After the manner of every good workman, the housewife does not like anyone to meddle with her building of a fire. She has a method of her own which is not exactly that of any other person. It is in her mind exactly when the fire should be poked, when it should be replenished, the number and the size of the pieces that should be put on, and how they should be placed. If some daring person anticipates her in the stoking of a special fire, she is naturally annoyed, and has to retouch the arrangement before she is satisfied.
Now, there are men who, when they settle down to prosy fireside delights, take a most intimate and affectionate interest in the condition of the fire — as is natural. And a man’s interest in the fire is not merely passive; it is exceedingly active and noisy and “cindery.” No candid woman could say that such a man does not know how to keep a good fire. On the contrary, he will build you such a furnace that the toes of a family of a dozen will be pleasantly warm in 15 deg. of frost.
Of course, there will be an accompaniment of dust, ashes, cinders and fire irons all awry, that will wear to rags the nerves of a fastidious woman. It is an axiom of household economy that to get the full virtue out of your fire, the fireplace must be clear and shining — no dust on the glittering bars. A man pierces through such trifles and recognises in a truly imperial and convincing way that, after all, the main thing is the fire itself.
A really good fire will overcome a great deal of obstructive dust on bars and pans and fenders. You never see a poor fire in a man’s office. With the exception of two huge farm kitchenhearths, the most alluring fires I ever saw were in an office I used to frequent, where no woman ever touched grate or ashes and blacklead was unknown.
I said above that every good housewife keeps good fires. On reflection, that is not correct. I know more than one very particular housewife who keeps wretched fires in cold weather. The reason is because of the very perfection of their housewifery. In their judgement, the first virtue of a fireplace is that it shall be clean-swept and polished.
Now, you cannot keep up a really cheerful living fire, without very frequently poking out the ash which accumulates at the bottom of the grate. Of course, this unsettles the dust — and oh, horrors! there is dust on those glittering bars, perhaps a cinder or two lying visible in the ashpan, or on the tiles. They can be swept up, you say? Well, but we all know that not until you have gone down on your knees with a brush, a tiny bellows, and a duster, will that fireplace be as glittering as it should be.
A man in his treatment of a fire is not hampered by any such considerations. This sort of domestic fireman is never long happy without the poker. He will look round the edge of his newpaper at the dancing flames and see a lump that might be re-arranged; or he sees smoke. Now, he does not like smoke. He likes a blaze roaring up the chimney. So in goes the poker to the heart of the fuel, and he goes back to his paper with a satisfied countenance.
Just to relieve his feelings, he will poke where there is no call whatever for that fire to be touched. How are you to behave towards such a man? There is nothing more comically distressing than the sight of a husband with an itch for the poker, and a “pernickety” wife. She argues with him that that fire cannot be improved. Does he not see that the grate has been all dusted up for the evening, and must not be disturbed? And, above all, can he not have patience? The flame will come if he will give it time to gather heart.
Oh, foolish wife! To expect from a man patience with our little fads! But he is a rare man who does not stand in some awe of his wife. So the amateur fireman, with an uneasy countenance, fidgets with the poker, and glances furtively at his partner while he cautiously stirs the surface of that immaculate fire, if perchance he may coax into existence one of those roaring flames his soul so loves.