“The Dean doesn’t need to know,” I reply.
The night air is remarkably mild for the time of year, but the faint nip of a chill is starting to nibble at my extremities. Beside me, Professor VJ Duke is muttering to himself and scratching at his top hat.
“Are you okay, Professor?” I ask.
“Of course,” he replies. “Actually, maybe not. Have you ever had a hat attack you? That’s what’s going on to me with this blasted top hat at the minute.”
“There’s something about that hat that puts my teeth on edge,” says Head Porter. “If there’s one thing I don’t trust, it’s a hat with a dastardly past.”
“A dastardly past you still haven’t told us about,” I point out.
“Well, yes, that’s because I’m somewhat lazy, the sudden,” the Professor says. “Plus, it would scare Head Porter. Now we must be silent as the grave! Can’t have anyone noticing us, see.”
The Dean had been most emphatic about the need for us to keep our noses out of any arising shenanigans and his private conversation with Professor Duke revealed that he may be under some kind of threat to ensure this. However, there are two points of jeopardy arising from current events – the least of which being the life of the missing Music Professor. The far more important issue, of course, is the imminent imperilment of College reputation (there being nothing more highly valued, naturally). If the Choir disgrace themselves before our fearsome rivals at Hawkins College then – well! Well, nothing actually significant will happen, of course, but that doesn’t stop it from being something akin to the end of the world.
The cloister expels us into the dimly lit grandiosity of Apple Tree Court over which looms a strangely pensive-looking Chapel. Whilst not as grand as the chapels of our neighbouring establishments, Old College nonetheless boasts an exquisite and ancient sacellum. In times past I have found this to be somewhere that has provided me a place for contemplation, celebration and rumination. Tonight, though, it looks troubled, somehow. The light in the Organ Loft is partially obscured by a rudimentary covering, but is visible nonetheless.
As we approach, the dulcet tones of Duruflé’s Tocatta seep out into the night air, seemingly fighting against the ancient stones that contain it. Well, Organ Scholar is here, anyway. Might as well get on with it.
“You know,” wonders Professor Duke, to no one in particular. “I’m thinking, the sudden, that he might not want to have speaks. He might be in a particularly rotten mood.”
“Listen, there’s something I want to ask him,” says Head Porter. “It’s quite important. You know how they say that music is the food of love?” Oh, for goodness sake. “Him being something of an aficionado in the field, do you think he might be able to give me any tips on attracting the ladies?”
I try to keep myself from tutting, but invariably I fail.
“Head Porter, now is not the time to be thinking with your trousers.”
“No, but seriously – when I was a struggling musician I was beating them off with a stick!”
“Niceness!” laughs the Professor. “That’s the best way to deal with them, too!”
As we make our way through the Chapel and up the spiral stone staircase to the Organ Loft, the bold strains fill our ears and make further conversation impossible, which, judging by how it is going so far is something of a relief. Our silent approach startles our young friend somewhat, but overall he seems fairly pleased to see us.
“‘Ow do!” he says, the abrupt abeyance of music strangely confusing. “Please tell me you’ve seen sense and are going to search for the Music Professor?”
“Well, if I was a sensical type of beast, like you suggest, I wouldn’t search for him,” Professor Duke announces defiantly, as if the very suggestion is some kind of slur. “But, thank the gooses, I’m not; so we will go out on a search.”
“We have to keep it under the wire, though,” I say. “You heard The Dean.”
“Yeah, I did,” Organ Scholar replies, darkly. “Funny thing, that. Makes me think he might involved somehow.”
I shake my head emphatically.
“No, no – I can categorically state that isn’t the case. But there is something about this whole situation that hangs over his head, so we must be careful.” But even as I say the words, the smallest piece of doubt slips quietly into my mind. But it cannot be so. “When did you last see the Music Professor?”
“It must’ve been about four or five weeks ago now, during the Summer Vac. Yes – it was the second to last Evensong before term. He was conducting the choir but his rhythm was rather off, if you ask me.”
“Do you suppose he had something bothering his mind?” asks Professor Duke. Organ Scholar shrugs.
“To be honest, what goes on in that man’s mind doesn’t really bear thinking about,” he replies, with a shudder. “But really – he might have, although he does have his off days from time to time.”
“I don’t suppose you know if had upset anyone within The Fellowship?” I continue “A falling out or anything like that?” Organ Scholar crinkles his brow in thought, but nothing helpful comes to his mind.
“Mind you…” Organ Scholar seems to think of something “He is an awkward bugger – as we musicians are – so he wasn’t exactly falling over friends, if you know what I mean.”
“One more thing,” Head Porter interrupts. “This magnificent organ you have here… do you find it helps you in romantic pursuits at all..?”
Before I can express my disapproval, a distracting sound emanates from the main body of the Chapel below. Cautiously, I peek over the balustrade just in time to see the heavy wooden doors swing open. A familiar voice fills the cold, dark space.
“Organ Scholar? I know you’re in here! What are you up to, boy?”
It’s The Dean.