A letter of confirmation

Nearly a week later two letters arrived simultaneously while the Professor was upstairs spooning various compounds of aluminium into the wormeries and I was in the kitchen trying to find any food that started with the letter Q for his breakfast.  From the looks of the cupboard and larder, the Professor would be going hungry this morning unless he relented.  The postman knocked, because I had to sign for one of the letters -- the one I didn't immediately recognise.  The other, with its Blackletter handwriting, was from Joachim again, and was unusually thick.  The letter I had to sign for was slim and long, and so I assumed it was a bill of some description.

"I have nothing beginning with Q for your breakfast, Professor," I said.  "Can I get you something else, perhaps?"

"Quaking pudding," said the Professor, pushing something medium-sized into the soil.  I suspected it was another chicken.

"I see."  I didn't, I'd have to go to the recipe books to find out what it was, and hope it didn't involve chicken or eggs.  The poultry-girl was almost always catatonic from brandy these days and since the Professor seemed to be feeding all the chickens to his worms, I was having trouble finding eggs.  "There's a letter and a bill for you, too."

"A letter?"  The Professor abandoned the wormeries and came to look.  "Ah, that'll be from Joachim!  And what's this other thing, a bill you say?"  He opened it with his teeth, and a feather fluttered to the ground.  I stared at it, and then at the Professor.  Surely it couldn't have come from his mouth?

"This isn't a bill, Jim, this is a receipt.  My book has arrived and is awaiting collection.  You'll need to take this down to DeCourtney's after you've served breakfast, please."  He handed me a piece of paper that affirmed that De Vermiis Mysteriis was indeed reserved for the Professor and awaiting collection.  I slipped it into a pocket, and headed for the library to find out what went into Quaking Pudding.  The recipe was easy enough to find, but when I read that it required ten eggs and boiling for two hours, I realised there was no chance of getting this made for breakfast.

I placed the tray down on the dining room table, ignoring the rustle behind me from the wormery.  The worms had started congregating at the glass whenever anyone came into the room and I found it ineffably creepy.

"What's this?" said the Professor prodding a crispy duck bill on his plate.

"Quince jelly and Quackers!" I said brightly, hurrying away and pretending I couldn't hear him calling after me.  By the time I returned from Charing Cross Road I hoped he would have calmed down again.

Mr. DeCourtney started staring at me when he saw me through the glass in the door, and kept staring as I came into the shop and approached the counter, which was at the back.  Perhaps this is why he spoke so quickly when I showed him the receipt.

"You're collecting this for the Professor?" 

I nodded.

"Are you his catamite then?"

"Probably not," I said slowly, not wishing to reveal that I didn't know what a catamite was.  From the way DeCourtney was looking at me, I thought it was better that I wasn't, even if I was.

"Hmm.  You look like a catamite."  DeCourtney reached underneath the counter, and then paused as though thinking something through.

"Do you read Latin?" he asked.  I shook my head, I can barely managed English most of the time.  "Does your Professor?"

"I... yes.  Latin, Greek and German," I said.  "Maybe more, I haven't really asked him."

"Ah, well, De Vermiis Mysteriis is written in Latin, little catamite, so you'll have to keep that big nose of yours out of it, won't you?"  DeCourtney placed a heavy text on the counter, bound in black cloth with slight foxing to the edges.  I reached for it, and DeCourtney placed his hand protectively on it.  "I'll put this in a bag for you, and believe me when I tell you that you shouldn't take it out again until you're sure you know who's around you.  There are groups of people who take an interest in this kind of thing.  A very... stern interest."

DeCourtney produced a hessian sack which he slipped the book into, folding it carefully around and over itself to hold it in place.  I placed the money the Professor had given me on the counter, and DeCourtney picked it up, pushing the wrapped book towards me.

"Good luck, little catamite," he said by way of dismissal.

The End

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