The sickening sense of unfamiliarity seized him when the train stopped for breakfast in the city which had once been the village of the single muddy street. The genius of progress had transformed it so completely that there was nothing but the huge, backgrounding mass of Lebanon, visible from the windows of the station breakfast-room, to identify the grave of the old and the birthplace of the new.
The boy laid desperate eye-holds on the comforting solidity of the background, and would not loose them when the train sped away southward again through mile-long yards with their boundaries picked out by black-vomiting factory chimneys. The mountain, at least, was unchanged, and there might be hope for the country beyond.
But the homesickness returned with renewed qualms when the train had doubled the nose of Lebanon and threaded its way among the hills to the Paradise portal. Gordonia, of the single side-track, had grown into a small iron town, with the Chiawassee plant flanking a good half-mile of the railway; with a cindery street or two, and a scummy wave of operatives’ cottages and laborers’ shacks spreading up the hillsides which were stripped bare of their trees and undergrowth.
Tom’s eyes filled, and he was wondering faintly if the desolating tide of progress had topped the hills to pour over into the home valley beyond, when his father accosted him. There was a little shock at the sight of the grizzled hair and beard turned so much grayer; but the welcoming was like a grateful draft of cool water in a parched wilderness.
“Well, now then! How are ye, Buddy, boy? Great land o’ Canaan! but you’ve shot up and thickened out mightily in two years, son.”
Tom was painfully conscious of his size. Also of the fact that he was clumsily in his own way, particularly as to hands and feet. The sectarian school dwelt lightly on athletics and such purely mundane trivialities as physical fitness and the harmonious education of the growing body and limbs.
“Yes; I’m so big it makes me right tired,” he said gravely, and his voice cracked provokingly in the middle of it. Then he asked about his mother.
“She’s tolerable—only tolerable, Buddy. She allows she don’t have enough to keep her doin’ in the new—” Caleb pulled himself up abruptly and changed the subject with a ponderous attempt at levity. “What-all have you done with your trunk check, son? Now I’ll bet a hen worth fifty dollars ye’ve gone and lost it.”
But Tom had not; and when the luggage was found there was another innovation to buffet him. The old buggy with its high seat had vanished, and in its room there was a modern surrey with a negro driver. Tom looked askance at the new equipage.
“Can’t we make out to walk, pappy?” he asked, dropping unconsciously into the child-time phrase.
“Oh, yes; I reckon we could. You’re not too young, and I’m not so terr’ble old. But—get in, Buddy, get in; there’ll be trampin’ enough for ye, all summer long.”