Comforts of Home

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1. Thoughts While Getting Settled



PROPERLY speaking, the new house was old. A hundred years and more had gone over its chimney,--down which, as we were to discover later, a hundred flies and more would come when the open fires had warmed it,--and within doors it would have charmed any amateur of the Colonial by the antiquity of its furnishings. Temporarily it belonged to me, my executors, administrators, and assigns. But there were limits to our possession. None of us might 'permit any hole to be drilled or made in the stone or brick-work of said building'; no 'sign or placard' might we place upon it; we might not 'over-load, damage, or deface' it; nor might we 'carry on any unlawful, improper, noisy, or offensive trade' in it. We had admitted that the glass was whole and in good order, and bound ourselves to keep it good, unless broken by fire, with glass of the same kind and quality. In case I became bankrupt I had agreed that the owner, the owner's executors, the owner's administrators, and the owner's assigns should treat me with every form of ignominy that the law has yet invented to make bankruptcy more distressing. Nor could I hold them responsible if our guests fell down the cellar stairs; although there I think they would be morally responsible, for a steeper flight of cellar stairs I simply cannot imagine.

Of all documents there is hardly another so common as a lease, or more suspicious. Observe the lessor--a benevolent, dignified, but cautious person! Observe the lessee--a worm with criminal tendencies! Perhaps he is a decent sort of worm, but the lessor had better look out for him. Very likely he will commit murders in the dining-room, read the Contes Drolatiques in the library, play bass-drum solos in the parlor, and start a piggery in the cellar. One suspects that possibly the great army of hoboes is partly recruited from among supersensitive men who read their leases before signing them and preferred vagabondage to insult. But some of us control our sensitiveness. I, for example, read my lease; and when, having agreed mentally to post no placard myself, I discovered a clause allowing the lessor to decorate my residence with the information that it was

FOR SALE

I crossed that clause out!

Observe the worm turning!

It was the dining-room that had won us, formerly the kitchen and still complete--with the brick oven; the crane; the fat, three-legged pots and spider; a thing that, after much debate, we think must have been a bread-toaster; and a kind of overgrown curry-comb with which, so we imagine, the original dwellers were wont to rake the hot ashes from the brick oven. Also a warming-pan. And although these objects charm me, and I delight to live with them, I cannot but wonder whether a hundred years from now there may not be persons to furnish their dining-rooms with just such a stove as stands at present in my real kitchen; and perhaps to suspend beside it one of those quaint contraptions with which the jolly old chaps in the early twentieth century used to kill flies. I hear in imagination the host of that period explaining the implement to his wondering guests,--being expert in such matters, he will produce the technical term 'swat' with an air of easy familiarity,--and see him hanging it reverently up again beside the dear old stove and right over the picturesque old coal-hod. Perhaps, too, he will point out the beautiful, sturdy lines of the coal-hod.

Now in due time, or, to be exact, some hours later, strong men came to this house with a motor truck; and, working with concentrated fury, they put into it all our own furniture, our trunks, our books, our clothes, and everything that was ours. It had been our purpose to direct these men: to say, 'This goes here, kind sirs,' and, 'That goes there, gentlemen'; or, 'Believe me, this is the place for that,' or, 'Thank you, sir, but that is the place for this.' When they had come and gone, and the empty truck had rumbled away in the early autumn twilight, everything was to be just where we had planned in advance; 'getting settled' would be a light but satisfying pleasure; organization, 'efficiency in business,' for we had been reading an article in a magazine, would have made changing our home as easy as changing our clothes. But these men were beyond mortal control. They came late and their mood was to depart early. Movers always come late, for two reasons: first, because they like to feel that you are glad to see them, and, second, because they do not like to place each object just where it belongs. They prefer concentrated fury. Children of nature, they inherit their mother's abhorrence of a vacuum; unable, as they saw at a glance, to stuff the whole house from floors to ceilings, they devoted their attention, brushing us aside like annoying insects that they lacked time for killing, to stuffing such rooms as they instantly decided could be stuffed the tightest. If there was anything that we might presumably need at once, they put it at the bottom and buried it under the heaviest available furniture. It was wonderful to see them. In the end they actually took money for what they had done and went away hastily. Organization and 'efficiency in business' had accomplished something: the trunks were upstairs, and two barrels had reached their predestined place in the cellar.

There appears in many business offices, although it is not, so far as I know, the official slogan of 'efficiency in business,' a card with the motto, 'Do It Now.' I looked into that room which was destined to be the library: formerly it had been a bedroom, and the four-poster bed and noble mahogany bureau were to have vanished upstairs before my arrival. But now, peering past and above and under the débris that the avalanche had left there, I recognized the noble mahogany bureau in the far corner, mourning presumably for its departed companion, the four-poster. I beheld it with a misgiving which I tried to put from me, but which came back from moment to moment and whispered in whichever ear was nearer.

'Just suppose,' whispered Misgiving, 'that the man who was hired to take that bureau upstairs found that it wouldn't go up!!!!'

And I thought of that stairway, that went up furtively from the dining-room which had once been the kitchen, a delightful stairway (especially when one realized what a discouraging time a burglar would have in finding it, and how he would probably find the cellar stairs instead and die of a broken neck at the bottom), but narrow, narrow; and with a right angle just where a right angle was least desirable. It had been as much as they could do to get up the trunks.

'You will very likely have to leave the bureau in the library,' whispered Misgiving, 'and that will be inconvenient--won't it?--when you have company. Company will have to dress in the library or else gather up its clothes and run.'--'Library!' said Misgiving. 'Who ever heard of a bureau in a library? People will think the library table is a folding bed. You can't disguise a noble old bureau like that by putting books on it,' said Misgiving. 'Once a bureau always a bureau.--What will your wife say,' asked Misgiving, 'when she learns that the spare-room bureau has to stay downstairs in the library?'

People who, having something to do, 'do it now,' live in the present. I seized the nearest object, a chair, and dragged it into the next room; I seized the next object, a box, and carried it to the cellar; I risked my life on the cellar stairs; I became concentrated fury myself. In getting settled, whether you are a pioneer or a householder, the first thing is to make a clearing. No matter where things go, provided only that they go somewhere else. No matter what happened, no matter if bureaus remained forever in libraries, no matter if the awful puzzle that the strong men of the moving van had left me remained forever insoluble--this was my home and I had to live in it for the term of one year. I took off my coat, hung it up somewhere--and found it again two days afterward. I attacked boxes, chairs, tables, boxes, books, bric-à-brac, more boxes, chairs, tables. I ran here and there, carrying things. I excelled the bee. I made a clearing, which grew larger and larger. I gained self-confidence. Elsewhere I knew that other hands were unpacking trunks; that another mind was directing those mysteries which out of chaos would evolve dinner; now and then, in my death-defying feat of going down cellar, I caught a glimpse of the furnace,--fat-bellied monster whom I must later feed like a coal-eating baby.

It is a question--parenthetically--whether it is truly sportsmanlike to live in a quaint old colonial cottage with a furnace and electric lights. I have heard amateurs of the Colonial declare that they would willingly die before they would live in an electrically lighted colonial cottage. The anachronism horrifies them: they would have death or candles. Probably they feel the same way about a furnace and a bath-room. Yet I have no doubt that the builders of this colonial cottage would have opened their hearts to all these inventions; and I am not sure that they would have regarded as anything but funny the idea that their own kitchen paraphernalia would some day be used to decorate my dining-room. I go further. Granting that electric lights, a furnace, and a bath-room are anachronisms in this quaint old colonial cottage--what am I but an anachronism myself? We must stand together, the furnace, the electric metre, the porcelain bath-tub, and I, and keep each other in countenance.

'H-m-m-m-m!' whispered Misgiving. 'How about a bureau in the library? That isn't an anachronism; it's an absurdity.'

Making a clearing is a long step forward in getting settled; after that it is a matter of days, a slow dawn of orderliness. In a quaint old colonial cottage are many closets, few if any of them located according to modern notions of convenience. The clothes closet that ought to be in the spare room upstairs is downstairs in the library with the spare-room bureau; the upstairs closets are under the eaves of the sloping roof--the way to utilize them to the best advantage is to enter on your hands and knees, carrying an electric torch between your teeth. Inside the closet you turn on your back, illuminate the pendant garments with your torch, drag whatever you select down from the hook, grasp it firmly with your teeth, and so out again on your hands and knees, rolling the electric torch gently before you. We see now why in those good old days chests of drawers were popular--fortunately we have one of our own that somehow has got up the stairway; and we see also, as we begin to settle into it, what is perhaps the secret of this humbler colonial architecture. The Colonial Jack who built this house wanted some rooms round a chimney and a roof that the snow would slide off; and so he built it; and where-ever he found a space he made a closet or a cupboard; and because he had no other kind, he put in small-paned windows; and all he did was substantial and honest--and beautiful, in its humble way, by accident.

But about that bureau?

Two strong, skillful men, engaged for the purpose, juggled with it, this way and that, muttering words of equally great strength--and it went upstairs. Had it been a quarter of an inch wider, they said afterward, the feat would have been impossible. It was a small margin, but it will save the company from having to knock timidly on the library door when it wishes to dress for dinner.