Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings

Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings by Stephen O'Connor Read Free Book Online

Book: Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings by Stephen O'Connor Read Free Book Online
Authors: Stephen O'Connor
yard, enjoying a pipe, when a carriage pulled up, returning Thomas Jefferson from an Easter visit with his family. As Maury helped the boy drag his heavy satchel off the seat, he said, “I hope you had a fine stay with your dear mother.” But Thomas Jefferson gave him no other response than to turn his back and walk toward the house, clutching his satchel with both arms.
    â€œYoung man!” Maury called after him. “Is that how you behave when you have been addressed by your master?”
    The boy stopped but didn’t turn around.
    Maury walked up beside him. “What have you to say for yourself?”
    Still not meeting the older man’s eye, Thomas Jefferson said, “I’m sorry.”
    â€œWhat made you think you had the right to behave so rudely?”
    â€œI didn’t have the right. It was only . . .” The boy lowered his head and pinched his lips together before finishing his sentence. “. . . that I did
have a good visit.” As he pronounced the word “not,” the boy finally lifted his head and looked his master in the eye. And then, with a disconcerting coldness, he announced, “And what is more, I have resolved never to return home again. Henceforth I would prefer to lodge here with you and Mrs. Maury during all school vacations.”
    â€œWhat happened?”
    â€œThat is my own affair,” the boy said firmly. “If it would not bepossible for me to stay with you, I shall look for temporary lodging in the village.”
    With that, Thomas Jefferson walked into the house, climbed the stairs to the dormitory and refused to come down for supper.
    Needless to say, the Reverend Maury dispatched a letter to Mrs. Jefferson that very night.
    In the morning he received word from his wife that the boy wouldn’t take so much as a cup of tea, and during church services (it was a Sunday), Maury noticed him staring vaguely into space, a distraught expression on his face, not even moving his lips when it was time to sing. And now here the boy is, slumped by himself in the window, staring into a book with a crumpled brow.
    Last night Maury had been irritated by the boy’s rudeness, but now he is beginning to worry.
    Only once his master steps into the parlor does Thomas Jefferson look up with a start and realize he is not alone. He snaps his book shut and swings his feet to the floor. “Sorry,” he says.
    â€œDon’t worry, Jefferson,” says Maury. “Window seats are made for reading.”
    Just past the boy’s head, Maury can see Carr, Molyneux and some of the other boys kicking an inflated cow’s bladder around on the muddy green across the road.
    â€œBut it’s a beautiful spring day,” Maury says. “You should be out there playing football with your classmates.
    â€œI don’t like football.”
    â€œDon’t be silly. Every boy likes football. Best thing in the world for the lungs.”
    â€œI don’t like sports. I think they encourage the worst tendencies in human character. They’re all about who can dominate whom.”
    It is a long moment before Maury knows how to respond to this objection. Finally, deciding that the boy is showing signs of melancholia, he says, “But you must take care to amuse yourself.”
    â€œI have
Don Quixote
to amuse me.” Thomas Jefferson pats the book balanced on his knees. “I think it is much more amusing to read about a mad old man doing battle with wineskins in his sleep.”
    â€œVery well,” says Maury, thinking that the Lord will only help those who help themselves. He nods, backs out the door and continues on his mission to fetch his buttonless nightshirt for his housemaid.

. . . I was a melancholy child. I did not have many friends, and I grew unhappy in groups, largely because I lacked a quick wit. Whenever other children mocked me, I would merely stand there, wagging my tongue in my open

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