It is several days since we returned to Old College following our Grail quest of mixed fortunes. The place is in a state of heightened ebullience that I am afraid I just cannot bring myself to share. Despite the joyous undertakings of preparation for the imminent wedding of Porter and the fragrant Detective Sergeant Kirby, coupled with the excitement surrounding the unearthing of the ancient monastery in Apple Tree Court, my heart sits like a stone at the bottom of the murky waters of my very soul.
There has been no sign of Terry.
Head Porter tells me that he disappeared the very day we left for France and hasn’t been heard of since. He assures me that he spent every evening wandering the streets, squeaky mouse in one hand and sausage in the other, calling his name and making appropriate ‘puss puss’ noises.
Nothing. Not a whisker.
On a more positive note, there has been no sign of The Bursar, either. Evidently the Curator has remained true to his word and kept him locked deep in the Chateau’s dungeons. Something remorseful nags at the back of my mind, whispering to my unthinking self that the disappearance of Terry is in some way retribution for the abandonment of The Bursar. I fidget at my desk in the Porters’ Lodge, feeling absolutely wretched. Where is my furry little man? Where can he be?
I am roused from my reverie by the clattering of the Lodge door. Wearing a look that could sink a thousand ships, Professor Duke stomps through and drops himself unceremoniously on my desk.
“Dear me,” he says looking carefully at my solemn countenance. “You’re looking rather sad, I must say. I would hug you, but this Professor doesn’t give lots of hugs, really. What is it? Still no word on Terry?”
I shake my head sadly, not daring to attempt speech in case tears come out instead. The Professor pats my shoulder kindly.
“Now, here’s the thing: I’m sure Terry is off on an adventure—sorta like we did. See, he left because we left. Once he’s had his fun capturing mice and boxing them, he’ll return. All furry and quite happy. Besides, I need to be comforted at the minute. I’m quite…blue.”
“Well, I can put the kettle on and maybe find you a biscuit,” I reply, only very slightly put out. “Aside from that, we shall have to see how it goes. What’s the matter with you, anyway?”
The Professor sighs dramatically, shaking his head with such vigor that I fear his hat will topple.
“The wicked things digging up the monastery have just this minute given an Oscar-winning performance of discovering the phony Grail,” he growls. “I think they’re buggers, all of them. The Master, of course, is beyond delighted. He wanted to know how I enjoyed my ‘holiday in France’ and I’m getting rather cranky, can you believe. I’m this close—and that’s close—to telling him the truth, mind you.”
“Don’t do that just yet,” I say, heading towards the Lodge kitchen in search of tea. “There is still a very good chance that the real Grail is in Old College somewhere!”
Following me through to the back, Professor Duke appears most agitated.
“I know I know I know,” he mutters. “He’s calling The Bursar a heroic genius! Can you believe? There was nothing heroic about how he hit the floor after the Curator socked him a good one! And there’s nothing heroic about being locked in a dungeon.”
The Professor shares with me some further choice thoughts about his fellow academics whilst I set about the business of preparing the tea. There is something gently salutary about this simple ceremony that is remedial to both heart and soul. I do not know if it is the preparation itself that is so calming, or the anticipation of the tea to come, but by the time we have two mugs of finest Assam in hand we are both considerably chirpier.
“You know, I meant what I said about Terry,” says the Professor, taking a generous slurp of tea. “If I was a cat, I’d be going off on adventures all the time, scaring the heck out of you. He’ll turn up unexpectedly.”
“Yes, I am sure,” I reply, almost meaning it. “But what about The Bursar? I hope he doesn’t turn up unexpectedly.”
“Me too. That’d just be too scary. Nightmare inducing, in fact. And those fellows digging… I think they’re getting suspicious about it all, you know. I don’t know what they are saying as they yak away in Russian, but they don’t seem too happy. “
“The Bursar must be a Russian spy!” I squeal. The thought excites me, I must say. Although, it is rather terrifying at the same time. “He was planning to steal the Grail and take it back to Russia.”
“No way!” the Professor declares. “There is something cool about it. But, still, The Bursar is a rascal. Let’s hope the Curator keeps a careful eye on him.”
“I suppose you would keep a careful eye, if you only had the one to begin with!”
This rather vicious joke at the expense of the Curator causes us both to giggle and dribble tea down our chins. As we mop ourselves with our sleeves, we are joined by a jovial looking Porter, grinning from ear to ear.
“There you are!” cries Porter “I have missed you buggers. How are you?”
It is unusual to see the chap in such high spirits and this sets me off laughing again.
“Why are you so chipper?” I ask.
“Because tomorrow, ma’am, I am marrying the woman of my dreams!” he replies, his moustache bristling at the very thought of it. “Actually, that was sort of what I was coming to speak to you about. Traditionally, I should be having a stag-do the night before the wedding but I’ve left it a bit late to organise anything. I thought, maybe, we could go along to The Albatross after work and have a few large ones, you know, in the name of tradition and what not. I’ve asked Head Porter, he’s up for it.”
“Brilliant, Porter!” replies the Professor. “Count me in twice.”
“Stag-dos are for men only,” I say firmly. “I shall sit this one out.”
“Don’t be daft, ma’am,” Porter replies, looking me up and down. “In that get-up you look just like a man anyway. I think you should come.”
Never one to refuse an invitation from a friend, especially when it is accompanied by such a thinly-veiled insult, I feel there is little else I can do but accept. Besides, someone needs to go along and keep things sensible. Tomorrow is going to be a big day, after all.