Morning light nudged its way past light curtains that shifted idly in the breeze. The light brought out a gleam on the silver sugar spoon that only assiduous polishing can achieve and cast lavender shadows on the table cloth as it filtered through the petals of three irises in a china vase.
“Mrs. Tealing!” came a thundering voice, “There has been a theft!”
The housekeeper rustled her cicada wings against the muslin of her bustle. She blinked rapidly.
“A theft, Professor?” she said in her soft reedy voice, “What can you mean by that?”
“My manuscript!” he shouted, “It’s disappeared! Someone’s stolen it, by Jove!”
Mrs. Tealing’s wings fluttered anxiously. “Are you sure, Professor?”
“Great Scott, yes I’m sure. I was working on it last night before retiring and left it on my desk. It has disappeared! Stolen during the night!”
Mrs. Tealing gaped, overwhelmed by this irrefutable evidence.
“Should we call the police in?” she offered hesitantly.
“The police!” Professor Walrus looked suddenly uncomfortable. “No, I daresay that won’t be necessary. Probably just that deuced fool Professor Cadwallader trying to steal my research.”
“That must be it, sir. Will there be anything else sir?” asked Mrs. Tealing.
“No, that’s everything, thank you.”
Mrs. Tealing nodded and scuttled off to the kitchen. Professor Walrus sat down heavily in his armchair. His manuscript, gone! It was calamitous. If it was that bloody Cadwallader…He’d never get over the mortification. Walrus poured himself a restorative snifter of brandy and sipped it anxiously. Finally, his mind made up, he rose and went to fetch his hat and his stick. He’d make Cadwallader see sense.
That afternoon, as the sun threw blocks of white light on the wallpaper, Professor Walrus returned and sat down to the tea Mrs. Tealing had left him. Over shrimp salad sandwiches, clams in white wine sauce and sponge cake, he worried. Cadwallader had denied all knowledge of the theft. “Wellington, old man, I wouldn’t steal from you in a thousand years. I’ve got my own research, ticking away quite nicely. I don’t have the slightest interest in pursuing your line of inquiry. Utterly pointless if you ask me.”
Professor Walrus scowled as he delicately wiped his whiskers of any remaining sauce. If it hadn’t been Cadwallader, who could it have been? Mrs. Tealing entered with a letter on a tray.
“This was left for you sir.”
Walrus opened the letter to read:
The world thought him learned,
His wisdom acknowledged,
The Scholar, the Teacher, the Writer, the Sage,
All he’s put down is fluff on the page!
“Mrs. Tealing!” he roared. She fluttered in, wiping floury hands on her apron. “Who sent this? Where did this come from?”
“It was left in the flowerbed sir. I found it when I was picking the irises for the table. It was addressed to you so I brought it in. I thought it must have fallen out of the postman’s bag.”
“Dash it all!” Walrus crumpled the letter.
Someone was having fun at his expense. He was a respected and notable figure in town and not one to be ridiculed! He smoothed out the letter and read it again but couldn’t make any more sense of it the second time. He could go and see the Head of his department at the University – but no, there would be questions. Or Mrs. Tealing’s suggestion of the police… again awkward questions would be asked. Professor Walrus chewed on his moustache as he came to the realization that there was absolutely nothing to be done.
The next morning, taking an early morning constitutional, Wellington Walrus came to a stumbling halt as he entered the town square and saw the statue that held court in the centre. It was a statue Wellington had seen a thousand times, a be-caped figure depicting the town’s founder. What made him stop in shock, whiskers trembling in horror and indignation, was the overnight addition to the statue.
The statue was festooned, bedecked, covered in rosettes and streamers of paper. And on all the sheets of paper was the scribbled smudged writing that Walrus knew intimately. The mysterious thief who had stolen his manuscript had torn it apart and pasted it all over the statue in the middle of the town square for anyone to see.
Walrus looked around wildly to see if anyone had come into the square or were peeking through the curtains. He hurried to the statue and started plucking at the pages. Perhaps he could get them down, perhaps no one would see, perhaps he could still save himself…
And so it was that as the sun fully rose and the folk of the Town awoke to find the esteemed Professor Walrus scrabbling over the statue covered in paper as sheets drifted past into the streets. And the secret was out: the great manuscript, the essential research work of the eminent professor was, in fact, a novel, a romantic novel in lurid purple prose.
by Adena Brons