Romance for Deputy Head Porter?
The world of PorterGirl is famous for its stiff upper lip but there is a distinct lack of stiffness of a more salubrious nature and one would be forgiven for thinking that everyone at Old College is dead from the waist down. That’s not to say that there aren’t amorous stirrings among the academic elite and their contemporaries, so let us take a moment to learn a little more about the Lotharios of The City’s most notorious seat of learning…
An unlikely romantic lead, certainly, but our own dear Head Porter occasionally finds himself the object of the affections of tourists and visitors to Old College. In First Lady of the Keys we learn that he has an estranged daughter from a previous failed marriage, the details of which remain a mystery. In the forthcoming adventure, Sinister Dexter, Head Porter explores the potential of his improbable appeal to the opposite sex, landing him in perilous circumstances with some very unsavoury characters.
Professor Horatio Fox
The dashing American is the twinkly-eyed charmer who catches the eye of Deputy Head Porter the moment he sets foot in Old College. His wit is almost as sharp as his suit and his fedora and irrepressible sense of adventure make him irresistible to our bowler-hatted heroine. Although no physical manifestation of desire is ever realised, it’s clear he is quite taken with her also and Deputy Head Porter finally reveals the extent of her devotion by asking him to call her by her actual name. Such a flagrant diversion from convention says more than the removal of clothing ever can.
When one thinks of The Dean, flirtations are not the first thing that springs to mind. However, in The Vanishing Lord, he declares himself the undisputed Best Looking Chap In College – a fact that remains undisputed, but perhaps because dispute with The Dean is generally believed to be bad for the health of all concerned. He embarked upon a fake affair with Deputy Head Porter and there is also a question mark over one night spent drinking in his rooms with her. She was too drunk to remember the details and he is too much of a gentleman to elaborate, but there is suggestion that perhaps an ill-advised liaison took place. The chances are, we will never know for sure – and perhaps that is for the best.
Hugh from The Unlikely Law Association
Hugh is the mild-mannered rake in The Vanishing Lord, what he lacks in brains he more than makes up for in charm. Although Deputy Head Porter has no untoward intentions towards him, she is very admiring of several of his physical attributes – including a very sturdy set of thighs that are occasionally revealed by small blue running shorts, and a fine pair of forearms that particularly catch her eye. His golden good looks do not go unnoticed by other members of College, with both Head Porter and The Dean expressing thinly-veiled jealousy of the dim-witted Adonis.
You would think that a greying, grumpy old man with an obstreperous moustache would be the last person to embark upon passionate endeavours, but to the great surprise of everyone he is the most successful of the Old College Romeos. A blossoming romance with Detective Sergeant Kirby emerged during the case of the missing painting in The Vanishing Lord and shows no signs of abating. No doubt The Dean disapproves of this fraternisation, but Head Porter and Deputy Head Porter are quietly pleased for their curmudgeony colleague.
The original Old College Porter, whose handwritten diary is discovered by Deputy Head Porter in The Vanishing Lord. It seems that in 1448, Old College was a veritable hotbed of romantic interludes and Humphrey describes in some detail the illicit romps he enjoyed in the kitchens with a very obliging maid. Deputy Head Porter will never look at bacon in quite the same way again.
And there’s more…
Third PorterGirl novel Sinister Dexter brings further opportunities for repressed hanky-panky and with it some new academic playboys…
The wayward student from First Lady of the Keys returns for the new term with a heart swollen with desire for his fellow student, the prim and proper Penelope. He finds an eager confidante in Deputy Head Porter, who does her best to smooth the path of true love. The mood is somewhat dampened by a spate of unusual deaths, but I doubt that will stand in the way of a red-blooded young man with one thing on his mind.
A new academic year brings a new arrival – the internationally renowned economist and notorious ladies’ man Professor Palmer. Tall, suave and self-assured, the Professor has his eye set firmly on The Dean’s job… and anything vaguely female with a pulse. Even the unassailable Head of Housekeeping finds herself weakening at the knees, but will he add Deputy Head Porter to his ever-growing list of conquests?
Detective Chief Inspector Thompson
Not a Lothario, exactly, rather an unimpressed observer. With even members of his own staff under the influence of Cupid’s arrow, he is horrified that the mounting body count at both Old College and fierce rivals Hawkins is secondary to the complex personal scenarios of the academic elite. Which, as a University man himself, really shouldn’t come as so much of a surprise.
Upon the Professor’s instructions, I follow him to his rooms. He offered no elaboration as to what this private conversation might entail, but it very much reminds me of being dragged along to the Head Of Year’s office when I was at school. There would be any number of grounds for these summonings; slights and mischief were very much part of my everyday life back then, as I am sure you can imagine (please all take a moment, if you will, to consider my dear mother, who during this time came to know the inside of the Head Teacher’s office almost as well as I did). But the uncertainty of not knowing quite what was about to be presented to me was most agitating. Why, it gave me no time to formulate a decent defence. Pah. That was their ruse, of course.
It is never easy to judge the mood of the Professor, as he is never quite himself. As we enter his rooms I am alarmed to note that one of the stuffed creatures from the high shelves seems to have made its way down to the battered wooden coffee table by the high-backed red velvet stool. It eyes me with interest, mouth gaping and teeth flashing, as I discretely wander to the opposite side of the room. Professor Duke seems to sense my unsettlement.
“Shirley! You total wicked thing!” He scolds the creature. “You’re not allowed down here, dadblameit! It’s against the professorish code to scare people, don’t you know. Unless you’re in a war, of course.”
The Professor unceremoniously tucks the beast under his arm and pulls out a small set of ladders from beneath the shelves. He clambers up, still admonishing Shirley for her iniquity, before tossing her back into the vacated spot between the other fearsome creatures.
“She likes to jump, don’t you see,” he says, rejoining me. “Now, the important matters, I say. Cherry tea or tea?”
Before long, the tall, thin silver teapot is spurting forth steaming liquid of golden brown into the mismatched receptacles so treasured by Professor Duke. Today, I decide upon a splash of milk and dusting of sugar to make my tea complete. Taking a sip from the wide-rimmed china cup, I think that this is quite the most unusual tea I have ever tasted. It has most invigorating attributes, however.
We sit down together on the leather settee, which gives the appearance of having fought a long war in a haberdashery. The Professor puts down his cup and places his hands on his knees. He means business.
“So, here’s the thing: I’ve been having thinks about lots of things. Most of them are important; some are more important than others, and very few are unimportant. It’s that sort of thing, see. So, I’ve noticed you’ve been a bit odd of late. Hope all is spicy. What make you of Head Porter’s love affair?”
“I’m delighted for Head Porter, of course!” I reply, somewhat taken aback. “The Headmistress seems like quite the suitable partner for him. And he has been so much happier in himself, don’t you think?”
The Professor nods emphatically.
“I think that might be the way to think on it,” he agrees. “Is it troubling you? The whole thingy? It might be troubling me, see.”
Head Porter’s pursuit of romance has indeed brought things into sharp focus for me. But certainly not in the manner to which Professor Duke alludes.
“Nope. Not a bit.” I give the Professor my best smile. “This is the best thing to happen to the old boy, I tell you. But you are right when you say that there is something on my mind. Or, rather, someone.”
“Aha! And a goody. We are thinking the same, then!” The smile is returned in spectacular style. “And I sorta knew we would, see.”
“Thinking on Hershel, correct?” He retrieves his tea and slurps excitedly. “He’s a bit too…you know, too vicious. I mean, not too vicious. Just too unworthy. No, that’s not it either. Too..un-trustable! There’s something wild and untamed about him, don’t you know… Reminds me of me, when I was a youthful beetle.”
“How old actually are you, anyway?” I ask. It is a very difficult thing to discern where he is concerned.
“I’m not even sure anymore,” replies the Professor, nodding knowingly. “Some tell me I’m ageless. I say I’m younger than the stars but older than the mountains. Everyone thinks I’m older than I am, see. Now, what if Hershel had something to do with the Music Professor’s disappearance?”
I give this some consideration. He was behind the notes to The Dean, certainly – an elaborate plot devised to beat a path back to his beloved Penelope. And recent events have indeed placed his lady friend right at the forefront of the prestigious proceedings of the Choir Competition, a coup by anyone’s standards. A competition, no less, that he himself will be orchestrating from behind the scenes with his marvellous plan.
“You make a good point,” I say. “If you look behind the ‘adorable rogue’ facade, there is certainly a degree of rather cynical manipulation going on.”
“Yes, I feel he’s hiding something, too. Something rather wicked.” The Professor thinks a bit. “Well, keep your eyes on him. Make sure he stays righteous. I’d offer to lend an eye or two or three, but I have to organize a party now!”
“A party fit for a Dean, no less!”
“Yes, yes. So, goodbye for now, I say. This professor has so much to do, the sudden.”
Leaving my unusual friend to his endeavours, I decide to take the scenic route back to the Porters’ Lodge by way of the Chapel. This close to the competition, the Choir will be practising around the clock. It couldn’t hurt to see how they are getting along.