It was earliest spring, and almost the close of a day whose sunshine and warmth had coaxed into bloom many timid roadside flowers, and sent the white petals of farmyard cherries trembling to earth like tiny, belated snowfalls. Already the rays of the setting sun were gilding the open space on the top of the mountain where ridge-road and turnpike meet. The ridge-road was only one of the little mountain by-ways that wind through woods and up and down dale as the necessities of the mountain people wear them; the turnpike was an ancient artery connecting North and South, threading cities and villages and farms along its length like trophies on a chain. The shy windings of the mountain road knew nothing more modern than the doctor's vehicle drawn by White Rosy, nothing more exciting than the little companies of armed, silent men who tramped over it by night, or crossed it stealthily by day; but along the pike coaches and motor cars pounded and rolled, and a generation or so earlier an army had swung northward over it in pride and hope and eagerness, to drift southward again, a few days later, with only pride left. If, after that, the part of the old road that led from the plain up to the higher valley seemed to lie in a torpor, as if stunned by the agony of that retreat, none the less it remained one of the strong warp threads in Fate's fabric.
Yet Destiny chooses her own disguises. A sick baby had kept John Ogilvie on a sleepless vigil in the backwoods for the past fifty hours; and it was not the view from the crossroads, nor the doctor's habit of drawing 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 luscious patch of green by the roadside, and the consciousness of her long climb having earned such a reward. Rosy was an animal of experience and judgment, well accustomed to the ways of her master, knowing as well as he the houses where he stopped, capable of taking him home unguided from anywhere, as she would take him home this afternoon in her own good time. She had come thus far unguided; for when the sick child's even breathing told the success of his efforts, John Ogilvie had almost stumbled out of the cabin and into his buggy, to fall asleep before he could do more than say,
"Home, old lady!"
So Rosy had ambled homeward, knowing every turn of the road, while the tired man slept on.
The open place where the roads crossed was a famous "look-out." Following its own level, the eye of an observer first beheld the tops of other mountains at all points of the horizon save one; at this season the great masses were all misty green, except for occasional patches of the dark of pines, or the white gleam of dogwood, or rusty cleared spaces of pastures; the highroad, on its way to the nearer valley, at first dropped too abruptly to be seen, but reappeared later as a pale white filament gleaming here and there through the trees or winding past farmhouses or fields tenderly green with young wheat. Through the gap where the mountains broke apart a great plain stretched, a plain once drenched with the life of men, now gleaming in the rays of a sun already sunk too low to reach over the nearer mountains. All human habitations lay so far below the crossroads that no sound of man's activities ever arose to its height; of wild life there was sound enough, to ears attuned to it—mostly chattering of woodchucks and song of birds, enriched at this season with the melody of passing voyagers from the south. Yet none of these would have aroused the tired sleeper in the buggy. A far different sound came up through the forest, and Ogilvie was awake on the instant, with the complete consciousness of the man accustomed to sudden calls.