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THE LEVEL OF THE LYTHE.
Dorothy's faith in Polwarth had in the meantime largely increased. She had not only come to trust him thoroughly, but gained much strength from the confidence. As soon as she had taken Juliet her breakfast the next morning, she went to meet him in the park, for so they had arranged the night before.
She had before acquainted him with the promise Juliet had exacted from her, that she would call her husband the moment she seemed in danger--a possibility which Juliet regarded as a certainty; and had begged him to think how they could contrive to have Faber within call. He had now a plan to propose with this object in view, but began, apparently, at a distance from it.
"You know, Miss Drake," he said, "that I am well acquainted with every yard of this ground. Had your honored father asked me whether the Old House was desirable for a residence, I should have expressed considerable doubt. But there is one thing which would greatly improve it--would indeed, I hope, entirely remove my objection to it. Many years ago I noted the state of the stone steps leading up to the door: they were much and diversely out of the level; and the cause was evident with the first great rain: the lake filled the whole garden--to the top of the second step. Now this, if it take place only once a year, must of course cause damp in the house. But I think there is more than that will account for. I have been in the cellars repeatedly, both before and since your father bought it; and always found them too damp. The cause of it, I think, is, that the foundations are as low as the ordinary level of the water in the pond, and the ground at that depth is of large gravel: it seems to me that the water gets through to the house. I should propose, therefore, that from the bank of the Lythe a tunnel be commenced, rising at a gentle incline until it pierces the basin of the lake. The ground is your own to the river, I believe?"
"It is," answered Dorothy. "But I should be sorry to empty the lake altogether."
"My scheme," returned Polwarth, "includes a strong sluice, by which you could keep the water at what height you pleased, and at any moment send it into the river. The only danger would be of cutting through the springs; and I fancy they are less likely to be on the side next the river where the ground is softer, else they would probably have found their way directly into it, instead of first hollowing out the pond."
"Would it be a difficult thing to do?" asked Dorothy.
"I think not," answered Polwarth. "But with your permission I will get a friend of mine, an engineer, to look into it."
"I leave it in your hands," said Dorothy.--"Do you think we will find any thing at the bottom?"
"Who can tell? But we do not know how near the bottom the tunnel may bring us; there may be fathoms of mud below the level of the river-bed.--One thing, thank God, we shall not find there!"
The same week all was arranged with the engineer. By a certain day his men were to be at work on the tunnel.
For some time now, things had been going on much the same with all in whom my narrative is interested. There come lulls in every process, whether of growth or of tempest, whether of creation or destruction, and those lulls, coming as they do in the midst of force, are precious in their influence--because they are only lulls, and the forces are still at work. All the time the volcano is quiet, something is going on below. From the first moment of exhaustion, the next outbreak is preparing. To be faint is to begin to gather, as well as to cease to expend.
Faber had been growing better. He sat more erect on his horse; his eye was keener, his voice more kindly, though hardly less sad, and his step was firm. His love to the child, and her delight in his attentions, were slowly leading him back to life. Every day, if but for a moment, he contrived to see her, and the Wingfolds took care to remove every obstacle from the way of their meeting. Little they thought why Dorothy let them keep the child so long. As little did Dorothy know that what she yielded for the sake of the wife, they desired for the sake of the husband.
At length one morning came a break: Faber received a note from the gate-keeper, informing him that Miss Drake was having the pond at the foot of her garden emptied into the Lythe by means of a tunnel, the construction of which was already completed. They were now boring for a small charge of gunpowder expected to liberate the water. The process of emptying would probably be rapid, and he had taken the liberty of informing Mr. Faber, thinking he might choose to be present. No one but the persons employed would be allowed to enter the grounds.
This news gave him a greater shock than he could have believed possible. He thought he had "supped full of horrors!" At once he arranged with his assistant for being absent the whole day; and rode out, followed by his groom. At the gate Polwarth joined him, and walked beside him to the Old House, where his groom, he said, could put up the horses. That done, he accompanied him to the mouth of the tunnel, and there left him.
Faber sat down on the stump of a felled tree, threw a big cloak, which he had brought across the pommel of his saddle, over his knees, and covered his face with his hands. Before him the river ran swiftly toward the level country, making a noise of watery haste; also the wind was in the woods, with the noises of branches and leaves, but the only sounds he heard were the blows of the hammer on the boring-chisel, coming dull, and as if from afar, out of the depths of the earth. What a strange, awful significance they had to the heart of Faber! But the end was delayed hour after hour, and there he still sat, now and then at a louder noise than usual lifting up a white face, and staring toward the mouth of the tunnel. At the explosion the water would probably rush in a torrent from the pit, and in half an hour, perhaps, the pond would be empty. But Polwarth had taken good care there should be no explosion that day. Ever again came the blow of iron upon iron, and the boring had begun afresh.
Into her lovely chamber Dorothy had carried to Juliet the glad tidings that her husband was within a few hundred yards of the house, and that she might trust Mr. Polwarth to keep him there until all danger was over.
Juliet now manifested far more courage than she had given reason to expect. It seemed as if her husband's nearness gave her strength to do without his presence.
At length the child, a lovely boy, lay asleep in Dorothy's arms. The lovelier mother also slept. Polwarth was on his way to stop the work, and let the doctor know that its completion must be postponed for a few days, when he heard the voice of Lisbeth behind him, calling as she ran. He turned and met her, then turned again and ran, as fast as his little legs could carry him, to the doctor.
"Mr. Faber," he cried, "there is a lady up there at the house, a friend of Miss Drake's, taken suddenly ill. You are wanted as quickly as possible."
Faber answered not a word, but went with hasty strides up the bank, and ran to the house. Polwarth followed as fast as he could, panting and wheezing. Lisbeth received the doctor at the door.
"Tell my man to saddle my horse, and be at the back door immediately," he said to her.
Polwarth followed him up the stair to the landing, where Dorothy received Faber, and led him to Juliet's room. The dwarf seated himself on the top of the stair, almost within sight of the door.
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