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


“Dear me,” said Aunt Jerusha, as Jill, after displaying the kitchen pantry, showed her the windowless china closet, elegant with varnished walnut, plate-glass and silver-plated plumbing, “dear me, this is as fine as a parlor. It seems a real pity to keep it all out of sight.”

“The pity is that it was made so fine. I should not object to polished walnut in a light room, although cherry, birch or some other fine-grained, hard, light-colored wood is preferable; but all this ornamental work, these mouldings, cornices and carved handles are worse than useless they are ugly and troublesome. If I can have my own way I’m glad Jack isn’t here to make comments I shall have every part of the new pantries as plain and smooth as a marble slab, with not a groove or a moulding to hold dust, and never a crack nor a crevice in which the tiniest spider can hide. The shelves will be thin, light and strong; some wide and some narrow; a wineglass doesn’t need as much room as a soup tureen; the cupboard doors shall be as plain as doors can be made, and shall not be hung like these, to swing out against each other at the constant risk of breaking the glass and of pushing something from the narrow shelf in front of them. They ought to slide, one before another, and the front shelf should be wide enough to hold lots of things when they are handed down from the upper part of the cupboards.”

“I’m sure the little sink must be handy,” said Aunt Jerusha, amiably looking for merits where Jill saw only defects.

“It might be if there was room enough at each side for drainers and for dishes to stand before and after washing. I don’t wonder that Jack’s china is ‘nicked’ till the edges look like saw teeth; glass and fine crockery can’t be piled up into pyramids even by the most experienced builders without serious damage to the edges. There ought to be four times as much space at each side.”

“I suppose there wasn’t quite room enough.”

“There was always room enough. There’s enough now outside, and would have been inside, if the house had been well planned,” said Jill rather sharply.

“These are proper, nice, large drawers.”

“They are too nice and too large. Even when they are but half full I have to tumble their contents all over to find any particular thing, unless it lies on top. Some drawers ought to be large and some small, but I don’t believe there ever was a man,” said Jill vehemently, “who knew enough to arrange the small comforts and conveniences for housekeeping. Every day I am exasperated by something which Jack never so much as noticed. When I explain it he laughs and says it is fortunate we have so good an opportunity for learning what to avoid, and all the time I am certain he thinks there will be a great many more faults in the new house. If there are I shall be sorry it is fire-proof.”

“Why, Jill, my dear, don’t be rash! That doesn’t sound like you. You mustn’t set your heart on having things exactly to suit you in this world. I’ve lived a great many years, and a good many times I find it easier to bring my mind to things as they are than it is to make everything come just to my mind. I’ve seen plenty of women wear themselves out for want of things to do with, and I’ve seen other women break down from having too many; trying to keep up with all the modern fashions and conveniences, and to manage their houses with the same kind of regularity ’system’ they call it that men use in carrying on a manufacturing business.”

“Well, why shouldn’t they, Aunt ’Rusha?”

“I’ll tell you why, my dear. A business man has a certain, single, definite thing to do or to make. Every day’s work is very much like that of the day before. He may try to improve gradually, but, in the main, it is the same thing over and over again. Our home life ought not to be like that. A man ought not to be merely an engine or a cash-book; a woman ought to be something more than a dummy or a fashion-plate; our children should not be like so many spools of thread or suits of clothes, turned in the same lathe, spun to the same yarn, and cut according to the same pattern and rule. I’m sure I could never have done my work and brought up six children without some sort of a system, or if your uncle had been a bad provider. But I never could have got on as well as I have if I had given all my mind to keeping things in order and learning how to use new-fashioned labor-saving contrivances. There’s nothing more honorable for womankind,” said Aunt Jerusha, as she rolled up her knitting and prepared to set out on her homeward ride, “than housework, but it ain’t the chief end of woman, and unless your house is something more than a workshop or a showcase, it will always be a good deal less than a home.”

Jill hardly needed this parting admonition, but listened to it and to much more good advice with the respect due to one who, for nearly half a century, had looked well to the ways of her household, whose helping hands were always outstretched to the poor and needy, whose children rose up and called her blessed, and whose husband had never ceased to praise her. After her departure her niece indulged in a short season of solemn reflection, striving faithfully to attain to that wisdom which always knows when to protest against existing circumstances and when to accept them with equanimity. Ultimately she reached the conclusion that, while the house that Jack built might indeed be a thoroughly comfortable home to one who had a contented mind, it was really her duty in her probationary housekeeping to be as critical as possible.

Among other things the doors came in for a share of her usually amiable denunciation. She declared they were huge and heavy enough in appearance for prison cells, yet so loosely put together that their prolonged existence seemed to be a question of glue. They were swollen in the damp, warm weather till they refused to be shut, and would doubtless shrink so much under the influence of furnace heat in the winter that they would refuse to stay shut. The closet doors swung against the windows, excluding instead of admitting the light. The doors of the chambers opened squarely upon the beds, and there seemed to have been no thought of convenient wall spaces for pictures and furniture.

The architect’s theory of doors, as expounded in one of his letters, was simple enough: “Outside doors are barricades; they should be solid and strong in fact and in appearance. Inner doors, from room to room, require no special strength; they should turn whichever way gives the freest passage and throws them most out of the way when they are open. Seclusion for the inmates is the chief service of chamber doors, and they should be placed and hung so as not to give a direct glimpse across the bed or into the room the moment they are set even slightly ajar. Closet doors are screens simply, and ought to hide the interior of the closet when they are partially open, as well as when they are closed. They may be as light as it is possible to make them. In many houses one-half the doors might wisely be sent to the auction-room and the proceeds invested in portieres, which are often far more suitable and convenient than solid doors, especially for chamber closets, for dressing-rooms, or other apartments communicating in suites, and not infrequently a heavy curtain is an ample barrier between the principal rooms. It may be well to supplement them, with light sliding doors, to be used in an emergency, but which being rarely seen, may be exceedingly simple and inexpensive, having no resemblance to the rest of the finish in the room. For that matter such conformity is not required of any of the doors, though it is reckoned by builders as one of the cardinal points in hard-wood finish that veneered doors must ‘match’ the finish of the rooms in which they show. This is absurd. Doors are under no such obligations. They may be of any sort of wood, metal or fabric. They may be veneered, carved, gilded, ebonized, painted, stained or ‘decorated.’ To finish and furnish a room entirely with one kind of wood, making the wainscot, architraves, cornices, doors and mantels, the chairs, tables, piano, bookcase, or sideboard, all of mahogany, oak, or whatever may be chosen the floors, too, perhaps, and the picture frames is strictly orthodox and eminently respectable; but like the invariable use of ‘low tones’ in decorating walls and ceilings, it betrays a sort of helplessness and lack of courage. Discords in sound, color and form are, indeed, always hateful, and they are sure to be produced when ignorance or accident strikes the keys. Yet, on the other hand, neutrality and monotone are desperately tedious, and it is better to strive and fail than to be hopelessly commonplace.”

This advice concerned not the doors alone, but referred to other queries that had been raised as to the interior finish generally.

One evening Jack came home and found Jill “in the dumps,” or as near as she ever came to that unhappy state of mind, the consequence, as it appeared, of Aunt Melville’s zeal in her behalf.

“Why should these plans worry you?” said Jack. “I thought common sense was your armor and decision your shield against Aunt Melville’s erratic arrows of advice.”

“My armor is intact, but, for a moment, I have lowered my shield and it has cost me an effort to raise it again, I supposed my mind was fixed beyond the possibility of change, but this is a wonderfully taking plan. At first I felt that if our lot had not been bought and the foundation actually begun we would certainly begin anew and have a house something like these plans. Then it occurred to me that in building a house that is to be our home as long as we live, perhaps, it would be the height of absurdity to tie ourselves down to one little spot on the broad face of this great, beautiful world and live in a house that will never be satisfactory, just because we happen to have this bit of land in our possession and have spent upon it a few hundred dollars.”

“Sensible, as usual. What next?”

“Well, this last and best discovery of Aunt Melville’s was undoubtedly made like our own plan to fit a particular site, and it seems beginning at the wrong end to arrange the house first and then try to find a lot to suit it.”

“I don’t see it in that light,” said Jack. “I know the architect has been preaching the importance of adapting the plan to the lot, but if two thousand dollars are going into the land and eight thousand into the house, I should say the house is entitled to the first choice.”

“Certainly, if it was a city lot, with no character of its own, a mere rectangular piece of land shut in upon three sides and open at one. But ours has certain strong points not to be found in any other unoccupied lot in town. Besides, there are other reasons why it would not answer for us; but if our lot was right for it, and if we wanted so large a house, how I should enjoy building it!”

“I don’t see anything so very remarkable about the plan,” said Jack, taking up the drawings.

“My dear, short-sighted husband,” said Jill with the utmost impressiveness of tone and manner, “it is a one-story house. ’There shall be no more stairs’ sounds almost as delightful as the scriptural promise of no more sea. And look at the plan itself: The great square vestibule, or reception-room, with the office at one side wouldn’t you enjoy that, Jack? then a few steps higher the big keeping-room, with a huge fireplace confronting you, and room enough for anything. For games, for dancing, for a billiard table, for a grand piano, for a hammock or

“Say a sewing machine, a spinning-wheel or something useful.”

“Anything you like, a studio or a picture gallery, for it is twice as high as the other rooms, and lighted from the roof. At the right of this, and with such a great wide door between them that they seem like two parts of the same room, is the sitting-room, with another great fireplace in the corner, bay window and a conservatory fronting the wide entrance to the dining-room, at the farther end of which there is still another grand fireplace, with a stained-glass window above it. These three rooms four, if we count the conservatory are just as near perfection as possible. Then see the long line of chambers, closets and dressing-rooms running around the south and east sides, every one with a southern window, and all communicating with the corridor that leads from the keeping-room, yet sufficiently united to form a complete family suite. The first floor I mean the one floor is five or six feet from the ground, so there can be no dampness in the rooms and just think what a cellar! Altogether too much for us.”

“Indeed, there isn’t. I’d have a bowling alley, a skating rink, a machine shop, a tennis court, and a rifle range. Yes, it is a taking plan, but there are two things that I don’t understand. How can you cover such a big box, and where is the cooking to be done?”

“The old rule of two negatives applies. Even a one-story house must have a roof, and the breadth of this makes a roof large enough to hold not only the kitchen but the servants’ room on the same upper level.”

“A kitchen up stairs!” exclaimed Jack, for once startled into solemnity.

“Aunt Melville considers this the crowning glory of the plan. Owing to this elevation of the cooking range there is no back door, no back yard, no chance for an uncouth or an unsightly precinct at either side of the house.”

“That would be something worth living for. I think, Jill, we had better examine these plans a little farther.”