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George Randolph Chester.

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" Yes, mother, I believe I am," confessed the Rev
erend Smith Boyd, considering the matter with serious
impartiality.



GAIL SOLVES THE PROBLEM 125

" You are not ill in any way? "

" Not at all," he hastily assured her.

" Your cold is all gone ? "

" Entirely. As a matter of fact, mother," and he
smiled, " I don t think I had one."

" If you hadn t drank that tea, and taken the mus
tard foot bath, and wrapped the flannel around your
throat, it might have been a severe one," his mother
complacently replied. " You haven t been studying too
much?"

" No," and the slightest flicker of impatience twitched
his brows.

" You ve no headache ? " and the tone was as level
as if she had not seen that flicker.

" No, mother."

"Do you sleep well? "

The Reverend Smith Boyd took a drink of water.
His hand trembled slightly.

" Excellently."

Mrs. Boyd surveyed her son with a practised eye.

" I think your appetite s dropping off a little," she
commented, and then she was shrewdly silent, though
the twinkles of humour came back to her eyes by and
by. " I don t think you take enough social diver
sion," she finally advised him. " You should go out
more. You should ride, walk, but always in the com
pany of young and agreeable people. Because you are
a rector is no reason for you to spend your spare time
in gloomy solitude, as you have been doing for the past
week."

The Reverend Smith Boyd would have liked to state
that he had been very busy, but he had a conscience,
which was a nuisance to him. He had spent most of
his spare time up in his study, with his chin in his hand.



126 THE BALL OF FIRE

" You are quite right, mother," he sombrely con
fessed, and swallowed two spoonfuls of his soup. It
was excellent soup, but, after taking a bite of a wafer,
he laid his spoon on the edge of the plate.

" I think I ll drive you out of the house, Tod," Mrs.
Boyd decided, in the same tones she had used to em
ploy when she had sent him to bed. " I think I ll send
you over to Sargent s to-night, to sing with Gail."

The rector of the richest church in the world flushed
a trifle, and looked at the barley in the bottom of his
soup. His mother regarded him quietly, and the twin
kles went out of her eyes. She had been bound to get
at the bottom of his irritability, and now she had ar
rived at it.

" I would prefer not to go," he told her stiffly, and
the eyes which he lifted to her were coldly green.

"Why?"

Again that slight twitch of impatience in his brows,
then he suppressed a sigh. The catechism was on the
way, and he might just as well answer up promptly.

" I do not approve of Miss Sargent."

For just one second the rector s mother felt an im
pulse to shake Tod Boyd. Gail Sargent was a young
lady of whom any young man might approve and
what was the matter with Tod? She was beginning
to be humiliated by the fact that, at thirty-two, he had
not lost his head and made a fool of himself, to the
point of tight shoes and poetry, over a girl.

"Why?" and the voice of Mrs. Boyd was not cold
as she had meant it to be. She had suddenly felt some
tug of sympathy for Tod.

" Well, for one thing, she has a most disagreeable
lack of reverence," he stated.

"Reverence?" and Mrs. Boyd knitted her brows.



GAIL SOLVES THE PROBLEM 127

" I don t believe you quite understand her. She has the
most beautifully simple religious faith that I have ever
seen, Tod."

The Reverend Smith Boyd watched his soup disap
pearing, as if it were some curious moving object to
which his attention had just been called.

" Miss Sargent claims to have a new religion," he
observed. " She has said most unkind things about the
Church as an institution, and about Market Square
Church in particular. She says that it is a strictly
commercial institution, and that its motive in desiring
to build the new cathedral is vanity."

He omitted to mention Gail s further charge that his
own motive in desiring the new cathedral was personal
ambition. Candour did not compel that admission. It
did not become him to act from piqued personal
pride.

Mrs. Boyd studied him as he gazed sombrely at his
fish, and the twinkles once more returned to her eyes,
as she made up her mind to cure Tod s irritability.

" I am ashamed of you," she told her son. " This
girl is scarcely twenty. If I remember rightly, and
I m sure that I do, you came to me, at about twenty,
and confessed to a logical disbelief in the theory of cre
ation, which included, of course, a disbelief in the Crea
tor. You were an infidel, an atheist. You were going
to relinquish your studies, and give up all thought of
the Church."

The deep red of the Reverend Smith Boyd s face
testified to the truth of this cruel charge, and he pushed
back his fish permanently.

" I most humbly confess," he stated, and indeed he
had writhed in spirit many times over that remembrance.
" However, mother, I have since discovered that to be



128 THE BALL OF FIRE

a transitional stage through which every theological
student passes."

" Yet you won t allow it to a girl," charged Mrs.
Boyd, with the severity which she could much better
have expressed with a laugh. " When you discover
that this young lady, who seems to be in every way de
lightful, is so misled as to criticise the motives of Mar
ket Square Church, you withdraw into your dignity,
with the privilege of a layman, and announce that you
do not approve of her. What she needs, Tod, is re
ligious instruction."

She had carefully ironed out the tiny little wrinkles
around her blue eyes by the time her son looked up
from the profound cogitation into which this reproof
had thrown him.

" Mother, I have been wrong," he admitted, and he
seemed ever so much brighter for the confession. He
drew his fish towards him and ate it.

Later the Reverend Smith Boyd presented himself at
James Sargent s house, with a new light shining in his
breast ; and he had blue eyes. He had come to show
Gail the way and the light. If she had doubts, and
lack of faith, and flippant irreverence, it was his duty
to be patient with her, for this was the fault of youth.
He had been youthful himself.

Gail s eyelids dropped and the corners of her lips
twitched when the Reverend Smith Boyd s name was
brought up to her, but she did her hair in another way,
high on her head instead of low on her neck, and then
she went down, bewildering in her simple little dark blue
velvet cut round at the neck.

" I am so glad your cold is better," she greeted him,
smiling as pleasantly as if their last meeting had been
a most joyous occasion.



GAIL SOLVES THE PROBLEM 129

" I don t think I had a cold," laughed the young
rector, also as happily mannered as if their last meet
ing had been a cheerful one. " I sneezed twice, I be
lieve, and mother immediately gave me a course of doc
toring which no cold could resist."

" I was afraid that your voice was out," remarked
Gail, in a tone suggestive of the fact that that would
be a tragedy indeed ; and she began hauling forth music.
" You haven t been over for so long."

The Reverend Smith Boyd coloured. At times the
way of spiritual instruction was quite difficult. Never
theless, he had a duty to perform. Mechanically he
had taken his place at the piano, standing straight and
tall, and his blue eyes softened as they automatically
fell on the piece of music she had opened. Of course
it was their favourite, the one in which their voices had
soared in the most perfect unison. Gail glanced up at
him as she brushed a purely imaginary fleck of dust
from the keys. For an instant the brown eyes and the
blue ones met. He was a tremendously nice fellow,
after all. But what was worrying him?

" Before we sing I should like to take up graver mat
ters," he began, feeling at a tremendous disadvantage
in the presence of the music. To obviate this, he drew
up a chair, and sat facing her. " I have called this
evening in the capacity of your temporary rector."

Gail s eyelids had a tendency to flicker down, but
she restrained them. She was adorable when she looked
prim that way. Her lips were like a rosebud. The
Reverend Smith Boyd himself thought of the simile,
and cast it behind him.

" You are most kind," she told him, suppressing the
imps and demons which struggled to pop into her eyes.

" I have been greatly disturbed by the length to



130 THE BALL OF FIRE

which your unbelief has apparently gone," the ydung
rector went on, and having plunged into this opening
he began to breathe more freely. This was familiar
ground. " I am willing to admit, to one of your in
telligence, that there are certain articles of the creed,
and certain tenets of the Church, which humanity has
outgrown, as a child outgrows its fear of the dark."

Gail rested a palm on the edge of the bench behind
her, and leaned back facing him, supported on one
beautifully modelled arm. Her face had set seriously
now.

" However," went on the rector, " it is the habit and
the privilege of youth to run to extremes. Sweeping
doubt takes the place of reasonable criticism, and the
much which is good is condemned alike with the little
which has grown useless."

He paused to give Gail a chance for reply, but that
straight-eyed young lady had nothing to say, at this
juncture.

" I do not expect to be able to remove the spiritual
errors, which I am compelled to judge that you have
accumulated, by any other means than patient logic,"
he resumed. " May I discuss these matters with you? "
His voice was grave and serious, and full of earnest
sincerity, and the musical quality alone of it made pa
tient logical discussion seem attractive.

" If you like," she assented, smiling at him with wile-
ful and wilful deception. The wicked thought had oc
curred to her that it might be her own duty to broaden
his spiritual understanding.

" Thank you," he accepted gravely. " If you will
give me an hour or so each week, I shall be very happy."

" I am nearly always at home on Tuesday and Fri
day evenings," suggested Gail, " Scarcely any one



GAIL SOLVES THE PROBLEM 131

calls before eight thirty, and we have dinner quite earljr
on those evenings." She began to be sincerely inter
ested in the project. She had never given herself time
to quite exactly define her own attitude towards theol
ogy as distinct from religion, and she felt that she
should do it, if for no other reason than to avoid mak
ing impulsive over-statements. The Reverend Smith
Boyd would help her to look squarely into her own
mind and her own soul, for he had a very active intelli
gence, and was, moreover, the most humanly forceful
cleric she had ever met. Besides, they could always
finish by singing.

" I shall make arrangements to be over as early as
you will permit," declared the rector, warmly aglow
with the idea. " We shall begin with the very begin
nings of things, and, step by step, develop, I hope, a
logical justification of the vast spiritual revolution which
has conquered the world."

" I should like nothing better," mused Gail, and
since the Reverend Smith Boyd rose, and stood behind
her and filled his lungs, she turned to the piano and
struck a preliminary chord, which she trailed off into
a tinkling little run, by way of friendly greeting to
the piano.

" We shall begin with the creation," pursued the rec
tor, dwelling, with pleasure, on the idea of a thorough
progress through the mazes of religious growth. There
were certain vague points which he wanted to clear up
for himself.

" And wind up with Vedder Court." She had not
meant to say that. It > just popped into her mind, and
popped off the end of her tongue.

" Even that will be taken up in its due logical se
quence," and the Reverend Smith Boyd prided himself



132 THE BALL OF FIRE

on having already displayed the patience which he had
come expressly to exercise.

Gail was immediately aware that he was exercising
patience. He had reproved her, nevertheless, and
quite coldly, for having violated the tacit agreement to
take up the different phases of their weighty topic only
" in their due logic sequence." The rector, in this
emergency, would have found no answer which would
stand the test, but Gail had the immense advantage of
femininity.

" It altogether depends at which end we start our
sequence," she sweetly reminded him. " My own im
pression is that we should begin at Vedder Court and
work back to the creation. Vedder Court needs im
mediate attention."

That was quite sufficient. When Allison called,
twenty minutes later, they were at it hammer and tongs.
There was a bright red spot in each of Gail s cheeks,
and the Reverend Smith Boyd s cold eyes were distinctly
green ! Allison had been duly announced, but the com
batants merely glanced at him, and finished the few re
marks upon which they were, at the moment, engaged.
He had been studying the tableau with the interest of
a connoisseur, and he had devoted his more earnest at
tention to the Reverend Smith Boyd.

" So glad to see you," said Gail conventionally, ris
ing and offering him her hand. If there was that
strange thrill in his clasp, she Avas not aware of it.

" I only ran in to see if you d like to take a private
car trip in the new subway before it is opened," offered
Allison, turning to shake hands with the Reverend Smith
Boyd. " Will you join us, Doctor? "

For some reason a new sort of jangle had come into
the room, and it affected the three of them. Allison



GAIL SOLVES THE PROBLEM 133

was the only one who did not notice that he had taken
Gail s acceptance for granted.

" You might tell us when," she observed, transfer
ring the flame of her eyes from the rector to Allison.
" I may have conflicting engagements."

" No, you won t," Allison cheerfully informed her ;
" because it will be at any hour you set."

" Oh," was the weak response, and, recognising that
she was fairly beaten, her white teeth flashed at him in
a smile of humour. " Suppose we say ten o clock to
morrow morning."

" I am free at that hour," stated Doctor Boyd, in
answer to a glance of inquiry from Allison. He felt
it his duty to keep in touch with public improvements.
Also, beneath his duty lay a keen pleasure in the task.

" You ll be very much interested, I think," and Al
lison glowed with the ever-present pride of achievement,
then he suddenly grinned. " The new subway stops at
the edge of Vedder Court, waiting."

There was another little pause of embarrassment, in
which Gail and the Reverend Smith Boyd were very
careful not to glance at each other. Unfortunately,
however, the Reverend Smith Boyd was luckless enough
to automatically, and without conscious mental process,
fold the sheet of music which had long since been
placed on the piano.

" Why stop at the edge of Vedder Court ? " inquired
Gail, with a nervous little jerk, much as if the words
had been jolted out of her by the awkward slam of the
music rack, which had succeeded the removal of the song.
" Why not go straight on through, and demolish Ved
der Court? It is a scandal and a disgrace to civilisa
tion, and to the city, as well as to its present proprie
tors ! Vedder Court should be annihilated, torn down,



134 THE BALL OF FIRE

burned up, swept from the face of the earth! The
board of health should condemn it as unsanitary, the
building commission should condemn it as unsafe, the
department of public morals should condemn it as un
wholesome ! "

The Reverend Smith Boyd had been engaged in a
strong wrestle within himself, but the spirit finally con
quered the flesh, and he held his tongue. He remem
bered that Gail was young, and youth was prone to ex
travagant impulse. His spirit of forbearance came so
strongly to his aid that he was even able to acknowl
edge how beautiful she was when she was stiffened.

Allison had been viewing her with mingled admira
tion and respect.

" By George, that s a great idea," he thoughtfully
commented. " Gail, I think I ll tear down Vedder Court
for you ! "



CHAPTER XIII

THE SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST

A SHORT, thick old man, grey-bearded and puff-
eyed and loaded with enormous jewels, met Gail,
Lucile and Arly, Ted Teasdale and the Reverend Smith
Boyd, at the foot of the subway stairs, and introduced
himself with smiling ease as Tim Gorman, beaming with
much pride in his wide-spread fame.

" Mr. Allison sent me to meet you," he stated, with
a bow on which he justly prided himself. " Allison
played a low trick on me, ladies," and he gazed on them
in turns with a jovial familiarity, which, in another,
they might have resented. " From the description he
gave me, I was looking for the most beautiful young
lady in the world, and here there s three of you." His
eyes swelled completely shut when he laughed. " So
you ll have to help me out. Which one of you is Miss
Sargent? "

" The young lady who answers the description,"
smiled Arly, delighted with Tim Gorman, and she in
dicated Gail.

" Mr. Allison couldn t be here," explained Tim, lead
ing the way to the brightly lighted private car. " We re
to pick him up at Hoadley Park. Miss Sargent, as
hostess of the party, is to have charge of everything."

The side doors slid open as they approached, and they
entered the carpeted and draped car, furnished with
wicker chairs and a well-stocked buffet. In the for-

135



136 THE BALL OF FIRE

ward compartment were three responsible looking men
and a motorman, and one of the responsibles, a fat gen
tleman who did not seem to care how his clothes looked,
leaned into the parlour.

" All ready ? " he inquired, with an air of concealing
a secret impression that women had no business here.

Tim Gorman, who had carefully seen to it that he
had a seat between Gail and Arly, touched Gail on the
glove.

" Ready, thank you," she replied, glancing brightly
at the loosely arrayed fat man, and she could see that
immediately a portion of that secret impression was re
moved.

With an easy glide, which increased with surprising
rapidity into express speed, the car slid into the long,
glistening tunnel, still moist with the odours of build
ing.

" This is the most stunningly exclusive thing in the
world ! " exclaimed Lucile Teasdale. " A private sub
way ! "

The Reverend Smith Boyd bent forward. All the
way down to the subway entrance he had enjoyed the
reversal to that golden age where no one says anything
and everybody laughs at it.

" To my mind that is not the greatest novelty," he
observed. " The most enjoyable part of the journey
so far has been getting into the subway without paying
a nickel." He glanced over at Gail as he spoke, but
only Arly, Lucile and Ted laughed. Tim Gorman had
adroitly blocked Gail into a corner, and was holding
her attention.

" Ed Allison s one of the smartest boys in New York,"
he enthusiastically declared. " Did you ever see any
body as busy as he is? "



THE SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST 137

" He seems to be a very energetic man," Gail as
sented, with a sudden remembrance of how busy Alli
son had always been.

" Gets anything he goes after," Tim informed her,
and screwed one of his many-puffed eyes into a wink;
at which significant action Gail looked out at the motor-
man. " Never tells his plans to anybody, nor what he
wants. Just goes and gets it."

" That s a successful way, I should judge," she re
sponded, now able to see the humour of Tim Gor
man s volunteer mission, but a red spot beginning to
dawn, nevertheless, in either cheek.

" Well, he s square," asserted Tim judicially. " Un
derstand, he don t care how he gets a thing just so he
gets it, but if he makes you a promise he ll keep it.
That s what I call square."

Gail nodded. She had discerned that quality in Al
lison.

" What I like about him is that he always wins,"
went on Tim. " Nobody in this town has ever passed
him the prunes. Do you know what he did? He
started with two miles of rust and four horse cars, and
now he owns the whole works."

Gail knitted her brows. She had heard something
of this marvellous tale before, and it had interested
her. She had been groping for an explanation of Al
lison s tremendous force.

" That was a wonderful achievement. How did he
accomplish it? "

" Made em get off and walk ! " boasted Tim, with
vast pride in the fact. " Any time Eddie run across
a man that had a street car line, he choked it out of
him. He s a wizard."

Tim s statement seemed to be somewhat clouded in



138 THE BALL OF FIRE

metaphor, but Gail managed to gather that Allison had
possibly used first-principle methods on his royal path
way to success.

" You mean that he drove them out of business."

" Pushed em off ! " and Tim s voice was exultant.

" I don t think I understand business," worried Gail.
" It seems so cruel."

" So is baseball, if you want to figure that it s a
shame the losers have to take a licking," chuckled Tim.
" Anybody Allison likes is lucky," and with the friendly
familiarity of an old man, Tim Gorman patted Gail
on the glove.

" It occurs to me that I m neglecting my opportuni
ties," observed Gail, rising. " I m supposed to be run
ning this car," and going to the glass door she looked
into the motorman s compartment, which was large, and
had seats in it, and all sorts of mysterious tools and
appliances in the middle of the floor.

Tim Gorman, as Allison s personal representative,
was right on the spot.

" Come on out," he invited, and opened the door,
whereupon the three responsible looking men immedi
ately arose.

Gail hesitated, then smiled. She turned to look at
the others, half wondering if she should invite them to
come, and whether a crowd would be welcomed, but
the quartette were gathered on the observation plat
form, watching the tunnel swallowing itself in a far
away point.

" Mr. Greggory, general manager of the Municipal
Transportation Company, Miss Sargent," introduced
Tim, and the fat man bowed, with still another por
tion of that secret opinion removed. " Mr. Lincoln,
general engineer of the Transportation Company, Miss



THE SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST 139

Sargent," and the thin-faced man with the high fore
head and the little French moustache, bowed, smiling
his decided approval. " Mr. McCarthy, general con
struction manager of the Transportation Company,
Miss Sargent," and the red-faced man with the big red
moustache, bowed, grinning. Tim Gorman led Gail for
ward to the motorman, and tapped him on the shoulder.
" Show her how it works, Tom," he directed.

So it was that Edward E. Allison, standing quite
alone on the platform of the Hoadley Park station, saw
the approaching trial trip car stop, and run slowly,
and run backwards, and dart forwards, and perform
all sorts of experimental movements, before it rushed
down to his platform, with a rosy-cheeked girl standing
at the wheel, her brown eyes sparkling, her red lips
parted in a smile of ecstatic happiness, her hat off and
her waving brown hair flowing behind her in the sweep
of the wind. To one side stood a highly pleased motor
man, while a short, thick old man, and a careless fat
man, and a man with a high forehead and one with a
red moustache, all smiling indulgently, clogged the
space in the rear.

Allison boarded the car, and greeted his guests, and
came straight through to the motorman s cage, as Gail,
in response to the clang of the bell, pulled the lever.
She was just getting that easy starting glide, and she
was filled with pride in the fact.

" You should not stand bare-headed in front of that
window," greeted Allison, almost roughly ; and he
closed it.

Gail turned very sweetly to the motorman.

" Thank you," she said, and gave him the lever, then
she walked back into the car. It had required some
repression to avoid recognising that dictatorial atti-



140 THE BALL OF FIRE

tude, and Allison felt that she was rather distant, and
wondered what was the matter; but he was a practical
minded person, and he felt that it would soon blow over.

" This is the deepest line in the city," he informed
her, as she led the way back to the group in the par
lour division. " Every subway we build presents more
difficult problems of construction because of the cross
ings."

" I should think it would be most difficult," she in
differently responded, and hurried back to the girls.

" I feel horribly selfish," she confessed, slipping her
arm around Lucile on one side and Arly on the other;
and the Reverend Smith Boyd, strangely inclined to
poetry these days, compared them to the Three Graces,
with Hope in the centre. They were an attractive pic
ture for the looking of any man ; the blonde Lucile, the
brown Gail, and the black-haired Arly, all fresh-
cheeked, slender, and sparkling of eye.



Online LibraryGeorge Randolph ChesterThe ball of fire → online text (page 9 of 24)