Euphemia and I once wrote a book,—this was just before we were married,—in which we told young married people how to go to housekeeping and how much it would cost them. We knew all about it, for we had asked several people. Now the prices demanded as yearly rental for small furnished houses, by the owners and agents of whom I have been speaking, were, in many cases, more than we had stated a house could be bought and furnished for!
There was one man who offered us a house that almost suited us. It was near the water, had rooms enough, and some—but not very much—ground, and was very accessible to the city. The rent, too, was quite reasonable. But the house was unfurnished. The agent, however, did not think that this would present any obstacle to our taking it. He was sure that the owner would furnish it if we paid him ten per cent, on the value of the furniture he put into it. We agreed that if the landlord would do this and let us furnish the house according to the plans laid down in our book, that we would take the house. But unfortunately this arrangement did not suit the landlord, although he was in the habit of furnishing houses for tenants and charging them ten per cent. on the cost.
I saw him myself and talked to him about it.
“But you see,” said he, when I had shown him our list of articles necessary for the furnishing of a house, “it would not pay me to buy all these things, and rent them out to you. If you only wanted heavy furniture, which would last for years, the plan would answer, but you want everything. I believe the small conveniences you have on this list come to more money than the furniture and carpets.”
“Oh, yes,” said I. “We are not so very particular about furniture and carpets, but these little conveniences are the things that make housekeeping pleasant, and,—speaking from a common-sense point of view,—profitable.”
“That may be,” he answered, “but I can’t afford to make matters pleasant and profitable for you in that way. Now, then, let us look at one or two particulars. Here, on your list, is an ice-pick: twenty-five cents. Now, if I buy that ice-pick and rent it to you at two and a-half cents a year, I shall not get my money back unless it lasts you ten years. And even then, as it is not probable that I can sell that ice-pick after you have used it for ten years, I shall have made nothing at all by my bargain. And there are other things in that list, such as feather-dusters and lamp-chimneys, that couldn’t possibly last ten years. Don’t you see my position?”
I saw it. We did not get that furnished house. Euphemia was greatly disappointed.
“It would have been just splendid,” she said, “to have taken our book and have ordered all these things at the stores, one after another, without even being obliged to ask the price.”
I had my private doubts in regard to this matter of price. I am afraid that Euphemia generally set down the lowest price and the best things. She did not mean to mislead, and her plan certainly made our book attractive. But it did not work very well in practice. We have a friend who undertook to furnish her house by our book, and she never could get the things as cheaply as we had them quoted.
“But you see,” said Euphemia, to her, “we had to put them down at very low prices, because the model house we speak of in the book is to be entirely furnished for just so much.”
But, in spite of this explanation, the lady was not satisfied.
We found ourselves obliged to give up the idea of a furnished house. We would have taken an unfurnished one and furnished it ourselves, but we had not money enough. We were dreadfully afraid that we should have to continue to board.
It was now getting on toward summer, at least there was only a part of a month of spring left, and whenever I could get off from my business Euphemia and I made little excursions into the country round about the city. One afternoon we went up the river, and there we saw a sight that transfixed us, as it were. On the bank, a mile or so above the city, stood a canal-boat. I say stood, because it was so firmly imbedded in the ground by the river-side, that it would have been almost as impossible to move it as to have turned the Sphinx around. This boat we soon found was inhabited by an oyster-man and his family. They had lived there for many years and were really doing quite well. The boat was divided, inside, into rooms, and these were papered and painted and nicely furnished. There was a kitchen, a living-room, a parlor and bedrooms. There were all sorts of conveniences—carpets on the floors, pictures, and everything, at least so it seemed to us, to make a home comfortable. This was not all done at once, the oyster-man told me. They had lived there for years and had gradually added this and that until the place was as we saw it. He had an oyster-bed out in the river and he made cider in the winter, but where he got the apples I don’t know. There was really no reason why he should not get rich in time.
Well, we went all over that house and we praised everything so much that the oyster-man’s wife was delighted, and when we had some stewed oysters afterward,—eating them at a little table under a tree near by,—I believe that she picked out the very largest oysters she had, to stew for us. When we had finished our supper and had paid for it, and were going down to take our little boat again,—for we had rowed up the river,—Euphemia stopped and looked around her. Then she clasped her hands and exclaimed in an ecstatic undertone:
“We must have a canal-boat!”
And she never swerved from that determination.
After I had seriously thought over the matter, I could see no good reason against adopting this plan. It would certainly be a cheap method of living, and it would really be housekeeping. I grew more and more in favor of it. After what the oyster-man had done, what might not we do? HE had never written a book on housekeeping, nor, in all probability, had he considered the matter, philosophically, for one moment in all his life.
But it was not an easy thing to find a canal-boat. There were none advertised for rent—at least, not for housekeeping purposes.
We made many inquiries and took many a long walk along the water-courses in the vicinity of the city, but all in vain. Of course, we talked a great deal about our project and our friends became greatly interested in it, and, of course, too, they gave us a great deal of advice, but we didn’t mind that. We were philosophical enough to know that you can’t have shad without bones. They were good friends and, by being careful in regard to the advice, it didn’t interfere with our comfort.
We were beginning to be discouraged, at least Euphemia was. Her discouragement is like water-cresses, it generally comes up in a very short time after she sows her wishes. But then it withers away rapidly, which is a comfort. One evening we were sitting, rather disconsolately, in our room, and I was reading out the advertisements of country board in a newspaper, when in rushed Dr. Heare—one of our old friends. He was so full of something that he had to say that he didn’t even ask us how we were. In fact, he didn’t appear to want to know.
“I tell you what it is,” said he, “I have found just the very thing you want.”
“A canal-boat?” I cried.
“Yes,” said he, “a canal-boat.”
“Furnished?” asked Euphemia, her eyes glistening.
“Well, no,” answered the doctor, “I don’t think you could expect that.”
“But we can’t live on the bare floor,” said Euphemia; “our house MUST be furnished.”
“Well, then, I suppose this won’t do,” said the doctor, ruefully, “for there isn’t so much as a boot-jack in it. It has most things that are necessary for a boat, but it hasn’t anything that you could call house-furniture; but, dear me, I should think you could furnish it very cheaply and comfortably out of your book.”
“Very true,” said Euphemia, “if we could pick out the cheapest things and then get some folks to buy a lot of the books.”
“We could begin with very little,” said I, trying hard to keep calm.
“Certainly,” said the doctor, “you need make no more rooms, at first, than you could furnish.”
“Then there are no rooms,” said Euphemia.
“No, there is nothing but one vast apartment extending from stem to stern.”
“Won’t it be glorious!” said Euphemia to me. “We can first make a kitchen, and then a dining-room, and a bedroom, and then a parlor—just in the order in which our book says they ought to be furnished.”
“Glorious!” I cried, no longer able to contain my enthusiasm; “I should think so. Doctor, where is this canal-boat?”
The doctor then went into a detailed statement. The boat was stranded on the shore of the Scoldsbury river not far below Ginx’s. We knew where Ginx’s was, because we had spent a very happy day there, during our honeymoon.
The boat was a good one, but superannuated. That, however, did not interfere with its usefulness as a dwelling. We could get it—the doctor had seen the owner—for a small sum per annum, and here was positively no end to its capabilities.
We sat up until twenty minutes past two, talking about that house. We ceased to call it a boat at about a quarter of eleven.
The next day I “took” the boat and paid a month’s rent in advance. Three days afterward we moved into it.
We had not much to move, which was a comfort, looking at it from one point of view. A carpenter had put up two partitions in it which made three rooms—a kitchen, a dining-room and a very long bedroom, which was to be cut up into a parlor, study, spare-room, etc., as soon as circumstances should allow, or my salary should be raised. Originally, all the doors and windows were in the roof, so to speak, but our landlord allowed us to make as many windows to the side of the boat as we pleased, provided we gave him the wood we cut out. It saved him trouble, he said, but I did not understand him at the time. Accordingly, the carpenter made several windows for us, and put in sashes, which opened on hinges like the hasp of a trunk. Our furniture did not amount to much, at first. The very thought of living in this independent, romantic way was so delightful, Euphemia said, that furniture seemed a mere secondary matter.
We were obliged indeed to give up the idea of following the plan detailed in our book, because we hadn’t the sum upon which the furnishing of a small house was therein based.
“And if we haven’t the money,” remarked Euphemia, “it would be of no earthly use to look at the book. It would only make us doubt our own calculations. You might as well try to make brick without mortar, as the children of Israel did.”