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


They didn’t begin to build, from Cousin George’s nor from any other plan, for many weeks. Until the new house should be completed, Jill had agreed to commence housekeeping in the house that Jack built, without making any alterations in it, only reserving the privilege of finding all the fault she pleased to Jack privately, in order, as she said, to convince him that it would be impossible for them to be permanently happy in such a house.

“I supposed,” said Jack, with a groan, “that my company would make you blissfully happy in a cave or a dug-out.”

“So it would, if we were bears both of us. As we are sufficiently civilized, taken together, to prefer artificial dwellings, it will be much better for us to find out what we really need in a home by actual experiment for a year or two. You know everybody who builds one house for himself always wishes he could build another to correct the mistakes of the first.”

“Yes, and when he has done it probably finds worse blunders in the second. Still, I’m open to conviction, and after our late architectural tour perhaps my house won’t seem in comparison so totally depraved.”

When they visited it, preparatory to setting up their household gods Jack’s bachelor arrangements being quite inadequate to the new order of things Jack, with a flourish, threw the highly ornamental front door wide open. Jill walked solemnly in, and, looking neither to the right nor the left, went straight up stairs.

“Hello!” Jack called after her, “what are you going up stairs for?”

“I supposed you expected everybody to go to the second floor,” said Jill, looking over the bannister, “or you wouldn’t have set the stairs directly across the front entrance.”

“I do, of course,” Jack responded, following three steps at a time. “And now will you please signify your royal pleasure as to apartments?”

“Oh, yes! The first requisite is a room with at least one south window.”

“Here it is. A southerly window and a cloudy sky two windows, in fact. And look here: see what a glorious closet. It goes clear up to the ceiling.”

“It isn’t a closet at all; only a little cupboard. It wouldn’t hold one-half of your clothes nor a tenth part of mine. And there’s no fireplace in the room not even a hole for a stovepipe.”

“Furnace, my dear. We shall be warmed from the regions below. There’s the register.”

“I see. But where shall the bed stand? On these two sides it would come directly in front of a window; on this side there isn’t room between the two doors; on that, there’s the ’set bowl’ I hate ’set bowls’ and the furnace register in the floor.”

“That’s so. I never had any bed in this room. Try the dining-room chamber; that has a south window. The bed can stand on the north side and the dressing table over in the other corner.”

“Yes, in the dark, with a window behind my back. Oh! Jack, why didn’t you get a wife before you planned your house?”

“I did try.”

“You did! You never mentioned it to me before. What is this little room for?”

“Why, nothing in particular. It came so, I suppose part of the hall, you know; but it wouldn’t be of any use in the hall, so I made a room of it. It will hold a cot bed if we should happen to have a house full of company.”

“It will never be needed for that with three other guest rooms; but I see what can be done. You know I promised not to make any alterations; but destruction isn’t alteration, and as this little room is beside the front chamber, with only the little cupboards between, a part of the partition between the rooms can be destroyed. There will be no need of a door; a portiere will be better, and I can use the small room for a dressing-room and closet. So that is nicely arranged; and while you are marking where the partition is to be cut away I will explore the first story.”

Now, the stairs were built in a very common fashion, having a sharp turn at the top, which made the steps near the balustrade exceedingly steep and narrow. Jill’s foot slipped on the top step and down she went, feet foremost, never stopping till she reached the hall floor below. Jack, hearing the commotion, ran to the rescue, caught his foot in the carpet and came tumbling after, with twice as much noise and not half as much grace. Happily the staircase was well padded under the carpet, and finding Jill unhurt as well as himself, Jack helped her to rise and coolly remarked:

“You certainly can’t find any fault with the stairs, Jill, dear. If there had been one of those square landings midway it would have taken twice as long to come down. I I had them made so on purpose. Will you walk into my parlor?”

They went in and sat down in easy-chairs.

“I suppose,” said Jill, “that our native land contains about a million houses with stairs like these and just such halls if people will persist in calling them ‘halls,’ when they are only little narrow, dark, uncomfortable entries. If we were going to make any alterations in this house which we are not, only destructions –­ I should take these out, cut them in two in the middle, double them up, straighten the crook at the top and shove them outside the house, letting the main roof drop down to cover them. Then I would make a large landing at the turn, large enough for a wide seat, a few book shelves and a pretty window. This could be of stained glass, unless the view outside is more interesting than the window itself. The merit of a stained-glass window,” Jill observed, very wisely, “is that the sunlight makes a beautiful picture of it inside the house during the day, and the same thing, still more beautiful, is thrown out into the world by the evening lamps, and the darker the night the brighter the picture. After the stairs were moved out, the little hall, if joined by a wide doorway, to the room we are now in would become of some value. There is no grate in this room, and a chimney might be built in the outer wall, with a fireplace opposite the wide doorway. Then, taken all together, we should have a very pretty sitting-room. I shouldn’t call that an alteration should you, Jack? only an addition.”

“Certainly not. Tearing down partitions, taking out plumbing, building a few chimneys, moving stairways, and such little things, can’t be called ’alterations’ oh, no.”

“And the house will be worth so much more when you come to sell it.”

“Of course. But why do you call this a ‘sitting-room?’ It wouldn’t be possible to sell a house that has no parlor; besides this is marked ‘parlor’ on the plan.”

“I prefer the spirit of the plan to the letter of it. This is the pleasantest room almost the only pleasant room on this floor. It is sunny and convenient, it looks out upon the street and across the lawn, and whatever it is labeled it will be our common every-day sitting-room. For similar reasons we will take the chamber over it for our own room.”

“What becomes of our hospitality if we keep the best for ourselves?”

“What becomes of our common sense if we make ourselves uncomfortable the year round in order to make a guest a little less uncomfortable over night. I try to love my neighbor as myself; I can’t love him three hundred and sixty-five times as well. Now, if you are rested, we will go and see if the architect has come.”

He had not arrived, but they found a ponderous package of plans from Aunt Melville, with an explanatory note, a letter from Cousin Bessie admonishing Jill that her new home ought to be “a perfect poem, pervaded and perfumed by a rare feeling of tender longing and homely aspiration,” and another from her father’s oldest sister.

“For fifty years,” Aunt Jerusha wrote, “I have lived in what would now be called an old-fashioned house, though it was new enough when I came to it, and I always think of the Scripture saying when I hear about the many inventions that men have sought out and are putting into houses now-a-days. The danger is not so much from the inventions themselves as from what they lead to. They promise great things, but I’ve learned to be suspicious of anything or anybody that makes large promises. I’ve learned, too, that realities sometimes go by contraries as well as dreams. The poorest folks are often the richest, and the greatest saving often turns out to be the greatest waste. Air-tight stoves saved the wood-pile, but they gave us colds and headaches. So your uncle put them away and we went back to the fireplaces. Then came the hot-air furnaces, which seemed so much less trouble than open fires, but taking care of the open fires wasn’t half so troublesome as taking care of sick folks; and the same thing we learned to our bitter cost of the plumbing pipes that creep around like venomous serpents and promise to save so many steps. Perhaps they do, but it seems to me that much of our vaunted labor-saving is at best only a transfer. We work all the harder at something else or compel others to work for us. When I began housekeeping I had no difficulty in taking care of my large house without any help, nor in caring for my family while it was small. Yet I hadn’t a single modern invention or labor-saving machine, I have had a great many since and have tried a great many more. When I find one that helps in the work that must be done I am glad to keep it. If it merely does something new something I had never done before I keep the old way. Multiplying wants may be a means of grace to the half-civilized, but our danger lies in the other direction: we have too many wants already. And this is what I sat down to say to you, my dear child: Don’t make housekeeping such a complex affair that you must give to it all your time and strength, leaving no place for the ’better part.’ Don’t fill your house with furniture too fine to be used, and don’t try to have everything in the latest fashion. I see many beautiful things and read of many more, but nothing is half so beautiful to me as the things that were new fifty years ago and are still in daily use. Of planning houses I know but little. For one thing, I should say, have the kitchen and working departments as close at hand as possible. This will save many weary steps, whether you do your own work or leave it with servants, the best of whom need constant watching and encouragement, or they will not make life any easier or better worth living.”

“Isn’t this rather a solemn letter?” Jack inquired.

“Yes; it’s a solemn subject.”

Shall you ’do your own work’?”

“Of course I shall. How can I help it?

‘Each hath a work that no other can do;’

but just precisely what my own work will be I am not at present prepared to say.”

“Is Aunt Melville as solemn as Aunt Jerusha?”

“Aunt Melville assures her dear niece that ’the last plans are absolutely beyond criticism: the rooms are large and elegant, the modern conveniences perfect, the kitchen and servants’ quarters isolated from the rest of the house’

“That won’t suit the other aunty.”

“The porte cochère and side entrance most convenient and the front entrance sufficiently distinguished by the tower. I particularly like the porte cochère at the side. If none of your callers came on foot there would be no objection to having it at the front entrance, but it isn’t pleasant to be compelled to walk up the carriage-way. As you see, this is a brick house, and I am persuaded you ought to build of bricks. It will cost ten or fifteen per cent. more possibly twenty but in building a permanent home you ought not to consider the cost for a moment.’”

“That’s a comfortable doctrine, if everybody would live up to it,” said Jack.

“Yes; and like a good many other comfortable doctrines, it contains too much truth to be rejected not enough to be accepted. We must count the cost, but if we limit ourselves to a certain outlay, and positively refuse to go beyond that, we shall regret it as long as we live. We may leave some things unfinished, but whatever is done past alteration, either in size or quality, must be right, whatever it costs.”

And herein Jill displayed her good sense. It is, indeed, a mistake to build a house beyond the possibility of paying for it, or of maintaining it without a constant struggle, but in building a permanent home there is more likely to be lasting regret through too close economy in the first outlay, than through extravagance regret that can only be cured by an outlay far exceeding what the original cost would have been.

The architect came as the sun went down, and, after being duly warmed, fed and cheered, was informed by Jill that all she expected from him that evening was an explanation of the respective merits of wood and brick houses. Jack begged the privilege of taking notes, to keep himself awake, Jill begged the architect to be as brief as possible, and the architect begged for a small blackboard and a piece of chalk, that he might, in conveying his ideas, use the only one, true, natural and universal language which requires no grammar, dictionary or interpreter.