Entering the Chateau de Chinon puts me in the same mindset of awe-filled wonder that I felt when I first entered Old College. Although on a much larger, grander scale, the Chateau is a breathtaking example of architecture from a by-gone age. It seems that I am forever destined to wander such ancient places; it is as if my soul is called towards them.
The Dean harbours no such romantic notions. Although, romantic notions of another sort may well be on his mind. Standing in the grand stone entrance hall, dwarfed by dramatic tapestries and towering columns like watchful sentries, The Dean seems to lose none of his stature and presence even while the Professor and I appear diminished and shrunken.
“Now then, chaps, this is the plan,” says The Dean, hands firmly on hips to stop him from pacing about. “Considering the lack of immediately available disguises, I say we need a cover story. I have been thinking on it, for several minutes I might add, and this is the very best option.”
Professor Duke and I exchange nervous looks and ready ourselves for quite literally anything. The Dean continues, unabashed.
“You and I, Deputy Head Porter, are a well to-do couple from London and this is our errant, tear-away son… Dominic!” he indicates the Professor, who looks more than a little surprised. “We have brought Dominic here to educate him in various matters, but particularly those concerning crime and punishment, in an attempt to curtail his mischievous ways. That way, the buggers are sure to show us the dungeons where the Templar were held!”
There is a considered silence while we muse upon how quite to respond to this announcement. It’s not the first time The Dean and I have been a ‘couple’ and previous dalliances with this form of pretence did not end well.
“Sir, if I might point out,” I begin, carefully “That I believe the Professor is actually older than me… I think.” I apply some scrutiny to the Professor’s features. Actually, it is impossible to tell how old he might be. He just has one of those faces.
“Poppycock!” retorts The Dean. “The chap will be the perfect petulant teenager, won’t you old boy?”
“I must say: it’s all a wonder, mostly,” the Professor replies. “You know, here’s the thing: Perhaps we don’t need a cover story at all? See? Being a petulant teenager would be so vexing, I’m thinking.”
“Absolutely we need a cover story!” snaps The Dean. “We can’t just stroll in here, demanding the Holy Grail and stamping our feet!” Oh, really? Because from what I know of The Dean that was exactly what I thought we might do. “See here, if I say there is a cover story, then there is a cover story – understand? Now then, wife and child follow me directly.”
At a loss of anything better to do, we follow The Dean deeper into the Chateau. Chateau is such a romantic word. This place is more like an elegant fortress. Taking our new-found roles very seriously, The Dean and I begin to vigorously educate the fruit of our union on historical matters. The poor Professor is actually scolded on several occasions for breaking from character and appearing too interested in things.
Before too long, we are approached by one of the many tour guides who sweep silently through the Chateau, presumably searching for visitors to instruct. She is in fact most interesting and entertaining in her extensive knowledge of the place and we pass an hour or so quite pleasantly in her company. When mention of the Knights Templar is made, The Dean leaps to action, like an over-weight gazelle.
“Aha, how interesting that you should mention the Templar, madame,” says The Dean in his most charming manner. “You see here’s the thing, my… wife… yes, my wife is descended from one of the Templar families and family legend has it that one of her forefathers may very well have been held here!”
“Forefathers?” says the Professor, puzzled. “Does that mean I have four grandfathers, then? And that’s too many grandmothers.”
“Hush… Dominic!” hisses The Dean. The Professor shakes his head.
“Dadblameit to you!”
“Ignore my husband and son,” I say, trying to keep things from descending further into chaos. “They are quite mad, haha. But it’s true – do you think the Wastell family might have been held in the dungeons here?”
Our previously unflappable tour guide, until so recently filled with gallic charm and mirth, becomes somewhat flustered.
“Oh, well,” she stammers, her English suddenly stilted “The dungeons are not accessible to the visitors, no. You cannot go down there. Only the curator and his staff may enter the dungeons.”
Not a word is exchanged between us, but it is clear my husband and son are as vexed by her reaction as I am. Quite what part of this simple enquiry has perturbed her so greatly is difficult to say.
“We thank you for your time, madame,” The Dean says, a polite means of dismissing her for which she seems much relieved. “Well, that was an unusual thing, wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes—and you made it stranger, my man!” says Professor Duke. “Deputy Head Porter didn’t say a word about actually seeing the dungeons.”
“But at least we now know that the dungeons are still there,” I say. “And what’s more, they can be accessed.”
“Yes, but only by some blasted curator,” The Dean mutters darkly. “And his staff.” A brief pause. “I say we acquire the uniforms of the staff and…”
“No! No…” I feel the need to interrupt this current thought process.
Think, Deputy Head Porter – think!
“Sir, I believe this is something very much up my street. It is at such times like these that one needs to stop thinking ordinarily. Now is the time to think like a Porter.”