Story of Thomas Jefferson - J. W. McSpadden

A Final Service to His State

"Good-bye, grandfather," called a tall boy from the portico at Monticello, waving his hand toward the driveway. A negro was standing holding a handsome horse by the bridle while an old man, surprisingly nimble for one of his age, was swinging himself into the saddle. He sat a moment to button the large pearl buttons of his short gray coat, draw about his neck more closely the folds of a white woolen scarf, and settle his round hat more firmly upon his sandy-white hair. Then he turned the horse about and waved his hand to the boy, who was running down the steps.

"Good-bye, grandson," he answered cheerily. "Isn't it pretty early for you to be out? You're ahead of the sun himself!"

"I know I am, but mother says you always get up as soon as you can see the hands of your clock—"

"Ah ha! Thought you'd try it? Well it's a good habit, one I've tried ever since I was your age. How many guests have we in the house this morning?"

The boy thought a moment, murmuring over names and counting.

"Forty-five, I think. No, let's see; forty-seven, sir. Mr. Bacon says he's had to send some horses away, the stalls are all full."

"Humph! Well, we'll make room somehow. Tell your mother I'll return this afternoon. Good-bye!"

The boy watched while his grandfather rode rapidly down the hill. The former president was a little stooped in the saddle, now, but his control of his horse was as complete as when he rode across the river with his brace of wild turkeys to Shadwell nearly seventy years before.

On the road a neighbor, also on horseback, joined him.

"Good-morning, sir. You're bound for the University, as usual, I dare say, Mr. Jefferson?" he asked pleasantly as the two horses paced along together. "How is the building going? It's a wonderful thing you and Joseph Cabell are doing for Virginia and its youth, sir!"

Jefferson smiled contentedly.

"The building is nearly complete," he replied. "Or much of it is, and we have good hope of having a fine corps of professors. Yes, we hope and expect much from our state university in the years to come."

The other looked pleased. "That's fine!" he approved. "Since my return to Virginia I've been told you have been trying to secure the adoption of a public school system for the whole state. I hope you are succeeding."

Jefferson shook his head slowly.

"The plan isn't succeeding to any great extent," he admitted. "Nor is the scheme for a circulating library in each county. The people will see it, though." His clouded face brightened. "I'm sure they'll see the need of a common school in every ward of every county in Virginia. Joseph C. Cabell, sir, in the State Senate, is a host in himself in aid of these projects, and the state is giving perhaps as much as we can hope for at this time."

They rode on for a few minutes in silence. Then Jefferson pointed to a spot they were nearing.

"There are the buildings," he said, his face all alight with pride. "Things are going forward very well indeed."

The other reined in his horse.

"'Twill be a handsome university, Mr. Jefferson. You designed the buildings?"

"Oh, yes; yes. It appeared to me that the young men of Virginia ought to have something before them to give an idea of classic architecture. But money, sir, money—" He sighed and shook his head.

The other nodded.

"I see. Well, what you have had, has been spent nobly, Mr. Jefferson. My road lies here. Good morning, sir."

Raising his hat, the gentleman turned and rode away. Thomas Jefferson, once more settling the round hat on his head, slapped his horse's neck with the end of the rein and cantered along toward the new buildings.

Passing around them until he came to a part he wished to inspect, the old gentleman tied his horse and, taking his walking-stick under his arm, went into an unfinished building. The workmen had not yet arrived for the day's labor, and the visitor was uninterrupted in looking over the place, and making mental note of directions he wished to give.

Presently, a little tired, he walked outside into the pleasant morning air, unjointed his walking-stick, cleverly invented by himself to serve as a stool, took a piece of cloth from his pocket, and stretched it across for a seat, and sat comfortably down to wait for the workmen.

Jefferson was superintending one of the last acts of his busy life—the erection of what was to be one of his proudest monuments, the University of Virginia.