Across Five Aprils
Chapter 5 opens with Ellen succumbing to an awful headache, a result of her coffee supplies running out. The expense of coffee makes it a luxury, but it also makes Ellen's dependence on it a problem. Hours later, when the agony is unbearable, the Creightons send Jethro to borrow some coffee from Nancy, his brother John's wife. Nancy tells Jethro that her sons are lonely now that their father has left for the war, and she wishes that Jethro would come play with them more often. Nancy mirrors Jethro's sentiments when she says she hopes to hear that the war is over soon.
After Ellen has a cup of coffee she feels better. She and Matt tell Jethro that they need to buy coffee and a number of other goods in town, and they ask Jethro if he will drive the team of horses fifteen miles to the nearest town. Jethro, proud to be asked, agrees. Jethro wakes up early the next morning, receiving instructions and money from his parents and then leaves. Along the way, a man who knows Tom and Eb stops Jethro and asks him to pick up a newspaper in town. Jethro agrees. The man goes on to ask about Bill, inquiring about whether Bill joined the "rebs." Jethro says he does not know, and leaves.
The journey is fifteen miles long. Jethro finally gets into town and eats the food he has brought with him, while looking wistfully at the town restaurant, wishing he could afford such luxury. Jethro goes about buying the goods they need. At one of the stores, a group of men sit around a fire, and Jethro recognizes the father of Travis Burdow. The men notice Jethro, compliment him on his ability to come to town by himself, and then someone asks about Bill. One of the men gets angry and accuses Jethro of covering for Bill, saying that the Creightons should pay for Bill's betrayal. Jethro stands up for Bill, but when the man says that between Travis Burdow and Bill Creighton, Bill is the one who most deserves punishment, Jethro leaves. One of the men, Ross Milton, editor of the local paper, follows Jethro out and apologizes. He then offers to have some of his men at the paper take care of Jethro's horses, and he tells Jethro that he would like to get acquainted—he knows Jethro's brothers. Milton brings Jethro to the restaurant where they talk about the war and talk about Jethro's love for reading. Jethro expresses a desire to learn how to talk "good," and Milton tells him about a grammar and expression book he wrote, and loans it to Jethro. At the end of the meal, Milton warns Jethro to be careful since the man from the store lives on Jethro's route home.
Jethro leaves, trying to stay awake during the trek. When he passes the Burdow place, he sees Dave Burdow, Travis's father waiting for him. Mr. Burdow says he wants to ride with Jethro a bit, and Jethro, frightened, agrees. Mr. Burdow tells Jethro not to be afraid and that he wanted to escort Jethro through a pass because he suspected the man from the restaurant would be waiting for him. A little farther down they see a man on a horse, and he lashes a whip across Jethro's team, scaring them into bucking and running. Burdow helps Jethro calm them down, and when they reach the home of the neighbor who wanted a newspaper, Mr. Burdow tells Jethro he should be safe now. Jethro arrives home, telling them of the news in the paper. After a while, he decides to tell them about Mr. Burdow and the bad things that happened that day.
This chapter represents another phase of Jethro's progression from boy to man. He takes on a man's job, riding the horses fifteen miles each way into town for supplies. This demonstrates his parents' faith in him, as it is unusual for a child as young as Jethro to bear the weight of such a responsibility. Jethro conducts himself impressively, especially in the face of the taunting and anger he faces on account of Bill's actions.
As much as Jethro's journey represents his coming of age, it also represents a unique loss of innocence. Jethro learns that the threshold for tolerance is quite low. The rage that people in town express toward Bill's decision is extreme. In fact, someone says that Bill would sooner be lynched than Travis Burdow, even though Travis Burdow killed Jethro's sister. Bill is seen as a coward and a traitor, especially by the people who knew him or of him. Shadrach and Jethro are the only people who express sentiments of support toward Bill. Ellen and Matt do not comment on Bill's departure—it is unclear how much they know, although if townspeople can guess where Bill went it is likely that Matt and Ellen know too. This kind of hatred is new to Jethro. Jethro remembers when Travis Burdow killed Mary, and Jethro can understand the hatred the townspeople felt about that. But Bill did not do anything to intentionally hurt anyone—he wrestled with a decision and did only what he felt was right. Jethro witnesses first hand the way the war is dividing not only the country, but also the people in his own town.
Jethro learns that war makes the familiar unfamiliar. In a town where his family is known and respected, Jethro is suddenly afraid. There is hatred directed toward his family because of Bill—people who otherwise would have only remained polite acquaintances or friends are full of anger and blame. The route home from town becomes dangerous. The face of the world changes, no matter how remote the location, and Jethro begins to realize just how thorough the impact is and will continue to be.
Ross Milton is a voice of fairness and reason, and the kind of friend one makes in a time like this is crucial. It is clear that something strong bonds him to Jethro, and in many ways Milton takes over where Shadrach left off, encouraging Jethro to read and to continue pursuing the correct and grammatical way of speaking. Meeting Milton only reinforces the idea that in times of hardship it becomes apparent who one's friends are.
An unlikely figure steps up as Jethro's protector at the end of this chapter, thus destroying some of the stereotypes Hunt just set up. Mr. Burdow saves Jethro from the man angered by Bill's decision. Jethro, open-minded, or perhaps only thinking like a child would, initially feels only fear—not contempt—for Mr. Burdow. Later, there is redemption of sorts as Mr. Burdow distances himself from his son and helps Jethro. The situation here parallels the one in which Jethro's sister died—Travis Burdow frightened Mary's horses, overturning her wagon and killing her. The man from the restaurant tries something similar by lashing and spooking Jethro's horses. Mr. Burdow's actions here are linked both literally and symbolically to the actions of his son, and this time the actions have good results.
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