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Wood Ashes And Progress
by [?]

“Once man defended his home and hearth; now he defends his home and radiator.” The words stared out of the bulk of print on the page with startling vividness, a gem of philosophy, a “criticism of life,” in the waste of jokes which the comic-paper editor had read and doubtless paid for, and which the public was doubtless expected to enjoy. The Man Above the Square laid aside the paper, leaned toward his fire, took up the poker (an old ebony cane adorned with a heavy silver knob which bore the name of an actor once loved and admired) and rolled the top log over slowly and meditatively. The end of the cane was scarred and burned from many a contest with stubborn logs, and the Man Above the Square looked at the marks of service with a smile before he stood the heavy stick again in its place by the fireside.

“It isn’t every walking-stick which comes to such a good end,” he said aloud.

Then either because he was cold or in penitence for the pun, he walked over to the windows to pull down the shades. But before he did so he looked out into the night, his breath making a frosty vapor on the pane. Below him the Square gleamed in white patches under the arc-lamps, and across these white patches here and there a belated pedestrian, coat collar turned up, hurried, a black shadow. The cross on the Memorial Church gleamed like a cluster of stars, and deep in the cold sky the moon rode silently. A chill wind was complaining in the bare treetops beneath him and found its way to his face and body through the window chinks. He drew down the shades quickly and pulled the heavy draperies together with a rattle of rings on the rods. Then he turned and faced his room.

A scarf of Oriental silk veiled the light of the single lamp, set low on his desk, and the fire had its own way with the illumination. It sent dancing shadows over the olive walls, it made points of light of the picture-frames and a glowing coal of the polished coffee-urn in the corner; it pointed pleasantly out the numberless books, but told nothing of their contents; it made dark the spaces where the alcoves were, but suffused the little radius of the hearth that was bounded by an easy chair and a pipe-stand with a glow and warmth and comfort which were irresistible. The Man Above the Square came quickly into this charmed radius and sank again into the chair. “And some people insist on steam heat!” he said.

Then he looked into the rosy pit of wallowing, good-natured flames, and fancied he was meditating. But in reality he was going to sleep. When he woke up the fire was out and he was cramped and cold. He stumbled to a corner, turned on the steam in a radiator, that the room might be warm in the morning, and returned to his chamber.

“After all, you have to build a fire; but the steam just comes,” he growled, as he crawled sleepily into bed.

Toward morning the steam did come, but some hours before he was ready to rise. It came at intervals, forcing the water up ahead and thumping it against the top of the radiator with the force of a trip-hammer and the noise of a cannon. The Man Above the Square woke up and cursed. The intervals between thumps he employed in wondering how soon the next report would come, which effectively prevented his going to sleep again. Presently the thumping ceased, and he dozed off, to awake later in ugly temper. He went out into the sitting room and found it cold as an ice-box.

“Where in blazes is all that steam which woke me up at daylight?” he shouted down the speaking-tube to the janitor. The answer, as usual, admitted of no reply, even as it offered no satisfactory explanation. He dug into the wood-box and on the heap of feathery white ashes which topped the pile in the fireplace like snow–“the fall of last night” he called it–he laid a fire of pine and maple. In three minutes he was toasting his toes in front of the blaze, and good nature was spreading up his person like the tide up a bay.