This morning is feeling earlier than is strictly necessary. I don’t know whether it is the later-than-usual finish last night, in order to accommodate The Spring Feast (which is like The Great Feast, but not quite so great), or the gloomy, leaden sky above me that is making me feel like it is still the middle of the night. I suppose sometimes mornings just come around too quickly, and that is that.
As I make my way through the courtyards to The Porters’ Lodge, Old College somehow feels like it agrees me with me. The morning after The Spring Feast and the old place has a ‘hung over’ atmosphere about it. Even the bricks are looking a little paler than they should and I swear the shadows falling beneath the windows are longer and darker than usual. Crossing the bridge, I am surprised to see Professor K walking unsteadily towards me. It certainly is unusual to see him out and about on his own, particularly at this early hour.
“Good morning, Professor!” I call out with as much cheer as I can muster without having had at least three cups of tea. His twinkly eyes are lifted from the ground and meet mine. I quicken my step towards him; his eyesight isn’t that great and I wonder if he can recognise who I am from a distance. “Professor, you’re up early, is everything alright?”
“Oh, yes my dear! Certainly,” is his chipper reply. He sounds a little weary to me, though.
“What are you doing out and about so early?” I ask “Breakfast won’t be served for another half an hour yet.”
“Truth be told, Deputy Head Porter, I had terrible trouble sleeping last night, what with The Feast. I was woken a couple of times during the night by my revelling colleagues and their guests and it disturbed my sleep to such an extent that I couldn’t really settle. Eventually I thought the best thing to do would be to take a breath of morning air before breakfast and maybe have a snooze mid morning.”
“You didn’t attend The Feast?”
“No, no. Gracious, no. I have been to quite a few over the years, but they are a bit excessive for me these days.” Professor K reaches out and takes my arm in a gentlemanly fashion, although from the weight he then shifts in my direction it is clear that he is in need of a little support. “Mind you, back when I was young roister doister, my chums and I used to have a whale of a time at The Feasts!” The very thought of it brings a broad smile to my face.
“Yes, I have no doubt of that, Sir!” I laugh.
“Ooh, I could tell you a tale or two, I really could. Those were the days!” Professor K is lost for a moment in misty-eyed reverie. “Do you know, Deputy Head Porter, I’m sure the girls were better looking back then.”
“Do you think so, Sir?” I ask. I can sense he is struggling a little on his feet this morning; it must be the lack of rest. “Why don’t I escort you to your rooms and make you a nice cup of tea while we wait for the Dining Hall to open?”
“You can escort me anywhere you wish, young lady!” he announces cheekily. His body may be bending under the weight of the years but his mind and spirit are more virulent than a man a fraction of his age. Once I have him settled on his sofa with a hot cup of tea and a biscuit, Professor K seems much better. I have made myself a cup too, at his request, and make myself comfortable next to him. I realise it is rather inappropriate for a College servant to be quite so familiar with a Fellow, but I have become so fond of Professor K and I know he enjoys ‘teaching’ me about the mysterious side of Old College.
“You haven’t been to see me recently,” the Professor says, rather ruefully. “Not since Head Porter barged his way in here. I do hope you didn’t get into trouble.” I shake my head and sip my tea.
“Don’t worry, Sir. Head Porter has been rather – difficult – shall we say, for a while. I am sorry I haven’t been along since. He has kept me quite busy and I thought it best to keep my head down and get on with things.” Professor K gently taps my knee and leaves his hand there while he speaks.
“You are welcome in my rooms any time, my dear girl, and Head Porter is not to tell you that you cannot visit. I rather feel that we have become… friends” I stop mid-sip and look wide-eyed into the sincere and smiling face of the Professor. This does not merely warm the cockles of my heart; it wraps them in a rug and puts them snugly by the fire. Momentarily lost for words, I take his hand in mine and give it a little squeeze.
“We are friends” I say, emotion cracking my voice just barely. He squeezes my hand back and taps it again before readjusting himself on the sofa.
“I did speak to The Master about Head Porter’s rudeness, not that it will do any good,” the Professor continues.
“Why do you say that?” I ask.
“Head Porter is a man some of The Fellowship are keen not to upset.”
“Really. But do not let it trouble you. I am an old man now, and no longer hold much sway at Old College. But there are those that are firm supporters of you. Powerful people.” …To be continued…