The mood in the Porters’ Lodge seems to be somewhere between outrage and disgust. Both Head Porter and The Dean are pacing furiously, so the situation must be rather grim. No doubt the appearance of the potential Bursar has something to do with it.
Head Porter ceases his striding and stands before me, arms folded and head shaking bitterly.
“I’m glad you’re here, Deputy Head Porter,” he says seriously. “There has been something of a development in the Bursar situation.”
“So I understand,” I reply. “What’s the problem?”
“We don’t like the look of him at all.”
I look to the sombre faces of The Dean and Porter and it would appear that this is indeed the general consensus. What on Earth can be the matter with him? No immediate explanation is forthcoming.
“So then, what is it?” I ask, getting rather concerned, now.
“Well he doesn’t look much like a Bursar” says Porter, gruffly. “No Bursar I knew ever looked like that.”
“Yes!” Head Porter joins in “And he has an accent!”
“Everyone has an accent,” I reply, my confusion evident. “What sort of an accent?”
“A film star accent” The Dean snaps. What he means by that, I cannot say. “And a film star face to go with it. Not a Bursar’s face. No, indeed.”
I take a moment to digest this information and to try to make a little sense of it. The clarity of the situation does not take too long to present itself. This potential Bursar must be somewhat dashing, by my reckoning. Enough so to unsettle the three flustered gentlemen currently in my company. Well, this does not sound too bad at all.
“Is he handsome?” I ask, as innocuously as I can. The Dean huffs a little.
“If you like that sort of thing, I suppose he is” he says. He must be handsome.
“Charming, too” Head Porter adds darkly. “You should have seen him with Head Of Housekeeping. He had her giggling like an idiot.” Goodness, he must be quite something if he can crack the stoney exterior of Head Of Housekeeping. I wonder if he is still in College?
“Well, the poor chap can’t help the way he looks,” I suggest, quietly rather pleased.
“Now look here,” says The Dean. “Everyone knows that I am quite clearly the best looking fellow in College. Would you say he was better looking than me, Head Porter?”
Head Porter is uncharacteristically diplomatic as he lets out a little false laugh and shakes his head.
“Oh no, Sir, I wouldn’t say so.” This seems to placate The Dean somewhat and I am left to wonder quite how far they have taken this recent male bonding thing. “That said, my reputation as a ladies man is quite well established in College and I would hate to see a change in the status quo.”
“Well, wouldn’t we all, Head Porter?” remarks The Dean. “If there is one thing we don’t like at Old College, it is a change in the status quo. No. This chap simply will not do. I shall speak to The Master.”
The vanity and insecurity of my male colleagues amuses me immensely and it seems that this sentiment is evident to them. I catch myself before I actually laugh out loud, but am unable to prevent a broad grin creeping along my lips. Head Porter looks at me reproachfully.
“This is no laughing matter, Deputy Head Porter,” Oh yes it is. “You don’t understand. Old College can’t have a Bursar that doesn’t look like a Bursar. It will… it will confuse the elderly Fellows.”
“Quite right!” The Dean agrees. “It is… tradition. Or something of that ilk. But enough of this. You should come with me, I want to show you something that I am furious about.”
Unable to refuse such an attractive invitation, I follow The Dean out of the Lodge and towards the Bridge. He seems quite his usual self as we pause to admire the river and watch the endeavours of those upon it, traversing the sparkling waters with varying degrees of success. I always find it fascinating to watch those uninitiated in the gentle art of punting; there is always the chance one might fall in.
We continue on a directionless amble of Old College grounds, enjoying the late summer sunshine. The Dean does not seem too furious at all. I wonder what he has on his mind?
“What was it you wanted to show me, Sir?” I ask. Always a risky thing to ask a gentleman, I find.
“I didn’t want to show you anything,” he replies. “That was nothing more than a cunning ruse. I wanted to talk to you about a thing or two. First thing – the new Bursar.”
“I think I would quite like to meet this mysterious candidate, you know” I say eagerly. The Dean sighs and looks at me as if I am a small child who has suggested something ridiculous.
“I am sorry to disappoint you, Deputy Head Porter, but this chap will not be joining us as the new Bursar.”
“Because he will fracture the fragile male egos of the rest of College?”
“No. Because I have learned that The Master has in mind someone he knows from his past. Quite a disagreeable chap, I gather. I am trying to learn a little more about him.”
“But if The Master already knows who he wants for the job, why are you holding these interviews?” I ask.
“He has to be seen to be doing the right thing, I imagine” replies The Dean, waving a hand dismissively. “He is a gentleman, after all. No matter. It would seem that the Bursar situation is rather out of my hands, unfortunately.”
I consider asking The Dean to find out if this disagreeable fellow is in any way attractive, but think better of it. I imagine not. The Dean is obviously keen to fight for his unlikely (and previously undisclosed) title of Best Looking Fellow In College.
“What was the other matter, Sir?” Moving swiftly on from Bursars, as one should.
“I do not know how to tell you this, Deputy Head Porter but I am sad to say that I am having rather dark thoughts about our dear friend Head Porter.”
“Well. It is becoming increasingly common knowledge that he is… how to put it… financially embarrassed at present. I cannot help but fear a man in his position might be vulnerable to, well, bribes.”
“Possibly from a rival College. Who might want to breach our defences for nefarious purposes. Stealing paintings, for example. Didn’t you say the Hawkins Porter entered through an unlocked Sprockett Gate?”
Before I can reply, The Dean’s attention is drawn, in a glorious foul-mouthed eruption, to a figure loitering on the path some way ahead of us. My heart sinks.
“The absolute bugger!” bawls The Dean. “Didn’t I tell him to get out once already?! What is wrong with the man?!”
Detective Chief Inspector Thompson seems to have found his way back into Old College. Something tells me that keeping him away from The Dean would be a very good idea indeed.