But this time the Major had happened along, and when Tike would not stop beating the horses for a shouted cursing-out from the bank, the Major had spurred his Hambletonian into the creek and knocked Tike winding. More than that, he had made him lead his team out of the ford and go back to the bridge crossing.
Being himself committed to the theory of turning the other cheek, Thomas Jefferson could not question the acute sinfulness of all this; yet it did not sufficiently account for the Major as a Man of Sin. Had not Peter, stirred, no doubt, by some such generous rage as the Major’s, snatched out his sword and smitten off a man’s ear?
In the other field, that of overlordship, the subtleties were still more elusive. That the negroes, many of whom were the sons and daughters of the Major’s former slaves, should pass the old-time “Mawstuh” on the pike with uncovered heads and respectful heel-scrapings, was a matter of course. Thomas Jefferson was white, free, and Southern born. But why his own father and mother should betray something of the same deference was not so readily apparent.
On rare occasions the Major, riding to or from the cross-roads post-office in Hargis’s store, would rein in his horse at the Gordon gate and ask for a drink of water from the Gordon well. At such times Thomas Jefferson remarked that his mother always hastened to serve the Major with her own hands; this notwithstanding her own and Uncle Silas’s oft-repeated asseveration touching the Major’s unenviable preeminence as a Man of Sin. Also, he remarked that the Major’s manner at such moments was a thing to dazzle the eye, like the reflection of the summer sun on the surface of burnished metal. But beneath the polished exterior, the groping perceptions of the boy would touch a thing repellent; a thing to stir a slow current of resentment in his blood.
It was Thomas Jefferson’s first collision with the law of caste; a law Draconian in the Old South. Before the war, when Deer Trace Manor had been a seigniory with its six score black thralls, there had been no visiting between the great house on the inner knoll and the overgrown log homestead at the iron furnace. Quarrel there was none, nor any shadow of enmity; but the Dabneys were lords of the soil, and the Gordons were craftsmen.
Even in war the distinction was maintained. The Dabneys, father and son, were officers, having their commissions at the enrolment; while Caleb Gordon, whose name headed the list of the Paradise volunteers, began and ended a private in the ranks.
In the years of heart-hardenings which followed, a breach was opened, narrow at first, and never very deep, but wide enough to serve. Caleb Gordon had accepted defeat openly and honestly, and for this the unreconstructed Major had never fully forgiven him. It was an added proof that there was no redeeming drop of the sang azure in the Gordon veins—and Major Caspar was as scrupulously polite to Caleb Gordon’s wife as he would have been, and was, to the helpmate of Tike Bryerson, mountaineer and distiller of illicit whisky.