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Flood: SIXTEEN

...“Every year, the embankment weakens. In bad weather, you can see the leaks. If we experienced an extended and severe rainfall, the wall would not hold. The waters would ..."...

Robert Dyce confronts his brother Harry about the safety of the local reservoir.

Emma Cookson continues her must-read story of love and revenge set in the 19th Century.

Harry was astounded that Dyce should arrive at his door and expect admittance. He was also curious. He had him shown into the study but remained standing behind the desk.

"This is unexpected," he said coldly.

"I believe it to be necessary," said Dyce.

Harry had glazed his eyes to mask his anger and noted that Dyce was also attempting to keep his true feelings hidden. It had been a long time since they had been in such close proximity, a long time since they had spoken.
He waved Dyce to the chair where, previously, Mungo Ransome had been sitting, while he sat in his father's chair. The desk was a no-man's land between them and Harry wished it was the Atlantic Ocean. Dyce glanced around the room. Harry gave him a moment in case the memories might cause him to falter.

"What do you want?"

They locked stares. Harry's smile twitched at the sight of the scar he had inflicted.

"Two matters," said Dyce. "I’m interested in buying your mills and dyehouse."

The brass neck of the fellow.

"So my lawyer tells me. You’ve just missed him."

"I know. I chose today because I knew you’d be here for the meeting of the commissioners. I wouldn’t have chosen a day when I was in doubt of your presence. That would have been ungentlemanly."

Harry raised an eyebrow because the bastard thought himself a gentleman.
Dyce continued, "I waited until the commissioners and your lawyer left, to avoid embarrassment."

"For whom?"

"For both of us."

"How thoughtful. Any enquiries about buying any of my properties should be directed to Mr Mungo Ransome. What’s the second matter?"

"The safety of Lumb Top Reservoir."

"That doesn’t concern you."

"It concerns anyone who lives in the valley."

"As I understand it, you live mainly at The Pack Horse Inn and Burke's Music Hall in Bradfield."

Dyce smiled and said, "You’re well informed."

"If that concludes your business ...?"

"It doesn’t. I employed a surveyor to inspect the embankment wall of the reservoir and I have his report here," he said, and produced a document from his jacket.

"How damned impertinent."

"The faults have been known for years."

"The reservoir has operated safely for years."

“Every year, the embankment weakens. In bad weather, you can see the leaks. If we experienced an extended and severe rainfall, the wall would not hold. The waters would ..."

Harry interrupted to drawl, "The sluices would drain the excess. They have done so in the past."

"The sluices are so blocked with debris they’re virtually useless."

Dyce had come armed with facts and Harry was pleased he had taken similar precautions.

"This remains a matter for the commissioners."

"The commissioners don’t live in the valley."

"They own the land and the businesses in the valley. They are mindful of their property, if not so enamoured, as you appear to be, of the people." Dyce began to say something further but Harry held up a hand and continued speaking. "But, as you are about to assume ownership of Thonglea Mill, allow me to alleviate your unfounded worries. It was decided, at today's meeting, to investigate the possibility of repairs to the reservoir."

"How?"

"My, but you are a pushy fellow. By taking a Bill to Parliament to raise the amount necessary to carry out the work."

"How much is that?"

"A small matter of £7,800. Perhaps you’d like to pay for the repairs yourself, from your gold mine?"

Dyce smiled and said, "I'll pay for repairs to ensure the safety of the dam."
Harry caught his breath. "How magnanimous," he said, and waited for the catch.

"It will not cost £7,800," said Robert. "By all means go ahead with your Bill. It’s necessary. But in the meantime, I can make the reservoir safe upon the expenditure of no more than £12 10s."

"Twelve pounds ...?" Harry laughed aloud. "Who is your surveyor? A rain-maker from the Indian plains?"

Dyce said, "The reservoir has one main safety feature that is technically called the waste pit."

Harry's hackles rose at Dyce's patronism.

“I know of the waste pit," he lied.

"This is a circular chimney that has a diameter of 15 feet. It’s inside the reservoir and is connected to a tunnel that runs beneath the embankment wall. This waste pit was built to a height eight feet below that of the embankment. It is so designed that in heavy weather, water will drain down it before the level becomes dangerous.

"When it was constructed, the embankment wall was 67 feet high. The top of the waste pit was 59 feet. This left the safety margin of eight feet. Over the years, the embankment has sagged. The leaks have taken their toll. The embankment wall is no longer eight feet higher than the waste pit. At its middle, it is now lower than the waste pit. If you have a deluge that fills the reservoir, there’s nowhere for the water to run but over the top of the embankment."

Harry maintained his silence while Dyce got to his feet and placed the document he had been holding upon the desk.

"It’s a simple matter to rectify the problem," said Dyce. "For £12 10s, the level of the waste pit chimney can be reduced until it is, once again, below the level of the embankment. I would be happy to donate the sum to the commissioners, if they find it beyond their means to fund such a precaution."

Dyce remained standing, as he continued.

"I understand this is a matter about which you would wish to consult your fellow commissioners. I’m happy to leave a copy of my surveyor's report for their consideration. I have added my own note, offering to pay for the work I’ve described." He smiled for the first time and the scar tugged his cheek. "Please, don't trouble the servants," he said. "I know my way out."

He bowed stiffly, turned and strode from the room.

Harry remained in his father's chair. He knew what the damnable fellow was about. Dyce was out to cause trouble and discontent. He’d started with his promise of a school and his purchase of a mill to be run on reformist principles. The rumours would expand until he was looked upon as a saviour for the valley, perhaps even the whole West Riding. If he carried on in the same vein, he could end up nailed to a cross. If only. Harry would gladly volunteer to wield the hammer.

Now he was assuming the mantle of a latter-day Noah. He was preaching deluge and spreading fear. Predicting a catastrophe and offering to stop it happening. Harry banged the table. His brother was predicting a catastrophe that would never happen. How damnably righteous, and all for the expenditure of £12 10s. Damn the man. Dyce was intent on becoming the people's champion to spite him. But what if he knew the full story? His head tipped back in the chair and he stared at the ceiling and imagined his wife in the room above.

One way or another, Dyce had to go.

*

When Jane recovered from her shock, she rang for Emma and asked for tea, at the same time enquiring about the arrival of an unexpected visitor. Emma kept her eyes lowered and whispered that Mr Robert Dyce had called and was in the study with Master Harry.

So he had been admitted and the brothers were facing each other downstairs. The memory of the flirtations she had shared with Robert as a boy brought a flush to her cheeks.

What on earth could the two brothers have to say to each other? Surely, she wouldn’t be a subject of their conversation?

She remained in her chair by the window and watched and waited and saw Robert Dyce ride away, not along the track that went from the front gates down to the village, but over the moors at the back of the hall. The moors where they had walked with George and Zachariah.

He stopped on the same hill and turned the horse and sat for a moment and stared and she wondered if he could see her. He touched the brim of his hat, turned his mount, and spurred it over the hill and her mind took refuge, once more, in memories.

**

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