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.