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.