Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

The Hills of Refuge: A Novel online

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not the paper say? Some one might have seen him take the train in
Boston. Some one might have watched him on his arrival in New York. The
very house he was in might already be shadowed by instructed officials.
Men nowadays were captured easily enough in the vast network of the
detective system.

As he crumbled his bread into the broth Mason's satisfied glance swept
the face of his companion. "What are you worried about?" he asked. "I
saw you change all at once like you was thinking of something
unpleasant. I hope it ain't me. My God! I don't want to be a burden on a
man as kind as you are!"

"You? No, no! But I have my little troubles, Mason," Charles admitted,
frankly. "I try to keep my mind off of them, but they will sneak back at
times. Don't think it is money; it is not that, and instead of being a
burden you are just the reverse. You are a great help to me."

"I'm sorry you have worries," Mason responded, with a sigh. "But it
seems to me that every one I meet has some trouble or other. The thing
has its funny side, too. I could dance and sing with this feed in me,
thanks to you. This morning, after I left you, I went looking for a job,
as usual. I had failed to see the firms I had in view in Wall Street,
and was standing in front of an old church down there when a shabbily
dressed man with a red nose came up to me.

"'Say, boss,' he began, 'can you give a feller a dime to pay his carfare
home? I'm stranded here and got to get back.'

"It struck me as funny - his wanting money to get booze with, and me
without bread, and I laughed in his face. 'Say,' I said, 'I was about to
ask you the same question, but I've never begged in my life, and I don't
know how to go about it.'

"'Oh, is that it? New hand, eh?' he said, very cordially. 'Well, young
feller, I don't mind giving you a tip or two to start you out. I was
green at it once myself. Now look here. You are too timid. Brace up.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Pick 'em out as they come along. Take
the best-dressed first. Learn to know the labels on cigars and make a
break for the costly smokers. If you see a feller smiling, he's your
game. If you see two prosperous-looking guys chatting in a friendly way,
strike 'em both. One will try to outdo the other. I won a dollar in a
game like that once out of two fellers getting in a fine auto. Women are
all right, too, but when you see one coming you'd better just hang your
head and look sadlike, especially if you are at the lead-pencil game.'

"I thanked him," Mason finished, "but I never profited by his advice. I
simply can't beg. Say, is that an afternoon paper in your pocket? I
wonder if it carries want ads?"

"I don't really know," Charles replied, drawing the paper out slowly and
awkwardly, for in some way it seemed to cling to his pocket and his
fingers were not apt as usual. He spread it out, and as he held it
toward his companion some large head-lines on the first page caught his
attention and a cold wave of despair swept over him.

"Robbery of a Boston Bank! Absconding Clerk Makes Away with Sixty
Thousand Dollars. Ten Thousand Dollars Reward Offered!"

Mason was taking the paper into his extended hand. It seemed to Charles
as if the dismal room were enveloped in a mist. He heard Mason saying
something as if from a great height or depth as he opened the rustling

"Excuse me," Charles managed to say. "I'll come back in a moment."

Mason made some reply which he did not hear, and Charles went into his
own room, where he stood at the window, looking out over the back yards
below. Why, he asked himself, was he so terribly alarmed all at once?
Was not all this to be expected? To do him full credit, he was not even
then thinking of himself. It was William. It was Celeste. It was little
Ruth. They were first in his thoughts. Ah, after all, was his vicarious
effort at rescue to fail totally? He stood at the window a long time,
lost in a flood of reflections. It was now sundown. Lights in the rear
rooms of the buildings across the court were flashing up. He heard a
match being struck in Mason's room and the rustling of the tell-tale
paper. He crept to the door, glanced in, and saw his new friend standing
under a flaring gas-jet, with the first page of the paper before his
eyes. Was he reading the Boston news? Would he couple his new friend's
arrival on that particular train with the events described? Well, what
did it matter? Something told him that even were he a murderer his
secret would be safe with Mason; and yet, if possible to avoid it, Mason
must not know, for Charles had promised his brother that no
circumstances should wring the truth from him. Mason remained at the
jet, reading as if wholly absorbed. There could be no doubt now that it
was the Boston report that had caught his attention.

Suddenly, while he watched him, Mason lowered the paper, and Charles had
barely time to step back to the window before Mason was on the
threshold, the paper in his hand.

"Pardon me," he said, staring through the dusk at Charles, "I did not
mean to take your paper from you. I was expecting you back every minute
and got to reading about - about" - there was a slight pause here as it
seemed to Charles's overwrought fancy - "about a poor chap in Boston who
got away with a pile of boodle. It is interesting, the whole tale.
Booze, booze! The old, old story - secret speculations, and women. Family
broken-hearted. Went back on his best friend, his only brother, who
stands at the top socially. Gosh! I've been reckless myself, but not
like that, thank God! I've been my own worst enemy, but I never hurt my
people like that. I'm sorry for the poor devil! I really am sorry! This
paper speaks of the chap as having had lots of friends before he got to
the bottom. They are usually like that, free and easy and kind-hearted.
Oh, I guess he was tempted, poor devil! And he will be caught, they
think. Left for New York last night and is hiding here."

Mason was offering him the open paper and Charles took it. Before a man
so genuine as his new friend had shown himself to be, he could not bring
himself to play a part. Silently he dropped the paper on his bed. He sat
down by it, leaving Mason standing with a sort of dumb inquiry in his
eyes. It was significant that Mason was now silent. It was significant
that he seemed to be studying Charles's features in the dim light from
the gas, studying them with an awkward, reluctant stare.

"I'll read it later - later," Charles said, faintly, taking up the paper
and laying it on the pillow of his bed. "I hope you feel better since
you've eaten," he went on, lamely. "I - I thought the soup would do you
good, weak as you are."

The natural thing for Mason to have done would have been to reiterate
his appreciation, but he only stood staring helplessly at Charles.
Afterward Charles understood. The paper contained an accurate
description of him - appearance, age, manner, and the very suit he was
then wearing. Mumbling some excuse, Mason went back to his room. Charles
heard him moving about, and now and then he saw his shadow flit across
the floor of the hall.

Some one was coming up the stairs. Could it be an officer of the law?
Why not? He stood up to meet whatever fate was in store. He dared not
look toward the stairs. He pretended to be unconcerned. Then he saw that
it was only Mrs. Reilly.

"You must have fresh towels," she smiled, genially. "I almost forgot
them. I hope you like your room, Mr. - Mr. - I didn't get your name. I
like to know who my roomers are, for parcels and mail are always

"Browne," he answered, impulsively, and then bit his lip to keep the
word back. But it was too late, and the situation was complicated by the
sudden appearance of Mason in the doorway of his room behind Mrs.
Reilly. The startled look in his face and the fact that he disappeared
at once showed that he had caught the name and grasped its significance.

"Brown? That's common enough," Mrs. Reilly laughed. "I've had Browns and
Whites and Blacks all at the same time. How is Mr. Mason? I'm going in
to see him."

Turning, she went into Mason's room, and Charles heard her laughing and
talking in her voluble way. He wanted her to leave so that he might read
the printed condemnation of himself from his old home. She seemed to
linger unnecessarily. Presently, however, she went down the stairs, and,
lighting the gas, he read the article. Mason had given him a compact
summary of the whole thing, but the details lashed him like whips of
fire. It is one thing to make a sacrifice for a loved brother, but it is
quite another to bear calmly such consequences as he was facing. It was
plain now that even if he escaped he was forever lost to his past.

He heard Mason coming back. What could the fellow want?

"I see," Mason began, almost huskily, "that I am more deeply in your
debt than I thought. Mrs. Reilly told me that you wanted to pay my back
dues. I don't know what to say to show my appreciation. I have never, in
all my knocking about, met a man with such a kind heart."

"Oh, don't mention that!" Charles replied. "It was nothing."

"But it is - it is to me, you may be sure. I'll never forget it as long
as I live. I want to serve you. I want to be your friend as you have
been mine. I've come here now to tell you that" - Charles knew what he
meant in full - "that I will stick to you through thick and thin. I think
I understand the - the trouble you spoke of just now. You will need a
friend now, and I will be that friend."

Their eyes met. They both understood.

"Yes, I need a friend," Charles said, thickly, "and it is good to find
such a one in you. Some time I may be able to speak more freely about
myself than I can now, but I will say that, as I see it, I am not - not
quite as bad as one would think."

"I know that. I'd bet my very life on it," Mason declared, warmly. "But
let all that drop. Don't tell me anything. I know men, and I know you
are pure gold. I want to help you and I will do it if it is possible."

Turning back, he entered his own room. A wonderful sense of security,
blended with a sense of new-found comradeship, descended on the lonely,
pursued man. He now had an adviser, a friend whom he could trust, and it
was one who was capable of suffering, who even now was suffering.

That night he slept soundly, strangely free from the fear of arrest.


When William Browne reached home, after his aimless walk which he had
taken on leaving the bank that tumultuous morning, he endeavored to
reach his room unnoticed by any member of the family, but on the landing
of the second floor he met Celeste. She regarded him with a slow look of
tentative surprise.

"I've been worried", she said.

"Worried, why?" he questioned, with a start.

"Because Mr. Bradford telephoned me two hours ago that you had started
home and that you were not feeling very well. He seemed worried, from
the excited way he spoke. Of course I looked for you at once. How could
I tell but that you were seriously ill somewhere?"

"I thought a walk would do me good, and I took it," William bethought
himself to say. "If I'd known he was telephoning I would have come
directly home."

He started to pass her, but, touching his arm, she detained him. Her
cheeks were pale, her thin lips were quivering.

"What _is_ the matter?" she demanded.

"I told you I was not feeling very well," he answered, lamely, trying to
meet her penetrating stare with an air of complete self-possession.
"I've had a lot of head-work to do at night. I'm afraid I am near a
breakdown. Bradford noticed it and advised me to come home."

He passed her now, and went into his room. She followed close behind
him, and when he turned he saw her.

"Oh!" he exclaimed, in surprise, for he thought he had left her outside.
"What is it now, Lessie? You know you are acting strangely."

The window-shades were drawn down, but she resolutely raised one,
letting the sunlight stream in on him.

"If I am acting strangely, so are you - so are you," she said,
desperately. "Something has happened, William, and you can't keep it
from me. I have a right to know and I will know." She sat down in an
arm-chair and folded her white hands in her lap.

He tried to smile, but his smile was such a ghastly failure that he gave
it up. He turned to the bureau. He began to unbutton his collar and
untie his cravat. His brain had never been more active than now. She
would soon know the whole story through the afternoon papers, why keep
it from her now? The only explanation was that William Browne could not
find within himself the power and poise openly to accuse his brother.
His conscience was against it and something else was against it - the
fear of Celeste's shrewd condemnatory intuition. She did not leave him
long to his turbulent reflections. "You may as well tell me," he heard
her say. "I shall sit right here till you do. Is it about Charles?"

He was glad that she was behind him, since he had to speak.

"Yes, it concerns him," William answered. "He has gone away, no one
knows where. You know how he has been acting of late? Well, well, he is
gone this time for good, it seems."

"But that isn't all - it isn't all, and you know it isn't!" Celeste
leaned forward and fixed him with a demanding stare. "That wouldn't make
you act as you are now acting, or look as you look."

William jerked his cravat from his neck and stood folding it with
unsteady fingers. "You may as well know the - the rest," he stammered.
"It will be in the papers. He has been reckless. Half the time he did
not know what he was doing. He must have been out of his head, for a
large amount of money is missing from the vault. He had free access to
it. The examiners were due here to-day, and - and the thing could not
have been kept from them, so - so he left last night."

"I know. You told me this morning at breakfast," Celeste's tone was
firm, impersonal, impatient. "He wrote you a note. Was it about
that - about the missing money?"

William's eyes sought the carpet as he answered: "Yes, he didn't have
much else to say. He seemed to think that would be sufficient to - to
thoroughly explain why - why he was leaving."

Celeste stood up. She sighed. Her husband had never seen in her face the
expression that was in it now.

"William, I am not a child. I am not a fool!" she said, fiercely. "I
want you to be frank with me. He is your brother and we love him. Why
are you not perfectly - perfectly, absolutely open about this?"

"Open? Am I not open?" he evaded, as stupidly as a guilty child facing
indisputable proof. "What - what is wrong now? Haven't I told you all
that I know about it? You ought not to - to expect me to be in a natural,
normal state of mind after a thing like this has happened. Surely you
see that it was all due to me - I mean that but for me the directors
would not have allowed Charlie to be about the bank after he became so
dissipated. As it is - as it is, I have agreed to repay the missing
money. It will almost bankrupt me, but I shall do it some way or other."

"You did not know it before you got his note at breakfast?" Celeste

"No, not till then. It was like a bolt from a clear sky," said William,
slightly more at ease.

"I don't believe it - I don't believe a word of that," Celeste said,

"You don't? You think I am lying, then?" William gasped. "My God! that
you should say that to me!"

"I don't believe it," Celeste repeated. "I don't, because this morning
when you came down you were very dejected. I have never seen you look so
much so. It lasted till you read Charles's note. Then your face fairly
blazed with relief. If Charles told you for the first time in that note
that he was a thief, you could not have looked like that. You say you
are all upset now over it. Why were you not then?"

"I was - I was, but I tried to hide it from you," was the slow answer.

"I know you did, in a way, but you did not assume that first look of joy
and relief. I see that you are bent on keeping me in the dark. I see a
reason for it, but I won't mention it now. When you feel like putting
complete confidence in your wife, let me know. This is our first
misunderstanding, but it is a serious one."

She left him stupefied, unable to formulate any defense. He was aware,
too, that his helplessness was in its way a confession that she was
right in her contention against him, but what was he to do? Retaining
her respect and love meant much to him, but the other horror quite
forced it into the background. Celeste must wait. The first thing to be
considered was the retention of his high standing at the bank and the
respect of the public. The seed of suspicion and disrespect was sown in
his own home, but that could not be avoided. Celeste had defended her
brother-in-law before; she was doing the same now. She was pitying the
absent man too much for the absolute safety of William's plans. The
feeling Celeste was entertaining might leak out into public channels,
flow here and there, and create dangerous pools of suspicion. William
threw himself on his bed. He really needed sleep, but his brain was too
active for repose. He was listening for the ring of the 'phone in the
hall below - or, worse than that, the ring of the door-bell. What was to
keep those shrewd men at the bank from seeing through a pretense already
half punctured by a woman? William thought of the revolver, but that was
at the bank. He thought of quick poisons, but he had none, then of gas,
but the room was too large and airy. Suddenly he sat up on the bed, his
stockinged feet on the floor, his ears strained to catch a sound which
came from the street.

"Extra! Extra! Extra! Big Bank Robbery! Sixty Thousand! Thief in High
Social Standing!"

The front door below was opened, but not closed. He crept to a window
over the stoop and peered through the ivy hanging from the wall. It was
Celeste buying a paper from a newsboy. She was reading it. Only the top
of her head was visible, outlined against the paper. How unlike Celeste
to stand like that on the stoop, in the view of people passing by! An
automatic pang of pity went through the storm-tossed man. Could that
really be the young girl whom he had loved so passionately - the frail,
tender feminine creature he had taken from the care and protection of
devoted parents, and brought to this? A dead ivy-leaf was swinging by a
spider's web and spinning before his eyes. How odd that he should note
it, that he should notice how the rays of the sun fell on the dome of
the Capitol, that he should find his brain estimating how many copies of
the paper the shouting boy could dispose of in that street! Celeste was
coming into the house. She was out of his view now. He knew that she was
in the hall below, still reading, still wondering, still bent on knowing
more than the paper could reveal.

When she had finished reading the account, Celeste, white in the face
and yet steady in her step, went back to the dining-room. Michael was
there at work, a cleaning-cloth and metal-polish in hand, rows of
knives, forks, and spoons ranged in perfect order on the table in front
of him. His mistress faced him.

"Did you know, Michael," she began, spreading out the paper on the
table, "that this paper says that Charles has stolen a large amount of
money and run away?"

Instead of answering, he bent over the paper. His kindly eyes took in
the head-lines at a glance and he looked up, slowly shaking his head.

"Yes, yes, I see it is here," he answered. "I was afraid something would
be said. I was afraid last night that something was wrong, but I don't
believe he took any money. I don't! I never will believe it."

Celeste stepped to him. He was merely a servant, but she put an eager
hand on his arm and looked into his face steadily.

"I don't believe it, either, Michael," she said, huskily. "I'll never
believe it. He's gone - he's gone, but something else was at the bottom
of it. It may have been like this - don't you see? Don't you see my idea?
I know that he was thoroughly disgusted over his dissipation - over what
they say happened at the police station and his club; he made up his
mind that perhaps he was a burden on us and determined that he would go
away. And it just happens, you see, that the money was missing and they
all connect him with the loss because he is gone?"

"It does look like that, madam," Michael said almost eagerly.

"But, Michael, Michael, what do you think of _this_?" and she pointed to
a paragraph in the paper. "Here is what they say was in the note you
handed Mr. Browne at breakfast. See! See! Look! Read it!"

Michael obeyed stolidly, then he looked up. "I know," he said, "and I
think he wrote it. I think so from something he said to me about bank
money last night, but still I don't think he is guilty. He didn't look
it, madam."

"You say he didn't?" Celeste's fine features held an incipient fire
which glowed through her thin skin and was focused in her eyes.

"No, madam, he was too - I might say, too happy-looking. Oh, I know the
difference between the looks of a guilty man and an innocent one! I've
run against both brands."

"And you say he was happy - happy over leaving us, perhaps never to
return? Don't you think that is strange, Michael?"

"Yes, madam, that was odd. I must say that I could not make it out. He
was jolly, and he was not drinking, either. If I never see him again,
I'll never forget how he looked."

"I've been to his room," Celeste went on. "He took very few things, but
do you remember the last photograph of Ruth that he had, in a silver
frame on his bureau? He took that; at least it is missing."

"Yes, I saw him put it into his bag," said the servant. "Oh, he thinks a
lot of the child!"

"And she almost worships him" - Celeste's voice shook at its lowest
depths - "and she will never understand his absence. How am I to tell
her? What am I to say? She may hear this" - indicating the paper with a
gesture of contempt - "from other children. Oh, Michael, to think that
her ideal is to be destroyed, and unjustly destroyed, for, as you say,
and as I say, our Charlie is not a thief!"

Michael had taken up his cleaning-cloth and a silver platter. "I shall
never believe that he is, madam," he faltered. "I shall not read that
paper, either. It would upset me - make me mad."

"I had to," Celeste replied, dejectedly. "I see now that I'll have to
read other things about him. He may be brought back to Boston, Michael.
You see the mention of the big reward? They will search everywhere, and
Charlie is too unsuspecting, too innocent, to get away - that is, if he
really _wants_ to get away. Did it strike you last night that he wanted
to get away unhindered, Michael?"

"Yes, madam, he was anxious about that, and that is strange, too."

"Yes, it is strange," Celeste said, "for he is not guilty. He must have
had a reason, but what could it have been, Michael?"

"I can't say, madam," answered the servant, applying his polish and
rubbing the platter vigorously.

Celeste folded the paper. "This talk is just between us," she said, half

"I understand, madam, I understand," Michael said, bowing as she was
leaving the room.

In the hall she met her husband coming down the stairs, his trembling
hand sliding on the walnut balustrade as for support. Their eyes met. "I
am going back to the bank," he explained. "It is after closing-time, but
the directors may be holding a consultation. It would be better, I
think, for me to offer any assistance in my power. Bradford suggested
that I stay away for a while, but I have thought it over and I think I
ought to be there."

"Yes, it might be better," Celeste agreed, or seemed to agree. "If you
hear anything bearing on - on Charlie's innocence - if they discover that
the money was taken by some one else - I wish you would telephone me at

"Some one else?" he said, staring blankly. "But you see they have his
note. Bradford wanted that to - to show to the rest."

"Yes, I know about the note" - Celeste was turning into the parlor, her
eyes averted - "but something else may come up to throw light on even the

"Yes, perhaps," he admitted, stupidly, "and in that case I'll 'phone

She vanished through the door, and he stalked down the steps into the
street. He walked slowly and with a self-imposed limp. He kept his head

"Something is wrong with her," he mused, turbulently. "She does not
believe it all. She may never be satisfied, and in that case what am I
to do? I can't keep this up. It is as unbearable as the other thing from
which Charlie saved me. But I must not give in - I must not! He has given

Online LibraryWill N. (Will Nathaniel) HarbenThe Hills of Refuge: A Novel → online text (page 5 of 25)