The Land of Content
"'To-morrow,' he replied, 'and all the to-morrows!'" [Page 334.]
LAND of CONTENT
EDITH BARNARD DELANO
COPYRIGHT, 1913, BY
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
Copyright, 1911-1912. by S. H. Moore Co.
Printed in the United States of America
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
The LAND of CONTENT
It was earliest spring, and almost the close of a daywhose sunshine and warmth had coaxed intobloom many timid roadside flowers, and sent thewhite petals of farmyard cherries trembling to earthlike tiny, belated snowfalls. Already the rays of thesetting sun were gilding the open space on the top ofthe mountain where ridge-road and turnpike meet.The ridge-road was only one of the little mountainby-ways that wind through woods and up and downdale as the necessities of the mountain people wearthem; the turnpike was an ancient artery connectingNorth and South, threading cities and villages andfarms along its length like trophies on a chain. Theshy windings of the mountain road knew nothingmore modern than the doctor's vehicle drawn byWhite Rosy, nothing more exciting than the littlecompanies of armed, silent men who tramped over itby night, or crossed it stealthily by day; but along thepike coaches and motor cars pounded and rolled, anda generation or so earlier an army had swung northwardover it in pride and hope and eagerness, to driftsouthward again, a few days later, with only prideleft. If, after that, the part of the old road that ledfrom the plain up to the higher valley seemed to liein a torpor, as if stunned by the agony of that retreat,none the less it remained one of the strong warpthreads in Fate's fabric.
Yet Destiny chooses her own disguises. A sickbaby had kept John Ogilvie on a sleepless vigil in thebackwoods for the past fifty hours; and it was not theview from the crossroads, nor the doctor's habit ofdrawing rein to look out upon it for a moment or two,that made old Rosy stop there on this spring afternoon.It was nothing more than a particularly lusciouspatch of green by the roadside, and the consciousnessof her long climb having earned such a reward.Rosy was an animal of experience and judgment, wellaccustomed to the ways of her master, knowing aswell as he the houses where he stopped, capable oftaking him home unguided from anywhere, as shewould take him home this afternoon in her own goodtime. She had come thus far unguided; for when thesick child's even breathing told the success of hisefforts, John Ogilvie had almost stumbled out of thecabin and into his buggy, to fall asleep before he coulddo more than say,
"Home, old lady!"
So Rosy had ambled homeward, knowing everyturn of the road, while the tired man slept on.
The open place where the roads crossed was afamous "look-out." Following its own level, the eyeof an observer first beheld the tops of other mountainsat all points of the horizon save one; at this seasonthe great masses were all misty green, except foroccasional patches of the dark of pines, or the whitegleam of dogwood, or rusty cleared spaces ofpastures; the highroad, on its way to the nearer valley,at first dropped too abruptly to be seen, butreappeared later as a pale white filament gleaming hereand there through the trees or winding past farmhousesor fields tenderly green with young wheat.Through the gap where the mountains broke apart agreat plain stretched, a plain once drenched with thelife of men, now gleaming in the rays of a sun alreadysunk too low to reach over the nearer mountains. Allhuman habitations lay so far below the crossroadsthat no sound of man's activities ever arose to itsheight; of wild life there was sound enough, to earsattuned to it—mostly chattering of woodchucks andsong of birds, enriched at this season with the melodyof passing voyagers from the south. Yet none ofthese would have aroused the tired sleeper in thebuggy. A far different sound came up through theforest, and Ogilvie was awake on the instant, withthe complete consciousness of the man accustomed tosudden calls.
He looked down at the purpling valley, acrossthrough the gap to the gleaming plain, and laughed.
"Well, Rosy, couldn't you take me home till Iadmired the view?" he asked; and by way ofanswer the old white mare turned her head to look athim, her mouth comfortably filled with young grass.The doctor laughed again.
"Oh, I see!" he said. "A case of afternoontea, was it, and not of admiring the view? Well,let's get along home now."
He looked across the valley to the mountain westwardof the gap; its form was that of a large crouchingpanther, and high up on its shoulder a lighttwinkled against the shadow.
"Come along! Mother Cary's already lightedher lamp!" the doctor said. "There's bed ahead ofus, old girl, bed for me and oats for you! Bed, Rosy!Think of it! And may Heaven grant good healthto all our friends this night!"
He drew up the reins as he spoke, and with a farewellreach at a luscious maple leaf Rosy turned intothe pike.
But again there echoed through the woods theunaccustomed sound that had aroused the doctor. Thistime it was too near to be mistaken; not even WhiteRosy's calm could ignore it.
"Hel—lo!" said Ogilvie. "A big horn anda noiseless car! Pretty early in the season forthose fellows. Make way for your betters, WhiteRosy!"
He drew well into the green of the roadside; for,highway and turnpike though it was, the road wasnarrow enough in this unfrequented part to makepassing a matter of calculation. The driver of theautomobile had evidently discovered that for himself,for he was climbing slowly and carefully, soundinghis horn as frequently as if driving through avillage. As the car came out upon the cleared spaceof the crossroads, Ogilvie turned, with the frankinterest of the country dweller in the passer-by, andwith the countryman's etiquette of the road wavedto its solitary occupant.
The driver of the car returned the greeting, drewslowly forward, and stopped beside the doctor's oldbuggy. Ogilvie was not so much of a countrymanas not to recognize in the machine's powerful outlinesthe costly French racer. But that was only anotherof Destiny's disguises. The two men met on themountain-top, took cognizance of each other inthat high solitude where the things of the world laybelow them; and, face to face, each measured theother and insensibly recognized his worth ofcharacter. Both knew men; both had been trained to thenecessity of forming quick judgments. Before theyhad exchanged a word they were sure of each other;before the hour was out their friendship was ascertain as if it were years old.
The occupant of the car had a smile which wasapt to be grimly humorous, as Ogilvie noted in themoment before he spoke.
"I'm lost!" the stranger said, as if admittinga joke on himself. "I've come around in a circletwice, looking for a place called Bluemont Summit,and I've sounded my horn right along, hopingsomebody would run out to look, somebody I could askmy way of. But you're the first person I've seenthis afternoon!"
Ogilvie laughed aloud. "No wonder, if you'vebeen blowing your horn all the way," he said. "Ifyou had kept still, you might have come on someoneunawares; but nobody around here would run outto look at you in the open."
"Is there anyone to run?" the other asked,again with the grim twist of his lips.
"Yes, but they are shy, and too proud to seemcurious. There may be eyes on us now, peepingthrough those woods," said Ogilvie. "But you'renot far from the Summit, not far, that is, with thatcar of yours. This is the Battlesburg Road, andyou're ten miles or so to the northwest of Bluemont."
The driver of the car had stepped down intothe road to do something to his lamps; it wasalready so dark that their gleam shot far ahead. WhiteRosy eyed them dubiously.
"Only ten miles! Jove, I'm glad of that!Mountain air does whet a man's appetite! The HighCourt is the best hotel, isn't it?"
Ogilvie looked at the other for a moment ortwo before answering: looked, indeed, until thestranger glanced questioningly up at him, as ifwondering at the delay. Then he said:
"My name's Ogilvie, and I'm the doctor aroundhere. I wish you'd let me prescribe a hot mealat my house for you. It's this side of the Summit."
The other man's smile had lost its grimness."That's mighty good of you," he said. "And youwon't have to coat that dose with sugar!"
"I wonder," the doctor went on, "if you'd playhost first, and give me a lift? I'm as hungry as youare, and White Rosy here likes to choose her owngait. If you'll take me home, we'll be at my housein one tenth the time, and Rosy can find her wayalone. She's done it many a time."
The other man looked at the old mare, and as heanswered stroked her nose and gave her shoulder afriendly smack or two.
"Certainly I'll give you a lift," he said. "Goodof you to suggest it. This old lady looks as if sheknew as much as most of us. I hope you won't hurther feelings by deserting her!"
Ogilvie had come down to the road, and alreadydeposited his black bags and his old brown cap inthe automobile; now he was busy unbuckling Rosy'sreins.
"Not a bit of it," he said. "She'll come homeall the quicker for not having me on her mind! It'shome and oats, Rosy, oats, remember," he said as hegot up into the automobile with the reins in his hand.
"My name is Flood—Benson Flood, and I'vebeen down in Virginia buying a little old farm forthe shooting they tell me the neighborhood's goodfor. I never use road maps—like to discover thingsfor myself. That's how I got lost to-day."
Ogilvie, leaning back, could inspect the face ofthe man beside him. Involuntarily, his expressionhad slightly changed at the name. Benson Flood wasas well known to readers of the daily papers as Heclaor Klondike or Standard Oil, and stood for aboutthe same thing—wealth, spectacular wealth. Thename had heretofore interested John Ogilvie neithermore nor less than any of the others; now, sittingbeside its possessor, it carried a different and morepersonal significance. It seemed almost grotesquelyunreal that an actual living person, a man to be metat a mountain crossroads, could calmly introducehimself as Benson Flood, and be as frankly andcomfortably hungry as anyone else. These thoughts,however, took but an instant.
"Well, you've seen a bit of country, anyway,"he replied, quite as if his mind were not busy on itsseparate line of speculation. Flood's face was notwhat he would have expected to find it. It had notlost its lean ruggedness, nor put on those fleshlysigns of indulgence that are so apt to follow the earlyacquisition of great wealth. The well-cut mouth wasvery firm, and there was something of the idealist,the questioner, the seeker of high things, about theeyes and brow that Ogilvie found puzzling andinteresting.
"Yes; and what a view there was from thatcrossroads up there! I wish I could transplant myVirginia farm to that mountain-top.
"A good many men have seen that view; thearmy retreated from Battlesburg along this old pike,you know."
"Ah, Battlesburg! I'm from the West, wherehistory is not much more than we fellows have madeit; it fairly stirs my blood to come across a place likeBattlesburg, with its monuments, and its memories,and where Lincoln spoke, and all that. I'm going torun up there to-morrow, if the hotel people can setme