WAITES and Garrett had not yet shipped the chairs out of the country.
“When my men,” Terence told Ruth, “insisted on being given the information, they learned the whereabouts of a warehouse in Banbury. The twelve chairs had been shifted there, at night, one by one.”
“How audacious!” she said. “So they distracted Doctor Nicholls ”
“And us with petty damage to books.”
“Doctor Nicholls would be appalled to hear you call it petty,” Terence said. “Of course they needed someone with free access to the library to begin the vandalism, to persuade him into hiring help. Garrett admitted to paying a poor freshman a boy deep in gambling debts to do it. Brinks has got him in custody.”
Ruth nodded slowly.
“They diverted our minds on to the vandalism, made us imagine some kind of plot, and all the time they were simply salting away the things they truly wanted.”
“I am horrified that the university keeps so poor an eye on its treasures.”
“We all seem bad,” Ruth admitted, “at seeing what is under our noses.”
“When I took your purse, I wanted to show that a crime can be committed in plain sight. I distracted you,” he said. “But these criminals were far more brazen than that. They removed treasures that were perfectly visible it was the only way they could do it, the only way to gain free entry and exit from a library that is securely locked at night ”
“So that the precious books are not at risk!” Ruth exclaimed. “What an irony!” She turned to him. “And this was all the result of your ingenuity.”
“I could have done nothing without you,” he said.
Ruth stepped briskly back and shook Terence’s hand firmly.
“So, Sergeant Greene,” she said, “a good outcome.”
He looked down at her, his dark eyes affectionate.
“Very good,” he said.
A few days later, the furniture had all been returned, and they gathered in the library in the evening, the university librarian in attendance. Dr Nicholls was really distressed at his own naivety.
“I have been a fool,” he said. “You say that it all began with that scholar who dropped his books outside Brasenose?”
“He was no scholar,” the sergeant said gently. “He was setting you up to employ his brother’s firm of criminals. And the beginning, Doctor, was that freshman willing to make a mark here, a rip there, for payment.”
Dr Nicholls wrung his hands.
“The man had me for a fool. Of course he was not going to Christ Church. Oh, but if only I had understood thought to consider the value of those chairs!”
Ruth placed a hand gently on his arm.
“You care for the books, the maps, the scholarly documents,” she said gently. “And you had no idea about the provenance of the chairs.”
The university librarian thought for a moment.
“It would have been a great pity if these valuable items,” he said, “had been lost to the Duke Humfrey’s. But just imagine, Doctor Nicholls, if real damage had been done to the books! We should be thankful for small mercies.”
“And for the work of Miss Rutherford,” Sergeant Greene put in.
“And for the intelligence of Sergeant Greene,” Ruth said.
Dr Nicholls looked from Ruth to Terence and back again. He smiled a private smile.
“My best wishes to you both,” he said.
As Ruth and Terence left the Duke Humfrey’s, Thomas Fellowes stepped out from behind a high bookshelf.
“Miss Rutherford,” he said. “Sergeant. Ruth, I was thinking that, now the problem of the damaged books seems to be over, I might ask you to ”
“Miss Rutherford,” Sergeant Greene said, taking Ruth’s arm firmly, “will be much occupied with . . . another case that has presented itself here in Oxford.”
“Good evening,” Terence said. He strode off towards the main doors, and Ruth almost fell over trying to keep up with him.
“What case?” she asked, breathless, as they emerged into the evening air. The stone of the buildings glowed golden, and Ruth felt very alive.
“I’ll think of something,” he said.