Summary (Masterplots, Definitive Revised Edition)
Henry and Nellie Chesser had been on the road a long time. People sometimes called the Chessers and their friends gypsies, and they did tell fortunes and swap horses and mules, but Henry liked the earth, and he worked as a tenant for different farmers from time to time. Only his restless spirit kept him from settling somewhere permanently.
One day Henry’s wagon broke down. The others could not wait for the Chessers, and Henry haunted the smithy, hoping to speed repairs; but when Hep Bodine offered him twenty dollars a month, a tenant house, and a garden spot, he accepted. The house had only one room and a loft, but it was better than sleeping outside.
Henry’s daughter, Ellen, was greatly disappointed. She hated to leave Tessie, her great friend, the fortune-teller. Ellen knew no one on the Bodine farm, nor did she make friends easily. Mrs. Bodine even ordered her out of the berry patch. Only Joe Trent, home from college, noticed her.
Joe was elegant, always wearing shoes and clothes of different kinds of cloth. He would joke with Ellen as she brought in the firewood. She was growing up, and Joe awakened some spark of longing in her thin body. Then one day, Joe drove past her with Emphira Bodine. He pretended not to see Ellen in her skimpy skirt above her bare feet and legs. After that, Joe would stand behind a big bush where the men from the house could not see him and call to Ellen. Ellen was ashamed. She was glad when her father decided to move over to the Wakefield farm.
Their new house was better; even the loft had once been papered. Miss Tod Wakefield let Ellen look after the turkeys for money wages. So with setting out tobacco plants, getting in the firewood, and going regularly to the big barnyard, she settled into a pleasant routine. By fall, Nellie was able to get Ellen a store dress and new shoes.
In an old abandoned barn where she went to look for turkey eggs, she often noticed Amanda Cain waiting in the hayloft for Scott MacMurtrie, who was married to Miss Cassie. All the field-workers knew of the affair, and they discussed eagerly how Miss Cassie would lay into Scott when she learned he was carrying on with her cousin Amanda, for Miss Cassie was strong and independent. One day, Scott and Amanda disappeared. That night Ellen was awakened by the tolling bell on the MacMurtrie place. She hurried over, outdistancing her father, who thought the barn must be on fire. Ellen found the old black woman pulling the bell rope in a frenzy. Miss Cassie had hanged herself.
Dorine moved into one of the tenant houses. She was merry and gay and attracted others to her. She and Ellen became friends. At her house, Ellen went to her first party. Shy, she hoped desperately that no one would notice her; but in her agony of timidity, she sang a ballad her father had taught her, and she was accepted as one of the group. At their dances and games and on their Sunday walks, she went...
(The entire section is 1205 words.)
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