George Randolph Chester.

The ball of fire online

. (page 14 of 24)
Online LibraryGeorge Randolph ChesterThe ball of fire → online text (page 14 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

A government which would force soap and deodorisers
and germicides on presumably free and independent cit
izens, was a government of tyranny; and it had been
a particular wisdom, on the part of the rough-hewn
faced man who had hired this crew, to select none but
accomplished brick dodgers. In the ten carts which
lined the curb on both sides, there were piled such a
conglomerate mass of nondescript fragments of every
thing undesirable that the rector felt a trace better, as
if he had erased one mark at least of the long black


score against himself. Somehow, recently, he had ac
quired an urgent impulse to clean Vedder Court!

He turned in at one of the darkest and most unin
viting of the rickety stairways. He skipped, with a
practised tread, the broken third step, and made a men
tal note to once more take up, with the property com
mittee, the battle of minor repairs. He stopped at the
third landing, and knocked at a dark door, whereupon
a petulant voice told him to come in. The petulant
voice came from a woman who sat in a broken rockered
chair, with one leg held stiffly in front of her. She was
heavy with the fat which rolls and bulges, and an empty
beer pail, on which the froth had dried, sat by her side.
On the rickety bed lay a man propped on one elbow,
who had been unshaven for days, so that his sandy
beard made a sort of layer on his square face. The
man sat up at once. He was a trifle under-sized, but
broad-shouldered and short-necked, and had enormous
red hands.

" How are you to-day, Mrs. Rogers ? " asked the rec
tor, sitting on a backless and bottomless chair, with
his hat on his knees, and holding himself small, with
an unconscious instinct to not let anything touch him.

" No better," replied the woman, making her voice
weak. " I ll never know a well day again. The good
Lord has seen fit to afflict me. I ain t saying any
thing, but it ain t fair."

The Reverend Smith Boyd could not resist a slight
contraction of his brows. Mrs. Rogers invariably in
troduced the Lord into every conversation with the rec
tor, and it was his duty to wrestle with her soul, if she
insisted. He was not averse to imparting religious in
struction, but, being a practical man, he could not en
joy wasting his breath.


" There are many things we can not understand,"
he granted. " What does the doctor say about your
condition? "

" He don t offer no hope," returned the woman, with
gratification. "This knee joint will be stiff till the
end of my days. If I had anything to blame myself
with it would be different, but I ain t. I say my
prayers every night, but if I m too sick, I do it in the

" Can that stuff ! " growled the man on the bed.
" You been prayin once a day ever since I got you,
and nothin s ever happened."

" I ve brought you a job," returned the Reverend
Smith Boyd promptly. " I have still ten places to fill
on the sanitary squad which is cleaning up Vedder

The man on the bed sat perfectly still.

" How long will it last ? " he growled.

" Two weeks."

"What s the pay?"

" A dollar and a half a day."

The man shook his head.

" I can t do it," he regretted. " I don t say any
thing about the pay, but I m a stationary engineer."
He was interested enough in his course of solid reason
ing to lay a stubby finger in his soiled palm. " If I
take this two weeks job, it ll stop me from lookin for
work, and I might miss a permanent situation."

The rector suppressed certain entirely human in

" You have not had employment for six months," he
reminded Mr. Rogers.

" That s the reason I can t take a chance," was the
triumphant response. " If I d miss a job through


takin this cheap little thing you offer me, I d never for
give myself ; and you d have it on your conscience, too."

" Then you won t accept it," and the rector rose,
with extremely cold eyes.

" I d like to accommodate you, but I can t afford
it," and the man remained perfectly still, an art which
he had brought to great perfection. " All we need
is the loan of a little money while I m huntin work."

" I can t give it to you," announced the Reverend
Smith Boyd firmly. " I ve offered you an opportunity
to earn money, and you won t accept it. That ends
my responsibility."

" You d better take it, Frank," advised the woman,
losing a little of the weakness of her voice.

" You tend to your own business ! " advised Mr.
Rogers in return. " You re supposed to run the house,
and I m supposed to earn the living! Reverend Boyd,
if you ll lend me two dollars till a week from Satur-

" I told you no," and the rector started to leave the

There was a knock at the door. A thick-armed man
with a short, wide face walked in, a pail in one hand
and a scrubbing brush in the other. On the back of
his head was pushed a bright blue cap, with " Sanitary
Police " on it, in tarnished braid. Mr. Rogers stood up.

"What do you want? " he quite naturally inquired.

" Clean up," replied the sanitary policeman, setting
down his pail and ducking his head at the rector, then
mopping his brow with a bent forefinger, while he picked
out a place to begin.

" Nothin doing ! " announced Mr. Rogers, aflame
with the dignity of an outraged householder. * Good
night ! " and he advanced a warning step.


The wide set sanitary policeman paused in his sur
vey long enough to wag a thick forefinger at the out
raged householder.

" Don t start anything," he advised. " There s some
tough mugs in this block, but you go down to the places
I ve been, and you ll find that they re all clean."

With these few simple remarks, he turned his back
indifferently to Mr. Rogers, and, catching hold of the
carpet in the corner with his fingers, he lifted it up by
the roots.

" There s no use buckin the government," Mr.
Rogers decided, after a critical study of the sanitary
policeman s back, which was extremely impressive.
" It s a government of the rich for the rich. Has a
poor man got any show? I m a capable stationary en
gineer. All I ask is a chance to work at my trade."
This by an afterthought. " If you ll give me two dol
lars to tide me over

The Reverend Smith Boyd stepped out of the way
of the sanitary policeman, and then stepped out of the

" And you call yourself a minister of the gospel ! "
Mr. Rogers yelled after him.

That was a sample of the morning s work, and the
Reverend Smith Boyd felt more and more, as he neared
luncheon time, that he merited some consideration, if
only for the weight of the cross he bore. There were
worse incidents than the abuse of men like Rogers ;
there were the hideous sick to see, and the genuinely
distressed to comfort, and depthless misery to relieve;
and any day in Vedder Court was a terrific drain, both
upon his sympathies and his personal pocket.

He felt that this was an exceptionally long day.

Home in a hurry at twelve-thirty. A scrub, a com-


plete change of everything, and a general feeling that
he should have been sterilised and baked as well.
Luncheon with the mother who saw what a long day
this was, then a far different type of calls ; in a sedate
black car this time, up along the avenue, and in and
out of the clean side streets, where there was little dan
ger of having a tire punctured by a wanton knife, as
so often happened in Vedder Court. He called on old
Mrs. Henning, who read her Bible every day to find
knotty passages for him to expound; he called on the
Misses Crasley, who were not thin but bony, who sat
frozenly erect with their feet neatly together and their
hands in their laps, and discussed foreign missions with
greedy relish ; he spent a half hour with plump Mrs.
Rutherford, who shamelessly hinted that a rector
should be married, and who was the worried possessor
of three plump daughters, who did not seem to move
well from the shelves ; he listened to the disloyal con
fessions of Mrs. Sayers, who at heart liked her husband
because he provided her so many faults to brood upon ;
he made brief visits with three successive parishioners
who were sweet, good women with a normally balanced
sense of duty, and with two successive parishioners who
looked on the Kingdom of Heaven as a respectable so
cial circle, which should be patronised like a sewing
girls club or any other worthy institution.

Away to Vedder Court again, dismissing his car at
the door of Temple Mission, and walking inside, out
of range of the leers of those senile old buildings, but
not out of the range of the peculiar spirit of Vedder
Court, which manifested itself most clearly to the ole-
factory sense.

The organ was playing when he entered, and the
benches were half filled by battered old human rem-


nants, who pretended conversion in order to pick up
the crumbs which fell from the table of Market Square
Church. Chiding himself for weariness of the spirit, and
comforting himself with the thought that one greater
than he had faltered on the Avay to Golgotha he sat
on the little platform, with a hymn book in his hand,
and, when the prelude was finished, he devoted his won
derful voice to the blasphemy.

The organist, a volunteer, a little old man who kept
a shoemaker s shop around the corner, and who played
sincerely in the name of helpfulness, was pure of heart.

The man with the rough hewn countenance, unfortu
nately not here to-day, was also sincere in an entirely
unspiritual sort of way ; but, with these exceptions, and
himself, of course, the rector knew positively that there
was not another uncalloused creature in the room, not
one who could be reached by argument, sympathy, or
fear ! They were past redemption, every last man and
woman ; and, at the conclusion of the hymn, he rose
to cast his pearls before swine, without heart and with
out interest ; for no man is interested in anything which
can not possibly be accomplished.

With a feeling of mockery, yet upheld by the thought
that he was holding out the way and the light, not only
seven times but seventy times seven times, to whatever
shred or crumb of divinity might lie unsuspected in
these sterile breasts, he strove earnestly to arouse en
thusiasm in himself so that he might stir these dead
ghosts, even in some minute and remote degree.

Suddenly a harsh and raucous voice interrupted him.
It was the voice of Mr. Rogers, and that gentleman,
who had apparently secured somewhere the two dollars
to tide him over, was now embarked on the tide. He
had taken just enough drinks to make him ugly, if that


process were possible, and he had developed a particu
larly strong resentment of the latest injustice which
had been perpetrated on him. That injustice consisted
of the Reverend Smith Boyd s refusal to lend him money
till a week from next Saturday night ; and he had come
to expose the rector s shallow hypocrisy. This he pro
ceeded to do, in language quite unsuited to the chapel
of Temple Mission and to the ears of the ladies then
present; most of whom grinned.

The proceedings which followed were but brief. The
Reverend Smith Boyd requested the intruder to stop.
The intruder had rights, and he stood on them ! The
Reverend Smith Boyd ordered him to stop ; but the in
truder had a free and independent spirit, which for
bade him to accept orders from any man ! The Rev
erend Smith Boyd, in the interests of the discipline
without which the dignity and effectivenes of the cause
could not be upheld, and pleased that this was so, or
dered him out of the room. Mr. Rogers, with a flood
of abuse which displayed some versatility, invited the
Reverend Smith Boyd to put him out; and the Rever
end Smith Boyd did so. It was not much of a strug
gle, though Mr. Rogers tore two benches loose on his
way, and, at the narrow door through which it is dif
ficult to thrust even a weak man, because there* are so
many arms and legs attached to the human torso, he
offered so much resistance that the reverend doctor
was compelled to practically pitch him, headlong, across
the sidewalk, and over the curb, and into the gutter !
The victim of injustice arose slowly, and turned to come
back, but he paused to take a good look at the stalwart
young perpetrator, and remembered that he was thirsty.

The Reverend Smith Boyd found himself standing
in the middle of the sidewalk, with his fists clenched


and his blood surging. The atmosphere before his eyes
seemed to be warm, as if it were reddened slightly. He
was tingling from head to foot with a passion which
he had repressed, and throttled, and smothered since
the days of his boyhood! He had striven, with a
strength which was the secret of his compelling voice,
to drive out of him all earthly dross, to found himself
on the great example which was without the cravings
of the body ; he had sought to make himself spiritual ;
but, all at once, this conflict had roused in him a raging
something, which swept up from the very soles of his
feet to his twirling brain, and called him man !

For a quivering moment he stood there, alive with
all the virility which was the richer because of his long
repression. He knew many things now, many things
which ripened him in an instant, and gave him the heart
to touch, and the mind to understand, and the soul to
flame. He knew himself, he knew life, he knew, yes,
and that was the wonderful miracle of the flood which
poured in on him, he knew love!

He reached suddenly for his watch. Six-ten. He
could make it! Still impelled by this new creature
which had sprung up in him, he started; but at the
curb he stopped. He had been in such a whirl of emo
tion that he had not realised the absence of his hat. He
strode into the mission door, and the rays of the de
clining sun, struggling dimly through the dingy glass,
fell on the scattered little assemblage as if it had
been sent to touch them in mercy and compassion
on the weak, and the poor, and the piteously crippled
of soul ; and a great wave of shame came to him ; shame,
and thankfulness, too !

He walked slowly up to the platform, and, turning
to that reddened sunlight which bathed his upturned


face as if with a benediction, he said, in a voice which,
in its new sweetness of vibration, stirred even the murky
depths of these, the numb:
" Let us pray."



WHO was that tall, severely correct gentleman
waiting at the station, with a bunch of violets
in his hand, and the light in his countenance which was
never on sea or land? It was Gerald Fosland, and he
astonished all beholders by his extraordinary conduct.
As the beautiful Arly stepped through the gates, he
advanced with an entirely tmrepressed smile, springing
from the ball of his feet with a buoyancy too active
to be quite in good form. He took Arly s hand in his,
but he did not bend over it with his customary courte
ous gallantry. Instead, he drew her slightly towards
him, with a firm and deliberate movement, and, bending
his head sidewise under the brim of her hat, kissed her;
kissed her on the lips !

Immediately thereafter he gave a dignified welcome to
Gail, and with Arly s arm clutched tightly in his own,
he then disappeared. As they walked rapidly away,
Arly looked up at him in bewilderment; then she sud
denly hugged herself closer to him with a jerk. As
they went out through the carriage entrance, she

It was good to see Allison, big, strong, forceful, typ
ical of the city and its mighty deeds. His eye had
lighted with something more than pleasure as Gail
stepped out through the gates of the station; some
thing so infinitely more than pleasure that her eyes



dropped, and her hand trembled as she felt that same
old warm thrill of his clasp. He was so overwhelming
in his physical dominance. He took immediate posses
sion of her, standing by while she greeted her uncle and
aunt and other friends, and beaming with justifiably
proud proprietorship. Gail had laughed as she rec
ognised that attitude, and she found it magnificent after
the pretentions of Howard Clemmens. The difference
was that Allison was really a big man, one born to com
mand, to sway things, to move and shift and re-arrange
great forces; and that, of course, was his manner in
everything. She flushed each time she looked in his
direction; for he never removed his gaze from her;
bold, confident, supreme. When a man like that is
kind and gentle and considerate, when he is tender and
thoughtful and full of devotion, he is a big man in

She let him put her hand on his arm, and felt
restful, after the greetings had been exchanged, as he
led her out to the big touring car, asking her all sorts
of eager questions about how she found her home and
her friends, and if the journey had fatigued her, and
telling her, over and over, how good she looked, how
bright and how clear-eyed and how fresh-cheeked, and
how charming in her grey travelling costume. She felt
the thrill again as he took her hand in his to help her
into the car, and she loved the masterful manner in
which he cleared a way to their machine through the
crowded traffic. In the same masterful air, he gently
but firmly changed her from the little folding seat to
the big soft cushions in the rear, beside her Aunt

The Reverend Smith Boyd was at the steps of the
Sargent house to greet her, and her heart leaped as she


recognised another of the dear familiar faces. This
was her world, after all ; not that world of her child
hood. How different the rector looked; or was it that
she had needed to go away in order to judge her
friends anew? His eyes were different; deeper, steadier
and more penetrating into her own ; and, yes, bolder.
She was forced to look away from them for a moment.
There seemed a warm eagerness in his greeting, as if
everything in him were drawing her to him. It was
indescribable, that change in the Reverend Smith Boyd,
but it was not unexplainable ; and, after he had swung
back home, with the earnest promise to come over after
dinner, she suddenly blushed furiously, without any
cause, while she was talking of nothing more intense
than the excellent physical condition of Flakes.

Gay little Mrs. Babbitt brought her husband, while
the family group was still jabbering over its coffee,
and after them came the deluge ; Dick Rodley and the
cherub-cheeked Marion Kenneth, and Willis Cunning
ham, and a host of others, including the Van Ploons,
father, son, and solemn daughter. The callow youth
who had danced with her three times was there, with a
gardenia all out of proportion to him, and he sat in
the middle of the Louis XIV salon, where he was exces
sively in everybody s road, and could feast on Gail,
for the most of the evening, in numb admiration; for
his point of vantage commanded a view into the library
and all the parlours.

With a rapidity which was a marvel to all her girl
friends, Gail had slipped upstairs and into a creamy
lace evening frock without having been missed ; and
she was in this acutely harmonious setting when the
Reverend Smith Boyd called, with his beautiful mother
on his arm. The beautiful mother was in an excep-


tional flurry of delight to see Gail, and kissed that
charming young lady with clinging warmth. The rec
tor s eyes were even more strikingly changed than they
had been when he had first met her on the steps, as they
looked on Gail in her creamy lace, and after she had
read that new intense look in his eyes for the second
time that evening, she hurried away, with the license of
a busy hostess, and cooled her face at an open window
in the side vestibule. There was a new note in the
Reverend Smith Boyd s voice; not a greater depth nor
mellowness nor sweetness, but a something else. What
was it? It was a call, that was it; a call across the
gulf of futurity.

They came after her. Ted and Lucile had arrived.
She was in a vortex. Dick Rodley hemmed her in a
corner, and proposed to her again, just for practice,
within eye-shot of a dozen people, and he did it so that
onlookers might think that he was complimenting her
on her clever coiffure or discussing a new operetta ; but
he made her blush, which was the intention in the depths
of his black eyes. It seemed that she was in a per
petual blush to-night, and something within her seemed
to be surging and halting and wavering and quivering!
Her Aunt Helen Davies, rather early in the evening,
began to act stiff and formal.

" Go home," she murmured to Lucile. " All this ex
citement is bad for Gail s beauty."

She felt free to give the same advice to the gay little
Mrs. Babbitt, and the departure of four people was
sufficient to remind the stiff Van Ploon daughter of the
conventions. She removed the elder Van Ploon s eyes
from Gail, and gathered up Houston, who was energet
ically talking horse with Allison. After that the exodus
became general, until only the callow youth and Alii-


son and the Reverend Smith Boyd remained. The lat
ter young gentleman had taken his flatteringly happy
mother home early in the evening, and he had resorted
to dulness with such of the thinning guests as had
seemed disposed to linger.

It was Aunt Helen who, by some magic of adroitness,
sent the callow youth on his way. He was worth any
amount of money to which one cared to add ciphers,
and his family was flawless except for him ; but Aunt
Helen had decisively cut him off her books, because he
was so well fitted to be the last of his line. She thought
she had better go upstairs after that, and she glanced
into the music room as she passed, and knitted her brows
at the tableau. The Reverend Smith Boyd, who
seemed unusually fine looking to-night, stood leaning
against the piano, w r atching Gail with an almost in
cendiary gaze. That young lady, steadily resisting an
impulse to feel her cheek with the back of her hand, sat
on the end of the piano bench furthest removed from
the rector, and directed the most of her attention to
Allison, who was less disconcerting. Allison, casting
an occasional glance at the intense young rector, seemed
preoccupied to-night ; and Mrs. Helen Davies, pausing
to take her sister Grace with her, walked up the stairs
with a forefinger tapping at her well-shaped chin. She
seemed to have reversed places with her sister to-night ;
for Mrs. Sargent was supremely happy, while Helen
Davies was doing the family worrying.

She could have bid Allison adieu had she waited a
very few minutes. He was a man who had spent a life
time in linking two and two together, and lie abided
unwaveringly by his deductions. There was no mis
taking the nature of the change which was so apparent
in the Reverend Smith Boyd ; but Allison, after care-


ful thought on the matter, was able to take a compara
tively early departure.

" I ll see you to-morrow, Gail," he observed finally.
Rising, he crossed to where she sat, and, reaching into
her lap, he took both her hands. He let her arms
swing from his clasp, and, looking down into her eyes
with smiling regard, he gave her hands an extra pres
sure, which sent, for the hundredth time that night,
a surge of colour over her face.

The Reverend Smith Boyd, blazing down at that
scene, suddenly felt something crushing under his hand.
It was the light runner board of the music rack, and
three hairs, which had lain in placid place at the crown
of his head, suddenly popped erect. Ten thousand
years before had these three been so grouped, Allison
would have felt a stone axe on the back of his neck,
but as it was he passed out unmolested, nodding care
lessly to the young rector, and bestowing on Gail a
parting look which was the perfection of easy assur

The Reverend Smith Boyd wasted not a minute in
purposeless hesitation or idle preliminary conversation.

" Gail ! " he said, in a voice which chimed of all the
love songs ever written, which vibrated with all the love
passion ever breathed, which pleaded with the love ap
peal of all the dominant forces since creation. Gail
had resumed her seat on the end of the piano bench, and
now he reached down and took her hand, and held it,
unresisting. She was weak and limp, and she averted
her eyes from the burning gaze which beamed down on
her. Her breath was fluttering, and the hand which
lay in her lap was cold and trembling. " Gail, I love
you ! " He bent his head and kissed her hand. The
touch was fire, and she felt her blood leap to it. " Gail

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Online LibraryGeorge Randolph ChesterThe ball of fire → online text (page 14 of 24)