Monday, May 14, 2012

Chapter 19: Kit on trial

The constable's wife continues to be a font of supportive statements as she brings Kit breakfasts after the night in the shed. "'You're no treat to look at, that's sure,' the woman admitted. 'If they took you for a witch right now I'd scarce blame them.'" To be fair, she also supplies a comb.

Kit has to pretty herself up because it turns out that Wethersfield wants to put its justice system to work right away, so she's due to appear before the selectmen -- well, immediately.

Most of the complaints against her are given anonymously in the text, with only a couple being attributed to individual characters. Matthew is losing his patience with his colleagues: "'You can twist what I say as you will, Sam Talcott,' said Matthew in steely anger. 'But I swear before all present, on my word as a freeman of the colony, that the girl is no witch.'"

Among the accusers, naturally, are the Cruffs. But they actually have evidence, thanks to the many lessons Kit gave Prudence at Hannah's house. Kit refuses to say anything about the lessons, determined to keep Prudence out of it, when Nat Eaton appears in the Meeting House -- accompanied, of course, by Miss P.

"Almost paralyzed with dread, Kit turned slowly to face a new accuser. On the threshold of the room stood Nat Eaton, slim, straight-shouldered, without a trace of mockery in his level blue eyes."

"Watching Prudence, Kit suddenly felt a queer prickling along her spine. There was something different about her. The child's head was up. Her eyes were focused levelly on the magistrate. Prudence was not afraid!"
Which is a good thing, because she has to put up with her mother nagging her in addition to the official questioning. But first, let's take a break for a significant moment of eye contact:
"In the warm rush of pride that welled up in her, Kit forgot her fear. For the first time she dared to look back at Nat Eaton where he stood near the door. Across the room their eyes met, and suddenly it was as though he had thrown a line straight into her reaching hands. She could feel the pull of it, and over its taut span strength flowed into her, warm and sustaining."
Prudence demonstrates her new and secret ability to read, which delights her previously henpecked father: "All these years you been telling me our child was half-witted. Why, she's smart as a whip. I bet it warn't much of a trick to teach her to read."

Now that Goodman Cruff has been redeemed as a character, Speare uses him to work in another one of her colonial-values-are-the-best moments: "All my life I've wished I could read. If I'd had a son, I'd of seen to it he learned his letters. Well, this is a new country over here, and who says it may not be just as needful for a woman to read as a man?"

And apparently that's all it takes to restore the natural balance to the Cruff family, with Goodman Cruff returning to the position of authority -- or independence, as Speare phrases it: "Every man in the room was secretly applauding Adam Cruff's declaration of independence."

But Goodwife Cruff gets in one last dig, by reminding everyone that Nat is still under banishment from the town thanks to his earlier fun with pumpkins. But everyone heaves a sigh and decides that mitigating factors outweigh the whole flogging thing.
"With a shrewd look at his niece, Matthew Wood interceded for her. ''Tiz the truth, Sam,' he observed. 'The lad risked the penalty to see justice done. I suggest you remit the sentence.'"
And Prudence fills Kit in on the rest of it.
"He came and found me this morning. He said he got worried about you and came back and sort of spied around till he heard about the meeting. He said I was the only one who could save you, and he promised he would stay right here and help as long as we needed him."

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