When I first came to Old College, I thought the business of auditing the endless number of keys to be mind-numbing beyond belief. Now, though, it has almost become a kind of therapy; the tinkling array of curiously-fashioned metal brings a strange concentration that dims all practical thought.
Although today it is not quite enough to dim the vicious-sounding gurgles from the pit of my stomach. I am not so sure that the food last night agreed with me entirely. On the other hand, Head Porter’s evening with The Dean seems to have been very agreeable. He is whistling cheerfully and strutting around the Porters’ Lodge with the kind of lusty vigour usually reserved for marching bands. He hasn’t said much and I haven’t asked him, but I know he is dying to tell me all about it.
“You know, The Dean and I are remarkably similar when you think about it, Deputy Head Porter.”
“Oh, you’re like twins.”
Head Porter joins me at the key cabinets, leaning casually against the counter.
“We are both professional men, of course, with years of experience,” Head Porter continues, a little misty-eyed. He must still be feeling the effects of the whiskey. “Experts in our fields, you could say. We have both known wild and wonderous women, yet neither of us have known true love. It isn’t easy to be men like us, you know. We have that sort of natural authority that makes other people wary. We are men on the outside of ordinary social intercourse and it can be damn lonely, Deputy Head Porter. Damn lonely. The Dean and I understand each other on that level, you see.”
“Sounds to me like you and The Dean would be perfect for each other.”
Head Porter gives me a puzzled look for a moment but the sudden and insistent ringing of the front desk bell makes us both jump. The familiar roaring that follows signifies the arrival of Head Porter’s brand new very best friend.
“What are you doing hiding back there?” demands The Dean as we scuttle through to see that he is accompanied by a solemn-looking Professor Duke. “Never mind. What I have to say is far more important.”
“Hallo, mate!” says Head Porter, evidently rather enthused to see his pal. “What’s up? I am sure together we can sort it out.”
The Dean shoots him a look that suggests that he would actually like to shoot him. It looks like this bro-mance is something of a one-way street.
“Get a hold of yourself, Head Porter! I expect a certain degree of decorum in my presence.”
“See, that’s the thing,” says the Professor. “Decorum doesn’t come cheap, and The Dean can’t be bothered to bring his own.”
“Why don’t you go and make us some tea,” The Dean suggests, eyeing him with uncertainty. “Calm yourself down a bit.”
My heart goes out to Head Porter as his face free-falls through a range of emotions before finally crumpling wearily like a week-old shirt. He manages an insincere smile and shuffles away to the kitchen.
“In the blink of a heartbeat, I saw a thousand emotions cross Head Porter’s face,” remarks Professor Duke. “Very emotional today, I say. He’s very emotional. Do you suppose he’s still upset about his date?”
“I thought you two had some sort of male bonding experience last night,” I say to The Dean, stiffly. “It’s a bit harsh of you to send him off like that.”
The Dean emits a noise that wouldn’t sound amiss coming from a furious boar.
“I can assure you, Deputy Head Porter, that I am most certainly not the bonding type!” he barks. “Male or otherwise. In fact, I pride myself on remaining determinedly un-bonded! I don’t know what he told you about last night, but the daft bugger took two tiny sips of the good stuff before rambling on for about an hour then falling asleep with his head in my lap. I pinched his ear until he woke up – he thanked me for a great evening and wobbled off. I felt somewhat violated, I can tell you that.”
“Goodness, that’s a scary tale. If you tell more, I’ll hold my ears,” says the Professor. He turns to me. “But enough of that. The Dean has had another note, see.”