Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

The Hills of Refuge: A Novel online

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The house, a three-story red-brick residence, was on Walnut Street, near
Beacon. Its narrow front faced the state Capitol with its gold-sheeted
dome; from its stoop one could look down on the Common and, from the
corner of the street, see the Public Gardens. It was a Sunday morning
and the Browne family were at breakfast in the dining-room in the rear
of the first floor, just back of the drawing-room. The two rooms were
separated by folding-doors painted white, as was the wainscoting of the
dining-room. There was a wide bay window at the end, the sashes of which
were up, and the spring air and sunshine came in, feeding the plants
which stood in pots on the sill.

William Browne, the head of the family, a banker of middle age, slender,
sallow of complexion, partially bald, and of a nervous temperament, his
mustache and hair touched with gray, sat reading the _Transcript_ of the
evening before.

Opposite to him sat his wife, Celeste, a delicate woman somewhat under
thirty years of age. She had once been beautiful, and might still be
considered so, for her face was a rare one. Her eyes were deeply blue,
and now ringed with dark circles which added to the beauty of her olive
skin. The hand filling her husband's coffee-cup was thin, tapering, and
almost as small as a child's. Her lips had a drawn, sensitive expression
when she spoke as he lowered his paper to take the coffee she was
holding out to him.

"You have not told me how your business is," she said.

"Why do you want to know?" His irritation was obvious, though he was
trying to hide it, as he dropped his paper at his side and all but
glared at her over his cup.

"I think I ought to know such things," she answered. "Besides I worry
considerably when - when I think you are upset over financial matters."

"Upset?" He stared, it seemed almost fearfully, at her, and then began
to eat the brown bread and fish-cakes on his plate. "Why do you think
that I am upset?"

"I can always tell," she faltered. "When you are disturbed over business
you don't notice Ruth when you come in. You almost pushed her from your
lap last night when she went to you in the library. It hurt the little
thing's feelings. She did not know what to make of it."

"A position like mine is full of responsibility," he said, doggedly.
"Hundreds of things go wrong. Mistakes are made sometimes. We are
handling other people's money. The directors are harsh, puritanical men,
and they are very hard to please. They want me to do it all, and they
think I am infallible, or ought to be."

"You didn't sleep well last night," Celeste continued, still timidly. "I
heard you walking to and fro. I smelled your cigars. I couldn't sleep,
for it seemed to me that you were unusually disturbed. You may not
remember it, but you ate scarcely anything at supper, and, although I
asked you several questions, you did not hear me."

He bolted the mouthful of bread he had broken off. His eyes flashed
desperately. "Oh, I can't go into all the details of our ups and downs!"
he blurted out, shrugging his shoulders with impatience. "When I leave
the bank I try to shut them in behind me. If I go over them with you it
is like living through them again."

"Then - then it is not your brother this time," Celeste ventured. "I
thought perhaps the directors had spoken of his conduct again."

"Oh no. On my account they allow him to go and come as he likes. When he
is not drinking he does splendid work - as much, often, as two men. The
directors know he is worth his pay even as it is. Sometimes he gets
behind with his work, but soon catches up again. In fact, they all seem
to like him. They think he can't help it. It is hereditary, you know.
Both of his grandfathers were like that."

"You knew that he was drinking yesterday, did you?" Celeste inquired,
with concern in her voice and glance.

"Oh yes. He wasn't at his desk at all. I heard him come in and go to his
room about three this morning. I knew by his clatter on the stairs that
it was all he could do to get along. I think he came home in a cab; I
heard wheels."

"Yes, he came in a cab," Celeste said. "Some friend brought him. I was
awake. I heard them saying good night to each other. So it was not
_that_ that worried you?"

William shrugged his shoulders. "I have given him up," he said. "I
almost envy him, though - he has so little to worry about."

"How can you say such things?" his wife demanded. "I shall never give
him up. He has such a great heart. He is absolutely unselfish. He has
given away a great deal of money to people who needed it. You know that
he helped Michael send funds to his mother in New York last month.
Michael worships him - actually worships him."

Browne took up his paper again. It was plain that he had dismissed his
younger brother from his mind. At this moment the servant just
mentioned, Michael Gilbreth, came to remove the plates. He was a stout,
red-faced Irishman of middle age and wore the conventional, though
threadbare, jacket of a family butler.

"Have you inquired if Mr. Charles wants any breakfast?" Mrs. Browne
asked him, softly, as he bent beside her for the coffee-urn.

"Yes, m'm," he said. "I was up just this minute. He wants coffee and
eggs and toast. He said to say that he would not be down to breakfast."

"Is he sober? Is he at himself?" the banker asked, in a surly tone, from
behind his paper.

For a bare instant the servant hesitated. His entire bent body seemed to
resent the question. "Yes, sir, he is all right; a little sleepy, I
think, but that is all. He'll be around later. He is a fine young man,
sir; he has a big heart in 'im, sir. He is a friend to the poor as well
as the rich."

"A very poor one to himself, and us," Browne retorted, irritably. "But
it can't be helped. He is done for. He will keep on till he is in the
gutter or a madhouse."

"Take the coffee and warm it again, Michael," Celeste said, a subtle
stare of resentment in her eyes. "He was to go to church with Ruth and
me, but say to him, please, that we are not going this morning."

"Very well, madam, I'll tell him, though he will be ready to go, I'm
sure. He always keeps his engagements. He intended to go, I know, for he
had me get out his morning suit and brush it."

"Tell him I have other things to do and won't have time to get ready
this morning," Celeste said, firmly. "Remember to say that, Michael."

The butler had just left when a child's voice, a sweet, musical voice,
came from the first landing of the stairs in the hall.

"Mother, please let me come as I am. I have my bathrobe on, and my
slippers. I have bathed my face and hands and brushed my hair."

"Well, come on, darling - this time!"

"When will you stop that, I wonder?" The banker frowned as he spoke.
"What will she grow up like? What sort of manners will she have? You are
her worst enemy. A habit like that ought not to fix itself on her, but
it will, and it will foster others just as bad."

"Leave her training to me," Celeste said, crisply. "You don't see her
once a week. She is getting to be afraid of you. You are upset now by
some business or other, and it is making you as surly as a bear."

"Do you think so - do you really think that?" He laid the paper down and
gave her a steady, almost anxious look. "I don't want to get that way. I
know that hard, mental work and worries do have a tendency to spoil
men's moods."

"Oh, it is all right," Celeste said, her eyes on the doorway through
which her daughter, a golden-haired, brown-eyed child of five years, was
approaching. She was very graceful, in the long pink robe - very dainty
and pretty. She had her mother's slender hands and feet, the same
sensitive lips and thoughtful brow. She ran into her mother's arms, was
fondly, almost passionately embraced, and then she went to her father,
timidly, half shrinkingly kissed his lowered cheek, and then pushed a
chair close to her mother's side.

"Shall I have coffee this morning?" she whispered.

"Yes, but not strong, dear." Celeste's lips formed the words as they
played over the brow of the child. "I must put a lot of milk in it."

Browne bent forward tentatively. It was as if the sight of his child had
inspired him with a softer mood, as if her sunlight had vanquished some
of the clouds about him. He smiled for the first time that morning.

"Don't you think you could have dressed before you came down?" he gently
chided the child, reaching out and putting his hand on her head
caressingly. "Naughty, careless little girls act as you are doing."

"I didn't have time," the child said, leaning against her mother's
shoulder and causing his hand to fall from her head. "If I had dressed,
both of you would have been gone from the table before I got ready, and
I don't like to eat alone; besides, Uncle Charles was talking to me."

"Talking to you? Where?" Celeste asked, surprised.

"In my room. What is the matter with him, mother?"

"Matter? Why do you ask that?" Celeste inquired, her face grave, her
voice sinking low.

"Because, mother, he acts so strangely. He came in while I was asleep. I
don't know how long he was there. When I waked up he was seated on the
foot of my bed. He didn't see me looking at him, for he had his hands
over his face, pushing his fingers into his eyes, this way." The little
girl put her hands to her face, the wide sleeves of her robe falling
down to her shoulders and baring her beautiful dimpled arms. "He was
talking to himself in the strangest way, almost ready to cry. 'I'd like
to be a child!' I heard him say that, mother - I'm sure I heard him say
that. I closed my eyes, for I didn't know what to do. Then I think - I
think he must have been praying or something. He bent down a minute, and
then sat up. I could feel him moving and I heard him groaning. Presently
he was still and I peeped at him. He was looking at me with tears in his
eyes, mother - great big tears. They came on his cheeks and fell down on
his hands. He saw that I was awake, and put his hand on my head and
brushed back my hair. Oh, I was so sorry for him, and I don't know why!
He kissed me. He took me in his lap and hugged me, holding my face to
his. Then he put me back, and I heard him say: 'I have no right to touch
her. She is pure, and I am' - he said some word that I do not know. He
got my robe and slippers and helped me put them on, awfully sweet and
nice, mother. Then I told him I was going down to breakfast. I offered
to kiss him, and at first he wouldn't let me. He stood shaking his head
and looking so sad and strange. 'You ought not to kiss me, if you _are_
my little niece,' he said. 'I am not a good uncle, Ruth. You will be
ashamed to own me when you are a young lady and go to balls and parties.
People will not mention me to you. But I will go away and never come
back. Mother, is he going off? I hugged him and begged him not to leave,
and he began to cry again. He was trying not to, and he shook all over.
Presently he said he might not go away if I wanted him to stay. Oh,
mother, what is the matter with him? What is the matter with _you_? Why,
you are crying, too! Don't, mother, don't!"

Celeste, her handkerchief to her eyes, had turned her face aside.

"Oh, why do you do this?" Browne asked, impatiently. "Don't you see how
emotional the child is? All this can't be good for her. Charles ought to
be kicked, the rascal! Why doesn't he keep his remorse to himself? He is
like this after every spree, and he will do it all over again."

Celeste, as if regretting her show of emotion, wiped her eyes,
straightened up, and forced a smile. "You must eat an egg this morning,
darling," she said to her daughter. "Don't worry about your uncle. He is
not very well, but he will be all right soon."

"And he won't go away?" Ruth asked, anxiously.

"No, he won't go away, dear," Celeste said. "We'll keep him. You must
love him and be kind to him."


With a tray holding the breakfast of the other member of the family,
Michael ascended the stairs, the heavy carpet muffling his steps. In a
room at the end of the house, on the second floor, he found the younger
brother of his master nervously walking to and fro across the room. He
was tall, strongly built, and had a well-shaped head. He was
clean-shaven, blue-eyed, and had a fine shock of brown hair through
which he was constantly pushing his splaying fingers.

"Come in, come in! Thank you, Mike!" he said, drawing his long gray robe
about him and retying the silken cord at the waist. "I can't eat a bite,
but I want the coffee. Wait; I'll clear the table."

He made an effort to move some books from the small table, but he
fumbled them and they slid from his trembling hands to the floor, where
he let them lie in a heap. The servant heard him sigh dejectedly and
then he said:

"I'm all in, Mike; I'm done for."

"Oh no, sir!" Michael said, with emotion, as he put the tray on the
table and proceeded to gather up the books. "You feel bad, I know, sir,
but it will wear off by to-morrow."

A low groan escaped the young man's lips. "No, it is too late now, Mike.
Give me a cup of coffee, please - strong and hot. Oh, Mike, you can't
imagine how I feel. Mike, I am at the end of my rope. I am the greatest
failure in Boston. My old college friends shun me. Ladies I used to know
drop their eyes when I pass, as if they are afraid of me. The other day
I insulted one by staring in her face, not conscious of what I was
doing. Her brother resented it yesterday in a café before several
people. He struck me - I struck him. We went to the police court. I was
fined, and scolded like a dirty street loafer."

"Here is your coffee, sir," Michael said, sympathetically. "Drink it
right down, sir. You are nervous again."

Charles obeyed, as a child might. "Thank you. You are too good to me,
Mike," he said, returning the empty cup and beginning to stride back and
forth again. The butler was about to leave, but he stopped him. "Don't
go yet," he pleaded. "Oh, I must talk to somebody - I must get it out. It
is killing me. I've been awake here since three o'clock. I can't sleep.
Yesterday they turned me out of my club. I'm no longer a member. I am
the only man who has ever been expelled. I've been a gambler, Mike. I've
been everything except dishonest. I'm rotten. I don't blame the club. I
deserved it long ago. I ought to have had the common decency to send in
my resignation."

"You need money, I'm sure," Michael broke in, "and I owe you five
hundred dollars. I've been hoping - "

"Don't mention that," Charles broke in. "I'm glad I lent it to you. If
I'd had it it would have been thrown away, and, as it was, it helped
your mother, you say. No, no, never bring it up again. Let it go."

"I'll never let it go," the servant gulped. "I'll pay that debt if I
work my fingers to the bone to do it. Everybody else refused to let me
have it; even your brother didn't have it to spare. My oldest and best
friends turned me down."

"Cut it out! cut it out!" Charles frowned. "Give me another cup of
coffee. Yes, I thought it all out here this morning, Mike. I am imposing
on William. They keep me at the bank only on his account. He used to
protest against the way I am acting, but he has given me up - actually
given me up."

"I've heard him say you did a lot of work," objected the servant. "Don't
underrate yourself. It isn't right."

"Oh yes! I work when I am at it," Charles admitted. "Remorse is a great
force at times, but it is the other thing, Mike. The damnable habit gets
hold of me. For hours, days, and weeks I fight against it. I've even
prayed for release, but to no purpose. Last night I was consorting with
the lowest of the low. I had the money and they had the rags, the dirt,
and the thirst. A friend found me and brought me home, or God only knows
where I would have been by this time. They say it is in my blood; two
grandfathers fell under it - one killed himself. Yes, I've decided - at
last I've decided."

"Decided what, sir?" anxiously questioned Michael, as he took the empty
cup and placed it on the tray.

"I've decided to be man enough to leave Boston forever. I shall not
inflict myself longer on William and his wife and that angel child.
Listen to me, Mike. There is such a thing as a conscience, and at times
it burns in a man like the fires of hell itself. Do you know - you must
know it, though - I practically killed my mother? She used to spend night
after night awake on my account. Worry over me actually broke her down.
She was always awake when I was out like I was last night. Mike, I was
drunk the day she was buried - too drunk to go to the service. Yes, I am
going to leave Boston before I am discharged from the bank, and I shall
go away never to return. I want to - to blot my name from the memories of
all living men. I am a drunkard and I may as well live like one. I am a
disgrace to every one of my family. Uncle James, when he was here last,
told me that he had cut me out of his will and was praying for my death.
Great God! I was drinking at the time and I told him I didn't want his
money, and I don't, Mike, for I am unworthy of it. He is a harsh old
Puritan, but he is nearer right than I am or ever can be. Yes, don't be
surprised if you miss me some day. This cannot go on."

"Surely - surely you can't be in earnest, sir - "

"Oh yes, I am. Mike, do you believe in dreams - in visions, or anything
of that sort?"

"I think I do, sir - to some extent, at least. Have I never told you?
Well, when I was trying to get the money for my mother, and was so
miserable about it, I went to bed one night and prayed to the Lord to
help me, and do you know, sir, I dreamed that a young girl all dressed
in pure white, and shining all over with light, came and handed me the
money. And it seemed to come true, for you gave me the money at
breakfast the very next morning. Do you have dreams, sir?"

"Always, always, Mike. I am always dreaming that I am alone among
strangers, away from kindred and friends, but always happy and
care-free. I can't describe the feeling; it is wonderful! I know what I
want to say, but I can't express it. Say, Mike, William is a good old
chap. You may not believe it, but I love him. He has other troubles
besides me. I don't know what they are - financial, I think. He never
speaks to me of his ventures. In fact, I think he tries to keep me from
knowing about them. I find him at the bank late in the night, sometimes.
Yes, he is all right, Mike. I would have been kicked out of my job long
ago but for him. Yes, Mike, I'll turn up missing one of these days. I've
had enough."

"You'll feel differently by to-morrow, sir," the servant said, gently.
"You are nervous and upset now, as you always are after - "

"After making a hog of myself," Charles said. "No, I'll not feel better,
Mike. It is my very soul that is disgusted. I know that I'll never
change, and I shall not inflict myself on my family any longer. Don't
speak of this, Mike - it is just between you and me. Oh, they will be
glad that I've left! Ruth will miss me for a little while, maybe, for
the child seems to love me, but children soon forget, and I don't want
her to grow up and know me as I really am. If I stay she will hear about
me and blush with shame. Think of what a crime that would be,
Mike - killing the ideals of a sweet, innocent child. Yes, I'm going, old
man. It will be best all around. I'll be dead to everybody that has ever
known me. I've lacked manhood up till now, Mike, but I'll use all I have
left in trying to make restitution. Obliteration - annihilation! that is
the idea, and somehow a soothing one."

The kind-hearted servant was deeply moved and he turned his face toward
the open window, through which the cries of the newsboys came from the
streets below.

"Anything I can do for you before I go down?" he asked.

"Nothing, thank you," was the answer. "I shall stay here all day, Mike.
I don't want to show myself in town. The news of my expulsion from the
club will be known everywhere. I don't want to look in the faces of my
old friends. Some of them have tried to save me. This will be the last
straw. They will give me up now - yes, they will be bound to."

"You will be all right by to-morrow, sir," Michael said, huskily. "Lie
down and sleep. You need it. You are shaking all over."

When the servant had left the room, closing the door behind him, Charles
began to walk to and fro again. Presently he paused before the old
mahogany bureau and stood hesitating for a moment. "I must - I must," he
said. And opening a drawer, he took out a flask of whisky and, filling a
glass, he drank. Then holding the flask between him and the light, he
muttered, "Oh, you yellow demon of hell, see what you have done for one
spineless creature!"

Restoring the flask to the drawer, he sat down in an easy-chair, put his
hands over his face and remained still for a long time.


He threw himself on his bed. He was lying with his dull stare on the
white ceiling when he heard the voices of his sister-in-law and her
child in the hall below. The front door opened. They were going out - out
into the open air with free consciences, he told himself, with a pang of
fresh pain. He stifled a groan with the end of a pillow into which he
had turned his face. Then he sat up to listen. It was a step on the
stair - a step he had known from childhood. It was that of his brother

"He is coming! He is coming up here," Charles muttered, aghast. "Well,
it is his right. He waited till the others went out so that he can rave
and storm to his heart's content. Yes, he is coming. He has heard about
the club, and all the rest. This time he will kick me out. He has stood
me long enough, in God's name."

Charles sat erect and adjusted his dressing-gown with nervous hands. The
step was now near. The top of the flight of stairs was almost reached.
Charles stood up as a gentle rap was sounded on the door.

"Come in," he called out, his husky voice cracking in his parched
throat. The door was slowly opened and William Browne, pale, haggard,
and trembling nervously, entered.

"Sit down, old man," Charles said, indicating a chair. "Sit down. I
thought you'd come."

"Thank you." The movement toward the chair conveyed an idea of almost
helpless groping.

"I am sorry I wasn't fit to come down," Charles faltered. "I don't show
your house much respect, Billy, but at least I can hide myself when I
have sense enough left."

The banker groaned as he sank into the chair and sat staring at the
floor. His brother took another chair close to the table. He lowered his
tangled head to the table and waited. But no further sound came from his

"Oh, I've hit him hard - I've hit him hard this time!" Charles thought to
himself. "He has lost all hope of me now. It is hard for him to say what
he has to say, but he is going to say it. He looks like Uncle James now,
with those grim lines about his mouth. Poor Billy! he deserves a better
deal from me, for God knows he has been a good brother. No one else
would have borne with me as he has all these years. But he has reached
his limit. His endurance is ended. In the first place, I must leave the
bank. Yes, that is first - then, then, yes, I must leave this house. He
will say I have turned it into a hog-pen. He is calm. God! how calm he
is! He is choosing his words. He has determined to speak gently. I can
see that."

"Lessie and Ruth have gone out," William presently said, without raising
his eyes. "Michael said you were here, and I took this opportunity
to - to - "

"I know; I expected you," Charles heard his own voice as from a great
distance, so faint was his utterance. He cleared his throat. "Yes, I
knew you'd come. There was nothing else for you to do."

William's head rocked to and fro despondently.

"I don't think you know why I've come," he said, grimly, and he raised
his all but bloodshot eyes and fixed them on his brother's lowered head.

"Oh yes, you have heard of this last debauch of mine, and the damnable
acts that went with it - my expulsion from the club, the trial at the

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