Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

The Hills of Refuge: A Novel online

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was forced to wear the garb of an outcast in the kingdom which was her
rightful abode.


Charles left his hoe in the barn and started toward the front of the
house. Was he mistaken, or did he see a group of three men near the
steps? Yes, and Rowland was one of them. As he passed through the gate
he noted the big revolvers belted around the waists of the strangers.
They were strong, well-built, sturdy men of the mountains in
broad-brimmed felt hats. They evidently saw him, eyed him steadily as he
came up the walk, and stood aside silently as he fearlessly ascended the
steps. He thought they were going to arrest him, had no sense of
objection to it, and was surprised when they neither spoke nor moved. As
for Rowland, he simply nodded coldly and Charles went on up to his room.

He went to a window. It was open and he heard the mumbled voices of the
men below, but could not see them. He stood listening.

"Oh, it is all right, Colonel," one of the men said. "You've done all
you can do. The sheriff thinks the thing looks shaky, and he wants to be
on the safe side. There is a big reward out for those chaps and he
thinks the fellow that was so free with his money in Tobe Keith's case,
and your man that was with him at the time, are two of them."

"I've heard all that from the sheriff himself," Rowland answered. "You
may think it strange of us, but we are all willing to trust Mr. Brown.
He has done good work here, and has been more than a friend."

"But you say yourself, Colonel, that you don't know a thing about him,"
came the answer. "You don't know where he comes from, what his
connections are, or anything."

"That's all true," Rowland admitted, wearily. "I've never believed in
prying into the private affairs of people. He is doing for us more than
he agreed to do, and I am sure he is an educated gentleman who may have
met with misfortune of some sort. I've never thought he was a happy man,
and I've been sorry for him. I wish I could befriend him; and if you
will give me a chance - "

Charles listened no longer. He had made up his mind as to what he would
do. Turning, he went deliberately down-stairs and out to the group. They
looked at him in surprise as he approached, and appeared to be somewhat

"Gentlemen," Charles began, calmly, "pardon me for interrupting your
conversation, but I have reason to believe that you are here on my
account. Am I right?"

"Well, yes," one of the men said, awkwardly, as he shifted from one of
his heavily booted feet to the other. "You see, we are deputies under
the sheriff's orders."

"I thought so," Charles answered, "and I've come to ask a favor of you.
The fact that you are watching me under this gentleman's roof is very
mortifying to me, for I respect his kindness and his hospitality, and I
want to ask if there is any reason why you may not arrest me and take me

The question astounded them. The two men exchanged swift glances of
inquiry. "Why - why, we have had no such orders, you see," the deputy
stammered. "We are only doing as we were directed."

"But a man has a right to decent treatment before he is proved guilty of
a charge," Charles went on, "and this constant shadowing of this house
because I am here is not fair to me or the family. I am a laborer on
this place - that and nothing more - and I demand that you either withdraw
from these premises or take me with you for safekeeping."

Charles heard a gasp behind him, and saw Mary standing in the doorway,
pale as death and trembling.

"What are you saying?" she cried, and she came forward and caught the
arm of her lover. "You are not going! You are not!"

"Daughter! Daughter!" Rowland protested, in a sinking voice, "be
careful - be careful! Daughter, be careful!"

"He is not going!" she repeated. "It is a shame, an outrage! Father, if
he goes, I go. Understand that for once and all."

An awkward pause ensued. Charles stood like a man of granite, his head
up, his eyes fixed on the deputies; across his face the whip of pain had
left its mark.

"We have no orders," said the man who had spoken before, "except to hang
around here and see if that friend of yours comes back, or any other
suspicious stranger. We can't take you till we have orders, and we can't
let up on our guard, either. There are four of us - two for night, and
two for day work."

Rowland looked at his daughter wistfully. There was a suggestion of slow
rising emotion in his wrinkled face as he spoke.

"Tell Sheriff Frazier for me, boys, that I will furnish a bond for any
amount in Mr. Brown's behalf, and that I hope he will do what Mr. Brown
wishes in regard to lifting this - this surveillance."

"Mr. Rowland," Charles cried out, urgently, "you mustn't do that. I
don't deserve it at your hands. I'm a stranger without a dollar to my

"He does deserve it, father. You are right," said Mary, as she swept to
her father's side and locked her arm in his. "He is the best and truest
friend we ever had, and you will never regret this."

The old white head rocked up and down deliberately. "Yes, tell the
sheriff what I said, and do it at once if possible."

"One of us will see him right away," was the deputy's answer, as both of
them clattered down the steps and strode toward the gate.

Charles started forward as if to utter a further protest, but Mary
sprang to his side.

"Hush!" she cried. "Father wants to do this. Let him! It is a poor
enough return for what you have done for us."

Turning suddenly, as if to hide her emotion, she went into the house.
Rowland and Charles stood facing each other in the gathering dusk. From
the direction of the kitchen came the singing voices of Kenneth and
Martin, who were unconscious of the tragedy being enacted so close at
hand. There was a light rising into the old face of the planter which
Charles had never seen there before. Rowland laid his hand on his
shoulder and let it lie there gently, almost tenderly.

"You have won the heart of my daughter," he began. "She is the image of
her mother, and the man who has such a love has all the world can give
that is worth having. I congratulate you, sir. For her sake I must make
your cause my own. You have helped me free my sons; you must help me
save my daughter. She could not survive your downfall - I know that
because I knew her mother. Tell me, as a man facing a man, are these
charges true?"

"They are not. I swear they are not."

"Thank God! That is all I want to know!" Rowland held out his hand and,
taking that of Charles, he pressed it tightly. He was about to withdraw
in his stately way when Charles drew him back.

"Wait," he faltered. "As I've said, these charges are wholly unfounded,
but under the circumstances it is my duty to you to tell you what your
daughter has failed to mention, and that is that there are things in my
life which I have pledged my honor never to reveal - things concerning
others more than myself - "

"Then don't mention them," Rowland said, firmly. "Do your duty as you
see it and God will take care of you. I have suspected that you may be
keeping back something, but that is your right. Now let's go in to
supper. But wait a moment. I want to speak of something psychological.
Do you know that a man of my age can be turned from almost a lifelong
purpose in an instant? You have seen me working on that ponderous
genealogy of mine. Well, the other day when my boys were in so much
danger my daughter and I were alone in my room. She looked very sad, and
all at once it seemed to me that she was an exact reproduction of her
mother when we were married. You know in that day when I brought my
young wife here we had everything our hearts desired in the way of
luxury, comfort, and even what was then considered style. Now it is all
gone and we are poor. This change, I reckon, has pained me more than it
has my daughter, and I have clung to the past and tried to keep it
alive. One of the ways of keeping it alive has been my thinking and
writing about the dignity and superiority of my ancestors. I was getting
my book ready to hand down to my children and their children, and I
would have finished it and published it but for my daughter. On the day
I spoke of just now, I happened to tell her that I was thinking of
borrowing some money to pay for the printing, when I saw from her face
that she wasn't pleased. I asked her what was the matter, and she came
and sat on my knee, sir, as she had done as a little child, and as - as
her mother had done as a bride. She put her arm around my neck and
kissed me, and then she begged my forgiveness for saying what she felt
that she ought to say. She pointed out that she and her brothers
belonged to a different age from the one I'd passed through. As she saw
it, life was too grim and serious for one to foster pride in one's
ancestors simply because they, being men and women of gentility, wealth,
and influence, had stood higher than others. Mary cried as she begged
that I should not spend any money to publish a book which she herself
could not take pride in. She said that sorrow, trouble, and adversity
had made her see that the common people were nearer God than the
opposite class, and that if we expected God to help us out of the great
trouble in which my sons were plunged we must humble ourselves. Well,
sir, I was changed - in a flash I was a changed man. My young daughter
had taught me more in a moment than I had learned in a long lifetime. I
laid the manuscript away. If it has any historical value it may be used
by some one else in the future, but not by me. It is full of human

"I felt as if a vast load had been somehow lifted from my old shoulders.
I knew she was right and obeyed her. I am telling you this, sir, because
you have a right to know the kind of woman whose heart you have won. She
is a treasure, sir - a treasure - a treasure!"

Aunt Zilla was ringing the supper-bell. Its tones swept melodiously over
the dusk-draped fields. The old man had taken the arm of his companion
as he might that of an honored guest in the past, and led him into the

"I shall never question your integrity, sir," he said. "Something has
told me all along that you are a man among men. My daughter has felt it
intuitively, and so have I and my sons. Whatever your personal trouble
is, we'll stick to you through it if you will only give us a chance."

Charles found himself unable properly to respond. The family were at the
table in the shaded lamplight. The meal passed in quiet dignity, and
when it was over the men went out to the front veranda. Kenneth and
Martin, who had not been informed of the talk with the deputies, were
still in a gay mood and began singing again. Rowland stood on the steps
for a moment, and then walked down toward the gate. Finding himself
alone, Charles slipped up to his room. He had an overwhelming sense of
his need of quiet reflection. He sat down, lighted his pipe, but in his
inactive hands it quickly expired. That he would have to face the
officers of the law sooner or later he did not doubt. The bond in his
favor might mean a few days' delay, but it also meant the certainty of
his appearance before the authorities. What would then take place he
could not imagine, but of one thing he was sure - a stranger in a strange
land who flatly refused to give account of himself when charged with an
offense against the law would find himself in a serious position indeed.
Then a sudden thought hurtled through his brain and shook him from head
to foot, leaving him cold with sheer despair. Why had he not thought of
it before? The account of his arrest would be given in the papers, along
with the name he had never changed. It would be copied all over the
country, and the Charles Browne of Boston, so long sought, would be
discovered at last. William would read his doom in the head-lines of his
paper at his desk or the breakfast-table. Celeste would know the truth,
for William would tell the truth rather than see his brother unjustly
punished. The revolver - ah yes! the revolver in the drawer of his
brother's desk! It was as clear to his sight now as when he had last
seen it. William would use it, without doubt, now, and there would be no

"Where is Mr. Brown?" It was Mary's voice addressed to her brothers
below. Charles sprang up and stood listening.

"I think he went up-stairs," Martin said. "He may be tired. He has
worked hard to-day."

"Tired!" repeated the grim listener, with a sardonic smile, as if the
body counted when the soul of a man was being hounded to such a sinister
doom. Mary was still on the veranda. What good could be done by his
going to her? How could he act with her as if nothing new had happened
when the claws of this unexpected monster were clutching his throat? He
crept with the tread of a thief out into the hall and looked down the
stairs. He could see Mary standing in the doorway. What was she
thinking? How would she view the thing he now feared? He went back into
his room and strode to and fro across the uncarpeted floor, his arms
locked, his jaws clenched. Presently he heard the sound of hoofs and
some one dismounted at the gate and strode up the walk to the steps.
Charles went to a window. A restive horse was pawing at the gate. The
voice of one of the deputies came up from below:

"I happened to meet the sheriff over at Dodd's, Colonel. He said the
bond would be all right, and he has ordered us away. Your man will have
to appear in a few days, and you will be informed. He said to tell you
that the bond would be drawed up for a thousand dollars and that the
fellow would not be arrested yet a while. He said for me to say that you
was taking a big risk, as he has fresh reasons for thinking that your
man will never be able to show a clean record. He thinks if he had been
able to do so he would have put it up before this, considering all
that's happened."

Charles started to the stairs, but suddenly checked himself. What was
there to say or do? And time to think and try to plan was what he
needed. He went back to his room and sat down. He was aflame with the
terrible shame of the thing. He heard Mary's subdued voice in
conversation with her father and brothers, and the hoof-beats of the
deputy's horse as he rode away toward the village. How could he face his
friends down there with sealed lips when they were so valiantly and
faithfully defending him out of sheer confidence in his veiled
integrity? He decided that he would not join them. He sat in his
unlighted room till he heard them saying good night to one another, and
then he went to bed, but not to sleep. Through the long, warm night he
struggled with his problem. Once he half thought he had solved it. He
might now manage to escape. It would be leaving Rowland with the bond to
pay, but he could perhaps get to William safely, secure the money, and
return it. But could it be done? No, for the names of Charles Brown of
Georgia and Charles Browne of Boston would be linked together by the
detectives, published everywhere, and a renewed search for the bank
defaulter would meet with success. No, there was nothing to do now but
to wait - if a man of his temperament could wait with a sword like that
hanging over him and all he loved.


Charles and the boys were in the field the next morning. The sheer
desperate movement of his limbs while at hard work had a tendency to
throw off the mental pain that he was still laboring under. It was about
ten o'clock, when, happening to glance toward the house, he saw the
sheriff drive up in a two-seated trap and sit waiting at the gate. Then,
to Charles's surprise, both Mary and her father came out, got into the
trap, and were driven away toward the village. Kenneth had noticed it;
he came across the cotton-rows and joined him.

"They've gone in to fix up that bond," he explained, in a tone of
evident satisfaction. "Father is to sign it to-day in the office of the
clerk of the court."

"But your sister?" and Charles wiped the perspiration from his brow and
bewildered eyes.

"Oh, I think she went along as a witness to my father's signature, and
also to see Tobe Keith and his mother. Brown, she doesn't believe you
were connected with those circus men; neither does father. As for me and
Martin, you know what we think."

"Thank you," Charles muttered. "It is kind of you all." His eyes were
now on the trap and its inmates as they slowly ascended the sloping road
half a mile distant. Mary sat with her father on the rear seat. Beyond
them rose the rugged mountain, green as to foliage and brown and gray as
to earth and stone. Above it all arched the blue sky, with here and
there a creeping wisp of snow-white cloud. How incongruous it was! Here
he was dodging imprisonment while this gentle family were
espousing - blindly espousing his tottering cause. He drew a picture of
himself running along the road after the trap, running faster than the
horses, overtaking them and panting out a demand that the law should be
allowed to take its course. But it was only a futile figment of a weary
brain. He had uprooted a stalk of cotton, and he replaced it, raking out
the mellow soil with his bare hands, packing it back on the roots, and
bracing the plant between two of its neighbors by interlocking their
pliant branches.

"Mary! Mary! Mary!" The balmy air, blown from the direction she was
taking in his behalf, seemed to sing the name as from vibrant strings
stretched from heaven to earth - from shores of matter to boundaries of
infinite spirit. Again she was in his arms as she was that night in the
darkened old parlor. Her pulsing lips were on his, her clinging arms
about his neck. After that spiritual marriage, could heaven or hell tear
her from him? Could fate rob him of such a prize? Perhaps, for the prize
could not be had at such a price. Mary, who had been a ready sacrifice
herself, could not love one less worthy, and she would have to know the
truth. He worked on - as a dying man he toiled on through the long, weary


On reaching the town, Rowland and the sheriff stopped at the court-house
and Mary went to the Keiths'. To her great delight, she saw Tobe out in
the little yard, seated under an apple-tree. He got up at once, and with
scarcely any limp at all came to meet her.

"Mother is not here," he said, as he shook hands. "It is kind of you to
come, Miss Mary."

"I heard you were recovering," Mary returned, "and I was very glad. You
know what it meant to me, Tobe?"

"Yes, I do, and that helped me pull through, I think, Miss Mary. Those
boys are too young and thoughtless to shoulder a load like that would
have been. We were all to blame."

"I hope we will have no trouble with the courts," Mary said. "What do
you think about that, Tobe?"

He waved his hands lightly. "Nothing will be done," he answered. "The
sheriff and three or four good lawyers told me so. They said it all
depended on whether I'd press the charges, and I don't intend to, Miss
Mary. I've had my lesson, and the boys have, too. I've cut liquor out
and folks say they have, too."

She nodded. "Yes, they have changed remarkably. They are more serious,
and they work every day."

Tobe was smiling significantly. For a moment he was silent; then he
said: "Miss Mary, me and mother are powerfully bothered about a certain
thing. We want to know who furnished the money that came to me that
night. As soon as I heard, down in Atlanta, that the stranger that
fetched it was a friend of that Mr. Brown on your place, and that Mr.
Brown was with him that night and kept back out of sight, why, we was
sure that you sent the money, but we heard after we got back that you
said you didn't."

"I didn't, Tobe," Mary declared. "I tried to raise it, but failed to get
it in time. In fact, I was surprised to hear that you had received it."

"Then you can't tell us anything about that?" Tobe's face fell.

"I think I can, and I think I _ought_ to." Mary's color was slightly
higher now. "Tobe, you see, since Mr. Brown came to us he has become
warmly attached to my brothers, and he was greatly disturbed over the
danger they and you were in. I have an idea that the stranger you saw
was an old friend of his who came here to pay him some money he owed. I
suppose that Mr. Brown did not want to get credit for what he did, and
so he got his friend to hand you the money that night."

"Now I understand it better," Tobe smiled. "He must be a fine man, and I
don't believe the reports the sheriff and his gang are circulating about
him. They say he is in big trouble himself - in fact, that him and his
friend belong to the bunch of circus outlaws that are wanted. The
sheriff had the cheek to try to tie me up with it, because this money
came as it did, but I laughed in his face. I told him he'd have to prove
it, and he went off with a hangdog look on him."

"Mr. Brown is not guilty, but he is in trouble over it, Tobe," Mary
sighed, as she turned to leave.

Tobe, his hat in his hand, went with her to the gate and opened it, with
the unstudied grace of his class. He stood bowing as she walked away
toward the square. She was to meet her father at the hotel, and thither
she went, vaguely depressed by the talk she had had concerning Charles.

She had reached the front of the hotel when she saw Sam Lee at a
canvas-covered wagon belonging to a mountain farmer. The clerk was
buying some produce for the hotel table and, seeing her, he left the
farmer and came to her.

"I was on the lookout for you," he said, doffing his hat and bowing. "I
heard you were around at Keith's. There is some lady friend of yours up
in the parlor. She come in on the south-bound about half an hour ago.
She is powerful stylish-looking, and wanted to see about some conveyance
out to your place, when I told her that you and your pa were in town.
She begged me to look you up, and I told her I would. She said she would
wait in the parlor. She looks like she may be some of your Virginia kin.
I didn't ask her name, for there was no reason for it."

"I can't imagine who it can be," Mary answered. "Well, I'll go up. If
you see my father, will you send him up, too, please?"

Mary went into the entrance-hall and up the stairs to the parlor at the
end of the first flight. The door was open, and the big room, being
somewhat shaded, appeared so dark after her walk in the glaring sunlight
that she was at first unable to see distinctly. Presently, however, she
became aware of a woman's figure rising from a sofa in a corner and
approaching her.

"May I ask if this is Miss Rowland?" a sweet, tremulous voice inquired.

"Yes, I am Miss Rowland," Mary answered. "Are you the lady who wanted to
see me?"

"Yes. I asked the clerk about you, and he said he would send you up
here. Miss Rowland, I am a stranger, but it is imperative that I see
you. There is, I believe, a gentleman working on your place whose name
is Charles Browne."

Mary started, stared, and was silent. Her mind fairly whirled in
confusion. Charles had hinted at troubles he had left behind him. How
could she know that it would be wise for her to speak in any way of him
and his affairs to a total stranger? She remained silent. She had drawn
herself up to her full height; her head and neck were rigid, her hands
clasped tightly before her.

"Oh, I see," the stranger went on. "You don't know me yet, and you are
such a faithful friend to him that you don't want to risk the slightest
misstep. Well, you are right, and I am wrong. I was in too great a
hurry. I see now what I've got to do, Miss Rowland. I've got to convince
you that I am his friend, and a faithful one, too."

Mary's perplexed face was still rigid and was growing even pale. Her
eyes, more accustomed to the darkened room, were enabled now to get a
clearer view of the visitor. She felt strangely drawn by the rather sad
and pinched features, the yearning eyes, and the sweet, almost pathetic

"Miss Rowland, I am Charlie's sister-in-law, Mrs. William Browne. I've
come here from Boston to tell you and your father something that you
ought to know, for, Miss Rowland, I know that Charlie loves you. It came
to me through another, but when I saw you come in at that door I knew it
to be the truth beyond doubt. You are beautiful, beautiful, and are so
true to him that you stand there now, afraid that through me you may
harm his interests."

"He has spoken to me of you," Mary said, "and of Ruth." Her hands went
out impulsively and clasped those of Celeste. "You must pardon me, Mrs.
Browne, if - if I seem slow to - "

"I understand thoroughly," Celeste broke in. "I've come to bring you

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