FICTION

COLD,COLD WATER

Sure, and Shamus was a lad who would never accept a ''No" or a knock for an answer when he was in love

Florence R. Christian August 1 1947
FICTION

COLD,COLD WATER

Sure, and Shamus was a lad who would never accept a ''No" or a knock for an answer when he was in love

Florence R. Christian August 1 1947

COLD,COLD WATER

Sure, and Shamus was a lad who would never accept a ''No" or a knock for an answer when he was in love

FICTION

Florence R. Christian

THE BASIN RIVER ran wide and steeply banked between the two towns. There was only one bridge. If it wasn’t convenient to use the bridge a man had to swim from Dundas to Kirkville. Sometimes it wasn’t convenient. Shamus Sullivan found that out and it was a cold night for it. Gregory Campbell taught him when Shamus was halfway across on his way to Kirkville to visit Mary Moore. He had a right to visit Mary, too, until she told him otherwise, having made up her mind at last.

It was a mystery to Shamus that a fine, intelligent, pretty girl like Mary should have any trouble at all deciding between him and Gregory Campbell. It seemed, however, there were things in this world he didn’t understand. That certainly was one of them.

Shamus was walking along the bridge, pausing occasionally bo look down at the golden stars of heaven reflected in the inky-blue waters of the Basin. He was singing snatches of “Cusheen Loo” and “The Pretty Girl Milking the Cow,” when it hit him shudderingly.

The owner of the fist had been hidden behind an arch. The minute the brawny thing struck, Shamus knew it for Gregory Campbell’s by the size and toughness of it. Shamus came up at Gregory with a sound crack to the jaw. Though he was only sixthree to Gregory’s six-five and lighter besides, he was able to handle himself well enough. Gregory flung him backward into a slab of concrete, but the bulk of him cushioned his bones, and Shamus fell upon Gregory, sending the man reeling to the pavement. Then the others were upon him—the ones he hadn’t seen before—friends of Gregory, no doubt of that. There were three of them to his one. They mauled him considerably before they lifted him off his feet and chunked him over the bridge railing and into the cold blue-black waters below.

Shamus swam home that night, and that night he didn’t see Mary Moore, all of his other suits being at the cleaners’. He sat in his wide chair in front of his landlady’s living room fire, toasting his river-iced feet and thinking that he would have (o dip into his savings and buy himself another suit or two so there would always be one to change into in event of new emergencies. There would be new emergencies, no doubt of that, because he was going to keep on seeing Mary Moore.

HE CAME out of his musings with a start. He had better call Mary and let her know why he wasn’t there. He did and her voice sounded a trifle cool to his sensitive ear. “I came by an accident, Mary, mavourneen,” he said, “that’s why I’m not with you at this very moment.” He listened to the concern in her voice and was very happy. “No, darling, I’m not hurt badly—just a little scratched up and sore from a fall I had. I’ll sue you tomorrow for certain.”

Mary was sorry about the fall. He could hear other voices in the background though, and knew for a fact that one of them belonged to Gregory Campbell, who was sitting there with his grey-eyed Mary maybe asking her to be his wife this very moment.

“You’d better go to bed, Shamus,” Mrs. Mulvaney, his landlady, said. “I’ll fix you a hot toddy so you can sleep now and quit worrying over Mary Moore. If she accepts the other it will serve her right for not having a better head on her shoulders.” Mrs. Mulvaney’s words did not comfort him,

but the hot drink did. He drowsed off like a milkglutted baby. “A black-haired, blue-eyed boy,” Mrs. Mulvaney whispered as she tucked him in snugly against the chill wind from the river.

He went to work the following morning and worked hard all day for the Dundas Lumber and Hardware Co. Even though he earned a pretty penny it was no white-collar job. It was rugged work when a large order came in and men were short, but he liked it. It kept his muscle and brawn up, and a lucky thing that was for him.

When he came home to Mulvaney’s and had washed up for supper he found seven guests at the table besides himself and the other roomers.

“Shamus,” Mrs. Mulvaney said, “I want, you to meet Jacques DuBois, Peter Rand, Fred Morrissey, Willie McCloskey, Joe Ravinsky and Mike Delahanty. All old friends of my son’s.”

“Glad to know you,” Shamus said pleasantly, his blue eyes taking in the incredible vigor of all six of them—huskies every one.

“I was telling them the trouble you’ve been having getting over the bridge,” Mrs. Mulvaney said gently. “And this being America, and it being one man’s right as well as another’s to use a public utility, they thought you could do with a little backing.”

Shamus thrust out a hand to each as he circled the table. “Good hoys!” he said. “I’ll be able to use you, no doubt, for there will probably be more of them tonight.”

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They fell to eating then, great helpings of Irish potatoes with thick brown gravy, good brown roast with a tincture of garlic in it, hot bread rolls and salad and fresh garden greens from the Mulvaney hothouse. There was also deep-dish apple pie and good strong coffee.

Shamus wore his Army fatigues for his trip across the bridge. He kissed Mrs. Mulvaney good-by. “Have my best suit, which is back from the cleaners 1 hope, laid out for me,” he said, ‘T11 he coming hack to slip into it and go calling on my Mary.”

“It’s back and it will he waiting,” Mrs. Mulvaney said proudly. He knew as he left he was doing.right to be taking on a new mother at this late date. And Mrs. Mulvaney seemed pleased to have a new son to replace the one who waa dead.

His companions fell back and let Shamus approach the bridge alone. The lot of them kept to the bushes on either side and out of sight of any spies of the Campbell faction.

Shamus was a good halfway over when they lit on him, nine of them. It was all he could do to hold his feet on the cement and restrain them from chunking him into the river before his own reinforcements could corne up. The enemy still had a two-man advantage. Ruffled as Shamus was he discovered among them a man two inches taller than himself, none other than Gregory Campbell. Shamus pitched into Gregory with an eye for making him unpresentable later in the evening. He lodged a fiat in Gregory’s right eye. That wouldn’t he pretty when it swelled shut.

Shamus and his huskies were a good match for the Campbell team, even with its advantage. So good a match in fact that when Gregory was flat on his back on t he bridge, Shamus, who had put him there, was too weak in the knees to carry his own weight. The two Kirkville men who could still get around, picker! up the supine Gregory and carried him homeward, thé rest of their tribe crawling or stumbling along as best they could. On the Dundas side of the ledger things were a bit better. Shamus had no blackened eyes, but his tongue was lolling. 1 íe limped so badly that though he made it home under his own power, it was with a man at either side to serve as a crutch in case ho faltered.

WE REACHED an impasse,” Shamus told Mrs. Mulvaney wearily before he collapsed entirely. She and the hoys must have undressed him and put him to bed, for Hiere is where he was when he awakened in the morning, bathed and tended and swabbed with iodine. He took his big fists off the coverlet: and looked at them. There wasn’t an unskinned knuckle on either paw. He had scraped off all of his hide on Gregory Campbell.

Ho fried getting out of bed. He was able to make it, so he would also be able to call on Mary tonight for certain. It was early in the morning, but Mary would be getting ready for her own day as receptionist in Dr. Molloy’s office. He would just give the Kirkville operator a buzz and let Mary know why he hadn’t kept his date last night either.

Mary’s voice was very chill. “I heard all about the fight!” she said crisply.

“Well, don’t be guided by anything Gregory Campbell might have told you.” Shamus began. Mary cut him short.

“I’ve seen nothing at all of Gregory Campbell,” she said tartly. “As a

matter of fact I sat here alone all evening waiting for one or both of you to show up. It’s the last evening I’ll be that gullible. I’m waiting for no man henceforwa rd.”

"Mary, Mary darling, I couldn’t help myself, what with nine or more big bruisers pushing me in the face. I’ll he there tonight so help me. 1 won’t fail you tonight.”

“If you aren’t here by nine sharp,” Mary said, “don’t ever come near me again, Shamus Sullivan.”

Mary was angry, no doubt about that. On his way to work Shamus stopped at the Dundas Florists for a small bunch of flowers to send her. Something sweet smelling and gentle looking, so she would realize fighting was against his sensitive nature and was only resorted to at long last. The florist had some fragrant, colored freesias flown in from California. A rare flower in Dundas they were, so Shamus had a few sent out. He dreamed about the freesias twined into Mary’s auburn-red hair. They were

the right colors for it.......cream and

flame and lilac and dark gold.

At: suppertime again the six were waiting a new recruit or so among them. “There’ll be more of thirn lumberjacks waitin’ for ye tonight, my boy,” Willie McCloskey said, “and more of us to cope with thim,”

Willie was right. Gregory had brought in reinforcements to keep Shamus from crossing the bridge. Though Gregory himself was completely missing his henchmen were well organized. When the battle was at its fiercest the police departments from both Kirkville and Dundas came thundering toward the bridge.

A few who weren’t already knocked flat on their faces leaped for it. The star-spangled Basin River splashed to the sound of their diving. Shamus was among them. He did very well for himself, too, this not being the first time he had dealt with the river. Having mapped its resources by daylight as well as by night he knew where a man could best clamber up the steep banks, though he would be hard put to make it, the river being deep cleft through sheer rock near the bridge.

Having fought more than two thirds of the way across the bridge, Shamus was naturally closer to the Kirkville side than he was to the Dundas. Being short of wind over the fighting he had to get. some place quickly and rest himself a trifle. He swam along the clifflike banks looking for a toe hold in the darkness. He made out the silhouetted rock. Directly ahead lay a tributary where he could pull himself up over one boulder at a time.

When he reached the top of the rockgrown bank, all bruised and muddy and out of breath, he stared through the night toward the Kirkville steeple. The big clock warned him it was a quarter to nine.

“Nine!” she had said. Nine o’clock was the dead line and Mary Moore had meant every word of that. If he didn’t arrive how could he expect her to understand, unaccustomed as she was to the vicissitudes of a man’s life, especially around Gregory Campbell.

Shamus groaned. Gregory would be there himself, all right. He had not been with his cutthroats tonight, so where else would he be? Shamus scrambled to his feet and rocked there wearily. There wasn’t a moment to lose. He wouldn’t have time to get home and into decent clothing. This was the only way.

He walked quickly, with his last ounce of energy, to the door of Mary Moore’s home. Mr. Moore himself opened the door to Shamus.

“Good Lord, what is it?” Mr. Moore cried out. Mary was behind him instantly.

“Shamus Sullivan!” Mary Moore gasped. Shamus just stood there unsteadily in the porch light, green ribbons of river scum hanging from his sopped black curls, a gash across his cheek and an all-beat-in feeling making him blink at Mary miserably and sway from side to side.

Gregory Campbell stood in back of Mary. Shamus could see that well enough. And Gregory was immaculate in a white shirt, Oxford grey suit and a lovely blue tie which would have better become Shamus.

Gregory said nothing, but he was taking in the battle-stained, mud

caked fatigues Shamus was wearing. There was a pleased expression, about his upper lip. ... ,

“Well, I got here!” Shamus gasped. Mary Moore narrowed her darklashed grey eyes at him and stamped her foot. “And you can get right back where you came from, Shamus Sullivan! Get home and get those dirty wet clothes off your back!”

Shamus had to swim back because the bridge was crawling with policemen from both towns looking for stragglers.

He almost didn’t make it back, he was so done in. Starting the following morning he nearly died of the experience. It was the flu first and he had deliriums in it over his loss of Mary Moore. Mrs. Mulvaney sat at his bedside holding his feverish hand. Then it was pneumonia, though he remembered no part of that, not even the trip to the hospital, and the little white tent they kept him in so he could breathe at all. Not that it mattered much any way, with Mary Moore sending him home and letting Gregory stay on to make love to her. Married already, no doubt, and him lying helpless as a kitten before its eyes are open.

HE WAS painfully conscious now, of course, but he managed to smile for Mrs. Mulvaney when she came in. “It was sweet of you to sit by holding my hand all the time,” he murmured. She put her hands on her hips and looked at him.

“My holding your hand is it?” she scoffed. “I’ve never held hands with anyone but my own Joe Mulvaney, God rest his soul, and I never will, even if you do look like him and the boy.” She stepped to the door and pushed her head out. “It was your hand holding,” she said, “so you can come in and get the credit.”

The rest of Mrs. Mulvaney went out the door. Someone else came in, with a small bunch of flowers in her hand, freesias at that, which must have cost her a pretty penny, Shamus knew. And there Mary Moore was, smiling at him, her grey eyes full of the tenderness he had seen in a dream. Maybe he was still dreaming, it was that unreal.

“Didn’t .you send me packing that night I—uh—fell in the river?” he asked, trying to place himself. Surely a dream-Mary wouldn’t know about the tribulations of his mortal life.

“I did,” she said, so she wasn’t a dream. “Did you think I wanted you to catch your death of cold on my own doorstep?”

“Oh, darling,” Shamus cried with a great hurst of hope. “Do you know what? I’ve a diamond to fit your pretty finger. To think I can’t lay my hands on it at this propitious moment.”

Mary thrust out her left hand and there was a blue-white stone blazing from her third finger. It took Shamus completely back, for certainly Gregory Campbell must have given her the cheap paste thing!

“When they thought you weren’t long for this world,” Mary said softly, “Mrs. Mulvaney took it out of your dresser, brought it here to the hospital and put it on my finger. ‘He bought it for you and none other,’ she told me, ‘and if he could make one last request, the poor boy, it would be that you have it.’ Then, of course, you took a turn for the better.”

She was standing at his bedside, her eyes filled with tears, and he was crying over the thought of his own probable last words put so touchingly by Mrs. Mulvaney. Suddenly Mary Moore leaned over and kissed him. His arms went around her so she couldn’t get away, not that she’d want to ever. He was well enough to kiss Mary and it was doing him good. It was what cured him finally. *