A Rooster, Battenberg Cake and a Secret Code
The time was exactly four in the afternoon and the front doorbell rang four times. That was all, not because the ringer only rang four times, but because the bell ran out of energy. It was clockwork. The contraption secured to the front door just above the lock and consisted of a bell about four inches across fixed to a winder on a metal plate that was screwed to the woodwork. To encourage the bell to work it was simply turned clockwise several times compressing the spring. Winding it up. The activating button on the outside was attached to the mechanism via a push rod. When pushed the spring was released and the bell revolved at pace causing ringing. When released the bell stopped. In this instance the ringer had pressed the button five times.
Reginald Oldershore was sitting in his comfy armchair in his front room having his afternoon cup of weak everyday tea and Battenberg cake served on his best china. The china tea pot covered with a snug fitting, thickly padded cosy in the form of a rooster. The rooster’s neck formed neatly over the spout the end of the which came out of its beak. The whole keeping the contents warm for at least thirty minutes. He did not like to be disturbed at this time. The ritual could not be allowed to falter just because the door bell sounded. It would be thirty minutes before he would even consider rising. Not for anything would he interrupt one of the main pleasures of his otherwise dreary day.
Reggie was well into his seventies and contrary, although only slightly so. A small man with a bent back the result of years of weed picking in his small but well-manicured garden. Thinning grey hair on top of his thin face with carefully sculptured worry lines but bright alert eyes. Thin framed and a very gentle uncomplicated demeanour. A propensity to smile when spoken to. He would listen, incline his head slightly, almost quizzically, give a little smile and then formulate his reply. All in a very precise manner.
He could hear but ignored the foot shuffling on the doorstep. Could hear the bell button now being repeatedly pushed but of course to no avail. He deliberately underwound the bell to limit soundings to no more than four. Depending on push duration of course. The button could be held down causing one continuous ring until the steam ran out of it when it would stutter before stopping. Experience though showed that this never happened. This was the beauty of clockwork as far as he was concerned. His daughter had asked him many times to upgrade to an electric version that would provide endless chimes. The sort she suggested allowed different chimes to be played by selection. One option a combination of different bird song. “Would that not be so pleasant.” He had resisted this “modernisation” citing the probability of a chime induced headache severely limiting his already depleted daily activities.
The stomping momentarily continued outside the front door and then footsteps could be heard receding down the gravel driveway with a loud scrunching. Reggie’s armchair was located so that he could see out of the front window and he watched the back of a man wearing a long black gaberdine mac with what Reggie thought a suspicious look, open the gate, step onto the pavement, turn, close the gate ensuring it was fastened then walk away in the direction of the bus stop. When the man had turned Reggie could see he was young maybe thirty with dark hair and a closely cut beard.
Reggie finished his second cup of tea thirty minutes later, put all the crockery onto a silver plated tray and carried it into the kitchen. He then returned to the front room stopping at the front door to give the doorbell four swift turns, the requisite for the ringing requirement. Lately he has been plagued by knock down ginger kids but was not too concerned after all they had to have something to amuse them. The little blighters. And of course the disturbance was limited. He just had to remember to rewind the bell which he always did.
At five forty five the bell rang three times, then no more. Reggie in the kitchen washing up his tea things stopped what he was doing and smiled. He knew this would be his daughter. The code you see. Simple but effective. Three rings and let her in. It was her way of introducing security so that he would not open the door to just anyone. So he would always know it was her. She had wanted a key to let herself in but that would not suit Reggie.
“I had a key when I lived at home. Why not now?”
“I don’t want to be surprised in my own house. Coming in unannounced and creeping up on me. It’s my heart. The sudden shock.”
He opened the door and Ann stood there with his grandson Mark. Ann was smiling clearly happy to be there. Reggie only looked. No other reaction. It was the same every time she came he would open the door and just stare at her. She knew why, he had told her. “Every time I see you I am so amazed at how we could have produced someone so beautiful and perfect that I am unable to do anything else.”
She gave him a hug “hallo Dad. Mark wanted to come as well. Shall we come in.”
“Yes. Yes. Do. I am sorry. Struck dumb. Cup of tea?”
“Thanks Dad I’ll make it. You sit down and talk to Mark he’s got something to tell you.”
“How are you Mark? How are you feeling these days.”
“Oh, not too bad Gramps. The treatment is coming on so I feel all right at the moment. I’ve been selected for a scholarship to music college for violin. They say I have great potential.”
“That’s brilliant news when does it start?”
“In September in about five months. But I must be fitter to be able to go so will have to concentrate on my treatment. Make sure I do everything I have to.”
“Here you are Dad not too strong. Did Mark tell you? Great news isn’t it he’s done so well.”
“Fantastic but he said he needs to be stronger.”
“Yes and that’s a problem. The treatment is going well but is only keeping everything in check. It is not curing. There is a possible cure but it is experimental and is only available in America and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. We haven’t got anywhere near the amount needed so have to make do with what’s available here.”
“I can sell the house if it would help. Can always rent somewhere.”
“Still not enough Dad. Unfortunately.”
Ann stays for about an hour then has to go. As she says goodbye Reggie can see the strain, sense the disappointment. The scholarship depends on Mark’s health and that is not good. It is the futility of the situation. The frustration with the knowledge that a solution is available but out of reach. As he closes the door he gives the doorbell three swift turns to reset it to the correct position.
The next morning he is up and having breakfast. His normal time eight thirty. Sitting in his comfy armchair. Cornflakes, hot buttered toast with bitter marmalade and tea. The rooster in its place. His normal breakfast. Has been for over thirty years with no variation other than trying lime marmalade on the recommendation of Beazer Brown from the pub. He did not like it. Thought it too limey. So on Beazer’s further recommendation tried lemon and lime which was acceptable but then reverted to bitter orange on finishing the jar. The doorbell rang four times.
As with afternoon tea the contrary side of his character arises when the doorbell rings at breakfast. He will not answer it. Not until he has finished his second cup of tea. In this instance due to the timing of the ring that would be in twenty two minutes. He hears the same shuffling footsteps and crunching gravel. Looks out and sees the same black gaberdine mac. Now slightly worrying. That black mac look. After twenty two minutes he takes the tray full of breakfast things to the kitchen but stopping on route, placing the tray on the hall table he resets the doorbell.
His day goes by with his normal activity level. A bit of weeding his now natural stoop offering a comfortable position. Then lunch and the one o’clock news. Afternoon tea, an appointment with his rooster and the last slice of Battenberg. The telephone rings but as with the doorbell he will not answer it during afternoon tea. In fact that is not strictly correct. He does not answer it at all unless he gets the three ring code from Ann. Three rings and then she hangs up and rings again, without delay, allowing him to answer with all certainty that it is her.
He is washing up at five thirty and the doorbell rings three times. The code. Must be Ann. But she came yesterday. Anyway the code must not be ignored. He answers the door to see the dubious young bearded man in the black gaberdine mac standing there.
“Why did you only ring three times? There is power enough for four. You have disrupted the secret code.”
“I am very sorry sir I meant to ring again but I dropped my pen after three and while I was picking it up you answered the door before I could do so.”
“That’s as maybe but what about the code. Ann will have to think again about my security.”
“Again I am sorry sir but now that you have answered is it possible you could please hear what I have to say?”
“I suppose there’s no harm. You do not after all have the look of a real scoundrel even though at first glance that black mac suggests it.”
“My name is Graham Parsons and I represent National Savings Premium Bonds and am here to inform you that you have won this month’s one million pound prize.”
“But I only have five pounds invested. Five pounds that my father bought for me in November 1956 when they were introduced.”
“That is correct but one of those five numbers has drawn the prize.”
“In that case please do come in, meet my rooster and have a cup of tea while I telephone my daughter.”