The police presence at Old College has certainly cast a muted fog across what would otherwise be a jaunty time of year. The Fellowship are never comfortable with outside influences of any description and the students seem suitably subdued. I am actually rather relishing the sensation of College behaving itself for once.
There is often the assumption of guilt in these circumstances; avoiding the company of authority arouses suspicions of having something to hide, to the untrained eye. To the eye that has had some instruction in such things, it is merely the sign of an unexplainable force of nature at work. The close proximity of our badge carrying friends often inspires unwarranted feelings of nervous guilt, even amongst the most law-abiding of men. The rising horror of glimpsing the flourescent Battenberg in your rear view mirror as you are driving along, perfectly legally, is inexplicable yet unavoidable. The panicked questioning of one’s own integrity simply cannot be helped.
The lot of a policeman is a lonely one; no one ever really wants to speak to them. The police know this and so have to become a little cunning in their interactions. In the outside world their methods are beyond compare. Within the cossetted walls of Old College, they are woefully ineffective. I shall have to help them along a little.
Detective Chief Inspector Thompson and his team have found the students particularly unforthcoming with information about Maurinio and his presently anonymous beau. If there is any one of the unfortunate young man’s contemporaries who will have some sort of inside information, it will be the dear Hershel. A student who has caused me numerous headaches in one way or another, he is guaranteed to be right at the center of any nefarious happenings.
There is no response to my enthusiastic hammering on his door. There is a small chance he could be in the Library, studying. Stranger things have happened. I reason that it’s as good a place as any to start, so make my way through the frosted cloisters to the welcoming warmth of possibly the most famous enclave of education in The City. The heavy wooden door has a cold, damp smell to it as I heave it open; it is a formidable barrier between the enlightened and unenlightened worlds and it is almost protesting at the attempt to unite the two.
The Library never feels empty, even when devoid of human occupation. Many of the books have been around for so long that they have acquired something of a life force of their own. I used to find the sensation unusual, to say the least, but these days the quirks of Old College pass me by almost unnoticed. That in itself concerns me a little. With each passing day I am sucked a little further into the fabric of College life. One day I fear I shall be devoured completely.
As it happens, I have more company than just the books. The Librarian is drifting ominously along the shelves, looking at nothing in particular. There is the very hint of a whispered muttering in the air, but it is impossible to tell if it is coming from him or the books. His spindly frame sags beneath the weight of tweed as he makes his way along the rows of books.
“Excuse me,” I say politely. “I’m so sorry to disturb you.”
The Librarian looks round with no particular urgency and takes a few moments to notice me. When he finally does, he seems almost disappointed.
“I was wondering if you could help me, erm…” The Librarian’s gaze has drifted to a far away point somewhere to the left of me. I cursory glance reveals nothing of interest, so I continue unabated. “I am looking for young Hershel, I wondered if you had seen him at all?”
“Have you seen him?”
The conversation is evidently over as The Librarian continues his perusal of unseen things in the middle distance. A man of few words, unless they are bound in leather.
It was always going to be a long shot, finding Hershel in the Library. But it is on the way to the Junior Combination Room, which is a much more likely place to find a chap such as him. It is a short but chilly journey and the air tastes delightfully of snow. A little sprinkling of snow might be quite nice.
As I climb the stairs to the Junior Combination Room, I see the man himself loitering by the door. He looks a little uneasy and appears distracted by an object in his hands. As I call out to him, he hurriedly hides whatever it is behind his back. A master of misdirection, he turns to me with a smile so charming I might almost forget I saw him acting oddly just seconds ago.
“Hershel! What are you up to?” I ask, fixing him with my very beadiest eye.
“I don’t know what you mean, my dear Deputy Head Porter.”
“Come on, Hershel, we know each other better than that. There is something afoot, I can tell.”
He maintains the premise of wide-eyed innocence for a brief moment, before dropping the look completely and sheepishly showing me what he had behind his back. It is a snow globe. A rather pretty one, I must say, with an intricately fashioned castle within and a swirling glitter tempest. Hershel looks almost embarrassed to have it in his possession.
“That’s pretty,” I remark. “I didn’t have you down as a snow globe enthusiast.”
“It’s for Penelope,” he replies quietly. “It’s meant to be Warwick Castle. She used to visit it with her parents when she was little. I thought she might like it.”
This unusual show of compassion touches me unexpectedly and I am struggle to suppress a little ‘Awww’.
“That’s really lovely, Hershel!” I say. “Honestly, I didn’t know you had it in you.”
“Neither did I, to be honest with you” we share a little giggle. I feel a little fuzzy in my tummy. Maybe my Hershel is growing up. “But look. I know why you’ve come to see me.”
“Yes. It’s about Maurinio, isn’t it? The police have been asking questions.”
“And have you been giving them answers?”
“Not exactly,” he replies, voice faltering. “I find them frightful to chat you. But there really is something you should know…”