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The Pursuit Of Fire
by [?]

Reader, if by chance you have the habit of writing–whether they be sermons to hurl across your pews, or sonnets in the Spring–doubtless you have moments when you sit at your desk bare of thoughts. Mother Hubbard’s cupboard when she went to seek the bone was not more empty. In such plight you chew your pencil as though it were stuff to feed your brain. Or if you are of delicate taste, you fall upon your fingers. Or in the hope that exercise will stir your wits, you pace up and down the room and press your nose upon the window if perhaps the grocer’s boy shall rouse you. Some persons draw pictures on their pads or put pot-hooks on their letters–for talent varies–or they roughen up their hair. I knew one gifted fellow whose shoes presently would cramp him until he kicked them off, when at once the juices of his intellect would flow. Genius, I am told, sometimes locks its door and, if unrestrained, peels its outer wrappings. Or, in your poverty, you run through the pages of a favorite volume, with a notebook for a sly theft to start you off. In what dejection you have fallen! It is best that you put on your hat and take your stupid self abroad.

Or maybe you think that your creative fire will blaze, if instead of throwing in your wet raw thoughts, you feed it a few seasoned bits. You open, therefore, the drawer of your desk where you keep your rejected and broken fragments–for your past has not been prosperous–hopeful against experience that you can recast one of these to your present mood. This is mournful business. Certain paragraphs that came from you hot are now patched and shivery. Their finer meaning has run out between the lines as though these spaces were sluices for the proper drainage of the page. You had best put on your hat. You will get no comfort from these stale papers.

One evening lately, being in this plight, I spread out before me certain odds and ends. I had dug deeper than usual in the drawer and had brought up a yellow stratum of a considerable age. I was poring upon these papers and was wondering whether I could fit them to a newer measure, when I heard a slight noise behind me. I glanced around and saw that a man had entered the room and was now seated in a chair before the fire. In the common nature of things this should have been startling, for the hour was late–twelve o’clock had struck across the way–and I had thought that I was quite alone. But there was something so friendly and easy in his attitude–he was a young man, little more than a lanky boy–that instead of being frightened, I swung calmly around for a better look. He sat with his legs stretched before him and with his chin resting in his hand, as though in thought. By the light that fell on him from the fire, I saw that he wore a brown checked suit and that he was clean and respectable in appearance. His face was in shadow.

“Good evening,” I said, “you startled me.”

“I am sorry,” he replied. “I beg your pardon. I was going by and I saw your light. I wished to make your acquaintance. But I saw at once that I was intruding, so I sat here. You were quite absorbed. Would you mind if I mended the fire?”

Without waiting for an answer, he took the poker and dealt the logs several blows. It didn’t greatly help the flame, but he poked with such enjoyment that I smiled. I have myself rather a liking for stirring a fire. He set another log in place. Then he drew from his pocket a handful of dried orange peel. “I love to see it burn,” he said. “It crackles and spits.” He ranged the peel upon the log where the flame would get it, and then settled himself in the big chair.