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

TEN YEARS AFTER.

Jack, Jr., and his sister Bessie, were building block houses on the piazza. Jack was pretending to read the evening paper, in reality watching the builders; and Jill was making no pretense of doing anything else.

“Really Jack, I think Bessie shows more skill in building than her brother. Her houses look like realities, and they have more grace and dignity than his.”

“Of course. Haven’t I always said that women would make the best architects if they had a fair chance? Didn’t you make the plans of this house? Hasn’t it been all our fancy painted and a great deal more? There isn’t a stick nor a stone, a brick nor a shingle that I would have changed if we were to build it again.”

“And haven’t I always said that men were more conservative than women? I would be glad to change everything there is in the house to build it all over again, and build it differently.”

“Oh the inconstancy of women! Even the moon is more constant, for her changes are only superficial and temporary.”

“When I say; ‘I have changed my mind,’ it is only another way of saying, ‘I am wiser to-day than I was yesterday.’”

“I understand; what a Jacob’s ladder of wisdom you must be! All right; change your mind every day, grow wiser and wiser; I will try to keep the hem of your garments in sight.”

“Have you selected a lot?”

“What for?”

“For a new house.”

“Bless you, my dear husband, I wouldn’t build another house, still less live in it, for all the wealth of the treasury vaults. Isn’t this our own? Hasn’t it always been perfectly suited to our wants? What upon earth are you thinking of?”

“Oh, nothing in particular. I never think if I can help it. I have heard that a man ought always to build two houses, one to learn how, the second to correct the mistakes of the first. I thought perhaps it was the same way with women.”

“This house was exactly right when it was built, it could not have been improved, but that was ten years ago, and a great many things have happened in the last ten years; but, then, a great many more will happen in the next ten, and ten years hence there will be just as many things to change in the houses that are built this year as there are now in those that are of the same age as ours.”

“But how would you change this house if it could be done by a magic wand or by the exercise of faith, and without raising a speck of dust or upsetting the housekeeping affairs for a single minute?”

“I would make it larger for one thing. Our rooms are too small. The number of rooms a house contains should depend on the number of people there are to live in it, including all the children, the guests and the servants, with a certain allowance for contingencies.”

“Depending on the hospitality of the family.”

“Yes; and whatever the number of rooms, they should be large enough, not merely to hold the occupants when the doors are shut, but for comfortable living and moving about. There is nothing in which all men and women are more conservative than in the planning of their houses; there seems to be something hereditary about it, as difficult to change as a tendency to bald heads and awkward locomotion. Americans are special sufferers in this respect. The primitive Anglo-American home was only a step removed from the wigwams of the aboriginal savages, in size, shape and general accommodations. Even our English ancestors, from whom we derived some of our domestic notions, were not accustomed to anything magnificent in the way of dwellings. The climate was against them, and they were not sufficiently luxurious in their tastes. Their houses were primarily places for shelter and refuge. In summer they lived out of doors, and in winter they crept into close quarters and waited for warm weather. With plenty of land and building materials to be had for the taking, our colonial grandfathers should have had the most generous homes in the world.”

“Yes; and to judge by some of the old colonial mansions which have escaped the ‘making-over’ vandals we have been going backwards in that respect during the last fifty or a hundred years.”

“Yes; and we ought to have been going the other way, for the size of rooms should increase as the cost of furniture diminishes. Take for instance, a parlor or sitting room fifteen feet square, which is, I believe, about the orthodox size for a modern house. Give such a room a dozen straight-backed and straight-legged chairs ranged along the sides, a table in the center of the room with a green cover and four books on it, two or three unhappy-looking family portraits on the walls, a pair of brass candlesticks on the high, wooden mantel, a pair of bellows, a shovel and tongs, with, perhaps, in the way of luxury, a haircloth sofa. Now compare the room furnished in that way, which was by no means uncommon in the days of our grandfathers with a room of the same size, in which are stored half a dozen chairs, no two alike, and some of them as large as small lounges, a center table piled with books and magazines and photographs, till like a heap of jack straws, it is impossible to remove one without disturbing the whole pile; a lounge with a back, a divan or something without a back, an upright piano, two or three bookcases, several small stools and piles of Turkish cushions to catch the unwary, huge Japanese vases beside the fireplace, a leopard skin with a solid head in front of the table, and a sprinkling of Persian rugs spilt over the floor; a cabinet of bric-a-brac in the northeast corner, a ‘whatnot’ with a big jardiniere bearing a three-foot palm on the top story in the northwest, a carved bracket with a sheaf of Florida grasses in the southeast, and a tall wooden clock that won’t go in the southwest; a brass tea kettle hanging from a wrought iron frame beside a fragile stand that carries a half dozen of still more fragile ‘hand-painted’ teacups and saucers; lambrequins and heavy curtains at all the windows and most of the doors, a big combination gas and electric chandelier suspended from the center of the ceiling, bedangled with jumping jacks, Christmas cards, straw ornaments and other artistic ‘curious’; one or two small tables scattered ‘promiscous like’ about the room; a music stand and a banjo; with photographs, chromos, oil paintings, water colors and etchings, from one to three feet square, in gilt, enameled and wooden frames of all styles and degrees of fitness on the walls of the room, take a room furnished in this way or a great deal more so, and compare it with another of the same actual dimensions furnished in the old-fashioned way and see which is the larger. The modern furnishing may be ‘cozy,’ oppressively cozy when there are half a dozen people trying to move gracefully around and between it without upsetting or destroying anything, but what sort of hospitality can we offer our guests if they must be always afraid of breaking something valuable if they stir?”

“Why not have a bonfire and liquidate some of this superfluous stock?”

“It is not superfluous; all these things, if they are good add to the enjoyment of living, if we have room for them and are able to take good care of them without neglecting weightier matters. Our own rooms are not large enough. However, if we cannot enlarge them we can build new ones for special purposes. For one, we must have a children’s workroom. If Jack is going to be an artist, and you know he shows decided talent, and Bessie an architect, there’s no doubt of her having real genius in that direction, they should have one room immediately, and two by and by, for their own exclusive use. A room where they could keep all their books, and tools and toys, and where they could work in their own spontaneous, untrammeled way.”

“You mean a nursery.”

“No, I do not mean a nursery, but a workshop, study, gymnasium, call it anything you please. The floor should be smooth and hard, and the walls should be wainscoted with smooth, hard wood. There should be blackboards and shelves at the sides, and the children should be allowed to drive nails wherever they please. I am not sure but I would have a sink and a water faucet.”

“Not unless the room is in the cellar or has a floor tight enough for a swimming tank. Well, what next?”

“We must have a hospital.”

“For inebriates or the insane?”

“A room similar to the private wards in a hospital. You know our own and the children’s sleeping rooms are very simply furnished, but a sick room should be still more severe. The children have both had the measles, thank goodness, and I hope they never will have smallpox, scarlet fever, or diphtheria, but if they should it would be necessary to send them away from home or run the risk of their exposing one another.”

“You might as well include every other ill that flesh is heir to. If we have got to fight germs day and night in order to live, the cleaner and more open we can keep the battle ground the better. It strikes me that it might be a good thing to have the whole house sort of clean and wholesome.”

“Of course. But none of us would like to have the living rooms as absolutely bare of all superfluous furnishing as a hospital ward. We should not be willing to give up our rugs, take down the curtains, throw away the cushions and sit in hard wooden chairs.”

“No, and I wouldn’t like to burn my books, although there is nothing quite so ‘germy’ as my musty old books that were made in Italy in plague times and smell like the 16th century every time they are opened. So I suppose we must have a hospital for the children to be sick in, a workshop for them to work in, and what would you say to a small chapel and penitentiary, with a dungeon or two? While we are about it, let’s have a market and cold storage annex.”

“Precisely what I was going to suggest. It would be the easiest thing in the world to attach a small room to the cellar or the kitchen, where a low temperature can be kept at all times, either by ice or by the artificial refrigeration that will soon be distributed and sold in the same way that gas, water, steam, electric light and power are now furnished in many cities.”

“I never thought of it before, but why shouldn’t milk and beer and other medicinal drinks be distributed in the same way as water and gas?”

“Please don’t interrupt me. These are really serious considerations. Why, Jack, we haven’t begun to guess at the wonderful changes that are to be made in all our housekeeping affairs, as well as in everything else by electricity. In a few years we shall find our present cooking arrangements as much out of date as the old turnspit and tin ovens and the great wood fires on the hearth. And light! Our houses will be as light as day all the time, unless we choose darkness in order to sleep more comfortably.”

“Or because our deeds be evil, or for the better accommodation of burglars. No self-respecting burglar would think of ‘burgling’ without a dark lantern.”

“And heat; do you remember how something more than twenty-five years ago a French scientist proposed to supply all the heat needed for human comfort in cold climates directly from the sun’s rays?”

“I can’t say that I do remember that particular philosopher, but I have a notion that the sun was considered a fair sort of furnace a good many years before the first Frenchman was born.”

“Yes, yes; but he was going to gather the sun’s heat into such shape that it would warm our houses in winter, do all the cooking, take the place of all the steam boilers and furnaces. I never heard that his theories were reduced to practice, but we have found another source of light and heat that is already under our control. There is no more doubt that all the warmth, illumination and mechanical power that we can use are within our reach, when we have learned how to take possession of them, than there is of gravitation. It is all waiting at the door, we have only to clap our hands and the potent spirit is ready to do our bidding.”

“Without money and without price?”

“No, not quite that, there are too many incorporated monopolies in the way. But it is coming nearer and nearer, and with the unlimited power of wind and waves and waterfalls, all these things will soon be as cheap as anything really worth having ought to be.”

“Say, Jill, do you suppose we shall live to see all our necessities supplied, gratis, and have nothing to work for except the luxuries?”

“We have lived long enough to find that for most people in our day and generation, even for those who think they have to work very hard ’just to get a living,’ their most serious toil is to provide, what might be called, not the ‘bare’ necessities of life, but the well-dressed necessities. But it is time for those children to be in bed.”