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kings, with the whole world in his imperious grasp, a
sway larger than that of any potentate who had ever
sat upon a throne, larger than the sway of all the mon-
archs of earth put together, as large terrestrially as
the sway of God himself! All these he saw crumbled
away, fallen down around him, a wreck so complete that
no shred or splinter of it was worth the picking up ;
saw himself disgraced and discredited, hated and ridi
culed throughout the length and breadth and circum
ference of the very earth he had meant to rule ; saw
himself discarded by the strong men whom he had in
veigled into this futile scheme and saw himself forced
into commercial death as wolves rend and devour a crip
pled member of their pack ; last, he saw himself loatheoT
in the one pure breast he had sought to make his own;
and that was the deepest hurt of all ; for now, in the
bright blaze of his own conflagration, he saw that, be
neath his grossness, he had loved her, after all, loved
her with a love which, if he had shorn it of his dross,
might perhaps have won her.

Through all that day he sat at the desk, and when
the night-time came again, he walked out of the house,
and across the field, and over the tiny foot-bridge, un
der the willow tree with the still beckoning arms ; and
the world, his world, the world he had meant to make
his own, never saw him again.



CHAPTER XXXIV

A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE

GAIL stood at the rail of the Whitecap, gazing out
over the dancing blue waves with troubled eyes.

" Penny," said a cheerful voice at her side.

" For my thoughts," she replied, turning to the im
possibly handsome Dick Rodley who had strolled up, in
his blue jacket and white trousers and other nautical
embellishments. " Give me your penny."

He reached in his pockets, but of course, there was
no money there. He did, however, find a fountain pen
and a card, and he wrote her a note for the amount.

" Now deliver the merchandise," he demanded.

" Well, to begin with, I m glad that the fog has been
driven away, and that the sun is shining, and that so
many of my friends are on board the Whitecap."

" You re not a conscientious merchant," objected
Dick. " You re not giving me all I paid for. No one
stands still so long, no matter how charming of figure
or becomingly gowned, without a serious thought. I
want that thought."

Gail looked up into his big black eyes reflectively.
She was tremendously glad that she had such a friend
as Dick. He was so agreeable to look at, and he was
no problem to her. The most of her friends were.

" The news in the paper," she told him. " It s so
big."

Dick looked down at her critically. Her snow-white
344



A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE 345

yachting costume, with its touches of delicate blue,
seemed to make her a part of the blue sea and the blue
sky, with their markings of white in foam and cloud,
to enhance the delicate pallor of her cheeks, to throw
into her brown eyes a trace of violet, to bring into re
lief, the rich colour of the brown hair which rippled
about her face, straying where it could into wanton lit
tle ringlets, sometimes gold and sometimes almost red
in the sun. She was so new a Gail to Dick that he
was puzzled, and worried, too, for he felt, rather than
saw, that some trouble possessed this dearest of his
friends.

" Yes, it is big news," he admitted ; " big enough
and startling enough to impress any one very gravely."
Then he shook his head at her. " But you mustn t
worry about it, Gail. You re not responsible."

Gail turned her eyes from him and looked out over
the white-edged waves again.

" It is a tremendous responsibility," she mused, where
upon Dick, as became him, violently broke that thread
of thought by taking her arm and drawing her away
from the rail, and walking gaily with her up to the
forward shelter deck, where, shielded from the crisp-
ness of the wind, there sat, around the big table and
amid a tangle of Sunday papers, Jim Sargent and the
Reverend Smith Boyd, Arly and Gerald Fosland, all
four deep in the discussion of the one possible topic
of conversation.

" Allison s explosion again," objected Dick, as Gail
and he joined the group, and caught the general tenor
of the thought. " I suppose the only way to escape
that is to jump off the Whitecap. Gail s worse than
any of you. I find she s responsible for the whole
thing."



346 THE BALL OF FIRE

Arly and Gerald looked up quickly.

" I neither said nor intimated anything of the sort,"
Gail reprimanded Dick, for the benefit of the Foslands,
and she sat down by Arly, whereupon Dick, observing
that he was much offended, patted Gail on the shoulder,
and disappeared in search of Ted.

" I d like to hand a vote of thanks to the responsible
party," laughed Jim Sargent, to whom the news meant
more than Gail appreciated. " With Allison broke,
Urbank of the Midcontinent succeeds to control of the
A.-P., and Urbank is anxious to incorporate the To-
wando Valley in the system. He told me so yesterday."

The light which leaped into Gail s eyes, and the trace
of colour which flashed into her cheeks, were most com
forting to Arly ; and they exchanged a smile of great
satisfaction. They clutched hands ecstatically under
the corner of the table, and wanted to laugh outright.
However, it would keep.

" The destruction of Mr. Allison was a feat of which
any gentleman s conscience might approve," commented
Gerald Fosland, who had spent some time in definitely
settling, with himself, the ethics of that question. " The
company he proposed to form was a menace to the lib
erty of the world and the progress of civilisation."

" The destruction didn t go far enough," snapped
Jim Sargent. " Clark, Vance, Haverman, Grandin,
Babbitt, Taylor, Chisholm; these fellows won t be
touched, and they built up their monopolies by the
same method Allison proposed; trickery, force, and
plain theft!"

" Harsh language, Uncle Jim Sargent, to use toward
your respectable fellow-vestrymen," chided Arly, her
black eyes dancing.

"Clark and Chisholm?" and Jim Sargent s brows



A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE 347

knotted. " They re not my fellow-vestrymen. Either
they go or I do ! "

" I would like you to remain," quietly stated the Rev
erend Smith Boyd. " I hope to achieve several impor
tant alterations in the ethics of Market Square Church."
He was grave this morning. He had unknowingly been
ripening for some time on many questions ; and the reve
lations in this morning s papers had brought him to
the point of decision. " I wish to drive the money
changers out of the temple," he added, and glanced at
Gail with a smile in which there was acknowledgment.

"A remarkably lucrative enterprise, eh Gail?"
laughed her Uncle Jim, remembering her criticism on
the occasion of her first and only vestry meeting, when
she had called their attention to the satire of the stained
glass window.

" You will have still the Scribes and Pharisees, Doc
tor ; * those who stand praying in the public places, so
they may be seen of all men, " and Gail smiled across
at him, within her eyes the mischievous twinkle which
had been absent for many days.

" I hope to be able to remove the public place," re
plied the rector, with a gravity which told of some
thing vital beneath the apparent repartee. Mrs. Boyd,
strolling past with Aunt Grace Sargent, paused to look
at him fondly. " I shall set myself, with such strength
as I may have, against the building of the proposed
cathedral."

He had said it so quietly that it took the little group
a full minute to comprehend. Jim Sargent looked with
acute interest at the end of his cigar, and threw it over
board. Arly leaned slowly forward, and, resting her
piquant chin on her closed hand, studied the rector ear
nestly. Gerald stroked his moustache contemplatively,



348 THE BALL OF FIRE

and looked at the rector with growing admiration. By
George, that was a sportsmanlike attitude ! He d have
to take the Reverend Smith Boyd down to the Papyrus
Club one day. All the trouble flew back into Gail s
eyes. It was a stupendous thing the Reverend Smith
Boyd was proposing to relinquish ! The rectorship of
the most wonderful cathedral in the world ! Mrs. Boyd
looked startled for a moment. She had known of Tod s
bright dreams about the new cathedral and the new
rectory. He had planned his mother s apartments him
self, and the last thing his eyes looked upon at night
were the beautifully coloured sketches on his walls.

" Don t be foolish, Boyd," protested Sargent, who
had always felt a fatherly responsibility for the young
rector. " It s a big ambition and a worthy ambition,
to build that cathedral; and because you re offended
with certain things the papers have said, about Clark
and Chisholm in connection with the church, is no rea
son you should cut off your nose to spite your face."

" It is not the publication of these things which has
determined me," returned the rector thoughtfully. " It
has merely hastened my decision. To begin with, I
acknowledge now that it was only a vague, artistic
dream of mine that such a cathedral, by its very mag
nificence, would promote worship. That might have
been the case when cathedrals were the only magnificent
buildings erected, and when every rich and glittering
thing was devoted to religion. A golden candlestick
then became connected entirely with the service of the
Almighty. Now, however, magnificence has no such
signification. The splendour of a cathedral must enter
into competition with the splendour of a state house,
a museum, or a hotel."

" You shouldn t switch that way, Boyd," remon-



A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE 349

strated Sargent, showing his keen disappointment.
" When you began to agitate for the cathedral you
brought a lot of our members in who hadn t attended
services in years. You stirred them up. You got
them interested. They ll drop right off."

" I hope not," returned the rector earnestly. " I
hope to reach them with a higher ambition, a higher
pride, a higher vanity, if you like to put it that way.
I wish them to take joy in establishing the most mag
nificent living conditions for the poor which have ever
been built! We have no right to the money which is
to be paid us for the Vedder Court property. We have
no right to spend it in pomp. It belongs to the poor
from whom we have taken it, and to the city which has
made us rich by enhancing the value of our ground.
I propose to build permanent and sanitary tenements,
to house as many poor people as possible, and conduct
them without a penny of profit above the cost of repairs
and maintenance."

Gail bent upon him beaming eyes, and the delicate
flush, which had begun to return to her cheeks, deep
ened. Was this the sort of tenements he had proposed
to re-erect in Vedder Court? Perhaps she had been
hasty! The Reverend Smith Boyd in turning slowly
from one to the other of the little group, by way of es
tablishing mental communication with them, rested, for
a moment, in the beaming eyes of Gail, and smiled at
her in affectionate recognition then swept his glance on
to his mother, where it lingered.

" You are perfectly correct," stated Gerald Fosland,
who, though sitting stiffly upright, had managed never
theless to dispose one elbow where it touched gently the
surface of Arly. " Market Square Church is a much
more dignified old place of worship than the ostenta-



350 THE BALL OF FIRE

tious cathedral would ever be, and your project for
spending, the money has such strict justice at the bot
tom of it that it must prevail. But, I say, Doctor
Boyd," and he gave his moustache a contemplative tug ;
" don t you think you should include a small margin
of profit for the future extension of your idea ? "

" That s glorious, Gerald ! " approved Gail ; and
Arly, laughing, patted his hand.

" You re probably right," considered the rector,
studying Fosland with a new interest. " I think we ll
have to put you on the vestry."

" I d be delighted, I m sure," responded Gerald, in
the courteous tone of one accepting an invitation to
dinner.

" Do you hear what your son s planning to do ? "
called Jim Sargent to Mrs. Boyd. He was not quite
reconciled. " He proposes to take that wonderful new
rectory away from you."

The beautiful Mrs. Boyd merely dimpled.

" I am a trifle astonished," she confessed. " My son
has been so extremely eager about it; but if he is re
linquishing the dream, it is because he wants some
thing else very much more worth while. I entirely ap
prove of his plan for the new tenements," and she did
not understand why they all laughed at her. She did
feel, however, that there was affection in the laughter;
and she was quite content. Laughing with them, she
walked on with Grace Sargent. They had set out to
make twenty trips around the deck, for exercise.

" I find that I have been at work on the plans for
these new tenements ever since the condemnation," went
on the rector. " I would build them in the semi-court
style, with light and air in every room; with as little
woodwork as possible; with plumbing appliances of



A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE 351

simple and perfect sanitation ; with centralised baths
under the care of an attendant ; with assembly rooms
for both social and religious observances and with self
contained bureaus of employment, health and police pro
tection one building to each of six blocks, widening
the street for a grass plot, trees, and fountains. The
fact that the Market Square Church property is ex
empt from taxation, saving us over half a million dol
lars a year, renders us able to provide these advan
tages at a much lower rental to my Vedder Court peo
ple than they can secure quarters anywhere else in the
city, and at the same time lay up a small margin of
profit for the system."

Gerald Fosland drew forward his chair.

" Do you know," he observed, " I should like very
much to become a member of your vestry."

" I m glad you are interested," returned the rector,
and producing a pencil he drew a white advertising
space towards him. " This is the plan of tenement I
have in mind," and for the next half hour the five of
them discussed tenement plans with great enthusiasm.

At the expiration of that time, Ted and Lucile and
Dick and Marion came romping up, with the deliberate
intention of creating a disturbance ; and Gail and the
Reverend Smith Boyd, being thrown accidentally to the
edge of that whirlpool, walked away for a rest.

" They tell me you re going abroad," observed the
rector, looking down at her sadly, as they paused at
her favourite rail space.

" Yes," she answered quietly. " Father and mother
are coming next week," and she glanced up at the rec
tor from under her curving lashes.

There was a short space of silence. It was almost
as if these two were weary.



352 THE BALL OF FIRE

" We shall miss you very much," he told her, in all
sincerity. They were both looking out over the blue
waves ; he, tall, broad-shouldered, agile of limb ; she,
straight, lithe, graceful. Mrs. Boyd and Mrs. Sar
gent passed them admiringly, but went on by with a
trace of sadness.

" I m sorry to leave," Gail replied. " I shall be very
anxious to know how you are coming on with your new
plan. I m proud of you for it."

" Thank you," he returned.

They were talking mechanically. In them was an
inexpressible sadness. They had come so near, and yet
they were so far apart. Moreover, they knew that
there was no chance of change. It was a matter of
conscience which came between them, and it was a di
vergence which would widen with the years. And yet
they loved. They mutually knew it, and it was because
of that love that they must stay apart.



CHAPTER XXXV

A VESTRY MEETING

r INHERE was a strained atmosphere in the vestry
A meeting from the first. Every member present
felt the tension from the moment old Joseph G. Clark
walked in with Chisholm. They did not even nod to
the Reverend Smith Boyd, but took their seats solidly
in their customary places at the table, Clark, shielding
his eyes, as was his wont, against the light which
streamed on him from the red robe of the Good Shep
herd. The repression was apparent, too, in the Rev
erend Smith Boyd, who rose to address his vestrymen
as soon as the late-comers arrived.

" Gentlemen," said he, " I wish to speak to you as
the treasury committee, rather than as vestrymen, for
it is in the former capacity which you always attend.
I am advised that we have been paid for Vedder Court."

Chisholm, to whom he directed a gaze of inquiry, nod
ded his head.

"It s in the Majestic," he stated. "I have plans
for its investment, which I wish to lay before the com
mittee."

" I shall lay my own before them at the same time,"
went on the rector. " I wish, however, to preface these
plans by the statement that I have, so far as I am con
cerned, relinquished all thought of building the new
cathedral."

353



354 TH E BALL OF FIRE

Nicholas Van Ploon, who had been much troubled
of late, brightened, and nodded his round head em
phatically.

" That s what I say," he declared.

" The decision does not lay in your hands, Doctor
Boyd," drawled a nasal voice with an unconcealed sneer
in it. It was clean-shaven old Joseph G. Clark, who
was not disturbed, in so much as the parting of one
hair, by all the adverse criticism of him which had
filled column upon column of the daily press for the
past few days. " The rector has never, in the history
of Market Square Church, been given the control of
its finances. He has invariably been hired to preach
the gospel."

Sargent, Cunningham, Manning, and even Van
Ploon, looked at Clark in surprise. He was not given
to open reproof. Chisholm manifested no astonish
ment. He sat quietly in his chair, his fingers idly
drumming on the edge of the table, but his mutton-
chop beard was pink from the reddening of the skin
beneath.

" The present rector of Market Square Church means
to have a voice in its deliberations so long as he is the
rector ! " announced that young man emphatically, and
Jim Sargent looked up at him with a jerk of his head.
The Reverend Smith Boyd was pale this afternoon, but
there was a something shining through his pallor
which made the face alive; and the something was not
temper. Rufus Manning, clasping his silvery beard
with a firm grip, smiled encouragingly at the tall young
orator. " I have said that I have, so far as I am con
cerned, relinquished the building of the cathedral," the
rector went on. " For this there are two reasons. The
first is that its building will bring us further away from



A VESTRY MEETING 355

the very purpose for which the church was founded ;
the worship of God with an humble and a contrite heart !
I am ready to confess that I found, on rigid self-analy
sis, my leading motive in urging the building of the
new cathedral to have been vanity. I am also ready
to confess, on behalf of my congregation and vestry,
that their leading motive was vanity ! "

" You have no authority to speak for me," inter
rupted Chisholm, his mutton-chops now red.

" Splendour is no longer the exclusive property of
religion," resumed the rector, paying no attention to
the interruption. " It has lost the greater part of its
effectiveness because splendour has become a mere ad
junct to the daily luxury of our civilisation. The new
cathedral would be only a surrounding in keeping with
the gilded boudoirs from which my lady parishioners
step to come to worship ; and the ceremony of worship
has become the Sunday substitute, in point of social
recognition, for the week day tea. If I thought, how
ever, that the building of that cathedral would promote
the spread of the gospel in a degree commensurate with
the outlay, I would still be opposed to the erection of
the building ; for the money does not belong to us ! "

" Go right on and develop our conscience," approved
Manning, smiling up at the old walnut-beamed ceil
ing with its carved cherub brackets.

" The money belongs to Vedder Court," declared the
rector ; " to the distorted moral cripples which Mar
ket Square Church, through the accident of commerce,
has taken under her wing. Gentlemen, in the recent
revelations concerning the vast industrial interests of
the world, I have seen the whole blackness of modern
corporate methods ; and Market Square Church is a
corporation ! Corporations were originally formed for



356 THE BALL OF FIRE

the purpose of expediting commerce, and it is the mere
logic of opportunity that their progress to rapacity,
coercion, and merciless strangulation of all competi
tion, has been so swift. They have at no time been
swayed by any moral consideration. This fact is so
notorious that it has given rise to the true phrase * cor
porations have no souls. I wish to ask you, in how
far the Market Square Church has been swayed, in its
commercial dealings, by moral considerations?"

He paused, and glanced from man to man of his
vestry. Sargent and Manning, the former of whom
knew his plans and the latter of whom had been wait
ing for them to mature, smiled at him in perfect ac
cord. Nicholas Van Ploon sat quite placidly, with his
hands folded over his creaseless vest. Willis Cunning
ham, stroking his sparse brown Vandyke, looked un
comfortable, as if he had suddenly been introduced into
a rude brawl ; but his eye roved occasionally to Nicholas
Van Ploon, who was two generations ahead of him in
the acquisition of wealth, by the brilliant process of
allowing property to increase in valuation. Chisholm
glared.

" You ll not find any money which is not tainted,"
snapped Joseph G. Clark, who regarded money in a
strictly impersonal light. " The very dollar you have
in your pocket may have come direct from a brothel."

" Or from Vedder Court," retorted the rector. " We
have brothels there, though we do not * officially know
it. We have saloons there; we have gambling rooms
there ; and, from all these iniquities, Market Square
Church reaps a profit! For the glory of God? I dare
you, Joseph G. Clark, or W. T. Chisholm, to answer me
that question in the affirmative ! In Vedder Court there
are tenements walled and partitioned with contagion,



A VESTRY MEETING 357

poison, with miasmatic air, reeking with disease ; and
from the poor who flock into this fetid shelter, because
we offer them cheap rents, Market Square Church takes
a profit as great as any distillery combine! For the
glory of God? Out of very shame we can not answer
that question! We have bought and sold with the
greed of any conscienceless individual, and our com
modity has been filth and degradation, human lives
and stunted souls ! No decent man would conduct the
business we do, for the reason that it would soil his
soul as a gentleman ; and it is a shameful thing that
a gentleman should have finer ethics than a Christian
church ! In the beginning, I was a coward about this
matter ! It was because I wished to be rid of our re
sponsibility in Vedder Court that I first urged the con
version of that property into a cathedral. We can
not rid ourselves of the responsibility of Vedder Court !
If it were possible for a church to be sent to hell, Mar
ket Square Church would be eternally damned if it
took this added guilt upon it ! "

"This talk is absurd," declared Chisholm. "The
city has taken Vedder Court away from us."

" Only the property," quickly corrected Rufus Man
ning, turning to Chisholm with sharpness in his deep
blue eyes. " If you will remember, I told you this same
thing before Doctor Boyd came to us. I have waited
ever since his arrival for him to develop to this point,
and I wish to announce myself as solidly supporting
his views."

" Your own will not bear inspection ! " charged
Clark, turning to Manning with a scowl.

"I ll range up at the judgment seat with you!"
flamed Manning. " We re both old enough to think
about that ! "



358 THE BALL OF FIRE

Joseph G. Clark jumped to his feet, and, leaning
across the table, shook a thin forefinger at Manning.

" I have been attacked enough on the point of my
moral standing ! " he declared, his high pitched nasal
voice quavering with an anger he had held below the
explosive point during the most of his life. " I can
stand the attacks of a sensational press, but when spite
ful criticism follows me into my own vestry, almost in
the sacred shadow of the altar itself, I am compelled
to protest! I wish to state to this vestry, once and
for all, that my moral status is above reproach, and
that my conduct has been such as to receive the com
mendation of my Maker! Because it has pleased Di
vine Providence to place in my hands the distribution
of the grain of the fields, I am constantly subject to


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Online LibraryGeorge Randolph ChesterThe ball of fire → online text (page 23 of 24)