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Title: That House I Bought - A little leaf from life
Author: Warner, Henry Edward
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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That House I Bought



[Illustration: Logo]



_That House I Bought_


Why a dedication? Why a preface--a foreword? Why any comment, save the
title and the price mark?

Simplicity itself! The preface, foreword, dedication--what you may term
it--gives opportunity to apologize for the liberality with which the
author betrays his egotism, in the thickly sprinkled perpendicular

And yet this plain young tale of plain things could not be told in the
third person, since it is a mere setting down of real experience,
painfully truthful and laboriously pruned where imagination was tempted
to stray into fields of fiction. There is but one confession of romantic
mendacity--and it shall not be made, for it _might_ have happened! Quien

And now this little story is dedicated to all who have bought or intend
to buy homes, who have lost or expect to lose them; to the bird of
passage and to the homing, and to all who love their fellowmen--but very
especially to you who read it.

H. E. W.


DEDICATION              5

FIRST PERIOD            7

SECOND PERIOD          18

THIRD PERIOD           31

FOURTH PERIOD          42

FIFTH PERIOD           54

SIXTH PERIOD           68


EIGHTH PERIOD         105

NINTH PERIOD          120

TENTH PERIOD          132



That House I Bought


Thirty-three years ago I formed a box of blocks into a castle and then
kicked it down in disgust because I didn't like the chimney. Mother said
I displayed temper.

Birds build nests in tree-tops with horse-hair and straw, and odd bits
of stuff; but my wife and I aren't birds. Far from it. And we've been
going along for fifteen years without a regular nest. All that time
I've been building a house with blocks and kicking it down.

The other day we went out to Mont Alto to take dinner with our friends,
and on the way we saw a new house numbered "3313." The number stuck out
in letters of silver, burnished into brilliancy by a noonday sun.

"That's an odd number," I remarked. "Anyway you look at it, it's
unlucky--3313. And I'm not superstitious."

"Let's go in and examine it," she said.

That's where it all started. We bought the house after dinner. It took
fifteen minutes to decide, and in that time, of course, we didn't
notice the place on the dining-room ceiling where the plumbing--but let
it pass. The Duke of Mont Alto would fix it up. We had great faith in
the Duke. The point is, we owned a house at last. That is, we had
started to own it. We were tickled to death--also scared to death. There
are two emotions for you, both fatal!

Coming into possession of a castle with ten rooms and large open
plumbing, fronting fifty feet and going back one hundred and fifty-three
feet to the company's stable, is a thrilling experience. My first thrill
was in connection with the initial terms of the contract, which called
for certain financial daring. Up to this time I had laid to my soul the
happy thought that a clean conscience is more than money; but believe
me, friend, a silver quarter began to look like a gold eagle. Change
that in other days went merrily across the table without thought for the
morrow, I found myself wearing to a frazzle, counting the cracks in the
milled edges affectionately, hopefully, and yet with certain misgivings.

Naturally, we first paced off our yard, to see whether it was 50 by 153
feet, more or less, as shown in the plot. Every man who buys a house
paces off his yard. So does his wife. My wife made seventy-eight steps
of it and I made fifty-one, on the length. By deducting for my long legs
and adding for her confining skirt we came to the conclusion that
mathematics was an inexact science, and decided to do it later with a
tape measure.

But for the purpose of this narrative we must get inside the house and
look about. We found a wide hall with a grand staircase; a roomy parlor
connecting by folding door with a spacious dining-room, and off the
dining-room a real conservatory, all glass and tiles. Opening into the
pantry a swinging door, and another into the kitchen, and in the wall a
refrigerator. In the basement a furnace with a barometer and
thermometer atop. On the second floor four big rooms and a centre
hallway, and in the bathroom large, open plumbing and the addition of a
shower and spray bath. On the third floor two cozy rooms and another
hallway and bath. Item: Slate roof; item: water-heated, hot and cold
water all the time sometimes; item: hardwood floor downstairs.
Conveniences in every direction, gas and electric fittings throughout.
And the whole sheltered by oak trees that leaned over to embrace us,
wagging flirtatious branches through the big windows.

"Isn't this living!" I exclaimed.

My wife looked out through the window at the distant picture of the
low-lying city against the bay, and held my hand. It was as though we
had not been married fifteen years, but were beginning our honeymoon--a
couple of birds just mated, fetching things for the nest and glorying in
its construction--silent in a dream of contemplation, but just ready to
burst into song, the song of achievement. She did not reply, but pressed
my hand. When finally she spoke, what was in her heart broke its leash.

"I was just wondering," she said, "if we couldn't rent the second floor
as a flat to pay the expenses, and then all we put in would be invested
in the equity!"

I awoke with a start from my dreaming. Even a honeymoon has its
practical side!

But all sad realities have their recompense in a happy mind. Give me the
optimist and a famine and I'll show you a famine licked to a standstill.
The combination of confident, hopeful ego and material misfortune never
yet met, but that material misfortune took the count in the first round.
The man who stands hugging misfortune in his chest has something coming
to him. When it arrives it will land right square under that point
where, if he were a woman of twenty years ago, he might have worn
earrings. Take the other chap, however--the fellow who not only shakes
hands with Trouble, but slaps it on the back, invites it to have a
drink, sleeps with it, jollies it until it wrinkles up into a gorgeous
grin six miles long; take that chap and put him in the middle of the
Sahara Desert with nothing but a glad smile in his pocket, and he'll
find a way to coax a mint julep out of the blooming sand!

Do you know, the more I think about the fellow who starts out by howling
that _things can't be done_, the more I'm convinced that the Creator got
a lot of cracked forms into the outfit when Man was molded, and these
little defects must really be charged up to accident. The Lord never
intended any man made in His image to be afraid of anything that walks
on hind legs or all fours, crawls or flies, or flops dismally over the
Slough of Despond on a carrion-hunt. And just about the best way to mend
this defect, I reckon, is to get married early and start right out
buying a house and lot. If a fellow's an invertebrate he'll get past the
first payment with a struggle. If he survives the second, it will put
some starch into his hide.

You are asking what all this has to do with That House I Bought.

Why, bless your heart, Friend, it has all to do with it! The very first
thing a man must do when he buys a house and lot is, get himself into
the state of mind. Buying a house and lot is not so much a physical or
financial transaction as a philosophical conclusion. You need the house
and lot; you must argue yourself into a mental attitude toward that
house and lot that simply knocks the props from under every obstacle.
The man who is afraid to own his castle is a good citizen, perhaps, in
every other respect. But the very best citizen is he who has the courage
to own something and pay taxes on it, help support the community, and be
useful to himself and to the world that holds him trustee of his


Heaven bless Murphy!

When my wife was a little girl with braids down her back, Murphy used to
see her in the excited crowd in front of the neighbor's door, as he
toted a grand piano to the waiting van. Many a time Murphy has started
to give that little girl a penny because she was so cute. Many a time he
has reconsidered and kept the penny himself!

It was Murphy who moved us. He is anywhere from seventy to ninety years
old now--a stalwart, steel-muscled young fellow who runs his own wagon
and lifts his end of the heaviest burden with a heart as light as his
chest is deep and his back broad. His beard is long and white.

How we tore up our old rooms and saw our furniture hustled out, how we
looked regretfully back at the den we had papered and fixtured
ourselves, with its rich red base and green forest over that, and the
light sky--that is all another story. It is another story, too, how
mother-in-law bustled here and there helpfully and every now and then
added something of her own to our belongings, and how Mamie telephoned
every one she knew that we were moving to That House I Bought! These
are things we think of, but do not write.

Murphy was indefatigable. We thought we had a load more than Murphy made
it, what with shifting this and changing that, and substituting
something and stuffing small truck under tables and empty boxes that we
wanted for our conservatory. My wife watched him in admiration.

"Mr. Murphy," she said, "you would be invaluable to the United Railways
as a conductor on the Druid Hill avenue line!"

When the last load was about to leave my wife rushed to the door.

"Oh, Mr. Murphy, couldn't you take that couch upstairs and drop it off

Murphy smiled and glanced at the wagon, with things tied on over the
wheels, and the china closet swinging perilously far out on the tail

"I can do it," he said, "if I carry the china closet on my lap."

Murphy intended that as a jest.

My wife hadn't thought of the possibilities of Murphy's lap. The instant
he mentioned it, she darted back into the house, quickly to reappear
with a double armful of odds and ends that she couldn't get into the
suit cases and trunks.

"It's mighty kind of you," she said, with the sort of a smile that
nailed me fifteen years ago. "If you can just carry these little things
in your lap----"

Murphy is a game one.

When he drove away Murphy's lap looked like the market burden of a
suburbanite. And because he was so cheerful about it, and so willing to
do so much for so little, and because he is such a good citizen, again I

"Heaven bless Murphy!"

After Murphy had moved us in our real troubles began. I should have said
our real joys, for, believe me, the infant troubles of owning your
castle are so refined and glorified by the pride of possession that they
appear only as strengthening alloy in the pure gold of content.

It was on Thursday and Friday that Murphy moved us. On Saturday I went
to the house, and the lady who will hereafter listen for the tinkle of
the door and telephone bells met me, brimming over with cheerfulness and
almost as proud of herself as I was of the lord of the manor who
strutted like a peacock, as for the first time he showed his feathers in
his own front yard.

Never praise your wife too much, or she will dominate you.

But as this is to be a truthful chronicle, be it said that my wife is
the most wonderful woman in the world. How on earth she ever got the
chairs and tables, the china closet and dishes, the cooking hardware and
beds and mattresses and my desk and revolving bookcase, and Heaven knows
what, all in place in one day is beyond me.

There were pictures on the walls--old friends in new places, looking
down to greet me. A foolish Billiken laughed out loud as I held up my
hands in amazement.

"Step high and easy," said my wife. "You'll scratch the hardwood floor,"
and she rubbed my heelprint from the polish with the hem of her working
skirt. Then we started around testing the push-buttons. We pushed every
button there was, and pulled down the curtains to try the effect in the
parlor and dining-room. She hauled me around and showed me the marvelous
gas range that she was going to do wonders with. That refrigerator, that
was yet to have its first load of ice and provisions--it made me hungry
just to look at it! We went upstairs and downstairs. I opened and closed
every window and made wise-foolish observations on the proper care of a

A man can be a fearful idiot when his chest is out.

I chucked my coat and cuffs and collar and went to work on little odds
and ends of chores about the place. Hasn't a fellow a right to whistle
and sing when he comes home from foraging and finds the lady bird
dancing around the new nest?

There was a thermometer on top of the furnace in the basement, and
beside it a round thing to tell how much water we were catapulting into
the radiators. When there is too much water it overflows from a tank
upstairs; when there isn't enough you turn some in downstairs. So I
started a march up and down stairs, first turning some on and then
scooting skyward to listen to the overflow, and after making this trip
about ten times I had an appetite like a typhoid convalescent.

O the tintinnabulation of the bells!

There are church bells and wedding bells, bells that cry the joy of a
new birth or toll the sorrow of the huddled family, bells that ring
victory in war and bells that scream the hilarity of la fiesta! But for
the bell that speaks the common language of all men, I name the dinner
bell! The first biscuits were piping hot on the plate.

"Are they as good as your mother used to make?" asked my wife.

"My mother," I said, "was a piker at biscuit making!"

And she beamed with pleasure when I slandered my honored mother!

After the dinner we went out on the porch--the big, wide porch for
which we had planned a swing on chains, and sat rocking and digesting,
digesting and rocking, in a perfect picture of resident domesticity. In
the house across the street there were lights. The people had just moved
in--that is, they had moved in several days before and were just
beginning to find the trouble with things and why the gas company could
afford to pay considerable dividends on wind. I say, we were sitting
there as cumfy as possible, when my wife caught my hand in a convulsive

With the other hand she pointed across the street to the second parlor
blind. I followed her, and felt like a Peeping Tom. There on the blind
was a great picture in silhouette--a picture of two figures standing,
and the tall, masculine figure was holding both shoulders of the other
and looking square into her eyes.

"It's the daughter!" my wife almost whispered. "I know her by her hair
ribbon; it's too young for the mother! Look, look, they are going to

She finished the word with a little gurgle, for they had done it! Not
only that, but the kiss was followed by an embrace, and another, and
then the lights went out.

A confounded belt had slipped at the powerhouse, I learned afterward.

I think corporations should be heavily penalized for such breaks in the
service. There should be some sort of appliance to keep belts from
slipping. More than once the belt has slipped and left that whole
residence district in darkness.


I had always regarded the humorous paragraphs about the price of coal as
mere pleasantries. I now deny that they are pleasantries, and they are
far from "mere."

There are several grades of coal. Our furnace takes No. 3, and it's
$6.60 a ton, April price. The man who dominates the situation told me by
way of consolation that if it hadn't been for the big strike coal would
be 50 cents a ton cheaper. I can't see how that sort of consolation
helps a fellow.

Our house burns about ten or twelve tons, normal conditions. We figured
that about eight tons now would be the proper caper, and we could pay
the difference next winter if driven to it. From the way the furnace ate
coal to take the chill off the house the first day, I could see the
Board of Charities asking me my name, address, age, social condition and
whether my parents ever went to jail.

Now $6.60 times eight tons is $52.80, and that's more than taxes, water
rent and interest on a house and lot. So when the man backed up with a
cartload and began to throw it in off-handedly, I was pained. A
coal-heaver should treat $52.80 with more respect. I have seen men
throw high-grade ore out of the Independence mine with the same callous
indifference, without myself being shocked; but here was a new
situation. It was my $52.80 he was throwing around like dirt, and I
spoke to him about it.

"How," I said, "can you have the heart to dump $52.80 into my cellar
without ceremony? You should at least remove your hat."

Do you know, I don't believe he appreciated the situation.

William made the first fire. I instructed him to lay on the coal as
scarcely as possible, and to go slow with the draughts. So he threw on
six shovelsful of my $52.80, opened everything and ran it up to 204
degrees F. Any man who sat ten minutes in our house and then dared to
expose himself in a Turkish steam room would freeze to death in ten

We had a fire in the furnace two or three days. I got interested in (a)
a newly patented ash sifter (b) and a process for mixing ashes with some
chemical solution that would restore a ton of coal for twenty-five
cents. If you have never sifted ashes, you've missed something. You take
a couple of shovelsful of ashes and dump them in the sifter. Then you
pick up the sifter and agitate it. If I were employing an ash sifter, I
should get one addicted to chills and ague, or St. Vitus' dance, or
something. Then I could be sure he wasn't loafing on the job! Well,
after you've shivered the sifter, busted a suspender button, twisted
your backbone into a pretzel, filled your eyes, ears, nose, and lungs
with dust and cussed your patron saint, you've got the net result: One
piece of half-burned coal, six clinkers, and the top of a tin can.

That chemical process to make coal out of ashes for a quarter a ton is a
good thing--for the inventor. With childlike confidence I bought a
bottle of it. After ruining a barrel of perfectly good ashes and
backsliding from the church of Martin Luther I gave it up. Hereafter we
will burn our coal as long as it will burn, and the ashes may go hang! I
could have earned $50 at my profession in the time I was trying to beat
an honest coal dealer out of $6.60.

Well, when we finally got the furnace working I hopped into the shower

May good fortune attend the man who thought of putting a shower bath in
That House I Bought! The water comes from overhead for one thing, and
shoots into the delighted legs of the languorous for another, from the
sides. It invigorates, cleanses, and tickles.

Ballington Booth says man is regenerated by soup, soap, and salvation.
But I would say, at first blush, that no man can get the full effect of
regeneration on anything short of a shower bath in his house.

I began by reducing my costume to a pleasant frame of mind and doing a
few acrobatic stunts, deep breathing, setting-up exercises, and various
liver-limberings. A free and easy perspiration set in. That, say all the
doctors, is good for the system. Then I stepped blithely into the
shower, drew the rubber curtain close and, commending my soul to all the
gods I could call to mind, took a long breath and turned her on.

At first the water was icy cold, but as soon as that in the pipes had
run out I was violently assaulted by a steaming deluge straight from the
bowels of Hades. Calmly removing the first layer of skin as it was
boiled off, I reached for the spigot and turned as per directions, to
the right. Instantly some one threw an iceberg into the tank and at the
first shower of Chilkootian damp I was converted into an icicle.

Boiled to a color that would excite the envy of an ambitious lobster, on
one side, and frozen to a consistency that would inspire a Harlequin
block on the other, my emotions ran correspondingly hot and cold to a
delirium of despair, as I found that no matter how I turned I got
either hot or cold, and never a happy medium. My wife, who was
downstairs with the kitchen door shut, said she could hear my remarks
distinctly, and added that she would have forever hung her head in shame
had company been calling at the time.

Women are too sensitive.

It didn't occur to me, until I had been cooked and uncooked a dozen
times that this thing might be done from the outside just as well. I
stepped out and manipulated with a broom handle, poking it behind the
curtain and jabbing, pushing, and pulling, hauling, twisting at those
infernal mechanical devices with an energy born of insanity. Finally,
by some accident or other, I got the water just right and stepped in

It was delicious. Never was there such a grateful sense of appreciation
as that I felt as I recovered my temper and went back to my beneficent
gods. The water was not too cold, not too hot.

Then it stopped altogether.

I looked up and around, tried all the valves, hammered on the wall, and
then yelled to my wife:

"What's the matter with the water?"

She replied cheerily:

"The man has come to fix the pipes in the furnace, and it's turned

With good things it were always thus. The minute a man really begins to
enjoy life it's time to die. There is always a fly in the custard.


Our porch is one of those accommodating porches with plenty of room, a
standing invitation to company. Whenever company comes I have to convert
myself into a moving van and tote all the furniture out from the parlor.

The Duke of Mont Alto, and the Duchess, dropped in one evening with the
Purdys, and I began to move the parlor. What with spade pushing and
furniture moving, I've got Sandow backed off the board. It's wonderful
what a little regular training will do for a fellow! But what gets me
is, how on earth did Murphy ever maneuver the big chair with the green
upholstery into the house at all? It is exactly half an inch wider in
every dimension than our door--but as Murphy got it in it was up to me
to get it out. I was pushing and shoving and twisting, trying it
sideways and upside down, straight ahead and backing like a mule,
stealing a fraction of space by half-closing the screen door, when my
wife took hold of a leg to help me. That settled it. We stuck, in such a
position that I could neither get myself out nor the chair in again.

The Duke and the Duchess and the Purdys all volunteered to assist by
suggesting various things that they thought I hadn't thought of thinking
of. I kept my temper and formed my mouth into a counterfeit smile, to
show how polite a Southern gentleman could be in trying circumstances.
Then I gave one mighty heave, determined to push the chair through or
the jam down, and stuck worse than ever.

"Can't you get through?" asked my wife sympathetically.

"Certainly I can get through," I replied; "I'm just doing this to make
it look difficult!"

The Purdys laughed at that, and the Duke said I was a comical cuss. You
see, he had an idea I was trying to amuse the company. That made me so
mad that I dropped the chair to spit on my hands, and when I dropped the
chair the stubborn thing fell right through the door of its own accord,
and I straightened up like a General, and remarked:

"Now I suppose you'll make a pool among you and gobble all the credit
for that!"

And hanged if they didn't!

To amble back to our muttons, it was a nice, quiet little visit.

During the evening my wife got out some grape-fruit, and in the stilly
night, the stars twinkling overhead and the grass growing silently,
hardly disturbing us at all, it was exceedingly pleasant to hear the
spoons go slippety-slosh into the evasive juices that reluctantly gave
up about half what the labor was worth.

But what I started to write about was the house party across the street.
When you're sitting on the porch of your own house doing nothing but
listening to the ebb and flow of grape-fruit juice, you can't help
noticing the strings of Japanese lanterns over yonder, and listening to
the gay laughter of young people as they madly hurl bean-bags into a
hole in a plank, shrieking the while and guying each other apace. O,
Postoffice! O, clap-in-an-clap-out! O, Puss-in-the-corner! O, Youth!

The Duke was saying something about the time when suburban streets
would be two hundred feet wide to make landing places for aeroplanes,
and when the human appetite would be regulated by push-buttons ranged
along the diaphragm. But I didn't hear a word.

I yearned to be across the street. That was uncomplimentary to company,
but nevertheless I yearned. So did all the rest, only they aren't
telling about it. When a man has passed into the sere and yellow he has
a right to the consolation of retrospect. Frankly, for a moment I wished
I didn't have any house. I wanted to be over there where the young
folks were, pitching bean-bags. And later, when they gathered around
the piano and sang discordantly all the popular songs, I wanted to be
there and join my voice in the music. It was awful music, but I wanted
to howl right along with the young ones.

When the company had gone I wrestled the green chair back into the house
by way of the widest window, but my mind was still full of the thought
that had seized me--of the youth, and gaiety, and glory of green years.
As I went to close the shutters, the last of the young people had just
gone up the street singing. I gave one good night glance at the parlor
windows of the house across the way. Then I started, called my wife,
and we riveted our two noses to the pane.

"The Silhouettes!" I exclaimed hoarsely.

"Sshh!" she cautioned, and took my hand.

The Man Silhouette was talking earnestly to the Girl Silhouette, and she
was shaking her head. But suddenly she leaned closer to him, and threw
her arms about his neck, and he kissed her, and she ran from the room
and left him standing there.

Presently the Girl Silhouette came back, leading by the hand a large,
fat Silhouette with whiskers. I recognized him as the man I had seen
mowing the lawn and working the garden hose. He shook hands with the Man
Silhouette, and kissed the Girl on the forehead, and joined their hands,
and seemed to call toward the hallway; whereupon a fourth Silhouette
came in.

"It's the Girl's mother!" said my wife.

They all stood together, and bowed and nodded and that sort of thing for
an unconscionably long time, until our noses were cold from the glass.
And then the Silhouette with the whiskers pushed all the other
Silhouettes in the direction in which we knew their dining room lay, and
stepped back to turn off the lights.

When there was nothing to see but the blank curtain, we went upstairs;
and after I had retired my wife crept away. I awoke and found her an
hour later, sound asleep with her nose against the pane, her unseeing
eyes turned toward the house across the way, and a smile on her lips. I
lifted her and put her on the bed--and she didn't stir until morning.

"That Man Silhouette," I said at breakfast; "did you see him last night
after the--er--incident on the blinds?"

"Certainly not!" she replied, almost indignantly. "You men all think
women are curious."

I wondered if she had only dreamed, or could she be a somnambulist!

"But," she added, as she poured the coffee, "I'm going to see what he
looks like to-night, if I never get to bed; and I'm going to see _her_
if I have to go over there and borrow butter!"

There you go again, Youth! There you are at it, Romance!

What would I not give to be back myself, to the time when we, mayhap,
were silhouettes for the entertainment of our neighbors! But come on,
old man, come on! You must go straight ahead, day by day, week by week,
month by month, year by year! Somewhere ahead there is a marble shaft,
and a place with the roses; but your cradle is broken, your little tin
wagon is rusted, your Noah's Ark is buried under the dust of years--and
you have had your frivols!


Buying a house when spring is young involves a lot of thought and
anxiety, from which is developed a high nervous pressure. You alternate
days of earnest application and enforced recuperation.

One begins to learn, too, how much he doesn't know.

Our yard, we found, was admirably adapted to quarry purposes, or would
make an excellent clay bank. William told us he would level up the back
lot and then put on a top soil and add a sort of compost of manure and
loam, in which we could plant things. I reserved a square 18 by 25 feet
for a patent wire pigeon fly.

"Why will you raise pigeons?" asked my wife.

"I will raise pigeons," I replied with dignity, "for their giblets. I
love pigeon giblets. You may have the squibs."

"You mean squabs," said my wife.

"I said squibs," I insisted stanchly. "You should say squabs," suggested
my wife mildly. "I will have squibs or nothing," I replied, as becoming
master of the house, and squibs it was. So be it known, we are going to
raise squibs.

"And I," said my wife, "shall raise a tomato. The back of the lot is in
an all-day sun, and tomatoes thrive in the sun."

"And a turnip or two," I said. "If you plant a couple of turnips and let
nature take its course, you'll have turnips all over the place. I've
heard that turnips and belgian hares are noted for----"

"And sweet peas," said my wife, "I shall train them against the house."

"You cannot train a pea," I said scornfully. "You may train a pig, or a
dog, but you cannot train a pea."

One of the reasons women may not vote is that they say just such foolish
things as that! Train a pea, indeed! I would as lief try to train a

With this little difficulty settled and out of the way, we made ready
for serious work.

We were rather late getting into our gardening, but made up in
enthusiasm what we lacked in knowledge. With a piece of string and a few
sticks, Yours Truly laid off a strip from the steps around the front
porch to the side foundation; and then with a spade the same victim of
circumstances broke his back in three places and wore two lovely
blisters into the palms of his forepaws.

Uncle Henry got his foot into the soil with a spade which, peculiarly
enough, was borrowed from one named Cain, who lives next door. That
other Cain was the father of agricolists. Observe how history carries
itself down the ages with consistency! And to complete the picture,
observe me watering the earth with my sweat!

Who in thunder ever invented the scheme of hiding pieces of brick,
broken concrete, can tops, chunks of wood and the wreck of dishes right
where a fellow wants to dig a garden? I like a practical joke myself,
but that is going too far. In taking off the top soil there was a
reasonably clear thoroughfare, but when the heft of my hoof went against
the heel of the spade for the first downward dash, it struck an
impenetrable ambush of mason's findings.

To make it worse, my wife stood on the porch cheerfully lending her aid
in the form of advice. The man who owned the spade sat comfortably on
his own porch reading THE EVENING SUN, and now and then glancing over
the top at me with an amused smile. William came along.

"Are you digging a garden?" he asked.

"No," I replied idiotically; "I am running a footrace with an

The Duke of Mont Alto whizzed by in his automobile and waved his hand.
He tooted twice. I think he was kidding me. A friend, wending homeward
with his dinnerpail, paused to observe that it was hot weather for
digging. That self-consciousness that makes the whole world miserable on
occasion seized me. From every window I imagined delighted neighbors
looking on; in the twitter of the birds I heard merry giggles.

But against and in spite of all these handicaps I persisted. I had as
implements, in addition to Cain's spade--how I love that
connection!--one table knife, one garden claw, one trowel, one sharp
stick, one cracked hoe, and one perfectly good vocabulary. I went after
the clay ground with my hands in preference to any or all of the tools,
and after half an hour of agony had removed, by actual count, one
hundred and thirty-seven large stones and a small pile of pebbles, none
of the pebbles weighing more than one pound. Then with my hands I
crumbled the dirt chunks into powder and carefully sifted, smoothed off,
rolled, tumbled, and otherwise adjusted the net product.

Sweat is the fluid excreted from the sudoriferous glands of the skin.

The sudoriferous glands of Yours Truly worked overtime. Yours Truly
excreted, exuded, flooded. To be swimming around in your own atmosphere
is a novel and sometimes pleasurable experience. It's funny how a man
bowls sixteen-ounce balls until his ribs crack and sits in a Turkish
bath until each pore is a geyser, and yet when that same result is
obtained by means of honest labor and by pushing a spade, he complains.

I cut the lines of this little front garden deep and clean, and sloped
the pulverized earth back so that there would be a perpetual irrigation
in the ditch from the overflow. Rather clever idea, that. Then my wife
got out the dwarf nasturtium seeds and we put them in a box, and the box
in the conservatory, and myself into the shower. I don't see how a
farmer can get along without a shower in the house.

We had about six hundred nasturtium seeds in envelopes bearing totally
misleading pictures of what they will look like. I filled a box with
rough earth and then pulverized it with an ice-pick. Then I stuck holes
with my finger and put one seed in each hole. After my fingernails had
developed into a screaming argument for the use of soap, my wife
discovered that I had planted them too deep.

"You'll have to take them all out and plant them again," she said.

I scratched my head, standing thoughtfully on one foot the while.

"I will not," I said. "I will just scrape an inch of dirt off the top!"

When it comes to inventing labor-saving devices, I'm a mental gatling.

Nothing happened to those nasturtium seeds for five days. On the morning
of the fifth day I heard a scream from my wife and rushed downstairs, to
find her leaning over the nasturtium box.

"Oooooeeee! Lookee!" she shrieked.

I looked.

Then I yelled. I grabbed her in both arms and danced around the
conservatory like a plumb fool. Then we both ran back and leaned over
the box, and raved. There were half a dozen little greenish-white
stalks sticking out, each top curved over like a dear little ingrowing

"Aren't they cute!" exclaimed my wife.

"Cute!" I said, in disgust. "Why, my dear, they're not cute--they're

I pushed the window up a little to give them air. My wife caught my arm
excitedly and pulled it down again.

"You mustn't do that," she said; "you'll freeze the sprouts!"

"Sprouts," I said, "come on potatoes, onions, cabbages, and beets. These
are not sprouts; they are bulbs!"

She said not a word, but got a book and showed me a picture of a
bulb--a tulip bulb.

"That," she said, "is a bulb. These are sprouts."

If there's anything that makes home unhappy, it's that atmosphere of
superiority in a woman. I tried to point out to her that she couldn't
believe everything she saw in a book.

"History," I said, "is continually changing. That may have been a bulb
at the time of publication, but----"

It was no use. I had to give in. She had the dots on Uncle Henry for
sure, but you've got to give it to me--you've just got to. How was this
one? Listen:

"Of course they're sprouts. I knew they were sprouts all the time. I was
just trying to catch you."


There are four little disconnected adventures in my notes that must find
a place somewhere, and so I have decided to bunch them all in this
chapter. If you'll draw your chair up closer, I'll give them to you in

First--The Adventure of the Prospective Tenant.

Second--The Adventure of the Mysterious Push Button.

Third--The Adventure of the Reluctant Cow.

Fourth--The Adventure of the Nasty Little Fat Robin.

Now for the Adventure of the Prospective Tenant.

The fact has been mentioned that we yearned to let our second floor of
four beautiful rooms, private bath and shower, closet in every room,
large plumbing, polished floors and heaven knows what. As a condition
precedent to becoming a flatlord, I appealed to the populace through the
want ad. My first copy ran like this:

     3313 BATEMAN AVENUE, MONT ALTO--30 minutes from City Hall; four
     rooms and private hallway; bath with shower and spray, private;
     fine southern exposure two rooms; airy, ample windows; use of
     parlor, porch, piano and laundry; water-heated; Garrison avenue
     cars; beautiful neighborhood; splendid view of city and bay; no
     children; will give breakfast if desired; church within a block;
     nearest saloon three miles away, but very fast street cars to that
     point. Burglars shun neighborhood and nobody ever gets drunk.

There were other things I overlooked, but we decided to let it go at
that. Certainly virtues had been mentioned which should overcome any
prejudice against suburban life and the crickets. Blithely I passed the
copy over the counter and inquired the cost. The man smiled.

"Why don't you make this a display ad. and get a seven-cent flat rate on
a six months' contract?" he inquired.

I hate a sarcastic man with a pencil.

"If you don't like that," I said, "do it yourself!"

To make a long recital short, he put it satisfactorily into four lines
and we waited for replies. We'll skip the first forty or fifty that
didn't suit us. One day there came a gentleman who looked at our four
rooms, raved over them and made a proposition, to wit: If we would put a
gas range and sink in the red room, open up the wall in the front room
and build a sleeping porch for his baby, furnish refrigerating plant for
all the baby's milk and allow him the free use of the telephone, he
would take our four rooms for three months at $18 a month.

"My good friend," I said, with suppressed emotion, "you overwhelm us.
Can't we remove the roof and build a little nursery for the baby, and
rig you up a rainy-weather playroom in the basement? We expected to get
$50 a month, unfurnished, without changes; but you have made us to see
the error of our conceit. Can't we let you have the piano at the end of
your three months, to move away to your future home, as an expression of
good will?"

He made a gesture of protest.

"No," I insisted, "we will not have it any other way. You must accept
our hospitality, sir--you simply must! My wife has a diamond ring that
I'm sure she would be delighted to give your wife, and any time you want
a trunk carried up or down stairs just call on me. My clothes would
about fit you--allow me to lend you my dress suit and pajamas! Not a
word, sir, not a word! I will not permit you to excel me in generosity.
And as for your $18. I wouldn't think of taking it! Give it to a fund to
provide red flannel nightshirts for the little heathens in Timbuctoo.
They need the night shirts, and, believe me, I thoroughly detest money!"

He went away, and going in told the conductor that he was glad he didn't
get roped into that lunatic asylum.

Now the Adventure of the Mysterious Push Button:

What a wonderful lot of push buttons a contractor can get into ten
rooms and a basement!

My wife and I jammed our thumbs into at least thirty different kinds,
trying them out. There were push buttons to turn on the electric light,
push buttons to call the indefinite servant, push buttons to ring bells
of all sorts. I half expected to find a push button that would kick a
collector off the porch, but was disappointed.

We wondered who made all the push buttons, and how much royalty they

A push button in That House I Bought turns on the porch light and
another on the second floor lights the hallway at the foot of the grand
staircase, so that in case of burglars the lady of the house doesn't
have to go down in advance, carrying the lamp.

"That," I said, "is a distinct convenience. I can imagine the
discomfiture of the burglar who suddenly finds himself illuminated for a
Mardi Gras pageant, all ready to be shot up like a cheese or a porous

"Would you shoot a burglar?" asked my wife admiringly.

I imitated a pouter pigeon with my chest.

"The extent of my murders," I replied, "would be limited only by the
supply of burglars."

It does a fellow a lot of good, when he is just moving into the
responsibilities of a real citizen, to perform mental assassinations
like that. I piled up my dead and we passed on.

We found, by pushing another button, that the Consolidated Gas and
Electric Light Company had provided the chandeliers in both parlor and
dining room with as many globes as could be crowded into the set. The
man who put them in left them all turned on. We burned fully seven
cents' worth of watts before it occurred to us to limit the
incandescence by turning off a few globes. Then my wife got a mania for
economizing, and it was Uncle Henry on a high chair under every
individual set of lights, tickling the little flat black key things into
a subdued quiescence. We left one watt incubator in each set, with the
understanding that if company came we'd turn on the whole business and
average it up on the month by sitting as late as possible on the front

But there was one button that got me. It was in the front bedroom with
the double-mirror doors on the big closet. We pushed it and didn't hear
a thing. Logically, it ought to do something. I pushed again and
listened for the tinkle. My wife went upstairs and downstairs, while I
pushed, and every now and then I'd yell at her.

"Anything happening?"

"No," she would reply. "Push it real quickly and see if you can't take
it by surprise!"

I tried every method I could think of to make that push button earn its
existence. Every day since I've tried it, determined to learn what it
ought to do or die in the attempt. But to this day that push button is a

The Adventure of the Reluctant Cow:

Billy Pentz wants to know if we will keep a bee at our house. We will
not. And another thing, I don't know why bees are kept in an apiary. I
cannot see the line of identification between bees and apes. Apes should
be kept in an apiary; bees should be kept in a beeswax.

But we have been thinking about a cow. There is a company cowary right
back of our house, and when the wind is from the south the call of the
diary is strong upon us. Pardon me, I should have written the dairy.
There's another digression. Why should the transportation of two letters
change a notebook into a milk foundry?

I watched William milking a cow in the cowary, and the ease with which
he performed what to me seemed no less than magic was simply astounding.
Sitting there as quietly as you please, on an inverted bucket, with an
uninverted bucket between his knees, he directed streams of embryo
butter and ice-cream and custard into the centre of a foaming pool with
no more concern than a Queen of the sixth century would show in knifing
a kneeling page.

"We will get a cow," I announced briefly, but with that masterful tone
that identifies me in any company.

My wife looked at me, the way some women look at some men. I withered
but held my ground.

"Why, you can't even milk a cow!" she said.

Now, I've never taken a dare from any woman. I hiked right back down the
patch, careless of the newly sown grass plots, and blundered into the

"William," I said, "arise and hand me that can! I'm going to show you
how I used to milk when I was a cowboy!"

If this were fiction it would be funny, but it's fact; and many a thing
that's funny in fiction is tragedy in fact.

William handed me the bucket. I said, "So, Bossy," and seated myself
just as I had seen William do it, with my feet crossed and the bucket
between my knees. That it slipped the first time and slopped over my
trousers was merely an incident. After I'd managed a half-nelson grip
with my knee caps I grabbed a couple of the cow's depending
protuberances and squeezed. Nothing happened. I squeezed again and
pulled. A couple of drops trickled into the palms of my hands.
Encouraged, I tried a jiu-jitsu stunt designed to astonish the cow into
yielding to superior intelligence, and she looked around at me and

I say that cow grinned. Some one once told me that among animals only
hyenas could grin. Then this cow was a hyena, that's all.

I tackled her again, shoving my head into her ribs after the manner of
certain yokels I had observed, as if there must be a secret spring to
push open the vents. William and the cow grinned a duet. I pulled and
pushed, twisted and tugged, coaxed and threatened, and finally I said
something to that cow that was uncouth.

Heaven forgive me for ever speaking rudely to a lady beef!

She lifted her near hind hoof and sent the bucket flying. Then she moved
over against me and mingled me with the soft sod. I got up and silently
handed William a quarter, winking the while to accent the hush. When I
went into the house I said:

"My dear, William informs me that the company may keep a cow around
here, but by the terms of our purchase we may not. It's a rank
discrimination, but I'm afraid we cannot have a cow. The Duke of Mont
Alto and the city ordinances will not permit it!"

The Adventure of the Nasty Little Fat Robin:

I don't know the botanical names of the birds around our house; in fact,
I am not sure that botany is the science of birds. But, at any rate, we
have half a dozen trees and each one is a choir loft. No wheezing
organ, with rattling foot pedals and thumping water-pump, disturbs the
clear harmonies of their music. No sonorous basso in the amen corner
growls out a flat profundo to insult the memory of Phoebe Carey; no
shrill tenor raises his chin until his Adam's apple sticks out like a
loose bung in a cider barrel, to shriek his blasphemy of divine music!

We have just the little birds, whose throats swell and swell until you
would think they must burst, and who sing their love-bugles through the
branches careless of their audience. Wonderful cadenzas chase each other
in a game of lyric tag, never wearying, never breaking. Trills that can
be written only in spirit composition--long notes that sometimes salute
a saint, sometimes absolve a sinner--sibilant sighs that bring up
memories--all these things we have in our choir, and upon them there is
no mortgage!

There's a nasty little fat robin outside our kitchen door, though, who
is some day going to meet disaster.

We feed the robins on crumbs, and throw them such little delicacies as
cracked marrow bones, chunks of suet and bits of sugar. When they have
finished eating they hurry to the end of the house, where there is
always a little water trickling out to make a bird fountain. (Item: I
must build a regular bird fountain.) This nasty little fat robin, who is
going straight into trouble, is a hog on wings. All the others will be
cheerfully setting about their dinner, when he will rush in, nibble a
single bite and then stand guard over the rest, to keep them from it. I
do not know whether to call him Rottenfeller for hogging it, or
Rosenfelt for fighting.

Now Kadott is my pet. I've called her Kadott for a little missionary
Japanese friend, who lives at Hadji Konak, and I wonder if the Japanese
at Hadji Konak will appreciate the honor? The one thing that makes me
fond of Kadott is that she is very much in love with me; but she annoys
me, too, because she makes me keep my distance and still coquettes. She
has an odd little trick of coming nearly to me, turning her head and
cocking her ear, as if to say:

"There is going to be a love scene, and I must beware of eavesdroppers."

Some of these days she will eat from my hand. But now she only comes
close and darts away at the first approach. She has built her nest and
she has the mother instinct. When she has hatched her little family I'm
going to be Uncle Henry to every one of them.

And that is what I've been trying to get to. If the nasty little fat
robin butts into Kadott's family relations, there will be a murder. My
hands will be red with the blood of a bandit.

When you come out to That House I Bought, stay all night and listen to
the birds in the early morning. It seems to me that a man who listens to
the birds in the right spirit ought to make a fairly decent citizen, in


My wife is a most observant woman.

"Love," she said to me, apparently apropos of nothing at all, "must be a
farce in a country where there is no moonlight."

I nodded assent. It didn't strike me as being worth much more.

"I wonder what is the trouble?" she said, after a pause.

"Trouble?" I repeated inquiringly.

"Across the street," she explained, "there were two Silhouettes in the
parlor Monday night, and one went away early; the other had her
handkerchief to her eyes----"

"Oho! So you've been keeping cases, eh?"

"I don't get your vernacular," she retorted meaningly.

"Well--er--what's this got to do with moonlight?" I demanded, changing
the subject.

"It was moonlight last night, and it's moonlight to-night," she replied,
"and all the derbies on the hat-rack over there belong to the men in the
family, and it's nine-thirty. It seems to me that if I were the Man
Silhouette, I'd at least write, but the mailman hasn't stopped there but
once in four days, and then he only delivered a circular, because I got
one myself and I recognized it by the big red type on the envelope,
and--I think it's a shame, that's what I do, and I don't care, so

You know, when a woman doesn't care, so there, she usually gets all
worked up about it. It's a way she has of showing her indifference.

"Have you seen him yet--the Man Silhouette?" I asked.

"No," she replied; "but I thought, if he came to-night, it's so bright
and all, I'd get a peep at his face. It would be awful if he were a
dissipated man!"

"You don't know her, and you don't know him, and you don't know her
folks, and what difference does it make to you whether he runs a church
or a roulette wheel?" I asked mildly.

I went into the house and--well, yes, I might as well admit it--sat at
the window where I could command a clear view of the parlor opposite.
This affair was getting to be personal with me. And then I think a
fellow ought to show an interest in anything that is close to his wife's
sympathies. So while she watched on the porch, I watched from the

He didn't come that night, and he didn't come the next night. But while
I was watching--not obtrusively, you know, but just sympathetically--a
messenger boy ran up the steps. The door opened halfway and he
delivered a message and waited a moment, and then left, dashing up
street on his wheel. I was pondering, when our telephone bell rang. I
answered. A sweet young voice called:

"Exchange, give me Mount Vernon 1,000, please--the Hotel Belvedere."

I broke in.

"Hello! Hello! You're on a busy wire! Exchange----"

"Oh, please, sir, please get off the line and let me have it! This is
very important!"

I mumbled something and hung up the receiver. Then I went back to my
window and gazed across the street again. The hall light was turned
on--the first time I had noticed it alone. The pale blind was down, but
the light--why, a Silhouette at the telephone!

I ran to the kitchen, where my wife was messing with pots and pans.

"I've got it, I've got it!" I screamed, waltzing her around.

"You act like it," she said, laughing and disengaging herself. "What
have you got?"

"She's calling him up at the Belvedere! Telegram--telephone in
hall--light--Silhouette--go look!"

She ran all the way to the window, and then I had to sit down and tell
her just how I knew it must be the Man Silhouette. All the
circumstances were too plain. There was no doubt of it. Her intuition
backed up my judgment. We sat on the porch until after ten, and then a
closed taxi was driven rapidly to the little walk. A man, bundled in a
big coat, handed the chauffeur something and dismissed him, and hurried
up to the porch. The door swung open without summons and he entered.

Ten minutes later my wife said:

"I wonder if the belt has slipped off down at the power house?"

I grunted.

"My dear," I said, "if you had quarreled and if you were making up on a
moonlight night, would you bother about wasting kilowatts of

She wrinkled her forehead.

"But the moonlight is on the outside of the house."

"That's just where you're mistaken," I ventured. "It _was_ all outside,
but they're getting all they need of it through the cracks on the sides
of the curtain."

She sighed.

"And moreover," I added, "I'm going to bed."

And I did; and there were no Silhouettes. At midnight or worse my wife

"I don't know much else about that man, but I know one thing."

"What's that?" I asked.

"He's stingy," was her reply; and I'll admit, myself, that he might have
turned up the lights just a little while.

But all this is foreign to the House. We awoke next morning to a busy
experience, for our friends descended upon us. You know there is one
stage through which you will have to pass when you buy a house, and for
the sake of a name we'll call it the Inspection of Your Intimates.

The ink is hardly dry on the deed, or mortgage, or agreement, or
whatever your instrument of conveyance may be, before you are on the
telephone inviting them out to look at you. You want all your friends
to see your new house--to make faces at it and chuck it under the chin,
to talk baby talk to it and admire your pantry.

The first crack out of the box Mrs. Smith walks in, sizes up the
exterior with a sweeping glance as she enters, sniffs the atmosphere
laden with fresh smells and as you stand at judgment remarks:


Now, "H-m!" may mean any one of twenty-seven things. You stand on one
foot and wait.

"My goodness, what small rooms!" is the next remark, which is somewhat
softened by the addition, "but the wall paper is very pretty," and the
reservation damns the praise again, "in places."

All this time you are alternating flushes and chills. Your spinal column
is a sort of marathon track for emotions. You go through the house with
her and show the bathroom with its shower, over which she enthuses, and
you are in the seventh heaven of satisfaction. But the minute she
reaches the third floor, which is a sort of three-quarter floor, your
heart sinks again, because she remarks:

"I suppose you will just use these little rooms for storage!" And you
had fondly thought of occupying them yourself and renting the second
floor to help out your investment.

Mrs. Smith thinks your piano is too brilliant on the hardwood floor, and
when she has gone home you shove a rug under it. Mrs. Jones comes next
day and says it sounds dead on the rug, and you put it back on the
floor. Mrs. Brown gets you to try it both ways in her presence and
concludes that it lacks elevation and would sound better if you took it
upstairs; while Mrs. Harris conceives the novel idea of turning the
conservatory into a music-room for the benefit of the base tiling.

Your prides-in-chief are the linen closet, the big closets in each
room, the gas range, the refrigerator built into the wall and the
plumbing fixtures. And you are a bit peeved when Mrs. Johnson passes
every one of these features by with calm indifference and raves over an
unimportant railing you've had hammered onto the back porch. Nearly
every one of your Intimates comments on the fact that your yard looks
like a quarry, but you assure each one that William is going to put on a
top soil and seed it down and you are going to plant a turnip and
substitute a peach tree for the oak that was struck by lightning. You
work yourself up into a human catalogue of advantages as you describe
your wonderful plans, and then your Intimate shakes her head smilingly.

"My dear," she says, like a blooming icicle, "John and I had all these
plans when we owned a house, and we never did get our yard fixed. You
have no idea of the work and the expense and the disappointments! And
don't plant any Government seeds. They never come up."

It's an odd coincidence that your Congressman has just supplied you with
a lot of radish, onion, lettuce, and other seeds, and that you have been
lying awake nights passing resolutions of thanks to the Agricultural

But there is one who comes--Heaven bless her!--who goes into seven fits
of joy and envies you your happiness. You love her because of it--and
because she is your mother.


The real enjoyment of home comes when for the first time you are taking
a week off.

"Are you going to Atlantic City?" asks Jones.

You curl your lip in a sneer and tilt your nose and snort, and make
yourself superior.

"Atlantic City! Do I look easy? Atlantic City, boardwalk, red hot sun,
skinny bathers, flies in the dining-room, at $7 a day? Not on your life!
I'm going to stay home and take the rest cure--that's me! I'm going to
sleep late, eat four meals a day, spade my garden when I feel like it
and enjoy life right. I'm going to take a shower bath every thirty-six
minutes and no company--not a blooming visitor--the whole week. What I
want is absolute rest."

Jones listens, but with an air of one who is wise.

That was my experience.

I was getting fagged, brain-weary and nervous from a terrific strain of
making an appearance at work. The bluff went over and the powers that be
told me to go away and cut out the telephone. So out to That House I
Bought forthwith hied me--instanter removed. To drop the load, to forget
the worries, to submerge the business ego in a week of solid rest! I
was getting near to Heaven.

The first morning I awoke with a start, leaped out of bed, shed my
pajamas and grabbed for the things on the chair. I was dressed and
halfway down stairs before I realized that it was off duty for mine. O
joy! I got THE SUN from the porch and read the leading locals and saw
half a dozen stories sticking out between the lines. The telephone was
handy; I'd call up the office and suggest--whoa! The telephone had been
cut out.

"Good!" I exclaimed internally. "I'll have late breakfast and sleep a
couple of hours."

My wife came down.

"While I'm getting breakfast," she said, "suppose you turn the hose on
the porch, and just kind of dust it off with this broom. The girl won't
come until next week, and you know I'm a sick woman."

I squirted the hose and dusted. Scrubbery is one of my short talents.
When the sun dried it off, the porch was streaked from end to end, and I
had to do it over with my wife supervising.

"It is so sweet for us to be together in our nice new home," she said,
as I dutifully toted dishes to the kitchen. "You wipe while I wash them,
and then you can take a hammer and some tacks and fix these old chairs
for the kitchen. When you get that done you can put up some shelves for
me in the fruit pantry, and why don't you arrange your books to-day?
They're in all sorts of places. There are lots of sticks and stones
around the yard. Suppose you pick them up and mow the lawn. Oh, I know
what you can do! You can level up all these little gullies where the
rain has cut up the loose dirt in the back yard. Isn't it just too dear
for anything for us to have a whole week of fun fixing up around the
house? I think after you get through with the yard you can----"

And so on and so on, to the end of the chapter!

Some people think cleaning up around a new house is pie for papa, but
it isn't. There is none of that glamour you read about in "The Delights
of Home" articles, and it isn't a thing on earth but a case of chuck the
cuffs and collars and yield your soul to perspiration and persistence.

First, when you start to follow the carpenter into nooks and corners of
the cellar and little hiding places in the top floor, you find that he
has invented innumerable kinds of leavings, deftly tucked here and there
where nobody but a second-sight man would ever figure on locating them.
You begin to pick up and after you've stooped about two thousand times
you remember the picture in the liver medicine ad., where the man
stands with his hands on the small of his back, looking unhappy and

And it isn't only picking up, but it's cleaning out. What to do with the
stuff bothers you. It's a cinch to burn the shavings and little pieces
of wood and that kind of material, but you've got to deal again with
bits of putty and glass and bent nails and tacks and other unburnable
debris, and you hate to throw them into the bathtub because of the
plumbing. You finally throw them out the window.

Later you realize that you threw them out unwisely. That's when you
start to work on your lawn and side yard, and every time you stick in
the trowel where you are setting out plants you fetch up a quart of
junk. The astonishing lot of garbage they used to make the ground you
stand on is bad enough, but with the things you've thrown out added to
it the situation is exasperating.

You run your lawn mower over a nail, pick it up, and then wonder why
providence ever let you get away from an early death, for sheer
imbecility. It was the nail you picked up in the third floor and didn't
know how to dispose of it. Pulling up a little bit of ground with your
hands, to make a place for some dwarf nasturtium, you cut your finger
with the piece of glass you threw out the side window. It's vexing. What
to do with this wreckage a second time puzzles you, and you finally
throw it over into the next lot. That's the time you find that your
neighbor was watching you from his windows, and--it's not easy to be
nice to people who throw their refuse over the lot line, is it?

But the worst of all this cleaning-up business is that your wife bosses
the job.

Somehow or other, the man who loves his wife still draws the line at
matrimonial dictatorship, even in so small a thing as picking up after
the carpenter. Neither you nor your wife intended to let it go that
far, and she really doesn't intend to go home to her mother, nor do you
really intend to drown your domestic griefs in drink. But with some
provocations man gets peevish and woman irritable.

The night before it had rained. Our back yard was soaked to the marrow,
if a yard has a marrow. We had a wire stretched to mark our lot line and
keep people off the grass seed and the garden. On the heels of the rain
came one of the company drivers, took down the wire with deliberation
and criminal purpose, and drove two goldarned mules and a wagon right
through that yard, cutting ruts six inches deep and scattering parsnips,
parsley, beans, peas, and lettuce all over the place. In a new
development you have to stay at home twenty-four hours a day and yell at
such people, or they'll have you rutted out of your possession.

It was pitiful to see those great ruts when we had worked so hard, and
the torn-up garden with its sprouts here and there showing what it might
have been. But it was more pitiful to see me walking around with a
pocketful of manslaughter, looking for the driver who did it. Every
driver on the place admitted that he didn't do it; so I came to the
conclusion that it couldn't have been done at all. I was having
delusions. The ruts and ruined gardens were figments of a disordered

Oh, well, what's the use?

I got the rake, shovel, spade, hoe, hand cultivator, lawn mower, trowel,
and a couple of things you lift young plants with and assembled myself
on the lawn to put in a good day's work. With the rake I started to rake
off the side yard, and got about halfway through when I discovered that
the lawn needed mowing. Halfway through with the mowing job my eye
spotted certain thick spots of weeds, and so I started weeding. Halfway
through with that I stopped to pick up sticks and stones and throw them,
as usual, over my neighbor's lot. Then it was this thing and that thing,
never finishing anything, until finally I chucked all things and started
something new.

That's the way with enthusiasts. For finishing a job, give me the
plodder whose imagination is subordinate to his hoe. You see, he is a
one-idea man, and the idea may not be his own; but the fellow with the
genius for starting things is very seldom there at the finish. He dreams
large and turns the details over to more successful men.

This new thing I started concerns the front plot of garden around the
porch. It was a disorganized thing as it stood. I cut out a ditch in
front of it, piled all the dirt back against the house and toted baskets
of hard stones from a neighboring lot. These I leaned against the sides
of the ditch and hammered them in, or cut out the earth and set, making
a stone wall that would retain the earth, hold a certain amount of water
for irrigation and at the same time be ornamental. It took two hours to
make as many yards of this stuff, and several friends called attention
to the trouble I was taking for no necessary purpose. Well, that may be
so--and probably is--but it is so stupid to be always doing the
necessary things, living on the obvious, plugging along on the course of
existence that is common to all.


By the time I had worn my finger nails to a state of complete
dishabille--happy thought!--and had become a hopeless problem for the
most sanguine manicurist, I began to learn things really. For instance,
this is how a lawn ought to be made:

First, grade your ground, then remove all stones and stumps; next roll
it and then put on a couple of inches of top soil; then roll that until
there isn't a bump in it, sow your grass seed and water constantly,
prayerfully. In making our lawn those are the things they didn't do.

I don't dare rake our lawn, because the minute I start, out will come a
lot of bolders, leaving terrific yawns in the sod. I'm sure the Duke
will forgive me for getting peeved about that lawn, when he understands
that there are callouses in my hands and knots in my lawn mower. Also,
why on earth, after throwing on the grass seed, do the men drive wagons
over it and make ruts and jam their heels into it and make holes, where
my vagrant sprinklings with the hose create lakes and puddles and
produce never a single grass?

With a little preliminary exercise, pushing the big road-roller on
Garrison avenue and shoving marble blocks out of the Courthouse, I
tackled our lawn with a new mower, put together by myself in accordance
with instructions. Our lawn mower is painted a beautiful green on the
blades, to keep out the rust. Also, it was never intended to cut. It
would never do, in an emergency, to shave with.

Musically, our lawn mower for the first ten feet sang to my soul a song
of sweet, rural peace and contentment.

Then it struck a snag and changed the tune.

In the course of two dashes I discovered that the spectacle of a
bald-headed front-yard farmer trotting up and down behind a lawn mower
was a thing to make acquaintance with. Two men I'd never seen in my
life stopped and gazed at me, and one of them asked me if I was mowing
my lawn. A little girl came by and stood cross-legged with her finger in
her mouth, and, when I looked her way, snickered and ran home to tell
her mother what a strange sight she had seen. Our grocer lingered to
remark that it was a hot afternoon, and as if in confirmation of his
remarkable perspicuity a lake of sweat fell like a cloudburst from my
brow and drowned a hill of ants.

"Don't work so hard," said my wife, as I made another turn. "Why don't
you take it easy?"

"I am taking it easy," I replied. "All I need now is a leather chair
and a highball to look like the Maryland Club in repose!"

Sarcasm is one of my strong points, and my wife realized that she had
goaded me into sharp retort, so she giggled at me and ran to the
telephone to tell her mother that Henry was perfectly crazy about his
new lawn mower and couldn't leave it alone for a minute.

With all those people looking on and my lawn mower hitting a rock or a
hole every seven revolutions, I felt cheap. I felt as though it might
have been myself whose jawbone was broken by Samson, or who bore Balaam
to Jerusalem. The crowd kept growing, and a stream of honest toil rolled
down my spine. Somehow or other I finished the job. Then I looked at the
crowd. I left the lawn mower and walked over to them with a deadly glare
in my eye.

"Any of you fellows want to fight?" I demanded rudely.

Nobody replied.

"Because if you do," I said, "I can tie both hands behind me and lick
any six of you right now."

The crowd melted away slowly. One man did stay a moment, but he didn't
want to fight. He offered to feel my pulse.

In spite of his sarcasm, and in the face of all criticism, I insist
that I was beginning to learn. For instance, shall I tell you of the
time I astonished Campbell?

Campbell was raised in the country. The smell of sod is strong in his
nostrils, and he is a handy man with a hoe. Campbell is an agent for the
Duke, but time hangs on his hands at moments and he dropped around in a
casual sort of way to look at our back yard.

"I'm thinking of planting a turnip and some onions," said my wife

Campbell smiled.

"In that soil," he said, "you'll never make them completely happy.
They'll be crying for home all the time."

"What's the matter with the soil?" demanded my wife.

"Well, it wasn't built for farming. You always have to put in richer
soil. I'll show you."

My wife thinks Campbell is just about right. When he began to talk about
how he'd enjoy fixing her garden, and would she please let him have the
hoe, rake, spade, and a bucket to tote sod from a pile in the front
yard, she began to look upon him as a Dispensation of Providence.
Agriculturally, I dwindled in importance as he expanded.

He cut five rows, or furrows, or ditches, or whatever you call them,
with the hoe, and into them he dropped peas, beans, onions, parsley, and
parsnips. Then he brought buckets of top soil and dumped it on the seeds
along the line, and raked the soil over until it was smooth, and stuck
the empty envelopes at the end of the rows for fear my wife would get
the peas identified as corn, the beans as peanuts, the onions as
cauliflower, the parsley as rhubarb, the parsnips as turnips. Campbell
let me bring some more buckets of soil. For that favor I have begun to
question the degree of Campbell's kindness.

Then I spoke.

"Your rows of top soil will start the seeds," I said, "but never
maintain them when they're out. We must get some commercial fertilizer,
and the minute the sprouts show, sprinkle it along the sides of the
furrows. Then we must soak the farm with a hose."

My wife sneered. "He's right," said Campbell. My wife winked at him to
carry on the joke, but he insisted in sign language that I really had
the proper dope. She wilted.

"Now," I said, "we'll have William throw five loads of top soil into
this next patch, over which we will run a plough, mixing it not less
than a foot deep. Then we'll cover it down, roll it and soak it for a
week. We will then be ready to plant our tomato vines and more onions,
along the rows of which we'll sprinkle our fertilizer about two sacks to
ten yards. This temporary work you've done is about as practical as a
school of journalism or poetry. We'll let it stand as a horrible
example, but all this goes under, too, in the fall. Then we'll dig
trenches around the yard, a foot deep, fill in solid with top soil and
after a week of settling plant a double row of hedge, one foot apart in
length and six inches apart in width. Am I right?"

I had her gasping. She stared at me in wonder, and Campbell--well, he
just stood with his mouth open like a catfish, admiring and astounded.

That day when a man becomes a hero in his wife's eyes is a triumph such
as Napoleon never knew in his greatest moments, and the feel of it
outdoes the joy of a Nero in the plaudits of the claque. It isn't
necessary to mention that I got it out of a bulletin from the
agricultural department.


Getting acquainted is part and parcel of buying a house. There is
something in the human chest that yearns for speaking terms, at least
with the fellow who is liable to lend you his lawn mower or by whose
wife you may some day be called upon for emergency aid in the culinary

Our good friends came out, it's true, and last night Kittie and Lucy
Eugenie sat on the porch, and afterward had iced tea and peanut
sandwiches in the kitchen, but I mean the regular acquaintance of the
long day that makes the wife forget distances and isolation.

Whooping cough was our visiting card.

I got acquainted with the nearest neighbor through the courtesy of his
advice when I made some fool remark about the nature of the ground for
light gardening, and he gave me the benefit of his information to the
contrary. We knew one family so intimately that we could almost nod as
we passed without fear of being snubbed--but not a soul called,
inquired, or seemed to care. It was the busy time, and we didn't mind so
much then. When things lightened up on the labor end we would begin to
notice it.

And then we brought Lydie out for the air. Poor little thing! She
whooped and whooped and whooped. In the middle of the night she whooped,
and she whooped in the morning. She would stop doing almost anything
else to run to her auntie and whoop. She knew her responsibility. In the
city she had gone from door to door ringing bells and gravely informing
the occupants that their children mustn't play with her, because it was
catching. She ran her quarantine strictly, but, of course, our new
community sharers didn't know that.

The groceryman, milkman, iceman, paper boy, the plumber, carpenter,
stableman--all manner of men who circulate--learned that Lydie had the
whooping cough. It wasn't long before our neighbors began to take
notice--I mean our neighbors several houses removed, and across the
street. We already knew our nearest neighbors, and their stout little
red-haired heir and the little baby that sang miserere in the stilly
night. But the niece with the whooping cough made us talked about and
observed. One day a little girl ran up to Lydie.

"My mamma says I can play with you, 'cause I've had the whooping cough!"

Lydie promptly produced her jumping rope. And then there was another
from the same house, and we discovered, to our joy, that the children of
the horny-handed city editor had also had the whooping cough. We didn't
need an introduction there, but the play privilege was pie for the baby.
First thing I knew baby was on this porch and that porch, and on the way
home in the evening I whistled for her and nodded to the grownups who
were entertaining her.

But we've lost our intermediary. The other night baby whooped and I
whooped. Mine was nervous indigestion, combined with a lot of
imagination that makes the patent medicine business profitable. Between
us, baby and I kept up a merry circus all night. She was really sick,
and we sent her home to her mother.

What a wonderful thing it is to have a baby in the house!

Every morning Catherine and Eleanor go out and pick buttercups and
forget-me-nots, and bring them to my wife; and she puts them in a vase
with the greatest show of gratitude you ever saw, and then proceeds to
stuff the children with cakes until they choke, and sends them home

Every day the little auburn-haired boy king in the House Next Door trots
out with his tiny red wagon and laboriously drags that treasure of
childhood up and down the pavement--sometimes prancing like a race
horse, sometimes plodding along like a mule that curses his ancestry,
sometimes ambling by like a good-natured family horse, guaranteed not to
run away or scare at an automobile!

And the little one--the baby in the go-cart. What a time the baby has
watching Big Brother, and admiring his strength as he performs miracles,
not only pulling and backing the tiny red wagon all by himself, but
actually turning it around and running the other way, without so much as
getting caught in the cracks or stuck in the sod! You can see
admiration fairly oozing from baby's eyes; and when he runs at her and
pretends to kick his heels into the dashboard, what a laugh she has!

Up the street, where the apartments are with the shiny sets of bells on
the front by the door, and the big rocking chairs and air of solid
comfort, there are some other children, but I haven't learned their
names. They play around the porch and front yard, and run across the
street, scampering up the hill to pick flowers from the lots that soon
will feel the plow; and their mothers keep an eye on them--not that any
accident could happen, for vehicles are scarce out our way and the
street car doesn't enter the quiet of our lives; but just
because--well, mothers are a bit peculiar that way--I mean that way of
keeping an eye on the young ones.

A fellow never knows what a remarkable head a child has, if he has none
of his own, until he begins borrowing babies from the neighbors.

There's Catherine, for instance. Catherine and Eleanor and I were
looking for the little pale anemones that hide around the roots of
trees. I picked some four-petaled blue flowers and instructed the

"These," I said, "are forget-me-nots."

"No, they're not," said Catherine promptly. "They are bluettes.
Forget-me-nots have five petals and these have only four."

"Oh!" I said; "and where did you learn that?"

"My teacher told me, and she told me----" which ran into a long lecture
on botany and horticulture and forest-lore and things that made me
ashamed, for, frankly, I didn't know whether the tree that shaded us was
an oak or a maple. I think there should be a limit on male suffrage, and
woman domination, and child education. There are some things that make
the average man feel cheap, if he has pride.

But this is all about the babies, and about the House only indirectly.
We love children, my wife and I, and, perhaps, we love them the more
because we can send them back to where we borrowed them when they become
troublesome. But the most wonderful thing about babies to me is that not
so long ago we were all, you and I and your neighbor, all helpless,
gooing, crowing, dimpling, fat or slim kids, bundled up in carriages and
looking wonder-eyed at the great picture life unfolded before us. And
these babies around us--some of these days they'll be the men and women,
and some of them will borrow babies, and some will cuddle their own.

The babies, God bless 'em!--and the flowers! They are very alike.


When the house was put in order we invited our professional associates
jointly--the city editor and myself and our wives--to come out and see
us. It was not a dress affair. It was a case of pajamas preferred and
boiled shirts common, out under the hot sun in the flat, or lolling
under the oaks in the grove, where we had hard benches to make our
guests appreciate upholstery. There were fifty guests, boys and girls of
all ages, and, Lord, what a time we had! Not that it beat a Hibernian
picnic, because it didn't; but in the pride of your first possession,
to have your daily associates come out and look you over and help you
enjoy it makes owning a house really worth while.

What with getting ready and getting over it, catching up sleep and
massaging aching muscles, that event stands as epochal in the history of
our family. For days the wives worried each other to death about what
they'd have. First, one would suggest ham sandwiches and chicken salad,
and the minute they agreed on that the other would switch in soft crabs
and roast beef. Whether to drink coffee, tea, or lemonade, or all three;
whether to have a modest modicum of malt, whether to make a punch or
just let the guests drink from the air, like trees and flowers--these
were all vexing points, by no means to be settled offhand. And it was
not only one night that I was aroused by dream-talk like this:

"Really, I think lemonade would be nicer--and just a few sandwiches and
coffee and ice cream, and----" The dream trailed off into a weary sigh
that is the closest approach a real lady ever makes to a snore.

Well, it happened. They came by twos and threes, and I toted chairs and
camp stools from the house the three long blocks to the grove. At first
we made conversation with the children--Eleanor and Catherine--and then
our intellectual dean, observing a Catholic institution nearby,
correctly surmised by its mansard slate roof that it was built before
the eighties; it was built in '72. With such mental diversions we killed
time until the managing editor arrived and started a game of duck on the
rock, at which the city editor skinned his shoulder. We ran races, and
the littlest copy reader's legs twinkled with joy over the rough course.
The girls jumped rope and screamed, and it was altogether kid-dish. Then
we ate ham and roast beef sandwiches and drank coffee and cooled our
æsophagi with ice cream and cake chasers. Our member with the porcupine
summit insisted upon singing, and the stenographer played all the
popular things. We gathered at the reservoir, while two of the men and
the healthiest girl ran a marathon around that long mile, and she
finished beautifully. Then we sat on the porch and had our pictures
taken by flashlight.

Somebody burgled That House and moved the parlor furniture and piano
into the dining-room and the dining-room stuff into the parlor. A merry
wit tacked attachments to our houses, the managing editor put an "Open
for Inspection" sign on the city editor's castle and some one stuck a
"For Rent" placard on ours. And then they began leaving, by twos and
threes, and the telephone girl was one of the last to go, lingeringly.

We slept that night--slept the sleep of the properly weary. All sorts of
dreams romped through the long stillness and entertained us. The Duke of
Mont Alto was in one of mine, and he was telling me something about
taxes and water rent. But before his conversation got disagreeable I was
awakened by a racket on the roof.

There's a fool woodpecker that comes there every morning at six o'clock
and tries to drill through the slate. He's after a nest. It must be hard
work. But if he ever gets through I know how he'll feel. He will have
hustled some, but it will have been worth while. Anything is worth
while, friend, if the goal is a nest of your own, where you can have
your friends out and nobody can tell you to keep off the grass or wipe
your feet on the mat--_excepting your wife_!

Not at all apropo of The House, there's a thought I want to get out of
my system. What a lot of braggarts we men are, anyhow--and what a queer
old world it is! There are two classes of people in the world--those who
are doing something worth while and those who are trying to steal the
credit. A modest little hen two or three doors away laid an egg, and in
very few words cackled the event; but you ought to have heard that
insufferable rooster! The moment the thing happened he strutted around
with his chest out, yelling at the top of his voice, drowning out the
whole poultry yard: "Ur-r-r-r, Ur-r-r-r, Ur-r-r-r! I'm the daddy of
another egg!" How much more decent it would have been had he quietly
stood by, preserving his dignity and judicial calm.

Now we'll get back to the story.

I'm sifting top soil to make our garden right, and my wife is doing
wonderful things inside the house with the furniture and fixings. Every
day she turns me around three times and shows me something
new--something marvelous of her handiwork, immensely flattering to me
since it justifies my judgment in the selection of a helpmeet. Every day
the business of buying the house looks more possible and less of a
financial mountain. Why, I can even afford to joke with the Duke, who
asked me what I intended to plant in our front garden against the porch.

"I think," I said, "I'll plant a nice little row of mortgage vines and
let 'em grow up and crawl all over the house. A mortgage vine, Duke, has
flowers on it all the year round, and it's the most homelike thing I

The Duke enjoyed that immensely--but then he can afford to laugh,
because he lives on the other side of the road.

       *       *       *       *       *

And now the time has come to end this recital of everyday incidents in
the personal affairs of Yours Truly--a humble man of no importance
whatever, who for that reason may be representative of eighty per cent.
of the world's population.

In closing, here is a thought that sticks with me: If I had started to
buy a home when I was married, that home would long ago have been my
clean-title property. If I had started to systematically bank or invest
twenty per cent. of my earnings from the date of my first cub job, I'd
have owned stock in the newspaper that lets me live. If I had to do it
all over again--

Why, Lord bless you, I'd do just as I have done! I'd live the same sort
of life, be just the same profligate fellow with no care for the morrow,
go through just the same sort of trials and troubles and throw them off
with just the same sort of optimism. After all, a fellow isn't capable
of appreciating to the full a little possession until he has gone the
route of silly extravagances and been pulled together by some sudden
impulse to be a better citizen. And listen:

Without the least reflection on the good qualities of other men, the
very best citizen of any community is the man who has married early and
provided a nest of his own--who pays taxes and contributes his share to
the happiness of society at large--who obeys the law and is not ashamed
to be in love with his own wife--who works hard and plays hard, and who
goes fishing.

Enough of That House I Bought. Come out and sit on our porch, and if
there is anything in the larder you may sup with us.



You might know it was suggested by a woman. No man ever yet resorted to
the postscript.

My wife says it ought to go in after everything else, like the tag of a
play. I was in favor of leaving the thing in suspense, and annoying the
reader--leaving something to tease the imagination. But she said it
would be cruel.

The fact is, there was a Parade of Silhouettes across the street last
night. There was a Preacher Silhouette, and there were Best Man and Maid
of Honor Silhouettes, and their were Jealous Sister Silhouettes--two of
them. There were Village Cut-Up Silhouettes and Silhouettes of Little
Girls in Pink Ribbons--we knew they were pink because we saw them going
in, stepping high to keep their white slippers clean.

All the Silhouettes gathered under a floral Court of Honor hung to the
gas jet, and such a screaming and laughing and talking when it was over,
you never heard!

"At last," said my wife, "I shall see that Man Silhouette and that Girl
Silhouette in the flesh. I shall sit here until they start for the
train, and then rush across the street and look right into----"

An odor of something burning came from the kitchen.

"My roast!" screamed my wife, and dashed madly indoors, followed
obediently by her husband.

After we had rescued the roast we returned to the porch.

A lot of idiots were throwing rice and shoes and flowers up the street.
We followed the line of attack and there was the carriage, being hauled
off by galloping horses to catch a train for Niagara Falls, with a
slipper rattling out behind, and a streamer bearing the legend:


"And to think," said my wife, "that after all my sisterly solicitude I
have never seen the bride!"

"Nor the groom," I ventured.

"Oh, well," she said, "he doesn't count--_now_!"

And I reckon there may be something in that.


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