Read CHAPTER I of The House that Jill Built after Jack's had proved a failure, free online book, by E. C. Gardner, on


Among the wedding-presents was a small white envelope containing two smaller slips of paper. On one of these, which was folded around the other, was written,

“A new house, from father.”

The enclosed slip was a bank-check, duly stamped and endorsed. Did any old wizard’s magic-box ever hold greater promise in smaller compass! Certainly not more than the bride saw in imagination as she read the figures upon the crisp bit of tissue. Walls, roof and stately chimneys arose in pleasant pictures before her mental vision. There were broad windows taking in floods of sunshine; fireplaces that glowed with living flames and never smoked; lazy lounging places and cosy corners for busy work or quiet study; sleepy bed-rooms; a kitchen that made housework the finest art and the surest science, and oh, such closets, such stairways, such comforts! such defiance of the elements, such security against cold and heat, against fire, flood and tempest! such economy! such immunity from all the ills that domestic life is heir to, from intractable servants to sewer-gas!

If some ardent esthete had arrested her flight of fancy by asking whether she found room for soul-satisfying beauty, she would have dropped from her air-castle, landing squarely upon her feet, and replied that if her house was comfortable and told no lies it would be beautiful enough for her which was saying a great deal, however interpreted, for she loved beauty, as all well-balanced mortals ought, and she would have been conspicuously out of place in a house that was not beautiful.

Perhaps I ought to explain that the house that Jack built, intending to establish Jill as its mistress when it should be completed, had proved most unsatisfactory to that extremely practical young woman. In consequence, she had obstinately refused to name the happy day till the poor, patient fellow had kept bachelor’s hall nearly a year. At last, in consideration of an unqualified permission to “make the house over” to any extent, the rough place that threatened to upset them was made smooth. Her father’s present, wisely withheld till peace was declared, left nothing to be desired, and they started on their wedding journey as happy as if they owned the universe. This excursion, however, came near being a failure from the sentimental standpoint, because, wherever Jill discovered a house that gave any outward sign of inward grace, it must be visited and examined as to its internal arrangements. Naturally this struck Jack as an unromantic diversion, but he soon caught the spirit, and after much practice gave his salutatory address with apparent eagerness:

“My wife and I happen to be passing through town and have been struck by the appearance of your house. Will you kindly allow us to have a glimpse of the interior?”

The request was invariably granted, for nothing is more gratifying than the fame of having the “finest house in town.” Unhappily the interiors were never satisfactory to Jill, and her valedictory to the owners of the striking houses seldom went beyond thanks for their courtesy.

We visited several houses on our trip, she observed to her father

Several hundred, said Jack

“But were disappointed in them all. Many of them must have cost more than ours will cost, but the money seemed to us foolishly spent.”

“Yes,” said her husband, “we concluded that the chief plank in the platform of the architects and builders was ’Millions for display not one cent for comfort.’”

“Well, Jack, we have learned one thing on our travels where not to look for the plans of our house.”

A box of letters from her dear five hundred friends awaited Jill’s return, and a whole afternoon was devoted to them. Each letter contained some allusion to the new house. At least ten conveyed underscored advice of the most vital importance, which, if not followed, would demoralize the servants, distress her husband and ultimately destroy her domestic peace. Taken at a single dose, the counsel was confusing, to say the least; but Jill read it faithfully, laid it away for future reference, and gave the summary to her husband somewhat as follows:

“It appears, Jack, my dear, to be absolutely indispensable to our future happiness that the house shall front north, south, east and west.”

“Let’s build it on a pivot.”

“We must not have large halls to keep warm in cold weather, and we must have large halls ‘for style.’ The stories must not be less than eleven nor more than nine feet high. It must be carpeted throughout and all the floors must be bare. It must be warmed by steam and hot water and furnaces and fireplaces and base-burners and coal grates.”

“We shan’t have to go away from home to get into purgatory, shall we?”

“Hush! The walls of the rooms must be calcimined, painted, frescoed and papered; they must be dyed in the mortar, finished with leather, with tiles, with tapestry and with solid wood panels. There must be blinds outside blinds, awnings, inside shutters, rolling blinds, Venetian shades and no blinds at all. There must be wide, low-roofed piazzas all around the house, so that we can live out of doors in the summer, and on no account must the sun be excluded from the windows of the first story by piazza roofs. At least eight patent sanitary plumbing articles, and as many cooking ranges, are each the only one safe and fit to be used. The house must be high and low

“I’m Jack and you shall be game

“It must be of bricks, wood and stone, separately and in combination; it must be Queen Anne, Gothic, French, Japanesque and classic American, and it must be painted all the colors of an autumn landscape.”

“Well, there’s one comfort,” said Jack; “you haven’t paid for this advice, so you won’t be obliged to take it in order to save it.”

“I should think not, indeed, but that isn’t the trouble. These letters are from my special friends, wise, practical people, who know everything about building and housekeeping, and they speak from solemn conviction based on personal experience.”

“Moral: When the doctors differ, do as you please.”

Three of the letters, reserved for the last on account of their unusual bulk, contained actual plans. One was from an old school friend who had married an architect and couldn’t afford to send a wedding present, but offered the plans as a sort of apology, privately feeling that they would be the most valuable of all the gifts; the second was from a married brother in Kansas who had just built himself a new house, and thought his sister could not do better than use the same plans, which he had “borrowed” from his architect; and the third was from Aunt Melville, who was supposed (by herself) to hold the family destiny in the hollow of her hand.

“For once,” she wrote, “your father has done a most sensible thing. Every girl ought to have a present of a new house on her wedding-day. You were very silly to make such a fuss about the house that Jack built, for it is a very stylish-looking house, even if it isn’t quite so convenient inside; but of course you can improve upon it, and fortunately I can contribute just what you need the plans of the house that your Uncle Melville built for George last year. It isn’t as large as it ought to be, but it will suit you and Jack admirably. You must tell me how much you have to spend. This house can be very prettily built for eight or ten thousand dollars, and if you haven’t as much as that you must ask for more. The hall is decidedly stylish, and, with the library at one side and drawing-room at the other, you will have just room enough for your little social parties. The room behind the drawing-room Jack needs for his private use, his study, office, smoking-room or whatever he calls it a place to keep his gun, his top-boots, his fishing-rod and his horrid pipes; where he can revel to his heart’s content in the hideous disorder of a ‘man’s room,’ pile as much rubbish as he likes on the table, lock the doors and defy the rest of the household on house-cleaning days. The dining-room is good and the kitchen arrangements are perfect. George’s wife has changed servants but three times since they began housekeeping, nearly a year ago, which certainly proves that there is every possible convenience for doing work easily. The outside of the house is not wholly satisfactory. There should be a tower, and you must put one on somewhere.”

Then followed several pages of advice about furnishings and a postscript announced that Colonel Livingston was charmed with the house and would probably build one like it for Clara. The charm of Aunt Melville’s advice lay in its abundant variety. It was new every morning and fresh every evening. The latest thing was always the best. The plans of to-morrow were certain to be better than those of yesterday.

Jill therefore made a careful study of the first installment, not doubting that others of superior merit would be forthcoming. She found many things to approve. The hall promised comfort and good cheer, whether stylish or not. The vista across through the parlor bay and the wide library window would give a pleasant freedom and breadth. The stairs were well placed, the second landing with its window of stained glass being especially attractive, whether as a point of observation or as a cosy retreat, itself partly visible from the hall below. Every chamber had a closet of its own, not to mention several extra ones, and there was a place for every bed.

“As for your sanctum, Jack, I don’t at all approve. It will be hard enough, I’ve no doubt, to keep you from lapsing into barbarism, and I shall never allow you to set up a den, a regular Bluebeard’s room, all by yourself. I promise never to put your table in order, but I wouldn’t trust the best of men with the care of a closet or a bureau-drawer for a single week, much less of an entire room with two closets, a case of drawers, a cupboard and a chimney-piece. But the chief fault of the plan is that it doesn’t happen to suit our lot. The entrances are not right, the outlooks are not right, the chimneys are not right.”

“Turn it around.”

“And spoil it? No; I learned a second lesson on our journey, and it was well worth what it cost. We shall never find a plan made for somebody else that will suit us.”

“Not good enough?”

“It isn’t a question of goodness it’s a question of fitness. Neither Cousin George’s, nor any other house I ever saw, is precisely what we need.”

“Moral: Draw your own plans.”

“We must, and we’ll begin to-morrow.”

“Why not this evening?”

“We couldn’t see.”

“Light the gas.”

“Oh, but we must make the plans out of doors on the lot. We shall then know where every room will be, every door and especially every window. We must fix the centre of the sitting-room in the most commanding situation, and be certain that the dining-room windows do not look straight into somebody’s wood-shed. Then, if there are any views of blue hills and forests far away over the river, I shall be uncomfortable if we do not get the full benefit of them.”

“Don’t you expect to have anything interesting inside the house?”

“Except my husband? Oh yes! but it would be a wicked waste of opportunities not to accept the blessings provided for us without money and without price, which only require us to stand in the right places and open our hearts and windows to receive them.”

Jill’s second lesson was indeed worth learning, even if it cost a wedding journey. Every house must suit its own ground and fit its own household, otherwise it can neither be comfortable nor beautiful.

The next morning, armed with a bundle of laths, sharpened at one end, and equipped with paper, pencil and tape-line, the prospective house-builders proceeded to lay out, not the house but the plan. They planted doors, windows, fireplaces and closets, stoves, lounges, easy-chairs and bedsteads, as if they were so many seeds that would grow up beside the laths on which their respective names were written and bear fruit each according to its kind. Later in the day a high step-ladder was introduced, from the top of which Jill scanned the surrounding country, while Jack stood ready to catch her if she fell. The neighbors were intensely interested, and their curiosity was mixed with indignation when, toward night, a man was discovered cutting down two of the rock-maple trees that Jill’s grandfather planted more than fifty years before, and which stood entirely beyond any possible location of the new house.

“This evening, Jack, you must write for the architect to come.”

“I thought you were going to make your own plans.”

“I have made them, or rather I have laid them out on the ground and in the air. I know what I want and how I want it. Now we must have every particular set down in black and white.”

Jack wrote accordingly. The architect was too busy to respond at once in person, but sent a letter referring to certain principles that reach somewhat below the lowest foundation-stones and above the tops of the tallest chimneys.