Having tried to apply a little common sense to the situation, I can think of only one logical way to tackle the task before me. That is not to say that there aren’t many, many other (and better) logical ways, it’s just I could only think of this one.
It seems to me that there can only realistically be a limited number of people who could move a painting like the Lord Layton without drawing considerable attention. My first thought, is of the overly-chirpy painting and decorating team who have recently joined Maintenance to assist with refurbishments. No one would think twice about a couple of those chaps carrying something under a dustsheet. I am headed across College to see my good friend Head Of Maintenance for a cup of tea and an innocuous chat.
Even though I complain regularly about the students, Old College feels a very empty place without them. If I didn’t know better, I would say that Old College was missing them. As I make my way through the cloisters, I can almost hear a mournful sigh on the summer breeze.
Actually, that is a sigh. I look to my right, only to see The Dean exiting The Gathering Room, shaking his head. This does not worry me; the dear chap is always shaking his head at something or other. I decide to keep Head Of Maintenance waiting a little longer in order to make a brief diversion to The Dean.
“You alright there, Sir?” I ask. He lifts his head and I am surprised to see an apprehensive look on his face. This does worry me. The Dean is never apprehensive.
“I’m bloody not alright!” He replies, in a more characteristically brash tone. “It’s these bloody Bursars! I don’t see why we have to have a Bursar, anyway. Bloody nuisances they are, wouldn’t you say?” My experience of Bursars is limited, but I would say that from what I’ve seen, ‘bloody nuisances’ is a rather kind description.
“I would say so, Sir” I reply. “But I imagine we shall have to have one anyway. What’s up?”
The Dean looks around us furtively.
“Not here. Come to my rooms.”
The Dean’s rooms are reassuringly chaotic; signs of order signify unrest within his already fairly restless mind. Whatever has unnerved him is recent. We sit down and he offers me a whiskey, even though there is only the one glass. Aware of both my responsibilities and my place, I decline. He pours himself a generous measure and sniffs it thoughtfully.
“We have several promising candidates for the role of Bursar,” The Dean begins, strolling around his desk. “There’s a super chap from Wastell College, actually. He is currently their Senior Tutor but fancies doing a bit of Bursar-ing for a change. Knows all about cricket and rugger, everything. Splendid fellow.”
“So what’s the problem?” I ask, not really seeing where this is going.
“The problem, Deputy Head Porter, is that The Master rather has someone else in mind for the role. An old mucker from his University days at The Other Place.” Ah – The Other Place. This is how the other great University city is referred to in these parts. I am not quite sure why we dare not speak its name, but the superstition is of a similar ilk to that of actors referring to ‘The Scottish Play’, I believe.
“I take it you are not so keen, Sir?”
“Indeed I am not! Of course, I do not wish to displease The Master but I have the best interests of Old College to consider. I tell you, I have heard things about this chap.”
“What things?” Before The Dean can reply, there is a sharp knock at the door. He puts his whiskey behind some papers on his desk.
“Who is that?” He asks me. Instinctively, I swing round to look at the door but both my powers of extra sensory perception and x-ray vision fail me.
“I have no idea Sir.”
“Bugger off!” The Dean shouts towards the door. He retrieves his glass. “Oh, and another thing while you’re here, Deputy Head Porter,” he continues, quieter now. “Is everything quite alright with Head Porter, do you know?”
I shrug. I have my concerns about Head Porter but do not feel I should be discussing them. The Dean moves a little closer to me so that I may hear his hushed tones.
“It’s just that I saw him coming out of the pawnbrokers on Benedict Street the other morning. He seemed dreadfully woeful, you know.”
“He has been a bit… grumpy, recently” I reply. “I think maybe he is having some personal issues. I don’t really know.”
“If there was something…” The Dean is barely an inch from my face now “You would tell me, wouldn’t you Deputy Head Porter?”
As I breath in his spicy whiskey breath and look into his earnest brown eyes, I want to tell him everything; about Head Porter’s daughter, the Lord Layton – just get it off my chest. But my first loyalty is to Head Porter and I think better of unloading my worries onto the already heavily burdened Dean. Instead, I smile and nod convincingly and make my excuses. As keen as I am to learn about the potential new Bursars, I really must focus on finding the Lord Layton.
The Dean will just have to manage without me, for the time being.