Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

The Hills of Refuge: A Novel online

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good, not bad news. My dear, Charlie is the noblest man in all the
world - yes, in all the world. Over a year ago his brother, my husband,
committed a great offense against the law. On the verge of detection he
was about to kill himself and leave me and Ruth under the stigma of it
all. Charles sacrificed himself under a sacred agreement with my
husband. He left Boston, pursued for a crime he had not committed, and
disgraced for life. But the other day Michael, an old servant of ours,
came back and told me about you and Charles - that Charles adored you,
but was too honorable to think of marriage with you under the
circumstances. Michael said Charlie was very unhappy. It made me so, for
I wanted him and you to get your rights. I finally told my husband how I
felt, and demanded that he do his duty. It drove him out of his mind
temporarily. He is now in a sanatorium on the way to recovery. He has
confessed everything to his uncle, whose influence at the bank has
caused the dismissal of the charges, the financial loss having been made
good. Moreover, explanations have been published in the Boston papers
which clear Charlie's name in full."

"Oh, I'm so glad! I'm so glad!" Mary now fairly glowed. "You've come
just in time to save him from grave trouble." And Mary went on to
explain the situation. The two sat side by side on the sofa, holding
each other's hands. Rowland found them there half an hour later, and
heard the news. He made a most favorable impression on the Boston lady
as he stood gravely listening to all she had to say, in the polished
manner of the old régime. Then he told them both that he must see the
sheriff at once and have the action against Charles suppressed.

In half an hour Rowland came back. Everything had been settled and the
bond destroyed. Then he pressed Celeste to return home with him and his
daughter, and Mary joined in the invitation. Celeste accepted with
delight, for she was eager to see Charles as soon as possible, and
Rowland went to order a carriage from the livery-stable. There was,
however, a delay in securing a conveyance, and it was near sundown
before they had started homeward.


Charles toiled all that day in the fields. At no time during all his
troubles had his depression been greater, due to the humiliating fact of
Mary and her father being at work in his behalf. And what good would
come of it? he kept asking himself. His appearance at court was
inevitable sooner or later, and what could he say in his defense?
Nothing and still remain true to the high stand he had taken.

He saw the sun sink below the mountain-top, and felt the coolness of the
dusk as it came with its moist suggestion of falling dew. He saw Kenneth
and Martin as they left their work some distance away and went singing
toward the house. He wondered if Mary and her father had returned. The
thought of having to face them in the lamplight at the supper-table was
galling to his tortured spirit. He had known them such a short time, and
yet was now on their bounty to an unpardonable extent. He bit his lips;
he groaned; he cursed his fate. Finally, when it was too dark to work
any longer, he started to the house. He was approaching the barn when he
saw some one coming toward him. It was Mary, and a fresh sense of his
humiliation swept over him like a torrent. What would she have to say?
Perhaps the bond, after all, had been deemed insufficient.
Perhaps - perhaps - But she was now before him. He dared not look straight
at her, and was grateful for the thickening dusk that veiled him from
her view.

"We are late getting back," she said, in a voice which, somehow,
suggested a tremulous suppression of vast and sweeping emotion.

"I see," he returned. "I thought you'd be back earlier. I'm sorry I
allowed your father to do that. I had no idea you were going with him. I
ought to have stopped you both. Such a thing has never been heard of!
Why, I am nothing but the tramp that I was when I came here! I've not
been open with you, and a man who is like that among strangers doesn't
deserve - "

"Hush, Charlie!" Mary put her hand on his arm and smiled into his face.
"We would do a little thing like that a million times and be glad of the
chance. In fact, we have not done enough for you. It is we who ought to
be grateful, not you. Charlie, we know all about you now - all about your
Boston life - " She broke down and sobbed. She sobbed in sheer joy, but
he misunderstood.

"You know, then!" he gasped. "You've found out. They have traced me
down. It was the name. If I had changed that I might have had a chance.
It got into the papers, I see, and the news of my capture spread to the
North. Well, well, you see now who you have been sheltering."

It was Mary's turn to misunderstand. Wiping the glad tears from her
eyes, she faced him. She put her hand on his arm again.

"There is a great surprise waiting for you at the house," she said. "Who
do you think is there to see you? Who, Charlie, who?"

He stared dumbly, his mouth falling open in limp despair.

"I promised that I wouldn't tell you," Mary went on, "so that you would
be surprised suddenly, but you look so - so - You don't seem to understand
that all your trouble and mine is over. Charlie, it is Celeste."

"Celeste!" he gasped. "Celeste!"

"Yes, and she has told us everything. Your brother has been ill and has
confessed the truth. The blame rests where it should at last, and you
are free. Oh, Charlie, you are the noblest, best man in all the world,
and when I think of what you have borne and your reason for it I feel
like falling at your feet in worship. Oh, tell me - tell me - can you
really love me? Since I've heard your story I've been afraid that
you - that _such_ a man as you - could not really care for a simple
country girl like I am. It worried me all the way home. While Celeste
was talking it fairly grappled my heart and crushed it. When you and I
were both in trouble it somehow seemed possible, but now - " Her voice
broke. Quickly Charles stepped forward and took her into his arms. He
was quivering in every limb and muscle. Every nerve in his being was
strung taut to the music of ecstasy inexpressible.

The clanging of Aunt Zilla's supper-bell awoke them both to the world
about them, and arm in arm they went homeward. Celeste was in the
parlor, waiting for him, and he went in to her alone. How sad, how
changed she looked in the lamplight, how like some consecrated nun
contrasted to her former girlish self! As he kissed her and held her
thin hands in his calloused grasp he wondered at the lines and shadows
in the features which had once been so smooth and free from care. For
the first time that day she allowed her emotions to get the better of
her. She tried to speak and failed. Suddenly she seemed to him to be a
homeless, deserted human waif, and then he comprehended all. The man
recuperating in the hospital, though mentally sound, could never be the
ideal she had so long striven to make of him. For the second time
William had tried to desert her and his child. He was weak; he was a
coward; but he was the father of her child, and perhaps ideals were,
after all, not to be met in substance. And yet there were strong men in
the world, for the man standing before her in the soiled garb of a
voluntary outcast possessed the missing requirements. Celeste was happy
for him and unhappy for herself. She calmed herself and hurriedly told
him the chief things that had taken place in Boston.

"Uncle feels very sorry for his unjust thoughts about you," she said.
"All his family pride has centered around you. He is sorry for William,
and is not unkind to him, but you are all he talks about now. He is
coming down to see you as soon as I get back. I don't know that I have a
right to mention it, but I shall, anyway. He has made a will, Charlie,
dividing all his fortune between you and Ruth. You are rich now, and are
bound to be happy. Mary is a gem of a woman who has proved her worth and

She seemed slightly faint. She swayed to and fro, and he caught her arm
and steadied her. He had never loved her so much as now. How lonely and
bereft she seemed, how frail, how persistently selfless!

"You don't look strong," he said, sympathetically. "You must stay with
us for a while, and let us put the color back into your cheeks. The
mountain air here is good and bracing."

He felt the brave tremor which a crushed sob gave to her frame. "Thank
you, Charlie," she said, "but I must hurry back. I am hungry for Ruth. I
have never left her so long before. She is my very life now, Charlie,
and - and William needs me."













THE RISING TIDE. Illustrated




AN ENCORE. Illustrated

GOOD FOR THE SOUL. Illustrated

THE HANDS OF ESAU. Illustrated


THE IRON WOMAN. Illustrated


PARTNERS. Illustrated

R. J.'S MOTHER. Illustrated

THE VOICE. Illustrated

THE WAY TO PEACE. Illustrated


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Online LibraryWill N. (Will Nathaniel) HarbenThe Hills of Refuge: A Novel → online text (page 25 of 25)