Stood at the edge of the dance floor, where now only the hardcore of dervishes persist in an increasingly erratic display of alcohol fuelled carousal, I await with interest the pearls of wisdom Professor Duke seems intent on sharing with me. Despite his previous urgency at garnering my attention, he appears to have drifted into abstraction; perhaps forming his thoughts into something approaching clarity.
Many of the wedding guests have since beaten a wobbly path to their beds, leaving a cluster of die-hard detectives and several battle-hardened relatives gamely sustaining the dying embers of the party to the bitter end. They are making an admirable attempt to remain a raucous troupe, but there is the sense that they too will soon succumb to the need of slumber. The Professor turns towards me and looks me in the eye.
“So, here it is, and I shall tell most of it, Deputy Head Porter. Junior Bursar is quite insane. Mad, in fact. Madder in the head than anyone’s been before.” Well, this is an astute observation but hardly a revelation. “We might as well add The Curator to the list. I think he’s mad, too. How horrid, but true.”
“Yes indeed,” I reply, nodding. “Certainly they are both on the far side of reasonable. I am beginning to think it might be me. I just seem to attract these types.”
The Professor chuckles and shakes his head vigorously.
“Nah, I bet not!” he says, amused. “But…you might have a point there. Oh well. Anyways and a few: Both those fellows were guardians of the Grail. It was a great passion for both of them, I think. And the Antique Shop owner – he has dedicated his life to the search for it and he is quite unstable, you must admit. He’s mad, and that’s all there is for it.”
“Do you think that the Grail has driven them mad?”
“I actually do, can you believe. The Grail, or the love of the Grail, either or.” The Professor thinks to himself for a moment. “There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness. There. I think that explains it. Now you probably think I’m mad.”
I look over to our weary-looking hosts, the newly wedded Mr and Mrs Porter, sway languidly together in a dance that plays to a tune no one else can hear; sweet nothings whispered between them, dreams and promises flourishing from their freshly seeded vows.
“”And what about them?” I ask, smiling and nodding over. “Do you suppose that they are mad, then?”
“Oh, without question!” the Professor replies, adamant. “But you know? Madness is no bad thing, I am thinking, if you can go willingly into it of your own choosing. It is only when it is thrust upon you that it becomes a vexation. Love – well – that is an elective madness.”
I have surely had too much to drink. The Professor is making perfect sense.
“Take Head Porter, for instance,” he continues, pointing to where our friend is in the dying throes of seduction. “He looks quite excited and ready to jump headlong into enamoured insanity if you ask me.”
“Poor chap. He never has much luck with the ladies.”
“He should get a bit madder, then try his luck, I say!”
“Talking of mad people,” I say, something suddenly coming to mind. “We should check on The Dean. I want to know what he has done with the Grail.”
We find The Dean in his rooms, large whiskey in hand and a self-satisfied smirk upon his face. He seems quite pleased to see us.
“Aha! I wondered if I might see you chaps! Cheers!” he raises his glass by way of a greeting. “Head Porter not with you?”
“He is making a last ditch attempt and seducing one of the bride’s friends,” I reply.
“Really? Which one?”
“Anyone, I think.”
“Hmm! Good tactic, I say. Drink?” The Dean does not wait for a reply but instead begins filling the Arsenal mug (which, for some unknown reason has become my drinking vessel) with his finest Scotch.
“I say…you wouldn’t have any more cherry brandy, would you?” asks the Professor, eyeing the decanter with some suspicion.
“No, not at all,” The Dean replies. “But you can have some of this and just pretend.”
“Rats and a heifer. It will do.”
Once we are all furnished with unnecessarily expensive whiskey, I decide that I must ask the thing that I am sure we are all most desperate to know.
“Sir, where did you hide it?”
“Hmm?” The Dean gives an Oscar-winning performance of perplexity. “You mean the Grail?” As if I could mean anything else. “Ahh. Well. I have deployed the usage of such sly chicanery you wouldn’t believe. I have hidden it where no one would think to look.”
“Good for you,” says Professor Duke, wincing as he sips tentatively at his whiskey. “I always hide my important stuff where everyone looks first, dadblameit. Now, where did you hide it?”
“In plain sight, of course!” The Dean replies, with a flourish. “It is right in front of your eyes and neither of you spotted it at all. You may now bask in awe at my genius.”
Seeing an excellent excuse to rid himself of the unwanted beverage, the Professor places his glass on the coffee table and begins to search around. I am quite happy with my offering, as it happens, but feel I must join in the hunt. It does not last as long as I was expecting, but then we do know what we are looking for.
“Aha! I found it!” the Professor grins and points to the Grail, nestling comfortably on The Dean’s writing desk among the usual conglomerate of articles that for some unknown reason are essential for his everyday life. “And…I see you’ve filled it with paperclips.”
“Well, it might as well make itself useful whilst it’s here,” says The Dean, dismissively.
Well, quite. Although it seems at first to be a somewhat humble engagement for a thing of such undoubted legend, the more I think on it the more I feel that a quiet and unassuming existence – quietly going about its business without the need for pomp and circumstance – is rather more apt than one might imagine.
As I let the burning amber liquid slide down my throat and fuzzy my head, I idly ponder the venture now behind us and think to myself that we might now declare ourselves knights, having followed with such fortitude in the footsteps of the Templar. The acquisition of the Holy Grail may sound like quite the prize, but that is a simple treasure hunt compared to the forbearance of friendship that seems to me to be the real reward. This calls for a dramatic gesture, of sorts.
I clap my hands together to gain the attention of my esteemed companions.
“Gentlemen!” I begin quite grandly and fear that I won’t be able to keep it up. “Gentlemen. We have solved puzzles, cracked codes, got into fights and travelled all the way to France. The upshot of which is that we have discovered the Holy Grail!”
“But it was Junior Bursar that actually discovered the Grail,” points out Professor Duke.
“Well.. yes… but we had the right idea and we got it off him in the end.”
“Wasn’t that the dadblamed Terry?”
This grand speech isn’t going dreadfully well. It sounded absolutely brilliant in my head, as well. Pah!
“Look, the point is,” I continue, determined not to be put off. “We clearly have something quite remarkable to celebrate. I think we should all have a bit of a dance.”
The Dean and the Professor look doubtful, but I put on my very best pleading face and they are powerless to resist. The Dean breaks first.
“Very well, Deputy Head Porter,” he huffs, turning to his ancient record player with the wobbly needle. “But you know I only have one record.”
“I only dance to certain things, it’s said,” says Professor Duke. “What have you?”
“It’s the theme tune to Minder.”
“I might romp to that!”
As The Dean fiddles with the elderly device and the Professor takes my hand in anticipation of our victory rollick, I cannot help but think that there couldn’t be anything else quite so perfect for this exact moment in time; the perfect end to the perfect quest.
You know what they say about all good things, don’t you?
In memory of George Cole