Sergeant Greene coughed.
“Am I to take it that you do not believe you fell from the punt as a result of the dangerous river?”
Carter shook his head, and winced again.
“I was at a narrow section. It seemed to me unlike the river I expected, it had too many side channels.” He passed a hand before his eyes. “Too much undergrowth. I was pushed by a pole, I think, or a stout stick. There was a figure; a man, I suppose, by his strength ”
“Not necessarily,” Ruth said quietly. They all turned to look at her.
“At any rate,” Carter continued, “a dark figure was there, under a willow, I think. The punt veered off down a channel and I lost control, passed a warning notice, where ”
“Notice?” Trescanton interrupted, frowning. “There are no such notices where you were punting, Fred.”
Fred shook his head, unable to focus.
“I’m sure there was one. In any event, I could not back up, and the punt began to shudder. I saw the water churning and I was over in an instant.”
“Your clothes, sir,” Greene put in. “They dragged you under. I know it to my cost.”
Fred looked at Greene.
“I have to thank you, Sergeant.”
Greene shook his head.
“Line of duty,” he said.
Ruth looked at him with admiration. It was good to meet two such decent men, and one of them among the most delightful examples of manly beauty she had seen.
“It was bad to be punting so late in the year,” Trescanton put in. “My father came a cropper the same way, but he was only in his shirt-sleeves, thank goodness, and with friends. Carter, you were in danger there.”
“I know now. But it was so odd. The river was not as it should have been. It was choked with driftwood, and narrow.”
“Where were you, man?” Trescanton insisted.
“Well, south of the college, where ”
“South! No, Fred. A chap learns to punt on the north stretch, where it’s broad, and flows along gently!”
The policeman held up a hand.
“Tell me how you came to be there.”
Fred recounted how Trescanton had laughed at him that morning for wanting to impress Eleanor Carrimore, the young lady soon to visit from Trescanton’s home county. George had advised him to go out early, in good light. But Fred felt embarrassed in case he was observed, and had waited until early evening.
“I was frustrated not to be able to go with you,” George said.
“You gave me the map, though.”
“Map?” Ruth asked.
Greene looked at her. She could see that he thought she ought to have gone back to St Hilda’s, but in his face she also saw reflected her own excitement. She thought she saw, perhaps, a kind of bond, forged by their shared experience.
“Map?” Greene repeated.
“I sent Fred a note,” Trescanton said, “of how to fetch out a punt, and where to go safely. I made him a sketch. Goodness, if you, Sergeant, had not come along . . .”
“And this young lady,” Greene said, looking at Ruth. “She was instrumental.”
“Indeed.” Lord Trescanton bowed to Ruth. “Fred must certainly have headed the wrong way! That’s a nice enough stretch to walk, but in a punt it’s foolhardy!” He looked at the policeman. “Let me fetch the note from Fred’s rooms.”
“I will do that,” Greene said quickly.
Ruth noted the care he was taking. His Lordship was the victim’s loyal friend, but in an investigation of this sort one must take care to gather evidence oneself.
“Of course,” Trescanton said. “Fred has Longwall Quad, room six-one.”