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


The architect went home to translate the instructions he had received into the language that builders understand. Jack and Jill established themselves in the house that Jack built. The proposed amendments were indefinitely postponed; Jill having consented to take the house temporarily as she had taken Jack permanently for better or worse only claiming her reserved right, in the case of the house, of privately finding all the fault she pleased. Even the staircase, so favorable to a swift descent, remained unchanged, and in their own room the bed stood squarely in the middle of the floor. Jack averred that this was intended when the house was planned, because the air is so much better in the centre of a room, and there is not so much danger of being struck by lightning.

One day there came a cold, gloomy rain on the wings of a raw east wind, and after Jack had gone to his office it occurred to Jill that a fire on the hearth in the parlor, which they used as a common sitting-room, would be exceedingly comfortable, but on removing a highly ornamental screen that served as a “fireboard,” she found neither grate nor fireplace, only a blank wall plastered and papered. Her righteous wrath was kindled, not because she was compelled to get warm in some other way, but by the fraudulent character of the chimney-piece. “I can imagine nothing more absurdly impertinent,” she declared to Jack when he came home, “than that huge marble mantel standing stupidly against the wall where there isn’t even a chimney for a background. As a piece of furniture it is superfluous; as a wall decoration it is hideous; as a shelf it is preposterous; as a fireplace it is a downright lie. If our architect suggests anything of the kind he will be dismissed on the instant.”

“Don’t you think the room would look rather bare without a mantel? You know it’s the most common thing in the world to have them like this. I can show you a hundred without going out of town.”

“Common! It’s worse than common; it is vulgar, it is atrocious, it is the sum of all villainies!” said Jill, her indignation rising with each succeeding epithet. “A fireplace is a sacred thing. To pretend to have one when you have not is like pretending to be pious when you know you are wicked; it is stealing the livery of a warm, gracious, kindly hospitality to serve you in making a cold, heartless pretense of welcome.”

“I didn’t mean to do anything wrong,” Jack protested with exceeding meekness. “Such mantels were all the fashion when this house was built, and fashions in marble can’t be changed as easily as fashions in paper flowers.”

“There ought not to be ‘fashions’ in marble, but of course it was fashion. Nothing else than the blindest of all blind guides could have led people into anything so hopelessly silly and unprincipled. I shall never enjoy this room again,” she continued, “knowing, as well I know, that yonder stately piece of sculpture is a whited sepulchre, a delusion and a snare. I shall feel that I ought to unmask it the moment a visitor comes in, lest I should be asked to make a fire on the hearth and be obliged to confess the depravity in our own household.”

“Now, really, my dear, don’t you think you are coming it rather strong, if I may be allowed the expression? Isn’t it possible that your present views may be slightly tinged by the color of the east wind, so to speak?”

“Not in the least. You know perfectly well, Jack, that insincerity is the bane of domestic and social life; that hypocrisy is a child of the Evil One, and that vain and false pretensions are the fatal lures that lead us on to destruction. How can we respect ourselves or expect our friends to respect us if the most conspicuous thing in the house is a palpable fraud?”

“Very well, dear, I’ll bring up a can of nitro-glycerine to-morrow and blow the whole establishment into the middle of futurity. Meanwhile, let us see if anything can be done to make it endurable a few hours longer.”

Dropping on his knees in front of the fictitious fireplace, Jack pulled the paper from the wall, disclosing a sheet-iron stove-pipe receiver, set there for a time of need, and communicating in some mysterious way with a sooty smoke flue. Having found this, he telephoned to the stove store for a portable grate that is to say, a Franklin stove with ornamental tiles in the face of it and in less than an hour the room was radiant with the blaze of a hickory fire, while a hitherto unknown warmth came to the lifeless marble from its new neighbor. By sitting directly in front of it Jill discovered that in appearance the general effect was nearly as good as that of a genuine fireplace, the warmth diffused being decidedly greater.

“I’m sorry I lost my temper,” said she, after they had sat a while in silence enjoying the ameliorating influence of the blaze, “but I do hate a humbug. We will let this stove stand here all summer to remind you that neither your house nor your wife is perfect, and to keep me warm when the east wind blows.”

Jack’s response to this magnanimous remark must be omitted, as it had no direct bearing upon house-building.

“When I went into the kitchen this morning to get warm,” Jill observed later in the evening, “I found Bridget ironing; the stove was red-hot, the bath boiler was bubbling and shaking with the imprisoned steam, and the outside door was wide open. It struck me that there was heat enough going out of doors, not to mention the superheated air of the kitchen itself, to have made the whole house comfortable such days as this, if it could only be saved. Don’t you think it would be possible to attach a pipe to some part of the cooking-range that would carry steam or hot water to the front of the house. We shouldn’t want it when the furnace was running, nor in very warm weather, and at such times it could be turned off.”

Jack thought it could be done, and expressed a willingness to be a roasted martyr occasionally if he could by that means make some use of the perennial fire in the kitchen, a fire that seemed to be the hottest when there was no demand for it.

“It’s my conviction,” said he, “that if the heat actually evolved from the fuel consumed by the average cook could be conserved on strictly scientific principles, it would warm the house comfortably the year round without any damage to the cooking, and with a saving of all the bother of stoves, fireplaces and furnaces.” And his conviction was well founded, provided the house is not too large and the weather is not too cold. “Shall we try it in the new house?”

“No, not unless somebody invents a new patent low-pressure, automatic-cooking-range-warming-attachment before we are ready for it. We shall have fireplaces in every room real ones and steam radiators beside.”

“What! in every room, those ugly, black, bronzy, oily, noisy, leaking, sizzling, snapping steam radiators that are always in the way and keep the air in the room so dry that everybody has catarrh, the doors won’t latch, and the furniture falls to pieces? You know how the old heirloom mahogany chair collapsed under Madam Abigail at Mrs. Hunter’s party went to pieces in a twinkling like the one-horse shay and all on account of the steam heat.”

“Yes, I remember; it was a comical tragedy; and before we run any such risks let us look over our advisory letters. Here’s one from Uncle Harry, who, as you know, is never without a hobby of some sort. Just at present he is devoted to sanitary questions. To be well warmed, ventilated and plumbed is the chief end of man. He begins by saying that ’sun’s heat is the only external warmth that is natural or beneficial to human beings. When men have risen above the dark clouds of sin and ignorance they will discover how to preserve the extra warmth of the torrid zone and of the hot summers in our own latitudes to be evenly diffused through colder climes and seasons. Next to sun’s heat is that which comes from visible combustion the burning of wood and coal. Such spontaneous, radiant, living warmth differs essentially from that which we receive by contact with artificially-warmed substances, somewhat as fruit that has been long gathered differs from that taken directly from the vine.’”

“Isn’t this getting sort of misty, what you might call ’transcendental like’?”

“Possibly, and this is still more so: ’Warmth is the vital atmosphere of life, and a living flame imparts to us some of nature’s own mysterious vitality. Hence, the sun’s rays and the blaze of burning fuel give not only a material but a spiritual comfort and cheer, which mere warm air is powerless to impart. Here is another reason why direct radiation, even from a black iron pipe, is preferable to a current of warm air brought from a distance: in a room warmed by such a current nothing is ever quite so warm as the air itself unless so situated as to obstruct its flow, but every solid substance near a hot stove or radiator absorbs the radiated heat and is satisfied, while the air for respiration remains at a comparatively low temperature.’”

“There may be a little sense in that,” said Jack, “but the rest is several fathoms too deep for me. Has he any practical advice to give?”

“That depends upon what you call practical. ‘I have little patience,’ he says, ’with the common objection to direct radiation, that it brings no fresh air. Fresh air can be had for the asking under a small stove or radiator standing in a room as well as under a large stove or boiler standing in the cellar; neither does the dampness or dryness of the atmosphere depend primarily upon the mode of warming it, while, as for the appearance of steam pipes, if they are not beautiful as usually seen, it only proves that art is not wisely applied to iron work, and that architects have not learned the essential lesson that whatever gives added comfort to a house will, if rightly treated, enhance its beauty. Steam-pipes or radiators may stand under windows, behind an open screen or grill of polished brass, or they may be incorporated with the chimney piece, and need not, in either case, be unsightly or liable to work mischief upon the carpets or ceilings under them. Wherever placed, a flue to bring in fresh air should be provided and fitted with a damper to control the currents.’”

“I like the notion of putting them beside the fireplace,” said Jack. “When they are both running, it would be like hitching a pair of horses before an ox-team or a steam engine attachment to an overshot water-wheel. It means business. Uncle Harry improves. What next?”

“He expounds his theories of light and shade, of plumbing, sewer-gas and malaria, and casually remarks that ’the variation of the north magnetic pole and the points of compass are not yet fully understood in their relation to human welfare.’”

“I should hope not! He must be writing under the influence of a full moon. Let us try a fresh correspondent.”

“Very well. Here is Aunt Melville’s latest, with a new set of plans. There will be neither trancendentalism nor vain repetitions here:

“’MY DEAR NIECE: Since writing you last I have had a most interesting experience, and hasten to give you the benefit of it. You remember Mr. Melville’s niece married a young attorney in Tumbledonville; very talented and of good family, but poor, desperately poor. He hadn’t over two or three thousand dollars in the world, but he has built a marvelous little house, of which I send you the plans. You enter a lovely hall, positively larger than, mine, an actual room in fact, with a staircase running up at one side and a charming fireplace at the right, built, if you will believe it, of common red bricks that cost only five dollars a thousand. It couldn’t have taken over two hundred and fifty to build it.

“Just think of that! A charming fireplace for a dollar and a quarter!

“Communicating with the hall by a wide door beautifully draped with some astonishingly cheap material is the parlor, fully equal in every respect to my library, and adjoining that the dining-room, nearly as large. On the same side is a green-house between two bay windows, the whole arrangement having a wonderful air of gentility and culture. I am convinced that you ought to invest three-fourths of your father’s wedding present in some safe business, and with the remainder build a house like this, buying a small lot for it, and defer the larger house for a few years. Keeping house alone with Jack and perhaps one maid-of-all-work will be perfectly respectable and dignified; the experience will do you good, and I have no doubt you will enjoy it. It will not only be a great economy in a pecuniary way, but society is very exacting, and a large house entails heavy social burdens which you will escape while living in a cottage. This will give you plenty of time to improve your taste in art, which is indispensable at present. There will be great economy, too, in the matter of furniture. A large house must be furnished according to prevailing fashions, but in a small one you may indulge any unconventional, artistic fancy you please.’”

“If Aunt Melville’s advice and plans could be applied where they are needed they would be extremely valuable. Suppose we found a society and present them to it for gratuitous distribution.”

“We can’t spare them yet; we shall not use them, but it is well to hear all sides of a question.”