An Encounter With The Master

The rabble that increases steadily behind me from The Great Chapel at once becomes distant and dim when in close proximity to The Master. We are stopped dead in our tracks, faced as we are with his formidable countenance. His steady frame is not bowed by his many accumulated years and the striking elegance of his youth still clings with grim determination to a finely chiselled skull. Exuding a stately air of aristocratic menace, The Master offers us the thinest of smiles.

“My, my, my…” His voice is like molten glass. “Wherever there is a commotion there can be found my dear, darling Porters. Why do you suppose that is so?”

Head Porter glances across wildly but I can offer only a shrug. As the seconds pass it becomes painfully evident that he isn’t going to say anything at all, so it falls to me to tackle the response.

“We were offering our support to the College Choir, Sir,” I reply, dry-lipped. “It seems that your Wife has completed a Herculean task with the jolly chaps and they could be in with a good chance of winning.”

A rictus grin spreads across The Master’s face and he seems to enjoy the moment.

“I rather fear that Wastell may have bested us, however.”

“Haha, that’s dadblamery, don’t you know!” exclaims Professor Duke, somewhat unexpectedly. “I think we won, just because. After all, I can’t see us losing, and if I can’t see us losing, I don’t think we can lose. It’s that sort of thing which makes the world turn, see.”

The Master turns to the Professor and addresses him as if he had only just spotted him.

“Professor Duke! What a surprise. I must say, it delights my cold, dead heart to see a member of The Fellowship so keenly supporting College pursuits.”

Wait – what was that about his heart?

“Cold, dead heart? That’s cool, I have one, too,” the Professor is charm personified and he might just get us out of this unscathed. “But, yes, this is a truth: The Professor loves to support the College in every way possible. Why wouldn’t I, of course? After all, I do work here a bit, bits, and little bits. I’ll even be down on the river soon, cheering on the rowing beasts. Yo.”

“Aha yes – The Dean did mention that you were rather proficient on the River.”

There is an ominous silence that is more uncomfortable than the itchy robes of Hawkins College Choir.

“Anyway!” says Head Porter, suddenly. His voice is a good octave higher than usual. “We’ve seen them do their bit so we must get back to the Lodge and get on with… everything.”

“Actually, Head Porter, I was hoping we might converse briefly. Or… at length.” The Master barely noticeably flexes a fist. “Whichever suits the need.”

Head Porter casts me a look that says please don’t leave me. But he soon regroups his senses and nods in deference, touching the brim of his hat respectfully.

“As you say, Sir.”

The Professor whispers to me –

“We should definitely not abandon our post, double-see.”

“I think you two would be wise to return to your daily activities, whatever they may be.” He must have the hearing of a bat. “No doubt I shall be seeing you both again before so very long.”

I deem it prudent to take the path of least resistance and the Professor seems to agree with me. I give Head Porter what I hope is a sympathetic look before we turn on our heels and head back to Old College.

The excitement of the Choir Competition briefly gave me something of a second wind, but now the effects of all-night shenanigans are taking hold quite firmly. But it is a pleasant afternoon and Professor Duke is in a conversational humour so I try to remain as perky as possible.

“Awesome river skills, huh? That’s a thing. I think I should be proud about that, you know. But what did he mean?”

“I’m not sure, Professor,” I reply, stifling a little yawn. “Maybe he meant that time we saw him and The Dean on the riverbank when we were punting. But why would The Dean talk to him about that, of all things?”

“Well, he was probably so impressed with my punting skills…he couldn’t keep quiet. That’s the thing,” the Professor declares.

“Maybe… hey, it was me that was punting!”

“Was it? I’ve forgotten all about that.”

My sleep-deprived brain struggles to convince me one way or the other as I grope through the murky fug for the memory.

“Now, here’s a thing that scares me,” the Professor’s mind flits enthusiastically to his next thought. “This whole dadblamery between Head Porter and The Master’s Wife. What is it all about? And what a wonder she decided to show many interests in Mr. Head Porter at the exact same time Headmistress arrived on the scene! Dadblamery, I tell you.”

“Head Porter is a fine fellow but he does seem an odd choice for a lady such as The Master’s Wife,” I reply.

“It’s sorta funny he couldn’t find a lady, at first. Now, he’s getting overrun. That’s how it always seems to happen. I think they may crush him like a toad hopping on weak pea gravel.”

“A beautiful analogy, Professor.”

“Why, many thanks. It’s just unfair. But then, females are always unfair. It’s just the way things are. That’s why they’re called the unfairer sex. Oh dadblameit.”

There’s something wrong with that statement somewhere, but I am too exhausted to care. All I can think about right now is finding somewhere quiet to grab forty winks.

The Choir Competition Commences

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.”

“Well, quite.”

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.

Get Me To The Chapel

I am running, running, running… through darkened streets, buildings of improbable proportions looming above me, their windows looking as if they might lean down to devour me at any minute. My chest is heavy with exertion and… body armour. There is a hat upon my head but it certainly isn’t an elegant Porter’s bowler. I cannot tell if I am chasing or being chased, all I know is that if I don’t run faster something terrible will happen. Up ahead I see a familiar figure; even in the anonymous uniform I can see it is Harper. I try to call out to him but no words come… my mouth is open, a silent chasm through which air and sound refuse to pass…

And then I am approaching the car, if the mass of twisted metal can still be called such a thing. The road beneath it is scorched black and the air is thick with the greasy stench of burned rubber and melted steel. There is another smell… one that has remained forever within my nostrils, always just beside the very edge of consciousness. Vicky is with me. I reach out and take her hand as we proceed, shaking, to the driver’s side…

Something heavy and hairy arrives urgently on my chest. My eyes open to the delicate scratch of whiskers on my cheek.


That is Terry’s hungry voice. My hands find his furry belly and I am indulged the privilege of a brief snuggle, before the increasingly noisy requests for food resume. I wriggle into an upright position, shoving pillows behind my back to support my drowsy and confused self. The clock is telling me it is almost noon. I would call that clock a liar but my churning guts know that it is telling the truth.

Why didn’t my alarm go off?

That’s right. It did go off – at precisely three minutes before I got into bed. I only intended to snatch a couple of hours but my unconscious self clearly had other ideas.

The Choir Competition! I have just an hour to get myself to The Great Chapel in the very heart of The City if I want to witness our triumph over Hawkins College first hand. This, of course, is of no interest whatsoever to Terry, whose only real concern is his empty food bowl. First things first. 

I am slightly dishevelled and completely out of breath but I make it to The Great Chapel with seconds to spare. Professor Duke and Head Porter are waiting for me by the huge, ornate doors. They look a little cross.

“Late as usual!” says the Professor, tapping his watch. “If you were earlier, you wouldn’t be late, you know. It’s that simple. Our little escapades last night made us infamous. Yo.”

“Oh no, that doesn’t sound very good,” I reply. The Professor laughs.

“Well, they haven’t discovered I was the warrior nun yet. Well, that we were. Well, just well. But anyways, everyone’s talking about ‘the warrior nuns’. We’ve got quite a reputation. It’ll be a legend on par with the headless horse thingy in no time, I say. University legends we shall be!”

There might have been a time when I would have been very keen to become a University legend but time and experience has taught me that it is very much wiser to maintain a low profile about such things.

“Bloody ridiculous behaviour,” mutters Head Porter, shaking his head. But I suspect he is simply jealous that his own performance as a debt collecting milkman did not get more recognition. “Come on, we’re going to be late. Let’s get inside.”

The Great Chapel is certainly aptly named. Once through the entrance, a glorious marble aisle sweeps grandly towards the magnificent alter, flanked on either side by row upon row of carved wooden pews, resplendent with elderly stoicism. The place is packed to the very rafters with the great and good of the Collegiate; Fellows and students rub shoulders with the musical elite and I even spot some notable members of the Church amongst the throng. This is quite the illustrious occasion and hardly the place for a College Porter.

The Professor, Head Porter and I slip ourselves into an innocuous pew towards the rear of The Great Chapel. We shall not be afforded the best view in the house but at least we will be nicely out of the way. Besides, it’s a Choir Competition. It’s all about the listening, surely. Professor Duke nudges me awkwardly and nods towards the chancel.

“Now, here cometh the show. Can’t wait.”

From the nave comes an orderly line of noble-looking youths, wearing the regal crimson robes of Wastell College. They quietly take their places as the conductor readies his baton.

“They certainly look like they mean business,” whispers Head Porter.

“They should’ve been visited by the itching powder,” the Professor mutters ruefully.

“Never mind about about Wastell. As long as we beat Hawkins, honour will be satisfied,” I assure them. “Now hush, they’re about to begin.”