Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

The Hills of Refuge: A Novel online

. (page 15 of 25)
Online LibraryWill N. (Will Nathaniel) HarbenThe Hills of Refuge: A Novel → online text (page 15 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the empty hall it sounded to him as loud as a clap of thunder. He stood
still, holding the door ajar for a moment, and then softly closed it.
Cautiously he crept up the steps, and was half-way to the floor above
when a harsh command from Frazier's door rang out, followed by the sharp
click of the hammer of a revolver.

"Halt!" cried Frazier. "Stand where you are, and hold up your hands. If
you value your life, don't move."

Charles stood still, but did not raise his hands. "I'm going up to my
room," he said, calmly. He now saw Frazier in his white underclothing,
leaning over the balustrade, the revolver aimed at him.

"To your room, with your shoes in your hand?" was the incredulous
retort. The revolver was lowered reluctantly and Frazier swore in his
throat. "Is that the way you come and go in the house of decent people?"
he went on, insultingly.

Beside himself with rage, Charles silently pursued his way up the
stairs. Frazier seemed surprised at receiving no answer, and, with the
weapon swinging at his side, he muttered something under his breath and
retreated to his room door.

"I'll look into this," he called out. "I'm sure Mr. Rowland doesn't know
this sort of a thing is going on under his roof."

In a flash of far-reaching insight Charles saw the disastrous
consequences of a nocturnal row with the bully. Mary was then outside
the house, and if Frazier were to catch her returning no sort of
explanation except the truth would satisfy him. What was to be done? In
an instant Charles took the only available course, crushing his pride to
accomplish it.

"I am sorry I disturbed you, Mr. Frazier," he said to the white figure
in the doorway. "I took off my shoes to make as little noise as
possible. I am sorry, too, that I have forgotten something and must go
back after it. I'll try not to disturb you when I return."

With a low growl, Frazier vanished in his room. Charles heard him drop
the revolver on a table and the creaking of the bed as he sank on it.
Down the stairs Charles went. Slipping on his shoes outside, he crept
around the house toward the barn, over-joyed by the discovery that Mary
was not yet in sight. At the barn-yard fence he paused. He could hear
low voices from the dark loft; now it was Mary speaking, now Martin, now
Kenneth. Charles crept to the main door and softly whistled. Immediately
there was silence within the building. Then a whistle sounded. It was
Mary's, he was sure, and he heard her descending the narrow steps from
the loft.

Frightened she must have been, for when she reached him she was all
aquiver and her voice hung dead in her throat.

"Don't worry," he said, promptly, to allay her fears. "All is safe, but
I had to warn you."

Kenneth and Martin were now at her side, and he explained the situation
to them all. "I was afraid you might come in at the front door and be
seen by him," Charles said. "You see, he may not go to sleep easily,
and - "

"I was going in that way," Mary broke in. "He would have caught me, and
I would have had to tell the truth. He mustn't know the boys are here.
The truth is, I am a little bit more afraid of him than I was. He - he
holds everything over me that he finds out. He talks about our marrying
more than he did. I can get in by the back stairs, and I'll go up very
soon. Don't wait, Mr. Brown. He is sure to lie awake till you return.
Lock the door after you. Don't remove your shoes this time. Show him
that you don't care what he thinks."

Charles found the way clear for him on his return, and as he passed
Frazier's room he noticed that the door was closed; he heard no sounds

"_Show him that you don't care what he thinks!_" Mary's last words were
ringing in his ears. Somehow they were the sweetest words he had ever
heard. They warmed, thrilled, encouraged him. He took them to sleep with
him. They followed him through strange turbulent dreams that night. They
were back of his first waking thoughts the next morning. "_Show him that
you don't care what he thinks!_" He could have sung the words to the
accompaniment of the rising sunlight as it bathed the fields in yellow.
With them she had thanked him for the service he had rendered, and the
service had been her protection against that particular individual.
Marry him? Could she marry a man she feared? And yet she had said she
would under certain conditions, and the conditions were on the way to
fulfilment. Great God! how could it be? His short-lived hope was gone;
the music of her magic words had ceased. He heard the clatter of
Frazier's boots in his bed-chamber. As he passed down the steps, he
heard the burly guest emptying soiled water from his wash-bowl out of a
window upon the shrubbery below. How he hated the man!


A few days later Mary left on horseback immediately after breakfast.
From Rowland, Charles learned that she was going to see certain persons
who owned near-by farms, with the hope of borrowing money for the
removal of the wounded man to Atlanta and for his treatment there by the
famous surgeon, Doctor Elliot.

Charles was at work, hoeing corn, when from the thicket bordering the
field Kenneth and Martin stealthily emerged and joined him, having crept
around from the barn.

"It is all right," Kenneth said, with an assuring smile. "Nobody is in
sight on the road for a mile either way. We can dodge back any minute at
the slightest sound. It's hell, Brown, to stay there like a pig being
fattened for the killing. This is monotonous, I tell you. I can't stand
it very long. That man must get to Atlanta. Mary is off this morning to
borrow cash for it. Our credit is gone. Nobody will indorse for the old
man but Albert Frazier, and I think his name is none too good here

"He will get the money for sister, see if he doesn't," Martin spoke up,
plaintively. "She is trying to keep him from it, though; that's why she
went off this morning. She doesn't care for him - she doesn't - she
doesn't! She knows what he is. She couldn't love a man like that. I hate
him. He claims to be helping us, and he is, I reckon, but he has an
object in view, and I'd die rather than have him gain it."

"No, I don't want her to marry him, either." Kenneth's voice had a touch
of genuine manliness in it which Charles noticed for the first time.
Moreover, his face was very grave. He shrugged his shoulders and flushed
slightly as he went on. "I've been watching you, Brown. Having nothing
else to do all day long, I've watched you at your work and seen you come
and go from the field to the house and back. I envy you. To tell you the
God's truth, I'm sick and tired of the way I've been living. They say I
am responsible for Martin being in this mess, too. I reckon I am, and I
know I am the cause of sister's worry and the disgrace of all this on
the family. They say an honest confession is good for the soul, and I
say to you that if this damned thing passes over I'm going to take a
different course. I see the pleasure you get out of working, and I am
going to work. The other thing is not what it is cracked up to be."

Kenneth's voice had grown husky, and he cleared his throat and coughed;
the light of shame still shone in his eyes.

"He means it," Martin said, throwing his arm about his brother and
leaning on him affectionately. "Last night when he found me awake he
came over to my corner and sat down and talked. He said he'd got so he
couldn't sleep sound, either. It was wonderful the way he talked, Mr.
Brown. I didn't know Ken was like that. He talked about mother and about
sister's brave fight against so many odds - and, may I tell him, Ken? You
know what I mean."

"I don't care what you say," Kenneth answered. He was seated on the
ground, his eyes resting on the gray roof of the house which could be
seen above the trees, outlined against the blue sky and drifting white
clouds. "I'm not ashamed of anything I said."

"Why, he said," Martin went on, "that he admired you more than any man
he had ever run across. He said what you told him about how you used to
drink and gamble - when you could have kept it to yourself - and how you
had quit it all and put it behind you because it was the sensible thing
to do - Ken said that was the strongest argument he had ever heard, and
that he liked you because you seemed to want him to do the same thing."

"I did appreciate that talk, Brown," Kenneth admitted. "You put it to me
in a different light from any one else. You spoke like a man that had
burnt himself at a fire, and was warning others to stay away from it. I
don't care where you come from or what you were when you landed here,
you are a gentleman. You have made me feel ashamed of myself, and I am
man enough to say so. I've been bluffing in this thing. I have felt it
as much as Martin, but wouldn't let on. I've not been asleep all the
time when he thought I was. God only knows how I've lain awake and what
I've been through in my mind."

Suddenly Kenneth rose; his face was full and dark with suppressed
emotion, and he stalked away toward the barn.

"He is not like he used to be," Martin remarked, softly, his eyes on his
brother. "All this has had a big effect on him. It is strange, but I
often try to comfort him now. He is worried about Albert Frazier."

"About him?" Charles exclaimed, under his breath.

"Yes. He doesn't like to feel that we are in his power so completely. He
is afraid sister will marry him, and she will, Mr. Brown, if she fails
to get that money elsewhere. I don't think she really wants to marry
him. She pretends to like him, but that is all put on to fool me and
Ken. He is working for us. Every day he tells the sheriff something to
throw him off our track. He actually forged a letter that he showed to
his brother which he claimed was from a friend in Texas saying that me
and Ken had been seen at Forth Worth, on our way West. When sister told
Ken that it made him mad. A week ago he would have chuckled over it, but
now he hates it because it sort o' binds sister to Frazier. A man that
will fool his own brother like that is not the right sort for a sweet
girl like my sister to live with all her life. Father wouldn't care
much, but Ken and I would. We have been running with a tough crowd, but
we know that we've got good blood in our veins."

Presently Martin left, went to keep his brother company, and Charles
resumed his plodding work in the young corn. He gave himself up to
gloomy meditation. What a strange thing his life had been! How queer it
was that nothing prior to his arrival there in the mountains now claimed
his interest. William, Celeste, Ruth, old Boston friends, college chums,
business associates - all had retired from his consciousness, almost as
if they had never existed. The fortunes of this particular family wholly
absorbed him. He could have embraced Martin while the boy was talking,
because of his resemblance in voice and features to Mary. He respected
Kenneth for his fresh resolutions, and pitied him as he had once pitied
himself. His hoe tinkled like a bell, at times, on the small round
stones buried in the mellow soil. The mountain breeze fanned his hot
brow. Accidentally he cut down a young plant of corn, and all but
shuddered as he wondered if it, too, could feel, think, and suffer. He
saw a busy cluster of red ants, and left them undisturbed. They were
sinking a shaft, he knew not how deep, in the earth. One by one they
brought to the surface tiny bits of clay or sand, rolled them down a
little embankment, and hurried away for other burdens. That they
thought, planned, and calculated he could not doubt. He himself was a
monster too great in size for their comprehension. Had he stepped upon
them their universe would have gone out of existence. He wondered if
they loved one another, if their social system would have permitted one
of their number to go into voluntary exile and in that exile to find a
joy never before comprehended.


Mary rode to house after house on her way to Carlin, but met with no
success in the matter of borrowing money. It was near noon when she
entered the straggling suburbs of the village. At a ramshackle
livery-stable she dismounted and left her horse in the care of a negro
attendant whose father had once been owned by her family. She called him
"Pete"; he addressed her as "Young Miss," and was most obsequious in his
attentions and profuse in promises to care for her horse.

Opposite the hotel stood a tiny frame building having only one room. It
was a lawyer's office, as was indicated by the sanded tin sign holding
the gilt letters of the occupant's name - "Chester A. Lawton, At'y at

He was a young man under thirty, who had met Mary several times at the
hotel when she was visiting Mrs. Quinby. He was seated at a bare table,
reading a law-book, when she appeared at the open door. He had left off
his coat, the weather being warm, and on seeing her he hastily got into
it, flushing to the roots of his thick dark hair.

"You caught me off my guard, Miss Mary," he apologized, awkwardly. "I
know I oughtn't to sit here without my coat in plain view of the street,
but the old lawyers do it, and - "

"It is right for you to do so," Mary broke in, quite self-possessed. "I
only wanted to see you a moment. I wanted to ask you what is customary
in regard to fees for getting legal advice."

Lawton pulled at his dark mustache, even more embarrassed. "I - I - really
am rather new at the work, Miss Mary; in fact, I'm just getting
started," he answered, haltingly. "I suppose that such things depend on
the - the nature of the case, and the research work, reading, you know,
and - oh, well, a lawyer sometimes has expenses. He has to travel in some
cases. Yes, fees all depend on that sort of thing."

He was politely proffering a straight-backed chair, and as she sat down
she forced a smile. "To be frank," she went on, "I don't know whether I
really ought to employ a lawyer or not, and I was wondering how much it
would cost to find out the probable expense."

"Oh, I see!" laughed Lawton, as he sat down opposite her, leaned on the
table, and pushed his open book aside. "Well, I'll tell you, Miss Mary.
I don't know what the older chaps do, but I make it a rule not to charge
a cent for talking over a case with a person. That is right and proper.
If you have any legal matter in mind, all you've got to do is to state
it to me - that is, if you have honored me by thinking my advice might be
worth while - and if I see anything in your case I'll then advise you to
proceed, or not, as I deem best."

Lawton seemed rather pleased at the untrammeled smoothness of his
subdued oratory, and waited for her to speak.

Mary was silent for a moment, and then she said, "You see, I don't know
whether I really ought to seek legal advice yet, at any rate, and - " She
broke off suddenly.

"Miss Mary," said Lawton, trying to help her out, "may I ask if you are
referring to - to the little trouble your brothers are in?"

She nodded, swallowed a lump of emotion in her throat, and looked him
straight in the eyes. "Father wouldn't attend to it, and I got to
worrying about it - about whether advice ought to be had or not. We are
terribly hard up for ready money and have got into debt already."

"Well, I'll be frank with you, Miss Mary, and I'm going to tell you
something that may be to your interest. Now if you had gone to - we'll
say to Webster and Bright, across the street, they, no doubt, would
expect you to pay and pay big whether you needed a lawyer or not. Old
law firms have strict rules on that line, I understand. Everything is
'grist that comes to their mill,' as the saying is, for they will tell
anybody that they are not paying office rent for fun. But it is
different with a young chap that is just getting on his feet in the
profession. Now, knowing you as I do, and having had several agreeable
talks with you, I'd hate like rips to charge for any advice I can give
unless - unless it was of great benefit to you; and the truth is, I am
not at all sure that you need a lawyer."

"Oh, you mean - But I don't understand!" Mary exclaimed, not knowing
whether his words boded well or ill for her.

"Why, it is like this, Miss Mary. There are tricks in my trade, as in
all others, and as matters stand in the case of your brothers - well, if
Tobe Keith should happen to pull through, the charges against them would
be so insignificant that the courts would be likely to dismiss them
entirely. That, no doubt, is a slipshod method, but it is peculiar to us
here in the South. You see, your father stands high - nobody higher, in
fact; he fought for the Confederacy, has always been a perfect
gentleman, and has no end of influential kinsfolk. Why, the district
attorney himself is a sort of distant cousin, isn't he? Seems to me that
I have heard him telling your father one day that if he ever printed
that family history he'd subscribe for several copies, because his name
was to be in it, somehow - on his mother's side, I think. Then the
Governor is akin, too, isn't he? I thought so" (seeing Mary nod) "and
the Kingsleys and Warrens. Oh, take it from me, Miss Mary, if Tobe Keith
does get on his feet your brothers will not even be arrested. So I'll
not take any fee from you - yet awhile, anyway; and I'm going to say,
too, that I'd keep the boys out West. It is a good thing they went to
Texas. I suppose they are out there, dodging about. I heard Sheriff
Frazier say so the other day (his brother Al had picked up the news
somehow or other), but he hadn't decided to institute a search till
there was a change in Tobe's condition."

"Have you heard from him to-day?" Mary asked, and she all but held her
breath as she steadily eyed the lawyer.

"No change at all, I understand," Lawton answered. "The doctors still
say he must be taken to Atlanta to get the ball out."

"Yes, that must be done," Mary sighed, and her face became graver. "I am
trying to raise the money - four hundred dollars. Mr. Lawton, can you
tell me how to do it? I have no security."

"I'm sorry, Miss Mary" - Lawton's color heightened and he screwed his
eyes up in embarrassment - "that I can't help you out on that line.
Everybody I know is in debt or short of funds. The bank is awfully
strict, and high on interest, too. Your father and Albert Frazier drew
up some sort of a paper at this table the other day. I think Frazier
went his security, put his name on a note at the bank. I heard them
talking about how difficult it was to get money. I think Albert has
about run through the little pile his old daddy left him. He is a
high-flyer for these times - free and easy with his money as long as it

"So you can't tell me any one to go to?" Mary rose and began to adjust
the veil on her hat.

"No, I can't, Miss Mary. There ought to be a public fund for such cases
of need as Tobe's. Yes, you must take some steps in his behalf. It would
look well from any point of view. Tobe didn't know what he was doing,
and neither did your brothers. If Tobe gets over it, it may be a good
lesson to all three."

Mary was at the door now; he followed and stood bowing her out, while
she thanked him for his helpful advice.

She was crossing the street when Albert Frazier, seated in a buggy, with
his brother, drove by. She thought he might get out and speak to her,
but he simply tipped his hat and transferred his gaze to the back of the
trotting bay horse. She noted that the sheriff, whom she had never met,
had not noticed her nor his brother's salutation.

She went into the post-office to get some stamps, and when she came out
Albert Frazier was waiting for her on the sidewalk.

"I would have got out when I passed you just now," he said, beaming on
her admiringly, "but I was with John, you see; and - well, to be plain,
he doesn't know about me and you, and right now especially I don't want
him to get on to it."

"I understand," she said, coldly, looking away from him. "Aren't you
afraid he will see us now?"

"No. He has gone on home. His wife isn't well. Say, little girl, you are
not mad, are you?"

"Oh no," she answered, forcing a smile.

"Well," he bridled, "it is for your own good and the boys'. I'm having a
tough job keeping John from suspecting the truth. If I hadn't got up
that bogus letter from Texas he might have had his men searching the
mountains, or watching you and that hobo circus man take food out to
them in their cave. I'm doing all I can for you and I think you ought
not to get on your high horse as you do sometimes."

"Forgive me," she said, tremulously, the muscles of her lips twitching.
"I know what you are doing, and I appreciate it from the bottom of my

Her grateful words put him in a better mood. They were about to cross
the street again; a wagon loaded with cotton-bales was passing. He was
hardly justified in doing so, for she needed no assistance, but he took
hold of her arm, and she felt his throbbing fingers pressing it. She
drew away from him. "Don't!" she said, impulsively.

"There you go again," he cried, but not angrily, for her natural
restraint had been one of her chief attractions. Other girls had given
in more easily and had been forgotten by him, but Mary was different.
There was, moreover, always that consciousness on his part of her social
superiority. He wanted her for a wife, and, situated as she now was, he
had never felt so sure of her.

"When are you going to let me give you that money?" it now occurred to
him to ask. "Tobe must be removed, you know."

A look of deep pain struggled in the features she was trying to keep
passive. "I haven't quite given up the hope of getting it elsewhere,"
she finally said. "If I quite fail, I'll come to you. I've said so, and
I'll keep my word."

At this moment a farmer came up to Frazier and said that he wanted to
speak to him a moment. Excusing himself and bowing, Frazier left her.


As she walked on Mary was glad that Frazier had been called away before
he had asked her whither she was going, for she did not want him to know
that she had decided to call at Tobe Keith's home and inquire personally
about his condition. It struck her as being incongruous that she was
already keeping things from the man she might eventually marry. And at
this moment various thoughts of Charles fairly besieged her brain.
Somehow she could not imagine herself keeping any vital thing from him.
How strange, and he such a new friend! She found herself blushing, she
knew not why. What was it about the man that appealed to her so
strongly? Was it the mystery that constantly enveloped him, and out of
which had come such a stream of generous acts, or was it the constant
heart-hungry and lonely look of the man who certainly was out of his
natural sphere as a common laborer?

Her way took her through the poorest section of the little town. Small
houses, some having only two and three rooms each, bordered the rugged,
unpaved little streets. Part of the section was known as the "Negro
Settlement," and there stood a little steepled church, with green
blinds, the walls of which, in default of paint, had received frequent
coatings of whitewash at the hands of the swarthy devotees. She had no
trouble in finding her way, for she already had a general idea of where
the mother of the wounded man lived, and only had to ask as to the
particular house.

"Can you tell me where Mr. Keith lives?" she inquired of a little negro
boy amusing himself in a swing.

"You mean the man that was kilt?" the child asked, blandly, as he halted
himself by thrusting his bare feet down on the ground.

"The man that was - hurt," Mary corrected, shuddering over the way the
boy had put his reply.

"De las' house at the end er de street, on dis yer side. You cayn't miss
it. Miz' Keith got grape-vines in 'er front yard, en' er goat en'
chickens en' ducks."

She found it without trouble. The house had four small rooms and a crude
lean-to shed which served as a kitchen. A slender, thin woman of the
lowest class of whites, about fifty years of age, scantily attired in a
plain print skirt and a waist of white cotton material, her iron-gray
hair plastered down on the sides of her face from a straight part in the
middle of her head and drawn to a small doughnut-shaped knot behind, sat
in the doorway smoking a clay pipe with a reed stem. As Mary arrived at
the little gate, which was kept closed by a rope fastened to a stake and
from which hung a brick for a weight, she looked up, drew her coarsely
shod feet under her, and took the pipe from her mouth. She must have
recognized the visitor, for she contracted her thin brows and allowed a

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25

Online LibraryWill N. (Will Nathaniel) HarbenThe Hills of Refuge: A Novel → online text (page 15 of 25)