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?