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Chapter 16 A MAN FROM THE DARK

  • For fully five seconds Mr. Magee and the man with whom he had collided stoo_acing each other on the balcony. The identical moon of the summer romance_ow hung in the sky, and in its white glare Baldpate Mountain glittered like _hristmas-card. Suddenly the wind broke a small branch from one of the near-b_rees and tossed it lightly on the snow beside the two men—as though it were _ignal for battle.
  • "A lucky chance," said Mr. Magee. "You're a man I've been longing to meet.
  • Especially since the professor left his window open this afternoon."
  • "Indeed," replied the other calmly. "May I ask what you want of me?"
  • "Certainly." Mr. Magee laughed. "A little package. I think it's in your pocke_t this minute. A package no bigger than a man's hand."
  • The stranger made no reply, but looked quickly about, over his shoulder at th_ath along which he had come, and then past Mr. Magee at the road that led t_reedom.
  • "I think it's in your pocket," repeated Mr. Magee, "and I'm going to fin_ut."
  • "I haven't time to argue with you," said the holder of the seventh key. Hi_oice was cold, calculating, harsh. "Get out of my way and let me pass. Or—"
  • "Or what?" asked Billy Magee.
  • He watched the man lunge toward him in the moonlight. He saw the fist that ha_he night before been the Waterloo of Mr. Max and the mayor start on a swif_rue course for his head. Quickly he dodged to one side and closed with hi_pponent.
  • Back and forth through the snow they ploughed, panting, grappling, straining.
  • Mr. Magee soon realized that his adversary was no weakling. He was forced t_all into play muscles he had not used in what seemed ages—not since h_ported of an afternoon in a rather odorous college gymnasium. In moonligh_nd shadow, up and down, they reeled, staggered, stumbled, the sole jarrin_otes in that picture of Baldpate on a quiet winter's night.
  • "You queered the game last time," muttered the stranger. "But you'll neve_ueer it again."
  • Mr. Magee saved his breath. Together they crashed against the side of the inn.
  • Together they squirmed away, across the balcony to the railing. Still back an_orth, now in the moonlight, now in shadow, wildly they fought. Once Mr. Mage_elt his feet slip from beneath him, but caught himself in time. His strengt_as going—surely—quickly. Then suddenly his opponent seemed to weaken in hi_rip. With a supreme effort Magee forced him down upon the balcony floor, an_umbled on top of him. He felt the chill of the snow under his knees, and it_etness in his cuffs.
  • "Now," he cried to himself.
  • The other still struggled desperately. But his struggle was without success.
  • For deftly Billy Magee drew from his pocket the precious package about whic_here had been so much debate on Baldpate Mountain. He clasped it close, ros_nd ran. In another second he was inside number seven, and had lighted _andle at the blazing logs.
  • Once more he examined that closely packed little bundle; once more he found i_ich in greenbacks. Assuredly it was the greatly desired thing he had fough_or the night before. He had it again. And this time, he told himself, h_ould not lose sight of it until he had placed it in the hands of the girl o_he station.
  • The dark shadow of the man he had just robbed was hovering at his windows.
  • Magee turned hastily to the door. As he did so it opened, and Hayden entered.
  • He carried a pistol in his hand; his face was hard, cruel, determined; hi_sually expressionless eyes lighted with pleasure as they fell on the packag_n Mr. Magee's possession.
  • "It seems I'm just in time," he said, "to prevent highway robbery."
  • "You think so?" asked Magee.
  • "See here, young man," remarked Hayden, glancing nervously over his shoulder,
  • "I can't waste any time in talk. Does that money belong to you? No. Well, i_oes belong to me. I'm going to have it. Don't think I'm afraid to shoot t_et it. The law permits a man to fire on the thief who tries to fleece him."
  • "The law, did you say?" laughed Billy Magee. "I wouldn't drag the law int_his if I were you, Mr. Hayden. I'm sure it has no connection with events o_aldpate Mountain. You would be the last to want its attention to be directe_ere. I've got this money, and I'm going to keep it."
  • Hayden considered a brief moment, and then swore under his breath.
  • "You're right," he said. "I'm not going to shoot. But there are other ways, you whipper-snapper—" He dropped the revolver into his pocket and spran_orward. For the second time within ten minutes Mr. Magee steadied himself fo_onflict.
  • But Hayden stopped. Some one had entered the room through the window behin_agee. In the dim light of the single candle Magee saw Hayden's face go white, his lip twitch, his eyes glaze with horrible surprise. His arms fell limply t_is sides.
  • "Good God! Kendrick!" he cried.
  • The voice of the man with whom Billy Magee had but a moment before struggle_n the balcony answered:
  • "Yes, Hayden. I'm back."
  • Hayden wet his lips with his tongue.
  • "What—what brought you?" he asked, his voice trailing off weakly on the las_ord.
  • "What brought me?" Suddenly, as from a volcano that had long been cold, fir_lazed up in Kendrick's eyes. "If a man knew the road from hell back home, what would it need to bring him back?"
  • Hayden stood with his mouth partly open; almost a grotesque picture of terro_e looked in that dim light. Then he spoke, in an odd strained tone, more t_imself than to any one else.
  • "I thought you were dead," he said. "I told myself you'd never come back. Ove_nd over—in the night—I told myself that. But all the time—I knew—I knew you'_ome."
  • A cry—a woman's cry—sounded from just outside the door of number seven. Int_he room came Myra Thornhill; quickly she crossed and took Kendrick's hands i_ers.
  • "David," she sobbed. "Oh, David—is it a dream—a wonderful dream?"
  • Kendrick looked into her eyes, sheepishly at first, then gladly as he saw wha_as in them. For the light there, under the tears, was such as no man coul_istake. Magee saw it. Hayden saw it too, and his voice was even more lifeles_hen he spoke.
  • "Forgive me, David," he said. "I didn't mean—"
  • And then, as he saw that Kendrick did not listen, he turned and walked quietl_nto the bedroom of number seven, taking no notice of Cargan and Bland, who, with the other winter guests of Baldpate, now crowded the doorway leading t_he hall. Hayden closed the bedroom door. Mr. Magee and the others stoo_ilent, wondering. Their answer came quickly—the sharp cry of a revolve_ehind that closed door.
  • It was Mr. Magee who went into the bedroom. The moonlight streamed in throug_he low windows, and fell brightly on the bed. Across this Hayden lay. Mr.
  • Magee made sure. It was not a pleasant thing to make sure of. Then he took th_evolver from the hand that still clasped it, covered the quiet figure on th_ed, and stepped back into the outer room.
  • "He—he has killed himself," he said in a low voice, closing the bedroom doo_ehind him.
  • There was a moment's frightened hush; then the voice of Kendrick rang out:
  • "Killed himself? I don't understand. Why should he do that? Surely no_ecause—no—" He looked questioningly into the white face of the girl at hi_ide; she only shook her head. "Killed himself," he repeated, like a ma_akened from sleep. "I don't understand."
  • On tiptoe the amateur hermits of Baldpate descended to the hotel office. Mr.
  • Magee saw the eyes of the girl of the station upon him, wide with doubt an_larm. While the others gathered in little groups and talked, he took her t_ne side.
  • "When does the next train leave for Reuton?" he asked her.
  • "In two hours—at ten-thirty," she replied.
  • "You must be on it," he told her. "With you will go the two-hundred-thousand- dollar package. I have it in my pocket now."
  • She took the news stolidly, and made no reply.
  • "Are you afraid?" asked Magee gently. "You mustn't be. No harm can touch you.
  • I shall stay here and see that no one follows."
  • "I'm not afraid," she replied. "Just startled, that's all. Did he—did he do i_ecause you took this money—because he was afraid of what would happen?"
  • "You mean Hayden?" Magee said. "No. This money was not concerned in—his death.
  • That is an affair between Kendrick and him."
  • "I see," answered the girl slowly. "I'm so glad it wasn't—the money. _ouldn't bear it if it were."
  • "May I call your attention," remarked Magee, "to the fact that the long reig_f 'I'm going to' is ended, and the rule of 'I've done it' has begun? I'v_ctually got the money. Somehow, it doesn't seem to thrill you the way _hought it would."
  • "But it does—oh, it does!" cried the girl. "I was upset—for a moment. It'_lorious news And with you on guard here, I'm not afraid to carry it away—dow_he mountain—and to Reuton. I'll be with you in a moment, ready for th_ourney."
  • She called Mrs. Norton and the two went rather timidly up-stairs together. Mr.
  • Magee turned to his companions in the room, and mentally called their roll.
  • They were all there, the professor, the mayor, Max, Bland, Peters, Mis_hornhill, and the newcomer Kendrick, a man prematurely old, grayed at th_emples, and with a face yellowed by fever. He and the professor were talkin_arnestly together, and now the old man came and stood before Magee.
  • "Mr. Magee," he said seriously, "I learn from Kendrick that you have in you_ossession a certain package of money that has been much buffeted about her_t Baldpate Inn. Now I suggest—no, I demand—"
  • "Pardon me, Professor," Mr. Magee interrupted. "I have something t_uggest—even to demand. It is that you, and every one else present, select _hair and sit down. I suggest, though I do not demand, that you pic_omfortable chairs. For the vigil that you are about to begin will prove _ong one."
  • "What d'you mean?" asked the mayor of Reuton, coming militantly to Professo_olton's side.
  • Magee did not reply. Miss Norton and her mother came down the stair, th_ormer wrapped in a great coat. She stood on the bottom step, her cheek_lushed, her eyes ablaze. Mr. Magee, going to her side, reflected that sh_ooked charming and wonderful, and wished he had time to admire. But h_adn't. He took from one pocket the pistol he had removed from the hand o_ayden; from the other the celebrated package of money.
  • "I warn you all," he said, "I will shoot any one who makes a move for thi_undle. Miss Norton is going to take it away with her—she is to catch the ten- thirty train for Reuton. The train arrives at its destination at twelve. Muc_s it pains me to say it, no one will leave this room before twelve-fifteen."
  • "You—crook!" roared Cargan.
  • Mr. Magee smiled as he put the package in the girl's hand.
  • "Possibly," he said. "But, Mr. Cargan, the blackness of the kettle always ha_nnoyed the pot. Do not be afraid," he added to the girl. "Every gentleman i_his room is to spend the evening with me. You will not be annoyed in an_ay." He looked around the menacing circle. "Go," he said, "and may the god_f the mountain take care of you."
  • The little professor of Comparative Literature stepped forward and stoo_ompously before Magee.
  • "One moment," he remarked. "Before you steal this money in front of our ver_yes, I want to inform you who I am, and who I represent here."
  • "This is no time," replied Magee, "for light talk on the subject of blondes."
  • "This is the time," said the professor warmly, "for me to tell you that Mr.
  • Kendrick here and myself represent at Baldpate Inn the prosecuting attorney o_euton county. We—"
  • Cargan, big, red, volcanic, interrupted.
  • "Drayton," he bellowed. "Drayton sent you here? The rat! The pup! Why, I mad_hat kid. I put him where he is. He won't dare touch me."
  • "Won't he?" returned Professor Bolton. "My dear sir, you are mistaken. Drayto_ully intends to prosecute you on the ground that you arranged to pas_rdinance Number 45, granting the Suburban Railway the privilege of mergin_ith the Civic, in exchange for this bribe of two hundred thousand dollars."
  • "He won't dare," cried Cargan. "I made him."
  • "Before election," said the professor, "I believe he often insisted to yo_hat he would do his duty as he saw it."
  • "Of course he did," replied Cargan. "But that's what they all say."
  • "He intends to keep his word."
  • The mayor of Reuton slid into the shadows.
  • "To think he'd do this thing to me," he whined. "After all I've done for him."
  • "As I was saying, Mr. Magee," continued the professor, "Mr. Kendrick and _ame up here to secure this package of money as evidence against Carga_nd—the man above. I speak with the voice of the law when I say you must tur_his money over to me."
  • For answer Magee smiled at the girl.
  • "You'd better go now," he said. "It's a long walk down the mountain."
  • "You refuse?" cried the professor.
  • "Absolutely—don't we, Miss Norton?" said Magee.
  • "Absolutely," she repeated bravely.
  • "Then, sir," announced the old man crushingly, "you are little better than _hief, and this girl is your accomplice."
  • "So it must look, on the face of it," assented Magee. The girl moved to th_ig front door, and Magee, with his eyes still on the room, backed away unti_e stood beside her. He handed her his key.
  • "I give you," he said, "to the gods of the mountain. But it's only a loan—_hall surely want you back. I can't follow ten feet behind, as I threatened—i_ill be ten hours instead. Good night, and good luck."
  • She turned the key in the lock.
  • "Billy Magee," she whispered, "yours is a faith beyond understanding. I shal_ell the gods of the mountain that I am to be—returned. Good night, you—dear."
  • She went out quickly, and Magee, locking the door after her, thrust the ke_nto his pocket. For a moment no one stirred. Then Mr. Max leaped up and ra_hrough the flickering light to the nearest window.
  • There was a flash, a report, and Max came back into the firelight examining _orn trousers leg.
  • "I don't mean to kill anybody," explained Mr. Magee. "Just to wing them. Bu_'m not an expert—I might shoot higher than I intend. So I suggest that no on_lse try a break for it."
  • "Mr. Magee," said Miss Thornhill, "I don't believe you have the slightest ide_ho that girl is, nor what she wants with the money."
  • "That," he replied, "makes it all the more exciting, don't you think?"
  • "Do you mean—" the professor, exploded, "you don't know her? Well, you youn_ool."
  • "It's rather fine of you," remarked Miss Thornhill.
  • "It's asinine, if it's true," the professor voiced the other side of it.
  • "You have said yourself—or at least you claim to have said—" Mr. Mage_eminded him, "one girl like that is worth a million suffragettes."
  • "And can make just as much trouble," complained Professor Bolton. "I shal_ertainly see to it that the hermit's book has an honored place in our colleg_ibrary."
  • Out of the big chair into which he had sunk came the wail of th_ncomprehending Cargan:
  • "He's done this thing to me—after all I've done for him."
  • "I hope every one is quite comfortable," remarked Mr. Magee, selecting a sea_acing the crowd. "It's to be a long wait, you know."
  • There was no answer. The wind roared lustily at the windows. The fireligh_lickered redly on the faces of Mr. Magee's prisoners.