Porter is shuffling nervously beside me, his face the very picture of panic.
“One of the Bedders noticed it this morning, ma’am,” he says “What are we going to do?”
“Who else knows about this?” I ask, not taking my eyes from the scene before me.
“Just me and the Bedder,” replies Porter. “She promised to keep it quiet, but…”
“But, no doubt, half of Housekeeping probably knows about by now.” I shake my head and sigh. “Get Head Porter. He’ll be delighted, I’m sure”
I survey the scene before me but it yields nothing of use at all. This is probably due in part to the fact that what I am actually looking at is, in fact, nothing. Which would be all well and good except that I should be looking at a glorious oil painting depicting Old College’s most famous Master, the great Lord Layton, who presided over the Order Of The Lesser Dragon at the time of the founding. I have no idea how valuable it might be, but that frame it’s in has got to be worth a few quid of anyone’s money.
Head Porter is none too amused at the prospect of the Lord Layton portrait being amiss. A few subtle initial inquiries indicate that there are no reasonable explanations for it to be anywhere else other than on the wall in The Armingford Room. A reasonable explanation may yet emerge, maybe. I am not holding out much hope, but it might.
Erring very much on the side of caution, Head Porter instructs me to lock The Armingford Room and he and I are to meet Porter in there after lunch. Such a thing can surely wait until after lunch. Without The Fellowship ever present over our shoulders, it seems he is keen to make sure that our meals will remain uninterrupted. I am very much in favour of this wonderful new scheme and Head Porter has my full and devoted support.
Lunch is a rather troubling assortment of leftovers from whatever conference dinner was being held last night. This is very disappointing. And there is none of my favourite cheese! I have made sure that news of my regret will reach the ears of Head Of Catering and I am hoping the situation will be resolved shortly. But anyway.
There are now three rather concerned (but at least not hungry) Porters locked in The Armingford Room. Now. Let us have a think on this.
“You’re absolutely sure it isn’t away for cleaning or something?” I ask Porter.
“No, ma’am, I checked. The Lord Layton was not scheduled for any works or doings on it at all. Anyway, when it does need a bit of faffing, it’s always done here. It never leaves College grounds.”
“They must really like that painting.”
“Deputy Head Porter, that is the single most important work of art in the whole of Old College!” Head Porter cries, exasperated. “The frame alone is worth a fortune!” Aha. Sunday afternoons of watching Antique Roadshow have finally paid off. “This is a disaster on a colossal scale, you understand!” Probably not as bad as the murders from last term, though.
I take a deep breath and a moment to think before making my reply. Head Porter is clearly on edge, but I don’t think it’s this that is really bothering him. The hint of distance in his eyes suggests that his focus is elsewhere.
“Alright. So our first priority must be to find out exactly where it’s gone and how we go about getting it back.” I suggest, hoping that a sensible, straightforward approach will help calm Head Porter. He turns on me, his face puce and his hair almost on end.
“No, Deputy Head Porter. Our first priority is to make sure The Dean doesn’t find out.”