“You guys had better hide!” he hisses. Hide? In an Organ Loft? Pah.
Head Porter spots something likely in the farthest corner and points soundlessly, yet enthusiastically.
“Oh coolio! Is that a rack of dressing up clothes?” asks Professor Duke. Organ Scholar hushes him, before sneaking a peek over the side of the balcony.
“Aha! There you are!” the voice of The Dean booms from beneath and sends tremors through the great pipes of the organ. “I’m coming up!”
“Bugger!” curses Organ Scholar. “Get over there and hide in the chorister robes. They’re brand bloody new so be careful!”
We obey our young friend and stuff ourselves assiduously amidst the flowing garments that are evidently the newly acquired adornments of the failing Choir. They look rather gaudy – bright vermillion trimmed with eye-popping golden haberdashery – but the material is wonderfully soft and surprisingly heavy. The smell of unworn fabric nestles into my nostrils and I am careful not to dirty it. The same cannot be said for my companions, however, as I notice that the Professor has bunched up a robe to use as a cushion and Head Porter appears to be itching his nose on another. I consider maybe scolding them, but as these garments are the inclination of the hideous Master’s Wife, I say not a word. Besides, the heavy footsteps of an approaching Dean can be heard ascending the stone staircase and I dare hardly breath, let alone remonstrate with my wayward companions.
Organ Scholar reclines as casually as one can when approached by The Dean. The man makes even me nervous on occasion.
“Hello there, Organ Scholar” says The Dean, attempting his most charming smile (not for the faint-hearted, I tell you). “You are… er… all alone here this evening, I take it?”
“I am, Sir.”
I don’t have the best view of the situation from my uncomfortably crouched position – certainly not helped by what I can only assume is the Professor’s foot digging into my back – but if I didn’t know better, I would say The Dean was rattled. I know The Dean well and I can detect his urgent need to pace, although up here there just isn’t the room.
“Listen here – you haven’t seen our friends from the Porters’ Lodge around here, have you? Poking about the place?”
“No, Sir” Organ Scholar replies. An Oscar-winning performance. “I haven’t seen them at all.”
“And Professor Duke?”
“Ah, well – I saw him in Old Court earlier, actually. I think he was giving a lecture.”
“Oh? Really?” The Dean’s eyebrows shoot up to meet his hairline, an act of either delight or surprise. Maybe both. “I can’t believe he is actually doing as he is told. What was the lecture about?”
“Nuts, I think,” replies Organ Scholar, thoughtfully stroking his chin. “Which was quite appropriate as the only body in attendance was a rather fat squirrel.”
I crane my neck round to look at Professor Duke who is nodding and smiling to himself.
“I had fun with that lecture,” he whispers. “The squirrel was digging it. If you hold lectures outside in the cold wind and tell no one it’s going to take place, no one shows up, can you believe. But hey. It makes my job much easier all round and round.”
The Dean continues.
“Well that’s… a start, at least. Good. And… I say, are you sure we are alone here, Organ Scholar?” The Dean shudders, as if someone has just walked over his grave. “I almost feel like we are being… watched.”
“Oh, that’s probably just the mice,” Organ Scholar replies airily, glancing over at us with only the merest shred of panic. “Or… the Chapel is haunted, you know. So it’s probably just a ghost or something.”
“Pffft!” The Dean in unimpressed, clearly. “There are no ghosts at Old College.”
“Is that true?” whispers the Professor. “I might be doubting it.”
“Apparently so,” Head Porter mumbles in reply. “They say that the College isn’t haunted at all.”
“Well, I would dispute that,” I say. “The difficulty is telling the difference between the dead and the living.”
“Was there something I can help you with, Sir?” Organ Scholar asks, somewhat keen to send The Dean on his way, I imagine. “We could have a sing-song, if you like. Go on – what’s your favourite tune?”
The Dean seems to consider the question for the briefest of moments, before waving an arm dismissively.
“I have no time for that, young man. No. I was just checking on things, that’s all. Now – if you see the Porters getting up to mischief you are to tell me immediately, do you understand?”
“Porters by their very nature are mischievious. This could keep me rather busy.”
The Dean simply returns a stare that could curdle butter, before turning on his heels and strolling defiantly back down the staircase. Once we hear the familiar sound of the huge wooden Chapel doors snapping shut, we remove ourselves from the robes.
“Well done, chap!” says Head Porter, slapping Organ Scholar on the shoulder amiably. “You handled him well.”
“He was definitely humpty about something,” I say. “I can tell when The Dean has something on his mind.”
“It’s that wicked Master, I’m telling you,” agrees the Professor. “He’s spooked The Dean.”
“What was it he said to him?” asks Head Porter.
“He told him if The Dean didn’t look for the Music Professor, he wouldn’t look for The Bursar. That’s it.”
“Why, where is The Bursar?” I hold up a hand to silence Organ Scholar.
“Believe me. You don’t want to know.”
“Hey, what’s that?” Head Porter is pointing to a rumpled piece of paper laying barely feet from us. I go over to it and bend down.
“It must’ve fallen from The Dean’s pocket,” I say. “It looks like a note.”