I break into a swift trot to pursue Hershel, who is slinking his way towards the nearest cloister. Whilst not actively trying to elude me, Hershel seems unenthusiastic about the prospect of a quick chat. This is in no small part due to the fact I know he has been sneaking around Hawkins College.
“Hershel!” I call out to him when I am barely six feet away. He stops, then turns.
“Sshh! Please. I know you’re going to give me the hairy-dryer treatment about being at Hawkins earlier. But I had good reason.”
“I’m sure you did,” I reply “I just want you to tell me what you know, that’s all.”
“Yes. But look, it’s Penelope you really need to speak to. She knew her – the Hawkins girl – and it was something you said before, about Maurinio being interested in the occult?”
I take a moment to think, a little taken aback.
“What about it?”
“The Hawkins girl – well. Look, come with me to Penelope’s rooms and she can explain.”
Penelope’s rooms are rather tidier than I was expecting and I am happy to be settled comfortably on a sagging, but cosy, settee. I also see that the snow globe has moved from the writing desk and found its way to the bedside cabinet. That’s nice.
“Maggie was quite into witchcraft, she took it fairly seriously,” Penelope is telling me about the Hawkins girl. “Not in, like, a super crazy way or anything but… it was something she believed in.”
“Do you think she could have been… practicing her craft… when she died?” I ask.
“Well… that’s the thing. She might have been.”
“What makes you say that?”
Penelope huffs a little and rolls her eyes. Whatever she is about to tell me, it is clearly something she finds tiresome.
“There’s this boy she really liked. Really, really liked. She sort of joked about doing this spell she knew to make him fall in love with her.”
“Who was the boy?” I ask, intrigued.
“I don’t know, I never met him. He wasn’t a University boy, you know. And I don’t think the feeling was reciprocated, I don’t think he even knew. She worshipped him from afar, if you like.”
I press Penelope for a few more details and pose another question or two. Then, I am rather sad to say, my rumbling stomach which was some time ago promised tea and cake, forces me to make my excuses and leave. Not just my stomach, I should add. Feeling fairly faint, my head must shoulder some of the blame. I certainly have a lot to mull over. I should probably think about speaking to Detective Chief Inspector Thompson about all this, I bet he knows nothing of any of it.
Happily, Head Of Catering was able to generously oblige in the manner of cake and Head Porter and I are enjoying it over a well-earned cup of tea. Head Porter is less shocked about the witchcraft angle than I had imagined. But then, he has been Head Porter for so many years that he must be used to all kinds of unusual youthful behaviour. And probably quite a fair bit of unusual elderly behaviour, where The Fellowship are concerned. I share with him my curiosity regarding Hershel’s clandestine presence at Hawkins College. Head Porter puts it down to youthful exuberance.
“He’s a bright, curious chap,” Head Porter says through cakey mouthfuls. “I expect his interest was piqued. I quite admire his initiative, actually.”
“I agree,” I reply, dropping crumbs and jam all down my waistcoat. It doesn’t matter. It’s ruined from falling off the wall, anyway. “I think he might be quite helpful.”
Head Porter nods enthusiastically. It appears that he has something either urgent or exciting to impart to me as he is hurriedly attempting to chomp down a portion of Victoria sponge that is several sizes larger than his mouth. I am quite literally on the edge of my seat, when there is a knock at the door. It is Porter.
“Sorry to interrupt,” he says. He sees what little remains of the Victoria sponge and looks rather put out. We were going to offer him some, I promise.
“Help yourself,” I offer generously, gesturing with a sticky hand.
“Right. Thanks” Porter scoops up the last skinny slither of cake in his bear-like paw and sniffs it.
“Was there something you wanted?” asks Head Porter.
“Oh, right” replies Porter. “Yes. Ma’am – The Dean would like you to call him immediately.”