It is a hat very unlike the hats she used to wear on her Sundays out—a flourishing hat, with feathers and a buckle and bows and things. The price of that hat would take many people’s breath away—it cost two guineas! Kipps chose it. Kipps paid for it. They left the shop with flushed cheeks and smarting eyes, glad to be out of range of the condescending sales-woman.
‘Artie,’ said Ann, ‘you didn’t ought to ’ave—’
That was all. And, you know, the hat didn’t suit Ann a bit. Her clothes did not suit her at all. The simple, cheap, clean brightness of her former style had given place not only to this hat, but to several other things in the same key. And out from among these things looked her pretty face, the face of a wise little child—an artless wonder struggling through a preposterous dignity.
They had bought that hat one day when they had gone to see the shops in Bond Street. Kipps had looked at the passers-by, and it had suddenly occurred to him that Ann was dowdy. He had noted the hat of a very proud-looking lady passing in an electric brougham, and had resolved to get Ann the nearest thing to that.
The railway porters perceived some subtle incongruity in Ann, so did the knot of cabmen in the station doorway, the two golfers, and the lady with daughters, who had also got out of the train. And Kipps, a little pale, blowing a little, not in complete possession of himself, knew that they noticed her and him. And Ann—It is hard to say just what Ann observed of these things.
‘’Ere!’ said Kipps to a cabman, and regretted too late a vanished ‘H.’
‘I got a trunk up there,’ he said to a ticket-inspector, ‘marked A.K.’
‘Ask a porter,’ said the inspector, turning his back.
‘Demn!’ said Kipps, not altogether inaudibly.
It is all very well to sit in the sunshine and talk of the house you will have, and another altogether to achieve it. We English—all the world, indeed, to-day—live in a strange atmosphere of neglected great issues, of insistent, triumphant petty things; we are given up to the fine littlenesses of intercourse; table manners and small correctitudes are the substance of our lives. You do not escape these things for long, even by so catastrophic a proceeding as flying to London with a young lady of no wealth and inferior social position. The mists of noble emotion swirl and pass, and there you are, divorced from all your deities, and grazing in the meadows under the Argus eyes of the social system, the innumerable mean judgments you feel raining upon you, upon your clothes and bearing, upon your pretensions and movements.
Our world to-day is a meanly conceived one—it is only an added meanness to conceal that fact. For one consequence, it has very few nice little houses. Such things do not come for the asking; they are not to be bought with money during ignoble times. Its houses are built on the ground of monstrously rich, shabbily extortionate land-owners, by poor, parsimonious, greedy people in a mood of elbowing competition. What can you expect from such ridiculous conditions? To go house-hunting is to spy out the nakedness of this pretentious world, to see what our civilisation amounts to when you take away curtains and flounces and carpets, and all the fluster and distraction of people and fittings. It is to see mean plans meanly executed for mean ends, the conventions torn aside, the secrets stripped, the substance underlying all such Chester Cootery, soiled and worn and left.
So you see our poor dear Kippses going to and fro, in Hythe, in Sandgate, in Ashford, and Canterbury and Deal and Dover—at last even in Folkestone—with ‘orders to view,’ pink and green and white and yellow orders to view, and labelled keys in Kipps’ hand, and frowns and perplexity upon their faces . . .
They did not clearly know what they wanted, but whatever it was they saw, they knew they did not want that. Always they found a confusing multitude of houses they could not take, and none they could. Their dreams began to turn mainly on empty, abandoned-looking rooms, with unfaded patches of paper to mark the place of vanished pictures, and doors that had lost their keys. They saw rooms floored with boards that yawned apart and were splintered, skirtings eloquent of the industrious mouse, kitchens with a dead black-beetle in the empty cupboard, and a hideous variety of coal-holes and dark cupboards under the stairs. They stuck their little heads through roof trapdoors, and gazed at disorganised ball-taps, at the black filthiness of unstopped roofs. There were occasions when it seemed to them that they must be the victims of an elaborate conspiracy of house agents, so bleak and cheerless is a second-hand empty house in comparison with the humblest of inhabited dwellings.
Commonly the houses were too big. They had huge windows that demanded vast curtains in mitigation, countless bedrooms, acreage of stone steps to be cleaned, kitchens that made Ann protest. She had come so far towards a proper conception of Kipps’ social position as to admit the prospect of one servant. ‘But lor!’ she would say, ‘you’d want a man-servant in this house.’ When the houses were not too big, then they were almost always the product of speculative building, of that multitudinous, hasty building for the extravagant swarm of new births that was the essential disaster of the nineteenth century. The new houses Ann refused as damp, and even the youngest of those that had been in use showed remarkable signs of a sickly constitution—the plaster flaked away, the floors gaped, the paper moulded and peeled, the doors dropped, the bricks were scaled, and the railings rusted; Nature, in the form of spiders, earwigs, cockroaches, mice, rats, fungi, and remarkable smells, was already fighting her way back . . .
And the plan was invariably inconvenient, invariably. All the houses they saw had a common quality for which she could find no word, but for which the proper word is ‘incivility.’ ‘They build these ’ouses,’ she said, ‘as though girls wasn’t ’uman beings.’ Sid’s social democracy had got into her blood, perhaps, and, anyhow, they went about discovering the most remarkable inconsiderateness in the contemporary house.
‘There’s kitching stairs to go up, Artie!’ Ann would say. ‘Some poor girl’s got to go up and down, up and down, and be tired out, jest because they haven’t the sense to leave enough space to give their steps a proper rise- and no water upstairs anywhere—every drop got to be carried! It’s ’ouses like this wear girls out.
‘It’s ’aving ’ouses built by men, I believe, makes all the work and trouble,’ said Ann . . .
The Kippses, you see, thought they were looking for a reasonably simple little contemporary house; but indeed they were looking either for dreamland or A.D. 1975, or thereabouts, and it hadn’t come.
But it was a foolish thing of Kipps to begin building a house.
He did that out of an extraordinary animosity for house-agents he had conceived.
Everybody hates house-agents, just as everybody loves sailors. It is, no doubt, a very wicked and unjust hatred, but the business of a novelist is not ethical principle, but facts. Everybody hates house-agents because they have everybody at a disadvantage. All other callings have a certain amount of give and take, the house-agent simply takes. All other callings want you; your solicitor is afraid you may change him, your doctor cannot go too far, your novelist—if only you knew it—is mutely abject towards your unspoken wishes; and as for your tradespeople, milkmen will fight outside your front door for you, and greengrocers call in tears if you discard them suddenly; but who ever heard of a house-agent struggling to serve any one? You want a house; you go to him; you, dishevelled and angry from travel, anxious, inquiring; he calm, clean, inactive, reticent, quietly doing nothing. You beg him to reduce rents, whitewash ceilings, produce other houses, combine the summer-house of No. 6 with the conservatory of No. 4—much he cares! You want to dispose of a house; then he is just the same—serene, indifferent. On one occasion I remember he was picking his teeth all the time he answered me. Competition is a mockery among house-agents; they are all alike; you cannot wound them by going to the opposite office, you cannot dismiss them, you can at most dismiss yourself. They are invulnerably placed behind mahogany and brass, too far usually even for a sudden swift lunge with an umbrella; to throw away the keys they lend you instead of returning them is larceny, and punishable as such . . .
It was a house-agent in Dover who finally decided Kipps to build. Kipps, with a certain faltering in his voice, had delivered his ultimatum—no basement, not more than eight rooms, hot and cold water upstairs, coal-cellar in the house, but with intervening doors to keep dust from the scullery and so forth. He stood blowing. ‘You’ll have to build a house,’ said the house-agent, sighing wearily, ‘if you want all that.’ It was rather for the sake of effective answer than with any intention at the time that Kipps mumbled, ‘That’s about what I shall do if this goes on.’
Whereupon the house-agent smiled. He smiled!
When Kipps came to turn the thing over his mind, he was surprised to find quite a considerable intention had germinated and was growing up in him. After all, lots of people have built houses. How could there be so many if they hadn’t? Suppose he ‘reely’ did! Then he would go to the house-agent and say, ‘’Ere, while you been getting me a sootable ’ouse, blowed if I ’aven’t built one!’ Go round to all of them—all the house-agents in Folkestone, in Dover, Ashford, Canterbury, Margate, Ramsgate, saying that—! Perhaps then they might be sorry.
It was in the small hours that he awoke to a realisation that he had made up his mind in the matter.
‘Ann,’ he said, ‘Ann’, and also used the sharp of his elbow.
Ann was at last awakened to the pitch of an indistinct inquiry what was the matter.
‘I’m going to build a house, Ann.’
‘Eh?’ said Ann, suddenly as if awake.
‘Build a house.’
Ann said something incoherent about he’d better wait until the morning before he did anything of the sort, and immediately, with a fine trustfulness, went fast asleep again.
But Kipps lay awake for a long while building his house, and in the morning at breakfast he made his meaning clear. He had smarted under the indignities of house-agents long enough, and this seemed to promise revenge—a fine revenge. ‘And, you know, we might reely make rather a nice little ’ouse out of it—like we want.’
So resolved, it became possible for them to take a house for a year, with a basement, no service lift, blackleading to do everywhere, no water upstairs, no bathroom, vast sash windows to be cleaned from the sill, stone steps with a twist and open to the rain into the coal-cellar, insufficient cupboards, unpaved path to the dustbin, no fireplace to the servant’s bedroom, no end of splintery wood to scrub—in fact, a very typical English middle-class house. And having added to this house some furniture, and a languid young person with unauthentic golden hair named Gwendolen, who was engaged to a sergeant-major and had formerly been in an hotel, having ‘moved in’ and spent some sleepless nights, varied by nocturnal explorations in search of burglars, because of the strangeness of being in a house for which they were personally responsible, Kipps settled down for a time and turned himself with considerable resolution to the project of building a home.
At first Kipps gathered advice, finding an initial difficulty in how to begin. He went into a builder’s shop at Seabrook one day and told the lady in charge that he wanted a house built. He was breathless, but quite determined, and he was prepared to give his order there and then; but she temporised with him, and said her husband was out, and he left without giving his name. Also he went and talked to a man in a cart, who was pointed out to him by a workman as the builder of a new house near Saltwood, but he found him first sceptical and then overpoweringly sarcastic. ‘I suppose you build a ’ouse every ’oliday,’ he said, and turned from Kipps with every symptom of contempt.
Afterwards Carshot told alarming stories about builders and shook Kipps’ expressed resolution a good deal, and then Pearce raised the question whether one ought to go in the first instance to a builder at all, and not rather to an architect. Pearce knew a man at Ashford whose brother was an architect, and as it is always better in these matters to get some one you know, the Kippses decided, before Pearce had gone, and Carshot’s warnings had resumed their sway, to apply to him. They did so—rather dubiously.
The architect, who was brother of Pearce’s friend, appeared as a small, alert individual with a black bag and a cylindrical silk hat, and he sat at the dining-room table, with his hat and his bag exactly equidistant right and left of him, and maintained a demeanour of impressive woodenness, while Kipps, on the hearthrug, with a quaking sense of gigantic enterprise, vacillated answers to his inquiries. Ann held a watching brief for herself, in a position she had chosen as suitable to the occasion, beside the corner of the carved oak sideboard. They felt, in a sense, at bay.
The architect began by asking for the site, and seemed a little discomposed to discover this had still to be found. ‘I thought of building just anywhere,’ said Kipps. ‘I ’aven’t made up my mind about that yet.’
The architect remarked that he would have preferred to see the site in order to know where to put what he called his ’ugly side,’ but it was quite possible, of course, to plan a house ‘in the air,’ on the level, ‘simply with back and front assumed’—if they would like to do that. Kipps flushed slightly, and secretly hoping it would make no great difference in the fees, said a little doubtfully that he thought that would be all right.
The architect then marked off, as it were, the first section of his subject, with a single dry cough, opened his bag, took out a spring tape measure, some hard biscuits, a metal flask, a new pair of dogskin gloves, a clockwork motor-car partially wrapped in paper, a bunch of violets, a paper of small brass screws, and, finally, a large distended notebook; he replaced the other objects carefully, opened his notebook, put a pencil to his lips and said, ‘And what accommodation will you require?’ To which Ann, who had followed his every movement with the closest attention and a deepening dread, replied with the violent suddenness of one who has lain in wait, ‘Cubbuds!’
‘Anyhow,’ she added, catching her husband’s eye.
The architect wrote it down.
‘And how many rooms?’ he said, coming to secondary matters.
The young people regarded one another. It was dreadfully like giving an order.
‘How many bedrooms, for example?’ asked the architect.
‘One?’ suggested Kipps, inclined now to minimise at any cost.
‘There’s Gwendolen!’ said Ann.
‘Visitors, perhaps,’ said the architect; and temperately, ‘You never know.’
‘Two, p’r’aps?’ said Kipps. ‘We don’t want no more than a little ’ouse, you know.’
‘But the merest shooting-box—’ said the architect . . .
They got to six, he beat them steadily from bedroom to bedroom, the word ‘nursery’ played across their imaginative skies—he mentioned it as the remotest possibility—and then six being reluctantly conceded, Ann came forward to the table, sat down, and delivered herself of one of her prepared conditions. ‘’Ot and cold water,’ she said, ‘laid on to each room—any’ow.’
It was an idea long since acquired from Sid.
‘Yes,’ said Kipps, on the hearthrug, ‘’ot and cold water laid on to each bedroom—we’ve settled on that.’
It was the first intimation to the architect that he had to deal with a couple of exceptional originality, and as he had spent the previous afternoon in finding three large houses in The Builder, which he intended to combine into an original and copyright design of his own, he naturally struggled against these novel requirements. He enlarged on the extreme expensiveness of plumbing, on the extreme expensiveness of everything not already arranged for in his scheme, and only when Ann declared she’d as soon not have the house as not have her requirements, and Kipps, blenching the while, had said he didn’t mind what a thing cost him so long as he got what he wanted, did he allow a kindred originality of his own to appear beneath the acquired professionalism of his methods. He dismissed their previous talk with his paragraphic cough. ‘Of course,’ he said, ‘if you don’t mind being unconventional—’
He explained that he had been thinking of a Queen Anne style of architecture (Ann, directly she heard her name, shook her head at Kipps in an aside) so far as the exterior went. For his own part, he said, he liked to have the exterior of a house in a style, not priggishly in a style, but mixed, with one style uppermost, and the gables and dormers and casements of the Queen Anne style, with a little roughcast and sham timbering here and there, and perhaps a bit of an overhang, diversified a house and made it interesting. The advantages of what he called a Queen Anne style was that it had such a variety of features . . . Still, if they were prepared to be unconventional it could be done. A number of houses were now built in the unconventional style, and were often very pretty. In the unconventional style one frequently had what perhaps he might call Internal Features—for example, an old English oak staircase and gallery. White roughcast and green paint were a good deal favoured in houses of this type.
He indicated that this excursus on style was finished by a momentary use of his cough, and reopened his notebook, which he had closed to wave about in a moment of descriptive enthusiasm while expatiating on the unbridled wealth of External Features associated with Queen Anne. ‘Six bedrooms,’ he said, moistening his pencil. ‘One with barred windows, suitable for a nursery if required.’
Kipps endorsed this huskily and reluctantly.
There followed a most interesting discussion upon housebuilding, in which Kipps played a minor part. They passed from bedrooms to the kitchen and scullery, and there Ann displayed an intelligent exactingness that won the expressed admiration of the architect. They were particularly novel upon the position of the coal-cellar, which Ann held to be altogether too low in the ordinary house, necessitating much heavy carrying. They dismissed as impracticable the idea of having coal-cellar and kitchen at the top of the house, because that would involve carrying all the coal through the house, and therewith much subsequent cleaning, and for a time they dealt with a conception of a coal-cellar on the ground floor with a light staircase running up outside to an exterior shoot. ‘It might be made a Feature,’ said the architect a little doubtfully, jotting down a note of it. ‘It would be apt to get black, you know.’
Thence they passed to the alternative of service lifts, and then, by an inspiration of the architect’s, to the possibilities of gas-heating. Kipps did a complicated verbal fugue on the theme, ‘gas-heating heats the air,’ with variable aspirates; he became very red, and was lost to the discussion altogether for a time, though his lips kept silently moving.
Subsequently the architect wrote to say that he found in his notebook very full and explicit directions for bow windows to all rooms, for bedrooms, for water supply, lift, height of stairs and absence of twists therein, for a well-ventilated kitchen twenty feet square, with two dressers and a large box window seat, for scullery and out-houses and offices, but nothing whatever about drawing room, dining-room, library, or study, or approximate cost, and he awaited further instructions. He presumed there would be a breakfast-room, dining-room, drawing-room, and study for Mr. Kipps—at least that was his conception—and the young couple discussed this matter long and ardently.
Ann was distinctly restrictive in this direction. ‘I don’t see what you want a drawin’-room and a dinin’ and a kitchen for. If we was going to let in summer—well and good. But we’re not going to let. Consequently we don’t want so many rooms. Then there’s a ’all. What use is a ’all? It only makes work. And a study!’
Kipps had been humming and stroking his moustache since he had read the architect’s letter. ‘I think I’d like a little bit of a study—not a big one, of course, but one with a desk and bookshelves, like there was in Hughenden. I’d like that.’
It was only after they had talked to the architect again and seen how scandalised he was at the idea of not having a drawing-room, that they consented to that Internal Feature. They consented to please him. ‘But we shan’t never use it,’ said Ann.
Kipps had his way about a study. ‘When I get that study,’ said Kipps, ‘I shall do a bit of reading I’ve long wanted to do. I shall make a habit of going in there and reading something an hour every day. There’s Shakespeare and a lot of things a man like me ought to read. Besides, we got to ’ave somewhere to put the Encyclopaedia. I’ve always thought a study was about what I’ve wanted all along. You can’t ’elp reading if you got a study. If you ’aven’t, there’s nothing for it, so far’s I can see, but treshy novels.’
He looked down at Ann, and was surprised to see a joyless thoughtfulness upon her face.
‘Fency, Ann!’ he said not too buoyantly, ‘’aving a little ’ouse of our own!’
‘It won’t be a little ’ouse,’ said Ann, ‘not with all them rooms.’
Any lingering doubt in that matter was dispelled when it came to plans.
The architect drew three sets of plans on a transparent bluish sort of paper that smelt abominably. He painted them very nicely; brick-red and ginger, and arsenic green and a leaden sort of blue, and brought them over to show our young people. The first set were very simple, with practically no External Features—‘a plain style,’ he said it was—but it looked a big sort of house, nevertheless; the second had such extras as a conservatory, bow windows of various sorts, one roughcast gable and one half-timbered ditto in plaster, and a sort of overhung veranda, and was much more imposing; and the third was quite fungoid with External Features, and honeycombed with Internal ones; it was, he said, ‘practically a mansion,’ and altogether a very noble fruit of the creative mind of man. It was, he admitted, perhaps almost too good for Hythe; his art had run away with him and produced a modern mansion in the ‘best Folkestone style’; it had a central hall with a staircase, a Moorish gallery, and a Tudor stained-glass window, crenelated battlements to the leading over the portico, an octagonal bulge with octagonal bay windows, surmounted by an Oriental dome of metal, lines of yellow bricks to break up the red, and many other richnesses and attractions. It was the sort of house, ornate and in its dignified way voluptuous, that a city magnate might build, but it seemed excessive to the Kippses. The first plan had seven bedrooms, the second eight, the third eleven; they had, the architect explained, ‘worked in’ as if they were pebbles in a mountaineer’s boot.
‘They’re big ’ouses,’ said Ann, directly the elevations were unrolled.
Kipps listened to the architect, with round eyes and an exuberant caution in his manner, anxious not to commit himself further than he had done to the enterprise, and the architect pointed out the Features and other objects of interest with the scalpel belonging to a pocket manicure set that he carried. Ann watched Kipps’ face, and communicated with him furtively over the architect’s head. ‘Not so big,’ said Ann’s lips.
‘It’s a bit big for what I meant,’ said Kipps, with a reassuring eye on Ann.
‘You won’t think it big when you see it up,’ said the architect; ‘you take my word for that.’
‘We don’t want no more than six bedrooms,’ said Kipps.
‘Make this one a box-room, then,’ said the architect.
A feeling of impotence silenced Kipps for a time.
‘Now which,’ said the architect, spreading them out, ‘is it to be?’
He flattened down the plans of the most ornate mansion to show it to better effect.
Kipps wanted to know how much each would cost ‘at the outside,’ which led to much alarmed signalling from Ann. But the architect could estimate only in the most general way.
They were not really committed to anything when the architect went away; Kipps had promised to think it over—that was all.
‘We can’t ’ave that ’ouse,’ said Ann.
‘They’re miles too big—all of them,’ agreed Kipps.
‘You’d want—Four servants wouldn’t be ’ardly enough,’ said Ann.
Kipps went to the hearthrug and spread himself. His tone was almost off-hand. ‘Nex’ time ’e comes,’ said Kipps, ‘I’ll s’plain to him. It isn’t at all the sort of thing we want. It’s—it’s a misunderstanding. You got no occasion to be anxious ’bout it, Ann.’
‘I don’t see much good reely in building an ’ouse at all,’ said Ann.
‘Oo, we got to build a ’ouse now we begun,’ said Kipps. ‘But now supposin’ we ’ad—’
He spread out the most modest of the three plans and scratched his cheek.
It was unfortunate that old Kipps came over the next day.
Old Kipps always produced peculiar states of mind in his nephew—a rash assertiveness, a disposition towards display unlike his usual self. There had been great difficulty in reconciling both these old people to the Pornick mésalliance, and at times the controversy echoed in old Kipps’ expressed thoughts. This, perhaps, it was, and no ignoble vanity, that set the note of florid successfulness going in Kipps’ conversation whenever his uncle appeared. Mrs. Kipps was, as a matter of fact, not reconciled at all; she had declined all invitations to come over on the bus, and was a taciturn hostess on the one occasion when the young people called at the toy-shop en route for Mrs. Pornick. She displayed a tendency to sniff that was clearly due to pride rather than catarrh, and, except for telling Ann she hoped she would not feel too ‘stuck up’ about her marriage, confined her conversation to her nephew or the infinite. The call was a brief one, and made up chiefly of pauses, no refreshment was offered or asked for, and Ann departed with a singularly high colour. For some reason she would not call at the toy-shop a second time when they found themselves again in New Romney.
But old Kipps, having adventured over and tried the table of the new ménage and found it to his taste, showed many signs of softening towards Ann. He came again, and then again. He would come over by the bus, and, except when his mouth was absolutely full, he would give his nephew one solid and continuous mass of advice of the most subtle and disturbing description until it was time to toddle back to the High Street for the afternoon bus. He would walk with him to the sea front, and commence pourparlers with boatmen for the purchase of one of their boats—‘You ought to keep a boat of your own,’ he said—though Kipps was a singularly poor sailor—or he would pursue a plan that was forming in his mind in which he should own and manage what he called ‘weekly’ property in the less conspicuous streets of Hythe. The cream of that was to be a weekly collection of rents in person, the nearest approach to feudal splendour left in this democratised country. He gave no hint of the source of the capital he designed for this investment, and at times it would appear he intended it as an occupation for his nephew rather than himself.
But there remained something in his manner towards Ann—in the glances of scrutiny he gave her unawares, that kept Kipps alertly expansive whenever he was about; and in all sorts of ways. It was on account of old Kipps, for example, that our Kipps plunged one day—a golden plunge—and brought home a box of cummerbundy ninepenny cigars, and substituted blue label old Methuselah Four Stars for the common and generally satisfactory white brand.
‘Some of this is whisky, my boy,’ said old Kipps, when he tasted it, smacking critical lips . . .
‘Saw a lot of young officery fellers coming along,’ said old Kipps. ‘You ought to join the volunteers, my boy, and get to know a few.’
‘I dessay I shall,’ said Kipps. ‘Later.’
‘They’d make you an officer, you know, ’n no time. They want officers,’ said old Kipps. ‘It isn’t every one can afford it. They’d be regular glad to ’ave you . . . Ain’t bort a dog yet?’
‘Not yet, Uncle. ’Ave a segar?’
‘Nor a moty car?’
‘Not yet, Uncle.’
‘There’s no ’urry about that. End don’t get one of these ’ere trashy cheap ones when you do get it, my boy. Get one as’ll last a lifetime . . . I’m surprised you don’t ’ire a bit more.’
‘Ann don’t seem to fency a moty car,’ said Kipps.
‘Ah,’ said old Kipps, ‘I expect not,’ and glanced a comment at the door. ‘She ain’t used to going out,’ he said. ‘More at ’ome indoors.’
‘Fact is,’ said Kipps hastily, ‘we’re thinking of building a ’ouse.’
‘I wouldn’t do that, my boy,’ began old Kipps; but his nephew was routing in the chiffonier drawer amidst the plans. He got them in time to check some further comment on Ann. ‘Um,’ said the old gentleman, a little impressed by the extraordinary odour and the unusual transparency of the tracing-paper Kipps put into his hands. ‘Thinking of building a ’ouse, are you?’
Kipps began with the most modest of the three projects. Old Kipps read slowly through his silver-rimmed spectacles, ‘Plan a ’ouse for Arthur Kipps, Esquire. Um.—
He didn’t warm to the project all at once, and Ann drifted into the room to find him still scrutinising the architect’s proposals a little doubtfully.
‘We couldn’t find a decent ’ouse anywhere,’ said Kipps, leaning against the table and assuming an off-hand note.
‘I didn’t see why we shouldn’t run up one for ourselves.’ Old Kipps could not help liking the tone of that.
‘We thought we might see—’ said Ann.
‘It’s a spekerlation, of course,’ said old Kipps, and held the plan at a distance of two feet or more from his glasses and frowned. ‘This isn’t exactly the ’ouse I should expect you to ’ave thought of though,’ he said, ‘Practically, it’s a villa. It’s the sort of ’ouse a bank clerk might ’ave. T’isn’t what I should call a gentleman’s ’ouse, Artie.’
‘It’s plain, of course,’ said Kipps, standing beside his uncle and looking down at this plan, which certainly did seem a little less magnificent now than it had at the first encounter. ‘You mustn’t ’ave it too plain,’ said old Kipps.
‘If it’s comfortable—’ Ann hazarded.
Old Kipps glanced at her over his spectacles. ‘You ain’t comfortable, my gel, in this world, not if you don’t live up to your position’—so putting compactly into contemporary English that fine old phrase noblesse oblige.
‘A ’ouse of this sort is what a retired tradesman might ’ave, or some little whipper-snapper of a s’licitor. But you—’
‘Course that isn’t the on’y plan,’ said Kipps, and tried the middle one.
But it was the third one won over old Kipps. ‘Now, that’s a ’ouse, my boy,’ he said at the sight of it. Ann came and stood just behind her husband’s shoulder, while old Kipps expanded upon the desirability of the larger scheme. ‘You ought to ’ave a billiard-room,’ he said; ‘I don’t see that, but all the rest’s about right! A lot of these ’ere officers ’ere ’ud be glad of a game of billiards . . .
‘What’s all these pots? said old Kipps.
‘S’rubbery,’ said Kipps. ‘Flow’ing s’rubs.’
‘There’s eleven bedrooms in that ’ouse,’ said Ann. ‘It’s a bit of a lot, ain’t it, Uncle?’
‘You’ll want ’em, my girl. As you get on you’ll be ’aving visitors. Friends of your ’usband’s, p’r’aps, from the School of Musketry—what you want ’im to get on with. You can’t never tell.’
‘If we ’ave a great s’rubbery,’ Ann ventured, ‘we shall ’ave to keep a gardener.’
‘If you don’t ’ave a s’rubbery,’ said old Kipps, with a note of patient reasoning, ‘’ow are you to prevent every jackanapes that goes by starin’ into your drorin’-room winder—p’r’aps when you get some one a bit special to entertain?’
‘We ain’t used to a s’rubbery,’ said Ann, mulishly; ‘we get on very well ’ere.’
‘It isn’t what you’re used to,’ said old Kipps, ‘it’s what you ought to ’ave now.’ And with that Ann dropped out of the discussion.
‘Study and lib’ry,’ old Kipps read. ‘That’s right. I see a Tantalus the other day over Brookland, the very thing for a gentleman’s study. I’ll try and get over and bid for it . . . ’
By bus time old Kipps was quite enthusiastic about the house-building, and it seemed to be definitely settled that the largest plan was the one decided upon.
But Ann had said nothing further in the matter.
When Kipps returned from seeing his uncle into the bus—there always seemed a certain doubt whether that portly figure would go into the little red ‘Tip-top’ box—he found Ann still standing by the table, looking with an expression of comprehensive disapproval at the three plans.
‘There don’t seem much the matter with Uncle,’ said Kipps, assuming the hearthrug, ‘’spite of ’is ’eartburn. ’E ’opped up them steps like a bird.’
Ann remained staring at the plans.
‘You don’t like them plans?’ hazarded Kipps.
‘No; I don’t, Artie.’
‘We got to build somethin’ now.’
‘But—It’s a gentleman’s ’ouse, Artie!’
‘It’s—it’s a decent size, o’ course.’
Kipps took a flirting look at the drawing and went to the window.
‘Look at the cleanin’. Free servants’ll be lost in that ’ouse, Artie.’
‘We must ’ave servants,’ said Kipps.
Ann looked despondently at her future residence.
‘We got to keep up our position any’ow,’ said Kipps, turning towards her. ‘It stands to reason, Ann, we got a position. Very well! I can’t ’ave you scrubbin’ floors. You got to ’ave a servant, and you got to manage a ’ouse. You wouldn’t ’ave me ashamed—’
Ann opened her lips and did not speak.
‘What?’ asked Kipps.
‘Nothing,’ said Ann, ‘only I did want it to be a little ’ouse, Artie. I wanted it to be a ’andy little ’ouse, jest for us.’
Kipps’ face was suddenly flushed and obstinate. He took up the curiously smelling tracings again. ‘I’m not agoing to be looked down upon,’ he said. ‘It’s not only Uncle I’m thinking of!’
Ann stared at him.
Kipps went on. ‘I won’t ’ave that young Walshingham f’r instance, sneering and sniffing at me. Making out at if we was all wrong. I see ’im yesterday . . . Nor Coote neether. I’m as good—we’re as good—whatever’s ’appened.’
Silence, and the rustle of plans.
He looked up and saw Ann’s eyes bright with tears. For a moment the two stared at one another.
‘We’ll ’ave the big ’ouse,’ said Ann, with a gulp. ‘I didn’t think of that, Artie.’
Her aspect was fierce and resolute, and she struggled with emotion. ‘We’ll ’ave the big ’ouse,’ she repeated.
‘They shan’t say I dragged you down wiv me—none of them shan’t say that. I’ve thought—I’ve always been afraid of that.’
Kipps looked again at the plan, and suddenly the grand house had become very grand indeed. He blew.
‘No, Artie. None of them shan’t say that,’ and, with something blind in her motions, Ann tried to turn the plan round to her . . .
After all, Kipps thought, there might be something to say for the milder project . . . But he had gone so far that now he did not know how to say it.
And so the plans went out to the builders, and in a little while Kipps was committed to two thousand five hundred pounds’ worth of building. But then, you know, he had an income of twelve hundred a year.
It is extraordinary what minor difficulties cluster about housebuilding.
‘I say, Ann,’ remarked Kipps one day. ‘We shall ’ave to call this little ’ouse by a name. I was thinking of ‘’Ome Cottage.’ But I dunno whether ’Ome Cottage is quite the thing like. All these little fisherman’s places are called Cottages.’
‘I like ‘Cottage,’’ said Ann.
‘It’s got eleven bedrooms, y’see’, said Kipps. ‘I don’t see ’ow you call it a cottage with more bedrooms than four. Prop’ly speaking, it’s a Large Villa. Prop’ly it’s almost a Big ’Ouse. Leastways a ’Ouse.’
‘Well,’ said Ann, ‘if you must call it Villa—Home Villa . . . I wish it wasn’t.’
‘’Ow about Eureka Villa?’ he said, raising his voice.
‘It’s a name,’ he said. ‘There used to be Eureka Dress Fasteners. There’s lots of names, come to think of it, to be got out of a shop. There’s Pyjama Villa. I remember that in the hosiery. No, come to think, that wouldn’t do. But Maraposa—sort of oatmeal cloth, that was . . . No! Eureka’s better.’
Ann meditated. ‘It seems silly like to ’ave a name that don’t mean much.’
‘Perhaps it does,’ said Kipps. ‘Though it’s what people ’ave to do.’
He became meditative. ‘I got it!’ he cried.
‘Not Oreeka!’ said Ann.
‘No! There used to be a ’ouse at Hastings opposite our school—quite a big ’ouse it was—St. Ann’s. Now that—’
‘No,’ said Mrs. Kipps, with decision. ‘Thanking you kindly, but I don’t have no butcher boys making game of me . . . ’
They consulted Carshot, who suggested, after some days of reflection, Waddycombe, as a graceful reminder of Kipps’ grandfather; old Kipps, who was for ‘Upton Manor House,’ where he had once been second footman; Buggins, who favoured either a stern, simple number, ‘Number One’—if there were no other houses there, or something patriotic, as ‘Empire Villa’; and Pearce, who inclined to ‘Sandringham’; but in spite of all this help they were still undecided, when amidst violent perturbations of the soul and after the most complex and difficult haggling, wranglings, fears, muddles, and goings to and fro, Kipps became the joyless owner of a freehold plot of three-eighths of an acre, and saw the turf being wheeled away from the site that should one day be his home.