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Free Study Guide for Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt-Book Summary

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Ellen is bedridden with an ongoing headache resulting from lack of coffee, so Matt sends Jethro to Nancy’s to borrow some. Nancy gives Jethro her coffee, which she explains she does not use since John has been gone. She invites Jethro to come over along with Jenny to play with their young nephews, as Nancy and the boys are lonely without John. At home, Jenny makes the coffee and Ellen is relieved.

Ellen and Matt then make plans for Jethro to go into the town of Newton to buy coffee and other things. Jethro is proud that he will be trusted with money, the team of horses, the fifteen-mile ride and the chores to be done in town. He is loaded up and on his way in the cold darkness before sunrise. He has had a special breakfast and some of Ellen’s coffee, diluted with milk, and is feeling confident about his adventure.

A few miles down the road an old man stops Jethro and asks Jethro to bring a newspaper back from town, as he is concerned about his son being involved in the battle at Pea Ridge. Jethro explains all that he and Jenny have read about the battle, the various generals involved, and the strategic outcome. The man also asks about Tom and Eb, and inquires if there is one Creighton boy that has joined the Rebels. Jethro says he does not know, that the family has not heard from Bill. Farther down the road Jethro has to drive through the woods, which is unsettling, but not nearly as disturbing as when he passes the Burdow place a quarter mile beyond.

He reaches Newton by late morning and eats the lunch Jenny packed for him, sighing at what a wonderful extravagance eating at the restaurant would be. In accordance with his father’s instructions Jethro bargains with the grain, exchanges the chickens, and buys coffee and other supplies. He is rewarded with a handful of gumdrops from the storekeeper.

There is a group of men gathered around the fireplace inside the store. Among them, Jethro recognizes Ross Milton, the newspaper editor, and Dave Burdow, the father of Travis. The men ask the boy’s name and some begin taunting him about his brother Bill being a Rebel. Jethro angrily defends his family and his brother, Bill. Ross Milton sticks up for Jethro, sees that his horses and wagon are taken care of, and takes Jethro to eat at the restaurant. They talk about Jethro’s love of reading and his desire to learn to speak properly. Milton gives Jethro a grammar book and cautions him to take care on the way home because one of the men who threatened Jethro in the store lives on the same road.

On the way home Jethro thinks with satisfaction of the stories he will have to tell his family when he gets home. As he passes the Burdow place, the feeling of dread he felt on the way into town comes over Jethro once again. He approaches the woods and begins to relax, but there in the trees is Dave Burdow. Without looking at Jethro, Burdow climbs into the wagon. They ride along silently, Jethro petrified with fear and anger that he might lose the coffee and other rare luxuries he had purchased in town. Burdow assures Jethro that he will not harm the boy. He explains, “I heerd evil braggin’ in the saloon today about layin’ fer a young ‘un on his way home.” As Burdow takes the reins, Jethro is confused and unable to speak.

At the far end of the woods a man jumps out and cracks his whip over Jethro’s team of horses. The horses buck and kick but Burdow is able to control them. Neither Burdow nor Jethro speak, but Jethro realizes he has been clinging to Burdow’s arm during the attack. They ride on to the old man who was waiting for a newspaper, stop and hand it to him without speaking, then continue a little farther. Burdow stops the wagon, tells Jethro he is safe now and leaves. Jethro thanks Burdow but is not sure if his thanks are heard. Exhausted and tearful, Jethro rides home.

He is welcomed home excitedly and, though she would not embarrass him by asking about it, Ellen notices that Jethro has been crying. The family congratulates the boy on his purchases and handling of money. Jethro recounts the events in town and his meal with Ross Milton. When he is finished, he hesitantly adds that there is more to tell, and begins the story of the threatening man in the store and the fearful ride home.


As the chapter progresses, Jethro’s manliness and childishness alternately surface. This, the longest chapter of the novel, marks the last time Jethro will be a boy. He is trusted with a man’s responsibilities and given coffee, a symbol of adulthood, with his breakfast. The coffee, however, is diluted with milk, a child’s drink. He begins his journey confidently and handles himself well, especially when first confronted about his brother, Bill. But when passing through the woods and past the Burdow place, his childish insecurities take hold. In town Jethro successfully completes all of the manly tasks he is responsible for, but is rewarded with a child’s treat, candy. He courageously defends his family and his brother, Bill, and then in the company of Ross Milton, he is allowed to relax into being a boy again. Finally Jethro begins his journey home satisfied with himself, but childish innocence and fear resurface when Dave Burdow climbs into the wagon.

The scene where Jethro’s wagon is attacked highlights another theme of the novel, the importance of justice and forgiveness. The attack is frighteningly reminiscent of the way Jethro’s sister Mary was killed, but this time, a Burdow is the protector rather than the offender. Matt Creighton had defended the life of the Burdow boy; now Dave Burdow redeems his own family by defending the life of a Creighton boy.

The theme of differing perceptions of the war is also shown in this chapter. Some of the townspeople, not knowing Bill’s torment over his decision, express rage toward the Creighton family. Some even side with Travis Burdow, a boy they wanted to kill for his misdeed against the Creightons just a few years before, because he is a Union soldier. So strong is the negative perception against the South that they choose to overlook the fact that there are Creighton boys fighting for the Union cause. Ross Milton, who as newspaper editor has access to more information than most, acts as the voice of reason. He understands the bonds of family that tie Jethro to Bill, even if he disagrees with what Bill has done.

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Cassie, Donna L.. "TheBestNotes on Across Five Aprils". . 09 May 2017