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Flood: THIRTEEN

..."Has anybody discovered what exactly needs to be done to make the reservoir safe?"

"Oh yes. We have a surveyor's report that is quite detailed. Its most pertinent detail is the cost. Full repairs would mean the expenditure of £7,800."...

Emma Cookson continues her well-researched and believable novel of love and revenge set in a Yorkshire mill valley in the 19th Century.

Harry viewed his wife with frustration. Three weeks in London and a week in Brighton had been a distraction but hadn’t wrought any real change. Jane had conversed with people they’d met and pretended to show interest in the places they’d visited but her mind had been elsewhere. He wondered if she would ever fully reclaim it.

"I am happy to sit here by the window, Harry," she said. "The sun is warm and I am occupied."

She might well be happy but he wasn’t. Her fingers moved over the needlework in her lap. The room was at the rear of the house and the window gave unrestricted views of the moors. Those damned, empty, boring, bloody moors.

"If you’re certain."

"Go, Harry. Attend to your work. I know you have people coming. If I need anything, I shall ring for Emma."

He bowed and left the room, pausing on the landing as he closed the door behind him. As always, he felt relief at escaping her presence. Relief and frustration. How long would it be before she became a real wife to him? Two flies fornicated on the window sill. He smashed his fist down on them. Why should they have a pleasure that was denied to him?

Harry went to the study where his father had spent his time writing memoirs that were never completed and where he had prattled on about duty and honour. Damn duty and honour. His father had pontificated from behind a brandy bottle with the comfort of a mistress and the diversion of a bastard having the run of the house. It had been easy for him to talk. Harry took a more pragmatic view. His first duty was to himself and honour was something to be waved like a banner and believed by others. Dyce probably believed in honour. No doubt about it, he positively lived and breathed honour, which just went to show what an over-rated attribute it was.

Robert Dyce’s presence outside the church had been a shock. Damn the man. Why had he returned? Why had he timed his return so finely? Harry had been back at the hall a month and was unsettled at the speed with which his brother had acted. Dyce had been busy in Helston and along the valley, as if preparing for an attack on Musgrave Hall itself. His funds were a mystery but appeared to be plentiful. Harry had always known there were killings to be made abroad if the right chances were taken. Unfortunately, the chances he had taken had always been the wrong ones.

His time would come. He still intended to make a fortune that would allow him to escape industry and these god-forsaken hills, enter proper society in London and travel abroad. He had squandered much but still had a small residue from his father's estate which, combined with Jane's properties that he had acquired by marriage, was more than enough to finance another foray into the venture markets of the capital.

What was the point of a residue if it did nothing but sit in a bank? These funds needed releasing, like the contents of the reservoir upon which the valley's mills depended, for either to have any meaning.

But first he had local matters to deal with and a meeting of the three-man guiding committee of the Reservoir Commissioners to host. God, the sooner he could escape to London, the better. He had sent a gig to Helston to collect his lawyer, Mungo Ransome, who was also clerk to the commissioners. One of his first acts after his father's death, had been to sever connections with Hypolite Baines. Baines had been his father's man and Harry preferred his own.

The lawyer arrived early and was shown into the study where Harry waved him to a chair and offered refreshment. Ransome was thin and, when he sat, he folded his limbs neatly into his body like an insect, one hand protectively covering the other in his lap, his elbows sticking out. His smile was unctuous, slight and permanent.

Harry sat behind his father's desk. "Tell me the latest about Dyce," he said.

"The properties in Helston, you know about. The shops and adjacent premises to be run by the Pallister family?"

"Yes."

"He has also offered to fund a free school. Suitable premises have been found to rent and the post of schoolmaster has been advertised in The Bradfield Examiner and The Leeds Mercury. It is said he is hoping to endow a charitable fund to run it and to build a permanent schoolhouse."

Harry said, "What of Thonglea Mill?"

"You have heard of that?"

"Is it true?"

"It is. The transaction is likely to be completed within the week. It’s rumoured he’ll instigate a 10 Hour Rule and all ancillary condescensions to his workers."

"He'll be standing for Parliament next."

Ransome raised an eyebrow and tipped his head as if to say the possibility was not so far-fetched. "He’s making friends at a swift rate," the lawyer said.

"Where does his money come from?" Harry asked in exasperation. "Does he really have a gold mine in California?"

"That appears to be the case, for he spends like Croesus."
Harry was exasperated. The bastard disappeared as a penniless youth and returned a benefactor of the common man. Had he actually come back from America by clipper? Or had he walked across the waters of the damned Atlantic? The lawyer waited and inclined his head like a praying mantis and Harry nodded for him to continue.

"There is a further development."

"Which is?"

"Mr Dyce's legal representative has made an inquiry as to whether your mills would be for sale."

Harry felt the rage rise inside him. This was planned effrontery and he could see the rest of Dyce's scheme unfolding. He would wish to buy the hall next. He snorted. A possibility came to mind, so obvious that he’d overlooked it totally until now. Surely, Dyce didn’t harbour hopes regarding Jane?

He laughed hollowly and closed his eyes. His laughter verged on the uncontrollable for he could see this as a farce of immense proportions if Dyce was motivated, not by filial hatred, but by love. He controlled himself again and shook his head in disbelief. His brother did not know the half of it.

"Tempt him," he said. "Find out what he’s willing to pay. Feed his hope."

"With a view to a sale?" asked Ransome.

"With a view to his damnation," said Harry. "Now." He pushed documents around the desk. "Lumb Top Reservoir."

"The meeting is a formality."

"I've been a member of the committee for less than a year. Let us treat this meeting as something more than a formality. The dam is in need of repair."

"This is old ground, sir."

"Old to you, but relevant ground, as far as I’m concerned." He poked the documents. "There’s been a fault in the wall of the dam since it was built. Why hasn’t it been repaired?"

"Many reasons. When the complications are removed, I would say it becomes a simple matter of £7,800."

Harry said, "That is the cost of the repair?"

"It is."

"Why has the money not been raised?"

Ransome shrugged his shoulders. This involved his head retracting into his body and his elbows expanding as if he was preparing to shed a shell.

"It’s a complex story. There are many strands ..."

"Tell me the story. Leave out no strand."

The lawyer's smile faltered but he inclined his head and reached for the satchel that was propped against his chair and removed from it a ledger to which he referred.

Ransome said, "A Bill was put to Parliament for the construction of the reservoir more than 20 years ago. It was passed and received Royal assent. Forty commissioners were appointed under the Act. They were the owners of mills or land through which the waters ran. Lumb Top Reservoir was erected in 1840 at a cost of £9,324. Money was raised by share capital and borrowed on mortgage of the water rates. To make the running of the commission easier, a guiding committee of three was formed. As one of the principal land owners, your father was one of the three."

Harry said, "Tell me about the fault."

The lawyer read details from his book. "The embankment stretches 300 feet across a basin in the hills at the head of the valley. This embankment is 67 feet in height. It is 16 feet thick at the bottom and eight feet thick at the top."

He paused and followed the writing on a page with a finger as thin as a quill. "It was formed of earth and stones with a layer of puddle at its centre." He looked up and smiled when he caught Harry's glance. "Puddle is a mixture of clay and gravel to render the embankment watertight."

Harry said, "But it didn't."

"No. It didn't." He dipped his head towards the book and turned pages. "The fault was found in 1843. An underground spring, that had gone undetected during construction, was found to be causing a leakage." He looked up. "This was the start of the complications."

"Go on."

"The commissioners demanded the constructors make repairs and with-held payments. They filed an action against the commissioners for payment and interest." The lawyer looked up and his smile was a shade deeper. "Then there is the conflict of how the water rates should be calculated."

"Explain it to me," said Harry.

"The original Bill to Parliament was not clear how water rates should be levied. Whether they should be calculated on fall of water or on the horse-power generated. The difference between the two was an annual financial return of £800 compared to the original estimate of £1,800. Consequently, the commissioners levied distresses upon those rate-payers in default. They, in turn, brought counter-actions. Repairs that had been started were stopped because of lack of money."

Ransome looked up again and the troubles he had detailed had apparently oiled his humour for his smile was more unctuous than usual.

"As I said. We’ve been beset by complications."

"Has anybody discovered what exactly needs to be done to make the reservoir safe?"

"Oh yes. We have a surveyor's report that is quite detailed. Its most pertinent detail is the cost. Full repairs would mean the expenditure of £7,800."

"Which is almost as much as it cost to build in the first place."

"Quite."

"Can the situation be resolved?" Harry asked.

"A further Act of Parliament would resolve it. The commissioners have tried and have failed to have one passed. The further Bill they wanted would have allowed them to raise more finance for the repairs."

"Why did it fail?"

"The rate-payers were still in conflict. They could not agree upon a common system of levy."

For Harry, the problem was simple. Get an agreement with the ratepayers and apply for another Bill. He anticipated opportunities with several thousand pounds being raised by an unwieldy group of commissioners who did not appear to know which side was up. Especially as he was one of the three-man guiding committee.

"What is the present situation regarding the safety of the Lumb Top Reservoir?" he asked.

"As it always has been, sir. It exists, warts and all, and it does the job for which it was built." He closed the ledger. "Might I ask the reason for your interest?"

"Dyce," he said. "I heard he’s preparing to make it an issue."

Mungo Ransome nodded sagely, as if he had suspected.

"Mr Dyce seems intent on fomenting trouble."

"He’s an embarrassment, Mr Ransome. One I could do without."

"Perhaps I should take a greater interest in him? And his wealth? A discreet investigation?"

Harry nodded. "I would be grateful," he said. "I think we’d all be better off without him."

**

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