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


“We must devote this evening exclusively to the new house,” said Jill, as Jack started for his office. “The architect is waiting for instructions, and every day we lose now will give us another day of vexation and impatience when we are waiting for the house to be finished.”

“That’s true, and it’s a chronological fact that house-builders often forget. Very well, I’ll come home early. Will Bessie be here?”

“Certainly. She has come for a long visit.”

“Then I shall bring up Jim again. One-half Bess says he can’t understand, and he doesn’t approve of the other half; but we couldn’t keep him away if we tried. So we’ll invite him to come. It’s great fun to hear Bessie’s comments and witness Jim’s helplessness.”

“If you are going to devote yourself to Jim and Bessie,” said Jill severely, “I may as well answer these questions without consulting you at all.”

“Oh, pray don’t do that. Give me a chance to express my opinions. Some of them are strikingly bold and original. Besides, you will need me to conduct the meeting.”

It happened, accidentally of course, that Bessie’s evening dress was of a color that looked well by gaslight, and no objection was made to the unnatural illumination.

Jill took up the architect’s letter, where she had left it, at the conclusion of the blind question. “Another point that was mentioned when I was at your father’s house must be decided soon: Shall there be gutters to catch the water from the roof, with pipes of some sort to convey it to the ground, or shall it be left to take care of itself? If there are none, the ground around the house should pitch sharply away from the walls and a slight depression should be formed, into which the water would fall. This shallow ditch should be perhaps two feet wide, as the drops will not always come down in straight lines. It may be paved with small stones or bricks, between which the grass will grow, or it maybe more carefully lined with asphalt paving. If it is desired to conduct the water to a certain point, this drain can descend slightly toward it, and, if the lawn will not be injured by an occasional inundation, even the shallow ditch may be omitted, making merely a one-sided slope, hardened to prevent the water from wearing a ragged, unsightly channel around the house. The advantages of disposing of the water in this way, dispensing with the gutters, are its economy and its permanence. Whatever the material may be of which they are made, gutters attached to the eaves or roof cause more or less trouble and expense from the time they are put in place till the house is given up to the owls and the bats. They are liable to be corroded by rust, to be clogged with leaves and dust, to be choked with ice, or to become loosened from their fastenings. If used at all, they should be frankly acknowledged. This is not, however, a point on which I am in need of instructions, but would remind you that one of the interesting illustrations of the happy skill of the old masters in making a virtue of necessity is found in the effective treatment of the waterspouts and conductors. They made them bold, quaint and picturesque in appearance, far removed from the tin contrivances that we hang in frail awkwardness to our roofs.”

“How perfectly delightful!” exclaimed Bessie. “Those horribly grotesque old gargoyles are just glorious. Don’t you delight in the antique, Mr. James, when it isn’t too horrible?”

“Yes, they are awfully jolly. We had a great time with them last ‘Fourth.’ I got myself up as a pirate king black flag, skull and cross-bones, you know. It was awfully jolly.”

“I never saw any of that kind, but you will have some gargoyles, won’t you, Jill?”

“Possibly, for the architect says’ whether you have gutters entirely around the house or not; it will doubtless be necessary to catch the water that would fall upon the steps or balconies in short eave-troughs, and as they are certain to be conspicuous they should be respectfully treated. As they add to the comfort of the house they should also add to its beauty.’ Now what shall be said on this subject? His opinion appears to be that if we do not need to save the water for use, and if it will do no harm upon the ground around the house, it will be best to omit them except where protection is needed for something below. He sends some sketches and says ’they represent a few of the methods by which the water may be caught and carried to the ground. Number two and number three will prevent the sliding of the snow from the roof, which is sometimes desirable, but not always. Gutters made in this form should be so near the eaves that in case of accidental injury the water could not find its way inside the main walls. Number five has the advantage of leaving the house uninjured whatever happens to the gutter itself. It may leak through its entire length or run over on both sides without doing other harm than wasting the water.’ I don’t see,” said Jill, laying down the letter, “how we can give instructions without dictating in matters of ’construction and design,’ concerning which the architect distinctly objects to advice.”

“Tell him we don’t care what becomes of the water and the lawn will take care of itself. Then ‘instruct’ him to exercise his own discretion. That’s what he is for. What next?”

“He would like to know our wishes in regard to fireplaces.”

“I thought the heating question had been decided once according to Uncle Harry’s doctrines.”

“Not fully. We shall have both steam and open fires; the architect understands that, but he doesn’t know how many fireplaces nor what kind. We can tell him how many easily enough: one in each room of the first story except the kitchen, but including the hall, and one in each of the bed-rooms.”

“Including the guest chambers?”

“By all means. There is nothing that makes one feel so thoroughly welcome, so delightfully at home as a room with an open fire. Mahogany four-posters, velvet carpets and sumptuous fare are trivial compliments in comparison. Concerning the style and cost he says: ’Of designs there is an endless variety, and there is a wide range in cost, from the simple recess in the side of a plain brick chimney’

“One of the kind that Aunt Melville builds for a dollar and a quarter.”

“’ to the elaborate affairs that cost as much as a comfortable cottage. It would be idle for me to attempt to give you a full description of them all my letter would appear like a manufacturer’s catalogue. Indeed, you can find whole books on the subject, large books too, which it will be interesting and profitable for you to study; but first it is necessary to lay out the chimneys to accommodate the sizes and styles to be chosen. You will easily understand that a grate for burning coal alone, especially hard coal, may be much smaller than a fireplace to hold hickory logs that it takes two men to carry; but the heat of anthracite coal would soon destroy the lining of a fireplace adapted to an ordinary fire of wood. It cannot be necessary to remind you that the best open fireplaces, whether for wood or coal, are those which, instead of sending three-fourths of the heat up the chimney flue, give it out from all sides, to be saved either directly or by being conveyed to an adjoining or upper room. It is also possible to make a fireplace that will accommodate either wood or coal, but like all compromises this is attended with certain disadvantages. If large enough for wood it is too large for hard coal. The smoke flue for a coal fire may also be smaller, the hotter fire causing the stronger draught. Coal ashes, too, ought to be dropped through the hearth into ash pits below, even from the fires of the upper rooms. To “take up the ashes” of a wood fire is not so troublesome. These are some of the reasons why it is necessary to determine the kind and number of your fireplaces before the plans of the chimneys are drawn.’”

“Why not make an appropriation of fifty dollars apiece for each grate, mantel and hearth, and have him do the best he can with it?”

“We can fix that as an average price, but shall want some better than others, and must mark in each room whether we wish to provide for wood, for coal, or for both. That is, whether we want ‘set’ grates or open fireplaces with andirons or something of that kind.”

“Oh, do have andirons. Please have andirons,” said Bessie. “You know you can go out into the country and buy them for old brass of the farmers who haven’t the remotest idea of their value. They keep them up in those dear old musty garrets covered with dust and spider webs.”

“Certainly, we will have a few andirons and several spinning-wheels and moony clocks and solid old carved oak chests that for generations have been full of moths and food for worms. I never happened to come across one of those old bonanza garrets, but I suppose there are plenty of them lying around and just running over with these antique treasures. Jim, can’t I hire you to go out among the unesthetic heathens and buy up a few loads of heirlooms and other relics of former greatness? We shall want some old associations in the new house, and if we haven’t any of our own we must buy some.”

“I don’t think I know much about such things. Why don’t you go to a furniture store and get what you want first-hand? Second-hand furniture always looks shabby and out of date. However, if Miss Bessie could go with me to pick out things, I wouldn’t mind taking a drive into the country to see what we could find.”

“Now, really, wouldn’t you mind it? How enchanting! It will be delightful to be associated with the new house. I know we shall find some lovely things.”

“All right. You shall have Bob and the express wagon to-morrow. What next, Jill?”

“’I should be glad to know your feeling in regard to height of rooms, but shall not promise fully to agree with you. My purpose is to make the principal rooms of the first story ten and a-half or eleven feet high.’”

“Oh, how dreadful! I don’t know how high eleven feet is, but I’m sure they ought not to be more than seven feet.”

“I thought you were going to say not less than fourteen,” said Jim.

“Oh, no, indeed! Low rooms are so deliciously quaint and cosy.”

“But I should be all the time expecting to hit my head.”

“You wouldn’t think of that for a moment if you could only feel the influence of Kitty Kane’s library. It is a copy of an old English bar-room, or something of that sort, I don’t exactly remember what, but it is in the Queen Anne style, and it’s too lovely for anything. Please have low rooms, Jill.”

Jill continued reading: “For rooms of ordinary sizes and devoted to ordinary domestic purposes, that is high enough for use, for comfort and for any reasonable amount of decoration, either upon the walls themselves or in the shape of pictures or other ornaments. You will certainly think it enough when you are climbing the stairs to the rooms of the second story. It may be practicable to reduce the height of some of the smaller apartments, but it is usually much more convenient to keep the ceilings of the main rooms of uniform height, even if this does upset the ‘correct proportion’ which critics attempt in vain to establish. To make ceilings very low seems an affectation of humility or of antiquity not justified by common sense. In the polar regions, where the sun never reaches an altitude above twenty-three degrees, low rooms and short windows would be entirely satisfactory. In the torrid zone, where it is not safe to build more than one story for fear of earthquakes and tornadoes, where chambers would be useless, and where the grand question is not how to keep warm but how to keep cool, the higher the better. For houses in the temperate zones the medium height is the safest, the best and the most artistic. If any one dares to say it is not, ask him to tell you the reason why.”

“How perfectly exasperating,” said Bessie in a tragic aside to Jim. “No one ought to try to give reasons in art, in religion or in politics. Intuitions are so much more satisfactory. Don’t you always rely on your intuitions, Mr. James?”

“Perhaps I should if I had them, but somehow I I never seem to have any.”

“The meeting appears to be divided,” said Jack. “Bessie says seven, Jim says fourteen. Suppose we split the difference and call it ten and a half.”

“That is, we advise the architect to do as he pleases, then he will be sure to follow our advice.”