Terry, seemingly oblivious to the heartache he has caused, kindly tolerates my fussing and cooing before the boredom becomes intolerable and he hops from my arms to saunter around the Armingford Room as if he owns the place. Amongst the small chaos of the disarranged buffet, he finds a central spot and sets about meticulously cleaning his rear end, leg thrust resolutely into the air.
I feel a twinge of shame that my small fellow is making such a spectacle of himself, especially as it was his pursuit of The Master’s Cat that caused such disarray in the first place. The boys and girls of the thin blue line seem to be taking the messy mishap in their stride and with good humour, as one might reasonably expect. Some of the lower ranks of The Fellowship look horrified at the culinary casualties splattered about, but Head Of Catering has sent in his very best chaps to rectify matters. Luckily, the bride and groom are finding the whole thing uproariously funny. DS Kirby, in particular, is enjoying herself immensely. With her head thrown back and mouth wide and laughing, her sleek dark bob bouncing with delight, I cannot help but think that she is quite the most beautiful woman when she is happy. Porter, too, seems to have acquired a subtle sheen of spruce, afforded to him through the love and joy in his life. I think perhaps that all people are at their very best when they are truly happy.
Professor Duke and I are people-watching. We have found ourselves a perch at the far end of the room which offers both comfort and a great view. With ample supplies of the slightly squashed offerings from the wedding buffet, we are settled in for an enjoyable evening. For the last half an hour, we have been observing a slightly tipsy Head Porter working his magic on a clutch of female friends of the bride.
“Now, an interest, the sudden,” says the Professor, tapping his chin thoughtfully. “Head Porter is a totally different animal, when with the ladies! Look, they seem to hang on his every word. He seems to have a way with women. Why do you suppose he’s been on his own for some time?”
“Well, he is quite a difficult character, as you know” I reply. “And a bit self-centered. He doesn’t do it on purpose, I don’t think, but he isn’t particularly great at thinking about other people.” I pause and have a little think. “He is definitely getting better, though.”
“And then there’s The Dean, don’t you know,” continues the Professor. “I have known him for a long time. He had quite a wild romantic past, you know…”
“Really?” I am quite taken aback at this, to be honest.
“Oh, yes and absolutely! Some very…excitable ladies. And ladies of all types and sizes.
“That surprises me, in fact. He always seems so… indifferent towards things of that nature.”
“Ah, well, there is a reason for that,” Professor Duke licks his lips and moves closer so that he might lower his voice. “You see, that The Dean had his heart broken horribly and viciously by one woman in particular…”
The Professor trails off as he realises that I am staring in shocked fascination at a slight yet menacing figure gliding ominously towards us.
“I say!” gasps the Professor. “Is that..?!”
“It is indeed,” I reply, more than a little nervously. “Junior Bursar!* What the devil is he doing here?”
“Well, we have to ask him at once!” the Professor exclaims, leaping to his feet and straightening his jacket. “Let’s attack!”
Junior Bursar seems quite pleased to see us, on the surface at least. Displaying the well-practiced visage of absent-minded bumbling that masks his understated threat, his face lights up as he greets us, conveniently forgetting the last time we saw each other.
“Well, Deputy Head Porter!” cries Junior Bursar, apparently oblivious to my shock and, it has to be said, slight fear. “How lovely to see you! And isn’t it a surprise to see you in a dress. What a wonder.”
“All in honour of Porter’s wedding, of course” I reply, my voice barely wavering. I bet he can smell my fear, though. He practically thrives on it.
“Oh, so this is what this is?” Junior Bursar replies, although I doubt be could be confused about the matter. “I did wonder what the fuss was all about.”
“Well,” says the Professor, “some might think it’s obviously a wedding, since there’s a bride and groom and a cake. Those three are never together otherwise.”
Junior Bursar continues, “I thought, perhaps, it had something to do with the Holy Grail being discovered in an ancient monastery beneath Apple Tree Court.” There is an icy pause as he fixes me with that all-too-familiar gaze that takes a firm hold of your soul by the very scruff its neck. “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”
“We might know a bit more than you, can you believe,” says the Professor. “For instance, did you know that it isn’t the real Holy Grail?”
“Well, of course I know that, dear boy!”
“But how could you possibly know that?” I ask.
“Because I have the real Grail. Right here, in fact.”
*Old College used to have two Bursars, not so very long ago. A Junior Bursar and a Senior Bursar. Junior Bursar electrocuted his senior colleague then had several attempts at killing off myself and Head Porter, before fleeing to Tuscany after his final attempt to throw me off the Flag Tower proved fruitless. It was decided, after that, that one Bursar was more than enough for any College.