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Dreaming Spires

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Everyone, it seemed, knew Robert Call me Robbie Lewis in Oxford.

At least that was the impression James got during his long and extended studies concerning the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The man’s area of expertise wasn’t even history or religious studies – his publications proved that he’d mostly written about criminology and criminal justice, as behoved a professor of exactly these topics – and yet he kept cropping up in most Oxford literature.

I wish to extend special thanks to Professor Robert Lewis, who advised me on numerous topics.

I would go amiss if I didn’t express my gratitude towards my old friend Robbie Lewis. Thanks for “dragging me back down to the ground so us normal people can understand me” as you would put it.

It would have been impossible to finish this book without the encouragement of Professor Robert Lewis, whose encouragement kept me going through many long days.

James didn’t even notice at first, but eventually he realized the man was everywhere. What was it about Robert Lewis that made everyone who’d ever met him want to thank him?

Eventually, he moved on from the project and forgot about Robert Lewis, Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Lonsdale College.

Until he became a fellow associate of Lonsdale College himself.

 Him applying for the position had been more a spur of the moment than anything; and so it would have been an understatement to say he was surprised when he was actually offered the job. His sister only shook her head.

“Your work about the dead scrolls has attracted quite a bit of attention. Of course they want you.”

It was probably a good thing he had ended up in Oxford and not returned to Cambridge, he reflected while packing. Too many painful memories had been made there.

The porter who greeted him on his first day was young and energetic; he introduced himself as Gurdip and enthusiastically shook his hand.

“An honour to have you here, sir.”

“Thank you, but that’s really not – “

“They say Professor Lewis was very impressed with your work, and that hasn’t happened in a while,  although he’d never admit it, of course.”

And that was how James Hathaway was reminded of Robert Lewis’ existence.

His rooms at the college were airy and comfortable enough; and as someone who’d never truly felt at home anywhere, he decided he could spend a few years here quite well.

The Vice-Chancellor Jean Innocent was friendly enough to drop in as he was unpacking. “James Hathaway, I presume.”

“Ma’am.”

“Settling in well?”

He nodded.

“If you have time, I’d like to show you around... Let’s say in an hour?”

It suited him just fine.

Exactly at the appointed time, she appeared at his door again, ready to show him his new place of work.

He’d never been to oxford before, but he’d heard stories, of course. Every student did, especially if they happened to study at Cambridge. It was quite as beautiful as the pictures had always shown it to be.

“Professor Pinock is eager to meet you” she told him. “Although I should warn you; there’s some bad blood about your recent studied on the question of theodicy.”

He chuckled, deeming this the appropriate response. “i do hope there will be no blood.”

“You’d be surprised; it’s happened before.”

He wasn’t quite sure if she was joking.

They were walking across the court when the Vice-Chancellor said, “Oh, there he is. I was starting to wonder; he’s usually around at this time of the day.”

He turned his head slightly to find a middle-aged man he remembered vaguely from the backs of book covers talking to a girl, presumably one of his students. “I wouldn’t want to interrupt –“

“Oh, I’d say he’d be more upset about passing up the chance to meet you. He’s somewhat of a local celebrity around here, you know.”

He still felt rather reluctant about interrupting the lively discussion he was witnessing, but it couldn’t be helped. Innocent stepped up to Professor Lewis and touched his arm. “Robbie, just a minute...”

The man turned his head, and James was treated to twinkling green eyes that belied his age. “Ah, Professor Hathaway. Of course. Mallory, would you excuse me? We can resume our discussion tomorrow.”

“Of course, Professor.”

James had met a few professors in his time who called their students by their first names and had always thought it sounded slightly pretentious and derogatory, a bit too jovial for his liking; but in professor Lewis’ case, it seemed to be genuinely friendly, and if Mallory’s body language was anything to go by, she didn’t feel uncomfortable in the least.

“Very smart girl, that” he explained after she’d left them, “I have to be careful or she’ll be giving me a run for my money next.”

He’d read somewhere that Lewis had originally hailed from Newcastle, but he wouldn’t have expected to still be able to hear it after decades at an Oxford university.

Lewis held out his hand. “Glad to have you here, lad.”

Again, to his own surprise, James didn’t think that he sounded condescending like so many others who’d pointed out his youth when he’d first started out. Lewis grip was warm and reassuring. “Glad to be here.”

“if you need anything, just come knocking. I live up the next stairway.”

“Will do.”

He nodded, smiling. “Sorry, have to go – a lecture coming up.”

“Of course.”

After he’d left, Innocent said, “He means that, you know. And in case you need anything, you’d be better off with him than me – anything he doesn’t know about our Lonsdale isn’t worth knowing.”


 

That evening, he was listening to Schubert when there was a knock on his door. He certainly didn’t expect anyone – Nell was going to visit later in the month, and he didn’t have any old friends in Oxford.

He was surprised to see Robbie Lewis, holding up a bottle of wine. “Thought I would drop in and welcome you properly, after I was busy this afternoon.”

“You didn’t have to, Professor.”

Lewis waved a hand in the air, dismissing his protests. “Call me Robbie” he said, proving there was a good reason for his nickname. “You got your glasses unpacked already or should I get mine?”

They ended up sitting on his sofa and chatting while sipping the wine. “You have everything you need?”

James nodded. “Thank you again for your kind offer –“

“Please. My Val would never have forgiven me if I didn’t look after a young lad on his first big day in Oxford.”

“Your wife?”

He nodded. “She passed away two years ago – hit and run.” A shadow passed across his face as he spoke of it.

“I’m very sorry.”

James had never been adept at comforting people, which really should have clued him in early on that he had never been meant to become a priest.

“Like I said, it was two years ago.” Lewis’ eyes softened.  “Although it doesn’t feel like it, sometimes.”

“Do you have children?” James asked, supposing that this was what people would inquire in this situation.

Seriously, he would never have been the kind of priest people called to help them after a bereavement.

“Aye. Two of them. Me daughter’s a doctor up in Newcastle, our boy’s an associate at Sydney’s.”

“Australia?”

“Wanted to see the world, he said.”

James guessed he could see the appeal, but there was appeal to an evening like this, too.

Eventually, Robbie asked him about his studies. “I should warn you, Professor Pinock is up in arms.”

“The Vice-Chancellor told me.”

“Mind, it was somewhat entertaining watching her tear through the place because of your latest article... Oh well, buy her a pint and she’ll forgive you anything.”

“You’ve known her for long?”

“Ever since I came down here from Newcastle with Val and the dreams of making it in the academic world.”

“I’d say you did it” he replied, remembering the countless mentions of Lewis in literature.

He chuckled. “I guess. Mind, there will always be those who don’t want a lowly Northerner desecrating their holy halls – but then, you’d know all about that.”

“I’m afraid I am committing sacrilege myself, since I studied at Cambridge.”

“Heard about that. Gurlip is quite the talker, but he’s a really good chap.”

“Has he been gossiping about me already?” James asked, alarmed.

“Only that you seem to be a decent sort of fellow, and I have to agree. Don’t worry, the tongues will wag for a while because you’re new, but then they’ll just accept you as part of the team.”

They finally called it quits shortly before midnight. “Good night, James. See you around.” Robbie’s hand lingered on his arm for a second. “This was nice.”

He could only nod.

He washed out the glasses, remembering the evening, Robbie’ laugh, the way he’d downplayed his own accomplishments, not out of false humility, but because of genuine modesty.

He’d heard about Robert Call me Robbie Lewis before.

But no one had told him he would be so... captivating.