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of him, and the might and sweep and drive of him, and
with the hot, tumbling words of love in her ears, and
her senses a-rcel, and her mind in its whirling exulta
tion, she felt between them a sympathy and a union
which it was not in human strength to deny! Some
thing held her back, something made her withhold the
word of promise, on the plea that she must have more
time to think, to consider, to straighten out the tangle
of her mind; but she suffered him to sweep her in his
arms, and rain hot kisses upon her face, and to tell
her, over and over and over and over, that she belonged
to him, forever and forever!



CHAPTER XXVII

ALMSON S PRIVATE AND PARTICULAR DEVIL

THE free and entirely uncurbed enjoyed an un
usual treat. It had a sensation which did not
need to be supported by a hectic imagination or a lurid
vocabulary. Vedder Court had been condemned for the
use of the Municipal Transportation Company ! A
new eight track, double-deck tube was to be constructed
through Crescent Island to the mainland !

Grand climax! Through this tube and into Vedder
Court, at the platforms of the surface and L and sub
way cars, was to come the passenger trains of the new
Atlantic-Pacific Railroad, a line three hundred miles
shorter than any now stretching between Broadway and
the Golden Gate! Any reader of the daily press, of
whom there are several, knows precisely what the free
and entirely uncurbed did with this bit of simon-pure
information. The glittering details began on the first
page, turned on the second, continued on the fourth,
jumped over to the seventh, and finished back among
the real estate ads. It began early in the morning,
and it continued until late at night, fresh details pil
ing upon each other in mad profusion, their importance
limited only by the restrictions of type!

Extra! The trick by which the A.-P. ran through
the mountains over the Inland Pacific s track!

Extra, extra! The compulsion by which the Mid-

281



282 THE BALL OF FIRE

continent was brought to complete the big gap in the
new A.-P- system !

Tremendous extra ! The contracts of freightage,
subject strictly to the Inter-State Commerce law, be
tween the A.-P. and the cereal trust, the metal trust,
the fuel trust, the cloth trust, and all the other in
iquitous combinations in restraint of everything ! Wow !
Zowie! That was the hot one! The A.-P. was the
main stem, and within thirteen seconds of the appear
ance on the streets of the tremendous extra, every other
fragile branchlet of a railroad not under the immedi
ate protection of the A.-P., was reduced to a shrivel,
and its stocks began to drop with the sickening plunge
of an unopened parachute!

Gail Sargent kept Nanette on the rush for extras
from the first yell on the streets, and she read every
word, including the underlines on the miscellaneous por
traits of Allison and the funny pi-lines which invari
ably occurred in the middle of the most interesting
sentences.

It was true, all true ! Here was the first step in Al
lison s tremendous project an accomplished fact. The
rest of it would be gradually revealed, from day to day,
as suited his needs, and the empire he had planned would
spread, until its circles touched, and overlapped, and
broke into an intricate webbing, over all the land and
water of the earth ! And she was to be the Empress !

Was she? Through all the night she had battled
that question, and the battle had left traces of
darkness around her luminous eyes. First, she
had been in the swirl of his tremendous compul
sion, overwhelmed by the sheer physical force of
him, captured not by siege but by sortie. Then
had come the dazzling splendour of his great plan,



ALLISON S PRIVATE DEVIL 283

a temptation of power, of might, of unlimited ruler-
ship, in the spoils of which, and the honour of which,
and the glory of which, she would share. Next, in the
midst of her expanding anticipation, there had come,
as out of a clear sky, a sudden inexplicable fear. It
was a shrinking, almost like a chill, which had attacked
her. Allison himself! The sheer physical dominance
of him ; the tempestuous mastery of him ; and again
she felt that breathless sensation of utter helplessness
which she had experienced in the little lookout house.
It was as if he were pulling the very life out of her,
to the upbuilding of his own strength ! It was in the
very nature of him to sweep her away by storm; it
was a part of his very bigness. He was colossal, gi
gantic, towering! And she had conquered this giant,
had been the motive of his strength, the very pinnacle
of his cloud-topping ambition ! There was pride in
that, pride and to spare. It distressed her that again
and again came that impulse of fear, that shrinking.
A new thought dawned. Perhaps this was the thing
which she had desired, the thing for which she had been
waiting; to be taken, and crushed.

Another disturbance came to her. This mighty
plan of Allison s. The exaltation of achievement, the
dazzling glory of accomplishment, had blinded her to
the processes by which the end must be gained, and
the fact which drew her attention to this was the re
membrance that her Uncle Jim was to be protected!
What about the others? For Allison to gain control
and dominion over thousands of now segregated in
terests, those thousands must lose their own control.
What would become of them?

Pshaw! That was the way of the world, particu
larly of the commercial world. As her father had



284 THE BALL OF FIRE

often expressed it, the big fish ate the little fish be
cause fish was the only food for fish; and Allison was
the biggest one of them all. That was the way of
him ; to devour that he might live. Even here, far from
him, and safe in her dainty little chintz hung suite, she
felt the dominance of him. Turn her eyes where she
would, with the lids open or closed, he filled her vision,
not in his normal stature, but grown to the dimensions
of his force, filling the sky, the earth, the sea, blot
ting out everything! There was no escaping him. He
had come to claim her, and she belonged to him ; that is,
unless she chose to call upon a strength still latent in
her. There was a something else which she could not
define just now, which seemed to call to her persistently
through the darkness. A voice but the collossus
stood between ! She wondered if she were happy. She
wondered what her Aunt Helen would say. Bigness
and power and dominance; she had admired them all
her life.

Late in the afternoon Jim Sargent came home,
drawn, fagged, and with hollows under his eyes. He
had a violent headache, and he looked ten years older.
He walked slowly into the library where Mrs. Sargent
and Mrs. Davies and Gail were discussing the future
of Vedder Court, and dropped into a chair.

Grace Sargent rang a bell instantly. When Jim
felt that way, he needed a hot drink first of all.

" What is the matter? " she asked him, the creases
of worry flashing into her brow.

" It s been a hard day," he explained, forcing him
self, with an effort, to answer. Years of persistent
experience had taught him to follow the line of least
resistance. " There has been a panic on Change.
Railroads are going to smash all up and down the line.



ALLISON S PRIVATE DEVIL 285

Allison s new A.-P. road. It s the star piracy of the
century. Allison has brought into the railroad game
the same rough-shod methods he used in his traction
manipulations."

"Has your company been hurt, Jim?" asked his
wife, fully prepared for the worst, and making up her
mind to bear up bravely under it.

" Not yet," replied Sargent, and he passed his hand
over his brow. He was already making a tremendous
effort to brace himself for to-morrow s ordeal. " I
escaped to-day by an accident. By some mistake the
Towando Valley was mentioned as belonging to the
new A-P. combination. Of course I didn t correct it,
but by to-morrow they ll know."

" Mr. Allison was responsible for that statement,"
Gail serenely informed her uncle. " He promised he d
take care of you."

" Great guns ! " exploded her uncle. " What did you
know about this thing? "

" All of it," smiled Gail. She had known that Al
lison would keep his word, but it gave her a strange
sense of relief that he had done so.

Her Aunt Helen turned to her with a commanding
eye ; but Gail merely dimpled.

" Of course I couldn t say anything," went on Gail.
" It was all in confidence. Isn t it glorious, Uncle
Jim!"

" You wouldn t have thought so if you d been down
town to-day," responded her uncle, trying again to
erase from his brow the damage which had been done
to his nerves. " They wanted to mob Allison ! He
has cut the ground from under the entire railroad busi
ness of the United States! Their stocks have deflated
an aggregate of billions of dollars, and the slump is



286 THE BALL OF FIRE

permanent! He has bankrupted a host of men, rifled
the pockets of a million poor investors; he has demor
alised the entire transportation commerce of the United
States ; and he gave no one the show of a rat in a trap ! "

" Isn t that business? " asked Gail, the red spots be
ginning to come into her cheeks.

" Not quite ! " snapped her Uncle Jim. " Fiction
has made that the universal idea, but there are decent
men in business. The majority of them are, even in
railroading. Most roads are organised and conducted
for the sole purpose of carrying freight and passen
gers at a profit for the stockholders, and spectacular
stock jobbing deals are the exception rather than the
rule."

" Has Mr. Allison been more unfair than others who
have made big consolidations ? " demanded Gail, again
aware of the severely inquiring eye of Aunt Helen.

" Rotten ! " replied her uncle, with an emphasis in
which there was much of personal feeling. " He has
taken tricky advantage of every unprotected loophole.
He won from the Inland Pacific, at the mere cost of
trackage, a passage which the Inland built through
the mountains by brilliant engineering and at an al
most countless cost."

"Isn t that accounted clever?" asked Gail.

" So is the work of a confidence man or a wire-tap
per!" "was the retort. "But they are sent to jail
just the same. The Inland created something. It
built, with brains and money and force, and sincere
commercial enterprise, a line which won it a well-earned
supremacy of the Pacific trade. It was entitled to
keep it; yet Allison, by making with it a tricky con
tract for the restricted use of the key to its su-



ALLISON S PRIVATE DEVIL 287

premacy, uses that very device to destroy it. He
has bankrupted, or will have done so, a two thousand
mile railroad system, which is of tremendous commer
cial value to the country, in order to use a hundred
miles of its track and remove it from competition! Al
lison has created nothing. He has only seized, by
stealth, what others have created. He is not even a
commercial highwayman. He is a commercial pick
pocket!"

Gail had paled by now.

" Tell me one thing," she demanded. " Wouldn t
any of the railroad men have employed this trick if
they had been shrewd enough to think of it? "

" A lot of them," was the admission, after an awk
ward pause. " Does that make it morally and eth
ically correct ? "

" You may be prejudiced, Jim," interpolated Aunt
Helen, moving closer to Gail. " If they are all play
ing the game that way, I don t see why Mr. Allison
shouldn t receive applause for clever play."

"You bet I m prejudiced!" snarled Sargent, over
coming his weariness and pacing up and down the li
brary floor. " He came near playing my road the same
trick he did the Inland Pacific. He secured control
of the L. and C., because it has a twenty-year contract
for passage over fifty miles of our track. He d throw
the rest of our line away like a peanut hull, if he had
not promised Gail to protect me. I m an object of
charity ! "

" Oh ! " It was a scarcely audible cry of pain. Aunt
Helen moved closer, and patted her hand. Gail did
not notice the action.

"Why did he make you that promise, Gail?" de-



288 THE BALL OF FIRE

manded her uncle, turning on her suddenly, with a
physical motion so much like her father s that she was
startled.

" He wants me to marry him," faltered Gail.

Aunt Grace sat down by the other side of Gail.

"Have you accepted him, dear?" she asked.

There was a lump in Gail s throat. She could not
answer !

" She ll never marry him with my consent ! " stormed
her Uncle Jim, " Nor with Miles s ! The fellow s an
unscrupulous scoundrel ! He s made of cruelty from
his toes to his hair! He stops at nothing! He even
robbed Market Square Church of six million dollars ! "

Gail s head suddenly went up in startled inquiry.
She wanted to still defend Allison; but she dreaded
what was to come.

" We wouldn t sell him Vedder Court at his price ;
so he took it from us at six million less than he orig
inally offered. He did that by a trick, too."

All three women looked up at him in breathless in
terest.

" He had the city condemn Vedder Court," went on
Sargent. " If he had condemned it outright for the
Municipal Transportation Company, he would have
had to pay us about the amount of his original offer;
but his own private and particular devil put the idea
into his head that the Vedder Court tenements should
be torn down anyhow, for the good of the public ! So
he had the buildings condemned first, destroying six
million dollars worth of value ; then he had the ground
condemned! Tim Gorman probably got about a mil
lion dollars for that humanitarian job!"

A wild fit of sobbing startled them all.



CHAPTER XXVIII

LOVE

ALLISON swept Gail into his arms, and rained hot
kisses upon her, crushing her closely to him. She
offered no resistance, and the very fact that she held
so supinely in his arms, made Allison release her sooner
than he might otherwise have done. She had known
that this experience must come, that no look or gesture
or word of hers could ward it off.

" You must never do that again," she told him, step
ping back from him, and regaining her breath with an
effort. She had lingered in the front parlours to re
ceive him before her Uncle Jim should know that he
was in the house, and she had led him straight into the
little tete-a-tete reception room. She meant to free
herself quickly.

"Why not? " he laughed, and advanced toward her,
taking her attitude lightly, ascribing her action to a
girlish whim, confident in his power over her. He meant
to dispose of her coyness by taking her in his arms
again. She belonged to him.

" Mr. Allison." The tone was cold enough, and
deadly in earnest enough to arrest him.

" What s the matter, Gail ? " he protested, ready to
humour her, to listen to what she had to say, to smooth
matters out.

" You have no right," she told him.

289



290 THE BALL OF FIRE

" Yes I have," he jovially assured her. " I hope I
don t have to wait until after marriage for a kiss. If
that s the case I ll take you out and marry you right
now."

There was an infection in his laugh, contagion in
the assumption that all was right between them, and
that any difference was one which could be straightened
out with jolly patience, and Gail, though her deter
mination would not have changed, might have softened
toward him, had she not seen in his face a look which
paled her lips. Ever since last night he had antici
pated her, had rejoiced in his possession of her, had
dreamed on the time when he should take her for his
own ; and his eyes were cloudy with his thoughts of her.

" Let us have a clear understanding, Mr. Allison."
She was quite erect, and looking him directly in the
eyes. Her own were deep and troubled, and the dark
trace which had been about them in the morning had
deepened. " I told you last night that I should need
time in which to decide; and I have decided. I shall
not marry you"

He returned her gaze for a moment, and his brow
clouded.

" You ve changed since last night," he charged her.

" Possibly," she admitted. " It is more likely, how
ever, that I have merely crystallised. I prefer not to
discuss it." She saw on his face the growing instinct
to humiliate her.

" You must discuss it," he insisted. " Last night
when I took you in my arms you made no objection.
I was justified in doing it again to-night. You re not
a fool. You knew from the first that I wanted you,
and you encouraged me. Now, I m entitled to know
what has made the change."



LOVE 291

The telltale red spots began to appear in her cheeks.

" You," she told him. " Last night, your scheme of
world empire seemed a wonderful thing to me, but since
then I ve discovered that it cannot be built without dis
honesty and cruelty ; and you ve used both."

His brow cleared. He laughed heartily.

" You ve been reading the papers. There isn t a
man in the financial field who wouldn t do everything
I ve done ; and be proud of it. I can make you see
this in the right light, Gail."

" It s a proof of your moral callousness that you
think so," she informed him. " Can you make me see
it in the right light that you even used me, of whom
you pretended to think sacredly enough to marry, to
help you in your most despicable trick of all?"

" Look here," he protested. " That would be im
possible ! You re misinformed."

" I wish I were," she returned. " Unfortunately,
it is a matter of direct knowledge. You caused Ved-
der Court to be torn down because I thought it should
be wiped out of existence, and in the process you cheated
Market Square Church out of six million dollars ! "

He could not have been more shocked if she had
struck him.

" I knew you did not understand," he kindly reproved
her. " I didn t want those old buildings. They
couldn t have sold them for the wreckage price. When
you suggested that they should be torn down, I saw it.
They were a public menace, and the public was right
with the movement. The condemnation price will cover
all they could get from the property from any source.
You see, you don t understand business," and his tone
was forgiving. " I d have been foolish to pay six mil
lion dollars for something I couldn t use. You know,



292 THE BALL OF FIRE

Gail, when the building commissioners came to look
over those buildings, they were shocked ! Some of them
wouldn t have stood up another year. It was only the
political influence of Clark and Chisholm and a few of
the other big guns of the congregation, which kept them
from being condemned long ago. You shouldn t in
terfere in business. It always creates trouble between
man and wife," and he advanced to put his arm around
her, and soothe her.

The hand with which she warded him off was effec
tive this time. She stared at him in wonder. It seemed
inconceivable that the moral sense of any intelligent
man should be so blunted.

" There s another reason," she told him, despairing
of making him realise that he had done anything out
of the way. " I do not love you. I could not."

For just a moment he was checked; then his jaws
set.

" That is something you must learn. You have
young notions of love, gleaned from poetry and fiction.
You conceive it to be an ideal stage of existence, a mys
terious something almost too delicate for perception
by the human senses. I will teach you love, Gail !
Look," and he stretched up his firm arm, as if in his
grip he already held the reins of the mighty empire he
was hewing out for her. " Love is a thing of strength,
of power, of desire which shakes, and burns, and con
sumes with fever ! It is like the lust to kill ! It whips,
and it goads, and it drives ! It creates ! It puts new
images into the brain ; it puts new strength into sin
ews ; it puts new life into the blood ! It cries out ! It
demands ! It has caused me to turn back from mid
dle-age to youth, to renew all my ambitions, a thou
sandfold enhanced by my maturity ! It has caused me



LOVE 293

to grapple the world by the throat, and shake it, throt
tle it ; so that I might drag it, quivering, to your feet
and say, this is yours ; kick it ! That is love, Gail !
It drives one on to do great deeds ! It gives one the
impulse to recognise no bounds, no bars, no obstacles !
It has put all my being into the attainment of things
big enough to show you the force of my will, and what
it could conquer ! Do you suppose that, with such love
driving me on, any objection which you may make will
stop me ? No ! I set out to attain you as the summit
of my desire, the one thing in this world I want, and
will have ! "

Again that great fear of him possessed Gail. She
feared many things. She feared that, in spite of her
determination, he would still have her, and in that pos
sibility alone lay all the other fears, fears so gruesome
that she did not dare see them clearly ! She knew that
she must retain absolute control of herself.

" I shall not discuss the matter any further," she
quietly said, and walking straight towards the door,
passed by him, quite within the reach of his arm, with
out either looking at him or away from him. Some
thing within his own strength respected hers, in spite
of him. " I have said all that I have to say."

" So have I," he replied, coming closer to her as she
stood in the doorway, and he gazed down at her with
eyes in which there was insolent determination, and
cruelty. " I have said that I mean to have you, and I
will."

Without a word, she went into the hall. He followed
her, and took his hat.

" Good evening," he said formally.

" Good evening," she replied, and he went out of tho
door.



294 THE BALL OF FIRE

When he had gone, she flew up to her rooms, her first
coherent thought being that she had accomplished it !
She had seen Allison, and had given him her definite
answer, and had gotten him out of the house while the
others were back in the billiard room. She had held
up splendidly, but she was weak now, and quivering in
every limb, and she sank on her divan, supported on
one outstretched arm ; and in this uncomfortable po
sition, she took up the eternal question of Gail. The
angry tears of mortification sprang into her eyes !

A half hour later her Aunt Grace came up, and
found her in the same position.

" Mrs. Boyd and Doctor Boyd are downstairs, dear,"
she announced.

Gail straightened up with difficulty. Her arm was
numb.

" Please make my excuses, Aunty," she begged.

"What s the matter?" asked Aunt Grace, the
creases jumping into her brow as if they lay some
where in the roots of her hair, ready to spring down at
an instant s notice. " Aren t you feeling well ? Shall
I get you something? "

" No, thank you," smiled Gail wanly. " I m just a
little fatigued."

" Then don t you come a step," and Aunt Grace
beamed down on her niece with infinite tenderness. She
had an intuition, these days, that the girl was troubled ;
and her sympathies were ready for instant production.
" You ll have to tell me what to say, though. I m so
clumsy at it."

" Just tell them the truth," smiled Gail, and punch
ing two pillows together, she stretched herself at full
length on the divan.



LOVE 295

Her Aunt Grace regarded her with a puzzled expres
sion for a moment, and then she laughed.

" I see ; you re lying down." She looked at Gail
thoughtfully for a moment. " Dear, could you close
your eyes ? "

" Certainly," agreed Gail, and the brown lashes
curved down on her cheeks, though there was a sharp
little glint from under the edges of her lids.

Her Aunt Grace stooped and kissed the smooth white
brow, then she went downstairs and entered the library.

" Gail is lying down," she primly reported. " Her
eyes are closed."

The library was quite steadily devoted to Vedder
Court to-night. A highly important change had come
into the fortunes of Market Square Church. It was
as if a stone had been thrown into a group of card
board houses. All the years of planning had gone the
way of the wind, and the card houses had all to be built
over again. The Cathedral had receded by a good five
years, unless the force and fire of the Reverend Smith
Boyd should be sufficient to coax capital out of the
pockets of his millionaire congregation ; and, in fact,
that quite normal plan was already under advisement.

The five of this impromptu counsel were deep in the
matter of ways and means, when a slender apparition,
in clinging grey, came down the stairs. It was Gail,
who, for some reason unknown, even to her, had decided
that she was selfish ; and the Reverend Smith Boyd s
heart ached as he saw the pallor on her delicately tinted
cheeks and the dark tracing about her brown eyes.
She slipped quietly in among them, her brown hair
loosely waved, so that unexpected threads of gold shone


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Online LibraryGeorge Randolph ChesterThe ball of fire → online text (page 19 of 24)