SIGNS AND SYMBOLS
In most houses of its type, the inhabitants would call for attention by reaching for a bell pull from the ceiling in knotted golden rope with terminal tassle, a feature so beloved of Feydeau farces. A signal was duly sent to a display panel in the Butler’s Pantry indicating to where in the house the functionary was to speed. Our system was unusual in that it was the reverse and had anticipated our reluctance to employ staff.
The display panel was located , not in the Pantry but in our Lounge and was tastefully concealed behind a thick wooden panel in the Ernest Newton Magazine rack. Read the options (above) The Sitting Room. The Front and Back Doors. Bath Room, Hall and Dining Room. “Odd” I remember you saying,” the point of it is that that you can see one of the metallic disks flickering, yet the panel is always closed.” But fortunately the antiquated machinery also let out an angry buzzing noise which could be heard through the thickness of the wooden cover.
Which ever of us was in the Lounge then alerted the others to the signal that the House was performing one of its occasional events in a designated room. The house wasn’t at all put out when nobody appeared, confident that a repetition, perhaps later in the year , would catch some or all. After years of being together, we noticed that the house would target one of us in particular and unveil an event. There would be unaccountably sweet aromas from the curtains, musical syncopation in the downpipes, frost pockets in summer and hotspots in winter. When the three of us converged in the Bath Room last July, we were told in no uncertain terms that what we had decided were Bath Salts, were in fact candles selected to enhance the abluting experience. “Are we being told something? Are we being urged to deploy more style?”. I maintain to this day that I heard a distinct grunt of agreement.
The scale of the event varied from the marginal (artful arrangements of napkins) to ambitious, three dimensional simulations of well known Spanish still life paintings. Talking across the table one evening, you let slip you had contacted previous occupants who not only had been ignored by the House but never remember seeing the cover to the panel on the magazine rack. There was no mention on the copy of the Estate Agent’s particulars we found in the cutlery drawer.
Neither did the particulars reveal our pneumatic tube from the butler’s pantry to the settle in the Lounge. It was stamped “Dewhursts” and had been a Counter to Cash Desk facility from a Butcher’s shop (c1900) . The canister was a polished brass projectile with snap fixing. It had a central division dividing coin from notes. Scarcely a week went by without a delivery. Not only did we not need to pay for any upkeep, but the House appeared to be keeping us (although not in any great style). Over the years we must have made over a thousand pounds from sudden packages of cash that came whistling through, landing unannounced on the book rest projecting from the settle.