Baldpate Inn did not stand tiptoe on the misty mountain-top. Instead it clun_ith grim determination to the side of Baldpate, about half-way up, much as _ity man clings to the running board of an open street-car. This was th_omparison Mr. Magee made, and even as he made it he knew that atmospheri_onditions rendered it questionable. For an open street-car suggests summe_nd the ball park; Baldpate Inn, as it shouldered darkly into Mr. Magee's ken, suggested winter at its most wintry.
About the great black shape that was the inn, like arms, stretched broa_erandas. Mr. Magee remarked upon them to his companion.
"Those porches and balconies and things," he said, "will come in handy i_ooling the fevered brow of genius."
"There ain't much fever in this locality," the practical Quimby assured him,
"especially not in winter."
Silenced, Mr. Magee followed the lantern of Quimby over the snow to the broa_teps, and up to the great front door. There Magee produced from beneath hi_oat an impressive key. Mr. Quimby made as though to assist, but was wave_side.
"This is a ceremony," Mr. Magee told him, "some day Sunday newspaper storie_ill be written about it. Baldpate Inn opening its doors to the great America_ovel!"
He placed the key in the lock, turned it, and the door swung open. The coldes_last of air Mr. Magee had even encountered swept out from the dark interior.
He shuddered, and wrapped his coat closer. He seemed to see the white trai_rom Dawson City, the sled dogs straggling on with the dwindling provisions, the fat Eskimo guide begging for gum-drops by his side.
"Whew," he cried, "we've discovered another Pole!"
"It's stale air," remarked Quimby.
"You mean the Polar atmosphere," replied Magee. "Yes, it is pretty stale. Jac_ondon and Doctor Cook have worked it to death."
"I mean," said Quimby, "this air has been in here alone too long. It's a_tale as last week's newspaper. We couldn't heat it with a million fires.
We'll have to let in some warm air from outside first."
"Warm air—humph," remarked Mr. Magee. "Well, live and learn."
The two stood together in a great bare room. The rugs had been removed, an_uch furniture as remained had huddled together, as if for warmth, in th_enter of the floor. When they stepped forward, the sound of their shoes o_he hard wood seemed the boom that should wake the dead.
"This is the hotel office," explained Mr. Quimby.
At the left of the door was the clerk's desk; behind it loomed a great safe, and a series of pigeon-holes for the mail of the guests. Opposite the fron_oor, a wide stairway led to a landing half-way up, where the stairs wer_ivorced and went to the right and left in search of the floor above. Mr.
Magee surveyed the stairway critically.
"A great place," he remarked, "to show off the talents of your dressmaker, eh, Quimby? Can't you just see the stunning gowns coming down that stair in state, and the young men below here agitated in their bosoms?"
"No, I can't," said Mr. Quimby frankly.
"I can't either, to tell the truth," laughed Billy Magee. He turned up hi_ollar. "It's like picturing a summer girl sitting on an iceberg and swingin_er open-work hosiery over the edge. I don't suppose it's necessary t_egister. I'll go right up and select my apartments."
It was upon a suite of rooms that bore the number seven on their door that Mr.
Magee's choice fell. A large parlor with a fireplace that a few blazing log_ould cheer, a bedroom whose bed was destitute of all save mattress an_prings, and a bathroom, comprised his kingdom. Here, too, all the furnitur_as piled in the center of the rooms. After Quimby had opened the windows, h_egan straightening the furniture about.
Mr. Magee inspected his apartment. The windows were all of the low Frenc_ariety, and opened out upon a broad snow-covered balcony which was in realit_he roof of the first floor veranda. On this balcony Magee stood a moment, watching the trees on Baldpate wave their black arms in the wind, and th_ights of Upper Asquewan Falls wink knowingly up at him. Then he came inside, and his investigations brought him, presently to the tub in the bathroom.
"Fine," he cried, "a cold plunge in the morning before the daily struggle fo_mmortality begins."
He turned the spigot. Nothing happened.
"I reckon," drawled Mr. Quimby from the bedroom, "you'll carry your col_lunge up from the well back of the inn before you plunge into it. The water'_urned off. We can't take chances with busted pipes."
"Of course," replied Magee less blithely. His ardor was somewhat dampened—_aradox—by the failure of the spigot to gush forth a response. "There'_othing I'd enjoy more than carrying eight pails of water up-stairs ever_orning to get up an appetite for—what? Oh, well, the Lord will provide. If w_ropose to heat up the great American outdoors, Quimby, I think it's time w_ad a fire."
Mr. Quimby went out without comment, and left Magee to light his first candl_n the dark. For a time he occupied himself with lighting a few of the forty, and distributing them about the room. Soon Quimby came back with kindling an_ogs, and subsequently a noisy fire roared in the grate. Again Quimby retired, and returned with a generous armful of bedding, which he threw upon the bras_ed in the inner room. Then he slowly closed and locked the windows, afte_hich he came and looked down with good-natured contempt at Mr. Magee, who sa_n a chair before the fire.
"I wouldn't wander round none," he advised. "You might fall down something—o_omething. I been living in these parts, off and on, for sixty years and more, and nothing like this ever came under my observation before. Howsomever, _uess it's all right if Mr. Bentley says so. I'll come up in the morning an_ee you down to the train."
"What train?" inquired Mr. Magee.
"Your train back to New York City," replied Mr. Quimby. "Don't try to star_ack in the night. There ain't no train till morning."
"Ah, Quimby," laughed Mr. Magee, "you taunt me. You think I won't stick i_ut. But I'll show you. I tell you, I'm hungry for solitude."
"That's all right," Mr. Quimby responded, "you can't make three square meals _ay off solitude."
"I'm desperate," said Magee. "Henry Cabot Lodge must come to me, I say, wit_ears in his eyes. Ever see the senator that way? No? It isn't going to be a_asy job. I must put it over. I must go deep into the hearts of men, up here, and write what I find. No more shots in the night. Just the adventure of sou_nd soul. Do you see? By the way, here's twenty dollars, your first week's pa_s caretaker of a New York Quixote."
"What's that?" asked Quimby.
"Quixote," explained Mr. Magee, "was a Spanish lad who was a little confuse_n his mind, and went about the country putting up at summer resorts in mid- winter."
"I'd expect it of a Spaniard," Quimby said. "Be careful of that fire. I'll b_p in the morning." He stowed away the bill Mr. Magee had given him. "I gues_othing will interfere with your lonesomeness. Leastways, I hope it won't.
Mr. Magee bade the man good night, and listened to the thump of his boots, an_he closing of the great front door. From his windows he watched the caretake_ove down the road without looking back, to disappear at last in the whit_ight.
Throwing off his great coat, Mr. Magee noisily attacked the fire. The blaz_lared red on his strong humorous mouth, in his smiling eyes. Next, in th_lickering half-light of suite seven, he distributed the contents of hi_raveling-bags about. On the table he placed a number of new magazines and _ew books.
Then Mr. Magee sat down in the big leather chair before the fire, and caugh_is breath. Here he was at last. The wild plan he and Hal Bentley had cooke_p in that Forty-fourth Street club had actually come to be. "Seclusion,"
Magee had cried. "Bermuda," Bentley had suggested. "A mixture of sea, hote_lerks, and honeymooners!" the seeker for solitude had sneered. "Some winte_lace down South,"—from Bentley. "And a flirtation lurking in ever_orner!"—from Magee. "A country town where you don't know any one." "Th_asiest place in the world to get acquainted. I must be alone, man! Alone!"
"Baldpate Inn," Bentley had cried in his idiom. "Why, Billy—Baldpate Inn a_hristmas—it must be old John H. Seclusion himself."
Yes, here he was. And here was the solitude he had come to find. Mr. Mage_ooked nervously about, and the smile died out of his gray eyes. For the firs_ime misgivings smote him. Might one not have too much of a good thing? _ilence like that of the tomb had descended. He recalled stories of men wh_ent mad from loneliness. What place lonelier than this? The wind howled alon_he balcony. It rattled the windows. Outside his door lay a great blac_ave—in summer gay with men and maids—now like Crusoe's island before the ol_an landed.
"Alone, alone, all, all alone," quoted Mr. Magee. "If I can't think here i_ill be because I'm not equipped with the apparatus. I will. I'll show th_loomy old critics! I wonder what's doing in New York?"
New York! Mr. Magee looked at his watch. Eight o'clock. The great street wa_blaze. The crowds were parading from the restaurants to the theaters. Th_lectric signs were pasting lurid legends on a long suffering sky; the taxi_ere spraying throats with gasoline; the traffic cop at Broadway and Forty- second Street was madly earning his pay. Mr. Magee got up and walked th_loor. New York!
Probably the telephone in his rooms was jangling, vainly calling forth t_port with Amaryllis in the shade of the rubber trees Billy Magee—Billy Mage_ho sat alone in the silence on Baldpate Mountain. Few knew of his departure.
This was the night of that stupid attempt at theatricals at the Plaza; stupi_n itself but gay, almost giddy, since Helen Faulkner was to be there. Thi_as the night of the dinner to Carey at the club. This was the night—of man_iverting things.
Mr. Magee picked up a magazine. He wondered how they read, in the old days, b_andlelight. He wondered if they would have found his own stories worth th_train on the eyes. And he also wondered if absolute solitude was quite th_hing necessary to the composition of the novel that should forever silenc_hose who sneered at his ability.
Absolute solitude! Only the crackle of the fire, the roar of the wind, and th_icking of his watch bore him company. He strode to the window and looked dow_t the few dim lights that proclaimed the existence of Upper Asquewan Falls.
Somewhere, down there, was the Commercial House. Somewhere the girl who ha_ept so bitterly in that gloomy little waiting-room. She was only three mile_way, and the thought cheered Mr. Magee. After all, he was not on a deser_sland.
And yet—he was alone, intensely, almost painfully, alone. Alone in a vas_oaning house that must be his only home until he could go back to the ga_ity with his masterpiece. What a masterpiece! As though with a surgeon'_nife it would lay bare the hearts of men. No tricks of plot, no—
Mr. Magee paused. For sharply in the silence the bell of his room telephon_ang out.
He stood for a moment gazing in wonder, his heart beating swiftly, his eye_pon the instrument on the wall. It was a house phone; he knew that it coul_nly be rung from the switchboard in the hall below. "I'm going mad already,"
he remarked, and took down the receiver.
A blur of talk, an electric muttering, a click, and all was still.
Mr. Magee opened the door and stepped out into the shadows. He heard a voic_elow. Noiselessly he crept to the landing, and gazed down into the office. _oung man sat at the telephone switchboard; Mr. Magee could see in the di_ight of a solitary candle that he was a person of rather hilarious raiment.
The candle stood on the top of the safe, and the door of the latter swun_pen. Sinking down on the steps in the dark, Mr. Magee waited.
"Hello," the young man was saying, "how do you work this thing, anyhow? I'v_ried every peg but the right one. Hello—hello! I want long distance—Reuton.
2876 West—Mr. Andy Rutter. Will you get him for me, sister?"
Another wait—a long one—ensued. The candle sputtered. The young man fidgete_n his chair. At last he spoke again:
"Hello! Andy? Is that you, Andy? What's the good word? As quiet as the tomb o_apoleon. Shall I close up shop? Sure. What next? Oh, see here, Andy, I'd di_p here. Did you ever hit a place like this in winter? I can't—I—oh, well, i_e says so. Yes. I could do that. But no longer. I couldn't stand it long.
Tell him that. Tell him everything's O. K. Yes. All right. Well, good night, Andy."
He turned away from the switchboard, and as he did so Mr. Magee walked calml_own the stairs toward him. With a cry the young man ran to the safe, threw _ackage inside, and swung shut the door. He turned the knob of the saf_everal times; then he faced Mr. Magee. The latter saw something glitter i_is hand.
"Good evening," remarked Mr. Magee pleasantly.
"What are you doing here?" cried the youth wildly.
"I live here," Mr. Magee assured him. "Won't you come up to my room—it's righ_t the head of the stairs. I have a fire, you know."
Back into the young man's lean hawk-like face crept the assurance tha_elonged with the gay attire he wore. He dropped the revolver into his pocket, and smiled a sneering smile.
"You gave me a turn," he said. "Of course you live here. Are any of the othe_uests about? And who won the tennis match to-day?"
"You are facetious." Mr. Magee smiled too. "So much the better. A livel_ompanion is the very sort I should have ordered to-night. Come up-stairs."
The young man looked suspiciously about, his thin nose seemingly scentin_lots. He nodded, and picked up the candle. "All right," he said. "But I'l_ave to ask you to go first. You know the way." His right hand sought th_ocket into which the revolver had fallen.
"You honor my poor and drafty house," said Mr. Magee. "This way."
He mounted the stairs. After him followed the youth of flashy habiliments, looking fearfully about him as he went. He seemed surprised that they came t_agee's room without incident. Inside, Mr. Magee drew up an easy chair befor_he fire, and offered his guest a cigar.
"You must be cold," he said. "Sit here. 'A bad night, stranger' as they remar_n stories."
"You've said it," replied the young man, accepting the cigar. "Thanks." H_alked to the door leading into the hall and opened it about a foot. "I'_fraid," he explained jocosely, "we'll get to talking, and miss the breakfas_ell." He dropped into the chair, and lighted his cigar at a candle end. "Say, you never can tell, can you? Climbing up old Baldpate I thought to myself, that hotel certainly makes the Sahara Desert look like a cozy corner. And her_ou are, as snug and comfortable and at home as if you were in a Harlem flat.
You never can tell. And what now? The story of my life?"
"You might relate," Mr. Magee told him, "that portion of it that has led yo_respassing on a gentleman seeking seclusion at Baldpate Inn."
The stranger looked at Mr. Magee. He had an eye that not only looked, bu_eighed, estimated, and classified. Mr. Magee met it smilingly.
"Trespassing, eh?" said the young man. "Far be it from me to quarrel with _an who smokes as good cigars as you do—but there's something I haven't quit_oped out. That is—who's trespassing, me or you?"
"My right here," said Mr. Magee, "is indisputable."
"It's a big word," replied the other, "but you can tack it to my right here, and tell no lie. We can't dispute, so let's drop the matter. With tha_ettled, I'm encouraged to pour out the story of why you see me here to-night, far from the madding crowd. Have you a stray tear? You'll need it. It's a sa_ouching story, concerned with haberdashery and a trusting heart, and a fai_oman—fair, but, oh, how false!"
"Proceed," laughed Mr. Magee. "I'm an admirer of the vivid imagination. Don'_urb yours, I beg of you."
"It's all straight," said the other in a hurt tone. "Every word true. My nam_s Joseph Bland. My profession, until love entered my life, was that o_aberdasher and outfitter. In the city of Reuton, fifty miles from here, _aught the Beau Brummels of the thoroughfares what was doing in London in th_ecktie line. I sold them coats with padded shoulders, and collars high an_we inspiring. I was happy, twisting a piece of silk over my hand to show the_ow it would look on their heaving bosoms. And then—she came."
Mr. Bland puffed on his cigar.
"Yes," he said, "Arabella sparkled on the horizon of my life. When I have bee_ere in the quiet for about two centuries, maybe I can do justice to he_eauty. I won't attempt to describe her now. I loved her—madly. She said _ade a hit with her. I spent on her the profits of my haberdashery. _hispered—marriage. She didn't scream. I had my wedding necktie picked ou_rom the samples of a drummer from Troy." He paused and looked at Mr. Magee.
"Have you ever stood, poised, on that brink?" he asked.
"Never," replied Magee. "But go on. Your story attracts me, strangely."
"From here on—the tear I spoke of, please. There flashed on the scene a ma_he had known and loved in Jersey City. I said flashed. He did—just that. _well dresser—say, he had John Drew beat by two mauve neckties and a purpl_rock coat. I had a haberdashery back of me. No use. He out-dressed me. I sa_hat Arabella's love for me was waning. With his chamois-gloved hands that ne_uy fanned the ancient flame."
He paused. Emotion—or the smoke of the cigar—choked him.
"Let's make the short story shorter," he said. "She threw me down. In m_aberdashery I thought it over. I was blue, bitter. I resolved on a dreadfu_tep. In the night I wrote her a letter, and carried it down to the box an_osted it. Life without Arabella, said the letter, was Shakespeare with Hamle_eft out. It hinted at the river, carbolic acid, revolvers. Yes, I posted it.
"And then," urged Mr. Magee.
Mr. Bland felt tenderly of the horseshoe pin in his purple tie.
"This is just between us," he said. "At that point the trouble began. It cam_rom my being naturally a very brave man. I could have died—easy. The brav_hing was to live. To go on, day after day, devoid of Arabella—say, that too_ourage. I wanted to try it. I'm a courageous man, as I say."
"You seem so," Mr. Magee agreed.
"Lion-hearted," assented Mr. Bland. "I determined to show my nerve, and live.
But there was my letter to Arabella. I feared she wouldn't appreciate m_ravery—women are dull sometimes. It came to me maybe she would be hurt if _idn't keep my word, and die. So I had to—disappear. I had a friend mixed u_n affairs at Baldpate. No, I can't give his name. I told him my story. He wa_mpressed by my spirit, as you have been. He gave me a key he had—the key o_he door opening from the east veranda into the dining-room. So I came u_ere. I came here to be alone, to forgive and forget, to be forgot. And mayb_o plan a new haberdashery in distant parts."
"Was it your wedding necktie," asked Mr. Magee, "that you threw into the saf_hen you saw me coming?"
"No," replied Mr. Bland, sighing deeply. "A package of letters, written to m_y Arabella at various times. I want to forget 'em. If I kept them on hand, _ight look at them from time to time. My great courage might give way—yo_ight find my body on the stairs. That's why I hid them."
Mr. Magee laughed, and stretched forth his hand.
"Believe me," he said, "your touching confidence in me will not be betrayed. _ongratulate you on your narrative power. You want my story. Why am I here? _m not sure that it is worthy to follow yours. But it has its good points—as _ave thought it out."
He went over to the table, and picked up a popular novel upon which his gaz_ad rested while the haberdasher spun his fabric of love and gloom. On th_over was a picture of a very dashing maiden.
"Do you see that girl?" he asked. "She is beautiful, is she not? Eve_rabella, in her most splendid moments, could get a few points from her, _ancy. Perhaps you are not familiar with the important part such a pictur_lays in the success of a novel to-day. The truth is, however, that the nobl_rt of fiction writing has come to lean more and more heavily on it_llustrators. The mere words that go with the pictures grow less importan_very day. There are dozens of distinguished novelists in the country at thi_oment who might be haberdashers if it weren't for the long, lean, haught_adies who are scattered tastefully through their works."
Mr. Bland stirred uneasily.
"I can see you are at a loss to know what my search for seclusion and privac_as to do with all this," continued Mr. Magee. "I am an artist. For years _ave drawn these lovely ladies who make fiction salable to the masses. Many _ovelist owes his motor-car and his country house to my brush. Two months ago, I determined to give up illustration forever, and devote my time to painting.
I turned my back on the novelists. Can you imagine what happened?"
"My imagination's a little tired," apologized Mr. Bland.
"Never mind. I'll tell you. The leading authors whose work I had so lon_llustrated saw ruin staring them in the face. They came to me, on thei_nees, figuratively. They begged. They pleaded. They hid in the vestibule o_y flat. I should say, my studio. They even came up in my dumb-waiter, havin_ribed the janitor. They wouldn't take no for an answer. In order to escap_hem and their really pitiful pleadings, I had to flee. I happened to have _riend involved in the management of Baldpate Inn. I am not at liberty to giv_is name. He gave me a key. So here I am. I rely on you to keep my secret. I_ou perceive a novelist in the distance, lose no time in warning me."
Mr. Magee paused, chuckling inwardly. He stood looking down at the lovelor_aberdasher. The latter got to his feet, and solemnly took Magee's hand.
"I—I—oh, well, you've got me beat a mile, old man," he said.
"You don't mean to say—" began the hurt Magee.
"Oh, that's all right," Mr. Bland assured him. "I believe every word of it.
It's all as real as the haberdashery to me. I'll keep my eye peeled fo_ovelists. What gets me is, when you boil our two fly-by-night stories down, I've come here to be alone. You want to be alone. We can't be alone her_ogether. One of us must clear out."
"Nonsense," answered Billy Magee. "I'll be glad to have you here. Stay as lon_s you like."
The haberdasher looked Mr. Magee fully in the eye, and the latter was startle_y the hostility he saw in the other's face.
"The point is," said Mr. Bland, "I don't want you here. Why? Maybe because yo_ecall beautiful dames—on book covers—and in that way, Arabella. Maybe—bu_hat's the use? I put it simply. I got to be alone—alone on Baldpate Mountain.
I won't put you out to-night—"
"See here, my friend," cried Mr. Magee, "your grief has turned your head. Yo_on't put me out to-night, or to-morrow. I'm here to stay. You're welcome t_o the same, if you like. But you stay—with me. I know you are a man o_ourage—but it would take at least ten men of courage to put me out o_aldpate Inn."
They stood eying each other for a moment. Bland's thin lips twisted into _neer. "We'll see," he said. "We'll settle all that in the morning." His ton_ook on a more friendly aspect "I'm going to pick out a downy couch in one o_hese rooms," he said, "and lay me down to sleep. Say, I could greet a blanke_ike a long-lost friend."
Mr. Magee proffered some of the covers that Quimby had given him, an_ccompanied Mr. Bland to suite ten, across the hall. He explained the matte_f "stale air", and assisted in the opening of windows. The conversation wa_ostly facetious, and Mr. Bland's last remark concerned the fickleness o_oman. With a brisk good night, Mr. Magee returned to number seven.
But he made no move toward the chilly brass bed in the inner room. Instead h_at a long time by the fire. He reflected on the events of his first few hour_n that supposedly uninhabited solitude where he was to be alone with hi_houghts. He pondered the way and manner of the flippant young man who pose_s a lovelorn haberdasher, and under whose flippancy there was certainly a_ir of hostility. Who was Andy Rutter, down in Reuton? What did the young ma_ean when he asked if he should "close up shop"? Who was the "he" from who_ame the orders? and most important of all, what was in the package no_esting in the great safe?
Mr. Magee smiled. Was this the stuff of which solitude was made? He recalle_he ludicrous literary tale he had invented to balance the moving fiction o_rabella, and his smile grew broader. His imagination, at least, was in _ealthy state. He looked at his watch. A quarter of twelve. Probably they wer_aving supper at the Plaza now, and Helen Faulkner was listening to th_analities of young Williams. He settled in his seat to think of Mis_aulkner. He thought of her for ten seconds; then stepped to the window.
The moon had risen, and the snowy roofs of Upper Asquewan Falls sparkled i_he lime-light of the heavens. Under one of those roofs was the girl of th_tation—weeping no more, he hoped. Certainly she had eyes that held even th_east susceptible—to which class Mr. Magee prided himself he belonged. H_ished he might see her again; might talk to her without interruption fro_hat impossible "mamma."
Mr. Magee turned back into the room. His fire was but red glowing ashes. H_hrew off his dressing-gown, and began to unlace his shoes.
"There _has_ been too much crude melodrama in my novels," he reflected. "It'_o easy to write. But I'm going to get away from all that up here. I'm going—"
Mr. Magee paused, with one shoe poised in his hand. For from below came th_harp crack of a pistol, followed by the crash of breaking glass.