Story of Thomas Jefferson - J. W. McSpadden

The Law Student

Two years were not long in rolling by. The first one sped so fast, filled as it was with fun among the young people and pleasant concerts and dinners at the governor's parties, balls, and rides, that it must have seemed to Tom that old Father Time had spread his white wings and whizzed off into space with the earth spinning along at a great rate behind him.

The expense of this first year, when Tom counted it up, filled him with shame. He had spent a good deal on his horses, for one thing. Then, too, his clothes had cost a pretty penny. Considering that Shadwell did not provide what we should call a large income, he felt that he had been extravagant. He thought he, ought to do better the second year. When Thomas Jefferson made up his mind to do a thing it was as good as done. His carefulness in the second term made up for his carelessness in the first.

Fifteen hours a day of reading and study became his rule, with the parties left out, the horses sent away, the fiddle put aside, and only a sharp two-mile run every day for exercise. Nobody without a will of iron, a perfectly healthy body and a mind keen for learning could have done it. His reward came in graduation and a college degree, at the end of the second year.

One day, as he was passing the capitol, he met his friend Mr. Wythe, who was just coming out.

"Ah, Jefferson!" called the lawyer, waving his hand. "Well met! I've been wanting a word or two with you. Won't you come over to my chambers for awhile, if you've nothing better to do?"

Tom fell into step beside his friend.

"I'd like nothing better, Mr. Wythe. I've been studying until I need a change."

As the two sat down in the book-lined office, Tom sighed a little. He was rather tired and the big armchair near the window was a comfortable one to lounge in. Wythe dropped into another chair and leaned back.

"Court was tiresome to-day," he said, smothering a yawn behind his hand. "Long arguments on fine points are apt to make a person tired."

Tom looked thoughtful.

"Well, I suppose so," he agreed, "but it's a wonderful study, isn't it? It takes in everything the greatest minds have thought of to protect the rights of mankind, doesn't it?"

Mr. Wythe looked pleased.

"Yes, it's a great study. You know, Jefferson, I've been wanting to ask you what you're planning on doing. Graduation's not very far away and if I could be of any help

He paused. Tom's long face brightened gratefully.

"That's kind of you," he said simply. "Well, to be frank with you, I must plan on some sort of a career. Shadwell, you know, was left me by my father. My brother Randolph has the estate on the James. It's my affair, of course, to provide for my mother and my six sisters. So, you see, I must get to work."

"I see." Mr. Wythe leaned back and placed the tips of his fingers together absently. "What sort of a career would you like?"

Tom rubbed his chin.

"Well, I'd like nothing better than to be an architect," he murmured, looking dreamily out of the window. "Or, if I could be a musician—"

Mr. Wythe shifted in his chair and frowned. Tom went on.

"But there's no scope for that sort of thing in Virginia, and I can't go abroad, as things are. Then, I've thought of the army and the navy, but somehow I don't feel that I'm fitted for either."

"How about the law?" suggested Mr. Wythe dryly.

"That's what I've settled on," said Tom decidedly. "I have a taste for it, and if I can do it thoroughly—"

He hearer got up and crossed the room to lean against the mantel.

"If I can help you there I'd like to do it. How would you like to study law under my direction?"

Tom turned and the two looked at each other a moment without speaking, while a quick surge of color mounted to the boy's forehead.

"I'd like nothing better in the world Mr. Wythe," he replied quietly. "But can you take the time and trouble, a man of your standing and—"

Wythe held up one hand.

"Tut-tut, Torn! It will be a pleasure. Say no more about it. The thing's settled. Now, the only question is, when do you wish to begin?"

"With the new year. Seventeen hundred and sixty-three ought to find me beginning my new work. I suppose about five years would be right, wouldn't it?"

"Enough to start on, anyway. You ought to be able to catch up with Patrick Henry by that time." The lawyer laughed.

"Well, Henry doesn't care for study, and as far as I know he isn't trying to practice. Well, then, I'll be going home to Shadwell about Christmas. I'll get your instructions then as to how to begin the law."

He arose and held out his hand.

"I can't thank you, Mr. Wythe," he stammered. "I—I'll try—"

Wythe laid his hand over the boy's.

"That part of it is all right. I'll see that you do us both credit," he promised good-naturedly.

When college was at last over, Thomas went to a grand ball given in the Apollo, as the large ballroom in the Raleigh tavern was called, and had the pleasure of taking, of all the pretty girls in the world, none other than Miss Rebecca Burwell. A fine time he had, too, and when he said good-bye to Miss Rebecca, thinking how sorry he was to leave her in Williamsburg while he traveled one hundred and fifty miles away, she made him a present of a little picture painted by herself and cut to carry in his watch-case.

With this picture put carefully inside his watch, and the timepiece itself safe inside his waistcoat pocket; with his kit and a roll of new music, and with his box packed with law books, Tom set out for home. He intended to spend the winter there studying law.

As usual he made the journey slowly, as he had many invitations to spend a few days here and there along the way. Christmas overtook him half a day's ride from home. The house of a friend welcomed the traveler, and a jolly Christmas of feasting, songs and games followed.

But that night brought with it what seemed to Tom a dreadful misfortune. Unluckily, his bedroom roof was in need of mending, and the Weather Clerk either did not know it or did not care, for the winter skies let fall a tremendous drizzle all night long. To make the matter worse, rats bothered him. When morning came at last, Tom's pocket-book had been chewed up and his money was gone! But this was not the worst. His "jemmy-worked silk garters" had been carried away by the ambitious little burglars and, yet more sorrow! His watch was lying in a puddle of water, its solemn tick-tick stilled. Tom rushed to it and opened the case. The precious watch paper of Miss Rebecca was soaked! Trying to take it out to dry was of no use. It was so wet that his long fingers went through it, and there, gone—completely gone—was the work of the dearest girl in the world!

Tom dressed very soberly after that, tied up his long stockings the best he could, put his equally silent watch into his pocket, and went downstairs to say good-bye.

That evening found him at home once more with his mother, Jane, Martha and the others, gathered about the roaring old fireplace at Shadwell, telling of his doings at college; of the sights of the little city of two hundred houses, the wonderful capital of Virginia; of the balls, the girls, and, best of all, of his wonderful chum, John Page.