Monday, May 7, 2012

Chapter 12: Nat's back!

The last chapter took place in "midsummer," and now we're up to "mid-August." That means it's time for a new round of colonial chores:
"She had been helping Judith and Rachel to make the winter supply of candles. It was hot sticky work. For two days they had been boiling the small gray bayberries that Kit and Judith had gathered in the fields, and Rachel had skimmed off the thick greenish tallow. It simmered now in the huge iron kettle, beneath which the fire must be kept glowing all through the long hot day. At the opposite end of the kitchen, at a good distance from the heat of the fire, the candle rods hung suspended between chairbacks. Back and forth the three women walked, carrying the candle rods, dipping wicks into the tallow, handing them back to cool, and dipping them again, till the wax fattened slowly into the hard slow-burning candles that would fill the house with fragrance all through the coming months."
It's also time for Kit to learn that her secret visits to Hannah's house haven't actually been going unnoticed. Rachel decides it's time to include Hannah in her good works: "I don't approve at all. But I can't bear to think of anyone going hungry when we have such plenty."

When Kit gets to Hannah's house, she finds a surprise waiting: "She had hoped to find Prudence there. Instead, as she came around the corner of the thatched cottage, she discovered Nat Eaton, his wiry tanned body bared to the waist, his axe spouting a fountain of chips as he swung at a rotting log."

Nat's on chore duty while the Dolphin's in town, which leads to Kit making an offer that should surprise anyone who's watched her whine her way through the past half-year:
"'Can I help?' Kit was astonished to hear her own voice."
Ah, the things we do to impress boys.

So she gets to help with the roofing. "Kit followed him into the swamp and stooped to gather great armfuls of the long grasses that fell behind his scythe. The strong sweet smell of it tickled her nostrils."

And she discovers that work can be fun, if you're doing it by choice. (Or if you're doing it at the side of an enigmatic and attractive young sailor.)
"This is the way I used to feel back in Barbados, Kit thought with surprise. Light as air somehow. Here I've been working like a slave, much harder than I've ever worked in the onion fields, but I feel as though nothing mattered except just to be alive right at this moment."
After they get the thatch tied down, Kit and Nat spend a while lounging on the roof and chatting -- about bird metaphors, Shakespeare, and Nat's view of the world, which includes:
  • "A boy has to learn his numbers, but the only proper use for them is to find your latitude with a cross-staff. Books, now, that's different. There's nothing like a book to keep you company on a long voyage."
  • "A man is loyal to the place he loves. For me, the Dolphin there is my country."
And suddenly he's a New Englander again, and we're back to the theme of independence, with Kit "bewildered and a little dismayed to glimpse under Nat's nonchalant surface a flash of the same passion that made life in the Wood household so uncomfortable."

When Kit realizes how late it is, Nat insists on walking her home, even though Kit has a bad feeling about this and would rather not explain him to her family: "Nat easily matched her nervous pace with his swinging stride, apparently quite unaware of her desire to be rid of him."

The family is waiting when they get back, along with the ever-present William (which is something Nat takes note of). Let's give Kit some credit: she doesn't try to weasel her way out of trouble at all. She knows how her uncle feels about Hannah Tupper, but she straight up tells him where she was and what she was doing, and puts up with another round of his growling and bluster.

To conclude the chapter, Speare gives us Mercy's opinion of Nat, based on their 30-second encounter. "Hannah will be all right if she has that seaman to help her. I like his looks." And we all know by now that Mercy is someone to listen to.

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