George Randolph Chester.

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criticised Ted. " I never saw a man who made such
hard work of belonging to twelve clubs. Arly, how did
you manage to make him see your fatal lure? "

" Mother did it>" returned Arly, drowsily absorbing
the grateful warmth of the room.

" I don t think anything is half so dangerous to a
bachelor as a mother," stated Lucile, with a friendly
smile at Mrs. Davies.

" I m going to start a new fad," announced Arly,
sitting up and considering the matter ; " prudery.
There s nothing more effective."

" It s too wicked," objected Lucile s mother, and
scored another point for herself. It was a wearing task
to keep up a reputation for repartee.

" I m terribly vexed," confided Lucile, stopping be
hind Ted s chair, and idly tickling the back of his neck.
" I thought it would be such a brilliant scheme to give
a winter week-end party, but Mrs. Acton is going to
give one at her country place."

" Before or after? " demanded Mrs. Davies, with
whom this was a point of the utmost importance.

" A week after," answered Lucile, " but her invita
tions are out. I wish I hadn t mailed mine. What
can we do to make ours notable?"

That being a matter worth considering, the entire
party, with the exception of Aunt Grace, who was lis
tening for the doorbell, set their wits and their tongues
to work. Mrs. Helen Davies took a keener interest in it
than any of them. The invitation list was the most
important of all, for it was a long and arduous way to
the heaven of the socially elect, and it took generations
to accomplish the journey. The Murdock girls, Grace


and herself, had no great-grandfather. Murdock
Senior had made his money after Murdock Junior was
married, but in time to give the girls a thorough polish
ing in an exclusive academy. Thus launched, Helen
had married a man with a great-great-grandfather, but
Grace had married Jim Sargent. Jim was a dear, and
had plenty of money, and was as good a railroader as
Grace s father, with whom he had been great chums;
but still he was Jim Sargent. Gail s mother, who had
married Jim s brother, had seven ancestors, but a
mother s family name Is so often overlooked. Never
theless, when Gail came to marry, the maternal ances
try, all other things being favourable, might even secure
her an invitation to Mrs. Waverly-Gaites annual !
Reaching this point in her circle of speculation, Mrs.
Helen Davies came back to her starting place, and
looked at the library clock with a shock. Ten; and
the girl was not yet home!

The Reverend Smith Royd came out of the study
with his most active vestryman, and joined the circle
of waiting ones. He was a pleasant addition to the
party, for, in spite of belonging to the clergy, he was able
to conduct himself, in Rome, in a quite acceptable
Roman fashion. Pleasant as he was, they wished he
would go home, because it was not convenient to worry
in his company ; and by this time Lucile herself was be
ginning to watch the clock with some anxiety. Only
Mrs. Sargent felt no restraint. An automobile honked
at the door as if it were stopping, and she half arose ;
then the same honk sounded half way down the block,
and she sat down again.

" I m so worried about Gail ! " she stated, holding her


" We all are," supplemented Mrs. Davies quickly.
" She has been dining with a party of friends, and the
streets are so slippery."

" I should judge Mr. Allison to be a very capable
driver," said the Reverend Smith Boyd; and the ladies
glared at Jim. " I envy them their drive on a night
like this. I wonder if there will be good coasting."

"Fine," judged Jim Sargent, looking out of the
window toward the adjoining rectory. "That first
snow was wet and it froze. Now there s a good inch
on top of it, and, at this rate, there should be three by
morning. A little thaw, and another freeze, and a lit
tle more snow to-morrow, and I ll be tempted to make
a bob-sled."

" I ll help you," offered the Reverend Smith Boyd,
with a glow of pleasure in his particularly fine eyes.
" I used to have a twelve seated bob-sled, which never
started down the hill with less than fifteen."

" I never rode on one," complained Arly. " I think
I m due for a bob-sled party."

" You re invited," Lucile promptly told her. * Uncle
Jim, you and Dr. Boyd will have to hunt up your ham
mer and saw."

" I ll start right to work," offered the young rector,
with the alacrity which had made him a favourite.

" If the snow holds, we ll go over into the Jersey
hills, and slide," promised Sargent with enthusiasm.
" I ll give the party."

" I seem to anticipate a pleasant evening," consid
ered Ted Teasdale, whose athletics were confined en
tirely to dancing. " We ll ride down hill on the sleds,
and up hill in the machines."

" That s barred," immediately protested Jim. " The


boys have to pull the girls up hill. Isn t that right,

" It was correct form when I was a boy," returned
the rector, with a laugh. He held his muscular hands
out before him as if he could still feel the cut of the
rope in his palms. He squared his big shoulders, and
breathed deeply, in memory of those health-giving days.
There was a flush in his cheeks, and his eyes, which
were sometimes green, glowed with a decided blue. Ar-
lene Fosland, looking lazily across at him, from the
comfortable nest which she had not quitted all even
ing, decided that it was a shame that he had been
cramped into the ministry.

" There s Gail! " cried Mrs. Sargent, jumping to her
feet and running into the hall, before the butler could
come in answer to the bell. She opened the door, and
was immediately kissed, then Gail came back into the
library without stopping to remove her furs. She was
followed by Allison, and she carried something inside
her coat. Her cheeks were rosy, from the crisp air,
and the snow sparkled on her brown hair like tiny dia

" We ve been buying a dog ! " she breathlessly ex
plained, and, opening her coat, she produced an ani
mated teddy bear, with two black eyes and one black
pointed nose protruding from a puff ball of pure white.
She set it on the floor, where it waddled uncertainly in
three directions, and finally curled between the Rev
erend Smith Boyd s feet.

" A collie ! " and the Reverend Smith Boyd picked up
the warm infant for an admiring inspection. " It s
a beautiful puppy."

" Isn t it a dear ! " exclaimed Gail, taking it away


from him, and favouring him with a smile. She
whisked the fluffy little ball over to her Aunt Grace,
and left it in that lady s lap, while she threw off her

"Where could you buy a dog at this hour?" in
quired Mrs. Davies, glancing at the clock, which stood
now at the accusing hour of a quarter of eleven.

" We woke up the kennel man," laughed Gail, turn
ing, with a sparkling glance, to Allison, who was being
introduced ceremoniously to the ladies by Uncle Jim.
" We had a perfectly glorious evening ! We dined at
Roseleaf Inn, entirely surrounded by hectic lights,
then we drove five miles into the country and bought
Flakes. We came home so fast that Mr. Allison al
most had to hold me in." She turned, laughing, to find
the eyes of the Reverend Smith Boyd fixed on her in
cold disapproval. They were no longer blue !



A CONSCIENCE must be a nuisance to a rector,"

^."V sympathised Gail Sargent, as she walked up the
hill beside the Reverend Smith Boyd.

The tall, young rector shifted the thin rope of the
sled to his other hand.

" Epigrams are usually more clever than true," he
finally responded, with a twinkle in his eyes. It had
been in his mind to sharply defend that charge, but he
reflected that it was unwise to assume the speech worth
serious consideration. Moreover, he had come to this
toboggan party for healthful physical exercise!

" Then you re guilty of an epigram," retorted Gail,
who was annoyed with the Reverend Smith Boyd with
out quite knowing why. " You can t believe all you are
compelled, as a minister, to say."

" That," returned the Reverend Smith Boyd coldly,
" is a matter of interpretation." He commended him
self for his patience, as he proceeded to instruct this
mistaken young person. She was a lovable girl,
in spite of the many things he found in her of
which to disapprove. " The eye of the needle through
which the camel was supposed not to be able to pass,
was, in reality, a narrow city gate called the Needle s

Gail looked at him with that little smile at the cor
ners of her red lips, eyelids down, curved lashes on



her cheeks, and beneath the lashes a sparkle brighter
than the moonlight on the snow crystals in the adjoin
ing field.

" It seems to me there was something about wealth
in that metaphor," she observed, her round eyes flash
ing open as she smiled up at him. " If it was so diffi
cult even in those days for a rich man to enter the
Kingdom of Heaven, how can a rich church hope to
enter the spirit of the gospel?"

The Reverend Smith Boyd hastily, and almost
roughly, drew her aside, as a long, low bob-sled, ac
companied by appropriate screams, came streaking down
the hill, and passed them. They both turned and fol
lowed its progress down the narrowing white road,
to where it curved away in a silver line far at the
bottom of a hill. Hills and valleys, and fences and
trees, and even a distant stream were covered with the
fleecy mantle of winter, while high over head in a sky
of blue, hung a round, white moon, which flooded the
country-side with mellow light, and strewed upon
earth s fresh robe a wealth of countless sparkling gems.

" This is a wonderful sermon," mused Gail ; then she
turned to the rector. She softened toward him, as she
saw that he, too, had partaken of the awe and majesty
of this scene. He stood straight and tall, his splen
didly poised head thrown back, and his gaze resting far
off where the hills cut against the sky in tree-clad scal

" It is an inspiration," he told her, with a tone in his
vibrant voice which she had not heard before ; and for
that brief instant these two, between whom there had
seemed some instinctive antagonism, were nearer in
sympathy than either had thought it possible to be.
Then the Reverend Smith Boyd happened to remember


something. " The morality or immorality of riches de
pends upon its use," he sonorously stated, as he stepped
out into the road again, dragging his sled behind him,
following the noisy, loitering crowd with the number
two bob-sled. " Market Square Church, which is the
one I suppose you meant in your comparison with the
rich man, intends to devote all the means with which
a kind Providence has blessed it, to the glory of God."

" And the gratification of the billionaire vestry," she
added, still annoyed with the Reverend Smith Boyd,
though she did not know why.

He turned to her almost savagely.

" Have you no sense of reverence ? " he demanded.

" For the church, or the creed, or the ministry ? Not
a particle ! " she heartily assured him. " The church,
as an instrument for good, has practically ceased to
exist. Even charity, the greatest of the three princi
ples upon which the church was originally founded,
has been taken away from it, because the secular or
ganisations dispense charity better and more sanely,
and while the object is still alive."

Again the Reverend Smith Boyd drew her out of the
road, almost ungently, and unnecessarily in advance
of need, to permit a thick man to glide leisurely by, on
his stomach on a hand sled. He grinned up at them
from under a stubby moustache, and waved a hand at
them with a vigour which nearly ran him into a ditch ;
but a sharp scrape of his toe in the snow, made with a
stab the expertness of which had come back to him
through forty years, brought him into the path again,
and he slid majestically onward, with happy forgetful-
ness of the dignity belonging to the president of the
Towando Valley Railroad and a vestryman of Market
Square Church.


" That used to be lots of fun," remembered Gail,
looking after her Uncle Jim in envy.

" Market Square Church has dispensed millions in
charity," the rector felt it his duty to inform her, as
they started up the hill again.

" If it s like our church at home it costs ninety cents
to deliver a dime," she retorted, bristling anew with
bygone aggravations. " So long as you can deliver
baskets of provisions in person, it is all right, but the
minute you let the money out of your sight it filters
through too many paid hands. I found this out just
before I resigned from our charity committee."

He looked at her in perplexity. She was so young
and so pretty, so charming in the ermine which framed
her pink face, so gentle of speech and movement, that
her visible self and her incisive mind seemed to be two
different creatures.

" Why are you so bitter against the church ? " and
his tone was troubled, not so much about what she had
eaid, but about her.

" I didn t know I was," she confessed, concerned
about it herself. " All at once I seem to look on it as
an old shoe which should be cast aside. It is so elab
orate to do so little good in the world. Morality is
on the increase, as any page of history will show."

" I believe that to be true," he hastily assured her,
glad to be able to agree with her upon something.

" But it is in spite of the church, not because of it,"
she immediately added. " You can t say that there is
a tremendous moral influence in a congregation which
numbers eight hundred, and sends less than fifty to
services. The balance show their devotion to Chris
tianity by a quarterly check."

The Reverend Smith Boyd felt unfairly hit.


" That is the sorrow of the church," he sadly con
fessed; " the lukewarmness of its followers."

She felt a trace of compunction for him ; but why
had he gone into the ministry?

" Can you blame them ? " she demanded, as much ag
grieved as if she had suffered a personal distress.
" Not so long ago, the governing body of the church
held a convention in which the uppermost thought was
this same luke-warmness. It was felt, and acknowl
edged, that the church was losing its personal hold on
its membership, and that something should be done
about it; yet that same body progressed no further in
this problem than to realise that something should be
done about it ; and spent hours and hours wrangling
over whether banana wine could be used for the sac
rament in Uganda, where grapes do not grow, and
where every bottle of grape wine carried over the desert
represents the life of a man. Of what value is that to
religion? How do you suppose Christ would have
decided that question?"

The rector flushed as if he had been struck, and he
turned to Gail with that cold look in his green eyes.

" That is too deep a subject to discuss here, but
if you will permit me, I will take it up with you at the
house," he quietly returned, and there was a dogged
compulsion in his tone.

" I shall be highly interested in the defence," ac
cepted Gail, with an aggravating smile.

There seemed to be but very little to say after that,
and they walked silently up the hill together towards
the yellow camp fire, fuming inwardly at each other.
Near the top of the hill, her ermine scarf came loose at
the throat, and, with her numbed hands, she could not
locate the little clasp with which it had been held.


" May I help you ? " offered the rector, constraining
himself to politeness.

" Thank you." She was extremely sweet about it,
and he reached up to perform the courtesy. The
rounded column of her neck was white as marble in the
moonlight, and, as he sought the clasps, his fingers,
drawn from his woollen gloves, touched her warm throat,
and they tingled. He started as if he had received an
electric shock, and, as he looked into her eyes, a pur
ple mist seemed to spring between them. He mechan
ically fastened the clasps, though his fingers trembled.
" Thank you," again said Gail, and he did not notice
that her voice was unusually low. She went on over
to the group gathered around the fire, but the Rever
end Smith Boyd stood where she had left him,
staring stupidly at the ground. He was in a whirl of
bewilderment, amid which there was some unreasoning
resentment, but beneath it all there was an inexplicable

" Just in time for the Palisade Special, Gail," called
Lucile Teasdale.

" I don t know," laughed Gail. " I think of going
on a private car this trip," and she sought among the
group for distraction from certain oppressive thought.
Allison, and Lucile and Ted and Arly, were among the
more familiar figures ; besides were a cherub-cheeked
young lady in a bear skin, to whom Ted Teasdale was
pretending to pay assiduous attention; and the
thoughtful Willis Cunningham ; and Houston Van
Ploon, who was a ruddy-faced young fellow with an
English moustache, and a perpetual air of having just
come from his tailor s ; and a startling Adonis, with
pink cheeks and a shining black goatee and a curly
moustache., and large, round, black eyes, which were


deep, and full of almost anything one might wish to
put into them. This astoundingly fascinating gentle
man had been proudly introduced as Dick Rodley, by
Arlene, early in the evening, with an air which plainly
stated that he was a personal discovery for which she
gave herself great credit. At present, however, he
was warming the slender white hands of Lucile Teas-
dale. Now he sprang up and came towards Gail.

" The Palisade Special will not start without Miss
Sargent," he declared, bending upon her an ardent
gaze, and bestowing upon her a smile which displayed
a flash of perfect white teeth.

Gail breathlessly thought him the most dangerously
handsome thing she had ever seen, but she missed the
foreign accent in him. That would have made him

" I m sorry that the Palisade Special will be de
layed," she coolly told him, but she tempered the de-
liberateness of that decision with an upward and side
long glance, which she was startled to recognise in her
self as distinct coquetry. She concluded, however, on
reflection, that this was only a just meed which no one
could withhold from this resplendent creature.

" You haven t the heart to refuse," protested hand
some Dick, coming nearer, and again smiling down at

" I have a prior claim," laughed Allison, stepping
up and taking her by the arm. " It s my turn to guide
Miss Sargent on the two-passenger sled."

There was something new about Allison to-night.
There was the thrill and the exultation of youth in his
voice, and twenty years seemed to have been dropped
from his age. There was an intensity about him, too,
and also a proprietor-like compulsion, which decided


Gail on a certain diversion she had entertained. She
was oppressed with men to-night. The world was full
of them, and they had closed too nearly around her.

Suddenly she broke away with a laugh, and, taking
the two-passenger sled from Smith Boyd, who still
stood in pre-occupation at the edge of the group, she
picked it up and ran with it, and threw herself face
forward on it, as she had done when she was a kiddy,
and shot down the hill, to the intense disapproval of
the Reverend Boyd! Dick Rodley, ever alert in his
chosen profession, grabbed a light steel racer from
the edge of the bank, and, with a magnificent run,
slapped himself on the sled, and darted in pursuit !
The rector s lip curled the barest trace at one cor
ner, but Edward E. Allison, looking down the hill,
grinned, and lit a cigar.

" Ted Teasdale, come right over here," ordered Lu-

" Can t," carelessly returned Ted. " I m having a
serious flirtation with Miss Kenneth."

" You have to stop, and flirt with me," Lucile insisted,
and going over, she slipped a hand within his sleeve,
and passed the other arm affectionately around Marion
Kenneth. " Gail stole the ornament."

" Serves you right," charged Arly Fosland. " You
stole him from me. Come on, Houston, bring out the
Palisade Special."

Houston Van Ploon, who was a brother to all ladies,
obediently dragged forward the number two bob-sled,
and set its nose at the brow of the hill, and the merry
mob piled on.

"Coming Allison?" called Cunningham. "There s
room for you both, Doctor."

" I don t think I ll ride this trip, thanks," returned


Allison, and, as the rector also declined with pleasant
thanks, Allison gave the voyagers a hearty push, and
walked back to the camp fire.

" I received the ultimatum of your vestry to-day,
Doctor Boyd," observed Allison when they were alone.
" Still that eventual fifty million."

" Well, yes," returned the rector briskly, and he
backed up comfortably to the blaze. He was a dif
ferent man now. " We discussed your proposition
thoroughly, and decided that, in ten years, the property
is worth fifty million to you, for the purpose you have
in mind. Consequently why take less."

Allison surveyed him shrewdly for a moment.

" That s the argument of a bandit," he remarked.
" Why accept all that the prisoner has when his friends
can raise a little more? "

" I don t see the use of metaphor," retorted the rec
tor, who dealt professionally in it. " Business is busi

Allison grunted, and flicked his ashes into the fire.

" By George, you re right," he agreed. " I ve been
trying to handle you like a church, but now I m going
after you like the business organisation you are."

The Reverend Smith Boyd reddened. The charge
that Market Square Church was a remarkably lucrative
enterprise was becoming too general for comfort.

" The vestry has given you their decision," he re
turned, standing stiff and straight, with his hands
clasped behind him. " You may pay for the Vedder
Court tenement property a cash sum which, in ten
years, will accrue to fifty million dollars, or you may
let it alone," and his tone was as forcefully crisp as
Allison s, though he could not hide the musical timbre
of it.


" I won t pay that price, and I won t let the property
alone," Allison snapped back. " The city needs it."

For a moment the two men looked each other levelly
in the eyes. There seemed to have sprang up some
new enmity between them. A thick man with a stubby
moustache came puffing up to the fire, and sat down on
his sled with a thump.

" Splendid exercise," he gasped, holding his sides.
" I think about a week of it would either reduce me to
a living skeleton, or kill me."

" Your vestry s an ass," Allison took pleasure in in
forming him.

" Same to you and many of them," puffed Jim Sar
gent. " What s the trouble with you ? Trying to
take a business advantage of a church."

" I d have a better chance with a Jew," was Allison s
contemptuous reply.

"Oh, see here, Allison!" remonstrated Jim Sargent
seriously. He even rose to his feet to make it more
emphatic. " You mustn t treat Market Square Church
with so much indignity."

"Why not? Market Square Church puts itself in
a position to be considered in the light of any other
grasping organisation."

The Reverend Smith Boyd, finding in himself the
growth of a most uncloth-like anger, decided to walk
away rather than suffer the aggravation which must en
sue in this conversation. Consequently, he started
down the hill, dragging Jim Sargent s sled behind him
for company. There were no further insults to the
church, however.

" Jim, what are the relations of the Towando Val
ley to the L. and C. ? " asked Allison, offering Sargent
a cigar.


" Largely paternal," and the president of the To-
wando Valley grinned. " We feed it when it s good,
and spank it when it cries."

" Hold control of the stock? "

" No, only its transportation," returned Sargent

" Stock is a good deal scattered, I suppose."

" Small holdings entirely, and none of the holders
proud," replied Sargent. " It starts no place and
comes right back, and the share-holders won t pay post
age to send in their annual proxies."

" Then the stock doesn t seem to be worth buy
ing," observed Allison, with vast apparent indiffer

" Only to piece out a collection," chuckled Sargent.
" I didn t know you were interested in railroads."

" I wasn t a week ago," and Allison looked out across
the starry sky to the tree-scalloped hills. " With the
completion of the consolidation of New York s trans
portation system, and the building of a big central sta
tion, I thought I was through. It seemed a big achieve

Online LibraryGeorge Randolph ChesterThe ball of fire → online text (page 3 of 24)