Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The paper that occupied the spring

This semester I had a rare opportunity to do something practical in grad school.

I took a class on the history and practice of publishing, and wrote a paper on the future of independent bookstores.

I've gotten my professor's feedback, shared it with a few people, and finally decide to release it into the wild. It's up on Scribd, and embedded below, for anyone who wants to check it out.1

Modernizing the Cultural Elite

1 My professor commented -- in a good way -- on the fact that the style here is not what one generally hears from academics. Which does not mean it's just a longer version of my usual posts. Consider yourself warned.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Haven't done a link roundup in a while...

Stuff that is not necessarily new, but intriguing. (To me, at least.)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

One last thing: cover copy

We've finished the text of the book, but there's one more aspect of The Witch of Blackbird Pond I want to discuss.

This is the copy I have, acquired sometime in childhood. What's interesting about it is that there's no indication anywhere on the exterior that it was published as a children's book.

The inside blurb pages make reference to the book's Newbery-winner status, but there's no gold medal on the outside (unlike the Laurel Leaf edition you'll find in most bookstores now).

Here's the back cover text:
"Prisoner in a House of Strangers

The sunshine and laughter of childhood seemed centuries and worlds away as Kit Tyler viewed the forbidding New England coast. The lovely young woman had been raised amid luxury in the Caribbean, but now she was an orphan, unloved and alone, dependent on relatives she had never seen.

Awaiting her in the bleak dwelling that was her new home were suspicions and loneliness. The master of the house despised everything about her. The man, who claimed he loved her, abandoned her to the circle of terror. And there was nowhere to turn, no one to help, no way to escape the evil claiming her as victim..."
(We'll just ignore the comma splice in the penultimate sentence. Or at least try very hard to do so.)

And on the front the book is described as "A spellbinding novel of suspense and romance..."

There's no reference to the fact that it's historical fiction (well, the cover image suggests it, but the dress is hardly accurate to the setting), and no indication that it was intended as a children's book. A potential reader could quite reasonably expect to pick up a category romance based on the signals Bantam's marketing department chose to send.

It's still the same story -- one that, apparently, could just as easily have been written for adults.

Deep thoughts aside, I think it's time to enjoy the 90-second version:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Chapter 21: Happy endings

John Holbrook's quest has done its thing, and he has attained actual maturity.
"All his uncertainty had disappeared, and his steady eye and voice plainly revealed the core of strength that Kit had always sensed beneath his gentleness. In the days of his captivity, of which he never spoke, in the waiting for a chance to escape, and in the weary hunted trail down the Connecticut River, John had found his answers."
And as long as he's not mooning after Kit, William Ashby isn't really so bad.
"She and William spent their evenings in happy planning, and their contentment was good to see. Kit had never found William so likeable before."
So with both her cousins married off, Kit's ready to move forward with her get-out-of-Dodge plan. She's going back to Barbados, and she's going to do it by selling her fancy dresses and actually working for a living. "She would not be going back as Sir Francis Tyler's granddaughter."


Spring shows up. And as anyone who's gone through one of those suddenly-beautiful days knows, it makes the whole world look different. (See the post pic, taken on an 80-degree March day in downtown Boston.)
"All at once Kit was aware that this New England, which had shown her the miracle of autumn and the white wonder of snow, had a new secret in store."

"Was this what strengthened these New Englanders to endure the winter, the knowledge that summer's return would be all the richer for the waiting?"

"She did not want to leave this place, after all."
Not just the world, but the people in it.
"Had Hannah known when she herself had not even suspected? It was not escape that she had dreamed about, it was love. And love was Nat."

"Nat is New England too, she thought, like John Holbrook and Uncle Matthew. Why have I never seen that he is one of them? Under that offhand way of his, there is the same rock. Hannah leaned on it for years. And I refused to see."
That whole leaving thing? Maybe not. "From that moment in the meadow Kit ceased to plan at all. She only waited."

And if you wait long enough, and keep hanging around the docks, sooner or later you're going to run into the captain of a brand new ship: "A seaman in a blue coat bent to check a row of barrels, and as he straightened up, even before he turned or before she consciously recognized him, Kit began to run."

Nat gets straight to the point: "Kit? It is Kit, isn't it, not Mistress Ashby?"

And then he reveals the new ship's name:
"Oh, she's not named after Hannah. I hadn't gone ten miles down the river that day before I knew I'd left the real witch behind.... "Now you'll both have to wait. I'm not going to disappoint her, Kit. When I take you on board the Witch, it's going to be for keeps."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Chapter 20: Things get sorted out (mostly)

And by "things," we're mostly talking about the romantic polygon.

William was notably absent during Kit's trial, but now that everyone's healthy he's returned to the house. Kit does not respond with joy.
"Kit would not have risen from her place at all, but Rachel, with a meaningful nudge, handed her a candle, and she had perforce to see her suitor to the door."
This gives them a moment for a quick tete-a-tete, in which William makes his opinion of the whole witch business clear:
"You'll find, when you come back, I promise you, Kit, that everyone is willing to let bygones be bygones, and that you can make a fresh start.... We're judged by the company we keep. And in our position people look to us for an example of what is right and proper."
It takes Speare two brief lines of dialogue to sum up everything that's wrong with their relationship:
"'It would make a man uneasy never knowing what his wife would do next.'

''Twould make a wife uneasy never knowing whether she could depend on her husband.'"
And Kit has one of those realizing-what-she's-known-all-along moments:
"A month ago Kit's temper would have flared. But all at once she realized that William could not really anger her. She had had a long time to think, that night on the riverbank, and the longer night in the constable's shed. She had never consciously made any decision, but suddenly there it was waiting and unmistakable."
Thus ends that relationship.

At the same time, Judith has pretty well given up on John Holbrook, based on the reports from returning militia members, but it's clear that she hasn't given up on finding a husband.
"'Seven different kinds of cake,' Judith counted surreptitiously. 'I'll never be able to have anything half so grand at my wedding.'"
And evidently William hasn't given up either.
"Kit and Rachel sprang forward, but it was William who reached her first, and carried her to the settle by the fire, and it was William who later tucked her carefully into his sleigh and drove her home."
But while that's going on, Speare turns to phrasing that gives us a pretty good idea of how this island girl is enjoying her first-ever winter:
"There was no holiday in this Puritan town, no feasting, no gifts."

"January dragged by, and February."

"Every night she shrank from the moment when she and Judith must make the dread ascent to the upstairs chamber with only the meager comfort of a warming pan."
Which leads to Kit realizing that it's time for her to go. Not that she knows what she's going to do next: "The house was sold, and she was here in New England, and perhaps Nat had never really meant his offer at all."

But she knows it's what needs to happen, especially as she no longer has any marital prospects. "She will be sorry, I think, but truly, won't they, all of them, be a little relieved?"

For a moment it seems that no one has any marital prospects ("Though no on ever so much as hinted at it, the grim truth was that where a short time ago two girls had been well provided for, there was no every likelihood of three spinsters in the Wood household."), but then she remembers William: "It needed only time now to bring about the match which Kit and John Holbrook had interrupted."

And then, long after everyone had given up on him, John Holbrook returns. And this time there's no question about which sister he wants.
"The man did not even hear her. His eyes had gone straight to Mercy where she sat by the hearth, and her own eyes stared back, enormous in her white face. Then with a hoarse, wordless sigh, John Holbrook stumbled across the room, and went down on his knees with his head in Mercy's lap."

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."

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Chapter 18: Kit under arrest

Kit decided duty beat passion when she decided not to join Hannah in escaping Wethersfield (even if she probably didn't stop to think about it in those terms), so she figures she's stuck with that now.
"That should be enough, and surely if she worked hard enough she could forget this strange feeling of emptiness, the haunting regret that a secret and lovely thing was gone forever."
But this is not the moment to settle into ennui. Because the witch-hunt mob, realizing it's lost its chance with Hannah, has chosen a new target.

There's a brief touch of foreshadowing: "They were not alarmed this time by the knock on the door." (Subtext: But they should have been...)

Matthew offers his reputation in Kit's defense, but the constable isn't willing to give up.
"Matthew looked back at the constable. 'I am chagrined,' he said with dignity, 'that I have not controlled my own household. But the girl is young and ignorant. I hold myself to blame for my laxness.'"
It isn't until later that Kit realizes why that didn't work: "She saw now that she had undermined his authority in all eyes by flouting his orders."

Kit's got plenty of time to think as she spends the night locked up in the constable's shed (having been advised by his wife that if she's convicted, all she has to worry about is some form of maiming), so it's time for recrimination. "If I wanted to neglect my own work, Kit groaned in remorse, I might at least have been out in the Cruff's field helping the poor child!"

And also time for purple prose. "Now, huddled in the ragged quilt, she was sucked down in spite of herself, into a black whirlpool of slumber, where nightmare phantoms whirled with her, nearer and nearer, toward some unknown horror."

Never mind about duty and passion now. Kit's got bigger stuff on her mind.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Chapter 17: In which we appreciate the modern world

Because it means this stays firmly in the realm of historical fiction: "A young surgeon was summoned from Hartford to bleed her, and a nauseous brew of ground roasted toads was forced between her cracked lips, to no avail."

The Wood household is sick, Mercy most of all. This means Kit's hard at work, but this time she's got more than self-pity to worry about.
"The meals fell to Kit, and she did the best she could with them, measuring out the corn meal, stirring up the pudding, spooning it into a bag to boil, and cursing the clumsiness that she had never taken the pains to overcome."
Actually, half of Wethersfield is sick. So what does the other half do? They gather for a witch hunt -- because clearly that's the problem here -- and they swing by to invite Matthew to join them.
"From without the house there was an approaching sound of stamping feet and murmuring voices, gathering volume in the roadway outside. There was a crashing knock at the outer door.... The crowd was gathering, a good twenty men and boys and a few women, carrying flaming pine torches. In the hoarse shouting and the heedless screaming of the women there was a mounting violence, and a terror she had never known before closed over Kit's mind like fog."
The witch in question -- this time, at least -- is Hannah Tupper, and Kit sneaks out to save her. Hannah doesn't think much of Kit's escape plan: "Shame on thee, Kit. Thee knows a Quaker does not run away. Thomas will take care of us."

But when the mob arrives, Kit manages to drag her off. "Desperately the two women pushed on, over a marshy bog that dragged at their feet, through a cornfield where the neglected shocks hid their scurrying figures, past a brambly tangle, to the shelter of the poplar trees and to broad moonlit stretch of the river."

As Kit sees it, escape is the only option. She doesn't have much faith in the Wethersfield judicial process, even if it does get a chance to play out sans mob. "What use would a trial be with no one to speak in her defense but a foolish girl who was suspected of being a witch herself?"

Luckily, there's a ship heading up the river: "First two points of mast, then sails, transparent and wraithlike in the fog, then, as Kit strained her eyes, the looming hull, the prow, and the curved tail of a fish." Conveniently, it's the Dolphin.

Which means Nat. However, the urgency of the current situation means there's no time for any further reflections on the Halloween incident. Kit wants Nat to toss Hannah over his shoulder and get her out of Dodge, but when Hannah says she won't leave without her cat, Nat's game. "If she's set on that cat she's going to have it. They've taken everything else."

Nat invites Kit to join them in the escape, but she says she can't leave Wethersfield. He figures he knows the reason.
"The concern in his eyes hardened to awareness. 'Of course,' he said courteously. 'I forgot. You're going to be married.'"
Kit tells him it's all because she's still worried about Mercy, and can't just leave her. But to herself she acknowledges that it's a very close thing indeed.
"She dared not wait to see them reach the Dolphin. In another moment she would lose every shred of commonsense and pride and fling herself into the water after the rowboat and plead with them not to leave her behind."

Friday, May 11, 2012

Chapter 16: Boys will be boys

At the close of the previous chapter, Kit noted that it was All Hallows' Eve. Judith mocked her joke about the spirits stealing the charter, but that line was more than just an indication of where we are the calendar.

The next morning, Matthew reports that there are three sailors facing punishment for something that Puritans, with their utter disdain for saints' days, have no intention of connecting to Halloween. "'What did they do, Father?' inquired Judith coolly. Across the table her eyes met Kit's deliberately."

(By the way, have you noticed that Judith is turning out to be the smart one? She may not have much in the way of getting-along-with-people skills, but she's a maitresse of understanding how people think.)

Matthew's answer: "I am sorry to tell you, Katherine, that your friend William Ashby seems to have been the only one singled out for their insulting prank." He doesn't know what a jack-o'-lantern is, but his daughter does. And Kit's not so bad herself when it comes to figuring out what happened.
"Kit had no doubt at all who at least one of the culprits in the stocks would be, and neither, but the smug set of her pretty lips, did Judith."
So she cuts meeting to go to the stocks ("Her presence had spoiled the sport.") and confirm that Nat is there, along with two of his shipmates.

Nat doesn't want her sympathy: "You can stop trying to be a lady of mercy. 'Twas well worth it. I'd gladly sit here another five hours for a sigh of Sir William's face that evening."

She flounces off, but not before reading the proclamation of their punishment. Besides the stocks, all three sailors are subject to exile from Wethersfield, on the pain of flogging. "Kit's courage failed her altogether. She simply could not go into that Meeting House. She could not bear to sit there and hear that sentence read aloud."

Next stop: Hannah's. Hannah's a little less worried than Kit is ("The stocks aren't so dreadful. I've been in them myself."), plus she's game for offering other advice, too. On the matter of William, of course.
"'How can I tell, Hannah? He is good, and he's fond of me. Besides,' Kit's voice was pleading, 'if I don't marry him, how shall I ever escape from my uncle's house?'"
Pithy response:
"But remember, thee has never escaped at all if love is not there."
Enough about the boys. Kit decides Hannah needs some new clothes, and she and Prudence are going to supply them. "The idea of cutting and sewing a dress by itself was both novel and exciting."

But she's worried about Prudence. All these visits and lessons and such are taking place without the Cruffs' knowledge (or, obviously, permission). "Always before she had been able to shake off her doubts. But today she had had too sharp a lesson in the retribution of this Puritan Colony."

There are other shadows on the horizon. Native Americans again appear offstage as a plot device; some of the men of Wethersfield are off to "aid some of the towns north of Hadley in Massachusetts against the Indian attacks." The purpose of these unnamed "Indians" is, in this case, to provide an opportunity for John Holbrook to set off on a quest.

Yes, I love Speare's books, but I'm not giving her a pass on these bits.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Maurice Sendak at the bookstore

Oh, Maurice Sendak.

I read his books, of course, but to be honest I don't remember all that much about them. What I do remember is Sendak as a crotchety bookstore patron -- and I mean that in a good way.

The first bookstore I worked at was Sendak's local. He wasn't a frequent visitor, but he came in several times while I was behind the counter. Not that I ever spoke to him -- I don't remember him interacting with the staff at all.

(Note to authors who are not Maurice Sendak: Do not interpret that as advice. You should continue to be polite to the booksellers you meet. If you can manage charming, that scores you even more points.)

So Sendak, whenever I encountered him, was usually pretty quiet, with the possible addition of some grumbling.

Except for one time.

Sendak was in the children's section, in the back of the store, when another customer recognized him. (I suppose I should refer to her as the other customer -- it was late, and the store was empty.)

From my spot at the front counter, I could overhear bits and pieces of the conversation. And it was a conversation, not just a fan meeting an idol. There was even laughter, lots of it, on both sides.

The woman, it turned out, had grown up in the same Brooklyn neighborhood as Sendak. They'd never met before, but that was enough of a commonality, and they started trading stories, sharing memories, having a little reunion.

It was a good ten or fifteen minutes before Sendak left the store, and he went out, as usual, without a glance at the booksellers.

And I loved him for it.

Chapter 15: Where the quarter came from

This chapter, the one that ties the story in to noted historical events, opens with a series of unattributed exclamations from aggravate New England men.

The women, meanwhile, are eavesdropping from the other room: "Mercy's spinning wheel faltered, and Rachel's hand, lighting a pine knot, trembled so that a spark fell on the table unheeded and left a small black scar."

Judith, despite her earlier "oh, let the men handle it" moment, has actually been paying attention, so she's able to explain to us why the previously royalist William is now part of the complaining horde: "William came over to Father's way of thinking two months ago. Even before his house was raised, when he had to pay such high taxes on his land."

(I would love to throw in an image of the highly relevant "birth of a Republican" strip from the early days of Zits, but it doesn't seem to be available online. Alas.)

Sir Francis Tyler's granddaughter emerges a bit as the new governor and his escort make their arrival in Connecticut: "Kit thrilled at the sight of the familiar red coats. How tall and handsome and trim they looked, beside the homespun blue-coated soldiers.... The magnificence of Andros and his procession had shaken their confidence."

But after that moment of "hey, the king still has the power," the colonists are back in form, ending their meeting with Andros on their own terms. (Short version: Andros was authorized to govern Massachusetts and Connecticut as a single colony; Connecticut objected to the violation of their existing charter. Andros won, but the colonists hid the charter instead of surrendering it, turning the Charter Oak into the symbol of the state-to-be. Longer version here.)

William was in the room, and he reports back to Matthew. (The girls are once again eavesdropping, this time from upstairs.) "Far as I could see everybody stayed in their right places. But when the candles were lit the charter had disappeared."

The geopolitical implications don't mean a whole lot to Kit, but Matthew's leadership of the pro-charter group gives her a chance to see some of her uncle's strengths in action: "Tonight she had understood for the first time what her aunt had seen in that fierce man to make her cross an ocean at his side."

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Chapter 14: This is what fall is about

I'm not usually one for gushing descriptions of nature. Marianne Dashwood and I are totally not on the same page about that.

But because I know what she's getting at here, I'm willing to accept a little empurpling of Speare's prose: "The maple tree in front of the doorstep burned like a gigantic red torch. The oaks along the roadway glowed yellow and bronze. The fields stretched like a carpet of jewels, emerald and topaz and garnet."

A little bit of color, and suddenly Kit realizes this region isn't such a bad place after all. "No one had ever told her about autumn in New England."

And the whole back-to-nature gives Kit an opportunity to observe a brief interval of an emotion other than anger from Matthew:
"As Kit watched, her uncle bent slowly and scooped up a handful of brown dirt from the garden patch at his feet, and stood holding it with a curious reverence, as though it were some priceless substance. As it crumbled through his fingers his hand convulsed in a sudden passionate gesture."
But enough with the introspection. The Dolphin is back in town!
"The curving tail of the prow was chipped and dull, the hull was battered and knobby with barnacles, the canvas dark and weathered, yet how beautiful she was!"
The Dolphin, of course, means Nat. Who is a little miffed about some of the cargo he's carrying this time:
"Sixteen diamond-paned windows ordered from England by one William Ashby. They say he's building a house for his bride. A hoity-toity young lady from Barbados, I hear, and the best is none too good for her."
Did Speare let Kit and William get engaged without telling us? Not according to Kit:
"'You might have mentioned it, Kit,' he said, lowering his voice.

'There - there's nothing definite to tell.'

'That order looks definite enough.'"
And if the romantic polygon weren't enough, there's political upheaval as well, with the arrival of new royal governor Edmund Andros. Although Judith is dismissive ("Don't worry, Mother. The men can take care of the government."), but Speare is setting us up for one of Connecticut's foundational stories in the coming chapters.

But for that's only relevant as it relates to the interpersonal dramas. To wit: "Kit felt grateful to the unpopular Andros. Whatever he had done, he had saved her, for the moment at least, from any more of Judith's questions."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Chapter 13: Husking bee

We've reached September now, which means it's time for more colonial New England traditions. Kit doesn't think a husking bee is much to get excited about, but Judith and Mercy know what's up. "'Just husking corn all the evening?' It sounded to Kit like an odd sort of party."

In a similar vein, Judith is ready to get married, and doesn't mind saying so: "But I know how John feels, and I know what I feel, and why should we wait forever without ever making plans?"

While Kit still doesn't think much of William, she's more or less ready to get married too, if she has to.
"She had long since decided what her answer would be. As William's wife she could come and go as she pleased. There would be no more endless drudgery, and she could snap her fingers at a woman like Goodwife Cruff."
But with a romantic polygon going on, nothing is that simple. For instance:
  1. John Holbrook tells Kit that Mercy is the one he's been interested in all along: "'Oh, John!' In a burst of incredulous joy Kit flung both arms rapturously about his neck. With a startled glance up the road, John tactfully freed himself."
  2. Kit figures out how Judith is likely to respond to that knowledge: "Judith is going to mind terribly. But she is so proud. She'll put her nose in the air and pretend she never had such an idea in her head."
  3. John lets Judith's enthusiasm get in the way of making a move on Mercy: "such utter happiness and trust shone from those eyes that John faltered, and in that moment of hesitation he was lost."
  4. Kit realizes that John can't do anything else once Judith makes her move: "John understood Mercy. He knew that she had never in her life reached her hand for so much as a crust of bread that Judith might want. If he should hurt Judith now, Kit knew, Mercy would never forgive either him or herself."
  5. William thinks it's a good time to make a move of his own: "What her answer would be he seemed to have not the slightest doubt." But Kit, despite her earlier vow to marry him and get out of there at the first opportunity, can't actually bring herself to go through with it.
  6. So off they go to the husking bee, one newly-engaged couple and one so-what-are-we-then pair. And Kit gets to see that her neighbors do, in fact, know how to have fun once in a while. ("Had her uncle ever been to a husking? she wondered.")

Oh, and there may be a red ear or two lying around. Just to keep things interesting.

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.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Betsy-Tacy fashion

When I first read the Betsy-Tacy books, I started building a collection of early-20th-century fashion links. I had great intentions of building an epic fashion post.

Instead, enjoy this collection of links. And be glad that you're not expected to wear a hobble skirt (although I wouldn't complain so much about the pompadour).

Chapter 11: Relationships are complicated

We have reached midsummer, and the dame school continues. Kit's trying very hard to toe the line after her run-in with the superintendent, which means she's constantly measuring herself against Mercy and falling short: "When her own voice rose in exasperation she was ashamed, remembering Mercy's unfailing patience."

And we're reintroduced to a character from the opening pages. Prudence Cruff hasn't had any screen time since they all arrived in Wethersfield, but it turns out she's the one who's been leaving little presents for Kit:
"The child came slowly from behind the tree. She was thinner than ever, clad in a shapeless sacklike affair tied about her middle. Her eyes, much too big for her pinched little face, gazed at Kit with longing. She reminded Kit of a young fawn that had wandered near the house one morning. It had drawn nearer just like this, quivering with eagerness at the food Mercy set out, yet tensed to spring at the slightest warning."
Prudence's parents won't send her to the dame school, but she wants to learn. Clearly, Prudence is Special. She's a quick study, and she's able to overcome her prejudices just as fast, like when Kit introduces her to Hannah.
"She had been wanting an excuse to take Prudence to Hannah. She had a feeling that the child needed that comforting refuge even more than she did herself."
Also, as if we needed a reminder of one of the key aspects of Kit's personality:
"As always, she had acted on impulse, never stopping to weigh the consequences. Now, too late, she began to wonder."
Moving on, the courtship of William Ashby continues apace. Kit is still a reluctant participant at best, and further exposure to William is not turning her into a fan.
"Every evening he must report exactly which trees had been cut, which boards fashioned. Today, he reported, as the family moved inside to escape the twilight mist that rose from the river, he had overseen the carpenter who was splitting the white oak for the clapboards."
Foreshadowing alert: Judith is totally into the whole house-planning thing.
"She had a flair for line and form and a definite mind of her own, and it was plain, to Kit at least, that as William planned his house Judith was comparing it, timber for timber, with the house she dreamed for herself."
While Kit is trying to avoid thinking about William -- and while she's being utterly transported by the Anne Bradstreet poems John chooses for their evening entertainment -- she discovers that the romantic polygon that is young Wethersfield has another side to it:
"Mercy and John Holbrook! How right - how incredibly, utterly right - and how impossible!"
Except, of course, Judith thinks John is totally hers. And Kit knows Mercy doesn't want to get in the way of that. But at least she's looking outside herself, taking in interest in the rest of the family. And wondering (with a further foreshadowing alert): "What must it be like to care for someone like that?"