George Randolph Chester.

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and her mood was not even interrupted by the fact that
Aunt Helen s door was ajar, and that Aunt Helen stood
just behind the crack.

" Why, child, that Egyptian black is running," was
Aunt Helen s first observation.

Gail dabbed hastily at the two tiny rivulets which
had hesitated at the curve of her pink cheeks, and then
she put her head on Aunt Helen s shoulder, and wept

" Poor Dicky," she explained, and then turning, dis
appeared into her own room.

Mrs. Helen Davies looked after her speculatively for
a moment ; but she decided not to follow.



THERE began to be strange new stirrings in the
world. Money ! From the land which was its
home and place of abode it leaned over cross the wide
seas, and made potent whisperings in the ears of the
countries where money is despised and held vulgar.
They all listened. The particular potency lay in the
fact that the money was so big, which took away tre
mendously from its despicableness and its vulgarity.

A black-bearded Grand Duke from the wide land of
the frozen seas humbled himself to plain Ivan Strolesky
at the sound of that whisper, and hurried westward.
A high dignitary of an empire upon which the sun
never sets, hid his title under a plebeian nom de plume,
and stalked stolidly away westward to that whisper of
despised American money. From the land of fashion,
from the land of toys, from the land of art and music,
from the land of cherry blossoms, from the land of the
drowsing drug, from the land of the flashing jewels,
from the lands of the burning sands and the lands of
the midnight sun, there came the highest of power ; and
they all, light and swarth, and bearded and smooth, and
large and small, and robed and trousered, centred to
ward the city of strong men, and, one by one, presented
themselves, in turn, to a grave and silent kinky-haired
old darky by the name of Ephraim.

One motive alone had dragged them over sterile



plains and snowy mountains and bounding seas ; the
magic whisper of Money!

Through Ephraim they came to the stocky, square-
standing, square-faced chess player who was called Al
lison. They found him pleasant, agreeable, but hardly
of their class. He was so forceful as to be necessarily
more or less crude, and he had an unpleasant fashion
of waving aside all the decent little pretences about
money. That was the fault of this whole rude coun
try, where luxury had been brought to the greatest
refinement ever known in the history of the world; it
was so devoted to money, and the cultured gentlemen
did their best to get all they could.

To Ivan Strolesky Allison was frank and friendly,
for there was something in the big Russian which was
different from these others, so he hastened to have
business out of the way.

" Here are your lines," he said, spreading down a
map which had been brought up-to-date by hand.
" The ones I want are checked in blue. The others I
do not care for."

The Grand Duke looked them over with a keen eye.

" I am rather disappointed," he confessed in excel
lent English. " I had understood that you wished to
control our entire railway system."

" I do," assented Allison ; " but I don t wish to pay
out money for them all. If I can acquire the lines
I have marked, the others will be controlled quite easily
from the fact that I shall have the only outlet."

The Grand Duke, who had played poker in America
and fan-tan in China and roulette in Monte Carlo, and
all the other games throughout the world, smiled with
his impressive big eyes, and put his hand up under his


" The matter then seems to resolve itself into a ques
tion of price," he commented.

" No ; protection," responded Allison. " If I were
buying these railroads outright, I should expect my
property interests to be guarded, even if I had to ap
peal to international equity ; but I am not."

" No," admitted the Grand Duke. " They can not
be purchased."

" The proposition resolves itself then into a matter
of virtual commercial seizure," Allison pointed out.

The Grand Duke, still with his hand in his beard,
chuckled, as he regarded Allison amusedly.

" I shall not mind if you call it piracy," he observed.
" We, in Russia, must collect our revenues as we can,
and we are nearly as frank as Americans about it. Re
turning to your matter of protection. I shall admit
that the only agreement upon which we can secure what
you want, would not hold in international equity ; and,
in consequence, the only protection I can give you is
my personal word that you will not be molested in any
thing which you wish to do, providing it is pleasant to
myself and those I represent."

" Then we ll make it an annual payment," decided
Allison, putting away some figures he had prepared.
" We ll make it a sliding scale, increasing each year
with the earnings."

The Grand Duke considered that proposition
gravely, and offered an amendment.

" After the first year," he said. " We shall begin
with a large bonus, however."

Allison again put out of his mind certain figures he
had prepared to suggest. Apparently the Grand Duke
needed a large supply of immediate cash, and the an
nual payments thereafter would need to be decreased ac-


cordingly, with still another percentage deducted for
profit on the Duke s necessities.

" Let us first discuss the bonus," proposed Allison,
and quite amicably they went into the arrangement,
whereby Ivan Strolesky filched the only valuable rail
road lines in his country from the control of its pres
ent graft-ridden possessors, and handed it over to the
International Transportation Company.

" By the way," said Allison. " How soon can we
obtain possession? "

Ivan Strolesky put his hand in his beard again, and

" There is only one man who stands in the way," he
calculated. " He will be removed immediately upon
my return."

There was something so uncanny about this that
even the practical and the direct Allison was shocked
for an instant, and then he laughed.

" We have still much to learn from your country," he
courteously confessed.

When Ivan Strolesky had gone, Allison went to his
globe and drew a bright red line across the land of the
frozen seas.

There came a famous diplomat, a heavy blonde man
with a red face and big spectacles and a high, wide,
round forehead.

" I do not know what you want," said the visitor, re
garding Allison with a stolid stare. " I have come to

" I merely wish to chat international politics," re
turned Allison. " There is an old-time feud between
you and your neighbours to the west."

" That is history," replied the visitor noncommitally.
" We are now at peace."


" Never peace," denied Allison. " There will never
be friendship between phlegmatism and mercurialism.
You might rest for centuries with your neighbours to
the west, but rest is not peace."

" Excuse me, but what do you mean ? " and the visi
tor stared stolidly.

" In your affairs of mutual relationship with the land
to the west, there are not less than a dozen causes upon
which war could be started without difficulty," went on
Allison. " In fact, you require perpetual diplomacy
to prevent war with that country."

The visitor locked his thick fingers quietly together
and kept on stolidly staring.

" I hear what you say," he admitted.

" You are about to have a war," Allison advised

" I do not believe so," and the visitor ponderously
shook his head.

" I am sorry to correct you, but you yourself will
bring it about. You will make, within a month, an
unfortunate error of diplomatic judgment, and your
old strip of disputed territory will be alive with sol
diers immediately."

" No, it is not true," and the visitor went so far, in
his emphasis, as to unlock his fingers and rest one hand
on the back of the other.

" I think I am a very fair prophet," said Allison
easily. " I have made money by my prophecy. I have
more money at my command at the present time than
any man in the world, than any government ; wealth
beyond handling in mere currency. It can only be con
veyed by means of checks. Let me show you how easy
it is to write them," and drawing a blank book to him,
he wrote a check, and signed his name, and filled out the


stub, and tore it out, and handed it to the visitor for
inspection. The visitor was properly pleased with Al
lison s ease in penmanship.

" I see," was the comment, and the check was handed
back. He drew his straight-crowned derby towards

" I have made a mistake," said Allison. " I have left
off a cipher," and correcting this omission with a new
check, he tore up the first one.

" I see," commented the visitor, and put the second
check in his pocket.

That had required considerable outlay, but when Al
lison was alone, he went over to his globe and made an
other long red mark.

A neat waisted man, with a goatee of carefully se
lected hairs and a luxuriant black moustache, called on
Allison, and laid down his hat and his stick and his
gloves, in a neat little pile, with separate jerks. He
jerked out a cigarette, he jerked out a match, and
jerkily lit the former with the latter.

" I am here," he said.

" I am able to give you some important diplomatic
news," Allison advised him. " Your country is about
to have a war with your ancient enemy to the east. It
will be declared within a month."

" It will be finished in a week," prophesied the neat-
waisted caller, his active eyes lighting with pleasure.

" Possibly," admitted Allison. " I understand that
your country is not in the best of financial conditions
to undertake a war, particularly with that ancient

" The banking system of my country is patriotic,"
returned the caller. " Its only important banks are
controlled under one system. I am the head of that


system. I am a patriot ! " and he tapped himself upon
the breast with deep and sincere feeling.

" How much revenue does your position yield you
personally? "

A shade of sadness crossed the brow of the neat
waisted caller.

" It does not yield you this much," and Allison pushed
toward him a little slip of paper on which were in
scribed some figures.

The caller s eyes widened as they read the sum. He
smiled. He shrugged his shoulders. He pushed back
the slip of paper.

" It is droll," he laughed, and his laugh was nervous.
He drew the slip of paper towards him again with a
jerky little motion, then pushed it back once more.

" If your banking system found it impossible to be
patriotic, your government would be compelled to raise
money through other means. It would not withdraw
from the war."

" Never ! " and the neat-waisted caller once more
touched himself on the breast.

" It would be compelled to negotiate a loan. If
other governments, through some understanding among
their bankers, found it difficult to provide this loan,
your government would find it necessary to release its
ownership, or at least its control, of its most valuable
commercial possession."

The caller, who had followed Allison s progressive
statement with interest, gave a quick little nod of his

" That most valuable commercial possession," went
on Allison, " is the state railways. You were convinced
by my agent that there is a new and powerful force in
the world, or you would not be here. Suppose I point


out that it is possible to so cramp your banking system
that you could not help your country, if you would;
suppose I show you that, in the end, your ancient enemy
will lose its identity, while your country remains intact ;
suppose I show you that the course I have proposed is
the only way open which will save your country from
annihilation? What then? "

The neat waisted caller, with the first slow motion
he had used since he came into the room, drew the slip
of paper towards him again.

There followed another banker, a ruddy-faced man
whose heavy features were utterly incapable of emo
tion ; and he sat at Allison s table in thick-jowled solid-


" There are about to begin international movements
of the utmost importance," Allison told him. " There
is a war scheduled for next month, which is likely to
embroil the whole of Europe."

The banking gentleman nodded his head almost im

" Mr. Chisholm advised me that your sources of in
formation are authentic," he stated. " What you tell
me is most deplorable."

" Quite," agreed Allison. " I am informed that the
company you represent and manage has the practical
direction of the entire banking system of Europe, with
the exception of one country. Besides this, you have
powerful interests, amounting very nearly to a monop
oly, in Egypt, in India, in Australia, and in a dozen
other quarters of the globe."

" You seem to be accurately informed," admitted the
banking gentleman, studying interestedly the glowing
coals in Allison s fireplace.

" If I can show you how a certain attitude towards


the international complications which are about to en
sue will be of immense advantage to your banking sys
tem, as well as to the interests I represent, I have no
doubt that we can come to a very definite understand-

The solidly jowled banking gentleman studied the
glowing coals for two minutes.

" I should be interested in learning the exact de
tails," he finally suggested.

Allison drew some sheets of paper from an indexed
file, and spread them before the financier. It was
largely a matter of credits in the beginning, extensions
here, curtailments there, and all on a scale so gigantic
that both gentlemen went over every item with the im
aginative minds of poets. In every line there was a
vista of vast empires, of toppling thrones, of altered
boundaries, of such an endless and shifting panorama
of governmental forces, that the minds of men less in
ured to the contemplation of commercial and politi
cal revolutions might have grown fagged. On the third
page, the solid banking gentleman, who had not made
a nervous motion since his grandfather was a boy, looked
up with a start.

" Why, this affects my own country ! " he exclaimed.
" It affects our enormous shipping interests, our great
transportation lines, our commercial ramifications in
all parts of the globe ! It cripples us on the land and
wipes us from the sea ! It even affects my own govern
ment ! "

" Quite true," admitted Allison. " However, I beg
you to take notice that, with the international compli
cations now about to set in, your government has
reached its logical moment of disintegration. Your
colonies and dependencies are only waiting for your


startlingly shrunken naval and land forces to be em
broiled in the first war which will concentrate your
fighting strength in one spot. When that occurs, you
will have revolutions on your hands in a dozen quarters
of the globe, so scattered that you can not possibly
reach them. India will go first, for she thirsts for
more than independence. She wants blood. Your other
colonies will follow, and your great shipping interests,
your transportation lines, your commercial ramifica
tions in all parts of the globe, will be crushed and
crumbled, for the foundation upon which they rest has
long ago fallen into decay. Your country! Your
country is already on the way to be crippled on the
land and swept from the sea ! I know the forces which
are at work; the mightiest forces which have ever
dawned on the world ; the forces of twentieth century
organised commerce ! "

The banking gentleman drew a long breath.

" What you predict may not come to pass," he main
tained, although the secret information which had
brought him to Allison had prepared him to take every
statement seriously.

" I can show you proofs ! The war which is to be
started next month is only the keystone of the political
arch of the entire eastern hemisphere. There are a
dozen wars, each bigger than the other, slated to fol
low, if needed, like the pressing of a row of electric but
tons. Knowing these things as you shall, it is only a
question of whether you will be with me on the crest, or
in the hollow."

The caller moistened his lips, and turned his gaze
finally from the glowing coals to Allison s face.

" Show me everything you know," he demanded.

They sat together until morning, and they traversed


the world ; and, when that visitor had gone, Allison
gave his globe a contemptuous whirl.

The balance of them were but matters of detail.
With a certain prideful arrogance, of which he himself
was aware, he reflected that now he could almost leave
these minor powers and potentates and dignitaries to
a secretary, but nevertheless he saw them all. One
by one they betrayed their countrymen, their govern
ments, their ideals and their consciences, and all for
the commodity to which Allison had but to add another
cypher when it was not enough ! It was not that there
were none but traitors in the world, but that Allison s
agents had selected the proper men. Moreover, Alli
son was able to show them a sceptre of resistless might ;
the combined money, and power, and control, and wide-
reaching arms of the seven greatest monopolies the
world had ever known! There was no strength of re
sistance in any man after he had been brought, face to
face, with this new giant.

It was in the grey of one morning, when Allison was
through with his last enforced collaborator, and, walk
ing over to his globe, he twirled it slowly. It was lined
and streaked and crossed, over all its surface now, with
red, and it was the following of this intricate web which
brought back to him the triumph of his achievement.
He had harnessed the world, and now he had but to
drive it. That was the next step, and he clenched
his fist to feel the sheer physical strength of his muscles,
as if it were with this very hand that he would do the

Intoxicated with a sense of his own power, he went
back into his study, and drew from a drawer the pho
tograph of a young and beautiful girl, who seemed to
look up at him, out of an oval face wreathed with wav-


ing brown hair, and set with beautifully curved lips
which twitched at the corners in a half sarcastic smile,
from two brown eyes, deep and glowing and fraught
with an intense attractiveness. Every morning he had
looked at this photograph, the priceless crown of his
achievement, the glittering jewel to set in the head of
his sceptre, the beautiful medallion of his valour!

" Only a little longer, Gail," he told her with a smile,
and then he saluted the photograph. " Gail, the
maker of maps ! " he said.



/CALLERS for Mrs. Helen Davies, and a huge bou-
^- / quet of American beauties for Gail. The latter
young lady was in the music room, engaged with Chopin
and a great deal of pensiveness, when the interruption
occurred, and not quite understanding the specific di
vision of ceremonies, crossed up into the Louis XIV
room, where Nicholas Van Ploon and Miss Van Ploon
sat with unusual impressiveness.

" We don t wish to see any frivolous young people,"
said Miss Van Ploon playfully, kissing Gail and pinch
ing her cheek affectionately.

" You can t mean me," laughed Gail, turning to re
ceive the outstretched palm of Nicholas, who, to her
intense surprise, bent his round head and kissed her

" Just you," returned Miss Van Ploon, drawing Gail
down beside her. " We consider you the most delight
fully frivolous young person in existence."

" That s flattering, but is it complimentary ? " queried
Gail, and she was astounded that Nicholas Van Ploon
laughed so heartily. He had folded his hands over
his entirely uncreased vest, and now he nodded at her
over and over.

" Clever," he said, " very clever ; " and he continued
to beam on her.


Miss Van Ploon turned sidewise, to inspect Gail with
a fondly critical estimate. The pensiveness which had
needed Chopin for its expression, and which had been
rather growing since the night of Dick Rodley s final
proposal, had begun to set its slightly etherealising
mark upon her.

" You are a trifle pale, my dear," said Miss Van
Ploon anxiously. " We must not allow the roses to
fade from those beautiful cheeks," and Nicholas Van
Ploon was at once seriously concerned. He straight
ened his neck, and bore the exact expression of a careful
head of the family about to send for a doctor.

" That s the second scolding I ve had about it to
day," smiled Gail, a feeling of discomfort beginning to
tighten itself around her. " Aunt Grace is worrying
herself very much because I do not sleep sufficiently,
but Aunt Helen tells her that the season will soon be

" It has been very gay," observed Miss Van Ploon
approvingly. " However, I would like to see you finish
the season as gloriously as you began it."

" You should systematise," advised Nicholas Van
Ploon earnestly, and in an almost fatherly tone. " No
matter what occurs, you should take a half hour nap
before dinner every day."

Mrs. Davies came into the room, arrayed in the black
velvet afternoon gown which gave her more stateliness
and more impressive dignity than anything in her
wardrobe. Miss Van Ploon, who was a true member of
the family, in that she considered the Van Ploon entity
before any individual, quite approved of Mrs. Davies,
and was in nowise jealous of being so distinctly outshone
in personal appearance. Nicholas Van Ploon also sur-
Mrs. Davies with a calculating eye, and bobbed


his round head slightly to himself. He had canvassed
Mrs. Helen Davies before, and had discussed her in
family council, but this was a final view, a dress parade,
as it were.

" I suppose I am dismissed," laughed Gail, rising,
in relief, as Mrs. Davies exchanged the greetings of the
season with her callers.

" Yes, run away and amuse yourself, child," and
Miss Van Ploon, again with that assumption that Gail
was a pinafored miss with a braid down her back and
a taffy stick in one hand, shook at her a playful finger ;
whereupon Gail, pretending to laugh as a pinafored
miss should, escaped, leaving them to their guild mat
ters, or whatever it was.

" What a charming young woman she is ! " com
mented Miss Van Ploon, glancing, with dawning
pride, at the doorway through which Gail had disap

" Indeed, yes," agreed Mrs. Davies, with a certain
trace of proprietorship of her own. " It has been very
delightful to chaperon her."

" It must have been," acquiesced Miss Van Ploon ;
" and an extremely responsible task, too."

" Quite," assented Mrs. Davies. Both ladies were
silent for a moment. Nicholas Van Ploon, watching
them in equal silence, began to show traces of impa

" We shall miss Gail very much if she should return
to her home at the end of the season," ventured Miss
Von Ploon, and waited.

" We dread to think of losing her," admitted Mrs.
Davies, beginning to feel fluttery. The question had
been asked, the information given.

Miss Van Ploon turned to her father, and bowed with


formal deliberation. Nicholas Van Ploon looked at her
inquiringly. He had not detected any particular
meaning in the conversation, but that bow was a letter
of instructions. He drew a handkerchief from his
pocket, and touched his lips. He arose, in his com
pletely stuffed cutaway, and deliberately brought for
ward his chair. He sat down facing his daughter and
Mrs. Helen Davies. The latter lady was tremulous
within but frigid without. Mr. Van Ploon cleared his

" I believe that you are the acknowledged sponsor
of Miss Sargent," he inquired.

Mrs. Davies nodded graciously.

" May I take the liberty of asking if your beautiful
ward has formed a matrimonial alliance ? "

" I am quite safe in saying that she has not." Thus
Mrs. Davies, in a tone of untroubled reserve.

" Then I feel free to speak," went on the head of the
Van Ploons, in whose family the ancient custom of hav
ing a head was still rigidly preserved. " I may state
that we should feel it an honour to have Miss Sargent
become a member of the Van Ploon family."

Since he seemed to have more to say, and since he
seemed to have paused merely for rhetorical effect, Mrs.
Helen Davies only nodded her head, suppressing, mean
time, the look of exultation which struggled to leap into
her face.

" My son Houston, I am authorised to state, is de
voted to Miss Sargent. We have discussed the matter

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Online LibraryGeorge Randolph ChesterThe ball of fire → online text (page 17 of 24)