“Shallow men believe in luck or in circumstance. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” So says Ralph Waldo Emerson.
In this case, I think he has a point. Although we are undoubtedly now the subjects of the most fortuitous serendipity, the cause can be indisputably credited to the marvellous Terry. And the effect?
Languishing before us in the flowerbeds of Apple Tree Court is none other than the very thing we have been searching for; in fact, the very thing that has been searched for by so many before us – knights, adventurers, crooks and scoundrels aplenty.
The Holy Grail.
It must have fallen from Junior Bursar’s person when he was tripped up by Terry during our pursuit. Now, that is a stroke of luck if ever I saw one.
A peculiar hush has fallen about us as we stand transfixed with the fantastically innocuous object nestled gently amidst the begonias. But yet, it seems almost impossible to look right at it, as if it spurns the gaze of mortal eyes. I could not describe to you its colour, for it seems to have no colour at all. Or, at least, a colour that lies somewhere beyond my understanding. The familiar magnetism it exuded in The Dean’s rooms remains and the urge to be ever closer to it is indomitable. My head begins to swim a little and I realise that I am hardly breathing at all.
“By Jove, I don’t believe it,” murmurs The Dean, uncharacteristically reticent.
Terry is pawing furiously at it, hoping for it to roll away and become his latest quarry, so I deftly sweep him up into my arms to restore some decorum befitting of the circumstance. Professor Duke pats his head but Terry’s great green eyes never once leave the Grail. Head Porter bends down and, with a shaking hand, gently clasps the Grail.
“I can’t believe it!” he says, his voice barely above a whisper. “This is it, it’s the Holy Grail!”
“What if Junior Bursar realises that it’s gone?” I say, suddenly concerned. “We should hide it.”
“I shall take care of that,” responds The Dean, quickly returning to his authoritarian demeanor. “It must be removed from public view at once or things could start to get tricky.”
“What’s going to be done with it, I wonder?” asks the Professor.
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” snaps The Dean, the enormity of the situation no doubt laying heavy on his mind. “Something dreadfully cunning, no doubt. In the meantime, you chaps should return to the wedding. It is rather rude to abandon a party without any kind of explanation, you know.”
“Oh, I do that sort of thing all the time,” says Professor Duke. “They wonder for a bit, get cranky for some bits, then forget about it—forever.”
“Obviously, they cannot know the real reason for our abstraction,” The Dean replies. “No. It is of the utmost importance that the existence of the real Grail is concealed. We shall let College continue with its smug self-congratulation about the thing dug up from the excavation. Some will claim it as real, others as a fraud. The unexplained disappearance of The Bursar will neatly add to the legendary nature of its discovery and the thing will forever remain swathed in myth, which is quite as it should be.”
“Do you think The Master knew about The Bursar following you to France?” Head Porter inquires, his brow deeply furrowed.
“Highly unlikely!” replies The Dean. “Why would he tell The Master? It was imperative to his plans that everyone was fooled by the fake Grail. No, his vanishing will become another great mystery of Old College.” As if we didn’t have enough of those already.
“I think I could do with a stiff drink,” I say, never having been so sure of anything in my life. Head Porter groans at the very mention. “You should get some water. And maybe carry on chatting up those friends of the bride. They did seem quite taken with you.”
This last suggestion seems to perk up Head Porter considerably and he joins Professor Duke and I back in the Armingford Room, where the wedding reception has erupted into the sort of party that the police guests are more likely used to shutting down. The string quartet appear to have been dismissed and a raucous sound system is employed to noisily recreate something reminiscent of a nightclub from the early nineties. The blushing bride, DS Kirby, has hitched up her dress and is performing some sort of routine atop the buffet tables. Her new groom Porter is enthusiastically applauding, his moustache – and a great deal of the rest of him – in glorious disarray. The elegant Detective Chief Inspector Thompson is perched as far away from the music as possible, reclining with polite irritation whilst reading a small book and sipping at what appears to be a large sherry. I don’t think he is enjoying himself too much at all.
With Head Porter happily reunited with his gaggle of admirers – who appear even more amorous following a bout of vigorous imbibing – Professor Duke and I circle the impromptu dance floor. It is quite well-known that the Professor is rather incompatible with dancing so I do not suggest that we join in. Instead, we watch and I laugh as he makes inappropriate remarks about several of our fellow guests.
“Now here, for example,” he continues, very much on a roll. “See that guy there? He must have gotten himself dressed with the lights off. How else can you explain it?”
“Hang on a minute,” I say, squinting at the chap indicated by the Professor. “Don’t we know him?”
For a moment we both concentrate on the wildly-flailing gentleman, just as he notices us. It appears that we do know him, as recognition lights up his face and he waves frantically at us.
“Goodness me! That’s the fellow from the Antique Shop!” exclaims the Professor. “He began the whole thing! What is he doing here, dadblameit?!”
“Ask him yourself. He’s headed over.”
The Antique Shop Owner is indeed delighted to see us. It seems that he got wind of the excavation and thought that College might be celebrating the discovery of the Grail. When he realised that was not the case he decided to stay and enjoy the party anyway. His confusion over the so-called discovery beneath Old College is understandable and quickly allayed by our somewhat edited version of events.
“So, we really were right all along?” he gasps, eyes wide with anticipation “The clues and everything?”
“Quite right, my man,” replies the Professor. “It was just such a shame that someone had already gotten there before us. By the way, I think whatever you’re wearing works rather well. I’m sure you definitely put it on with the lights on.” And the Professor nods.
“That really is a shame that you were too late,” the Antique Shop Owner agrees, sadly shaking his head and ignoring the Professor’s last comment. “I wonder who it could have been?”
“Could have been anyone, I imagine” I say, far more quickly than I meant to.
“Hmm, yes, I suppose so” he is thoughtful for a moment. “Still – a party is a party and we can’t let such things stand in the way of a good time!” With that, he snatches up another drink and whirls away to rejoin the celebratory throng.
“You know, Deputy Head Porter,” says the Professor “I think he has a few points. A party is a party, after all.”
“What do you mean, Professor?” I can only hazard the wildest of guesses as to where this might be going.
“All the excitement of quests and knights and… weddings. It has got me having thinks a bit. There is something I just must tell you…”