A weighty hush falls across The Great Chapel as several hundred pairs of ears strain in expectation of what is to come. There is a gentle tap tap from the conductor’s baton, then a soaring cacophony of ethereal voices sails aloft to the very rafters. For a moment I feel my own breath taken with it, such is the vocal beauty of the Wastell College Choir. I know in that instant that our own dear choristers – beautiful of face but less so of voice – could never achieve such euphonious heights. Organ Scholar and Penelope have done a fine job training them, certainly – but they wear their robes by merit of their looks and not their talents. These fellows here are a different breed entirely.
“So, The Master’s Wife didn’t want you to accompany her after all?” I whisper to Head Porter. He shakes his head.
“It’s a funny thing,” he replies “But I hear that The Master has returned unexpectedly from his business trip, so she didn’t need me after all. Thank goodness.”
“Jolly lucky escape, I’d say.”
We settle back into silence and allow ourselves to be bewitched by exquisite choral enchantment. The previous night’s events melt into abeyance and my jangled nerves are soothed by song, so much so that I quite lose myself for a moment. Perhaps more than a moment, as Professor Duke is soon elbowing me in the ribs.
“Don’t you know it’s rude to fall asleep in public?” he says. “Anyway, look – our chaps are going to be on in a minute.”
“Oh! Already?” I wonder if I nodded off briefly. “Wastell College were bloody good, though, weren’t they?”
The Professor huffs a little and fidgets in the pew.
“Well, they have a half decent set of lungs between them, I’ll give them that,” he concedes. “But they are a rare looking bunch, wouldn’t you say?”
I have to admit that I hadn’t formed an opinion either way; the Professor, however, is quite astute about such things. But before I can reply, I spy Organ Scholar emerging from the nave, followed by the glorious looking ensemble that is the Old College Choir. I am somewhat concerned to see Hershel once again among their number, despite the fact he can’t sing. Worse, there is another extra chorister bearing the sumptuous red and gold robes.
“Oh my my!” exclaims the Professor. “Look what we have here! Why, it’s that harridan The Master’s Wife. We can only hope the bop on the nose has improved her vocal talents. The woman has a voice like drains being emptied.”
Oh dear. Despite taking charge of the College Choir (quite forcibly, from what I understand) The Master’s Wife has no musical talent whatsoever. Were it not for her husband being the most important man in College, she would not have got so far as the Chapel doors. It’s a curious thing, the abrupt vanishing of the Music Professor. We never did discover what happened to him.
Even from here I can see the consternation on Organ Scholar’s face. He exudes a wrath that seems most unsuitable for the task in hand and is certainly inappropriate for such an eminent environment. The Choir seem nervous, which is only to be expected. I am feeling a little nervous myself.
“He doesn’t look too happy,” says Head Porter, nodding towards Organ Scholar. “I’ve got a bad feeling, you know.”
“Pah! That’s probably just your breakfast, old boy,” the Professor replies. “I have every faith our chaps will do a stirling job. Maybe. Perhaps. Yes.”
Organ Scholar brings down his baton firmly on the lecturn and assumes the stance of a man who means business. The air is thick with anticipation as he deftly raises his arms and taunts the assembled choristers into rousing chorus. Penelope leads from the heart of the Choir – her strong, confident voice guiding the way for her companions. There is perhaps an uncertainty for half a bar before the boys and girls of Old College find a boldness that is really quite exceptional. They may not have the technical grace and lofty elegance of Wastell, but their performance has a renegade element to it that can only be described as inspiring. Go, Old College!
As the performance reaches a climactic crescendo, Professor Duke leaps to his feet and begins applauding wildly. Head Porter joins him and before I know it, I am also whooping with delight in a manner that is probably most unbecoming.
If this were a great dramatic tale of some importance, literary law would state that the rest of the assembled audience would soon join us in our acclamation with gusto, the likes of which had never been seen. Unfortunately, our story commands no such reverence and we are merely stared at as if we are lunatics. But it has raised a smile amongst the Choir, who beam back at us from the chancel.
We manage to compose ourselves before someone takes it upon themselves to throw us out and prepare for the next performance – our arch rivals, Hawkins College. Now to see if Hershel’s marvellous plan is a resounding success or something far much worse.