The successful man was returning to Kingsborough. He had spent the week in Richmond, where he had lived for the past ten years, and he was now going back to receive the congratulations of the judge—as he would have gone twice the distance.
It was the ordinary car of a Southern railroad, and leaning his head against the harsh, bristly plush of the seat, he had before him the usual examples of Southern passengers.
Across the aisle a slender mother was holding a crying baby, two small children huddling beside her. In the seat in front of him slouched a mulatto of the new era—the degenerate descendant of two races that mix only to decay. Further off there were several men returning from business trips, and across from them sat a pretty girl, asleep, her hand resting on a gilded cage containing a startled canary. At intervals she was aroused by the flitting figure of a small boy on the way to the cooler of iced water. From the rear of the car came the amiable drawl of the conductor as he discussed the affairs of the State with a local drummer, whose feet rested upon a square leathern case.
Nicholas Burr leaned back and closed his eyes, crossing his long legs which were cramped by the limited space. He had already exchanged pleasantries with the conductor, and he had chatted for twenty minutes with a farmer, who had gone back at last to the smoking-car.
The low, irregular landscape was as familiar to him as his own face. He knew it so well that he could see it with closed eyes—could note each change of expression where the daylight shifted, could tell where the thin cornfields ended and the meadows rolled fresh and green, could smell the stretch of young pines above the smoke of the engine, and could follow to their ends the rain-washed roads that crawled with hidden heads into the blue blur of the distance. He knew it all, but he was not thinking of it now.
He was thinking of the day, fifteen years ago, when he had left Kingsborough to throw himself and his future into the service of his State. He had told himself then, fresh from the influence of Jefferson and the traditions of Kingsborough, that he had but one love remaining—the love of Virginia. Now, with the bitterer wisdom of experience, that youthful romance showed half foolish, half pathetic. To the man of twenty-three it had been at once the inspiration and the actuality. His personal life had turned to ashes in an hour, and he had told himself that his public one, at least, should remain vital. He had pledged himself to success, and it came to him now that the cause had been won by his single-heartedness—by the absolute oneness of his desire. There had been a sole divinity before him, and he had not wandered in the way of strange gods. He had given himself, and after fifteen years he was gaining his recompense—a recompense for more work than most men put into a lifetime.