The store was a total loss.
John had watched all night as his life’s endeavor was consumed in fire, the flames greedily feasting upon the oils and canvases of irreplaceable paintings, while sculptures cracked and shattered in the heat. Now, ignoring the warnings of the firemen, he walked among the sodden ashes of his life.
He had insurance, of course, which would cover some of the lost property. But the store had been his home as well as his business, and the apartment overhead with all his books, his mementos, documents – everything he owned in fact – had been likewise consumed in fire.
Besides, the artists who had been his clients had trusted him with their works, the fruit of their labors. No one yet knew how the fire had started, but it had been his responsibility. And he had failed. There would be no rebuilding.
He turned over the twisted remains of a bronze frame with his foot. He felt as a man does who is has a limb taken off. Often he doesn’t feel it straight away, but knows that he will soon.
There was nothing left. Nothing at all.
Stepping around a large pile of fallen brick – probably the remains of the upper floor – John suddenly noticed a spec of blue. Amidst the black and gray of the ashes, it stood out as though luminous. With a numb kind of curiosity, he pushed aside some of the rubble, hardly caring at this point for the danger of further collapse.
As the bricks came away one by one, amazement fell upon him. Under that pile of blackened masonry was a framed painting. The glass was unbroken, the frame untouched, and the painting itself completely unharmed.
It was a Madonna and Child, done in an imitation Baroque style. He remembered it well, hanging on the wall in a back corner. It had reminded him of the pictures that had decorated his parents’ house growing up, the relics of a faith that he himself had since lost.
And it was absolutely impossible that it should have survived.
Trembling he lifted the painting. He ran his fingers down the glass, feeling not so much as a scratch. The colors stood out as vibrant as ever, the kindly eyes of the Virgin and her Child gazing out at him.
He set the painting up against the pile of debris and then dropped to his knees before it. And in the midst of his loss, he found himself overwhelmed with joy at what he had found.