The House - An Episode in the Lives of Reuben Baker, Astronomer, and of His Wife, Alice
by Eugene Field
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It has seemed to me at times during the last four months as if the carpenters and joiners and plumbers and painters were leagued against Alice and me to defraud and to rob us. I supposed that in these dull and hard times these people would feel in a measure grateful to us for giving them a chance to ply their trades. I find, however, that they expect me to be grateful to them for allowing me the privilege of paying them exorbitant prices for very indifferent services.

Alice wanted to make a contract in every instance, but she was wheedled out of this by the eloquent representations of the sharpers to the effect that it would be much cheaper in the end to pay for the material used and so much per diem for the actual labor done. This looked reasonable enough, but the result was wholly in favor of the per-diem fellows. Our experience has convinced us that a mechanic who is working per diem will never make an end to his job so long as the appropriation holds out.

Of what use would our new house have been to us if the doors and windows and screens and blinds had not been supplied with the fixtures required for their operation? We have very little worth stealing, and yet I feel more secure if there are locks upon our doors and if the windows are fastened down. Uncle Si knew that we would need bolts and locks and other similar hardware fixtures; the neighbors, our busiest advisers, knew it, too; yet nobody ever said booh about these things to us. They fancied, forsooth, that we would have by intuition the knowledge which they had acquired by costly experience! And when we complained of the expense and trouble involved in the selection and purchase of these extras, the intimation that we were unreasonably idiotic was freely bandied about by the very people who should have sympathized with us.

The fixtures came late, too late for the big storm. There being no bolt or any other fastening to the north porch door, the wind blew that door open and the rain descended in torrents upon the hardwood floor of the guest chamber. Next day it was apparent that the floor was practically ruined. The carpenters agreed that it would have to be scraped and that it was very likely to swell and spring out of place on account of the soaking it had suffered.

Hardwood floors may have their advantages: they ought to have, for they are a costly luxury and they are a great care. Owing to the few hardwood floors in our new house we were delayed moving into the place for many weeks. When Uncle Si and his cohort got through with them they were as billowy as the surface of the ocean.

The painters came to us one by one and apprized us in confidence that those floors were the worst they had ever seen. They said that the carpenters must have supposed that we wanted a toboggan slide instead of hardwood floors. This sarcasm rankled in our bosoms.

At this critical juncture Lansom Mansom, the cabinetmaker who had made our bookcases for us, came to our relief with the suggestion that he be employed to "go over" the floors and make them practicable. He advised the per-diem scheme, and with characteristic good nature we acceded to it. Thereupon this crafty and thrifty person set himself about this delectable task, which busied him five weeks at four dollars a day—a sum not to be sneezed at, I can tell you.

When the floors were scraped and stained and varnished it took two weeks for them to dry; meanwhile nobody was permitted to approach them. A favored few among our most intimate friends were graciously allowed to peer in at the shining floors from the porch outside, and it seemed very tedious waiting for the time to come when we could put those floors to the uses for which floors are undoubtedly intended.

When at last we were suffered to walk upon the floors an unlooked-for casualty came very near dashing to the ground the cup of joy which our pride had, metaphorically speaking, raised to our lips. Little Josephine, the most precious jewel in our domestic diadem, had never before had any experience with hardwood floors, and no sooner did she begin to dance and caper on that smooth and lustrous surface than the innocent little lambkin lost her footing and fell, sustaining so severe a shock as to render the services of a physician necessary.

This mishap confirmed me in my dislike for hardwood floors, and that dislike has increased steadily. Several other people have come very near breaking their necks by losing their balance on that treacherous surface, and I confess that I myself am compelled to exercise the art of a Blondin in order to maintain my equilibrium in those slippery places.

Alice has always argued that hardwood floors were particularly desirable for the reason that they did away with the expense and care of carpets. It is true that we are to have no carpets in the apartments where these hardwood floors have been laid, but these handsome floors simply emphasize and italicize a man's poverty unless they are dotted with rugs, and there is none so foolhardy as to deny that the average rug costs five times as much as the average carpet. And the care demanded by a hardwood floor is exacting, for that shining surface, upon which every spot of dust stands out so distinctly, must be gone over daily with a soft brush, and must be wiped up with a wet cloth at least thrice a week.

Moreover the utmost precaution must be practised lest the surface of the hardwood floor be scratched or be seamed by the nails in one's boots or by the legs of tables or of chairs. Our youngest son, Erasmus, complains grievously of the restrictions put upon him since he entered upon this hardwood-floor epoch of his career. It is hard for the buoyant lad to understand why he is not to be permitted to slide and skate on these floors as he has hitherto been permitted to slide and skate on the floors of the rented houses we have lived in. I have not chided Erasmus for his remonstrances, for I, too, have been tempted to rebel against the new order of things. If either Erasmus or I ever build a house of our own we shall eschew the hardwood-floor heresy as we would a pest.

There is another evil which I am at this moment reminded of, and that is the folding-door evil. In all my experience I have never met with another door as honest, sensible, and trustworthy as the door that swings on hinges.

I told Alice so when the subject of doors came up in our discussions of proposed innovations in the new house. But Alice had conceived the notion that we ought to have a folding door in the parlor, and when Alice once gets a notion into her head all creation with a pickaxe couldn't get it out again.

Properly speaking, the door was not a folding door; it was a sliding door. When pushed back it was to disappear in the wall separating the parlor from the front hall. When I saw Uncle Si and his men constructing this door I expressed the fear that it wouldn't work, but Uncle Si laughed my fears to scorn; the trouble with too many doors, he said, was that they were made of cheap stuff; this door, he assured me, was an A No. 1 door and would never—could never—get out of place. Then he showed me the rollers and attachments and proved their practicability and strength.

Not knowing any more about such things than a seacow knows of the summer solstice, I assented to all his propositions and went my way with my apprehensions completely allayed. But in less than forty-eight hours after Uncle Si and his men turned over the house to us, bang went that door, and no power at our command could budge it an inch either way.

Another carpenter came and investigated. Presently he shook his head and smiled a bitter smile. Then he told us that the break would not have happened if the fixtures had not been of the cheapest make. What we required, he said, was fixtures that cost ten dollars instead of three dollars, our door being a large parlor door and not a light pantry door.

We bade this sarcastic genius go ahead and remedy the evil as best he could, and the result is that the door now slides as smoothly as even the most exacting could wish: this repair has involved the expenditure of only fifteen dollars, and I would not mention it if I had any confidence whatever in the door even in its rehabilitated condition. I know as well as I know anything else that as soon as we build a fire in our heating apparatus next November the heat thereof will warp and twist that door into such shape that it will be as impossible to budge it as if it were nailed down. We shall then be in a serious pickle, for we shall be unable to enter our parlor.

The windows all over the house are fast in their casings, having been painted so carefully by those rascally painters that it requires the power of a steam derrick to raise them. The other morning I tried to open one of the windows in the butler's pantry, for the atmosphere in that place was absolutely stifling. I tugged and pulled and pushed in vain.

Finally a happy thought struck me, and I hunted up a hammer and used it lustily upon the obstinate sash. I must have got careless, for after I had hammered away for several minutes I missed my aim and the head of the hammer went through a pane of glass.

I didn't want Alice to know anything about this mishap, so I furtively hired a glazier to repair the damage I had done. As I made no contract with the fellow he took advantage of me, just as I should have known by experience he would. Here is a copy of the bill he has just sent in for me to pay:


To one pane glass 7x11 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .30 To one day's labor setting same . . . . . . . . . . . $3.60 ——- Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $3.90 Please remit."

[It was the intention of Mr. Field to add a final chapter to his book describing the entrance of the Baker family into their new home, but his sudden death left the book with this chapter unwritten.]


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