Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

The Hills of Refuge: A Novel online

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"I think not, sir," Michael answered, stiffly, avoiding the straight
gaze of his mistress as he put the platter down by his master. "At least
he was not there half an hour ago."

"But he gave you the note," Celeste put in, insistently.

"That was last night," Michael said. "He gave it to me when he came in.
I was to hand it to you, sir, at breakfast."

"It is all right," William said, evasively. He took up a spoon to help
himself to the eggs, but awkwardly dropped it. Michael served him with
steady hands and unruffled mien. "Yes, he is all right. He says he wants
to leave Boston for a while. You know he has had some troubles of late."

"Gone without saying anything to me or Ruth?" Celeste said, her thin
lips twitching. "Why, I can't understand it! Is there anything in the
note about the length of time he will be away?"

"I can't explain now," William returned, frowning over his coffee-cup.
"Perhaps later to-day I may tell you more. I - I don't want to talk about
it now. I have hard work before me to-day at the bank - a meeting of the
directors, and other things of importance."

Celeste stared stolidly. She sat a moment erect in her chair, then said,
crisply, "If you will excuse me, I'll go attend to Ruth."

William half rose as she got up, and then with a limp attitude of relief
he sank back into his chair. He had not touched his eggs and toast. He
drank his coffee rapidly and signaled the butler to fill his cup again.
"Strong," he said; "no cream or sugar."

"Very well, sir." Michael obeyed with sympathetic deliberation. He
evidently wanted to talk to his master about his brother, but he could
find no plausible excuse for so doing. William bolted a few mouthfuls of
the food on his plate, finished his third cup of coffee, and rose.

"I shall not be here to lunch," he said. "We'll have something served in
the bank."

"Very well, sir." Michael drew his chair back and bowed as his master
left the room.

William was getting his hat from the rack in the hall when Celeste came
to the top of the stairs. "Do you want to see Ruth before you go?" she
called down. "She is awake, but not quite dressed."

"Not now, dear. I am in an awful hurry," he said, impatiently. "I have
no time to lose."

"Very well," Celeste coldly replied, and disappeared.

Outside the sun was shining brightly; the air was invigorating with its
bare hint of dewiness on the trees and sward of the Common which he was
crossing. A wondrous haze draped the Public Gardens some distance away
on his right. On his left, the golden dome of the State House blazed
under its reflected fire. The city's dull hum fell upon his ears,
punctuated by the far-off peal of a bell.

Was Charles safely away? he asked himself. If only he had one more day
between him and discovery how much better it would be! But that was out
of the question. The thing that was to be done must be done at once.
After all, what was there so terrible about it? Charles would make his
way in some fashion, and the family disgrace would be avoided. Suicide?
Nothing could be worse than suicide. Ah, but Charles might be followed
and detained! In that case he would be put on trial for the crime, and
of course he could no longer play the part he had undertaken. Then it
would be suicide for himself; yes, suicide was even yet a possible
contingent. He shuddered; the sunlight lost its charm, the air its
bracing quality. He plunged on now, glancing neither to the right nor to
the left, and his step was heavy as he entered the bank. It was open for
business, and very active in the counting-rooms. Typewriting and adding
machines were clicking. In the office of the president, a raised voice
could be heard dictating a letter in studied paragraphs. William hung up
his hat in the little anteroom and sat down at his desk. Automatically
he felt in his pocket for the note Charles had written. He understood
the afterthought which had inspired its writing, but he shrank from
availing himself of it. He must appear to be busy, he told himself, and
yet what could be done by a man in his state of suspense? Could one
dictate a letter or add a column of figures while momentarily expecting
the verdict of a jury as to whether he should live or die? The bank
examiners would soon come. The ordeal of meeting their experienced
scrutiny would be impossible in his present state of mind. How could he
escape it? The note! Ah yes, the note! With the revelation once made to
the president, his privacy would be respected. It was a terrible thing
for a brother to do, but as a matter of sheer self-preservation, it had
to be done. The dictating in the president's office had ceased. The girl
stenographer, with her notes in hand, was hurrying past his open door.
Now was the time, but he must first set the scene for the drama. He got
up, went to the vault, drew open the massive door, busied his distraught
brain over a combination, opened an inner safe. He remained there for a
moment and then came out. A clerk glanced up from a big book of
commercial reports, bowed respectfully, and then stared almost in alarm
at his superior.

"My God!" he heard the banker say. "My God!"

With Charles's note in his hand William moved on to the office of the
president. The door was partially open. He pushed it aside and entered.
A heavy-set gentleman past sixty years of age, with a reddish face and
iron-gray hair, raised a pair of frank blue eyes. "Well, Browne, we've
got to show a clean record to-day," he began, jestingly. "This fellow
McCurdy thinks he is a regular Sherlock Holmes. You know he was the
slick chap that exposed - " He suddenly checked himself. The jovial smile
left his facile mouth, for William was now in the full light of the
electric lamp on the desk.

"I have bad news, Bradford," William gulped, putting his bloodless hand
on the roll-top of the mahogany desk, the hand clutching his brother's

"Bad news?" Bradford repeated, in slow amazement. "Why, what's happened?
You look - look - "

"The safe has been robbed!" William's words tripped over one another, as
they tumbled from his pallid lips. "I found this note, and went to see
if - if what it says could be true. See! Look!"

William spread out the crumpled note, and laid it before Bradford's
widening eyes, and then stepped back and stood still and silent behind
him. There was only a moment's pause. Bradford whirled around in his

"My God!" he cried. "Your brother! I was afraid something might go
wrong. Several of us were; but on your account - "

"I understand," William leaned forward. There was almost unexpected
support in the president's tone and phrasing, laden as it was with
sympathy. "I have made a great, great mistake, Bradford, and I will do
all in my power to make up for it. In a short while - a month, six
weeks - I can replace that money out of my own funds, and I want to do
it - I _must_ do it. I want the directors and you to understand that.
Will you tell them? Will you do that for me? The money is almost in
sight. I'm sure it is coming. I only need a little time."

"That will be considered later." Bradford stood up. His hand was
extended to the limp man before him. "I sympathize with you, Browne. I
have been sorry for you all along on account of your brother's conduct,
and of course I am more so now. You need not fear that the matter will
impair your own standing with us. The fact that you propose to return
the money is sufficient proof of your personal integrity. Now - now,
leave everything to me. You are in no shape for business. Why, you have
gone all to pieces! Leave it all to me. If I were you I'd go home. This
will create a sensation - it can't be avoided - and why should you be in
the midst of it?"

William heard himself muttering subdued words of thanks. He felt his
hand warmly pressed; the arm of a friend and old associate was around
his shoulders as he turned away.

Reaching his office, William entered, closed the door, and sat down at
his desk, his fixed stare on the large, spotless green blotting-pad.
What ailed him? Why was he so filled with excruciating agony? A better
way of escape than he had hoped for had opened out before him. The bank
examiners, the directors, the depositors would respect his feelings and
think nothing prejudicial to him for absenting himself from the scene.
They would regard him as a well-meaning man impoverished by the
irresponsible acts of a drunkard relative. If anything, their respect
would be heightened by his generous offer of reimbursement. He told all
this to his benumbed consciousness, but it failed to revivify the soul
within him.

"Sixty thousand dollars!" It was a voice from a telephone-booth near by,
a voice unwittingly raised too high, through excitement. It was Bradford
speaking to one of the directors at his suburban home.

"Yes, Davis, you must hurry in. We'll wait for you." Here some words
became indistinct in the tread of hurried feet in the counting-room and
corridors, then: "Oh yes, poor fellow! he is all broken up over it.
Surprised him like all the rest. I must say I didn't think it of
Charlie. I loved the boy, in a way, but I presume he got entangled in
some - Well, you know what I mean. It will get the best of 'em down
sooner or later. Yes. All right. Good-by. Oh, say, hurry in. We must
decide what we are going to do about the police. We must be quick about
that. Unpleasant as it will be for Browne, the boy must be caught. At
least that is my opinion, and I think we ought to offer a reward. Think
it over and hurry in. We need you. Good-by."

William, his stare still on the green pad before him, heard Bradford
closing the door of the booth. He recognized the voice of one of the
directors who had just come in and had met the president in the

"It has taken me off my feet," the man said, angrily. "What a bunch of
fools we were! The young villain! What other bank would have allowed him
to be around, after - "

"'Sh!" Through the very walls and closed door William saw the
president's considerate thumb jerked in his direction. "'Sh! He'll hear.
There'll be no permanent loss to us, you know. The newspapers must put
that in. It will prevent a run on us. McCurdy is in my office. We'll get
together soon."

Their voices died down. The telephone-bells were jingling from all

"Is that police headquarters? Well, this is - "

William would have stood up, his ear to the door, had he not known so
well all that was flying over the wires. The clerk at the 'phone in the
nearest booth was now in communication with the editorial office of a
leading daily.

"Yes, you can send him around," the clerk said. "I'll tell him all I
know about it."

William clasped his hands between his gaunt knees. He had once
deliberately planned suicide to avoid facing his accusers. Yet now, with
safety in his grasp, how could he face the defamers of his innocent
brother? Strange, but this was agony - even greater agony than the other
situation. He told himself that he must get away from it, for the
moment, anyway. Bradford had suggested a loophole. No man of refinement
would want to be present during the investigation of his own brother's
ill conduct. No, he would go out, home, for a walk - somewhere, anywhere.
He had left Charles's note with Bradford. That was sufficient in all
reason to absolve William from any suspicion whatever. Yes, he would go.
There were situations under which a man's leaving such a scene would
suggest complicity, but this would imply naught else than broken-hearted
innocence burdened beyond physical endurance. Taking his hat, he went
out into the street. As he passed the main counting-room many eyes were
lifted from ponderous tomes and machines. Curiosity and sympathy
combined were in the awed and stealthy glances. Outside, at the door, a
group had gathered. It was as if a telepathic sense of the tragedy
within had permeated the walls.

"There he goes! That's his brother!" reached William's ears as he
elbowed his way to the pavement. "Hey! there comes the chief of police!"
the same voice said. "Quick action, if he _is_ fat, eh?"

William did not care to see the official in question even at a distance.
He kept his eyes on the ground and hurried away. Home? he asked himself.
No, not now - not now. Celeste would wonder. She would have to be told,
and how could he tell her the thing that his reason assured him she
would never believe? A woman's intuition! Ah, it was to be dreaded! It
did not lend itself readily to practical subterfuge. Business men, bank
examiners, skilled detectives would be led by mere physical evidence - a
man's written confession, his open flight, his reckless past and
inebriety, but a woman's faith was too deep and well-informed for that.
What was to be done - what? He crossed the Common; he plunged into the
Public Gardens; he strode through into Commonwealth Avenue, and on and
on. He knew not where he was going or with what object in view, but he
must keep in motion. He wanted to put a certain thing behind him, but
that thing was in his brain and it was producing a thousand
pictures - pictures of his boyhood with Charles as a toddling infant
beside him; of his later young manhood with Charles, a careless
school-boy shirking his studies for open-air sport; Charles as he
entered the bank under his protection; Charles in the beginning of his
reckless career; Charles as he had last seen him, drawing the
accumulated burthen of another man's folly upon his sturdy, repentant
shoulders. Great God! How could he go through with it? And yet it must
be done. The terrible game must be played to a finish. After all, was
the whole thing not right? Through this sacrifice were not a good woman
and a helpless child escaping shame and misery? True, he had made a
misstep, but so had Charles. It would be comforting to know that, in a
sense, he and Charles were on a sort of level. Ah, but they were
not - they were not! Pragmatically tested, they were different. Charles
was now living in the joyful consciousness that a great good was to come
out of his self-renunciation; but it was vastly different with the man
for whom the renunciation had been made. William had never loved his
brother so much as now. He had never before been capable of such a love.
From the depths of the pit into which he had fallen Charles appeared as
a far-off superman. William might have wept, but men do not weep while
in terror, and William was afraid. After all, he asked himself, with a
start, how could he be sure that his secret transactions in stocks might
not be ferreted out by this same McCurdy, or some one else? These facts
brought to light and the authorities would readily see through the thin
ruse that was being perpetrated.

For more than two hours he walked, here and there. He crossed the bridge
to Cambridge. His dull stare swept the various college buildings and
stately clubs, but they only reminded him of Charles and what Charles
was doing for him. Why, the day Charles was graduated his friends had
honored him with - But why think of trivialities? Perhaps at the bank
some further discovery was being made. Had he covered his tracks
completely? How could he tell? He turned abruptly homeward. He would
plead a headache; he would shut himself in his room; he would explain
nothing to Celeste. She would wonder, but the newspapers would tell her


Alone in his little room, Charles became conscious of a vast sense of
fatigue, induced, no doubt, by the fact that his fears concerning his
brother's fate were now allayed. Removing his coat and shoes, he threw
himself on the hard, narrow bed and was soon soundly asleep. He did not
awaken till three o'clock in the afternoon, and might have slept longer
but for the harsh sound of a truck delivering coal through a sheet-iron
chute into the basement of a house next door. He lay for several minutes
trying to recall some vaguely delectable and flitting dreams he had just
been enjoying. Somehow, by sheer contrast to their evanescent quality,
the sordid little room and its meager furnishings produced a depression
that had not come to him since the beginning of his flight. His thoughts
were on his home, and he was all but faint under the sharp realization
that it was his home no longer.

Presently he heard a step on the stairs. It was a slow, discouraged one,
and the man who made it opened the room adjoining his and went in,
leaving the door open. Feeling the need of fresh air, Charles got up and
opened his own door. And as he did so he saw the inmate of the other
room standing over the open trunk. To his surprise he recognized him as
the man whose acquaintance he had made at the restaurant. Their eyes

"I see you got fixed," the stranger said, with a smile that seemed
forced. "Well, you will like it, all right, I think. As for me, I'm
bounced. I've had my walking-papers. Mrs. Reilly is a good soul, but she
has to live, and I don't blame her. Do you know, she was awfully good
about it - tried to let me down easy, says I can take my trunk and all
that, and forget what I owe her. Take my trunk! Huh! as if I'd carry it
out on my shoulder, which I'd have to do or cheat the expressman out of
his dues."

"I'm sorry you are going," Charles said. "I wish we could be neighbors."

"Well, so am I," the other responded, listlessly, "but we can't have
everything our way. After all, the sleeping is good in the parks such
weather as this. I've done it, and I can do it again, but I sha'n't need
a trunk. I'll leave it. And I'll pay Mrs. Reilly some day. I've always
paid my way."

Some one was coming. It was the landlady herself. Her face was very
grave and full of feeling. She seemed slightly surprised at finding the
two men together. Charles explained how they had met at breakfast.

"And he sent you to me?" she said. "He recommended me?"

"Yes, that is how I got the address," Charles returned.

She turned on the young man suddenly. She was trying to smile, though
her face was full of contradictory emotions. "Mr. Mason," she faltered,
as she touched him on his arm, "I must tell you the truth, and I'll do
it right here, facing this gentleman. I hardly slept a wink last night,
tired as I was from house-cleaning and beating carpets, because I said
what I did yesterday about you leaving. And now I hear in this
roundabout way that you have been trying to help me. Humph!" she
laughed, making a sound in her throat like a suppressed sob, "do you
think I'm going to let you go? Not on your life. I've never had a young
man under my roof that I liked better. I'd rather keep you here for
nothing than to get money for the room from some of the scamps that are
floating about."

"You are very good, Mrs. Reilly," Mason said, with emotion on his part,
"but I don't think, owing you for three weeks already, that - "

"Three weeks nothing! Cut that out!" she exclaimed. She strode to a
window and examined the tattered shade. "There is no demand for rooms
now, anyway. Do you hear me, you are going to stay? I've got to have new
shades here, that's all there is about it. Yes, I want you to stay, Mr.
Mason, and that settles it. You will find work, I'm sure of it. It is a
dull season, that's all. Business will pick up later. It always does."

Mason was blandly protesting, his color high in his cheeks, when she
suddenly whirled from the room.

"You are to stay!" she called back from the head of the stairs. "You
talk to him, sir," she added to Charles. "He is a nice young man and
needs a home of some sort."

The situation being embarrassing, Charles went into his own room. Mason,
now without his coat and his shirt-collar open, stalked in after him.

"Sorry you had to hear all that," he said with wincing, tight-drawn
lips. "Great God! do you know, sir, that the hardest thing on earth for
an able-bodied man to do is to receive help from a working-woman? God!
it stings like fire - it kills me!"

"I see, I see," Charles answered. "Your feeling is natural to your
particular temperament. In your case you'd better owe it to a man. I
want to be frank with you, Mr. Mason. You can do me a favor. I have the
money to spare, and I want you to let me advance it for you."

"You? You? Great God! man, you are not in earnest! You don't mean it!"

"But I do," Charles said, firmly. "It is selfish on my part, too, for I
don't want you to go away. I'm a stranger here and I'm lonely. I'm out
of work myself; I want your companionship; strangers though we are to
each other, I feel as if we were old friends. I can't tell why this is,
but I do."

"I know, I guess," said the astounded man as he sank into the chair near
the window. "I suppose we are both troubled to some extent. I thought
you looked bothered a little at breakfast this morning. I'd like to be
with you, too, but I couldn't start out in any stranger's debt like
that, you know. It is - is almost as bad, you see, as owing a woman."

"You mustn't feel as you do in regard to me, at least," Charles said. "I
am without a home. I don't want to be alone. I would love to share the
little I have with you. Something draws me to you like ties of blood."

It was significant that Mason made no reply. He leaned forward, clasping
his big freckled hands between his knees. He dropped his head, his
reddish-brown curls lopped over his wide brow. He was silent. Charles
saw his shoulders rise and fall convulsively, as if he were trying to
suppress a tumult of feeling. Presently he raised his head. His
hunger-pinched lips were twisted awry.

"My God!" he gulped, "I didn't know I'd ever run across a fellow like
you. I thank you! I thank you! I thank you!" He got up; his knees, in
his frayed, bulging trousers, shook visibly. He moved to the door,
passed through it, and went into his own room. From his position near
the door Charles saw him reel past the trunk, totter, and clutch a post
of the old-fashioned bed. Holding it, he stood swaying back and forth,
his head hanging low on a limp neck. Charles ran to him, caught his arm,
and made him lie down on the bed. Mason was ghastly pale.

"It is nothing," he said, trying to smile carelessly. "It will pass
over. I had it once yesterday in the street."

"I know what it is." Charles bent over him tenderly. "You are weak from

"Do you think that is it?" Mason asked, resignedly, doggedly.

"Yes, and it has to end right here and now. We are friends, aren't we?
I'm going down and bring you something this minute. It is not a woman
that is offering it, Mason. It is a friend who knows what suffering is.
Wait! Lie still. I'll hurry back."

From the restaurant where he had breakfasted that morning Charles
secured some hot chicken broth with bread and coffee. As he was hurrying
back, he met a newsboy selling afternoon papers. The thought darted
through his brain that the papers might contain an account of his flight
which had been telegraphed from Boston, and he bought a paper and thrust
it into his pocket. He met Mrs. Reilly as he was entering the front
door. Hurriedly he explained the reason for his bringing the food.

"Good gracious!" she cried. "I thought he looked bad. One of my roomers
said it was dope, but I didn't believe him. And I was turning him out in
that condition! Think of it - just think of it!"

"I am to pay the back rent he owes, Mrs. Reilly," Charles said, putting
the things down on a step of the chair and taking out his purse.

"You? Not on your life!" she threw back, warmly. "Do you think I'll let
a stranger come and do more for that poor boy than I've done, when he
was going about drumming up trade for me after what I said to him? Not
on your life! I'll feed him, too, from this on. I'll bring him his
breakfast if he ain't able to come down in the morning."

Seeing that she would not receive the money, Charles took up the things
and ascended the stairs. He found Mason seated at the window in the
cooling breeze from the open space in the rear.

His eyes held the eager gleam of a starving man shipwrecked on a raft.
He tried to make light of his hunger as Charles hurriedly placed a small
table near him and filled a soup-plate with the rich broth, which
contained tender fragments of chicken.

"Here, tackle this, you chump!" said Charles, and he laughed as he used
to laugh in his school-days. "The idea of your letting yourself starve
in this great, enlightened, Christian city!"

Mason obeyed. A warm look of reviving health was in his face as he drank
the soup. The plate was soon empty. Charles filled it again, and poured
out the hot coffee. As he did so he felt the folded newspaper in his
pocket, and a sudden cool shock of dismay went through him. What might

Online LibraryWill N. (Will Nathaniel) HarbenThe Hills of Refuge: A Novel → online text (page 4 of 25)