Rudder Grange/Chapter 1
TREATING OF A NOVEL STYLE OF DWELLING-HOUSE
For some months after our marriage, Euphemia and I boarded. But we did not like it. Indeed, there was no reason why we should like it. Euphemia said that she never felt at home except when she was out, which feeling, indicating such an excessively unphilosophic state of mind, was enough to make me desire to have a home of my own, where, except upon rare and exceptional occasions, my wife would never care to go out.
If you should want to rent a house, there are three ways to find one. One way is to advertise; another is to read the advertisements of other people. This is a comparatively cheap way. A third method is to apply to an agent. But none of these plans are worth anything. The proper way is to know someone who will tell you of a house that will exactly suit you. Euphemia and I thoroughly investigated this matter, and I know that what I say is a fact.
We tried all the plans. When we advertised, we had about a dozen admirable answers, but in these, although everything seemed to suit, the amount of rent was not named. (None of those in which the rent was named would do at all.) And when I went to see the owners or agents of these suitable houses, they asked much higher rents than those mentioned in the unavailable answers—and this, notwithstanding the fact that they always asserted that their terms were either very reasonable or else greatly reduced on account of the season being advanced. (It was now the 15th of May.)
Euphemia and I once wrote a book—this was just before we were married—in which we told young married people how to go to housekeeping and how much it would cost them. We knew all about it, for we had asked several people. Now the prices demanded as yearly rental for small furnished houses, by the owners and agents of whom I have been speaking, were, in many cases, more than we had stated a house could be bought and furnished for!
The advertisements of other people did not serve any better. There was always something wrong about the houses when we made close inquiries, and the trouble was generally in regard to the rent. With agents we had a little better fortune. Euphemia sometimes went with me on my expeditions to real estate offices, and she remarked that these offices were always in the basement, or else you had to go up to them in an elevator. There was nothing between these extremes. And it was a good deal the same way, she said, with their houses. They were all very low indeed in price and quality, or else much too high.
One trouble was that we wanted a house in a country place, not very far from the city, and not very far from the railroad station or steamboat landing. We also wanted the house to be nicely shaded and fully furnished, and not to be in a malarial neighbourhood, or one infested by mosquitoes.
"If we do go to housekeeping," said Euphemia, "we might as well get a house to suit us while we are about it. Moving is more expensive than a fire."
There was one man who offered us a house that almost suited us. It was near the water, had rooms enough, and some—but not very much—ground, and was very accessible to the city. The rent, too, was quite reasonable. But the house was unfurnished. The agent, however, did not think that this would present any obstacle to our taking it. He was sure that the owner would furnish it if we paid him ten per cent. on the value of the furniture he put into it. We agreed that if the landlord would do this, and let us furnish the house according to the plans laid down in our book, that we would take the house. But, unfortunately, this arrangement did not suit the landlord, although he was in the habit of furnishing houses for tenants and charging them ten per cent. on the cost.
I saw him myself and talked to him about it.
"But you see," said he, when I had shown him our list of articles necessary for the furnishing of a house, "it would not pay me to buy all these things and rent them out to you. If you only wanted heavy furniture, which would last for years, the plan would answer, but you want everything. I believe the small conveniences you have on this list come to more money than the furniture and carpets."
"Oh, yes," said I. "We are not so very particular about furniture and carpets, but these little conveniences are the things that make house-keeping pleasant and—speaking from a common-sense point of view—profitable."
"That may be," he answered; "but I can't afford to make matters pleasant and profitable for you in that way. Now, then, let us look at one or two particulars. Here, on your list, is an ice-pick: twenty-five cents. Now, if I buy that ice-pick, and rent it to you at two and a half cents a year, I shall not get my money back unless it lasts you ten years. And even then, as it is not probable that I can sell the ice-pick after you have used it for ten years, I shall have made nothing at all by my bargain. And there are other things in that list, such as feather-dusters and lamp-chimneys, that couldn't possibly last ten years. Don't you see my position? "
I saw it. We did not get that furnished house. Euphemia was greatly disappointed.
"It would have been just splendid," she said, "to have taken our book and have ordered all these things at the stores, one after another, without even being obliged to ask the price."
I had my private doubts in regard to this matter of price. I am afraid that Euphemia generally set down the lowest price and the best things. She did not mean to mislead, and our plan certainly made our book attractive. But it did not work very well in practice. We have a friend who undertook to furnish her house by our book, and she never could get the things as cheaply as we had them quoted.
"But you see," said Euphemia to her, "we had to put them down at very low prices, because the model house we speak of in the book is to be entirely furnished for just so much." But in spite of this explanation the lady was not satisfied.
We found ourselves obliged to give up the idea of a furnished house. We would have taken an unfurnished one and furnished it ourselves, but we had not money enough. We were dreadfully afraid that we should have to continue to board.
It was now getting on toward summer—at least there was only a part of a month of spring left—and whenever I could get off from my business, Euphemia and I made little excursions into the country round about the city. One afternoon we went up the river, and there we saw a sight that transfixed us, as it were. On the bank, a mile or so above the city, stood a canal-boat. I say stood, because it was so firmly embedded in the ground, by the river-side, that it would have been almost as impossible to move it as to have turned the Sphinx around. This boat we soon found was inhabited by an oyster-man and his family. They had lived there for many years, and were really doing quite well. The boat was divided, inside, into rooms, and these were papered and painted and nicely furnished. There was a kitchen, a living-room, a parlour, and bedrooms. There were all sorts of conveniences—carpets on the floors, pictures, and everything, at least, so it seemed to us, to make a home comfortable. This was not all done at once, the oysterman told me. They had lived there for years, and had gradually added this and that until the place was as we saw it. He had an oyster-bed out in the river, and he made cider in the winter, but where he got the apples I don't know. There was really no reason why he should not get rich in time.
Well, we went all over that house, and we praised everything so much that the oyster-man's wife was delighted, and when we had some stewed oysters afterward—eating them at a little table under a tree near by—I believe that she picked out the very largest oysters she had, to stew for us. When we had finished our supper and had paid for it, and were going down to take our little boat again—for we had rowed up the river—Euphemia stopped and looked around her. Then she clasped her hands and exclaimed in an ecstatic undertone:
"We must have a canal boat!"
And she never swerved from that determination.
After I had seriously thought over the matter, I could see no good reason against adopting this plan. It would certainly be a cheap method of living, and it would really be housekeeping. I grew more and more in favour of it. After what the oyster-man had done, what might not we do? He had never written a book on housekeeping, nor, in all probability, had he considered the matter, philosophically, for one moment in all his life.
But it was not an easy thing to find a canal-boat. There were none advertised for rent—at least, not for housekeeping purposes.
We made many inquiries, and took many a long walk along the watercourses in the vicinity of the city, but all in vain. Of course, we talked a great deal about our project, and our friends became greatly interested in it, and of course, too, they gave us a great deal of advice, but we didn't mind that. We were philosophical enough to know that you can't have shad without bones. They were good friends, and, by being careful in regard to the advice, it didn't interfere with our comfort.
We were beginning to be discouraged—at least, Euphemia was. Her discouragement is like watercresses, it generally comes up in a very short time after she sows her wishes. But then it withers away rapidly, which is a comfort. One evening we were sitting, rather disconsolately, in our room, and I was reading out the advertisement of country board in a newspaper, when in rushed Dr. Heare—one of our old friends. He was so full of something that he had to say that he didn't even ask us how we were. In fact, he didn't appear to want to know.
"I tell you what it is," said he, "I have found just the very thing you want."
"A canal-boat?" I cried.
"Yes," said he; "a canal-boat."
"Furnished? " asked Euphemia, her eyes glistening.
"Well, no," answered the doctor; "I don't think you could expect that."
"But we can't live on the bare floor," said Euphemia; "our house must be furnished."
"Well, then, I suppose this won't do," said the doctor ruefully, "for there isn't so much as a boot-jack in it. It has most things that are necessary for a boat, but it hasn't anything that you could call house-furniture; but, dear me, I should think you could furnish it very cheaply and comfortably out of your book."
"Very true," said Euphemia; "if we could pick out the cheapest things and then get some folks to buy a lot of the books."
"We could begin with very little," said I, trying hard to keep calm.
"Certainly," said the doctor; "you need make no more rooms at first than you could furnish."
"Then there are no rooms?" said Euphemia.
"No; there is nothing but one vast apartment extending from stem to stern."
"Won't it be glorious!" said Euphemia to me. "We can first make a kitchen, and then a dining-room and a bedroom, and then a parlour—just in the order in which our book says they ought to be furnished."
"Glorious!" I cried, no longer able to contain my enthusiasm; "I should think so. Doctor, where is this canal-boat?"
The doctor then went into a detailed statement.
The boat was stranded on the shore of the Scoldsbury River not far below Ginx's. We knew where Ginx's was, because we had spent a very happy day there during our honeymoon.
The boat was a good one, but superannuated. That, however, did not interfere with its usefulness as a dwelling. We could get it—the doctor had seen the owner—for a small sum per annum, and there was positively no end to its capabilities.
We sat up until twenty minutes past two, talking about that house. We ceased to call it a boat at about a quarter to eleven.
The next day I "took" the boat and paid a month's rent in advance. Three days afterwards we moved into it.
We had not much to move, which was a comfort, looking at it from one point of view. A carpenter had put up two partitions in it, which made three rooms—a kitchen, a dining-room, and a very long bedroom, which was to be cut up into a parlour, study, spare-room, etc., as soon as circumstances should allow, or my salary should be raised. Originally, all the doors and windows were in the roof, so to speak, but our landlord allowed us to make as many windows to the side of the boat as we pleased, provided we gave him the wood we cut out. It saved him trouble, he said, but I did not understand him at the time. Accordingly, the carpenter made several windows for us, and put in sashes, which opened on hinges like the hasp of a trunk. Our furniture did not amount to much at first. The very thought of living in this independent, romantic way was so delightful, Euphemia said, that furniture seemed a mere secondary matter.
We were obliged, indeed, to give up the idea of following the plan detailed in our book, because we hadn't the sum upon which the furnishing of a small house was therein based.
"And if we haven't the money," remarked Euphemia, "it would be of no earthly use to look at the book. It would only make us doubt our own calculations. You might as well try to make bricks without mortar, as the children of Israel did."
"I could do that myself, my dear," said I; "but we won't discuss that subject now. We will buy just what we absolutely need, and then work up from that."
Acting on this plan, we bought first a small stove, because Euphemia said that we could sleep on the floor if it were necessary, but we couldn't make a fire on the floor—at least, not often. Then we got a table and two chairs. The next thing we purchased was some hanging shelves for our books, and Euphemia suddenly remembered the kitchen things. These, which were few, with some crockery, nearly brought us to the end of our resources, but we had enough for a big easy-chair, which Euphemia was determined I should have, because I really needed it when I came home at night, tired with my long day's work at the office. I had always been used to an easy-chair, and it was one of her most delighted dreams to see me in a real nice one, comfortably smoking my pipe in my own house, after eating my own delicious little supper in company with my own dear wife. We selected the chair and then we were about to order the things sent out to our future home, when I happened to think that we had no bed. I called Euphemia's attention to the fact.
She was thunderstruck.
"I never thought of that," she said. "We shall have to give up the stove."
"Not at all," said I; "we can't do that. We must give up the easy-chair."
"Oh, that would be too bad," she said. "The house would seem like nothing to me without the chair!"
"But we must do without it, my dear," said I, "at least for a while. I can sit out on deck and smoke of an evening, you know."
"Yes," said Euphemia. "You can sit on the bulwarks, and I can sit by you. That will do very well. I'm sure I'm glad the boat has bulwarks."
So we resigned the easy-chair and bought a bedstead and some very plain bedding. The bedstead is what is sometimes called a "scissors-bed." We could shut it up when we did not want to sleep in it and stand it against the wall.
When we packed up our trunks and left the boarding-house Euphemia fairly skipped with joy.
We went down to Ginx's in the first boat, having arranged that our furniture should be sent to us in the afternoon. We wanted to be there to receive it. The trip was just wildly delirious. The air was charming. The sun was bright, and I had a whole holiday. When we reached Ginx's we found that the best way to get our trunks and ourselves to our house was to take a carriage, and so we took one. I told the driver to drive along the river road and I would tell him where to stop.
When we reached our boat, and had alighted, I said to the driver:
"You can just put our trunks inside, anywhere."
The man looked at the trunks and then looked at the boat. Afterwards he looked at me.
"That boat ain't goin' anywhere," said he.
"I should think not," said Euphemia. "We shouldn't want to live in it if we were."
"You are going to live in it?" said the man.
"Yes," said Euphemia.
"Oh!" said the man, and he took our trunks on board without another word.
It was not very easy for him to get the trunks into our new home. In fact, it was not easy for us to get there ourselves. There was a gang-plank, with a rail on one side of it, which inclined from the shore to the deck of the boat at an angle of forty-five degrees, and when the man had staggered up this plank with the trunks (Euphemia said I ought to have helped him, but I really thought that it would be better for one person to fall off the plank than for two to go over together), and we had paid him, and he had driven away in a speechless condition, we scrambled up and stood upon the threshold, or rather, the after-deck, of our home.
It was a proud moment. Euphemia glanced around, her eyes full of happy tears, and then she took my arm and we went downstairs—at least, we tried to go down in that fashion, but soon found it necessary to go one at a time. We wandered over the whole extent of our mansion, and found that our carpenter had done his work better than the woman whom we had engaged to scrub and clean the house. Something akin to despair must have seized upon her, for Euphemia declared that the floors looked dirtier than on the occasion of her first visit, when we rented the boat.
But that didn't discourage us. We felt sure that we should get it clean in time.
Early in the afternoon our furniture arrived, together with the other things we had bought, and the men who brought them over from the steamboat landing had the brightest, merriest faces I ever noticed among that class of people. Euphemia said it was an excellent omen to have such cheerful fellows come to us on the very first day of our house-keeping.
Then we went to work. I put up the stove, which was not much trouble, as there was a place all ready in the deck for the stove-pipe to be run through. Euphemia was somewhat surprised at the absence of a chimney, but I assured her that boats were very seldom built with chimneys. My dear little wife bustled about and arranged the pots and kettles on nails that I drove into the kitchen walls. Then she made the bed in the bedroom. I hung up a looking-glass and a few little pictures that we had brought in our trunks.
Before four o'clock our house was in order. Then we began to be very hungry.
"My dear," said Euphemia, "we ought to have thought to bring something to cook."
"That is very true," said I, "but I think perhaps we had better walk up to Ginx's and get our supper to-night. You see, we are so tired and hungry."
"What!" cried Euphemia; "go to an hotel the very first day? I think it would be dreadful! Why, I have been looking forward to this first meal with the greatest delight. You can go up to the little store by the hotel and buy some things and I will cook them, and we will have our first dear little meal here all alone by ourselves, at our own table and in our own house."
So this was determined upon, and, after a hasty counting of the fund I had reserved for moving and kindred expenses, and which had been sorely depleted during the day, I set out, and in about an hour returned with my first marketing.
I made a fire, using a lot of chips and blocks the carpenter had left, and Euphemia cooked the supper, and we ate it from our little table, with two large towels for a table-cloth.
It was the most delightful meal I ever ate!
And when we had finished Euphemia washed the dishes (the thoughtful creature had put some water on the stove to heat for the purpose, while we were at supper), and then we went on deck, or on the piazza as Euphemia thought we had better call it, and there we had our smoke. I say we, for Euphemia always helps me to smoke by sitting by me, and she seems to enjoy it as much as I do.
And when the shades of evening began to gather around us I hauled in the gang-plank (just like a delightful old drawbridge, Euphemia said, although I hope for the sake of our ancestors that drawbridges were easier to haul in) and went to bed.
It is lucky we were tired and wanted to go to bed early, for we had forgotten all about lamps or candles.
For the next week we were two busy and happy people. I rose about half-past five and made the fire—we found so much wood on the shore that I thought I should not have to add fuel to my expenses—and Euphemia cooked the breakfast. I then went to a well belonging to a cottage near by where we had arranged for water-privileges, and filled two buckets with delicious water and carried them home for Euphemia's use through the day. Then I hurried off to catch the train, for, as there was a station near Ginx's, I ceased to patronize the steamboat, the hours of which were not convenient. After a day of work and pleasurable anticipation at the office, I hastened back to my home, generally laden with a basket of provisions and various household necessities. Milk was brought to us daily from the above-mentioned cottage by a little toddler who seemed just able to carry the small tin bucket which held a lacteal pint. If the urchin had been the child of rich parents, as Euphemia sometimes observed, he would have been in his nurse's arms—but, being poor, he was scarcely weaned before he began to carry milk around to other people.
After I reached home, came supper and the delightful evening hours, when over my pipe (I had given up cigars as being too expensive and inappropriate, and had taken to a tall pipe and canister tobacco) we talked and planned and told each other our day's experience.
One of our earliest subjects of discussion was the name of our homestead. Euphemia insisted that it should have a name. I was quite willing, but we found it no easy matter to select an appropriate title. I proposed a number of appellations intended to suggest the character of our home. Among these were, "Safe Ashore," "Firmly Grounded," and some other names of that style, but Euphemia did not fancy any of them. She wanted a suitable name, of course, she said, but it must be something that would sound like a house and be like a boat.
"Partitionville" she objected to, and "Gangplank Terrace " did not suit her because it suggested convicts going out to work, which, naturally, was unpleasant.
At last, after days of talk and cogitation, we named our house "Rudder Grange."
To be sure, it wasn't exactly a grange, but then it had such an enormous rudder that the justice of that part of the title seemed to overbalance any little inaccuracy in the other portion.
But we did not spend all our spare time in talking. An hour or two every evening was occupied in what we called " fixing the house," and gradually the inside of our abode began to look like a conventional dwelling. We put matting on the floors, and cheap but very pretty paper on the walls. We added now a couple of chairs, and now a table or something for the kitchen. Frequently, especially of a Sunday, we had company, and our guests were always charmed with Euphemia's cunning little meals. The dear girl loved good eating so much that she could scarcely fail to be a good cook.
We worked hard, and were very happy. And thus the weeks passed on.