Tom excused himself a few minutes later, and followed his mother to her room, climbing the stair to her door, leaden-footed and with his heart ready to burst.
“Is that you, Thomas?” said the gentle voice within, answering his tap on the panel. “Come in, son; come in and sit by my fire. It’s right chilly to-night.”
Thomas Jefferson entered and placed his chair so that she could not see him without turning, and for many minutes the silence was unbroken. Then he began, as begin he must, sometime and in some way.
“Mammy,” he said, feeling unconsciously for the childish phrase, “Mammy, has Uncle Silas been telling you anything about me?”
She gave a little nod of assent.
“Something, Thomas, but not a great deal. You have had some trouble with Doctor Tollivar?”
“I have known that for some little time. Your uncle might have told me more, but I wouldn’t let him. There has never been anything between us to break confidence, Tom. I knew you would tell me yourself, when the time came.”
“I have come to tell you to-night, mammy. You must hear it all, from beginning to end. It goes back a long way—back to the time when you used to let me kneel with my head in your lap to say my prayers; when you used to think I was good....”
The fire had died down to a few glowing masses of coke on the grate bars when he had finished the story of his wanderings in the valley of dry bones. Through it all, Martha Gordon had sat silent and rigid, her thin hands lying clasped in her lap, and her low willow rocking-chair barely moving at the touch of her foot on the fender.
But when it was over; when Tom, his voice breaking in spite of his efforts to control it, told her that he could walk in the way she had chosen for him only at the price a conscious hypocrite must pay, she reached up quickly and took him in her arms and wept over him as those who sorrow without hope, crying again and again, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!"
Once in a lifetime for every youngling climbing the facile or difficult slope of the years there comes a day of realization, of a sudden extension of vision, of Rubicon-crossing from the hither shore of joyous and irresponsible adolescence to that further one of conscious grapplings with the adult fact.
For Thomas Jefferson, grinding tenaciously in the Boston technical school, whither he had gone late in the winter of Beersheban discontent, the stream-crossing fell in the spring of the panic year 1893, what time he was twenty-one, a quarter-back on his college eleven, fit, hardy, studious and athletic; a pace-setter for his fellows and the pride of the faculty, but still little more than an overgrown, care-free boy in his outlook on life. Glimpses there had been over