Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

The Hills of Refuge: A Novel online

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That ain't hard to remember. Nobody won't hurt you.'"

Tobe laughed merrily from his bed. "'Fraid he'd get shot, I reckon.
Think o' that, Miss Mary - afraid he'd have somebody pull down on him
when he was out to do a kind deed like that!"

Mrs. Keith's smile blended into her son's mood, and she went on:

"The feller that was doing the ordering opened the gate an' sorter
shoved the other one in and stayed back behind hisse'f. On come the
other one then, and found me settin' on the door-sill. It seemed to
scare the very wits out of 'im, for at the sudden sight of me rising
from my seat he made a gruntin' sound, and would have bolted outright if
I hadn't halted 'im. I asked him what he wanted. For a minute he was
tongue-tied and then he hauled out something that I took for a gun at
first, but which was a big fat roll o' Uncle Sam's currency wrapped in

"It's a present from a friend an' well-wisher of the young man that was
hurt. He hopes he will use it and get well.' That was all he said or
would say. He had a sort o' Irish twist to his tongue, I should say, and
he had on a nice suit of dark-gray clothes. He was a plumb stranger in
this place, it seemed to me. I know I never laid eyes on him before.
Well, sir, he just bolted, an' him an' the other feller made off towards
the square at a lively gait. I didn't then know what was in the roll,
for I had only the feel of my fingers to guide me, but you bet I hustled
in and turned up the lamp. You can't imagine my astonishment. I was so
crazy that I could not count the stuff. Tobe was asleep, and thar I
stood at that center-table with all that boodle. Tobe woke up and saw
me, and I told him as well as I could what had happened, and me an' him
counted the stuff bill by bill - some tens, some twenties, and as high up
as fifties. Five hundred dollars! I locked the front door. I wanted to
bolt down the winders, hot as the night was. I thought about getting out
Tobe's revolver. As I say, I was plumb off my nut. I knowed I ought not
to 'a' done it, but I stayed awake and let Tobe chatter till daybreak.
He was in for sending to the doctor an' letting him know at once, but we
didn't till about seven o'clock. And Doctor Harrison heated the wires
hot between here and Atlanta. It is all ready fixed down there, and our
tickets bought. We are to take the one-o'clock through express. The
doctor is going along, too, an' a nurse, just for the trip. The doctor
engaged the drawing-room in a sleeping-car, whar he says thar hain't a
bit of jolting, and plenty o' space for Tobe to stretch out comfortable.
Four buck niggers from the cotton-warehouse is coming to tote Tobe on a
cot to the train, and a whole drug-store o' mixtures is going along. The
doctor is powerful pleased, and said we was taking it just in the nick
o' time. In fact, he said we mustn't be too hopeful, as all depended on
what Doctor Elliot would be able to do down thar. He said we was too
excited, for one thing, an' that we must calm ourselves down - that a
trip like this would be hard enough on Tobe, anyway. I promised I'd keep
Tobe quiet, but how can I? Every minute somebody drops in to find out if
the tale going about is so, and we go over it again."

"I am afraid that I am exciting him now," said Mary, as she rose. "I
must be going. I came in this morning, Tobe, to - to find out how you
are," she said, haltingly, "and I am delighted to hear the good news."

"I know you are - I know that," Tobe answered, extending his pale hand.
"I'm glad you come, Miss Mary. Coming like you have has wiped out all
hard feeling between me and your brothers. If I get well I'll do my
level best to keep the thing out of court, and if I die I'll leave word
that I was as much to blame as the boys."


The sensation which came over the gentle girl as she went out into the
cool morning air was indescribable. She felt almost as if the balmy
sunlight were some joy-giving fluid to be drunk like wine. Her step was
buoyant. She told herself that a veritable miracle had happened. She
could not explain it, but it had happened. Her unspoken prayer
constantly framed in heart-sinking desire had been answered. She didn't
want aid to come from Albert Frazier, and it had not.

This thought reminded her that she must try to see him before he had put
himself to the trouble of getting the money at the bank. So she hastened
toward the square.

She was soon entering the bank, and in the little vestibule she saw
Frazier in earnest conversation with an employee of the bank. Frazier's
heavy brow was clouded over as with displeasure. He failed to note her
presence at first, and she heard him say, angrily:

"I don't see any necessity of waiting for him. It is a mere matter of
form, anyway. I'm in a hurry right now."

The embarrassed clerk was about to reply when Frazier noticed Mary and
turned to meet her, his hat in hand.

"I've been delayed by these idiots," he said, fuming. "I've always had
my check honored without delay, but simply because I overchecked a
little yesterday they want me to wait and see the president. Bosh! I'll
show them a thing or two! We need another bank here, anyway, and I'll
get one started. These fellows have a monopoly and are getting entirely
too particular. I suppose you got tired waiting for me, and - "

"No, it wasn't that," Mary corrected him. "The Keiths have already got
the money."

"Got the money!" he repeated. He took her arm, and in almost benumbed
astonishment led her out to his buggy in front. She explained as well as
she could, and noted the slow look of sullen chagrin steal over his
face. "And you say they don't know who sent it? That sounds fishy to me.
Who ever heard of such a thing?"

Mary was unable to make an adequate reply. His face was clouded over and
growing darker every minute.

"Well," he asked, "what are you going to do this morning?"

"I want to call on Mrs. Quinby at the hotel," she answered. "I promised
to come the next time I was in town. You mustn't bother about me. I
shall take dinner with her."

As she spoke Mary turned toward the hotel, and Frazier walked along with
her, taking care to be on the outside of the pavement, as was the
custom. The look of disappointed anger was leaving his face and a shrewd
expression was taking its place.

"I'll be around to take you home after dinner, then," he remarked, his
glance failing to meet her upturned eyes. "The truth is, I must see my
brother and have a roundabout chat with him in regard to the boys."

"In regard to them?" Mary said, in a startled undertone.

"Yes. It is like this," he went on, his shrewd expression deepening.
"Things are not quite in as good shape as they were, little girl. I
didn't intend to tell you yet, but I reckon I may as well. It seems that
the grand jury has been criticizing my brother in a roundabout way for
not making a more thorough effort to - to locate the boys, and I'm a
little bit afraid that he may telegraph to Texas and make inquiry of the
man whose name was signed to the letter I showed him. I'll have to watch
him closely and try to prevent that, you know."

"Oh!" Mary muttered, in alarm. "Then he might - "

"Yes, if he got on to that trick he would be furious and maybe see
through the whole thing - find out about my interest in you and all the
rest. He saw me with you the other day, and I had to pretend that I was
pumping you on the sly to help him locate your brothers. It went down,
for he is none too bright, but there is no telling when he may suspicion
the truth and then, you see, he might take a notion to search the
mountains. That would be bad, wouldn't it? But I'm going to work hard
to-day to throw him off. If he should happen to see us together I'll
tell him - you see, he knows I've had financial deals with your
father - I'll tell him that you came to pay me some interest or something
like that. As a last resort I may - I don't say it would come to
that - but as a last resort I may just come out flat with the truth and
tell him, you know, that you are - well, what you are to me, and throw
our case on his mercy. I don't know how he would act about it, I'm sure,
but he might, you know, give the boys a chance to - to - "

He seemed unable to proceed further in his crude diplomacy, and Mary,
blinded by terror to his designs, suppressed a deep sigh, and with tight
lips remained silent. They were now at the entrance of the hotel.

"I'll find out all I can," he said, as he was leaving her, "and will let
you know when I come for you this afternoon. By the way, I'll drive
around to the rear door, and we can go out by the back street without
passing through the square. We have to be very careful. It is a wonder
folks haven't got on to my trips out your way, but they haven't so far,
it seems, and they must not just now. It might upset things awfully."

Mary went into the office of the hotel. Sam Lee was behind the counter,
and came to her quickly.

"How d' do, Miss Mary?" he cried, flushing to the roots of his smoothly
matted hair, which lay over his eyebrows like the bang of a mountain
school-girl. "Mrs. Quinby is out the back way, buying a load of
frying-chickens from a farmer. She will be in in a minute. Will you wait
here, or will you go up to the parlor?"

Mary decided to go to the parlor, dreading the entrance of some
acquaintance and not being in the mood for greetings or conversation.
Sam accompanied her, gallantly opening the parlor door and going in to
raise the blinds of the shaded windows.

"Oh, by the way, Miss Mary," he said, as he was about to leave, "how did
you come out with that circus man I told you about that wanted to do
farm work?"

"Very well," the girl replied.

"And he is satisfactory?"

"Yes, quite," Mary answered.

"I was wondering how he would suit," Lee pursued, thoughtfully, "for he
seemed a sort of a misfit to me. You see, I meet all sorts of characters
from everywhere, almost, and I'd never have put him down as a good

"He does very well," Mary said, evasively. "We are entirely satisfied."

"Well, he is odd in many ways," Lee continued, observantly. "He never
comes in town in the daytime, but always at night, and late at that. He
was here last night about midnight. There was a queer chap here that
refused to register. I say refused, but I can't say he did that, either,
for he simply paid for a whole day in advance at the transient rate and
was assigned a room. We always require a guest to register, but he was
so busy asking questions about the people and the town that I overlooked
it. Well, if that looks odd, it seems a little more so that your man
should come in last night, wake me up after twelve, and want to see the
fellow. The funny part of it was that when I asked him who he wanted to
see he didn't know, or pretended that he didn't, anyway. He set in to
describe him - said he had on a dark-gray sack-suit and wore a green
necktie, and the like. It was No. 37 that he was after, all right, and I
showed him up to the room. They must have had an appointment, for
Thirty-seven was up, reading a paper, when I knocked. Then I remembered
that he had questioned me about the circus and the men that dropped out
here. I remembered then that I told him about getting Brown a job on
your farm. It was all odd, but I run across so many strange things here
in this joint that I have quit keeping track of 'em. However - now I hope
you will take this as coming from a friend, Miss Mary? - I believe, if I
was you, and in as much trouble as you are already, why, I'd be on my
guard with that fellow Brown. I heard the sheriff talking one day to his
brother about the outlaws that was with that circus, and I must say,
while I am not a detective of the first water, I think for a common
hired hand your Mr. Brown is a mystery. I noticed that the two did not
shake hands, and that looked as though they had met that day before.
They just waited till I left, and then the man in the gray suit closed
the door. They must have stayed there an hour or more, and then - now
comes the strange part - they come down, passed through the office, and
went out on the square. They may have been gone an hour when the fellow
came back alone and slipped up to his room."

"A dark-gray suit!" Mary said to herself, recalling Mrs. Keith's
description of the mysterious visitor at her house, "and a friend of Mr.
Brown!" Her heart was beating rapidly now. She was afraid that the clerk
would note the excitement which was fast mastering her, and she abruptly
changed the subject. Going to the window, she looked out, and then said:

"I see Mrs. Quinby is coming in. Please tell her that I am up here, but
ask her not to hurry on my account."

"I will - I'll do that, Miss Mary," said Lee, backing from the room, a
mystified look in his observant eyes. "Yes, I'll tell her, and she will
be right up."


It was growing dusk when Frazier brought Mary back to the farm. He did
not stop, having some important business to attend to that evening, and
drove back to the village. Mary was very unhappy. From a window in the
parlor of the hotel she had seen Tobe Keith taken to the train, and the
silent awe of the bystanders, the grave looks of the doctors, the nurse,
and Mrs. Keith in her best dress induced a feeling of vast depression.
She had heard people on the pavement below saying that Keith would never
be cured - that no man in his condition could stand the operation that
was proposed. She thought, too, that Mrs. Quinby had failed to give her
much encouragement. Indeed, it was almost as if her good friend were
trying to prepare her for the worst.

Finding no one in sight about the house, Mary went straight to the barn
to acquaint her brothers with all that had taken place. She tried to
shake off the morbid feeling which clung to her so persistently, not
realizing that it was due to the fact of her still being, in a sense, in
the power of Albert Frazier. It was true that he had not paid for
Keith's expenses, but he had managed to make her feel her absolute
dependence on him for the safety of her brothers. She shuddered, and
fairly cringed, under the thought that she had not repulsed him when he
had put his arm around her in a secluded spot on the road home and
kissed her on the cheek. The spot stung now as if it were a wound which
her rising flush was irritating.

She had seen her brothers in their loft, and was entering the house,
when she met Charles descending from his room.

"You are late," he smiled. "We have had supper already."

"So have I," she answered. "I took it early with Mrs. Quinby at the
hotel. We drove rapidly, as Mr. Frazier had to hurry back to town."

She sat down on the veranda, and he stood, with an unusual air of
embarrassment, quite near to her.

"Sit down, please," she said. "I know you are tired from your work."

He obeyed willingly enough, but it seemed to her that there was a
certain undefinable restraint about him. They sat silent for several
minutes. She was watching his face attentively. At any other time she
might have been amused. Did he not realize that his failure to inquire
about Tobe Keith was an indirect confession of the part he had played
the night before?

"Well, they took Tobe to Atlanta to-day," she suddenly announced, still
eying him closely.

"Oh, did they?" he exclaimed.

She said nothing for another moment. "I suppose you think that Albert
furnished the money?" she continued. She smiled now at his look of
confusion, and as he made no reply she went on: "Well, he didn't. When I
got to Mrs. Keith's this morning I learned that some one else had given
her the necessary money. No one knows from whom it came."

"That's strange," Charles said, feebly.

"Yes, it was very strange. It seems that the man who brought it was an
absolute stranger. He turned it over to Mrs. Keith, but refused to say
who sent it. The whole town is talking about it."

"Very strange indeed," Charles said, still awkwardly. "I hope the poor
fellow will stand his journey well."

"Yes, sending money like that was very strange," Mary persisted. "Most
persons do their charity differently. They blow a horn, sound a trumpet,
or get it into the papers; but this is genuine charity. However, it will
leak out. You can't keep things like that hidden long."

"What do the doctors think - do they think that his chances are good for

Again Mary ignored his remark, smiling faintly through the dusk as she
watched his obvious floundering. "No, a deed like that is too rare and
fine for the author of it to keep hidden. Oh, if you could have been
there with me this morning and seen that poor mother's face and her
son's as they told about how the money came, you would have felt like
crying for joy. I did. I couldn't help it. I broke down. I think I know
now what heaven is like. It is like I felt at that moment. They were
like two happy children, and I was happy, too, and grateful." Here Mary
actually sobbed. "I was grateful to some unknown person who had saved me
from - from the most humiliating thing that ever threatened me. I was
willing to give my life rather than accept that aid from Albert Frazier,
and it had come in that mysterious way like a gift from God at the very
last moment. You must help me - help me find out who did it, Mr. Brown.
Will you?"

He stared like a man in a bewildered dream. "Yes, yes," he stammered, "I
will, but why bother about it now, anyway?"

"'Bother about it'! How can you use such words? You see, you are not in
my place. You can't realize how I feel. I want to see him. I want to
look into his face, as - as I am looking into yours now, and tell him
just how I feel and what he has done for me. I want to repay him. I want
to tell him that there is nothing - nothing under high heaven I would not
do for him. I want him to tell me what to do in all this darkness that
has gathered about me and is stifling hope and life out of me, young as
I am. I want to be his faithful friend till the end of time. I want to
serve him - to be his slave - anything."

Charles rose to his feet awkwardly. "I - I see how you feel, Miss
Rowland," he said. "But I am afraid I am keeping you from your duties.
By the way, your father has gone over to Dodd's. He came by the field
and asked me to tell you that he would not be back till about bedtime."

Mary got up also. She reached out and took his arm and walked with him
to the other end of the veranda. He felt her hand trembling. She pressed
his arm against her side. "You shall not go yet!" she cried,
passionately. "I have been beating about the bush. I know that you did
that thing. I've known it all day. No one else knows, but I do - and it
has made me so happy. I could not have taken it from any one else, but I
want to take it from you. I want to take it, because I know you wanted
to give it. I know how you feel about me, and I want you to know how I
feel about you."

Had the heavens split above him, dropping flames of celestial fire, he
could not have felt more ecstatic. She had suddenly paused and lifted
her wondrous face to his. Her beautiful lips hung quivering like
drooping flowers. He was a man of remarkable restraint, but sometimes
acted under impulse. He took her face between his hands, he bent to kiss
her unresisting lips; then suddenly he checked himself. A picture of his
whole past flashed before him. He was a man with a price on his head and
liable to exposure at any moment. What right had he to the heart of such
a girl as this - to win it under her father's kindly roof through the
agency of a just act to a suffering man. He dropped his hands. With his
face full of deepening agony he simply looked at her fixedly and
remained mute.

"What is the matter?" she asked. "You are troubled about something; I
see it. I've known it a long time."

"Miss Rowland - " he began.

"_Miss Rowland!_" she cried, impatiently. "Charlie - don't you see I call
you Charlie! I have called you that a hundred times to myself since
finding out what you did. I used it when I prayed to you - actually
prayed to you this afternoon to forgive me for allowing that man to kiss
me on the way home."

"To kiss you!" She saw him start and stand quivering under her earnest
upward stare. She saw him lower his head as a slave being scourged with
thongs of steel - a slave who was determined to show no signs of
suffering. "He kissed you! Then - then - my God! you are engaged to him!
After all, you are engaged to him!"

"No, not quite that!" she cried, in almost piteous appeal, "but I was
afraid, from the way he talked - Oh, Charlie, you can't understand! It is
true that I did not have to take his money to-day, but I am still at his

"Still at his mercy!" Charles groaned, his eyes ablaze with blended
lights of fury and despair.

Falteringly she explained Frazier's veiled threats. As she ended she put
her hands on his shoulders and again she lifted her face to his. Again
he was swept by the flames of desire; again he held himself in check;
again the shackles of his hopeless condition bit into the flesh of his
memory, sinking to the very bones of his consciousness. What could he
do? He might tell her of the blight on his life which had isolated him
from all others, but what good would that do? And had he not promised
William that the truth should never be known? No, his fate was sealed.
He had won her, but he must lose her. No honorable man could ask such a
woman to share such a precarious fate. She would be less unfortunate
even as the wife of a man like Frazier. Charles was a social outcast who
had crept into the shelter of unsuspecting hospitality. One loophole,
and one only, flashed before his eyes on the screen of temptation, and
that was to go back to Boston and demand his moral rights. But that
would mean that he was failing to make good those sacred obligations.
That would mean the degradation of William, and the terrible blight upon
his family whom till now he had saved from humiliation and pain. No,
that course would rouse condemnation even in the heart of the girl
before him. Was there anything she would not do or suffer to save her
brothers? Could such a selfless creature approve of a man less selfless?
Her wondrous face, the all but visible halo about it, was his answer.

"What is the matter, Charlie?" she asked. "Have you lost respect for me
for allowing him to kiss me? I could have died when he did it - I hated
myself so, for I was thinking of what you would think if you knew. But I
was afraid - afraid of him. If he were to become angry and turn against
me, he would give my brothers up at once. He would lead in the search
for them, and if he knew or suspected - "

"Suspected what?" he interrupted, as she paused and stood shuddering,
her eyes filling with shadows.

"If he suspected that I - if he suspected how I feel to you - he would try
to kill you. Already he is your enemy, already he suspects you of - "

"Suspects me of what?"

" - of being a fugitive from the law who left the circus to avoid being
arrested. It is absurd, ridiculous! Only such a man as he is would dream
of such a thing. If ten thousand persons testified under oath that such
was the case I'd not believe them."

"You'd not believe them?" he echoed, and he hugged to himself his
inherent right to her faith in him as an honest man, for dishonest he
had never been.

"No, I'd not believe them. It seems to me now that I believe only in
you. In all humanity I know of no one I trust so much - my father, my
brothers, even my sweet dead - " She hesitated, then finished, fervently:
"Yes, even my mother. She would forgive me if she were here and

Again the infinite yearning to take her to his breast swept over him. He
put his arm about her; he was drawing her to him, when, with a groan of
tortured resolution, he released her. His face was white in the dusk as
he stood grimly silent.

"I can't understand you, Charlie," she whispered, tenderly, and yet in a
groping, bewildered tone. "Somehow I know - I'm _sure_ that you - love me.

"Oh, I _do_!" he said, quickly, "but I have no right to do so. I can't
explain. It would do no good, anyway. I am bound by honor not to reveal
certain things, even to you."

"I see, I see; now I begin to understand _a little_," she said,
wistfully. "And I won't press you to tell me, either. It may be that you
are bound to others, as I am bound. Though I have the sweet comfort of
talking to you about it. I couldn't bear it all but for you, but I shall
be braver, less complaining, from now on."

She lowered her head; she stood back from him. An overwhelming sense of
losing her pressed down on him like a pall. He wondered if in her mute

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