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Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

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me his word of honor never to reveal our compact and never to return. If
he is not caught I shall escape. I may lose my wife, but I'll escape."




CHAPTER XII


Two weeks passed by. For the most of the time Charles stayed close in
the larger room, which he and Mason now occupied together, with a view
to the utmost economy. They had become warm friends. When Charles's
funds were almost exhausted Mason received a check for fifty dollars in
payment of a debt owed him by a brother-in-law in the West, and Charles
had to share it.

Mason never again alluded to the discovery he had made in regard to the
trouble Charles was in, excepting once, when they were walking together
in a crowded street on the East Side, and he had noticed that Charles
seemed to be slightly nervous.

"Leave it to me," said Mason, suddenly. "I'll keep a sharp watch out,
and I'll let you know if I see the slightest thing that looks fishy.
Keep your mind off of it. I don't want to know any more about it,
either. From what you say I gather that you are bound by some promise or
other to keep your mouth eternally closed, even to a friend like me.
That's all right. I admire you all the more for it. You may be a thief
to those Boston folks, but you are not to me. The fact that you don't
even deny the charge means nothing to me."

Upon another occasion, one rainy evening Mason took up the framed
photograph of Ruth which Charles always had on the bureau, table, or
mantelpiece, and stood admiring it.

"Say, pal," he said, suddenly, as he wiped the glass over the little
face with his handkerchief, "if I ever leave you I'll want to steal this
thing. It has grown on me. She must be a beauty, and so sweet and
gentle."

Charles rose, took the picture into his hands, and stood looking at it
steadily. "I wouldn't take the world for it," he said.

"I think I know something about her - I can guess. You say you used to
drink hard at one time, though you don't now."

"Yes, that's true, but what else?" Charles went on, still feasting his
homesick eyes on the picture.

"I don't want to bring up things that will pain you for no good in the
world," Mason said, "so let's drop it."

"No, go ahead," Charles urged, half smiling. "I want you to finish, for
I think, from some little things you have dropped now and then, that you
are mistaken about me - in one particular, at least."

"Well," Mason went on, "I have an idea that you were once happily
married and that - well, the old habit got the upper hand so far that
your wife took the little girl and went away."

"Wrong, old man," Charles said, with a weary smile. "I've never been
married."

"Ah, then she is a little sister?"

"No, only a niece," Charles interrupted, "but I love her and I think she
loved me at one time, and may still, perhaps. They say that children
soon forget those they love, and, as I shall never see Ruth again, she
is sure to forget me; but I shall never forget her. Do you know, old
man, that that very little angel has seen me drunk. She has crept into
my arms and hugged me tight when I was too drunk to know she was near. I
came to myself one day when she was crying in alarm because she could
not wake me up. Oh, if I could blot that out! Perhaps when Ruth is grown
she will recall that, scene more vividly than any other associated with
me. It is odd, but I don't feel as if I shall ever drink a drop
again - the desire has left me completely. I don't know why, but it has."

"Our talk is on the wrong line to-night," Mason said, sympathetically.
"You said once that it was absolutely impossible for you ever to go back
to your old friends, and if that is so this talk is doing you no good at
all."

"No, it is doing no good," Charles admitted. "When I think of those old
days my very soul seems torn apart. Lost opportunities - the 'what might
have been' but wasn't! Yes, let's talk of the present. What chance for
work now?"

Mason lighted his pipe, which he had been carefully filling. "There is a
chance, but not here in New York. To tell you the truth, I rather like
the idea, for it is the only thing I have seen in which we could stay
together."

"A chance? What is it?" Charles demanded, putting the picture back into
its place.

"You may laugh, but this monotony is killing me, and I am thinking
seriously of taking the plunge," Mason said, as he puffed away. "I want
you to come, but not if you don't like it. This morning I met a man in
Union Square who told me he was taking a week off from a job with a
traveling circus and menagerie. It is now in Philadelphia. It will be in
Newark, New Jersey, the day after to-morrow. He says men who are willing
to do hard manual labor can always get employment, good food, fair
sleeping-quarters on the train, and two dollars a day promptly paid.
I've always liked outdoor work. The thing fairly charms me, for I want
to see more of the country, but I don't want to throw you over. I've got
used to you. I'd be lost without you. I've never had a real pal before."

Charles lighted his own pipe. He frowned as if in deep reflection. "I'm
going to be frank," he said, presently. "I am like you. I like the idea
of that sort of life immensely, and I am dying of dry rot. But I am
wondering, would a man - well, a man like me, for instance - be as safe
there as here."

"Safer, in my opinion," Mason declared, eagerly. "In a roundabout way I
dug it out of the chap that many of the hangers-on were fellows who, for
different reasons, were dodging officers of the law. He said he did not
like that feature of the life, but that you don't have to associate with
them unless you like. Gosh! you know, I like the idea, and I wish you
did!"

"Newark, day after to-morrow," Charles said, thoughtfully. "That's
close. Well, I'll think it over. It looks inviting, doesn't it? Yes,
I'll think it over. What will we have to do?"

Mason laughed. "Feed the animals; drive stakes and pull them up; help
about the big tent-kitchen; dress up like Turks or some other outlandish
creature and march in the street processions, and Heaven only knows what
else."

"It is getting interesting," Charles smiled. "I'll let you know soon.
Keep it in view. It is the only thing in sight, and we will starve at
this rate."

The two friends happened to be in Madison Square the following
afternoon, and were attracted by the sight of several groups of people
gathered around some "soap-box" orators in the space set aside by the
city for such meetings. Speeches were made daily by the men and women on
religion, science, philosophy and every form of politics from crass
anarchy to ideal socialism. For the most part, the speakers were of
foreign birth or the descendants of foreigners. Presently they were
drawn into a group that was gathering about a blond-bearded philosopher
who had the ascetic face of a mystic and who was telling how he had
forsaken a life of practical activity and had found infinite peace. Men
in the group who openly avowed themselves to be atheists began to laugh
and jeer and ask pertinent questions. The speaker replied to them. A
fierce argument arose. The noise of the discussion attracted persons in
the other groups and Mason and Charles found themselves hemmed in by the
close-pressing human mass. Charles, who was deeply interested in the
man's theory of renunciation, suddenly felt his friend nudging him with
his elbow. Looking into his face he detected a queer expression in it.

"Let's get out," Mason said, in a low voice. There was no mistaking the
insistent note of warning which it held, and, sure now that something
was wrong, Charles quickly assented and began worming his way through
the crowd. It was difficult to do so, for the spectators were all deeply
interested in the argument and did not care to stand aside. As they
laboriously moved forward, inch by inch, Charles noticed that Mason now
and then cast a furtive backward glance into the throng, as if anxious
to avoid some one.

"Come on, come on!" he kept urging. Finally they were free and on the
open sidewalk. "Come on!" Mason repeated, his eyes on the ground.

"What is the matter?" Charles asked, bewildered.

Looking back toward the crowd, Mason suddenly lowered his head again and
said, warningly: "Don't look back. I see him watching us. He followed us
out of the crowd." Mason swore under his breath. "I don't like the looks
of this a bit - not a bit!"

Further along he explained. "I was looking over that bunch of men just
now when all at once I saw a short man a little behind us watching you
like a hawk. He evidently didn't think we were together. He never let
your face leave him for a minute. I saw his eyes gleaming, as if he had
just discovered you and was studying your features."

"And you think - " Charles did not finish.

"He looked to me like a detective in plain clothes. I have seen some of
them, and he was of that type. He couldn't hide his interest. You know
your picture has been published. It looked to me like this fellow was
comparing you to it in his mind. I don't know, but I am sure we must
dodge him if we can."

"I ought not to have come out like this," Charles sighed, gloomily.
"I've been a fool."

"Never mind, come on," Mason said, looking back. "I don't see him now.
We'll give him the shake."

They went up to Central Park; they sat there on one of the benches till
sundown, and then went back to their room. Both were very grave and
neither had much to say.




CHAPTER XIII


At seven o'clock Mason proposed that he should go out and get something
for them to eat, while Charles stayed in the house to avoid the
possibility of being seen by any one who might be searching for him.
Charles consented, but when his friend was gone his sheer loneliness
became all but unbearable. The tawdry room with its cheap gas-fixtures
of rusted cast iron, the machine-made oil-paintings, the tattered,
dust-filled carpet, the cracked furniture, seemed a sort of prison cell
in which he was confined. Not since his disappearance from Boston had
the outlook seemed so hopeless. He told himself that it would only be a
question of a day or so now before he would be caught and taken back to
his old home. He shuddered at the thought of the scandal in the mind of
the public. William, who no doubt had felt somewhat secure for the past
two weeks, would find himself on that black brink again. Celeste - poor,
gentle, sensitive Celeste - would suffer now in reality, and little Ruth!
Why, the child might even ask to see him there in jail, and what reason
could he give her for his incarceration? He paced the floor back and
forth. How long Mason was in returning! Had anything detained him?
Presently Mason came back. He brought nothing with him. He looked too
much concerned to have thought of his errand.

"Say, it's serious," he began. "I didn't have time to go to the
restaurant. As I went out, old man, I saw that same fellow standing in
front of our door, across the street. He was in the shadow, but I saw
him and recognized him by his build. I couldn't doubt it, for when he
saw me come out he bolted. He turned and went straight to the corner and
down the avenue. I've been watching outside ever since to see if he was
coming back."

"Then he followed us," Charles said.

"Every step of the way to the Park. He had us under his eye while we
were there, and he dogged our steps back here. Say, you've got to listen
to me."

"I'm ready," Charles said, gloomily. "You can decide better than I can."

"Here is my idea," Mason said. "He evidently intends to get a warrant
for you, but it may not be possible till to-morrow. We must get away
from here to-night - at once. There is no time to lose. We are going to
Newark."

"The circus?" Charles said, inquiringly.

"Yes, but we must not be followed by that fellow, or any one else. Now
I'll pack a few things, and you do the same. Make a small parcel. Don't
bother with your bag. Thank God, our rent is paid. We are not going by
train. That would be risky. We are going to walk most of the way through
the country. It will be safer than in the trains that may be watched by
the police. Hurry now!"

Mason was soon ready. "Listen," he said, impressively. "I'm going
outside now. You bring both parcels with you. I'll stroll along the
street and make sure that the coast is clear. When you come out, if you
see me with a newspaper in my hand it will mean that you are to follow
me, and you do it. If I have no paper you are to go back and wait here
till I come."

Ten minutes later Charles descended the stairs. He deemed it lucky that
he met no one. A clock below was striking ten. Outside he looked up and
down the street. Presently he saw Mason on the first corner. He was in
front of a laundry, a newspaper in hand. He saw that Mason had seen him,
for he turned suddenly and began to walk westward. Charles followed for
several blocks. Presently Mason stopped in a spot where there was little
light, and waited for him to come up.

"Coast is clear, I think," Mason softly chuckled. "That skunk thinks his
game is safe till to-morrow, for he doesn't dream we are on to him."

"Where are we going now?" Charles asked, vastly relieved by his friend's
confident tone, and the sudden sense of the freer life into which they
were going like two children of Fate.

"We must cross the Hudson somewhere," Mason answered. "We could take the
ferry at One Hundred and Thirtieth Street. It is less apt to be watched
than the others, but still I want to avoid even that chance of
detection. There are some small boat-houses near One Hundred and
Eighty-first Street. I've hung about them a good deal. If we can get
there unnoticed we can be taken across in a row-boat or small
launch - easy enough to pretend to be camping out over there. Hundreds
are doing it this summer. We could take a car up, Subway or surface, but
I think we ought to make for the river-front and do it afoot. It is a
long walk, but it is safe."

"It suits me," Charles agreed, and side by side they continued in their
westward course.

Reaching Broadway, they walked northward till they came to Fiftieth
Street; then they turned to the river-front. It was a fine night. The
Albany excursion-boats, brilliantly lighted, were passing. Hundreds of
smaller craft, yachts, sailboats, launches, and canoes, dotted the
surface of the broad stream, and from some of them came strains of band
music, the strident notes of a clarinet, merry voices singing to the
accompaniment of stringed instruments.

"Fine! Fine!" Mason kept muttering. "We ought to have done this before.
You can't beat it at this time of the year."

They were passing a small restaurant and Mason paused. "We've got to
eat," he laughed. "I like the looks of this snug joint. What do you
say?"

Charles consented. The haunting sense of danger was gone. He was hungry.
They went in. The hour was too late, the single attendant said, for
anything to be served except sandwiches and coffee. They ordered a
supply, drank two cups of coffee each, and ate their sandwiches as they
walked on.

They were soon in the neighborhood of Columbia University and Grant's
Tomb. The moonlight on the river, the abrupt cliffs of the Palisades
beyond, on the top of which gleamed the lights of an amusement park,
drew Charles into a reminiscent mood which suddenly became painful in
the extreme. He told himself that it was no wonder that Mason could be
cheerful. He had a home and relatives to whom he could return when he
wished, but with Charles the wide world was his only home. He was so
bound by his promise to his brother that he could not reveal his entire
past even to Mason, who had proved himself worthy of all confidence.
Remorse over his ill-spent, dissipated youth was all but gone, for
something told him that he was fully atoning for all the mistakes of the
past. It was William he was saving, yes, and William's good wife and
sweet child growing into promising girlhood. After all, what did it
matter what became of him? Nothing, he thought, and with the reflection
came a vast sense of peace and freedom from care. He was a man without
home or kin now, but what did it matter? All sorts of interesting things
could happen to a world-wanderer like himself. He could tell no one who
he was or where he was from, but surely he need not be unhappy. Indeed,
whenever he thought of William's escape from disgrace and death by his
own hand, and realized that his vicarious sacrifice had made possible
that escape, he felt wondrously happy.

It was midnight when they reached the boat-house where Mason intended to
secure passage across the river. It was a long, narrow, two-story
building, with a float at one end and a dance-hall on the upper floor.
The hall was lighted up and a dance was in progress. Through the windows
they could see the young couples waltzing.

"Glad it is going on," Mason said, reflectively.

"Our chance is all the better to get across. Some of these fellows live
in tents on the Jersey shore and may be going back to-night. Stay down
here on the float and I'll nose about. I know the owner of the house
fairly well."

Charles sat on a bench on the float. The vast sheet of water was smooth.
The larger boats were no longer in sight. Now and then a canoe holding a
pair of lovers drifted by, or a sailboat almost be-calmed. The sound of
a piano and a violin came through the raised windows of the dance-hall,
and the low swishing of sliding and tripping feet, merry laughter and
jesting, loud orders for drinks or cigars in the bar. Presently Mason
came back. Charles saw at a glance that he was pleased over something.

"Boat-house man says he will take us across in a few minutes for a
dollar. Cheap enough. He thinks we are out for a hike on the other side.
He has a launch. He has to wait till the dance is over. It is breaking
up now."

This was true, for the couples came down the stairs and began to get
into canoes and launches. The sight of the lovers drew Charles's
thoughts back to himself again. Why had he not thought of it before?
Love and marriage were the things he could never expect to enjoy, and
yet they now seemed to be essential to life. How lovely was the girl
with the golden hair and brown eyes who laughed so joyously as her
escort tripped over a coil of rope and all but fell into the water! And
what a giant of a creature was the man himself as he lifted the slender
girl in his arms and playfully shook her to silence her amused twitting.

"Here you are, young feller!" It was the boat-house keeper drawing his
little launch alongside the float. "I'll spin you over in five minutes
on water like this. You guys are taking an early start for a hike."

"Obliged to do it," Mason fibbed, with a straight face. "We have to
catch some chaps at Alpine before they start in the morning. All right.
We are ready."

The tiny engine began to rattle. The boat glided away from the float and
was soon under way. Looking back at the almost deserted boat-house
Charles had a sense of safety from pursuit that was very soothing. He
saw, too, that the same thought was evidently in Mason's mind, for he
was very easy in his manner and had much to say to the boatman in regard
to fishing and boating. They landed at a little pier almost directly
opposite the boat-house. Mason paid the fare and the boatman left them.

"Smooth, smooth! Slick, slick!" Mason chuckled. "We are safe now. What
do you say; shall we lie down here and take a nap till morning, or go
right on? It is six of one and a half-dozen of the other?"

"It is all the same to me," Charles replied. "I am not really tired."

"I am not, either," Mason said. "I'll tell you, though, that my choice
would be to hike it by night. I've been over the road once before, and
if we go now we will not be noticed by a single soul, while in the
daytime we might accidentally be seen by some one on the lookout for
you. It is a stiff climb to the top, but let's make it and go on to
Newark. We'll get jobs. I'm absolutely sure of it, from what that fellow
told me in Union Square. They happen to be very short on help. Well, it
will mean three square meals a day, plenty of outdoor exercise, and a
bunk to sleep in over rattling car-trucks, I'm going to take to it like
a fish to water."

"I shall like it, too," Charles declared, and they set out for the road
leading up the Palisades to the level country above. The joyous mood of
his companion communicated itself to Charles, and he felt very
light-hearted. The warm sense of a new existence tingled over him. He
felt all but imponderable as he strode along by his friend in the clear
moonlight and the bracing air from the river.




PART II




CHAPTER I


It was the beginning of the month of May, one year later. The two
friends were still boon companions. They had joined the force of
canvasmen of the circus and menagerie at Newark, gone with the
organization to California, and were now in the mountains of Georgia,
where the company was billed to exhibit and perform at the town of
Carlin.

Their long train reached the place at three o'clock in the morning, drew
up on a side-track near the circus-grounds, and the canvasmen were
gruffly ordered out of their bunks to go to work. Charles and Mason
slept opposite each other, and now stood dressing in their rough clothes
in the dim light of a dusky oil-lantern at the end of the car.

"Dog's life, eh?" Mason said, recalling a remark Charles had made the
night before.

"That and nothing else," Charles muttered; "I've had enough, for my
part."

"Well, I have, too," Mason admitted, "and I'm ready to call it off. But
I think I ought to stick till we get back to New York."

"I'm not sure that I ought to go back there," Charles said, in a more
guarded tone, as they went down the narrow aisle to the door.

"Oh, I see what you mean," Mason said, "and after all, you may be dead
right about it. But what would you do if you called it off right here
to-day, as I know you are thinking of doing?"

But, somewhat to his surprise, Charles made no response. It was as if he
had not heard the question, so deeply was he absorbed in thought. There
was no time for further conversation. The foreman drove them like sheep
to the work of unloading the canvas, ropes, and stakes, and the hasty
erection of the tents. Seat-building, ring-digging, stake-driving with
heavy sledge-hammers, kept them busy till after sunup. Then it was all
over. They were permitted to go to the dining-tent set aside for the
"razor-backs," as the canvasmen were called, to get their breakfast; and
then they were free to sleep or amuse themselves till ten o'clock, when
they were expected to get ready for the street procession. An event was
due to-day which occurred only once a month, and that was the payment of
wages, so, after breakfast, they joined the string of men waiting their
turn at the windowed wagon of the paymaster to get their money. Mason
got his first, and Charles found him waiting for him after he had been
paid.

"What's up now - sleep?" Mason inquired.

"I thought I'd look around the town," Charles replied. "I'm tired, of
course, but I don't feel sleepy."

"I'll go with you," Mason smiled. "I'm trying to get on to your curves.
You mystify me to-day. I've never seen you look like you do now. What
has happened?"

They were now entering the main street of the town, at the foot of which
the circus-grounds were situated. Green hills encircled the place and
beyond rose the mountain ranges and towering peaks. The spring air was
quite invigorating; the scene in the early sunlight appeared very
beautiful and seductive.

"I was going to mention it to you," Charles said. "I ought to have done
so sooner. You see, in a way, it concerns my old trouble, and I've been
trying to forget that."

"Oh, well, don't mention it, then," Mason said, sympathetically. "I know
how you feel about it."

"But I must tell you this and be done with it," Charles went on. "Last
night as we were loading I heard two of our gang talking on the quiet.
It seems that some expert bank robbers are with us, using us as a
shield. In fact, they are on the force itself. Telegrams have been sent
out, and we may all have to stand an examination such as we went through
in New Orleans. That was enough for me. It seemed to me that I got
through that last ordeal by the very skin of my teeth. I can't answer
all those questions again - I simply can't. It is different with you. You
have a straight tale to tell, but I haven't!"

"Where did they think the examination would be made?" Mason wanted to
know.

"Next stop - Chattanooga."

"Ah, I see," Mason mused, "and, as you have been paid off - "



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