With the Choir Competition merely days away, it seems that my Old College colleagues are still set on pursuing Hershel’s dubious means of sabotage. Secretly, of course, I am rather looking forward to the whole thing – the chance to get one over on the smug Hawkins College is always a delight. All I can hope is that The Dean doesn’t discover that I am in cahoots with his young nemesis.
Head Porter appears to be looking forward to something, too. All morning he has been skipping about the Lodge in the most unusual good humour, whistling something tuneless and occasionally breaking out into unidentifiable song. It’s a good job he isn’t in the Choir, I tell you.
“You don’t have any plans for this afternoon do you, Deputy Head Porter?”
I cast a suspicious eye in his direction.
“Good!” He rubs his hands together enthusiastically. “You can be in charge of the Lodge. I am taking The Headmistress punting.”
“It’s a bit cold for punting, isn’t it?” I say.
“Aha! Exactly the point,” he replies. “She will need me to keep her warm! I have arranged for a chauffeur punt – you know, the ones where the chaps tell you all about historical things as they take you down the river.”
“Those chaps are charlatans,” I snort. “They just make it up as they go along. I’ve heard them, it’s a different tale every time.”
“Oh, good. That means I can take her twice and she won’t get bored.”
“Hey, hey!” We look up to see Professor Duke waddling into the Lodge, encumbered beneath a huge and unusually-shaped package wrapped in brown paper and what looks like about two miles worth of string.
“Goodness, what’s that?” Head Porter asks, helping him rest his burden upon the counter.
“This is a gift for my brother, don’t you see,” replies the Professor. “It’s his birthday, see, and he will be furious if I don’t send him something to occupy his time. Can you please send the vexing thing away?”
“I think it’s too big for the post bag,” I say, poking the thing curiously. “But I’ll ask Porter to have a word with one of the couriers. What the devil is it?”
The Professor taps the side of his nose and winks.
“Oh no no,” he says. “Absolutely no telling, the sudden. Now, could you lend me a hand this afternoon, maybe? The Dean, the double-sudden, wants me to do another lecture. I finally came up with a topic: rocks. But I need an assistant.”
“Deputy Head Porter has the sole responsibility of the Lodge this afternoon,” Head Porter says quickly. “She cannot be spared, sorry.”
“Head Porter is taking The Headmistress punting,” I say by way of explanation. The wily old dog. The river is the perfect place to initiate a romantic entanglement. If only I had his courage in such things.
“Ooo…” the Professor replies ominously. “Then I must needs come along, since I just should.”
“No, no, no!” says Head Porter firmly. “You two nearly ruined everything at the restaurant! If it wasn’t for my dashing good looks and erudite charm she might have run a mile. As it is, she seems very keen. I’m thinking of sending her a cheeky picture of me in my pants, what do you think?”
“Absolutely not,” I reply, rather too quickly to be polite.
“Yeah, maybe you’re right. I should make her wait for that. Don’t want to bring out the big guns too early.”
As far as I’m concerned, Head Porter should keep his ‘big guns’ very much to himself. But anyway. His phone bursts into life and he scuttles into his office to take the call. Professor Duke leans on the counter conspiratorially.
“Heres’s the thing: I sorta wanna go along…” he says in a low voice. “We should be there.”
“I am inclined to agree with you,” I reply. “But we will have to keep a low profile. Head Porter won’t be happy if he thinks we are interfering.”
“The sudden—an idea! Meet me at the Boat House at two right on the hour. And make sure to leave your hat behind. We shall travel… incognito! Cool, yo.”