justice_turtle: Image of the TARDIS in a field on a sunny day (Default)
justice_turtle ([personal profile] justice_turtle) wrote in [community profile] readallthenewberys2013-09-09 08:39 am

Newbery Honor: Calico Bush (Rachel Field)

I'd never even heard of this book before I started reading Newberys, but it's by the author of Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, so I'm expecting - at a minimum - solid research and reasonable use of language. :D

* "With the original wood engravings by Allen Lewis". Okay. We'll see what I think of those. :-)

* The book jacket tells me this is the story of thirteen-year-old Marguerite "Maggie" Ledoux, French "bound girl" (indentured servant) in colonial Maine in 1743-1744. It also says that near the end she'll have to "decide where her loyalties lie", so... *checks* yup, King George's War, the third of the four French and Indian Wars (of which the fourth is called "the French and Indian War", because history always makes sense that way *dry grin*), is going to start in 1744. Maggie is "bound" to an English-American family, so she'll have to choose between loyalty to her birth country or loyalty to the people she actually knows... I guess. *dry grin*

* Okay, I might be kind of snarky about coming-of-age stories. :S I do expect Rachel Field to do a good job with her material, though.

* The actual book. Here we go. Dedicated "To my island neighbors and Captain Jim Sprague". Rachel Field would seem to be a Maine native or resident, specializing in the history of her home area? *checks* No -- born in NYC, grew up in Massachusetts, visited Maine at age fifteen and fell in love. Wiki isn't saying whether or for how long she actually lived in Maine; she died in Los Angeles, California, on the other side of the continent, at age 47. :-(

* There's a brief introduction to the reissued 1966 edition, which doesn't say anything important... and here's the actual story beginning.

* It starts with a poem called "Maypole Point", as a sort of prologue. It's a good poem -- Rachel Field was a poet as well as a prose author. (She wrote Something Told the Wild Geese and If Once You Have Slept On an Island, among other poems.) It's basically talking about the traces of French heritage in Maine... I have to kind of snicker and eyeroll at these lines, though:

"Those lilies of France were far too frail
For the bitter winters; the northeast gale;
The sharp-toothed ledges; the icy tides;
The bristling spruce on the mountain sides;
For a land that succors a needly tree
Can be less kind to a fleur-de-lis."

It's a pretty image, but *throws hands in air* CANADA. Québec. Acadia. Voyageurs and... I don't think "too frail to settle this far north" is the right generalization, Ms Field. O_O

The rest of the poem really is very good. I just... Canada. :P

* Ah, here's a Table of Contents. The rest of the book will be in four chapter-like "parts": Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring.

* The book starts in June, 1743, when Marguerite and the family to whom she is "bound-out" - the Sargents - leaving Marblehead, Massachusetts, on the boat Isabella B. This is Rachel Field, so I'm going to skim fairly lightly over a lot of this exposition for fear of getting bogged down.

* Marguerite, nicknamed "Maggie" by the Sargents, is bound for Maine with them. It does not seem that her life will be very happy, since she's already "learned that Bound-out Girls were not expected to hold opinions of their own" and since Caleb, the thirteen-year-old son of the family, persists in teasing her - pulling her braids, calling her "Frenchee" - and she always feels "an odd dread" when he comes near.

(The part of me that has no faith in any Newbery author to subvert cultural norms suspects that Marguerite/Caleb will be the budding romance that shows up with very little foreshadowing toward the end of the book, the author being convinced that Caleb's teasing and braid-pulling counts as foreshadowing because "that's how he shows he likes you". o_O I mean, with luck, Rachel Field won't actually pull that stunt, but 99.9% of authors I can think of would. :P)

* The group will travel on the Isabella B. for at least five days and nights. While she untangles and winds a skein of yarn for Mrs Sargent, Maggie thinks over what's happened to her during the past twelve months.

* She left France about twelve months ago with her Grand'mere (grandmother) and Oncle (uncle) Pierre, planning to settle in Louisiana. But there was disease on the ship; Oncle Pierre died before they even reached land, and the captain put everyone off at the nearest port, Marblehead, before the entire crew should die. Grand'mere died later at the "Poor Farm" after their money ran out. Marguerite learned English at the Poor Farm, though she still speaks with an accent -- which Caleb mocks.

* Marguerite wears Grandmere's wedding ring and a button from Oncle Pierre's coat on a string round her neck; these are all the memento she has of them. After Grandmere died, Marguerite was "bound out". Most people didn't want to take her because she's French, but the Sargents don't care "so long as she ain't the contrary kind".

* At this point it's explained what it means that Maggie is "bound out": that she has to serve the Sargents until age eighteen, doing whatever they say, and in return they'll give her food, shelter, and basic clothing.

* There are at least six Sargent children: Caleb, thirteen; Becky and Susan, six-year-old girl twins; Patty, four; Jacob, three; Deborah or Debby, the baby, eight months old. There may also be some more kids between Caleb and the twins, I don't know yet.

* Through some conversation between the various grown-ups - the Sargents, the ship's captain, and so forth - we learn that the Sargents will be settling in Maine, near the sea, where there are as yet no roads or villages. Mrs Sargent thinks it will be lonely, but Mr Sargent and his brother Ira, who's travelling with them, hold that "that's the woman of it" and that proper men need "elbow room".

(I have to link this poem in that context. The official title is "Daniel Boone" by Arthur Guiterman, but most people who've heard of it know it as "Elbow Room, Said Daniel Boone". ^_^ Sadly, or perhaps happily, the version at that link isn't complete; it lacks the last verse, of which the only lines I remember verbatim are that Boone achieves in the afterlife "The timeless quest of the ageless soul / He has reached the goal where there is no goal". Which I remember thinking terribly absurd at the time, but I still wish I could find a complete copy. You can't mock these things properly from memory. ;P)

* A-ny-way. Where was I? Right. On a boat.

* We get a lot of detail about shipboard life on this first day. I don't see anything obviously wrong, and I trust Rachel Field to have done her research, at least till proven otherwise. ;P Mrs Sargent, it seems, would rather have stayed home in Marblehead and not be going to Maine at all.

* Ahaha -- Ira Sargent, the children's uncle, is telling them a story about "the moon and the powder horn" which I first heard in another Newbery, Constance Rourke's Davy Crockett, a 1935 Honor Book. I wouldn't be at all surprised if it was in fact, as Ms Field is saying, an old Scottish folk tale that was handed down to New World settlers and eventually became attached to Crockett. (Rourke's Crockett is the first definitive 20th-century biography of Colonel Crockett, but it includes a lot and a lot of the "tall tales" that were told about him along with the straight-up history of the man himself. Which is important: Davy Crockett, like John Chapman, was a historical figure and that does matter, but you can't put either of them in his proper context without the framework of tall tales that surround them.)

* Anyway, there's a point to Ms Field's including this goofy little story about a man who accidentally hangs his powder horn on the crescent moon: it makes Maggie feel a little more at home, reminding her of Grandmere's stories.

* Ooh, there's an illustration of the man hanging up his powder horn on the crescent moon. One of the woodcuts done by Allen Lewis. I like this illustrator. It's a very funny, very well-done, self-contained little picture -- you wouldn't have to be reading the book or know the story at all to look at this engraving and know the whole thing. I really like this picture.

* Eventually the women and children go to bed on the lower decks. In the night there is a big storm (properly foreshadowed before, because Rachel Field is a good solid writer). Marguerite goes on deck to see. The captain yells at her to stay below, but Marguerite hears the livestock pens in the bow giving way, and goes to help young Caleb, who is in charge of them.

* I don't know if I mentioned before, but Marguerite is about twelve years old.

* They lose one of the four sheep, but Caleb has tied himself and the cow and calf to the forward rail, and is trying to hold on to the other three sheep. He loses hold of one of the remaining sheep, but Marguerite catches it and holds on.

* When the storm is over, it turns out that one of the two hencoops and half the Sargents' possessions, including Mrs Sargent's spinning wheel (a very important thing), have washed overboard, but the cow, calf, and three sheep are safe, as are the other hens. And Marguerite overhears the captain and Mr Sargent agreeing that she was brave and had "grit" to do what she did, so even though she's extremely stiff and sore, she's happy.

* The wind is light after this, and Ira and Caleb fish over the side, catching some "Marblehead turkey" -- codfish. (There's a reason they call it "Cape Cod": before overfishing and pollution took their toll, codfish were incredibly plentiful in that region, and the regional economy revolved entirely around catching them.)

* That day passes easily. The only thing I note is that Maggie sings a French lullaby to the baby at night, and it's noted that she only dares to use French because no one else is awake to hear. Rachel Field is doing a good job of reminding us reasonably often that Maggie is stranded in a strange land among people who mistrust her because of her ancestry, without letting it weigh down the narrative.

* The next day, while the grown-ups go ashore at a town called Falmouth, Caleb is sent to a meadow to cut grass for the cattle and sheep to eat for the rest of the trip, and Marguerite is also sent to take the children berry-picking. A tall man with a musket meets them and tells them it isn't considered safe for children to be out in the meadows alone, since there are "Injuns" in the area who raid the American settlements, kill the men, and carry off the women and children. The man tells some stories of raids and massacres, then goes back to his lookout post, promising to keep an eye on the group to protect them in case any Native Americans do show up.

* There is also a stray yellow dog who's been hanging around the fort but belongs to no one, who makes friends with Marguerite and the rest of the kids. Eventually the Sargents adopt the dog for a guard-dog.

* There are a few more days of sailing, spelled out in fair detail, which I won't bother to go into at length; the dog is named Pumpkin because of his yellow-orange color, there is discussion of the area's French heritage (Marguerite is pleased to hear that a French Baron took a native wife some time back, and concludes that the "savages" can't be all bad in that case), and more little folk rhymes and random banter. It's a well-structured story. Very readable, so far.

* Hah! Wow. Rachel Field is good at plot twists. Joel Sargent bought this claim from a man in Marblehead who swore up and down that there was a good pine-board house on the claim and that the Sargents could move right in. Now they arrive at the claim, and everything is there, even a worn trail from the beach up to where the house ought to be... but the house itself isn't there.

* Some neighbors, the Jordans, from the next cove, arrive and explain: the house was burned to the ground by Native raiders soon after the seller left. The seller told the truth about the house being there as far as he knew, but failed to disclose that this particular point of land the Sargents have bought is especially important to the Natives, who hold powwows there every spring and fall, and are quite cross about the whites' intrusion. It's called "place of ghosts or spirits", Passageewakeag in the relevant Native language. (Google Books informs me that this is the area now known as Belfast Bay, Waldo, Maine, located near the mouth of the Penobscot River about halfway along the Maine coast. The more widely attested form of the name is "Passagassawakeag".)

(Is "powwow" a proper word to use in this context? *checks* Yes, it's a Narragansett term in origin - so it's from the right region, anyway, though possibly not the right Native nation.)

* The neighbors advise the Sargents to settle anywhere else but that particular spot; but Mr Sargent is stubborn. He has paid for this land and he intends to live on it.

* One of the men, Seth Jordan, invites Mrs Sargent to come over some time and pay a visit to his Aunt Hepsa, who is over seventy years old and therefore doesn't travel much. I think I saw in the Introduction or the jacket-flap that Aunt Hepsa is a relatively major character in the book later on.

* When the menfolk are trying to get the livestock off the ship - by pushing them overboard and letting them swim ashore, since they won't fit in the boats and there is no winch or anything here anyway - the sheep get ashore safely, but there is an accident with the cow and calf, who begin trying to swim out to sea, and since the tide is ebbing, they may well get swept away. The dory which was tied up to the ship got flipped over when the animals went overside, but there is a skiff on the beach, which Marguerite runs and takes out; she guides the cow and calf to the neighboring island, where they land safely.

* And this is the island where Aunt Hepsa lives! At least, this is definitely an old lady, and what they call a "character". ...yup, this is Aunt Hepsa. She offers Marguerite bread-and-milk, and compliments her on her quick thinking and her skill at rowing the skiff to direct the animals toward the island.

* Aunt Hepsa has a flower garden, and she and Marguerite and Ira sit in the kitchen looking out at the flower garden and gossiping about the Sargents' new neighborhood - who-all lives in the area, who has kids, who's courting whom, all of that. Marguerite likes Aunt Hepsa and her house very much. "She felt that here was a place of enduring comfort."

* Hepsa invites Marguerite to stay with her overnight, since she's probably still tired from her mad dash to save the cow and calf, and return to the Sargents in the morning via Ethan Jordan's boat; Ira agrees to this, and Marguerite forthwith stays.

* Hepsa also provides water and soap to let Marguerite wash up, since she hasn't been able to do so on the ship. Afterward, Hepsa shows Marguerite her dye-pots filled with various natural dyes which she uses to color the yarn she spins and weaves into cloth. Hepsa wishes she had an assistant, since it's a lot of work for one woman to get through, and she has to cook and clean for the Jordans as well. She says she keeps pestering her great-nephew Ethan to get married so that his wife can do the cooking and housecleaning, and let Hepsa focus on her cloth-making. Ethan is apparently sweet on an eighteen-year-old girl named Abigail who lives relatively nearby.

* Marguerite helps Hepsa collect bay leaves to start another dyepot, and they look at the view off the hills and talk to each other while they gather the plants. Aunt Hepsa also points out sheep laurel, also known as "Calico Bush", to Marguerite, and says there's a ballad about it, though we don't hear the ballad right now.

(I note that sheep laurel, like the kind of "cowslip" also called marsh marigold, is not so called because it is good for sheep/cows, but because it is poisonous and often grows in sheep/cow pastures, killing the animals that graze on it. ...I bring up cowslips because I have Newberys on the brain; the matter will come up in Miracles on Maple Hill.)

* I don't know if this was mentioned before, but Marguerite was raised relatively upper-class, learning to sew embroidery at a convent in Le Havre. Hepsa remarks that it's a shame Marguerite won't have the leisure or the fabric to keep in practice on that.

* Hepsa collects various healing herbs as well as the dye-pot plants.

* Seth and Ethan Jordan are there with Hepsa and Marguerite for supper; they gossip about how Mr Sargent intends to build a new house right on the site of the old one, and how he insists on cutting trees for the new cabin immediately, even though the logs he cuts are green and full of sap, and the Jordans try to warn him that they will shrink and cause him trouble.

* Ethan Jordan plans to travel to Portsmouth, Maine, on the Isabella B., with a friend called Timothy Welles, and then return in a small sloop they'll have the Isabella B. tow along. Hepsa asks him to fetch her some indigo so that she can dye some fabric blue for a particular quilt pattern she wants to make in blue and buff (tan).

* Seth Jordan plays his fiddle after supper, and Aunt Hepsa sings the ballad "Calico Bush". It tells of a young man who freezes to death in a Maine blizzard trying to get to town to buy his lady-love sprigged calico for her wedding dress; the moral warns against chasing after "furbelows".

* Ethan thinks the gentleman in the ballad was "a plumb fool", but Marguerite likes the song, saying, "It is necessary that a ballad should be sad." Which is not something I knew explicitly before, but I guess it's true. *interested face*

* Anyway, by the time Marguerite leaves Hepsa's house the next morning they're fast friends, though Hepsa only says "You can come again when you've got a mind to." Oh, New Englanders. ;-)

* Begin Part 2: "Fall".

* It is the first day of September. The Sargents' house walls are about finished, and there is to be a roof-raising held today. The Jordans, the Stanleys, the Welleses, and the Morses are all coming to help, after which the Isabella B. will finally set off, with Timothy Welles and Ethan Jordan to help sail her as far as Portsmouth, where Captain Hunt will take on a proper crew.

* Everyone is looking forward to "the Raising", as they call it, always with the capital letter. Mrs Sargent and Maggie clean up the children and cut the burs out of the curly hair of the toddlers. This is the first time Maggie sees Abigail "Abby" Welles, the pretty eighteen-year-old whom Ethan Jordan is courting and whom Ira Sargent would also like to court; Maggie agrees that Abby is very pretty.

* Aunt Hepsa comes to the raising with everyone else, and gives Maggie a nice pair of grey-and-red hand-knitted woollen socks for the winter, since she expects Maggie will have been too busy knitting for the Sargents to make herself a pair.

* The nine grown men of the district finish building the high walls of the log house and start work on the roof. Then they stop for the big midday potluck dinner that goes with the Raising, and Hepsa helps Mrs Sargent clear up afterward so that Marguerite can sit and rest longer. Marguerite watches Abby sitting between Ira and Ethan, being whispered to and courted, and thinks that it must be nice "to wear a pink calico dress and white stockings and to sit between two young men in just such a way".

* While the men work on putting the roof on the cabin, Marguerite watches the small children and keeps them from underfoot. The dog Pumpkin is dashing about barking what Becky asserts is his "afraid" bark; Becks suggests that Pumpkin smells "Injuns", which Marguerite doubts, but she agrees to follow Pumpkin toward the water spring and see what goes on.

* It turns out there's a bear eating the butter which is stored in the spring (as was often done before refrigeration was invented). The bear starts to lumber towards the children, who run away, and Marguerite throws a full bucket of water at the bear's head before running as well. Luckily, this discourages the bear, which retreats into the woods, and even more luckily Pumpkin doesn't follow it.

* Everyone approves of what Maggie has done and praises her for it, which she enjoys. Now the roof is on the cabin, everyone gets to help finish it up, stuffing the chinks between the logs with moss and clay, and so forth.

* Unluckily, a hammer left lying above one of the windows falls onto the head of the little boy Jacob Sargent, and though he survives and seems to be fine, Hepsa has to stitch up his scalp wound, Marguerite holding the edges together. And the various neighbors mutter that it's a bad omen, the house having blood on the doorstep before it's even finished.

* Finally the Isabella B. leaves and the Sargents finish moving in to their new house. We hear about all the household chores over the next couple weeks, and how Mr Sargent has some apple branches grafted onto thorn bushes which should be bearing fruit soon. Jacob has been acting shy and "kind of pindling" (Aunt Hepsa's words) since the blow on his head; he sticks close by Marguerite, who also has to watch Debby the baby, now crawling about.

* Aunt Hepsa spends a lot of time with Marguerite and the Sargents, and gives good neighborly advice. Debby keeps trying to crawl into the fire, and Hepsa advises that the only way to train a child to keep away from fire is to deliberately offer it a hot coal and let it discover the pain of being burned without you risking it dying of accidental burns. But Mrs Sargent refuses to do this to Debby.

* Ira is slipping off more often to see Abby Welles while Ethan Jordan is away in Portsmouth. Everyone is quietly speculating which of the men Abby will choose to marry.

* Mrs Sargent is worried about spending the winter in Maine, and makes hints at her husband about it, but he ignores her.

* One day Marguerite, Caleb, and the small children go into the woods to gather witch-hazel. Caleb has a rifle now, with which he is supposed to protect the others in case of Native raid or bear attack; but he wanders off hunting squirrels and leaves the children and Marguerite alone. After shouting out for him and getting no response, they try to find their way back, but the trail is not well marked, and they get badly lost.

(Even in modern times, people die in the Maine woods if they get lost at the wrong time of year. It's not a light matter.)

* They find a cave in a cliff, and Marguerite goes in to see if it is safe. She quickly becomes convinced that the place is "evil" - and the writing is pretty darn creepy, Rachel Field is good at subtle changes of tone - but goes on until she sees bones and a lock of a white child's blood-stiffened hair. Then she stumbles out again and runs away from the cave with the children, not caring where she goes as long as it is away. She tells the children never to ask her what was in the cave that made her look so frightened.

* Finally the dog Pumpkin finds them and leads them back to Caleb, who is massively cranky and insults Maggie, saying "can't trust a Frenchman", for leaving the spot where he left her with the children.

* After the children are asleep, Maggie tells the grown-ups and Caleb about the cave, and shows them the scalp-lock and shoe-buckle which she took from there. Caleb keeps trying to make out that Maggie made every wrong choice possible, saying it's "just like a girl" to run away, yadda yadda, but the grown-ups take the matter seriously. They agree that the Native name for the area, "place of spirits", must have something to do with this cave which has signs marked on the walls and a stone like an altar; probably the reason the Native people are so cross when anyone builds a house in this area is that they feel it trespasses on the land attached to the cave.

* But Mr Sargent still refuses to move, and forbids Maggie and Caleb to say anything about the matter to the other residents of the area, even for the purpose of finding out what child's the scalplock might be. He doesn't want the other families to start judging him again for refusing to move away.

* Marguerite tries, on orders, to guide the men back to the cave, but cannot find it. She is secretly rather glad.

* A week or so later, Marguerite and the twin girls go over to Aunt Hepsa's house to help her set up her loom for weaving. Aunt Hepsa is going to weave the Sargents' sheeps' wool into cloth for their new winter clothes, but since they do not have enough wool to make as many clothes as they need, she'll give some extra in return for this help.

* We get a lot of detail about how Marguerite and Hepsa thread the looms - both the big one on which Hepsa is weaving a patterned bedspread, and the smaller one on which Marguerite learns to weave plain linsey-woolsey.

* Marguerite and the twins stay at Hepsa's house for supper and sleep over that night. Hepsa helps Marguerite make herself a pair of leather moccasins, which she can wear inside the pair of boots Hepsa is giving her, to fill them out because Hepsa's feet are bigger than Marguerite's.

* Then Seth Jordan points out the Northern Lights to Hepsa and Marguerite. They're unusually bright for the area; apparently they herald the cold weather. (Wiki agrees that they occur most often near the equinoctes in March and September.)

* Seth also mentions that the local First Nations people believe the Northern Lights to be a sign of war and famine; Hepsa scolds him for being a downer, but I suspect we're either getting a Foreshadowing here, or Marguerite is going to worry that it is a foreshadowing.

* Begin Part 3: "Winter".

* Ethan Jordan and Timothy Welles are back from Portsmouth. It is rumored that Ethan bought Abby Welles an expensive courting present -- half a dozen sprigged china teacups, which would cost him almost a pound sterling. (According to this fascinating converter, that comes to something like £137 in modern UK pounds or $213 in modern US dollars, using a basic cost-of-living calculator... or something like £2,329 in modern UK pounds or $3,633 in modern US dollars, using a calculator based on Britain's gross domestic product per capita then and now. I have no idea which number gives a more accurate idea of how the people in this book would feel about the cost of these teacups.)

* Anyway, Ira Sargent is worried that Abby will favor Ethan's suit over his because of the teacups. Because this is... a thing that real people actually do in dating / courting, I guess - worry that the other guy is being cooler and more impressive than you - but it just makes me want to headdesk, because I personally would neither choose a husband based on expensive presents nor care about someone who would turn me down based on my inability to give expensive presents. o_O

(I suppose in this particular context there is a certain amount of "look I am a Good Provider, I had good stuff to trade and I traded it well, and I could afford to buy you fancy teacups!" involved. Still... I feel awkward trying to critique it, or what it says about the various characters' view of Abby as a woman with choice versus a commodity to be bought; because the whole "this or this generally-approved courting gift is especially romantic" matter is a social thing that I don't get. Red roses, dark chocolate, a diamond ring... it seems to me that the best possible romantic gift would be one that indicated you'd been paying attention to your beloved and knew what they specifically wanted, as opposed to one that was especially expensive and ostentatious so that the whole community gossipped about it. The latter seems more like publicly "laying claim" to a woman who hasn't actually said yes, than trying to get her good opinion.)

* *koff* Anyway. Where was I? Right. Winter. It's November; the Sargents and Marguerite are going to a "corn-shelling bee" on the Jordans' island next door. There's some background given, including a note that Ira has shaved specially, and that Marguerite has noticed he's worried about Abby Welles not fancying him.

* A corn-shelling bee, for the record, was an activity (before automated corn-processing machines) where a group of people sat on benches facing wooden troughs or buckets and used their hands or fairly dull knives to "shell" the kernels of uncooked corn off of the corn-cobs into the troughs / buckets. The person who shelled the most corn usually received commendation or a small prize. There were also "husking bees", where the people removed the papery outer leaves from cobs of corn.

* We hear about the tradition of the "red ear of corn". At a husking or shelling bee, finding or husking an ear of corn with red instead of yellow kernels used to be considered lucky. In this book, we're told that the person would be lucky in love and would marry before the year was out; in another Newbery book (Carry On, Mr Bowditch, 1956 Newbery Medal winner), we'll hear that the finder simply gets to kiss the person of their choice. I presume these are regional variants on the tradition.

* Anyway, Marguerite finds the red ear of corn - presumably already husked - which is lying in a corner behind one of the corn-troughs that was already filled. She thinks about calling out that she has it, but instead sneaks it to Ira. This cheers him up massively.

* After the shelling bee is finished, there's a big supper, and then Seth Jordan plays his fiddle and everyone sings songs and dances a reel. Then Aunt Hepsa dances a jig, and then Marguerite dances a French dance called the pavane.

* Marguerite's dancing backfires on her, because most of the people present at the bee think it's improper / too Frenchy / something of that sort, and speak out critically, including the Sargents. Only Seth and Hepsa Jordan speak out unequivocally in Marguerite's favor.

* Marguerite walks away and looks out the window, ignoring the critical settlers, and sees smoke rising over the trees from the spot where the Sargents' cabin stands. She can't think how to bring it up at first, without mentioning the haunted cave or the scalplock; but she points it out to Caleb, and he tells his father, who tells the rest of the people.

* It seems the house itself is still visible and not on fire, but the smoke can only come from a Native campfire, so the settlers feel afraid for their lives. Some people say that the Sargents really should leave that particular spot and claim a different island, but Mr Sargent refuses. He takes Caleb, Ira, Ethan Jordan, and Timothy Welles, all with their guns, to investigate the matter.

* The Sargent children are worried about the dog Pumpkin, who was left at home and not brought to the shelling bee.

* Abby decides at this point that it's Ira Sargent she loves, and asks him not to go with the other men, but to get one of the other settlers (who are staying with the women and children to guard them) to go in his place. Ira refuses, but now of course there's a new source of gossip; Abby's mother Hannah is critical of her for deciding she likes Ira after having accepted Ethan's costly courting-gift, but Hepsa Jordan tells Hannah to leave Abby alone because "love's got nothin' to do with chinaware".

(Which... that whole conversation strikes a false note to me, here. I mean, not Hannah's line - I could totally see a woman of the era criticizing her daughter for indicating to one man that she liked him by accepting a present, and then deciding in favor of another one after all; but Hepsa's lines ring false. Certainly Abby is in the right to choose whichever boy she pleases, teacups or no teacups, but according to the courting etiquette I know, it would be proper for Abby to give Ethan back his teacups if she chooses not to marry him, same as she would an engagement-ring. So Hepsa's line "love's got nothin' to do with chinaware" feels... awkwardly modern, in a pointed way -- it's a little too obvious right there that Hepsa is supposed to be a Sympathetic Modern-Spirited Character as opposed to realistically of-her-time Hannah. :P I'd expect even a free-spirited, snarky lady like Hepsa who actually lived in the 1700s to subscribe to the model of thought that says a man has a right to expect that pricey gifts to his love interest will eventually become part of his own household when she marries him, and a right to get those gifts back and give them to the woman who will marry him if the particular recipient won't. It's the assumption that a wife's property is all her husband's property, which I'll absolutely oppose on principle but not in this context where no realistic person of the time and place can be expected to think otherwise.)

* A-ny-way. Where was I? Right. All the women and children are worried about the Sargents' homestead, including Marguerite, who prays until she falls asleep for everyone to be safe from the "savages".

* In the morning, it turns out that the Sargents' cow and calf have been taken and probably cooked and eaten by the Native people, along with a bag of cornmeal and all but four of the hens, but that there is no other damage done. Mr Sargent insists on moving his family back into their cabin, despite the disapproval of his neighbors who think him foolhardy. (As do I.)

* Ah -- and Pumpkin disappeared, but comes back in the middle of the night. It turns out that he didn't bark at the Native raiders because they tied his mouth shut with leather thongs and put a rope leash around his neck. He managed to slip out of the leash, but Caleb has to cut the bindings off his mouth so he can eat and drink.

* Everyone knows Ira and Abby are more-or-less engaged to each other, but it's expected to take at least a year for Ira to build a house on his own hundred-acre claim next door to the other Sargents', before they can get married. Hannah Welles is majorly disappointed in this, because Ethan Jordan has much better prospects and there'd be plenty of room in Seth Jordan's house for a newlywed couple.

* Now it's mid-December, and it comes up that the strict English Protestants of the area - i.e. every one of the settlers except Marguerite - do not celebrate Christmas. Marguerite finds this very sad, especially when Mrs Sargent scolds her for telling the children about her own childhood Christmas memories and orders her to "keep your Popishness to yourself". (All of which is historically quite accurate.)

* Marguerite goes outside on Christmas Eve to try to find some red partridgeberries to give the children as presents. It's apparently bad luck in her belief to not give presents on Christmas, so she wants to give something small and not explain that it's a Christmas gift.

* She doesn't find any red berries close to the edge of the clearing where the house stands, so she goes further into the woods, and sings a French Christmas carol while she looks.

* Then she meets a fur-clad Native man carrying a musket; he bids her "Noël" (Merry Christmas), and explains to her with sign-language and halting French that he respects people of the Catholic faith because "Les Pères Gris" (The Grey Fathers -- I can't find any indication online of what this might mean, the Native name for French Catholic missionaries was "Black Robes" ETA: according to the 1948 Encyclopedia of Canada, the Franciscan Catholic missionaries called Grey Friars, for the color of their robes, were active in French Canada from 1670-1759, among other times) helped heal a facial wound he received some time ago.

* Anyway, Marguerite gives the Native man her Oncle Pierre's gilt coat-button for a Christmas present, then runs back to the house before the Sargents get worried about her long absence.

* It is a long, cold winter. The water between the islands nearly freezes over, although the twelve-foot tide in the channel keeps it too broken-up to travel safely across. The children are all growing thin and hungry, and it is hard to keep the cabin warm. Jacob especially has never really perked up since the hammer hit him on the head at the roof-raising, and looks "like a wizened little old man".

* Baby Debby is a little over a year old, and her first word is "Maggie". But the night after she says it...

*sigh* RACHEL FIELD, ladies and gentlebeings! Writing incredibly traumatic children's books since nineteen hundred and whatever-it-was. O_O Debby slips out of her mother's bed in the night and crawls right into the fire. The shawl she's wrapped in catches on fire and she's burned over almost her whole body.

* Marguerite and Caleb risk walking out over the broken-up channel ice to try and fetch Aunt Hepsa, who may know a good herb or salve to help Debby's burns. (I know that putting salve on bad burns is the wrong thing to do, but people of this era didn't.)

* They make it across the channel, and Aunt Hepsa goes back across and tries to help, but Debby dies the next day. BECAUSE RACHEL FIELD. :P I'm not even surprised any more. I just... INCREDIBLY TRAUMATIC LITERATURE. Newberys! :S I'm so glad I didn't read this when I was a kid.

* Marguerite helps Aunt Hepsa sew a fancy little white woolen dress for Debby's burying-clothes, and after she's buried, goes out to the grave and sings a little French lullaby to her one last time.

* And now it's the last day of February, and tomorrow will be the first of March. End chapter. Begin part 4: "Spring".

* After the spring equinox with its storms (Ira refers to the "Line storm", another term for "equinoctial gales", a now-discredited idea that there is a specially strong storm around the equinoxes in March and September), the Sargents tap a pair of sugar maples for sap to boil down into syrup. We get plenty of detail about the tapping and sugaring-off - as we will at least twice more in these Newberys, in Little House in the Big Woods and in Miracles on Maple Hill.

* The day after the Sargents start boiling maple syrup, Ira takes Maggie with him to visit Abby Welles and teach her some of the fancy embroidery stitches Maggie knows, to use on Abby's trousseau.

* The Welleses live on the Isle des Monts Deserts, now Mount Desert Island. Maggie has been looking at this mountainous island at intervals throughout the book, and has been pleased that a place with a French name is so close by; it makes her feel a little more at home. This will be her first trip to the island, and she pays close attention so as to remember the area well.

* The visit goes reasonably pleasantly, although Hannah Welles is less than cordial to Ira over Abby's choosing to marry him.

* Ah -- Abby did offer to give back the sprigged china teacups, but Ethan Jordan told her to keep them. That's all very right and proper, then, although of course Hannah (the closest thing we've had in this book to a Definitely Unsympathetic Person) feels that something is improper about the matter. I suspect she feels that Abby should be marrying Ethan, rather than... trying to force him to take the teacups back, which was my first thought for "how does Hannah think this dilemma should be resolved?" ;P

* Marguerite shows Abby how to do fancy stitches and embroidery, and in return Abby gives her some scraps of pink calico for a new dress for the twins' corncob doll, and some bright red broadcloth for a hood for Marguerite herself. Marguerite, whose dresses are drab dull brown or gray, is extremely happy to have something bright-colored at last.

* Mr Sargent and Ira are worried now about the planting, because the family had to eat all their seed corn and potatoes to survive the winter, and they have nothing to grow more food with. They are also short on gunpowder and shot, either for hunting food or for defense against Native raiders.

* Marguerite visits Aunt Hepsa and sees her "Delectable Mountains" quilt, now almost half finished; Aunt Hepsa explains the story of Pilgrim's Progress, from which the phrase "Delectable Mountains" comes. She remarks that it's "good to recollect" the feeling of hope for the future which the story gave her.

* Now toward the end of April, a strange ship comes down the channel and anchors. This ship is called the Fortunate Star; one of her sailors has fallen from the rigging and is injured, and the captain is looking for a replacement sailor to help take the ship down to Boston. Ira happily volunteers to go, being glad of the chance to earn some money to buy seed-corn, powder and shot, and maybe some things for Abby as well.

* Caleb volunteers as well, and after some back-and-forthing among the various adults, he is allowed to go because the experience will be beneficial to him, and is promised payment in silver at the end of the voyage, same as the grown men.

* It's now a week later, almost the beginning of May. Marguerite reminisces to the children about Maypole-dances in France, but Mrs Sargent again decries such foolishness and forbids the matter.

* The Sargents have some borrowed seed-corn, barley, and potatoes, which Marguerite helps to plant. She does her best, but she's not as strong or fast-working as Caleb, so Mr Sargent is left trying to do the work that both Ira and Caleb would have done, as well as his own work. His wife worries that he will die of overwork, but he is determined to get the early crop in, so that his family will have something to eat.

* There is plenty of seafood to eat, at least - fish and clams and lobsters and what-all. But one evening, Mr Sargent doesn't move fast enough away from a tree he's felling, and it crushes one of his legs. Marguerite and Mrs Sargent manage to get him free and bring him indoors, and splint his leg, but he is badly feverish and delirious.

* Mrs Sargent planned to hang a sheet from the flagpole on the point to signal to Aunt Hepsa that they need help, but in the morning, there is a thick fog and no signal can be seen. Nor can Marguerite row over and fetch Aunt Hepsa, since she (Marguerite) doesn't know how to use the compass to make sure she's going in the right direction, and rowing in fog is dangerous without a compass.

* After another day and night, Mr Sargent is still feverish, and is worried about the planting because Ira and Caleb won't be back for at least another fortnight. The Sargents are running low on witch-hazel, used to keep the swelling of the broken leg down, and hope the fog will lift soon, since Aunt Hepsa will most likely have a stock of witch hazel of her own.

* But three days later the fog still has not cleared, and there is no witch hazel left. Mrs Sargent is using cold water from the spring instead, but Marguerite recalls hearing from Aunt Hepsa that the brown kelp washed up on the beach is good for healing. Mrs Sargent allows her to take the children and go to collect some.

* But there is a large group of Native Americans in the cove, probably a raiding party. They are building a fire. Maggie sneaks silently down close enough to the shore to make sure that they're there, then returns to the children, and they all hasten back to the cabin, where Maggie informs Mrs Sargent of the news.

* Marguerite decides to take the last bag of parched corn and the keg of maple syrup down to the Native party, hoping that this will appease the group and cause them not to attack. Mrs Sargent tries to forbid her, but Marguerite says, "If they have come to kill us they will take the things anyway,", and insists on going.

* And now the fog is finally breaking up, because of course it is. ;P

* Marguerite puts the corn and the maple syrup on the doorstep of the cabin, because the Native men are already heading up from the cove to the house, and she distributes the corn and syrup to them. But they seem to be disagreeing among themselves, probably about whether to kill the whites anyway, so Marguerite thinks up an idea to signal for help: she tears up Mrs Sargent's last good white "dower sheet" and her own red fabric from Abby Welles, and tells the children that they will go down to the pole on the point and have a Maypole there.

* Mrs Sargent, afraid for her children, tries to forbid this as well, but Marguerite commands the children to follow her and they do. They dance the Maypole-dance as she shows them, while the Native raiders watch bemused and then join in the dance as well.

* Finally, however, the Maypole falls down and the Native raiders pull out their knives and start cutting up the red and white cloth, yelling at each other. Marguerite collects the children and runs up the path back toward the cabin with them, but one of the Native men cuts them off.

* But it's the same man she befriended in the woods last Christmas! He bids her again "Noël" to indicate that it is he, and then sends Marguerite and the children up to the house while he leads the other members of the raiding party away into the woods.

* After that, Marguerite is confined to bed with nervous prostration for several days; but it's okay, because the Jordans saw the white cloth fluttering around the Maypole before it fell and figured out there was something odd going on. They came over to check, and then each day they bring food and Aunt Hepsa brings medicine for Mr Sargent's leg, which heals well.

* One day, too, Aunt Hepsa gives Marguerite her unfinished "Delectable Mountains" quilt to finish and keep for her own, since she knows Marguerite loves it.

* In late May, finally, the Fortunate Star comes back and brings Ira and Caleb home. Caleb has grown much taller and his voice deeper in the five weeks he's been gone. He and Ira bring presents for everyone, including Maggie, and Caleb's rough words to Maggie seem more awkward and less bullying. He has picked out a wooden box with a bird carved on the lid, specially for her. Yeah -- called it, Caleb/Maggie is being foreshadowed as the endgame romance, I'll warrant you.

* Now it turns out that the Fortunate Star is heading for Québec City with supplies, and the captain has offered to take Maggie along to live at a convent there. Mr Sargent tells Maggie this, and offers to free her from her indenture so she can legally go and live among her "own people", as he feels she should be allowed to do.

* Maggie thinks over her options carefully, but decides at last that this place has become her home and she wants to stay there with her friends and adopted family. The end.

Post a comment in response:

Anonymous (will be screened)
OpenID (will be screened if not validated)
Identity URL: 
Account name:
If you don't have an account you can create one now.
HTML doesn't work in the subject.


If you are unable to use this captcha for any reason, please contact us by email at support@dreamwidth.org

Notice: This account is set to log the IP addresses of everyone who comments.
Links will be displayed as unclickable URLs to help prevent spam.