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gation in Vedder Court, until we are as blackened with
sin as the thief on the cross."

Shrewd old Rufus Manning looked at the young rec
tor curiously. He was puzzled over the change in

" Don t swing the pendulum too far, Doctor Boyd,"
Manning reminded him, with a great deal of kindliness.
These two had met often in Vedder Court. " Our sins,
such as they are, are more passive than active."

It was, of course, old Nicholas Van Ploon who fell
back again on the stock argument which had been quite
sufficient to soothe his conscience for all these years.

" We give these people cheaper rent than they can
find anywhere in the city."

" We should continue to do so, but in cleaner and
more wholesome quarters," quickly returned the rec
tor. " This is the home of all these poverty stricken
people whom Market Square Church has taken under
its shelter, and we have no right to dispose of it."

" That s what I say," and Nicholas Van Ploon nodded
his round head. " We should not sell the property."

" We can not for shame, if for nothing else," agreed
the rector, seizing on every point of advantage to sup-


port his intense desire to lift the Vedder Court derelicts
from the depth of their degradation. " We lie now un
der the disgrace of having owned property so filthy that
the city was compelled to order it torn down. The
only way in which we can redeem the reputation of
Market Square Church is to replace those tenements
with better ones, and conduct them as a benefit to the
people rather than to our own pockets."

" That s a clever way of putting it," commended Jim
Sargent. " It s time we did something to get rid of
our disgrace," and he was most earnest about it. He
had been the most uncomfortable of all these vestry
men in the past few days ; for the disgrace of Market
Square Church had been a very reliable topic of con
versation in Gail Sargent s neighbourhood.

The nasal voice of smooth-shaven old Joseph G. Clark
drawled into the little silence which ensued.

"What about the Cathedral?" he asked, and the
hush which followed was far deeper than the one which
he had broken. Even the Reverend Smith Boyd was
driven to some fairly profound thought. His bedroom
and his study were lined with sketches of the stupen
dously beautiful cathedral, the most expensive in the
world, in which he was to disseminate the gospel.

" Suppose we come back to earth," resumed Clark,
who had built the Standard Cereal Company into a
monopoly of all the breadstuff s by that process. " If
we rebuild we set ourselves back in the cathedral project
ten years. You can t wipe out what you call our dis
grace, even if you give all these paupers free board and
compulsory baths. My proposition is to telephone for
Edward E. Allison, and tell him we re ready to accept
his offer."

" Not while I m a member of this vestry," declared


Nicholas Van Ploon, swivelling himself to defy Joseph
G. Clark. " We don t sell the property."

" I put Mr. Clark s proposition as a motion," jerked
W. T. Chisholm, and in the heated argument which en
sued, the Good Shepherd in the window, taking ad
vantage of the shifting sun, removed from the room the
light of the red robe.

In the end, the practical minded members won over
the sentimentalists, if Nicholas Van Ploon could be
classed under that heading, and Allison was telephoned.
Before they were through wrangling over the decision
to have him meet them, Allison was among them. One
might almost have thought that he had been waiting for
the call; but he exchanged no more friendly glances
with Clark and Chisholm, of the new International
Transportation Company, than he did with any of the

" Well, Allison, we ve about decided to accept your
offer for the Vedder Court property," stated Manning.

" I haven t made you any, but I m willing," returned

Jim Sargent drew from his pocket a memorandum

" You offered us a sum which, at three and a half per
cent., would accrue, in ten years, to forty-two million
dollars," he reminded the president of the Municipal
Transportation Company. " That figures to a spot-
cash proposition of thirty-one millions, with a repeating
decimal of one ; so somebody will have to lose a cent."

" That offer is withdrawn," said Allison.

" I don t see why," objected Jim Sargent. " The
property is as valuable for your purpose as it ever

" I don t dispute that ; but in that offer I allowed you


for the income earning capacity of your improved prop
erty. Since that capacity is stopped, I don t feel
obliged to pay you for it, or, in other words, to make
up to you the loss which the city has compelled you to

" There is some show of reason in what Allison says,"
observed Joseph G. Clark.

Chisholm leaned forward, with his elbows on the ta
ble, around the edge of which were carved the heads of
winged cherubs.

" What is your present offer? "

" Twenty-five million ; cash."

" We refuse ! " announced Nicholas Van Ploon, bob
bing his round head emphatically.

" I m not so sure that we do," returned Clark. " I
have been studying property values in that neighbour
hood, and I doubt if we can obtain more."

"Then we don t sell!" insisted Nicholas Van Ploon.

" I scarcely think we wish to take up this discussion
with Mr. Allison until we have digested the offer," ob
served the quiet voice of Manning, and, on this hint, Al
lison withdrew.

He smiled as he heard the voices which broke out in
controversy the moment he had closed the door behind
him. Being so near, he naturally called on Gail Sar
gent, and found her entertaining a little tea party of
the gayest and brightest whom Aunt Helen Davies could
bring together.

She came into the little reception " cosy " to meet
Allison, smiling with pleasure. There seemed to be a
degree of wistfulness in her greeting of her friends since
the night of her return.

" Of course I couldn t overlook an opportunity to
drop in," said Allison, shaking her by both hands, and


holding them while he surveyed her critically. There
was a tremendous comfort in his strength.

" So you only called because you were in the neigh
bourhood," bantered Gail.

" Guilty," he laughed. " I ve just been paying at
tention to my religious duties."

" I wasn t aware that you knew you had any," re
turned Gail, sitting in the shadow of the window jamb.
Allison s eyes were too searching.

" I attend a vestry meeting now and then," he re
plied, and then he laughed shortly. " I d rather do
business with forty corporations than with one vestry.
A church always expects to conduct its share of the
negotiations on a strictly commercial basis, while it ex
pects you to mingle a little charity with your end of the

" The Vedder Court property," she guessed, with a
slight contraction of her brows.

" Still after it," said Allison, and talked of other

Jim Sargent returned, and glancing into the little
reception tete-a-tete as he passed, saw Allison and came

" I didn t expect to see you so soon," wondered Alli

" We broke up in a row," laughed Jim Sargent.
" Clark and Chisholm were willing to accept your price,
but the rest of us listened to Doctor Boyd and Nicholas
Van Ploon, and fell. We insist on our cathedral, and
Doctor Boyd s plan seems the best way to get it, though
even that may necessitates a four or five years delay."

"What s his plan?" asked Allison.

" Rebuilding," returned Sargent. " We can put
up tenements good enough to pass the building inspec-


tors and to last fifteen years. With the same rents we
are now receiving, we can offer them better quarters,
and, as Doctor Boyd suggested, redeem ourselves from
some of the disgrace of this whole proceeding. Clever,
sensible idea, I think."

Gail was leaning forward, with her fingers clasped
around her knee ; Tier brown eyes had widened, and a
little red spot had appeared in either cheek ; her red lips
were half parted, as she looked up in wonder at her
Uncle Jim.

" Is that the plan upon which they have decided ? "
and Allison looked at his watch.

"Well, hardly," frowned Sargent. "We couldn t
swing Clark and Chisholm. At the last minute they
suggested that we might build lofts, and the impending
fracas seemed too serious to take up just now, so we ve
tabled the whole thing."

Allison smiled, and slipped his watch back in his

" It s fairly definite, however, that you won t sell,"
he concluded.

" Not at your figure," laughed Sargent. " If we
took your money, Doctor Boyd would be too old to
preach in the new cathedral."

" He ll pull it through some way," declared Allison.
" He s as smart as a whip."

Neither gentleman had noticed Gail. She had set
tled back in her chair during these last speeches, weary
and listless, and overcome with a sense of some humilia
tion too evasive to be properly framed even in thought.
She had a sense that she had given away something
vastly precious, and which would never be valued.
Neither did they notice that she changed suddenly to
relief. She had been justified in her decision.


She took the reins of conversation herself after Uncle
Jim had left, and entertained Allison so brightly that
he left with impatience at the tea party which monopo
lised her.

Later, when the Reverend Smith Boyd dropped in,
he met with a surprising and disconcerting vivacity.
In his eyes there was pain and suffering, and inexpressi
ble hunger, but in hers there was only dancing frivolity ;
a little too ebullient, perhaps, if he had been wise enough
to know ; but he was not.



AIETY consists in rising in the morning so tired
that it takes three hours of earnest work with a
maid, a masseuse, a physical directress, a hairdresser,
and a bonnetiere, before one can produce a spontaneous
silvery laugh, which is never required, expected or con
sidered good form before two p. M. Gail Sargent went
in for gaiety, and, moreover, she enjoyed it. She rode,
she drove, she went calling and received, she attended
teas and gave them, she dined out and entertained, in the
name of her eager Aunt Grace, she went to theatres,
the opera, concerts, and the lively midnight cafes, which
had all gone nervously insane with freak dancing, she
attended balls, house parties, and all the in-between di
versions which her novelty-seeking friends could dis
cover or invent, and she flirted outrageously ! She used
her eyes, and the pretty pout of her red lips, and the
toss of her head, and all the wiles of coquetry, to turn
men into asses, and she enjoyed that, too! It was a
part of her feminine birthright to enter with zest into
this diversion, and it was only envy which criticised her.
Aunt Helen Davies, who knew her world by chapter and
verse, stood behind the scenes of all this active vaude
ville, and applauded. It was at the opera that Aunt
Helen could no longer conceal her marvel.

" My dear," she said, under cover of the throbbing



music of Thais, " I have never seen anything like you ! "

" I don t quite know whether to take that as a com
pliment or not," laughed Gail, who had even, in her new
stage of existence, learned to pay no attention to music.

" The remark was not only intended to be compli
mentary, but positively gushing," replied Aunt Helen,
returning with a smile the glance of their hostess, the
stiff Miss Van Ploon. " After two weeks of the gayest
season I have ever witnessed, you are as fresh and vi
vacious as when you started."

" It s a return to first principles," stated Gail, con
sidering the matter seriously. " I ve discovered the se
cret of success in New York, either commercial or social.
It is to have an unbreakable constitution."

The dapper little marquis, who was laying a very
well conducted siege for the heart and hand of Miss
Van Ploon, leaned over Gail s velvet shoulder and whis
pered something in her ear. Gail leaned back a trifle
to answer him, her deep brown eyes flashing up at him,
her red lips adorably curved, that delicate colour
wavering in her cheeks ; and Mrs. Davies, disregarding
entirely the practised luring of the dapper little mar
quis, who was as harmless as a canary bird, viewed Gail
with admiration.

Houston Van Ploon, surveying Gail with pride, made
up his mind about a problem which he had been seri
ously considering. Gail Sargent, taken point by point,
appearance, charm, manner, disposition and health, had
the highest percentage of perfection of any young
woman he had ever met, an opinion in which his father
and sister had agreed, after several solemn family dis

Nicholas Van Ploon leaned over to his daughter.

" She has dimples," he catalogued, nodding his round


head in satisfaction and clasping his hands comfortably
over his broad white evening waistcoat.

Dick Rodley irrupted into the box with Lucile and
Arly, just as Thais started for the convent, and they
were only the forerunners of a constant stream which,
during the intermission, came over to laugh with Gail,
and to look into her sparkling eyes, and exchange
repartee with her, and enjoy that beauty which was like
a fragrance.

Who was the most delighted person in the Van Ploon
box ? Aunt Helen Davies ! She checked off the eligi-
bles, counting them, estimating them, judging the ex
act degree in which Gail had interested them, and the
exact further degree Gail might interest them if she

Gail, standing, was a revelation to-night, not alone
to Nicholas Van Ploon, who nearly dislocated his neck
in turning to feast his gaze on her in numb wonder,
but to Aunt Helen herself. Gail wore an Egyptian
costume, an absurdly straight thing fashioned like a
cylinder, but which, in some mysterious and alluring
way, suggested the long, slender, gracefully curving
lines which it concealed. The foundation colour was
tarnished gold, on which were beaded panels in dark
blue stones, touched here and there with dull red. En
circling her small head was an Egyptian tiara, studded
in the front with lapis lazuli and deep red corals, with
one great fire opal glowing in the centre ; and her shin
ing brown hair was waved well below the ears, and
smoothly caught under around the back of her perfect
neck. On her cheeks and on her lips were the beauti
ful natural tints which were the envy and despair of
every pair of lorgnette shielded eyes, but on her eye
lashes, as part of her costume, Gail had daringly lined


a touch of that intense black which is ground in the
harems of the old Nile.

" You re the throb of the evening, sweetheart," Dick
Rodley laughed down at her, as they stood at the door
of the box with the function passing in and out.

" Thank you, Dicky dear," she responded, smiling
up at him. Since her earnest gaieties had begun, Dick
had been her most frequent companion. He was one
of the component members of that zestful little set com
posed of Gail, Lucile and Arly, and the bubbling little
Mrs. Babbitt, the cherub-cheeked Marion Kenneth, the
entirely sophisticated Gwen Halstead, and whatever
nice men happened to be available. Dick and Ted and
Gerald were, of course, always available.

" I m disappointed," complained Dick. " You don t
blush any more when I am affectionate with you."

" One loses the trick here," she laughed. " The de
mands are too frequent."

He bent a little closer to her.

" I m going to propose to you again to-night," he
told her.

" You re so satisfactory," she returned carelessly.
" But really, Dicky, I don t see how you re going to
manage it, unless you perform it right here, and that s
so conventional."

" Play hookey," he mischievously advised. " I ll tell
you what we ll do. You shoo Houston out of the house
the minute you get in ; then Lucile and Ted and Arly
and Gerald and I will sail up and carry you off to
supper, after which I ll take you home and pro

Gail s eyes snapped with the activity of that dis
loyal programme, and the little silvery laugh, for which
she had been so noted, welled up from her throat.


" You have to wait around the corner until he goes
away," she insisted.

" I ll bring a guitar if you like," Dick promised, with
so much avidity that she feared, for an instant, that
he might do it.

" You re monopolising me scandalously," she pro
tested. " Go away," and she turned immediately to
the dapper little marquis, who was enduring the most
difficult evening of his life. Gail was so thoroughly
adapted to a grand affair, one in which he could avow
universes ; and the Miss Van Ploon was so exacting.

The study door was open when Houston Van Ploon
sedately escorted Mrs. Davies and Gail into the library,
one of those rooms which appoint themselves the instinc
tive lounging places of all family intimates. Gail turned
up her big eyes in sparkling acknowledgment as the
punctilious Van Ploon took her cloak, and, at that mo
ment, as she stood gracefully poised, she caught the
gaze of the Reverend Smith Boyd fixed on her with such
infinite longing that it distressed her. She did not
want him to suffer.

Uncle Jim strode out with a hearty greeting, and,
at the sound of the voices of no one but Gail and Mrs.
Davies and Houston Van Ploon, old " Daddy " Man
ning appeared in the doorway, followed by the rector.

" The sweetest flower that blows in any dale," quoted
" Daddy " Manning, patting Gail s hand affection

The rector stood by, waiting to greet her, after
Manning had monopolised her a selfish moment, and
the newly aroused eye of colour in him seized upon the
gold and blue and red of her straight Egyptian cos
tume, and recognised in them a part of her endless
variety. The black on her lashes. He was close enough


to see that; and he marvelled at himself that he could
not disapprove.

Gail was most uncomfortably aware of him in this
nearness; but she turned to him with a frank smile of

" This looks like a conspiracy," she commented,
glancing towards the study, which was thick with

" It s an offensively innocent one," returned Man
ning, giving the rector but small chance. " We re dis
cussing the plans for the new Vedder Court tenements."

" Oh ! " observed Gail, and radiated a distinct chill,
whereupon the Reverend Smith Boyd, divesting him
self of some courteous compliment, exchanged inane
adieus with Mrs. Davies and young Van Ploon, and
took his committee back into the study.

Mrs. Davies remained but a moment or so. She even
seemed eager to retire, and as she left the library, she
cast a hopeful backward glance at the dancing-eyed
Gail and the correct young Van Ploon, who, with his
Dutch complexion and his blonde English moustache
and his stalwart American body, to say nothing of his
being a Van Ploon, represented to her the ideal of mas
culine perfection. He was an eligible who never did
anything a second too early or a second too late, or
deviated by one syllable from the exact things he should

If the anxious Aunt Helen had counted on any im
portant results from this evening s opportunities, she
had not taken into her calculations the adroitness of
Gail. In precisely five minutes Van Ploon was on the
doorstep, with his Inverness on his shoulders and his
silk hat in his hand, without even having approached
the elaborate introduction to certain important remarks


he had definitely decided to make. Gail might not have
been able to rid herself of him so easily, for he was a
person of considerable momentum, but he had rather
planned to make a more deliberate ceremony of the
matter, impulsive opportunities not being in his line of

A tall young man in an Inverness walked rapidly
past the door while Van Ploon was saying the correctly
clever things in the way of adieu ; and shortly after she
had closed the door on Van Ploon, a pebble struck the
side window of the library. Gail opened the window
and looked out. Dick Rodley stood just below, with
his impossibly handsome face upturned to the light,
his black eyes shining with glee, his Inverness tossed
romantically back over one shoulder, and an imaginary
guitar in his hands. Up into the library floated the
familiar opening strains of Tosti s Serenade, and the
Reverend Smith Boyd glanced out through the study
door at the enticing figure of Gail, and knitted his
brows in a frown.

" You absurd thing," laughed Gail to the serenader.
" No, you daren t come in," and she vigorously closed
the window. Laughing to herself, she bustled into her

" Here, where are you going? " called her Uncle

" Hush ! " she admonished him, peering, for a glow
ing moment, in the study door, a vision of such disturb
ing loveliness that the Reverend Smith Boyd, for the
balance of the evening, saw, staring up at him from the
Vedder Court tenement sketches, nothing but eyes and
lips and waving brown hair, and delicately ovalled
cheeks, their colour heightened by the rolling white fur
collar. " None of you must say a word about this,"


she gaily went on. " It s an escapade ! " and she was

Uncle Jim, laughing, but nevertheless intent upon
his responsibilities, grabbed her as she opened the front
door, but on the step he saw Dick Rodley, and, in the
machine drawing up at the curb, Arly and Gerald and
Lucile and Ted, so he kissed Gail good night, and passed
her over to the jovial Dick, and returned to the study
to brag about her.

Gaiety reigned supreme once more! Lights and
music and dancing, the hum of chatter and laughter,
the bustle and confusion of the place, the hilarity
which brings a new glow to the cheek and sparkle to the
eye, and then home again in the crisp wintry air, and
Dick following into the house with carefree assurance.

" Gracious, Dicky, you can t come in ! " protested
Gail, with half frowning, half laughing remonstrance.
" It s a fearful hour for calls."

" I m a friend of the family," insisted Dick, calmly
closing the door behind them and hanging his hat on
the rack. He took Gail s cloak and threw off his In
verness. " I guess you ve forgotten the programme."

" Oh, yes, the proposal," remembered Gail. " Well,
have it over with."

" All right," he agreed, and taking her arm and tuck
ing her shoulder comfortably close to him, he walked
easily with her back to the library. Arrived there, he
seated her on her favourite chair, and drew up another
one squarely in front of her.

" I m going to shock you to death," he told her.
" I m going to propose seriously to you."

Some laughing retort was on her lips, but she caught
a look in his eyes which suddenly stopped her.

* I am very much in earnest about it, Gail," and his


voice bore the stamp of deep sincerity. " I love you. I
want you to be my wife."

" Dick," protested Gail, and it was she who reached
out and placed her hand in his. The action was too
confidingly frank for him to mistake it.

" I was afraid you d think that way about it," he
said, his voice full of a pain of which they neither one
had believed him capable. " This is the first time I ever
proposed, except in fun, and I want to make you take
me seriously. Gail, I ve said so many pretty things
to you, that now, when I am in such desperate earnest,
there s nothing left but just to try to tell you how much
I love you ; how much I want you ! " He stopped, and,
holding her hand, patting it gently with unconscious
tenderness, he gazed earnestly into her eyes. His own
were entirely without that burning glow which he had,
for so long, bestowed on all the } oung and beautiful.
They were almost sombre now, and in their depth was
an humble wistfulness which made Gail s heart flow out
to him.

" I can t, Dick," she told him, smiling affectionately
at him. " You re the dearest boy in the world, and
I want you for my friend as long as we live; for my
very dear friend ! "

He studied her in silence for a moment, and then he
put his hands on her cheeks, and drew her gently to
wards him. Still smiling into his eyes, she held up her
lips, and he kissed her.

" I d like to say something jolly before I go," he said
as he rose ; " but I can t seem to think of it."

Gail laughed, but there was a trace of moisture in
her eyes as she took his arm.

" I d like to help you out, Dicky, but I can t think
of it either," she returned.


She was crying a little when she went up the stairs,

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Online LibraryGeorge Randolph ChesterThe ball of fire → online text (page 16 of 24)