Don't Rent--Buy


IF YOU should allow my husband to show you our cellar, you would find yourself in a forest of four-by-fours standing upright like trees. Upon these trunks an assortment of beams and pipes twist and intertwine their way into the upper reaches of our domicile; and from their branching springs our hope that some day our house will flower into a spot in which we can subside and read the classics in our old age.

Every four-by-four in our sub-forest rests upon an iron jack resembling a Ubangi collar, the idea being that upon crossing our threshold you shall not skid into the trough of the parquetry to come up clutching the radiator, but can proceed with poise across the hall to the library or to the living room. In other words, the house is having its underpinnings lifted. All this because, before our day, some plumber with a one-track mind sawed a hole to run a steam pipe right through the main supporting beam of the house; then finding he had miscalculated about ten inches, extended the hole accordingly. Naturally the house lay down in the middle.

But that fact didn’t keep us from buying the house. Philip saw immediately that he could run a couple of twenty-foot steel beams in through the cellar window and slip them neatly into place.

It worked perfectly and we can defy the house ever to sag again, but there is one drawback. Plaster is not plastic. When pushed from below it buckles. There are some long, overlapping cracks on the stairway, and behind Uncle Charles’s portrait in the drawing room there is a large and ominous bulge.

We’d much prefer to have Uncle Charles in the dining room, but he won’t fit the wall space unless we rip off the plate rail — and repaint the dining room. After we had got so that we couldn’t eat there because of the green and yellow mottled effect that was left when we scraped off the wallpaper, suddenly one day we got busy and painted the dining room. And if you have ever painted four walls and a ceiling with paint sliding up your arms and dripping into your eyes, you hope old age overtakes you before you ever do it again. Therefore Uncle Charles, in his cameo-like beauty, hangs in the drawing room, and for the first time is useful as well as ornamental, since in a measure his bulk covers the bulge.

Act ually the architect designed our house for his own use; if his flights of genius seem like oddities to us, is that his fault?

For instance, the old-fashioned back yard has trees and once must have had flowers. But no door leads out there, no window looks out upon it. If you want to get into it you have to go out the side door, walk around the driveway, and duck through the overgrown privet. That’s the way we go to hang out the wash.

The library is a dead end. For some lost reason, its single narrow doorway is fitted with a sliding door which, if it were ever completely shut, would be impossible to open, as it is without ridge, knob, or handle; finished like a secret panel on the library side and on the other with a fine French mirror — don’t ask me why. If you get caught in there you are stuck. There is no getting out except via the window into the hedge.

The only entrance to the conservatory is through the dining room. Tools, flower pots, cuttings, and dirt go through the dining room — a happy housekeeping arrangement.

But we don’t mind. We have played with the house too. We have wrapped it in a cocoon of old wallpaper and wet plaster; we have shifted flues and partitions and fixtures. There was only one point at which we really weakened.

When I arrived home last fall I discovered in t he middle of my bedroom a bathtub — a little model for the Ark without the roof. With crowbars and rollers it had been removed from the adjacent bathroom to give place to something more streamlined. This particular objet d’art was six feet long, three feet high, and wide in proportion, and it had stood upon four five-inch china pedestals. It was made of cast porcelain and must have been cast on the premises like Cellini’s Perseus, or the house built around it. To got to the bedroom window in case of a sudden storm, I had to sit on the end and swing my legs west. To get to the chiffonier I had to step in and then out on the other side. It was a natural receptacle for things I didn’t want. I even felt I might emulate Sarah Bernhardt, who slept in her coffin — because, after all, why bother with a bed?

But we are not ones light ly to accept the inevitable until all else fails. We tried to lure two workmen into taking it away, but they laughed. We tried to give it to our friend the junkman, but he laughed. We tried a plumber, but all he had to offer was that we break it up with a sledge hammer and throw the pieces out the window. Several of our friends suggested we sink it in the back yard and use it for a lily pool, but we possessed at the moment neither a ship’s crane nor a steam shovel.

I had practically given up, and was just about to measure it for a slip cover, when Phil had one of his hunches.

You do not know our stairs. They were pretty bad after the wet plaster episode, but now they are worse. A tub has descended them.

Phil removed the cellar door, smoothed it of its lock and hinges, carried it upstairs, and laid it on the broad loom runner in the second-floor hall. Gently and lovingly he pried the tub from its stance in the bedroom onto some wooden rollers. We both heaved and shoved, and the Juggernaut was on its way — I grabbing each roller as it rolled out at the back and rushing up to place it in position so that it could be rolled onto again in front until caterpillarwise the tub landed on the waiting cellar door. The next stage was a strong rope; one end was snubbed around the newel post, and the other was fastened through the tub’s faucet holes. It was designed to be payed out slowly by me as a brace against sudden skidding, while Phil eased the hall rug, plus door, plus tub, down the stairs.

Gradually the tub was heaved and belayed and tobogganed down and came to rest in front of the hall fireplace with nothing but stair splinters in its wake. I was so glad to see it there that I thought of serving tea from it to my friends. It stayed there three weeks.

But at last even the front hall saw it no more. Eventually it was made to navigate the cellar stairs as well, and at this moment it reposes in a corner of the basement together with a discarded patent shower and a former kitchen sink, waiting for the day when its pipes shall be heard to gurgle and steam shall rise once more.

There is still plenty to do to the house. What do I care if the butler’s pantry is full of tools and the laundry stacked with screens? I haven’t any butler, and it looks now as if none of us would ever again have a laundress.

All I ask is that some day I shall be able to sit down for a few years in a comfortable chair under a good light and read the things I never have got around to—Plato and William James and Fielding and d’Annunzio and Chekhov and Restoration Drama and Parkman and Balzac and Gertrude Stein and the poetry of D. H. Lawrence. It really would be grand.