George Randolph Chester.

The ball of fire online

. (page 12 of 24)
Online LibraryGeorge Randolph ChesterThe ball of fire → online text (page 12 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Twenty-five hands went up, and she picked out the
cleanest, a neat little girl with yellow hair and blue
eyes and a prim little walk, who shyly came forward
alone out of the group and wiggled her interlocked
fingers behind her, while Gail sat in the door of her
coupe and held her court.

A half-whispered conversation ; a genuine trouble,
and some sound and sensible advice. Yellow Hair did
not like her school-teacher; and what was she to do
about it? A difficult problem that, and while Gail was
inculcating certain extremely cautious lessons of min
gled endurance and diplomacy, which would have been
helpful to grown-ups as well as to yellow-haired little
girls, and which Gail reflected that she might herself
use with profit, Arly, with an entirely new sort of smile
in her softened eyes, walked over to the chattering
group, all of whom had troubles to relate, and asked a
boy to have a bill changed for her into quarter dollars.
The boy looked at his hand.

" I guess I won t be next for a long time," and taking
the bill ran for the candy shop, which was nearest.
There were seven places of retail business in Chicken-
town, and since they dealt mostly in coppers, he ex
pected to be a long time on this errand.


Arly watched Gail handle the case of a particularly
black-eyed little girl, whose brother was getting too
big to play with her any more ; and she grew wistful.

"Do you mind if I hear a few troubles, Gail? " she

" Help yourself," was the laughing reply. " I think
there s enough to go around."

" I ll begin at the other end," decided Arly. " Put
up your hands, kiddies," and they went up slowly. She
conscientiously picked the dirtiest one, but the boy who
owned it came forward with a reluctance which was al
most sullen.

" I druther tell Miss Gail," he frankly informed her.

" Of course," Arly immediately agreed, smiling down
into his eyes with more charm than she had seen fit to
exert on anybody in many months. " But you can
tell Miss Gail about it afterwards, if you like, or you
might tell me your littlest trouble and save your big
gest one for Miss Gail."

" I ain t got but one," responded the boy, and he
looked searchingly into Arly s black eyes. Her being
pretty, like Gail, was a recommendation.

" There s a kid over in Black Creek that I used to
lick; but now he s got me faded."

From his intensity, this was a serious trouble, and
Arly considered it seriously.

" Does he fight fairly ? " she asked, and that one ques
tion alone showed that she knew the first principles
of human life and conduct, which was rare in a girl or
woman of any type.

He came a step closer, and looked up into her eyes
with all his reservation gone.

" Yessum," he confessed, and there was something of
a clutch in his throat which would never grow up to


be a sob, but which would have been one in a girl. He d
rather have lied, but you couldn t get any useful advice
that way.

" Maybe he s growing faster than you."

" Yessum. I eat all the oatmeal they give me, and
I take trainin runs every evening after school, clear up
to Scraggers Park and back ; but it don t do any good."

Arly pondered.

" When does he lick you ? " she asked.

" Right after supper when he catches me."

" Do you play all day ? "

" I go to school."


" Yessum. Baseball, and one-old-cat, and two-old-
cat, and rounders, and marbles, and prisoner s base,
and high-spy, but mostly baseball and marbles."

Arly studied the future citizen with the eye of a
practical physical culturist, who knew exactly how she
had preserved her clear complexion and lithe figure.
In spite of his sturdy build, there was not enough pro
tuberance to his chest, and, though his cheeks were full
enough, there was a hollow look about his jaws and
around his eyes.

" You re over-trained," she decisively told him.
" You mustn t play marbles very often, or very long
at a tijne, because that stooping over in the dust isn t
good for you, and you mustn t take your training runs
up to that park. The other boy licks you because
you re all tired out. I don t believe it s because he s a
better fighter."

That boy breathed with the sigh of one freed from a
mighty burden, and the eyes which looked up into
Arly s were almost swimming with gratitude.

" She s all right," he told the next candidate. " She s


a pippin! Say, do you know what s the matter with
me? I m over-trained," and he smacked his chest re
sounding whacks and felt of his biceps.

There were troubles of all sorts and shapes and sizes,
and Arly bent to them more concentrated wisdom than
she had been called upon to display for years. It was
a new game, one with a live zest, and Gail had invented
it. Her admiration for Gail went up a notch. One
boy was not so funny as his brother, and was never
noticed; another had to eat turnips; and Arly s only
little girl, for she had started at the boy end, couldn t
have little slippers that pinched her feet!

" I m glad I came home with you," commented
Arly, when she had finished her court and had distrib
uted her money, which Gail had permitted her just this
once, and they had driven up the block attended by
an escort of exactly twenty-five. " It makes me think,
and I d almost forgotten how."

" It makes me think, too," confessed Gail, very seri
ously. " Suppose I should go away. They d go right
on living, but I like to flatter myself that I m doing
more good for them than somebody else could do." Why
that thought had worried her she could not say. She
was home to stay now, except for the usual trips.

" You d find the same opportunities anywhere," Arly
quickly assured her.

" Yes, but they wouldn t be these same children," wor
ried Gail. " I d never know others like I know these."

" No," admitted Arly slowly. " I think I ll pick out
a few when I go back home. I ve often wondered how
to do it, without having them think me a fool or a nosy,
but you ve solved the problem. You re tremendously

" Here s Granny Jones s," interrupted Gail, with a


smile for the compliment. " Don t come in, for she s
my worst specimen. She s a duty," and taking some
carnations and a package of tea, she hurried away.

Flowers and tea for the old ladies, tobacco and flow
ers for the old men, and the bottle of whiskey for old
Ben Jackson, to whom his little nip every morning and
night was a genuine charity, though one severe worker
left the guild because Gail persisted in taking it to him.
At the house they found silver-haired old Doctor
Mooreman, the rector of the quaintly beautiful little
chapel up the avenue, and he greeted Gail with a smile
which was a strange commingling of spiritual virtue and
earthly shrewdness.

"Well, how s my little pagan? " he asked her, in the
few minutes they had alone.

" Worse than ever, I m afraid," she confessed. " I
suppose you re asking about the state of my mind and
the degree of my wickedness."

" That s it exactly," agreed the Reverend Doctor,
smiling on her fondly. " Are you still quarrelling with
the Church, because it prefers to be respectable rather
than merely good?"

" I m afraid so," she laughed. " I still don t under
stand why Hell is preached when nobody believes it;
nor why we are told the material details of a spiritual
Heaven, when no one has proved its existence except
by ancient literature ; nor why an absolutely holy man
whose works are all good, from end to end of his life,
can t go to Heaven if he doubts the divinity of the
Saviour; nor why so much immorality is encouraged
in the world by teaching that marriage itself is sinful ;
nor why a hundred other things, which are necessarily
the formulas of man, are made a condition of the wor
ship of the heart. You see, I m as bad as ever."


The smile of Doctor Mooreman was a pleasant sight
to behold.

" You re in no spiritual difficulties," he told her.
" You re only having fun with your mind, and laying
tragic stress on the few little innocent fictions which
were once well-meant and useful."

Gail looked at him in astonishment.

" I never heard you admit that much ! " she mar

" You re approaching years of discretion," laughed
her old rector. " All these things are of small moment
compared with the great fact that the Church does
stand as a constant effort to inculcate the grace of
God. The young are prone to require roses without
a blemish, but even God has never made one."

" I don t understand," she puzzled. " You re not
combatting me on any of these things as you used to,"
and it actually worried her.

" Let me whisper something to you," and the Rev
erend Doctor Mooreman, whose face had the purity
which is only visible in old age, leaned forward, with
his eyes snapping. " I don t believe a lot of them my
self ; but Gail, I believe much in the grace of God, and
I believe much in its refining and bettering influence on
humanity, so to the people who would discard every
thing for the reason of one little flaw, I teach things
I don t believe; and my conscience is as clean as a

" You re a darling old fraud ! " Gail s mind was
singularly relieved. She had worried how a man of
Doctor Mooreman s intelligence could swallow so many
of the things which were fed him in his profession. The
conversation had done her good. It tempered her atti
tude toward certain things, but it did not change her


steadfast principle that the Church would be better off
if it did not require the teachings of tenets and articles
of faith which were an insult to modern intelligence.

Had she been unfair with the Reverend Smith Boyd?
She could not shake off that thought. She must tell
him the attitude of Doctor Mooreman. That is, if she
ever saw him again. Of course she would, however.


THERE was something radically wrong with the
Fosland household. Gerald s man had for years
invariably said: " Good morning, sir; I hope you slept
well, sir." This time he merely said : " Good morn
ing, sir " ; and he forgot the salt. What was the mat
ter with the house? With the exception of William s
slip, the every morning programme was quite as usual.
Gerald arose, had his plunge, his breakfast, read his
mail and his paper, went for a canter in the Park, had
luncheon at the Papyrus Club, and unless his morning
engagement slip had shown him some social duty for the
afternoon, he did not see Mrs. Fosland until he came
down, from the hands of William, dressed for dinner.

One can readily see that no deviation from this rou
tine confronted Gerald Fosland this morning. He had
had his plunge and his breakfast, his mail and his paper
laid before him, and yet there was something ghastly
about the feel of the house. It was as if some one were
dead ! Gerald Fosland made as radical a deviation
from his daily life as William had done. He left his
mail unopened, after a glance at the postmark; he left
his paper unread, and he started for his canter in the
Park a full half hour early !

He arrived at the Papyrus Club a full half hour
early, and sat in the dimmest corner of the library,



taking himself seriously in hand. Somehow, he was
not quite fit, not quite up to himself. It seemed des
perately lonely in the Club. There were plenty of
fellows there, but they were merely nodders. They
were not the ones who came at his hour. He bright
ened a shade as Tompkinson came in five minutes early.
He was about to wonder if all the world had started
a trifle early this morning, when he remembered that,
ordinarily on his arrival, he found Tompkinson there.
He could not analyse why this should be such a relief
to him, unless it was that he found mere normality com
forting to-day.

" Good-morning, Fosland," drawled Tompkinson.
" Beautiful weather."

" Yes," said Gerald, and they sat together in voice
less satisfaction until Connors came in.

" Good-morning," observed Connors. " Beautiful

" Yes," replied Fosland and Tompkinson, and Con
nors sat.

" Depressing affair of Prymm s," presently re
marked Tompkinson, calling a boy for the customary

" Rotten," agreed Connors, with some feeling. All
his ancestors had been Irish, and it never quite gets out
of the blood.

" I haven t heard," suggested Fosland, with the de
cent interest one club-fellow should have in another.

" Wife went to Italy with the sculptor who made her
portrait; Carmelli, that s the name. Intense looking
fellow, you know. Prymm had him here at the club."

" You don t tell me." Gerald felt an unusual throb
of commiseration for Prymm. " Mighty decent chap."

" Yes, Prymm s all cut up about it," went on Tomp-


kinson. " Has a sort of notion he should kill the fel
low, or something of the kind."

" Why ? " demanded Connors, with some feeling
again. Connors was a widower, and Fosland suddenly
remembered, though he could not trace a connection
leading to the thought, that Connors had not been a
frequenter of the club until after the death of his wife.
" Prymm s a thoroughly decent chap, but he was so

This being a new word in such connection, both Fos
land and Tompkinson looked at Connors inquiringly.

" I hadn t noticed." This Tompkinson.

" Wasteful of Mrs. Pr} T mm," explained Connors.
" She is a beautiful young woman, clever, charming,
companionable, and, naturally, fond of admiration.
Prymm admired her. He frequently intimated that he
did. He admired his horse, and an exceptional Botti
celli which hung in his music-room, but his chief pleas
ure lay in their possession. He never considered that
he should give any particular pleasure to the Botticelli,
but he did to the horse."

Gerald Fosland was aware of a particular feel of
discomfort. Rather heartless to be discussing a fel
low member s intimate affairs this way.

" It is most unfortunate," he commented. " Shall we
go down to lunch ? "

In the hall they met Prymm, a properly set up fel
low, with neatly plastered hair and an air of unusually
perfect grooming. He presented the appearance of
having shaved too closely to-day.

" Good-morning," said Prymm. " Beautiful weath

Inconsiderate of Prymm to show up at the club. A
trifle selfish of him. It put such a strain on his fel-


low members. Of course, though, he had most of his
mail there. He only stopped for his mail, and went

" You ll be in for the usual Tuesday night whist,
I dare say," inquired Tompkinson perfunctorily.

" Oh yes," remembered Fosland, and was thoughtful
for a moment. " No, I don t think I can come.
Sorry." He felt the eye of Connors fixed on him curi

On Fosland s book was a tea, the date filled in two
weeks ago ; one of those art things to which men are
compelled. Arly had handed it to him, much like a
bill for repairs, or a memorandum to secure steamer
tickets. He drove home, and dressed, and when Wil
liam handed him his hat and gloves and stick he laid
them on the table beside him, in his lounging room, and
sat down, looking patiently out of the window. He
glanced at his watch, by and by, and resumed his in
spection of the opposite side of the street. He stirred
restlessly, and then he suddenly rose, with a little smile
at himself. He had been waiting for word from Mrs.
Fosland, that she was ready. For just a few ab
stracted moments he had forgotten that he was to pay
the social obligations of the house of Fosland entirely

He picked up his hat and gloves and stick, and
started to leave the room. As he passed the door lead
ing to Arly s apartments, he hesitated, and put his
hand on the knob. He glanced over his shoulder, as
a guilty conscience made him imagine that William was
coming in, then he gently turned the knob, and entered.
A tiny vestibule, and then a little French-grey salon,
and then the boudoir, all in delicate blue, and sweet
with a faint, delicate, evasive fragrance which was like


the passing of Arly. Something made him stand, for
a moment, with a trace of feeling which came to awe,
and then he turned and went out of the terribly solemn
place. He did not notice, until afterwards, that he
had tiptoed.

Gerald Fosland had never been noted for brilliance,
but he was an insufferable bore at the art tea. People
asked him the usual polite questions, and he either for
got that they were talking or answered about something
else, and he entirely mislaid the fragments of art con
versation which he was supposed to have put on with
his ascot. Nearly every one asked about Arly, and
several with more than perfunctory courtesy. He had
always known that Arly was very popular, but he had
a new perception, now, that she was extremely well
liked; and it gratified him.

Occupied with his own reflections, which were not so
much thought as a dull feeling that he was about to
have a thought, he nevertheless felt that this was a
rather agreeable gathering, after all, until he acci
dentally joined a group which, with keen fervour, was
discussing the accident to Prymm. He had a general
aversion to gossip anyhow, and shortly after that he
went home.

He wrote some letters, and, when it grew dark, he
rang for William.

" I shall remain in for dinner to-night," he observed,
and mechanically took up the evening paper which the
quiet William laid before him. A headline which made
his hand tremble, caught his eye, and he dropped the
paper. Prymm had shot himself.

No tragedy had ever shaken Gerald Fosland so much
as this. Why, he had met Prymm only that noon.
Prymm had said : " Good morning, beautiful weather."


For a moment Fosland almost changed his mind about
remaining in for dinner, but, after all, the big panelled
dining-room, with its dark wainscoting and its heavily
carved furniture and its super-abundant service, was
less lonely than the club. The only words which broke
the silence of the dim dining-room during that dinner,
were: " Sauce, sir? "

Gerald took his coffee in his lounging room, and then
he went again to Arly s door. He turned before he
opened it, and tossed his cigarette in the fireplace. He
did not enter by stealth this time. He walked in. He
even went on to the dainty blue bedroom, and looked
earnestly about it, then he went back to the boudoir and
seated himself on the stiff chair in which he had, on
rare occasions, sat and chatted with her. He remained
there perhaps half an hour. Suddenly he arose, and
called for his limousine, and drove to Teasdale s. They
were out, he was told. They were at Mr. Sargent s,
and he drove straight there. Somehow, he was glad
that, since they were out, they had gone to Sargent s.
He was most anxious to see Lucile.

" Just in time to join the mourners, Gerald," greeted
Ted. " We re doing a very solemn lot of Gailing."

" I ll join you with pleasure," agreed Gerald, feeling
more at home and lighter of heart here than he had
anywhere during the day. Lucile seemed particularly
near to him. " Have you any intimation that Gail ex
pects to return soon ? "

" None at all," stated Aunt Helen, with a queer mix
ture of sombreness and impatience. " She only writes
about what a busy time they are having, and how de
lightfully eager her friends have been about her, and
how popular Arly is, and such things as that."

" Arly is popular everywhere," stated Gerald, and


Lucile looked at him wonderingly, turning her head
very slowly towards him.

" What do you hear from Arly ? " she inquired, hold
ing up her hand as if to shield her eyes from the fire,
and studying him curiously from that shadow.

" Much the same," he answered ; " except that she
mentions Gail s popularity instead of her own. She had
her maid send her another trunkful of clothing, I be
lieve," and he fell to gazing into the fireplace.

" I am very much disappointed in Arly," worried
Aunt Helen. " I sent Arly specifically to bring Gail
back in a week, and they have been gone nine days ! "

" I m glad they re having a good time," observed
Jim Sargent. " She ll come back when she gets ready.
The New York pull is something which hits you in the
middle of the night, and makes you get up and pack."

" Yes, but the season will soon be over," worried
Aunt Helen. " Gail s presence here at this time is so
important that I do not see how she can neglect it. It
may affect her entire future life. A second season is
never so full of opportunities as the first one."

" Oh nonsense," laughed Jim. " You re a fanatic
on match-making, Helen. What you really mean is
that Gail should make a choice out of the matrimonial
market before it has all been picked over."

" Jim," protested Mrs. Sargent, the creases of worry
appearing in her brow. Her husband and sister had
never quarrelled, but they had permitted divergences
of opinion, which had required much mutual forbear

" A spade is a spade," returned Jim. " I think it s
silly to worry about Gail s matrimonial prospects.
Whenever she s ready to be married, she ll look them
all over, and pick out the one who suits her, All she ll


have to say is * Eeny-meeny-miny-moe, you re it, and
the fellow will rush right out and be measured for his

" Just the same, I d rather she d be here when she
counts out," laughed Lucile.

" So would I," agreed Jim ; " but, after all, there
are good men everywhere. Girls get married out in the
middle-west as well as here, and live happily ever after."

" They grow fine men out there," stated Mrs. Sar
gent, with a complimentary glance at her husband. She
had never wavered in her opinion of that fine man.

" Right you are," agreed Sargent heartily. " They
have not the polish of eastern men perhaps, but they
have a strength, and forcefulness, and virility, which
carries them through. There are men out there, stacks
of them, who would appeal to any bright and vivacious
woman, sweep her off her feet, carry her away by storm,
and make her forget a lot of things. If any hand
some woman is unappreciated in New York, all she has
to do is to go out to the middle-west."

Lucile, listening to the innocently blundering speech
of Gail s proud uncle, watched Gerald with intense in
terest. She could scarcely believe the startling idea
which had popped into her head! Gerald s only ap
parent deviation from his normal attitude had consisted
in abstractedly staring into the fire, instead of paying
polite attention to every one, but that he had heard
was evidenced by the shifting glance he gave Sargent.
Otherwise he had not moved.

" You scare me," said Lucile, still watching Gerald.
" I m not going to leave Gail out there any longer. I m
going to have her back at once."

Gerald raised his head immediately, and smiled at


" Splendid," he approved. " Fact of the matter is,"
and he hesitated an instant, " I m becoming extremely

Even Ted detected something in Gerald s tone and
in his face.

" It s time you were waking up," he bluntly com
mented. " I should think you would be lonely with
out Arly."

" Yes, isn t it time," agreed Gerald, studying the
matter carefully. " You know, both having plenty of
leisure, there s never been any occasion for us to travel
separately before, and, really, I miss her dreadfully."

" I think I ll have to get her for you, Gerald," prom
ised Lucile, removing her hand from in front of her
eyes, and smiling at him reassuringly. She could smile
beautifully just now. The incredible thing she had
thought she detected was positively true, and it made
her excitedly happy ! Gerald Fosland had been in love
with his wife, and had never known it until now !

" If you can work that miracle, and bring Gail back
with her, you ll spread sunshine all over the place,"
declared Jim Sargent. " It s been like a funeral here
since she went home. You d think Gail was the most
important section of New York. Everybody s blue ;
Allison, Doctor Boyd ; everybody who knew her inquires,
-with long faces, when she s coming back!"

" What do you propose ? " inquired Mrs. Helen
Davies, with a degree of interest which intimated that
she was quite ready to take any part in the conspiracy.

" I have my little plan," laughed Lucile. " I m go
ing to send her an absolutely irresistible reminder of
New York!"



IT was good to be home! Gail wondered that she
could ever have been content away from the loving
shelter of her many, many friends. She had grown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Online LibraryGeorge Randolph ChesterThe ball of fire → online text (page 12 of 24)