( Originally Published 1907 )
THACKERAY, in his delightfully reminiscent description of a room full of "old armour, prints, pictures, pipes, china (all crack'd), old rickety tables, and chairs broken-backed," tells of utilizing a Mameluke's dagger for the toasting of muffins.
So naturally does the collector turn toward expedients and substitutes that it would almost seem there must be some occult connection between things of the past and makeshifts. And it may be that some makeshifts which have come in our way may prove suggestive to other collectors, meeting unexpected problems.
Makeshifts are of two kinds: those which are in-tended to be permanent, and those which are for only temporary use-the latter class representing, so to speak, the substance of things still hoped for and the former being an evidence of things that will not be seen.
Among our own permanent makeshifts is an arrangement for a pair of candle-brackets. Needing a light upon either side of an old dressing-glass, the proper candelabra were searched for in vain. So two hat-hooks, of brass, of the largest size-the big kind made to bolt through hat-racks-were purchased. They have quite a satisfactory curve and stand up with a good deal of dignity. They are bolted through short pieces of wood which project a little above the back edge of the dressing-table. On the top of each hook is soldered the metal end of an electric light bulb of just the right diameter for a candle. And, to provide against drip, there is slipped over each candle-holder a glass disc of the kind long made and used for this purpose.
Makeshifts are not necessarily small. On the contrary, they may be of considerable consequence. And in regard to this class it may be worth while to give an experience in the making of a makeshift fire-place. The dining room of a house in the city in which we lived just previous to adopting this old inn had two windows, both in one wall, opening on a brick-paved path and an eight-foot fence, the room thus being in dull shadow, with nothing to relieve its box-like quality of shape.
We possessed, to put in it, the corner-cupboard of Bethlehem, and had selected a very light yellow paper in a chintz stripe to heighten the ceiling and brighten the room. White paint and a light rug and ceiling, and very thin muslin at the windows, were materially to aid in the brightening effect.
The corner-cupboard would fill one corner-but a fireplace was needed in the other! We did not own the house. It was a matter for cogitation. And the result of the cogitation was a determination to have a fireplace, of sorts, constructed.
It was not the kind of a job to give a carpenter-unless, indeed, one could discover a carpenter with imagination. To explain the idea would give a wrong impression of something absurd or else tremendously elaborate.
Left by the outgoing tenant, in the cellar, were scrap ends of wood, a few long boards, a window sash and, most fortunate of all, and as if Fate had definitely intended it, a shelf with two heavy wooden brackets. We felt like Robinson Crusoe taking an inventory.
One evening, after paperhangers and cleaners had gone home, saw and hammer were seized, and some of the boards were made into a sort of large frame-work, like a capital H, of the size of the corner into which the fireplace was to fit, and of just the length to reach from the ceiling to the floor. Pieces of wood were nailed, after mitering the ends, against the base of the wall, at the ceiling line, and in the centre. Then the H-frame was raised and nailed in place.
The shelf was then adjusted as a mantel. Boards were placed as side panels. The open space between shelf and ceiling was covered with light boards. These upper boards were then covered with pasteboard, tacked on, and all the cracks were liberally pasted over with cheesecloth. The window sash from the Robinson Crusoe pile was sawed down into a piece framing three square openings, and this was placed immediately below the mantel-shelf, and over the apparent fire space.
All was now ready for the paperhanger, and next morning, in papering the entire room, he papered right across the corner upon the boarded space above the mantel-shelf, and there was thus gained all the effect of a regularly covered wall. The panels on either side of the fire opening were painted white. A line was marked to indicate the hearth limits, and then, to secure a hearth-like aspect, melted glue was spread over the space and, before it dried, fine brown sand, obtained at a bird store, was thickly whisked over it with a broom. There was thus obtained the appearance of a hearth of sandstone.
Blue and white tile were fitted into the space in the section of once-while sash. The space behind the fire opening was so boarded in as to look like a fire-back, and this apparent fire-back was first painted red to resemble brick, next blackened with stove blacking and soot, and then, for a parting touch, whitened with gray soot, taken from the range flue and thrown against it-indicating intense heat!
Hickory sticks were piled within the fire space upon brass andirons. The mantel-shelf was given a few old pewter tankards to hold. A picture was placed on the apparent chimney-breast. And when a plate-rail was made to take in the corner fireplace in its course around the walls, the status of that fireplace as a fundamental part of the room was forever established.
And, when all was done, it looked like a simple, capable, well-proportioned fireplace; and never was there a single visitor who doubted that it was real and had always been there.
It was also in that house that a problem in regard to lighting apparatus presented itself. In a prominent place was a chandelier of fairly good shape, except as to the four arms and the globes. To remedy this, a hint from an old church was acted upon. The tips and the globes were taken off, and four straight white porcelain candles, of the sort made to allow the gas to pass through them and burn at the tops, were put on. They looked precisely like four wax candles. Thus was secured a good-looking chandelier of candles, with the light of gas.
Since coming to the old inn we have had various opportunities to use makeshifts, and quite a number of things have been adapted to some use more or less different from their original one.
A bellows possessed the advantages of age and shape, but that of usefulness was rather diminished by its being without a brass tip. But how easily the lack was remedied by using the nozzle of a piece of worn-out hose!
Two of the wooden doors beside the eight-foot fireplace were without handles; so, upon one was placed an ancient wrought-iron latch, found in the garret of a house built by Louis the Eleventh; and, from the other door, there now faces out, as a handle, the wrought-iron head of a lion, made for the end of a water pipe in an ancient garden. For fireplace woodboxes old kettles of iron or of brass are used.
The porch at the side of the house was bare of railing or banister. Two long straight-backed settees from an old ball room were fitted and fastened there, and at once there was not only a railing but an attractive set of seats from which to view the or-chard, the trees and the hills.
The kitchen was rather short of cupboards, and, to supply what was needed, an old-fashioned secretary was set up in a corner, with drawers below and doors above. The shelf where the writing-slab folds back upon itself gives no suggestion of being a desk in its kitchen surroundings; it is merely a convenient narrow shelf, midway up the side of the cupboard. There were no handles on the piece when it came to us, and we put on handles of white porcelain. It now looks precisely like a capable kitchen cupboard, and is eminently useful.
For one of the upstairs rooms, an old cupboard, tall and of severe plainness of aspect, was made into an attractive wardrobe by the use of brass knobs for handles, and some white paint. In this same room stands a mahogany dressing-table, with the old glass whose setting of little drawers and swivel posts fitted the mirror so opportunely , Instead of placing the glass on top of a chest of drawers or on a muslin-covered dressing-table, a plain mahogany table was used, and a complete article of furniture in mahogany was thus formed.
A most successful adaptation in silver is owned by a friend in the shape of two fern-dishes, four-footed, oval, of silver, and of old-fashioned workmanship, with a two-inch openwork rail. He showed a soldered hole in the bottom of each dish. "Yes; old cruet-stands. I had the handles sawed off-and there you are!"
It is impossible to offer much definite advice in regard to makeshifts, for it is seldom that the circumstances of any two cases are precisely the same.
Napoleon once wished a chemical experiment made immediately, in his presence. "But I have no pestle or mortar!" lamented the chemist. Instantly Napoleon was in a heat of impatient anger. "Remember, sir," he said sternly, "that every table-top is a mortar and every chair-leg a pestle!"