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White Ashes   By: (1880-)

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E text prepared by Al Haines




[Transcriber's note: Full names Sidney R. Kennedy, Alden C. Noble.]

New York The MacMillan Company 1912 All rights reserved Copyright, 1912, by The MacMillan Company. Set up and electrotyped. Published April, 1912.









On the top floor of one of the lesser office buildings in the insurance district of lower New York, a man stood silent before a map desk on which was laid an opened map of the burned city. No other man was in the office, for this was on a Sunday; but it would not have mattered to the man at the map had the big room presented its usual busy appearance. All that went on about him would have passed his notice; he only gazed stolidly from the map to the newspaper with flaring headlines, and from newspaper back to map, trying to gauge the measure of his calamity.

The morning papers had been able to print nothing save the bare facts that the fire had started near a large hotel, had spread with appalling rapidity to the adjacent buildings, and getting beyond the control of the fire department was sweeping southward under a wind of thirty miles an hour. The afternoon extras, however, gave fuller and graver details. The central business section of the city was entirely in ruins, and the conflagration had as yet shown no sign of a stay.

Sunday though it was, in many of the greater insurance offices on William Street the executives had gathered and were endeavoring to calculate the effect of this catastrophe on their assets.

But in the office on the top floor, where the man stood alone, there was no longer any doubt. Whether the fire was checked or whether it swept onward mattered now to him not at all; he was looking into the eyes of ruin utter and absolute. . . . But this, perhaps, is premature, since before this day was to arrive much water was to flow under many bridges, and it is with the flowing of some of that water that this story has to deal.

About five o'clock, Charles Wilkinson called, as he often did, through inclinations in which the gastronomic and the amatory were about evenly divided. Long since, after a series of titanic but perfectly hopeless struggles, he had abandoned all direct attempts to borrow money from his opulent step uncle; subsequent efforts to achieve indirectly the same result by a myriad of methods admirably subtle and of marked ingenuity had resulted only in equal failure. To be sure, there had never been any really valid reason why his endeavors should have been successful unless as compensation for years of patient labor. He conceived his esteemed relation as a sort of safe deposit box, to a share of whose contents he was entitled if he could contrive to open it. Farther back in the quest, he had approached Mr. Hurd with the dash and confidence of a successful burglar, but of late the pursuit had lapsed to a mere occasional half hearted fumble at the combination.

However, he often came to tea. Tea was something tangibly of no great importance, but from Wilkinson's viewpoint a sop to his self respect in the reflection that he was getting it from old man Hurd. Besides, it kept the proximity established. Charles was as simple an optimist as a frankly predatory young man could be; some day the vault door might quite unexpectedly swing open, and it would be highly desirable to be close at hand and to have an intimate knowledge of the exits. Mr. Hurd was his only rich relation, and the step nephew clung to him with tentacles of despair.

Tea at John M. Hurd's was something, comparatively a more vital factor to Wilkinson, who lived in a cheap boarding house, than to its other partakers, and Isabel Hurd was something more.

He felt a sincere admiration for Isabel, and his admiration had the substantial foundation of real respect... Continue reading book >>

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