We all have our faults; small and large, little or few. Faults are all part of the human condition and a great leveller in the bloody battle for excellence. The trick, in my mind, is to juggle a carefully judged number of them with a flair of sauciness to really make the best of them. I have often thought myself to have just the right amount of faults and have always worn them with as much pride as my virtues, until I can hardly tell them apart. Well, it works for me.
It’s not a technique much admired by Head Porter, it would seem. He is currently berating some of what I am convinced to be my finest qualities in the manner of a fox choking on feathers. I only have half an ear on this moving oration, however, as I am otherwise engaged with a fine cup of Darjeeling and slice of lemon drizzle cake. It has been a while since I have partaken of Darjeeling and am now wondering quite why I put it off for so long. Delightful!
“Deputy Head Porter! You’re not even listening to me!”
Sensing a cue to pay attention, I turn around to smile benignly at my fretful fellow Porter. His eyebrows bristle with wiry antagonism atop eyes wet with watery fury. He is unusually dramatic for this time of day but I suppose I cannot really blame him. Earlier this morning our friends from The Fellowship, Professor VJ Duke and The Dean, were summoned with quiet menace to speak with The Master in his private study. This sort of thing is rarely good news.
There appears to have been a little… residual displeasure regarding our recent romp involving Grail questing. After all, there is yet another misplaced Bursar to consider and a huge hole in Apple Tree Court. That said, Old College is now in possession of not one but two Holy Grails. But that is scant comfort for The Master, it seems, who is no doubt furious at two such senior Fellows for leading such an unlikely expedition.
In other news, the dapper Professor has been able to furnish himself with a resplendent top hat as a replacement for his previous, ill-fated headgear. It came from the very same mysterious Antiques Shop that caused all the trouble in the first place, which rather shows the Professor’s propensity for nuisance. He chose it purely on the basis of the proprietor telling him that it ‘had a dastardly past’. The Professor has a weakness for the dastardly; past present or future.
And this is all well and good and is good reason for Head Porter to be tetchy. The thing that niggles is that, for some reason, he seems to think that all this is somehow my fault. Which brings me back to the most treasured of my virtuous faults – the unerring ability to attract trouble of the most interesting nature.
So I accept some responsibility, at least. But I rather think The Dean and Professor Duke have quite a lot to answer for themselves. But it probably isn’t the best time to bring this up, as I spot them striding across The Bridge towards us. The Professor is gamely swinging his cane and appears to be whistling, while The Dean struts with the incandescent rage that constitutes his default setting. This is probably a good sign.
As the door to the Porters’ Lodge swings open, Head Porter and I spring to expectant attention and turn to welcome our colleagues. The Dean appears first, his tattered blue jumper and salmon creased-trouser ensemble a dubious treat for the eyes. Professor Duke is immaculately turned out as ever in his trademark white suit, the new top hat settling in nicely with the overall effect.
“If anybody asks, we haven’t seen The Bursar since before we left for France!” The Dean announces. Not quite the opening statement I was expecting, but informative nonetheless. “And if anybody knows of any out-of-work Bursars, they are to let me know immediately.”
“Would… would anyone like a nice cup of tea?” asks Head Porter, gingerly. “Deputy Head Porter, why don’t you put the kettle on..?”
“Pah to cups of tea!” spits The Dean. “I shall be needing something considerably more substantial than that.”
“I wouldn’t mind a cup of tea,” the Professor remarks. “As long as it isn’t the wiggly type. I’ve had wiggly tea before and not only does it scare me, I hate it lots and lots. So, yes, I wouldn’t mind a cup.”
“And well you might, after the carpeting we have just had” The Dean shakes his head and begins to gently pace the length of the front desk. “Honestly, The Master was not pleased with us at all.”
“What happened?” I ask. I don’t want to, but I feel someone should.
“It wasn’t so bad,” replies Professor Duke. “But I must admit: I stopped listening soon after the threats of violence and whatnot. The beast.”
The Deans turns to him, incredulous.
“His opening gambit was threats of violence!” he squeals “The Master is not a man to make idle threats. Did you not think to pay close attention to suggestions as to how we might avoid such things?”
“Well, I tried. But what happened was something out the window wanted me to look at it…I fear…”
“But what did he say?!” I feel the need to get to the bottom of this.
“The upshot of it is, Deputy Head Porter, that we are all to keep our noses well and truly out of anything that isn’t directly involved with our roles within the College and to stay absolutely clear of anything interesting or controversial in any way.” The Dean takes a deep breath. “Also, the Professor here has to earn his keep and give some lectures, as opposed to romping about the place looking for adventure.”
“I can’t say I object to giving lectures and dishing out bad grades,” shrugs the Professor “It will pass the time, at least. But still, it was hurtful cruel of him to attack my romping and adventuring.”
“But make no mistake here, chaps,” continues The Dean “I have no choice but to ensure that the will of The Master is enforced. There are to be unconditionally no shenanigans from here on in. Right?”
Well, this is a bit of a blow. But not entirely unexpected, I must say. As the four of us look from face to face, I feel the only recourse is to acquiesce to the demands before us. Before we can agree, however, we are interrupted. Standing in the doorway of the Lodge is a very agitated Organ Scholar. His fists are bunching and unbunching (in perfect four-four time, of course) and his lip is quivering noticeably. This striking arrival stops us in our tracks at once.
“I’m sorry to interrupt…” he stammers “But there is something very, very unsavoury going on and I know you lot are into that sort of thing. Is… Is this a bad time?”