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.