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

TRUTH, POETRY AND ROOFS.

“How the wind does blow!” said Jill, as she laid aside Aunt Melville’s latest, and Jack laid another log into the open stove. “It is a genuine ‘gale from the northeast.’”

“So it is, and that reminds me,” Jack exclaimed, jumping up, “that a driving rain from the northeast always gets the better of the attic window over the guest-room. There’s something mysterious about that window,” he explained. “It opens like a door; I believe they call it a ‘casement’ window, and in such a storm as this I have to keep sopping up the water that blows in. I had a carpenter look at it, but he said it couldn’t be fixed without making a new one or fastening it up so it couldn’t be opened at all. We don’t have a northeast rain-storm very often, and that’s the only window that ever leaks except the skylight and the round one in the west gable which is hung at the top to swing inward and couldn’t be expected to hold water.”

Jill found some towels, and they hurried to the attic to “sop up” the rain that was driving under the sash and had already made its mark on the ceiling below. Then they examined the skylight and the round window, and just as they were about to descend perceived a smell of burning wood. Jack rushed down to the sitting-room, telling Jill to fly for a pail of water, found the wall beside the stove-pipe very hot, ran for an axe, and, smashing a hole through the lath and plastering, discovered a bit of wood furring to which the laths had been nailed resting directly against the sheet iron pipe. Catching the pail of water which Jill was about to pour into the stove, he cooled the hot pipe and extinguished the wood about to burst into flame, the smoke of which, rising beside the chimney to the attic, had warned them of the danger below. He then cut away around the pipe till the solid brick chimney was exposed, gathered up the rubbish, piling the chips upon the fire in the stove, and lay back in his chair, evidently enjoying the situation.

“How can you be so reckless, Jack, as to keep a fire in such a chimney?”

“The chimneys are all right, my dear. I took special pains with them when the house was built. The only danger there ever was lay in that little piece of inch board that happened to be too near the pipe.”

“And how are we to know what other little pieces of board may be too near? I think it’s a very dangerous house to live in. If we hadn’t gone up to the attic when we did it would have been all in flames.”

“And we shouldn’t have gone to the attic at all if my windows had been proof against the east wind.”

“No, nor would you have known we were having a gale from the northeast if I hadn’t quoted the ‘Wreck of the Hesperus.’”

“Consequently we owe our preservation to the well-beloved poet.”

“Moral: Study the poets.”

“Moral number two: Build leaky casements.”

“Number three: When the wood around a chimney takes fire it doesn’t prove a ‘defective flue.’”

“Number four: A small fault hidden is more dangerous than a large one in sight.”

“Very true; and if modern builders had kept to the poet’s standard, and, like those in the elder days of art,

’wrought with greatest care,
Each minute and hidden part,’

we should not be trembling before a black and ragged chasm in the wall, afraid to go to bed lest the fire should break out anew and burn us in our sleep.”

“There’s not the least danger. We are as safe as a barrel of gunpowder in a mill pond. There is nothing to set us on fire. That bit of dry wood was the key to the whole situation. We have captured that and can make our own terms. Still, if you feel nervous we will sit up and ’talk house’ till the fire goes out.”

Jill acceded to this proposal and began to discourse, taking moral number four for a text.

“I wish it were possible,” said she, “to build a house with everything in plain sight, the chimneys, the hot-air pipes from the furnace, if there are any, the steam pipes, the ventilators, the gas pipes, the water pipes, the speaking tubes, the cranks and wires for the bells whatever really belongs to the building. They might all be decorated if that would make them more interesting, but even if they were quite unadorned they ought not to be ugly. If we could see them we shouldn’t feel that we are surrounded by hidden mysteries liable at any time to explode or break loose upon us unawares. Those things that get out of order easily ought surely to be accessible. I don’t believe there would have been half the trouble with plumbing, either in the way of danger to health or from dishonest and ignorant work, if it had not been the custom to keep it as much as possible out of sight. There is a great satisfaction, too, in knowing that everything is genuine.”

“We might build a log house. The logs are solid, and the chimney, if there happens to be one, won’t pretend to be of the same material as the walls of the building.”

“I like better the notion of letting the material of which brick walls and partitions are composed form the actual finish inside as well as outside. The floors, too, should be bare, and the beams that support them ought to be visible, and in case of a wooden house, the posts, braces and other timbers should be left in sight when the building is finished. It is a sad pity that modern modes of building, like modern manners and fashions, conceal actual construction and character, making a mask that may hide great excellence or absolute worthlessness.”

“Won’t all these pipes, wooden beams, bell ropes and things be fearfully dusty and cumber the housekeeper with too much serving? I supposed you would vote for smooth, flat, hard wood and painted walls, they are so much easier to keep clean.”

“Perhaps I shall; but we must remember the gnat and the camel and try to be consistent. A single portiere, especially if it be of the rag-carpet style, has a greater dust-collecting capacity than a whole houseful of wooden floors, ceilings and wainscots, even when they are moulded and ornamentally wrought. Surely they will not be troublesome if they are plain and simple, and only think how much more interesting than flat square walls and ceilings, which we feel compelled to cover with some sort of decoration to make them endurable. I suppose architects have outgrown the sheet-iron and stucco style of building, and do not generally approve of ‘graining’ honest pine in imitation of coarse-grained chestnut. But these are not the only concealments and disguises that ought to be reformed. If we cannot make our house a model in any other respect, I hope it will be free from hypocrisy and silly affectations.”

“By all means; but you mustn’t forget that reformers risk martyrdom. However, you can’t be too honest for me; I am ready to sign any pledge you offer, even though it prohibit paint, putty and all other cloaks for poverty, ignorance and dishonesty.”

“There’s a time and place for paint and putty, lath, plaster and paper, but we ought not to be helplessly dependent upon them.”

“Have you any idea how the house will look outside,” asked Jack, giving the fire a poke, “or is that to be left to take care of itself?”

“No, indeed! not left to take care of itself. In that part of the undertaking we are bound to believe that the architect is wiser than we, and must accept in all humility what he decrees. Still I think the law of domestic architecture at least should be ‘from within out.’ For the sake of the external appearance it ought not to be necessary to make the rooms higher or lower than we want them for use, neither larger nor more irregular in shape. It ought not to be necessary to build crooked chimneys for the sake of a dignified standing on the roof, or to make a pretense of a window where none is needed. The windows are for you and me to look out from and to let in the sunlight, not for the benefit of outside observers, and should be treated accordingly. We will not have big posts mullions, do you call them? in the middle of them, as there are in these. When I try to look down the street to see if you are coming home I can scarcely see obliquely to the corner of the lot, and we don’t get half as much sunshine as we should if the windows were all in one.”

“Why not, if there’s the same amount of glass?”

“Because the sun can’t shine around a corner; and Jack, why did you set them so near the floor? There’s no chance for a seat under them, and they do not give as much light or ventilation as they would if they ran nearly up to the ceiling.”

“What is the use of making them long at the top? They are always half covered up with lambrequins or some fanciful contrivance.”

“Indeed, they will not be; our windows will be arranged to be wholly uncovered whenever we need the light. Too many windows are not so unmanageable as too many doors, and I should like one room with a whole broadside of glass; but for most rooms the fewer windows the better, provided they are broad and high. I despise a room in which you can’t sit down without being in front of a window or walk around without running against a door, that has no large wall spaces for pictures and no room for a piano, a book-case, a cabinet or a large lounge. A small room, that has doors or windows on all sides does not seem like a room intended for permanent occupation, but rather as a sort of outer court or vestibule belonging to something farther on.”

“I suppose the architect will claim the porches, balconies, and things of that sort, as belonging to the exterior, and design them as he pleases; but I think we have a right to insist that they shall add to our comfort. They must be large enough to be used, they must be put where we can use them conveniently, and they must not interfere with the interior arrangements; beyond that we shall accept what the architect sets before us.”

“‘Asking no questions for conscience sake.’ How about the roof is that also a matter of evolution?”

“No; because the inside of the roof is of but little consequence. It must keep out the rain and wind, snow and ice; it must be strong and economically built and have a reasonable amount of light. The rest we shall leave to the architect. As Uncle Harry observes, ’the material part of the house rests upon the foundation stones; its spiritual character is displayed chiefly in the roof, which may change to an unlimited extent the expression of the building it covers.’”

“That’s so. Let me make the roofs for a people and I care not who builds the houses. The roof on the house is like the hat on the man, as I can show you,” said Jack, taking a piece of charcoal from the stove and drawing on the back of the fireboard some astonishing illustrations of his theory.

“Here is the president of a big corporation who must be dignified whether he has a soul or not. He represents the ‘renaissance.’ No nonsense about him, no sentiment, no sympathy, no anything but himself and his own magnificence.”

“This fellow is a brakeman prompt, efficient, laconic. Same head, you see, but different hat. He stands for the hipped roof which has one duty to do and does it.”

“Give the dignified president a smashing blow on the head and you see what he may become after an unsuccessful defalcation an unfortunate tramp, who has ‘seen better days.’ He is a capital illustration of the roofs called ‘French,’ that were so imposing a few years ago, and are about as agreeable in the way of landscape decoration as the tramp himself, but not half so picturesque.

“Pull the string again and we have a benevolent ‘broad-brim,’ stiff, symmetrical and proper to the last degree, like an Italian villa; and, once more changing the straight lines to crooked ones, the conventional formalist becomes the unconventional, free-and-easy South-westerner, who may stand for Swiss or any other go-as-you-please style.”

“It is midnight and the fire is out; let’s adjourn.”