The twelve-year-old brain grappled hardily with the problem which has thrown many an older wrestler. This he knew: that while he had been listening with outward ears to the restless champing and stamping of the horses among the pines, but with his inmost soul to the burning words of his uncle, the preacher, a great fear had laid hold of him—a fear mightier than desire or shame, or love or hatred, or any spring of action known to him. It was lifting him to his feet; it was edging him past the others on the bench and out into the aisle with the mourners who were crowding the space in front of the pulpit platform. At the turn he heard his mother’s low-murmured, “I thank Thee, O God!” and saw the grim, set smile on his father’s face. Then he fell on his knees on the rough-hewn floor, with the tall mountaineer called William Layne on his right, and on his left a young girl from the choir who was sobbing softly in her handkerchief.
* * * * *
June being the queen of the months in the valleys of Tennessee, the revival converts of Little Zoar had the pick and choice of all the Sundays of the year for the day of their baptizing.
The font was of great nature’s own providing, as was the mighty temple housing it,—a clear pool in the creek, with the green-walled aisles in the June forest leading down to it, and the blue arch of the flawless June sky for a dome resplendent.
All Paradise was there to see and hear and bear witness, as a matter of course; and there were not wanting farm-wagon loads from the great valley and from the Pine Knob highlands. Major Dabney was among the onlookers, sitting his clean-limbed Hambletonian, and twisting his huge white mustaches until they stood out like strange and fierce-looking horns. Also, in the outer ranks of skepticism, Major Dabney’s foreman and horse-trader, Japheth Pettigrass, found a place. On the opposite bank of the stream were the few negroes owning Major Dabney now as “Majah Boss,” as some of them,—most of them, in fact—had once owned him as “Mawstuh Majah”; and mingling freely with them were the laborers, white and black, from the Gordon iron-furnace.
Thomas Jefferson brought up memories from that solemn rite administered so simply and yet so impressively under the June sky, with the many-pointing forest spires to lift the soul to heights ecstatic. One was the singing of the choir, minimized and made celestially sweet by the lack of bounding walls and roof. Another was the sight of his father’s face, with the grim smile gone, and the steadfast eyes gravely tolerant as he—Thomas Jefferson—was going down into the water. A third—and this might easily become the most lasting of all—was the memory of how his mother clasped him in her arms as he came up out of the water, all wet and dripping as he was, and sobbed over him as if her heart would break.