The papers were fetched. It was clear that they indeed directed Fred to the safe stretch of the Cherwell.
“I suppose I am an idiot,” Fred said quietly. “I mistook up for down, and misread it all. Your guide is clear, my friend.”
“But the man who pushed you, Mr Carter?” Ruth sat forward, her face eager. She could sense Greene watching her. It made her heart beat oddly fast. “What can you remember of him?”
“Nothing. And I’m sorry for it. My memory is usually good.”
“I have to ask.” Sergeant Greene looked uncomfortable. “Do you have any enemies?”
Fred stared at him.
“Fred is the last man on earth to make an enemy,” Lord Trescanton said warmly.
Ruth and the policeman left Lord Trescanton’s rooms together. In the most official tone he could muster, he offered to escort Ruth home. They were crossing St Philip’s Quad, Greene leading the way, Magdalen Tower high above them.
“Why was the criminal there?” Ruth said, overtaking Greene, thinking hard. “If there was a criminal.”
Greene hurried to catch up.
“Thank you for your assistance, miss,” he said. “Now we find out about Fred Carter.”
She turned, and he came to a stop in front of her. Ruth felt uncomfortably warm in the October air. She was not going to leave now. She could not abandon the case to the police, knowing nothing.
“I will take the details,” he said, “back to my ”
“But I have an acquaintance,” Ruth interrupted, thinking quickly. “A man sympathetic to the cause of women’s education. He might help us in this.”
The sergeant bit his lip, uncertain. Ruth’s eyes flashed.
“Well, we might ask this person a few questions,” he said carefully.
“I believe we will find him in the Senior Common Room,” Ruth said, and they retraced their steps.
It took Ruth’s best efforts to persuade an ancient don, who barred their way to the Common Room, to let her enter the male preserve. But as usual she was forceful. The young policeman smiled as she gave a short and determined lecture on the importance of modern police work.
They found Mr Prothero, fellow of Magdalen College, drinking a glass of sherry. He told them that Fred Carter was an exceptional History student.
“He is already producing original scholarship. But his tutor is Doctor Morris,” Prothero lowered his voice, “who, on the other hand, has failed to produce research in the allowed time. Morris’s fellowship is now at risk, and therefore his comfortable life at the College High Table.”
Ruth nodded encouragingly and Prothero continued.
“Fred on the Elizabethans well, he’s far better than old Morris,” Prothero said. “Of course, I would not imply that Morris would do the worst. But he is talking of publishing shortly.”
Ruth explained the conversation as she and Sergeant Greene walked out of the college gates together.
“It has been known,” she said, “for an academic to steal to use fraudulently the work of a colleague. It’s a low thing to do, and it’s even easier to steal from a mere undergraduate, as they have less redress.”
Greene was listening to her intently, and Ruth felt very alive in the clear night air.
He turned left towards St Hilda’s.
“Not that way,” Ruth said. “I’ll walk with you to the police station. Just to talk it over.” She touched his arm. He started, as though an electric shock had passed between them, and he followed her.
“But is this theft of work,” he asked, “a motive to kill?”
“I can’t say. But shouldn’t we meet this Doctor Morris?”
Ruth walked a little further, and said casually, “I might be a help to the police, at least inside the world of academia.”
“I don’t know, miss. There now, we are nearly at the station. Here we part.”
She could have sworn that he sounded just a little disappointed.