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in it when she passed under the chandelier, and she



296 THE BALL OF FIRE

greeted the callers pleasantly, and sat down in the cor
ner, very silent. She was glad that she had come. It
was restful in this little circle of friends.

A noise filled the hall, and even the lights of the
library seemed to brighten, as Lucile and Ted, Arly
and Gerald, and Dick Rodley, came tumbling in, laugh
ing and chattering, and carrying hilarity in front of
them like a wave. Gail shoved her tangle of thoughts
still further back in her head, and the sparkle returned
into her eyes.

" We re bringing you a personal invitation to Arly
and Gerald s yacht party," jabbered Lucile, kissing
everybody in reach except the Reverend Smith Boyd.

" You might let Arly extend the invitation herself,"
objected Ted.

" I ve given the pleasure to Gerald," laughed Arly,
with a vivacious glance at that smiling gentleman.
" He does it so much better. Now listen."

" It s a little informal week-end party, on the White-
cap," Gerald informed them, with a new something in
him which quite satisfactorily took the place of cor
diality. " Sort of a farewell affair. Arly and I are
about to take a selfish two months cruise, all by our
selves," and he glanced fondly at the handsome black-
haired young woman under discussion. " We should
be pleased to have you join us," and he included Mrs.
Boyd and the young rector with a nod.

" Of course we ll come," agreed Gail. " Doctor
Boyd, can t you arrange for a week-end party once in
your life? "

" Unfortunately custom has decreed that week-end
parties shall cover Sundays," he regretted, but there
was a calculating look in his eye which sent Lucile
over to him.



LOVE 297

" Play hooky just once," she begged. " This is only
a family crowd, the Babbitts and Marion Kenneth, and
we who are here."

The Reverend Smith Boyd looked at his mother, and
that lady brightened visibly.

" When is it to be? " he asked.

" Saturday," Arly informed him, joining Lucile,
who had sat on the arm of Mrs. Boyd s chair. Arly
sat on the other one, and Gerald Fosland, with an en
tirely new appreciation of beauty, thought he had never
seen a prettier picture than the sweet-faced old lady
with the fresh and charming young women on either
side of her.

The Reverend Smith Boyd glanced, for just an in
stant, at Gail, who was now sitting on the leather couch
leaning confidingly against her Aunt Grace. He had
been at some pains to avoid this young lady recently,
for it is natural to spare one s self distress ; but there
was a look of loneliness about her which sent his heart
out to her in quick sympathy.

" I think I ll play hooky," he announced, with a
twinkle in the eyes which he now cast upon his mother.

" That s being a good sport," approved Ted. " Stay
away a Sunday or two, and Market Square Church
will appreciate you better."

" Let s have some music," demanded Lucile.

" Gail and Doctor Boyd must sing for you," an
nounced Aunt Grace, in whom there was a trace of wist-
fulness. " They do sing so beautifully together ! "

" I m afraid I can t to-night," refused Gail hastily,
and indeed she had good reason why her voice should
not have its firm and true quality just now. " I will
accompany Doctor Boyd, though, with pleasure," and
she started toward the music room.



298 THE BALL OF FIRE

The Reverend Smith Boyd was cut off from the or
dinary lies about not being in good voice, and suffering
from a slight cold, and such things. He hesitated a
moment, and then he followed.

The Bedouin Love Song, the Garden of Sleep, and
others of the solo repertoire which Gail had selected
for him, came pulsing out of the music room, first hesi
tantly, and then with more strength, as the friendly
nearness between himself and the accompanist became
better established.

Presently, the listeners in the library noticed an un
usual pause between the songs, a low voiced discussion,
and then, the two perfectly blended voices rose in a
harmony so perfect that there was moisture in the eyes
of two of the ladies present.



CHAPTER XXIX

GAIL FIRST !

ALLISON, springing forward with a jerk as he left
Jim Sargent s house, headed his long, low run
about up the Avenue. He raced into the Park, and
glanced up at the lookout house as he sped on past ;
but it was only a fleeting look. He needed no reminder
of Gail, and he scarcely noticed that he was following
the same road which they had so often taken together.
His only impulse had been to drive somewhere at top
speed, and he had automatically chosen this path. The
night was damp and chill, but his evening top coat was
open, revealing the white glint of his shirt front. He
did not seem to mind. As he passed Roseleaf Inn, he
slowed down. The roadhouse may have given him, and
probably did, another reminder of Gail, in such a man
ner as to concrete him into logical thought ; for he
slowed down the terrific speed which had been the ac
companiment of his unreasoning emotion. The driv
ing required too much concentration for specific
thought.

With this turning of his mental attitude, even the
slow running of the car seemed to disturb him, and,
about half a mile past Roseleaf Inn, he came slowly to
a stop, sitting at the wheel, with his head bent slightly
forward, and staring at the spot where the roadway
had ceased to roll beneath his machine. Presently he

299



300 THE BALL OF FIRE

became aware of the cold, and running his car to the
side of the road, he stepped out, and, buttoning his coat
around him, crossed a fence and walked through the
narrow strip of trees to the river bank, where he stood
for a moment looking out upon the misty Hudson,
sparkling under the moonlight. He began to walk up
and down the bank presently, the turf sinking spongily
under his feet, and it was noticeable that his pace grew
more and more rapid, until he was striding at a furious
rate of speed.

The man was in a torment of passion. He had spent
a lifetime in the deliberate acquisition of everything
upon which he had set his will ; and it was one of the
things upon which he had built his success, that, once
he had fixed his desire deliberately upon anything, he
had held unwaveringly to that object, employing all the
forces of which strong men are capable ; patient waiting,
dogged persistence, or vicious grappling, whichever was
best adapted to gain his ends.

Gail ! If there had been tender thoughts of her, they
were gone now. He saw her in a thousand enchant
ments ; sitting beside him, clad in the white furs which
added such piquancy to her rosy cheeks and sparkling
eyes ; lounging in the library, in some filmy, clinging
robe which defined her grace, half concealing and half
suggesting the long, delicately curving lines which had
so appealed to his ruthlessness ; sitting at the piano,
her beautiful small head slightly bent forward, display
ing the requisite line at the nape of her neck, her brown
hair waving backward to a simple knot, her rounded
white arms free from the elbows, and her slender fingers
flashing over the keys ; coming down the stairway, in
the filmy cream lace gown which had made her seem
so girlishly fragile, her daintily blue slippered feet and



GAIL FIRST! 301

her beautifully turned ankles giving a hint of the grace
and suppleness of her whole self; in her black beaded
ball costume, its sparkling deadness displaying the ex
quisite ivory tints and beautiful colouring of her neck
and shoulders and bosom with startling effectiveness.
In these and a thousand other glowing pictures he saw
her, and with every added picture there came a new
pain in his thought of her.

He felt the warmth of her hand upon his arm, the
brush of her shoulder against his own, the mere elbow
touch as she sat beside him in the car, the many little
careless contacts of daily life, unconscious to her, but
to him fraught always with flame; and, finally, that
maddening moment when he had crushed her in his
arms, and so had made, for all time to come, the posses
sion of her a necessity almost maniacal in the violence
of its determination ! He heard the sound of her voice,
in all its enchanting cadences, from the sweetness of
her murmured asides to the ring of her laugh ; and the
delicate fragrance which was a part of her overwhelmed
him now, in remembrance, like an unnerving faintness!

It was so that he had centred h ^ mind upon her, and
himself and his will, until, in all creation, there was
nothing else but that was trivial ; ambition, power,
wealth, fame, the command of empires and of men, wen*
nothing, except as they might lead to her!

As a boy Allison had been endowed with extraor
dinary strength. From a mother who had married
beneath her socially he had inherited a certain redeem
ing refinement of taste, a richness of imagination, a
turn of extravagance, a certain daring and confidence.
Had his heredity been left to the father alone, he would
have developed into a mere brute, fighting for the love
of inflicting pain, his ambitions confined to physical



302 THE BALL OF FIRE

supremacy alone. As it was, the combination had made
of him a brute more dangerous by the addition of in
telligence. In spite of gentle surroundings, he had
persistently ran away to play in a rough and tumble
neighbourhood, where he had been the terror of boys
a head taller than himself, and had established an un
questioned tyranny among them. He had a passion
at that time for killing cats, and a devilish ingenuity
in devising new modes of torture for them, saturating
them with gasoline and burning them alive, and other
such ghastly amusements. The cruelty of this he had
from the father, the ingenuity from the mother.
In a fleeting introspection, a review which could have
occupied but a few seconds of time, he saw back through
the years of his passion, for every year had been a pas
sion of supremacy, as if the cinematograph of his life
had flashed swiftly before him, pausing for illumination
at certain points which had marked the attainment of
hard-won goals.

The days of his schooling, when the mother in him
had made him crave knowledge in spite of the physical
instincts which drove him out doors. He accomplished
both. He went at his lessons viciously, perhaps be
cause they were something which had a tendency to baf
fle him, and he had made no braver fights in life than
on those lonely nights when, angry and determined, he
had grappled with his books and conquered them. He
had won football honours at the same time. It was
said that half the victories of his team came through
the fear of Allison on the opposing elevens. He had
the reputation of being a demon on the gridiron. His
eyes became slightly bloodshot in every contest, and he
went into every battle with a smile on his lips which
was more like a snarl. His rise to football supremacy



GAIL FIRST! 303

was well remembered all through life by a dozen crip
ples. He had been extremely fond of football, even
after one of his strongest opponents had been carried
from the field with a broken neck.

Then business. A different sort of cruelty entered
there. He had a method of advancement which was
far more effective than adroitness. With the same vi
cious fever of achievement which had marked the con
quering of his books, he had made himself flawlessly ef
ficient, and had contrasted himself deliberately with
whatever weakness he could find in his superiors. On
the day when the superintendent drank, Allison took
especial pains to create an emergency, a break-down in
the power plant, and showed himself side by side with
the temporarily stupid superintendent, clear-eyed,
firm-jawed, glowing cheeked, ready to grapple with his
own emergency. He became superintendent. Trick
ery, now. A block of stock here, a block of stock
there, a combination of small holdings by which an un
suspected group of outsiders swept in with control of
that first little street car company. Allison s was the
smallest block of shares in that combination, infinitesi
mal as compared with the total capitalisation of the
company, the investment of his small savings combined
with all the borrowing he could manage. Yet, since
he had organised the rebellion, he was left in its con
trol by the same personal dominance with which he had
brought together the warring elements. Less than two
years after his accession to management, he had frozen
out the associates who had put him in power. They
none of them knew how it was done, but they did know
that he had taken advantage of every tricky oppor
tunity his position gave him, and they were bitter about
it. He laughed at them, and he thrashed the man who



304 THE BALL OF FIRE

complained loudest, a man who had lost every cent of
his money through Allison s manipulations. Well, that
was the way of business. The old rule of conquest that
might makes right had only gone out of favour as ap
plied to physical oppression. In everything else, it
still prevailed ; and Allison was its chief exponent.

The years of manhood. The panorama was a swiftly
moving one now. Combinations and consolidations had
followed closely one upon the other; brilliant and be
wildering shiftings of the pieces on the chess board of
his particular business. Other players had become con
fused in all these kaleidoscopic changes, some of which
had seemed meaningless ; but not Allison. Every shift
left him in a position of more ruthless advantage, even
in those moves which were intended only to create con
fusion ; and he pushed steadily forward towards the
one mark he had set ; that there should eventually be
none other in the field than himself! It was because
he never flagged that he could do this. At no summit
had he ever paused for gratification over the extent of
his climb, for a backward glance over his fiercely con
tended pathway, for refreshment, for breath ; but, with
that exhaustless physical vitality inherited from his
father and mental vitality inherited from his mother,
he had kept his pace forward, plunging onward, from
summit to still higher summit, and never asking that
there might be one highest peak to which he could at
tain, and rest ! True, sometimes he had thought, on
the upward way, that at the summit he might pause,
but had that summit been the highest, with none other
luring him in the distant sky, he would have been dis
appointed.

So it was that he had come this far, and the roadway
to his present height was marked by the cripples he had



GAIL FIRST! 305

left behind him, without compunction, without mercy,
without compassion. Bankrupts strewed his way,
broken men of purpose higher than his own, useful fac
tors in the progress of human life, builders and creators
who had advanced the interest of the commonwealth,
but who had been more brilliant in construction than
they had been in reaping the rewards of their building.
It was for Allison to do this. It had been his specialty ;
the reaping of rewards. It had been his faculty to per
mit others to build, to encourage them in it, and then,
when the building was done, to wrest it away from the
builders. That marked him as the greatest commer
cial genius of his time; and he had much applause
for it.

Women. Yes, there had been women, creatures of a
common mould with whom he had amused himself, had
taken them in their freshness, and broken them, and
thrown them away ; this in his earlier years. But in
his maturity, he had bent all his strength to a greater
passion ; the acquirement of all those other things which
men had wanted and held most dear, among them ac
quisition, and power, and success. Perhaps it had been
bad for him, this concentration, for now it left him, at
the height of his maturity, with mistaken fancies, with
long pent fires, with disproportionate desires. Bring
ing to these, he had the tremendously abnormal moral
effect of never having been thwarted in a thing upon
which he had set his mind, and of believing, by past
accomplishment, that anything upon which he had set
his wish must be his, or else every victory he had ever
gained would be swept aside and made of no value. He
must accomplish, or die !

He was without God, this man ; he had nothing within
him which conceded, for a moment, a greater power



3o6 THE BALL OF FIRE

than his own. In all his mental imagery, which was
rich enough in material things, there was no conception
of a Deity, or of a need for one. To what should he
pray, and for what, when he had himself to rely upon?
Worship was an idealistic diversion, a poetic illusion,
the refuge of the weak, who excused their lack of
strength by ascribing it to a mysterious something be
yond the control of any man. He tolerated the popu
lar notion that there must be a God, as he tolerated
codes of social ethics ; the conventions which laid
down, for instance, what a gentleman might or might
not do, externally, and still remain a gentleman. In
the meantime, if a man-made law came between him and
the accomplishment of his ends, he broke it, without a
trace of thought that he might be wrong. Laws were
the mutual safeguard of the weak, to protect themselves
against the encroachment of the strong; and it was in
the equally natural province of the strong to break
down those safeguards. In the same way he disre
garded moral laws. They, too, were for the upholding
of the weak, and the mere fact that they existed was
proof enough that they were an acknowledgment of the
right of the strong to break them.

There is a mistake here. It lies in the statement
that Allison recognised no God. He did. Allison.
Not Allison, the man, but the unconquerable will of Al
lison, a will which was a divinity in itself. He believed
in it, centred on it all his faith, poured out to it all the
fervidness of his heart, of his mind, of his spirit, of his
body. He worshipped it !

So it was that he came to the consideration of the
one thing which had attempted to deny itself to him.
Gail ! It seemed monstrous to him that she had set



GAIL FIRST! 307

herself against him. It was incredible that she should
have a will, which, if she persisted, should prove superior
to his own. Why, he had set his mind upon her from
the first! The time had suddenly arrived when he was
ripe for her, and she had come. He had not even given
a thought to the many suitors who had dangled about
her. She was for none of them. She was for him, and
he had waited in patience until she was tired of amusing
herself, and until he had wrought the big ambition to
wards which her coming, and her impulse, and the new
fire she had kindled in him, had directed him. She had
been seriously in earnest in withholding herself from
him. She was determined upon it. She believed now,
in her soul, that she could keep to that determination.
At first he had been amused by it, as a man holds off
the angry onslaught of a child ; but, in this last inter
view with her, there had come a moment when he had
felt his vast compulsion valueless ; and it had angered
him.

A flame raged through his veins which fairly shook
him with its violence. It was not only the reflex of his
determination to have her, but it was the terrific need
of her which had grown up in him. Have her? Of
course he would have her! If she would not come to
him willingly, he would take her ! If she could not
share in the ecstasy of possession which he had so long
anticipated, she need not. She was not to be considered
in it any more than he had considered any other ad
verse factor in the attainment of anything he had de
sired. He was possessed of a rage now, which centred
itself upon one object, and one alone. Gail! She was
his new summit, his new peak, the final one where he
had planned to rest ; but now his angry thought was to



308 THE BALL OF FIRE

attain it, and spurn it, broken and crumbled, as had
been all the other barriers to his will, and press ruth
lessly onward into higher skies, he knew not where. It
was no time now, to think on that. Gail first!



CHAPTER XXX

THE FLUTTER OF A SHEET OF MUSIC

GAIL, in a pretty little rose-coloured morning robe,
with soft frills of lace around her white throat
and at her white elbows, sat on the floor of the music
room amid a chaos of sheet music. She was humming
a gay little song suggested by one of the titles through
which she had leafed, and was gradually sorting her
music for the yacht party ; instrumental pieces here,
popular things there, another little pile of old-fashioned
glees which the assembled crowd might sing, just here
a little stack of her own solos, nearby the rector s fa
vourites, between the two their duets. It was her part
in one of the latter she was humming now, missing, as
she sang, the strong accompaniment of the Reverend
Smith Boyd s mellow voice. She was more peaceful this
morning than she had been for many days.

The butler came through the hall, and Gail looked
up with a suppressed giggle as she saw him pass the
door. She always had an absurd idea that his hinges
should be oiled.

" Miss Gail is not at home, sir," she heard the butler
say, and Gail paused with a sheet of music suspended
in her hand, the whole expression of her face changing.
She had only given instructions that one person should
receive that invariable message.

" I beg your pardon, sir ! " was the next observation

309



310 THE BALL OF FIRE

Gail heard, in a tone of as near startled remonstrance
as was possible to the butler s wooden voice.

There was a sound almost as of a scuffle, and then
Allison, with his top coat on his arm and his hat in his
hand, strode to the doorway of the music room, followed
immediately by the butler, who looked as if his hair
had been peeled a little at the edges. Allison had ap
parently brushed roughly past him, and had disturbed
his equanimity for the balance of his life.

Gail was on her feet almost instantaneously with the
apparition in the doorway, and she still held the sheet
of music which she had been about to deposit on one
of the piles. Allison s eyes had a queer effect of being
sunken, and there was a strange nervous tension in him.
Gail dismissed the butler with a nod.

" You were informed that I am not at home," she
said.

" I meant to see you," he replied, with a certain de
termined insolence in his tone which she could not es
cape. There was a triumph in it, too, as if his having
swept the butler aside were only a part of his imperious
intention. " I have some things to say to you to which
you must listen."

" You had better say them all then, because this is
your last opportunity," she told him, pale with anger,
and with a quaver in her voice which she would have
given much to suppress.

He cast on her a look which blazed. He had not
slept since he had seen her last. He smiled, and the
smile was a snarl, displaying his teeth. Something
more than anger crept into Gail s pallor.

" I have come to ask you again to marry me, Gail.
The matter is too vital to be let pass without the most
serious effort of which I am capable. I can not do



A SHEET OF MUSIC 311

without you. I have a need for you which is greater
than anything of which you could conceive. I come
to you humbly, Gail, to ask you to reconsider your
hasty answer of last night. I want you to marry me."

For just a moment his eyes had softened, and Gail
felt a slight trace of pity for him ; but in the pity itself
there was revulsion.

" I can not," she told him.

"You must!" he immediately rejoined. "As I
would build up an empire to win you, I would destroy
one to win you. You spoke last night of what you
called the cruelty and trickery of the building up of my
big transportation monopoly. If it is that which stands
between us, it shall not do so for a moment longer.
Marry me, and I will stop it just where it is. Why,
I only built this for you, and if you don t like it, I shall
have nothing to do with it." In that he lied, and con
sciously. He knew that the moment he had made sure
of her his ambition to conquer would come uppermost
again, and that he would pursue his dream of conquest
with even more ardour than before, because he had been
refreshed.

" That would make no difference, Mr. Allison," she
replied. " I told you, last night, that I would not
marry you because I do not, and could not, love you.
There does not need to be any other reason." There
was in her an inexplicable tension, a reflex of his own,
but, though her face was still pale, she stood very
calmly before him.

The savageness which was in him, held too long in
leash, sprang into his face, his eyes, his lips, the set
of his jaws. He advanced a step towards her. His
hands contracted.

" I shall not again ask you to love me," he harshly


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Online LibraryGeorge Randolph ChesterThe ball of fire → online text (page 20 of 24)