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Raking Up The Fire
by [?]

We have a custom at our house which we call raking up the fire. That is to say, the last half hour before bedtime, we draw in, shoulder to shoulder, around the last brands and embers of our hearth, which we prick up and brighten, and dispose for a few farewell flickers and glimmers. This is a grand time for discussion. Then we talk over parties, if the young people have been out of an evening,–a book, if we have been reading one; we discuss and analyze characters,–give our views on all subjects, aesthetic, theological, and scientific, in a way most wonderful to hear; and, in fact, we sometimes get so engaged in our discussions that every spark of the fire burns out, and we begin to feel ourselves shivering around the shoulders, before we can remember that it is bedtime.

So, after the reading of my last article, we had a “raking-up talk,”–to wit, Jenny, Marianne, and I, with Bob Stephens: my wife, still busy at her work-basket, sat at the table a little behind us. Jenny, of course, opened the ball in her usual incisive manner.

“But now, papa, after all you say in your piece there, I cannot help feeling that, if I had the taste and the money too, it would be better than the taste alone with no money. I like the nice arrangements and the books and the drawings, but I think all these would appear better still with really elegant furniture.”

“Who doubts that?” said I. “Give me a large tub of gold coin to dip into, and the furnishing and beautifying of a house is a simple affair. The same taste that could make beauty out of cents and dimes could make it more abundantly out of dollars and eagles. But I have been speaking for those who have not and cannot get riches, and who wish to have agreeable houses; and I begin in the outset by saying that beauty is a thing to be respected, reverenced, and devoutly cared for, and then I say that BEAUTY IS CHEAP,–nay, to put it so that the shrewdest Yankee will understand it,–BEAUTY IS THE CHEAPEST THING YOU CAN HAVE, because in many ways it is a substitute for expense. A few vases of flowers in a room, a few blooming, well-kept plants, a few prints framed in fanciful frames of cheap domestic fabric, a statuette, a bracket, an engraving, a pencil-sketch,–above all, a few choice books,–all these arranged by a woman who has the gift in her finger-ends, often produce such an illusion on the mind’s eye that one goes away without once having noticed that the cushion of the armchair was worn out, and that some veneering had fallen off the centre-table.

“I have a friend, a schoolmistress, who lives in a poor little cottage enough, which, let alone of the Graces, might seem mean and sordid, but a few flower-seeds and a little weeding in the spring make it, all summer, an object which everybody stops to look at. Her aesthetic soul was at first greatly tried with the water-barrel which stood under the eaves spout,–a most necessary evil, since only thus could her scanty supply of soft water for domestic purposes be secured. One of the Graces, however, suggested to her a happy thought. She planted a row of morning-glories round the bottom of her barrel, and drove a row of tacks around the top, and strung her water-butt with twine, like a great harpsichord. A few weeks covered the twine with blossoming plants, which every morning were a mass of many-colored airy blooms, waving in graceful sprays, and looking at themselves in the water. The water-barrel, in fact, became a celebrated stroke of ornamental gardening, which the neighbors came to look at.”

“Well, but,” said Jenny, “everybody hasn’t mamma’s faculty with flowers. Flowers will grow for some people, and for some they won’t. Nobody can see what mamma does so very much, but her plants always look fresh and thriving and healthy,–her things blossom just when she wants them, and do anything else she wishes them to; and there are other people that fume and fuss and try, and their things won’t do anything at all. There’s Aunt Easygo has plant after plant brought from the greenhouse, and hanging-baskets, and all sorts of things; but her plants grow yellow and drop their leaves, and her hanging-baskets get dusty and poverty-stricken, while mamma’s go on flourishing as heart could desire.”