Across Five Aprils
The next morning, after a sleepless night, Ellen notices that Matt looks pale and sick. Matt says he is fine and wants to go into town looking for the man that tried to hurt Jethro. Ellen suggests that he stop at the Burdows to thank Mr. Burdow for his help. A few minutes after Matt leaves, Ellen hears a noise and goes outside. Matt is lying on the ground, having suffered a heart attack. The doctors are able to revive him, but "the vigorous, erect Matt Creighton was gone."
In the following months Jethro has to assume many of the responsibilities his father can no longer handle, including working the fields. One day when Jethro is in the fields, his neighbor Ed Turner stops by and tells him of a bad fight in which Grant's army was surprise-attacked. Ed says that more than 12,000 Union soldiers were killed and says he hopes they hear from Tom or Eb soon. Jenny and Jethro talk about the battle, and Jethro notes that every time the Union army does not lose badly to the South, they call it a victory. They speculate about how Grant could have been taken by surprise and whether Grant is another general that will fall down through the ranks.
Jethro and Jenny become close, working in the fields together and talking. One day Jenny receives a letter from Shadrach Yale, and Jethro wants to read it. Most of the letter is personal, however, and Jenny only reads portions of it to the rest of the family. Jethro is hurt and angry, but during a visit Nancy tells him not to be upset and explains that sometimes when someone writes words meant for only one other person, they should not be shared. Nancy talks about how John probably is not fighting yet, but still training, and how she cannot sleep when she thinks of the battles to come. Later that night, Jenny confronts Jethro about being angry with her and offers to let him read the rest of the letter. Jethro declines and forgives her.
Later that night they hear horses, and they find a message: "There's trubel fer fokes that stands up fer there reb lovin sons." After that they take turns watching at night, and Nancy and her sons stay at the Creightons. A few weeks pass and their fears dissipate somewhat, until one night they awaken to the site of the barn burning down. When Jethro tries to get water from the well, he finds it full of coal oil.
Men from all over the country help the Creightons that spring, bringing farming equipment, helping with the barn, and keeping an eye out. Meanwhile, news of the battle of Shiloh comes in, and one day Dan Lawrence, a soldier wounded at Shiloh, tells the Creightons that Tom died there. Tom and Danny were watching boats with reinforcements when Tom got hit, and he died instantly.
Ross Milton publishes a letter in the paper addressed to the people who burned the Creightons' barn and put oil in the well. In the letter he says that Matt Creighton and his son Tom epitomize integrity and that the men harassing the Creightons are cowards who never had to take a bullet for anything. Jenny writes Tom's name in the ledger of births, deaths, and marriages they keep in the Bible, and Jethro asks her about his three siblings who died within a week of each other. Jenny says it was a miracle that she and Jethro did not get sick too.
Later that summer, Sam Gardiner, owner of the store in town, expects trouble at the hands of Guy Wortman, the man who had harassed Jethro. Wortman had sacked and robbed many other stores in town, so Gardiner pretends to close up shop but instead lies in wait with his shotgun for Wortman. Gardiner catches Wortman with buckshot, right in the behind. Wortman ceases causing trouble after that.
Jethro starts worrying about the leadership of the Union army when Grant gets effectively demoted. He thinks the Union generals care "more for personal prestige than for defeating the Confederates" and is disappointed in their leadership.
These chapters serve to further Jethro's transformation from boy to man but in a different way than the ones that preceded it. Jethro must become the man of the house after Matt has a heart attack. He has to work the fields and earn income for the family, thus occupying his mind and his days with more adult responsibility. It is no coincidence that Matt's heart attack occurs at the time the war is getting particularly bad, as if it will continue for some time. Matt's heart attack is a reflection of what is going on inside of him—turmoil, fear, sadness, and a general lack of fortitude.
The vengeance shown by Guy Wortman is beyond cruel, and Hunt depicts a situation that goes from bad to worse. The only solace the Creightons had, while worrying about their sons and Shadrach, was the fact that they themselves were in no danger. Wortman takes that away and begins another kind of war and one perhaps even more despicable because it takes place at the most sacred place: home.
The news of Tom's death is surprisingly anti-climactic. This could be indicative of the fact that the Creightons had begun to accept the likelihood that one or more of their children would die in the war, or it could also be indicative of the fact that, somewhere deep down, they knew one of their children had died. The Creightons are no strangers to death, particularly of their children, as the ledger in the Bible reflects. Three children died of children's paralysis, Jethro's sister Mary was killed by Travis Burdow and now Tom dies in the war. The sheer number carries weight—five dead children. Jethro is not the only person who has undergone a loss of innocence and has had to face the hard facts of the world.
Just as life at the Creighton farm begins to unravel, the war effort does as well. The Union army cannot decide on who should lead the forces—they trade generals like baseball teams do pitchers, and the public opinion rises and falls with every decision. It seems that hopes are dashed over and over—the hope that the war will end soon, the hope that the North can make quick work of the South, the hope that all of the Creighton boys will survive, the hope that each new general will be the one to lead his army to victory and the hope that everything can again be as it once was all seem unpromising.
A notable absence here is that of a hero. Bill might have been one for his courage against the masses, but he is long gone and is the cause of much controversy and confusion. Matt might have been a hero figure, except he is tired and old, having lost something and suffering from heart conditions. The protagonist, Jethro, is too young. The country seems to have a need for a hero as well, as they turn from general to general, placing their faith and confidence in man after man, despite knowing nothing about them. This void creates a space to be filled, leaving Jethro and the country wondering who will fill it.
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