The Fortune of the Landrays
The Fortune of the Landrays
T HE boy on the box was surfeited with travel. Glancing back over the swaying top of the coach, he had seen miles upon miles of hot dusty road, between banked-up masses of forests or cultivated fields, dwindle to a narrow thread of yellow. Day after day there had been the same tiresome repetition of noisy towns and sleepy cross-road villages, each one very like the other and all having a widely different appearance from that which he conceived Benson would present.
The wonderful life of the road, varied and picturesque, no longer claimed his attention. The black dot a mile distant was unnoticed. It was a long line of freight wagons north-bound to some lake port, laden with pork, flour and hides. Presently, these wagons would be passed by a party of mounted traders, travelling south to Baltimore for supplies, with their sacks of Spanish dollars loaded upon pack horses. Next they would journey for a little space with a cattle dealer and his men, who were taking a drove of Marino sheep across the state to Indiana. But the boy's curiosity had been more than satisfied; he had only to close his eyes to see again the vivid panorama of the road in the blaze of that hot June sun.
They had changed drivers so many times he had lost all count of them; and with the changing drivers a wearisome succession of passengers had come and gone; but to-day he and his father rode alone upon the box. That morning, the latter had told him they would reach Benson by noon, yet strangely enough his interest flagged; the miles seemed endless-interminable. He was sore and stiff; his little legs ached from their cramped position, and at last utterly weary he fell into a troubled sleep, his head resting on his father's arm, and his small hands, moist and warm, clasped idly in his lap.
His father, grim, motionless, and predisposed to silence, gave brief replies to such questions as Mr. Bartlett, the driver, saw fit to ask;-for Mr. Bartlett was frankly curious. As he said himself, he always liked to know who his passengers were, where they came from, where they were going, and if possible their business.
Now as they began the long descent of Landray's Hill, south of Benson, Mr. Bartlett pushed forward his brake handle and said, "That's Benson ahead of us, off yonder where you see the church spires; would you 'a knowed it, do you think?"
Instantly the man at his side who had been sitting low in his seat, took a more erect position, while a sudden light kindled in his dull eyes.
"Known it?" after a moment's survey of the scene before him. "Well, I guess not." There was palpable regret in his tone, just touched by some hidden emotion; a passing shade of feeling not anticipated, that moved him.
"I allowed you wouldn't. Twenty years makes a heap of difference, don't it? Gives you a turn?" interestedly.
"Well, sort of," with gentle sadness.
"I know how you feel. I been that way myself," said the driver. Mr. Bartlett was short and stocky, with ruddy cheeks and great red hands. As one who mingled muck with the world, he prided himself on his social adaptability.
The stranger bestowed upon him a glance of frank displeasure. He felt vaguely that the other's sentiment was distasteful to him. It smacked of such fat complacency. At last he said, "I'd about made up my mind that I wa'n'. to see it again." here a violent fit of coughing interrupted him. When it subsided, Mr. Bartlett remarked sympathetically:
"You ought to take something for that cough of your's. I would if it was mine."
The stranger, still choking, shook his head.
"Where does it take you?"
"Here," resting a bony hand on his sunken chest.