In this town there lived a man who had been able to save enough money from his hard work that he decided that he was now able to afford a very nice house for his family. In one of the nicer parts of town was a beautiful old house that appeared to be vacant, and he often went by and looked at it from the street. The more he looked at it, the more he fell in love with this old house.

One day as he was standing admiring this house, he was approached by a very nice-looking gentleman who said to him: "I have noticed you frequently admiring this fine old house. I happen to be the agent for the owner, and I am authorized to sell it, if I can find a buyer." This was, of course, good news to the man, since the more he had looked at the house, the more he wanted it for himself and his family.

The agent took the man into the house and showed him through it, and everything the man saw made him want the house even more. The house was beautifully designed and built, with skill and imagination, in a style which was no longer very popular among most people, but which he and his family had always found attractive. He could picture in his mind how happy and comfortable his family would be there. It seemed that his fondest dream was about to come true. The man bought the house.

Before the man moved his family into the house, he asked the agent about the usual inspections, for termites, dry rot and other possible structural problems. The agent told him that everything had been inspected thoroughly by his staff. "You can take my word for it: this house is sound and solid. It is the finest house in the city!" The man thought for a moment that he should ask to see the inspection reports, but the agent was the kind of person that inspired trust and confidence, and the man had a strong feeling deep in his heart that the agent would not try to deceive him about something so important.

The man and his family moved into their home, and it was even more lovely and comfortable than he had imagined. They invited their friends and relatives to visit them, and they were able to entertain them graciously and hear their guests' praises of their beautiful home.

One evening his brother was visiting. The brother was a meddlesome and sometimes unpleasant person, but the man tried to be gracious to him because he was his brother.

"This is a very lovely old house you have," said the brother.

"Thank you for the compliment," replied the man.

"How is the foundation? Sometimes these old houses have structural problems."

"Don't worry about that," responded the man. "Everything has been inspected and is in good order."

"Who inspected it?"

The man began to get irritated with his brother. "It's really none of your business, but I'll be happy to tell you. The seller's agent had it inspected."

"Did you examine the report yourself?"

This was really going too far, the man felt. But he answered anyway, "I didn't have to. The agent read the reports and told me that they were in order."

"How can you trust the agent that much?" the brother asked, shaking his head.

"I pity you if you have to go through life without trust, without belief, without relying on the goodness of others! Sometimes you just know in your heart that you can trust someone."

The brother said nothing, but got up to leave. "I'll maybe poke around a little outside and look over your foundation. I'm not an expert, but I do have some experience with these things."

"I do not give you permission to go nosing about my house or grounds. You are just looking for something that will give you an excuse to find fault with my home and to spoil my enjoyment of it!"

"I assure you that I am only motivated by my concern for you as my brother. I will not cause any damage." And with that, he left the house.

As he looked around the grounds and examined the house, he had to admit that it was beautiful. But he also knew that paint could hide many problems. Near a corner, in the back, he found a small, almost invisible door that appeared to lead into the basement. It had been sealed shut with a half-dozen screws. He went back inside and asked the man: "Are you aware of the door into the basement which has been sealed shut?"

"Of course I am aware of it!"

"Why is it sealed shut?"

"Because there is absolutely no need for anyone to go into the basement. There is nothing there."

"Have you ever been there?"

"No, of course not! Why would I want to go down there? I'm sure that it's just dank and musty, and there's nothing there."

"I think it would pay to take a look, to check the foundation."

"Absolutely not!" shouted the man. "This is MY house! It is MY basement! I have no interest in going there, and I forbid you to do so! I told you that the foundation has already been inspected. Now please leave me in peace!"

Rather than argue with the man, the brother left. But the sealed door continue to bother him, and the basement which it concealed. A few weeks later, when the brother knew that the man and his family were going to be away for a day or two, the brother took a screwdriver and a flashlight to the man's house and carefully opened the sealed door.

He had to stoop to enter the dark basement. The man had been right: there was nothing down there, except the posts and beams and braces that held up the house. As he crept among them, lighting his way with the flashlight, he noticed that the beams and posts had thick coats of paint. Everything was covered with paint. He took his pocket knife and scraped away the paint in a few spots, and where he had removed the paint, instead of solid wood he found a lacy, delicate framework of worm holes. He scraped away paint from some of the other structural members, in all parts of the basement, and found that the wood fiber was missing in all of them, either having been eaten by worms or termites, or having crumbled with dry rot. He was horrified. Not a single beam or post or brace could be relied on. He wondered what could be holding up the great weight of the house. It seemed to be only the paint which was covering up the rot. He almost imagined he could feel the house settling, having removed the little bit of paint, and he urgently wanted to escape. He found his way to the door, and closed it carefully after he was again in the sunshine. But his mind was troubled.

As soon as the man and his family returned, the brother came to see him. "I have some terrible news for you," he said. He confessed that he had entered the basement, contrary to the man's order. "But I know you will forgive me when I tell you what I found." He then told the man that his entire house was in danger of falling down because of the worms, termites and rot in the structural members in the basement.

But instead of thanking his brother, the man flew into a rage. "You are telling me this only to rob me of the pleasure I have in living in this beautiful house! How can you attack me like this? How can you say such terrible things about a house that is so beautiful? You obviously are my enemy. You are jealous of me because of my house. You have made up these lies with the sole purpose of trying to destroy my happiness and to cast aspersions upon my house, the agent who sold it to me and the people who inspected it and pronounced it sound. Get out! And because you have become my enemy, I never wish to see you again!"

The brother tried to calm the man. "I assure you that I am not your enemy. I am acting only with your good at heart. Why would I want otherwise?"

The man would not be calmed. "You are trying to destroy my love for this house. Therefore you must have an evil motive."

"Please," said the brother. "Come down with me to your basement, and I will let you see with your own eyes what I have found."

"I am not interested in seeing anything that you have to show me. You are obviously such an evil person that you would stoop to any level to deceive me into believing your lies. You have probably planted phony evidence in my basement. You would twist and misinterpret anything I found so that it would appear to support your filthy lies about my house. No! I will not go into the basement with you! I don't care about your delusions, and I don't have the time to humor you."

The brother was puzzled by the man's obstinacy. He couldn't understand why he wouldn't at least look in the basement himself. Perhaps, by replacing the beams, or by taking other measures in time, the house could be saved. But if nothing was done, the house would surely collapse, sooner or later, perhaps injuring someone.

Seeing that he could not help, the brother left, sad that he had been unjustly labeled an "enemy."

In spite of the man's confidence in the soundness of his house, his brother's words did trouble him for a few days. Finally, he could no longer resist the temptation, and he took a flashlight and crept through the small door into the basement. He looked around and saw where his brother had scraped the paint away to expose the fragile, rotten timbers.

He was furious! Why had his brother done this? He went upstairs to a cabinet and got a bucket of paint and a brush, and carefully repainted all the places that his brother had scraped away. "There!" he said, as he screwed the door back into place.

He decided that he would not tell his wife and family what had happened, because it would only disturb them and spoil the love and pleasure they enjoyed, living in such a beautiful house.

- Richard Packham, 1995