The Professor had run out of picture wire, which he needed for an invention to turn over teacups in the dish rack when they were nearly dry, to tip out the last little bit of water in the foot of the cup so that it would dry properly.
It was Mrs Flittersnoop’s afternoon off, so it took the Professor sometime to find his going outdoors spectacles, but eventually he fastened the safety pins on his coat and set out down the road towards Great Pagwell. The weather was breezy and sunny.
He reached the centre of Great Pagwell, where he hoped there might be a shop that sold picture wire. First of all he tried Mrs Johnson’s hardware shop, but that was closed, and then Miss Thomson’s art gallery (picture for sale by local artists, framing done to order). He even tried Mr Richardson’s (artists’ materials) and Mrs Jameson’s (everything for the home decorator.) All were closed. The Professor looked at the watch he had invented for himself. It was sometime before he could get it to stop telling him the time of the next high tide in Liverpool and what the time was in Chicago and whether it was a public holiday in Nigeria, but he eventually discovered it was nearly three o’clock.
“It’s too late for them to be closed for lunch, but not late enough for them to have closed for the day.” He said to himself, perplexed. “It’s not even tea-time.” The professor looked around wondering if all the other shops were closed. The weather had stopped being sunny, but had not stopped being windy. There were very few people about, he noticed, but there, some distance away, was his friend Colonel Dedshott of the Catapult Cavaliers, talking to another man.
Professor Branestawm hurried over to them. “By Jove, Dedshott, I’m very glad to see you. But do you know what has happened to Great Pagwell? All the shops are shut so I can’t buy any picture wire and there is no-one about. Except yourselves, of course.”
The other man smiled in a friendly manner, and the professor, felt he ought to do something polite, and tried to lift his hat, only being the Professor and therefore absent-minded, he hadn’t put one on before he left the house, so he contented himself with lifting the other man’s hat instead. The other man looked amused. Colonel Dedshott was pleased about that. People sometimes found Branestawm a bit confusing.
“This is my friend, Sargent Fastenluce. He’s in the regular army, not a catapult cavalier sadly but he’s on leave at the moment and staying in Pagwell for a few months. This is my friend, Professor Branestawm. The professor invents things, Fastenluce. Fantastic ideas, he has, fantastic. Admit I don’t understand most of them myself, of course.”
“Is that why you need the picture wire?” Sargent Fastenluce asked. “I’m afraid you won’t get any until tomorrow, what with it being Wednesday.”
“Wednesday?” the Professor asked.
“Half-day closing.” Colonel explained. He knew that the Professor had difficulty remembering ordinary things, because his mind was so full of extraordinary things.
“Oh dear,” said Professor Branestawm, “I really can’t finish my invention without it.”
“Won’t string do?” asked Sargeant Fastenluce, pulling some out of his pocket and offering it to the professor.
“Thank you, but no.” said the professor. “It doesn’t have enough tensile strength.”
The weather had carried on being windy, but was now adding a few spots of rain.
“Well since you can’t finish the invention until tomorrow, why don’t you both come back to my flat for a cup of tea and a piece of cake.” Sergeant Fastenluce suggested. “My flat is quite near here.”
And it was. There was a door next to the “Pushnpull’s Perambulator Emporium” and behind it a set of narrow, steep stairs and above that another set of narrow, steep stairs, above which were another set of narrow, steep stairs, after which they ascended another set of narrow steep stairs until they reached a bright blue shiny front door. Sargent Fastenluce’s slight limp was more noticeable by the time they reached the top. Sargeant Fastenluce took a key out of his pocket and opened the door. The little flat wasn’t as tidy as Colonel Deshott’s house, but it wasn’t as untidy as the Professor’s inventory either.
“Come in, take a seat!” said Sergeant Fastenluce. Professor Branestawm wonder where he should take a seat to, and if so, which of the two chairs he should take, but Sergeant Fastenluce moved a very large pile of books about archery off one of the armchairs and offered it to the professor (the armchair, that is, not the pile of books). So the professor sat down, and the colonel sat in the other armchair, which didn’t have a pile of book and Sergeant Fastenluce put the kettle on, got mugs out of a cupboard and got some chocolate cake out of a tin and cut it into very big pieces. Then he made the tea.
“That’s Charlie. I’d better go and let him in. Do please start.” and the sergeant handed two plates with very big pieces of chocolate cake to his visitors and limped down the stair again.
“Splendid chap, Fastenluce.” said the colonel, surveying his cake with satisfaction. “Got strange ideas about longbows being better than catapults, of course, but a splendid chap just the same.”
“I thought they used guns in the ordinary army, or cannons or tanks or something.” The professor said. Mrs Flittersnoop always insisted on proper tea cups, but it looks as though you got more tea in a mug. The professor was inclined to agree with the colonel.
“Think they do.” The colonel agreed but then he remembered about not talking with his mouth full.
“This is Charlie.” Sergeant Fastenluce explained, as he re-entered the flat carrying a black cat. He put the cat down and poured himself a mug of tea and sat down on “How to make your own longbow” which was on the top of the pile of books and nearly the right height for a proper seat.
“Oh dear.” said the sergeant. “I’m afraid Charlie needs to go out again.” And he put his mug of tea down on “Fletching arrows for beginners” which was on top of a pile of books which was nearly the right height to be a table and set off down the stairs carrying the cat. He had hardly returned and picked up his piece of chocolate cake to take a bite, when….
“Oh dear,” said the sergeant, “it appears that Charlie needs to come in again. I can’t let him yowl like that. Mr Laitouwers on the first floor works nights and it’s not fair to let Charlie wake him up when he’s sleeping.” And the sergeant put the plate down and went down the stairs again.
He came back with the black cat and offered the professor and the colonel second pieces of cake and second mugs of tea. Everyone settled down to eating and drinking, except Charlie who looked at his bowl and decided his cat biscuits were Not Good Enough so started licking the colonel’s elbows instead. The sergeant had got half way through his first piece of chocolate cake when...
“But he’s only just been out!” exclaimed the colonel. “Couldn’t he wait until you’ve finished your tea at least?”
“I don’t want to risk it.” Sergeant Fastenluce explained, getting to his feet and tucking Charlie under his arm again. “There was An Incident just after we moved in because I thought that, and it Wasn’t Pleasant. I have to carry him downstairs as it is, in case he thinks the staircase is Outside.”
“What you need,” The professor said, when Sergeant Fastenluce had returned, “is a cat ejector.”
“Wouldn’t some kind of plank or ladder out of the window work?” suggested Colonel Dedshott, pleased to have thought of an idea before someone else for once.
But oh dear no, it wouldn’t. The sergeant and the professor both started explaining at once, and used words like angle, and trigonometry and vectors and forces and obstructing the traffic until the colonel’s head was spinning twice as fast as it usually did when Professor Branestawm explained things to him.
“….. and besides,” Sergeant Fastenluce , “cat’s really aren’t as sure footed as they like to pretend. Charlie could very well fall off.”
“Which is why, my dear Dedshott, the Branestawm patent cat ejector and suction retrieval device needs inventing without delay.”
Even without delay, it took the Professor until Saturday to have the cat ejector (and suction retriever device) ready. There was rather a lot of it to carry, so Mrs Flittersnoop and the colonel came with him. Mrs Flittersnoop brought a lemon sponge in a tin with lemon butter cream on top. She wasn’t about to be outdone.
“Come in, come in.” said Sergeant Fastenluce. A small, black, furry blur shot past his ankles into the street.
“Dear me.” said the professor, “that was the cat, ummm, Charlie wasn’t it? Well we will just have to set it up with the, ummm, suction reversed first.”
And so the professor started fiddling about with wires,plugs and pulleys and part of a vacuum cleaner and a long tube that looked a bit like and elephant’s trunk but wider and much longer. He dangled one end of this outside the window.
“We use the, ah, string to alter the position of the end of the tube. And now all we need to do is wait until the umm, feline in question, ahh, requires, umm, uplifting.”
And they all sat down to wait with mugs of tea and slices of cake. Colonel Dedshott and Sergeant Fastenluce had lemon sponge to be polite to Mrs Flittersnoop, Mrs Flittersnoop had a slice of chocolate cake to be polite to Sergeant Fastenluce, and Professor had a piece of chocolate cake because he liked it best and he didn’t understand cake politics anyway.
“Ah, at last!” said the Professor, leaping up to switch on the electricity.
“Professor, that isn’t Charlie, it’s another cat!”
An annoyed ginger cat shot up through the tube and out of the very large brass funnel onto the carpet. It didn’t stay on the carpet long. It hissed and spat and jumped up onto the colonel’s bullet head, and then down onto Mrs Flittersnoop’s cake and then up onto a shelf full of books where it sat licking butter icing off itself and looking disdainful.
“Dear me!” said the professor.
“Oh dear!” said the sergeant, “Charlie won’t be pleased.”
“Neither am I.” said the colonel and since a few drops of blood were dripping onto his second best shirt, he had a point.
“Quite so, sir, I’m sure.” said Mrs Flittersnoop.
“I’ve got some antiseptic and some sticking plasters.” said the sergeant. “They’re in this tin.”
“Ah, that must be your cat.” said the professor happily. “ I can hear the difference now.”
“Don’t!” shouted the sergeant, and leapt across the room as well as he could, for a man with an injured ankle. He was too late.
This time it was the black cat, Charlie, who shot out of the end of the invention, hissing and spitting. The ginger cat hissed and spat back. The next few minutes were very confused indeed. Eventually the colonel and the sergeant between them maneuvered Charlie, swaddle in a cloth hastily snatched from the table, to the brass funnel.
“Switch it to eject, Branestawm, and hurry.” the Colonel commanded, out of breath.
“It doesn’t seem quite fair to eject Charlie when it’s his home…” began the professor.
“Don’t bother about that.” Colonel Dedshott. “Just !&**%$ well eject him. Now!”
And Professor Branestawm, who had never heard the Colonel use the word !&**%$ in all the years he had known him, let alone in front of Mrs Flittersnoop, meekly set the machine to eject.
Hmmmmmmmsuwsuwsuw - and there was a sudden silence – followed by an echoey !yoooooooooooiii!!
“Dear me,” said the professor, “The feline appears to be, err, stuck.”
“It’s probably the buttercream.” suggested Mrs Flittersnoop, who had barricaded herself in the corner with the table, which was already upturned.
“Should we look for something to prod down the tube?” Colonel Dedshott asked.
“I shall increase the power.” Professor Branestawm decided.
Sergeant Fastenluce was busy stalking the ginger cat with Mrs Flittersnoop’s hat, which was rather large, so he said nothing.
“What the ~#/> was that!” came a loud shout from the street. Sergeant Fastenluce hobbled over to the window.
“There’s a window cleaner, his bicycle and his ladder all over the road.” He announced. “but Charlie’s sitting on the post box looking quite unhurt.”
“That’s very good I’m sure, sir.” Said Mrs Flittersnoop from her corner.
It took all four of them to finally get hold of the ginger cat and push it into the brass funnel.
“Maximum power again, Branstawm!” Colonel Dedshott ordered.
And the ginger cat, Mrs Flittersnoop’s hat and a tea towel were blown away down the tube.
“Now all we need is to put the lever back to the retrieval position.” said the professor happily. After all, the invention was doing what it was supposed to. It had already sucked up and ejected two cats. It was hardly the fault of the machine that the cats had behaved so unreasonably.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” said Sergeant Fastenluce, but Professor Branestawm was so pleased he wasn’t really listening – and had forgotten to turn off the power before moving the lever.
“whaaaaaaah!” - No, the machine hadn’t sucked up a baby from its perambulator, but someone had had their teddy snatched from their hands.
“Yelp! Yelp! Yelp! Grrrr!” and a small dachshund, sporting a floral patterned lead and collar shot out of the brass funnel.
“My hat! You horrid machine!” and a small pink woolly hat with a purple pompom and a picture of a unicorn on the front shot out.
There was a sudden silence. Mrs Flittersnoop stood by the electric socket with the plug of the invention in one hand and the light of battle in her eye.
“I’ll just go and give these back.” Said Sergeant Fastenluce, with the dachshund tucked under one arm and the hat and teddy bear in the other hand. He limped downstairs quite quickly.
Shortly afterwards, unencumbered by the dog, hat and teddy, he limped back upstairs even more quickly, only just managing to keep ahead of Mrs Pushnpull who was wielding a perambulator parasol (£40 extra, choice of three colours) with the intent of doing him a personal injury.
Behind them both, proceeding rather more slowly, was a policeman. The policeman stopped at the door. By this time all the policemen and women in the Great Pagwell area knew about Professor Branestawm. Dealing with the professor’s inventions was a compulsory half-day’s training for anyone who worked at the Great Pagwell station.
“Well,” he said, “You can just put that parasol down, Mrs Pushnpull. No-one’s actually hurt, barring their dignity - and the colonel here – and it’s going to stay that way. I think I know who’s responsible for this, and it isn’t your tenant. Mr Fastenluce?”
“Have you got anywhere else you can stay?”
“There’s my uncle in Walmington- On –Sea. I could go and stay with him I suppose.”
“Well I suggest you do, Mr Fastenluce, I suggest you do.”