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Chapter 14 THE SIGN OF THE OPEN WINDOW

  • 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?"
  • Silence.
  • "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,
  • "what then?"
  • "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.