I should have been quicker. I could have been quicker. I suppose something mischievous deep inside held me back. As my fingertips brush against the tails of the Professor’s jacket, I cannot help feeling rather pleased that I wasn’t quick enough to catch him.
Like a top hat-wearing furious beast, Professor Duke launches himself at a wary-looking Bursar at a speed that is scarcely believable. It is as if time around him stands still as we gathered persons can only watch, open-mouthed, as what looks like the beginnings of fisticuffs unravels before our eyes.
Just as it seems as if he might tear the very nose from The Bursar, the Professor’s progress is abruptly halted by the Master’s flailing arm falling neatly between them.
“Enough!” booms The Master.
“Bugger,” The Dean mutters, evidently disappointed at the intervention.
Professor Duke kicks The Bursar smartly in the shin, causing him to emit a most unusually high-pitched cry.
“Professor!” exclaims The Master. “I must insist that you control yourself!”
“Huff-hum!” the Professor replies, crossing his arms with outraged ferocity.
“What is the meaning of this?” asks The Master, calmer now. “Surely – this is a marvellous thing that The Bursar has discovered. Not to mention, a fine gentlemanly gesture to invite you along as well. Why ever would you behave in such a manner?”
“Sir! What this beast suggests is not a great honour nor is it gentlemanly in any way,” replies the Professor. “I shall tell you what it is – it is an effrontery to common decency!”
“Oh, this is very good,” The Dean chuckles in my ear. “Do you think it will come to blows? I do hope it comes to blows.” He is really enjoying this. This is his kind of thing.
“You see, Sir,” the Professor continues “My friends and I are this close—very close—from laying our hands on the Grail ourselves. This is a thing that I had planned to reveal to you, with much spectacle and amusement I might add, at the time of the Toasts.”
“It’s all true!” The Dean shouts from our position by the canapés.
“I don’t understand this at all” mutters Head Porter “I mean, how could he…”
“I smell a rat” I reply.
“Well, I shall look forward to hearing both of your announcements during the Toasts…” says The Master, making moves to end the theatricals and continue on to the feast.
“You are not invited to France, you know!” the Professor huffs to The Bursar.
“France?” The Bursar replies, a staged look of confusion upon his face. “Why, the Holy Grail does not lie in France. No, no my dear fellow, you are bewitched by falsehood. The Grail lies right here, beneath our own dear College!”
“Ha!” exclaims The Dean in a low voice. “We’re already a step or two ahead of him, the silly bugger. Ho ho!”
Although tempting to fling the evidence of our investigations into the fray, I feel it wise to keep our counsel for now. It seems that the Professor feels the same way as he is exercising remarkable restraint at this time.
“I don’t quite understand to what ghastly place your research has led you, Professor Duke, but my own carefully considered work shows that the Grail is inarguably ensconced within the ruins of a monastery which slumbers, untouched for centuries, deep in the ground betwixt Sprockett Gate and Apple Tree Court.”
Gasps and excited mumblings erupt around the Wide Gallery, the revelation igniting the interest of the assembled Fellows and staff.
He has got this very wrong. The records clearly show that the Grail was taken to that funny little cave. No mention of a monastery. What can The Bursar be up to?
“This certainly does sound exciting, Bursar” says The Master.
“How can something deadly dead wrong be exciting?” the Professor grumbles.
The Dean decides that he has sat on the sidelines for long enough. Brandishing his glass of whiskey like a military standard, he strides across the room and places himself at the very centre of the action.
“Now see here,” says The Dean, firmly. “The way I see it, there is only one course of action open to us that will settle this matter.”
“A duel!” cries Professor Duke.
The Dean seems to consider this,
“Well, two ways, then. But my way is better – if the proof of the pudding is in the eating, then both Fellows must undertake their own endeavours and the first chap to present the Grail to The Master is the winner!”
Watching the partially obscured face of The Bursar, I believe I see a flicker of doubt play across those unreadable features. Only for a second, but I am sure it is there.
“Well, gentlemen!” says The Master, clasping his hands together with glee “The gauntlet has been thrown down! Who so of you shall pick it up?”
“I accept the challenge doubly!” declares the Professor, striking a suitably heroic stance and tipping his hat defiantly. “Bursar, what about you?”
The Bursar offers a smile so slippery you could butter toast with it. He doesn’t speak. Perhaps he is worried his words might betray him.
“Then it is decided!” The Master announces. “And now, there is a feast waiting for us. Come!”
The throng of hungry academics surging towards their first course is indeed a sight to behold. If there is one thing guaranteed to get a Fellow moving, it’s a feast. Head Porter, The Dean and I join Professor Duke by the threshold.
“This is what it is! We have been challenged! Now he have to find the Grail before that dadblame Bursar!” the Professor is so riled that he is practically hopping from foot to foot. “Come on! Come on! Let’s go and pack right away. To France!”
“I am right behind you, my good man!” says The Dean
“But… but… the feast!” I wail, the unhappy prospect of an abandoned banquet looming large on my horizon. The Dean is sympathetic.
“She’s got a point.”
The Professor taps his chin and furrows his brow.
“It does seem a shame to miss out on all this…especially since we tortured Head of Catering so,” he says. “Very well – feasting now, questing… soon. There we have it.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I call a plan.