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- Quill's Window - 30/55 -
the north along the river was a fringe of these much be-sung trees. The space between the straight face of the cliff and the edge of the ledge on which he stood was not more than seven or eight feet. It was possible, he perceived, for one to continue along and down this natural path to the bottom of the hill, coming out among the trees in the low ground. The descent, however, was a great deal more precipitous than the ascent from the other direction.
Now that he was immediately below the cave known as Quill's Window, he was surprised to find that the cliff was not absolutely perpendicular. There was quite a pronounced slant; the top of the wall was, at a guess, ten feet farther back than the foot. His gaze first sought the strange opening three-fourths of the way to the top,--a matter of eighty or ninety feet above the spot on which he stood. There it was,--a deep, black gash in the solid rock, rendered narrow by fore-shortening and a slightly protruding brow. He could think of nothing more analogous than an open mouth with a thick upper lip and the nether lip drawn in.
Then he saw what surprised him even more,--something that none of the chroniclers had mentioned: a series of hand-cut niches up the face of the cliff, leading directly to the mouth of the cave. He had been given to understand that there was no other means of reaching Quill's Window save from the top of the rock. These niches or "hand-holds" were about two feet apart. He examined the lower ones. They were deeply chiselled, affording a substantial foothold as well as a grip for a strong, resolute climber. Most of them were packed with dirty, wind blown leaves from the trees nearby,--so tightly packed by the furious rains that beat against the rock that he had difficulty in removing the substance. Higher up they appeared to be quite clean and free from obstruction.
He scraped the leaves out of five or six of the slits, one after the other, as he climbed a short distance up the wall. Further progress was checked, not so much by lack of desire to go to the top, but by an involuntary glance over his shoulder. He was not more than ten feet above the trail, but the trail was shockingly narrow and uneven. So down he came, quite thrilled by his discovery, to lean against the rock and laugh scornfully over the silly tales about Quill's Window and its eerie impregnability. Anybody could climb up there! All that one needed was a stout heart and a good pair of arms. Closer inspection convinced him that these niches were of comparatively recent origin,--certainly they were not of Quill's time. David Windom? Had that adventurous lad hewn this ladder to the cave long before the beautiful Alix the First came to complete the romance of his dreams?
No matter who cut them, they were still there to prove that Quill's Window was accessible. According to tradition, no one had put foot inside the cave since David Windom, in his youth, had ventured to explore its grisly interior. Courtney promised himself that one day he would enter that unhallowed hole in the wall!
Retracing his steps over the trail, he soon found himself in the village. He was more cheerful now. He had talked himself into a better frame of mind....She was shy. She had reached the turning point,--the inevitable point where women tremble with a strange mixture of alarm and rapture, and are as timid as the questioning deer. What a fool he was not to have thought of that!
There was a small package in his lockbox at the postoffice--and two or three letters. The package was from New York, addressed in his mother's hand.
He stopped at the general delivery window for a chat with Mrs. Pollock.
"I had forgotten all about my birthday," he said, "but here's mother reminding me of it as usual. She never forgets,--and, hang it all, she won't let ME forget." He fingered the unopened package lovingly.
"Goodness me, Mr. Thane,--is this your birthday?" she cried excitedly. "We must have a celebration. We can't allow--"
"Alas, it is too late. Your super-efficient postal service has brought this to me just forty-eight hours behind time. Day before yesterday was the day, now that I think of it."
Mrs. Pollock mentally resolved to indite a short poem to him, notwithstanding. She could feel it coming, even as she stood there talking to him. The first line was already written, so to speak. It went:
"The flight of Time has brought once more--"
He continued, oblivious to the workings of the Muse: "Twenty-nine! By Jove, I begin to feel that I'm getting on in life." He ripped open one of the envelopes.
Maude Baggs Pollock looked intently at the ceiling of the outer office, and thought of line number two:
"The busy Reaper to his door,"
She hastily snatched a pencil from her hair and began jotting down these precious lines. Fumbling for a bit of paper her fingers encountered an envelope addressed to Alaska Spigg. The Muse worked swiftly. Before she had dashed off the first two lines, the second pair were crowding down upon them, to wit:
"But while he whets his fatal scythe, Gaze ye upon his victim lithe."
At this juncture George Rice's son came in for a half dozen postal cards, and while she was making change for a dime the Muse forsook her. Bent on preserving the lines already shaped, she stuffed Alaska's letter into the pocket of her apron, intending to copy them at the first leisure moment. Unfortunately for Alaska, there was a rush of business at the window, including an acrimonious dispute with Mrs. Ryan over the non-arrival of a letter she was expecting from her son, and a lengthy conversation with Miss Flora Grady who dropped in to say that her chilblains always began to bother her in October. In the meantime, Courtney departed.
Two days later, Alaska Spigg received her letter, considerably crumpled and smelling of licorice root,--(a favourite remedy of Mrs. Pollock's)--but rendered precious by the presence of a mysterious "quatrain" done in violet hues by some poetic wielder of an indelible pencil. Guilt denied Maude Baggs Pollock the right to claim authorship of these imperishable lines, and to this day they remain unidentified in the archives of the Windomville Public Library, displayed upon request by Alaska Spigg, their proud and unselfish donor.
Courtney read two of his letters. The third he consigned, unopened, to the fireplace at Dowd's Tavern. The little package, minus the wrapping paper, was locked away in his trunk.
Charlie Webster, emerging from his office at the dinner hour,--twelve noon,--espied Miss Angie Miller hurrying toward the Tavern. He hailed her,--not ceremoniously or even gallantly,--but in the manner of Windomville.
"Hey!" he called, and Angie promptly responded, not with the dignity for which she was famous but with an entirely human spontaneity:
She waited till he caught up with her.
"Have you had an answer to that letter, Angie?" he inquired, glancing at a small bunch of letters she held in her hand.
"No, I haven't." she replied, somewhat guardedly. "I can't understand why he hasn't answered, Charlie,--unless he's away or something."
"Must be that," said he, frowning slightly. "You wrote nearly two weeks ago, didn't you?"
"Two weeks ago yesterday."
"Sure you had the right address?"
"Absolutely. Thirty-three Cedar Street. He's had an office there for ever so long. I ought to know where my uncle's office is, oughtn't I?"
"I thought maybe you might have got the wrong tree," explained Charlie.
"It's Cedar," said Miss Angie flatly.
"Cedar and pine are a good deal alike, except in--" began Charlie, doubtfully,
"Goodness!" cried Miss Angie, stopping short. "It IS Pine! How perfectly stupid of me! How utterly reprehensible!"
Charlie stared at her a moment in sheer disdain.
"Well, by gosh, if that ain't like a woman," he exclaimed disgustedly. "I'd hate to send you for a half dozen oranges if there were any lemons in the market."
"He is such a well-known lawyer," began Angie humbly, "that you would think the mail carrier would--"
"What did you say his name was?"
"Joseph Smith. He is my mother's brother."
"East or West?"
"East or west what?"
"Pine Street. Same as North Fourth Street and South Fourth Street up in the city. It runs both ways, Angie,--you poor simp."
"I shall write to him again this evening," said Angie stiffly. "And I'll thank you, Charlie Webster, to remember that I am a lady and not a--"
"I apologize, Angie," cried Charlie.
They walked along in silence for a few rods. Then Charlie spoke.
"You say your uncle was mixed up in a lawsuit of some kind concerning
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