Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt

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Chapter 2 Summary

Everyone sits down to a special "comp'ny supper" prepared by Jenny and Nancy when the long day's work is finally done. At first, the talk at the table centers around family affairs but before long, the focus of conversation turns to the nation's troubles. With deep concern, Matthew Creighton asks, "Will Kaintuck go secesh, Wilse?" and the visitor answers straightforwardly, "Maybe, Uncle Matt, maybe it will."

Wilse Graham then inquires how southern Illinois will feel about it if Kentucky does side with the South. He points out that the people of that area are "closer by a lot to the folks in Missouri and Kaintuck than [they] are to the bigwigs up in Chicago and northern Illinois." Matt agrees that as much as eighty percent of the people thereabouts "count Missouri or Kaintuck or Tennessee as somehow bein' their own," but he also laments the division in the country, insisting, "We're a union." Wilse gets angry then, railing about the affluent North's arrogance as it starves its less prosperous neighbor's industry with high tariffs because of jealousy that the South has finally found a way of life that benefits it. He asserts that the South only wants "the right to live as it sees fit to live without interference," and is prepared to fight "fer years if need be" to preserve this right. He goes on to predict that England will surely come to the aid of the Confederacy as well, if only to protect her much-needed source of cotton.

Ellen timidly interjects to bring up the question of slavery, and the plight of the "downtrodden people" in the South. Wilse at first tries to evade the question, but when John presses him to answer, he concedes that while he cannot justify the ownership of one man of another, slavery has been a fact of life "from the beginnin' of history." He notes that even the men who wrote the Constitution recognized the "peculiar institution," and pointedly demands to know what sort of welcome and assistance black men from the South might expect to receive in the North if they were to be emancipated tomorrow. Bill speaks up then, wondering if perhaps those who oppose the South might be using their opposition to slavery as an excuse to cover up what really is an issue of greed. Wilse vehemently agrees, challenging John:

...fer every evil that you kin find fer me in the name of slavery, I'll match you an evil in the name of industrialism. The South asks only to be left alone.

As the heated debate goes on, Jethro finds himself "bursting with the tumult inside him." Only a short time before, he had thought of the prospect of war with "a secret delight," but now he is deeply troubled. The arguments being raised are beyond his comprehension and he is utterly confused. Fortunately, Ellen intervenes, putting a stop to the hard line of talk "fer awhile here at the table." Wilse apologizes for bringing up the difficult subject, and conversation during the remainder of the meal veers away from the "troubles of the day."

Later that evening, the family waits out in the dooryard for Shadrach Yale's...

(The entire section is 786 words.)