The most important article of furniture in any room is the fireplace. For half the year we sit round it, warming ourselves at its heat; for the other half of the year we continue to sit round it, moved thereto by habit and the position of the chairs. Yet how many people choose their house by reason of its fireplaces, or, having chosen it for some other reason, spend their money on a new grate rather than on a new sofa or a grand piano? Not many.
For one who has so chosen his house the lighting of the first fire is something of a ceremony. But in any case the first fire of the autumn is a notable event. Much as I regret the passing of summer, I cannot help rejoicing in the first autumn days, days so cheerful and so very much alive. By November the freshness has left them; one’s thoughts go backwards regretfully to August or forwards hopefully to April; but while October lasts, one can still live in the present. It is in October that one tastes again the delights of the fireside, and finds them to be even more attractive than one had remembered.
But though I write “October,” let me confess that, Coal Controller or no Coal Controller, it was in September that I lit my first fire this year. Perhaps as the owner of a new and (as I think) very attractive grate I may be excused. There was some doubt as to whether a fireplace so delightful could actually support a fire, a doubt which had to be resolved as soon as possible. The match was struck with all solemnity; the sticks caught up the flame from the dying paper and handed it on to the coal; in a little while the coal had made room for the logs, and the first autumn fire was in being.
Among the benefits which the war has brought to London, and a little less uncertain than some, is the log fire. In the country we have always burnt logs, with the air of one who was thus identifying himself with the old English manner, but in London never–unless it were those ship’s logs, which gave off a blue flame and very little else, but seemed to bring the fact that we were an island people more closely home to us. Now wood fires are universal. Whether the air will be purer in consequence and fogs less common, let the scientist decide; but we are all entitled to the opinion that our drawing-rooms are more cheerful for the change.
However, if you have a wood fire, you must have a pair of bellows. I know a man who always calls them “bellus,” which is, I believe, the professional pronunciation. He also talks about a “hussif” and a “cold chisel.” A cold chisel is apparently the ordinary sort of chisel which you chisel with; what a hot chisel is I never discovered. But whether one calls them “bellows” or “bellus,” in these days one cannot do without them. They are as necessary to a wood fire as a poker is to a coal fire, and they serve much the same purpose. There is something very soothing about poking a fire, even if one’s companions point out that one is doing it all wrong, and offer an exhibition of the correct method. To play upon a wood fire with a bellows gives one the same satisfaction, and is just as pleasantly annoying to the onlookers. They alone know how to rouse the dying spark and fan it gently to a flame, until the whole log is a triumphant blaze again; you, they tell you, are merely blowing the whole thing out.
It is necessary, then, that the bellows-making industry should revive. My impression is that a pair of bellows is usually catalogued under the heading, “antique furniture,” and I doubt if it is possible to buy a pair anywhere but in an old furniture shop. There must be a limit to the number of these available, a limit which has very nearly been reached. Here is a chance for our ironmongers (or carpenters, or upholsterers, or whoever have the secret of it). Let them get to work before we are swamped with German bellows. It is no use to offer us pokers with which to keep our log fires burning; we must have wind. There is one respect in which I must confess that the coal fire has the advantage of the wood fire. If your favourite position is on the hearth-rug with your back to whatever is burning, your right hand gesticulating as you tell your hearers what is wrong with the confounded Government, then it does not greatly matter what brings you that pleasant dorsal warmth which inspires you to such eloquence. But if your favourite position is in an armchair facing the fire, and your customary habit one of passive thought rather than of active speech, then you will not get those visions from the burning wood which the pictures in a coal fire bring you. There are no deep, glowing caverns in the logs from which friendly faces wink back at you as your head begins gently to nod to them. Perhaps it is as well. These are not the days for quiet reflection, but for action. At least, people tell me so, and I am very glad to hand on the information.