The sergeant sent a constable to the boarding houses and hotels of Oxford to check for such a man. He must surely have stayed overnight.
The following morning Ruth received a note from her policeman at St Hilda’s: A Mrs Wade in South Oxford had provided a bed and morning tea for exactly such a man.
A Mr Franks of Hatton Garden in the City of London, Sergeant Greene wrote.
Several days later, the Hatton Garden Force had been unable to find any such man.
Ruth was making her way back to St Hilda’s that day after a lunchtime concert, rereading her note, when she met Lord Trescanton on the high street.
“My lord,” she said.
He smiled his easy smile and offered to walk her back to St Hilda’s. Ruth liked him, especially for his lack of snobbery in befriending a man of Fred Carter’s class.
She took the opportunity to gain more background knowledge.
“So,” she asked as they climbed the gentle rise of Magdalen Bridge, “it would be a simple matter for anyone to take a punt pole?”
He stopped and looked down at the Magdalen sheds, hard by the river far below.
“I am sorry to say you are correct. I keep my own punt here without a thought for security. Look, there with the escutcheon.”
“It’s very fine,” Ruth commented.
“The time has come to be more careful.” He leaned on the stone balustrade. “I can’t bear to think of Carter being stalked like that. I have spoken already to the porters about padlocks and a watch on the sheds, out of my own pocket if necessary.”
A fortnight later Ruth was at her books, trying to focus on her studies, when a porter knocked at her door.
“There’s a policeman for you, Miss Rutherford,” he said disapprovingly.
Ruth jumped up, and then stopped herself and assumed a controlled, neutral expression.
“I see. I will come immediately.”
It was clear from Sergeant Greene’s drawn features, as he stood in the quad, that he did not bring good news about the case.
“Miss Rutherford. There has been a death.”
Ruth stepped instinctively towards him.
“On the river?”
“An undergraduate again, but this time . . .” Greene took a deep breath “. . . held under the water. That much is clear from . . .” He paused, upset. “From the body.”
He looked at her, and her heart went out to him.
“I am not squeamish, Sergeant. And if I am to help you . . .”
He turned his helmet in his hands.
“Look,” he said. “Perhaps I should not have burdened you ”
“You should have done exactly that,” Ruth said with gentleness, and she saw the relief in his face. She looked at the watchful porter.
“We’ll walk. I suppose the body is moved.”
“Yes. I mean, yes, miss.”
As they walked, Greene related how the lad had been found by a professor who was walking his dog in Christ Church Meadows.
“What do we know of the victim?” Ruth asked. “Any connections?”
“He is unknown to Fred Carter, or to Lord Trescanton. I sent a constable to enquire. Mr Carter is much recovered, by the way.”
“He’d been drinking, this unfortunate boy. The doctor attending could tell the death occurred today. He was a promising Merton College man, according to college staff.”
Greene stopped and looked down at Ruth.
“Because of our friend Doctor Morris and our previous theories. But go on.”
A brougham sped by, sending up a spray of dirty water from the gutter on to Ruth’s brown dress. Greene called out angrily to the driver.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“Yes, Sergeant,” Ruth said, smiling, “I do not own a gown worth protecting. Go on.”
“So, if Doctor Morris has a connection to the boy . . . But is it likely? They were not at the same college.”
“Undergraduates may visit other colleges for a teacher on their chosen subject for study. Merton is small; men might go to Magdalen if they have a particular interest. The Elizabethans, say.” She was warming to her task, and sensed him watching her face as they walked. “Send the constable to find out.”
They had paused to cross the road, and he looked at her, his eyebrows raised, a smile on his lips. It was Ruth’s turn to blush.
“That is, if you decide that it’s a sensible way to proceed,” she said.
“I will send the constable,” Sergeant Greene agreed.
It turned out that this particular young man was not taking tutorials at Magdalen. He had asked to study under a Wadham College professor who was an expert on the Armada fleet. Ruth discovered this when she called the next day at the police station on the Cornmarket and boldly asked for Sergeant Greene.
“I don’t want to be rude, miss,” he said, emerging from a back office, looking about him warily in case of watchful colleagues, “but an interruption of this nature ”
“Interruption? And I a witness,” Ruth said, her eyes wide.
“I can’t deny that you have assisted, Miss Rutherford, but ”
“Ruth. Is it not time to dispense with ‘miss’? It is nineteen-twelve.”
He looked at her and his gaze strayed, she was sure, to her hair. The autumn sunlight shone through the mass of curls.
“Nevertheless,” he said, bringing his attention back, “it is a police matter.”
She asked about the victim, and Greene told her what they knew about his tutor and college.
Then Ruth heard muffled laughter. She turned to see, at the desk, two helmeted policemen watching them. Greene glared.
“When does your working day end?” Ruth asked.
He looked wary.
“At four. Why?”
“I will see you at the Copper Kettle on the Broad, then. I will not play policeman. There will just be a cup of tea, and perhaps consideration of the facts gathered so far.”
“All right,” he said almost in a whisper, looking uncomfortable.
As Ruth left the station, she was astonished by her own boldness.