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

THE HOUSE FINISHED AND THE HOME BEGUN.

It was indeed a full year for Jill before Bessie received the promised invitation. Not merely full as to its complement of days, but full of new cares, interests and activities. It is needless to say it was also a happy year. Building a house for a home is a healthful experience, a liberal education to one who can give personal attention to it; who has some knowledge of plans with enough imagination to have a fair conception of what they will be when executed; who is content to receive a reasonable return for a given outlay, not anxious to get the best end of every bargain, nor over-fearful of being cheated; who cares more for home comfort than for a fine display, and whose soul is never vexed by the comments of Mrs. Grundy, nor tormented by the decrees of fashion.

The question was raised, whether the house should be built by contract or by “day’s work.” The worldly-wise friends advised the former. Otherwise they affirmed the cost of the house would exceed the appropriation by fifty, if not a hundred, per cent., since it would be for the interest of both architect and builders to make the house as costly and the job as long as possible. And, while it was doubtless true that “day work” is likely to be better than “job work,” still, if the plans and specifications were clearly drawn and the contract made as strong as the pains and penalties of the law could make it, the contractor might be compelled to keep his agreement and furnish “first-class” work.

Jill’s father settled this point at once. “It is true,” said he, “that the plans and specifications should be clearly drawn, that you may see the end from the beginning, and it will be well to carefully estimate the cost, lest, having begun to build, you should be unable to finish. But I am neither willing to hold any man to an agreement, however legal it may be, that requires him to give me more than I have paid for, nor, on the other hand, do I wish to pay him more than a fair value for his work and material. You cannot avoid doing one of these two things in contracting such work as your house, for it is impossible to estimate its cost with perfect accuracy, and no specifications, however binding, can draw a well-defined line between ‘first’ and ’second’-class work. A general contract may be the least of a choice of evils in some cases; it is not so in yours. If you know just what you want, the right mode of securing it is to hire honest, competent workmen and pay them righteous wages. If, before the work is completed, you find the cost has been underestimated, stop when your money is spent. It may be mortifying and inconvenient to live in an unfinished house; it is far more so to be burdened with debt or an uneasy conscience. There is another thing to be remembered: We hear loud lamentations over the dearth of skillful, trusty laborers. There is no way of promoting intelligent, productive industry which is the basis of all prosperity but by employing artisans in such a way that the personal skill and fidelity of each one shall have their legitimate reward. The contract system, as usually practiced, acts in precisely an opposite direction. Your house must be built ‘by the day’ Jill, or I shall recall my gift.” That question was settled. The good and wise man had previously decided as peremptorily an early query relating to the plans. When it was known that a new house was to be built, several architects, with more conceit than self-respect, proposed to offer plans “in open competition” not to be paid for unless accepted concerning which Jill had asked her father’s advice.

“What should you think of a physician,” said he, “who, on hearing that you were ill, should hasten to present himself with a prescription and a bottle of medicine, begging you to read the one, test the other, and, if they made a favorable impression, give him the job of curing you? There are such who call themselves physicians; other people call them quacks, and there is one place for their gratuitous offerings the fire. I shall burn any plans that are presented in this way. Choose your architect at the outset, and give him all possible aid in carrying out your wishes, but do not employ one of those who must charge a double price for their actual work in order to work for nothing half the time. In any other business such a practice would be condemned at once.”

“Isn’t it the same thing as offering samples of goods?”

“No, it is offering the goods themselves the top of the barrel at that.”

Of course this did not apply to the contributions that were prompted by personal friendship, of which Jill, as we have seen, received her full share, none of them, excepting the one-story plan, proving in the least tempting.

As the race of competent, industrious mechanics is not yet extinct, whatever the croakers may say such were found to build the house, which was well closed in before winter. The walls and roof were completed and the plastering dried while the windows could be left open without danger of freezing, a most important thing, because although mortar may be kept from freezing by artificial heat, the moisture it contains, unless expelled from the house, will greatly retard the “seasoning” of the frame and the walls of the building. After it has all been blown out of the windows, if the house is kept warm and dry the fine wood-finishing will “keep its place” best if put up in winter rather than in summer. For the most carefully seasoned and kiln-dried lumber will absorb moisture so rapidly in the hot, steaming days of June and in the damp dog-day weather that no joiner’s skill can prevent cracks from appearing when the dry furnace heat has drawn the moisture from its pores.

One year is a reasonable length of time for building a common dwelling-house. Twelve months from the day the workmen appeared to dig the foundation trenches the last pile of builder’s rubbish was taken away and the new, clean, bright, naked, empty house stood ready for the first load of furniture. If the social and domestic tastes of Jack and Jill have been even slightly indicated, it is unnecessary to say that this first load did not consist of the brightest and best products of the most fashionable manufacturers. Aunt Melville had sent a few ornaments and two or three elegant trifles in the way of furniture, a chair or two in which no one could sit without danger of mutual broken limbs, and a table that, like many another frail beauty, might enjoy being supported but could never bear any heavier burden than a card-basket, and was liable to be upset by the vigorous use of dust-brush or broom. “They will help to furnish your rooms,” said the generous aunt, “and will give a certain style that cannot be attained with furniture that is simply useful.”

The ornaments that were ornamental and nothing more Jill accepted gratefully. The furniture that must be protected to preserve its beauty, and generally avoided lest it should be broken, she returned, begging her aunt to give it to some one having a larger house.

On one of those perfect days that are so rare, even in June, Bessie appeared in all the glory of the lilies. To Jill’s surprise, her first remark after the customary effusive greeting was, “How lovely it is to have a home of your own. I shouldn’t care if it was made of slabs and shaped like a wigwam. Of course, this house is exquisite. I knew it would be, but it is ten times as large as I should want. It will be so much work to take care of it.”

“I don’t expect to take care of it alone.”

“I know you don’t, but I should want to take care of my own house, if I had one, every bit of it. Oh, you needn’t look so amazed. I know what I am saying. I have learned to cook, and dust, and sweep, and kindle fires, and polish, silver, and and black stoves!”

No wonder Jill was dumb while Bessie went on at a breathless rate.

“And do you know, Jill dear, I wouldn’t take this house if you would give it to me. There! I would a thousand times rather have a little bit of a cottage, just large enough for for two people, and everything in it just as cosy and simple as it could be. Then we then I could learn to paint and decorate I’ve learned a little already and embroider and such things, and slowly, very slowly, you know, I would fill the house with pretty things that would belong to it and be a part of it, and a part of me, too, because I made them.”

“Wouldn’t it be much cheaper and better to hire some skillful artist to do these things?” said Jill, taking refuge in matter-of-fact.

“If I hired any one of course it would be an artist, but our homes are not dear to us because they are beautiful, it is because they are ours, because we have worked for them and in them until they are a part of ourselves. I love artistic things as well as I ever did, but there are some things that are ten thousand times lovelier.”

Before Jill had recovered from her astonishment at Bessie’s transformed sentiments or imagined their cause, who should drive up but Aunt Jerusha. She and Bessie had never met before, but the mysterious laws of affinity, that pay no regard to outward circumstances or expectations, brought them at once into the warmest sympathy. Jill had provided extremely pretty china for her table, and for Bessie’s sake had brought out certain rare pieces not intended for every-day use. It was contrary to her rule to make any difference between “every-day” and “company days.” “Nothing is too good for Jack,” was the basis of her argument. The one exception was china. But Bessie was absolutely indifferent to the frail and costly pottery. She was intent on learning domestic wisdom from Aunt Jerusha, and insisted upon writing in her note-book the recipes for everything she ate and recording the rules for carrying on whatever household matters chanced to be mentioned, from waxing floors to canning tomatoes. Jack strove to enliven the conversation by throwing in elaborate remarks upon the true sphere of women, the uncertainty of matrimonial ventures and the deceitfulness of mankind in general. Jill meanwhile preserved her equanimity upon all points relating to her house. She admitted the force of Aunt Jerusha’s suggestion that a portion of the long serving-table in the kitchen should be movable and a door made from kitchen to china-closet, to be kept locked, as a rule, but available in an emergency, when one or both servants were sick or discharged; she appreciated her advice to form the habit of washing the silver and fine glasses with her own hands before leaving the table; she was able to repeat her favorite recipes correctly; she carved gracefully, as a lady ought, and gave due attention to her guests. Beyond these duties she was in a state of bewilderment. What had happened to Bessie, and what new mischief Jack was incubating were puzzles she could neither solve nor dismiss.

By one of those coincidences, not half as rare as they seem, at four o’clock the same day Aunt and Uncle Melville appeared upon the scene. They were spending a short time at a summer hotel in the vicinity, and Jill persuaded them to stay for tea, sending their carriage back for Cousin George and his wife, who were at the same place. She also invited her father and mother to improve the opportunity to make a small family gathering. “I suppose you know Jim is coming over this evening,” said Jack. “Don’t you think he had better bring Uncle Harry along?”

“I didn’t know Jim was coming, but he is always welcome, and Uncle Harry too. Your father and mother, of course, if they are able to come out this evening.”

“Oh, they are coming, anyway,” Jack began and stopped suddenly. “That is, I mean, certainly they will be delighted, if you send for them.”

Jill was more puzzled than ever, but they all came.

“Now, you will please consider yourselves a ‘board of visitors,’” said she, as they sat at the table after tea, “authorized to inspect this institution and report your impressions.”

“Remembering that Jill is the warden and I am the prisoner,” said Jack.

“But you must conduct us to the cells,” said her father, rising, “and tell us what to admire.”

Jill accordingly began at the beginning. She showed them the light vestibule, with a closet at one side for umbrellas and overshoes, and a seat at the other; the central hall that would be used as a common reception-room, and on such occasions as the present, would become a part of one large apartment the entire first floor of the main house; the staircase with the stained-glass windows climbing the side; the toilet-room from the garden entrance and the elevator reaching from the basement to the attic. She showed them the family suite of rooms; her own in the southeast corner, with the dressing-room and adjoining chamber toward the west, and Jack’s room over the front hall, with the large guest-room above the dining-room. She urged them to count the closets and notice their ample size; referred with pride to the servants’ rooms, and explained how there was space in the roof for two chambers and a billiard-room, if they should ever want them. With true housekeeper’s pride she declared the beauties and wonders of the kitchen arrangements, a theme that had been often rehearsed, and from the kitchen they descended to the basement, which contained the well-lighted laundry, the servants’ bath-room and store-rooms without name or number; some warm and sunny, others cool and dark, but all dry and well ventilated.

Then they returned to the drawing-room to make their reports.

“It’s too large,” said Bessie.

“It isn’t small enough,” said Jim.

“The third floor is not the proper place for a billiard-table,” remarked Uncle Melville, sententiously. “It is too remote for such a social pastime; too difficult of access; too too er

“The house looks smaller than it is,” said Aunt Melville, “which I consider a serious defect. It ought to look larger; it should have a tower, and the front door should be toward the street.”

“Your chambers are excellent,” said Uncle Harry. “The personality of human beings should be respected. The chief object of home is to give to each individual a chance for unfettered development. Every soul is a genius at times and feels the necessity of isolation. Especially do we need to be alone in sleep, and to this end every person in a house is entitled to a separate apartment. I commend the family suite.”

“A nobby house,” said Cousin George.

“I like our own better,” said his wife, sotto voce, which was a worthy sentiment and should have been openly expressed. Fondness for our own is the chief of domestic virtues.

“Is it paid for?” inquired Jack’s father. To which Jack replied:

“It is: and the house that I built is sold to the most stylish people you ever saw. They paid me more than this cost, but I wouldn’t swap with them for a thousand dollars to boot.”

“No; neither would they change with us for two thousand.”

Just as the clock struck nine the door-bell rang and the rector and his wife were announced. Before Jill could realize what was taking place she found herself an amazed and helpless spectator in her own house, for Jim and Bessie stood side by side under the curtains leading to the library, and the rector was reading the solemn marriage service. By way of calming her excitement Jack found a chance to whisper to Jill,

“They have been engaged six months.”

“You unnatural husband! Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Didn’t know it myself till this afternoon.”

There was no time for further explanations, for the good rector was saying: “I am sure you will agree with me that building and cherishing a consecrated home is the noblest work we can do on earth. From such homes spring all public and private excellence, all patriotic virtues, all noble charities and philanthropies, all worthy service of God and man. Whether high or low, rich or poor, in all times and in all places, domestic life, in its purity and strength, is the safeguard of individuals and the bulwark of nations. And when, in after years, other solemn sacraments shall be performed beneath this roof, may it still be found a sacred temple of peace and love!”

Bessie and Jim kept house in two chambers until a cottage of four rooms, with an attic and wood-shed, was finished, which happened before cold weather. Her wedding present from Jack was an express wagon full of obsolete household utensils. She had learned to make the fire in the kitchen, and nothing was more acceptable than such a load of dry kindling wood.

The house that Jill built cost ten thousand dollars. Jim’s cost less than one thousand. Bessie declares that the smaller the house the greater the happiness it contains. She may be right, but Jill denies it, and it is never safe to draw general conclusions from special cases.