Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

The Hills of Refuge: A Novel online

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police court, along with other common loafers, and - "

"I hardly know whether I heard of them or not," William said, his stare
now on his brother's face. "You speak of yourself. What about me? My
God! Charlie, what about me?"

"Oh, I know that you've gone the limit."

"Gone the limit? Then you know," William broke in, his lower lip hanging
helplessly from his gleaming teeth. "You know about _me_ - but how could
you know? It is my own private matter, and - "

"I know that your patience is exhausted, Billy. I know that you are
sensible enough to see that I am no fit occupant of your house. Your
wife is a sensitive, delicate woman. Your child is - "

"Oh, _that_ is what you think I mean!" William broke in. "Great God! you
think that I am worried about _that_! Listen to me, Charlie. You sit
there accusing yourself, perhaps feeling that you have committed
unpardonable sins, but look straight at me. As God is my judge, I'd be
the happiest man alive if I could exchange places with you this morning.
You have done this, and you have done that, but you have been
honest - honest - honest - honest! I've seen you tried. I've seen you need
money badly, but you have never touched a penny that was not your own.
Charlie, I am a thief!"

Charles straightened up in his chair. He laid his slender hand with the
long fingers and curving nails on the table and stared, as if bewildered
by what he had heard.

"I don't know what you mean, Billy," he said, slowly shaking his head.
"You can't be in earnest."

"But I am," the banker groaned. "I have wanted to tell you for a week
past, and I would have done so if you hadn't begun to drink again. Do
you remember when I came to your desk Friday afternoon? I wanted then to
ask you into my office, but I saw you had been drinking, and I knew that
you'd not understand. I've taken money from the vaults, Charlie. I'm
short sixty thousand dollars, and there is no chance now to avoid

It was as if the declaration had completely sobered the younger man. He
rose to his feet, towering above the shrunken form in the chair.

"You can't mean that seriously," he faltered, his drink-flushed face
paling. "Oh, you can't, Billy!"

"But I do. My transactions have been secret; through a broker in New
York I bought copper on a margin. It kept going against me till all my
funds and available collateral were used up. I was sure it would win.
All hell told me it would win. I couldn't stand the disgrace of failure.
It meant losing my position, too. I struggled with it all one night in
the bank, and the next morning, when the time-lock opened the vaults, I
took the money and, with it in my pocket, I went to New York and put it

"You did? You did? My God! Billy, and lost it!"

"Within twenty-four hours. Charlie, you have been a drunkard, but your
soul has remained clean. But I'm lost - I'm lost. I'll be sent to jail.
My wife will shrink in shame from the public gaze. My child will grow up
to see that I have set her, by my own act, into a despised class. Great
God! that little trusting thing will have to bear my just punishment!
So - so you thought I'd come here to reproach you, eh? You say you have
been turned _out_ of a club. I am being turned _into_ a prison. Charlie,
I was a coward when I took that money. I am a coward now, and I cannot
face this thing. You must not object to what I have to do. It is
dishonorable, but it is more honorable than the other."

"You don't mean - you _can't_ mean - "

"There is nothing else to do, Charlie. Don't you see that in this way it
will be all over at once? Think of the arrest, the long trial, the
certain conviction, the parting, the stripes, the clipped hair! No, no,
you must not oppose me. Ruth will forget me then, but, alive and in
jail, I'd be a canker on her young soul. Lessie could marry again. God
knows I'd want her to do so. Yes, it is the only way out, Charlie."

The drunkard seemed a drunkard no longer. He might have been an
impassioned young priest full of a holy desire to comfort as he stood
before the wilted man and clasped his hands. He knelt at his brother's
knees, he caught the tense fingers in his.

"You shall not kill yourself!" he cried. "God will show you a way to
avoid it. I feel it within me. There must be a way - there must!"

"There is no other way!" William groaned. "I've thought of everything
under heaven till I'm crazed with it all." He stood up. He put his limp
arm about the shoulders of his brother.

"Will it be known at once? Do the directors suspect?" Charles asked.

"Not yet, but you know the bank examiner will be here Thursday. It can't
be kept from him. If I were unmolested for three months I could replace
the money. I'm sure more than that amount will come out of the Western
mining lands I hold. The sale is made, and only a legal technicality
holds back the final settlement."

"Ah, then if you confessed the truth to the directors, and promised to
replace the money, would they - "

"They would send me to jail, just the same," William answered. "They are
that sort, every man of them. In their eyes a man who will steal once
will steal again, and they may be right - they may be right."

"Nevertheless, you must not think of - the - the other thing, Billy. For
God's sake, don't!" Charles pleaded.

"What else can I do?" William swayed in his brother's embrace and turned
toward the door. Charles released him, and stood speechless in sheer
helplessness as his brother stalked to the door, opened it, and went
slowly down the stairs.

Left alone, the younger man turned to a window and stood staring blankly
out into the sunshine. Presently he went to the bureau, opened a drawer,
and took out the flask of whisky. Taking a glass, he poured some of the
fluid out and then stood staring at it in surprise. A strange thing had
happened. It was like a miracle, and yet psychologists have said that it
belongs to the regular order of nature. Charles was conscious of no
desire for the drink before him; in fact, he was averse to it. He was
under the sway of a high spiritual emotion, which the thing in his hand
seemed vaguely to oppose. He marveled over the change in himself as he
held the glass up to the light.

"I'm asking poor Billy to be a man," he said, "while I am less than one
myself. Strange! strange!" he muttered, wonderingly, "but I feel as if I
shall never drink again - never, never!" With a hand that was quite
steady he took the glass to the window and emptied its contents on the
grass in the little plot below. Then he began to shave himself, and
after that was done he dressed himself carefully.

The church-bells were ringing.

"Oh, I must save him - I must save them all!" he kept saying. "Something
must be done. But what?"


It was Wednesday night. William Browne had not come home to dinner.
Charles looked into the dining-room. Celeste and Ruth were in their
places at the table.

"William telephoned that he could not come up," Celeste said, as he sat
down. "He says he has work to do at the bank to-night."

"Yes. I'm going back myself at once," Charles answered. "In fact, I am
not a bit hungry. I had something late this afternoon - sandwiches and
tea. If you will excuse me, I won't stay."

As he rose, Celeste lifted an odd stare to his face, but simply nodded
as he was leaving the room.

"Don't go, Uncle Charlie," the child protested. "Stay for your dinner."

"No, I must go." He came back, bent over her chair, and kissed her on
the cheek, and then hurried away.

It was eight o'clock when he reached the bank. The outer doors were
closed, but a dim light could be seen through a plate-glass window in
front. Softly inserting his key, he turned the bolt and entered.

"My God! he may not be here, after all!" Charles thought, as he shut the
door noiselessly. Then he saw a light in the direction of his brother's
private office and went toward it, now more hopefully. He was near the
office door when he heard a sound like the hurried closing of a desk

"Who is that?" a startled voice called out.

"It is I, Billy. May I come in?"

There was no reply, and Charles pushed the door open. The banker sat at
his desk in the glare of a green-shaded electric lamp. His face was
ghastly pale, and rendered more so by the greenish light that fell upon

"What did you come for?" he asked, almost doggedly, and yet without a
trace of impatience or anger.

"Because you didn't come to dinner, and because - "

"Because you are still watching me. Say it and be done with it," broke
in William, in a tone which was scarcely audible as it rose from his
husky throat.

"Yes, Billy. That's it. You have scarcely been out of my sight since
Sunday morning. The examiner will be here to-morrow. I know how you feel
about that, you see. You told me what you wanted to do. I have seen the
thought in your eyes often since then. But it shall not be so, Billy. I
love you. You are the only one in the world whom I do love very much.
You shall not kill yourself, Billy."

William lowered his head. His chin rested on his chest. "There is
nothing else to do," he groaned. "I cannot face this thing. They say men
are always insane who do such things, but it is not so. I am mentally
sound. I see all that lies ahead of me - everything, even the thoughts
that will spring to life in the minds of my wife and child. Go away and
leave me, Charlie. I want to be alone."

"What did you put into that drawer just as I entered?" Charles asked,
leaning forward.

"Never mind," William said. "Go away."

"I want to know what it was," Charlie protested. He reached down and
caught the handle of the drawer.

William made a slight movement as if to stop him, but desisted, uttering
a low groan as he did so. Charles opened the drawer. A long revolver lay
on the papers within. He took it out, and shuddered as he held it behind

"You are not going to shoot yourself, Billy," he said, firmly. "I am not
going to permit it."

William made no reply, and with the revolver in his hand, Charles went
into the adjoining counting-room and turned on the light at his own
desk. For twenty minutes he sat resting his head on his hand, his elbow
on the desk, the weapon before him. Presently his eyes began to glow,
his face was flushed, his pulse was throbbing. "I have it," he said. "I
have it."

Laying the revolver on the desk, he turned back to his brother's office.
William sat as he had left him, his limp hands on the arms of his chair,
his disheveled head lowered.

"Listen, Billy, listen!" Charles began. "I want to tell you something
about myself first, and then about you. You must listen. It is
important. It is your chance, and a splendid one."

"My chance?" echoed the banker. "What chance?"

"Billy, I am down and out. I've lost all my friends and social standing.
I don't want to remain here longer. I want to go away off somewhere
among strangers and begin life over again."

"Well, well, why tell me about it when you see that I - "

"Because it concerns you, Billy. Listen, it is both your chance and
mine. I want to live a decent, sober life, and you say if you could
stave this thing off for a few months you could replace the missing

"I could, but - "

"Then it will be done, and I'll tell you how. It is very simple. I am
just now the talk of the town on account of the life I have been
leading. People will not be surprised at anything reported of me, the
directors least of all. You know they would have discharged me long ago
but for your relation to me."

"I don't understand. I can't see what you are driving at," William
stared with his bloodshot eyes. "You say you see a way. For God's sake,
for God's sake - "

"Yes, but you are not listening. I am coming to it. I am going away
to-night, Billy. I'm going away never to return. I am going out of your
life as completely as if I'd never been in it. I'll never write back.
You will never know whether I'm dead or alive."

"_You_ are going away? Why are _you_ going? I thought of it myself, but
I couldn't stand it. No, there is no other way than to end it all."

"Don't you see what I mean, Billy? It is known that I have access to the
vaults during business hours, and when I turn up missing to-morrow the
examiner will logically couple me and my bad record with the money that
is gone. Now you understand."

With his hands on the arms of his revolving-chair the banker drew
himself to his feet. A wild look of hope was in his eyes and on his
ghastly face. He groped his way to his brother, his hands outstretched
as if to prevent himself from falling.

"You - you can't mean it, Charlie!" he said in his throat. "And if you
_do_ mean it I can't let you - I can't, I can't!"

"You must, because I wish it. I want to be of some use to you and to
Lessie and the baby. Oh, I owe you a lot - a lot! Think how you have
borne with me - how I have disgraced you."

"I can't let you - I can't," William cried, and yet he was panting with a
vast new joy. His eyes bored into those of his brother. "What, let you
do _that_? No, no. I could not permit it."

"Billy, you see, I want to do it as much for myself as you. I want to be
absolutely free from old associations. You can replace the money. You
can claim that you are doing it, you see, because you were responsible
for my staying on when I ought to have been discharged. It will all seem
so - so plausible - so very natural."

Turning, his eyes on the floor, William stalked back to his desk. He
drew his chair around. "My God! My God!" his brother heard him muttering
as he lowered himself into it. Dropping his head to the desk, he was
still for a moment. Charles went to him.

"You have nothing to do with it." He touched his brother's bowed head.
"I am going, whether you consent or not. I am going to-night. When I am
missed in the morning that will tell the tale. You won't even have to
explain. They will sympathize so much with you that they will not ask
you many questions. Oh, it is all right now! You will have a chance to
pay a just debt and I'll have a chance to make a new life for myself.
They can't catch me, Billy. I know how to dodge the slickest detectives
on my trail. The world is big and full of adventures. Do you know,
Billy, I have always been haunted with the idea of freedom like this?
Don't you worry. I'll be all right, whatever happens. And listen, Billy.
I swear to you by the memory of our mother that I'll never tell a living
soul of this agreement of ours. Never!"

William raised his head. He clasped his brother's hands and pressed them
convulsively. "Oh," he gulped, "if I want to escape my just punishment,
forgive me - forgive me, Charlie, for I am afraid of death. I have faced
it for more than a week. It is an awful thing to think of all that it
means, its effect on Lessie and the baby. Oh, Charlie, Charlie!" His
lower lip was twisted by suppressed emotion. His eyes were filling with

"I am going. That is settled," Charles said, with feeling. "And there is
no time to lose. I'll hurry home and pack a few things. There is a train
for New York at midnight. I can hide there safely enough for a while. I
know the ropes. Good-by, old chap."

William stood up. He clung to his brother's hands for a moment, then put
his arms around him. "Good-by," he gulped. "I hate to let you do it, but
I am a coward - not only a thief, but a weakling and a coward. You must
have money. Wait. I'll - "

"No, no, Billy." The other shook his head. "I sha'n't take a cent from
the bank, under any consideration. You must begin anew as I am going to
begin anew. You will owe to these men every cent you can get till that
debt is paid. Besides, I have a little money and I shall not need much,
for I am going to work for my living. I'll find something to do. It
won't be an indoor job like this, for I am tired of it. I want to use my
body instead of my brain. I want to tramp from place to place in the
open sunlight and free air. I want to be a hobo. I want to put myself
down on the level of the most unfortunate of men. I want to wring the
poison of my past out of me. This chance seems a godsend to me. It will
save Lessie and little Ruth from great sorrow and humiliation, and you
from a desperate act. Life is a short thing, anyway, isn't it, Billy?
Don't ever expect to hear from me again. In addition to the risk, it
will be best for your state of mind. Think of me as dead."

William made a feeble effort to detain him, but he was gone. The banker
heard him softly closing the big front door, and he sank back into his
chair, tingling under a growing sense of vast relief. To be sure, he was
losing his only brother, but he was retaining countless other things. He
told himself that the plan was a marvelous one. Every flagrant act of
his dissipated brother gave color to the implied charge against him,
while his own high standing and the agreement of restitution he was to
make would lift him above all possible suspicion.


Outside, the sky was clear. The stars were coming out. Their light was
pale by contrast to the street-lamps. A cool breeze fanned Charles's hot
face as he made his way with a step that was almost buoyant toward the
Common. Some students on one of the walks were singing a college song he
used to love in those gay days which now seemed so far away.

He was passing a little wine-room where he had been fond of going with
certain friends, and almost by habit he paused and faced its lighted
windows. Then he was conscious again of that strange experience which
had immediately followed the tragic revelation his brother had made to
him. He had no desire to drink. He laughed as he turned and strode
onward across the street to the Common. Was there really such a thing as
a new birth in which, under stress of some rare spiritual experience, a
man was completely changed? It might really be so, he told himself, for
nothing like this had ever come to him before. He was happy. Indeed,
something like ecstasy had come upon him; it was in his very veins,
hovering over him like indescribable light. He thought of William's dumb
look of relief, and a joyous sob rose and hung in his throat. It was
pain and yet it was not pain. How wonderfully beautiful the whole world
seemed! There was really nothing out of order. Till a few minutes ago
all was meaningless chaos and tragic despair, and yet now - now - he could
not put it into words. He thought of the action of the club which had
turned him out, and smiled. Why, the officials were merely puppets of
convention, and he had been a naughty child. The police court! How funny
the grave, fat judge looked as he delivered that fatherly lecture and
imposed that fine! Oh, it was all in life, and life was a mosaic of rare

When he reached Beacon Street a night policeman was on the corner.
Charles saluted him and gave him a cigar. "Fine night, fine night!" he

"It is indeed," the man answered.

Charles found the house dark, save for the gas which was turned low in
the hall. He let himself in softly, and ascended the thickly carpeted
stairs to his room. Turning on the electric light, he looked about him.
He must hurry.

"Yes, I'll write a note and leave it here for William," he reflected.
"It will help him explain to-morrow. He need only direct the examiner's
attention to it, and they will understand, or think they understand."

He sat down at a little table, drew some paper toward him, and began to

MY DEAR BROTHER [ran the note], - When you get this I shall be
gone. I need not explain. When the examiners get to the vaults
they will see why I had to leave. I have been going from bad to
worse, as every one knows. I have abused your confidence, love,
and hospitality. You will never see me again. Sixty thousand
dollars is a large amount, I know, but on my honor I am not
taking all of it with me. Most of it is gone already. Good-by.

He put the note into an envelope, sealed it, and directed it to his
brother. He had just done so when he heard a soft step on the stairs
leading down from the servants' rooms above. There was a rap on the
door. He opened it. It was Michael.

"I thought I heard you come in," Michael said, lamely. "I was about to
go to bed, sir. But is there anything I can do for you to-night - a cup
of something to drink - coffee or tea?"

"Not to-night, Mike," Charles answered. "The truth is that I am off for
Springfield - on a little business of my own. I must get away at once. I
may have to stay there a short while - several days, in fact, and I want
to pack a few things. Pull out my dress-suit case from the closet, will
you, and dust it off. Then put in half a dozen shirts and underwear."

"Your evening suit, sir?"

"No, oh no, not that," Charles smiled. "I'm not going into society on
_this_ trip. I'll get out what I need."

Taking the articles from a drawer of the bureau, Charles tossed them on
the bed near the suitcase which the servant had brushed and opened. "Put
them in, please, Mike. It will save time."

The suitcase was packed and locked. Charles suddenly observed that Mike
was eying the addressed envelope curiously.

"Oh, that note?" the young man said, averting his eyes oddly. "That is
for my brother. Will you hand it to him - not to-night, I mean - at the
breakfast-table in the morning? Don't fail, Mike. It is rather

The servant took it up. He held it tentatively. He hesitated. "He does
not know that you are going, sir?" he asked.

Charles stared straight at the floor. "This will tell him all that he
need know, Mike."

Putting the note into his pocket, Michael stolidly faced his companion.
"Of course it does not concern me," he faltered, "but somehow you talk
and act like - ?" He went no further.

"Oh, you are afraid I'm off on another spree, eh?" Charles laughed. "But
I'm not, Mike. It is business, this time, and serious business at that."

The servant was not satisfied, as was evident from his unsettled glances
here and there, now on the young man's face, again on the suitcase or
the floor.

"You may have forgotten it, sir, but only the other day you spoke of
wanting to go away for a long stay, and the little unpleasantness at
your club and the police court - "

"I see, I see, you don't forget things. You put two and two together,"
Charles interrupted. "What is that?"

It was a child's startled scream from Mrs. Browne's room, followed by
the assuring tones of the mother.

"It is Ruth," Michael explained. "She screams out like that now and then
when she is dreaming."

"I wish I could see the little thing," Charles seemed to be speaking to
himself now. "They are a beautiful pair - that mother and child. Ah, and
they have been sweet and good to me!"

"Now, I _am_ afraid, sir. Indeed, I am," Michael said, with feeling.

"Afraid of what, Mike?"

"I am afraid it is not Springfield you are going to, sir."

"Ah, you are suspicious!" Charles said, in ill-assumed lightness.

"I haven't known you from boyhood up for nothing, sir," Mike said, with
emotion. "Ever since your talk Sunday I have been afraid you'd leave."

"Well, then, what if I am going, Mike? The world is big and full of
opportunities, and I am tired of this - I really am."

"But why leave like this, sir?" Mike demanded, gently. "Surely you won't
go without telling your folks of it and saying good-by! Why, this note
to your brother looks as if - as if - "

"Well, I do want to slip away, Mike, and I'm going like a thief in the
night. You will understand to-morrow. Everybody in Boston will. As for
that, Mike, a drinking-man will do many things that he ought not to do,
and - and I handle money at the bank. Don't push me further now. Let's
drop it. I have to go, and that settles it."

Michael failed to understand, for he was thinking of something else.
"You will need the money I owe you, sir, and I've been trying to get it
up. I see a chance now, sir. My sister out West feels that she owes at
least half of that debt to you, and her husband has been doing well. She
wrote me - "

"Drop that, Mike," Charles cried. "I don't need that money. You shall
never pay it - never. I've given that to your mother, do you understand,
not to you, but to her?"

"It shall not be that way, sir," the other pleaded. "I will send it to
you. But as for your doing anything wrong at the bank" - Charles's
statement was dawning on him slowly - "nobody on earth could make me
think so."

"Well, never mind about that, Mike. The fact is that I must go - now and
at once. Let me out at the front door."

"Do you want a cab, sir?"

"A cab?" Charles smiled. "Not to-night. In fact, I am going through the

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