We have reached chapter ten of our popular Waking Beauty series.
The Police officers had instructions to see Talia safely back to the door of her rooms at college. They left Basil and Count Anthony standing in the quad.
Story by Bertie.
Read by Elizabeth.
Proofread by Jana Elizabeth.
Illustrated by Chiara Civati.
“Do you have time for tea?” asked the count politely. And of course, Basil could hardly refuse the invitation.
The rooms occupied by most of the dons at college were fairly Spartan, as if to show a preference for the golden realm of the mind over and above the physical world. Not so were the count’s. A sword hung above his fireplace, and a bronze bust of one of his Italian ancestors sat on his desk. A crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling, and a bearskin rug was strewn across the floor. In fact, next to Princess Talia’s, his quarters were the most extravagantly furnished in the college.
Almost every other don in all of Oxford, and probably in the other place too, would have boiled his or her own water for tea, but Count Anthony kept a servant, who lived in the next room, and whom he summoned by a bell. The man servant entered with china teacups and saucers on a silver tray, along with little Italian biscuits.
When they were alone again, the count said:
“College is like a small village. Gossip is the greatest source of entertainment. I suggest that we do not breathe a word of what happened today to anyone.”
“That goes without saying,” said Basil.
“Very good,” said the count, and for a moment he silently studied Basil’s face until Basil felt quite uncomfortable. “I hope you won’t find this an impertinent question,” he said, “but are you romantically attached to the princess?”
Basil blushed: “We are just good friends,” he said.
“I heard that you awoke her with a kiss in Dr Partridge’s study.”
“That was just sort of a joke,” said Basil.
“Love often starts as a game,” said the Law don, “but in the end it is deadly serious. The trick is to know when the time for frivolity has gone, and the moment for bold decisive action has arrived.”
“Yes, thank you,” said Basil, feeling both grateful for the advice, and rather embarrassed at the same time. “I will remember that ... if that’s all, I'd like to go and get changed out of my tracksuit now. It’s been a long day.”
“You may leave,” said the Law don.
As Basil stood up, he asked hesitantly: “Um. By the way. Do you know which country the princess is from?”
“I do,” said the count.
“And where would that be?”
“I cannot say. Nobody else in college knows. Not even the Rector. I only know myself because... well let us say, I have a few things in common with the princess.”
Basil wandered in a daze back to his room. As so often was the case, after he had some sort of experience involving Talia, he felt overwhelmed with a buzz of confusion and excitement.
If he had been more schooled in the code of chivalry, perhaps he would have called on Talia that evening to see if she had recovered from her ordeal. But by the time he showered and changed, he found that he was already exhausted by the strangest of Saturdays, and he lay on his bed and fell into a deep sleep.
It was not until the following Tuesday that he spotted Talia, by chance, outside Fletcher’s Tower. He could see that she was on her way to a tutorial, because she was wearing her long scholar’s gown and carrying books under her arm. She made her way towards the entrance of the tower, which was the oldest part of college, and then, just as she was about to pass through its arched doorway, she span round on her heel and marched away from it.
“Oh Basil!” she said as she noticed him - for he was now walking towards her. “Once again I must call upon your gallant services.”
“Of course,” said Basil, wondering if the moment for bold action would soon be at hand. She stood close to him.
“You’ve probably heard,” she said in a confidential voice. “For some reason known only to himself, Dr Partridge has moved from his cosy old room to that dank and dreadful tower. I simply cannot bring myself to set foot in it... please do another noble deed on my behalf. Go up and see Dr Partridge, and tell him that I will receive him in my own rooms for my tutorial.”
“I fear that PJ might find that rather odd,” said Basil. “PJ” was their tutor’s initials as well as his nickname.
“But do please go and ask? He’s such a sweet man, I’m sure he’ll understand.”
Basil smiled. He could not refuse Talia any request, however odd, but he did feel rather sheepish as he knocked on their tutor’s door and passed on the princess’s message.
“I ... hold our tutorials in the young lady’s rooms? No no. I’m afraid that the college authorities would not approve,” he said.
And when Basil returned to Talia with their tutor’s reply, she did not change her resolve.
“Well that’s too bad. I simply can’t climb up that tower. I’ll just have to return to my rooms, and at such time that Dr Partridge is ready to make the short walk across the quadrangle to my quarters, I shall be ready and waiting for him.” And then seeing Basil’s puzzled face she said: “Look, I know my attitude must seem rather dogmatic, but I have my reasons. You see, something terrible once happened to me in a tower. In fact, I believe it might have been this very same tower ... a long, long time ago. So you see I won’t go up there because I simply can’t.” And with that she marched briskly away in the direction of her rooms.
And so Talia missed her tutorial - which would have been rather a serious matter, had not Count Anthony intervened and persuaded Dr Partridge to take the unusual step of holding the tutorial in Talia’s room that afternoon. Once again, the princess had got her own way.
The following evening, Basil straightened his tie in front of the mirror. It was the turn of the Classics students to attend a drinks party at the Rector’s Lodge. The Rector was the head of the college, and had served briefly as a junior minister in a government of years gone by. The most interesting thing about him, from the gossip point of view, was that he had recently been married - for the sixth time. His new wife was to be at the party. But more importantly, as far as Basil was concerned, Talia would be there too.
The atmosphere at evenings such as these was always a touch artificial, as everyone was on their utmost good behaviour. The Rector warmly greeted the Classics students with the air of a vicar who has to be nice to everyone. But it was well known around the college that he thought that Classics was an out-of-date subject, and they could make some useful savings by dropping it all together. Nobody mentioned this.
Basil stood next to Sally, and the Rector’s wife poured sherry into their glasses. The students had been expecting more of a dolly bird, but she was earnest and middle aged. Apparently she was a specialist in Molecular Chemistry. Talia was late - which was unusual, as she was normally most punctilious about time. When she arrived, looking stunning in a knee length black cocktail dress, the Rector held her in conversation for a good long ten minutes. His wife was on the other side of the room with her back to them. When she turned round, a look of horror passed over the princess’s face.
“What’s up with Talia?” said Sally. Basil was about to go over and ask her, but he was too late. She had already turned and fled the room.