Illustration: Tom was fronting the firebrand Dabney like a man.
FRANCIS LYNDE Author of The Grafters, The Master of Appleby, etc., etc.
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY E.M. ASHE
INDIANAPOLIS THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY PUBLISHERS
Copyright 1906 Francis Lynde
PRESS OF BRAUNWORTH & CO. BOOKBINDERS AND PRINTERS BROOKLYN, N.Y.
To My Mother
I Bethesda 1
II The Cedars of Lebanon 11
III Of the Fathers Upon the Children 21
IV The Newer Exodus 25
V The Dabneys of Deer Trace 32
VI Blue Blood and Red 44
VII The Prayer of the Righteous 57
VIII The Backslider 65
IX The Race to the Swift 75
X The Shadow of the Rock 90
XI The Trumpet-Call 99
XII The Iron in the Forge Fire 107
XIII A Sister of Charity 116
XIV On Jordan's Bank 124
XV Noel 140
XVI The Bubble, Reputation 145
XVII Absalom, My Son! 160
XVIII The Awakening 172
XIX Issachar 188
XX Dry Wells 201
XXI Gilgal 216
XXII Love 226
XXIII Tarred Ropes 242
XXIV The Under-Depths 255
XXV The Plow in the Furrow 265
XXVI As With a Mantle 279
XXVII Swept and Garnished 294
XXVIII The Burden of Habakkuk 306
XXIX As Brutes That Perish 319
XXX Through a Glass Darkly 331
XXXI The Net of the Fowler 338
XXXII Whoso Diggeth a Pit 347
XXXIII The Wine-Press of Wrath 357
XXXIV The Smoke of the Furnace 366
XXXV A Soul in Shackles 378
XXXVI Free Among the Dead 387
XXXVII Whose Yesterdays Look Backward 399
The revival in Paradise Valley, conducted by the Reverend Silas Crafts, of South Tredegar, was in the middle of its second week, and the field—to use Brother Crafts' own word—was white to the harvest.
Little Zoar, the square, weather-tinged wooden church at the head of the valley, built upon land donated to the denomination in times long past by an impenitent but generous Major Dabney, stood a little way back from the pike in a grove of young pines. By half-past six of the June evening the revivalist's congregation had begun to assemble.
Those who came farthest were first on the ground; and by the time twelve-year-old Thomas Jefferson, spatting barefooted up the dusty pike, had reached the church-house with the key, there was a goodly sprinkling of unhitched teams in the grove, the horses champing their feed noisily in the wagon-boxes, and the people gathering in little neighborhood knots to discuss gravely the one topic uppermost in all minds—the present outpouring of grace on Paradise Valley and the region round-about.
"D'ye reckon the Elder'll make it this time with his brother-in-law?" asked a tall, flat-chested mountaineer from the Pine Knob uplands.
"Samantha Parkins, she allows that Caleb has done sinned away his day o' grace," said another Pine Knobber, "but I ain't goin' that far. Caleb's a sight like the iron he makes in that old furnace o' his'n—honest and even-grained, and just as good for plow-points and the like as it is for soap-kittles. But hot 'r cold, it's just the same; ye cayn't change hit, and ye cayn't change him."
"That's about right," said a third. "It looks to me like Caleb done sot his stakes where he's goin' to run the furrow. If livin' a dozen years and mo' with such a sancterfied woman as Martha Gordon won't make out to toll a man up to the pearly gates, I allow the' ain't no preacher goin' to do it."
"Well, now; maybe that's the reason," drawled Japheth Pettigrass, the only unmarried man in the small circle of listeners; but he was promptly put down by the tall mountaineer.
"Hold on thar, Japhe Pettigrass! I allow the' ain't no dyed-in-the-wool hawss-trader like you goin' to stand up and say anything ag'inst Marthy Gordon while I'm a-listenin'. I'm recollectin' right now the time when she sot up day and night for more'n a week with my Malviny—and me a-smashin' the whisky jug acrost the wagon tire to he'p God to forgit how no-'count and triflin' I'd been."
Thomas Jefferson had opened the church-house doors and windows and was out among the unhitched teams looking for Scrap Pendry, who had been one of a score to go forward for prayers the night before. So it happened that he overheard the flat-chested mountaineer's tribute to his mother. It warmed him generously; but there was a boyish scowl for Japheth Pettigrass. What had the horse-trader been saying to make it needful for Bill Layne to speak up as his mother's defender? Thomas Jefferson recorded a black mark against Pettigrass's name, and went on to search for Scrap.
"What you hiding for?" he demanded, when the newly-made convert was discovered skulking in the dusky shadows of the pines beyond the farthest outlying wagon.
"I ain't hidin'," was the half-defiant answer.
"You're a liar," said Thomas Jefferson coolly, ducking skilfully to escape the consequences.
But there were no consequences. Young Pendry's heavy face flushed a dull red,—that could be seen even in the growing dusk,—but he made no move retaliatory. Thomas Jefferson walked slowly around him, wary as a wild creature of the wood, and to the full as curious. Then he stuck out his hand awkwardly.
"I only meant it 'over the left,' Scrap, hope to die," he said. "I allowed I'd just like to know for sure if what you done last night made any difference."
Scrap was silent, glibness of tongue not being among the gifts of the East Tennessee landward bred. But he grasped the out-thrust hand heartily and crushed it forgivingly.
"Come on out where the folks are," urged Thomas Jefferson. "Sim Cantrell and the other fellows are allowin' you're afeard."
"I ain't afeard," denied the convert.
"No; but you're sort o' 'shamed, and that's about the same thing, I reckon. Come on out; I'll go 'long with you."
Then spake the new-born love in the heart of the big, rough, country boy. "I cayn't onderstand how you can hold out, Tom-Jeff. I've come thoo', praise the Lord! but I jest natchelly got to have stars for my crown. You say you'll go 'long with me, Tom-Jeff: say it ag'in, and mean it."
Again the doubtful-curious look came into Thomas Jefferson's gray eyes, and he would not commit himself. Nevertheless, one point was safely established, and it was a point gained: the miraculous thing called conversion was beyond question real in Scrap's case. He turned to lead the way between the wagons. The lamps were lighted in the church and the people were filling the benches, while the choir gathered around the tuneless little cottage organ to practise the hymns.
"I—I'm studyin' about it some, Scrap," he confessed, half angry with himself that the admission sent the blood to his cheeks. "Let's go in."
It was admitted on all sides that Brother Crafts was a powerful preacher. Other men had wrestled mightily in Zoar, but none to such heart-shaking purpose. When he expatiated on the ineffable glories of Heaven and the joys of the redeemed, which was not too often, the reflection of the celestial effulgences could be seen rippling like sunshine on the sea of faces spreading away from the shore of the pulpit steps. When he spoke of hell and its terrors, which was frequently and with thrilling descriptive, even so hardened a scoffer as Japheth Pettigrass was wont to declare that you could hear the crackling of the flames and the cries of the doomed.
The opening exercises were over—the Bible reading, the long, impassioned prayer, the hymn singing—and the preacher stood up in a hush that could be felt, and stepped forward to the small desk which served for a pulpit.
He was a tall man, thin and erect, with a sallow, beardless face unrelieved by any line of mobility, but redeemed and almost glorified by the deep-set, eager, burning eyes. He had a way of bending to his audience when he spoke, with one long arm crooked behind him and the other extended to mark the sentences with a pointing finger, as if to remove the final trace of impersonality; to break down the last of the barriers of reserve which might be thrown up by the impenitent heart.
The hush remained unbroken till he announced his text in a voice that rang like an alarm-bell pealed in the dead of night. There are voices and voices, but only now and then one which is pitched in the key of the spheral harmonies. When the Reverend Silas hurled out the Baptist's words, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand! the responsive thrill from the packed benches was like the sympathetic vibration of harp-strings answering a trumpet blast.
The thin, large-jointed hand went up for silence, as if there could be a silence more profound than that which already hung on his word. Then he began slowly, and in phrase so simple that the youngest child could not fail to follow him, to draw the picture of that Judean morning scene on the banks of the Jordan, of the wild, unkempt, skin-clad forerunner, thundering forth his message to a sin—cursed world. On what deaf ears had it fallen among the multitude gathered on Jordan's bank! On what deaf ears would it fall in Zoar church this night!
He classed them rapidly, and with a prescient insight into the mazes of human frailty that made it seem as if the doors of all hearts were open to him: the Pharisee, who paid tithes—mint, anise and cummin—and prayed daily on the street corners, and saw no need for repentance; the youth and the maiden, with their lips to the brimming cup of worldly pleasures, saying to the faithful monitor, yet a little while longer and we will hear thee; the man and woman grown, fighting the battle for bread, living toilfully for time and the things that perish, and hearing the warning voice faintly and ever more faintly as the years pass; the aged, steeped and sodden in sin unrepented of, and with the spiritual senses all dulled and blunted by lifelong rebellion, willing now to hear and obey, it might be, but calling in vain on the merciful and long-suffering God they had so long rejected.
Then, suddenly, he passed from pleading to denunciation. The setting of The Great White Throne and the awful terrors of the Judgment Day were depicted in words that fell from the thin lips like the sentence of an inexorable judge.
"'Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels!'" he thundered, and a shudder ran through the crowded church as if an earthquake had shaken the valley. "There is your end, impenitent soul; and, alas! for you, it is only the beginning of a fearful eternity! Think of it, you who have time to think of everything but the salvation of your soul, your sins, and the awful doom which is awaiting you! Think of it, you who are throwing your lives away in the pleasures of this world; you who have broken God's commands; you who have stolen when you thought no eye was on you; you who have so often committed murder in your hating hearts! Think not that you will be suffered to escape! Every servant of the most high God who has ever declared His message to you will be there to denounce you: I, Silas Crafts, will meet you at the judgment-seat of Christ to bear my witness against you!"
A man, red-faced and with the devil of the cup of trembling peering from under his shaggy eyebrows, rose unsteadily from his seat on the bench nearest the door.
"'Sh! he's fotched Tike Bryerson!" flew the whisper from lip to ear; but the man with the trembling madness in his eyes was backing toward the door. Suddenly he stooped and rose again with a backwoodsman's rifle in his hands, and his voice sheared the breathless silence like the snarl of a wild beast at bay.
"No, by jacks, ye won't witness ag'inst me, Silas Crafts; ye'll be dead!"
The crack of the rifle went with the words, and at the flash of the piece the man sprang backward through the doorway and was gone. Happily, he had been too drunk or too tremulous to shoot straight. The preacher was unhurt, and he was quick to quell the rising tumult and to turn the incident to good account.
"There went the arrow of conviction quivering to the heart of a murderer!" he cried, dominating the commotion with his marvelous voice. "Come back here, Japheth Pettigrass; and you, William Layne: God Almighty will deal with that poor sinner in His own way. For him, for every impenitent soul here to-night, the hour has struck. 'Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation.' While we are singing, Just as I am, without one plea, let the doors of divine mercy stand opened wide, and let every hard heart be softened. Come, ye disconsolate; come forward to the mercy-seat as we sing."
The old, soul-moving, revival hymn was lifted in a triumphant burst of sound, and Thomas Jefferson's heart began to pound like a trip-hammer. Was this his call—his one last chance to enter the ark of safety? Just there was the pinch. A saying of Japheth Pettigrass's, overheard in Hargis's store on the first day of the meetings, flicked into his mind and stuck there: "Hit's scare, first, last, and all the time, with Brother Silas. He knows mighty well that a good bunch o' hickories, that'll bring the blood every cut, beats a sugar kittle out o' sight when it comes to fillin' the anxious seat." Was it really his call? Or was he only scared?
The twelve-year-old brain grappled hardily with the problem which has thrown many an older wrestler. This he knew: that while he had been listening with outward ears to the restless champing and stamping of the horses among the pines, but with his inmost soul to the burning words of his uncle, the preacher, a great fear had laid hold of him—a fear mightier than desire or shame, or love or hatred, or any spring of action known to him. It was lifting him to his feet; it was edging him past the others on the bench and out into the aisle with the mourners who were crowding the space in front of the pulpit platform. At the turn he heard his mother's low-murmured, "I thank Thee, O God!" and saw the grim, set smile on his father's face. Then he fell on his knees on the rough-hewn floor, with the tall mountaineer called William Layne on his right, and on his left a young girl from the choir who was sobbing softly in her handkerchief.
* * * * *
June being the queen of the months in the valleys of Tennessee, the revival converts of Little Zoar had the pick and choice of all the Sundays of the year for the day of their baptizing.
The font was of great nature's own providing, as was the mighty temple housing it,—a clear pool in the creek, with the green-walled aisles in the June forest leading down to it, and the blue arch of the flawless June sky for a dome resplendent.
All Paradise was there to see and hear and bear witness, as a matter of course; and there were not wanting farm-wagon loads from the great valley and from the Pine Knob highlands. Major Dabney was among the onlookers, sitting his clean-limbed Hambletonian, and twisting his huge white mustaches until they stood out like strange and fierce-looking horns. Also, in the outer ranks of skepticism, Major Dabney's foreman and horse-trader, Japheth Pettigrass, found a place. On the opposite bank of the stream were the few negroes owning Major Dabney now as "Majah Boss," as some of them,—most of them, in fact—had once owned him as "Mawstuh Majah"; and mingling freely with them were the laborers, white and black, from the Gordon iron-furnace.
Thomas Jefferson brought up memories from that solemn rite administered so simply and yet so impressively under the June sky, with the many-pointing forest spires to lift the soul to heights ecstatic. One was the singing of the choir, minimized and made celestially sweet by the lack of bounding walls and roof. Another was the sight of his father's face, with the grim smile gone, and the steadfast eyes gravely tolerant as he—Thomas Jefferson—was going down into the water. A third—and this might easily become the most lasting of all—was the memory of how his mother clasped him in her arms as he came up out of the water, all wet and dripping as he was, and sobbed over him as if her heart would break.
THE CEDARS OF LEBANON
Thomas Jefferson's twelfth summer fell in the year 1886; a year memorable in the annals of the Lebanon iron and coal region as the first of an epoch, and as the year of the great flood. But the herald of change had not yet blown his trumpet in Paradise Valley; and the world of russet and green and limestone white, spreading itself before the eyes of the boy sitting with his hands locked over his knees on the top step of the porch fronting the Gordon homestead, was the same world which, with due seasonal variations, had been his world from the beginning.
Centering in the broad, low, split-shingled house at his back, it widened in front to the old-fashioned flower garden, to the dooryard with its thick turf of uncut Bermuda grass, to the white pike splotched by the shadows of the two great poplars standing like sentinels on either side of the gate, to the wooded hills across the creek.
It was a hot July afternoon, a full month after the revival, and Thomas Jefferson was at that perilous pass where Satan is said to lurk for the purpose of providing employment for the idle. He was wondering if the shade of the hill oaks would be worth the trouble it would take to reach it, when his mother came to the open window of the living-room: a small, fair, well-preserved woman, this mother of the boy of twelve, with light brown hair graying a little at the temples, and eyes remindful of vigils, of fervent beseeching, of mighty wrestlings against principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world.
"You, Thomas Jefferson," she said gently, but speaking as one having authority, "you'd better be studying your Sunday lesson than sitting there doing nothing."
"Yes'm," said the boy, but he made no move other than to hug his knees a little closer. He wished his mother would stop calling him "Thomas Jefferson." To be sure, it was his name, or at least two-thirds of it; but he liked the "Buddy" of his father, or the "Tom-Jeff" of other people a vast deal better.
Further, the thought of studying Sunday lessons begot rebellion. At times, as during those soul-stirring revival weeks, now seemingly receding into a far-away past, he had moments of yearning to be wholly sanctified. But the miracle of transformation which he had confidently expected as the result of his "coming through" was still unwrought. When John Bates or Simeon Cantrell undertook to bully him, as aforetime, there was the same intoxicating experience of all the visible world going blood-red before his eyes—the same sinful desire to slay them, one or both. And as for Sunday lessons on a day when all outdoors was beckoning—
He stole a glance at the open window of the living-room. His mother had gone about her housework, and he could hear her singing softly, as befitted the still, warm day:
"O for a heart to praise my God!"
and it nettled him curiously. All hymns were beginning to have that effect, and this one in particular always renewed the conflict between the yearning for sanctity and a desire to do something desperately wicked; the only middle course lay in flight. Hence, the battle being fairly on, he stole another glance at the window, sprang afoot, and ran silently around the house and through the peach orchard to clamber over the low stone wall which was the only barrier on that side between the wilderness and the sown.
Once under the trees on the mountain side, the pious prompting knocked less clamorously at the door of his heart; and with its abatement the temptation to say or do the desperate thing became less insistent, also. It was always that way. When he was by himself in the forest, with no particularly gnawing hunger for righteousness, the devil let him alone. The thick wood was the true whisk to brush away all the naggings and perplexities that swarmed, like house-flies in the cleared lands. Nance Jane, the cow that did not know enough to come home at milking-time, knew that. In the hot weather, when the blood-sucking horse-flies and sweat-bees were worst, she would crash through the thickest underbrush and so be swept clean of her tormentors.
Emulating Nance Jane, Thomas Jefferson stormed through the nearest sassafras thicket and emerged regenerate. What next? High up on the mountain side, lifted far above Sunday lessons and soul conflicts and perplexing questions that hung answerless in a person's mind, was a place where the cedars smelled sweet and the west wind from the "other mountain" plashed cool in your face what time a sun-smitten Paradise Valley was like an oven. It would be three good hours before he would have to go after Nance Jane; and the Sunday lesson—but he had already forgotten about the Sunday lesson.
Three-quarters of the first hour were gone, and he was warm and thirsty when he topped the last of the densely-wooded lower slopes and came out on a high, rock-strewn terrace thinly set with mountain cedars. Here his feet were on familiar ground, and a little farther on, poised on the very edge of the terrace and overtopping the tallest trees of the lower slopes, was the great, square sandstone boulder which was his present Mecca.
On its outward face the big rock, gray, lichened and weather-worn, was a miniature cliff as high as the second story of a house; and at this cliff's foot was a dripping spring with a deep, crystalline pool for its basin. There was a time when Thomas Jefferson used to lie flat on his stomach and quench his thirst with his face thrust into the pool. But that was when he had got no farther than the Book of Joshua in his daily-chapter reading of the Bible. Now he was past Judges, so he knelt and drank from his hands, like the men of Gideon's chosen three hundred.
His thirst assuaged, he ascended the slope of the terrace to a height whence the flat top of the cubical boulder could be reached by the help of a low-branching tree. The summit of the great rock was one of the sacred places in the temple of the solitudes; and when the earth became too thickly peopled for comfort, he would come hither to lie on the very brink of the cliff overhanging the spring, heels in air, and hands for a chin-rest, looking down on a removed world mapping itself in softened outlines near and far.
Men spoke of Paradise as "the valley," though it was rather a sheltered cove with Mount Lebanon for its background and a semicircular range of oak-grown hills for its other rampart. Splitting it endwise ran the white streak of the pike, macadamized from the hill quarry which, a full quarter of a century before the Civil War, had furnished the stone for the Dabney manor-house; and paralleling the road unevenly lay a ribbon of silver, known to less poetic souls than Thomas Jefferson's as Turkey Creek, but loved best by him under its almost forgotten Indian name of Chiawassee.
Beyond the valley and its inclosing hills rose the "other mountain," blue in the sunlight and royal purple in the shadows—the Cumberland: source and birthplace of the cooling west wind that was whispering softly to the cedars on high Lebanon. Thomas Jefferson called the loftiest of the purple distances Pisgah, picturing it as the mountain from which Moses had looked over into the Promised Land. Sometime he would go and climb it and feast his eyes on the sight of the Canaan beyond; yea, he might even go down and possess the good land, if so the Lord should not hold him back as He had held Moses.
That was a high thought, quite in keeping with the sense of overlordship bred of the upper stillnesses. To company with it, the home valley straightway began to idealize itself from the uplifted point of view on the mount of vision. The Paradise fields were delicately-outlined squares of vivid green or golden yellow, or the warm red brown of the upturned earth in the fallow places. The old negro quarters on the Dabney grounds, many years gone to the ruin of disuse, were vine-grown and invisible save as a spot of summer verdure; and the manor-house itself, gray, grim and forbidding to a small boy scurrying past it in the deepening twilight, was now no more than a great square roof with the cheerful sunlight playing on it.
Farther down the valley, near the place where the white pike twisted itself between two of the rampart hills to escape into the great valley of the Tennessee, the split-shingled roof under which Thomas Jefferson had eaten and slept since the earliest beginning of memories became also a part of the high-mountain harmony; and the ragged, red iron-ore beds on the slope above the furnace were softened into a blur of joyous color.
The iron-furnace, with its alternating smoke puff and dull red flare, struck the one jarring note in a symphony blown otherwise on great nature's organ-pipes; but to Thomas Jefferson the furnace was as much a part of the immutable scheme as the hills or the forests or the creek which furnished the motive power for its air-blast. More, it stood for him as the summary of the world's industry, as the white pike was the world's great highway, and Major Dabney its chief citizen.
He was knocking his bare heels together and thinking idly of Major Dabney and certain disquieting rumors lately come to Paradise, when the tinkling drip of the spring into the pool at the foot of his perch was interrupted by a sudden splash.
By shifting a little to the right he could see the spring. A girl of about his own age, barefooted, and with only her tangled mat of dark hair for a head covering, was filling her bucket in the pool. He broke a dry twig from the nearest cedar and dropped it on her.
"You better quit that, Tom-Jeff Gordon. I taken sight o' you up there," said the girl, ignoring him otherwise.
"That's my spring, Nan Bryerson," he warned her dictatorially.
The girl looked up and scoffed. Hers was a face made for scoffing: oval and finely lined, with a laughing mouth and dark eyes that had both the fear and the fierceness of wild things in them.
"Shucks! it ain't your spring any more'n it's mine!" she retorted. "Hit's on Maje' Dabney's land."
"Well, don't you muddy it none," said Thomas Jefferson, with threatening emphasis.
For answer to this she put one brown foot deep into the pool and wriggled her toes in the sandy bottom. Things began to turn red for Thomas Jefferson, and a high, buzzing note, like the tocsin of the bees, sang in his ears.
"Take your foot out o' that spring! Don't you mad me, Nan Bryerson!" he cried.
She laughed up at him and flung him a taunt. "You don't darst to get mad, Tommy-Jeffy; you've got religion."
It is a terrible thing to be angry in shackles. There are similes—pent volcanoes, overcharged boilers and the like—but they are all inadequate. Thomas Jefferson searched for missiles more deadly than dry twigs, found none, and fell headlong—not from the rock, but from grace. "Damn!" he screamed; and then, in an access of terrified remorse: "Oh, hell, hell, hell!"
The girl laughed mockingly and took her foot from the pool, not in deference to his outburst, but because the water was icy cold and gave her a cramp.
"Now you've done it," she remarked. "The devil'll shore get ye for sayin' that word, Tom-Jeff."
There was no reply, and she stepped back to see what had become of him. He was prone, writhing in agony. She knew the way to the top of the rock, and was presently crouching beside him.
"Don't take on like that!" she pleaded. "Times I cayn't he'p bein' mean: looks like I was made thataway. Get up and slap me, if you want to. I won't slap back."
But Thomas Jefferson only ground his face deeper into the thick mat of cedar needles and begged to be let alone.
"Go away; I don't want you to talk to me!" he groaned. "You're always making me sin!"
"That's because you're Adam and I'm Eve, ain't it? Wasn't you tellin' me in revival time that Eve made all the 'ruction 'twixt the man and God? I reckon she was right sorry; don't you?"
Thomas Jefferson sat up.
"You're awfully wicked, Nan," he said definitively.
"'Cause I don't believe all that about the woman and the snake and the apple and the man?"
"You'll go to hell when you die, and then I guess you'll believe," said Thomas Jefferson, still more definitively.
She took a red apple from the pocket of her ragged frock and gave it to him.
"What's that for?" he asked suspiciously.
"You eat it; it's the kind you like—off 'm the tree right back of Jim Stone's barn lot," she answered.
"You stole it, Nan Bryerson!"
"Well, what if I did? You didn't."
He bit into it, and she held him in talk till it was eaten to the core.
"Have you heard tell anything more about the new railroad?" she asked.
Thomas Jefferson shook his head. "I heard Squire Bates and Major Dabney naming it one day last week."
"Well, it's shore comin'—right thoo' Paradise. I heard tell how it was goin' to cut the old Maje's grass patch plumb in two, and run right smack thoo' you-uns' peach orchard."
"Huh!" said Thomas Jefferson. "What do you reckon my father'd be doing all that time? He'd show 'em!"
A far-away cry, long-drawn and penetrating, rose on the still air of the lower slope and was blown on the breeze to the summit of the great rock.
"That's maw, hollerin' for me to get back home with that bucket o' water," said the girl; and, as she was descending the tree ladder: "You didn't s'picion why I give you that apple, did you, Tommy-Jeffy?"
"'Cause you didn't want it yourself, I reckon," said the second Adam.
"No; it was 'cause you said I was goin' to hell and I wanted comp'ny. That apple was stole and you knowed it!"
Thomas Jefferson flung the core far out over the tree-tops and shut his eyes till he could see without seeing red. Then he rose to the serenest height he had yet attained and said: "I forgive you, you wicked, wicked girl!"
Her laugh was a screaming taunt.
"But you've et the apple!" she cried; "and if you wasn't scared of goin' to hell, you'd cuss me again—you know you would! Lemme tell you, Tom-Jeff, if the preacher had dipped me in the creek like he did you, I'd be a mighty sight holier than what you are. I cert'nly would."
And now anger came to its own again.
"You don't know what you're talking about, Nan Bryerson! You're nothing but a—a miserable little heathen; my mother said you was!" he cried out after her.
But a back-flung grimace was all the answer he had.
OF THE FATHERS UPON THE CHILDREN
Thomas Jefferson's grandfather, Caleb the elder, was an old man before his son, Caleb the younger, went to the wars, and he figured in the recollections of those who remembered him as a grim, white-haired octogenarian who was one day carried home from the iron-furnace which he had built, and put to bed, dead in every part save his eyes. The eyes lived on for a year or more, following the movements of the sympathetic or curious visitor with a quiet, divining gaze; never sleeping, they said—though that could hardly be—until that last day of all when they fixed themselves on the wall and followed nothing more in this world.
Caleb, the son, was well past his first youth when the Civil War broke out; yet youthful ardor was not wanting, nor patriotism, as he defined it, to make him the first of the Paradise folk to write his name on the muster-roll of the South. And it was his good fortune, rather than any lack of battle hazards, that brought him through the four fighting years to the Appomattox end of that last running fight on the Petersburg and Lynchburg road in which, with his own hands, he had helped to destroy the guns of his battery.
Being alive and not dead on the memorable April Sunday when his commander-in-chief signed the articles of capitulation in Wilmer McLean's parlor in Appomattox town, this soldier Gordon was one among the haggard thousands who shared the enemy's rations to bridge over the hunger gap; and it was the sane, equable Gordon blood that enabled him to eat his portion of the bread of defeat manfully and without bitterness.
Later it was the steadfast Gordon courage that helped him to mount the crippled battery horse which had been his own contribution to the lost cause; to mount and ride painfully to the distant Southern valley, facing the weary journey, and the uncertain future in a land despoiled, as only a brave man might.
His homing was to the old furnace and the still older house at the foot of Lebanon. The tale of the years succeeding may be briefed in a bare sentence or two. It was said of him that he reached Paradise and the old homestead late one evening, and that the next day he was making ready for a run of iron in the antiquated blast-furnace. This may be only neighborhood tradition, but it depicts the man: sturdy, tenacious, dogged; a man to knot up the thread of life broken by untoward events, following it thereafter much as if nothing had happened.
Such men are your true conservatives. When his son was born, nine years after the great struggle had passed into history, Caleb, the soldier, was still using charcoal for fuel and blowing his cupola fire with the wooden air-pump whose staves had been hooped together by the hands of his father, and whose motive power was a huge overshot wheel swinging rhythmically below the stone dam in the creek.
The primitive air-blast being still in commission, it may itself say that the South, in spite of the war upheaval and the far more seismic convulsion of the reconstruction period, was still the Old South when Caleb married Martha Crafts.
It was as much a love match as middle-age marriages are wont to be, and following it there was Paradise gossip to assert that Caleb's wife brought gracious womanly reforms to the cheerless bachelor house at the furnace. Be this as it may, she certainly brought one innovation—an atmosphere of wholesome, if somewhat austere, piety hitherto unbreathed by the master or any of his dusky vassals.
Such moderate prosperity as the steadily pulsating iron-furnace could bring was Martha Gordon's portion from the beginning. Yet there was a fly in her pot of precious ointment; an obstacle to her complete happiness which Caleb Gordon never understood, nor could be made to understand. Like other zealous members of her communion, she took the Bible in its entirety for her creed, striving, as frail humanity may, to live up to it. But among the many admonitions which, for her, were no less than divine commands, was one which she had wilfully disregarded: Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.
Caleb respected her religion; stood a little in awe of it, if the truth were known, and was careful to put no straw of hindrance in the thorny upward way. But there are times when neutrality bites deeper than open antagonism. In the slippery middle ground of tolerance there is no foothold for one who would push or pull another into the kingdom of Heaven.
Under such conditions Thomas Jefferson was sure to be the child of many prayers on the mother's part; and perhaps of some naturally prideful hopes on Caleb's. When a man touches forty before his firstborn is put into his arms, he is likely to take the event seriously. Martha Gordon would have named her son after the great apostle of her faith, but Caleb asserted himself here and would have a manlier name-father for the boy. So Thomas Jefferson was named, not for an apostle, nor yet for the statesman—save by way of an intermediary. For Caleb's "Thomas Jefferson" was the stout old schoolmaster-warrior, Stonewall Jackson; the soldier iron-master's general while he lived, and his deified hero ever afterward.
When the mother was able to sit up in bed she wrote a letter to her brother Silas, the South Tredegar preacher. On the margin of the paper she tried the name, writing it "Reverend Thomas Jefferson Gordon." It was a rather appalling mouthful, not nearly so euphonious as the name of the apostle would have been. But she comforted herself with the thought that the boy would probably curtail it when he should come to a realizing sense of ownership; and "Reverend" would fit any of the curtailments.
So now we see to what high calling Thomas Jefferson's mother purposed devoting him while yet he was a helpless monad in pinning-blankets; to what end she had striven with many prayers and groanings that could not be uttered, from year to year of his childhood.
Does it account in some measure for the self-conscious young Pharisee kneeling on the top of the high rock under the cedars, and crying out on the girl scoffer that she was no better than she should be?
THE NEWER EXODUS
One would always remember the first day of a new creation; the day when God said, Let there be light.
It has been said that nothing comes suddenly; that the unexpected is merely the overlooked. For weeks Thomas Jefferson had been scenting the unwonted in the air of sleepy Paradise. Once he had stumbled on the engineers at work in the "dark woods" across the creek, spying out a line for the new railroad. Another day he had come home late from a fishing excursion to the upper pools to find his father shut in the sitting-room with three strangers resplendent in town clothes, and the talk—what he could hear of it from his post of observation on the porch step—was of iron and coal, of a "New South," whatever that might be, and of wonderful changes portending, which his father was exhorted to help bring about.
But these were only the gentle heavings and crackings of the ground premonitory of the real earthquake. That came on a day of days when, as a reward of merit for having faultlessly recited the eighty-third Psalm from memory, he was permitted to go to town with his father. Behold him, then, dangling his feet—uncomfortable because they were stockinged and shod—from the high buggy seat while the laziest of horses ambled between the shafts up the white pike and around and over the hunched shoulder of Mount Lebanon. This in the cool of the morning of the day of revelations.
In spite of the premonitory tremblings, the true earthquake found Thomas Jefferson totally unprepared. He had been to town often enough to have a clear memory picture of South Tredegar—the prehistoric South Tredegar. There was a single street, hub-deep in mud in the rains, beginning vaguely at the steamboat landing, and ending rather more definitely in the open square surrounding the venerable court-house of pale brick and stucco-pillared porticoes. There were the shops—only Thomas Jefferson and all his kind called them "stores"—one-storied, these, the wooden ones with lying false fronts to hide the mean little gables; the brick ones honester in face, but sadly chipped and crumbling and dingy with age and the weather.
Also, there were houses, some of them built of the pale red brick, with pillared porticoes running to the second story; hip-roofed, with a square balustered observatory on top; rather grand looking and impressive till you came near enough to see that the bricks were shaling, and the portico floors rotting, and the plaster falling from the pillars to show the grinning lath-and-frame skeletons behind.
Also, on the banks of the river, there was the antiquated iron-furnace which, long before the war, had given the town its pretentious name. And lastly, there was the Calhoun House, dreariest and most inhospitable inn of its kind; and across the muddy street from it the great echoing train-shed, ridiculously out of proportion to every other building in the town, the tavern not excepted, and to the ramshackle, once-a-day train that wheezed and rattled and clanked into and out of it.
Thomas Jefferson had seen it all, time and again; and this he remembered, that each time the dead, weather-worn, miry or dusty dullness of it had crept into his soul, sending him back to the freshness of the Paradise fields and forests at eventide with grateful gladness in his heart.
But now all this was to be forgotten, or to be remembered only as a dream. On the day of revelations the earlier picture was effaced, blacked out, obliterated; and it came to the boy with a pang that he should never be able to recall it again in its entirety. For the genius of modern progress is contemptuous of old landmarks and impatient of delays. And swift as its race is elsewhere, it is only in that part of the South which has become "industrial" that it came as a thunderclap, with all the intermediate and accelerative steps taken at a bound. Men spoke of it as "the boom." It was not that. It was merely that the spirit of modernity had discovered a hitherto overlooked corner of the field, and made haste to occupy it.
So in South Tredegar, besprent now before the wondering eyes of a Thomas Jefferson. The muddy street had vanished to give place to a smooth black roadway, as springy under foot as a forest path, and as clean as the pike after a sweeping summer storm. The shops, with their false fronts and shabby lean-to awnings, were gone, or going, and in their room majestic vastnesses in brick and cut stone were rising, by their own might, as it would seem, out of disorderly mountains of building material.
Street-cars, propelled as yet by the patient mule, tinkled their bells incessantly. Smart vehicles of many kinds strange to Paradise eyes rattled recklessly in and out among the street obstructions. Bustling throngs were in possession of the sidewalks; of the awe-inspiring restaurant, where they gave you lemonade in a glass bowl and some people washed their fingers in it; of the rotunda of the Marlboro, the mammoth hotel which had grown up on the site of the old Calhoun House,—distressing crowds and multitudes of people everywhere.
Thomas Jefferson, awe-struck and gaping, found himself foot-loose for a time in the Marlboro rotunda while his father talked with a man who wanted to bargain for the entire output of the Paradise furnace by the year. The commercial transaction touched him lightly; but the moving groups, the imported bell-boys, the tesselated floors, frescoed ceiling and plush-covered furniture—these bit deeply. Could this be South Tredegar, the place that had hitherto figured chiefly to him as "court-day" town and the residence of his preacher uncle? It seemed hugely incredible.
After the conference with the iron buyer they crossed the street to the railway station; and again Thomas Jefferson was foot-loose while his father was closeted with some one in the manager's office.
An express train, with hissing air-brakes, Solomon-magnificent sleeping cars, and a locomotive large enough to swallow whole the small affair that used to bring the once-a-day train from Atlanta, had just backed in, and the boy took its royal measure with eager and curious eyes, walking slowly up one side of it and down the other.
At the rear of the string of Pullmans was a private car, with a deep observation platform, much polished brass railing, and sundry other luxurious appointments, apparent even to the eye of unsophistication. Thomas Jefferson spelled the name in the medallion, "Psyche,"—spelled it without trying to pronounce it—and then turned his attention to the people who were descending the rubber-carpeted steps and grouping themselves under the direction of a tall man who reminded Thomas Jefferson of his Uncle Silas with an indescribable something left out of the face.
"As I was about to say, General, this station building is one of the relics. You mustn't judge South Tredegar—our new South Tredegar—by this. Eh?—I beg your pardon, Mrs. Vanadam? Oh, the hotel? It is just across the street, and a very good house; remarkably good, indeed, all things considered. In fact, we're quite proud of the Marlboro."
One of the younger women smiled.
"How enthusiastic you are, Mr. Parley. I thought we had outgrown all that—we moderns."
"But, my dear Miss Elleroy, if you could know what we have to be enthusiastic about down here! Why, these mountains we've been passing through for the last six hours are simply so many vast treasure-houses; coal at the top, iron at the bottom, and enough of both to keep the world's industries going for ages! There's millions in them!"
Thomas Jefferson overheard without understanding, but his eyes served a better purpose. Away back in the line of the Scottish Gordons there must have been an ancestor with the seer's gift of insight, and some drop or two of his blood had come down to this sober-faced country boy searching the faces of the excursionists for his cue of fellowship or antipathy.
For the sweet-voiced young woman called Miss Elleroy there was love at first sight. For a severe, be-silked Mrs. Vanadam there was awe. For the portly General with mutton-chop whiskers, overlooking eyes and the air of a dictator, there was awe, also, not unmingled with envy. For the tall man in the frock-coat, whose face reminded him of his Uncle Silas, there had been shrinking antagonism at the first glance—which keen first impression was presently dulled and all but effaced by the enthusiasm, the suave tongue, and the benignant manner. Which proves that insight, like the film of a recording camera, should have the dark shutter snapped on it if the picture is to be preserved.
Thomas Jefferson made way when the party, marshaled by the enthusiast, prepared for its descent on the Marlboro. Afterward, the royalties having departed and a good-natured porter giving him leave, he was at liberty to examine the wheeled palace at near-hand, and even to climb into the vestibule for a peep inside.
Therewith, castles in the air began to rear themselves, tower on wall. Here was the very sky-reaching summit of all things desirable: to have one's own brass-bound hotel on wheels; to come and go at will; to give curt orders to a respectful and uniformed porter, as the awe-inspiring gentleman with the mutton-chop whiskers had done.
Time was when Thomas Jefferson's ideals ran quite otherwise: to a lodge in some vast wilderness, like the rock-strewn slopes of high Lebanon; to the company of the birds and trees, of the wide heavens and the shy wild creatures of the forest. But it is only the fool or the weakling who may not reconsider.
Notwithstanding, when the day of revelations was come to an end, and the ambling horse was inching the ancient buggy up the homeward road, the boy found himself turning his back on the wonderful new world with something of the same blessed sense of relief as that which he had experienced in former home-goings from South Tredegar, the commonplace.
At the highest point on the hunched shoulder of the mountain Thomas Jefferson twisted himself in the buggy seat for a final backward look into the valley of new marvels. The summer day was graying to its twilight, and a light haze was stealing out of the wooded ravines and across from the river. From the tall chimneys of a rolling-mill a dense column of smoke was ascending, and at the psychological moment the slag flare from an iron-furnace changed the overhanging cloud into a fiery aegis.
Having no symbolism save that of Holy Writ, Thomas Jefferson's mind seized instantly on the figure, building far better than it knew. It was a new Exodus, with its pillar of cloud by day and its pillar of fire by night. And its Moses—though this, we may suppose, was beyond a boy's imaging—was the frenzied, ruthless spirit of commercialism, named otherwise, by the multitude, Modern Progress.
THE DABNEYS OF DEER TRACE
If you have never had the pleasure of meeting a Southern gentleman of the patriarchal school, I despair of bringing you well acquainted with Major Caspar Dabney until you have summered and wintered him. But the Dabneys of Deer Trace—this was the old name of the estate, and it obtains to this day among the Paradise Valley folk—figure so largely in Thomas Jefferson's boyhood and youth as to be well-nigh elemental in these retrospective glimpses.
To know the Major even a little, you should not refer him to any of the accepted types, like Colonel Carter, of Cartersville, or that other colonel who has made Kentucky famous; this though I am compelled to write it down that Major Caspar wore the soft felt hat and the full-skirted Prince Albert coat, without which no reputable Southern gentleman ever appears in the pages of fiction. But if you will ignore these concessions to the conventional, and picture a man of heroic proportions, straight as an arrow in spite of his sixty-eight years, full-faced, well-preserved, with a massive jaw, keen eyes that have lost none of their lightnings, and huge white mustaches curling upward militantly at the ends you will have the Major's outward presentment.
Notwithstanding, this gives no adequate hint of the contradictory inner man. By turns the most lovingly kind and the most violent, the most generously magnanimous and the most vindictive of the unreconstructed minority, Caspar Dabney was rarely to be taken for granted, even by those who knew him best. Of course, Ardea adored him; but Ardea was his grandchild, and she was wont to protest that she never could see the contradictions, for the reason that she was herself a Dabney.
It was about the time when Thomas Jefferson was beginning to reconsider his ideals, with a leaning toward brass-bound palaces on wheels and dictatorial authority over uniformed lackeys and other of his fellow creatures, that fate dealt the Major its final stab and prepared to pour wine and oil into the wound—though of the balm-pouring, none could guess at the moment of wounding. It was not in Caspar Dabney to be patient under a blow, and for a time his ragings threatened to shake even Mammy Juliet's loyalty—than which nothing more convincing can be said.
"'Fo' Gawd, Mistuh Scipio," she would say, when the master had sworn volcanically at her for the fifth time in the course of one forenoon, "I'se jus' erbout wo'ed out! I done been knowin' Mawstuh Caspah ebber sence I was Ol' Mistis's tiah-'ooman—dat's what she call me in de plantashum days—an' I ain't nev' seen him so fractious ez he been sence dat letter come tellin' him come get dat po' li'l gal-child o' Mawstuh Louis's. Seems lak he jus' gwine r'ar round twel he hu't somebody!"
Scipio, the Major's body-servant, had grown gray in the Dabney service, and he was well used to the master's storm periods.
"Doan' you trouble yo'se'f none erbout dat, Mis' Juliet. Mawstuh Majah tekkin' hit mighty hawd 'cause Mawstuh Louis done daid. But bimeby you gwine see him climm on his hawss an' ride up yondeh to whah de big steamboats comes in an' fotch dat li'l gal-child home; an' den: uck—uh-h! look out, niggahs! dar ain't gwine be nuttin' on de top side dishyer yearth good ernough for li'l Missy. You watch what I done tol' you erbout dat, now!"
Scipio's prophecy, or as much of it as related to the bringing of the orphaned Ardea to Deer Trace Manor, wrought itself out speedily, as a matter of course, though there was a vow to be broken by the necessary journey to the North. At the close of the war, Captain Louis, the Major's only son, had become, like many another hot-hearted young Confederate, a self-expatriated exile. On the eve of his departure for France he had married the Virginia maiden who had nursed him alive after Chancellorsville. Major Caspar had given the bride away,—the war had spared no kinsman of hers to stand in this breach,—and when the God-speeds were said, had himself turned back to the weed-grown fields of Deer Trace Manor, embittered and hostile, swearing never to set foot outside of his home acres again while the Union should stand.
For more than twenty years he kept this vow almost literally. A few of the older negroes, a mere handful of the six score slaves of the old patriarchal days, cast in their lot with their former master, and with these the Major made shift thriftily, farming a little, stockraising a little, and, unlike most of the war-broken plantation owners, clinging tenaciously to every rood of land covered by the original Dabney title-deeds.
In this cenobitic interval, if you wanted a Dabney colt or a Dabney cow, you went, or sent, to Deer Trace Manor on your own initiative, and you, or your deputy, never met the Major: your business was transacted with lean, lantern-jawed Japheth Pettigrass, the Major's stock-and-farm foreman. And although the Dabney stock was pedigreed, you kept your wits about you; else Pettigrass got much the better of you in the trade, like the shrewd, calculating Alabama Yankee that he was.
Ardea was born in Paris in the twelfth year of the exile; and the Virginian mother, pining always for the home land, died in the fifteenth year. Afterward, Captain Louis fought a long-drawn, losing battle, figuring bravely in his infrequent letters to his father as a rising miniature painter; figuring otherwise to the students of the Latin Quarter as "ce pauvre Monsieur D'Aubigne;" leading his little girl back and forth between his lodgings and the studio where he painted pictures that nobody would buy, and eking out a miserable existence by giving lessons in English when he was happy enough to find a pupil.
The brave letters imposed on the Major, as they were meant to do; and Ardea, the loyal, happening on one of them in her first Deer Trace summer, read it through with childish sobs and never thereafter opened her lips on the story of those distressful Paris days. Later she understood her father's motive better: how he would not be a charge on an old man rich in nothing but ruin; and the memory of the pinched childhood became a thing sacred.
How the Major, a second Rip Van Winkle, found his way to New York, and to the pier of the incoming French Line steamer, must always remain a mystery. But he was there, with the fierce old eyes quenched and swimming and the passionate Dabney lips trembling strangely under the great mustaches, when the black-frocked little waif from the Old World ran down the landing stage and into his arms. Small wonder that they clung to each other, these two at the further extremes of three generations; or that the child opened a door in the heart of the fierce old partizan which was locked and doubly barred against all others.
As may be imagined, the Major got away from Yankeeland with his charge as soon as a train could be made to serve; and he was grim and forbidding to all and sundry until the Cumberland Mountains had displaced the Alleghanies and the Blue Ridge on the western horizon. Indeed, the grimness,—to all save Ardea,—persisted quite to and through the transformed and transforming city at the eastern foot of Lebanon. Major Caspar was not in tune with the bravura of modern progress, and if he had been, his hatred of Northern importations of whatever nature would have made and kept him hostile.
But when the ancient carriage, with Scipio and Ardea's one small steamer trunk on the box, had topped the shrugged shoulder of Lebanon, and that view which we have seen from the summit of Thomas Jefferson's high rock among the cedars opened out before the eyes of the wondering child, the Major grew eloquent.
"Look youh fill, my deah child; thah it lies—God's country, and youh's and mine; the fines', the most inspiring, the most beautiful land the sun eveh shone on! And whilst you are givin' praise to youh Makeh for creatin' such a Gyarden of Eden, don't forget to thank him on youh bended knees for not putting anything oveh yondeh in ouh home lot to tempt these house-buildin', money-makin', schemin' Yankees that are swarming again oveh the land like anotheh plague of Egyptian locus'es."
"These—Yankees?" queried Ardea. In his later years the exiled Captain Louis had remembered only that he was an American, and his child knew no North nor South.
The Major did not explain. Not that there were any compunctions of conscience concerning the planting of the seed of sectionalism in this virgin soil, quite the contrary. He abstained because he made sure that time, and the Dabney blood, would do it better.
So he talked to the small one of safely prehistoric things, showing her the high mountain battle-field where John Sevier had broken the power of the savage Chickamaugas, and, as the carriage rolled down toward the head of Paradise, the tract of land where the first Dabney had sent his ax-men to blaze the trees for his lordly boundaries.
It was all new and very strange to a child whose only outlook on life had been urban and banal. She had never seen a mountain, and nothing more nearly approaching a forest than the parked groves of the Bois de Boulogne. Would it be permitted that she should sometimes walk in the woods of the first Dabney, she asked, with the quaint French twisting of the phrases that she was never able fully to overcome.
It would certainly be permitted; more, the Major would make her a deed to as many of the forest acres as she would care to include in her promenade. By which we see that the second part of Unc' Scipio's prophecy was finding its fulfilment in the beginning.
How the French-born child fitted into the haphazard household at Deer Trace Manor, with what struggles she came through the inevitable attack of homesickness, and how Mammy Juliet and every one else petted and indulged her, are matters which need not be dwelt on. But we shall gladly believe that she was too sensible, even at the early and tender age of ten, to be easily spoiled.
Many foolish things have been said and written about the wax-like quality of a child's mind; how each new impression effaces the old, and how character in permanence is not to be looked for until the bones have stopped growing. Yet who has not known criminals at twelve, and saints and angels, and wise men and women—in fine, the entire gamut of humanity—in short frocks or knee-breeches?
Ardea, child of adversity and the Paris ateliers, brought one lasting memory up out of those early Deer Trace Manor years: she was always immeasurably older than such infants as Mammy Juliet and Uncle Scipio. And this also she remembered: that when these and all the others, including her grandfather and Japheth Pettigrass, were busily leveling all the barriers of restraint for her, she had built some of her own and set herself the task of living within them.
I am sure she began to realize, almost at the first, that she must rise superior to the Dabney weakness, which, as exemplified by the Major, was ungoverned, and perhaps ungovernable, temper. At all events, she never forgot a summer day soon after her arrival when she first saw her grandfather transformed into a frenzied madman.
He was sitting on the wide portico, smoking his long-stemmed pipe and directing Japheth Pettigrass, who was training the great crimson-rambler rose that ran well up to the eaves. Ardea, herself, was on the lawn, playing with her grandfather's latest gift, a huge, solemn-eyed Great Dane, so she did not see the man who had dismounted at the gate and walked up the driveway until he was handing his card to her grandfather.
When she did see him, she looked twice at him; not because he was trigly clad in brown duck and tightly-buttoned service leggings, but because he wore his beard trimmed to a point, after the manner of the students in the Latin Quarter, and so was reminiscent of things freshly forsaken.
She had succeeded in making the Great Dane carry her on his back quite all the way around the circular coleus bed when the explosion took place. There was a startling thunderclap of fierce words from the portico, and she slipped from the dog's back and stared wide-eyed. Her grandfather was on his feet, towering above the visitor as if he were about to fall on and crush him.
"Bring youh damned Yankee railroad through my fields and pastchuhs, suh? Foul the pure, God-given ai-ah of this peaceful Gyarden of Eden with youh dust-flingin', smoke-pot locomotives? Not a rod, suh! not a foot or an inch oveh the Dabney lands! Do I make it plain to you, suh?"
"But Major Dabney—one moment; this is purely a matter of business; there is nothing personal about it. Our company is able and willing to pay liberally for its right of way; and you must remember that the coming of the railroad will treble and quadruple your land values. I am only asking you to consider the matter in a business way, and to name your own price."
Thus the smooth-spoken young locating engineer in brown duck, serving as plowman for his company. But there be tough old roots in some soils, roots stout enough to snap the colter of the commercializing plow,—as, for example, in Paradise Valley, owned, in broken areas, principally by an unreconciled Major Dabney.
"Not anotheh word, or by Heaven, suh, you'll make me lose my tempah! You add insult to injury, suh, when you offeh me youh contemptible Yankee gold. When I desiah to sell my birthright for youh beggahly mess of pottage, I'll send a black boy in town to infawm you, suh!"
It is conceivable that the locating engineer of the Great Southwestern Railway Company was younger than he looked; or, at all events, that his experience hitherto had not brought him in contact with fire-eating gentlemen of the old school. Else he would hardly have said what he did.
"Of course, it is optional with you, Major Dabney, whether you sell us our right of way peaceably or compel us to acquire it by condemnation proceedings in the courts. As for the rest—is it possible that you don't know the war is over?"
With a roar like that of a maddened lion the Major bowed himself, caught his man in a mighty wrestler's grip and flung him broadcast into the coleus bed. The words that went with the fierce attack made Ardea crouch and shiver and take refuge behind the great dog. Japheth Pettigrass jumped down from his step-ladder and went to help the engineer out of the flower bed. The Major had sworn himself to a stand, but the fine old face was a terrifying mask of passion.
"The old firebrand!" the engineer was muttering under his breath when Pettigrass reached him; but the foreman cut him short.
"You got mighty little sense, looks like, to me. Stove up any?"
"Nothing to hurt, I guess."
"Well, your hawss is waitin' for ye down yonder at the gate, and I don't b'lieve the Major is allowin' to ask ye to stay to supper."
The railroad man scowled and recovered his dignity, or some portion of it.
"You're a hospitable lot," he said, moving off toward the driveway. "You can tell the old maniac he'll hear from us later."
Pettigrass stooped with his back to the portico and patted the dog.
"Don't you look so shuck up, little one," he whispered reassuringly to Ardea. "There ain't nothin' goin' to happen, worse than has happened, I reckon." But Ardea was mute.
When the engineer had mounted and ridden away down the pike, the foreman straightened himself and faced about. The Major had dropped into his big arm-chair and was trying to relight his pipe. But his hands shook and the match went out.
Pettigrass moved nearer and spoke so that the child should not hear. "If you run me off the place the nex' minute, I'm goin' to tell you you ort to be tolerably 'shamed of yourse'f, Maje' Dabney. That po' little gal is scared out of a year's growin', right now."
"I know, Japheth; I know. I'm a damned old heathen! For, insultin' as he was, the man was for the time bein' my guest, suh—my guest!"
"I'm talkin' about the little one—not that railroader. So far as I know, he earned what he got. I allowed they'd make some sort of a swap with you, so I didn't say anything when they was layin' out their lines thoo' the hawss-lot and across the lower corn-field this mornin'—easy, now; no more r'arin' and t'arin' with that thar little gal not a-knowin' which side o' the earth's goin' to cave in next!"
The Major dropped his pipe, laid fast hold of the arms of his chair, and breathed hard.
"Laid out theyuh lines—across my prope'ty? Japheth, faveh me by riding down to the furnace and askin' Caleb Gordon if he will do me the honor to come up heah—this evenin', if he can. I—I—it's twenty yeahs and mo' since I've troubled the law cou'ts of ouh po', Yankee-ridden country with any affai-ah of mine; and now—well, I don't know—I don't know," with a despondent shake of the leonine head.
After Pettigrass had gone on his errand the Major rose and went unsteadily into the house. Then, and not till then, Ardea got up on her knees and put her arms around the neck of the Great Dane.
"O, Hector!" she whispered; "me, I am Dabney, too! Once the gamins killed a poor little cat of mine; and I forgot God—the good God—and said wicked things; and I could have torn them into little, little pieces! But we—we shall be very good and patient after this, won't we, Hector—you and me—no, you and I? What is it when you lick my face that way? Does it mean that you understand?"
BLUE BLOOD AND RED
In a world full of puzzling questions for Thomas Jefferson, one of the chief clustering points of the persistent "whys" was Major Dabney's attitude, as a Man of Sin, and as the natural overlord of Paradise Valley.
That the Major was a Man of Sin there could be no manner of doubt. During the revival he had been frequently and pointedly prayed for by that name, and the groans from the Amen corner were conclusively damning. Just what the distinction was between a Man of Sin and a sinner—spelled with a small "s"—was something which Thomas Jefferson could never quite determine; but the desire to find out made him spy on Major Dabney at odd moments when the spying could be done safely and with a clear field for retreat in the event of the Major's catching him at it.
Thus far the spying had been barren of results—of that kind which do not have to be undone and made over to fit in with other things. Once, Thomas Jefferson had been picking blackberries behind the wall of his father's infield when the Major and Squire Bates had met on the pike. There was some talk of the new railroad; and when the Squire allowed that it was certain to come through Paradise, the Major had taken the name of God in vain in a way that suggested the fiery blast roaring from the furnace lip after the iron was out.
This was one of the results. But on reflection, Thomas Jefferson decided that this could not be The Sin. Profane swearing—that was what the Sunday-school lesson-leaf called it—was doubtless a mortal sin in a believer; was not he, Thomas Jefferson, finding the heavens as brass and the earth a place of fear and trembling because of that word to Nan Bryerson? But in other people—well, he had heard his father swear once, when one of the negroes at the furnace had opened the sand at the end of the sow and let the stream of molten iron run out into the creek.
The charge of profanity being tried and found wanting in the Major's case, there remained that of violence. One day, Tike Bryerson—Nan's father and the man who had tried to kill his Uncle Silas in the revival meeting—was beating his horses because they would not take the water at the lower ford. Tike had been stilling more pine-top whisky, and had been to town with some jugs hidden under the cornstalks in his wagon-bed. When he did that, he always came back with his eyes red like a squirrel's, and everybody gave him all the road.
But this time the Major had happened along, and when Tike would not stop beating the horses for a shouted cursing-out from the bank, the Major had spurred his Hambletonian into the creek and knocked Tike winding. More than that, he had made him lead his team out of the ford and go back to the bridge crossing.
Being himself committed to the theory of turning the other cheek, Thomas Jefferson could not question the acute sinfulness of all this; yet it did not sufficiently account for the Major as a Man of Sin. Had not Peter, stirred, no doubt, by some such generous rage as the Major's, snatched out his sword and smitten off a man's ear?
In the other field, that of overlordship, the subtleties were still more elusive. That the negroes, many of whom were the sons and daughters of the Major's former slaves, should pass the old-time "Mawstuh" on the pike with uncovered heads and respectful heel-scrapings, was a matter of course. Thomas Jefferson was white, free, and Southern born. But why his own father and mother should betray something of the same deference was not so readily apparent.
On rare occasions the Major, riding to or from the cross-roads post-office in Hargis's store, would rein in his horse at the Gordon gate and ask for a drink of water from the Gordon well. At such times Thomas Jefferson remarked that his mother always hastened to serve the Major with her own hands; this notwithstanding her own and Uncle Silas's oft-repeated asseveration touching the Major's unenviable preeminence as a Man of Sin. Also, he remarked that the Major's manner at such moments was a thing to dazzle the eye, like the reflection of the summer sun on the surface of burnished metal. But beneath the polished exterior, the groping perceptions of the boy would touch a thing repellent; a thing to stir a slow current of resentment in his blood.
It was Thomas Jefferson's first collision with the law of caste; a law Draconian in the Old South. Before the war, when Deer Trace Manor had been a seigniory with its six score black thralls, there had been no visiting between the great house on the inner knoll and the overgrown log homestead at the iron furnace. Quarrel there was none, nor any shadow of enmity; but the Dabneys were lords of the soil, and the Gordons were craftsmen.
Even in war the distinction was maintained. The Dabneys, father and son, were officers, having their commissions at the enrolment; while Caleb Gordon, whose name headed the list of the Paradise volunteers, began and ended a private in the ranks.
In the years of heart-hardenings which followed, a breach was opened, narrow at first, and never very deep, but wide enough to serve. Caleb Gordon had accepted defeat openly and honestly, and for this the unreconstructed Major had never fully forgiven him. It was an added proof that there was no redeeming drop of the sang azure in the Gordon veins—and Major Caspar was as scrupulously polite to Caleb Gordon's wife as he would have been, and was, to the helpmate of Tike Bryerson, mountaineer and distiller of illicit whisky.
Thomas Jefferson was vaguely indignant when Pettigrass came to ask his father to go forthwith to the manor-house. In the mouth of the foreman the invitation took on something of the flavor of a command. Besides, since the Major's return from New York, Thomas Jefferson had a grudge against him of a purely private and personal nature.
None the less, he was eager for news when his father came back, and though he got it only from overhearing the answer to his mother's question, it was satisfyingly thrilling.
"It's mighty near as we talked, Martha. The Major lumps the railroad in with all the other improvements, calls 'em Yankee, and h'ists his battle-flag. The engineer, that smart young fellow with the peaked whiskers and the eye-glasses, went to see him this evenin' about the right of way down the valley, and got himself slung off the porch of the great house into a posy bed."
"There is going to be trouble, Caleb; now you mark my words. You mustn't mix up in it."
"I don't allow to, if I can he'p it. The railroad's goin' to be a mighty good thing for us if I can get Mr. Downing to put in a side-track for the furnace."
Following this there were other conferences, the Major unbending sufficiently to come and sit on the Gordon porch in the cool of the evening. The iron-master, as one still in touch with the moving world, gave good advice. Failing to buy, the railroad company might possibly seek to bully a right of way through the valley. But in that case, there would certainly be redress in the courts for the property owners. In the meantime, nothing would be gained by making the contest a personal fight on individuals.
So counseled Caleb Gordon, sure, always, of his own standing-ground in any conflict. But from the last of the conferences the Major had ridden home through the fields; and Thomas Jefferson, with an alert eye for windstraws of conduct, had seen him dismount now and then to pull up and fling away the locating stakes driven by the railroad engineers.
In such a contention, in an age wholly given over to progress, there could be, one would say, no possible doubt of the outcome.
Giving the Major a second and a third chance to refuse to grant an easement, the railroad company pushed its grading and track-laying around the mountain and up to the stone wall marking the Dabney boundary, quietly accumulated the necessary material, and on a summer Sunday morning—Sunday by preference because no restraining writ could be served for at least twenty-four hours—a construction train, black with laborers, whisked around the nose of the mountain and dropped gently down the grade to the temporary end of track.
It was Thomas Jefferson who gave the alarm. Little Zoar, unable to support a settled pastor, was closed for the summer, but Martha Gordon kept the fire spiritual alight by teaching her son at home. One of the boy's Sunday privileges, earned by a faultless recitation of a prescribed number of Bible verses, was forest freedom for the remainder of the forenoon. It was while he was in the midst of the Beatitudes that he heard the low rumble of the coming train, and it was only by resolutely ignoring the sense of hearing that he was enabled to get through, letter-perfect.
"'Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you and persecute you,'" he chanted monotonously, with roving eyes bent on finding his cap with the loss of the fewest possible seconds—"'and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake,'—and that's all." And he was off like a shot.
"Mind, now, Thomas Jefferson; you are not to go near that railroad!" his mother called to him as he raced down the path to the gate.
Oh, no; he would not go near the railroad! He would only run up the pike and cut across through the Dabney pasture to see if the train were really there.
It was there, as he could tell by the noise of hissing steam when the cross-cut was reached. But the parked wooding of the pasture still screened it. How near could he go without being "near" in the transgressing sense of the word? There was only one way of finding out—to keep on going until his conscience pricked sharply enough to stop him. It was a great convenience, Thomas Jefferson's conscience. As long as it kept quiet he could be reasonably sure there was no sin in sight. Yet he had to confess that it was not always above playing mean tricks; as that of sleeping like a log till after the fact, and then rising up to stab him till the blood ran.
He was half-way across the pasture when the crash of a falling tree stopped him in mid-rush. And in the vista opened by the felled tree he saw a sight to make him turn and race homeward faster than he had come. The invaders, hundreds strong, had torn down the boundary wall and the earth for the advancing embankment was flying from uncounted shovels.
Caleb Gordon was at work in the blacksmith shop, Sunday-repairing while the furnace was cool, when Thomas Jefferson came flying with his news. The iron-master dropped his hammer and cast aside the leather apron.
"You hear that, Buck?" he said, frowning across the anvil at his helper, a white man and the foreman of the pouring floor.
The helper nodded, being a man of as few words as the master.
"Well, I reckon we-all hain't got any call to stand by and see them highflyers ride it roughshod over Major Dabney thataway," said Gordon briefly. "Go down to the shanties and hustle out the day shift. Get Turk and Hardaway and every white man you can lay hands on, and all the guns you can find. And send one o' the black boys up the hill to tell the Major. Like as not, he ain't up yet."
Helgerson hastened away to obey his orders, and Caleb Gordon went out to the foundry scrap yard. In the heap of broken metal lay an old cast-iron field-piece, a relic of the battle which had one day raged hotly on the hillside across the creek. A hundred times the iron-master had been on the point of breaking it up for re-melting, and as often the old artilleryman in him had stayed his hand.
Now it was quickly hoisted in the crane shackle,—Thomas Jefferson sweating manfully at the crab crank,—clamped on the axle of a pair of wagon wheels, cleaned, swabbed, loaded with quarry blasting powder and pieces of broken iron to serve for grape, and trundled out on the pike at the heels of the ore team.
By this time Helgerson had come up with the furnace men, a motley crew in all stages of Sunday-morning dishevelment, and armed only as a mob may arm itself at a moment's notice. Caleb, the veteran, looked the squad over with a slow smile gathering the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes.
"You boys'll have to make up in f'erceness what-all you're lacking in soldier-looks," he observed mildly. Then he gave the word of command to Helgerson. "Take the gun and put out for the major's hawss-lot. I'll be along as soon as I can saddle the mare."
Thomas Jefferson went with his father to the stable and helped silently with the saddling. Afterward he held the mare, gentling her in suppressed excitement while his father went into the house for his rifle.
Martha Gordon met her husband at the door. She had seen the volunteer gun crew filing past on the pike.
"What is it, Caleb?" she asked anxiously.
He made no attempt to deceive her.
"The railroaders are allowin' to take what the Major wouldn't sell 'em—the right of way through his land down the valley. Buddy brought the word."
"Well?" she said, love and fear hardening her heart. "The railroad would be a good thing for us—for the furnace. You know you said it would."
He shook his head slowly.
"I reckon we mustn't look at it thataway, Martha. I'm going to stand by my neighbor, like I'd expect him to stand by me. Let me get my gun; the boys'll be there ahead o' me, and they won't know what to do."
"Caleb! There will be bloodshed; and you remember what the Word says: 'whoso sheddeth man's blood....' And on the Lord's Day, too!"
"I know. But ain't it somewhere in the same Good Book that it says there's a time for peace and a time to make war? And then that there passage about lovin' your neighbor. Don't hender me, little woman. There ain't goin' to be no blood shed—onless them bushwhackers are a mighty sight f'ercer for it than what I think they are."
She let him go without further protest, not because he had convinced her, but because she had long since come to know this man, who, making her lightest wish his law in most things, could be as inflexible as the chilled iron of the pouring floor at the call of loyalty to his own standard of right and wrong. But when he passed down the path to the gate she knelt on the door-stone and covered her face with her hands.
Gordon gathered the slack of the reins on the neck of the mare and put a leg over the saddle.
"That'll do, Buddy," he said. "Run along in to your mammy, now."
But Thomas Jefferson caught again at the bridle and held on, choking.
"O pappy!—take me with you! I—I'll die if you don't take me with you!"
Who can tell what Caleb Gordon saw in his son's eyes when he bent to loosen the grip of the small brown hand on the rein? Was it some sympathetic reincarnation of his own militant soul striving to break its bonds? Without a word he bent lower and swung the boy up to a seat behind him. "Hold on tight, Buddy," he cautioned. "I'll have to run the mare some to catch up with the boys."
And the mother? She was still kneeling on the door-stone, but the burden of her prayer was not now for Caleb Gordon. "O Lord, have mercy on my boy! Thou knowest how, because of my disobedience, he has the fierce fighting blood and the stubborn unbelief of all the Gordons to contend with: save him alive and make him a man of peace and a man of faith, I beseech Thee, and let not the unbelief of the father or the unfaithfulness of the mother be visited on the son!"
When the one-piece battery dashed at a clumsy gallop through the open gate of the Dabney pasture and swung with a sharp turn into the vista of felled trees, Thomas Jefferson beheld a thing to set his heritage of soldier blood dancing through his veins. Standing fair in the midst of the ax-and-shovel havoc and clearing a wide circle to right and left with the sweep of his old service cavalry saber, was the Major, coatless, hatless, cursing the invaders with mighty and corrosive soldier oaths, and crying them to come on, the unnumbered host of them against one man.
Opposed to him the men of the construction force, generaled by the young engineer in brown duck and buttoned leggings, were deploying cautiously to surround him. Gordon spoke to his mare; and when he drew rein and wheeled to shout to the gun crew, Thomas Jefferson heard the engineer's low-toned order to the shovelers: "Be careful and don't hurt him, boys. He's the old maniac who threw me off the veranda of his house. Two of you take him behind, and—"
The break came on the uprush of the unanticipated reinforcements. With the battle readiness of a disciplined soldier, Caleb Gordon whipped from the saddle and ran to help the gun crew slue the makeshift field-piece into position.
"Fall back, Major!" he shouted; "fall back on your front line and give the artillery a chanst at 'em. I reckon a dose o' broken pot-iron'll carry fu'ther than that saber o' yourn. Buddy, hunt me a punk match, quick, will ye?"
Thomas Jefferson ran to the nearest rotting log, but one of the negroes was before him with a blazing pitch-pine splint. There was a respectful recoil in the opposing ranks which presently became a somewhat panicky surge to the rear. The shovelers, more than half of whom were negroes, had not come out to be blown from a cannon's mouth by a grim-faced veteran who was so palpably at home with the tools of his trade.
"That's right: keep right on goin'!" yelled the iron-master, waving his blazing slow-match dangerously near to the priming. "Keep it up, 'r by the Lord that made ye—"
There was no need to specify the alternative. For now the panic had spread by its own contagion, and the invaders were fighting among themselves for place on the flat-cars. And while yet the rear guard was swarming upon the engine, hanging by toe-and hand-holds where it could, the train was backed rapidly out of range.
Caleb Gordon kept his pine splint alight until the echoes of the engine's exhaust came faintly from the overhanging cliffs of the mountain.
"They've gone back to town, and I reckon the fire's plum' out for to-day, Major," he drawled. "Buck and a few o' the boys 'll stay by the gun, against their rallyin' later on, and you might as well go home to your breakfast. Didn't bring your hawss, did ye? Take the mare, and welcome. Buddy and me'll walk."
But the Major would not mount, and so the two men walked together as far as the manor-house gates, with Thomas Jefferson a pace in the rear, leading the mare.
It was no matter of wonder to him that his father and the Major marched in solemn silence to the gate of parting. But the wonder came tumultuously when the Major wheeled abruptly at the moment of leave-taking and wrung his father's hand.
"By God, suh, you are a right true-hearted gentleman, and my very good friend, Mistuh Gordon!" he said, with the manner of one who has been carefully weighing the words beforehand. "If you had been given youh just dues, suh, you'd have come home from F'ginia wearin' youh shouldeh-straps." And then, with a little throat-clearing pause to come between: "Damn it, suh; an own brotheh couldn't have done'mo'! I—I've been misjudgin' you, Caleb, all these yeahs, and now I'm proud to shake you by the hand and call you my friend. Yes, suh, I am that!"
It was, in a manner not to be understood by the Northern alien, the accolade of knighthood, and Caleb Gordon's toil-rounded shoulders straightened visibly when he returned the hearty hand-grasp. And as for Thomas Jefferson: in his heart gratified pride flapped its wings and crowed lustily; and for the moment he was almost willing to bury that private grudge he was holding against Major Dabney—almost, but not quite.
THE PRAYER OF THE RIGHTEOUS
Having come thus far with Thomas Jefferson on the road to whatever goal he will reach, it is high time we were looking a little more closely into this matter of his grudge against Major Dabney.
Primarily, it based itself upon the dominant quality in a masterful character; namely, a desire to possess the earth and its fullness without partnership encumbrances.
From a time back of which memory refused to run, the woods and the fields of Paradise Valley, the rampart hills and the backgrounding mountain side, had belonged to Thomas Jefferson by the right of discovery. The Bates boys and the Cantrells lived over in the great valley of the Tennessee, and when they planned a fishing excursion up Turkey Creek, they recognized Thomas Jefferson's suzerainty by announcing that they were coming over to his house. In like manner, the Pendrys and the Lumpkins and the Hardwicks were scattered at farm-width intervals down the pike, and the rampart hills marked the boundary of their domain on that side.
Now from possession which is recognized unquestioningly by one's compeers to fancied possession in fee simple is but a step; and from that to the putting up of "No Trespass" signs the interval can be read only on a micrometer scale. Wherefore, Thomas Jefferson had developed a huge disgust on hearing that Major Dabney was going to upset the natural order of things by bringing his granddaughter to Deer Trace Manor. If Ardea—the very name of her had a heathenish sound in his Scripturally-trained ear—had been a boy, the matter would have simplified itself. Thomas Jefferson had a sincere respect for his own prowess, and a boy might have been mauled into subjection. But a girl!
His lip curled stiffly at the thought of a girl, a town girl and therefore a thing without legs, or at best with legs only half useful and totally unfit for running or climbing trees, dividing the sovereignty of the fields and the forest, the swimming-hole and the perch pools in the creek, with him! She would do it, or try to do it. A girl would not have any more sense than to come prying around into all the quiet places to say, "This is my grandfather's land. What are you doing here?"
At such thoughts as these a queer prickling sensation like a hot shiver would run over him from neck to heel, and his eyes would gloom sullenly. There would be another word to put with that; a word of his own choosing. No matter if her grandfather, the terrifying Major, did own the fields and the wood and the stream: God was greater than Major Dabney, and had he not often heard his mother say on her knees that the fervent, effectual prayer of the righteous availeth much? If it should avail even a little, there would be no catastrophe, no disputed sovereignty of the woods, the fields and the creek.
It was in the middle of a sultry afternoon in the hotter half of August, two weeks or such a matter after the Great Southwestern Railway had given up the fight for Paradise Valley to run its line around the encompassing hills, that Thomas Jefferson was cast alive into the pit of burnings.
He made sure he should always remember his latest glimpse of the pleasant, homely earth. He was sitting idly on the porch step, letting his gaze go adrift over the nearer green-clad hills to the purple deeps of the western mountain, already steeped in shadow. The pike was deserted, and the shrill hum of the house-flies played an insistent tune in which the low-pitched boom of a bumblebee tumbling awkwardly among the clover heads served for an intermittent bass.
Suddenly into the hot silence came the quick cloppity-clop of galloping hoofs. Thomas Jefferson's heart was tender on that side of it which was turned toward the dumb creatures, and his thought was instantly pitiful and indignant. Who would be cruel enough to gallop a horse in such weltering weather?
The unspoken query had its answer when Major Dabney's fleet saddle stallion thundered up to the gate in a white nimbus of dust, and the Major flung himself from the saddle and called loudly for Mistress Gordon. Thomas Jefferson sprang up hastily to forward the cry, fear clutching at his heart; but the Major was before him in the wide passage opening upon the porch.
"My deah Mistress Gordon! We are in a world of trouble at the manor-house! Little Ardea, my grand-daughteh, was taken sick last night, and to-day she's out of huh head—think of it, out of huh head! I'm riding hotfoot for Doctah Williams, but Lord of Heaven! it'll be nigh sundown befo' I can hope to get back with him. Could you, my deah madam, faveh us—"
Thomas Jefferson heard no more; would stay to hear no more. The forest, always his refuge in time of trial, reached a long finger of scattering oaks down to the opposite side of the creek, and thither he fled, cold to the marrow of his bones, though the sun-heated stone coping of the dam on which he crossed the stream went near to blistering his bare feet as he ran.
From the crotch of one of the oaks—his watch-tower in other periods of stress—he saw the Major mount and continue his gallop eastward on the pike; and a little later the ancient Dabney family carriage came and went in a smother of white dust, wheeling in front of the home gate and pausing only long enough to take up his mother hastening to the rescue.
After that he was alone with the hideous tumult of his thoughts. The girl would die. He was as sure of it as if the heavens and the earth had instantly become articulate to shout the terrible sentence. God had taken him at his word! There would be no intruder to tell him that the woods and the creek belonged to her grandfather. She would be dead; slain by the breath of his mouth. And for all the years and years and ages to come, he would be roasting and grilling in that place prepared for the devil and his angels—and for murderers!
In the acutest misery of it a trembling fit seized him and the oak seemed to rock and sway as if to be rid of him. When the fit passed he slid to the ground and flung himself face downward under the spreading branches. The grass was cool to his face, but there was no moisture in it, and he thought of Dives praying that Lazarus might come and put a drop of water on his tongue.
Then the torment took a new and more terrible form. Though he had never been inside of the gray stone manor-house, his imagination transported him thither; to the house and to a darkened room on the upper floor with a bed in it, and in the bed a girl whose face he could not see.
The girl was dying: the doctor had told his mother and the Major, and they were all waiting. Thomas Jefferson had never seen any one die, only a dog that Tike Bryerson had shot on one of his drunken home-goings. But death was death, to a dog or to a girl; and vivid imagination supplied the appalling details. Over and over again in pitiless minuteness the heartbreaking scene was repeated: the little twitchings of the bed-clothing, the tossing of the girl's arms in the last desperate struggle for breath, his mother's low sobs, and the haggard face of the old Major.
Thomas Jefferson dug his fingers and toes into the grass and bit a mouthful of it to stifle the cry wrung from him by the torturing poignancy of it. Was there no way of escape?
He turned over and sat up to try to think it out. Yes, there was a way—the way which would be taken by the boy in the Sunday-school books. He would say he was sorry, and would have his sins washed away, and there would be rejoicing in Heaven over the one sinner who had repented. Of course, the girl would die, just the same, and all the misery his sin had caused would remain unchanged. But he would escape.
For one unworthy moment Thomas Jefferson was fiercely tempted. Then the dogged Gordon blood reasserted itself. He had done the dreadful thing: he had asked God to take this girl out of his way, and now he would accept what he had coveted and would not try to sneak out of paying. It comforted him a little to think that, after all, there must eventually be some sort of end to the torment, away on in the eternities to come. When he had suffered all he could suffer, not even God could make him suffer any more.