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A Poor Wise Man By Mary Roberts Rinehart Characters: 4667

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

The city had taken the rioting with a weary philosophy. It was tired of fighting. For two years it had labored at high tension for the European war. It had paid taxes and bought bonds, for the war. It had saved and skimped and denied itself, for the war. And for the war it had made steel, steel for cannon and for tanks, for ships and for railroads. It had labored hard and well, and now all it wanted was to be allowed to get back to normal things. It wanted peace.

It said, in effect: "I have both fought and labored, sacrificed and endured. Give me now my rest of nights, after a day's work. Give me marriage and children. Give me contentment. Give me the things I have loved long since, and lost awhile."

And because the city craved peace, it was hard to rouse it to its danger. It was war-weary, and its weariness was not of apathy, but of exhaustion. It was not yet ready for new activity.

Then, the same night that had seen Willy Cameron's encounter with Akers, it was roused from its lethargy. A series of bomb outrages shook the downtown district. The Denslow Bank was the first to go. Willy Cameron, inspecting a cut lip in his mirror, heard a dull explosion, and ran down to the street. There he was joined by Joe Wilkinson, in trousers over his night shirt, and as they looked, a dull red glare showed against the sky. Joe went back for more clothing, but Willy Cameron ran down the street. At the first corner he heard a second explosion, further away and to the east, but apparently no fire followed it. That, he learned later, was the City Club, founded by Anthony Cardew years before.

The Denslow Bank was burning. The facade had been shattered and from the interior already poured a steady flow of flame and smoke. He stood among the crowd, while the engines throbbed and the great fire hose lay along the streets, and watched the little upper room where the precious records of the Committee were burning brightly. The front wall gone, the small office stood open to the world, a bright and shameless thing, flaunting its nakedness to the crowd below.

He wondered why Providence should so play into the hands of the enemy.

After a time he happened on Pink Denslow, wandering alone on the outskirts of the crowd.

"Just about kill the governor, this," said Pink, heavily. "Don't suppose the watch

men got out, either. Not that they'd care," he added, savagely.

"How about the vaults? I suppose they are fireproof?"

"Yes. Do you realize that every record we've got has gone? D'you suppose those fellows knew about them?"

Willy Cameron had been asking himself the same question.

"Trouble is," Pink went on, "you don't know who to trust. They're not all foreigners. Let's get away from here; it makes me sick."

They wandered through the night together, almost unconsciously in the direction of the City Club, but within a block of it they realized that something was wrong. A hospital ambulance dashed by, its gong ringing wildly, and a fire engine, not pumping, stood at the curb.

"Come on," Pink said suddenly. "There were two explosions. It's just possible-"

The club was more sinister than the burning bank; it was a mass of grim wreckage, black and gaping, with now and then the sound of settling masonry, and already dotted with the moving flash-lights of men who searched.

To Pink this catastrophe was infinitely greater than that of the bank. Men he knew had lived there. There were old club servants who were like family retainers; one or two employees were ex-service men for whom he had found employment. He stood there, with Willy Cameron's hand on his arm, with a new maturity and a vast suffering in his face.

"Before God," he said solemnly, "I swear never to rest until the fellows behind this are tried, condemned and hanged. You've heard it, Cameron."

The death list for that night numbered thirteen, the two watchmen at the bank and eleven men at the club, two of them members. Willy Cameron, going home at dawn, exhausted and covered with plaster dust, bought an extra and learned that a third bomb, less powerful, had wrecked the mayor's house. It had been placed under the sleeping porch, and but for the accident of a sick baby the entire family would have been wiped out.

Even his high courage began to waver. His records were gone; that was all to do over again. But what seemed to him the impasse was this fighting in the dark. An unseen enemy, always. And an enemy which combined with skill a total lack of any rules of warfare, which killed here, there and everywhere, as though for the sheer joy of killing. It struck at the high but killed the low. And it had only begun.

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