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.
"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—"
"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?