As I hurry through the cloisters towards Apple Tree Court, a spiteful wind whips beneath a steel sky, snatching at the brim of my bowler. The City is swathed in the tail end of a ferocious storm that as been battering the North of England. The auspicious positioning of The City means we have thankfully been spared the ravages of floods and gales, but in its final throes the storm is spitting and wailing above us, heading to the coast to expire. A bit like a middle-class pensioner.
The Meteorological Office has recently taken to the American practice of naming storms of note, much to the bemusement of the British public. We are not so disposed as to feel the need to be on first name terms with even our next-door neighbours, let alone rumbunctious weather conditions.
I asked Professor Duke about it – hailing as he does from across the pond – and he told me that naming something made it seem somehow less threatening; knowing a name gives one power over a thing. I had thought that there might be a more practical reason behind it, but I suppose what he says makes some sense (for a change). Even so, I find being quite so over-familiar with wind and rain quite unpalatable.
When I reach The Dean’s rooms I find him heartily engaged in a telephone conversation and gazing out of the window, seemingly enjoying the storm from the comfort of his leather chair. I imagine The Dean likes storms very much as he shares with them some uncanny similarities. On spotting me, he motions for me to sit down and be quiet.
The Dean finishes his conversation with unusual cordiality and turns his attentions to me, furnishing me with a smile so sincere it makes me nervous.
“You seem very chirpy, if you don’t mind me saying so, Sir.”
“I don’t mind at all, Deputy Head Porter” he replies, moving towards his drinks cabinet. “It’s not often you say nice things about me. Drink?”
He knows only too well that I cannot drink on duty, although he does try to persuade me on occasion. I shake my head.
“I’m glad you’re here, actually, I wanted to talk to you about something. But if you haven’t come here to drink my whiskey you must be of a similar mind. What it is?”
The Dean pours himself a large Scotch and settles back into his favourite chair. I clear my throat.
“It’s about the Choir, Sir. Organ Scholar has enlisted the help of Penelope and they are confident they can save them from certain humiliation at the Choir Competition.”
“Well! This is good news, Deputy Head Porter,” The Dean takes an enthusiastic swig from his glass. “That’s one less thing for me to worry about, I say. I trust that Head Porter is making progress with the hunt for my idiot pen-friend?”
“Oh, absolutely, Sir,” I reply, nodding emphatically. “He is working on it even as we speak. No doubt he will get to the bottom of it very soon.”
“I am not interested in a thing’s bottom, Deputy Head Porter” says The Dean, rather unexpectedly “I like to deal with matters from the top down. Once I have the name of the fellow responsible, mark my words I shall ensure that he doesn’t sit down for a week.”
That sounds rather… ominous.
“Words duly marked, Sir.”
“But enough of all that. I have something much more interesting to tell you. I have just been speaking to a woman.”
“That is interesting, Sir.”
“Quiet. Now, this woman happens to be The Headmistress at my nephew’s school and has been proving to be most bothersome just recently.”
“Oh?” I feel I just have to ask. “How so?”
“The infernal creature simply has no appreciation for my dear nephew’s cunning intellect and ready wit. She keeps summoning me to her office every time the poor boy opens his mouth. Clearly, she has no concept of gifted youth, the beast.”
If he is anything like his uncle, I imagine that the boy is something of a handful. I instantly feel a shrug of sympathy for the poor woman.
“Anyway, I am sure all this is because the rabid old spinster has far too much time on her hands so I have thought of a most cunning chicanery. Can you guess what it is?”
The Dean looks at me expectantly and I rather wish I had accepted the offer of a whiskey. Second-guessing The Dean is a dangerous practice. I attempt to look ponderous for a moment.
“I shall tell you. I think we should set her up romantically with Head Porter!”
“Are you sure that is wise, Sir?” I ask. “I mean, it could just make things worse.”
“Poppycock! The woman clearly has some pent up frustrations and I think our friend is just the man to address them!” This is a terrible mental image that I fear will not leave me for a very long time. “Listen, she’s an educated woman, after a fashion. But I want you and VJ to oversee the date. I can’t have victuals flying about where The Headmistress is involved, do you hear?”
“Loud and clear, Sir. In fact, I couldn’t agree more.”
“Excellent, then! I shall make the arrangements directly.” The Dean rises to his feet and drains his glass. “I will pass the details to you forthwith. Good day, Deputy Head Porter.”
Taking my cue to leave, I bid The Dean good day and head back towards the Porters’ Lodge. Something of a successful visit, I thought. The Dean has been diverted from the workings of the Choir – thereby avoiding close contact with Penelope and therefore Hershel – and Head Porter has a date! Let us hope it is less stormy than the weather.