The Ball of Fire
&2M& M CALIF. LUBRAKY. LOS ANGELES
For an instant the brown eyes and the blue ones met
The Ball of Fire
George Randolph Chester
Hearst s International Library Co.
New York 1914
Copyright, 1914, by
THK RID BOOK CORPORATION
Copyright, 1914, by
HBABST S INTERNATIONAL LIBRARY Co., Ixo.
All Righti reserved, including the trantlation into foreign
language*, including the Scandinavian,
I No PLACE FOR SENTIMENT 1
II "WHY?" 9
III THE CHANGE IN THE RECTOR S EYES 22
IV Too MANY MEN 35
V EDWARD E. ALLISON TAKES A VACATION .... 47
VI THE IMPULSIVE YOUNG MAN FROM HOME ... 59
VII THEY HAD ALREADY SPOILED HER! 70
VIII STILL PIECING OUT THE WORLD 80
IX THE MINE FOR THE GOLDEN ALTAR 88
X THE STORM CENTER OF MAGNETIC ATTRACTION . . 98
XI "GENTLEMEN, THERE is YOUR EMPIRE!" . . . Ill
XII GAIL SOLVES THE PROBLEM OF VEDDER COURT . . 123
XIII THE SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST 135
XIV THE FREE AND ENTIRELY UNCURBED 150
XV BUT WHY WAS SHE LONESOME? 158
XVI GAIL AT HOME 167
XVII SOMETHING HAPPENS TO GERALD FOSLAND . . . 178
XVIII THE MESSABE FROM NEW YORK 187
XIX THE RECTOR KNOWS 199
XX THE BREED OF GAIL 212
XXI THE PUBLIC is AROUSED 221
XXII THE REV. SMITH BOYD PROTESTS 231
XXIII A SERIES OF GAIETIES . . 240
XXIV THE MAKER OF MAPS 250
XXV A QUESTION OF EUGEKICS 262
XXVI AN EMPIRE AND AN EMPHESS 271
XXVII ALLISON S PRIVATE AND PARTICULAR DEVIL . . . 281
XXVIII LOVE 289
XXIX GAIL FIRST! 299
XXX THE FLUTTER OF A SHEET OF Music 309
XXXI GAIL BREAKS A PROMISE 315
XXXII GERALD FOSLAND MAKES A SPEECH 325
XXXIII CHICKEN, OR STEAK? 334
XXXIV A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE 344
XXXV A VESTRY MEETING 353
XXXVI HAND IN HAND . 362
For an instant the brown eyes and the blue ones
At 7:15 Ephraim found him at the end of the table in
the midst of some neat and intricate tabulations . 51
She was glad to be alone, to rescue herself from the
whirl of anger and indignation and humiliation
which had swept around her 109
She telephoned that she was going to remain with Al
lison; and they enjoyed a two hour chat of many
The Ball of Fire
The Ball of Fire
NO PLACE FOR SENTIMENT
SILENCE pervaded the dim old aisles of Market
Square Church; a silence which seemed to be pal
pable ; a solemn hush which wavered , like the ghostly
echoes of anthems long forgotten, among the slender
columns and the high arches and the delicate tracery
of the groining; the winter sun, streaming through the
clerestory windows, cast, on the floor and on the vacant
benches, patches of ruby and of sapphire, of emerald
and of topaz , these seeming only to accentuate the dim
ness and the silence.
A thin, wavering, treble note, so delicate that it
seemed like a mere invisible cobweb of a tone, stole out
of the organ loft and went pulsing up amid the dim
arches. It grew in volume ; it added a diapason ; a
deep, soft bass joined it, and then, subdued, but throb
bing with the passion of a lost soul, it swelled into one
of the noble preludes of Bach. The organ rose in a
mighty crescendo to a peal which shook the very edi
fice; then it stopped with an abruptness which was
uncanny, so much so that the silence which ensued was
oppressive. In that silence the vestry door creaked,
it opened wide, and it was as if a vision had suddenly
been set there ! Framed in the dark doorway against
2 THE BALL OF FIRE
the background of the sun-flooded vestry, bathed in
the golden light from the transept window, brown-
haired, brown-eyed, rosy-cheeked, stood a girl who
might have been one of the slender stained-glass vir
gins come to life, the golden light flaming the edges
of her hair into an oriole. She stood timidly, peering
into the dimness, and on her beautifully curved lips
was a half questioning smile.
" Uncle Jim," she called, and there was some quality
in her low voice which was strangely attractive; and
" By George, Gail, I forgot that you were to come
for me ! " said Jim Sargent, rising from amid the group
of men in the dim transept. " The decorators drove
us out of the vestry."
" They drove me out, too," laughed the vision, step
ping from her frame.
" We are delighted that they drove you in here,"
quoth the tall, young Reverend Smith Boyd, who had
accomplished the rare art of bowing gracefully in a
She smiled her acknowledgment of the compliment,
and glanced uncertainly at the awe-inspiring vestry
meeting, then she turned toward the door.
" My niece, Miss Gail Sargent, gentlemen," an
nounced Jim Sargent, with entirely justifiable pride,
and, beaming until his bald spot seemed to glow with
an added shine, he introduced her to each of the gen
tlemen present, with the exception of Smith Boyd, whom
she had met that morning.
" What a pity Saint Paul didn t see you," remarked
silver-bearded Rufus Manning, calmly appropriating
the vision and ushering her into the pew between himself
and her uncle. " He never would have said it."
NO PLACE FOR SENTIMENT 3
" That women should not sit in council with the
men? " she laughed, looking into the blue eyes of patri
archal Manning. " Are you sure I won t be in the
" Not at all," round-headed old Nicholas Van Ploon
immediately assured her. He had popped his eyes
open with a jerk at the entrance of Gail, and had not
since been able to close them to their normal almond
shape. He sat now uncomfortably twisted so that he
could face her, and his cheeks were reddening with the
exertion, which had wrinkled his roundly filled vest.
The young rector contemplated her gravely. He was
not quite pleased.
" We ll be through in a few minutes, Gail," promised
Jim Sargent. " Allison, you were about to prove some
thing to us, I think," and he leaned forward to smile
across Gail at Rufus Manning.
" Prove is the right word," agreed the stockily built
man who had evidently been addressing the vestry.
He was acutely conscious of the presence of Gail, as
they all were. " Your rector suggests that this is a
matter of sentiment. You are anxious to have fifty
million dollars to begin the erection of a cathedral ;
but I came here to talk business, and that only. Grant
ing you the full normal appreciation of your Vedder
Court property, and the normal increase of your ag
gregate rentals, you can not have, at the end of ten
years, a penny over forty-two millions. I am prepared
to offer you, in cash, a sum which will, at three and a
half per cent., and in ten years, produce that exact
amount. To this I add two million."
" How much did you allow for increase in the value
of the property?" asked Nicholas Van Ploon, whose
only knowledge for several generations had been cen-
4 THE BALL OF FIRE
tred on this one question. The original Van Ploon had
3ught a vast tract of Manhattan for a dollar an acre,
and, by that stroke of towering genius, had placed the
family of Van Ploon, for all eternity, beyond the neces
sity of thought.
For answer, Allison passed him the envelope upon
which he had been figuring, checking off an item as he
did so. He noticed that Gail s lips twitched with sup
pressed mirth. She turned abruptly to look back at
the striking transept window, and the three vestrymen
in the rear pew immediately sat straighter. Willis Cun
ningham, who was a bachelor, hastily smoothed his Van
dyke. He was so rich, by inheritance, that money
meant nothing to him.
"Not enough," grunted Van Ploon, handing back
the envelope, and twisting again in the general direc
tion of Gail.
" Ample," retorted Allison. You can t count any
thing for the buildings. While I don t deny that they
yield the richest income of any property in the city,
they are the most decrepit tenements in New York
They ll fall down in less than ten years. You have
them propped up now."
Jim Sargent glanced solicitously at Gail, but she did
not seem to be bored ; not a particle !
They are passed by the building inspector annu-
illj, pompously stated W. T. Chisholm, his mutton
iops turning pink from the reddening of the skin be
neath. He had spent a lifetime in resenting indigni
ties before they reached him.
: Building inspectors change," insinuated Allison.
Politics is very uncertain."
Four indignant vestrymen jerked forward to answer
NO PLACE FOR SENTIMENT 5
" Gentlemen, this is a vestry meeting," sternly re
proved the Reverend Smith Boyd, advancing a step,
and seeming to feel the need of a gavel. His rich, deep
barytone explained why he was rector of the richest
church in the world.
Gail s eyes were dancing, but otherwise she was de-
mureness itself as she studied, in turns, the members
of the richest vestry in the world. She estimated that
eight of the gentlemen then present were almost close
enough to the anger line to swear. They numbered
just eight, and they were most interesting! And this
was a vestry meeting!
" The topic of debate was money, I believe," sug
gested Manning, rescuing his sense of humour from
somewhere in his beard. He was the infidel member.
" Suppose we return to it. Is Allison s offer worth
" Why ? " inquired the nasal voice of clean-shaven
old Joseph G. Clark, who was sarcastic in money mat
ters. The Standard Cereal Company had attained its
colossal dimensions through rebates ; and he had in
vented the device ! " The only reason we d sell to Al
lison would be that we could get more money than by
the normal return from our investment."
The thinly spun treble note began once more, pulsing
its timid way among the high, dim arches, as if seeking
a lodgment where it might fasten its tiny thread of
harmony, and grow into a masterful composition. A
little old lady came slowly down the centre aisle of the
nave, in rich but modest black, struggling, against her
infirmities, to walk with a trace of the erect graceful
ness of her bygone youth. Gail, listening raptly to the
delicately increasing throb of the music, followed, in
abstraction, the slow progress of the little old lady, who
6 THE BALL OF FIRE
seemed to carry with her, for just a moment, a trace
of the solemn hush belonging to that perspective of
slender columns which spread their gracefully pointed
arches up into the groined twilight, where the music
hovered until it could gather strength to burst into
full song. The little old lady turned her gaze for an
instant to the group in the transept, and subcon
sciously gave the folds of her veil a touch ; then she
slipped into her pew, down near the altar, and raised
her eyes to the exquisite Henri Dupres crucifix. She
knelt, and bowed her forehead on her hands.
" I ve allowed two million for the profit of Market
Square Church in dealing with me," stated Allison,
again proffering the envelope which no one made a
move to take. " I will not pay a dollar more."
W. T. Chisholm was suddenly reminded that the ves
try had a moral obligation in the matter under discus
sion. He was president of the Majestic Trust Com
pany, and never forgot that fact.
" To what use would you devote the property of Mar
ket Square Church ? " he gravely asked.
" The erection of a terminal station for all the muni
cipal transportation in New York," answered Allison ;
" subways, elevateds, surface cars, traction lines ! The
proposition should have the hearty co-operation of
Simple little idea, wasn t it? Gail had to think suc
cessively to comprehend what a stupendous enterprise
this was ; and the man talked about it as modestly as
if he were planning to sod a lawn ; more so ! Why, back
home, if a man dreamed a dream so vast as that, he
just talked about it for the rest of his life; and they
put a poet s wreath on his tombstone.
" Now you re talking sentiment," retorted stubby-
NO PLACE FOR SENTIMENT 7
moustached Jim Sargent. " You said, a while ago, that
you came here strictly on business. So did we. This
is no place for sentiment."
Rufus Manning, with the tip of his silvery beard in
his fingers, looked up into the delicate groining of the
apse, where it curved gracefully forward over the head
of the famous Henri Dupres crucifix, and he grinned.
Gail Sargent was looking contemplatively from one to
the other of the grave vestrymen.
" You re right," conceded Allison curtly. " Suppose
you fellows talk it over by yourselves, and let me know
your best offer."
" Very well," assented Jim Sargent, with an indif
ference which did not seem to be assumed. " We have
some other matters to discuss, and we may as well
thrash this thing out right now. We ll let you know
Gail looked at her watch and rose energetically.
" I shall be late at Lucile s, Uncle Jim. I don t think
I can wait for you."
" I m sorry," regretted Sargent. " I don t like to
have you drive around alone."
" I ll be very happy to take Miss Sargent anywhere
she d like to go," offered Allison, almost instantane
" Much obliged, Allison," accepted Sargent heartily ;
" that is, if she ll go with you."
" Thank you," said Gail simply, as she stepped out
of the pew.
The gentlemen of the vestry rose as one man. Old
Nicholas Van Ploon even attempted to stand gracefully
on one leg, while his vest bulged over the back of the
pew in front of him.
" I think we ll have to make you a permanent member
8 THE BALL OF FIRE
of the vestry," smiled Manning, the patriarch, as he
bowed his adieus. " We ve been needing a brightening
influence for some time."
Willis Cunningham, the thoughtful one, wedged his
Vandyke between the heads of Standard Cereal Clark
and Banker Chisholm.
" We hope to see you often, Miss Sargent," was his
" I mean to attend services," returned Gail graciously,
looking up into the organ loft, where the organist was
making his third attempt at that baffling run in the
" You haven t said how you like our famous old
church," suggested the Reverend Smith Boyd with
pleasant ease, though he felt relieved that she was going.
The sudden snap in Gail s eyes fairly scintillated.
It was like the shattering of fine glass in the sunlight.
" It seems to be a remarkably lucrative enterprise,"
she smiled up at him, and was rewarded by a snort from
Uncle Jim and a chuckle from silvery-bearded Rufus
Manning. Allison frankly guffawed. The balance of
the sedate vestry was struck dumb by the impertinence.
Gail felt the eyes of the Reverend Smith Boyd fixed
steadily on her, and turned to meet them. They were
cold. She had thought them blue; but now they were
green ! She stared back into them for a moment, and
a little red spot came into the delicate tint of her oval
cheeks; then she turned deliberately to the marvellously
beautiful big transept window. It had been designed
by the most famous stained-glass artist in the world,
and its subject lent itself to a wealth of colour. It was
Christ turning the money changers out of the temple !
!" exclaimed Gail in delight, turning up
her face to the delicate flakes. " And the sun
shining. That means snow to-morrow ! "
Allison helped her into his big, piratical looking run
about, and tucked her in as if she were some fragile
hot-house plant which might freeze with the first cool
draught. He looked, with keen appreciation, at her
fresh cheeks and sparkling eyes and softly waving hair.
He had never given himself much time for women, but
this girl was a distinct individual. It was not her
undeniable beauty which he found so attractive. He
had met many beautiful women. Nor was it charm of
manner, nor the thing called personal magnetism, nor
the intelligence which gleamed from her eyes. It was
something intangible and baffling which had chained
his interest from the moment she had appeared in the
vestry doorway, and since he was a man who had never
admitted the existence of mysteries, his own perplexity
" The pretty white snow is no friend of mine,"
he assured her, as he took the wheel and headed towards
the Avenue. He looked calculatingly into the sky.
" This particular downfall is likely to cost the Munici
pal Transportation Company several thousand dol
" I m curious to know the commercial value of a sun-
10 THE BALL OF FIRE
set in New York," Gail smiled up at him. Her eyes
closed for a swift instant, her long, brown lashes curv
ing down on her cheeks, but beneath them was an in
finitesimal gleam ; and Allison had the impression that
under the cover of her exquisitely veined lids she was
looking at him corner-wise, and having a great deal
of fun all by herself.
" We haven t capitalised sunsets yet, but we have
hopes," he laughed.
" Then there s still a commercial opportunity," she
lightly returned. " I feel quite friendly to money, but
it s so intimate here. I ve heard nothing else since I
came, on Monday."
" Even in church," he chuckled. " You delivered a
reckless shock to the Reverend Smith Boyd s vestry."
"Well?" she demanded. "Didn t he ask my opin
" I don t think he ll make the mistake again," and
Allison took the corner into the Avenue at a speed
which made Gail, unused to bare inches of leeway, class
Allison as a demon driver. The tall traffic policeman
around whose upraised arm they had circled smiled a
frank tribute to her beauty, and she felt relieved. She
had cherished some feeling that they should be arrested.
" However, even a church must discuss money," went
on Allison, as if he had just decided a problem to which
he had given weighty thought.
" Fifty millions isn t mere money," retorted Gail ;
" it s criminal wealth. If no man can make a million
dollars honestly, how can a church ? "
Allison swerved out into the centre of the Avenue and
passed a red limousine before he answered. He had
noticed that everybody in the street stared into his car,
and it flattered him immensely to have so pretty a girl
" The wealth of Market Square Church is natural
and normal," he explained. " It arises partly from the
increase in value of property which was donated when
practically worthless. Judicious investment is respon
sible for the balance."
" Oh, bother ! " and Gail glanced at him impatiently.
" Your natural impulse is to defend wealth because it is
wealth ; but you know that Market Square Church never
should have had a surplus to invest. The money should
have been spent in charity. Why are they saving it? "
Allison began to feel the same respect for Gail s men
tal processes which he would for a man s, though, when
he looked at her with this thought in mind, she was so
thoroughly feminine that she puzzled him more than
" Market Square Church has an ambition worthy of
its vestry," he informed her, bringing his runabout to
rest, with a swift glide, just an accurate three inches
behind the taxi in front of them. " When it has fifty
million dollars, it proposes to start building the most
magnificent cathedral on American soil."
Gail watched the up-town traffic piling around them,
wedging them in, packing them tightly on all sides, and
felt that they must be hours in extricating themselves
from this tangle of shining-bodied vehicles. The skies
had turned grey by now, and the snow was thicker in
the air. The flakes drove, with a cool, refreshing snap,
into her face.
"Why?" she pondered. "Will a fifty million dol
lar cathedral save souls in proportion to the amount of
money invested? "
12 THE BALL OF FIRE
Allison enjoyed that query thoroughly.
" You must ask the Reverend Smith Boyd," he
chuckled. " You talk like a heathen ! "
" I am," she calmly avowed. " I ve heen a heathen
ever since a certain respectable old religious body
dropped the theory of infant damnation from its creed.
Its body of elders decided to save the souls of unbap-
tised babies from everlasting hell-fire ; and the anti-
damnation wing won by three grey-whiskered votes."
Proper ladies in the nearby cars stared with haughty
disapproval at Allison, whose degree of appreciation
necessitated a howl. Gail, however, did not join in the
mirth. That telltale red spot had appeared in the deli
cate pink of her cheeks. She was still angry with the
man-made creed which had taught a belief so horrible.
The traffic blockade was lifted, and Allison s clutch
slammed. The whole mass of vehicles moved forwards,
and in two blocks up the Avenue they had scattered like
chaff. Allison darted into an opening between two
cars, his runabout skidded, and missed a little electric
by a hair s breadth. He had no personal interest in
religion, but he had in Gail.
" So you turned infidel."
" Oh no," returned Gail gravely, and with a new tone.
" I pray every morning and every night, and God hears
me." The note of reverence in her voice was a thing
to which Allison gave instant respect. " I have no
quarrel with religion, only with theology. I attend
church because its spiritual influence has survived in
spite of outgrown rites. I take part in the services,
though I will not repeat the creed. Why, Mr. Allison,
I love the church, and the most notable man in the fu
ture history of the world will be the man who saves it
from dead dogma." Her eyes were glowing, the same
"WHY 1 ?" 13
eyes which had closed in satirical mischief. Now they
were rapt. " What a stunning collie ! " she suddenly
Allison, who had followed her with admiring atten
tion, his mind accompanying hers in eager leaps,
laughed in relief. After all, she was a girl and what
a girl ! The exhilaration of the drive, and of the snow
beating in her face, and of the animated conversation,
had set the clear skin of her face aglow with colour.
Her deep red lips, exquisitely curved and half parted,
displayed a row of dazzling white teeth, and the elbow
which touched his was magnetic. Allison refused to
believe that he was forty-five!
" You re fond of collies," he guessed, surprised to find
himself with an eager interest in the likes and dislikes
of a young girl. It was a new experience.
" I adore them ! " she enthusiastically declared.
" Back home, I have one of every marking but a pure
There was something tender and wistful in the tone
of that " back home." No doubt she had hosts of
friends and admirers there, possibly a favoured suitor.
It was quite likely. A girl such as Gail Sargent could
hardly escape it. If there was a favoured suitor Al
lison rather pitied him, for Gail was in the city of strong
men. Busy with an entirely new and strange group
of thoughts, Allison turned into the Park, and Gail ut
tered an exclamation of delight as the fresh, keen air
whipped in her face. The snow was like a filmy white
veil against the bare trees, and enough of it had clung,
by now, to outline, with silver pointing, the lacework
of branches. On the turf, still green from the open
winter, it lay in thin white patches, and squirrels, clad
in their sleek winter garments, were already scampering
14 THE BALL OF FIRE
to their beds, crossing the busy drive with the adroit
ness of accomplished metropolitan pedestrians, their
bushy tails hopping behind them in ungainly loops.
The pair in the runabout were silent, for the east
drive at this hour was thronged with outward bound
machines, and the roadway was slippery with the new-
fallen snow. Steady of nerve, keen of eye, firm of
hand ! Gail watched the alert figure of Allison, tensely
and yet easily motionless, in the seat beside her. The
terrific swiftness of everything impressed her. Every
car was going at top speed, and it seemed that she was
in a constant maze of hair-breadth escapes. By and
by, however, she found another and a greater marvel;
that in all this breathless driving, there was no reck
lessness. Capability, that was the word for which she
had been groping. No man could survive here, and rest
his feet upon the under layer, unless he possessed su
perior ability, superior will, superior strength. She ar
rived at exactly the same phrase Allison had enter
tained five minutes before ; " the city of strong men " !
Again she turned to the man at her side for a critical
inspection, in this new light. His frame was powerful,
and the square, high forehead, with the bulges of con
centration above the brows, showed his mental equip
ment to be equally as rugged. His profile was a crisply
cut silhouette against the wintry grey ; straight nose,
full, firm lips, pointed chin, square jaw. He was a
fair example of all this force.