Undecided, Mr. Magee looked toward the kitchen door, from behind which cam_he sound of men's voices. Then he smiled, turned and led Mr. Peters back int_he office. The Hermit of Baldpate fairly trembled with news.
"Since I broke in on you yesterday morning," he said in a low tone as he too_ seat on the edge of a chair, "one thing has followed another so fast tha_'m a little dazed. I can't just get the full meaning of it all."
"You have nothing on me there, Peters," Magee answered. "I can't either."
"Well," went on the hermit, "as I say, through all this downpour of people, including women, I've hung on to one idea. I'm working for you. You give me m_ages. You're the boss. That's why I feel I ought to give what information _ot to you."
"Yes, yes," Mr. Magee agreed impatiently. "Go ahead."
"Where you find women," Peters continued, "there you find things beyon_nderstanding. History—"
"Get to the point."
"Well—yes. This afternoon I was looking round through the kitchen, sort o_econnoitering, you might say, and finding out what I have to work with, fo_ust between us, when some of this bunch goes I'll easily be persuaded to com_ack and cook for you. I was hunting round in the big refrigerator with _andle, thinking maybe some little token of food had been left over from las_ummer's rush—something in a can that time can not wither nor custom stale, a_he poet says—and away up on the top shelf, in the darkest corner, I found _ittle package."
"Quick, Peters," cried Magee, "where is that package now?"
"I'm coming to that," went on the hermit, not to be hurried. "What struck m_irst about the thing was it didn't have any dust on it. 'Aha,' I says, o_ords to that effect. I opened it. What do you think was in it?"
"I don't have to think—I know," said Magee. "Money. In the name of heaven, Peters, tell me where you've got the thing."
"Just a minute, Mr. Magee. Let me tell it my way. You're right. There wa_oney in that package. Lots of it. Enough to found a university, or buy _oman's gowns for a year. I was examining it careful-like when a shadow cam_n the doorway. I looked up—"
"Who?" asked Magee breathlessly.
"That little blinky-eyed Professor Bolton was standing there, most owlish an_nterested. He came into the refrigerator. 'That package you have in you_and, Peters,' he says, 'belongs to me. I put it in cold storage so it woul_eep. I'll take it now.' Well, Mr. Magee, I'm a peaceful man. I could hav_attered that professor into a learned sort of jelly if I'd wanted to. But I'_ great admirer of Mr. Carnegie, on account of the library, and I go in fo_eace. I knew it wasn't exactly the thing, but—"
"You gave him the package?"
"That's hardly the way I would put it, Mr. Magee. I made no outcry o_esistance when he took it. 'I'm just a cook,' I says, 'in this house. I ain'_he trusted old family retainer that retains its fortunes like a safet_eposit vault.' So I let go the bundle. It was weak of me, I know, but I sor_f got the habit of giving up money, being married so many years."
"Peters," said Mr. Magee, "I'm sorry your grip was so insecure, but I'm might_lad you came to me with this matter."
"He told me I wasn't to mention it to anybody," replied the hermit, "but as _ay, I sort of look on it that we were here first, and if our guests get t_hasing untold wealth up and down the place, we ought to let each other in o_t."
"Correct," answered Magee. "You are a valuable man, Peters. I want you to kno_hat I appreciate the way you have acted in this affair." Four shadowy figure_ramped in through the dining-room door. "I should say," he continued, "tha_he menu you propose for dinner will prove most gratifying."
"What—oh—yes, sir," said Peters. "Is that all?"
"Quite," smiled Magee. "Unless—just a minute, this may concern you—on my word, there's another new face at Baldpate."
He stood up, and in the light of the fire met Hayden. Now he saw that the fac_f the latest comer was scheming and weak, and that under a small blon_ustache a very cruel mouth sought to hide. The stranger gazed at Magee wit_n annoyance plainly marked.
"A friend of mine—Mr.—er—Downs, Mr. Magee," muttered Bland.
"Oh, come now," smiled Magee. "Let's tell our real names. I heard you greetin_our friend a minute ago. How are you, Mr. Hayden?"
He held out his hand. Hayden looked him angrily in the eyes.
"Who the devil are you?" he asked.
"Do you mean," said Magee, "that you didn't catch the name. It's Magee—Willia_allowell Magee. I hold a record hereabouts, Mr. Hayden. I spent nearly a_our at Baldpate Inn—alone. You see, I was the first of our amiable littl_arty to arrive. Let me make you welcome. Are you staying to dinner? Yo_ust."
"I'm not," growled Hayden.
"Don't believe him, Mr. Magee," sneered the mayor, "he doesn't always say wha_e means. He's going to stay, all right."
"Yes, you'd better, Mr. Hayden," advised Bland.
"Huh—delighted, I'm sure," snapped Hayden. He strolled over to the wall, an_n the light of the fire examined a picture nonchalantly.
"The pride of our inn," Mr. Magee, following, explained pleasantly, "th_dmiral. It is within these very walls in summer that he plays his famous gam_f solitaire."
Hayden wheeled quickly, and looked Magee in the eyes. A flush crossed hi_ace, leaving it paler than before. He turned away without speaking.
"Peters," said Magee, "you heard what Mr. Hayden said. An extra plate a_inner, please. I must leave you for a moment, gentlemen." He saw that thei_yes followed him eagerly—full of suspicion, menacing. "We shall all mee_gain, very shortly."
Hayden slipped quickly between Magee and the stairs. The latter faced hi_milingly, reflecting as he did so that he could love this man but little.
"Who are you?" said Hayden again. "What is your business here?"
Magee laughed outright, and turned to the other men.
"How unfortunate," he said, "this gentleman does not know the manners an_ustoms of Baldpate in winter. Those are questions, Mr. Hayden, that we ar_ever impolite enough to ask of one another up here." He moved on toward th_tairs, and reluctantly Hayden got out of his path. "I am very happy," h_dded, "that you are to be with us at dinner. It will not take you long t_ccustom yourself to our ways, I'm sure."
He ran up the stairs and passed through number seven out upon the balcony.
Trudging through the snow, he soon sighted the room of Professor Bolton. An_s he did so, a little shiver that was not due to atmospheric conditions ra_own his spine. For one of the professor's windows stood wide open, bidding _elcome to the mountain storm. Peters had spoken the truth. Once more tha_ight little, right little package was within Mr. Magee's ken.
He stepped through the open window, and closed it after him. By the table sa_rofessor Bolton, wrapped in coats and blankets, reading by the light of _olitary candle. The book was held almost touching his nose—a reminder of th_pectacles that were gone. As Magee entered the old man looked up, and a ver_bvious expression of fright crossed his face.
"Good evening, Professor," said Magee easily. "Don't you find it rather coo_ith the window open?"
"Mr. Magee," replied the much wrapped gentleman, "I am that rather disturbin_rogressive—a fresh air devotee. I feel that God's good air was meant to b_reathed, not barricaded from our bodies."
"Perhaps," suggested Magee, "I should have left the window open?"
The old man regarded him narrowly.
"I have no wish to be inhospitable," he replied. "But—if you please—"
"Certainly," answered Magee. He threw open the window. The professor held u_is book.
"I was passing the time before dinner with my pleasant old companion, Montaigne. Mr. Magee, have you ever read his essay on liars?"
"Never," said Magee. "But I do not blame you for brushing up on it at th_resent time, Professor. I have come to apologize. Yesterday morning _eferred in a rather unpleasant way to a murder in the chemical laboratory a_ne of our universities. I said that the professor of chemistry was missing.
This morning's paper, which I secured from Mr. Peters, informs me that he ha_een apprehended."
"You need not have troubled to tell me," said the old man. He smiled his blea_mile.
"I did you an injustice," went on Magee.
"Let us say no more of it," pleaded Professor Bolton.
Mr. Magee walked about the room. Warily the professor turned so that the othe_as at no instant at his back. He looked so helpless, so little, s_neffectual, that Mr. Magee abandoned his first plan of leaping upon him ther_n the silence. By more subtle means than this must his purpose be attained.
"I suppose," he said, "your love of fresh air accounts for the strolls on th_alcony at all hours of the night?"
The old man merely blinked at him.
"I mustn't stop," Magee continued. "I just wanted to make my apology, that'_ll. It was unjust of me. Murder—that is hardly in your line. By the way, wer_ou by any chance in my room this morning, Professor Bolton?"
"Pardon me," remarked the professor at last, "if I do not answer. In this ver_ssay on—on liars, Montaigne has expressed it so well. 'And how much is _alse speech less sociable than silence.' I am a sociable man."
"Of course," smiled Magee. He stood looking down at the frail old schola_efore him, and considered. Of what avail a scuffle there in that chill room?
The package was no doubt safely hidden in a corner he could not quickly find.
No he must wait, and watch.
"Good-by, until dinner," he said, "and may you find much in your wis_ompanion's book to justify your conduct."
He went out through the open window, and in another moment stood just outsid_iss Norton's room. She put a startled head out at his knock.
"Oh, it's you," she said. "I can't invite you in. You might learn terribl_ecrets of the dressing-table—mamma is bedecking herself for dinner. Ha_nything happened?"
"Throw something over your head, Juliet," smiled Magee, "the balcony i_aiting for you."
She was at his side in a moment, and they walked briskly along the shadow_hite floor.
"I know who has the money," said Magee softly. "Simply through a turn of luck, I know. I realize that my protestations of what I am going to do have bore_ou. But it looks very much to me as if that package would be in your hand_ery soon."
She did not reply.
"And when I have got it, and have given it to you—if I do," he continued,
"Then," she answered, "I must go away—very quickly. And no one must know, o_hey will try to stop me."
"And after that?"
"The deluge," she laughed without mirth.
Up above them the great trees of Baldpate Mountain waved their black arm_onstantly as though sparring with the storm. At the foot of the burie_oadway they could see the lamps of Upper Asquewan Falls; under those lamp_rosaic citizens were hurrying home with the supper groceries through th_ight. And not one of those citizens was within miles of guessing that up o_he balcony of Baldpate Inn a young man had seized a young woman's hand, an_as saying wildly: "Beautiful girl—I love you."
Yet that was exactly what Billy Magee was doing. The girl had turned her fac_way.
"You've known me just two days," she said.
"If I can care this much in two days," he said, "think—but that's old, isn'_t? Sometime soon I'm going to say to you: 'Whose girl are you?' and you'r_oing to look up at me with a little heaven for two in your eyes and say: 'I'_illy Magee's girl.' So before we go any further I must confess everything—_ust tell you who this Billy Magee is—this man you're going to admit yo_elong to, my dear."
"You read the future glibly," she replied. "Are your prophecies true, _onder?"
"Absolutely. Some time ago—on my soul, it was only yesterday—I asked if yo_ad read a certain novel called _The Lost Limousine_ , and you said you had, and that—it wasn't sincere. Well, I wrote it—"
"Oh!" cried the girl.
"Yes," said Magee, "and I've done others like it. Oh, yes, my muse has been _nouveau riche_ lady in a Worth gown, my ambition a big red motor-car. I'v_een a 'scramble a cent, mister' troubadour beckoning from the book-stalls. I_as good fun writing those things, and it brought me more money than was goo_or me. I'm not ashamed of them; they were all right as a beginning in th_ame. But the other day—I thought an advertisement did the trick—I turne_ired of that sort, and I decided to try the other kind—the real kind. _hought it was an advertisement that did it—but I see now it was because yo_ere just a few days away."
"Don't tell me," whispered the girl, "that you came up here to—to—"
"Yes," smiled Magee, "I came up here to forget forever the world's gidd_elodrama, the wild chase for money through deserted rooms, shots in th_ight, cupid in the middle distance. I came here to do—literature—if it's i_e to do it."
The girl leaned limply against the side of Baldpate Inn.
"Oh, the irony of it!" she cried.
"I know," he said, "it's ridiculous. I think all this is meant jus_or—temptation. I shall be firm. I'll remember your parable of the blin_irl—and the lamp that was not lighted. I'll do the real stuff. So that whe_ou say—as you certainly must some day—'I'm Billy Magee's girl' you can say i_roudly."
"I'm sure," she said softly, "that if I ever do say it—oh, no, I didn't say _ould"—for he had seized her hands quickly—"if I ever do say it—it wil_ertainly be proudly. But now—you don't even know my name—my right one. Yo_on't know what I do, nor where I come from, nor what I want with thi_isgusting bundle of money. I sort of feel, you know—that this is in the ai_t Baldpate, even in the winter time. No sooner have the men come than the_egin to talk of—love—to whatever girls they find here—on this ver_alcony—down there under the trees. And the girls listen, for—it's in the air, that's all. Then autumn comes, and everybody laughs, and forgets. May not ou_utumn come—when I go away?"
"Never," cried Magee. "This is no summer hotel affair to me. It's a real i_inter and summer love, my dear—in spring and fall—and when you go away, I'_oing too, about ten feet behind."
"Yes," she laughed, "they talk that way at Baldpate—the last weeks of summer.
It's part of the game." They had come to the side of the hotel on which wa_he annex, and the girl stopped and pointed. "Look!" she whispere_reathlessly.
In a window of the annex had appeared for a moment a flickering yellow light.
But only for a moment.
"I know," said Mr. Magee. "There's somebody in there. But that isn't importan_n comparison. This is no summer affair, dear. Look to the thermometer fo_roof. I love you. And when you go away, I shall follow."
"And the book—"
"I have found better inspiration than Baldpate Inn."
They walked along for a time in silence.
"You forget," said the girl, "you only know who has the money."
"I will get it," he answered confidently. "Something tells me I will. Until _o, I am content to say no more."
"Good-by," said the girl. She stood in the window of her room, while a hars_oice called "That you, dearie?" from inside. "And I may add," she smiled,
"that in my profession—a following is considered quite—desirable."
She disappeared, and Mr. Magee, after a few minutes in his room, descende_gain to the office. In the center of the room, Elijah Quimby and Hayden stoo_ace to face.
"What is it, Quimby?" asked Magee.
"I just ran up to see how things were going," Quimby replied, "and I find hi_ere."
"Our latest guest," smiled Magee.
"I was just reminding Mr. Hayden," Quimby said, his teeth set, an angry ligh_n his eyes, "that the last time we met he ordered me from his office. I tol_ou, Mr. Magee, that the Suburban Railway once promised to make use of m_nvention. Then Mr. Kendrick went away—and this man took charge. When I cam_round to the offices again—he laughed at me. When I came the second time, h_alled me a loafer and ordered me out."
He paused, and faced Hayden again.
"I've grown bitter, here on the mountain," he said, "as I've thought over wha_ou and men like you said to me—as I've thought of what might have been—an_hat was—yes, I've grown pretty bitter. Time after time I've gone over in m_ind that scene in your office. As I've sat here thinking you've come to mea_o me all the crowd that made a fool of me. You've come to mean to me all th_rowd that said 'The public be damned' in my ear. I haven't ever forgot—ho_ou ordered me out of your office."
"Well?" asked Hayden.
"And now," Quimby went on, "I find you trespassing in a hotel left in m_are—the tables are turned. I ought to show you the door. I ought to put yo_ut."
"Try it," sneered Hayden.
"No," answered Quimby, "I ain't going to do it. Maybe it's because I've grow_imid, brooding over my failure. And maybe it's because I know who's got th_eventh key."
Hayden made no reply. No one stirred for a minute, and then Quimby moved away, and went out through the dining-room door.