An Enigma In Plain Sight

They say that there is a fine line between genius and madness and my experience of the academic world has led me to believe that this is true. But what I am also given to supposing is that the boundary between a genius and a fool may also be similarly emaciated.

It is four in the morning and I have not slept at all. As I sit, shivering slightly, on my back doorstep, cup of tea in hand, I am considering whether I am, at this moment, a genius or a fool. I am sure there are several people who might answer this question rather quickly, but then those people do not realise that I have cracked the code of the art collection records. Or at the very least, I think I have. Sleep deprivation can do strange things to a person’s mind. But certainly, there are several things that simply cannot be ignored.

Studying the records, it was easy to learn that the heraldic symbol bestowed upon the Lord Layton portrait was that of the feathers. Interestingly, symbolising serenity of the mind. Or maybe it isn’t interesting, I cannot recall just now.

Taking a long slurp of tea, I remember that in fact that wasn’t the interesting bit. The interesting bit was that when I went to check on the plaque where the Lord Layton once was, something was very much amiss. The second symbol, that of a goat, was the correct one for the Armingford Room. A brief but concise investigation of the other plaques all showed them to display the goat as their second symbol. But in place of the feathers of a serene mind that should have sat beside the goat was something else entirely.

There seems little point in going to bed now so I revive myself with a shower and return to Old College. Night Porter is there to greet me, albeit with a certain amount of surprise.

“Good morning, ma’am, what are you doing in at this time?” He asks suspiciously. Maybe he thinks I am spying on him or something.

“Couldn’t sleep” is the best I can muster. I am always amazed at how immaculately turned out Night Porter is, even after a long shift such as this. The man is a credit to the profession, I tell you.

“Tea?” He asks. As if he needed to ask.

As Night Porter disappears out the back to attend to my ever more demanding need for tea, a shambling figure approaches the main door of the Porters’ Lodge. At this unsociable hour it is still locked and, in the dream-like state of one dispossessed of slumber, I watch dispassionately as the futile wrestle between man and portal ensues. Before long, the wrestling becomes hammering and the futility dissipates into a bellowing that would alarm the very Devil himself. Wait a minute. There is only one such figure who bellows like that.

I unlock the door and allow The Dean to tumble headlong into the Lodge. He looks worse than I do and is twice as furious as normal. I admire the man’s stamina for ferocity.

There follows a protracted and vivid proclamation detailing The Dean’s current thoughts on the police service, before his stride is broken by the return of Night Porter, nervously brandishing tea. Although usually very protective of my tea, I feel that present circumstances dictate that I should offer my cup to the fuming mess that quivers ferociously before me. The Dean is unimpressed.

“Bugger your tea, Deputy Head Porter, I need a whiskey!” The Dean splutters. “I haven’t had any sleep at all and on top of that I have had to deal with bloody fools all night long. Tea, indeed!”

“I haven’t had any sleep, either” I say, a little put out.

“Your private life is of no interest to me, Deputy Head Porter.”

“No, Sir,” I continue. “It’s about that… thing. Our thing.”

Night Porter looks visibly shocked. Unfortunately, that particular rumour has long since found its way to the Porters’ Lodge. The Dean is momentarily put off.

“Well” he says, ineffectually. “Well! We should discuss this in my rooms.”

“I will be right up, Sir.”

The Dean bundles off towards the Bridge, in search of his rooms and, no doubt, a very large whiskey. Which is rather acceptable for a man in his position. Night Porter is looking at me, aghast.

“So it’s true, then,” he says. “What on Earth do you see in him?”

I consider this question wisely. The fanciful affair between myself and The Dean has been a very good cover for all number of even more scandalous machinations, but it is a difficult pretence to maintain.

“What can I say?” I reply, wearily “It’s his intellect. And inventive use of the ‘F’ word.”

Night Porter seems to be happy with this explanation, most probably because he is a man of the world himself and understands that the affections of the female of the species can be won in all sorts of wondrous ways.

I find The Dean in his rooms, crystal tumbler in hand and an inviting-looking Arsenal mug filled to the brim of finest whiskey on his desk. I eye the mug warily, the last time I drank from that mug all kinds of things occurred. Things I have never yet been able to recall. It seems that The Dean was arrested for obstruction but was released without charge following some uncomfortable questioning. I feel the need to skip over this unfortunate incident and press on to the matter of my recent discovery.

“You were right, Sir,” I say.

“I knew it!” Exclaims The Dean. “That bloody Head Porter! I knew it was him. Didn’t I say it was him?”

“No, not Head Porter,” I continue. “Hawkins College. I believe that they have the painting.”

“Did I say Hawkins College? I could have sworn I said Head Porter.”

“Hawkins College was your first suspicion, Sir.”

The Dean refills his glass before thrusting the mug intended for my consumption into my hands.

“Drink that” he says “There’s no need to feel guilty. If you haven’t been to sleep it doesn’t count as drinking.” I like his logic, but worry that my constitution is not stern enough to take it. “Explain yourself.”

I recount the fact that I have been studying heraldry all afternoon and now consider myself an expert. The Dean is susceptible to grand, sweeping statements such as this. I explain about the feathers that were not there.

“And what was in place of the feathers?!” He asks, incensed. I show him my notes. “Good Lord! Then there can be no doubt!”

Those that have studied my notes will already know what was in place of the feathers. But for those less studious (like myself) fear not – an explanation will be forthcoming…

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