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


“Splitting the difference” is a convenient compromise, but it is not always creditable to both parties, and Jill thought it would not be safe with such advisers to assume that Wisdom’s house is always built between two extremes. She felt, too, that the architect’s discussion of details must be tiresome to her guests, and therefore resolved to take up but one more of his queries, spending the remainder of the evening in looking over plans and letters, of which she had an ample store still unexplored, or in listening to Bessie’s ardent description of the treasures she hoped to find in the lofty recesses of the old garrets.

“I fear the next topic will not be deeply interesting, but it is the last one to-night, and Jack must give me his undivided attention if he wishes to know what we are to stand upon in the new house.”

“Is it about floors?” Bessie asked. “Do please have waxed floors. I dote on waxed floors, don’t you, Mr. James?”

“Not especially; but I’m pretty apt to slip on them. Is it about floors, Jill?”

“Yes, but chiefly about the best way to build them their construction.”

“I thought the architect was to settle questions of construction to suit himself.”

“He is, and this topic he writes ’concerns construction, cost, use and design, and is, therefore, one on which we may properly take counsel together.’”

“How condescending!”

“I suppose you would object to iron girders with brick arches between them on account of their cost, but I hope to see rolled iron beams for brick dwelling-houses so cheaply made that they will be commonly used instead of wood. Such iron ribs, with the brick arches or other masonry between them, might well form the finish of the ceilings, and if we were accustomed to see them, our frail lath and plaster would seem stale, flat and combustible in comparison. The usual mode of making floors of thin joists set edgewise, from one to two feet apart, with one or two thicknesses of inch boards on the top to walk upon, and lathing underneath to hold the plastering, is perhaps the most economical use of materials. A more satisfactory construction would be to use larger beams two or three times as far apart, laying thicker planks upon them and dispensing with plastering altogether, or perhaps applying it between the timbers directly to the under-side of the planks, leaving the beams themselves in sight. If the floor is double the planks or boards lying directly upon the joists may be of common, coarse stock, hemlock or spruce, upon which must be laid another thickness of finished boards. It is for you to say whether the finished upper floor shall be of common, cheap stock, to be always covered by carpets, or of some harder wood carefully polished and not concealed at all, except by occasional rugs.’”

“Oh, I do hope she will have rugs!” Bessie’s remarks were semi-asides addressed chiefly to Jim. “There’s nothing so lovely as these oriental rugs. Kitty Kane had an exquisite one among her wedding presents, and when her house was built the parlor was made to fit the rug. It makes it rather long and narrow, but the rug is too lovely.”

“’It is also for you to say whether the finished floor, if you have no carpets, shall consist simply of plain narrow boards or be more expensively laid in parquetry designs. In the latter case I shall claim the privilege of choosing the pattern.’”

“Why should he trouble himself about the pattern of the wood floors any more than he would about the style of the carpets?”

“He would probably say, because the floors are a part of the house for which he is making the plans and will last as long as the house itself, while the carpets are subject to changing fashions and will soon return to their original dust. But he may attempt to dictate in regard to carpets if we give him a chance.”

“Undoubtedly to the extent of pitching them out of the window.”

“In laying double floors one simple matter must not be neglected. The under, or lining boards, which are usually wide and imperfectly seasoned, should be laid diagonally upon the joists; otherwise in their shrinking and swelling they will move the narrow finished boards resting upon them and cause ugly cracks to appear, even though the upper floor is most carefully laid and thoroughly seasoned. The liberal use of nails is another obvious but often neglected duty of floor-makers, who seem, at times to act upon the supposition that as a floor has nothing to do but lie still and be trodden upon, it only needs to be laid in place and let alone. This may be true of stone flagging; it is far from being true of inch boards, that have an incurable tendency to warp, twist, spring and shake. Lining floors, especially, whatever their thickness, should be nailed spiked is a more forcible term to every possible bearing and with generous frequency; to be specific, say every three inches. The finished hoards must also be secured by nails driven squarely through them. If you object to the appearance of nail heads the boards may be secured by nails driven through the edges in such way that they will be out of sight when the floor is finished; but this should never be done except by skillful and conscientious workmen. There is no excuse for this “blind” nailing in floors that are to be covered by carpets, and it is seldom desirable under any circumstances. All thorough nailing adds greatly to the strength, and will alone prevent the creaking of the boards, so annoying in a sick room and so discouraging to burglars.’”

“Whatever else we do we must make it all right for the burglars. Tell him we will have floors that can be used either way, with rugs or without, with matting, with carpets, or with nothing at all but their own unadorned loveliness. Those in the chambers, where there is not much wear and tear, may be of common clear pine, and we can paint or stain a border around the edges. The others ought to be of harder wood, and, as they will last as long as we shall need floors, we can afford to have them cost rather more than a good carpet, perhaps thirty or forty cents a square foot.”

“I don’t see the necessity for that,” said Jill, who had a frugal mind at times. “I know they will outlast a great many carpets, but it is considerable work to keep a bare floor in order or rather to put it in order which must be taken into account; and, as for saving the expense of carpets, we shall be likely to spend twice as much for rugs as the carpets would cost. However, extravagance in rugs is not the fault of the hard-wood floors and ought not to be charged against them. We might have a few parquetry floors, but for most of the rooms plain narrow strips, with a pretty border, will be good enough. What do you think about it, Jim?”

While Jim was preparing to say that he didn’t think he knew much about such things, there came a crash on the floor above, followed by loud and incoherent observations by the chambermaid. The chandelier began to shake, as that substantial domestic fairy flew through the passage that led to the back stairs, at the head of which she was distinctly heard to exhort the cook in good set terms to “hurry up with the mop, for the water-jug was upset and the mistress would be raving if the water came through the ceiling.”

The quartette below listened with conflicting emotions. Jill was indignant, Bessie horrified apparently, Jim greatly amused, and Jack sublimely indifferent. “If there’s anything I despise,” said Jill, “it is a house that makes a human being seem like an elephant, and where I can’t say my prayers or move a chair in my own room without rousing the entire household.”

“There’s one good thing about it,” said Jim pleasantly. “You can’t help knowing what is going on in your own house.”

“Spoken like a man and a brother, James. You always go to the root of a matter. I like to keep posted. No skeletons and gunpowder plots for me. I had this house made so on purpose.” Whereat they all laughed and again took up the floor question, while the sound of hurrying feet and the rattling of domestic implements went on overhead, and the chandelier trembled with the jarring floors.

“I suppose forty dollars’ worth of timber originally added to these floors would have made them so firm that we might drive a caravan across them without shaking the building. We will, at least, have solid floors in the new house; but the architect informs us that ’effectual deafening of the floors and partitions necessarily adds considerably to their cost, since the walls and ceilings must be virtually double or filled with some light porous material. The construction I have described for making the house fireproof, or nearly so, would also make it comparatively sound-proof. It would prevent the passage of any reasonable in-door noises, though it might not withstand the stamping of heavy steel-shod feet. Indeed, the question of bare, hard-wood floors is, in one of its aspects, rather a question of boots. It is most unreasonable to say the floors are noisy and slippery when the fault lies rather in the hard, stiff, awkward receptacles in which our feet are imprisoned. If we are ever clad from head to foot in the robes of a perfect civilization, we shall doubtless find smooth bare floors for general use more satisfactory than any kind of rugs, mats or carpets.’

“And now,” said Jill, “we will leave the rest of this interminable letter for a more convenient season and see what our indefatigable aunt has sent as the latest and best thing in domestic architecture. If you will take the plans and follow the description, I will read the letter straight through, though it will doubtless contain more or less advice not strictly pertinent to house-building. Here it is:

MY DEAR JILL: On further reflection I have concluded that the little cottage plans which I sent last will not answer. I doubt whether you and Jack have sufficient independence and originality to make a success of living; even temporarily, in a small, unpretending cottage. It requires unusual strength of character

“Listen, Jack.

to establish and maintain a high social standing with no adventitious aids. You cannot at present afford a large establishment, but you must have one that is striking and elegant. I was first attracted to this house by its external appearance not especially the form, but the material, as we often see a lady of inferior physique whose rich and tasteful attire makes her the observed of all observers.”

“Aunt Melville is inclined to be dumpy, and is immensely proud of her taste in dress.

“’The walls near the ground the underpinning, I suppose is of solid granite blocks, irregular in size, rough and rugged in appearance. Indeed, the impression is of exceeding solidity and strength, perhaps because the walls slope backward as they rise. The first story is also of stones, but such peculiar stones as I never expected to see in a dwelling house, precisely like those used in the country for fences.’”

“How exquisite!” exclaimed Bessie, clapping her hands in ecstacy.

“’Some of them seemed to be covered with the gray lichens that
are found growing on rocks,

“How delicious!”

“’ but I very much fear these will be destroyed by the action of the lime in the mortar. The stones vary in color, and at a little distance the effect is like a rich mosaic. The corners of the house and the sides of the windows are made of peculiarly dark, rough-looking bricks that harmonize well with the general tone of the stone walls. The second story is of wood, covered with shingles that have not been painted, but simply oiled, and they have turned a dark reddish-brown. I found on inquiry that they are California red wood. The roof is of red tiles, and the chromatic effect of the entire building is very charming and aristocratic.’”

“That would suit us perfectly,” said Jack, “but I think our aristocratic aunt is more tiresome than the architect. Jim is asleep and Bessie is on the verge of slumber.” But just at that moment Bessie gave a piercing scream and bounded from the sofa in uncontrollable affright, while an army of reckless June bugs came dashing in through the open, unscreened windows.