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312 THE BALL OF FIRE

stated ; " but you must marry me. I have ma 1 ? up
my mind to that."

" Impossible ! " Angry now and contemptuous.

** I ll make you ! There is no resource I will not use.
I ll bankrupt your family. I ll wipe it off the earth."

Gail s nails were pressing into her palms. She felt
that her lips were cold. Her eyes were widening, as
the horror of him began to grow on her. He was glar
ing at her now, and there was no attempt to conceal the
savage cruelty on his face.

" I ll compromise you," he went on. " I ll connect
your name with mine in such a way that marriage with
me will be your only resource. I ll be an influence you
can t escape. There will not be a step you can take in
which you will not feel that I am the master of it.
Marry you? I ll have you if it takes ten years! I ll
have no other end in life. I ll put into that one pur
pose all the strength, and all the will that I have put
into the accomplishment of everything which I have
done ; and the longer you delay me the sooner I ll break
you when I do get you."

Out of her very weakness had come strength; out of
her overwhelming humiliation had come pride, and
though the blood had left her face waxen and cold,
something within her discovered a will which was as
strong in resistance as his was in attack. She knew
it, and trembled in the knowledge of it.

" You can t make me marry you," she said, with in
finite scorn and contempt.

He clenched his fists and gritted his teeth. Into his
eyes there sprang a blaze which she had never before
seen, but dimly, in the eyes of any man ; but she needed
no experience to tell her its despicable meaning. His
lips, which had been snarling, suddenly took a down-



A SHEET OF MUSIC 313

ward twitch, and were half parted. His nostrils were
distended, and the blood, flooding into his face, empur
pled it.

" Then I ll have you anyhow ! " he hoarsely told her,
and, his arms tensed and his head slightly lowered for
ward, he made as if to advance toward her. He saw
in her frightened eyes that she would scream, but he did
not know that at that moment she could not. Her
heart seemed to have lost its action, and she stood, trem
bling, faint, in the midst of her strewn music, with the
sensation that the room was turning dark.

The house was very quiet. Mrs. Sargent and Mrs.
Davies were upstairs. The servants were all in the
rear of the house, or below, or in the upper rooms, at
their morning work. He turned swiftly and closed the
door of the music room, then he whirled again towards
her,, with ferocity in his eyes. He came slowly, every
movement of him alive with ponderous strength. He
was a maniac. He was insane. He was frenzied by
one mad thought which had swept out of his universe
every other consideration, and the glut to kill was no
more fearful than the purpose which possessed him
now.

Gail, standing slight, fragile, her brown eyes staring,
her brown hair dishevelled about her white brow, felt
every atom of strength leaving her, devoured in the
overwhelming might of this monstrous creature. The
sheet of music, which she had been holding all this time,
dropped from her nerveless fingers and fluttered to the
floor!

That noise, slight as it was, served to arrest the
progress of the man for just an instant. He was in no
frame to reason, but some instinct urged him to speed.
He crouched slightly, as a wild beast might. But the



THE BALL OF FIRE

flutter of that sheet of music had done more for Gail
than it had for him. It had loosed the paralysis which
had held her, had broken the fascination of horror with
which she had been spellbound. Just behind her was
a low French window which led to a small side balcony.
With one bound she burst this open, she did not know
how, and had leaped over the light balcony rail, and
ran across the lawn to the rectory gate, up the steps
and into the side door, and into the study, where the
Reverend Smith Boyd sat toiling over a sermon.



CHAPTER XXXI

GAIL, BREAKS A PROMISE

THE Whitecap would have been under way except
for the delay of the gay little Mrs. Babbitt and
her admiring husband, who sent word that they could
not arrive until after dinner, so the yacht, long and
low and slender and glistening white, lay in the middle
of the Hudson River, while her guests, bundled warmly
against the crisp breeze, gathered in the forward shel
ter deck and watched the beginnings of the early sun
set.

" I like Doctor Boyd in his yachting cap," commented
Lucile, as that young man joined them, with a happy
mother on his arm.

" It takes away that deadly clerical effect," laughed
Arly. " His long coat makes him look like the captain,
and he s ever so much more handsome."

" I don t mind being the topic of discussion so long
as I m present," commented the Reverend Smith Boyd,
glancing around the group as if in search of some one.

" It rather restricts the conversation," Mrs. Helen
Davies observed, at the same time watching, with a smile,
the tableau of her sister Grace and Jim Sargent. Gail
and herself had taken Grace out shopping, and had
forced on her sedate taste a neat and " fetching " yacht
ing costume, from flowing veiled cap to white shoes,
which had dropped about twenty years from her usual



3i6 THE BALL OF FIRE

appearance, and had brought a renewed enthusiasm to
the eyes of her husband.

The cherub-cheeked Marion Kenneth glanced wist
fully over at the rail where Dick Rodley, vicing with
the sunset in splendour, stood chatting with easy Ted
Teasdale and the stiff Gerald Fosland.

"Where s Gail?" demanded the cherub-cheeked one.

" It s time that young lady was up on deck," decided
Arly, and rose.

" She s probably taking advantage of the oppor
tunity to dress for dinner," surmised Mrs. Davies. " In
fact, I think it s a good idea for all of us," but the sun
set was too potent to leave for a few moments, and she
sat still.

Where indeed was Gail? In her beautiful little curly
maple stateroom, sitting on the edge of a beautiful little
curly maple bed, and digging two small fists into the
maple-brown coverlet. The pallor of the morning had
not yet left her face, and there were circles around the
brown eyes which gave them a wan pathos ; there was a
crease of pain and worry, too, in the white brow.

Gail had come to the greatest crisis in her life. To
begin with, Allison. She would not permit herself to
dwell on the most horrible part of her experience with
him. That she put out of her mind, as best she could,
with a shudder. She hoped, in the time to come, to be
free of the picture of him as he advanced slowly to
wards her in the music room, with that frenzied glare in
his eyes and that terrifying evil look upon his face.
She hoped, in the time to come, to be free of that awful
fear which seemed to have gripped her heart with a
clutch that had left deep imprints upon it, but, just
now, she let the picture and the fear remain before her



GAIL BREAKS A PROMISE 317

eyes and in her heart, and centred upon her grave re
sponsibilities.

So far she had told no one of what had occurred that
morning. When she had rushed into the rector s study
he had sprung up, and, seeing the fright in her face
and that she was tottering and ready to fall, he had
caught her in his strong arms, and she had clung trust
fully to him, half faint, until wild sobs had come to her
relief. Even in her incoherence, however, even in her
wild disorder of emotion, she realised that there was
danger, not only to her but to every one she loved, in
the man from whom she had run away; and she could
not tell the young rector any more than that she had
been frightened. Had she so much as mentioned the
name of Allison, she instinctively knew that the Rev
erend Smith Boyd, in whom there was some trace of
impetuosity, might certainly have forgotten his cloth
and become mere man, and have strode straight across
to the house before Allison could have collected his
dazed wits ; and she did not dare add that encounter to
her list of woes. It was strange how instinctively she
had headed for the Reverend Smith Boyd s study;
strange then, but not now. In that moment of flying
straight to the protection of his arms, she knew some
thing about herself, and about the Reverend Smith
Boyd, too. She knew now why she had refused How
ard Clemmens, and Willis Cunningham, and Houston
Van Ploon, and Dick Rodley ; poor Dick ! and Allison,
and all the others. She frankly and complacently ad
mitted to herself that she loved the Reverend Smith
Boyd, but she put that additional worry into the back
ground. It could be fought out later. She would have
been very happy about it if she had had time, although



3i8 THE BALL OF FIRE

she could see no end to that situation but unhappi-
ness.

These threats of Allison s. How far could he go
with them, how far could he make them true? All the
way. She had a sickening sense that there was no idle
ness in his threats. He had both the will and the power
to carry them out. He would bankrupt her family ;
he would employ slander against her, from which the
innocent have less defence than the guilty ; he would
set himself viciously to wreck her happiness at every
turn. The long arm of his vindictiveness would follow
her to her home, and set a barrier of scandalous report
even between her and her friends.

But let her first take up the case of her Uncle Jim.
She had not dared go with her news to hot-tempered
Jim Sargent. His first impulse would have been one of
violence, and she could not see that a murder on her
soul, and her Uncle Jim in jail as a murderer, and her
name figuring large, with her photograph in the pages
of the free and entirely uncurbed metropolitan press,
would help any one in the present dilemma. Yet even
a warning, to her Uncle Jim, of impending financial
danger might bring about this very same result, for
he had a trick of turning suddenly from the kind and
indulgent and tremendously admiring uncle, into a
stern parent, and firing one imperative question after
another at her, in the very image and likeness of her
own father; and that was an authoritative process
which she knew she could not resist. Yet Uncle Jim
must be protected! How? It was easy enough to say
that he must be, and yet could he be? Could he even
protect himself? She shook her head as she gazed, with
unseeing eyes, out of the daintily curtained port hole
upon the river, with its swarm of bustling small craft.



GAIL BREAKS A PROMISE 319

Where to turn for advice, or even to have a sharer
in the burden which she felt must surely crush her.
There was no one. It was a burden she must bear alone,
unless she could devise some plan of effective action,
and the sense of how far she had been responsible for
this condition of affairs was one which oppressed her,
and humbled her, and deepened the circles about her
woe-smitten eyes.

She had been guilty. In a rush of remorse and re
pentance, she overblamed herself. She did not allow,
in her severe self-injustice, for the natural instincts
which had led her into a full and free commingling with
all this new circle ; for, as Arly later put it for her by
way of comfort, how was she to know if she did not
find out. Now, however, she allowed herself no grain
of comfort, or sympathy, or relief, from the stern self-
arraignment through which she put herself. She had
been wicked, she told herself. Had she delved deeply
enough into her own heart, and acknowledged what she
saw there, and had she abided by that knowledge, she
could have spared her many suitors a part of the pain
and humiliation she had caused them by her refusal.
She had not been surprised by any of them. With the
infliction of but very slight pain, she could have stopped
them long before they came to the point of proposal,
she saw that now. Why had she not done so ? Pride !
That was the answer. The pleasure of being so eagerly
sought, the actually spoken evidence of her popularity,
and the flattery of having aroused in all these big men
emotions so strong that they took the sincere form of
the offering of a lifetime of devotion. And she, who
had prated to herself so seriously of marriage, had held
it as so sacred a thing, she had so toyed with it, and
had toyed, too, with that instinct in these good men !



320 THE BALL OF FIRE

In the light of her experience with Allison, she began
to distrust her own sincerity, and for some minutes she
floundered in that Slough of Despond.

But no, out of that misery she was able to emerge
clear of soul. Her worst fault had been folly. An in
stinctive groping for that other part of her, which na
ture had set somewhere, unlabelled, to make of the twain
a complete and perfect human entity, had led her into
all her entanglements, even with Allison. And again
the darkness deepened around her troubled eyes.

After all, had she but known it, she had a greater
fault than folly. Inexperience. Her charm was an
other, her youth, her beauty, her virility and her
sympathy ! These were her true faults, and the ones
for which every attractive girl must suffer. There is
no escape. It is the great law of compensation. Na
ture bestows no gift of value for which she does not
exact a corresponding price.

Gail took her little fists from their pressure into the
brown coverlet, and held her temples between the finger
tips of either hand; and the brown hair, springing into
wayward ringlets from the salt-breeze which blew in
at the half opened window, rippled down over her slen
der hands, as if to soothe and comfort them. She had
been wasting her time in introspection and self-analysis
when there was need for decisive action ! Fortunately
she had a respite until Monday morning. In the past
few days of huge commercial movements which so vitally
interested her, she had become acquainted with business
methods, to a certain extent, and she knew that nothing
could be done on Saturday afternoon or Sunday ; there
fore her Uncle Jim was safe for two nights and a day.
Then Allison would deny the connection of her Uncle
Jim s road with the A.-P., and the beginning of the de-



GAIL BREAKS A PROMISE 321

struction of the Sargent family would be thoroughly
accomplished! She had been given a thorough grasp
of how easily that could be done. What could she do
in two nights and a day? It was past her ingenuity
to conceive. She must have help!

But from whom could she receive it? Tod Boyd?
The same reason which made her think of him first made
her swiftly place him last. Her Uncle Jim? Too hot
headed. Her Aunt Grace? Too inexperienced. Her
Aunt Helen? Too conventional. Lucile, Ted, Dick?
She laughed. Arly?

There was a knock on her door, and Arly herself ap
peared.

" Selfish," chided Arly. " We re all wanting you."

"That s comforting," smiled Gail. "I have just
been being all alone in the world, on the most absolutely
deserted island of which you can conceive. Arly, sit
down. I want to tell you something."

The black hair and the brown hair cuddled close to
gether, while Gail, her tongue once loosened, poured out
in a torrent all the pent-up misery which had been ac
cumulating within her for the past tempestuous weeks ;
and Arly, her eyes glistening with the excitement of it
all, kept her exclamations of surprise and fright and
indignation and horror, and everything else, strictly to
such low monosyllables as would not impede the gasp
ing narration.

" I d like to kill him ! " said Arly, in a low voice of
startling intensity, and jumping to her feet she paced
up and down the confines of the little stateroom. Among
all the other surprises of recent events, there was none
more striking than this vast change in the usually
cool and sarcastic Arly, who had not, until her return
from Gail s home, permitted herself an emotion in two



322 THE BALL OF FIRE

years. She came back to the bed with a sudden swift
knowledge that Gail had been dry-eyed all through this
recital, though her lips were quivering. She should
have cried. Instead she was sitting straight up, star
ing at Arly with patient inquiry. She had told all her
dilemma, and all her grief, and all her fear; and now
she was waiting.

" The only way in which that person can be pre
vented from attacking your Uncle Jim, which would be
his first step, is to attack him before he can do any
thing," said Arly, pacing up and down, her fingers
clasped behind her slender back, her black brows knot
ted, her graceful head bent toward the floor.

" He is too powerful," protested Gail.

" That makes him weak," returned Arly quickly.
" In every great power there is one point of great
weakness. Tell me again about this tremendously big
world monopoly."

Patiently, and searching her memory for details, Gail
recited over again all which Allison had told her about
his wonderful plan of empire ; and even now, angry and
humiliated and terror stricken as she was, Gail could
not repress a feeling of admiration for the bigness of
it. It was that which had impressed her in the begin
ning.

" It s wonderful," commented Arly, catching a trace
of that spirit of the exultation which hangs upon the un
folding of fairyland; and she began to pace the floor
again. " Why, Gail, it is the most colossal piece of
thievery the world has ever known ! " And she walked
in silence for a time. " That is the thing upon which
we can attack him. We are going to stop it."

Gail rose, too.



GAIL BREAKS A PROMISE 323

"How?" she asked. " Arly, we couldn t, just we
two girls ! "

" Why not ? " demanded Arly, stopping in front of
her. " Any plan like that must be so full of criminal
crookedness that exposure alone is enough to put an
end to it."

" Exposure," faltered Gail, and struggled automatic
ally with a life-long principle. " It was told to me in
confidence."

Arly looked at her in astonishment.

" I could shake you," she declared, and instead put
her arm around Gail. " Did that person betray no
confidence when he came to your uncle s house this morn
ing! Moreover, he told you this merely to over-awe
you with the glitter of what he had done. He made that
take the place of love ! Confidence ! I ll never do any
thing with so much pleasure in my life as to betray
yours right now ! If you don t expose that person, I
will! If there s any way we can damage him, I intend
to see that it is done ; and if there s any way after
that to damage him again and again, I want to do
it!"

For the first time in that miserable day, Gail felt a
thrill of hope, and Arly, at that moment, had, to her,
the aspect of a colossal figure, an angel of brightness
in the night of her despair! She felt that she could
afford to sob now, and she did it.

" Do you suppose that would save Uncle Jim? " she
asked, when they had both finished a highly comforting
time together.

" It will save everybody," declared Arly.
" I hope so," pondered Gail. " But we can t do it
ourselves, Arly. Whom shall we get to help us?"



324 THE BALL OF FIRE

The smile on Arly s face was a positive illumination
for a moment, and then she laughed.

" Gerald," she replied. " You don t know what a
dear he is !," and she rang for a cabin boy.



CHAPTER XXXII

GERALD FOSLAND MAKES A SPEECH

GERALD FOSLAND, known to be so formal that
he had once dressed to answer an emergency call
from a friend at the hospital, because the message came
in at six o clock, surprised his guests by appearing be
fore them, in the salon just before dinner, in his driving
coat and with his motor cap in his hand.

" Sorry," he informed them, with his stiff bow, " but
an errand of such importance that it can not be de
layed, causes Mrs. Fosland and myself to return to the
city immediately for an hour or so. I am sincerely
apologetic, and I trust that you will have a jolly din
ner."

"Is Gail going with you?" inquired the alert Mrs.
Helen Davies, observing Gail in the gangway adjust
ing her furs.

" She has to chaperon me, while Gerald is busy,"
Arly glibly explained. " Onery, Orey, Ickery, Ann,
Filison, Foloson, Nicholas, John ; Queevy, Quavy, Eng
lish Navy, Stigalum, Stagalum, Buck. You re it, Aunt
Grace," counted out Arly. " You and Uncle Jim have
to be hosts. Good-bye ! " and she sailed out to the deck,
followed by the still troubled Gail, who managed to ac
complish the laughing adieus for which Arly had set
the precedence.

A swift ride in the launch, in the cool night air, to

3 2 5



326 THE BALL OF FIRE

the landing; a brisk walk to the street, and, since no
one had expected to come ashore until Monday, a search
for a taxi ; then Gerald, chatting with correct pleasant
ness through his submerged preoccupation, having seen
the ladies safe under shelter, even if it were but the roof
of a night hawk taxi, stopped at the first saloon, a queer
place, of a sodden type which he had never before seen
and would never see again. There he phoned half a
dozen messages. There were four eager young men
waiting in the reception room of the Fosland house,
when Gerald s party arrived, and three more followed
them up the steps.

Gerald aided in divesting the ladies of their
wraps, and slipped his own big top coat into the hands
of William, and saw to his tie and the set of his waist
coat and the smoothness of his hair, before he stalked
into the reception parlour and bowed stiffly.

" Gentlemen," he observed, giving his moustache one
last smoothing, " first of all, have you brought with
you the written guarantees which I required from your
respective chiefs, that, in whatsoever comes from the
information I am about to give you, the names of your
informants shall, under no circumstances, appear in
print?"

One luckless young man, a fat-cheeked one, with a
pucker in the corner of his lips where his cigar should
have been, was unable to produce the necessary docu
ment, and he was under a scrutiny too close to give him
a chance to write it.

" Sorry," announced Gerald, with polite contrition.
" As this is a very strict condition, I must ask you to
leave the room while I address the remaining gentle
men."

The remaining gentlemen, of whom there were now



FOSLAND MAKES A SPEECH 327

eleven, grinned appreciatively. Hickey would have
been the best newspaper man in New York if he were
not such a careless slob. He was so good that he was
the only man from the Planet. The others had sent
two, and three ; for Gerald s message, while very simple,
had been most effective. He had merely announced
that he was prepared to provide them with an interna
tional sensation, involving some hundreds of billions of
dollars and he had given his right name !

The unfortunate Hickey made a violent pretence of
search through all his pockets.

" I must have lost it," he piteously declared.
" Won t you take my written word that you won t be
mentioned ? " and he looked up at the splendidly erect
Gerald with that honest appeal in his eyes which had
deceived so many.

" Sorry," announced Gerald ; " but it wouldn t be
sportsmanlike, since it would be quite unfair to these
other gentlemen."

"Hold the stuff til I telephone," begged Hickey.
" Say, if I get that written guarantee up here in fifteen
minutes, will it do ? "

Gerald looked him speculatively in the eye.

" If you telephone, and can then assure me, on your
word of honour, that the document I require shall be in
the house before you leave, I shall permit you to re
main," he decreed ; and Hickey looked him quite soberly
in the eye for half a minute.

" I ll have it here all right," he decided, and sprang
for the telephone, and came back in three minutes with
his word of honour. They could hear him, from the
library, yelling, from the time he gave the number until
he hung up the receiver, and if there was ever urgency
in a man s voice, it was in the voice of Hickey.



328 THE BALL OF FIRE

Gerald Fosland took a commanding position in the
corner of the room, where he could see the countenances
of each of the eager young gentlemen present. He
stood behind a chair, with his hands on the back of it,
in his favourite position for responding to a toast.

"Gentlemen; Edward E. Allison (Twelve young
gentlemen who had been leaning forward with strained
interest, and their mouths half open to help them hear,
suddenly jerked bolt upright. The little squib over
under the statue of Diana, dropped his leadpencil, and
came up with a purple face. Hickey, with a notebook-
two inches wide in one hand, jabbed down a scratch to
represent Allison) is about to complete a transporta
tion system encircling t ] je globe. (The little squib on
the end choked on his tongue. Hickey made a ring on
his note pad, to represent the globe, and while he waited


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Online LibraryGeorge Randolph ChesterThe ball of fire → online text (page 21 of 24)