The Dean is in an excitable mood. I can tell that he has been mulling over something important, as there are various pockets of his rooms that have been tidied and organised to within an inch of their lives. I can even see some of the heavy wooden surfaces in some areas. A sure sign of deep thought when it comes to The Dean.
I have been sat on his battered leather settee for a short time while The Dean has been engaged in a lively-sounding telephone conversation. It sounds lively from this end, certainly, although I doubt the poor caller on the other end has been able to participate much. The Dean has been deploying his much-vaunted communication style of holding both sides of the conversation at once, in order to ensure that everything that needs to be said, gets said. And, presumably, that unnecessary things remain unsaid. It is amusing to watch him spring to his feet in order to pace the floor furiously, but is hampered by the cord of his desk phone pulling him back like a little plastic leash.
Eventually, The Dean replaces the receiver and sighs heavily, thrusting his hands into his trouser pockets.
“Everything alright, Sir?” I ask, with a smile.
“Let me tell you, it had better be alright or there shall be hell to pay!” he replies. Then continues, “I have ordered a new mortarboard for Degree Day. The outfitters on Prince’s Street are not handling my request with the gravitas one might expect.”
A new mortarboard! What a treat. Who wouldn’t want a little hat with a tassel on top?
I wonder for a moment if this is the reason I have been summoned. Somehow I doubt it.
The Dean makes himself comfortable in his armchair, which is in a considerably better state of repair than the settee. I notice that the end table adjacent to it is stacked with Colin Dexter novels, specifically those relating to his famous literary creation ‘Inspector Morse’. Research, perhaps? Very apt, if so.
“Now, Deputy Head Porter” he begins. “I have called you here as something very troubling may or may not be developing. Senior members of The Fellowship have been meeting with The Master recently, myself included naturally. Not unusual at this point in the academic calendar what with everything going on. But I fear I may have detected a sinister undercurrent.”
“How so?” I ask. The Dean shifts uncomfortably, something I have never known him to do before. It makes me uneasy.
“The Master seems unusually fixated on next week’s May Ball. More accurately, the roles that you and Head Porter will be playing during the event.”
“Head Porter is meeting with the May Ball Committee as we speak,” I say. “As far as I know, he will be coming in early to oversee the setting up and I will be working until late that night. As far as actual timings and responsibilities are concerned – we thought we’d just play it by ear.”
“I get the distinct impression that The Master has something in mind. No offense, but The Fellowship are not usually very interested in what Porters get up to. He seemed very keen to be sure that you would both be there.”
“What do you think he has in mind?” I ask, nervous. The Dean throws up his arms and shakes his head.
“I have no idea!” he replies. “But think about it – a masked ball, huge crowds of people, lots of noise and distraction… it would be a good opportunity for mischief making.”
A masked ball? I must have missed that important element. That could certainly put a different slant on things.
This is very little to go on, but The Dean does seem genuinely unsettled and things capable of having that effect on him are few and far between. He knows The Master far better than I do, so maybe there is cause for concern.
“I will be careful” I say.
“Of course, I shall be attending the ball as a guest,” The Dean continues “But obviously I cannot guarantee that I can ensure your wellbeing all evening. I am concerned that you may be vulnerable.”
Before I can reassure him that I have every confidence in my capacity for self preservation, the door is flung open. A triumphant-looking Junior Bursar sweeps into the room.
“Ho, ho what do we have here!” Junior Bursar remarks suggestively.
“Deputy Head Porter is here to discuss elements of your party, old boy” The Dean replies, irritated. “Surprise elements, I might add.”
“Oh. I rather thought you might be indulging in this passionate affair you seem so insistent on?”
“Business first,” says The Dean. “I was just about to see Deputy Head Porter out. Take a seat, Junior Bursar, we shan’t be a moment.”
Taking my cue from The Dean, I rise with some effort from the settee and head for the door. My host follows swiftly behind. Once out on the landing, he grabs my arm.
“I’m serious about this, I am certain there is something afoot. I shall find out what I can before next week and let you know.”
“Okay, Sir” I reply. I turn to go but something pops into my head. “And by the way, Sir, this is absolutely the worst affair I have ever had. Just so you know.”
“Oh, bugger off and get back to work, Deputy Head Porter”
And with that, The Dean slams his door shut behind me and there is nothing left to do but to return to The Lodge.