after one when he returned, and a small parcel was strapped on the carrier behind the saddle.

Immediately after lunch Barton took his rod and with his creel on his back walked up-stream. He never attempted to cast a fly but kept straight on for some four miles. By this time he was far up on the high moor. There was not a wall, a tree, or a house in sight, and not a living thing but a few shaggy ponies grazing among the heather.

Passing up through a steep and narrow valley, he came out on a vast desolate flat covered with tall reeds. It was Snipe Tor Mire, in which three small streams had their source, and, joining near the head of the gorge, formed the Arrow. Exactly at the head of the gorge a rough but heavy sluice-gate crossed the stream. It had been recently repaired and was now closed and padlocked, thus turning the whole flow into a narrow artificial channel, the old mine leat.

The leat wandered snake-like along the face of the hills, carrying the water to the Silver Dagger tin mine, nearly three miles away.

Barton's face darkened as he looked at the gate and at the dry river-bed below it.

"A dirty trick!" he said. "A man who would do that deserves anything that is coming to him."

Turning to the left, he began to walk along the leat, keeping on the lower side. A mile or so farther on he came to a spot where the leat channel curved sharply round the rock-strewn side of the tall steep hill known as Eagle Head. Here he stopped, and, standing well below the level of the leat, began casting a single fly, letting the breeze carry it on to the water.

Anyone watching him would have seen that he was paying little attention to his fishing, but much more to his surroundings. He was, in fact, examining critically the leat bank. But he had also an eye on a bleak house standing all alone at some distance in the valley below.

"This is the spot," he said to himself. "I could put a charge in here and wreck the channel thoroughly. But that must be Prance's house, and if the beggar is at home he can see me. I shall have to wait till night before I try my little game."

At this moment there was a jerk, and the line suddenly began to run off the reel. Just when he had least expected it a fish had seized the dangling fly.

He struck instinctively, and began to play a good trout.

"What do you think you're doing?"

Barton was in the act of netting his fish when the voice, harsh and angry, made him look up. Close below him stood a man of perhaps fifty, square-set, long-armed, with something unpleasantly ape-like in his appearance. His cheek bones were as high as a Chinaman's, and little reddish eyes smouldered savagely under heavy jet-black brows.

"I'm fishing," replied Barton calmly.

"What right have you got to fish here?" demanded the other.

"I've a licence from Mr. Marvin for the Arrow, and this is Arrow water," responded Barton.

Angry already, the other flew into a furious rage.

"John Marvin's got no right to this water," he cried with on oath. "This here's the Silver Dagger leat and my property. You get off it, and sharp too!"

Barton unhooked and killed his fish, raised his rod and took a step or two back from the leat.

"There," he said, with a smile. "I'm on the open moor. Common ground, my friend, where anyone has a right to walk."

The man's cheeks flared doll-red. A dangerous glint shone in his strange little eyes.

"Get out!" he roared. "Out, or I'll make you sorry!"

Barton stuck the spear of his rod into the ground.

"Try it," he remarked genially.

For a second or two he actually believed the other would try it. And knowing now that this was Prance, Janie's lover devoutly hoped that he would. He was just longing for a chance of hammering the ill-conditioned brute.

But Prance's courage seemed to fail, for suddenly he turned and began to run with extraordinary speed towards the lonely house in the valley below.

Barton watched him as he went.

"Now, what's the beggar after?" he said musingly. "Does he funk it, or has he gone to fetch his gun? 'Pon my soul, I believe he's as crazy as a loon."

Prudence counseled retreat while there was yet time, but Barton was not the sort to shift for threats. Besides, he had not finished his work.

He saw Prance reach the house and disappear behind it. A minute later the man was in sight again, and this time two great dogs strained before him on a leash—monstrous brindled brutes that looked as savage as their mad master.

Barton gave a low whistle.

"So that's the game! Strikes me I've landed myself in the very devil of a mess."

Prance was in the very act of loosing his pets, and Barton realised that there was not a moment to lose. He took the leat at a jump, and was off up the steep face of Eagle Head as hard as he could leg it.

Fifty yards above the leat the slope became almost a precipice. There was just the chance that it might prove too steep for the dogs. At any rate, it was Barton's only chance.

It was a break-neck climb. Not so much for its steepness, but because the whole face of the hill was a mass of loose stone which slipped and slithered beneath his feet. He heard the falling stuff rattle away behind him, but the rattle did not drown the sound of the two great dogs scrambling and scratching in pursuit.

Breathless, with his hands bleeding and the knees of his breeches in rags, he reached a ledge high above the leat, and found to his dismay that he could climb no farther. Sheer rock backed the ledge.

The dogs were still following—slowly, it is true, but quite steadily. There was something almost uncanny in the intelligence of their zig-zag progress among the rocks.

Below stood Prance.

"Sik him, Tiger!" he shouted. "Sik him, Terror! How do ye like it, mister? Wouldn't go when I gave ye the chance, but I reckon you're running now."

"Call them off!" shouted back Barton. "Call your dogs off!"

Prance laughed. It was not a pleasant sound.

"Not me!" he jeered. "You've had your chance. Now if you're mauled it's your own look-out."

Barton's answer was to snatch up a good-sized stone, and throw it hard at the nearest dog. It struck the brute on the back, and bounded off its tough hide. The dog yelped hideously, but came on.

The ugly beasts were now so near that Barton could see the red gleam of their eyes, and hear their panting breath.

"Call them off, you fool!" he shouted again.

Prance's crazy laugh rang out in answer.

Barton hesitated no longer. Little as he wished to damage the dogs, he had no longer any choice. This time it was a lump of granite as big as his head, which he lifted in both hands, and launched downwards.

His aim was good. The rock struck the first dog full in the chest, and simply swept it away. It rolled over on the other, which was close behind, and the two went down together, howling hideously.

In their fall they started other loose stones. Before Barton realised what was happening, an avalanche was rolling down the steep. In a twinkling the dogs themselves had disappeared, buried under tons of shale, and, to Barton's startled eyes, it seemed that half the hillside was roaring down towards the leat. The noise was deafening, dust rose like a great smoke cloud.

"Look out, Prance!" yelled Barton, but in the thundering din he could hardly hear his own voice.

As the rock-slide struck the more level ground close to the leat it seemed to rise in a great wave and rebound. But its tremendous impetus carried it forward, and the head of it shot right across the channel and went rattling and smashing down the slope beyond.

"That sees Prance's finish," remarked Barton grimly. "And mine, too, I fancy. My only chance is that they may bring it in justifiable homicide."

But when the dust cleared a little the first thing he saw was Prance, very much alive, and running like a scared rabbit towards his house. The next was the whole volume of the leat rolling in a white cascade down the new channel cut by the fall.

He climbed down. The leat bed was blocked by a mountain of stone, while, as for its contents, the water was making straight for its old channel in the valley below.

* * * * *

AN hour later, Barton stepped into the bar of the hotel.

"Go and have a look at the river, Mr. Marvin," he said quietly.

Marvin looked at him sharply, then bolted out. Barton, following, found him staring down into the foaming, muddy stream.

"How did you do?" gasped Marvin. Barton told him.

"But that's no use," cried Marvin in dismay. "Prance has only got to cut a new channel."

"Then he'll have his hands full," replied Barton drily. "It would take a gang of navvies a month to shift the slide, and after that Prance would have to blast a new channel, for the hillside is skinned to bedrock. I don't know much about engineering, but I'll lay my year's salary that five hundred pounds and three months' work wouldn't see the leat renewed."

Marvin heaved a sigh of deepest relief.

"If that's so we're safe," he said "I doubt Prance has the money."

"And if he has, I doubt if he has the pluck," added Barton. "You ought to have seen him run."

"I wish I had," replied Marvin, feelingly. "But you've had no tea, Mr. Barton. Come up, and Janie shall make you some in our sitting-room."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.