Rudder Grange/Chapter 6
THE NEW RUDDER GRANGE
I have before given an account of the difficulties we encountered when we started out house-hunting, and it was this doleful experience which made Euphemia declare that before we set out on a second search for a residence, we should know exactly what we wanted.
To do this, we must know how other people live, we must examine into the advantages and disadvantages of the various methods of house-keeping, and make up our minds on the subject.
When we came to this conclusion we were in a city boarding-house, and were entirely satisfied that this style of living did not suit us at all.
At this juncture I received a letter from the gentleman who had boarded with us on the canal-boat. Shortly after leaving us the previous fall, he had married a widow lady with two children, and was now keeping house in a French flat in the upper part of the city. We had called upon the happy couple soon after their marriage, and the letter, now received, contained an invitation for us to come and dine, and spend the night.
"We'll go," said Euphemia. "There's nothing I want so much as to see how people keep house in a French fiat. Perhaps we'll like it. And I must see those children." So we went.
The house, as Euphemia remarked, was anything but flat. It was very tall indeed—the tallest house in the neighbourhood. We entered the vestibule, the outer door being open, and beheld, on one side of us, a row of bellhandles. Above each of these handles was the mouth of a speaking-tube, and above each of these, a little glazed frame containing a visiting-card.
"Isn't this cute?" said Euphemia, reading over the cards. "Here's his name, and this is his bell and tube! Which would you do first, ring or blow?"
"My dear," said I, "you don't blow up those tubes. We must ring the bell, just as if it were an ordinary front-door bell, and instead of coming to the door, someone will call down the tube to us."
I rang the bell under the boarder's name, and very soon a voice at the tube said:
Then I told our names, and in an instant the front door opened.
"Why, their flat must be right here," whispered Euphemia. "How quickly the girl came!" And she looked for the girl as we entered. But there was no one there.
"Their flat is on the fifth storey," said I. "He mentioned that in his letter. We had better shut the door and go up."
Up and up the softly-carpeted stairs we climbed, and not a soul we saw or heard.
"It is like an enchanted cavern," said Euphemia. "You say the magic word, the door in the rock opens, and you go on, and on, through the vaulted passages—"
"Until you come to the ogre," said the boarder, who was standing at the top of the stairs. He did not behave at all like an ogre, for he was very glad to see us, and so was his wife. After we had settled down in the parlour and the boarder's wife had gone to see about something concerning the dinner. Euphemia asked after the children.
"I hope they haven't gone to bed," she said, "for I do so want to see the dear little things."
The ex-boarder, as Euphemia called him, smiled grimly.
"They're not so very little," he said. "My wife's son is nearly grown. He is at an academy in Connecticut, and he expects to go into a civil engineer's office in the spring. His sister is older than he is. My wife married—in the first instance—when she was very young—very young indeed."
"Oh!" said Euphemia; and then, after a pause, "and neither of them is at home now?"
"No," said the ex-boarder. "By the way, what do you think of this dado? It is a portable one; I devised it myself. You can take it away with you to another house when you move. But there is the dinner-bell. I'll show you over the establishment after we have had something to eat."
After our meal we made a tour of inspection. The flat, which included the whole floor, contained nine or ten rooms, of all shapes and sizes. The corners in some of the rooms were cut off and shaped up into closets and recesses, so that Euphemia said the corners of every room were in some other room.
Near the back of the flat was a dumb-waiter, with bells and speaking-tubes. When the butcher, the baker, or the kerosene-lamp maker came each morning he rang the bell, and called up the tube to know what was wanted. The order was called down, and he brought the things in the afternoon.
All this greatly charmed Euphemia. It was so cute, so complete. There were no interviews with disagreeable trades people, none of the ordinary annoyances of housekeeping. Everything seemed to be done with a bell, a speaking-tube, or a crank.
"Indeed," said the ex-boarder, "if it were not for people tripping over the wires, I could rig up attachments by which I could sit in the parlour, and by using pedals and a key-board, I could do all the work of this house without getting out of my easy-chair."
One of the most peculiar features of the establishment was the servant's room. This was at the rear end of the floor, and as there was not much space left after the other rooms had been made, it was very small; so small, indeed, that it would accommodate only a very short bedstead. This made it necessary for our friends to consider the size of the servant when they engaged her.
"There were several excellent girls at the intelligence office where I called," said the ex-boarder; "but I measured them, and they were all too tall. So we had to take a short one, who is only so-so. There was one big Scotch girl who was the very person for us, and I would have taken her if my wife had not objected to my plan for her accommodation."
"What was that?" I asked.
"Well," said he, "I first thought of cutting a hole in the partition wall at the foot of the bed for her to put her feet through."
"Never!" said his wife emphatically. "I would never have allowed that."
"And then," continued he, "I thought of turning the bed around, and cutting a larger hole, through which she might have put her head into the little room on this side. A low table could have stood under the hole, and her head might have rested on a cushion on the table very comfortably."
"My dear," said his wife, "it would have frightened me to death to go into that room and see that head on a cushion on a table—"
"Like John the Baptist," interrupted Euphemia.
"Well," said our ex-boarder, "the plan would have had its advantages."
"Oh!" cried Euphemia, looking out of a back window. "What a lovely little iron balcony! Do you sit out there on warm evenings?"
"That's a fire-escape," said the ex-boarder. "We don't go out there unless it is very hot indeed, on account of the house being on fire. You see, there is a little door in the floor of the balcony and an iron ladder leading to the balcony beneath, and so on, down to the first storey."
"And you have to creep through that hole and go down that dreadful steep ladder every time there is a fire?" said Euphemia.
"Well, I guess we would never go down but once," he answered.
"No, indeed," said Euphemia; "you fall down and break your neck the first time," and she turned away from the window with a very grave expression on her face.
Soon after this our hostess conducted Euphemia to the guest-chamber, while her husband and I finished a bed-time cigar.
When I joined Euphemia in her room, she met me with a mysterious expression on her face. She shut the door, and then said in a very earnest tone:
"Do you see that httle bedstead in the corner? I did not notice it until I came in just now, and then, being quite astonished, I said: 'Why, here's a child's bed; who sleeps here?' 'Oh,' says she, 'that's our little Adèle's bedstead. We have it in our room when she's here.' 'Little Adèle!' said I. 'I didn't know she was little—not small enough for that bed, at any rate.' 'Why, yes,' said she, 'Adèle is only four years old. The bedstead is quite large enough for her.' 'And she is not here now?' I said, utterly amazed at all this. 'No,' she answered, 'she is not here now, but we try to have her with us as much as we can, and always keep her little bed ready for her.' 'I suppose she's with her father's people,' I said, and she answered: 'Oh, yes,' and bade me good-night. What does all this mean? Our boarder told us that the daughter is grown up, and here his wife declares that she is only four years old! I don't know what in the world to make of this mystery!"
I could give Euphemia no clue. I supposed there was some mistake, and that was all I could say, except that I was sleepy, and that we could find out all about it in the morning. But Euphemia could not dismiss the subject from her mind. She said no more, but I could see—until I fell asleep—that she was thinking about it.
It must have been about the middle of the night, perhaps later, when I was suddenly awakened by Euphemia starting up in the bed, with the exclamation:
"I have it!"
"What?" I cried, sitting up in a great hurry. "What is it? What have you got? What's the matter?"
"I know it!" she said, "I know it. Our boarder is a grandfather! Little Adèle is the grown-up daughter's child. He was quite particular to say that his wife married very young. Just to think of it! So short a time ago he was living with us—a bachelor—and now, in four short months, he is a grandfather!"
Carefully propounded inquiries in the morning, proved Euphemia's conclusions to be correct.
The next evening, when we were quietly sitting in our own room, Euphemia remarked that she did not wish to have anything to do with French fiats.
"They seem to be very convenient," I said.
"Oh, yes, convenient enough, but I don't like them. I would hate to live where everything let down like a table-lid, or else turned with a crank, and when I think of those fire-escapes, and the boarder's grandchild, it makes me feel very unpleasantly."
"But the grandchild don't follow as a matter of course," said I.
"No," she answered, "but I shall never like French flats."
And we discussed them no more.
For some weeks we examined into every style of economic and respectable housekeeping, and many methods of living in what Euphemia called "imitation comfort" were set aside as unworthy of consideration.
"My dear," said Euphemia, one evening, "what we really ought to do is to build. Then we would have exactly the house we want."
"Very true," I replied; "but to build a house, a man must have money."
"Oh, no!" said she, "or at least not much. For one thing, you might join a building association. In some of those societies I know that you only have to pay a dollar a week."
"But do you suppose the association builds houses for all its members?" I asked.
"Of course I suppose so. Else why is it called a building association?"
I had read a good deal about these organizations, and I explained to Euphemia that a dollar a week was never received by any of them in payment for a new house.
"Then build yourself," she said; "I know how that can be done."
"Oh, it's easy enough," I remarked, "if you have the money."
"No, you needn't have any money," said Euphemia, rather hastily. "Just let me show you. Supposing, for instance, that you want to build a house worth—well, say twenty thousand dollars, in some pretty town near the city,"
"I would rather figure on a cheaper house than that for a country place," I interrupted.
"Well, then, say two thousand dollars. You get masons and carpenters, and people to dig the cellar, and you engage them to build your house. You needn't pay them until it's done, of course. Then when it's all finished, borrow two thousand dollars and give the house as security. After that, you see, you have only to pay the interest on the borrowed money. When you save enough money to pay back the loan, the house is your own. Now isn't that a good plan?"
"Yes," said I, "if there could be found people who would build your house and wait for their money until someone would lend you its full value on a mortgage."
"Well," said Euphemia, "I guess they could be found, if you would only look for them."
"I'll look for them when I go to heaven," I said.
We gave up for the present the idea of building or buying a house, and determined to rent a small place in the country, and then, as Euphemia wisely said, if we liked it, we might buy it. After she had dropped her building project she thought that one ought to know just how a house would suit before having it on one's hands.
We could afford something better than a canal-boat now, and therefore we were not so restricted as in our first search for a house. But the one thing which troubled my wife and, indeed, caused me much anxious thought, was that scourge of almost all rural localities—tramps. It would be necessary for me to be away all day—and we could not afford to keep a man—so we must be careful to get a house somewhere off the line of ordinary travel, or else in a well-settled neighbourhood, where there would be someone near at hand in case of unruly visitors.
"A village I don't like," said Euphemia; "there is always so much gossip, and people know all about what you have, and what you do. And yet it would be very lonely, and perhaps dangerous, for us to live off somewhere all by ourselves. And there is another objection to a village. We don't want a house with a small yard and a garden at the back. We ought to have a dear little farm, with some fields for corn, and a cow, and a barn and things of that sort. All that would be lovely. I'll tell you what we want," she cried, seized with a sudden inspiration; "we ought to try to get the end-house of a village. Then our house could be near the neighbours, and our farm could stretch out a little way into the country beyond us. Let us fix our minds upon such a house, and I believe we can get it."
So we fixed our minds, but in the course of a week or two we unfixed them several times to allow the consideration of places which otherwise would have been out of range; and during one of these intervals of mental disfixment we took a house.
It was not the end-house of a village, but it was in the outskirts of a very small rural settlement. Our nearest neighbour was within vigorous shooting distance, and the house suited us so well in other respects, that we concluded that this would do. The house was small, but large enough. There were some trees around it, and a little lawn in front. There was a garden, a small barn and stable, a pasture field, and land enough besides for small patches of corn and potatoes. The rent was low, the water good, and no one can imagine how delighted we were.
We did not furnish the whole house at first, but what mattered it? We had no horse or cow, but the pasture and barn were ready for them. We did not propose to begin with everything at once. Our first evening in that house was made up of hours of unalloyed bliss. We walked from room to room; we looked out on the garden and the lawn; we sat on the little porch while I smoked.
"We were happy at Rudder Grange," said Euphemia; "but that was only a canal-boat, and could not, in the nature of things, have been a permanent home."
"No," said I, "it could not have been permanent; but in many respects, it was a delightful home. The very name of it brings pleasant thoughts."
"It was a nice name," said Euphemia, "and I'll tell you what we might do: Let us call this place Rudder Grange—the new Rudder Grange! The name will do just as well for a house as for a boat."
I agreed on the spot, and the house was christened.
Our household was small; we had a servant—a German woman; and we had ourselves, that was all.
I did not do much in the garden; it was too late in the season. The former occupant had planted some corn and potatoes, with a few other vegetables, and these I weeded and hoed, working early in the morning and when I came home in the afternoon. Euphemia tied up the rose-vines, trimmed the bushes, and with a little rake and hoe she prepared a flower-bed in front of the parlour window. This exercise gave us splendid appetites, and we loved our new home more and more.
Our German girl did not suit us exactly at first, and day by day she grew to suit us less. She was a quiet, kindly, pleasant creature, and delighted in an out-of-door life. She was as willing to weed in the garden as she was to cook or wash. At first I was very much pleased with this, because, as I remarked to Euphemia, you can find very few girls who would be willing to work in the garden, and she might be made very useful.
But, after a time, Euphemia began to get a little out of patience with her. She worked out-of-doors entirely too much. And what she did there, as well as some of her work in the house, was very much like certain German literature—you did not know how it was done, or what it was for.
One afternoon I found Euphemia quite annoyed.
"Look here! " she said, "and see what that girl has been at work at, nearly all this afternoon. I was upstairs sewing, and thought she was ironing. Isn't it too provoking?"
It was provoking. The contemplative German had collected a lot of short ham-bones—where she found them I cannot imagine—and had made of them a border around my wife's flower-bed. The bones stuck up straight a few inches above the ground, all along the edge of the bed, and the marrow cavity of each one was filled with earth, in which she had planted seeds.
"'These,' she says, 'will spring up and look beautiful,'" said Euphemia; "they have that style of thing in her country."
"Then let her take them off with her to her country," I exclaimed.
"No, no," said Euphemia hurriedly; "don't kick them out. It would only wound her feelings. She did it all for the best, and thought it would please me to have such a border around my bed. But she is too independent, and neglects her proper work. I will give her a week's notice and get another servant. When she goes we can take these horrid bones away. But I hope nobody will call on us in the meantime."
"Must we keep these things here a whole week?" I asked.
"Oh, I can't turn her away without giving her a fair notice. That would be cruel."
I saw the truth of the remark, and determined to bear with the bones and her rather than be unkind.
That night Euphemia informed the girl of her decision, and the next morning, soon after I had left, the good German appeared with her bonnet on and her carpet-bag in her hand, to take leave of her mistress.
"What!" cried Euphemia. "You are not going to-day?"
"If it is goot to go at all, it is goot to go now," said the girl.
"And you will go off and leave me without any one in the house, after my putting myself out to give you a fair notice? It's shameful!"
"I think it is very goot for me to go now," quietly replied the girl. "This house is very loneful. I will go to-morrow in the city to see your husband for my money. Goot morning!" And off she trudged to the station.
Before I reached the house that afternoon Euphemia rushed out to tell this story. I would not like to say how far I kicked those ham-bones.
This German girl had several successors, and some of them suited as badly and left as abruptly as herself; but Euphemia never forgot the ungrateful stab given her by this "ham-bone girl," as she always called her. It was her first wound of the kind, and it came in the very beginning of the campaign, when she was all unused to this domestic warfare.