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


“Now Jill,” this was half an hour later, the children were asleep and the gas was lighted, “let us by way of amusement draw plans of a castle in Spain. Let us forget all the houses that ever were built and fancy ourselves, not Adam and Eve, with the responsibility of setting the housekeeping pace for the rest of the human family nor Robinson Crusoe, whose domestic arrangements were somewhat handicapped, but a wise pair of semi-Bourbons, at the end of the 19th century, who forget nothing old but are willing to learn and adopt anything new, provided it is good.”

“All right; go ahead.”

“In the first place our castle will not be destructible by fire or water. All the walls will be of masonry and the floor beams will be of steel. There will be nothing to invite moth or rust.”

“Nor burglars; not so much as a silver spoon or a candlestick.”

“I have always been sorry that the roof of this house was not fireproof, but I suppose it would have cost too much, though the architect said it might have been made like the floors if we would consent to have it flat.”

“Moral: if you want a roof of the mountainous variety you must either pay for it or run the risk of being burned out on top. But what do castles in Spain care for the cost? We can have fireproof roofs in miniature copy of Alpine peaks or we can use them for billiard tables and croquet grounds.”

“Really,” Jill continued, “there is no good reason for steep roofs. Snow is more troublesome on the ground around the house than on top of it, if it will stay there, and a very slight slope will carry off the rain. I fancy steep roofs must have been invented when builders used such clumsy materials for covering that they were obliged to lay them on a steep pitch in order to keep out the water. Shingles of course last longer the steeper the roof.”

“If that’s the case they ought to last forever on the second story walls of our house, where they are straight up and down. When you come to think of it, high roofs must be built now-a-days mainly for show, incidentally they cover the house. First beautiful, then useful. How large will it be?”

“What, the roof?”

“No, the whole thing; how many rooms will it have?”

“That will depend on the size of the family. Not less than ten nor more than forty. Ten rooms will answer for two people, and more than forty complicates the housekeeping.”

“Do you count closets?”

“Oh, no. Closets and dressing rooms, storerooms, bath rooms, cupboards and things of that sort, are mere adjuncts. They are to the real rooms what the pockets are to a suit of clothes.”

“Excellent. I’m glad we haven’t got to count the closet or the expense. Probably ten rooms are not too many for two young people, but a pair of childless octogenarians ought to get along with eight or nine; the other way you are all right, only I would say four hundred. While we are about it, let’s have a comfortable, good sized, ‘roomy’ house. But how do you propose to put even forty rooms with their various pockets under one roof and give them all plenty of sunlight and fresh air? Will you pile them up one above another or set them in a row on the ground? In either case it would need a trolly car and a telephone to connect the two ends of the line.”

“It mustn’t be more than two stories high, and I’m not sure but one would be better.”

“That means twenty rooms on each floor. The rooms will average twenty feet long, and that will make the entire length of our castle four or five hundred feet. Won’t it look like an institution or a row of tenements if it is strung out in a line?”

“It will not be.”

“Cut up into wings and things?”

“No, it will be in the form of a hollow square. There may be a wing or two on one side or another, and wherever a projecting bay or oriel will add to the comfort or charm of the interior we shall have one, but its general form will be a great square with an open court in the center.”

“Oh, I see. An imitation Pompeian, or Florentine palace.”

“No, nothing of the kind. Not an imitation of anything. It will be a simple, straightforward, common-sense, American home, with room for a good-sized family, several rooms for extra occasions, and some that will not be finished at all but held in reserve for future contingencies. It sometimes costs no more to enclose a certain space in building than to leave it outside, and there is the same satisfaction in knowing we have space to spare inside the house that there is in owning the land that joins us even when we don’t expect to sell or use it.”

“What shall we do with the big hole in the center? It will be too small for golf or tennis, and too big for a conservatory. We might keep hens.”

“It will not be too large for a garden, with fountains for hot weather and flowers for cold. It will be its own excuse for being, for it will give light and air to all the rooms, and if it has a glass roof the problem of comfortable living in cold weather will be solved. There will always be the temperate zone at one side of the house, that is inside the court, however high the drifts may be piled outside. Of course the entire building will be warmed in winter and cooled in summer by spicy breezes driven by electric fans, and we shall only have to decide what temperature we prefer on different days of the week, set the gauge, and there will be no more watching of the thermometer, the registers, the weather reports or the wood pile.”

“But I thought it was wrong to live in a river of warm air. Uncle John compares that to taking a perpetual warm bath.”

“It is wrong; but, my dear Jack, life is a succession of compromises, especially domestic life, and considering the practical difficulties in the way of open hickory fires in all the forty or more rooms, we must be content with the artificially warmed air for every day use and consider radiated heat from wood fires, coal grates, or sunshine, as luxuries.”

“Certainly; it would be a pity to make all luxuries impossible just because we happen to own a castle in Spain. Aren’t you afraid our court will be dreadfully hot in summer, shut in by four brick walls?”

“By no means; it will be particularly cool. If we like we can have a great awning to draw over it in the hottest weather, and wide halls will allow a perfect circulation of air throughout the whole structure. In addition to this, on the highest part of the roof there will be a space fitted for an outdoor sitting room, sheltered when necessary by awnings and screens, but most delightful on hot summer evenings.”

“Oh, yes, I see. A sort of copy of the old Egyptian houses.”

“No, not a sort of a copy of anything, but a simple application of common sense. In the evening when there is a breeze from any direction, the highest part of the house will be the coolest.”

“I thought it was to be a two-story house. How can one part be higher than the rest?”

“I didn’t say it was to be all of the same height. Some rooms will be much higher than others because they will be larger. If a room is to be of agreeable proportions, the height must be determined by the size. It may be best to make the north side three stories high and the south only one; that would give more sunlight on the north wall of the court and make the average two stories.”

“Nothing like keeping up the average. But aren’t forty rooms with all the closets and storerooms, and stairways and halls, and bays and oriels and dungeons going to make a large house for one family? Can’t we work the same idea on a smaller scale?”

“Of course, but that is not too large for a comfortable home for a family of moderate size. Count your fingers and try it. To begin at that end of the establishment, we want a scullery, a kitchen, and a servants’ dining room; we want a breakfast room, and a large dining room for the family, and the dining room, by the way, should be one of the largest rooms in the house, say twenty-one or two feet by thirty six or forty; we want a parlor, a drawing room, a library, a billiard room and a picture gallery; a music room and ball room, these being, of course, in one, but as large as two ordinary rooms; then we want a nursery, a workroom for the children, a sick room and a sewing room, an office and a smoking room, and one or two extra sitting or reception rooms. Each member of the family should have a private sitting room and bedroom, with dressing room and bath for each suite. That, you see, would just about suit a family of ten people without counting the servants.”

“Have you made any calculation Jill, dear, as to how many people there are at present in the United States who could manage to scrape along with thirty-nine rooms instead of forty?”

“Why should I? This is a castle in Spain. We have plenty of money, plenty of room, plenty of time. Our only anxiety is lest there should be a lack of brains to make good use of our room and time and money.”

“And what shall we build it of, jasper, sapphire and chalcedony?”

“No, burned clay and granite, steel, copper and glass. It shall be defiant of fire and flood; it shall neither burn up nor rot down.”

“One thing more, Jill, when we come to make our wills to which one of the children shall we bequeath the castle?”

Before Jill could answer the door was hurriedly opened and Bessie appeared upon the threshold.

“I’ve just run away from Jim,” she began rapidly. “We haven’t had a family quarrel exactly, but we’ve argued it over and over, and we come out just as far apart as ever. Finally I told him I would leave it to you.”

“I haven’t any idea what it is all about, but did Jim agree to that?”

“I didn’t give him a chance to differ. He always agrees to everything Jill says about building houses But don’t interrupt me. The baby may wake up at any minute and then Jim will be helpless. The truth is he is dissatisfied with our home.”

“Jim, dissatisfied; impossible!”

“Yes, he thinks it’s too small.”

“He wants more servants, I suppose; several additional children, a lot more poor relations, and all the various items that go to make up a well-ordered household.”

“No, no; it is the house that is too small.”

“Excuse me, you said the home. The house is a very different affair.”

“You remember,” Bessie continued, “that when it was built ten years ago Jim thought it was not large enough. Now he is determined to sell it and build a new one. There are five good rooms besides the closets, and as there is nobody but Jim and me and the four children and one servant, we have all the room we need. We have always been perfectly comfortable, and I can’t bear the thought of selling our home.”

Here Bessie began to show symptoms of dissolution, but swallowing her emotion she continued, If we could build on a room or two as we need them I wouldnt mind it. But if you advise us to sell this house for the sake of having another, Ill

“We shan’t advise any such thing,” said Jack, “but it’s perfectly natural for Jim to think you ought to have a larger, more modern house.”

“But I don’t want a more modern house,” Bessie protested, “if there is any created thing that I despise it is a ‘modern’ house, made up of bay windows and crooked turrets, and shingled balconies, and peaked roofs, and grotesque little fandangoes of wood and copper and terra cotta, that have no more dignity or repose, or beauty or homelike appearance, than a crazy quilt or a Chinese puzzle. They are simply outrageous, abominable. I would sooner have the children brought up in a reform school or a house of correction.”

“How would you like a colonial house?”

Bessie’s indignation had spent itself, and she resumed her ordinary, but sometimes misleading manner.

“Isn’t it a pity we were not all born a hundred years ago, then we might have had colonial houses. But why should I want to live in an uncomfortable old curiosity shop when I like my house just as it is? Our trouble is that Jim wants the house twice as large as it is now and I want only one more room.”

“Bessie,” said Jack, in his most fatherly manner, “I am surprised that two sensible people like you and Jim should fall into such a distressing controversy over nothing, absolutely nothing. You are already in perfect accord. Jim says the house is only half large enough. You say you want one more room. The house is now just thirty-three feet long and thirty-three feet wide; add a new room thirty-three feet square; you will have the one extra room, and Jim will have the house doubled in size. Isn’t that right?”

“Yes,” said Jill; “It is exactly what I should have suggested if you had given me a chance. Do you remember the charming room in the old Florentine palace, where we spent the winter, and how we enjoyed it, and finally measured it for the benefit of some other Americans who intended to build a new house as soon as they got home? That was just thirty-three feet square and eighteen feet high. There was a grand piano in one corner, in another a group of chairs with bookcases, in another sofas and chairs and tables scattered about, so that in effect it was equal to several small rooms. Indeed one of our party described it in a home letter as a magnificent apartment one hundred feet each way. It would accommodate several callers, with their different groups of friends, and it was of course a capital place for music and dancing. In your new room you will have one corner for the children and another for yourselves. The Dorcas society can meet at one side while your little Jack and his friends are playing games at the other. It won’t be many years before Bessie will claim a large section, including one of the bay windows, for her own use.”

“I think I hear the baby crying. Thank you, I’ll talk it over with Jim. Good night.”

“Do you think they will do it?” Jack inquired.

“Of course they will; it is by far the most sensible thing. As a family they are always together and always will be, and one large room will suit them better than several small ones. Perhaps it will be the best thing for us, until we can build our castle in Spain. It certainly will not cost as much as making over and enlarging the rooms we have.”

“That is true, and it is my impression that the wisest way to enlarge an old house is to nail up the windows, seal up the doors and go ahead with the additions without taking out the nails or breaking the seals till it is all done; that would save time, money and patience.”

“Yes, and more than that,” said Jill, “it would preserve the charm of the old house which grows stronger every year until the loss of the familiar rooms and their hallowed associations seems like parting with a dear old friend.”