Sleight Of Hand – Episode 11

HE did return, and they took out a punt.

St Hilda’s, a poor establishment when compared with the “real” colleges, did own two punts. It was quite a thing for Ruth and Sergeant Greene to use the boat. Their acquaintance had begun when he was nearly killed trying to rescue a drowning puntsman.

“I’ve still not been inside a punt,” Ruth said as they stashed the little paddle at the bow end, and laid out the leather cushions, “since I came to Oxford.”

“Nor me,” he said. “But, then, why should I? I am a mere townie, not an undergraduate.”

“I’m not an undergraduate either,” she said. “They won’t let us women enrol. But let’s not quarrel.”

He smiled, and Ruth’s heart beat very hard against her chest.

“We are both . . . deprived,” he said happily.

Ruth was not surprised to find that Terence Greene took to punting in minutes. He stood tall and straight at the back of the punt, his handsome face a picture of concentration. He observed the laughing undergraduates who bumped and swayed their way along the Cherwell, and once they were out of sight of Magdalen Tower he had learned exactly how to steer a smooth course down the centre of the current.

“You saw the magic show again?” Ruth asked in a friendly fashion.

He looked down at her. She wore again her summer dress and ribboned hat. It was all she had for outings.

“I did. Though I confess it begins to pall a little the second time. I do think Unwin has fallen in love with Lady Shakranka.”

Ruth laughed.

Terence manoeuvred the punt over to a grass bank and tied up to a tree stump. He sat opposite Ruth and she shared out a packet of sandwiches.

“Only fish paste, I’m afraid,” she said.

“Delicious,” the sergeant said. “It was still fascinating,” he went on, “to watch how she did all those things with her hands. I kept my eye on her at every moment I really did and I like to think that a policeman has good powers of observation. But I could not see how she made an egg appear, or a notebook vanish. Unwin was watching her flashing eyes, as I imagine was her aim. So I made it my business not to do that, to see if I could . . .”

“Break her code?”

He grinned.

“Something of that sort. But I could not. And she talked so with her foreign accent and moved about all the time. It was hard to focus.”


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