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some looking, with his pink shaven face and his white
evening waistcoat, and his dark hair beginning to
sprinkle with grey at the temples. He was so sturdy
and so strong and so dependable looking, as he sat
earnestly talking with Babbitt. Allison said something,
and they both smiled ; then Babbitt said something and
they both threw back their heads and laughed, while
Allison, with one hand in his pocket, waved his other
hand over a memorandum pad which lay between them.
Gail hurried to the front door and rang the bell.

" Hello, Gail," greeted the cheery voice of Allison,
as she came in. " My dance next, isn t it? "

His voice was so good, so comforting, so reassuring.

" I think so," she replied, standing hesitantly in the
doorway, and thankful that the lights were canopied in
this room.

Allison drew the memorandum pad toward him, and
rose.




She was glad to be alone, to rescue herself from the whirl of anger and
indignation and humiliation which had swept around her



THE STORM CENTRE 109

" By the way, there s one thing I forgot to tell you,
Babbitt, and it s rather important." He hesitated and
glanced toward the door. " You ll excuse me just half
a minute, won t you, Gail? "

She had noticed that assumption of intimate under
standing in him before, and she had secretly admired it.
Now it was a comfort and a joy.

" Surely," she granted, and passed on in to the li
brary alcove, a sheltered nook where she was glad to be
alone, to rescue herself from the whirl of anger, and
indignation, and humiliation above all, humiliation !
which had swept around her. What had she done
to bring this despicable experience upon herself?
What evil thing had there been in her to summons forth
this ugly spectre? She had groped almost deliberately
for that other polarity which should complete her, but
this painful moment was not one of the things for which
she had sought. She could not know, but she had passed
one of the inevitable milestones. The very crystallisa
tion which had brightened and whetted her to a keen
zest in her natural destiny, had attracted this fellow,
inevitably. Her face was hot and cold by turns, and
she was almost on the point of crying, in spite of her
constantly reiterated self-admonishment that she must
control herself here, when Allison came to the door of
the alcove.

" All right, Gail," he said laconically.

She felt suddenly weary, but she rose and joined him.
When she slipped her hand in his arm, strong, and
warm, and pulsing, she was aware of a thrill from it,
but the thrill was just restfulness.

" You look a little tired," judged the practical Alli
son, as they strolled, side by side, into the hall, and he
patted the slender hand which lay on his arm.



no THE BALL OF FIRE

" Not very," she lightly replied, and unconsciously
she snuggled her hand more comfortably into its rest
ing place. A little sigh escaped her lips, deep-drawn
and fluttering. It was a sigh of content.



CHAPTER XI

" GENTLEMEN, THERE IS YOUR EMPIRE ! " .

THE seven quiet gentlemen who sat with Allison at
his library table, followed the concluding flourish
of his hand toward the map on the wall, and either
nodded or blinked appreciatively. The red line on his
map was complete now, a broad, straight line from the
Atlantic to the Pacific, and to it were added, on either
side, irregular, angling red lines like the legs of a centi
pede, the feeders of the various systems which were
under control of the new Atlantic-Pacific Railroad.

" That s a brilliant piece of engineering, Allison."
observed huge Richard Haverman, by way of pleasant
comment, and he glanced admiringly at Allison after
his eye had roved around the little company of notables.
The feat of bringing these seven men together at a
specific hour, was greater than having consolidated the
brilliant new Atlantic-Pacific Railroad.

" Let s get to the details," barked a voice with the
volume of a St. Bernard. It came from Arthur Gran-
din, the head of the Union Fuel Company, which con
trolled all the wood and coal in the United States, and
all the oil in the world. His bald spot came exactly
on a level with the back of his chair, and he wore a
fierce moustache.

" I m putting in the Atlantic-Pacific as my share of
the pool, gentlemen," explained Allison. " My project,

in



112 THE BALL OF FIRE

as I have told you, is to make this the main trunk, the
vertebras as it were, of the International Transporta
tion Company. I have consolidated with the A. -P. the
Municipal Transportation Company, and I have put
my entire fortune in it, to lay it on the table absolutely
unencumbered."

He threw down the Atlantic-Pacific Railroad and the
Municipal Transportation Company in the form of a
one sheet typewritten paper.

" We d better appoint some one to look after the
legal end of things," suggested the towering Haverman,
whose careless, lounging attitude contrasted oddly with
his dignified long beard.

" I ll take care of it," said W. T. Chisholm, of the
Majestic Trust Company, and drawing the statement
in front of him, he set a paperweight on it.

" The first step is not one of incorporation," went
on Allison. " Before that is done there must be but
one railroad system in the United States."

Smooth-shaven old Joseph G. Clark nodded his head.
There was but one cereal company in the United States,
and the Standard, in the beginning, had been the small
est. Two of the heads of rival concerns were now in
Clark s employ, one was a pauper, and three were dead.
He disliked the pauper.

Robert E. Taylor, of the American Textiles Com
pany, a man who had quite disproved the theory that
constructive business genius was confined to the North,
smoothed his grey moustache reflectively, with the tip
of his middle finger, all the way out to its long point.

" I can see where you will tear up the east and west
traffic situation to a considerable extent," he thought
fully commented ; " but without the important north
and south main trunks you can not make a tight web."



"THERE IS YOUR EMPIRE!" 113

Allison went over to his wall map, with a step in
which there was the spring of a boy. A. L. Vance, of
the United States Supplies Company, which controlled
beef, sugar, and practically all other food products,
except those mighty necessities under the sways of the
Standard Cereal Company and Eldridge Babbitt s Na
tional Dairy Products Consolidation, studied the buoy
ant Allison with a puzzled expression. He had seen
Allison grow to care-burdened manhood, and suddenly
Ed seemed twenty years younger. Only Eldridge Bab
bitt knew the secret of this miraculous rejuvenescence.
Babbitt had married late in life ; a beautiful young
woman !

" The key to the north and south situation is here,"
said Allison, and he drew a firm, swift, green line down
across the United States, branching at each end.
" George Dalrymple will be here in half an hour, and
by that time I trust we may come to some agreement."

" It depends on what you want," boomed Arthur
Grandin, who, sitting beside the immense Haverman,
looked as if that giant had shrunk him by his mere
proximity.

" Freight, to begin with," stated Allison, resuming
his place at the head of the table, but not his seat.
" You gentlemen represent the largest freightage in
terests in the United States. You all know your
relative products, and yet, in order to grasp this sit
uation completely, I wish to enumerate them. Bab
bitt s National Dairy Products Consolidation can
swing the shipment of every ounce of butter, cream,
cheese, eggs and poultry handled in this coun
try ; Clark s Standard Cereal Company, wheat, corn,
oats, rice, barley, malt, flour, every ounce of bread-
stuffs or cereal goods, grown on American soil; Haver-



114 THE BALL OF FIRE

man, the Amalgamated Metals Constructive Company,
every pound of iron, lead, and copper, and every ton
of ore, from the moment it leaves the ground until it
appears as an iron web in a city sky or spans a
river; Grandin, the Union Fuel Company, coal and
wood, from Alaska to Pennsylvania, with oil and all its
enormous by-products ; Taylor, the American Textiles
Company, wool, cotton, flax, the raw and finished ma
terial of every thread of clothing we wear, or any other
textile fabric we use except silk; Vance, the United
States Supplies Company, meat, sugar, fruit, the main
blood and sinew builders of the country. Gentlemen,
give me the freightage controlled by your six com
panies, and I ll toss the rest of the country s freightage
to a beggar."

" You forgot Chisholm," Babbitt reminded him, and
Banker Chisholm s white mutton-chops turned pink
from the appreciation which glowed in his ruddy-veined
face.

" Allison was quite right," returned big Haverman
with a dry smile. " The freightage income on money
is an item scarcely worth considering."

" Give the Atlantic-Pacific this freight, and, inside
of two years, the entire business of the United States,
with all its ramifications, will be merged in one manage
ment, and that management ours. We shall not need
to absorb, nor purchase, a single railroad until it is
bankrupt."

" Sensible idea, Allison," approved Clark, of the
Standard Cereal Company. " It s a logical proposi
tion which I had in mind years ago."

" Allison s stroke of genius, it seems to me, consists
in getting us together," smiled big Haverman, hanging
his arm over the back of his chair.



"THERE IS YOUR EMPIRE!" 115

Banker Chisholm leaned forward on the table, and
stroked his round chin reflectively. " There would be
some disorganisation, and perhaps financial disorder,
in the first two years," he considered ; " but the rail
roads are already harassed too much by the govern
ment to thrive under competition, and, in the end, I be
lieve this proposed centralisation would be the best
thing for the interests of the country " ; wherein Chis
holm displayed that he was a vestryman of Market
Square Church wherever he went.

"What is your proposition?" asked Grandin, who,
because of the self-assertion necessitated by his diminu
tive size, seemed pompous, but was not. No pompous
man could have merged the wood, coal, and oil inter
ests, and, having merged them, swung them over his
own shoulder.

Allison s answer consisted of one word.

" Consolidation," he said.

There was a moment of silence, while these men ab
sorbed that simple idea, and glanced speculatively, not
at Allison, but at each other. They were kings, these
heads of mighty corporations, whose emissaries carried
their sovereignties into the furthest corners of the earth.
Like friendly kings, they had helped each other in the
protection of their several domains ; but this was an
other matter.

" That s a large proposition, Ed," stated Vance,
very thoughtfully. All sense of levity had gone from
this meeting. They had come, as they thought, to pro
mote a large mutual interest, but not to weld a Frank
enstein. " I did not understand your project to be so
comprehensive. I fancied your idea to be that the
various companies represented here, with Chisholm as
financial controller, should take a mutual interest in



ii6 THE BALL OF FIRE

the support of the Atlantic-Pacific Railroad, for the
purpose of consolidating the railroad interests of the
country under one management, thereby serving our
own transportation needs."

" Very well put, Vance," approved Taylor, smooth
ing his pointed moustache.

" That is a mere logical development of the railroad
situation," returned Allison. " If I had not cemented
this direct route, some one would have made the con
solidation you mention within ten years, for the entire
railroad situation has been disorganised since the death
of three big men in that field ; and the scattered holdings
would be, and are, an easy prey for any one vitally
interested enough to invade the industry. I have no
such minor proposition in mind. I propose, with the
Atlantic-Pacific as a nucleus, to, first, as I have said,
bring the financial terminals of every mile of railroad
in the United States into one central office. With this
I then propose to combine the National Dairy Products
Consolidation, the Standard Cereal Company, the
Amalgamated Metals Constructive Company, the
Union Fuel, American Textiles, the United States Sup
plies, and the stupendous financial interests swayed by
the banks tributary to the Majestic Trust Company.
I propose to weld these gigantic concerns into one cor
poration, which shall be the mightiest organisation the
world has ever known. Beginning with the control of
transportation, it will control all food, all apparel, all
construction materials, all fuel. From the shoes on
his feet to the roof over his head, every man in the
United States of America, from labourer to president,
shall pay tribute to the International Transportation
Company. Gentlemen, if I have dreamed big, it is be-



"THERE IS YOUR EMPIRE!" 117

cause I have dealt with men who deal only in large
dreams. What I propose is an empire greater than
that ever swayed by any monarch in history. We
eight men, who are here in this room, can build that
empire with a scratch of a pen, and can hold it against
the assaults of the world ! "

His voice rang as he finished, and Babbitt looked at
him in wonder. Allison had always* been a strong
man, but now, in this second youth, he was an Anteus
springing fresh from the earth. There was a moment s
lull, and then a nasal voice drawled into the silence.

" Allison ; " it was the voice of old Joseph G. Clark,
who had built the Standard Cereal Company out of one
wheat elevator ; " who is to be the monarch of your
new empire ? "

For just a moment Allison looked about him. Vastly
different as these men were, from the full-bearded Hav-
erman to the smooth-shaven old Joseph G. Clark, there
was some one expression which was the same in every
man, and that expression was mastery. These men, by
the sheer force of their personality, by the sheer domi
nance of their wills, by the sheer virility of their pur
poses, by the sheer dogged persistence which balks at
no obstacle and hesitates at no foe, had fought and
strangled and throttled their way to the top, until they
stood head and shoulders above all the strong men of
their respective domains, safe from protest or dispute
of sovereignty, because none had risen strong enough
to do them battle. They were the undefeated cham
pions of their classes, and the life of every man in that
group was an epic ! Who was to be monarch of the
new empire? Allison answered that question as simply
as he had the others.



ii8 THE BALL OF FIRE

" The best man," he said.

There had been seven big men in America. Now
there were eight. They all recognised that.

" Of course," went on Allison, " my proposition does
not assume that any man here will begin by relinquish
ing control of his own particular branch of the Inter
national Transportation Company ; sugar, beef, iron,
steel, oil, and the other commodities will all be under
their present handling ; but each branch will so support
and benefit the other that the position of the consolida
tion itself will be impregnable against competition or
the assaults of government. The advantages of con
trol, collection, and distribution, are so vast that they
far outweigh any possible question of personal aggran
disement."

" Don t hedge, Allison," barked Arthur Grandin.
" You expressed it right in the first place. You re put
ting it up to us to step out of the local championship
class, and contend for the big belt."

" The prize isn t big enough," pronounced W. T.
Chisholm, as if he had decided for them all. As be
fitted his calling, he was slower minded than the rest.
There are few quick turns in banking.

"Not big enough?" repeated Allison. "Not big
enough, when the Union Fuel Company already sup
plies every candle which goes into the Soudan, runs the
pumps on the Nile and the motor boats on the Yang-
Tse-Kyang, supplies the oil for the lubrication of the
car of Juggernaut, and works the propeller of every
aeroplane? Not big enough, when already the organ
isations represented here have driven their industries
into every quarter of the earth? What shall you say
when we join to our nucleus the great steamship lines
and the foreign railroads? Not big enough? Gen-



"THERE IS YOUR EMPIRE!" 119

tlemen, look here ! " He strode over to the big globe.
From New York to San Francisco a red line had already
been traced. Now he took a pencil in his hand, and
placing the point at New York, gave the globe a whirl,
girding it completely. " Gentlemen, there is your em
pire!"

Again the nasal voice of old Joseph G. Clark drawled
into the silence.

" I suggest that we discuss in detail the conditions
of the consolidation," he remarked.

The bell of Allison s house phone rang.

" Mr. Dalrymple, sir," said the voice of Ephraim.

" Very well," replied Allison. " Show him into the
study. Babbitt, will you read to the gentlemen this
skeleton plan of organisation ? If you ll excuse me,
I ll be back in five minutes."

"Dalrymple?" inquired Taylor.

" Yes," answered Allison abstractedly, and went into
the study.

He and Dalrymple looked at each other silently for
a moment, with the old enmity shining between them.
Dalrymple, a man five years Allison s senior, a brisk
speaking man with a protruding jaw and deep-set grey
eyes, had done more than any other one human being
to develop the transportation systems of New York, but
his gift had been in construction, in creation, whereas
Allison s had been in combination; and Dalrymple had
gone into the railroad business.

" Dalrymple, I m going to give you a chance," said
Allison briskly. " I want the Gulf and Great Lakes
Railroad system."

Dalrymple had produced a cigar while he waited for
Allison, and now he lit it. He sat on the corner of the
study table and surveyed Allison critically.



120 THE BALL OF FIRE

" I don t doubt it," he replied. " The system is al
most completed."

" I ll accept a fair offer for your controlling inter
est," went on Allison.

"And if I won t sell?"

" Then I ll jump on you to-morrow in the stock ex
change, and take it away from you."

Dalrymple smiled.

" You can t do it. I own my controlling interest
outright, and no stock gamblings on the board of trade
can affect either a share of my stock or the earning
capacity of my railroad. When you drove me out of
the traction field, I took advantage of my experience
and entrenched myself. Go on and gamble."

" I wish you wouldn t take that attitude," returned
Allison, troubled. " It looks to you as if I were pur
suing you because of that old quarrel ; but I want you
to know that I m not vindictive."

" I don t think you are," replied Dalrymple, with
infinite contempt. " You re just a damned hog."

A hot flush swept over Allison s face, but it was gone
in an instant.

" It happens that I need the new Gulf and Great
Lakes system," he went on, in a perfectly level voice;
" and I prefer to buy it from you at a fair price."

Dalrymple put on his hat.

" It isn t for sale," he stated.

" Just a minute, Dalrymple," interposed Allison.
" I want to show you something. Look in here," and
he opened the library door.

Dalrymple stepped to the opening and saw, not
merely seven men, middle-aged and past, sitting around
a library table, but practically all the freightable neces-



"THERE IS YOUR EMPIRE!" 121

sities of the United States and practically all its money,
a power against which his many million dollar rail
road system was of no more opposition than a toy train.

" the transportation department to be governed by
a council composed of the representatives of the vari
ous other departments herein mentioned," droned on
the voice of Babbitt.

The representatives of the various other departments
therein mentioned were bent in concentrated attention
on every sentence, and phrase, and word, and syllable
of that important document, not omitting to pay im
portant attention to the pauses which answered for
commas ; and none looked up. Dalrymple closed the
door gently.

" Now will you sell? " inquired Allison.

For a moment the two men looked into each other s
eyes, while the old enmity, begun while they were still
in the womb of time, lay chill between them. At one
instant, Dalrymple, whose jaw muscles were working
convulsively, half raised his hands, as if he were minded
to fall on Allison and strangle him ; and it was not the
fact that Allison was probably the stronger man which
restrained him, but a bigger pride.

" No," he said, again with that infinite contempt in
his tone. " Break me."

" All right," accepted Allison cheerfully, and even
with relief; for his way was now free to pursue its nor
mal course. He crossed to the door which opened into
the hall, and politely bowed Dalrymple into the guid
ance of old Ephraim.

" Dalrymple won t sell," he reported, when he re
joined his fellow members of the International Trans
portation Company.



122 THE BALL OF FIRE

Joseph G. Clark looked up from a set of jotted mem
oranda which he had been nonchalantly setting down
during the reading.

" We ll pick it up in the stock market," he care
lessly suggested.

" Can t," replied Allison, with equal carelessness.
" He s entrenched with solid control, and I imagine he
doesn t owe a dollar."

Chisholm, with his fingers in his white mutton chops,
was studying clean-shaven old Clark s memoranda.

" A panic will be necessary, anyhow," he observed.
" We ll acquire the road then."



CHAPTER XII

GAIL SOLVES THE PROBLEM OF VEDDEE COUBT

THE Reverend Smith Boyd, rector of the richest
church in the world, dropped his last collar but
ton on the floor, and looked distinctly annoyed. The
collar button rolled under his mahogany highboy, and
concealed itself carefully behind one of the legs. The
Reverend Smith Boyd, there being none to see, laid aside
his high dignity, and got down on his knees, though
not for any clerical purpose. With his suspenders
hanging down his back, he sprawled his long arms un
der the highboy in all directions, while his face grew
red ; and the little collar button, snuggled carefully out
of sight behind the furthest leg, just shone and shone.
The rector, the ticking of whose dressing-room clock
admonished him that the precious moments were pass
ing never to return again, twisted his neck, and bent
his head sidewise, and inserted it under the highboy,
one ear scraping the rug and the other the bottom of
the lowest drawer. No collar button. He withdrew
his neck, and twisted his head in the opposite direction,
and inserted his head again under the highboy, so that
the ear which had scraped the carpet now scraped the
bottom of the drawer, whereat the little collar button
shone so brightly that the rector s bulging eye caught
the glint of it. His hand swung round, at the end of
a long arm, and captured it before it could hide any
further, then the young rector withdrew his throbbing

123



124 THE BALL OF FIRE

head and started to raise up, and bumped the back of
his head with a crack on the bottom of an open
drawer, near enough to the top to give him a good long
sweep for momentum. This mishap being just one de
gree beyond the point to which the Reverend Smith
Boyd had been consecrated, he ejaculated as follows:

No, it is not respectful, nor proper, nor charitable,
to set down what the Reverend Smith Boyd, in that
stress, ejaculated; but a beautiful, grey-haired lady,
beautiful with the sweetness of content and the happi
ness of gratified pride and the kindliness of humour,
who had paused at the Reverend Smith Boyd s open
door to inquire how soon he would be down to dinner,
hastily covered her mouth with her hand, and moved
away from the door, with moist blue eyes, around which
twinkled a dozen tiny wrinkles born of much smiling.

When the dignified young rector came down to din
ner, fully clothed and apparently in his right mind, his
mother, who was the beautiful grey-haired lady with
the twinkling blue eyes, looked across the table and
smiled indulgently at his disguise; for he was not a
grown-up, tall, broad-shouldered man of thirty-two at
all. In reality he was a shock-headed, slightly freck
led urchin of nine or ten, by the name of " Smitty " on
the town commons, and " Tod " at home.

" Aren t you becoming a trifle irritable of late,
Tod? " she inquired with solicitude, wilefully suppress
ing a smile which flashed up in her as she rejnembered
that ejaculation. It was shocking in a minister, of
course, but she had ever contended that ministers were,
and should be, made of clay ; and clay is friable.



Online LibraryGeorge Randolph ChesterThe ball of fire → online text (page 8 of 24)