The House That Would Not Wait

The House That Would Not Wait  (1911) 
by Ellis Parker Butler

From Canada West Monthly, Jan 1911. Illustrated by Peter Newell

The reason why Pilgath dug his well right alongside of his barn was because his grandfather had once fallen off the barn and broken his arm. Pilgath figured that if he should ever fall off the barn, it would save doctor's bills if he could fall into a well and break the jar by striking soft water.

The House
That Wouldn't Wait

By Ellis Parker Baker
Author of "Pigs is Pigs," "The Great American Pie Co.," Etc.

IT'S ALL right to respect your grandfathers, but when you make idols and fetiches of 'em, you can just expect to get into trouble. That's what Betzville says about Pilgath Gubb, and Aunt Rhinocolura Betts says Betzville is right. She says the Apostle Paul is agin it—or maybe it was some o' the minor prophets—but anyway you could see it for yourself the minute you laid eyes on Pilgath Gubb.

Pilgath was considered the most thoughtful man in Betzville. Before he'd do the littlest thing he'd sit on a cracker-barrel, and think and think. Maybe by the time he'd decided, he'd forget what he'd been thinking about, and would have to start all over again, but that never worried Pilgath. It was all on account of his grandfather. The old gentleman had died before Pilgath was born, and naturally Pilgath had never had much of an acquaintance with him, but he said a grandfather was a grandfather, dead or alive, and far be it from him not to respect his relations. So he'd figure out how his grandfather would have done things, and then he'd do 'em just exactly so.

The reason why Pilgath dug his well right alongside of his barn was because his grandfather had once fallen off the barn and broken his arm. Pilgath figured that if he should ever fall off the barn, it would save doctor's bills if he could fall into a well and break the jar by striking soft water. The barn was thirty feet high and the well forty feet deep, so that when Pilgath did fall off, he hit the well all right, but he went thirty feet down into the water, and was so nearly drowned that it took five hours and three quarts of whiskey to bring him to. Even then all he knew was to roll over on his back on the floor and ask weakly where they kept the straps to hang on by.

When he finally came to himself and remembered that he was a church-member, he decided that the well was a delusion-producer and ought to be discontinued. So he pumped all the water out, plugged up the spring at the bottom, and took the pledge. Next time he fell off the barn, however, he not only fell thirty feet to the ground, but forty feet more to the bottom of the well, and made the discovery that though the spring might have been soft, the ground it came out of was as hard at seventy feet as it was at thirty—maybe more so. Worse than that, he broke two arms and a collar-bone. When he came to pay the doctor's bill, he said that sometimes it made him even doubt his grandfather.

But when he built his house over at the south end of town, he got to studying again about his grandfather. It seems that his grandfather had once built a house, and then sold the lot it was on, and it was a lot of trouble to move the house to another lot. Pilgath's mother said they never did get to feeling certain about the cellar stairs afterwards. So Pilgath figured, being a thoughtful, foresighted man, that he would build his house so that if he ever wanted to move it, he could do it without much fuss; and for as much as a week he sat in the yard on a pile of cedar shingles and whittled and figured how he could make that house movable. Finally he decided to have the house mounted on wheels, with a good strong automobile engine under the front porch, and a gasoline tank in the attic over the girl's room. He saved quite a sum on the wheels by using eight old mill-stones he had inherited from his grandmother on his father's side, and he got a fine old storage battery at less than cost from Aunt Rhinocolura Betts, who had used it for her rheumatism. There wasn't any electricity in the battery, but Pilgath figured he could get it filled when moving time came. The crank for cranking up the engine stuck out at one side of the porch, but Pilgath 's first wife planted Virginia creeper to cover it, and before the summer was over, nobody would have thought of its being an autohouse.

The last person in the world to think of it was Arbutus Ann Gubb, Pilgath's second wife. She was a timid little thing you never could get to say "yes" or "no" about anything, even getting married. One night she just "let on" she might, and Pilgath married her before she got up courage to say "no" if she'd wanted to. She was scared of everything. Every time it thundered, she crawled under the bed. She was so afraid of thunder that she went under the bed every time a wagon rumbled across the Two Mile Bridge, and when traffic was heavy, at fair time, she staid under the bed permanently, and Pilgath had to bring her meals to her on a tray.

About four o'clock one afternoon, a terrific thunderstorm struck Betzville, and Arbutus Ann went under the bed. Pilgath was in the barn, but he started for the house on a run, knowing how frightened Arbutus Ann would be. Just as he was half-way to the kitchen door, there came a tremendous stroke of lightning, almost blinding him, and with it rain in sheets and bucketsful. Pilgath couldn't see a yard before him, but he rubbed his eyes and sprinted harder than ever. In a few minutes he began to get scared, and decided he must have passed the house. So he turned back to look for it, and first thing he knew, he nearly stepped into a pan of milk in the cellar.

Then it dawned on him what had happened. The lightning had hit the chimney and knocked off a brick, which had fallen on the crank handle and given it a turn, thus cranking up the engine. At the same instant the lightning had buried itself in the storage battery, filling it with electricity, so that it began to spark regularly and explode the gasoline in the cylinders, and the house had moved without waiting for the first of May. The house had an excellent engine and was geared to run about fifty miles an hour on the first speed.

When Pilgath realized all this, he looked out on the prairie and saw the house revolving in circles, about two miles away. Pilgath started for it with his tongue hanging out. He felt perfectly secure about the wheels, for it is harder to puncture millstones than rubber tires, but he had an inkling that a frame house travelling at fifty miles an hour with a wife inside ought to have someone at the steering-wheel. But just before he reached it, the house took a new tack, and started south by west at fifty miles an hour, and in two minutes it was out of sight behind Reynolds' hill. Pilgath said he never was so proud of anything in his life as he was of the way that autohouse took the hill on the first speed. When he got to the top of the hill, all he could see was a cloud of dust in the southwest, several miles away. When they asked him how he felt when he saw it, he said that the cloud of dust had assured him the thunderstorm had been merely local.

When Arbutus Ann didn't come back, he put a "till forbid notice" in the "Bi-Weekly Holler":

NOTICE:—If anyone finds a house running loose, with a wife under the bed in the first bedroom at the top of the stairs to the left as you go up, that wife belongs to Pilgath Gubb. If there is any doubt about it, making a sound like thunder will settle the question of ownership. Hammering on a tin waiter will do. If at the sound the wife backs so far under the bed that she can only be reached with a broom, there need be no doubt that her name is Arbutus Ann Gubb. Finder please feed her till called for, and notify Pilgath Gubb, Betzville.

Pilgath said it cost him an awful lot, but when things like this happened, he wanted Betzville to know he could be just as open-handed as anybody. He said he knew his grandfather would have done just the same, even when Arbutus Ann never was found, and he saw the money had been wasted.

After a vear or so, Pilgath began making up to Elvina Betts, oldest girl to Aunt Rhinocolura Betts, and trying to take her to prayer-meeting Wednesday nights. But Aunt Rhinocolura set her foot right down. She said that when a man got to putting his grandfather ahead of Paul and the minor prophets, all you could do was to leave him to his own conscience.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1937, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 85 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.