Chapter 5 Summary
Coffee is in short supply by late March, 1862. To her shame, Ellen depends upon the strong drink and is subject to debilitating headaches if she does not have it. Determined to "suffer it out," she gamely attempts to abstain, but her malaise is so great that Matt cannot stand to witness it; he sends Jethro down to Newton to get some coffee for his mother, as well as other much-needed supplies. It is fifteen miles to the town, and Jethro, who is ten-years-old now, is proud that his father trusts him to take on such a "sizable job."
Jethro sets out in the early dawn. His spirits are high, and people getting about their morning chores wave to him in greeting. An old man, Jake Roscoe, stops him on the way, and, in answer to his query, Jethro identifies himself as "Matt Creighton's youngest boy." Roscoe asks Jethro to fetch him a paper in town, and gives him a coin; his grandson is fighting for the North at Pea Ridge, and the old man is hoping to find some news about the battle. Roscoe has heard that Jethro's "growed-up brothers" are fighting for the Union too, and that another brother, Bill, has "jined up with the Rebs." With an insinuating smirk, he calls that latter bit of conjecture "a sorry thing."
After leaving Mr. Roscoe, Jethro must pass through a stretch of woods, and a quarter of a mile beyond that is the ramshackle Burdow place. Remembering his sister Mary's death, the boy is seized with a feeling of uneasiness, and is relieved when he finally arrives at Newton. As instructed by his father, Jethro goes first to the mill, then to the general store to complete his errands. A group of men are loitering at the store and when they discover that the young customer is a Creighton, one of them, Guy Wortman, makes disparaging comments about Bill. Jethro defends his brother's integrity, and is backed by Red Milton, the newspaper editor, and Sam Gardiner, the store owner. Dave Burdow, the father of the boy who caused Mary Creighton's death, is present too, but walks out without saying a word.
When Jethro is finished with his chores, Red Milton treats him to lunch at the town's restaurant, to the young boy's delight. Jethro tells Milton that he is reading a book about the American Revolution, and is "beginnin' to git the hang of the newspapers a little better," and the editor, impressed with the boy's hunger for learning, offers him a copy of a book that will teach him to speak "the King's English" correctly. Milton then helps Jethro get his team and supplies situated, and although he does not think the belligerent men in the store will actually cause any trouble, he warns him to be careful on the trip home.
It is sundown by the time Jethro reaches the Burdow place and the isolated stretch of woods which lie beyond. The boy is overcome by a vague sense of dread, which seems to be validated when a lone man on horseback appears by the side of the road and steps in front of the wagon. Curtly, the man mutters, "Like to ride with ye a piece," and, leading his own horse by a strap, climbs up onto the seat. The man is Dave Burdow.
The two ride on in silence, and Jethro shudders with fear and revulsion. Burdow reassures him gruffly, saying, "I ain't...
(The entire section is 884 words.)