Old College Chapel has provided a moderately grand medieval backdrop to the happiest of times and the saddest of times. Just last year saw the joyous event of Porter’s marriage to the lovely Detective Sergeant Kirby. Yet a year before that, it was in this very place we said farewell to the unfortunate Professor K*, a man who over the years accumulated charisma like most of us accumulate wrinkles. But today, the scene here in the Chapel is something quite entirely different.
With the Choir Competition barely two days away, our questionable choristers have been practicing at every available opportunity and the wear and tear is beginning to show. Fatigue and frustration has set in and I am treated to a vicious yet very politely conducted argument between Organ Scholar and Penelope. It seems she believes that a period of vocal resting would best serve their symphonious endeavours, whereas Organ Scholar is quite keen to press on with another rousing rendition.
Two female Choir members of unquestionable willowy loveliness are traumatised over the sudden appearance of a small crop of practically invisible pimples, weeping with soft despair. One of the others is telling them not cry – it will make their eyes puffy.
Give me strength.
Somewhere among this delightful commotion must surely be The Master’s Wife, ready to rally her warbling troops at any moment. It takes me a moment to spot her but I see that she is happily established down by the pulpit, where she seems to have trapped a very nervous looking Head Porter. I pause for a moment, deciding whether or not to rescue the poor chap. Even from here I can see the tell-tale purple vein, throbbing grimly along his right temple.
I had better rescue him.
“I really am sorry to interrupt, but I have urgent… key business to discuss with Head Porter,” I announce in my most serious-sounding voice. I can summon a fair amount of gravitas when the need arises, let me tell you.
“Key business, you say?” replies Head Porter, elated at the intervention. “Very important stuff, key business…”
“But daarrrrling, you haven’t given me an answer to my question!” The Master’s Wife is deploying a charm offensive that seems to be leaning very much more towards the offensive side of things.
“Oh?” I say, interest piqued. “A question?” This should be good.
“I was very much hoping that Head Porter would escort me in an official capacity,” purrs The Master’s Wife, stroking Head Porter’s arm with a volley of fuchsia acrylic talons. “To the Choir Competition, of course.”
“Deputy Head Porter, I think we should go immediately.”
“Is that so?” Head Porter’s sudden draw for the opposite sex is somewhat surprising, I must say. And pretty funny, you must admit. “And what does The Master have to say about that?”
“The Maaaaster is conducting important business in Venice,” she replies, those cold dead eyes showing a flicker of friskiness. “I shall be quite unattended to these next few days.”
“The keys, Deputy Head Porter, we must be getting to those keys!”
Head Porter grabs me smartly by the elbow and we march briskly down the Chapel aisle towards the archway where Organ Scholar and Penelope are continuing their cordial quarrel.
“You certainly seem to have won her over,” I smirk. Head Porter is unimpressed.
“She’s been like that since I practiced my chat-up lines on her,” he replies, scowling. “I wish I knew I was this irresistible when I was seventeen, I tell you.”
This last remark catches the ear of Organ Scholar who slings a wry look in our direction.
“‘Ow do. This sounds interesting.”
“Never mind about that,” I say, keen to move on from such matters. “We have more important things to worry about. You are now required to attend a fancy dress party at seven sharp tomorrow night, in Professor Duke’s rooms. It’s a surprise for The Dean.”
“Well, you say surprise,” says Head Porter. “Of course, he actually knows all about it.”
Organ Scholar’s face cartwheels through a number of expressions, before settling on suitably quizzical. He looks as if he might say something, but falters. Finally,
“I don’t know what you lot have been getting up to but quite frankly you are worse than the students.”
“Please, just be there,” I plead. “Dressed as a milkman, obviously.”
“Well, obviously, Deputy Head Porter.”
*For those of you that have been paying attention – okay, we didn’t hold Professor K’s funeral in the Old College Chapel. You got me. But I claim poetic licence and it’s my blog – so there.