Story of Thomas Jefferson - J. W. McSpadden
"What, idle, Tom?"
Jane pushed back a screen of the first delicate spring leaves and stepped through to join her brother, who sat on a grassy hillock over-looking the river. Law books were strewn about him, and one lay open on his knee, but his eyes were dreamy and he was watching the flight of a lonely bird over the trees. The girl, tall and slender, with gentle eyes and a pale, delicate face, slipped down beside him and picked up one of the books.
"Why, no—not exactly, Jane. Just digesting a little of this dry fodder," he laughed, sweeping the books aside to make room for her. "How does it come that you're not busy?"
She put her hand on his shoulder and patted it.
"I've been thinking, too, Tom," she said; "and I want to ask you something."
"Go ahead, sister."
"Now that you're nearly twenty-one, Tom, why not think of the things that you can do for Shadwell and the folks about here?"
He sat up straight and brought down his fist on the back of a great law book.
"It's what I'm going to do, Jane. I've been thinking about it, but I've been mooning over the good times in Williamsburg, too. I'll quit that. Dabney and I've been talking over a scheme to have the Rivanna River dredged out. It would help the farmers to send their stuff to market by water instead of over these awful roads. Don't you think it would be a good thing?"
"Well, I'm going to take it up, get the farmers to subscribe the money, get permission from the legislature, and
"Why, Tom, we'll be able to travel on the river, perhaps! How wonderful!"
"Well, it's just something needs doing, that's all. Now I'm nearly twenty-one, as you say—"
"Oh, Tom! What are you going to do on your birthday? Let's have a gay time!"
"I believe I'll have an avenue of locust trees planted to celebrate it."
"That's a good idea, but why not sycamores? They're such beautiful trees!" Jane's eyes were bright with interest. "Do have sycamores, Tom, or, better still, have both. They'll look well together."
"Good idea! You're full of them, Jane. We'll do it. Dabney's coming over this afternoon early and we're going up into the hills for awhile. It's time I had a horse brought out."
Dabney Carr found Tom hard at work in his room. Dabney was a handsome young man a little older than Tom; and he, too, was a student just beginning to practice law. He came in tapping his long riding boots with a slender whip. Tom stood up.
"Be ready in a second, Dabney. Wait till I get my coat."
Dabney looked at the pile of account books on which Tom had been working.
"I say, Tom, you're the most painstaking person I ever knew. I'd give a penny to look over those account books of yours—but I wouldn't write 'em up for a penny!"
"Well, take a look if you care about it," called Tom from the next room.
Dabney took up one of the books.
"Hello! What's all this? Your writing's so fine, Thomas, my son, that it strains my poor old eyes. Well, now, here's something vital, to be sure! 'Garden Book.' Humph!
'March 30, sowed a patch of later peas;
July 15, planted out celery;
July 22, had the last dish of spring peas;'
"Urn! That's last year. Now for this: 'Weather Book.' I declare, Tom, this is fine writing! If I'd known I'd have brought a pair of glasses.
"'March 24, at 6:30 A. M. ther. 27°, barom. 25°; wind N.W. weather clear after rain; Blue Ridge and higher parts of S.W. mountain covered with snow. No snow here but much ice; black frost.'
"Well, it was cold in March last year. But why on earth do you write that sort of thing down every day, and Heaven only knows how much else?"
Tom drew on his coat.
"Well, it's only by keeping records a person ever finds out anything about nature, for one thing," he explained. "And as for accounts and so on, it's a habit. Suppose I get it from Father. He was always figuring about his surveying or something else. I'm ready. Come on."
They gathered up Tom's law books and went out to the horses.
It was a clear, sunny day in early April. The sky hung like a blue curtain above the hills, a curtain on which far away was painted just a hint of gray, as if old Mother Nature was considering a late afternoon shower. The two young men galloped along gayly and turned into a trail that led up the side of a small mountain whose slopes and summit were covered with a heavy growth of trees.
At the top was a thick copse and within this a mighty oak tree held out wide branches filled with dancing young leaves. Beneath them was a rude seat which Tom and Dabney had made.
"Let's settle down here," suggested Tom, putting his books on the bench. "I'm going to read Coke this afternoon, Dab. Dry old scoundrel! But I'm beginning to like him."
Dabney threw himself down, peering among the bushes out across the valley.
"Tom," he said suddenly, "let's promise each other something. It comes over me to-day that this is just the place I'd want to be buried in, up here with the valley and the woods, the river and all that down there." He waved his hand. Let's make a compact. Whichever one outlives the other is to see the other's buried right here. What do you say?"
Tom looked astonished and then, as his eyes wandered toward the view of quiet mountain and valley, woodland and river, a dreamy look came into them.
"I promise, Dabney," he said, seriously. "But what makes you so quiet to-day? Better look out! I believe you're thinking of something besides your law. Out with it! What's in the wind?"
Dabney got up and sat down on the bench, his face flushing a little.
"Well, Tom, to tell the truth I've been trying to tell you. It's just—Martha and I—" Toni whistled.
"Martha! Why, Dabney! Are you two—?" Dabney nodded.
"Going to be married. How'll you like me for a brother, Tom?"
Tom seized his hand and wrung it.
"Oh, this is good news, Dabney!" he cried, joyfully. "I can't read law to-day. Let's go down and talk things over with the girls."