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

FROM MATHEMATICS TO ANCIENT BRIC-A-BRAC.

Taking advantage of the incursion of the June bugs, Jim withdrew in good order, and Bessie shortly after retired with her tin candlestick.

“Do you seriously intend to allow that pair of incompatibles to go off to-morrow looking for old furniture and antiquated household implements?” asked Jill.

“Most certainly I do. It will he the greatest fun in the world. I only wish we could go as invisible spectators; but, on the whole, we shall best enjoy imagining what they will say or do if left to their own devices, knowing, as we should, that our presence would prevent some of their wildest absurdities. I’m awfully sorry they are not going to build and furnish a house somewhere in this vicinity, according to their combined notions.”

“And I am extremely sorry you cannot take your thoughts from Bessie long enough at least to hear the conclusion of Aunt Melville’s letter.”

“My dear, like John Gilpin, ‘of womankind I do admire but one.’ I shall listen with undivided attention to whatever you lay before my ears. Pray go on.”

“’I was fortunate enough to get a drawing of the interior of the reception hall, which, while it is simple and inexpensive, is also dignified and impressive. Houses often resemble people, and you will easily recall among your friends certain ones who, without being either wealthy or brilliant, are still very impressive. The other rooms which we visited are ample for your needs, as you will find it far more advantageous to entertain but few people at a time, and those of the best society, than to have larger and more indiscriminate gatherings. The amount of room in the house is surprising; but that, of course, is because it is so nearly square.’”

“That is feminine logic. A man would have said that the size of a house determines the amount of room it contains.”

“Undoubtedly he would; but it does not,” said Jill, decidedly. “I can show you houses that look large and are large, that make great pretensions in point of style, that cost a great deal of money, and yet have no room in them. They have no place for the beds to stand, no room for the doors to swing, no room for a piano, no room for a generous sofa, no room for the book-cases, no room for easy stairs, no room for fireplaces, no room for convenient attendance at the dining-table, no room for wholesome cooking, no room for sick people, no room for fresh air, no room for sunlight, no room for an unexpected guest. They have plenty of rooms, apartments, cells but no real, generous, comfortable house room.”

“I suppose Aunt Melville refers to the mathematical fact that a house forty feet square contains more cubic feet than the same length of walls would hold in a more elongated or irregular shape.”

“By the same rule an octagon or circle would be better still, which is absurd. No; her feminine logic is no worse than yours, and no better. The amount of room a house contains depends neither upon its size nor its shape. Her analogy, too, is at fault when she implies that the outside of a house bears the same relation to the interior that clothing bears to the person who wears it. The art of the tailor and dressmaker has at present no other test of merit than fashion and costliness, elements to which real art, architectural or otherwise, is always and absolutely indifferent. The external aspect of the house should be the natural spontaneous outgrowth of its legitimate use and proper construction, as face, form and carriage express the character of each individual.”

Jill spoke with unwonted seriousness and a wisdom beyond her years. Even Jack was impressed for the moment, and expressed a wish to tear down some of the ornamental appendages from his own house. “The piazzas are well enough that is, they would be if they were twice as wide but the observatory is good for nothing, because nobody can get into it to observe, unless he crawls along the ridge-pole, and I never did know what all that mess of wooden stuff under the eaves and about the windows was for. I suppose it was intended to give the house a richer look.”

“Yes, it enriches it just as countless rows of puffs, ruffles and flounces, made of coarse cotton cloth with a sewing machine and piled on without regard to grace or comfort, would ‘enrich’ a lady’s dress.”

“I thought you objected to the dress anology?”

“I do, positively, but it appears to have been the theory accepted by modern architects almost universally. I don’t see. Jack, that your house is any worse than others in this respect, and I have no doubt it will ‘sell’ all the better for the superfluous lumber attached to the outside walls.”

“Thank you, my dear! That is the first good word you have spoken for it. Well, there is one comfort; I am convinced that you didn’t commit the reprehensible folly of marrying me for my house.”

“No, indeed, Jack. It was pure devotion; a desperate case of elective affinity.”

“And yet we are happily married! We shall never do for the hero and heroine of a modern romance. There isn’t a magazine editor or a book publisher that would look at us for a moment.”

“Let us be thankful and finish our letter.

“’I am anxious, as you know, my dear niece, that you should, begin life in a manner creditable to the family, and I trust you will allow no romantic or utilitarian notions to prevent your conforming to the requirements of good society. This house, in all such respects, will be perfectly satisfactory. I have bought the plans for you from the owner, and I hope you will accept them with my best wishes.’

“And that is all, this time. Aunt Melville’s notion of a house seems to be a place for entertaining the ‘best society.’ Her zeal is certainly getting the better of her conscience and judgment. She cannot honestly buy the plans from the owner of the house, because he never owned them; they belong to the architect, and she ought to know better than to advise the use of material that would have to be brought at great expense from a long distance. If cobble-stones and boulders were indigenous in this region, and old stone fences could be had for the asking, I should like to use them, but they are not. It is also evident that she did not penetrate far into the interior of the house or she would have discovered an unpardonable defect the absence of ‘back’ stairs. I do not think it very serious in such a plan, where the one flight is near the centre of the house and is not very conspicuous, but Aunt Melville would lie awake nights if she knew there were no back stairs for the servants.”

The next morning Jim appeared with the express wagon, and Bessie climbed upon the high seat beside him under the big brown umbrella, her Gainsborough hat encircled with a garland of white daisies, huge bunches of the same blossoms being attached somewhat indiscriminately to her dress by way of imparting a rural air, and together they drove off in search of old and forgotten household gods. Jill had suggested sending them out to investigate, reporting what they found, and purchasing afterward if thought best, but Jack urged that it would be wiser to secure their treasures at once, lest the thrifty farmers, finding their old heir-looms in demand, should mark up the prices while they were deliberating a view with which Bessie fully concurred.

Beguiling the way with the duet that is always so delightful to the performers, whatever the audience may think of it, they followed the pleasant country roads for many miles without finding a castle that seemed to promise desirable plunder. A worn-out horseshoe lying in the road was their first prize. It presaged good luck, and was to be gilded and hung above the library door. At length they came to a typical old farm-house, gray and weather-beaten, but still dignified and well cared for. The big barns stood modestly back from the highway, and the yard about the front door, enclosed by a once white picket fence, was filled with the fragrance of cinnamon roses and syringas. As they drove up at the side of the house across the open lawn, the close cropping of which showed that the cows were wont to take their final bite upon it as they came to the yard at night, they encountered an elderly man carrying a large jug in one hand and apparently just starting for the fields with some refreshing drink for the workmen.

“Good morning, sir,” said Jim, touching his hat. Bessie smiled and asked, “Are you the farmer?”

“Wal, yes ma’am; I suppose I am. Leastways I own the farm and get my living off from it as well as I can same as my fathers did afore me.”

“How lovely! Have you got any old I mean, can you give us a drink of water? We we happen to be passing and we’re very thirsty.”

“Just as well as not. The well is right behind the house. You can jump down and help yourselves.”

“You don’t mean jump down the well,” said Jim, laughing.

“Not exactly. Will your horse stand?”

“Oh, yes.”

When Bessie saw the old well-sweep, which for some unaccountable reason had not been swept away by a modern pump, she exclaimed in a stage whisper: “Wouldn’t it be glorious if we could carry it home?”

Jim found the cool water most refreshing and thought he would rather carry home the well.

“What an enormous wood pile,” Bessie continued aloud, in a desperate endeavor to lead up to andirons by an unsuspicious route. “Do you burn wood?”

“Not so much as we used to. The women folks think they must have it to cook with, but we use coal a good deal in the winter.”

“Don’t you have fireplaces?” was the next innocent question.

“Plenty of ’em in the house, but they’re mostly bricked up. It takes too big a wood pile to keep ’em going.”

“So you use stoves instead; I suppose it is less trouble. Oh, and that reminds me, have you any old andirons, anywhere around?”

“Shouldn’t be surprised if there was. Yes, there’s one now, hangin’ on the gate right behind you.”

Bessie, as she afterwards declared, was almost ready to faint at this announcement, but on turning to look she saw indeed, hanging by a chain to keep the gate closed, a dumpy, rusty, cast-iron andiron.

“Should you be willing to sell it for old brass? Isn’t there a mate to it somewhere? They generally go in pairs, don’t they?”

“No, I shouldn’t want to sell it for old brass, because you see it’s iron. Most likely there was a pair of ’em once, but there’s no tellin’ where t’other one is now. Maybe in the suller and maybe in the garret.”

“Please could we go up in the garret and look for it? We will be very careful.”

The worthy man, considerably puzzled to know what sort of angels he was entertaining unawares, obtained permission from the “women folks,” sent a boy off with the jug of drink and showed his callers to the topmost floor of the house.

“Oh, oh! If there isn’t a real spinning-wheel. This passes my wildest anticipations,” murmured Bessie to Jim; then, restraining her enthusiasm for fear of spoiling a bargain, she inquired aloud: “Do any of your family spin?”

“No, no; not now-a-days. My old mother vised to get the wheel out now and then, when I was a youngster, but it’s broke now and part of it is lost.”

“Would you sell it?”

“If it isn’t all here ” Jim began, but Bessie checked him and eagerly accepted the old wheel, which had lost its head and two or three spokes, for the moderate sum of one dollar.

Rummaging among old barrels, Jim found the missing half of the pair of andirons. One broken leg seemed to add to its value in Bessie’s eyes and she quickly closed a bargain for them at fifteen cents, which their owner, after “hefting” them, “guessed” would be about their value for old iron. One old chair, minus a back and extremely shaky as to its legs, and another that had lost a rocker and never had any arms, were secured for a nominal price, and Bessie’s attention was then attracted to a tall wooden vessel hooped like a barrel, but more slender, “big at the bottom and small at the top,” which proved to be an old churn. Jim objected to this until his companion explained how it could be transformed by a judicious application of old gold and crimson into a most artistic umbrella stand, while the “dasher” would make a striking ornament for the hall chimney-piece. As they were about to depart with their treasures, the honest farmer invited them to look at a ponderous machine five or six feet high and nearly as broad a horrid monster, misshapen and huge, that stood in the back chamber over the wood-shed. It was a cheese-press. “How magnificent!” whispered Bessie, and then, turning to their host, inquired “Do you use it every day?”

“Oh, law, no! Hain’t used it this twenty years. Make all the cheese at the factory. It’s kind of a queer old thing and I thought maybe you would like to see it. ’Tain’t likely you will ever see another just like it.”

Would you be willing to sell it?”

“Of course, I’d be willing enough, only it don’t seem just right to sell a thing that ain’t good for anything but firewood. However, if you really want it you may have it for a dollar and a-half, and I’ll have the hired men load it up for you.”

“Now, really, Miss Bessie,” said Jim, when the farmer had gone to call the men, “don’t you think it’s rather a clumsy affair? We can hardly get it into the express wagon, and I don’t see where they can put it if we carry it home.”

“Clumsy! no, indeed, it’s massive, it’s grand! There will be plenty of room in the new house. They will have one entire room for bric-a-brac.”

“But what can they do with it? They won’t make cheese.”

“Can’t you see what a delicious cabinet it will make? These posts and things can all be carved and decorated, and it will be perfectly unique. There isn’t such a cabinet in the whole city of New York. Oh, I think our trip has been an immense success already. I shall always believe in horseshoes after this; but isn’t it a pity we can’t carry home the well-sweep?”

The huge machine had to be taken from the shed chamber in sections, but was properly put together again in the wagon by the hired men, and made the turnout look like a small traveling juggernaut. Just before starting: Bessie espied, leaning against the fence, a hen-coop from which the feathered family had departed, and explaining to Jim that if the sides were painted red and the bars gilded it would be a charming ornament for the front porch, persuaded him to add that to their already imposing load. Then they departed, leaving the farmer and his men in doubt whether to advertise a pair of escaped lunatics or accept their visitors as “highly cultured” members of modern society.

When they reached home Jack had just come in from the office. He looked out of the window as they drove up, felt his strength suddenly give way, and rolled on the floor in convulsions.

“Less than five dollars for the whole lot, did you say, Jim? I wouldn’t have missed seeing that load for fifty.”

The next day was Sunday. Monday afternoon Bessie went home.