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George Randolph Chester.

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Perhaps feeling the steady gaze, Allison turned to
her suddenly, and for a moment the grey eyes and the
brown ones looked questioningly into each other, then
there leaped from the man to the woman a something
which held her gaze a full second longer than she would
have wished.



"WHY?" 15

" Air s great," he said with a smile.

" Glorious ! " she agreed. " I don t want to go in."

" Don t," he promptly advised her.

" That s a simple enough solution," and her laugh,
in the snow-laden air, reminded him, in one of those
queer flashes of memory, of a little string of sleighbells
he had owned as a youngster. " However, I promised
Cousin Lucile."

" We ll stop at the house long enough to tell her
you re busy," suggested Allison, as eager as a boy. He
had been on his way home to dress for a business ban
quet, but such affairs came often, and impulsive adven
tures like this could be about once in a lifetime with him.
He had played the grubbing game so assiduously that,
while he had advanced, as one of his lieutenants said,
from a street car strap to his present mastership of
traction facilities, he had missed a lot of things on the
way. He was energetic to make up for the loss, how
ever. He felt quite ready to pour a few gallons of
gasolene into his runabout and go straight on to Bos
ton, or any other place Gail might suggest; and there
was an exhilaration in his voice which was conta
gious.

" Let s ! " cried Gail, and, with a laugh which he had
discarded with his first business promotion, Allison
threw out another notch of speed, and whirled from
the Seventy-second Street entrance up the Avenue to
the proper turning, and halfway down the block, where
he made a swift but smooth stop, bringing the step
with marvellous accuracy to within an inch of the curb.

" Won t you come in ? " invited Gail.

" We d stay too long," grinned Allison, entering into
the conspiracy with great fervour.

She flashed at him a smile and ran up the steps. She



16 THE BALL OF FIRE

turned to him again as she waited for the bell to be an
swered, and nodded to him with frank comradery.

" Time me," she called, and he jerked out his watch
as she slipped in at the door.

Two vivacious looking young women, one tall and
black-haired and the other petite and blonde, and both
fashionably slender and both pretty, rushed out into
the hall and surrounded her.

" We thought you d never come," rattled Lucile
Teasdale, who was the petite blonde, and the daughter
of the sister of the wife of Gail s Uncle Jim.

"Who s the man?" demanded Mrs. " Arly " Fos-
land, with breathless interest.

" Where s my tea ? " answered Gail.

" We saw you dash up," supplemented Lucile.
" We thought it was a fire."

" Why doesn t he come in ? " this from Arly, in whom
two years of polite married life had not destroyed an
innocently eager curiosity to inspect eligibles at close
range, for her friends.

"Who is he?" insisted Lucile, peeping out of the
hall window.

" Edward E. Allison," primly announced Gail, sup
pressing a giggle. " I got him at Uncle Jim s vestry
meeting. He s waiting to take me riding in the Park.
Where s my tea?"

"Edward E. Allison!" gasped "Arly" Fosland.
" Why, he s the richest bachelor in New York, even if
he isn t a social butterfly," and she contemplated Gail
in sisterly wonder and admiration. " Good gracious,
child, run ! "

" Come for the tea to-morrow ! " urged Lucile.

They were all three laughing, and the two young
married women were pushing Gail forward. At the



"WHY?" 17

door Lucile and Arly separated from her, to peer out
of the two side windows.

" He doesn t look so old," speculated Arly ; and Lu
cile opened the door.

" Good-bye, dearie," and Lucile kissed her cousin in
pla-in sight of the curb, upon which there was nothing
for that young lady to do but go.

For an instant, Edward E. Allison had a glimpse of
her, in her garnet and turquoise, flanked by a sprightly
vision in blue and another sprightly vision in pink, and
he thought he heard the suppressed sounds of titter
ing; then the door closed, and the lace curtains of the
hall windows bulged outward, and Gail came tripping
down the steps.

" Two minutes and forty-eight seconds," called Al
lison, putting away his stop watch with one hand and
helping her with the other. He tucked her in more
quickly than at the church, but with equal care, then
he jumped in beside her, and never had he cut so swift
and sure a circle with his sixty horse-power runabout.

They raced up and into the Park, and around the
winding driveways with the light-hearted exhilaration
of children, and if there was in them at that moment
any trace of mature thought, they were neither one
aware of it. They were glad that they were just liv
ing, and moving swiftly in the open air, glad that it
was snowing, glad that the light was beginning to fade,
that there were other vehicles in the Park, that the
world was such a bright and happy place; and they
were quite pleased, too, to be together.

It was still light, though the electric lamps were be
ginning to flare up through the thin snow veil, when
they rounded a rocky drive, and came in view of a lit
tle lookout house perched on a hill."



i8 THE BALL OF FIRE

" Oh ! " called Gail, involuntarily putting her hand
on his arm. " I want to go up there ! "

The work of Edward E. Allison was well nigh per
fection. He stopped the runabout exactly at the cen
tre of the pathway, and was out and on Gail s side of
the car with the agility of a youngster after a robin s
egg. He helped her to alight, and would have helped
her up the hill with great pleasure, but she was too
nimble and too eager for that, and was in the lookout
house several steps ahead of him.

" It s glorious," she said, and her low, melodious
voice thrilled him again with that strange quality he had
noticed when she had first spoken at the vestry meeting.

Below them lay a grey mist, dotted here and there
with haloed lights, which receded in the distance into
tiny yellow blurs, while the nearer lamps were swathed
in swirling snowflakes. Nearby were ghosts of trees
projecting their tops from the misty lake, and out of
what seemed a vast eerie depth came the clang of street
cars, and the rumble of the distant elevated, and the
honks of auto horns, and all the rattle and roar of the
great city, muffled and subdued.

" It s like being out of the world." He was aston
ished to find in himself the sudden growth of a poetic
spirit, and his voice had in it the modulation which
went with the sentiment.

" This was created," mused Gail, as if answering an
inner question. " Why should the clumsy minds of men
destroy the simplicity of anything so vast, and good,
and beautiful, as our instinctive belief in the Creator? "

Finding no answer in his experience to this unfathom
able mystery, Edward E. Allison very wisely kept still
and admired the scenery, which consisted of one girl
framed tastefully in a miscellaneous assortment of snow-



"WHY?" 19

flakes. When he tried to unravel the girl, he found her
a still more fathomless mystery, and gave up the task
in a hurry. After all, she was right there, and that
was enough.

When she was quite finished with the view, she turned
and went down the hill, and Edward Allison nearly
sprained his spinal column in getting just ahead of her
on the steepened narrow path. It was treacherous
walking just there, with the freshly fallen snow on the
shale stones. He was heartily glad that he had
taken this precaution, for, near the bottom of the
hill, one of her tiny French heels slid, and she
might have fallen had it not been for the iron-like arm
which he threw back to support her. For just an in
stant she was thrown fairly in his embrace, with his arm
about her waist, and her weight upon his breast ; and,
in that instant, the fire which had been smouldering in
him all afternoon burst into flame. With a mighty re
pression he resisted the impulse to crush her to him,
and handed her to the equilibrium which she instinc
tively sought, though the arm trembled which had been
pressed about her. His heart sang, as he helped her
into the machine, and sprang in beside her. He felt
a savage joy in his strength as he started the car and
felt the wheel under his hard grip. He was young,
younger than he had ever been in his boyhood ; strong,
stronger than he had ever been in his youth. What
worlds he might conquer now with this new blood rac
ing through his veins. It was as if he had been sud
denly thrust into the fires of eternal life, and endowed
with all the vast, irresistible force of creation !

Gail, too, was disturbed. While she had laughed to
cover the embarrassment of her mishap, she had been
quite collected enough to thank Allison for his ready



20 THE BALL OF FIRE

aid ; but she had felt the thrill of that tensed arm, and
it had awakened in her mind an entirely new vein of
puzzled conjecture. They were both silent, and busy
with that new world which opens up when any two con
genial personalities meet, as they raced out of the Park,
and over One Hundred and Tenth Street, and up River
side Drive, and out Old Broadway. Occasionally they
exchanged bits of spineless repartee, and laughed at it,
but this was only perfunctory, for they had left the
boy and girl back yonder in the park.

Gravity with a man invariably leads him back to the
consideration of his leading joy in life, business; and
the first thing Allison knew he was indulging in quite
a unique weakness, for him ; he was bragging ! Not
exactly flatfootcd; but, with tolerably strong insinua
tion, he gave her to understand that the consolidation
of the immense traction interests of New York was
about as tremendous an undertaking as she could com
prehend, and that, having attained so dizzy a summit,
he felt entitled to turn himself to lighter things, to en
joy life and gaiety and frivolity, to rest, as it were,
upon his laurels.

Gail was amused, as she always was when men of
strong achievement dropped into this weakness to in
terest girls. She did appreciate and admire his no
doubt tremendous accomplishment; it was only his
naivete which amused her, and to save her she could
not resist the wicked little impulse to nettle him. To
his suggestion that he could now lead a merry life be
cause he was entitled to rest upon his laurels, she had
merely answered " Why ? "

He dropped into a silence so dense that the thump
was almost audible, and she was contrite. She had
pricked him deeper than she knew, however. She had



"WHY?" 21

not understood how gigantic the man s ambitions had
been, nor how vain he was of his really marvellous
progress. After all, why should he pause, when he
had such power in him? She did well to speak slight
ingly of any achievement made by a man of such proved
ability. New ambitions sprang up in him. The next
time he talked of business with her he would have some
thing startling under way ; something to compel her re
spect. The muscles of his jaws knotted. It was like
being dared to climb higher in a swaying tree.

" Oh, it s dark ! " suddenly discovered Gail. " Aunty
will be frantic."

" That s so," regretfully agreed Allison, who, hav
ing no Aunties of his own, was prone to forget them.
" We ll stop up at this roadhouse, and you can tele
phone her," and he turned in at the drive where rose
petalled lights gleamed out from the latticed windows
of a low-eaved building. Dozens of autos, parked amid
the snow-sheeted shrubbery, glared at them with big
yellow eyes, and, through the windows, were white cloths
and sparkling glassware, and laughing groups about the
tables, and hurrying waiters. There was music, too,
slow, languorous music !

" Doesn t it look inviting ! " exclaimed Allison, becom
ing instantly aware of the pangs of hunger.

" It s an enchanting place ! " agreed Gail enthusi
astically.

Allison hesitated a moment.

" Tell your aunt we re dining here," he suggested.

She laughed aloud.

" Wouldn t it be fun," she speculated, and Allison
led her in to the phone. She turned to him with a snap
in her eyes at the door of the booth. " It depends on
who answers,"




THE grand privilege of Mrs. Jim Sargent s happy
life was to worry all she liked. She began with
the rise of the sun, and worried about the silver chest;
whether it had been locked over night. Usually she
slipped downstairs, in the grey of the morning, to see,
and, thus happily started on the day, she worried about
breakfast and luncheon and dinner; and Jim and her
sister and her niece, Lucile ; and the servants and the
horses and the flowers ; and at nights she lay awake and
heard burglars. Just now, as she sat on the seven
chairs and the four benches of the mahogany panelled
library, amid a wealth of serious-minded sculpture and
painting and rare old prints, she was bathed in a new
ecstasy of painful enjoyment. She was worried about
Gail! It was six-thirty now, and Gail had not yet re
turned from Lucile s.

At irregular intervals, say first two minutes and then
three and a half, and then one, she walked into the
Louis XIV reception parlour, and made up her mind to
have a new jeweller try his hand at the sun-ray clock,
and looked out of the windows to see if Lucile s car was
arriving. Between times she pursued her favourite lit
erary diversion ; reading the automobile accidents in
the evening papers. She had spent all her later years
in looking for Jim s name among the list of the maimed !



IN THE RECTOR S EYES 23

Mrs. Helen Davies, dressed for dinner with as much
care as if she had been about to attend one of the unat
tainable Mrs. Waverly-Gaites annuals, came sweeping
down the marble stairs with the calm aplomb of one
whom nothing can disturb, and, lorgnette in hand,
turned into the library without even a glance into the
floor-length mirror in the halL Her amber, beaded
gown was set perfectly on her fine shoulders, and her
black hair, fashionably streaked with grey, was prop
erly done, as she was perfectly aware.

" I m so glad you came down, Helen ! " breathed Mrs.
Sargent, with a sigh of relief. " I m so worried ! "

" Naturally, Grace," returned her sister Helen, who
was reputed to be gifted in repartee. " One would be,
under the circumstances. What are they ? " and she
tapped her chin delicately with the tip of her lorgnette,
as a warning to an insipient yawn. It was no longer
good form; to be bored.

" Gail ! " replied Mrs. Sargent, who was inclined to
dumpiness and a decided contrast to her stately wid
owed sister. " She hasn t come home from Lucile s ! "

Mrs. Helen Davies sat beneath the statue of Mi
nerva presenting wisdom to the world, and arranged
the folds of her gown to the most graceful advantage.

" You shouldn t expect her on time, coming from Lu
cile s," she observed, with a smile of proper pride. She
was immensely fond of her daughter Lucile; but she
preferred to live with her sister. " I have a brilliant
idea, Grace. I ll telephone," and without seeming to
exert herself in the least, she glided from her picturesque
high-backed flemish chair, and sat at the library table,
and drew the phone to her, and secured her daughter s
number.

* Hello, Lucile," she called, in the most friendly of



24 THE BALL OF FIRE

tones. " You d better send Gail home, before your
Aunt Grace develops wrinkles."

" Gail isn t here," reported Lucile triumphantly.
" She dropped in, two hours ago, and dropped right
out, without waiting for her tea. You d never guess
with whom she s driving! Edward E. Allison! He s
the richest bachelor in New York ! "

Mrs. Helen Davies turned to her anxious sister with
a sparkle in her black eyes.

" It s all right, Grace," and then she turned eagerly
to the phone. " Did he come in? "

" They were in too big a rush," jabbered Lucile ex
citedly. " He doesn t look old at all. Arly and I
watched them drive away. They seemed to be great
chums. Gail got him at Uncle Jim s vestry. Doesn t
she look stunning in red ! "

"Where is- she?" interrupted Mrs. Sargent, holding
her thumb.

" Out driving," reported sister Helen. " Have you
sent your invitations for the house party, Lucile? " and
she discussed that important subject until Mrs. Sar
gent s thumb ached.

"With whom is Gail driving, and where?" asked
sister Grace, anxious for detail.

Mrs. Helen Davies touched all of her fingertips to
gether in front of her on the library table, and beamed
on Grace.

" Don t wDrry a bout Gail," she smilingly advised.
" She is driving with Edward E. Allison. He is the
richest bachelor in New York, though not socially prom
inent. No one has ever been able to interest him. I
predict for Gail a brilliant future," and she moved over
contentedly to her favourite contrast with Minerva.

" Gail would attract any one," returned Mrs. Sar-



IN THE RECTOR S EYES 25

gent complacently, and then a little crease came in her
brow.. " I wonder where she met him."

" At the vestry meeting, Lucile said."

" Oh," and Mrs. Sargent s brow cleared instantly.
" Jim introduced them. I wonder where Jim is ! "

" I am glad Gail is not definitely engaged," mused
Mrs. Davies. " I am pleased with her. Young Mr.
Clemmens may seem to be a very brilliant match, back
home, but, with her exceptional advantages, she has
every right to expect to do better."

Again the creases came in Mrs. Sargent s brow.

" I don t know," she worried. " Gail has had four
letters in four days from Mr. Clemmens. Of course,
if she genuinely cares for him "

rt But she doesn t," Helen comforted herself, figur
ing it all out carefully. " A young man who would
write a letter a day, would exert every possible pressure
ta secure a promise, before he would let a beautiful
creature like Gail come to New York for the winter;
and the fact that he did not succeed proves, conclu
sively, that she has not made up her mind about
him."

The door opened, and Jim Sargent came in, wiping
the snow from his. stubby moustache before he distrib
uted his customary hearty greetings to the family.

" Where s Gail ? " he wanted to know.

" Out driving with Edward E. Allison," answered
both ladies.

" Still? " inquired Jim Sargent, and then he laughed.
" She s a clever girl. Smart as a whip ! She nearly
started a riot in the vestry."

"Was Willis Cunningham there?" inquired Mrs.
Davies interestedly.

" Took me in a corner after the meeting and told



26 THE BALL OF FIRE

me that Gail bore a remarkable resemblance to the
Fratelli Madonna, and might he call."

" Mr. Cunningham is one of the men I was anxious
for her to meet," and Mrs. Davies touched her second
finger, as if she were checking off a list.

" What did Gail do? " wondered Mrs. Sargent.

Jim, crossing to th e door, chuckled, and removed his
watch chain from his vest.

" Told Boyd that Market Square Church was a good
business proposition."

The ladies did not share his amusement.

" To the Reverend Boyd ! " breathed Mrs. Sargent,
shocked. She considered the Reverend Smith Boyd the
most wonderful young man of his age.

" How undiplomatic," worried Mrs. Davies, " I
must have a little talk with her about cleverness. It s
dangerous in a girl."

" Not these days," declared Jim Sargent, who stood
ready to defend Gail, right or wrong, at every angle.
" Allison and Manning enjoyed it immensely."

" Oh," remarked Helen Davies, somewhat mollified.
" And Mr. Cunningham ? "

" And what did the Reverend Boyd say ? " inquired
Mrs. Sargent, much concerned.

" I don t think he liked it very well," speculated
Gail s Uncle Jim. " He s coming over to-night to dis
cuss church matters. I ll have to dress in a hurry,"
and he looked at the watch which he held, with its
chain, in his hand.

The telephone bell rang, and Sargent, who could
not train himself to wait for a servant to sift the mes
sages, answered it immediately, with his characteristic
explosive-first-syllabled :

"Hello!"



IN THE RECTOR S EYES 27

" Oh, it s you, Uncle Jim," called a buoyant voice.
" Mr. Allison and I have found the most enchanting
roadhouse in the world, a,nd we re going to take dinner
here. It s all right, isn t it? "

" Certainly," he replied, equally buoyant. " Enjoy
yourself, Chubsy," and he hung up the receiver.

"What is it?" asked Mrs. Davies, in a tone dis
tinctly chill. She had a premonition that Jim Sargent
had done something foolish. He seemed so pleased.

" Gail won t be home," he announced carelessly, start
ing for the stairs. " She s dining with Allison at some
roadhouse."

" Unchaperoned! " gasped Mrs. Davies.

" She s all right, Helen," remarked Jim, starting up
stairs. " Allison s a fine fellow."

" But what will he think of G ail ! " protested Helen.
" That sort of unconventionally has gone clear out.
Jim, you ll have to get back that number ! "

" Sorry," regretted Jim. ** Can t do it. Against
the telephone rules," and he went on upstairs, posi
tively humming!

The two ladies looked at each other, and sat down in
the valley of the shadows of gloom. There was noth
ing to be done! Mrs. Davies, however, was different
from her sister. Grace Sargent was an accomplished
worrier, who could remain numb in the exercise of her
art, but Helen Davies was a woman of action. She
presently called her daughter..

" Have you started your dinner, Lucile ? " she de
manded.

" No, Ted just came home," reported Lucile.
"What s the matter?"

" Don t let him take time to dress," urged her mother.
" You must go right out and chaperon Gail."



28 THE BALL OF FIRE

"Where is she?" Lucile delayed to inquire.

" At some roadhouse, dining with Mr. Allison ! "

" Well, what do you think of Gail ! " exulted Lucile.
" Oh, Arly ! " and Mrs. Davies heard the receiver drop
to the end of its line. She heard laughter, and then
the voice of Lucile again. " Mother, she s with Ed
ward E. Allison, and they ll do better without a chap
eron. Besides, mother dear, there s a million road-
houses. We ll come down after dinner. I want to see
her when she returns."

" I don t suppose she could be found, except by ac
cident," granted her mother, and gave up the enter
prise. " Times are constantly changing," she com
plained to her sister. " The management of a girl be
comes more difficult every year. So much freedom
makes them disregardful of the aid of their elders in
making a selection."

It was not until nine o clock that the ladies expressed
their worry again. At that hour, Ted and Lucile
Teasdale and Arly Fosland came in with the exuber
ance of a New Year s Eve celebration.

" It s great sleighing to-night," stated Lucile s hus
band, who was a thin-waisted young man, with a splen
did natural gift for dancing.

" All that s missing is the bells," chattered the black-
haired Arly, breaking straight for her favourite big
couch in the library. " The only way to have any
speed in an auto is to go sidewise."

" We re to get up a skidding match, so I can bet on
our chauffeur," laughed Lucile, fluffing her blonde ring
lets before the big mirror in the hall. " We slid a com
plete circle coming down through the Park, and never
lost a revolution ! "



IN THE RECTOR S EYES 29

" I ve been thinking it must be bad driving," fretted
Mrs. Sargent. " Gail should be home by now ! "

" Allison s a safe driver," comforted Ted, who liked
to see everybody happy.

Jim Sargent came to the door of the study, in which
he was closeted with the Reverend Smith Boyd. Jim
was practically the young rector s business guardian-.

" Hello, folks," he nodded. " Gail home? "

" Not yet," responded Mrs. Sargent, in whose brow
the creases were becoming fixed.

" It s hardly time," estimated Jim, and went back
in the study.

" Ted has a new divinity," boasted the wife of that
agreeable young man.

" Had, you mean," corrected Ted. " She s deserted
me for a single man."

" Is it the Piccadilly widow? " inquired Arly, punch
ing another pillow under her elbow.

" Certainly," corroborated Ted. " You don t sup
pose I have a new one every day."

" You re losing your power of fascination then," re
torted Arly. " Lucile s still in the running with two
a day."

" She should have her kind by the dozen," responded
Ted, complacently stroking his glossy moustache.

" The young set takes up some peculiar fads," mused
Mrs. Davies, with a trace of concern. " I can t quite
accustom myself to the sanction of flirting."

" Neither can I," agreed Ted. " It takes the fun
out of it."

"The only joy is in boasting about it at home,"
complained Arly Fosland. " I can t even get Gerald
interested in my affairs, so I ve dropped them."



30 THE BALL OF FIRE

" Gerald wouldn t understand a flirtation of his own,"



Online LibraryGeorge Randolph ChesterThe ball of fire → online text (page 2 of 24)