George Randolph Chester.

The ball of fire online

. (page 4 of 24)
Online LibraryGeorge Randolph ChesterThe ball of fire → online text (page 4 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

ment to gather all these lines to a common centre, like
holding them in my hand; to converge four millions of
people at one point, to handle them without confusion,
and to re-distribute them along the same lines, looked
like a life s work ; but now I m beginning to become am

" Oh, I see," grinned Jim Sargent. " You want to
do something you can really call a job. If I remember
rightly, you started with an equipment of four horse
cars and two miles of rusted rail. What do you want
to conquer next ? "

Allison glanced down the hill, then back out across
the starlit sky. Some new fervor had possessed him


to-night which made him a poet, and loosened the tongue
which, previous to this, could almost calculate its utter
ances in percentage.
" The world," he said.



EDWARD E. ALLISON walked into the offices of
the Municipal Transportation Company at nine
o clock, and set his basket of opened and carefully
annotated letters out of the mathematical centre of his
desk; then he touched a button, and a thin young man,
whose brow, at twenty, wore the traces of preternatural
age, walked briskly in.

"Has Mr. Greggory arrived?"

The intensely earnest young man glanced at the

" Yes, sir," he replied.

" Take him these letters, and ask him if he will be
kind enough to step here."

" Yes, sir," and the concentrated young man de
parted with the basket, feeling that he had quite ca
pably borne his weight of responsibility.

Allison, looking particularly fresh and buoyant this
morning, utilised his waiting time to the last fraction
of a second. He put in a telephone call, and took from
the drawer of his desk a packet of neatly docketed pa
pers, an index memorandum book, a portfolio of
sketches, and three cigars, the latter of which he put in
his cigar case ; then, his desk being empty, except for a
clean memorandum pad and pencil, he closed it and
locked it. The telephone girl reported his number on



the wire, and, the number proving to be that of a florist,
he ordered some violets sent to Gail Sargent.

Gregory walked in, a fat man with no trace of non
sense about him.

"Out for the day, Ed? " he surmised, gauging that
probability by the gift of the letters.

" A month or so," amended Allison, rising, and sur
veying the three articles on his desk calculatingly.
" I m going to take a vacation."

" It s about time," agreed his efficient general man
ager. " I think it s been four years since you stopped
to take a breath. Going to play a little? "

" That s the word," and Allison chuckled like a boy.
" Take care of these things," and tossing him the
packet of papers and the memorandum book, he took
the portfolio of sketches under his arm.

" I suppose we ll have your address," suggested

" No."

Greggory pondered frowningly. He began to see a
weight piling up on him, and, though he was capable,
he loved his flesh.

"About that Shell Beach extension?" he inquired.
" There s likely to be trouble with the village of Wave-
view. Their local franchises

" Settle it yourself," directed Allison carelessly, and
Greggory stared. During the long and arduous course
of Allison s climb, he had built his success on personal
attention to detail. " Good-bye," and Allison walked
out, lighting a cigar on his way to the door.

He stopped his runabout in front of a stationer s,
and bought the largest globe they had in stock.

" Address, please? " asked the clerk, pencil poised
over delivery slip.


" I ll take it with me," and Allison helped them se
cure the clumsy thing in the seat beside him. Then he
streaked up the Avenue to the small and severely fur
nished house where four ebony servants protected him
from the world.

" Out of town except to this list," he directed his
kinky-haired old butler, and going into the heavy oak
library, he closed the door. On the wall, depending
from the roller case, was a huge map of the boroughs
of New York, which had hung there since he had first
begun to group transportation systems together. It
was streaked and smudged with the marks, of various
coloured pencils, some faded and some fresh, and around
one rectangle, lettered Vedder Court, was a heavy green
mark. He picked up a pencil from the stand, but laid
it down again with a smile. There was no need for that
new red line ; nor need, either, any longer, for the
map itself; and he snapped it up into its case,
on roller-springs stiff with disuse. In its place he
drew down another one, a broad familiar domain
between two oceans, and he smiled as his eye fell
upon that tiny territory near the Atlantic, which,
up to now, he had called a world, because he had mas
tered it.

His library phone rang.

"Mr. Allison?" a woman s voice. Gail Sargent,
Mrs. Sargent, Mrs. Davies, or Lucile Teasdale. No
other ladies were on his list. The voice was not that
of Gail. "Are you busy to-night?" Oh, yes, Lucile

" Free as air," he gaily told her.

"I m so glad," rattled Lucile. "Ted s just tele
phoned that he has tickets for The Lady s Maid. Can
you join us? "


" With pleasure." No hesitation whatever ; prompt
and agreeable ; even pleased.

" That s jolly. I think six makes such a nice crowd.
Besides you and ourselves, there ll be Arly and Dick
Rodley and Gail." Gail, of course. He had known
that. " We ll start from Uncle Jim s at eight o clock."

Allison called old Ephraim.

" I want to begin dressing at seven-fi-fteen," he di
rected. " At three o clock set some sandwiches inside
the door. Have some fruit in my dressing-room."

He went back to his map, remembering Lucile with
a retrospective smile. The last time he had seen that
vivacious young person she had been emptying a box
of almonds, at the side of the camp fire at the toboggan
party. He jotted down a memorandum to send her
some, and drew a high stool in front of the map.

Strange this new ambition which had come to him.
Why, he had actually been about to consider his big
work finished ; and now, all at once, everything he had
done seemed trivial. The eager desire of youth to
achieve had come to him again, and the blood sang in
his veins as he felt of his lusty strength. He was start
ing to build, with a youth s enthusiasm but with a man s
experience, and with the momentum of success and the
power of capital. Something had crystallised him in
the past few days.

Across the fertile fields and the mighty mountains
and the arid deserts of the United States, there angled
four black threads, from coast to coast, and everywhere
else were shorter main lines and shorter branches, and,
last of all, mere fragments of railroads. He began
with the long, angling threads, but he ended with the
fragments, and these, in turns, he gave minute and care
ful study. At three o clock he took a sandwich and

i , 7*5*1

At 7:15 Ephraim found him at the end of the table in the midst
of some neat and intricate tabulations


ordered his car. He was gone less than an hour, and
came back with an armload of books ; government re
ports, volumes of statistics, and a file of more intimate
information from the office of his broker. He threw
off his coat when he came in this time, and spread, on
the big, lion-clawed table at which Napoleon had once
planned a campaign, a vari-coloured mass of railroad
maps. At seven-fifteen old Ephraim found him at the
end of the table in the midst of some neat and intricate

" Time to dress, sir," suggested Ephraim.

Allison pushed to the floor the railroad map upon
which he had been working, and pulled another one to
wards him. Ephraim waited one minute.

" I ve run your tub, sir."

Allison leafed rapidly through the pages of an al
ready hard-used book, to the section concerning the
Indianapolis and St. Joe Railroad. Ephraim looked
around calculatingly, and selected an old atlas from
the top of the case near the door. He held it aloft an
instant, and let it fall with a slam.

" Oh, it s you," remarked the absorbed Allison,
glancing up.

" Yes, sir," returned Ephraim. " You told me to
come for you at seven-fifteen."

Allison arose, and rubbed the tips of his fingers over
his eyes.

" Keep this room locked," he ordered, and stalked
obediently upstairs. For the next thirty minutes he
belonged to Ephraim.

He was as carefree as a boy when he reached Jim
Sargent s house, and his eyes snapped when he saw Gail
come down the stairs, in a pearl tinted gown, with a
triple string of pearls in her waving hair, and a rose-


coloured cloak depending from her gracefully sloping

Her own eyes brightened at the sight of him. He
had been much in her mind to-day; not singly but as
one of a group. She was quite conscious that she liked
him, but she was more conscious that she was curious
about him. She was curious about most men, she sud
denly found, comparing them, sorting them, weighing
them ; and Allison was one of the most perplexing speci
mens. A little heavy in his evening clothes, but not
awkward, and not without dignity of bearing. He
stepped forward to shake hands with her, and, for a mo
ment, she found in her an inclination to cling to the
warm thrill of his clasp. She had never before been so
aware of anything like that. Nevertheless, when she
had withdrawn her hand, she felt a sense of relief.

" Hello, Allison," called the hearty voice of Jim
Sargent. " You re looking like a youngster to-night."

" I feel like one," replied Allison, smiling. " I m on
a vacation." He was either vain enough or curious
enough to glance at himself in the big mirror as he
passed it. He did look younger; astonishingly so; and
he had about him a quality of lightness which made
him restless. He had been noted among his business
associates for a certain dry wit, scathing, satirical, re
lentless; now he used that quality agreeably, and when
Lucile and Ted, and Arly and Dick Rodley joined them,
he was quite easily a sharer in the gaiety. At the
theatre he was the same. He participated in all the
repartee during the intermissions, and the fact that he
found Gail studying him, now and then, only gave him
an added impulse. He was frank with himself about
Gail. He wanted her, and he had made up his mind to
have her. He was himself a little surprised at his own


capacity of entertainment, and when he parted from
Gail at the Sargent house, he left her smiling, and with
a softer look in her eyes than he had yet seen there.

Immediately on his return to his library, Allison
threw off his coat and waistcoai, collar and tie, and sat
at the table.

" What is there in the ice box ? " he wanted to

" Well, sir," enumerated Ephraim carefully ; " Mi-
randy had a chicken pot-pie for dinner, and then
there s "

"That will do; cold," interrupted Allison. "Bring
it here with as few service things as possible, a bottle of
Vichy and some olives."

He began to set down some figures, and when
Ephraim came, shaking his head to himself about such
things as cold dumplings at night, Allison stopped for
ten minutes, and lunched with apparent relish. At
seven-thirty he called Ephraim and ordered a cold
plunge and some breakfast. He had been up all night,
and on the map of the United States there were pencilled
two thin straight black lines ; one from New York to
Chicago, and one from Chicago to San Francisco.
Crossing them, and paralleling them, and angling in
their general direction, but quite close to them in the
main, were lines of blue and lines of green and lines of
orange ; these three.

Another day and another night he spent with his
maps, and his books, and his figures ; then he went to
his broker with a list of railroads.

" Get me what stock you can of these," he directed.
" Pick it up as quietly as possible."

The broker looked them over and elevated his eye
brows. There was not a road in the list which was


important strategically, but he had ceased to ask ques
tions of Edward Allison.

Three days later, Allison went into the annual stock
holders meeting of the L. and C. Railroad, and reg
istered majority of the stock in that insignificant line,
which ran up the shore opposite Crescent Island, joined
the Towando Valley shortly after its emergence from
its hired entrance into New York, ran for fifty miles
over the roadway of the Towando, with which it had
a long-time tracking contract, and wandered up into
the country, where it served as an outlet to certain
conservatively profitable territory.

The secretary of the L. and C., a man of thick spec
tacles and a hundred wrinkles, looked up with fear in
his eyes as his cramped old fingers clutched his pen.

" I suppose you ll be making some important
changes, Mr. Allison," he quavered.

" Not in the active officers," returned Allison with
a smile, and the president, who wore flowing side-whis
kers, came over to shake hands with him. " How soon
can you call the meeting? "

" Almost immediately," replied the president. " I
suppose there ll be a change in policies."

" Not at all," Allison reassured him, and walked into
the board room, where less than a dozen stockholders,
as old and decrepit as the road itself, had congregated.

The president, following him, invited him to a seat
next his own chair, and laid before him a little slip of

" This is the official slate which had been prepared,"
he explained, with a smile which it took some bravery
to produce.

" It s perfectly satisfactory," pronounced Allison,
glancing at it courteously, and the elderly stockhold-


ers, knotted in little anxious groups, took a certain
amount of reassurance from the change of expression
on the president s face.

The president reached for his gavel and called the
meeting. The stockholders, grey and grave, and some
with watery eyes, drew up their chairs to the long table ;
for they were directors, too. They answered to their
names, and they listened to the minutes, and waded
mechanically through the routine business, always with
their gaze straying to the new force which had come
among them. Every man there knew all about Ed
ward E. Allison. He had combined the traction inter
ests of New York by methods as logical and unsympa
thetic as geometry, and where he appeared, no matter
how pacific his avowed intentio-ns, there were certain to
be radical upheavings.

Election of officers was reached in the routine, and
again that solemn inquiry in the faded eyes. The " of
ficial slate " was proposed in nomination. Edward E.
Allison voted with the rest. Every director was re-
elected !

New business. Again the solemn inquiry.

" Move to amend Article Three Section One of the
constitution, relating to duration of office," announced
Allison, passing the written motion to the secretary.
" On a call from the majority of stock, the stockhold
ers of the L. and C. Railroad have a right to demand
a special meeting, on one week s notice, for the purpose
of re-organisation and re-election."

They knew it. It had to come. However, three men
on the board had long held the opinion that any change
was for the better, and one of these, a thin, old man
with a nose so blue that it looked as if it had been dyed
to match his necktie, immediately seconded,


Edward E. Allison waited just long enough to vote
his majority stock, and left the meeting in a hurry, for
he had an engagement to take tea with Gail Sargent.

He allowed himself four hours for sleep that night,
and the next afternoon headed for Denver. On the way
he studied maps again, but the one to which he paid
most attention was a new one drawn by himself, on
which the various ranges of the Rocky Mountains were
represented by scrawled, lead-pencilled spirals. Right
where his thin line crossed these spirals at a converg
ing point, was Yando Chasm, a pass created by na
ture, which was the proud possession of the Inland
Pacific, now the most prosperous and direct of all the
Pacific systems ; and the Inland, with an insolent pride
in the natural fortune which had been found for it
by the cleverest of all engineers, guarded its precious
right of way as no jewel was ever protected. Just
east of Yando Chasm there crossed a little " one-horse "
railroad, which, starting at the important city of Sil-
vcrknob, served some good mining towns below the In
land s line, and on the north side curved up and around
through the mountains, rambling wherever there was
freight or passengers to be carried, and ending on the
other side of the range at Nugget City, only twenty
miles north of the Inland s main line, and a hundred
miles west, into the fair country which sloped down to
the Pacific. This road, which had its headquarters in
Denver, was called the Silverknob and Nugget City ;
and into its meeting walked Allison, with control.

His course here was different from that in Jersey
City. He ousted every director on the board, and
elected men of his own. Immediately after, in the di
rectors meeting, he elected himself president, and,
kindly consenting to talk with the reporters of the


Denver newspapers, hurried back to Chicago, where he
drove directly to the head offices of the Inland Pacific.

" I ve just secured control of the Silverknob and
Nugget City," he informed the general manager of the

" So I noticed," returned Wilcox, who was a young
man of fifty and wore picturesque velvet hats. " The
papers here made quite a sensation of your going into

" They re welcome," grinned Allison. " Say Wil
cox, if you ll build a branch from Pines to Nugget City,
we ll give you our Nugget City freight where we cross,
at Copperville, east of the range."

Wilcox headed for his map.

"What s the distance?" he inquired.

" Twenty-two miles ; fairly level grade, and one

" Couldn t think of it," decided Wilcox, looking at
the map. " We d like to have your freight, for there s
a lot of traffic between Silverknob and Nugget City,
but it s not our territory. The smelters are at Silver-
knob, and they ship east over the White Range Line.
Anyway, why do you want to take away the haulage
from your northern branch?"

" Figure on discontinuing it. The grades are steep,
the local traffic is light, and the roadbed is in a rotten
condition. It needs rebuilding throughout. I ll make
you another proposition. I ll build the line from Pines
to Nugget City myself, if you ll give us track connec
tion at Copperville and at Pines, and will give us a
traffic contract for our own rolling stock on a reason
able basis."

Again Wilcox looked at the map. The Silverknob
and Nugget City road began nowhere and ran nowhere,


so far as the larger transportation world was con
cerned, and it could never figure as a competitor. The
hundred miles through the precious natural pass known
as Yando Chasm, was not so busy a stretch of road
as it was important, and the revenue from the passage
of the Silverknob and Nugget City s trains would de
duct considerably from the expense of maintaining that
much-prized key to the golden west.

" I ll take it up with Priestly and Gorman," prom
ised Wilcox.

" How soon can you let me know? "

" Monday."

That afternoon saw Allison headed back for New
York, and the next morning he popped into the offices
of the Pacific Slope and Puget Sound, where he se
cured a rental privilege to run the trains of the Orange
Valley Road into San Francisco, and down to Los An
geles, over the tracks of. the P. S. and P. S. The
Orange Valley was a little, blind pocket of a road, which
made a juncture with the P. S. and P. S. just a short
haul above San Francisco, and it ran up into a rich
fruit country, but its terminus was far, far away from
any possible connection with a northwestern competi
tor; and that bargain was easy.

That night, Allison, glowing with an exultation which
erased his fatigue, dressed to call on Gail Sargent.



MUSIC resounded in the parlours of Jim Sargent s
house; music so sweet and compelling in its har
mony that Aunt Grace slipped to the head of the stairs,
to listen in mingled ecstasy and pride. Up through
the hallway floated a clear, mellow soprano and a rich,
deep baritone, blended so perfectly that they seemed
twin tones. Aunt Grace, drawn by a fascination she
could not resist, crept down to where she could see the
source of the melody. Gail, exceptionally pretty to
night in her simple little dove-coloured gown with its
one pink rose, sat at the piano, while towering above
her, with his chest expanded and a look- of perfect peace
on his face, stood the Reverend Smith Boyd.

Enraptured, Aunt Grace stood and listened until
the close of the ballad. Leafing through her music
for the next treat, Gail looked up at the young rector,
and made some smiling remark. Her shining brown
hair, waving about her forehead, was caught up in a
simple knot at the back, and the delicate colour of her
cheeks was like the fresh glow of dawn. The Rever
end Smith Boyd bent slightly to answer, and he, too,
smiled as he spoke; but as he happened to find him
self gazing deep into the brown eyes of Gail, the smile
began to fade, and Aunt Grace Sargent, scared, ran
back up the stairs and into her own room, where she



took a book, and held it in her lap, upside down. The
remark which Gail had made was this :

" You should have used your voice professionally."

The reply of the rector was :

" I do."

" I didn t mean oratorically," she laughed, then re
turned nervously to her search for the next selection.
She had seen that change in his smile. " It is so rare
to find a perfect speaking voice coupled with a perfect
singing voice," she rattled on. " Here s that simple
little May Song. Just harmony, that s all."

Once more their voices rose in that perfect blending
which is the most delicate of all exhilarations. In the
melody itself there was an appealing sympathy, and,
in that moment, these two were in as perfect accord as
their voices. There is something in the music of the
human tone which exerts a magnetic attraction like
no other in the world ; which breaks down the barriers
of antagonism, which sweeps away the walls of self en
trenchment, which attracts and draws, which explains
and does away with explanation. This was the first
hour they had spent without a clash, and the Rev
erend Smith Boyd, his eyes quite blue to-night, brought
another stack of music from the rack.

The butler, an aggravating image with only one
joint in his body, paraded solemnly through the hall,
and back again with the card tray, while Gail and the
rector sang " Juanita " from an old college song book,
which the Reverend Boyd had discovered in high glee.
Aunt Grace came down the stairs and out past the
doors of the music salon. There were voices of ani
mated greeting in the hall, and Aunty returned to the
door just as the rector was spreading open the book
at " Sweet and Low."


" Pardon me," beamed Aunty. " There s a little
surprise out here for you."

" For me? " and Gail rose, with a smile and a pretty
little nod of apology.

She moved with swiftly quiet grace into the hall.
There was a little half shrieking exclamation. The rec
tor, setting a chair smilingly for Mrs. Sargent, hap
pened, quite unwittingly, to come in range of the hall
mirror at the moment of the half shriek, and he saw
an impulsive young man grab Gail Sargent in his arms,
and kiss her!

" Howard ! " protested Gail, in the midst of embar
rassed laughter; and presently she came in, rosy-
cheeked, with the impulsive young man, whose hair was
inclined to thinness in front. He was rather good
looking, on second inspection, with a sharp eye and a
brisk manner and a healthy complexion.

" Mr. Clemmens, Doctor Boyd," introduced Gail, and
there was the ring of genuine pleasure in her voice.
" Mr. Clemmens is one of my very best friends from
back home," and she viewed this one of her very best
friends with pride as he shook hands with the Rever
end Smith Boyd. He was easy of manner, was Mr.
Clemmens, even confident, though he had scarcely the
ease which does not need self assertion.

" I am delighted to meet any friend of Miss Sar
gent," admitted the rector, in that flowing, mellow bari
tone which no one heard for the first time without sur

" Allow me to say the same," returned the young

Online LibraryGeorge Randolph ChesterThe ball of fire → online text (page 4 of 24)