Winter had come early to Oxford and a chance conversation with the Bursar in which he asserted that I should show up for a certain dinner in honour of a colleague and I disagreed had led me to contemplate how pleasant it would be to be in London for the season. Good cheer and pleasant company were a much more appealing prospect than the Bursar's company at any time of year. All it would take was a call to my former pupil, Timothy, or better yet, I could catch a train down and be at the Corkscrew in time for a cosy dinner with the my friends from Lincoln Inn.
I was just bestirring myself to pack when I was interrupted by a knock at the door and what sounded like several objects being dropped on the floor. What I found when I opened the door was both unexpected and yet completely unsurprising. Selena Jardine and Julia Larwood, both crouched on the floor, hastily shovelling items back into Julia's bag.
Noticing the door had opened, they both stood, Selena with the smooth grace of a cat, Julia stumbling a bit over her hairbrush and catching at the doorknob to stop herself from falling. This also was to be expected. What was unusual was seeing them in Oxford- I was more apt to travel to London than they were to make the trip up.
I reached down to pick up the hairbrush and a lipstick that Julia had missed, and handed them over as they explained to me the reason for their visit- the same dinner that I had objected to attending. Not wanting to arrive in a state of dishevelment (as asserted by Selina), they had hoped or perhaps assumed that they could impose upon me for a place to change when they arrived.
I cannot say I was pleased by this turn of events, as I had my mind set on a quieter dinner with more pleasant company. However, their presence meant that I could not in good conscience refuse to attend, so I resigned myself to the prospect.
When they emerged, not only had they changed their clothes, but Selena had managed to do something with Julia's hair so that whilst it looked no less dishevelled than usual, it somehow managed to look artfully dishevelled. I was rather impressed and told Selena so, whilst Julia was looking for her evening bag.
"It's all in knowing your subject," Selena replied with a conspiratorial grin. "Go with the flow, as they say. It will revert eventually, but she should make a good first impression, at least."
It was a short walk through the lightly falling snow to our destination, and not completely unpleasant, though snow seemed unnatural for this time of year this far south. If I wanted snow for Christmas, I would have spent December in the Swiss Alps. Still, the company was pleasant enough and I began to hope that the evening wouldn't be a total loss.
My hopes were dashed when we arrived. Julia and Selena wandered off to greet a former classmate,and I found myself cornered by Professor Chronotis. Chronotis is a pleasant enough fellow, and as disinclined to unnecessary socializing as I am, but as a Fellow of St Cedd's College at Cambridge, his scholarship is somewhat suspect. I had to wonder what could possibly have been interesting enough to bring him to Oxford.
It was only a matter of time before he enlightened me. He had come seeking a book in the Bodleian Law Library, but had arrived too late. Whether or not he had been invited to the party we found ourselves at was unclear, but I saw no reason to let anyone know. Suspect Scholarship aside, once we got past the preliminaries and I'd confirmed that I'd seen the specific book he was looking for whilst doing some research just last week, we found ourselves in agreement about the excellence of the canapés, the incompetence of our respective Bursars, and the need for a glass of wine.
We'd just acquired the last item on that list when a crash made us both look up. I'm not certain what my colleague expected, but I was not surprised to see Julia in the centre of it all, tangled up with an unfamiliar blonde woman in a vintage maxi-dress. They were both attempting to right the champagne fountain and spraying everyone nearby in the process, whilst Selena and a man with a crooked moustache tried to help them. Selena won the day by pulling the plug, and she and the man deftly untangled the other two from the cord. The fountain which had by then been emptied was set back on the table and Selena led the other two away to tidy themselves up.
I felt obliged to point out to the young man that his moustache was falling off. He gave me a rueful look, took it off and shoved it in the pocket of his blazer, before introducing himself as Ned Henry.
To my surprise, Professor Chronotis was glaring at him. "Is there a reason you're dressed for the 1970s, rather than the current era?" he asked, looking Ned up and down rather pointedly.
"Fancy dress party?" Ned sounded more like he was offering this as a plausible excuse than the real answer. "Hazing?" He paused, then tried once more. "Time travel. Except we didn't land when we intended to." He clearly didn't expect either of us to believe the last one.
But Chronotis was nodding. "Fifty-first century? Or are you part of the early Oxford experiments."
Ned looked startled, but admitted, "Oxford", semi-reluctantly.
Chronotis asked a few more questions, whilst I slowly formed the opinion that they had both had a tad too much to drink, at best. I didn't care to think about "at worst", but as I was stuck until Julia and Selena returned, I sipped my wine, and attempted to find some logic to their conversation. In the end, I found myself concluding that Cambridge's inferior education might be due to something in the water.
I was relieved when Selena and Julia returned, accompanied by Ned's companion, Verity Kindle. Julia and Verity had bonded over their encounter with the champagne fountain and for some reason, Selena, who I would normally regard as a very sensible sort of person regarded the time travel thing as a perfectly reasonable explanation for their mode of attire.
Despite my misgivings, the others decided that they should find the book that both Chronotis and Ned and Verity were looking for, and as the only Oxford Fellow in the group, I felt obliged to go along to make certain that they did nothing untoward.
Getting into the Bodleian Law Library was surprisingly easy. There's a certain service entrance which I- never mind. Let us just say that I've found it very useful to have a way in or out of the building for when I was avoiding certain colleagues. The book in question was just where I'd left it, hidden behind certain Law Journals. I didn't feel the need to explain to anyone why I'd left it there beyond the fact that it had caught my eye as being out of place among the Medieval Law monographs.
After some discussion of what they planned to do with it, which hinged on the whole time travel premise, Professor Chronotis handed the book to Ned and Verity and shooed them off. Meanwhile the rest of us returned to the party where I was privileged to catch Julia and Selena kissing underneath some conveniently hung mistletoe. It was about time those two noticed what was right in front of their faces.
I've not seen Ned or Verity again, though I run into Professor Chronotis from time to time. Whether or not the time travel story was true, I have to believe that a monograph entitled Historical Law of the First Two Decades of the Twenty-First Century with a copyright date of 2050 is probably better off elsewhere.