George Randolph Chester.

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" If you were an ordinary girl, I would urge you, to
night, to make a selection among the exceptionally ex
cellent matrimonial material of which you have a choice,
but, with your extraordinary talents and beauty, my
advice is just to the contrary. You should delay until
you have had a wider opportunity for judgment. You
have not as yet shown any marked preference, I

Gail s quite unreasoning impulse was to giggle, but
she clothed her voice demurely.

" No, Aunt Helen."

" You are remarkably wise," complimented Aunt
Helen, a bit of appreciation which quite checked Gail s
impulse to giggle. " In the meantime, it is just as well
to study your opportunities. Of course there s Dick
Rodley, whom no one considers seriously, and Willis
Cunningham, whose one and only drawback is such ques
tionable health that he might persistently interfere with
your social activities. Houston Van Ploon, I am frank
to say, is the most eligible of all, and to have attracted
his attention is a distinct triumph. Mr. Allison, while
rather advanced in years "


" Please ! " cried Gail. " You d think I was a horse."

" I know just how you feel," stated Aunt Helen, en
tirely unruffled ; " but you have your future to consider,
and I wish to invite your confidence," and in her voice
there was the quaver of much concern.

" Thank you, Aunt Helen," said Gail, realising the
sincerity of the older woman s intentions, and, putting
her arms around Mrs. Davies neck, she kissed her. " It
is dear of you to take so much interest."

" I think it s pride," confessed Mrs. Davies, nai vely.
" I won t keep you up a minute longer, Gail. Go to
bed, and get all the sleep you can. Only sleep will
keep those roses in your cheeks. Good-night," and
with a parting caress, she went to her own room, with
a sense of a duty well performed.

Gail smiled retrospectively, and tried the blue light
under the canopy lamp, but turned it out immediately.
The green gave a much better effect of moonlight on
the floor.

She called herself back out of the mists of her previ
ous distress. Who was this Gail, and what was she?
There had come a new need in her, a new awakening.
Something seemed to have changed in her, to have crys
tallised. Whatever this crystallisation was, it had
made her know that she could not marry Howard Clem-
mens. It had made her know, too, that marriage was
not to be looked upon as a mere inevitable social epi
sode. Her thoughts flew back to Aunt Helen. Her
eyelashes brushed her cheeks, and the little smile of sar
casm twitched the corners of her lips.

Aunt Helen s list of eligibles. Gail reviewed them
now deliberately ; not with the thought of the social
advantages they might offer her, but as men. She re
viewed others whom she had met. For the first time


in her life, she was frankly and self-consciously inter
ested in men ; curious about them. She had reached her
third stage of development; the fairy prince age, the
" I suppose I shall have to be married one day " age,
and now the age of conscious awakening. She won
dered, in some perplexity, as to what had brought about
her nasence ; rather, and she knitted her pretty brows,
who had brought it about.

The library clock chimed the hour, and startled her
out of her reverie. She turned on the lights, and sat
in front of her mirror to give her hair one of those extra
brushings for which it was so grateful, and which it
repaid with so much beauty. She paused deliberately
to study herself in the glass. Why, this was a new
Gail, a more potent Gail. What was it Allison had said
about her potentialities? Allison. Strong, forceful,
aggressive Allison. He was potence itself. A thrill
of his handclasp clung with her yet, and a slight flush
crept into her cheeks.

Aunt Grace had worried about Jim s little cold, and
the distant mouse she thought she heard, and the sil
ver chest, and Lucile s dangerous looking new horse,
until all these topics had failed, when she detected the
unmistakable click of a switchbutton near by. It must
be in Gail s suite. Hadn t the child retired yet? She
lay quite still pondering that mighty question for ten
minutes, and then, unable to rest any longer, she slipped
out of bed and across the hall. There was no light
coming from under the doors of either the boudoir
or the bedroom, so Aunt Grace peeped into the latter
apartment, then she tiptoed softly away. Gail, in her
cascade of pink flufferies, was at the north window,
kneeling, with her earnest face upturned to one bright
pale star.



THE map of the United States in Edward E. Alli
son s library began, now, to develop little streaks
of red. They were not particularly long streaks, but
they were boldly marked, and they hugged, with ex
traordinary closeness, the pencil mark which Allison had
drawn from New York to Chicago and from Chicago
to San Francisco. There were long gaps between
them, but these did not seem to worry him very much.
It was the little stretches, sometimes scarcely over an
inch, which he drew with such evident pleasure from
day to day, and now, occasionally, as he passed in and
out, he stopped by the big globe and gave it a con
templative whirl. On the day he joined his far west-
tern group of little marks by bridging three small gaps,
he received a caller in the person of a short, well-
dressed, old man, who walked with a cane and looked
half asleep, by reason of the many puffs which had piled
up under his eyes and nearly closed them.

" I m ready to wind up, Tim," remarked Allison, of
fering his caller a cigar, and lighting one himself.
" When can we have that Vedder Court property con
demned? "

" Whenever you give the word," reported Tim Cor-
man, who spoke with an asthmatic voice, and with the
quiet dignity of a man who had borne grave business
responsibilities, and had borne them well.



Allison nodded his head in satisfaction.

" You re sure there can t be any hitch in it."

" Not if I say it s all right," and the words were
Tim s only reproof. His tone was perfectly level, and
there was no glint in his eyes. Offended dignity had
nothing to do with business. " Give me one week s no
tice, and the Vedder Court property will be condemned
for the city terminal of the Municipal Transportation
Company. Appraisement, thirty-one million."

" I only wanted to be reassured," apologised Allison.
" I took your word that you could swing it when I made
my own gamble, but now I have to drag other people
into it."

" That s right," agreed Tim. " I never get of
fended over straight business." In other times Tim
Gorman would have said " get sore," but, as he neared
the end of his years of useful activity, he was making
quite a specialty of refinement, and stocking a picture
gallery, and becoming a connoisseur collector of rare
old jewels. He dressed three times a day.

"How about the Crescent Island subway?"

" Ripe any time," and Tim Corman flecked the ashes
from his cigar with a heavily gemmed hand. " The
boosters have been working on it right along, but never
too strong."

" There s no need for any particular manipulation
in that," decided Allison, who knew the traction situa
tion to the last nickel. " The city needs that outlet,
and it needs the new territory which will be opened up.
I think we d better push the subway right on across
to the mainland. The extension would have to be made
in ten years anyhow."

" It s better right now," immediately assented Cor
man. In ten years he might be dead.


" I think, too, that we d better provide for a heavy
future expansion," went on Allison, glancing expec
tantly into Tim s old eyes. " We d probably better
provide for a double deck, eight track tube."

Tim Gorman drew a wheezy breath, and then he
grinned the senile shadow of his old-time grin ; but it
still had the same spirit.

" You got a hen on," he deduced. In " society,"
Tim could manage very nicely to use fashionable
language, but, in business, he found it impossible
after the third or fourth minute of conversation.
He had taken in every detail of the room on his en
trance, and his glance had strayed more than once to
the red streaks on the big map. Now he approached
it, and studied it with absorbed interest. " You re a
smart boy, Ed," he concluded. " Across Crescent Is
land is the only leak where you could snake in a rail
road. You found the only crack that the big systems
haven t tied up."

" All you can get me to admit, just now, is that the
city needs an eight-track tube across Crescent Island,
under lease to the Municipal Transportation Com
pany," stated Allison, smiling with gratification. A
compliment of this sort from shrewd old Tim Corman,
who was reputed to be the foxiest man in the world, was
a tribute highly flattering.

" That s right," approved Tim. " All I know is a
guess, and I don t tell guesses. This is a big job,
though, Eddie. A subway to Crescent Island, under
proper restrictions, is just an ordinary year s work for
the boys, but this tube pokes its nose into Oakland Bay."

" I m quite aware of the size of the job," chuckled Al
lison. " However, Tim, there ll be money enough be
hind this proposition to fill that tube with greenbacks."


Between the narrow-slitted and puffy eyelids of
Tim Gorman there gleamed a trace of the old-time

" Then it s built." He rose and leaned on his cane,
twinkling down on the man who, years before, he had
picked as a " comer." " I ve heard people say that
money s wicked, but they never had any. When I die,
and go down to the big ferry, if the Old Boy comes
along and offers me enough money, I ll go to Hell."

Still laughing, Allison telephoned to the offices of the
Midcontinent Railroad, and dashed out to his runabout
just in time to see Tim Gorman driving around the cor
ner in his liveried landau. He found in President Ur-
bank, of the Midcontinent, a spare man who had worn
three vertical creases in his brow over one thwarted am
bition. His rich but sprawling railroad system ran
fairly straight after it was well started for Chicago,
and fairly straight from that way-point until it became
drunken with the monotony of the western foot-hills,
where it gangled and angled its way to the far south
and around up the Pacific coast, arriving there dusty
and rattling, after a thousand mile detour from its
course but that road had no direct entrance into
New York city. It approached from the north, and was
compelled to circle completely around, over hired tracks,
to gain a ferryboat entrance. Passengers inured to
coming in over the Midcontinent, which was a well-
equipped road otherwise, counted but half their journey
done when they came in sight of New York, no matter
from what distance they had come.

"Out marketing for railroads to-day, Gil?" sug
gested Allison.

" I don t know," smiled Urbank. " I might look at
a few."


" Here they are," and Allison tossed him a mem
orandum slip.

Urbank glanced at the slip, then he looked up at Al
lison in perplexity. He had a funny forward angle to
his neck when he was interested, and the creases
in his brow were deepened until they looked like cuts.

" I thought you were joking, and I m still charitable
enough to think so. What s all this junk? "

" Little remnants and job lots of railroads I ve been
picking up," and Allison drew forward his chair.
" Some I bought outright, and in some I hold con

" If you re serious about interesting the Midconti-
nent in any of this property, we don t need to waste
much time." Urbank leaned back and held his knee.
" There are only two of these roads approach the Mid-
continent system at any point, and they are useless
property so far as we are concerned ; the L. and C., in
the east, and the Silverknob and Nugget City, in the
west, which touches our White Range branch at its
southern terminus. We couldn t do anything with

" You landed on the best ones right away," smiled
Allison. " However, I don t propose to sell these to
the Midcontinent. I propose to absorb the Midconti-
nent with them."

Urbank suddenly remembered Allison s traction his
tory, and leaned forward to look at the job lots and
remnants again.

" This list isn t complete," he judged, and turned to
Allison with a serious question in his eye.

" Almost," and Allison hitched a little closer to the
desk. " There remains an aggregate of three hundred
and twenty miles of road to 1 be built in four short


stretches. In addition to this, I have a twenty year
contract over a hundred mile stretch of the Inland
Pacific, a track right entry into San Francisco, and
this," and he displayed to Urbank a preliminary copy
of an ordinance, authorising the immediate building of
an eight track tube through Crescent Island to the
mainland. " Possibly you can understand this whole
project better if I show you a map," and he spread out
his little pocket sketch.

If it had been possible to reverse the processes of
time and worry and wearing concentration, President
Urbank, of the Midcontinent, would have raised from
his inspection of that map with a brow as smooth as a
baby s. Instead, his lips went dry, as he craned for
ward his neck at that funny angle, and projected his
chin with the foolish motion of a goose.

" A direct entrance right slam into the centre of
New York ! " he exclaimed, cracking all his knuckles
violently one by one. " Vedder Court ! Where s

"That s the best part of the joke," exulted Allison,
with no thought that Vedder Court was, at this pres
ent moment, church property. " It s just where you
said ; right slam in the centre of New York ; and the
building into which the Midcontinent will run its trains
will be also the terminal building of every municipal
transportation line in Manhattan ! From my station
platforms, passengers from Chicago or the Far West
will step directly into subway, L., or trolley. When
they come in over the line which is now the Midconti
nent, they will be landed, not across the river, or in
some side street, but right at their own doors, scattering
from the Midcontinent terminal over a hundred trac
tion lines ! " His voice, which had begun in the mild


banter of a man passing an idle joke, had risen to a
ring so triumphant that he was almost shouting.

" But but wait a minute ! " Urbank protested.
He was stuttering. " Where does the Midcontinent
get to the Crescent Island tube? "

" Right here," and Allison pointed to his map. " You
come out of the tube to the L. and C., which has a long
time tracking privilege over fifty miles of the Towando
Valley, and terminates at Windfield. At Forgeson,
however, just ten miles after the L. and L. leaves the
Towando, that road

" Is crossed by our tracks ! " Urbank eagerly inter
preted. " The Midcontinent, after its direct exit, saves
a seventy mile detour! Then it s a straight shoot for
Chicago ! Straight on again out west Why, Alli
son, your route is almost as straight as an arrow! It
will have a three hundred mile shorter haul than even
the Inland Pacific ! You ll put that road out of the
business ! You ll have the king of transcontinental
lines, and none can ever be built that will save one
kink ! " His neck protruded still further from his col
lar as he bent over the map. " Here you split off from
the Midcontinent s main line and utilise the White
Range branch ; from Silverknob My God ! " and
his mouth dropped open. " Why why why, you
cross the big range over the Inland Pacific s own
tracks! " and his voice cracked.

Edward E. Allison, his vanity gratified to its very
core, sat back comfortably, smiling and smoking, until
Urbank awoke.

" I suppose we can come to some arrangement," he
mildly suggested.

Urbank looked at him still in a daze for a moment,


and a trace of the creases came back into his brow,
then they faded away.

" You figured all this out before you came to me,"
he remarked. " On what terms do we get in? "



VEDDER COURT was a very drunkard among ten
ement groups. Its decrepit old wooden build
ings, as if weak-kneed from dissipation and senile
decay, leaned against each other crookedly for sup
port, and leered down, at the sodden swarms beneath,
out of broken-paned windows which gave somehow a
ludicrous effect of bleared eyes. A heartless civic im
pulse had once burdened them with fire escapes, and
these, though they were comparatively new, had al
ready partaken of the general decay, and looked, with
their motley cluttering of old bedding, and nondescript
garments hung out to dry, and various utensils of the
kitchen and laundry, and various unclassified junk, as
if they were a sort of foul, fungoid growth which had
taken root from the unspeakable uncleanliness within.
There had once been a narrow strip of curbed soil in the
centre of the street, where three long-since departed
trees had given the quarter its name of " Court," but
this space was now as bare and dry as the asphalt sur
rounding it, and, as it was too small even for the pur
pose of children at play, a wooden bench, upon which
no one ever sat, as indeed why should they, had long
ago been placed on it, to become loose-jointed and
weather-splintered and rotted, like all the rest of the


As for its tenants ; they were exactly the sort of birds
one might expect to find in such foul nests. They were
of many nations, but of just two main varieties; stupid
and squalid, or thin and furtive ; but they were all
dirty, and they bore, in their complexions, the poison
of crowded breathing spaces, and bad sewerage, and
unwholesome or insufficient food.

Into this mire, on a day when melting snow had
fallen and made all underfoot a black, shining, oily,
sticky canal, there drove an utterly out-of-place little
electric coupe, set low, and its glistening plate glass
windows hung with absurd little lace curtains held back
by pink ribbon bows. At the wheel was the fresh-
cheeked Gail Sargent, in a driving suit and hat and
veil of brown, and with her was the twinkling-eyed Ru-
fus Manning, whose white beard rippled down to his
second waistcoat button. They drove slowly the
length of the court and back again, the girl studying
every detail with acute interest. They stopped in
front of Temple Mission, which, with its ugly red and
blue lettering nearly erased by years of monthly
scrubbings, occupied an old store room once used as a

" So this is the chrysalis from which the butterfly
cathedral is to emerge," commented Gail, as Manning
held the door open for her, and before she rose she
peered again around the uninviting " court," which not
even the bright winter sunshine could relieve of its
dinginess ; rather, the sun made it only the more dis
mal by presenting the ugliness more in detail.

" This is the mine which produces the gold which is
to gild the altar," assented Manning, studying the side
walk. " I don t think you d better come in here.
You ll spoil your shoes."


" I want to see it all this time because I m never
coming back," insisted Gail, and placed one daintily
shod foot on the step.

"Then I ll have to shame Sir Walter Raleigh,"
laughed the silvery-bearded Manning, and, to her
gasping surprise, he caught her around the waist and
lifted her across to the door, whereat several soiled
urchins laughed, and one vinegary-faced old woman
grinned, in horrible appreciation, and dropped Man
ning a familiarly respectful courtesy.

There was no one in the mission except a broad-
shouldered man with a roughly hewn face, who ducked
his head at Manning and touched his forefinger to the
side of his head. He was placing huge soup kettles
in their holes in the counter at the rear of the room,
and Manning called attention to this.

" A practical mission," he explained. " We start in
by saving the bodies."

" Do you get any further? " inquired Gail, glancing
from the empty benches and the atrociously coloured
" religious " pictures on the walls to the windows, past
which eddied a mass of humanity all but submerged in

" Sometimes," replied Manning gravely. " I have
seen a soul or two even here. It is because of these
two or three possibilities that the mission is kept up.
It might interest you to know that Market Square
Church spends fifteen thousand dollars a year in char
ity relief in Vedder Court alone."

Gail s eyelids closed, her lashes curved on her cheeks
for an instant, and the corners of her lips twitched.

" And how much a year does Market Square Church
take out of Vedder Court? "

" I was waiting for that bit of impertinence,"


laughed Manning. " I shall be surprised at nothing
you say since that first day when you characterised
Market Square Church as a remarkably lucrative en
terprise. Have you never felt any compunctions of
conscience over that?"

" Not once," answered Gail promptly. She had
started to seat herself on one of the empty benches, but
had changed her mind. " If I had been given to any
such self injustice, however, I should reproach myself
now. I think Market Square Church not only com
mercial but criminal."

" I ll have to give your soul a chastisement," smiled
Manning. " These people must live somewhere, and
because Vedder Court, being church property, is ex
empt from taxation, they find cheaper rents here than
anywhere in the city. If we were to put up improved
buildings, I don t know where they would go, because
we would be compelled to charge more rent."

" In order to make the same rate of profit," re
sponded Gail. " Out of all this misery, Market Square
Church is reaping a harvest rich enough to build a
fifty million dollar cathedral, and I have sufficient dis
regard for the particular Deity under whom you do
business, to feel sure that he would not destroy it by
lightning. I want out of here."

" Frankly, so do I," admitted Manning ; " although
I m ashamed of myself. It s all right for you, who are
young, to be fastidious, but your Daddy Manning is
coward enough to want to make his peace with Heaven,
after a life which put a few blots on the book."

She looked at him speculatively for a moment, and
then she laughed.

" You know, I don t believe that, Daddy Manning.
You re an old fraud, who does good by stealth, in order


to gain the reputation of having been picturesquely
wicked. Tell me why you belong to Market Square

" Because it s so respectable," he twinkled down
at her. " When an old sinner has lost every other
claim to respectability, he has himself put on the ves-

He dropped behind on their way to the door, to sur
reptitiously slip something, which looked like money, to
the man with the roughly hewn countenance, and as he
stood talking, the Reverend Smith Boyd came in, not
quite breathlessly, but as if he had hurried.

" I knew you were here," he said, taking Gail s slen
der hand in his own; then his eyes turned cold.

" You recognised my pink ribbon bows," and she
laughed up at him frankly. " You haven t been over
to sing lately."

" No," he replied, seemingly blunt, because he could
not say he had been too busy.

" Why ? " this innocently round-eyed.

Even bluntness could not save him here.

"Will you be at home this evening?" he evaded,
still with restraint.

" I ll have our music selected," and, in the very midst
of her brightness, she was stopped by the sudden som-
breness in the rector s eyes.

"Eight o clock?"

" That will be quite agreeable."

Simple little conversation ; quite trivial indeed, but
it had been attended by much shifting thought. To
begin with, the rector regretted the necessity of disap
proving of a young lady so undeniably attractive. She
was a pleasure to the eye and a stimulus to the mind,
and always his first impulse when he thought of her


was one of pleasure, but in the very moment of taking
her hand, he saw again that picture of Gail, clasped in
the arms of the impulsive young man from home.
That picture had made it distasteful for him to call and
sing. He had not been too busy! Another incident
flashed back to him. The night of the toboggan party,
when she had stood with her face upturned, and the
moonlight gleaming on her round white throat. He
had trembled, much to his later sorrow, as he fastened
the scarf about her warm neck. However, she was the

Online LibraryGeorge Randolph ChesterThe ball of fire → online text (page 6 of 24)