“Might I have a word?” Mr. Carrington asked.
“Yes, of course.” I replied.
He took my arm, his grip was firm but not unkind, and guided me into his private study. I had never been inside it before. When he closed the door behind us and released his hold on me, I looked around.
The far wall was lined with an oak bookcase, stained in a dark color. The shelves were mostly packed with volumes of reference materials but on the far left at the top was a shelf full of new fiction. I recognized a few of the titles as being the more controversial books published in the last decade. Perhaps Mr. Carrington is not as conservative as he seems.
Mr. Carrington cleared his throat behind me to gain my attention once more. I turned to face him and smiled.
“A singular collection, sir.” I said referring to his private library.
“I have read them all. If you see something of interest, you may borrow it or I can suggest a few if you prefer.” He replied although the books were clearly not the subject on his mind.
“Yes, what would you suggest?”
He stepped further into the room coming very close to me. He paused only inches from my face. I should have stepped back and gave him room to pass but something about his nervous manner made me stay. He peered into my eyes and for an instant I imagined him grasping my shoulders and kissing me violently, passionately.
He stepped to the side and turned away from me to face his collection of books. He hesitated a moment before moving to the left side and reaching up to the top shelf. His fingers wrapped around the spine of a volume and pulled from its resting place. He flipped open the cover and read silently to himself for a moment.
“Yes, this is the one.” He said to himself before turning to me with the book simply offered.
“I think you will appreciate this in a manner few can.” He said.
I took the book from him and read the title aloud, “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”
“If I am not mistaken this book was banned from the Library.” I said.
“Indeed it is. I think you will agree it is a most impressive work despite the controversy surrounding its author.”
“Thank you. I will begin reading it this evening.”
“You are welcome. If you enjoy it, I can suggest another when you are done.”
“Most kind, sir.”
I gave a small curtsey before turning toward the door.
I stopped mid step.
“That was not what I wished to discuss.”
I had known of course he had something more on his mind. Another man might have forgotten his purpose after my veiled distraction. Mr. Carrington is not so easily distracted.
“Oh yes, I had forgotten. You wanted a word?” I said turning to face him.
“Yes. Please take a seat.” His hand gestured toward a small chair to the side of a reading table.
I seated myself and waited for him to continue.
He paced in front of me for a moment as though he was unsure how to proceed. He sat down opposite me at last and his nervousness seemed to edge away.
“I had a conversation with the Dean yesterday on a most serious matter.” He began.
By the look on his face as he paused I determined he was quite sure I knew what he was talking about. In fact, I did but it would not do to allow him the comfort of knowing he was correct.
“More on the class mergers for the coming fall term? How can I help?” I asked in all innocence.
“No, nothing to do with that. Our conversation was centered on your roommate, Miss Jennifer Abbott.”
“Oh, I see. How dreadful.”
“You are familiar with the details, I presume.”
“Yes, I was present when she was exposed.”
“Does it not seem out of character for her?”
“I must confess,” I paused enjoying his reaction as he leaned toward the edge of his seat. “I was devastated she would do such a thing and from my own work as well.”
“Yes it is devastating. I did not believe Miss Abbott was the type.”
His expression was accusatory. I feigned ignorance and continued to smile.
“I agree. I would never have left my study work so accessible had I suspected her of such treachery.”
“I find the timing disturbing.”
“Only days after you have a falling out with her, she is caught cheating off your work.”
“Oh I know. It is as though she was trying to get me expelled. She must truly hate me for my views, to do such a thing.”
I lowered my head a little and quivered my lower lip as though I were about to burst into tears. Mr. Carrington shifted uncomfortably in his seat. I sniffled and wiped at my eyes.
“I am sorry, sir. I am just so saddened by all of this.”
“Quite all right, it is very sad. Do you think it is possible she was setup as she claims?”
“I would like to believe she was, but who would do such a thing?”
“I was hoping you might have an idea.”
“I cannot think of a soul.”
“The Dean has elected to administer a public birching on Friday and expel her from Primrose. If no one comes forward before then, it will be irreversible.”
“Do you suspect someone? Lucy or Elizabeth? Should I try to gain their confidence for a confession?”
“If you think one would be forthcoming. Perhaps you know of someone else who might have had a hand?”
“I will consider it carefully but I can think of no one else at the moment. Do you really think she was framed?”
“I believe the truth of the matter is far from being revealed and only the good conscience of others will bring it forth.”
“I will do whatever I can to help. Jenny is a friend despite our disagreements.”
“Well then I believe I have taken enough of your time. Enjoy the book.”
Mr. Carrington stood up. I sniffled away false tears and slowly rose from my seat. As I stepped forward to walk past him he reached out for me with a handkerchief. He dabbed delicately at my eyes, a stern expression on his face.
I held my breath.
He looked surprised when he pulled the handkerchief away and discovered it was wet. He smiled softly at me as though suddenly he was unsure of his convictions. He opened the door for me and I left.