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.