Jess is out milking Miss Bessie the next morning when May Belle comes out to tell him he has a phone call. When he takes it, it is Miss Edmunds. She is going to Washington for the day to see the National Gallery and wants to know if he wants to come with her. Jess knows that if he asks his mother's permission to go when she is awake, she will never say yes. Instead, he barely wakes her up, just enough to get a murmur of consent. Soon he is off to Washington with Miss Edmunds.
The two of them have a perfect day together. Jess is amazed and awed by the art gallery, and Miss Edmunds is pleased that she is giving him an opportunity to see these magnificent works of art for the first time in his life. Jess is particularly fascinated by a three-dimensional depiction of a buffalo hunt, in which a tribe of Native Americans is chasing a herd of buffalo over the edge of a cliff to their death. Miss Edmunds buys him lunch, which makes Jess rather uncomfortable, but he does not know how to tell her that he does not have any money, and on the way home they get ice cream. As she drops him off, Miss Edmunds thanks Jess for "a beautiful day." Jess is walking on air as he enters the house.
When he enters the kitchen, he immediately senses that something is wrong. His whole family is staring at him silently, and suddenly his mother breaks down. He does not know how to ask what has happened, but he does not need to, since Brenda's pouting voice informs him that Leslie died that day.
Miss Edmunds' invitation to Jess to spend the day with her reinforces how unorthodox she is, and how careless of the standard rules and regulations of society as regards propriety and acceptable behavior. In a strict sense, it probably is not terribly appropriate for Miss Edmunds to invite Jess, alone of her students, on a trip to Washington with her, and to buy him lunch and ice cream. This is certainly showing favoritism to Jess, and breaking the traditional boundaries of the student-teacher relationship besides. However, this simply does not seem to matter to Miss Edmunds. She is concerned with essentials and with general kindness and decency: Jess loves art; he has never seen the galleries at Washington; his talent ought to be encouraged and she is the only one to do it. This reinforces that society's standards are not always beneficial or fair, a fact to which Leslie has been opening Jess's eyes ever since she came to Lark Creek. Both Leslie and Miss Edmunds are, to a degree, outside of society's restrictions, and this is part of what makes each one such a good influence on Jess, taking him out of the box as they do and exposing him to the wonders of the larger world.
However, this chapter does not really develop any essential themes to the degree that most of the previous chapters have. The chapter is focused around one central contrast, the beauty of Jess's day with Miss Edmunds to the whining revelation of Brenda that Leslie is dead. The two sides of life are shown right here: the world in which everything is right, and the world that silently drops away without a moment's notice. This, too, addresses one of the central facts of adult reality—how the most perfect moment can turn with absolute suddenness to pain and fear. There is a notable lack of foreshadowing in this chapter, too, which is somewhat unusual in literature; often in books there is some sort of sign of what is going to happen, hints dropped here and there which soften the blow. In real life things do not often work like that, and that is what Paterson is emphasizing with the abruptness of the transition. The whole scene carries a tinge of gritty reality, down to the fact that it is Brenda, not one of Jess's parents, who breaks the news to him. One would at least hope that Jess would be told what had happened in a more sensitive and caring way. Again, the scene is dedicated to showing that life simply does not always work that way. Jess has been tossed into an adult world now, and it is utterly strange to him.
Take a Study Break!