There are very few things on Earth that put The Dean on the back foot, but even he is not immune to the strict hierarchal culture of College and when all is said and done, The Master’s word is law. The Master’s Wife, however, is something akin to a god. Quite possibly a particularly vengeful god, at that.
She sweeps into the Lodge smelling expensive. The clicking of her kitten heels on the stone floor grate like nails down a blackboard but these things are not the things first noticed by my male colleagues. With bosoms as high as her cheekbones and a tumble of impossibly perfect flaxen hair brushing against her shoulders, it is unfeasible that they would even glimpse at her cold dead eyes, peeping out of a visage that resembles a mannequin in a wind tunnel.
But that isn’t even the worst of it. The voice. Organ Scholar visibly winces as shrill, flat noise forms into an accent so affected as to be almost laughable. A little like the accent upper middle class people use as their telephone voice.
“Oh, tharrr you are, Organ Scholar, I have been searching simply everywarrr for you.”
As Organ Scholar fumbles with some ill-thought out explanation, I give Head Porter a sharp dig in the ribs. This is by way of encouragement for him to close his mouth and to conduct his gaze less obviously.
“But I need you over at the Chapel, boy” hands on hips, the slightness of The Master’s Wife does nothing to diminish her underlying threat of something quite terrifying. “The new robes have arrived, don’t you know. For the competition. The colours are farrrbulous but I’m worried they might be a bit strong for your skin tone so a teensy bit of tanning might be the thing to do.”
New robes for the University Choir Competition? Very fancy.
“The competition?” splutters Organ Scholar. “I’m not so sure we should enter this year, you know, the new choristers are just not ready…”
“No, no not quite, darrrling but they are so very close. The gels are just off for their teeth whitening this morning and the chaps are flexing and stretching as we speak. We will be ready in plenty of time.”
“It’s more the actual singing I was…”
“You might want to think about putting in a few hours at the gym yourself, Organ Scholar.”
Exasperated, Organ Scholar looses his patience and throws his arms up in the air.
“You don’t understand! If Hawkins College beat us again this year, Old College Choir will never live it down! We can’t go into that competition and have those buggers out-sing us, I’m telling you.”
Wait… Hawkins College?
“Do you mean to say that Hawkins are in this competition as well?” asks Head Porter, bristling with irritation. The rivalry between ourselves and Hawkins stretches back for centuries, but that is nothing compared to the overt animosity between the two current Head Porters.
“That is something that need not bother you, Head Porter” The Dean cuts in, the tone of his voice absolute.
“Yes, but wait and hold on for a few,” says Professor Duke quietly to The Dean. “This is Hawkins College. We must war with them, just because we must.”
Ignoring him completely, The Dean continues with almost pantomime-like resolution. No prizes for guessing the intended benefactor of this performance.
“Keys and post, fetching and carrying, Head Porter, those are the things you need to concern yourself with. Keys and post. Fetching. Carrying. On you go, if you please.”
Professor Duke raises an eyebrow and looks over to me reassuringly. No doubt he will have a word in his ear at a more appropriate moment. Head Porter, defeated, drags his feet to the rear of the Lodge and begins to shuffle some envelopes ineffectually.
The Master’s Wife, whose explicit glamour seems very out of place in the glorified stationary cupboard that is the Porters’ Lodge, soon tires of our company. Shooing along Organ Scholar like a naughty puppy, she bustles out of the Lodge and steers her young charge in the direction of the Chapel. We all turn and look expectantly at The Dean.
“Look, look – I know what you are going to say!” he says, hands defensively raised before him. “But I really am quite helpless against the word of The Master. He was very certain about his instructions. And it would seem that he has sent his wife along to make sure they are obeyed to the very letter. I am in quite the precarious position here, chaps.”
“But what about the Music Professor?” I plead. “Aren’t you just a bit worried that he has disappeared? Members of The Fellowship going missing is often quite a bad sign.”
“But who cares about him, anyway, since nobody’s seen him?” says Professor Duke, rather unexpectedly. “If Fellows start going missing than that’s a thing. I am a Fellow, after all. I would rather not go missing, too, dadblameit.”
“And what about the competition!” Head Porter joins in. “We can’t be beaten by Hawkins bloody College. Seriously, we just can’t.”
“Buggers! All of you!” roars The Dean. “You heard what I said! Keys and post, Head Porter! Keys and Post! And you…” he whirls around to face the Professor. “You should go and find some students and teach them something. Anything at all.”
“I feel I have just been yelled at. Brutalised. Made fun of, even.”
Satisfied that he has made his point, The Dean struts out of the Lodge. Professor Duke shakes his head and tuts to himself.
“You know,” he says to us both. “The Dean really wants to get involved. I can tell. The Master has been messing with him, and I think he may have scared the poor thing. But worry not, dear souls! Bottom of it I shall get to!”
The Professor taps the side of his nose knowingly and saunters off, whistling two tunes and somehow managing to hum a third.
Alone with Head Porter, I feel able to speak my mind.
“Well! This is certainly a turn up for the books,” I say, referring to the arrival of The Master’s Wife.
“It certainly is,” Head Porter replies, carefully balancing an increasing number of envelopes on the desk. “The Master’s Wife hasn’t been seen in College for quite a few years, you know. It was always him that flew out to see her, she never visited The Master here in College.”
“I was sort of the opinion that she didn’t actually exist,” I say, thoughtfully.
“She certainly looks very real to me, Deputy Head Porter.”
Hmm. Bits of her might be real, I suppose.
“But you know, all this has got me thinking,” Head Porter continues. “I mean, Porter has just recently got married, hasn’t he. And now seeing The Master’s Wife… it makes me realise that I am missing out on a rich and beautiful part of life.”
“Yes! Well. Perhaps. Hopefully. But… love! Love, Deputy Head Porter! The love of a good woman. Actually, even a bad woman would do. That might be quite interesting, you know…”
“I get the picture!” I cut in quickly, holding up a hand to halt the procession of increasingly inappropriate conversation. “A woman. Right. It’s probably just what you need.”
An unpleasant feeling of unwanted responsibility crawls into my stomach and sits there like a stone. If Head Porter is serious about this venture, there is absolutely no way I can let him go bounding off along the highway of love all by himself. His previous dalliances with the fairer sex have produced varying results, none of them very good. One particular encounter almost resulted in us being beaten up by a gang of bikers. There’s nothing for it. I am going to have to intervene.