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Chapter 12 WOE IN NUMBER SEVEN

  • Inside, before the office fire, Miss Thornhill read a magazine in the indolen_ashion so much affected at Baldpate Inn during the heated term; while th_ayor of Reuton chatted amiably with the ponderously coy Mrs. Norton. Int_his circle burst the envoys to the hermitage, flushed, energetic, snowflaked.
  • "Hail to the chef who in triumph advances!" cried Mr. Magee.
  • He pointed to the door, through which Mr. Max was leading the captured Mr.
  • Peters.
  • "You got him, didyu?" rasped Mrs. Norton.
  • "Without the use of anesthetics," answered Magee. "Everybody ready for one o_r. Peters' inimitable lunches?"
  • "Put me down at the head of the list," contributed the mayor.
  • Myra Thornhill laid down her magazine, and fixed her great black eyes upon th_adiant girl in corduroy.
  • "And was the walk in the morning air," she asked, "all you expected?"
  • "All, and much more," laughed Miss Norton, mischievously regarding the man wh_ad babbled to her of love on the mountain. "By the way, enjoy Mr. Peter_hile you can. He's back for just one day."
  • "Eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow the cook leaves, as the fellow says,"
  • supplemented Mr. Max, removing his overcoat.
  • "How about a quick lunch, Peters?" inquired Magee.
  • "Out of what, I'd like to know," put in Mrs. Norton. "Not a thing in the hous_o eat. Just like a man."
  • "You didn't look in the right place, ma'am," replied Mr. Peters with relish.
  • "I got supplies for a couple of days in the kitchen."
  • "Well, what's the sense in hiding 'em?" the large lady inquired.
  • "It ain't hiding—it's system," explained Mr. Peters. "Something women don'_nderstand." He came close to Mr. Magee, and whispered low: "You didn't war_e there was another of 'em."
  • "The last, on my word of honor," Magee told him.
  • "The last," sneered Mr. Peters. "There isn't any last up here." And with _idelong glance at the new Eve in his mountain Eden, he turned away to th_itchen.
  • "Now," whispered Magee to Miss Norton, "I'll get you that package. I'll prov_hat it was for you I fought and bled the mayor of Reuton. Watch for ou_hance—when I see you again I'll have it in my pocket."
  • "You mustn't fail me," she replied. "It means so much."
  • Mr. Magee started for the stairs. Between him and them loomed suddenly th_reat bulk of Mr. Cargan. His hard menacing eyes looked full into Magee's.
  • "I want to speak to you, young fellow," he remarked.
  • "I'm flattered," said Magee, "that you find my company so enchanting. In te_inutes I'll be ready for another interview."
  • "You're ready now," answered the mayor, "even if you don't know it." His ton_as that of one correcting a child. He took Mr. Magee's arm in a grip whic_ecalled to that gentleman a fact the muckraking stories always dwelt on—ho_his Cargan had, in the old days, "put away his man" in many shady corners o_ great city.
  • "Come over here," said Cargan. He led the way to a window. Over his shoulde_agee noted the troubled eyes of Miss Norton following. "Sit down. I've bee_rying to dope you out, and I think I've got you. I've seen your kind before.
  • Every few months one of 'em breezes into Reuton, spends a whole day talking t_ few rats I've had to exterminate from politics, and then flies back to Ne_ork with a ten-page story of my vicious career all ready for the linotypers.
  • Yes, sir—I got you. You write sweet things for the magazines."
  • "Think so?" inquired Magee.
  • "Know it," returned the mayor heartily. "So you're out after old Jim Cargan'_calp again, are you? I thought that now, seeing stories on the corruption o_he courts is so plentiful, you'd let the shame of the city halls alone for _hile. But—well, I guess I'm what you guys call good copy. Big, brutal, uneducated, picturesque—you see I read them stories myself. How long will th_merican public stand being ruled by a man like this, when it might b_uthorizing pretty boys with kid gloves to get next to the good things? That'_he dope, ain't it—the old dope of the reform gang—the ballyhoo of the bunc_hat can't let the existing order stand? Don't worry, I ain't going to ge_tarted on that again. But I want to talk to you serious—like a father. Ther_as a young fellow like you once—"
  • "Like me?"
  • "Exactly. He was out working on long hours and short pay for the reform gang, and he happened to get hold of something that a man I knew—a man high up i_ublic office—wanted, and wanted bad. The young fellow was going to get tw_undred dollars for the article he was writing. My friend offered him twent_housand to call it off. What'd the young fellow do?"
  • "Wrote the article, of course," said Magee.
  • "Now—now," reproved Cargan. "That remark don't fit in with the estimate I'v_ade of you. I think you're a smart boy. Don't disappoint me. This youn_ellow I speak of—he was smart, all right. He thought the matter over. He kne_he reform bunch, through and through. All glory and no pay, serving them. H_new how they chased bubbles, and made a lot of noise, and never got anywher_n the end. He thought it over, Magee, the same as you're going to do. 'You'r_n,' says this lad, and added five figures to his roll as easy as we'd add _ickel. He had brains, that guy."
  • "And no conscience," commented Magee.
  • "Conscience," said Mr. Cargan, "ain't worth much except as an excuse for a ma_hat hasn't made good to give his wife. How much did you say you was going t_et for this article?"
  • Mr. Magee looked him coolly in the eye.
  • "If it's ever written," he said, "it will be a two-hundred-thousand-dolla_tory."
  • "There ain't anything like that in it for you," replied the mayor. "Think ove_hat I've told you."
  • "I'm afraid," smiled Magee, "I'm too busy to think."
  • He again crossed the office floor to the stairway. Before the fire sat th_irl of the station, her big eyes upon him, pleadingly. With a reassurin_mile in her direction, he darted up the stairs.
  • "And now," he thought, as he closed and locked the door of number seven behin_im, "for the swag. So Cargan would give twenty thousand for that littl_ackage. I don't blame him."
  • He opened a window and glanced out along the balcony. It was deserted i_ither direction; its snowy floor was innocent of footprints. Re-enterin_umber seven, he knelt by the fireplace and dug up the brick under which la_he package so dear to many hearts on Baldpate Mountain.
  • "I might have known," he muttered.
  • For the money was gone. He dug up several of the bricks, and rummaged abou_eneath them. No use. The fat little bundle of bills had flown. Only an ugl_ole gaped up at him.
  • He sat down. Of course! What a fool he had been to suppose that such treasur_s this would stay long in a hiding-place so obvious. He who had made _uxurious living writing tales of the chase of gems and plate and gold ha_ungled the thing from the first. He could hammer out on a typewriter wil_lots and counter-plots—with a boarding-school girl's cupid busy all over th_lace. But he could not live them.
  • A boarding-school cupid! Good lord! He remembered the eyes of the girl in blu_orduroy as they had met his when he turned to the stairs. What would she sa_ow? On this he had gaily staked her faith in him. This was to be the test o_is sincerity, the proof of his devotion. And now he must go to her, lookin_ike a fool once more—go to her and confess that again he had failed her.
  • His rage blazed forth. So they had "got to him", after all. Who? He thought o_he smooth crafty mountain of a man who had detained him a moment ago. Who bu_argan and Max, of course? They had found his childish hiding-place, and th_oney had come home to their eager hands. No doubt they were laughing slyly a_im now.
  • Well, he would show them yet. He got up and walked the floor. Once he had hel_hem up in the snow and spoiled their little game—he would do it again. How?
  • When? He did not know. His soul cried for action of some sort, but he was u_gainst a blind alley, and he knew it.
  • He unlocked the door of number seven. To go down-stairs, to meet the swee_agerness of the girl who depended on him, to confess himself tricked—it too_ll the courage he had. Why had it all happened, anyhow? Confound it, hadn'_e come up here to be alone with his thoughts? But, brighter side, it ha_iven him her—or it would give him her before the last card was played. H_hut his teeth tightly, and went down the stairs.
  • Mr. Bland had added himself to the group about the fire. Quickly the eyes o_iss Norton met Magee's. She was trembling with excitement. Cargan, huge, red, cheery, got in Magee's path once more.
  • "I'll annihilate this man," thought Magee.
  • "I've been figuring," said the mayor, "that was one thing he didn't have t_ontend with. No, sir, there wasn't any bright young men hunting up ol_apoleon and knocking him in the monthly magazines. They didn't go down t_ardinia and pump it out of the neighbors that he started business on borrowe_oney, and that his father drank more than was good for him. They didn't ru_llustrated articles about the diamonds he wore, and moving pictures of hi_ating soup."
  • "No, I guess not," replied Magee abstractedly.
  • "I reckon there was a lot in _his_ record wasn't meant for the newspapers,"
  • continued Cargan reflectively. "And it didn't get there. Nap was lucky. He ha_t on the reformers there. They couldn't squash him with the power of th_ress."
  • Mr. Magee broke away from the mayor's rehashed history, and hurried to Mis_orton.
  • "You promised yesterday," he reminded her, "to show me the pictures of th_dmiral."
  • "So I did," she replied, rising quickly. "To think you have spent all thi_ime in Baldpate Inn and not paid homage to its own particular cock of th_alk."
  • She led him to a portrait hanging beside the desk.
  • "Behold," she said, "the admiral on a sunny day in July. Note the starch_randeur of him, even with the thermometer up in the clouds. That's one of th_hings the rocking-chair fleet adores in him. Can you imagine the flurry a_he approach of all that superiority? Theodore Roosevelt, William Faversham, and Richard Harding Davis all arriving together couldn't overshadow th_dmiral for a minute."
  • Mr. Magee gazed at the picture of a pompous little man, whose fierce mustach_eemed anxious to make up for the lack of hair on his head.
  • "A bald hero at a summer resort," he commented, "it seems incredible."
  • "Oh, they think he lost his hair fighting for the flag," she laughed. "It'_inter, and snowing, or I shouldn't dare _lèse-majesté_. And—over here—is th_dmiral on the veranda, playing it's a quarter deck. And here the grea_ortrait—Andrew Rutter with a profaning arm over the admiral's shoulder. Th_ld ladies make their complaints to Mr. Rutter in softer tones after seein_hat picture."
  • "And this?" asked Magee, moving farther from the group by the fire.
  • "A precious one—I wonder they leave it here in winter. This is the admiral a_ young man—clipped from a magazine article. Even without the mustache, yo_ee, he had a certain martial bearing."
  • "And now he's the ruler of the queen's navee," smiled Magee. He looked about.
  • "Is it possible to see the room where the admiral plays his famous game?"
  • "Step softly," she answered. "In here. There stands the very table."
  • They went into the small card-room at the right of the entrance to the office, and Mr. Magee quietly closed the door behind them. The time had come. He fel_is heart sink.
  • "Well?" said the girl, with an eagerness she could not conceal.
  • Mr. Magee groped for words. And found—his old friends of the mountain.
  • "I love you," he cried desperately. "You must believe I want to help you. I_ooks rather the other way now, I'll admit. I want you to have that money. _on't know who you are, nor what this all means, but I want you to have it. _ent up-stairs determined to give it to you—"
  • "Really." The word was at least fifty degrees below the temperature of th_ard-room.
  • "Yes, really. I won't ask you to believe—but I'm telling the truth. I went t_he place where I had fatuously hid the money—under a brick of my fireplace.
  • It was gone."
  • "How terribly unfortunate."
  • "Yes, isn't it?" Mr. Magee rejoiced that she took so calm a view of it. "The_earched the room, of course. And they found the money. They're on top now.
  • But I'm going—"
  • He stopped. For he had seen her face. She—taking a calm view of it? No, indeed. Billy Magee saw that she was furiously, wildly angry. He remembere_lways having written it down that beautiful women were even more beautiful i_nger. How, he wondered, had he fallen into that error?
  • "Please do not bore me," she said through her teeth, "with any further recita_f what you 'are going' to do. You seem to have a fatal facility in that line.
  • Your record of accomplishment is pathetically weak. And—oh, what a fool I'v_een! I believed. Even after last night, I believed."
  • No, she was not going to cry. Hers was no mood for tears. What said th_ibrettist? "There is beauty in the roaring of the gale, and the tiger whe_-lashing of his tail." Such was the beauty of a woman in anger. And nothin_o get enthusiastic about, thought Mr. Magee.
  • "I know," he said helplessly, "you're terribly disappointed. And I don't blam_ou. But you will find out that you've done me an injustice. I'm going—"
  • "One thing," said she, smiling a smile that could have cut glass, "you ar_oing to do. I know that you won't fail this time, because I shall personall_ee you through with it. You're going to stop making a fool of me."
  • "Tell me," pleaded Billy Magee. "Tell me who you are—what this is all about.
  • Can't you see I'm working in the dark? You must—"
  • She threw open the card-room door.
  • "An English officer," she remarked loudly, stepping out into the other room,
  • "taught the admiral the game. At least, so he said. It added so much romanc_o it in the eyes of the rocking-chair fleet. Can't you see—India—the ho_un—the Kipling local color—a silent, tanned, handsome man eternally playin_olitaire on the porch of the barracks? Has the barracks a porch?"
  • Roused, humiliated, baffled, Mr. Magee felt his cheeks burn.
  • "We shall see what we shall see," he muttered.
  • "Why coin the inevitable into a bromide," she asked.
  • Mr. Magee joined the group by the fire. Never before in his life had he bee_o determined on anything as he was now that the package of money shoul_eturn to his keeping. But how? How trace through this maze of humans th_resent holder of that precious bundle of collateral? He looked at Mr. Max, sneering his lemon-colored sneer at the mayor's side; at the mayor himself, nonchalant as the admiral being photographed; at Bland, author of the Arabell_iction, sprawling at ease before the fire; at the tawdry Mrs. Norton, and a_yra Thornhill, who had by her pleading the night before made him ridiculous.
  • Who of these had the money now? Who but Cargan and Max, their faces serene, their eyes eagerly on the preparations for lunch, their plans for leavin_aldpate Inn no doubt already made?
  • And then Mr. Magee saw coming down the stairs another figure—one he ha_orgot—Professor Thaddeus Bolton, he of the mysterious dialogue by the anne_oor. On the professor's forehead was a surprising red scratch, and his eyes, no longer hidden by the double convex lenses, stood revealed a washed-out gra_n the light of noon.
  • "A most unfortunate accident," explained the old man. "Most distressing. _ave broken my glasses. I am almost blind without them."
  • "How'd it happen, Doc?" asked Mr. Cargan easily.
  • "I came into unexpected juxtaposition with an open door," returned Professo_olton. "Stupid of me, but I'm always doing it. Really, the agility displaye_y doors in getting in my path is surprising."
  • "You and Mr. Max can sympathize with each other," said Magee, "I thought for _oment your injuries might have been received in the same cause."
  • "Don't worry, Doc," Mr. Bland soothed him, "we'll all keep a weather eye ou_or reporters that want to connect you up with the peroxide blondes."
  • The professor turned his ineffectual gaze on the haberdasher, and there was _tartlingly ironic smile on his face.
  • "I know, Mr. Bland," he said, "that my safety is your dearest wish."
  • The Hermit of Baldpate announced that lunch was ready, and with the others Mr.
  • Magee took his place at the table. Food for thought was also his. Th_pectacles of Professor Thaddeus Bolton were broken. Somewhere in the schem_f things those smashed lenses must fit. But where?