It was a pleasant morning in No. 2 Eliot Place when the first case of the month came knocking at the door. James had been reading aloud from the Illustrated London News, the boring facts on a series of break-ins turned riveting with James’s panache, when three soft claps rang from their knocker.
James sprang from his armchair and rushed to the door, leaving the weekly at Francis’s lap.
“Mr. Fitzjames?” came a soft voice. “I hope you got my card.”
“Yes and yes, Mr. Goodsir. Do come in and have a seat. This is my friend and colleague Professor Crozier. Francis, meet Mr. Henry Goodsir from the Bromley Museum.”
“A pleasure,” Francis greeted.
Goodsir was a man of about five and thirty, well-dressed and established, with his hair trimmed to a respectable length—to say nothing of the sideburns. Dark circles plagued the bottom of the man’s worried spectacles. His stooped carriage indicated a meek disposition, compounded by an apologetic face that hinted at a life of perpetual embarrassment.
“Are you here on the museum’s business then?” Francis asked.
“I would much rather that I was, professor, but I’m afraid the matter is personal.”
Goodsir settled in his seat and cleared his throat. He spoke softly but firmly, with each word rendered with an earnest seriousness: “I have come here to see if you might be able to retrieve my sister’s purse. A great relief it would be, if it were found and returned. For my family. And for my sister most of all.”
James nodded for him to continue.
“The incident happened two days ago in Bond Street. My sister Agnes has a habit of looking at the displays in the dress shops. It’s no pernicious hobby, I assure you, for she contents herself with running her fingers along the fabrics. It hardly matters to me if she spends a little on herself, but my brother has convinced her that she ought to abstain from such frivolities.
“As I said, she was admiring the windows in the shops when she came across a sweet-cheeked boy with a begging face. My sister, bless her heart, rifled through her reticule for some change, but then another boy reached out and snatched her purse. She was too startled to react properly, and when she had finally given thought to pursue the boy, she knew not which direction to begin. She went home incredibly distraught and we have not known peace since.
“You must understand, Mr. Fitzjames, that we were raised in Fife. It does not have the dangers that occur so naturally to London, and my dear Agnes has only grown more afraid of its streets.”
James let out a low hum and leaned forward in his chair. “How much money did the purse contain?”
“Apart from a few coins and the value of the purse itself, it cannot be worth much. But it also contained a death brooch.”
The ensuing silence made Goodsir blush.
“One might also call it a memorial brooch. We are a tightly-knit family, and it was my grandfather’s notion to commission a memorial brooch that would carry locks of hair from his closest and dearest. It was his most prized possession, and before he passed he bequeathed the brooch to Agnes. You can see why she would be so distraught as to its loss.”
A clink of cups drew their attention to the side table, and Goodsir looked up to find the steely gaze of the landlady fully directed at him.
“Oh,” he breathed out, pleasantly startled. “Hello.”
“Miss Nielsen!” James cried. “Thank you as always for your kindness.”
Miss Nielsen ignored him entirely and made a quick nod to Goodsir before leaving.
“Our landlady,” Francis promptly explained. “She only ever brings us tea when we have guests. ‘To keep up Eliot Place’s reputation’, she would say.”
“Mr. Goodsir, might your Agnes recall the particulars of the youth who stormed off with her purse? Any description could aid me in my search.”
“I’m afraid she couldn’t recall much, as she was so very distraught. She did mention that the boy was lanky and of average height, almost a man, with light hair under a brown cap.”
“And the other boy, the toe-rag ambling about?”
“A daisy of a child, if roughly attired.”
“Well,” James huffed, “that could be anyone.”
“I’m truly sorry it’s not much help. Can you still take the case?”
A slow smile appeared in James’s face as he performed a minute flick of his hair, a gesture that could be deemed as effortless had Francis not witnessed its gradual perfection in James’s mirror over the years.
“Greater treasures have been found on lesser leads, Mr. Goodsir! I will call on you as soon as there’s a development. Now, on the matter of payment…”
“Of course.” Goodsir dug into his coat pocket and produced a thick, white envelope. “I hope this will suffice. I am more than willing to give a larger sum if it meant finding the brooch. My sister—”
“—Is distraught. I understand.”
James tucked the envelope in his waistcoat and nodded reassuringly. “I shall be in touch, Mr. Goodsir. Thank you for your business.”
As soon as the door closed on Goodsir, James set about retrieving his day jacket from the bedroom. His cheerful humour from the early morning had been fully transformed, from aimless giddiness to the stern ambition that so possessed James when he was in the middle of a case.
“Are you off to the station then?” Francis called out.
“You know my methods, Francis.”
James returned to the parlour and inspected his reflection in the window. “Are you sure you won’t care to accompany me? I’m off to the jewellers after, to see if the brooch may have been peddled there.”
Francis shook his head with an amiable finality. “And dive head-first into a pool of muck once again? I think not. I’ve papers to sign and lessons to prepare.”
“Spoilsport,” James grumbled. “These jaunts are not as pie when I’ve not my loyal roommate to hunt troublesome gooses with.”
“You know I’d join you more often if it involved fewer gooses to contend with.”
This incited a light chuckle from James, who stood still so Francis might straighten his neckcloth. “If you are so intent on staying here, you might as well bring the lads in. I’ll put the word out.”
“I do wish you wouldn’t use them so often. They’re children, James.”
James beamed wickedly. “But who else shall assist me while my dear roommate stokes the fire?”
He set out happily to the street, giving a jaunty wave behind him as Francis watched from the bay window.
An hour later and a gaggle of excited footsteps climbed up the stairs to No. 2 Eliot Place. Francis opened the door and a queue of fresh-faced youths entered the parlour: red-nosed Thomas Evans, pale-faced David Young, his little sister Mary, and the prettiest of the lot, George Chambers. They lined up in front of Francis like soldiers for inspection, holding up their palms as Francis each gave them a piece of candy from the jar of treats that he kept just for the occasion.
“What’ll it be this time, sir?” little Thomas asked. “Are we looking for a thief again? A vandal? Or—” his eyes widened into saucers— “a murderer?”
Little Mary hid her face behind her brother’s arm.
“Only a thief this time, Thomas. A snatcher in Bond Street. Light hair, brown cap. Can you keep an eye out?”
“A bit tricky, sir,” spoke up David.
“Our lot ain’t allowed in those parts. Too fancy to have corner boys like us wander about. If a patrol finds us, they’ll have us collared any day.”
George frowned and sized up David with an unimpressed eye. “Look who’s an expert.”
“It’s true! Past the cemeteries, we get to Leytonstone, and it’s fair game for those officers on duty. Once I turned the wrong way to Forest Lane and a guard almost nabbed me by two inches.”
“Is that why you’re always acting smart? Because you only got two inches?”
The boys startled at Francis’s command. Their hands curled into fists, pulled close at their sides in ready defense.
Francis guiltily put a soothing hand over Thomas’s curly head. He said, firmly but gently, “I will not tolerate this language.” He glanced at Mary. “Not in my house and certainly not in front of a lady. Is that understood?”
“Good. I won’t have you candling about in Bond Street yourselves but try asking around if anyone your age is acting shifty. Now, where’s Robert?”
“He got himself a job, sir,” said George, the rise of colour in his pink cheeks betraying his ire. “Said he was too old to be playing games with the likes of us.”
“Well, good cess to him then, though I wonder who should get this last piece.”
The children ogled as Francis opened his hand to reveal a piece of toffee, its foil wrapping gleaming in the morning light. He conferred the treat onto the tiny hands of Miss Mary, who blushed sweetly in thanks.
Francis spent the rest of the morning working on the notice for his promotion in two month’s time. It was a task more suited to the Office of the Dean, but Franklin’s assistant was still recovering from a hunting accident, and Franklin himself could not be depended on to do his own administrative duties. It was up to Francis then to draft his own appointment letter.
He had been enjoying a modest lunch, pondering on the virtue of adding a second ‘m’ to the word ‘information’, when James came stomping into their threshold with a most disgruntled look.
“No luck with the police then?” Francis guessed.
James sighed before flopping at the breakfast table. “None at all. What has become of the Yard when they consider petty thefts as beneath their station? Our favourite constable all but laughed in my face when I told him that the item in question was a lady’s accessory.”
Francis had only met Constable Des Voeux once, during a tricky case that ended with James finding an earl’s blue carbuncle deep within a formidable mound of cow dung. From what he remembered, the young man was excessively rude and exceedingly useless.
“What about the jewellers?” he asked.
“Now there’s some promise! There were two jewelry shops in Bond Street, but as expected neither carried the brooch—it would have been suspiciously easy otherwise. I ventured farther from the scene of the crime and ended up in a shop in Bethnal Green, a rather doddery looking place but still respectable. It had a deep blue storefront.”
“Is that Diggle’s by any chance? It sounds familiar.”
James arched his brow and cocked his head to the side, an invitation and a question at the same time. Francis gestured for him to continue.
“It was indeed a Mr. Diggle who attended to me. I asked him if there had been a brooch among the new items in his catalogue, and at the mere mention of ‘recent’ he looked ready to throw me out the door! He inquired if I was with the law in some capacity, and when I fervently denied it he proceeded to spend the next half-hour complaining of how the police conducted its business. It seems the Yard has followed our own line of reasoning, and with the break-ins of weeks past, they have turned to the shops in case any of the stolen articles have been derbied back to the market. Diggle took great offense in their questions. He insisted that unlike R. Wall & Co. in High Street, he would never hazard consorting with capers even when pressed by dire consequence.”
“That’s all very fine and large. Have you gone to High Street then?”
Francis threw up his hands and almost upset his plate. “I wonder how you’re so chipper when you’ve run out of leads!”
“Don’t lose your hair over it, old boy.” James laughed and leaned on the table, resting a cheek on his knuckles. “Our scope has narrowed down considerably. The thief can’t have peddled to any of London’s jewellers, for those are likely under official watch. If he is determined to profit from the brooch, he will have to find a private buyer himself or chuck it to the Thames and cut his losses. Dear me, is that all you’ve eaten?”
Francis looked at his sad lunch of bread and boiled peas. “We’ve, ah, we haven’t gone to market recently.”
James pursed his lips and eyed him with a severely disappointed expression that Francis previously thought only mothers could convey. James sighed and got to his feet. “Come, let’s to the stalls then. We’ll have a proper lunch.”
Berwick was a busy place to be in the middle of the afternoon. The long lane was a hive of every sort of Londoner, each going about their merry way: women hunting for crockery; labourers flocking to pubs; and gentlemen like Francis and James, who, having found their pantry deplorably empty, were wandering about in search of cheap meals.
Even in his student days, Francis had never been the sort to dine in the street to save a few pennies. The fare was as mysterious to him as the Church of England, and James delighted in prescribing to him an assortment of snacks, each one more suspect than the last. Francis was made to try jellied eels and plum duffs, spice cakes and pineapple-on-sticks. For half-pence, he was offered a small mug of cocoa, and when he worried it down he paid for another just to wash the taste off his mouth.
“Would you mind terribly if we looked around, Francis?” asked James.
Markets had always rendered him into a kind of rigorous explorer. James would leave no stall unvisited, gawking at the display and buying trinkets that he would tire of merely a week later. The singular exception so far was a plaster bust that oddly resembled Francis in profile, its pride of place on the top shelf near the bay window.
They had stopped at a shop selling men’s knick knacks when James turned around and dangled a watch chain at eye level—a single Albert variety with a T-bar on one end and a swivel clasp on the other. He handed the chain to Francis with an expectant air, his expression issuing a challenge.
“Have at it then,” he said.
Francis took the chain and held it up in the afternoon light. It was certainly well-polished, but the shine failed to hide the marks of the chain’s age: several of the links showed signs of repair, and the swivel clasp needed replacing. On the other end of the decorative chain was a charm, a flat circular plate with the number ‘8’ engraved.
“It might have been some kind of wedding gift.” Francis lifted the chain for James’s inspection. “See how some of the chain links have been replaced? My colleagues in Natural Sciences would rather repair their brass instruments than throw them out. It’s a matter of sentimentality more than cost—they do regard their instrument as a kind of pet.
“I imagine the same applies here. If the watch chain was merely functional, the wearer wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of having it repaired several times. It must have been a present then, invaluable to the owner, and kept for a long time until the clasp finally broke.”
“A reasonable claim. What makes you think it’s a wedding gift?”
Francis pointed sheepishly at the engraved charm. “The infinity symbol. For boundless affection and eternal love, or so I’m told.”
James smiled and turned to the shopkeeper, and before he did so Francis thought he might have seen a hint of pride in the sparkle in his eye.
“What do you say, my good man?” James said. “Is my friend correct?”
The shopkeeper put on a boyish smile. He was the stocky sort, with a nervous glance and a shy temperament.
“Sorry, sir. It’s from an old cabby round these parts. He busted loads in the races and had to sell his wheels so he could sleep somewhere. I asked for his chain too, and he gave it to me as easy as pie.”
Although it had only been a fun, harmless game, shame ran through the back of Francis’s ears.
“Well now,” James cried. “That certainly doesn’t disprove that it had once been a wedding gift.”
James dug in his pockets and handed over a wad of coins to the shopkeeper.
James took Francis’s hands and held them firmly around the chain.
“Consider this my thanks for always indulging me. We shall hone your powers of conjecture yet. Until then—” he looked down at their joined hands and smiled—“you may take this chain as a token of, well, as a reminder that you well near convinced me you were right!”
James laughed at whatever had seemed highly amusing and moved on to the next stall. This simply would not do, and for the next half-hour or so of meandering about, Francis endeavoured to return the favour. He settled for a bundle of jonquils, his usual carnations still out of season, and when he presented it to James he was rewarded with a soft smile that pleased Francis very much.
“You needn’t have worried, Francis. Thank you.”
When they came to the end of the street, they decided to forego the cab and walk the rest of the way home, arm in arm.
The long journey must have tuckered out Francis more than he thought it would, for the morning after he had found himself sleeping past the hour of eight and had continued to do so for the next two hours. It was nearly lunch when he finally surfaced from his room, his stomach growling and the smell of Assam wafting in the air, when he noticed that his chair was currently occupied.
“Will you take the case please?” said its occupant. It was a child of no more than nine, smartly if plainly dressed, with his polished shoes two inches short of meeting the floor. His cap was cradled in his lap, and his bright eyes looked upon James with such profound hope that it made James shift in discomfort.
“Now Billy,” he said, “I do think you have misconstrued the nature of my services. What I do is—”
“Get things back,” the child said. “It says so right here in your card. It says—”
And here the boy named Billy read from James’s card, in a loud and laboured manner as one would in a class—
James Fitzjames, Esq.
Finder of Lost Items, Artifacts, and Persons Living or Nonliving
+£ For Retrieval
James had been beyond himself when the first batch of cards had arrived from the printers. He had given ten each to the Eliot Place Honoraries and bid them to give it to anyone who cared to ask.
“I got this from Georgie. He said you could find anything.”
“Yes, well, I won’t discredit George by saying otherwise, but do you see what else is written there? I deal with matters considered as ‘lost’, and your brother is certainly not lost, is he? You know exactly where he is.”
The boy pursed his lips into a thin line, deep in thought. “No, I don’t.”
“Not at this exact moment, no. But he is not entirely ‘vanished’, is he? Merely away.”
The child seemed unconvinced despite James’s reasoning. He sat straight and puffed up his chest, looking both endearing and tenacious as only a little boy could whilst sitting in an armchair made for a man. He was about to make his case when a movement caught his eye, and his piercing gaze landed on Francis standing in the doorway of his bedroom.
Later, Francis would tell James that it had felt like being gently pinioned to the ground, like a needle securing a fold.
“Is that you, Francis? Thank heavens! Come here and grace us with your company. This is Billy, one of the Honoraries’ friends. Billy, this is my dear friend and colleague Professor Crozier.”
Billy jumped from the chair and offered his small hand out to Francis.
“I’m pleased to meet you, professor,” he said with perfect courtesy. “Are you a ‘finder’ too?”
Francis had only met Young Billy for all of a minute, but already he found it of utmost importance that he made a good impression on the boy.
“I’m, ah, his assistant of sorts. A finder in training.”
“A trainee! I had no idea there was a job like that.”
“And he was a sailor once too,” James said. “Just as I was. You’re not so far in age from when we enlisted.”
Billy looked up at Francis with eyes blown wide with wonder. A child’s admiration was a heady thing, and Francis could not at all have told him then that unlike James, who had survived one war and been discharged after the second, Francis’s days of adventuring had consisted of sailing round the Cape of Good Hope, learning his accounts, then telling his father that he would like to go to university instead.
“My brother’s a sailor!” Billy exclaimed. “That’s why I want him to come home; I miss him.”
“Have you tried writing and telling him so?” Francis asked.
The child shook his head miserably. “I’m still learning to read. He said he needed the job so it wouldn’t work anyway. But I thought, maybe if it came from people like you….”
Billy looked away and bowed his head, his first display of timidity, and had James not fallen down on one knee and placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder, Francis would have done it himself.
“Very well, then. I’ll take the case.”
“You will?” Billy and Francis said at the same time.
James looked positively affronted at their lack of faith. He schooled his features and turned to give Billy a reassuring smile.
“I get things back—is that not what you said I did? I don’t know if I can pull it off, dear boy, but I shall do everything in my power to bring your brother back.”
Francis had only meant to give the boy a single treat, but somehow Billy had left with his pockets full and a promise from James that he could not possibly fulfill.
“Unless you have agents in your employ to tie his brother in a sack and transport him across the Atlantic, I don’t know how you’re going to do it, James.”
“Neither do I,” James admitted, then laughed at Francis’s appalled expression. “You cannot tell me that you weren’t willing to surrender the very clothes on your back just to chase the frown from that boy’s face. I had no choice, Francis. He was quite compelling.”
“There’s a truth there,” Francis remembered how the boy’s mere gaze stopped him in place, “but now I worry that you’ve given him too much hope.”
“I don’t need to. The boy hasn’t yet lived a decade on this earth. If anything, he is bursting with it.”
Francis was still turning over the predicament in his mind when an excited knocking came from the door. James opened it to find Thomas and Mary standing outside their threshold.
“Dear me, are we to entertain all of London’s children today? Do come in, the both of you, and where’s David?”
“He’s trying out for a climbing-job,” volunteered Thomas. “The master sweep said he could still fit, so I’m minding Mary.”
“And what has brought you here this fine morning?”
Thomas gently nudged Mary forward, saying, “Go on. Tell them what you told me,” and the child, sensing that something was expected of her, ducked her head and pretended not to notice.
It was the promise of sugarplums that did it, and only when a generous amount had been piled before her did Mary begin to warm to the task. She lifted her head and sniffed. She reached out and took a single piece of candy from the pile.
She said, “I liked the hats.”
This seemed to be the entirety of her account, for she elaborated no further and popped a candy into her mouth. Thomas scrambled to explain himself.
“She called me lousy, sir! We take turns sitting her and usually she don’t mind me caulking it out while she plays with her sticks, but today she called me lousy for keeping in. She said Bobby takes her somewhere nice, somewhere with big windows and pretty hats.”
“Are you saying—”
“It was Bond Street, sir. I took her as far as Brydges Road so she could show me. She said Bobby would build her up in Davie’s clothes and they would set off.”
James glanced sharply at Francis, who knelt in front of Mary and said, softly, “Is that true, Miss Mary? Did he take you to Bond Street?”
“And what did you do there?”
Mary swallowed and shrugged. “Just wait. He goes away, and then he goes back.”
“How long do you wait until he gets back?”
Francis swore under his breath.
“They could have taken her, James! Suppose Miss Goodsir had the sense to call the officers on her. The wee one would’ve been cuffed on sight then carted off to some orphan-house where David would never have seen her again!”
“Francis, you’re scaring her.”
Mary had begun to let out tiny, fragile whimpers that broke the hearts of everyone present. She turned and hid her face in Tommy’s chest.
“Where is he now, Thomas?” asked James. There was a deep, distant edge to his voice that bode gravely for their culprit.
“I can’t say, sir. Ever since he got in with those bad hats, we don’t see him as much. But Georgie tried to follow him once.”
“And where exactly did that lead?”
An argument, an agreement, and several, undignified fittings later, Francis strolled through the packed lanes of Camden Lock with a sword cane in one hand and a kerchief in the other. A service revolver was also tucked somewhere in his person, the source of which James had stubbornly refused to disclose.
“You will likely have no use for it,” he had said, “but suppose you get yourself in a situation where you are outnumbered and cornered, it is wise to be armed.”
Francis had pointed out that he was less likely to be outnumbered if James was with him, but James had insisted that he ought to mind their cabby for their kind tended to bolt at the first sign of danger.
The frizzled ends of Francis’s white wig tickled the back of his neck, and its matching moustache threatened to make him sneeze. The air bore the coolness of early spring, but the inside of Francis’s coat seemed to be in the throes of high summer. He sweltered in his disguise. He wiped the sweat from his brow. He put away his kerchief and felt another hand reaching into his trouser pocket.
Behind him, face pale and stricken with the looming horror of incarceration, was the elusive Robert Golding.
Francis was not quite certain that Robert had seen through his paltry disguise. It hardly mattered for the boy scampered off as quickly as he could. He shouldered his way through the thick of the crowd. Francis gave chase and called out his name. They made their way past fabric shops and coffee-houses, food stands and baskets of fruit. Francis may have thrived during his rowing days, but he was a man in his fifties while Robert was a frightened child who had fallen in with the wrong people. The gap between them could only grow.
They reached a corner and Francis saw the largest square in Camden laid out before him, the stalls wavering in the dusty street. In such thronged conditions, Francis could have easily lost Robert, but the boy’s wild advance parted the crowd and easily gave away his position.
A train of wheeled carts obstructed a majority of the square, impeding Robert’s escape. Francis watched tensely as they found themselves in a standstill. If the boy ran around the line of carts, he would lose considerable headway, but if he turned back he would most certainly run into Francis.
Robert looked over his shoulder, weighing his options. In his frantic scouting, he met Francis’s gaze, and for a moment Francis saw not the thief, but the hungry child who had wept at his first taste of comfits. Robert snarled and turned away. He bent low, then threw himself towards a tiny gap between the carts. Francis let out an oath and pounced, but the boy had already gone through. Robert had just recovered his bearings when he was tripped.
A small parasol. Size of a cricket bat.
Francis found the strength to heave himself over a cart and found Robert struggling to dislodge a lady’s knee from his back. It was not much of a scrummage, for the lady was at least six feet in height.
“James,” Francis wheezed. “You said you’d be at the cab.”
James artfully tossed his ringlets as he proceeded to twist a shawl around Robert’s wrists. “And put off the trial run of Miss Elaine Hawking, American heiress? I think not. Don’t trouble yourself, Francis dear; that parasol is beyond smashed. Now—”
He took Robert by the arms and pulled him up roughly. This was an astonishing sight, seeing as James was in a yellow, striped walking dress and a pink-lined bonnet.
“Now, lad,” he said, breathless, with a rosy flush in his lined cheeks, “you have a great deal of explaining to do.”
The shopkeeper in Berwick Street looked up from his wares and blinked warily at the oddly dressed pair idling across his stall for the past quarter of an hour. He studied Francis for a moment, eyes fleeting at his cane and at his arm linked with James, before saying, “Your hair was better.”
James could not suppress a snicker.
“Thank you, Mr. Manson,” said Francis.
The shopkeeper startled at the mention of his name but James was quick to appease him.
“Not to worry, young man. We won’t cause you any trouble. We’ve merely come to inquire after a certain brooch that was traded to you recently. I had a good look at your items yesterday and found nothing of the kind, and I can only presume that the brooch has already been sold. There is a young lady who is rather desperate to acquire it, and if you could give me the particulars of your buyer, I would be much obliged.”
Manson nervously flicked his gaze between them, no doubt thinking he was about to be duped, but a pleading James was a formidable thing. He would worry his brows and soften his eyes and hold his breath like his very fate hung on the balance, and dressed as delightfully as he was, Manson could not have resisted.
He blushed and fumbled for something in his apron’s front pocket, saying, “It looked nice,” before producing, to James’s utter surprise, a brooch in black and gold. At first glance it seemed to be an ordinary brooch laden with pearls, to say nothing of the centrepiece of hair encased in glass.
“I thought I could keep it,” Manson said, handing it to James with more than a little reluctance.
James smiled as he coolly secured the brooch inside his reticule. He felt in his pockets for some kind of payment, and, finding none, took out a white, unopened envelope from his purse.
“For your troubles,” he said. “Thank you for keeping it safe.”
And so, peace settled in No. 2 Eliot Place once more. The fire banked low as Francis napped in his armchair, while across him, James drew in his sketchbook to his heart’s content.
A week later and a basket of pheasants arrived from a more than grateful Miss Goodsir. The pheasants were boiled and braised and happily dispatched of, and when Francis brought the excess down to Miss Nielsen he imagined he might have seen a smile.
He was still feeling the effects of the pheasant when he was called unexpectedly to the dean’s office.
“Ah, Francis. Have a seat. It’s certainly good to see colour in your cheeks again. Now I’ve gone through your draft and I think it shall do. It shall do very well indeed.”
“Why, thank you, John.”
“I hope you don’t mind my using it for Edward Bird’s appointment.”
It was here that Franklin smiled—a patient, benevolent smile that he often deployed when he and Francis were at odds. Only his wringing hands betrayed his unease, a motion that directed Francis’s attention to the desk.
His heart sank to his stomach.
“I do hope you will understand, Francis. I need not educate you on the dominion of this glorious institution and how we must at all times keep its reputation beyond reproach. A man is well entitled to his hobbies, but the Chair of the Department of Mathematics cannot be known for engaging in such… frivolities.”
On Franklin’s desk was an old copy of the Illustrated London Times. It was turned to the second page. On the very bottom was a terse account of a most singular case, no more than two columns long, beside which was a sketch of two gentlemen, their mucky persons attempting to restrain a most horrible goose.