From the novel

CHESAPEAKE

by James Michener

Circa. 1712 AD

She did not employ an architect. And she was further hampered by the loss of the trained slaves stolen by the pirates, but through judicious purchases in Virginia she did acquire some fine masons, bricklayers and carpenters, and these she gave instructions as to how her house was to be built: "It's to occupy the same site as before, but it's never to be cluttered."

She drew plans for every facade, every room, and when the ground was cleared and the sawn timbers were drying in the sun, she announced her basic decision: "We'll build of brick."

"We don't have enough for a whole house."

"We'll fire them." And she doubled the brick crew, and the staff cutting trees for the charcoal, and in time she collected a substantial pile of reddish bricks to augment those she had been saving during the preceding decade.

But when the foundations were in and the first two courses of bricks laid, she did not like the result: "There's something wrong. They don't look the way they should." Deep in her mind she had a memory, from somewhere along the Rappahannock, of what a brick wall should be, and hers fell short.

Was it the color? Or the thickness of the oyster-shell mortar? Or the depth of the indentations between the courses? She could not tell, so she sailed to Patamoke and inquired of everyone she met, and finally a newcomer from Holland said he felt sure he know what the matter was, and he sailed back to Devon and inspected the wall: "it's simple. You're not evening using the ENGLISH BOND."

"What?"

He showed her how the bricks in her courses had been laid always with the long face outward, which resulted in monotony and lack of sturdiness: "You must follow either the ENGLISH bond or the FLEMISH." And he demonstrated how, in the former, one course was composed only of bricks laid lengthwise, while the course above and below used bricks with only their ends showing. This alternation was most pleasing, and Rosalind said, "That's what we want., Simple, we'll tear out the second course and relay it end out."

"But the FLEMISH BOND is even better," the Dutchman said, and he showed her a simple yet charming way of alternating in every row a long brick with an end one, so that the wall became not only extra sturdy but also pleasing to the eye.

"I like that!" she cried, but before she could give her slaves instructions, the Dutchman said, "What's best is when you use light-colored local bricks for the long stretchers and blackish Holland-type bricks for the short headers."

Two days were wasted while he searched the Choptank for some of the darker bricks, but when he located a few they produced a pattern so pleasing that Rosalind agreed she must have such a house. It took her more than two years to assemble the dark bricks she needed, but when enough had been collected she was prepared to go ahead with her house...

 

 

From the book

Walden

by Henry David Thoreau

1854

 

When I came to build my chimney I studied masonry. My bricks being second-hand ones required to be cleaned with a trowel, so that I learned more than usual of the qualities of bricks and trowels. The mortar on them was fifty years old, and was said to be still growing harder; but this is one of those sayings which men love to repeat whether they are true or not. Such sayings themselves grow harder and adhere more firmly with age, and it would take many blows with a trowel to clean an old wiseacre of them. Many of the villages of Mesopotamia are built of second-hand bricks of a very good quality, obtained from the ruins of Babylon, and the cement on them is older and probably harder still. However that may be, I was struck by the peculiar toughness of the steel which bore so many violent blows without being worn out. As my bricks had been in a chimney before, though I did not read the name of Nebuchadnezzar on them, I picked out as many fireplace bricks as I could find, to save work and waste, and I filled the spaces between the bricks about the fireplace with stones from the pond shore, and also made my mortar with the white sand from the same place. I lingered most about the fireplace, as the most vital part of the house. Indeed, I worked so deliberately, that though I commenced at the ground in the morning, a course of bricks raised a few inches above the floor served for my pillow at night; yet I did not get a stiff neck for it that I remember; my stiff neck is of older date. I took a poet to board for fortnight about those times, which caused me to be put to it for room. He brought his own knife, though I had two, and we used to scour them by thrusting them into the earth. He shared with me the labors of cooking. I was pleased to see my work rising to square and solid by degrees, and reflected, that, if it proceeded slowly, it was calculated to endure a long time. The chimney is to some extent an independent structure, standing on the ground and rising through the house to the heavens; even after the house is burned it still stands sometimes, and its importance and independence are apparent. This was toward the end of summer. It was now November...

 

I did not plaster till it was freezing weather. I brought over some whiter and cleaner sand for this purpose from the opposite shore of the pond in a boat, a sort of conveyance which would have tempted me to go much farther if necessary. My house had in the meanwhile been shingled down to the ground on every side. In lathing I was pleased to be able to send home each nail with a single blow of the hammer, and it was my ambition to transfer the plaster from the board to the wall neatly and rapidly. I remembered from the story of a conceited fellow, who, in fine clothes, was wont to lounge about the village once, giving advice to workmen. Venturing one day to substitute deeds for words, he turned up his cuffs, seized a plasterer's board, and having loaded his trowel without mishap, with a complacent look toward the lathing overhead, made a bold gesture thither ward; and straightway, to his complete discomfiture, received the whole contents in this ruffled bosom. I admired anew the economy and convenience of plastering, which so effectually shuts out the cold and takes a handsome finish, and I learned the various casualties to which the plasterer is liable. I was surprised to see how thirsty the bricks were which drank up all the moisture in my plaster before I had smoothed it, and how many pailfuls of water it takes to christen a new hearth. I had the previous winter made a small quantity of lime by burning the shells of the Unio fluviatilis, which our river affords, for the sake of the experiment; so that I knew where my materials came from. I might have got good limestone within a mile or two and burned it myself, if I had cared to do so.....

I have thus a tight shingled and plastered house, ten feet wide by fifteen long, and eight-feet posts, with a garret and a closet, a large window on each side, two trap doors, one door at the end and a brick fireplace opposite. The exact cost...In all $28.12.

My furniture...consisted of a bed, a table, a desk, three chairs, a looking glass three inches in diameter, a pair of tongs and andirons, a kettle, a skillet, and a frying pan, a dipper, a wash bowl, two knives, and forks, three plates, one cup, one spoon, a jug for oil, a jug for molasses, and a japanned lamp.

I would observe, by the way, that it costs me nothing for curtains, for I have no gazers to shut out but the sun and moon, and I am willing that they should look in. The moon will not sour milk or taint meat of mine, nor will the sun injure my furniture or fade my carpet, and if he is sometimes too warm a friend, I find it still better economy to retreat behind some curtain which nature has provided, than to add a single item to the details of housekeeping.

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