Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

The Hills of Refuge: A Novel online

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them before him. A pot of coffee stood near him, from which he was
expected to help himself. A door of the room was open, showing a
flower-garden full of blooming rose-bushes. The midday sun beat down on
it. Bees were hovering over the flowers. In some apple-trees close to
the door birds were flitting about and chirping. A rooster was crowing
lustily at the barn; the cawing of a crow came across the fields. To the
wanderer all nature seemed to be swelling, bursting with joy. As he
looked into the face of the girl across the table something seemed to
tell him that a veritable new life had begun for him, and that she, in
some way, was responsible for it. He was full of gratitude to her.

Dinner over, they rose from the table together. "What are you going to
do now?" she questioned. "I must tell you that we always take at least
an hour for dinner, and on very hot days we don't work till later in the

"It is too much fun to stay away from it," he laughed. "It is like
playing a new game."

She went with him to the door; she stepped down into the yard. "I must
show you a few other things," she said. "That is the blacksmith's shop
adjoining the smoke-house. The shop used to be a means of making money.
We owned an old slave who was considered the best blacksmith in the
county. He used to shoe horses and mend carriages and wagons, but now
the shop is seldom used except for the sharpening of tools. Then we hire
a blacksmith to come out from Carlin. But he gets three dollars a day,
and so we only have him about twice a year."

They were at the old shop now, and Mary drew the great sliding-door
open. To her surprise, Charles stepped in, examined the big bellows,
forge, and anvil with the air of one who knew what he was about.

"Everything is here," he said, "and in good order."

"What do you know about a shop?" Mary asked, with a smile.

"More than I do about farming," he answered. "The show I was with
carried its own shop, and now and then I used to work in it as an
assistant. If you will let me, the first rainy day that comes I'll
sharpen all the tools."

"Oh, can you - will you?" she cried. "That would be splendid. But if it
gets out the neighbors will bore you to death with requests for this or
that. You couldn't shoe a horse, could you?"

"Oh yes. That is simple enough," he replied, indifferently. "The big
draft-horses we used had to be double shod, and I learned how to do it."

At the door of the shop they parted. Charles went back to the
cotton-field and resumed his work there. All the afternoon he toiled.
Digging the mellow soil and cutting down the succulent weeds and
crab-grass was a fascinating pastime rather than a disagreeable task.
The sun sank behind the hills. The dusk fell over the land. Presently he
looked up and saw Mary at the end of the row which he was finishing.

"This won't do," she chided him. "In a little while it will be too dark.
Didn't you hear the bell?"

He had not, and he stared at her, abashed.

"Well, come on," she said, sweetly. "Aunt Zilla is not angry. It is such
an odd thing to see a man willing to work that she was laughing over it.
I think she likes you already, and it is queer, for she does not take to
strangers readily. She is a close observer and she says that you have a
sad, lonely look about the eyes. I didn't agree with her, for you seem
very cheerful to me. You are not - not homesick, or - or anything of that
sort, are you, Mr. Brown?"

"I think not at all," he answered. "How could I be homesick, for I have
no home?"

"Then Aunt Zilla may be right," Mary observed, quietly. "You may be sad
because you have no home; perhaps that is what she reads in your face.
Now that I come to think of it, you do seem to look lonely and isolated.
Somehow I can't imagine your being contented here with us. You are so
different, somehow, from our young men. I don't know in what way,
particularly, but you are different, and so I am actually afraid that
you will decide to - to go somewhere else. If you do, Mr. Brown, don't
let anything I have said about - about needing your help stop you."

They were on the path approaching the house; he paused suddenly, and
they faced each other. "I wish I could remove those ideas from your mind
for good and all, Miss Rowland," he said, almost huskily, in his
earnestness. "It is the second time you have mentioned the subject and I
want you to understand the truth. My life for the last year has been one
of restless torment. I gave up traveling with the circus to settle down
on a farm. Something told me I would like it, but nothing told me that I
would find work with such kind persons as you and your father. The truth
is, I am so contented here that I am afraid" - he was laughing now - "that
I shall wake up and find myself in that rumbling freight-train again,
with canvas to unload, ropes to stretch, and stakes to drive."

"Well, I'll not bring it up again," she promised, with a sigh of relief.
"I wouldn't have done it, but Zilla set me thinking on that line. I do
want you to feel at home here, and it is not all selfishness, either.
I've had trouble - I'm having plenty of it now - and somehow I feel that
you have had more than your share somehow, somewhere."

The words were half tentative; she eyed him expectantly, but he made no
response. They were at the veranda now, and he turned into the hall and
went up to his room. He found that his bag had come, and, quickly
putting on the suit of clothes it contained, he hurried down. The suit
was a good, well-fitting one, bought with his old taste for such things,
and in the lamplight he presented quite a changed appearance. He
remarked the all but surprised look in Mary's face when he met her in
the dining-room, but she made no comment. She had not changed her dress,
and was waiting for him in her place at the head of the table.

"Father has eaten and gone back to his books," she said. "He takes very
little nourishment. That is one good thing in ancestry worship, it saves
food in his case. He can live on a biscuit and a glass of milk a day if
he is on the track of a fresh twig for our tree."

When supper was over they went out to the front veranda. Leaving Charles
seated on the end of it, Mary went into the big parlor behind him. He
saw the light flash up as she struck a match and applied it to a lamp. A
moment later he heard her playing the old piano. Its tone was sweet and
her touch good. She was playing old plantation melodies, some of which
he had heard before, and a wonderful sense of peace and restfulness
crept over him. Presently, as if drawn by the music, Rowland rose from a
rustic seat under an oak on the lawn and came to him.

"She learned that from her mother," the old man whispered. "My wife was
graduated at a Virginia college for young ladies, and in her day was
considered a fine performer. Mary sings, too, but - There, she is
beginning now."

He checked himself, for his daughter was singing an old hymn, and
Charles thought her voice was wonderfully sweet and sympathetic. But it
suddenly quivered, a lump seemed to rise into her throat, and she
stopped. There was stillness for a moment, then Charles heard Zilla's

"Don't give way lak dat, missie!" she said. "Raise yo' pretty haid up.
Dem boys is gwine ter come thoo dis spree same as de rest of 'um. Don't
give up, chile. Ol' Zilla gwine ter go 'stracted if you do. You is too
young en' sweet en' lightsome ter give down lak dat."

"It is those boys," Rowland muttered. "She's like her mother was, full
of worry when they start to cut up. As for me, you see, I know that wild
oats must be sown. I certainly ought to know, for I cut a wide swath in
my young day. It must run in our blood. There was a young Sir George
Rowland among the first settlers in South Carolina, and, judging from
his will, of which I have a copy, he was as dissolute and extravagant as
a royal prince. Yes, yes, blood will tell, and history is only repeating
itself in my boys."

He turned into the parlor. Charles heard his voice gently admonishing
his daughter, joined to that of Aunt Zilla, and presently Mary was heard
ascending the stairs to her room. She had a lighted candle in her hand,
and Charles caught a glimpse of her when she was half-way up the flight.
She looked to him like an old picture of Colonial days; the light
elongated her figure and gave to her trim gown the effect of an
elaborate train. He was sure that the impression he had of her at that
instant would never leave him.

Saying good night to Rowland, Charles went up to his room and undressed.
A few minutes before he had been conscious of a sense of infinite peace
and content, but already the feeling was gone. In its place was a
growing desire to lift the sinister shadow that hung over the young
girl. He could hear her soft step in her room across the hall. He had
put out his light and now saw from his window that old Rowland was still
strolling about the lawn. Presently all was still in Mary's room. He was
very tired, but his brain was too active for sleep. The long straight
rows of cotton-plants haunted his mind. In thought he was cutting out
the weeds with Mary at his side. He heard again her sweet, merry
comments and wise suggestions; he saw the wondrous lights and shadows in
her beauteous face and the moving grace of her form. He was her servant;
she belonged to the social class which he had renounced forever. Owing
to the blight upon his name and character, he could never aspire to be
more than a laborer on her father's farm, but it didn't matter. Nothing
mattered but her happiness, and he told himself that she should have
happiness if he died to give it to her.


He waked before the sun was quite up the next morning. The pale light
reflected from the eastern sky was creeping in at the windows when he
opened his eyes. His mind was not clear, and at first he thought he was
in his room at his old home. In a half-dreaming state he fancied Michael
was at the door, telling him it was time to rise and catch a train. Next
he thought he heard Ruth's voice calling to him, as she was wont to do
at times before she was out of bed. Then the vague outlines of the old
furniture took clearer shape and he sat up. In a flash his new life had
reopened before him. He dressed hurriedly and went down-stairs. The
front door was open, and the dewy lawn lay in the yellowing light. The
peak of the nearest mountain pierced the fleecy clouds. He was turning
around the house to go to the cotton-field when the blind of Mary's room
was thrown open and she looked down and smiled.

"Good morning!" she cried. "I wonder if you are headed for that

He answered that he was, and she laughed.

"Not before you have your breakfast," she commanded. "That is against
the rules. It will be ready soon. Wait for me. I'm coming right down."

He went to the veranda and saw her descending. When she came out into
the full light from the shadowy house he remarked the lines of care in
her face, and they threw a damper on his spirits.

"How did you rest?" she asked.

"Very well," he returned, "but I am afraid that you did not."

She was silent, her head downcast, and he wondered over the impulse that
had emboldened him to make such a personal comment. He was about to beg
her pardon, when she raised her face and looked at him confidingly.

"Oh, I know I show it, Mr. Brown," she exclaimed, "but I can't help it.
I've been half crazy all night long. I slept only a few minutes at a
time, and even in my sleep my fears clung to me. It is my brothers. I
have worried over them before, but never like this. From what I heard
yesterday the spree they are on is the worst they ever had. They were
with their vilest associates, moonshiners and gamblers, over at Carlin,
drinking harder than ever before."

Here Zilla came to the front door. Catching her mistress's eye, she
cried out, excitedly: "Young miss, I see er hoss en' buggy 'way down de
road. It got two mens in it. Looks ter me like de boys. Dey is whippin'
de hoss powerful en' ercomin' fast."

Ascending the veranda steps, Mary looked down the main road toward
Carlin. "Yes, it is my brothers," she said, frowning. "Why they are
hurrying so I can't make out. The horse looks as if it is about to

She said no more, but hastened to the front gate, where she stood, her
tense hands on the latch, waiting for the vehicle to arrive. In a moment
a panting, foaming bay horse was reined in at the gate and the two young
men sprang down from a ramshackle buggy.

"Where is father?" Kenneth, the older, a tall, dark young man, asked,

"He is in the library, I think," his sister answered, "Kensy, what is
the matter?"

"Oh, don't ask me!" he cried, impatiently, a wild look in his eyes.
"Keep the horse there ready, Martin. But never mind. What's the use? It
is all in. We'll have to leave the main road, anyway. We must skip for
the mountains."

"Oh, brother, brother Kensy, what is it?" Mary cried, in sheer terror,
as she clutched his arm.

Drawing it from her impatiently, even roughly, he cried out to Zilla:
"Call father! Hurry! No, I'll find him."

"Oh, Martin, Martin, what is it?" and Mary turned to her younger
brother, who was short, rather frail-looking, and had blue eyes and
reddish hair.

"Nothing, nothing," he said, his glance following Kenneth into the
house. "Don't ask me, sis. It is all right."

"But I know something has gone wrong!" Mary cried. "You and Kensy look
it; you can't hide it. What is it?"

He shrugged his shoulders, lifted his brows, and then said, reluctantly:
"Well, we got in a little scrape, that's all, and had to make a break to
get away. The sheriff and a deputy are after us."

"After you! after you!" Mary gasped. "What have you done?"

Martin hesitated sullenly, his eyes on the grass.

"Tell yo' sister de trufe, boy," Aunt Zilla suddenly broke in. "Be
ershamed er yo'se'f, keepin' 'er awake all night wid worry. Tell 'er
what's de matter. Don't yer see she's half 'stracted over yo-all's

"Oh, well," he responded, "it was a little shooting-scrape. Ken and Tobe
Keith had a dispute in Gardener's pool-room about an hour ago. Tobe drew
a knife. Some say he didn't, but I saw it; I'm sure I saw it. I grabbed
him around the waist, and - well, Ken was a little full and had a gun,
and while I and Tobe were wrestling he fired."

"And killed him!" Mary cried. "Oh God, have mercy!"

"No, no, don't be a fool, sis! Please don't! He was just wounded
slightly, that's all."

"But why did you run away, then?" Mary's pale lips shook as the words
dropped from them.

"Because," he frowned - "because some of the mountain boys advised us to,
and Sheriff Frazier lived around the corner and had heard the shots.
This horse and buggy was loaned to us by Steve Pinkney. He'll be here
after them. Zilla, feed and water the horse, please. We've got to get
away in the mountains till - till we find out how Keith is."

Mary started to say something, but choked up. She put her arm about her
brother's neck, but he gently took it down.

"Don't make it worse than it is, sis dear," he faltered. "We are in
trouble, big trouble, this time, but we hardly knew what we were doing.
If the fellow lives, we will - "

"If he lives! My God! _if_ he lives!" Mary moaned.

Her father and her older brother were coming out on the veranda now. The
old gentleman had a book and manuscript under his handless arm. Charles
noted that he was not even pale, though a certain expression of
irritation rested on his patrician features.

"Yes, leave the horse," he was saying. "Get into the mountains. As you
say, you know a good hiding-place. I'll remember the directions to it,
and we'll get food to you somehow or other. It may not be serious. The
scoundrel was attacking you with a knife, you think?"

"Martin thought so," Kenneth answered, "but I'm not sure of it now.
Steve Pinkney says Martin was mistaken, and that is why he advised us to
run. I was drinking. My nerves are all shattered. I got mad when I saw
Keith and Martin struggling, and fired before I thought. I'm sorry, but
if is too late now. We must get away."

"Yes, and before somebody sees you here," Rowland said. "Are you

"Yes, but we can't wait," Kenneth answered. "Come on, Martin."

Mary had run to her older brother. She held out her arms; she was
sobbing in her white fluttering throat. He took her into his embrace,
drew her bare head to his shoulder, and stroked her hair.

"We are bad boys, sis dear," he said, tenderly. "We have not treated you
right; no one knows that better than Martin and I, and we are getting
paid for it. I hope Keith won't die. God knows I do! I really haven't
anything against him. It was just a dispute over a game of poker. He was
mad and so was I. Good-by. We must go. They will not find us where we
are going."

"Hurry!" she gasped, as she slid from his arms. "Hurry!"

Side by side the two boys hastened toward the barn. The little group saw
them pass through the stable-yard, climb over the fence, and vanish in
the thicket which was the border of the vast forest that reached out,
dank and trackless, into the mountains toward the west.

With a little sigh of despair, Mary sank down on the lowest step of the
veranda. Her father looked at her for a moment with a childlike stare of
perplexity, and then said:

"Come, come, don't act that way! It won't do any good."

"Come in de house, missie," Aunt Zilla said, gently, and as soothingly
as a mother to an ill child. "Dem boys is gwine ter give de sheriff de
slip en' dat man will pull thoo. Come on. Yo' breakfust is gittin' cold.
Mr. Brown wants ter git ter his wuk in de cotton."

To his surprise, Charles saw Mary sit more erect. It was as if by a
superhuman effort she had shaken herself temporarily free from the
overpowering disaster.

"Yes, you must have your breakfast," she said, smiling faintly at
Charles. "Come, let's go to the dining-room."

At the table he found himself admiring the self-control of both Mary and
her father. Charles noted that Mary ate but little, and that little she
seemed to take without relish. Rowland had his manuscript at his side at
the table, and once he consulted it, as if his mind had reverted to
something he had been interested in before the arrival of his sons.

"I am sorry that I did not have the opportunity to present my boys to
you," he remarked once. "I told Kenneth who you were and assured him
that you had given us evidence of your friendly spirit. He is glad that
you have come to help us out with the work. One might not think so from
his present conduct, but he hates to see his sister do manual labor in
the field."


Mary, now a different creature from what she was the day before,
accompanied Charles to the cotton-field after breakfast. "You have done
an enormous amount for half a day," she said. "You must not drive
yourself like that. I know why you are doing it, but you must not. It
would be wrong for us to permit it. From your accent I take you to be a
Northerner, but you are acting like a cavalier of the old South. I
appreciate it - I appreciate it, but I can't let you do so much."

"What, that?" he began. "As if that were anything! Why, Miss Rowland - "
His emotions swept his power of utterance away from him, and he stood,
hoe in hand, helpless under the spell of her storm-swept beauty and
appealing womanhood. He wanted to aid her more materially. He wanted to
offer his services in behalf of her brothers. He would have given his
life - in his eyes it was a futile thing at best - for her cause; and yet
he knew himself to be helpless. A woman's intuition is a marvelous
thing, and when it permits itself to fathom a man's love it is as sure
as the law of gravitation. She understood. Her dawning comprehension
beamed faintly in her stricken face. He saw her breast rise tremulously
and fall.

"I think I know what you started to say," she faltered. "And it is very,
very sweet of you when you have known us such a short time. Isn't it
strange that it should be like this? I know I can trust you - something
makes me feel sure of it - and you have impressed my father the same way,
and even critical Aunt Zilla."

He leaned on his hoe-handle. He now felt more sure of his utterance. "I
want to help you," he cried. "I know how terribly you must feel over
this matter. You are too young and gentle and frail for this dastardly
thing to rest on you. I must do something to beat it off. I - "

"There really is nothing," she half sobbed. "As much as I love my
brothers I'd rather see them dead than on trial for murder. Why, Mr.
Brown, the sheriff wants to put them in that dirty jail at Carlin! I saw
it once. The cells are iron cages in the center of big rooms walled
about with brick. Oh, oh, oh!"

He longed to comfort her, but there was nothing that he could say. The
keenest pain of his entire life seemed to be wrenching his heart from
his body. The still fields, the slanting sunlight on the long rows of
cotton-plants, the cloud-draped mountains, grimly mocked him in their
placid inactivity when it seemed to him that the very universe ought to
be striving in her behalf.

"Oh, it will be only a question of time," she moaned. "They can't hide
in the mountains long, and if Tobe Keith dies - oh, oh! if he dies - "

She had suddenly noticed a horseman dismounting at the gate. He was fat,
rather gross-looking, of medium height, and middle-aged. His hair and
eyes were dark, and he had a heavy brown mustache twisted to points,
which was after the manner of the mountaineers.

"It is Albert Frazier, the sheriff's brother," Mary explained.

"The sheriff's brother!" Charles started.

"We needn't be afraid of him," Mary said, somewhat confused. "In fact, I
think he has come to try to help me. He - he is a - a friend of mine. He
has been paying attention to me for almost a year. He sees me. He is
coming here. Wait. Don't go to work yet. I want you to meet him."

"Paying attention to you!" Charles's subconsciousness spoke the words
rather than his inert lips. It may have been the sheer blight in his
face and eyes that caused the girl to offer a blushing explanation of
her words.

"I don't mean that we are engaged - _actually engaged_," she said. "It is
only a sort of - of understanding. He says he loves me. He has done us a
great many favors. You see he has influence in various ways. But I have
never really encouraged him to - to - You know what I mean. But he is
very persistent and very hot-tempered, domineering, too. But, oh, what
does that matter - what does anything matter? Right now he may be coming
to tell us that - that Tobe Keith is dead."

Charles said nothing, for Frazier was near at hand. His keen brown eyes
rested on Charles, half inquiringly, half suspiciously. He carried a
riding-whip with which he lashed the horse-hairs from his trousers with
a quick, irritated stroke.

"Good morning," he said, as he tipped his broad-brimmed felt hat. "Out
here giving instructions, eh? I heard you'd hired help."

She made a failure of the smile she tried to force. It was a pale,
piteous pretense. "Mr. Frazier - Mr. Brown," she introduced them.

Frazier did not offer his hand, and so Charles did not remove his own
from his hoe-handle. He simply nodded. It would have been hard to do
more, for instinctively he disliked the man. The feeling must have been
returned, for Frazier all but sneered contemptuously.

"I heard of Mr. Brown at the hotel in town," he said. "Circus man, eh.
You fellows are always dropping in on us mountain folks. Well, well, we
need your help now in the fields. Niggers are no good."

"Have you heard about my brothers?" Mary here broke in.

"Yes. That's what I rode out for, Mary. I knew you'd be crazy. You are
funny that way - as if you can keep boys like these two down."

"But how is Keith?" Mary reached forward and caught the lapel of his
coat entreatingly. She appeared quite unconscious of what she was doing,
and as he answered Frazier took her frail fingers into his burly clasp,
and for a moment held them caressingly, a glint of passion in his eyes.
Had she been his wife the sight could not have been more painful to
Charles. It did not excite his anger; somehow it only heaped fresh
despair upon the depression which had almost unmanned him.

"Oh, Keith? Yes, I knew that would be the first question," Frazier said.
"And I made special inquiry before I left on that point, for everything
depends on it, of course. Well, little girl, nobody can possibly tell
yet. Our doctors in town are not expert surgeons, and they can't decide

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