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Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

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attitude lay any touch of womanly resentment against him for the stand
he had taken. He held out his hands to her, but she simply sighed and
slowly shook her head.

"What is it?" he asked, tremblingly.

"It must be as you say," she answered. "I wonder why God brought us
together like this. It is strange - strange - strange!"

He could not answer. His arms sank to his sides. She turned and left
him.




CHAPTER XXIV


Like a sheer mechanical thing, actuated by some external force, he went
down the steps and on to the lawn. Standing near the front gate, he saw
Rowland coming down the road, and stepped aside to avoid meeting him. He
was in no mood for mere passing platitudes such as the old man often
dealt with. Charles crept around the house on the dewy grass, and found
himself in the vicinity of the barn. Suddenly, despite his own
depression, he felt a surge of pity pass over him at the thought of the
plight of the two boys. They were her brothers, and on that account he
loved them. He wondered if they were asleep already. Presently, while he
stood looking at the dark, sloping roof of the barn, he saw a figure
steal out from the kitchen door and move across the sward toward the
barn. It was Mary. She passed close to him, but made no sign of having
seen him. Again his fears of having offended her womanhood besieged him.
She had said that she understood him, but she could not know how vast
and grave his obligations were. Was there any way by which he could make
them known and still be true to his vow? He could see none, and to
suffer under her displeasure might only be another burden to bear. He
walked back to the front of the house. He saw Rowland ascending the
stairs with a candle in his hand on his way to his room. Twenty minutes
passed and then he saw Mary returning. How it was that he had the
boldness to advance toward her he could not have explained, for, despite
her open admissions in regard to himself, he still felt that he was only
what he appeared to the outer world to be - a hired man of no social
standing.

"I was hoping that I'd see you again to-night," she began, in an even
tone. "I've just been to see my poor boys. Martin has a cold and I am
giving him some medicine for it. I wanted to make a confession to you
before I went to sleep to-night. I took the liberty of telling them
something which you may not want them to know."

"About you and Frazier?" he ventured.

"No, no!" she answered, with a near approach to the sweet tone which she
had used on the veranda. "Have you held that thought all by yourself
here on the lawn? Was it that which made you stand like a post as I
passed just now? No, I did not mention his name. They don't like him.
They don't want me to - to - I sha'n't use the word. I think that is why
you are so gloomy to-night - I mean because I said I was still at his
mercy. This is what I told the boys. I could not help it. I could not
keep it back. They won't tell, anyway. They promised, and do you know
they would not displease you for anything; they admire you intensely. I
told them who it was that sent Tobe Keith that money. I was partly
guessing, but I told them that you sent it, too, by the friend who came
here to see you and caused them such a fright."

Charles could find no words with which to answer; he heard her laugh
softly as she stepped close to him and put her hand to his lapel and
held it as she might have done were she pinning a flower upon it.

"Your good deeds tie your tongue," she said, "but you can't lie. You
would lie out of this if you could. You tried to hide that act of
goodness by what really was a sly trick, but I saw through it. I saw
through it because I wanted it to be that way."

He caught her hand and held it, telling himself that it was a brief
offense surely when he had made up his mind to give her up forever. But,
oh, how it throbbed and pleaded in his clasp! Each little finger seemed
to have a soul of its own. He dared not look into her eyes. Their
drooping lashes seemed breakable bars between him and a life of eternal
bliss.

"Are you angry because I told them?" she asked.

"Not if it pleased you," he said, passionately. "That is all I live
for - to please you."

"Do you mean it? Do you mean it, Charlie?" and she pressed his
fingers - his calloused fingers - in her soft ones. She raised her face to
his. "Oh, I know you do, but I am dying to hear you say so."

He nodded. He took a deep, quivering breath and slowly exhaled it; she
felt him trembling; his face was grim and pale.

"I have no right," he said, "to talk to you this way - to allow you
to - to talk to me in a way that would be impossible if you knew my whole
history." He was speaking now as a man might just before the black cap
was placed over his face. "I ought not to have come here to your
father's house without - without telling him and you the full truth. I am
a fugitive from the law. I can say that much without breaking my word to
others. At any moment I may be caught and imprisoned. In that case your
family would be mentioned as harboring me, and I had no right to let you
unsuspectingly run that risk."

"You - you a fugitive from the law?" Mary cried. "You!"

He released her hand and mutely nodded. He kept his eyes now on the
ground.

With a motion as swift as the flight of a hummingbird she caught his
hand. She held it against her breast and forced his eyes to rise to
hers. "I won't believe it! I won't! I won't! I won't! God will not let
that be true, Charlie. You've come into my tormented life like a sweet
dream of everything that is good and noble. You can't make me believe
it. You have reasons for deceiving me. What they are I don't know, but
what you say is not true. It would kill me to believe it. When Albert
Frazier mentioned it I knew that it was too absurd to think about."

"Well, he was wrong about _that_," said Charles, seeing her drift.
"There were certain men in the circus who left about the time I did, and
there were warrants out for their arrest. I was not one of them. I left
for fear that certain questions regarding my identity might be put to me
that I could not answer, and for the additional reason that I was sick
of the life I was leading. The - the offense with which I am charged
dates further back. I did not think that I'd ever have to tell you these
things, but I find that I must. I am not a safe man for you to
know - certainly not a man worthy of - of the things you have said
to-night. This living here and helping you a little has been like heaven
to me, but it can't go on. I am a misfit in life. I am an outcast for
all time. You may be holding a sort of ideal of me - women in their deep
purity will do those things sometimes - but I must undeceive you. You
must see me as I really am. I was a drunkard, a gambler - disgraced in
the town I lived in, expelled from the clubs I belonged to, found guilty
in court; I came away to hide myself from the eyes of all who knew me.
The new life has changed me to some extent. I see things differently. I
think I have a keener moral sense. Adversity seems to have awakened it
in me, but Fate is punishing me severely, for the consequences of my
past, it will always - always stand between me and the things I now
want."

Mary still clung to his hand. Through his desperate recital she had
looked steadfastly into his eyes. "I don't care what you have been," she
said, under her breath. "It is what you are now that counts with me. The
greatest men and the best in history have made mistakes when they were
young. It is for you to judge whether - whether we can ever be anything
more to each other than we are now. I don't think it amounts to much
which it is, if only we love each other. That is the main thing. I don't
know how you feel, but I can never love any other man - never!"

He lowered his head, but she saw that his eyes were ablaze.

"I think" - he was speaking now very earnestly, very despondently - "that
I shall leave you as soon as my summer's work is over - that is, if you
are out of your trouble by then. I could not go while you are so
unhappy. I couldn't stand that."

"Oh, you mustn't go!" she sobbed, pressing the back of his hand to her
wet eyes. "Why need you go?"

"Because the longer I stay the worse it will be for both of us, and I am
afraid that my presence here will be discovered. I am using my own name.
I never threw it off. I must not be taken here. There are a thousand
reasons why I should avoid a chance of that. You are the main one."

"Yes, that would kill me," she asserted. Almost unconsciously she kissed
his hand, she fondled it as a mother might that of a dying child. "I
couldn't live after that." Suddenly, and after a pause, she fixed her
eyes on his face again. "I want you to do something for me," she
faltered.

"What is it?" he asked.

"I don't want you to tell father or my brothers what you have told me
to-night."

"Why?" he wondered.

"Because they would misunderstand it all. They don't know you as I do,
and I could not bear to have them misjudge you. You may have broken the
law, but you said you were once in the habit of drinking too much. I am
sure that if you did wrong you really were not conscious of what you
were doing. No man with your nobility of character could do wrong
knowingly. It is not in you and never was. Don't tell my father and
brothers. Will you?"

"If you don't want me to do so, I shall not," he promised. "I only
wished you to understand my situation and be on your guard. It may be
that a man's adoration of a woman may stir her sympathy and even cause
her to imagine that she reciprocates his feeling, and you must have
known how I felt about - "

"Yes," she interrupted, "I know. That night in the cabin - oh, that
night! I've kissed its memory a thousand times. That night I saw love
born in your eyes and I knew that for you no other girl existed. Is it
any wonder that I loved you when I saw how humbly and unselfishly you
were striving to save me from pain? Imagine that I reciprocate, indeed!
There is no imagination about my feeling for you, Charlie. This morning,
when I discovered who it was that had sent that money to Tobe Keith, and
knew that you were trying to keep me from discovering that you did it, I
was so happy that I could not speak. In my mind I saw you stealing out
of the house at night, meeting your friend at the hotel, and his
slipping up to that cottage door while you remained hidden from view. Is
it any wonder that I gloated in triumph over the fact that it was you
who did the act of mercy rather than Albert Frazier? Is it any wonder
that when he kissed me - It was just on the cheek, my darling, just here
and it was as cold as ice. Kiss me, Charlie, kiss me - kiss me." Her face
was raised to his, her lips were poised expectantly.

A storm of doubt swept over him, and then he clasped her in his arms and
pressed his lips to hers.




CHAPTER XXV


It was just after sundown, two days later. Charles was at work in a
patch of cabbages near the outer fence of the farm, not far from the
barn. Presently, happening to look toward the thicket, he saw a man in a
gray suit of clothes and a straw hat cautiously emerging. Their eyes
met. The man waved a handkerchief and then stood still, partly hidden by
the bushes among which he stood. Charles glanced toward the house and,
seeing no one, he put down his hoe and walked toward the man. They met
in the edge of the thicket and clasped hands.

"You are back already - or did you really go to Atlanta?" he questioned,
eagerly.

"Yes, sir. I would have written, Mr. Charles, but - well, I thought it
might not be best. You didn't say that I might. Yes, sir. I attended to
everything the best I could. I was at the train when they got there with
the poor fellow, and saw them take him from the Pullman at the station
and put him into an ambulance from the sanatorium."

"How did he look? How did he seem to stand the trip?" Charles asked,
anxiously.

"I couldn't tell, sir. I couldn't see his face. The police kept the
crowd back, but the old woman - his mother - looked worried, and I thought
the doctor from here did also, and the nurse that came along. I think
they gave him a stimulant. I know I saw a bottle and a glass in the
doctor's hand. They drove slowly, and so I had no trouble keeping up
with them afoot. I saw them drive into the grounds of Doctor Elliot's
sanatorium, and I felt relieved. I would have telegraphed you, but did
not know how to reach you here in the country."

"Well, that was two days ago," Charles said. "Have you heard anything
more?"

"They operated last night, sir. I was there early this morning. I went
into the grounds, hoping to get information, but a guard stopped me at
the door and refused to tell me anything. I was trying to persuade him,
sir - I know how to deal with such persons, as a rule - but this fellow,
although I showed him some money, refused to talk at all. I was greatly
worried till Mrs. Keith chanced along and saw me. She recognized me,
sir, and she ran out and grabbed my hand. She wanted me to go into the
public sitting-room, but I refused. Oh, she was crowding me with
questions; they came so fast, sir, that she wouldn't let me get a word
in! However, she was so - I may say so gay, sir, that I began to think
she had good news. Finally, Mr. Charles, she told me that the operation
was done, and most successfully. In fact, sir, she says Doctor Elliot
says her son's recovery is almost assured, though it was a narrow
escape."

"That is good news, Mike - wonderful news!" Charles exclaimed. "It will
make some people very happy."

"The young lady especially, I presume, sir?"

"Yes, her most of all, Mike."

"Well, I think she need not worry any more about the poor fellow. I am
sure, from all I hear down there, that he will soon be on his feet. That
old lady, Mrs. Keith, fairly hung on to me, Mr. Charles. I can hold my
own with the average man in a shady deal of this sort, but not a woman
out of her head with gratitude and curiosity combined. Why, sir, I
thought once that she'd have me arrested to force me to tell her who
sent the money. It was only by lying straight out that I got away from
her clutches. I told her, I did, sir, that I'd go down-town and ask
permission to let the cat out of the bag and return. That was the only
thing that saved me. I'd have been there yet but for that little trick."

"So she doesn't know that, anyway?" Charles said.

"No, sir, she hasn't the slightest idea. She tried to make me say that I
did it, but of course I couldn't allow that, sir. So I simply stuck to
it that I'd been sent by some one else - a friend, a well-wisher and - you
know what you said to tell her."

"And what are your present plans?" Charles asked.

"I must return home, sir. I want to stop in New York and see my mother,
and then go back to Boston. I have been away as long as I can manage it
now, sir."

"You have been of great service to me, Mike," Charles said. It was
growing darker now. The twilight was thickening, the yellow glow in the
western sky above the mountain-tops was fading away. They strolled down
a path toward the house. "Yes, Mike," Charles continued, "no man on
earth could have done me such a valuable service. If you hadn't come
that poor fellow would have died and half a dozen persons would have
been stricken down with grief and overwhelmed with disgrace."

"And the young lady - the beautiful young lady, sir - you say she would
have suffered most of all?"

"Yes, most of all, Mike. But you mustn't go away with the thought
that - that there is anything of a serious nature between me and her, for
there isn't. No one else here knows the truth, but I have told
her - given her to understand - that something is hanging over me which
will forever keep us apart. She belongs to an old and honorable family,
Mike, and I am what you see me now in these old clothes; I am a servant
and can never be anything else. So you are going back? Well, I want you,
if you can, to see Mason in New York and thank him for sending you to
me; and as for the people at home - "

"I was going to ask what I might do in regard to them, Mr. Charles,"
Michael said, suddenly, as Charles paused. "Your brother and your uncle,
who lives with us now, will not ask questions, but the missis - she will.
She is sure to, the first opportunity."

"You think - " Again Charles lost his way to satisfactory expression.

"Yes, sir. You see, she has always questioned me on my return from New
York, to find out if I have heard anything. She will want to know this
time, too, sir, and I confess that it will be hard to fool her. She
looks one so straight in the face, you know, sir, and the truth is she
loves you as if you were her own brother, sir. Nothing wins a woman's
heart like being tender to her child, and she knows how you loved the
little lady, sir. Pardon me, Mr. Charles, for making a suggestion. The
missis can be trusted where you are concerned. She'd die rather than
betray your interests. Would you mind if I frankly told her that I have
seen you and that you are well and safe? I think, sir, that it would
only be fair to her, after all the worry she has had about you. It would
make her very happy, Mr. Charles. You see, as it is, she does not even
know if you are dead or alive, and - and - But it is not for me to
advise, sir."

Charles hesitated. Then he said: "I think you may tell her, Mike. I
couldn't risk writing back, but I can trust you with that news of me.
Give her my love, please, and tell her to kiss Ruth for me, and - and,
well, tell her anything you like. She won't betray me. After all, I'm
glad to be able in this way to relieve her mind."

So closely were they occupied with their parting words that they failed
to see a figure approaching from the direction of the house. It was
Mary, and she was close to them when they heard her step and, turning,
saw her.

"Oh," she exclaimed, on seeing the stranger, "I thought it was one of
my - " She checked herself abruptly.

For a moment Charles stood as if dazed, and then recovered himself.
"This is my friend, Michael Gilbreth," he said. "He is the one who aided
us so substantially the other night."

"Oh, and I have wanted so much to meet you - to thank you," said Mary.
She held out both her hands to the astonished servant, and he awkwardly
took them.

"I'm pleased, I'm sure, miss, to meet you, but - but," he stammered, "you
must not thank me. Mr. Charles is back of all that. You see, miss, it
wasn't expense out of _my_ pocket - "

"I know - I understand, but you kindly delivered it," Mary said. "And
that was a great service. It may result in saving a human life and avert
much misery and misfortune."

"But, you see, I owed the money to Mr. Charles," Michael went on,
simply. "He advanced it to me a long time ago when I was in need myself.
He is always doing the like, miss, and it is strange, for the minute I
pay him back out it goes to somebody else; but - "

"Mike has just brought good news from Atlanta," Charles, hot with
embarrassment, broke in.

"Oh, have you?" Mary cried.

Michael hesitated, looking at Charles, who answered for him: "Yes. The
operation was highly successful. Keith's recovery is now practically
assured."

"Oh, that _is_ good news!" Mary cried, her eyes flashing with joy, and
she prevailed upon Michael to tell her all the details. When he had
concluded she looked toward the barn. "I must hurry and tell my - tell my
brothers." She was starting away when she turned back. "You must stay
with us, Mr. Gilbreth. We have plenty of room. Any friend of Mr. Brown's
is welcome at our house."

Michael threw an awkward glance at Charles and then said: "I thank you,
miss, but I must hurry away. My time is up."

"Then I'll say good-by." Mary held out her hands. "I shall never forget
your kindness, and I wish you a long, happy life."

The two men lapsed into silence as she flitted away in the gloom.

Presently Michael, with a deep sigh, said: "Now I understand, Mr.
Charles - I understand how you are placed. Why, sir, she is the most
exquisite young lady I ever saw! She's not only beautiful, but, sir, she
is the real thing in womanhood, and her voice - I have never heard one
like it. It is like music, sir, full of sweetness and gentleness and
human sympathy. Oh, I can't blame you for wanting to stay here and cut
out all the rest. Labor such as you are doing now with such
companionship - "

"You mustn't misunderstand, Mike," said Charles, and his voice sank low
in his throat. "She can never be more to me than a friend. You know why
well enough. I am trying to be of use to her, that's all."

"But your _heart_, Mr. Charles," Mike said. "You'd not be a natural man
if you could keep from loving a lady like her, sir. In fact, I see it in
you. You never were struck that way at home, sir. Among all the fair
ones you knew up there, none of them - "

"We mustn't talk of that, Mike," Charles broke in, huskily. "I don't
allow myself to think of the impossible. How are you going to Carlin?"

"Afoot, sir. I like it. I can easily make my train to-night. Well, sir,
you will have to be going in and I'll say good-by, Mr. Charles."

"Good-by, Mike. Your coming has been a great help to me."

Tears suddenly filled the servant's eyes, and, turning swiftly, he
walked back toward the thicket and disappeared.

As he neared the house Charles saw Mary coming from the barn. Her head
was cast down and she was moving slowly. They met near the kitchen door.

"I've just left them," she said, in a voice full of joyful emotion. "Oh,
I can't describe all that took place. They have both been in abject
despair night and day since Tobe was taken away, and when I told them
the news they - I can't describe it. The joy seemed to bewilder them,
stupefy them. Kenneth sat still on the horse-trough - I couldn't see his
face in the dark, but I heard him catch his breath, and when he tried to
speak he choked up. And Martin - he came to me and put his head on my
breast and cried like the child he really is at times. Oh, Charlie, life
is wonderful! I am in heaven to-night, and my reason tells me that I
never could have reached it in any other way than through what I've
suffered and your help. Yes, you - you did it. But for your money all
would have been lost."

"You forget that you yourself would have paid it if I had not," Charles
argued, "or rather, it would have been paid by - "

"No, there's where you are wrong," Mary protested. "My father tells me
that the bank would not have cashed Albert's check that day. He has met
with great losses in some enterprises, and is on the verge of
bankruptcy. No, if it hadn't been for you all would have been lost. When
your friend said just now that you were always doing kind deeds he said
only what I already knew to be the truth. You are the most unselfish man
I ever knew. Is it any wonder that I - " She did not finish, but suddenly
turned and left him.




CHAPTER XXVI


Two days later Rowland came back from the village. He brought the news
that Keith was well on the road to recovery, and that he had had a talk
with the district attorney, who had intimated discreetly that it was
unlikely that grave charges would be made against his sons, owing to the
disposition of the Keiths to drop the matter. The boys might be charged
with disorderly conduct and fined, but an arrest would not be made and
the case might not reach the court at all, owing to the sympathy of the
judge, who felt that Kenneth and Martin had already been punished
enough.

The next morning after this Charles found both the boys at the
breakfast-table when he came down. To his surprise, they announced that
they were going to help him in the field, that they were willing now to
run the risk of being seen by passers-by, though they were going to keep
out of sight as much as possible. So, accordingly, they both secured
hoes and set to work in the cotton-field.

All that morning they worked with energy, which, no doubt, was due to
their long confinement and the exhilarating sense of freedom. Mary came
down herself at noon and brought them all a delightful lunch which she
had prepared with her own hands. It was a warm day, with plenty of
sunshine, and they all sat in the shade of some oaks which stood on the
edge of the field. When the lunch was over Mary got ready to go home and
the boys hastened for their hoes, to resume work.

"You are wonderful!" and Mary smiled up at Charles, who was helping her
put the things back into her basket.

"Because I eat so much?" he jested.

"Because you are having the most remarkable effect on my brothers. Even
Kenneth has changed. He says he wants to be like you. He sees what your


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