IT WAS THE final formal hall dinner of the Michaelmas term, and, by tradition, all fellows attended. I ordinarily greatly enjoyed the gathering, being the last opportunity to see colleagues before the Christmas vacation emptied the college.
I found myself sitting next to Drower, a young man of science with whom I had not previously had cause to converse. As the candles wore down, the discussion around the high table fell to our plans for the vacation, and I confided that I proposed to take a trip to Norfolk, where I was intending to spend some time with a gazetteer, cataloguing the registers of a number of the parish churches. On hearing this, Drower became insistent that I stay at home with him, at Luxborough Hall. He would be coming and going, he explained, as he had certain affairs to attend to in the locality, but he assured me there was no more convenient place from which to explore the ecclesiastical geography of the Norfolk countryside.
The arrangements were made, and three days later I crunched across the snowy great quadrangle and out into town towards the railway station. I had with me Hendrick’s Rotuli diocesis sancte et individue trinitatis norvici detailing the pipe rolls of Norwich cathedral, and I was much looking forward to reacquainting myself with it on the long journey.
It was late in the evening by the time the station trap brought me to Luxborough Hall, which the moonlight revealed to be a large, three-storey elevation of grey stone with an attractive balustrade adorning the roof. All was set in several dozen acres of forested parkland.
Most of the household had already retired, but Drower had kindly arranged for some cold pie, meats, cheeses, and fortified wine to be laid out for me, and he ensured I was comfortably settled before he retired for the night.
I awoke early the following day, but to my dismay the snow had fallen so heavily during the night that there would be no likelihood of me setting out on my researches to the outlying villages.
Drower left immediately after breakfast to attend a pressing engagement. He confided that he might be away for several days, and, appreciating my situation, volunteered me free use of the library if the weather kept me housebound. And so, after breakfast, I had the fire in the library built up, before settling myself there to begin exploring the not inconsiderable number of books and papers.
Judging from the bookplates, Drower’s father had been a keen traveller. He had a particular fondness, it seemed, for southern Europe, evidenced by the large collection of volumes on the geology, flora, and fauna of much of the Mediterranean coastline, as well as a number of lesser-known almanacs and local histories of the region.
As I was exploring the shelf housing materials on southern Italy, Sicily, and the more obscure islands of the vicinity, I noticed a quarto-sized oxblood leather notebook nestled among a series of archaeological titles. I pulled it out and opened it to find the pages tightly filled with an antique but elegant hand, which, judging from the dates and contents, was that of Drower’s father.