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


The next demonstration from the architect was a pencil drawing of the floor plans, submitted for inspection and criticism. Concerning these he wrote to Jill’s entire satisfaction. “From many of my clients I should expect the first question would be, ’Will a house built in this shape look well outside?’ It is not necessary to remind you that at this stage of the proceedings such an inquiry is wholly irrelevant. The interior arrangements should be made without a thought of the exterior effect, precisely as if the house were to wear the ring of Gyges and be forever invisible to outsiders. There are several points, however, on which I await further instructions

“What’s the use of having an architect,” Jack inquired, “if you’ve got to keep instructing him all the time?”

“provided you wish to give instructions,” Jill continued reading. “There is often a misunderstanding between architect and client, and I wish to avoid it in the present case by saying at the outset that while there are many things which, in my opinion, should be referred to you, I am ready to decide them for you if you wish me to do so; but even in such cases I prefer to set before you the arguments pro and con, after which, if you still desire it, I shall accept the arbitration. This is not a rule that works both ways or applies universally, for while referring to you matters relating to use and expenditure, and at the same time standing ready to decide them for you, I cannot promise to accept your advice in matters of construction and design. I trust I have not yet reached the fossiliferous state of mind that prevents my listening with sincere respect to candid suggestions, even from those who are not fairly competent to give advice; but on these points you must not expect me to follow your taste and judgment in opposition to my own, even if you do pay the bills. When your physician prescribes arsenic and you inform him that you shall give it to your poodle and take strychnine instead, he will doubtless infer that his services are no longer desired; he will know that while he might be able to kill you, he could not hope to cure you. Patients have rights that physicians are bound to respect, but the right to commit suicide and ruin the physician’s reputation is not among them. The relations of client and architect are similar.

“This is one of the questions which I refer to you, but will answer for you if you send it back: How shall the eyes of the house be closed? Shall the eyelids be outside blinds, inside folding shutters, ’Queen Anne’ rolling blinds, sliding blinds or Venetian shades? There are good reasons for and against each kind; either, if adopted, compels some compromise. Whichever road you take you will wish you had taken the other.

“For instance, in hot weather outside blinds that shield the glass from the direct rays of the sun keep the rooms cooler than any form of inside shutters; they allow a gradation of light and a free circulation of air. You can even leave the window open during a summer shower without danger of being drenched. Last but not least they are inexpensive. The wrong side of the outside blinds appears when you wish to make wide windows, or mullioned windows, or windows that cannot command at each side an unobstructed wall space equal to at least half their own width for the blinds to rest against when open. Under such circumstances, which are by no means rare, outside blinds are stubbornly unmanageable.

“Inside blinds that fold back and swing away from the windows must have wide recessed jambs to hold them when they are not in use. If the windows are broad these ‘pockets’ will require a thick wall and thus increase the actual size of the house. A little space may be saved by allowing them to stand out obliquely when open, or turn around upon the inside face of the wall, but either mode increases the cost of finishing the rooms. If these blinds are made of open slats, many housekeepers despise them as being no better than small cabinets maliciously contrived to accumulate dust; if of solid panels, they make a room perfectly dark, or when opened ever so slightly admit unbroken rays of sunlight. On the other hand, inside blinds are accessible; they can be opened and closed without leaning half one’s length out of the window; they do not hide the glory of plate glass; they graciously permit windows to stand where they please and to be as large as they please; and they never quarrel with piazza roofs, awnings, hoods or other outside accessories.

“Shutters that coil up into a box over the window or down into a box below it have the modest excellence of being always out of the way when they are not wanted, of staying where they are put when partially open, of occupying but little space and never standing in the way of the window curtains. They are, in fact, wooden shades similar to the old-fashioned green slat curtains, that were rolled up by drawing a cord, but are far more substantial. The single slats of which they are composed do not revolve, and consequently it is not easy to ’peep through the blind just to hear the band play.’

“Venetian shades, with their multiplicity of bright-colored straps, cords, hooks and trimmings, are picturesque and graceful. They are somewhat subject to dust and repairs, and when the window is open are not proof against tornadoes and thunder showers.

“Inside blinds are sometimes contrived to slide sideways, like barn doors, into cavities formed to receive them. If built with extreme care and handled with the utmost tenderness they are a degree less obtrusive than when wholly dependent on hinges. Likewise, outside blinds may be contrived to swing horizontally as well as vertically, standing out from the top of the window like a small shed roof. They are not quite wide enough to serve as awnings, and are liable to catch more wind than they can hold.”

“It strikes me that the whole thing is a ‘blind.’ What is he driving at?”

“The conclusion of the matter seems to be given in this sentence: ’You will perceive, therefore, that a decision in regard to blinds should be made even before the house is staked out, since the size of the foundation itself may be affected by it, as well as the minor details.’”

“I’m ready for the question; are you?”

“Yes. In the bay windows and for the long windows that give access to the balconies and piazzas we will have blinds that roll up out of the way. A few of the windows on the sunny side will have for summer use outside blinds, a few more will have cloth awnings. The most of the windows will have no blinds at all, only such shades and curtains as we choose to furnish. I don’t think the eyes of a house ought to be closed much of the time. It is certainty absurd to hang blinds at all the windows when we only need them at a few.”

“Oh, but won’t the neighbors rage and imagine vain things when they see a house with here and there a blind and here and there an awning?”

“The wise ones will approve; the foolish ones will demonstrate their folly by criticising what they don’t understand.”

“Very well, that point is settled. Unless the next is sharp and short you must decide it without my help. It is high time I was at the office.”

“We will defer them all. It is time for me to be at my household duties. You know Cousin Bessie comes this afternoon, and I’ve noticed that extremely intellectual people are sometimes extremely fond of a good dinner.”

“If Bessie is coming I must anoint my beard with oil of sunflowers and trot out my old gold slippers. Shall I send up some pale lilies for dessert? And that reminds me Jim came home last night and I asked the old fellow to come up to dinner. How do you suppose Bess found it out?”

“Don’t be spiteful, Jack. She didn’t find it out at all. I invited her a week ago. Now go to the office, please, while I put the house in order.”

During this important process Jill entertained herself by philosophical reflection upon the style of living that requires a house to be constantly “put in order.” She recalled certain of Uncle Harry’s observations to the effect that in a truly civilized state housekeeping would be so conducted and houses would be so contrived that instead of causing care and labor proverbially endless, housekeepers would no more be burdened by their domestic duties than are the fowls of the air. Jill had too much of the rare good sense, incorrectly called “common,” to attempt to reduce Uncle Harry’s theories to practice all at once. She knew that though we may not reach the summit of our ambition, it is well to advance toward it even by a single step, or failing in that, to help prepare a way for some one else. She understood the wisdom of striving to increase the fraction of life by dividing the denominator, and at the same time cherished the broader hope that her life and her home might be filled with whatever is of most enduring worth.

Moralizing thus, but always with an architectural or house-building background, she continued her work, noticing the sharp grooves and projecting mouldings that caught the dust, the high, ugly thresholds, the doors that swung the wrong way, compelling half a dozen extra steps in passing through them; shelves that were too high or too narrow; drawers that refused to “draw” or dropped helplessly on the floor as soon as they were drawn out far enough to display the spoons and spices they contained; window stools that came down behind tables and shelves, forming a sort of receptacle for lost articles belonging to the kitchen or pantry all of which she resolved should not be repeated. When Bessie arrived the house was in that most perfect order which gives no sign of unusual preparation.

“This is too perfectly lovely for anything,” exclaimed Bessie. “I just dote on domestic duties. You can’t help being overpoweringly happy, Jill, with such a home and such a husband. Then only to think of the new house drives me completely frantic. What will it be like? Are the plans made? Oh! I do hope not, for I have a million of things to tell you about that are totally unspeakable.”

“Then you are just in time. We had a long letter from the architect this morning asking for instructions on various matters.”

“How perfectly fascinating! Let’s sit down this minute and begin upon them.”

But Jill preferred waiting till Jack came home, bringing with him his younger brother, just home for summer vacation.

“It isn’t necessary to announce dinner,” said she. “The preliminary odors have already advertised it through the entire house.”

“I thought these observations were to be strictly confidential,” observed Jack.

“That wasn’t ‘finding fault.’ It was a mere casual remark. Some people may think it pleasanter to be summoned by the odor of broiling fish than by the noise of a dinner-bell.”

“Indeed I do,” said Bessie, taking Jack’s proffered arm. “Odors are too delicious for anything. They are so refined and spiritual I’m sure I could live on them. I would far prefer the fragrance of a dish of strawberries to the fruit itself.”

“We shall get along capitally then. You can smell of the berries and I’ll eat them afterwards. You see now, Jill, the advantage of having a house built like this. Cousin Bessie proposes that we live on the fragrance of the food. It won’t be necessary even to come to the dining-room. We can all stay in the parlor or in our chambers and absorb sustenance from the circumambient air, as the sprightly goldfish gathers honey from the inside of a glass ball.”

“Please don’t make fun of me, Cousin Jack, for I do truly revel in fragrance, and I’m sure your house is beautifully planned. Don’t you think so, Mr. James?”

“I realty don’t know much about such things. I never did like to know what I was going to have for dinner long beforehand it makes me so awfully hungry.”

“Precisely so, Jim; it gives you am appetite. I had the house planned in this way for that very purpose.”

“Now that you have introduced the subject,” said Jill, “I will tell you how I should have planned it. There should have been a ‘cut-off’ somewhere a little lobby between the kitchen and the rest of the house, with a ventilating flue so large that neither smoke nor steam nor perfumed air could pass it without being caught up and carried to the sky. Of course these odors ought not to get away from the ventilator above the range, but the best contrivances are not proof against the carelessness of the cook when she is in a hurry as she always is just before dinner.”

When they returned to the sitting-room Bessie brought down a set of plans her father had sent for Jack and Jill to examine, thinking they would suit their lot and taste. They did suit the lot fairly, but Jill’s mind was too fully made up to accept any change from her own plan. The exterior she approved cordially, but to Bessie’s despair would not promise to imitate it, preferring to leave the outside to her architect without reserve.

While they were spoiling their eyes in the twilight Jack pressed the electric “button” that lighted the gas instantaneously all over the house, causing Bessie to cry out in protest against such a sudden transition. “It is so violent, so unlike the slow, sweet processes of nature. I never shall learn to like gas, and the electric light is absolutely horrid. Don’t you love tapers, Mr. James?”

“Tapirs? I don’t think I’m a judge; I never had one. I should rather have a tame zebra.”

“Oh, I mean tapers for light!”

“Excuse me certainly: yes, that is, I think I do. We don’t use them very often. Do you mean tallow or wax?”

“Wax, of course! They have such elegant decorations on them. I had a most exquisite sconce Christmas, with two of the loveliest tapers completely covered with Moorish arabesques in crimson and old gold.”

“What becomes of the decorations when the tapers burn up?”

“Well, we don’t burn them much. Indeed, I don’t think we ought to use artificial light at all. The mysterious light of the moon and stars is so much more enchanting. Don’t you love to muse and dream in the fading twilight?”

“No, not very well. The trouble is if I get to sleep before I go to bed I don’t sleep as well afterward.”

“Oh, I don’t mean actual dreams, but vague, dreamy musings, esthetic aspirations and longings. Do you never long for abstract beauty?”

“Well, no, not long. If I can’t get what I want pretty quick I generally go for something else.”

This irrelevant conversation was vastly entertaining to Jack, who, knowing how unlike were the dispositions of his brother and his wife’s cousin, had contrived their meeting with special reference to his own amusement. When the clock told the hour for retiring he brought Bessie a tin candlestick, in which a tallow candle smoked and spluttered in a feeble way, but filled the soul of the young lady with admiration, it was so “full of feeling.”

“Life is so much richer when our environment is illuminated and glorified

“By tapers,” said Jack as he bade her an affectionate good-night.