IT was less than a day later when Ruth heard a knock at the door of the room, and found a porter outside.
“There’s a policeman in the lodge again,” the old porter said sternly.
Ruth swiftly tried to control the hair that she had recently washed, and which insisted on flying everywhere. She tried a ribbon, quickly gave up, and ran down the staircase and across two quads.
It was not Sergeant Greene in the lodge. Her heart began to stop thumping against her chest wall. It was instead a thin, pimpled individual in a constable’s uniform.
“Sergeant Greene begs your pardon but can you come at once to the library,” he said.
The two of them made their way in the cool of the morning to the library, the constable utterly silent and clearly terrified of escorting a female.
Terence and Dr Nicholls were in the librarian’s untidy office, pacing the small room.
“So, the watchmen began work on the twenty-second?” he was saying. Ruth watched him pace, thinking what a fine walk he had.
“They did,” Dr Nicholls replied. “They are most obliging. Quite unobtrusive.”
“And of course the firm is reputable.”
The doctor looked about him.
“I have here three references that Mr Garrett provided,” he said. “If I can find them . . .” He searched through a heap of pieces of paper. “One reference was from a large private house in Derbyshire, I know. The owner, a baronet, expressed his satisfaction at the manner in which Waites and Garrett kept his valuable house contents secure during his recent tour of Europe. And there was a large tailor’s emporium in Exeter. Mr Garrett explained that the firm’s presence there is more or less permanent. I can’t recall the third, but ”
“If you could look those out, Doctor Nicholls,” Terence said, “I’d be grateful.” He crossed the room and stood close to Ruth, as if about to leave with her.
“There is still a suspicion that books are suffering damage,” the librarian put in. “I intend to keep Waites and Garrett on the premises until I feel quite safe, or until the university librarian withdraws the funds.”
“Well, that’s your choice, of course, Doctor,” Terence said.
“One of the guards,” Dr Nicholls went on, “has further rearranged the Divinity section so that he can be certain of noticing anyone using the section. And the change allows for untrammelled private study. I told him his name is Button that he should train as a library assistant!”
Outside in Broad Street, Terence took Ruth’s arm and led her into the shadow of a sentry box. He kissed her and, though Ruth was sure they could easily be observed by half the city’s population, she did not stop him.
“So, tell me what that was about,” she asked after a moment.
“That was about the fact that I love you,” he said.
Ruth’s breath caught in her throat.
“I mean in Doctor Nicholls’s office.”
“Oh, I see,” he said. “Well, once the doctor finds those references I will set Constable Brinks he of the pimples to checking them. I want to know more about Waites and Garrett. That’s what that was about.”
“What can you imagine they ”
But she was stopped by the sudden appearance, right before her eyes, of her own purse. It was in his hand, and it was unmistakeably hers. The royal-blue velvet had been stitched by her mother the day before she left for Oxford.
“Where did you . . . how did you . . .?” she asked, bewildered.
“I have been practising,” he said. “Lady Shokranka, when all is said and done, is a glorified pickpocket. She takes in plain sight.”
“I had not even noticed the loss,” Ruth said in a hushed voice. “That’s extraordinary.”
“Now,” he said, “if I give you back your purse can I kiss you again?”