by Ellis Parker Butler
Jane and I had lived so long in flats in the city that the idea of living in the suburbs was delightful. We had grown weary of the long, dark halls and stuffy, dark bedrooms, and the thought of a house of our very own, where we could bounce the baby without having some one in the flat below knock warningly on the steampipe, filled us with joy. We looked everywhere, of course. We looked at thousands of houses in dozens of suburbs, and all the houses were too expensive for us or too impossible in one way or another, and then, as is always the case, just as we were about to give up in regretful despair we found the very house we had been looking for.
There were the neatly graveled walks, the grass-plot, and the wide porch that ran on two sides of the house. The painters were at work when we examined it, giving it a clean white finish that contrasted beautifully with the gray of the shingled sides and roof. The moment we saw the house we fell in love with it.
We had been driving about Villageville all day in one of those manure-scented wrecks on wheels that you hire at suburban stations to be driven about in, and as soon as we saw the place, and convinced ourselves that it was really the forty-dollar house we had on our list, Jane clasped my hand and murmured, "Edward!" ecstatically.
I was bubbling with joy myself, it was such a stylish, clean-looking house, but I controlled myself.
"Wait until we see the inside," I cautioned sagely. "Probably the cellar is wet and the bath tub one of those boarded-up tin affairs with damp bugs marooned in it. There is something wrong or it wouldn't be forty dollars. It would be sixty."
The boy who was driving the superlatively gentle horse that our carriage pushed along drew up at the house and folded his legs, as if to say: "Go on in and look, you cheap bluffers. I'm paid by the hour; I can stand it."
"Boy," I said, "are you sure this is 968 Elm Avenue?"
"Yep," he replied, with intense uninterestedness.
"Look at the card again, Edward," cautioned my wife. "I'm sure this house can't be forty dollars."
I looked. I showed Jane where the real-estate man had written it -- "968 Elm Avenue. $40."
We got out of the vehicle and climbed over the cans of paint that littered the porch steps and entered the house. It was better inside than out. It was ideal! The cellar was as dry as a bone, and the plumbing was all open plumbing. The bathtub was so large and white and clean that I could hardly bear to leave it. Jane ran from room to room uttering little ejaculations of joy, and saying over and over, as a woman always does: "And this room will be ours, and this will be the nursery," and so on, until I could see ourselves just as we would be when we were nicely settled in the house.
"Why don't you enthuse?" she cried. "You don't rouse up a bit."
"Jane," I said solemnly, "there is some mistake. This house is not forty dollars. This house is sixty or seventy dollars."
"No," she insisted joyfully; "the man said forty. He wrote it on the card. I don't care if it is a mistake, he said forty, and he will have to let us have it for forty, he will have to pay the difference himself. We must have this house!"
"Don't get your heart set on it until you see the man again," I cautioned gravely, but I could see it was too late. Her heart was already set on it. All the way back to the real-estate man's office she clasped my hand and chattered until people looked at us, as we passed, as if they thought we were bride and groom. Our driver was disgusted.
The real-estate man received us with surprising coolness. We were both so excited about the house that we would not have been surprised if he had greeted us by jumping up and down and clapping his hands. I went at him diplomatically. I hate to have even a real-estate man take me for a fool.
"That house at 968 Elm Avenue," I began nonchalantly -- "what did you say the price was?"
"That house? That house is not for sale. That house is one of Moller's houses," he said.
"We were thinking of renting, not buying," I said, with dignity. "We would rather live here a year or so, to see whether we would like the place as a permanent home, before we buy. What did you say the rental of 968 Elm Avenue was?"
"That's one of Moller's houses," repeated the real-estate man. "It is forty dollars on a yearly lease. Moller don't rent without a lease."
"Four hundred and eighty dollars a year," I said, assuming a musing air. "I rather like that house. You don't think you could get him to take any less? What?"
Jane grasped my arm.
"Edward!" she exclaimed. She leaned out of the vehicle and spoke rapidly: "Mr. Griggs, we'll take that house. Forty dollars a month! It is just what we want. We will take it. Can we have it? Now, don't say we can't!"
"If Mr. --" said the real-estate man.
"Van Dam," I said, supplying my name.
"If Mr. Van Dam will leave a small deposit," he said, "that will secure the house. I will mail you the lease tomorrow for your signature."
"No!" said Jane positively. "We won't wait until tomorrow; we'll sign the lease now. We don't want to lose that house."
"You won't lose it," said the real-estate man. "If you pay a deposit the house is yours. I can't give you the lease today, because that is one of Moller's houses, and he has his own form of lease, and I'll have to get a couple of his forms from him. He owns a great deal of property here, and he has his own form of lease."
"Large owners often do," I said, rather vaguely.
"Yes, Moller does," said the real-estate man. "He has his own form of lease. All his tenants sign the same form of lease."
"Makes things more uniform, I suppose," I said jovially. "Good idea, I think."
"Very good idea," said the real-estate man. "You see, when all Moller's tenants sign the same form of lease, why, the same form of lease applies to all the property that Moller's tenants sign leases for."
Jane nudged me. "Pay the deposit," she whispered. "I see a man coming down street. Maybe he wants to rent our house."
When the deposit matter was settled, Jane asked the boy if he could drive us to the station by way of 968 Elm Avenue; and he said he could. We made him stop there while we admired the house again, and when we drove on we turned and craned our necks as long as it was in sight, and all the way home, on the train and the ferry and the street-car, we enthusiastically congratulated ourselves about that house. Our little flat looked unusually small and crowded and dark when we reached it.
The next evening when I got home from the office Jane met me with smiles.
"The lease came," she said joyfully. "Or they came. There are two of them. What do you suppose there are two for? Are we taking the house for two years?"
"Oh, no," I explained; and I was glad to be able to show my superior knowledge of the ways of the business world. "There are always two. One we keep and one we return. If there was only one we could tear it up and say we never had a lease, and move out any time --"
"Edward!" Jane exclaimed reproachfully. "Move out of that beautiful house! I am surprised that you should think of such a thing! Why, we were glad to find it. You said yourself it was just the house we wanted."
"That is just it," I tried to explain; "that is what I am saying. That is why there are two of the leases. The owner keeps one, so that, even if we did want to move out, we couldn't, because he has the lease to prove we agreed to stay for a year."
Jane brightened immediately.
"You see," I continued, glad that I had satisfied her mind that there was no danger of my being inclined to move out of the house we had not yet moved into, "it is good for both sides, because if the owner had the lease, and he wanted to get us out, he could tear up the lease, and claim he never had one."
Jane stared at me in dismay.
"Edward," she cried, "you sha'n't send that horrid owner a lease! He will be sure to tear it up, just as you say, and make us move. As soon as he finds what a nice house it is, and how pretty it is with the walls all decorated the way we will have them, he will tear up his lease and put us out. We won't let him have the lease. We will sign it and put it in a storage-vault or something, where it will be perfectly
I had a good deal of trouble explaining to Jane that as long as we had our lease it did not make any difference to us what the owner of the house did with his; and by the time I was through Jane was insisting that I must find the most fire-proof safety vault in New York in which to store our lease after we had signed it. She said it would be terrible if, just when we had moved in and had the curtains up, there should be a fire and burn up our lease. She seemed convinced that the only object in life the owner of that house had was to make us move out again; and by the time dinner was over, and I had opened my desk and got a pen and ink to sign the lease, she was in the most suspicious frame of mind.
When I seated myself at the desk Jane drew her chair up beside me.
"I didn't like the way that real-estate man talked about leases, in the first place," she said. "I knew he was up to some trick. You must be very careful, Edward, and sign it in the right place. Sign it with a stub pen, so your name will be big and hard to erase." I spread out one lease and began to read it. Jane took the other and began to read that. I could see that she had no faith in the honesty of Mr. Moller and the real-estate man. She considered them a conspiracy of some sort.
"'Lease made this ninth day of April, nineteen hundred and five, between Thomas Moller, Lessor, and Edward Van Dam, Lessee,'" she read. "What does that mean, Edward?" she asked. "Why aren't you both lessors or lessees, if you both sign the lease? Is there anything queer about that, Edward? Don't take any chances. If you don't know why it's that way, change it. I don't see why you aren't a lessor as much as he is. I would change that word after your name to lessor if I were you."
"No, Jane," I said kindly but firmly; "it is correct as it is. You see, he -- Moller -- is the lessor, because he is leasing the house."
"Well," she insisted, "aren't you leasing it, too?"
"Now, Jane," I begged, "don't argue. It is all right. Lessor is the person leased from; lessee is the person leased to. All leases are that way. I never saw one that wasn't. I wouldn't have one that wasn't that way."
She looked at me as if she had not and never would again have quite the faith in me that she once had, but she read on:
"'Witnesseth,'" she read, "'that said lessor hath and hereby doth demise, and said lessee hath taken and hereby doth hire and take, all certain premises in the city of New York --'
"There!" she explained triumphantly. "Didn't I tell you to be careful? 'In the city of New York'! I knew we would find some trick in this lease. That man is trying to get us to sign for some house in the city of New York! I never heard of such robbery! To get people to fall in love with a house on Long Island, and then sneak in a lease on some stuffy place in the city of New York! Some flat, I dare say! He thought we would sign it without reading it, Edward. It is lucky I was so careful --"
"Jane," I interrupted, "please stop! Where is Villageville if it isn't in the city of New York? All that part of Long Island is in the city of New York. Flushing is, and Jamaica is, and all that part of Long Island is. Look here -- the lease goes on to say: 'more particularly described and limited as follows; Lot 4, Block 6, McGraw's addition to the town of Villageville, with the dwelling-house thereon with appurtenances.'"
"How do you know our house is on Lot 4, Block 6?" asked Jane, still unconvinced.
I laid down my pen and the lease.
"Jane," I said severely, "I don't know. Do you imagine any man knows every lot and block in New York City by number? How do you suppose I could know?"
"Then," said Jane coldly, "you mean to sign a lease for something you know nothing about. You don't know and you haven't the slightest idea what Lot 4. Block C, is, and yet you mean to sign for it."
"I do," I replied firmly. "Don't be foolish, Jane. It is all right. A man can't be expected to get a surveyor and have a whole county measured up every time he rents a house."
"If you feel that way about it. Edward," Jane said, with resignation, "I suppose you will do as you like. I -- I was only trying to -- to save you from a mistake. I -- I --" she began, dabbing at her eyes with her handkerchief.
"Jane dear," I said, "don't cry. I did not mean to be harsh. In business you have to take some things for granted, dear. Everybody does. There wouldn't be any business if we didn't."
"I know I am not much of a business man," she replied faintly. "I only thought --"
"I know," I put in hastily; "and you did just right. 'For the term of one year,'" I read, "'beginning the first day of May, 1905, at noon, and ending on the thirtieth day of April, 1906, at ten o'clock in the forenoon --'"
"See!" cried Jane, suddenly alive again. "He is cheating us out of two hours. I call that small; very small!"
"'To be occupied by him as a dwelling, and not otherwise --'"
"Hum!" said Jane musingly.
"What is it, dear?" I asked.
"'To be occupied by him,'" repeated Jane. "I suppose I can live in the house, too, can't I?"
"Certainly, dear," I assured her. "And we can have company, and keep servants."
"Why doesn't it say so, then?" she asked. "Is that business, too?"
"Yes," I said, glad of such an easy escape from an explanation. "'At an annual rental of four hundred and eighty dollars, payable monthly, in advance, on the first day of each month -- '"
"Of course," said Jane sarcastically, "you could wager he would put that in. He's that kind of a man. Hadn't you better add 'at eight o'clock in the forenoon'?" I ignored this.
"'During the continuance of the term, and, further, upon the covenants and conditions following, viz: 1. That the lessee shall pay the rent as aforesaid, as the same shall fall due.'"
Jane glanced at me, as if to say: "You see?"
"'2. That the lessee shall take good care of the demised premises and its fixtures, and suffer no waste --'"
"I thought 'demised' meant 'dead,'" said Jane. "What are 'demised' premises? Are they dead ones?"
"You are thinking of 'deceased,'" I said; and then I had to wait while she looked for "demised" in the dictionary.
"There!" she exclaimed, pointing to the word. "'2. The death of a sovereign or other exalted personage.'"
"What does it say under '1'?" I asked.
"'Transfer. Transmission,'" Jane admitted reluctantly. I did not crow over her. She did not give me an opportunity.
"About this 'suffer no waste,'" she said. "Does that mean I shall have to watch the cook every minute to see that she doesn't peel the potatoes too deep or throw out things she might warm over for the next day's lunch? If it does, I sha'n't live in that house. If that Mr. Moller can keep a cook from wasting --"
"Jane," I said, "it doesn't mean that at all. You know it doesn't."
"What does it mean, then?" she asked. "What can you waste about a house?"
"It must mean the water," I said. "I don't know what else."
"I thought we had to pay for the water." Jane suggested.
I read on quickly. To this day I don't know what waste we were not to suffer.
There were the stipulations that the lessee must make and do all repairs, keep the drain and supply-pipes and connections free from ice and other obstructions, keep the sewer connections free from obstructions to the satisfaction of the municipal and police authorities, and finally deliver up the premises in good order and condition.
Jane listened to all this with the air of a martyr, but when I read the fifth clause of the lease she rebelled. It said:
"That the lessee shall further promptly execute and fulfill all the ordinances of the city and State governments applicable to the said premises; and all orders and requirements imposed by the board of health and the police and fire departments, etc., etc."
Jane said she would not have delegations from the city government and State government and board of health and police department and fire department nosing around the house at all hours of the day and night. She asked sarcastically why the United States Government had been left out of the lease, and suggested that I had better write it in, with further agreements to live up to the rules and regulations and by-laws of the post-office department, attend the Methodist church, obey the Ten Commandments, eat prepared breakfast foods, and vote the Republican ticket.
She was still trying to think of cutting things to say about the lease, and strongly advising me not to sign it, when our doorbell rang.
"I expect it's father," she said, "and he will tell you not to sign it, too. You are too easy-going, Edward. You would sign it if I did not prevent you, and we would be in all sorts of trouble, agreeing to all those silly things."
She opened the door, and our hall-boy from the lobby downstairs stood there.
He grinned in his usual good-humored way. "Mistah Van Dam's wanted at the telephone," he said.
"All right. Very well. He will be down immediately," said Jane quickly. She closed the door with one hand while she waved the other at me frantically.
"Edward!" she cried. "Edward! Sign that lease this moment! Quick! I just know it is that real-estate man telephoning to say we can't have the house! Sign the lease! And then you can tell him it is already signed, and that it is too late now to back out. Quick!"
She sighed with relief.
"Now," she said, "you can go down."