Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

The Hills of Refuge: A Novel online

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industry is producing for us. We have never had such promising crops
before. Then - then your talks have done them good. I mean your talks on
moral lines."

"'Moral lines,'" he repeated, sadly. "Take it from me that I am a most
unworthy adviser. I do not want to sail under false colors. Your
brothers are fortunate in having had their lesson without fatal and
lasting consequences. As I have told you - as I have tried to have you
understand - I shall always be what I am - a man without a home, without a
family, without a country, for I cannot legally cast a vote. What your
brothers are escaping from - long imprisonment - I am in danger of every
hour. So far I have escaped, but I may not be able to keep it up. Do you
know - and I must say it now, so that you will understand thoroughly - do
you know, while I dread being taken back home in shackles, I dread
another thing far more, and that is being arrested here. Your friends
would laugh at you for being hoodwinked by a criminal tramp in whom you
have such absurd confidence as to give him food and shelter."

Mary's eyes were full of unshed tears. She hastily crammed the
table-cloth into the basket. "Why are you talking to me like this
to-day, when I was so happy?" she gulped.

"Because you insist on saying things about my - my worthiness, when I am
so overwhelmingly unworthy," he answered, grimly, standing over her, his
fine brow wrinkled with inner pain and bared to the sun. "Besides, as I
say, you must be prepared for it if I suddenly leave without a hint of
my intentions. If I could live a thousand years and be trained in the
highest modes of expression I could never tell you how much peace and
happiness I have found here. This," and he waved his hand over the
growing crops - "this has been like the fields and meadows of Paradise
into which I walked suddenly like a man who was born blind receiving
sight. You say you believe in the existence of God. Sometimes I do, but
I wonder really how He could have allowed me to grow unsuspectingly from
infancy into dissolute manhood, and then send me here? Why did He direct
my repentant steps to this spot - to this soul-soothing spot which I have
enjoyed only to lose?"

"Oh, because of all you have been to us!" the gentle girl softly sobbed,
as she stood by his side. She would have taken his hand but for the
nearness of her brothers. "You say you have done wrong in your past. I
don't believe it; but I shall not dispute with you over it. I only know
that God could not make a man so helpful, so useful as He has you
without eventually rewarding him. As Kenneth and Martin are escaping, so
shall you escape. Your troubles will not last. As for your going away,
you shall not. I say it. You shall not, I could not live without you. I
know that as well as I know that you are standing there. I'd follow you
to the end of the world. If you went to prison I'd go, too."

"You can't mean that." He bent toward the ground and uttered a low moan,
and yet his face was ablaze with triumphant light.

"I do mean it," she reiterated, "and if you think your running away
would save me from silly, weak-minded embarrassment, you must know that
it would kill me. Yes, Charlie, I tell you now that if you leave me and
I fail to see you again I'll end my life."

She had stepped close to him and he suddenly drew back.

"Your brothers are looking this way," he warned her.

"I don't care," she blurted out, desperately. "They may know. They adore
you as I do. I'll tell them how I feel. They are human. They will

"They would not want you" - Charles sighed - "want you to care for a man
who may any day be thrust into jail. Brought up as you have been brought
up, with your family back of you, they could not want you to care for a
man whose life is the deplorable wreck mine is. Our parting is
inevitable. I've tried to see it otherwise for a long time, but in vain.
I am responsible for the blight that is on me, and I must bear it to the
end. Maybe I can tell you more, honorably tell you more, some day, but I
cannot do so now. But, after all, even that mild justification would do
no good. I shall never forget you, but it is your duty to forget me.
Women do forget such things, but I shall hold you in my mind and soul

Kenneth was approaching to ask some question of Charles, and in order to
hide her distraught face from her brother's view Mary lifted the basket
and moved away.

That night the family, including the two boys, sat on the veranda after
supper. Rowland deported himself as if nothing very remarkable had
happened in the escape of his sons, but they themselves acted like
persons completely changed in character. Kenneth had lost his vaunting
air of self-assertion and overconfidence, and was very quiet. Martin was
effervescing with the sense of his release from the dangers he feared
and half lay, half sat with his head in his sister's lap. Mary's hands
were gently stroking back his hair, and now and then she bent and
whispered something mother-like and tender in his ear.

Dreading another reference from the family to the part he had played in
their rescue, Charles got up and went to his room. He was tired, but not
conscious of it, and not at all sleepy, for his brain was in a whirl
with thoughts of what had happened, together with grim cogitations on
the course he was trying to lay out for his future guidance.

His reason told him that two courses only lay before him. The more
logical seemed to be his abrupt disappearance from the spot which had
become so dear to him. The other alternative was to return to Boston and
appeal to William to release him from his agreement. This temptation was
by far the greater, and for a moment, in his fancy, it mastered him.
That girl - that wonderful girl down-stairs with her brother's head in
her lap - might then become his wife. "Wife! wife! wife!" - the very word
thrilled him through and through. He was seated on the edge of his bed,
his hardened hands clasped between his knees. His muscles were taut, his
face was wet with perspiration; it trickled in cold drops down his neck
onto his strong chest. Then another vision was spread before his mental
sight. He pictured William as he had last seen him at his desk in the
bank at night. He saw himself standing there telling the brother, whom
he really loved, that he had come back to undo the thing that he himself
had proposed. He saw the dumb appeal in the cowering man's eyes.

"But you were free," William seemed to say, "and this means death to me.
Charlie, it means death!"

"I know, but I now love a noble woman," he heard himself pleading, "and
for her sake I must live, and now I have learned what life really means.
William, my brother, I have failed in what I undertook to do. I am not
an angel. I'm only a man of flesh, blood, and bone - a primitive man who
knows no law but that of his heart's desire."

He fancied that he saw William's head sink to his desk, the death stamp
of agony on his face. He could hear him say: "You are right. I am the
one to suffer, not you. Leave me alone this time. I have the same means
here in my drawer. I won't fail now. Go home, say nothing, but be there
to comfort them when the news is brought."

He saw himself turn away, pass out at the big door and into the lighted
streets. It was the old walk home across the Common. Familiar objects
were here and there. Celeste met him at the door. He led her into the
parlor and turned on the light. They faced each other. She, too, had the
shadow of death upon her face.

"I know why you've come," he heard her say, resignedly. "I've been
expecting it. No man could be unselfish enough to accomplish what you
undertook." The light of her affection for him had died out of her eyes.
She quivered now in fear and dread.

"I had to do it," he imagined himself saying, in the tone of an
executioner hardened to grim duty.

"I understand. We are ready - Ruth and I are ready."

"May I see the child? If she is asleep I won't wake her. But may I have
just one look? I have her picture, but that is all of her that was left
to me."

She seemed to lead him up the stairs. How like a dream it all was!
Celeste moved through the space his thought created as silently as a
creeping ray of moonlight. She opened the door of the child's room. The
gas burnt low. There was the snowy bed. He dared not look at it quite
yet. Around the room crept the eyes of his thought, seeking respite from
his growing remorse. There hung dainty dresses. There in the open closet
were other things - little boots, slippers, shoes with skates attached,
toys, dolls - and there on the bed - how he loved the child! How he pitied
her as she lay asleep with that pink glow of life's alluring dawn upon
her, unconscious of the blade he had unsheathed.

"Yes, she must be told now," Celeste seemed to say, in vague, ethereal
tones. "She is young to shoulder it, but justice must be done even by a
child like her. She must not rob you of a single right or privilege."

The child waked. Startled joy blazed in her opening eyes. She uttered a
scream of delight and held out her arms. He took her to his breast and
clasped her tightly, her fragrant cheek against his own, her warm body
filling his chilled soul with fresh life.

"I can't do it," he heard himself deciding, and forthwith, the pulsing
thing on his breast became the cold drops of sweat which his agony had
forced from him. "No, I can't do it," he repeated. "I'll wander again.
I've given my word, and I'll keep it."


The voices on the veranda seemed louder now. He thought he heard Mary
uttering a startled command of some sort; and then there were steps on
the stairway and Kenneth and Martin softly knocked on his door. He
opened it.

"Some one is driving up the road," Kenneth explained. "Sister thought it
might be Albert Frazier coming to call on her. Anyway, she said, as he
doesn't know that we are at home, we'd better keep out of sight. He may
want to stay all night, and in that case we'll have to go to the barn

The three men went to a window and cautiously looked out. A horse and
buggy were stopping at the gate. Frazier was alighting, while Rowland
went down the walk to meet him in accordance with his hospitable habit.

"I can't stop long," Frazier was heard saying. "Leave the horse there.
He'll stand, all right. I only want to see your daughter a few minutes."

"Thank God!" Kenneth exclaimed, in relief. "Then we can get to bed,
Martin. Oh, how I hate that man!"

The boys left Charles alone. He heard them creeping down the hall to
their room at the end of the house. Later he heard their father pass on
his way to his room. Charles sat down on his bed again. A different mood
was now on him. Hot fury raged through him as he thought of what might
be taking place below. That man might be urging the gentle girl to marry
him. He might still be holding threats over her, and Mary might accept
him. He heard their low voices. Frazier's dominated. Its coarse monotone
rumbled through the hall. He seemed to be explaining something. Charles
closed his ears, for the sound was maddening.

"It is rather late to call," Frazier was saying, "but I had to see you,
and this was the only time. I've thought it all over about me and you,
little girl. I don't know, but maybe I'm not as tough a proposition as I
appear to be. The truth is, I'm all in. I've lost every cent of money I
had. I plunged too reckless. I lived too high. It was come-easy-go-easy
with me. I've been a bad man, but you were always what I wanted. I
reckon it is because you are so good at heart, but I knew that you'd
never love me. I knew that, and so I resorted to that other game. I am
sorry, for it was a sneaking thing to do. But, as I say, I'm all in
financially. I could not maybe for many years give you what you deserve,
and so I've decided to tell you about it and move away from here. I have
a chance of getting something to do in Seattle. My mother's brother has
an opening for me there and I am going at once. You never cared for me,
did you, little girl? Now be honest."

"I don't think I ever loved you," Mary responded. "It was because you
were so - so kind to me and father and the boys - that - "

"Oh, I know. That was part of my dirty work," Frazier sighed. "I was
looking a long way ahead. Your father is as simple as a child, and I was
using him, tempting him to let me indorse for him. However, he owes me
nothing now. I am a bankrupt and the bank that advanced the money to him
with my security will look to him for it. Your crops are good this year,
and he will be able to make a substantial payment on account when they
are marketed. That man you picked up is a wonder. My brother thinks
there is something crooked about him and is looking him up. The fellow
acts strangely, but he is doing your place no harm, and perhaps you
ought to keep him. There is some mystery about him, but I've seen others
like him who turned out all right in the end. I think he has secret
associates. In fact, I have an idea that some friend of his advanced the
money for Tobe Keith's operation. I started to make investigations on
that line, but my crash came, and all that is off."

"Do you think Tobe's chance is good to recover?" Mary asked,

"That is one thing I came to tell you," Frazier answered. "The latest
news is even more favorable. I heard this afternoon from Doctor Harrison
that he is doing splendidly."

"Oh, I'm so glad!" Mary cried. "You can't imagine how much it means to

"I think I can, little girl, for you are a mother to the boys, young as
you are. I came to say something else, too. I wanted to wipe my slate
off as clean as possible before I go, and so I set to work on my
brother. He now knows all about how I felt to you, and, as he is a good
fellow, he promised to help all he could. He is sure now that the boys
will never be seriously punished and has promised me not to arrest

"Does he know that they did not go West, after all?" Mary asked,

"Yes, he does now. The boys were seen working in the field by a
mischievous neighbor, who reported it, but no harm will come of it now.
You can depend on my brother. He will not molest them. They've had their
lesson. They never were a bad sort, but only a little wild. They have
good blood in them and will come out all right in the end. My brother
really hates to have me leave, and he will stand behind any friend of
mine. I'm a rotten egg, little girl. Wanting to tie to you was my best
point, and that was a doubtful one, for I was unworthy of you, and knew
it all along - all along. I reckon a man ought to be as clean as the
woman he marries, and I was wrong, too, in trying to get you by the
methods I was using."

The horse at the gate was pawing the ground impatiently. Frazier looked
over the landscape musingly. The moon was just appearing above a
mountain-top. The old house which had blazed with the festive light and
rung with the merriment of buried generations stood swathed in darkness,
its roof-edge drawing a line against the dun sky. Ghosts of the past,
earth-anchored by sweet memories, perchance, came and went through the
old doorway and strolled about the moonlit grounds.

"It is time I was going," Frazier announced. "I don't know what has come
over me of late, little girl, but I know that I am different from what I
used to be. If I hadn't been I'd never have said what I've said
to-night. I hope you will be happy. You'd never have been so with
me - never! Good-by!"

"Good-by!" she echoed. She was crying. Why? She couldn't have answered.
She went with him to the gate. She held his arm in a gentle grasp of
pitying gratitude. They shook hands over the gate. He took up the reins,
got into the buggy with his old ponderous movement, raised his hat, and
the impatient horse bore him away.

She turned and glanced up at the window of Charles's room. He was
standing there, looking at her, but she could not see him through the
murky panes.

"Now go to bed, darling," a voice from the past whispered in her
subconscious ear, "Mother is watching over you."


The next day, in the afternoon, Charles and the boys were in the
blacksmith's shop repairing a plow that was to be used immediately.
Kenneth was at the bellows, and Charles at the anvil, his sleeves rolled
high on his brawny arms. Martin stood in the doorway. Presently he
whistled softly, and ran to Charles just as he was about to strike the
red-hot plowshare which he was holding on the anvil.

"Don't make any noise!" he said. "I see a buggy and horse stopping at
the gate. It looks like the sheriff's rig, and I think he is in it."

Charles dropped his tools, and he and his companions crept to a crack in
the wall and peered through it.

"That's who it is," Kenneth informed Charles, in a startled voice. "I
wonder if - if Tobe has become worse, or - or - "

"I couldn't stand that," Martin cried out. "Oh, don't think it!"

Charles said nothing, and there was no response from Kenneth, who was
grimly peering through the crack. They saw Rowland, bareheaded, walking
leisurely from the veranda to the gate. They saw him shaking hands over
the buggy-wheels with the sheriff. They could not, at that distance,
read his face. Of what was taking place the three watchers could form no
idea. Presently they saw Mary come down the walk, pass through the gate,
and shake hands with the sheriff.

"Sister means to find out if anything has gone wrong, so she can warn
us," Kenneth said. "Brown, this looks pretty tough on us. We were
thinking everything was all right, but this looks bad."

Still Charles said nothing. His face, only half illumined by the light
through the crack, which struck across his fixed eyes, was grim and

They saw Mary at her father's side, but the hood of her sunbonnet hid
her face from view. The three stood talking for several minutes; then
Mary was seen leaving and turning in their direction.

"She's coming to tell us," Kenneth said. "Now, we'll know. Keep still.
Maybe she is afraid we'll be seen or heard at work."

Mary appeared in the doorway. She removed her bonnet and smiled
reassuringly. "Frightened out of your skins, I'll bet," she jested. "I
came to tell you. He is not looking for you. He said so plainly, for he
saw how worried I was. In fact, he said that Tobe was still improving,
and hinted - he didn't say so in so many words - but he hinted that he
knew you both were about the place, and that he was not going to molest
you now that Tobe is out of danger."

Charles was staring at her fixedly; the animation that should have been
in his face was absent. "Then he wanted to see your father about
something else?" he said.

"Yes, some business, or - " Mary broke off, and with a sudden shadow
across her face she stood staring at him. "I don't know what he wanted
to see father about. It seemed to me that it was of a private nature,
and so - so that's why I came away."

"Gee! what does it amount to, since he's letting us go?" said Martin. He
stepped to his sister's side and stood with his arm around her waist.
For once she seemed unaware of the boy's presence. She was recalling
something Albert Frazier had said about the sheriff's opinion of
Charles. Could the present visit pertain to him?

"Thank the Lord, he's off!" Kenneth exclaimed. "Bully boy, that chap!"

The brothers went to the doorway, looked all around, and then hastened
away to meet their father, who was slowly coming toward the shop. They
joined him.

"Where is your sister?" he asked. They told him, and he went on, as if
only partially conscious of their eager questions.

"Oh, that's all right!" he said, impatiently. "He is not going to bother
you. Oh, Mary, where are you?"

"Here, father," she answered, as she came out, accompanied by Charles.
"Did you want me?" It seemed to her that he now glanced at Charles with
a look of vague displeasure on his face.

"Yes, I want to see you. Come to the house with me, please."

Mary was sure now that something pertaining to Charles had happened, for
her father was treating him in a manner that surely indicated it; the
old man had taken no notice of him, and that was most unusual.

Leaving the others in the shop, Rowland led his daughter toward the
house. "I wanted to see you about a little matter that may be rather
serious," he began. "The sheriff didn't come to see me about the boys at
all, but about Mr. Brown."

"About him!" Mary said, faintly. "What about him?"

"He put a lot of questions to me in regard to Mr. Brown," Rowland
said, "but I couldn't answer a single one of them. He seemed
surprised - astonished, in fact, for he said he didn't see how any
sensible man could take in a stranger like Brown unless he had proper
credentials. I couldn't even tell him where Mr. Brown came from, who he
was, or anything. I tried to explain that Mr. Brown had been so
gentlemanly and useful that we hadn't thought such a course necessary,
but the sheriff only laughed at me for being so easily hoodwinked."

"Hoodwinked!" Mary protested. "He hasn't hoodwinked us, father. I'm sure
he is all we have given him credit for being."

"Well, it seems that the sheriff thinks there is something very
suspicious about him. Warrants are out for a number of men who left the
circus when Mr. Brown did. The sheriff says that Mr. Brown has been
leaving our house at night, and has been seen in town on several
occasions. Quite recently he met a stranger at the hotel, a queer fellow
with a Northern accent who had refused to register. They were out
together the night the gift was made to Mrs. Keith that everybody is
talking about, and the man that turned the money over to her answered
the description of the stranger that Mr. Brown was with."

"But surely the sheriff is not fool enough to think that giving money
away like that was a sign that Mr. Brown was - was a suspicious
character!" protested Mary.

"The sheriff thinks that very thing is ground for suspicion," Rowland
went on. "He says it may be that Tobe Keith knows more than he has ever
let out. It seems that he was seen drinking with some of the circus men.
The sheriff thinks that the money was paid over by persons who were
afraid Tobe would make some sort of death-bed statement that would
implicate Mr. Brown and others. The sheriff found out through one of his
men that the same man who met Mr. Brown at the hotel was seen at the
hospital in Atlanta where Keith is, and then again here with Mr. Brown.
I don't want to be unfair or suspicious of innocent persons, but - now I
must be plainer, daughter. I've been afraid that you and Mr. Brown - But
I'm sure you know what I mean without my going into it."

"I know what you mean, father," Mary faltered.

"I don't want to offend you, my dear," Rowland went on, "but it seems to
be my duty to bring it up. He is an educated man and has the manners of
a refined gentleman. In fact, when I used to contrast him with Albert
Frazier it seemed to me that a young girl like you could not fail to be
impressed with him. He is a good talker and has seen something of the
world, evidently. I must say I like him. I like him so much that I
almost feel that it is my duty to be more open with him than I can be,
for I promised the sheriff that I'd say nothing to him of this. He wants
to have him watched for a week or so. In any case, he thinks that under
some pretext or other he may arrest him and force him to give an account
of himself."

"An account of himself!" Mary repeated the words to herself. Then,
touching her father's arm appealingly, she said, aloud: "Do you think
you ought - Surely, father, you will not let this change your manner
toward Mr. Brown?"

"Why do you ask that?" he demanded.

"Because just now in the shop you treated him coldly. I'm sure he must
have noticed it. He is an unhappy, lonely, sensitive man, who - I
think - has had some great trouble."

"I didn't mean to treat him differently," Rowland said with regret.
"Perhaps I was absorbed in what I had to tell you. But the truth is I
must be careful, more careful with you than I have been. I see now that
I was wrong to allow you to - to see quite so much of a stranger as you
have of this one. You remember you and he were out one entire night - "

"Oh, don't bring that up!" Mary cried. "You know as well as I do how
that came about."

"Oh yes, but, nevertheless, you and he were together, and, as I said, he
is an attractive man. Right now you are defending him. Think of that,
daughter, you are defending a man we know absolutely nothing about, and
who I must frankly say has not treated our hospitality with due respect

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