There is a crisp chill in the air as I make my way, at some considerable speed it must be said, to The Dean’s rooms. I have been summoned. I am silently racking my brains for some recollection of a minor misdemeanor or faux pas I may have committed recently, to warrant being called at such haste to the formidable man’s rooms. I cannot think of one, but that does not necessarily mean that I haven’t done something of an unsatisfactory nature.
I hurry up the staircase towards the surprisingly small and unassuming wooden door with a carefully painted sign bearing the legend: ‘The Dean’. In my rush I almost trip over a Bedder, who is diligently scrubbing a skirting board. She gives me a ferocious look as I mumble an apology and continue my ascent up the rickety staircase.
I reach The Dean’s door somewhat flustered. I am probably about to be shouted at for no discernable reason and I have just about given a Bedder a bit of a kicking. This is not an auspicious start to my day. I take a deep breath and bravely knock on The Dean’s door.
“Who is it? What do you want?” comes the booming reply from behind the door.
“It’s me, Sir. Deputy Head Porter,” I reply, wincing. “You asked me to come and see you right away?”
“Oh! Yes! Of course…” There is some commotion, then The Dean throws open his door and beams at me magnificently whilst striking a gallant pose in today’s mis-matched outfit of a pink jumper, purple trousers and a yellow shirt. “Do come on in, Deputy Head Porter!” He is almost being charming. This is even more disconcerting. Why on earth is The Dean being nice to me? Well, I had better go in.
I follow The Dean into his rooms, which are in their usual repose of being grandly chaotic. Huge books are scattered across every surface; some open, some propping up other books, some being used as coasters. His desk looks like a small war is being fought on it.
I do like his fish tank. It should be a little corner of calm in this otherwise anomalous environment, but quite frankly even the fish look rather annoyed.
“Thank you for coming so quickly, Deputy Head Porter, I appreciate your time is precious.”
Thank you?! I think to myself. My time is precious?! He’s being far too nice. He wants something.
“It is my pleasure, Sir. What can I do for you on this fine day?”
“Well now you mention it, there is one little thing.” The Dean licks his lips, which makes me think he is nervous. The Dean is never nervous. “You see, I have a very eminent guest arriving from America and it’s all rather short notice I’m afraid. But he is incredibly important and will need rooms here for a few days, I hoped you would be able to arrange something suitable for such a respected gentleman?”
Oh, this isn’t too bad. I’m sure I can sort something out with Head Of Housekeeping.
“I’m sure that will be fine, Sir. When is your friend arriving?”
“Ah, well. He has just telephoned me from the train station so I would say in about half an hour.” Half an hour?!
“Sir, that is rather short notice…”
“I know, I know. Truth be told I thought he was coming on Wednesday but it appears I was wrong,” I half expect The Dean to implode at the point of admitting he was wrong. “I know this is an unusually unreasonable request, Deputy Head Porter, but it is essential it is carried out. And I would like you to greet him personally, make him welcome, you know.”
I sigh. I don’t really have much choice, do I? I wonder who this friend is and quite why he is so important.
“Very well, Sir,” I say as confidently as I can. “May I ask, who is the guest?”
“Oh, he is a very well respected man. We met at a conference in Dubai some years ago and have conversed in academic internet forums ever since. He is on his way to conduct business in London next week, but thought he would visit Old College beforehand. You will recognise him by his immaculate dress sense and his top hat. He is Professor VJ Duke.”
“I look forward to meeting him, Sir. Now – I really should be getting on with the arrangements Sir. If you would excuse me?”
“Of course, Deputy Head Porter.” The Dean seems relieved and delighted “I do thank you for this rather last minute request.”
The moment The Dean’s door closes behind me, I break into a panic and run as fast as I can to see Head Of Housekeeping. She will not be best impressed, I am sure. Having to find a suitable room and prepare it at such short notice is bound to be an unwelcome request. Indeed, she laughs in my face when I explain the circumstances, but takes pity on me and promises to arrange something as urgently as possible. I take a few moments to hurriedly straighten myself up and try to look appealing to our expected guest.
I do not have to wait long. I see the hat bobbing down the street towards The Porters’ Lodge, resting elegantly upon the head of a striking looking gentleman, beautifully attired and carrying an enormous suitcase with such ease I almost think that it must be completely empty. I straighten my tie and put on my very best smile. As he walks through the door, I move to greet Professor VJ Duke.
“Good morning, Sir!” I announce, brightly. “You must be Professor VJ Duke. Welcome to Old College.”
The Professor returns my smile with his own mega watt grin, characterised by a shiny set of perfect American teeth.
“Happy, happy morning!” His voice is wonderfully clear and deep and his eyes even more so. “I am P.VJ, it’s a trip to meet you. I mean that in a good way, I hope you understand.”
We shake hands and I reach out to take his bag. Porters would not usually carry the bags of guests, even important ones, (Porters are the keepers of keys, not the carriers of bags) but he is a friend of The Dean so I feel I should. The Professor looks uneasy for a second, but allows me to take his bag. To my surprise, it is incredibly heavy. He walked along the street, brandishing it as if it were paper and I can barely lift the thing. I drag it a few inches towards the desk, a token gesture, and assure him that a Porter will bring it to his room in due course.
“Would it be alright to show me to my rooms directly?” asks The Professor. “I have been traveling for quite some time and could benefit from some rest before I meet up with The Dean. This professor is a bit baggy about the eyes.”
I pause. I smile. I do not even know what room is to be allocated to Professor VJ Duke and I am certain it won’t be ready.
“Yes… Sir,” I reply slowly, trying to give my mind time to think of something. “If you would like to follow me?” I surreptitiously instruct the Porter on duty to notify me the second the Professor’s room becomes available, before leading my guest out of The Lodge.
I have no idea where I am going to take him, but Old College has any number of interesting diversions with which I hope to distract Professor VJ Duke. As we approach the bridge, I cannot resist any longer.
“May I say, I do like your hat, Sir,” I say as politely as possible. My love of wearing a bowler is well documented, but I must make it clear also that I simply adore a gentleman in a fine hat.
“Many thanks, Deputy Head Porter!” Professor VJ Duke replies. “The Professor is fond of your hat as well. Do you like wearing a hat?”
“I do, Sir. The bowler is my favourite, but I should love to be able to carry off a top hat, like yours. I fear that I am not tall enough, though.”
“Height doesn’t matter!” the Professor says. “A top hat actually adds to one’s stature, you know. You should get one. But one thing about top hats…if you wear one, you may be in danger of becoming professorish. Of course, you’d need the white suit, too.”
“I cannot help but agree with you, Sir!” I exclaim. What a fascinating chap this friend of The Dean’s is. I walk as slowly as I can, partly because I have no ultimate destination in mind and partly because I want to talk further with the Professor. “I must say, you seem to be a very interesting gentleman, Sir. Won’t you tell me a little about yourself?”
“Well, this Professor is highly secretive about matters like that. You see, there are some dastardly fellows who would give their left thumbs to catch up with me. It’s all very hush-hush—and quite dadblame dangerous.”
“Well!” is all that I can think to say. I can see why The Dean likes Professor VJ Duke so much, but I cannot for the life of me fathom out what the Professor would see in The Dean. Maybe it is his celebrated whiskey collection? As I am pondering this, I feel a faint rumble in my pocket. It is my College phone. I excuse myself briefly while I take the call. It is the call I have been waiting for.
Professor VJ Duke’s room is ready and it is one of the finer rooms in Old Court. I turn to the Professor and apologise;
“I am sorry, Sir, with all our chattering and wandering, I quite forgot that I was supposed to be taking you to your rooms.”
“You know, it totally skipped my mind as well,” says the Professor. But I am sure he is only being polite.
“I will take you there at once.”
Old Court is a beautiful part of College and I am grateful to Head Of Housekeeping for ensuring her team did such a wonderful job in the presentation of the Professor’s room. There are even fresh flowers in a little vase by the bed. I recognise them as having come from by the riverbank. I do hope Head Gardener doesn’t see them, he is very particular about his flowers being picked.
“What a stellar room!” says the Professor. “I shall be very comfortable here, I’m sure…”
But then we both stop in our tracks. I am horrified to see, there, nestled amongst the pillows, my arch nemesis – The Master’s Cat! The malevolence in his spiteful green eyes is evident. He has done this on purpose. He mews and hisses at us as he squirms and wriggles on the bed, marking his territory.
“Oh no… I am sorry, Sir,” I apologise again to the Professor. “This is The Master’s Cat, he is a damned nuisance. I can’t imagine how he got in here… I shall get rid of him.”
Nervously, I approach the demon Cat as he watches me intently from his cosy vantage point. As I drawer nearer to the bed, he flattens his ears against his head and bares his pointy white teeth, hissing like a furry snake. I see him extending and retracting his impressive claws, in readiness to tear me to ribbons, no doubt.
“Umm…” I try to think of something to say to the blasted creature, but I am quite unnerved by his vicious stare. Professor VJ Duke is watching me with some amusement, I notice. He has the look in his eyes of a man with a plan.
“Deputy Head Porter, you should leave this to me!” The Professor removes his hat and places it carefully on the dresser. He adjusts his jacket and brushes me gently aside as he approaches the beast, quite unafraid. To my amazement, The Master’s Cat remains silent; the malevolence has drained from his now watery eyes and I would say the creature was afraid.
Professor VJ Duke leans down towards The Master’s Cat and places his lips close to the feline’s ears. I do not hear what he says, his voice is far too soft and I suspect he is speaking in a language I wouldn’t understand anyway. Whatever he says, though, has the desired effect. The Master’s Cat squeals in terror and streaks like hairy lightening off the bed, out of the door and out into the College beyond. Professor VJ Duke turns and smiles broadly to me.
“Sir! How did you..?”
“Simple! When you know how.”
I return the Professor’s smile and stand for a few moments in awe and, I admit, a little smitten.
“I learned the trick in Dubai. Now, Deputy Head Porter, you must excuse me while I get some rest before I pay my dear friend The Dean a visit.”
“Oh! Quite. Yes, Sir,” I really did forget myself for a moment there. “I hope you enjoy your stay…and I do hope our paths cross again.”
“Absolutely! The Professor would be quite disappointed if he didn’t get to see you again.” Professor VJ Duke smiles, and gives me a friendly wink. “Have a stellar, stellar—and professorish—day.”
A huge thank you and big hugs to Professor VJD for his part in this post. I hope you will visit me again sometime, Professor 😉
To learn more about the fabulous Professor VJ Duke please click here