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broken-heartedly returned, in a voice which wavered
and halted with the echoes of recent sobs.

" I ll put the Planet out of business ! " stormed Jim
Sargent, stalking up and down the library, with his
fists clenched and his face purple. " I ll bankrupt
them ! " and he paused, as he passed, to reassuringly
pat the shoulder of poor Aunt Grace, who sat perfectly
numb holding one thumb until the bone ached. Her
eyes were frankly red, and the creases of worry had
set into her brow so deeply that they must have scarred
her skull. " I ll hunt up the whelp who wrote that
stuff, and the cur who drew it, and the dog who inserted
it ! " frothed the raging Jim. " I ll "

" The press is the palladium of our national lib
erty, Uncle Jim," drawled the soothing voice of
Ted.

" You can t do a thing about it," counselled Gerald
Fosland, a stiff looking gentleman who never made a
mistake of speech, or manner, or attire.

" Shucks, Gail ! " suddenly remembered Lucile.
" The big Faulker reception is this week, and your
gown was to be so stunning. Don t go home ! "



156 THE BALL OF FIRE

Mrs. Helen Davies cast on her feather-brained daugh
ter a glance of severe reproof.

"Have you no sense of propriety, Lucile? " she
warned. " Gail, very naturally, can not remain here
under the circumstances. It does great credit to her
that, immediately upon realising this horrible occur
rence, she telegraphed to her mother, without consult
ing any of us, that she was returning."

" I just wanted to go home," said Gail, her chin
quivering and her pretty throat tremulous with breath
pent from sobbing.

" It ll all blow over, Gail," argued Uncle Jim, in deep
distress because she was going so soon. If she had only
stopped long enough to pack up, they might have per
suaded her to stay. " Just forget it, and have a good
time."

" Jim," ordered the stern voice of Aunt Helen, " will
you be kind enough to see if any one is out in front? "

" Certainly," agreed Jim, wondering why his wife s
sister was suddenly so severe with him.

" It s time to start," called Ted, with practised wis
dom allowing ten minutes for good-byes, parting in
structions, and forgotten messages.

The adieus were said. Aunt Grace, clasping Gail
in her arms, began to sob, out of a full heart and a
general need for the exercise. Gerald Fosland took the
hand of his wife and kissed it, in most gallant fashion.

" I shall miss you dreadfully, my dear," he stated.

" I shall be thinking of you," responded Arlene, ad
justing her veil.

Mrs. Davies drew Arlene into the drawing room.

" It was so sweet of you to agree to accompany
Gail," she observed. " It would be useless to attempt



FREE AND ENTIRELY UNCURBED 157

to influence her now, but I look to you to bring her
back in a week. Her prospects are really too brilliant
to be interrupted by an unfortunate episode of this
nature."



CHAPTER XV

BUT WHY WAS SHE LONESOME?

EVERYBODY was at the depot to meet Gail; just
everybody in the world! It was midnight when
the train rolled in, and, as she came toward the gate,
the faces outside, with the high station lights beaming
down upon their eagerness, were like a flashing dream
of all the faces she had ever loved. Of course there
was her mother, a little stiff, a little sedate, a little re
served, but, under her calm exterior, fluttering with a
flood of pent-up emotion. There was her father, a par
ticularly twinkling-eyed gentleman, a somewhat thinner,
somewhat older, somewhat neater edition of Uncle Jim,
and he had, of all things, her favourite collie, Taffy,
perched high on his shoulder! It was from her father
that Gail had her vivacity and from her mother her fac
ulty of introspection. Dazed by the unexpected de
light, and the pain, too, of seeing all these dear old
faces, she was for picking them out in detail, when
Taffy made a blur of them. Taffy, suddenly recognis
ing his playfellow in the throng, first deafened Miles
Sargent with a series of welcoming barks, and then
began climbing up his back. Sargent, always gifted
with the capacity for over-estimating his own powers,
a quality which had permitted his brother Jim to
slightly outrun him in the game of life, had
fondly hoped that he could restrain Taffy by the firm
hold of the forepaws over his shoulder; but collies are

158



BUT WHY WAS SHE LONESOME^ 159

endowed with a separate set of muscles for wriggling
purposes alone, and the first thing Miles Sargent knew,
Taffy had crawled right over him, and had kicked off
from his cravat, and had shot straight through the out-
coming throng, a flash of yelping brown and white,
brushing over a woman with a basket, and landing
against Gail with the force of all his lively affection.

That was only the beginning of the impetuosity with
which she was received at home. She had never re
alised that she had quite so many friends, and even the
people in the street seemed familiar, as she was bundled
out to the car, with Arly smiling steadfastly in the
background and remembered only at intervals. They
looked more substantial and earnest and sincere and
friendly, these people, than the ones with whom she had
been recently associated. They were more polished in
New York, more sure of themselves, more indifferent
to the great mass of their fellow humanity, but here one
could be trustful. It was so good to be home !

Of course Howard was there, just the same old How
ard, and he bustled up to her with the same old air of
proprietorship, quite as if nothing had ever happened
to disturb their relations. It was he who took her by
the arm and engineered her out to her father s car. At
first she was puzzled by his air of having a right to boss
her around, and then the reason flashed on her mind.
Pride! Howard did not want their set to know that
he was no longer drum major in the Sargent proces
sion.

" There s a wad of roses at the house for you,
Snapsy," her father informed her as the machine
started, and his brown eyes twinkled until they almost
seemed to be surrounded by a halo. " They re from
number one, I think."



160 THE BALL OF FIRE

" Number one? " puzzled Gail, who had taken a fold
ing seat so that she might occasionally pat Taffy, who
sat up sedately with the chauffeur.

" Miles," protested Mrs. Sargent, trying to direct
his glance toward Arly.

" Edward E. Allison," grinned Gail s father. " He
must be a very active gentleman. Probably telephoned
his own florist in New York to telegraph Marty here to
supply you. Nothing has arrived from the other
eight."

Gail had a mad impulse to search for her time table.
She remembered now could she ever forget it that
her nine slaves had been numbered !

" Dad ! " she wailed. " You couldn t have seen that
awful paper ! "

" We receive the New York papers now at four p.
M.," he informed her, with an assumption of local pride
in the fact. " This morning s Planet had a wonder
ful circulation here. I think everybody in town has
seen it."

Arly Fosland had the bad grace to giggle. Mrs.
Sargent looked at her dubiously. She had, of course,
implicit confidence in Gail s selection of friends, but
nevertheless she was not one to make up her own mind
too rapidly.

" Everybody s proud of you, Snapsy ! " went on Miles
Sargent. " That s a wonderful collection of slaves to
have made in so short a time."

"Please don t, Dad!" begged Gail.

" For myself, I favour number five," continued her
father, enjoying himself very much, and Arly Fosland
made up her mind that she was going to feel very home
like in the Sargent house, at dinner times. " Number
five is "



BUT WHY WAS SHE LONESOME ? 161

" Miles ! " and Mrs. Sargent put her hand comfort
ingly on Gail s knee, while she turned reproachful eyes
on her husband.

" Why, Judith," protested Mrs. Sargent s husband,
in mock surprise ; " number five "

" Dad, I ll jump out of this car! "

" is the Reverend Smith Boyd, of Market Square
Church, the wealthiest and most fashionable congrega
tion in the world. Number six Mrs. Fosland, I
couldn t make out number six very well. I suppose
you know him.

Arly shrieked.

" I can tell you all about them," she volunteered,
judging that this was perhaps the best way to relieve
Gail s embarrassment. " Number one, the gentleman
who sent the flowers, is a good-looking bachelor of forty-
five, whose specialty is in making big street car com
panies out of little ones, and Gail hadn t been in New
York a week, when he took the first vacation he s had
in ten years. He ll probably go back to work to-mor
row morning. He was the hero of the wreck."

" No doubt a good provider," commented Mr. Sar
gent, gravely checking off number one.

Even Mrs. Sargent was smiling now, but Gail was
looking interestedly at the old familiar street, and mar
velling that it had changed so little. It seemed impos
sible that she had only been gone a few weeks. She
was particularly not hearing the flippant conversation
in the car.

" Number two is Dick Rodley," enumerated Arly,
remembering vividly the grouping of the nine slaves.
" He s the handsomest man in the world ! "

" Probably fickle."

" Number three, Willis Cunningham, He wears a



162 THE BALL OF FIRE

beard. I d rather talk about number four, Houston
Van Ploon," and she babbled on with her descriptions
of the nine slaves, until finally Gail laughed and helped
her out.

Somehow, the returned wanderer felt lonely, even with
three cars of friends following her home, as a guard
of honour. That was a strange sensation. Everything
was the same, all her friends were steadfast in their
affection, and she was overjoyed to be back among
them; yet she was lonely. Who could explain it?

Here was Main Street. Dear old busy Main Street,
with its shops and its hotels and its brilliantly lighted
drugstores, the latter only serving to accentuate the de
serted blackness. She was sorry that she had not ar
rived at an earlier hour, when the windows would have
been lighted and the streets busier with people ; though,
of course, it was always dull on Sunday night. Cricky !
Sunday ! She had an engagement with Houston Van
Ploon to attend a concert to-night, and she had forgot
ten to send him word. He had been at Uncle Jim s,
stiff as a ramrod and punctual to the second, of course.

Taffy, who had been whining his newly re-aroused
distress over the absence of Gail, now suddenly remem
bered that she was home again, and turned around with
a short, sharp bark. He stuck out his tongue and
rolled it at her, laughing, and his tail flopped. He
quivered all over.

Now up the avenue, the dear old wide avenue, with
its double rows of trees and its smooth asphalt, glisten
ing like sprinkling rain from the quartz sand embedded
in its surface, and with the prosperous looking brown
stone houses lining each side of the way, every house
with its lawn and its shrubbery and its glass-doored
vestibule. They were nearly all alike these houses, even



BUT WHY WAS SHE LONESOME 1 ? 163

to lawns and shrubbery, except that some of them had
no iron dogs in the grass, and others had no little white
cupids holding up either a goose spouting water out
of its mouth or an umbrella which furnished its own
rain. They were dear houses, every one, ever so much
more personal than the heartless residences of New
York; and her friends lived in them. It was so good
to be home!

She became more excited now. There was their own
house just ahead, occupying nearly half the block, and
slightly larger than the others ! It was brilliantly
lighted from the basement to the attic, and all the serv
ants were either on the front steps or peeping from
around the corner of the house, and old mammy Emma,
who had cooked Gail s own little individual custard pies
since she was a baby, had her apron to her eyes. Gail s
heart was just plumb full ! There was no place, oh,
no place in all the world like home !

Taffy jumped out of the machine as it turned in at
the gate, and ran up ahead to bark a proper welcome,
and touched the top step with a circle like a whipsnap-
per, and was back again, a long brown and white streak
bellying down to the grass, and prancing a circle around
the machine, and leaping in the air to bark, and back
up to the steps and back to the machine ; then lay down
in the grass and rolled over, and, jumping up, chased
a cat out of the next yard, in the mere exuberance of
joy; but was back again to crouch before Gail, and
whine, as she stepped out of the car.

Old Plympton was there, the hollow-stomached black
butler, whose long-tailed coat dropped straight from
the middle of his back, and flapped against the bend of
his knees when he walked. His voice trembled when
he greeted Miss Gail, and old Auntie Clem, who had



164 THE BALL OF FIRE

tended Miss Gail when she was a little girl no bigger
than that, and until the fancy French maid came, just
politely took her young missus upstairs to her room,
and took off those heavy shoes, and made her drink her
thimble glass of hot-spiced port wine. It was so good
to be home !

Of course her friends had piled into the house after
her, a whole chattering mob of them, and, late as the
hour was, Vivian Jennings opened the piano and rattled
into Auld Lang Syne, which the company sang with a
ringing zest! The tears filled Gail s eyes as she lis
tened. They were such faithful, whole-hearted peo
ple back here ! It was good to go away, now and then,
just for the joy of coming home again ; but one should
not go too often. After all, this was a better life.

Auntie Clem triumphed. She had Miss Gail all fixed
up before that fancy French maid had on her trifling
little cap and her hair primped. Arly, choosing
Auntie Clem instantly for her personal attendant on
this brief visit, naturally refused to intrude further on
the home coming, and expressed herself as frantically
in love with her little blue bedroom and boudoir.

When Gail went downstairs, in a comfortable little
red house gown which was tremendously artful in its
simplicity, she found the whole jolly company in the
big dining room, where Miles Sargent had insisted on
opening something in honour of the happy event. She
coloured as her father turned his twinkling eyes on her,
but he did not take occasion to call her a slave driver
or to tease her any further about the work of art which
had driven her home. She reproached herself crossly
for having suspected him of such a crudity. Of course
he would not do that !

They had sandwiches, and olives, and cake, and



BUT WHY WAS SHE LONESOME 4 ? 165

cookies trust Mammy Emma for that and nuts
and fruit and bonbons, and coffee, and champagne.
Everybody was excited, walking around with a sand
wich in one hand and an olive in the other, joking with
Gail, and complimenting her, and teasing her, but in
every word and look and action, showing that they loved
her.

She had a new knowledge of them, an understanding
of what it is like to have a whole circle of friends who
have grown up from childhood together. They under
stood each other, and knew each other s weaknesses and
faults, so that they were not shocked when they saw
evidences of them, and they knew each other s virtues,
so that they did not overestimate anything and look
for too much, and they were dependent upon each other
and knew it, and they were loyal ; that was it ! Loyal !
Loyal to the very core ! It was good, so good to be
home!

No one thought anything about it when Howard
Clemmens stayed behind, after all the rest had gone
home. Howard had always done that. It was his
right.

Howard was distressed in his mind about several
things, and, out of a habitual acquiescence in his old
assumption of leadership, and because she was tired,
and because she was tender of thought toward all her
old friends, she answered his very direct questions.
Yes, she had finished her visit. No, she was not en
gaged. That atrocious newspaper article had only been
a regular Sunday paper social sensation. They fas
tened that sort of a story on some one at least once a
year. These little matters settled, Howard was him
self again. He was very glad that Gail had returned to
her normal mode of existence, and now that all this



166 THE BALL OF FIRE

foolishness was over, he took the earliest oppor
tunity to mention the little matter between them.
Would Gail reconsider her answer to the question he
had asked her in New York? He informed her fully
as to the state of his affections, which had not changed
in the least, and he rather expected that this magnani
mous attitude on his part would meet with melting ap
preciation. He was very much astonished that it did
not, and displeased when she refused him again. Con
found it, he had not given her time to settle down!

She was only slightly troubled when he bade her
good night. She was sorry that she could not see the
matter as he did, but there was no trace of doubt in her
mind. Somehow, Howard seemed rather colourless of
late. He was a dear, good boy; but she was not the
kind of a girl he needed.

With only as much trouble on her brow as could be
smoothed away by her fingertips, she went back into
the dining room, where her father, who liked to have a
table near him, was enjoying an extra cup of coffee with
his cigar, and shedding the mild disapproval of Mrs.
Sargent, who foresaw a restless night for him. Gail,
who had not spared time for food, poured herself a
glass of water, picked up one of the delicious little
chicken sandwiches, and sat down, within easy leaning
distance of her father, for one of the good, old-time,
comfortable family chats. Taffy curled around her
feet, and the group was complete.

Somehow, that inexplicable feeling of loneliness re
turned to her, in the midst of this most dear intimacy.
What was it? No one can form far ties without leav
ing behind some enduring thread of spiritual communi
cation; for better or for worse.



CHAPTER XVI

GAIL AT HOME

* T HEAR Miss Gail s back home." It was the "ice

*- man. He had given her slivers of ice in the
days when she had wished that she were a boy.

" Yassum." Mammy Emma. She said " Yassum "
to everybody ; men, women, and children.

Gail, still snuggled in the pillows, smiled affection
ately, and knew what time it was. She reached lazily
out and pressed the button.

" Prettier than ever, I suppose." A slam and a
bang and a rattle of crockery.

" Heaps." The clink of a muffin pan. Gail knew
the peculiar sound from that of all the other pans in
the house. " I thought I done tole you yeahs ago to
saw that ice straight. Does it fit that away? "

" All right, Emma." The slam of a lid. " I ll re
member it next time. Miss Gail home for good? "

" Praise the Lawd, yes."

The clank of ice tongs.

" She s a fine girl ! " This with profound conviction.
" She didn t get her head turned and marry any of
those rich New Yorkers."

"She could if she d V wanted to!" This indig
nantly.

" Sure she could." Sounds of a heavy booted ice
man coming down the steps of the kitchen porch. " New

167



168 THE BALL OF FIRE

York papers said she could have her pick ; but she come
back home."

Gail s maid came in, a neat French girl who had an
artist s delight in her. She shivered and closed the
windows.

" Arly ! "

" Good morning," came a cheerful voice through
three open doors. " I m up hours," and Arly trotted
in, fresh-eyed and smiling, clad in a rich blue velvet
boudoir robe and her black hair braided down her back.
" I peeped in a few minutes ago, but you were sound
asleep. I want my coffee."

" You poor infant," and Gail promptly slid two pink
feet out of bed to be slippered by Nanette. " I ll be
ready in a minute. Why didn t you ring? "

" I did. Aunty Clem was up and took all the burden
of living away from me. I wouldn t have coffee by
myself, though. I get that at home," and there was
the slightest trace of wistfulness in her tone.

" Call Clem again," directed Gail. " Shall we have
it in your dressing room or mine? "

" All over both suites," laughed Arly. " I shall
never have enough of these beautiful little rooms," and
she hurried back to her own quarters, to summons, once
more, the broadly smiling face of Aunty Clem.

That was the beginning of the first morning at home,
with every delightful observance just as it had used
to be; first the fragrant coffee, and the pathetically
good hot muffins and jam; then the romping, laughing,
splashing process of dressing; then interrupted by a
visit from Mrs. Sargent, and from Taffy, and from
Vivian Jennings, who lived next door, and from Madge
Frazier, who had stayed the night with Vivian ; then a
race out to the stables, to say good morning to the



GAIL AT HOME 169

horses, and laughing with moist eyes, hear their excited
whinnies of greeting, and slip them lumps of sugar;
then to the kennels to be half smothered by the eager
collies; then over to Vivian s, to surround deaf old
grandmother Jennings with the flowers she loved best,
the faces of young girls ; then back to the house and the
telephone, for a cheery good morning to everybody in
the world, beginning with Dad, who was already plug
ging away in his office, the morning half gone, and look
ing forward to lunch.

Breakfast at eleven, a brisk horseback ride, a change,
and Gail s little grey electric was at the door. There
was a tremendous lot of shopping to be done. To be
gin with, sixteen new hair ribbons, and nine fancy mar
bles, not the big ones that you can t use, but the regular
unattainable fifteen centers, and twenty-five pears, and
twenty-five small boxes of candy, and eleven pound
packages of special tea, and six pound packages of
special tobacco, and one quart of whiskey, and eighteen
bunches of red carnations, five to the bunch, five group
ing better than four or six. None of these things were
to be delivered. Gail piled them all in her coupe", and,
after saying " howdydo " to about everybody on Main
Street, and feeling immensely uplifted thereby, she in
serted Arly in among the carnations and pears and to
bacco and things, and whirled her out to Chickentown,
which was the actively devilish section of the city al
lotted to Gail s church work.

There were those of the guild who made of this re
ligious duty a solemn and serious task, to be entered
upon with sweet piety and uplifting words; but Gail
had solved her problem in a fashion which kept Chick
entown from hating her and charity. She distributed
flowers and pears and tobacco and things, and perfectly



THE BALL OF FIRE

human smiles, and a few commonsensfe observations
when they seemed to be necessary, and scoldings
where they seemed due, and it was a lasting trib
ute to her diplomacy and popularity that all the new
born babies in the district were named either Gail or
Gale.

Chickentown lay in a smoky triangle, entirely sur
rounded by railroad yards and boiler factories and
packing houses and the like, and it was as feudal in its
instincts as any stronghold of old. Its womenfolk
would not market where the Black Creek women mar
keted, its men would not drink in the same saloons, and
its children came home scarred and prowed from gory
battles with the Black Creek gang; yet, in their little
cottages and in their tiny yards was the neatness of
local pride, which had sprung up immediately after Gail
had inaugurated the annual front yard flower prize
system.

No sooner had the familiar coupe crossed the
Black Creek bridge than a yell went up, which could
be heard echoing and reverberating from street to street
throughout the entire domain of Chickentown! One
block inside the fiefdom, the progress of the car was
impeded by exactly twenty-five children. By some
miracle they all arrived at nearly the same time, the
only difference being that those who had come the
farthest were the most out of breath. Gail jumped out
among them, and twenty-five right hands went straight
up in the air. She inspected the hands critically, one
by one, and, by that inspection alone, divided the mobs
into two groups, the clean handed ones, who were mostly
girls, and the dirty-handed ones, who looked sorry.
She shook hands with the first group, and she smiled on



GAIL AT HOME 171

both, and she distributed hair ribbons and marbles and
pears and candy with cordial understanding.

" It doesn t do for me to be away so long," she con
fessed, looking them over regretfully. " I don t be
lieve you are as clean."

Those who were as clean looked consciously hurt, but
for the most part they looked guilty ; and Gail apolo
gised individually, to those who merited it.

" Now we ll hear the troubles," she announced ; " and
you must hurry. The cleanest first."


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Online LibraryGeorge Randolph ChesterThe ball of fire → online text (page 11 of 24)