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Seven Keys to Baldpate

Seven Keys to Baldpate

4.4 8
by Earl Derr Biggers

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Baldpate Inn has a mystery and seven keys. The novelist has one. The other six fall into the hands of six apparent lunatics: 1. a hermit who flees from barbers and women has a key, 2. a peroxide blonde who "just loves" men has a key, 3. a college professor who has been laughed out of his job has a key, 4. a political "boss" who eats cigars has a key, 5. a Belle of


Baldpate Inn has a mystery and seven keys. The novelist has one. The other six fall into the hands of six apparent lunatics: 1. a hermit who flees from barbers and women has a key, 2. a peroxide blonde who "just loves" men has a key, 3. a college professor who has been laughed out of his job has a key, 4. a political "boss" who eats cigars has a key, 5. a Belle of High Sociétée has a key and, 6. a bold, bad clubman has a key.

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A YOUNG woman was crying bitterly in the waiting-room of the railway station at Upper Asquewan Falls, New York. A beautiful young woman? That is exactly what Billy Magee wanted to know as, closing the waiting-room door behind him, he stood staring just inside.

Were the features against which that frail bit of cambric was agonizingly pressed of a pleasing contour? The girl's neatly tailored corduroy suit and her flippant but charming millinery augured well. Should he step gallantly forward and inquire in sympathetic tones as to the cause of her woe? Should he carry chivalry even to the lengths of Upper Asquewan Falls?

No, Mr. Magee decided he would not. The train that had just roared away into the dusk had not brought him from the region of skyscrapers and derby hats for deeds of knight errantry up state. Anyhow, the girl's tears were none of his business. A railway station was a natural place for grief -- a field of many partings, upon whose floor fell often in torrents the tears of those left behind. A friend, mayhap a lover, had been whisked off into the night by the relentless five thirty-four local. Why not a lover? Surely about such a dainty trim figure as this courtiers hovered as moths about a flame. Upon a tender intimate sorrow it was not the place of an unknown Magee to intrude. He put his hand gently upon the latch of the door.

And yet -- dim and heartless and cold was the interior of that waiting-room. No place, surely, for a gentleman to leave a lady sorrowful, particularly when the lady was so alluring. Oh, beyond question, she was most alluring. Mr. Magee stepped softly to the ticketwindow and made low-voiced inquiry of the man inside.

"What's she crying about?" he asked.

A thin sallow face, on the forehead of which a mop of ginger-colored hair lay listlessly, was pressed against the bars.

"Thanks," said the ticket agent. "I get asked the same old questions so often, one like yours sort of breaks the monotony. Sorry I can't help you. She's a woman, and the Lord only knows why women cry. And sometimes I reckon even He must be a little puzzled. Now, my wife--"

"I think I'll ask her," confided Mr. Magee in a hoarse whisper.

"Oh, I wouldn't," advised the man behind the bars. "It's best to let 'em alone. They stop quicker if they ain't noticed."

"But she's in trouble," argued Billy Magee.

"And so'll you be, most likely," responded the cynic, "if you interfere. No, siree! Take my advice. Shoot old Asquewan's rapids in a barrel if you want to, but keep away from crying women."

The heedless Billy Magee, however, was already moving across the unscrubbed floor with chivalrous intention.

The girl's trim shoulders no longer heaved so unhappily. Mr. Magee, approaching, thought himself again in the college yard at dusk, with the great elms sighing overhead, and the fresh young voices of the glee club ringing out from the steps of a century-old building. What were the words they sang so many times?

"Weep no more, my lady, oh, weep no more today!"

He regretted that he could not make use of them. They had always seemed to him so sad and beautiful. But troubadours, he knew, went out of fashion long before railway stations came in. So his remark to the young woman was not at all melodious:

"Can I do anything?"

A portion of the handkerchief was removed, and an eye which, Mr. Magee noted, was of an admirable blue, peeped out at him. To the gaze of even a solitary eye, Mr. Magee's aspect was decidedly pleasing. Young Williams, who posed at the club as a wit, had once said that Billy Magee came as near to being a magazine artist's idea of the proper hero of a story as any man could, and at the same time retain the respect and affection of his fellows. Mr. Magee thought he read approval in the lone eye of blue. When the lady spoke, however, he hastily revised his opinion.

"Yes," she said, "you can do something. You can go away -- far, far away."

Mr. Magee stiffened. Thus chivalry fared in Upper Asquewan Falls in the year 1911.

"I beg your pardon," he remarked. "You seemed to be in trouble, and I thought I might possibly be of some assistance?"

The girl removed the entire handkerchief. The other eye proved to be the same admirable blue -- a blue halfway between the shade of her corduroy suit and that of the sailor's uniform in the "See the World -- Join the Navy" poster that served as background to her woe.

"I don't mean to be rude," she explained more gently, "but -- I'm crying, you see, and a girl simply can't look attractive when she cries."

"If I had only been regularly introduced to you, and all that," responded Mr. Magee, "I could make a very flattering reply." And a true one, he added to himself. For even in the faint flickering light of the station he found ample reason for rejoicing that the bit of cambric was no longer agonizingly pressed. As yet he had scarcely looked away from her eyes, but he was dimly aware that up above wisps of golden hair peeped impudently from beneath a saucy black hat. He would look at those wisps shortly, he told himself. As soon as he could look away from the eyes -- which was not just yet.

"My grief," said the girl, "is utterly silly and -- womanish. I think it would be best to leave me alone with it. Thank you for your interest. And -- would you mind asking the gentleman who is pressing his face so feverishly against the bars to kindly close his window?"

"Certainly," replied Mr. Magee. He turned away. As he did so he collided with a rather excessive lady. She gave the impression of solidity and bulk; her mouth was hard and knowing. Mr. Magee felt that she wanted to vote, and that she would say as much from time to time. The lady had a glittering eye; she put it to its time-honored use and fixed Mr. Magee with it.

"I was crying, mamma," the girl explained, "and this gentleman inquired if he could be of any service."

Mamma! Mr. Magee wanted to add his tears to those of the girl. This frail and lovely damsel in distress owning as her maternal parent a heavy unnecessary -- person! The older woman also had yellow hair, but it was the sort that suggests the white enamel pallor of a drug store, with the soda-fountain fizzing and the bottles of perfume ranged in an odorous row. Mamma! Thus rolled the world along.

"Well, they ain't no use gettin' all worked up for nothing," advised the unpleasant parent. Mr. Magee was surprised that in her tone there was no hostility to him -- thus belying her looks. "Mebbe the gentleman can direct us to a good hotel," she added, with a rather stagy smile.

"I'm a stranger here, too," Mr. Magee replied. "I'll interview the man over there in the cage."

The gentleman referred to was not cheerful in his replies. There was, he said, Baldpate Inn.

"Oh, yes, Baldpate Inn," repeated Billy Magee with interest.

"Yes, that's a pretty swell place," said the ticket agent. "But it ain't open now. It's a summer resort. There ain't no place open now but the Commercial House. And I wouldn't recommend no human being there -- especially no lady who was sad before she ever saw it."

Mr. Magee explained to the incongruous family pair waiting on the bench.

"There's only one hotel," he said, "and I'm told it's not exactly the place for anyone whose outlook on life is not rosy at the moment. I'm sorry."

"It will do very well," answered the girl, "whatever it is." She smiled at Billy Magee. "My outlook on life in Upper Asquewan Falls," she said, "grows rosier every minute. We must find a cab."

She began to gather up her traveling-bags, and Mr. Magee hastened to assist. The three went out on the station platform, upon which lay a thin carpet of snowflakes. There the older woman, in a harsh rasping voice, found fault with Upper Asquewan Falls -- its geography, its public spirit, its brand of weather. A dejected cab at the end of the platform stood mourning its lonely lot. In it Mr. Magee placed the large lady and the bags. Then, while the driver climbed to his seat, he spoke into the invisible ear of the girl.

"You haven't told me why you cried," he reminded her.

She waved her hand toward the wayside village, the lamps of which shone sorrowfully through the snow.

"Upper Asquewan Falls," she said. "Isn't it reason enough?"

Billy Magee looked; saw a row of gloomy buildings that seemed to list as the wind blew, a blurred sign which read, "Liquors and Cigars," a street that staggered away into the dark like a man who had lingered too long at the emporium back of the sign.

"Are you doomed to stay here long?" he asked.

"Come on, Mary," cried a deep voice from the cab. "Get in and shut the door. I'm freezing."

"It all depends," said the girl. "Thank you for being so kind and -- good night."

The door closed with a muffled bang, the cab creaked wearily away, and Mr. Magee turned back to the dim waiting-room.

"Well, what was she crying for?" inquired the ticket agent, when Mr. Magee stood again at his cell window.

"She didn't think much of your town," responded Magee. "She intimated that it made her heavy of heart."

"H'm -- it ain't much of a place," admitted the man, "though it ain't the general rule with visitors to burst into tears at sight of it. Yes, Upper Asquewan is slow, and no mistake. It gets on my nerves sometimes. Nothing to do but work, work, work, and then lay down and wait for tomorrow. I used to think maybe some day they'd transfer me down to Hooperstown -- there's moving pictures and such goings-on down there. But the railroad never notices you -- unless you go wrong. Yes, sir, sometimes I want to clear out of this town myself."

"A natural wanderlust," sympathized Mr. Magee. "You said something just now about Baldpate Inn--"

"Yes, it's a little more lively in summer, when that's open," answered the agent. "We get a lot of complaints about trunks not coming, from pretty swell people, too. It sort of cheers things." His eye roamed with interest over Mr. Magee's New York attire. "But Baldpate Inn is shut up tight now. This is nothing but an annex to a graveyard in winter. You wasn't thinking of stopping off here, was you?"

"Well -- I want to see a man named Elijah Quimby," Mr. Magee replied. "Do you know him?"

"Of course," said the yearner for pastures new. "He's caretaker of the inn. His house is about a mile out, on the old Miller Road that leads up Baldpate. Come outside and I'll tell you how to get there."

The two men went out into the whirling snow, and the agent waved a hand indefinitely up at the night.

"If it was clear," he said, "you could see Baldpate Mountain, over yonder, looking down on the Falls, sort of keeping an eye on us to make sure we don't get reckless. And halfway up you'd see Baldpate Inn, black and peaceful and wintery. Just follow this street to the third corner, and turn to your left. Elijah lives in a little house back among the trees a mile out -- there's a gate you'll sure hear creaking on a night like this."

Billy Magee thanked him, and gathering up his two bags, walked up Main Street. A dreary forbidding building at the first corner bore the sign "Commercial House." Under the white gaslight in the office window three born pessimists slouched low in hotel chairs, gazing sourly out at the storm.

"Weep no more, my lady, oh, weep no more today," hummed Mr. Magee cynically under his breath, and he glanced at the solitary upstairs window that gleamed yellow in the night.

At a corner on which stood a little shop that advertised "Groceries and Provisions," he paused.

"Let me see," he pondered. "The lights will be turned off, of course. Candles. And a little something for the inner man, in case it's the closed season for cooks."

He went inside, where a weary old woman served him.

"What sort of candles?" she inquired, with the air of one who had an infinite variety in stock. Mr. Magee remembered that Christmas was near.

"For a Christmas tree," he explained. He asked for two hundred.

"I've only got forty," the woman said. "What's this tree for -- the Orphans' Home?"

With the added burden of a package containing his purchases in the tiny store, Mr. Magee emerged and continued his journey through the stinging snow. Upper Asquewan Falls on its way home for supper flitted past him in the silvery darkness. He saw in the lighted windows of many of the houses the green wreath of Christmas cheer. Finally the houses became infrequent, and he struck out on an uneven road that wound upward. Once he heard a dog's faint bark. Then a carriage lurched by him, and a strong voice cursed the roughness of the road. Mr. Magee half smiled to himself as he strode on.

"Don Quixote, my boy," he muttered, "I know how you felt when you moved on the windmills."

It was not the whir of windmills but the creak of a gate in the storm that brought Mr. Magee at last to a stop. He walked gladly up the path to Elijah Quimby's door.

In answer to Billy Magee's gay knock, a man about sixty years appeared. Evidently he had just finished supper; at the moment he was engaged in lighting his pipe. He admitted Mr. Magee into the intimacy of the kitchen and took a number of calm judicious puffs on the pipe before speaking to his visitor. In that interval the visitor cheerily seized his hand, oblivious of the warm burnt match that was in it. The match fell to the floor, whereupon the older man cast an anxious glance at a gray-haired woman who stood beside the kitchen stove.

"My name's Magee," blithely explained that gentleman, dragging in his bags. "And you're Elijah Quimby, of course. How are you? Glad to see you." His air was that of one who had known this Quimby intimately in many odd corners of the world.

The older man did not reply, but regarded Mr. Magee wonderingly through white puffs of smoke. His face was kindly, gentle, ineffectual; he seemed to lack the final "punch" that send men over the line to success; this was evident in the way his necktie hung, the way his thin hands fluttered.

"Yes," he admitted at last. "Yes, I'm Quimby."

Mr. Magee threw back his coat, and sprayed with snow Mrs. Quimby's immaculate floor.

"I'm Magee," he elucidated again, "William Hallowell Magee, the man Hal Bentley wrote to you about. You got his letter, didn't you?"

Mr. Quimby removed his pipe and forgot to close the aperture as he stared in amazement.

"Good lord!" he cried. "You don't mean -- you've really come."

"What better proof could you ask," said Mr. Magee flippantly, "than my presence here?"

"Why," stammered Mr. Quimby, "we -- we thought it was all a joke."

"Hal Bentley has his humorous moments," agreed Mr. Magee, "but it isn't his habit to fling his jests into Upper Asquewan Falls."

"And -- and you're really going to--" Mr. Quimby could get no further.

"Yes," said Mr. Magee brightly, slipping into a rocking-chair. "Yes, I'm going to spend the next few months at Baldpate Inn." Mrs. Quimby, who seemed to have settled into a stout little mound of a woman through standing too long in the warm presence of her stove, came forward and inspected Mr. Magee.

"Of all things," she murmured.

"It's closed," expostulated Mr. Quimby; "the inn is closed, young fellow."

"I know it's closed," smiled Magee. "That's the very reason I'm going to honor it with my presence. I'm sorry to take you out on a night like this, but I'll have to ask you to lead me up to Baldpate. I believe those were Hal Bentley's instructions -- in the letter."

Mr. Quimby towered above Mr. Magee, a shirt-sleeved statue of honest American manhood. He scowled.

"Excuse a plain question, young man," he said, "but what are you hiding from?"

Mrs. Quimby, in the neighborhood of the stove, paused to hear the reply. Billy Magee laughed.

"I'm not hiding," he said. "Didn't Bentley explain? Well, I'll try to, though I'm not sure you'll understand. Sit down, Mr. Quimby. You are not, I take it, the sort of man to follow closely the light and frivolous literature of the day."

"What's that?" inquired Mr. Quimby.

"You don't read," continued Mr. Magee, "the sort of novels that are sold by the pound in the department stores. Now, if you had a daughter -- a fluffy daughter inseparable from a hammock in the summer -- she could help me explain. You see -- I write those novels. Wild thrilling tales for the tired businessman's tired wife -- shots in the night, chases after fortunes, Cupid busy with his arrows all over the place! It's good fun, and I like to do it. There's money in it."

"Is there?" asked Mr. Quimby with a show of interest.

"Considerable," replied Mr. Magee. "But now and then I get a longing to do something that will make the critics sit up -- the real thing, you know. The other day I picked up a newspaper and found my latest brain-child advertised as 'the best fall novel Magee ever wrote.' It got on my nerves -- I felt like a literary dressmaker, and I could see my public laying down my fall novel and sighing for my early spring styles in fiction. I remembered that once upon a time a critic advised me to go away for ten years to some quiet spot and think. I decided to do it. Baldpate Inn is the quiet spot."

"You don't mean," gasped Mr. Quimby, "that you're going to stay there ten years?"

"Bless you, no," said Mr. Magee. "Critics exaggerate. Two months will do. They say I am a cheap melodramatic ranter. They say I don't go deep. They say my thinking process is a scream. I'm afraid they're right. Now, I'm going to go up to Baldpate Inn and think. I'm going to get away from melodrama. I'm going to do a novel so fine and literary that Henry Cabot Lodge will come to me with tears in his eyes and ask me to join his bunch of self-made Immortals. I'm going to do all this up there at the inn -- sitting on the mountain and looking down on this little old world as Jove looked down from Olympus."

"I don't know who you mean," objected Mr. Quimby.

"He was a god -- the god of the fruit-stand men," explained Magee. "Picture me, if you can, depressed by the overwhelming success of my latest brain-child. Picture me meeting Hal Bentley in a Forty-fourth Street club and asking him for the location of the lonesomest spot on Earth. Hal thought a minute. 'I've got it', he said. 'The lonesomest spot that's happened to date is a summer resort in mid winter. It makes Crusoe's island look like Coney on a warm Sunday afternoon in comparison.' The talk flowed on, along with other things. Hal told me his father owned Baldpate Inn, and that you were an old friend of his who would be happy for the entire winter over the chance to serve him. He happened to have a key to the place -- the key to the big front door, I guess, from the weight of it -- and he gave it to me. He also wrote you to look after me. So here I am."

Mr. Quimby ran his fingers through his white hair.

"Here I am," repeated Billy Magee, "fleeing from the great glitter known as Broadway to do a little rational thinking in the solitudes. It's getting late, and I suggest that we start for Baldpate Inn at once."

"This ain't exactly -- regular," Mr. Quimby protested. "No, it ain't what you might call a frequent occurrence. I'm glad to do anything I can for young Mr. Bentley, but I can't help wondering what his father will say. And there's a lot of things you haven't took into consideration."

"There certainly is, young man," remarked Mrs. Quimby, bustling forward. "How are you going to keep warm in that big barn of a place?"

"The suites on the second floor," said Mr. Magee, "are, I hear, equipped with fireplaces. Mr. Quimby will keep me supplied with fuel from the forest primeval, for which service he will receive twenty dollars a week."

"And light?" asked Mrs. Quimby.

"For the present, candles. I have forty in that package. Later, perhaps you can find me an oil lamp. Oh, everything will be provided for."

"Well," remarked Mr. Quimby, looking in a dazed fashion at his wife, "I reckon I'll have to talk it over with ma."

The two retired to the next room, and Mr. Magee fixed his eyes on a "God Bless Our Home" motto while he awaited their return. Presently they reappeared.

"Was you thinking of eating?" inquired Mrs. Quimby sarcastically, "while you stayed up there?"

"I certainly was," smiled Mr. Magee. "For the most part I will prepare my own meals from cans and -- er -- jars -- and such pagan sources. But now and then you, Mrs. Quimby, are going to send me something cooked as no other woman in the county can cook it. I can see it in your eyes. In my poor way I shall try to repay you."

He continued to smile into Mrs. Quimby's broad cheerful face. Mr. Magee had the type of smile that moves men to part with ten until Saturday, and women to close their eyes and dream of Sir Lancelot. Mrs. Quimby could not long resist. She smiled back. Whereupon Billy Magee sprang to his feet.

"It's all fixed," he cried. "We'll get on splendidly. And now -- for Baldpate Inn."

"Not just yet," said Mrs. Quimby. "I ain't one to let anybody go up to Baldpate Inn unfed. I s'pose we're sort o' responsible for you, while you're up here. You just set right down and I'll have your supper hot and smoking on the table in no time."

Mr. Magee entered into no dispute on this point, and for half an hour he was the pleased recipient of advice, philosophy, and food. When he had assured Mrs. Quimby that he had eaten enough to last him the entire two months he intended spending at the inn, Mr. Quimby came in, attired in a huge "before the war" ulster and carrying a lighted lantern.

"So you're going to sit up there and write things," he commented. "Well, I reckon you'll be left to yourself, all right."

"I hope so," responded Mr. Magee. "I want to be so lonesome I'll sob myself to sleep every night. It's the only road to immortality. Good-bye, Mrs. Quimby. In my fortress on the mountain I shall expect an occasional culinary message from you." He took her plump hand; this motherly little woman seemed the last link binding him to the world of reality.

"Good-bye," smiled Mrs. Quimby. "Be careful of matches."

Mr. Quimby led the way with the lantern, and presently they stepped out upon the road. The storm had ceased, but it was still very dark. Far below, in the valley, twinkled the lights of Upper Asquewan Falls.

"By the way, Quimby," remarked Mr. Magee, "is there a girl in your town who has blue eyes, light hair, and the general air of a queen out shopping?"

"Light hair," repeated Quimby. "There's Sally Jerry. She teaches in the Methodist Sunday school."

"No," said Mr. Magee. "My description was poor, I'm afraid. This one I refer to, when she weeps, gives the general effect of mist on the sea it dawn. The Methodists do not monopolize her."

"I read books, and I read newspapers," said Mr. Quimby, "but a lot of your talk I don't understand."

"The critics," replied Billy Magee, "could explain. My stuff is only for low-brows. Lead on, Mr. Quimby."

Mr. Quimby stood for a moment in dazed silence. Then he turned, and the yellow of his lantern fell on the dazzling snow ahead. Together the two climbed Baldpate Mountain.

Copyright © 2003 by Wildside Press

Meet the Author

The son of Robert J. and Emma E. (Derr) Biggers, Earl Derr Biggers was born in Warren, Ohio, and graduated from Harvard University in 1907. Many of his plays and novels were made into movies. He was posthumously inducted into the Warren City Schools Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame.
His novel Seven Keys to Baldpate led to seven films of the same title and at least two with different titles (House of the Long Shadows, Haunted Honeymoon) but essentially equivalent plots. George M. Cohan adapted the novel as an occasionally revived stage play of the same name. Cohan starred in the 1917 film version (one of his rare screen appearances) and the film version he later wrote (released in 1935) is perhaps the best known of the seven film versions.
Biggers lived in San Marino, California, and died in a Pasadena, California, hospital after suffering a heart attack in Palm Springs, California. He was 48.

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Seven Keys to Baldpate 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Janice_Brightstar More than 1 year ago
This is a charming Victorian mystery, that reads like a fast-paced "Clue," without the dead bodies. The inn is closed for the season, but those with keys to one of the seven doors accidentally converge while seeking privacy for various secret deeds. The Inn is based on a real inn south of Estes Park, Colorado, although the story is set in upstate New York. What a lark this was! I especially enjoyed the train stations, philosophy of politics, and authentic 1911 atmosphere.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
1913 comes alive.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Name :: Hart Gardener. Appearance :: extremely light brown hair, black eyes, tall, pale. With his robes wears a small green fang on a chain around his neck and mismatched tennis shoes. Age/Year :: 13, 3rd year. House :: Hufflepuff. Personality :: A bit quiet and dreamy, but extremely loyal. Kind of clumsy, creative, and intellegent, but not enough to be in Ravenclaw. Favorite Class :: Transfiguration. Least favorite class :: Muggle studies. Wand :: 10 inches, fir wood, unicorn tail core, springy. Pet :: A white cat named Yin. Other :: Plays guitar. Is constantly wanting to explore the grounds.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im here
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Athletic 15 yr old girl brown hair brown eyes tan skin. 5'0 .. nice and adventurous