Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Chapter 2: Kit learns about New Englanders, Part I

Kit is incredibly bored in this chapter. The Dolphin spends nine days getting from Saybrook to Wethersfield, a distance roughly equal to how far current Connecticut residents will drive to get to a mall.

But this is the second chapter of the book, so the reader's not allowed to be bored or worn out by the whole "are we there yet" thing. So we get occasional bouts of her frustration -- and the sailors' lack of it -- mixed with character development and further spinning of plot threads.

The Cruffs aren't speaking to Kit (which, when you think about what a small space they were occupying, is a pretty impressive feat), but she's got an eye on them, and she doesn't like what she sees.
"Once or twice she had seen the father furtively slip child an extra morsel from his but he was plainly too spineless to stand up for her against shrew of a wife."
She's also got her eye on John Holbrook
"There he sat, hour after hour, so intent that often his lips moved, and two spots of color burned in his pale cheeks, as though some secret excitement sprang from the pages."
but there's a different kind of interest there.
"Kit would make sure that his eyes, blinking half blindly from his book, would focus on her gay, silk-clad figure nearby."
Eventually Kit decides that John is the victim of "an appallingly dull history," but as he's the only person on the ship who's willing to hang out with her, they strike up a friendship of sorts. Their conversation is essentially an ongoing culture clash. Kit is surprised John talks openly about his inability to afford Harvard tuition (though we get a hint of Kit's own money issues there), and John is scandalized that Kit's extensive reading has consisted almost entirely of books Puritans disapprove of. "There are no such books in Saybrook," he tells her.

These conversations also give Speare a chance to throw in some backstory, as Kit shares what she knows of the aunt she's on her way to live with.
"Her name is Rachel, and she was charming and gay, and they said she could have had her pick of any man in her father's regiment. But instead she fell in love with a Puritan and ran away to America without her father's blessing."
To which John suggests that, well, things are different in the colonies: "Kit was aware again of that intangible warning she could not interpret."

Returning for a moment to the subject of people avoiding each other on the ship: Nat Eaton is absent for all Kit's conversations with John, but eventually he decides to chat with her again -- which is not a success.

Kit complains about the lingering smell of horses, a reminder of the ship's previous cargo. Nat not only objects to any sort of criticism of the Dolphin, he also points out that the the alternative cargo was slaves, which he and his father aren't going to touch.
"Yes, to our shame! Mostly down Virginia way. But there are plenty of fine folk like you here in New England who'll pay a fat price for black flesh without asking any questions about how it got here. If my father would consent to bring back just one load of slaves we would have had our new ketch by this summer. But we Eatons, we're almighty proud that our ship has a good honest stink of horses!"
This is the first mention of Kit's attitude toward slavery, something that's going to appear several more times -- and it's an issue that's never actually dealt with over the course of the story.

And then they're in Wethersfield. Which, after all Kit's anticipation, is about what the reader expects:
"This was Wethersfield! Just a narrow sandy stretch of shoreline, a few piles sunk in the river with rough planking for a platform."
But there's a bigger problem, one that only emerges when Captain Eaton wonders why Kit's relatives haven't come to meet the ship: This whole moving-in-with-the-family thing wasn't actually a mutual decision. The Wood family has no idea their niece has left Barbados.

The captain's not too happy about this, grumbling about how he takes no responsibility for her. But Kit's bigger concern, as the captain drafts some of his men to carry her seven trunks to her uncle's house, is this:
"Why should Nat, who had carefully been somewhere else during the whole of the last nine days, have to be so handy at just this moment?"


Anonymous said...

I bought this book and read it, on your recommendation - and I loved it. Such a wonderful, well-told story. Thanks for the rec!

Sarah Rettger said...

Excellent! That's my favorite part of talking up books.