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I hadn't known it was a hot-water furnace. If it had not been for that missing match I might have burned the bottom off the boiler or blown the whole thing through the roof!
"Of course I shall turn on the water!" I replied haughtily, receiving the match-box. “What did you suppose I would do?”
“There's an indicator, too,” she continued vaguely.
“Oh, yes, of course an indicator," I repeated helplessly.
Down in the darkness among the pipes I discovered at least five different handles by which I thought the water might be let into the furnace. One by one I turned them, without result. Apparently there wasn't any water. Perhaps it wasn't a hot-water furnace after all! Then I found a curious little valve, and on moving it received an answering gurgle, followed by a rush. Water! It was like finding it in the Sahara !
With the fast-dying candle I now searched for the indicator. I did not know what it was supposed to indicate, but I dared not disregard it. Yes; there it was, right on top of the furnace. Lifting the candle, I perceived that it had two hands-a red one and a black one. The red one pointed through the accumulated dust of ages to the number 100, while the black one apparently had its affections permanently affixed upon zero. Meantime the water continued to run. Where was it running to? A furnace, like a human being, must have a limit to its capacity. I began to be worried. Suppose the water, having flooded all the hidden veins and arteries of the furnace mechanism, were now leaping gayly over the top of some tank or basin, to come presently pouring down the stairs, bearing Mrs. Gavin along with it, like a female Charlie Chaplin. Why had I ever tried to start the furnace, anyway? I reversed the handle of the valve.
I was now just about where I had started, after the lapse of an hour. Then I said to myself:
“Stanton, you have lived in this house twenty years. This furnace has kept you lukewarm in winter and made you swelter in spring and autumn. You would have suffered-perhaps died—without it. You need it in your business. You cannot economize on it without reckless extravagance in doctors. It is the axis of your domestic sphere. Either you or it must be master here! This is a test of character. Light that fire-or be forever disgraced in your own eyes and those of Mrs. Gavin.”
Meantime that furnace was sitting there with its mouth wide open and its tongue in its cheek. I glared back at it resentfully. The indicator was still immutable. Then suddenly it dawned upon me that the water had run out of the furnace as fast as it had run in. I must prevent it, somehow. Down on my hands and knees I went until I found another handle, back of the damper. It yielded to my touch. Again I turned on the water. A clucking sound became audible. Something was happening to the indicator ! Aha! The black arrow had moved. Cluck-cluck! It was jumping ahead like a taximeter! I leaped upon the valve and shut off the water. At last!
My hand trembled as I closed the furnace-door and lit the fire. Was it fatigue, was it excitement, or was it spiritual exaltation? I believe that it was the last. Carefully adjusting draft and damper, I climbed the stairs to the kitchen. I had the feeling of being a real man. I was the boss—the owner of that furnace. No one could give me any back talk about furnaces-hot-water or otherwise-again! No chore man could put anything across on me.
Mrs. Gavin seemed to have gone out, but as I emerged from the shadows of the passage I came face to face with an enraged and malevolent ItalianAngelo. “Who you fell dat getta my job?”
I have described my encounter with the furnaceaccurate in every detail-in order that the reader may fully appreciate the parlous state of my ignorance of the physical mechanism of my own life. I had been utterly helpless in my own house. If anything, no matter how trifling, went wrong with the gas, electricity, plumbing, heating, or elevator I had to tell the butler to send for a gas-fitter, plumber, steamfitter, or electrician.
Emerging from that cellar, I had to admit that Angelo—like Gunga Din—was a better man than myself. I did not know how to turn the water on or off, or the gas and electricity, though the Commissioner of Gas, Water, and Electricity was an intimate friend of mine. I was ignorant of the whereabouts of the gas-meter and the electric-meter, and I did not even know whether I had a water-meter or not. I had no idea where the tank was—or if I had one.
I had never asked the price of coal; how much was ordered; or how much, in fact, I got. I paid my bills without question. The coal man, the wood man, the iceman, the milkman, the butcher, the grocer, the baker, and even the dry-goods man, could have sent me in bills to any amount for undelivered goods, and I should have paid them cheerfully.
My faith in the honesty of my fellows above Forty-second Street might not have been able to move mountains; but I am sure it was worth thousands—to somebody. Yet in business I watched with an eagle eye the well-dressed gentlemen with whom I dealt and took nothing whatsoever on faith. As a business man I was from Missouri; as a householder in a great metropolis I was a simple-minded yokel.
Down in my banking-office the people in my employ obeyed me with a jump, and received the “sack"
or the "hook”—whichever is the correct technical substantive-for the slightest incivility or carelessness. In my equally expensive and no less important establishment up-town my men servants not infrequently indicated by the frigidity of their demeanor what they thought of me and my suggestions—I cannot refer to my remarks as orders-as to how they should spend their time.
They had every other afternoon and evening out; they arrived at the house in the morning just in time to officiate at breakfast at nine o'clock; and their chief function seemed to be to stand in the front hall and hand me my hat and stick, after which they probably dawdled away the morning smoking in the pantry, reading the magazines, or glancing through Burke's “Peerage.”
The female domestics, though better workers, were no less exacting than the men in regard to time off. When, on the occasion of our annual migration to Newport, they left the house in a body to go to the train, their numbers suggested a parade of the Daughters of the Revolution. A silent and ominous antagonism characterized their deportment.
No one of my family ever entered the kitchen or exercised any authority there. The cook ordered all the meals. We did not give orders to her. We assumed a placating attitude, fearful, as it were, lest we might be discharged if we incurred her displeasure.