“Little Ardea?” said the doctor. “Oh, she’ll do well enough now, I hope. The fever is broken and she’s asleep.”
Thomas Jefferson shut the gate mechanically when the doctor had driven out; but when there was nothing more to hold him, he scrambled over the stone wall on the opposite side of the pike and ran for the hills like one demented.
The girl would live! Hell had yawned and cast him up once more on the pleasant, homely earth; and now the gentle rain of penitence, which could never water the dry places for a soul in torment, drenched him like the real rain which was falling to slake the thirst of the parched fields and the brittle-leaved, rustling forest.
For a long time he lay on his face on the first bit of tree-sheltered grass he had come to, caring nothing for the storm which was driving all the wild creatures of the wood to cover. God had not been so pitiless, after all. There was yet a balm in Gilead.
And for the future? O just Heavens! how straitly and circumspectly he would walk all the days of his life! Never again should Satan, going about like a roaring lion, take him unawares. He would even learn to love the girl, as one should love an enemy; and when she should come and tell him that all the sacred places were hers by her grandfather’s right, he would smile reproachfully, like the boy being led forth to the stake in the Book of Martyrs, and say—
But the time was not yet fully come for self-pityings; and when Thomas Jefferson went home after the shower, not even the soggy chill of his wet clothes could depress the spirit which had made good its footing on the high mount of humility.
It was late in September before the dreaded invasion of the sacred places, foreboded by Thomas Jefferson’s prophetic soul, became one of the things to be looked back on; and the interval had sufficed for another change of heart, or, more correctly, for a descent to the valley of things as they are from the top of that high mountain of spiritual humility.
Thomas Jefferson did not analyze the reactionary process. But the milestones along the backward way were familiar.
In a little while he found that he was once more able to say his prayers at bedtime with the old glibness, and with the comfortable feeling that he had done his whole duty if he remained on his knees for sixty full ticks of the heirloom grandfather clock. It was an accomplishment on which he prided himself, this knack of saying his prayers and counting the clock ticks at the same time. Stub Helgerson, whose mother was a Lutheran and said her prayers out of a book, could not do it. Thomas Jefferson had asked him.
A little farther along he came to the still more familiar milestone of the doubtful questionings. Did God really trouble Himself about the millions of things people asked Him to do? It seemed highly incredible, not to say impossible, in the very nature of it. And if He did, would He make one person sick for the sake of making another person sorry? These questions were answerless, like so many of the others; but after the perplexity had been pushed aside, the doubt remained.