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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsHouse - Chapter 21. With Plumbers And Painters
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House - Chapter 21. With Plumbers And Painters Post by :stevekiene Category :Nonfictions Author :Eugene Field Date :May 2012 Read :3338

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House - Chapter 21. With Plumbers And Painters


It did not take me long to find out that, in the treatment of the interior of the new house, Alice had fallen a victim to the influence of the Denslow-Baylor-Maria schools. I was not much surprised by this discovery, for I had known for some time that Alice regarded the Denslows and the Baylors as people of rare taste, and it was quite natural (as every unprejudiced person will allow) that, associating with Adah continually and being bound to her by ties of consanguinity, Alice should be susceptible to Adah's hortations, incitements, impulsations, and instigations.

At any rate, I found that our new house was to be a conspicuous intermingling and interblending of the Denslow, Baylor, and Maria styles of architecture. The big front room downstairs, the library, was distinctly Denslowish, and so was the big front room up-stairs, as well as the butler's pantry and the reception-room. The Baylor influence manifested itself in the spare bedroom and the dining-room, and the Maria influence (thanks to Adah) was clearly exhibited in the front and side porches, in my bedroom, and in the several hallways. Alice insisted that the house was to be strictly old colonial and also requested me to speak of it as such in the presence of visitors, particularly in the hearing of her relatives from the country when they came into the city next September to do their winter buying.

In my fancy I can already picture the dear girl putting on airs with those guileless rural folk who know no more about the architectural and the decorative arts than an unclouted Patagonian knows of the four houses of the Jesuitical order. Nor do I know much about those things, and I am glad that I do not, for if I had devoted my early years of study to plinths, architraves, columns, dados, friezes, pediments, sconces, wainscots, cornices, capitals, entablatures, and such like, how could I have originated my theory of star-drift and how would humanity have been enlightened upon the all-important subjects of the asteroids, the satellites of the star Gamma in Scorpio, the atmosphere on the other side of the moon, the depth of the Martian bottle-neck seas, the probability of the existence of natural gas wells in Jupiter, etc., etc.? If I had been a Linnaeus or a Buffon instead of Reuben Baker, I should have never suffered myself to fall an innocent victim to poison ivy--yes, that is true, but at the same time my now famous theory of double stars and my equally famous theory as to the several elements in comets' tails would have been denied to the world. No one man can combine within himself all human genius; in all modesty I declare myself satisfied with being simply Reuben Baker.

While I devoted my attention to out-of-door affairs--by which I mean care of the lawn, of the flower-beds, and of the vegetable patches--I had a comparatively tranquil existence. Having transferred the base of my operations (or perhaps I should say my observations) indoors, I found numerous disagreements and misunderstandings to distract me. I was not long in finding out that there were two factions (so to speak) in charge of the department of the interior. Parties of the first part were Alice and all our feminine neighbors; party of the second part was Uncle Si.

You see, there had never been anything more explicit than a verbal understanding between Uncle Si and Alice; the two had talked the matter all over at the start, and they agreed upon every theory so nicely that I do not wonder they decided that a written contract was not necessary. Uncle Si did some figuring which resulted in his saying that he would reconstruct the old house and build an addition for the even sum of two thousand dollars. Very few specifications were made, but there was a pretty clear verbal understanding reached, and the consequence was as distinct a misunderstanding as the work progressed. Most of the trouble was over the detail of hardwood. Alice was sure that Uncle Si had agreed to put in hardwood floors and trimmings throughout; Uncle Si expostulated that he had never thought of so preposterous a project, since it would have bankrupted him as sure as his name was Silas Plum.

The result was that Alice never went near the new house that she did not groan and moan and declare that Georgia pine was simply the horridest wood in all the world, while, upon the other hand, Uncle Si speedily came to regard Alice as an arch enemy who was seeking to trick and impoverish him. The neighbors sided with Alice, of course. They freely expressed the conviction that Uncle Si and all other contractors would bear constant watching. It is perhaps needless for me to add that Uncle Si regarded all neighbors as impertinent and mischievous intermeddlers.

I will confess that of all the workmen about the place the plumbers interested me most. They came late and quit early, and much of the intervening time was spent in asking one another questions and in ordering one another about. No tool was at hand when it was required. If the pliers were needed the whole gang of plumbers stopped work to hunt for the missing instrument, which was sometimes found in one remote spot and sometimes in another--never where it should have been. I have a theory that for reasons best known to themselves plumbers make a practice of mislaying and losing their tools.

I supposed that having once begun their work these plumbers would push it to completion. I never undertake anything that I do not keep at it until it is done and finished, and I think that this rule obtains among most of the professions and trades. Plumbers seem, however, to be a privileged class. They come to your premises and spend an hour or two examining what is to be done; then they go away. When they get ready to come back they return--this time with a miniature furnace and whatever tools they do not require. Then they go away to bring the tools they need, leaving the tools they do not require for a pretext for another trip. Then they take turns at suggesting how the proposed work should be done, and one after another they get down upon their knees and peer into closets and holes and under floors and into dark places, after which some of them go back to the "shop," for more things, while the others either sit around doing nothing or busy themselves at losing and mislaying the tools they have already at hand.

Uncle Si, who is an authority on the subject, says that there never was a plumber who died of overwork or in the poorhouse. He tells me that he once knew of a plumber named Bilkins who fell dead of heart disease one day when he discovered that he had worked four minutes overtime.

The boss painter was another individual who excited my astonishment. I never knew another man so fertile in the art of prevarication. Mr. Krome would rather lie than eat--at any rate, he would rather lie than paint. He never neglected to come over twice a day and take a long and careful survey of the house.

"I reckon you 're about ready for us, eh?" he 'd ask.

"We 're waiting on you," Uncle Si would say.

"Then I 'll have to put my gang at work in the mornin'," he would answer. This performance was repeated again and again, but the "gang" we looked for did not come. I remonstrated against this seeming neglect, but Mr. Krome blandly assured me that when his men did once get to work they would push the job with incredible speed. I knew he was a liar, yet I always believed the fellow.

We gave him the glazing to do. We even accommodated him to the extent of sending the window frames to his shop instead of making him haul them himself. We did this out of no special regard for Mr. Krome, for, aside from pure selfish considerations, Mr. Krome is no more to us than we are to Hecuba; but we desired to facilitate him in the work he had engaged to do for us.

After the window frames had been at the fellow's shop a fortnight, I began to suggest that their return would gratify me to the degree of rapture. Mr. Krome put us off with one excuse and another (all equally plausible) and presently a month had rolled by. Like the man in the fable who tried brickbats when kind words were no longer of avail, I threatened to turn the work of glazing over to another glazier who was not so busy with his lying as to prevent him from attending to the duties of his legitimate trade. This served as a mild remedy, for the window frames presently began to arrive one at a time, and I actually felt like calling upon our pastor for a special service of praise and thanksgiving when finally those windows were all in place.

The one thing that Alice, the neighbors, Uncle Si, and I were amicably agreed upon was the opinion that Mr. Krome, for a boss painter, was not worth the powder to blow him off the face of the earth. I felt tempted to tell him so, but he was at all times so amiable and so chatty that I really could not find the heart to mention a matter likely to interrupt the flow of his good nature. The chances are that Mr. Krome entertained much the same opinion of Uncle Si that Uncle Si had of Mr. Krome. My somewhat intimate association with workingmen for the last three months enables me to say that, so far as I have been able to observe, workingmen often have a precious poor opinion of one another. The plumbers talk of the carpenters as lazy and shiftless, the painters speak ill of the plumbers, the carpenters regard the tinners with derision, and so it goes through the whole category.

Now that I come to think of it, I am compelled to admit that this practice of setting a low estimate upon the endeavors and responsibilities of others is not restricted to the workingman's class. I blush to recall how often I myself have envied the apparent ease with which Belville Rock and Bobbett Doller stem the tide of human affairs while I labor on and on, barely eking out a subsistence. So far as I can see, they toil not, neither do they spin.

The chances are, on the other hand, that both Belville Rock and Colonel Doller regard me as the luckiest of lazy dogs, who has but to lie on his back and look at sun, moon, and stars to earn both fame and fortune. The farmer's candid conviction is that the city man is a fellow who does nothing and gets rich at it; the urban resident is quite as positive that the farmer habitually loafs around and lets God do the rest. The truth of this whole matter is that all humanity is prone to discontentment of that kind which not only denies happiness to oneself but also begrudges others the happiness they achieve.

But of this frailty I shall speak no further; indeed, I do not understand how I happened to be led into this line of discourse, for it is quite at a tangent with the subject I had in mind--namely, the butler's pantry.

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