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


“You are quite right,” the architect wrote, “to fix the plan of your house on the lot before it is made on paper, provided first the lot is a good one. Nothing shows the innate perversity of mankind more forcibly than the average character of the sites chosen for human habitations in cities, in villages and in the open country. Or does it rather indicate the instinctive struggle for supremacy over nature? The ‘dear old nurse’ is most peaceably inclined toward us, yet we shall never be satisfied till all the valleys are exalted and the hills laid low. Not because we object to hills and valleys quite the contrary; but we must show our strength and daring. Nobody wants the North Pole, but we are furious to have a breach made in the wall that surrounds it. If we discover a mighty primeval forest we straightway grind our axes to cut it down; an open prairie we plant with trees. When we find ourselves in an unclean, malarious bog, instead of taking the short cut out, shaking the mud from our feet and keeping clear of it forever after, we plunge in deeper still and swear by all the bones of our ancestors that we will not only walk through it dry-shod, but will build our homes in the midst of it and keep them clean and sweet and dry. The good mother beckons to us with her sunshine and whispers with her fragrant breezes that on the other side of the river or across the bay the land is high and dry, that just beyond the bluffs are the sunny slopes where she expected us to build our houses, and, like saucy children as we are, we say that is the very reason we prefer to go somewhere else.

“Now, if the particular spot of earth on which you expect to set up the temple of your home is not well adapted to that sacred purpose, think a bit before you commence digging. If it is low, wet and difficult of drainage; if the surface water or the drains from adjacent lands have no outlet except across it; if its size and shape compel your house to stand so near your neighbor on the south that he takes all the sunshine and gives you the odors of his dinner and the conversation of his cook in exchange; if there are no pleasant outlooks; if it is shaded by trees owned by somebody who will not be persuaded to cut them down for love nor money by all means turn it into a fish-pond, a sheep-pasture or a public park. You can never build upon it a satisfactory home. Perhaps it is within five minutes’ walk of the post-office and on the same street with Mrs. Adoniram Brown, and these considerations outweigh all others. In that case there is no help for you. You must make the best of it as it is.

“If you have a suspicion that the ground is naturally wet, that it contains hidden springs or conceals an impervious basin, making in effect a pool of standing water underground, the first necessity is a clean outlet not a sewer low enough to underdrain the lot at least a foot and a-half below the bottom of the cellar. Having found the clean outlet, lay small drain tiles, two or three inches in diameter, under the entire house and for several feet all around it, like a big gridiron. When this is buried under one or two feet of clean gravel or sand you will have a permanently dry plot of ground to build upon. The same treatment will be effective if the ground is “springy.” But there must be a “cut-off” encircling the house. This you can make by digging a trench a foot wide, reaching down to the drain tiles, and filling it nearly to the top with loose stones or coarse gravel, the surface of the ground being graded to slope sharply toward the trench. The surface water between it and the house, and any moisture creeping toward the house from without, will then be caught in this porous trap and fall to the gridiron.

“It is possible, theoretically, to build an underground cellar so tight that it may be lifted up on posts and used for a water-tank, or set afloat like a compartment-built iron steamer. Such walls may be necessary under certain circumstances. They may be necessary for cellars that are founded in swamps, in salt marshes below the level of the sea, and in old river-beds, where the original iniquity of the standing water is made still more iniquitous by the inevitable foulness of the washing from streets and the unclean refuse from sinks and back doors. But for buildings that have four independent walls, with room enough for a man to ride around his own house in a wheelbarrow without trespassing on his neighbors, and which are not hopelessly depressed below all their surroundings, it is better to use a little moral suasion on the land itself than to spend one’s resources in a defiant water-proof construction. Instead of drain tiles, small stones covered with a thin layer of hay or straw before being buried in the sand may be used if more economical.

“If you cannot find the clean outlet for these buried drains or tiles below the level of the cellar bottom, then raise the cellar, house and all. No matter if you are accused of having a ‘stuck up’ house better be stuck up than stuck in the mud. Raise it till the entire cellar is well above the level of thorough drainage. If this happens to carry it above the surface of the ground, set the house on posts and hang the cellar under the floor like a work-bag under a table or the basket to a balloon.

“The foundation walls must indeed touch solid bottom and extend below the action of frost; but if the wall above the gridiron and below the paving of the cellar is of hard stones, or very hard bricks laid in cement, there will be little risk from rising moisture.

“After all, the chief danger is not from underground springs, from clean surface water or an occasional rising of the floods, but from the unclean wastes that in our present half-civilized state are constantly going out of our homes to poison and pollute the earth and air around them.”

“Half-civilized indeed!” said Jack, interrupting the reading of the letter. “Besides, he is premature as well as impertinent. He doesn’t know but the house will stand on a granite boulder.”

“I suppose he intends to warn us, and I am not certain that our lot is as dry as it ought to be. At all events we will have some holes dug in different places and see if any water comes into them.”

“Of course it will. Haven’t we just had the ‘equinoctial’? The ground is full of water everywhere.”

“If it is full this spring it will be full every spring. We may as well order the drain tiles.”

“It shall be done,” said Jack. “Now let us have the second proviso. I hope it will be shorter than the first.”

“And, secondly,” Jill continued reading, “provided you know what your house is for. It is my conviction that of all the people who carefully plan and laboriously build themselves houses, scarcely one in ten could give a radical, intelligent reason for building them. To live in, of course; but how to live is the question, and why. As they have been in the habit of living? As their neighbors live? As they would like to live? As they ought to live? Is domestic comfort and well-being the chief motive? It is not, usually; hence, there are in the world a great many more houses than homes.”

“Oh, bother the preaching! It’s all true, but we don’t happen to need it. When is he coming?”

“Next week, and he hopes we shall have ’some general idea of what we want.’ How very condescending! We know precisely what we want, as I can easily show him.”

Jill accordingly produced a fresh sheet of “cross-section” paper, on whose double plaid lines the most helpless tyro in drawing can make a plan with mathematical accuracy provided he can count ten, and on this began to draw the plan of the first floor, expounding as she drew.

“If we call the side of the house which is next the street the front, the main entrance must be at the east side, because we need the whole of the south side for our living rooms. You know the view toward the southwest is the finest we shall have, especially from the chambers.”

“How do I know? I didn’t climb the step-ladder.”

“And we must have a large bay window directly on that corner. The hall must run through the house crosswise, with the stairs on the west side of the house. As there is nothing to be seen in this direction except the white walls and green blinds of the parsonage, the windows on the stair-landing shall have stained glass. The dining-room will be at the north side of the hall, with plenty of eastern windows, and behind that the kitchen with windows at opposite sides. But you wouldn’t understand the beauty of my kitchen arrangements now. By-and-by, when you are wiser, I will explain them. Do you like a fireplace in the hall, Jack?”

“I don’t know as I do. Do you?”

“Of course! certainly.”

“I shall be of all men most miserable without one. Can’t we have two?”

“Perhaps so; but first let me read you Cousin Bessie’s letter:

MY DEAREST JILL: I’m perfectly delighted to hear about the new house. It will be an immense success. I know it will you are so wise and so practical. How I shall enjoy visiting you! It is delightful to build houses now. Everybody thinks so much more of the beautiful than they used to. Some of my friends have the loveliest rooms. The tones are so harmonious, the decorations so exquisite! Such sympathetic feeling and spiritual unity! I wish you could see Kitty Kane’s hall. It isn’t bigger than a bandbox, but there’s the cunningest little fireplace in one corner, with real antique andirons and the quaintest old Dutch tiles. They never make a fire in it; couldn’t if they wanted to it smokes so. But it is so lovely and gives the hall such a sweet expression. You will forgive me, won’t you, Jill, dear? but you know you are so practical, and I do hope you won’t forget the esthetic needs of home life. Your loving cousin, BET.”

“Let’s give up the hall fireplace,” said Jack.

“By no means; our hall is large and needs a fireplace one that will not smoke and will warm not only the hall in very cold weather, but the whole house when it isn’t quite cold enough for steam. The sides and back will be of iron with an air-chamber behind them, into which fresh air will be brought from out of doors and come out well warmed at the sides.” (Jill’s idea was something like the above figure for the plan.)

“It will be a capital ventilator, too, for the centre of the house. There will be a damper in the hearth to let the ashes down into the ash-pit. I suppose a stove would answer, but this will be better because it won’t have to be blacked, and it will last as long as the house.”

“How will it look standing out there all alone by itself?”

“Haven’t I told you, my dear, that whatever is well looks well?”

“Yes, but it takes a mighty faith to believe it, and I’m not even a mustard-seed. What is the little room in the southwest corner for?”

“That is the library, and for an ordinary family it is large enough. It is twelve feet by fourteen. It will hold three or four thousand books, a table, a writing-desk, a lounge and three or four easy chairs. More room would spoil the privacy which belongs to a library and make it a sort of common sitting-room. Moreover, by drawing aside the portieres and opening the doors we can make it a part of the large room when we wish to; and, on the other hand, when they are closed and the bay window curtains drawn, instead of one large room we shall have three separate apartments for three solitary misanthropes, for three tete-a-têtes, or for three incompatible groups, not counting the hall no, nor the stair-landing, which will be a capital place for a quiet


At this point they were interrupted by a telegram from Aunt Melville, begging them not to begin on George’s plan, as she had found something much more satisfactory.