It is always something of an art to read the expression on the face of The Master’s Wife, on account of the fact that her delicate skull appears to be wrapped in a film of luminous wax. The smooth surface of her skin barely moves a jot, but her cold little eyes peep out from the mask and sparkle with uncharacteristic glee. I wonder what it’s like in there? Behind the facade?
Emboldened by his snappy new outfit and encouraging pep talk from Professor Duke, Head Porter steps forward and directs a surprisingly sincere smile right at The Master’s Wife. All in the Lodge collectively hold their breath. It very much seems that he is indeed about to audition his new-found skills of seduction.
“Good evening, ma’am” he purrs, his voice a near octave lower than his usual fretful whine. “Might I say, your hair looks splendid just now.”
The Master’s Wife is somewhat taken aback and cannot help herself melt into a coquettish flutter.
“Oh? rearrrrrrrly? My hair..?”
“It is a veritable tumble of golden delight, my dear.”
Porter splutters into a loud snigger which he fails to conceal with a bout of theatrical coughing. I shoot a hard look at the Professor, who is beaming proudly at his protege.
But amazingly, it seems to work.
The Master’s Wife visibly softens at his words; her spiky edges seem to melt away before our eyes and a smile defies its plastic cage and breaks slowly across her face. A wave of something warm and wonderful seems to wash over her, bringing a previously unseen geniality to her whole demeanour. A spark of long forgotten inner beauty flashes in her eyes.
When she speaks, she is almost breathless.
“Well… thank you, Head Porter.”
I must say that this unprecedented reaction is surprising for two reasons. Firstly, that a woman of her status and standing would be so impressed by such flowery prose, but also the extent of genuine appreciation for the rather suspect compliment. It is almost as if it is the first time she has heard such heart-felt platitudes. Perhaps it is.
Demonstratively raising my left wrist to indicate the fleeting time, I quickly abandon the gesture upon remembering that I don’t wear a watch. Momentarily at a loss, I place my hands defiantly on my hips and huff ineffectually.
“This is marvellous but need I remind you gentlemen that we have a prior engagement?” I simply cannot allow Head Porter to be late for his first date with The Headmistress.
“You know, the thing is, she’s right,” says the Professor, nodding. “I’d almost forgotten, ‘cause it’s hard to remember, but go we must!”
The Master’s Wife gazes imploringly at Head Porter, who is now looking a little agitated. I imagine he is also keen to get along to meet his date.
“I wouldn’t take you for a man who makes engagements with waiters,” she coos, indicating the Professor and me in our cunning disguises. “But if it is so very important I shall make my enquiries and let you be. I was wondering if you had seen anything of my beautiful Choir? I cannot contact a one of them. It is if they have quite disappeared.”
“Disappeared? A wonder! Like the Music Professor? Everyone is disappearing,” says Professor Duke, rather unwisely. She almost scowls. “Must be the in thing.”
“I… I expect they are all out drinking or something,” I say quickly. “You know, doing student-y things.”
“They had better not be!” The Master’s Wife gasps in horror. “They are on a very strict diet to preserve their radiant complexions! Oh, my…”
“I saw some of them earlier, with Organ Scholar,” Porter cuts in. “I think they were doing a bit of extra practicing.”
This seems to calm the woman somewhat. Relieved, she gathers herself.
“That is of some comfort, at least” she replies. “But I do hope they do not tire themselves too much. There is little as frightful as tiredness about the face, you know.”
“All is well, then!” Head Porter announces confidently, rubbing his hands together with some authority. “We shall get about our business, ma’am.” He leans in a little closer to The Master’s Wife. “Until next time, ma’am.”
Now very much in danger of being late for a very important date, Head Porter accompanies Professor Duke and I in a rousing jog towards the Pantalon de Fantaisie where the prospect of true love quite possibly waits patiently. Patience is indeed a desirable virtue when dealing with Head Porter.