Read CHAPTER XI - REFUGE of The Man of the Desert , free online book, by Grace Livingston Hill, on

Milton Hamar had not troubled Hazel all summer.  From time to time her father mentioned him as being connected with business enterprises, and it was openly spoken of now that a divorce had been granted him, and his former wife was soon to marry again.  All this, however, was most distasteful to the girl to whom the slightest word about the man served to bring up the hateful scene of the desert.

But early in the fall he appeared among them again, assuming his old friendly attitude towards the whole family, dropping in to lunch or dinner whenever it suited his fancy.  He seemed to choose to forget what had passed between Hazel and himself, to act as though it had not been, and resumed his former playful attitude of extreme interest in the girl of whom he had always been fond.  Hazel, however, found a certain air of proprietorship in his gaze, a too-open expression of his admiration which was offensive.  She could not forget, try as hard as she might for her father’s sake to forgive.  She shrank away from the man’s company, avoided him whenever possible, and at last when he seemed to be almost omnipresent, and growing every day more insistent in his attentions, she cast about her for some absorbing interest which would take her out of his sphere.

Then a strange fancy took her in its possession.

It was in the middle of the night when it came to her, where she had been turning her luxurious pillow for two hours trying in vain to tempt a drowsiness that would not come, and she arose at once and wrote a brief and businesslike letter to the landlord of the little New Hampshire inn where she had been delayed for a couple of hours in the fall.  In the morning, true to her impulsive nature, she besieged her father until he gave his permission for her to take her maid and a quiet elderly cousin of his and go away for a complete rest before the society season began.

It was a strange whim for his butterfly daughter to take but the busy man saw no harm in it, and was fully convinced that it was merely her way of punishing some over ardent follower for a few days; and feeling sure she would soon return, he let her go.  She had had her way all her life, and why should he cross her in so simple a matter as a few days’ rest in a country inn with a respectable chaperone?

The letter to the landlord was outtravelled by a telegram whose answer sent Hazel on her way the next morning, thankful that she had been able to get away during a temporary absence of Milton Hamar, and that her father had promised not to let any of her friends know of her whereabouts.  His eye had twinkled as he made the promise.  He was quite sure which of her many admirers was being punished, but he did not tell her so.  He intended to be most judicious with all her young men friends.  He so confided his intentions to Milton Hamar that evening, having no thought that Hazel would mind their old friend’s knowing.

Two days later Hazel, after establishing her little party comfortably in the best rooms the New Hampshire inn afforded, putting a large box of new novels at their disposal, and another of sweets, and sending orders for new magazines to be forwarded, went over to call on the sweet old lady towards whom her heart had been turning eagerly, with a longing that would not be put away, ever since that first accidental, or providential, meeting.

When she came back, through the first early snow-storm, with her cheeks like winter roses and her furry hat all feathered with great white flakes, she found Milton Hamar seated in front of the open fire in the office making the air heavy with his best tobacco, and frowning impatiently through the small-paned windows.

The bright look faded instantly from her face and the peace which she had almost caught from the woman across the way.  Her eyes flashed indignantly, and her whole small frame stiffened for the combat that she knew must come now.  There was no mistaking her look.  Milton Hamar knew at once that he was not welcome.  She stood for an instant with the door wide open, blowing a great gust of biting air across the wide room and into his face.  A cloud of smoke sprang out from the fireplace to meet it and the two came together in front of the man, and made a visible wall for a second between him and the girl.

He sprang to his feet, cigar in hand, and an angry exclamation upon his lips.  The office, fortunately, was without other occupant.

“Why in the name of all that’s unholy did you lead me a race away off to this forsaken little hole in midwinter, Hazel?” he cried.

Hazel drew herself to her full height and with the dignity that well became her, answered him: 

“Really, Mr. Hamar, what right have you to speak to me in that way?  And what right had you to follow me?”

“The right of the man who is going to marry you!” he answered fiercely; “and I think it’s about time this nonsense stopped.  It’s nothing but coquettish foolishness, your coming here.  I hate coquettish fools.  I didn’t think you had it in you to coquet, but it seems all women are alike.”

“Mr. Hamar, you are forgetting yourself,” said the girl quietly, turning to shut the door that she might gain time to get control of her shaken nerves.  She had a swift vision of what it would be if she were married to a man like that.  No wonder his wife was entirely willing to give him a divorce.  But she shuddered as she turned back and faced him bravely.

“Well, what did you come here for?” he asked in a less fierce tone.

“I came because I wanted to be quiet,” Hazel said trying to steady her voice, “and-I will tell you the whole truth.  I came because I wanted to get away from-you!  I have not liked the way you acted towards me since-that day-in Arizona.”

The man’s fierce brows drew together, but a kind of mask of apology overspread his features.  He perceived that he had gone too far with the girl whom he had thought scarcely more than a child.  He had thought he could mould her like wax, and that his scorn would instantly wither her wiles.  He watched her steadily for a full minute; the girl, though trembling in every nerve, sending back a steady, haughty gaze.

“Do you mean that?” he said at last.

“I do!” Her voice was quiet, but she was on the verge of tears.

“Well, perhaps we’d better talk it over.  I see I’ve taken too much for granted.  I thought you’d understood for a year or more what was going on-what I was doing it for.”

“You thought I understood!  You thought I would be willing to be a party to such an awful thing as you have done!” Hazel’s eyes were flashing fire now.  The tears were scorched away.

“Sit down!  We’ll talk it over,” said the man moving a great summer chair nearer to his own.  His eyes were on her face approvingly and he was thinking what a beautiful picture she made in her anger.

“Never!” said the girl quickly.  “It is not a thing I could talk over.  I do not wish to speak of it again.  I wish you to leave this place at once,” and she turned with a quick movement and fled up the quaint old staircase.

She stayed in her room until he left, utterly refusing to see him, refusing to answer the long letters he wrote and sent up to her; and finally, after another day, he went away.  But he wrote to her several times, and came again twice, each time endeavouring to surprise her into talking with him.  The girl grew to watch nervously every approach of the daily stage which brought stray travellers from the station four miles distant, and was actually glad when a heavy snow-storm shut them in and made it unlikely that her unwelcome visitor would venture again into the country.

The last time he came Hazel saw him descending from the coach, and without a word to any one, although it was almost supper time, and the early winter twilight was upon them, she seized her fur cloak and slipped down the back stairs, out through the shadows, across the road, where she surprised good Amelia Ellen by flinging her arms about her neck and bursting into tears right in the dark front hall, for the gust of wintry wind from the open door blew the candle out, and Amelia Ellen stood astonished and bewildered for a moment in the blast of the north wind with the soft arms of the excited girl in her furry wrappings clinging about her unaccustomed shoulders.

Amelia Ellen had never had many beautiful things in her life, the care of her Dresden-china mistress, and her brilliant garden of flowers, having been the crowning of her life hitherto.  This beautiful city girl with her exquisite garments and her face like a flower, flung upon her in sudden appeal, drew out all the latent love and pity and sympathy of which Amelia Ellen had a larger store than most, hidden under a simple and severe exterior.

Fer the land’s sake!  Whatever ails you!” she exclaimed when she could speak for astonishment, and to her own surprise her arm enclosed the sobbing girl in a warm embrace while with the other hand she reached to close the door.  “Come right in to my kitchen and set in the big chair by the cat and let me give you a cup o’ tea.  Then you can tell Mis’ Brownleigh what’s troublin’ you.  She’ll know how to talk to you.  I’ll git you some tea right away.”

She drew the shrinking girl into the kitchen and ousting the cat from a patchwork rocker pushed her gently into it.  It was characteristic of Amelia Ellen that she had no thought of ministering to her spiritual needs herself, but knew her place was to bring physical comfort.

She spoke no word save to the cat, admonishing him to mend his manners and keep out from under foot, while she hurried to the tea canister, the bread box, the sugar bowl, and the china closet.  Soon a cup of fragrant tea was set before the unexpected guest, and a bit of delicate toast browning over the coals, to be buttered and eaten crisp with the tea; and the cat nestled comfortably at Hazel’s feet while she drank the tea and wiped away the tears.

“You’ll think I’m a big baby, Amelia Ellen!” cried Hazel trying to smile shamedly, “but I’m just so tired of the way things go.  You see somebody I don’t a bit like has come up from New York on the evening coach, and I’ve run away for a little while.  I don’t know what made me cry.  I never cry at home, but when I got safely over here a big lump came in my throat and you looked so nice and kind that I couldn’t keep the tears back.”

From that instant Amelia Ellen, toasting fork in hand, watching the sweet blue eyes and the tear-stained face that resembled a drenched pink bud after a storm, loved Hazel Radcliffe.  Come weal, come woe, Amelia Ellen was from henceforth her staunch admirer and defendant.

“Never you mind, honey, you just eat your tea an’ run in to Mis’ Brownleigh, an’ I’ll get my hood an’ run over to tell your folks you’ve come to stay all night over here.  Then you’ll have a cozy evenin’ readin’ while I sew, an’ you can sleep late come mornin’, and go back when you’re ready.  Nobody can’t touch you over here.  I’m not lettin’ in people by night ’thout I know ’em,” and she winked knowingly at the girl by way of encouragement.  Well she knew who the unwelcome stranger from New York was.  She had keen eyes, and had watched the coach from her well-curtained kitchen window as it came in.

That night Hazel told her invalid friend all about Milton Hamar, and slept in the pleasant bed that Amelia Ellen had prepared for her, with sheets of fragrant linen redolent of sweet clover.  Her heart was lighter for the simple, kindly advice and the gentle love that had been showered upon her.  She wondered, as she lay half dozing in the morning with the faint odour of coffee and muffins penetrating the atmosphere, why it was that she could love this beautiful mother of her hero so much more tenderly than she had ever loved any other woman.  Was it because she had never known her own mother and had longed for one all her life, or was it just because she was his dear mother?  She gave up trying to answer the question and went smiling down to breakfast, and then across the road to face her unwelcome lover, strong in the courage that friendly counsel had given her.

Milton Hamar left before dinner, having been convinced at last of the uselessness of his visit.  He hired a man with a horse and cutter to drive him across country to catch the New York evening express, and Hazel drew a breath of relief and began to find new pleasure in life.  Her father was off on a business trip for some weeks; her brother had gone abroad for the winter with a party of college friends.  There was no real reason why she should return to New York for some time, and she decided to stay and learn of this saintly woman how to look wisely on the things of life.  To her own heart she openly acknowledged that there was a deep pleasure in being near one who talked of the man she loved.

So the winter settled down to business, and Hazel spent happy days with her new friends, for Amelia Ellen had become a true friend in the best sense of the word.

The maid had found the country winter too lonely and Hazel had found her useless and sent her back to town.  She was learning by association with Amelia Ellen to do a few things for herself.  The elderly cousin, whose years had been a long strain of scrimping to present a respectable exterior, was only too happy to have leisure and quiet to read and embroider to her heart’s content.  So Hazel was free to spend much time with Mrs. Brownleigh.

They read together, at least Hazel did the reading, for the older eyes were growing dim, and had to be guarded to prevent the terrible headaches which came at the slightest provocation and made the days a blank of suffering for the lovely soul where patience was having its perfect work.

The world of literature opened through a new door to the eager young mind now.  Books of which she had never heard were at her hand.  New thoughts and feelings were stirred by them.  A few friends who knew Mrs. Brownleigh through their summer visits, and others who had known her husband, kept her well supplied with the latest and always the best of everything-history, biography, essays and fiction.  But there were also books of a deep spiritual character, and magazines that showed a new world, the religious world, to the girl.  She read with zest all of them, and enjoyed deeply the pleasant converse concerning each.  Her eyes were being opened to new ways of living.  She was beginning to know that there was an existence more satisfying than just to go from one round of amusement to another.  And always, more than in any other thing she read, she took a most unusual interest in home missionary literature.  It was not because it was so new and strange and like a fairy tale, nor because she knew her friend enjoyed hearing all this news so much, but because it held for her the story of the man she now knew she loved, and who had said he loved her.  She wanted to put herself into touch with surroundings like his, to understand better what he had to endure, and why he had not dared to ask her to share his life, his hardship-most of all why he had not thought her worthy to suffer with him.

When she grew tired of reading she would go out into the kitchen and help Amelia Ellen.  It was her own whim that she should learn how to make some of the good things to eat for which Amelia Ellen was famous.  So while her society friends at home went from one gay scene to another, dancing and frivolling through the night and sleeping away the morning, Hazel bared her round white arms, enveloped herself in a clean blue-checked apron, and learned to make bread and pies and gingerbread and puddings and doughnuts and fruit-cake, how to cook meats and vegetables and make delicious broths from odds and ends, and to concoct the most delectable desserts that would tempt the frailest appetite.  Real old country things they were-no fancy salads and whips and froths that society has hunted out to tempt its waning taste till everything has palled.  She wrote to one of her old friends, who demanded to know what she was doing so long up there in the country in the height of the season, that she was taking a course in Domestic Science and happily recounted her menu of accomplishments.  Secretly her heart rejoiced that she was become less and less unworthy of the love of the man in whose home and at whose mother’s side she was learning sweet lessons.

There came letters, of course, from the far-away missionary.  Hazel stayed later in the kitchen the morning of their arrival, conscious of a kind of extra presence in his mother’s room when his letters arrived.  She knew the mother liked to be alone with her son’s letters, and that she saved her eyes from other reading for them alone.  Always the older face wore a kind of glorified look when the girl entered after she had been reading her letter.  The letter itself would be hidden away out of sight in the bosom of her soft gray gown, to be read again and again when she was alone, but seldom was it brought out in the presence of the visitor, much as the mother was growing to love this girl.  Frequently there were bits of news.

“My son says he is very glad I am having such delightful company this winter, and he wants me to thank you from him for reading to me,” she said once, patting Hazel’s hand as she tucked the wool robe about her friend’s helpless form.  And again: 

“My son is starting to build a church.  He is very happy about it.  They have heretofore held worship in a schoolhouse.  He has collected a good deal of the money himself, and he will help to put up the building with his own hands.  He is going to send me a photograph when it is up.  I would like to be present when it is dedicated.  It makes me very proud to have my son doing that.”

The next letter brought a photograph, a small snapshot of the canyon, tiny, but clear and distinct.  Hazel’s hand trembled when the mother gave it to her to look at, for she knew the very spot.  She fancied it was quite near the place where they had paused for water.  She could feel again the cool breath of the canyon, the damp smell of the earth and ferns, and hear the call of the wild bird.

Then one day there came a missionary magazine with a short article on the work of Arizona and a picture of the missionary mounted on Billy, just ready to start from his little shack on a missionary tour.

Hazel, turning the leaves, came upon the picture and held her breath with astonishment and delight; then rapidly glanced over the article, her heart beating wildly as though she had heard his voice suddenly calling to her out of the distances that separated them.  She had a beautiful time surprising the proud mother with the picture and reading the article.  From that morning they seemed to have a tenderer tie between them, and once, just before Hazel was leaving for the night, the mother reached out a detaining hand and laid it on the girl’s arm.  “I wish my boy and you were acquainted, dear,” she said wistfully.  And Hazel, the rich colour flooding her face at once, replied hesitatingly: 

“Oh, why-I-feel-almost-as-though-we were!” Then she kissed her friend on the soft cheek and hurried back to the inn.

It was that night that the telegram came to say that her father had been seriously injured in a railway accident and would be brought home at once.  She had no time to think of anything then but to hurry her belongings together and hasten to New York.