The Master’s Wife seems enthralled in a fit of pique, although her tightly wound features do not allow it to show upon her face. As I enter the fray, I am caught in the crossfire of two furious pinpricks of quivering rage peeking out from behind the plastic façade.
“Is everything alright?” A stupid question, but I don’t really know how else to begin.
“What? What?” squeals The Master’s Wife. “What sort of thing is that to ask me, young man?”
“Well, I was simply wondering… hang on a minute – ‘young man’?”
“Deputy Head Porter is a woman, ma’am,” says Head Porter, helpfully. Perhaps his knowledge of the fairer sex is more comprehensive than I gave him credit for.
The Master’s Wife is stunned into silence, but sadly only for the briefest of moments.
“Oh, rearrrrly?” her perfect forehead refuses to crinkle in puzzlement. “In that case I should advise you to push your chest out a little more, daarrrrlink. You rearrrly aren’t doing yourself any favours, you know.”
“Yes, go on, Deputy Head Porter,” says Porter, stifling a chuckle. “Make the effort.”
“Your input is as valuable as ever, Porter” I reply, quizzaciously*. “Look, will someone please just explain what the problem is.”
“It would seem that something unfortunate has happened to the new choral robes,” Head Porter explains, panic clearly evident in his eyes. His voice is shaking a little. “Which we know nothing about, obviously.”
“My gorgeous new robes!” The Master’s Wife wails. “They have been mercilessly soiled overnight. A frightful fate for anything of fancy, I’m sure you will agree.”
“I’m sure I wouldn’t know,” I huff.
“No, no, I can’t imaaaagine you know much of things of fancy,” she concedes, rather too sincerely for my liking. “Now, I shall tell you what I intend. That one of you servant-types take them to the drycleaners at once – and not that tatty place on Rosemary Crescent either, it smells so foreign in there – the robes must be immaculate for the dress rehearsal tomorrow night, do you hear?”
“Do my ears deceive me, a dress rehearsal?” Professor Duke has appeared at my elbow, gliding into the conversation as silkily as butter off a hot knife. “I must say, my dear lady, that sounds sorta grand!”
I shoot a questioning look at the Professor, whose sudden gush of charm is notably uncharacteristic. He returns a knowing wink, before turning his mega-watt smile back towards The Master’s Wife. Her face might be incapable of natural expression, but this is clearly not an affliction shared by Professor Duke. He arranges his features to display a dashing visage, dripping with charisma.
“Now, here’s the thing: your singers must look quite awesome when they do the singing,” the Professor’s voice is like molten honey and seems to be melting the icy barricades of our furious visitor. “So, I understand your concern about the robes and whatnot. You know, just by looking at you, this professor can see that you are a lady of lots of…musical…coolness. Forgive me for being so forward (or backward), but little would delight me more than to see you and your protégés in action.”
A perfect smile breaks across the face of The Master’s Wife and I swear I detect a slight weakening of her slender knees. She flicks a flaxen curl from her shoulder and giggles only very slightly.
“Well, Professor, if you rearrrly are so very interested, you must join us in the Chapel after Evensong tomorrow and my boys and gels will delight you with their vocal range.”
“Capital, I say!” the Professor replies, a clap of his hands accentuating his enthusiasm. “I shall see you then. It’s a date of greatness! Now, if you will excuse me, I have some important lecturing to attend to.”
“I don’t recall you telling me upon what you lecture,” purrs The Master’s Wife, suddenly very interested.
“Well, you know, it really depends on the hour,” says Professor Duke, waving a hand dismissively. “Whatever comes to mind, really. In the meantime, I have no doubt that our lovely Deputy Head Porter will make sure the robes are cleaned up somewhat and all spicy for the rehearsal. Right, DHP?”
I nod and smile, fearing that if I open my mouth something unpleasant might spring forth. The Professor winks at me again before sauntering off towards the cloisters, whistling an unlikely tune. Good work, on his part. The Master’s Wife is onside and we get a ringside seat at the Choir rehearsal tomorrow night. If he was this charming more often he would be rather dangerous.
*Supposedly the least-used word in the English language. I say ‘supposedly’ as I don’t really know, I just read about it on the internet.