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


After the architect had retired to his room it occurred to him that he might have answered Jill’s conundrum as to the profit of building fire-proof houses by reminding her that pecuniary loss is not the sole objection to being burned out of house and home whenever the fire fiend happens to crave a flaming sacrifice, in the daytime or in the night, in summer or in midwinter, in sickness or in health; that not only heir-looms, but hearthstones and door posts, endeared by long associations, have a value beyond the power of insurance companies to restore, and that protection against fire means also security against many other ills to which the dwellers in houses are liable, not to refer to the larger fact that there is no real wealth without permanence, while the destruction of anything useful in the world, wherever the loss may seem to fall, impoverishes the whole. Having settled this point to his own satisfaction, he sought his pillow in a comfortable frame of mind. Comfortable, but not wholly at rest, for no sooner did he close his eyes than the “fever of futile protest” asserted itself in turbulent visions of paper, paint and plastering. Dados danced around in carnival dress; wall decorations went waltzing up and down, changing in shape, size and color like the figures in a kaleidoscope; Chinese pagodas on painted paper dissolved into brazen sconces, and candelabra sat where no light would ever shine; glazed plaques turned into Panama hats and cotton umbrellas, the classic figures in the frieze began to chase the peacocks furiously across the ceilings, the storks hopped wildly around on their one available leg, draperies of every conceivable hue and texture, from spider webs to sole leather, shaking the dust from their folds, slipped uneasily about on their glittering rings, and showers of Japanese fans floated down like falling apple blossoms in the month of May. He seemed to see the Old Curiosity Shop, the uncanny room of Mr. Venus, a dozen foreign departments of the Centennial, ancient garrets and modern household art stores, all tumbled together in hopeless confusion, and over all an emerald, golden halo that grew more and more concentrated till it burst into gloom as one gigantic sunflower, which, suddenly changing into the full moon just rising above the top of a neighboring roof, put an end to his chaotic dreams.

Not willing to be moonstruck, even on the back of his head, he arose and went to the window to draw the curtain. There was a sort of curtainette at the top, opaque and immovable, serving simply to reduce the height of the window. At the sides there were gauzy draperies, too fancifully arranged to be rashly moved and too thin to serve the purpose of a curtain even against moonlight. He tried to close the inside shutters, but they clung to their boxes, refusing to stir without an order from the carpenter. At the risk of catching a cold or a fall, he opened the window and endeavored to bring the outside blinds together. One fold hung fast to the wall, the other he contrived to unloose, but the hook to hold it closed was wanting, and when he tried to fasten it open again the catch refused to catch, so he was compelled to shut the window and leave the swinging blind at the mercy of the wind. He then improvised a screen from a high-backed chair and an extra blanket, and again betook himself to bed. Stepping on a tack that had been left over when the floor matting was laid provoked certain exclamations calculated to exorcise the demon or should I say alarm the angel? of decorative art, and he was soon wrapped in the slumber of the just, undisturbed by esthetic visions.

After a time he became dimly conscious of a sense of alarm. At first, scarcely roused to understand the fear or its cause, he soon recognized a noise that filled his soul with terror the stealthy sound of a midnight assassin; a faint rasping, intermittent and cautious, a sawing or filing the bolt of his door. He made a motion to spring up, upset a glass of water by his bedside and frightened the rats from the particular hole they were trying to gnaw. In their sudden fright they dropped all pretense of secresy. They called each other aloud by name and scattered acorns, matches, butternuts and ears of corn in every direction, which rolled along the ceiling, fell down the partitions, knocked the mortar off the back of the laths and raised such a noisy commotion as ought to have roused the whole neighborhood. No one stirred, and the architect once more addressed himself to blessed sleep, feeling that morning must soon put an end to his tribulations. How long he slept he had no means of knowing. It was still dark when he awoke: dark but not still. A distant footfall tinkled on the matted floor, followed by another and another in rapid, measured succession. Could there be a cat or a dog in the room? He could see nothing. The moon was gone and the room was dark as Egypt. Possibly some animal escaped from a traveling menagerie had hidden in the chamber. He lay still and listened while the step step step kept on without break or change. Presently he thought of ghosts, and as ghosts were the one thing he was not afraid of he turned over and went to sleep for good just as the village clock struck eleven.

In the morning when he awoke, it rained. The ghostly footfalls continued; in fact, they had considerably increased, but they were no longer ghostly. A dark spot on the ceiling directly over the portfolio of plans he had laid on the floor betrayed their source. Portfolio and contents were as well soaked as if the fire companies had been at them all from a leak in the roof.

After breakfast, when Jill proposed to spend the time till it cleared off in looking over the plans he had brought, the architect was obliged to explain the disaster.

“It is just as well,” said he. “I brought them because you asked me to bring them, not because I supposed there would be one among them that would suit you. But they are not wasted. These poor, dumb, dripping plans preach a most eloquent sermon, the practical application of which is only too evident.”

“But how can you make a tight roof? There has always been a leak here when it rains with the wind in a certain quarter. We keep a pan under it all the time, but somebody forgot to empty it; so it ran over last night.”

“You ought to see the house that I built,” said Jack. “The wind may blow where it listeth and never a drop comes through the roof.”

“Oh, Jack, what a story! Only yesterday you showed me where the ceiling was stained and the paper just ready to come off.”

“That wasn’t from rain water. It was from snow and ice water, which is a very different affair. We had peculiar weather last winter. I know a man who lost three thousand dollars’ worth of frescoes in one night.”

“It is indeed a different matter as regards the construction of the roof, but the water is wet all the same, and a roof is inexcusable that fails to keep all beneath it dry, however peculiar the weather may be. No, it is not difficult to make a tight roof with the aid of common sense and common faithfulness. The most vulnerable spots during a rain storm are beside the dormers and the chimneys, over the bay-window roofs and in the valleys, that is, wherever the plane surface and the uniform slope of the roof is broken. In guarding these it is not safe to assume that water never runs up hill; a strong wind will drive it up the slope of a roof under slates, shingles or flashings as easily as it drives up the high tide of Lincolnshire. It will cause the water pouring down the side of a chimney, a dormer window, or any other vertical wall, to run off in an oblique direction and into cracks that never thought of being exposed to falling rain. ‘Valleys’ fail to carry their own rivers when they are punctured by nails carelessly driven too far within their borders; when the rust that corrupts the metal of which they are commonly composed has eaten their substance from the under side perhaps, their weakness undiscovered till the torrent breaks through; when they become choked with leaves and dust and overflow their banks; when they are torn asunder by their efforts to accommodate themselves to changes of temperature, and when ice cakes come down from the steep roofs and break holes through them.

“The other danger is peculiar to cold climates, where the roof must protect not only from driving rain but from snow and ice in all their moods and tenses. When the higher peaks feel the warmth of the sun or the internal heat of the building, the lower slopes and valleys being without such influence, it sometimes happens that the rills will be set to running by the warmth of the upper portions, while the colder climate below will stop them in their course, building around the slate, shingles or tiles an impervious ice dam, from which the descending streams can find no outlet except by ‘setting back’ under the slates and running down inside. Eave spouts and conductors are especially liable to this climatic influence, for nothing is more common than to find them freezing in the shade while the roofs above are basking in the sun. As Jack observes, admitting water above an ice dam is a different kind of sin in a roof from that which caused the ruin of my plans last night, but it is no less unpardonable. The same treatment that will make a roof non-conducting of fire will, to some extent, overcome this danger, or a double boarding may be laid upon the rafters, with an air space between. This or the mineral wool packing will prevent the premature melting of snow from the internal heat. The only sure salvation for gutters is to take them down and lay them away in a cool, dry place. Thorough work, ample outlets and abundant room for an overflow on the outward side will make them reasonably safe. In general it is better to let the water fall to the ground, as directly as possible, and let the snow slide where it will, provided there is nothing below to be injured by an avalanche. A hundred-weight of warm snow or a five-pound icicle falling ten feet upon a slated roof or a conservatory skylight is sure to make a lasting impression.”

“Isn’t this discourse a little out of season?” said Jack. “We don’t buy furs in July nor refrigerators in January. If you expect advice to be followed, you mustn’t offer it too long beforehand. Now, as your plans haven’t yet recovered from their bath, let us see if Jill’s air-castles can be brought down to the region of human possibilities.”

“I am not quite ready for that,” said Jill. “First, let me show you the plans my old friend has sent me, and read you her description of them. Here are the plans and here is the letter:

“’Of all the plans Will has ever made’ her ‘Will’ is an architect, you know ’these seem to me most likely to suit you and Jack, although they are by no means, adapted to conventional, commonplace housekeepers. In the centre of the first floor the large hall, opening freely to the outside world, is a sort of common ground, hospitable and cheerful, where the stranger guest and the old friend meet; where the children play, where the entire household are free to come and go without formality. The furniture it contains is for use and comfort. It is never out of order, because it is subject to no formal rules. At the left of the hall is the real family home, more secluded and more significant of your own taste and feeling. Instead of many separate apartments for general family use, here are drawing-room, sitting-room, library and parlor, all in one. This is the domestic sanctuary, the essential family home into which outsiders come only by special invitation. From the central hall runs the staircase that leads to the still more personal and private apartments above, one of which belongs to each member of the family. At the right of the hall is the dining-room, near enough to make its contribution to physical comfort and enjoyment at the proper time, but easily excluded when its inferior service is not required.’

“I don’t understand that,” said Jill.

“I do,” said Jack. “It means that the meat that perisheth ought not to be set above the feast of reason and flow of soul; that the dining-room ought to be convenient but subordinate, not the most conspicuously elegant part of the establishment, unless we keep a boarding-house and reckon eating the chief end of man. Where do you say the library is?”

“Included in the drawing-room. Probably the corner marked ‘Boudoir’ contains a writing desk with more or less books and other literary appliances. It has a fireplace of its own and portieres would give it complete seclusion.”

“Where is the smoking-room?”

“I don’t know. She didn’t send the plans for the stable.”

“How savage! Please go on with the letter.”

Jill continued:

“’The floors of the dining-room and hall are on the same level, but that of the drawing-room is one or two feet higher

“I don’t like that at all. Should stumble forty times a day.”

“’ which is typical of its higher social plane, makes a charming raised seat on the platform at the foot of the stairs, and gives a more picturesque effect than would be possible if all the rooms were on a par.’

“Can’t help that. I shouldn’t like it. I’d rather be a commonplace housekeeper.”

“’The higher broad landing in the staircase, running quite across the hall, makes a sort of gallery with room for a few book-shelves, a lounging-seat in the window, a band of musicians on festival occasions, with perhaps a pretty view from the window.’

“If the landscape happens to fit the plan.”

“’Under the lower portion, of the stairs there is a toilet room, and at the same end of the hall wide doors lead to the piazza. A long window also gives access to the same piazza from the drawing-room. In the second story the chambers have plenty of closets and dressing-rooms, and yet but few doors. Indeed, many of these may be omitted by using portieres between each chamber and its dressing-room. You will notice, too, that by locking one door on each story the servants’ quarters can be entirely detached from the rest of the house.’

“Yes,” said Jill, laying down the letter; “and that suggests another question: What do you think of a plan like this which provides no passage from the kitchen to the front part of the house except across the dining-room?”

“I should refer the question back to the housekeepers themselves; it is domestic rather than architectural. If the kitchen servant attends to the door bell, and is constantly sailing back and forth between the cooking-stove and the front door like a Fulton Ferry boat, the amount of travel would justify a special highway even a suspension bridge. Likewise, when the side entrance for the boys and other careless members of the family is behind the dining-room, that apartment will become a noisy thoroughfare, unless there is a corridor passing around it. This is a common dilemma in planning the average house, and while a direct communication between the front and rear portions is always desirable, crossing one of the principal rooms is often the least of two evils. It seems to be so in this plan.”

“Go on, Jill.”

“There is but one more sentence about the plan: ’The outside of the house is severely plain, but you can easily make it more ornamental.’”

“That’s true. Nothing is easier than to make things ornamental. The hard thing is to make them simply useful. Now if you want my candid opinion of this plan,” Jack continued, “I should say it is first-rate if the front door looks toward the east: if there is a grand view of rivers and mountains toward the southwest; if the family live on the west piazza all the forenoon; if they board a moderate family of servants in the north end (which I notice is a few steps lower than the dining-room for social reasons, I suppose) if they keep up rather a ‘tony’ style of living in the south end; are not above condescending to men of low estate to the extent of receiving common people in the big hall, but holding themselves about two steps above the average human; and, finally, if and provided the butler’s pantry is made as large again for a smoking-room, and the kitchen pantry made large enough to hold the butler. With these few remarks, I think we may lay this set of plans on the table.”