Sleight Of Hand – Episode 05

A FEW days later, Ruth called on Dr Nicholls, to whom she had taken a considerable liking. He invited her into his office, a room of extraordinary untidiness, leading from the music manuscript section.

“Oh, I am sorry for the mess, Miss Rutherford,” he said. “It is something of a myth that librarians are orderly people. I believe that all the tidiness in us is directed towards the books!”

Ruth smiled. Dr Nicholls made her tea on the tiny stove in the corner.

“My assistant, Mr Fellowes, has taken charge while we talk,” he said. “He is an excellent young man. He took a First at Wadham in ninety-nine!”

It turned out that Ruth and Dr Nicholls shared an interest in Greek history, and they exchanged views on the subject until Ruth noticed that the doctor was beginning occasionally to look at the half-open door.

“You are anxious, Doctor?” she said.

He stood up suddenly.

“I can’t help it,” he said, his worn academic gown rippling with the movement. “Another policeman came. I believe that he held a rank above that of your beau, Miss ”

“Oh, he’s not my beau!” Ruth interrupted, shocked. “We met when I was . . . needed on a case last year.”

Dr Nicholls’s eyes opened a little wider.

“Well, if you say so,” he said. “I may be buried in an ancient library but I observe things, Miss Rutherford. However, this other policeman explained that, while the Oxford force sympathised, nothing could be done.”

He moved towards the door and Ruth followed.

“I wonder if I might employ . . . I don’t know . . . outside help, to better guard the collection.” He turned to Ruth. “What do you think?”

“Outside help?”

“My sister, who is more out in the world than me, refers to the people I am thinking of as . . . oh, dear, I have my doubts about this . . . as ‘heavies’. Men who would keep watch.”

“It seems extreme, Doctor Nicholls,” Ruth said as they walked along, “but I see how worried you are. I know there are very good firms employed for such tasks.”

“The books and manuscripts, you see, are in my care. It is a heavy responsibility.”

“You’re not alone, Benjamin.” A tenor voice rose from behind a room divider, and a man of perhaps thirty-five emerged. He was slight, with round spectacles and an engaging smile.

Dr Nicholls smiled.

“No, indeed, Tom. Miss Rutherford, this is Thomas Fellowes, Assistant Librarian.”

Tom Fellowes bowed. His light-brown hair fell across his brow and he pushed it back with a long-fingered, delicate hand.

“But Tom and I are a team of only two,” Dr Nicholls said insistently, “and we must eat and sleep. We cannot watch the collection enough.”

“I don’t myself favour the heavies approach, to be honest, Miss Rutherford,” Mr Fellowes said, “but as in all things I defer to the good doctor.”

“It’s not true,” Dr Nicholls said, laughing. “Tom does just as he likes. He has reshelved the Cranby Gospels in the University Archive section quite fifty feet from Theology, and under glass! Most unusual.”

“For their protection, Doctor,” Mr Fellowes said soothingly.


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