A terrible scene greeted them as they rounded a bend in the river five minutes later, both out of breath. George Trescanton and Fred Carter were at the water’s edge.
As a thick darkness fell, the tall, powerfully built nobleman was furiously trying to throttle his friend. Sergeant Greene was on him in an instant. He seized Trescanton and tried to drag him off his opponent, who was weakening. But the nobleman seemed possessed.
Ruth looked on, horrified, as with astonishing strength he threw Terence to the ground, and went back to Fred, raining blows on him. Terence came back, but Trescanton saw his approach, and flung his whole weight at the policeman.
Terence toppled and fell at the water’s edge. Ruth watched him roll half into the water, clinging for dear life to a clump of coarse grass. It was all the work of a few seconds. She heard a strangled cry from Fred Carter, and in the remains of the light, his eye caught hers as Trescanton raised his arm again, and the entreaty in Fred Carter’s look galvanised her.
Terence, she saw from the corner of her eye, was pulling himself from the water’s edge. Near him lay the paddle, discarded when he flung himself at the pair.
She took it up, and without thought for the consequences, hurtled towards Trescanton.
His back was towards her, and she raised the paddle, gripping it with two small hands. She brought it down on the nape of his neck. His body seemed to hang, suspended, before crashing to the ground at her feet.
The Magdalen porter appeared. Uneasy at Ruth’s strange behaviour, he had summoned help and had followed. Trescanton was taken to the police station between two burly college handymen, and Fred, claiming only a cut lip and two black eyes, hurried to find his fiance, despite the sergeant’s entreaties for him to go to the station, too.
Ruth and Terence were on the riverbank.
“So, Ruth Rutherford,” he said. “Where would you like to begin?”
She rubbed her arms and looked at him.
“You are not nearly as wet as the first time we met,” she said.
“You are just as extraordinary,” he said. “Are you going to explain all this to me?”
“I think it might be far better,” she said without thinking, “for you to remove your shirt. I have a shawl here to keep you warm. You don’t want to catch cold.”
Sergeant Greene, despite the terrible events of the afternoon, burst out laughing.
The duty inspector was obliged, an hour later, to allow Miss Ruth Rutherford into the Oxford Police Station with all the honours appropriate to a person who had saved the bacon of a serving officer, possibly twice.
“Why don’t you sit in there, where there’s a fire,” the inspector said. “Sergeant Greene here can take a statement from you, miss, while the rest of us deal with the fella in the cell, and with poor Mr Carter.”
“Did you see that punt of his?” Ruth asked as soon as they sat down.
“Punt?” Terence was confused by events, but most of all by the beautiful woman opposite him. Unconsciously he wrapped her shawl tightly around his shoulders.
“The escutcheon it did have the same coat of arms that we saw in Eaton Square. The arms of the Earls of Hardstone!”
“I’m sure you’re right,” he said. “But can we start at the beginning?”
But there were further matters to establish before Ruth could give a full account. The confession of Lord Trescanton was chief amongst them.
George Trescanton wanted, he admitted, to marry Eleanor Carrimore. He was very deeply in debt, his inheritance spent long before he would receive it. Eleanor already possessed an independent fortune from the estate of her grandmother and George had been eyeing it with desperation since his private affairs began to run out of control.
Trescanton was aware that Eleanor did not love him. Nor did he love her. But, horrified by the disgrace of bankruptcy, or of running begging to his father, he thought he could persuade her to marry him.
Fred Carter had got in his way. His friendship for Fred was genuine enough; he was no snob, as Fred had said. But Trescanton never imagined Eleanor could love Fred Carter, who was merely a commoner. An unhappy, desperate young man, Trescanton gradually changed from loyal friend to potential murderer.
“I knew Franks had to be connected to the Trescantons,” Ruth said a week after Lord Trescanton had been imprisoned. “Of course, enquiries came up with no cause for blackmail in the household. But think of that couple we saw arguing. I got to wondering if they were his mother and father, and if so, whether there were family troubles which a father or a mother might not speak of.
“The woman’s appearance and the carriage with its coat of arms made me think. It turned out that the coat of arms was the same. I wondered if Franks was blackmailing George. I didn’t know with what, but ”
“It had to be money,” Terence cried. “Of course. Hatton Garden the place to borrow large sums, to pawn jewels.”
“So it turned out.”