“The fires!” Hershel announces, excitedly. “There were fires at both scenes, remember?” I try my best to give the impression of understanding but I am afraid to say that I simply do not. A glance across at Head Porter reveals that he is in the same position, although rather less well disguised.
“I thought the fires were something to do with the witchcraft?” says Head Porter, scratching his forehead.
“They might well be,” replies Hershel “But even if that turns out to be the case, you can’t seriously be thinking that witchcraft actually killed them. That would be ridiculous.”
“In our experience, ridiculous and Old College make for regular bed fellows,” I say to Hershel, partly in defence of my own obfuscation. “But you’re right, of course. The reasons for these deaths are unlikely to be supernatural.”
“Hang on a minute,” interrupts Head Porter. “I thought we did think it was supernatural. The Dean found that… incantation. And he’s over at Hawkins College now, that Hawkins girl was a witch! Or, something. Wasn’t she? I’m so confused now.”
“I just think it might be worth trying to find out what they were burning,” Hershel continues, gently – as if speaking to an incompetent. “Although in different Colleges, the bodies were in more or less the same area and it could be significant.”
Hershel really is a very bright chap, you know. I am kicking myself for not thinking of this earlier. It is such an obvious connection that I cannot believe I missed it. Sad to say, I am convinced that the longer I am ensconced at Old College, the duller my wits become. It’s not that I feel that I can’t think, it’s just that when I do think, the thinking is rather different. Oddly different. Or differently odd. The centuries of eccentricity must be rubbing off, somehow. Which is a worry.
You see? I am not even thinking properly right now. The door to the Porters’ Lodge swings open abruptly. A gravely concerned-looking Bursar walks through, followed by The Dean who is radiantly beaming from ear to ear.
“Aha! Hello there, Porters!” The Dean cries. Hershel suddenly looks very uncomfortable indeed. He has been at the wrong end of The Dean’s temper on more than one occasion. Appearing to have remembered something dreadfully urgent, Hershel makes a graceful exit by way of the pigeonholes and leaves us to unravel whatever improbable thing has caused The Dean such delight.
“Hello, Sir” I reply, my brain scrambling to imagine what might have happened. “You seem very pleased with yourself.”
“Absolutely I am, Deputy Head Porter! And with bloody good reason. I was right! As ever.”
“What do you mean?” asks Head Porter, even further confused. It’s all getting too much for him, evidently.
“I am passed the point of perplexity, I declare” mutters The Bursar, his face a picture of something between disbelief and defeat. “The Hawkins Dean was so obtuse! And, might I say, unnecessarily offensive.”
“Ho ho, but I bested him with my excessively superior profanities!” declares The Dean, proudly.
“That much is the truth, certainly” agrees The Bursar. “But putting profanities aside for a moment, as any gentleman should…” this remark is aimed squarely at The Dean “…The behaviour is bereft of any logic or reason. It is inscrutable in the extreme.”
“Sir, I have long given up attempting to apply logic or reason to anything relating to academia,” I say, helpfully. “There really is little point.”
“Exactly!” The Deans yells triumphantly. “Which is why we should do what we should have done in the first place and press on with my daring plan. Now, the Zorro outfit is at the dry cleaners but I can pick it up before tonight…”
I look across at The Bursar.
“D’you see what I mean?”
“I still think that further attempts at negotiation would be prudent,” The Bursar says firmly. “I cannot believe that such men would not be persuaded by more sensible means.” His lack of insight with regards to academics is quite staggering.
“Yes, I think The Bursar is right,” says Head Porter, rather unexpectedly. “And, if that doesn’t work, The Dean could try threatening them or something. But anyway, we can’t help you tonight. Deputy Head Porter and I have an engagement that we simply cannot cancel.”
“What? What?” says The Dean. “Whatever could that be?”
Oh, goodness me. We really are going to the open mic night, aren’t we?