Across Five Aprils

by Irene Hunt

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Chapter 6 Summary

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The morning after Jethro returns from his trip to Newton, his father suffers a heart attack. Although the stricken man survives, he is never the same: "the vigorous, erect Matt Creighton [is] gone, [and] a man who look[s] twenty years older [has] taken his place." Jethro will always remember that day in late March of 1862 as the day he left childhood behind. As an eighty-pound stripling of only ten years old, he becomes the man of the house; now, he will labor from dawn to dusk to ensure the family's livelihood, and he will make decisions about the well-being of the farm on his own.

By the second week of April, the fields are ready for plowing. Jethro and Jenny do their best to get land ready for planting, while Ellen tends the garden and nurses her ailing husband. Matt Creighton is much respected in the community and surrounding areas, and friendly neighbors do what they can to help. Ed Turner and Israel Thomas in particular offer invaluable support. Ed sends his boys over to lend a hand whenever he can spare them, and there are some men from nearby Hidalgo who willingly chip in a day's work "now and agin."

Ed Turner arrives one day with some particularly bad news about the war. General Grant had "let hisself git su'prised by the Rebs" at a place called Pittsburgh Landing down in Tennessee, and the newspapers report that he had had to be rescued by General Sherman and General Buell. It is estimated that as many as twenty thousand men had been killed, with more than twelve thousand of those being Union soldiers. Knowing that Tom and Eb were likely involved, Jethro and Jenny resolve to keep the news of what becomes known as the battle of Shiloh from their parents, until they hear from one of the boys.

Despite all, Jethro and Jenny manage to find moments of happiness and hopefulness during this time. They are young enough to appreciate "the sunlight and color of a new spring as omens of good fortune;" the two enjoy being together, and the difference in their ages seems to narrow as they engage in deep conversation as they work side by side each day. A letter comes from Shadrach Yale, and Jethro waits in happy anticipation for his turn to peruse its every detail; any contact from the outside world is normally shared and treasured by the entire family in the isolated rural areas of Illinois. To the boy's dismay, however, this missive is different from Shad's other correspondences; it is a love letter, and it is "all for Jenny." Jethro is angry at what he views as his sister's selfishness, but his brother John's wife Nancy helps him understand that things are different when two people are "in love." Later, sensing that her brother is hurt, Jenny generously offers to let him read her letter, but Jethro declines and with growing maturity, explains:

That ain't and Nancy...talked about it some this afternoon...I don't want to read words that was writ jest fer you. 

That night, horsemen ride up to the Creighton home and leave an ominous message which reads, "Theres trubel for fokes that stands up fer there reb lovin sons." Most of the neighbors are enraged that a sick man, especially one as upright and reputable as Matt, should be thus tormented, especially when three of his other sons are fighting for the Union. For several weeks, the men take turns standing guard each night to keep the Creightons from harm, but nothing happens. It is soon deemed unnecessary for the sentries to report, as everyone's fears diminish. The night prowlers finally do return, however, to mete out their cowardly, self-ordained punishment: the Creighton's barn is burned down, with all their farm implements, and their water supply is ruined when a particularly malicious individual dumps coal oil down their well.

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