Study Guide

A Year Down Yonder Chapter 6

By Richard Peck

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Chapter 6

A Dangerous Man

  • Mary Alice turns sixteen that spring, and her parents send her a dollar for her birthday—which is an awful lot of money, especially considering how poor they are.
  • Bootsie the cat has taken to life in the country, and spends most of her time in the cobhouse. Every once in a while, she'll pop by to say hello to Mary Alice, but she never stays.
  • She even gives birth and brings the kitten to show Mary Alice one day, but then takes it back out to the cobhouse. She's an independent country kitty now.
  • One hot day, Grandma and Mary Alice do their laundry outside and hang it up to dry. They also decide to wash their hair.
  • A strange man appears down the road and tells Grandma Dowdel that he's looking for a room to rent. He's here with the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a government program designed to give people jobs when they're hard-up—and he's been sent to paint a mural in the post office.
  • Because no one else in town has offered him a room, Grandma Dowdel charges him a super steep rate of $2.50 a day, and he has to agree to it.
  • The man's name is Arnold Green and he's an artist from New York. Grandma rents him one of the rooms, and even lets him use the attic as a studio where he can work on his real art.
  • Grandma Dowdel asks Arnold if he's married and if he'd ever think about settling down in these parts. He's kind of horrified by the suggestion, since he's from cosmopolitan New York City and all.
  • When Mary Alice tells her not to tease Arnold about his personal life, Grandma says she's just giving him fair warning, since the postmistress, Maxine Patch, has her eye on him.
  • Meanwhile at school, Mary Alice isn't doing too well in math class. But she knows that Royce McNabb is a math whiz—and super cute—so she decides to ask him to tutor her. Two birds, one stone.
  • When she tells Grandma Dowdel about this plan, Grandma sees right through it and so Mary Alice comes clean—admitting that Carleen's claimed Royce, and Mary Alice wants to make her move first. Grandma totally approves of this.
  • Mary Alice invites Royce to come over on Sunday afternoon, because that's when Grandma Dowdel usually takes a long nap. She begs her grandmother not to do anything too crazy while Royce is there.
  • On Sunday, Grandma Dowdel is sleeping upstairs and snoring loudly, and Mary Alice waits nervously for Royce to show up.
  • He comes in, and they sit down and awkwardly talk about fractions while sipping lemonade. Ah, teenage crushes.
  • Royce says that they have something in common—that they're both from out of town, which makes them outsiders. Mary Alice tries to think of a reply to this, but her thoughts are broken by a loud scream upstairs. What's going on?
  • Grandma Dowdel gallops into the room with her shotgun, demanding to know where the scream is coming from. They hear more screaming and crashing, and realize that it's coming from directly overhead, in Arnold's room.
  • Then Maxine Patch—the postmistress—comes running down the stairs with a huge snake wrapped around her and, um…absolutely no clothing. Mary Alice and Royce are shocked.
  • She runs out the door and Grandma Dowdel immediately jumps on the occasion to make a ruckus. She raises her shotgun to the sky before blasting off a few shots.
  • This gets everyone's attention, and the neighbors come out of their homes to watch in absolute amazement as a fully nude Maxine Patch goes running down the street.
  • When Mary Alice turns to her grandmother and demands to know what was up with that big snake, Grandma just tells her that it lives in the attic and keeps birds out of the roof.
  • Then, much to Mary Alice's embarrassment and horror, her crush Royce makes his excuses and leaves the house without so much as a proper goodbye.
  • When Arnold comes down from the attic—looking quite dazed—Grandma tells him that she won't have him painting naked ladies up in the attic. She doesn't kick him out though…she's making too much off him in rent.
  • Mary Alice is afraid that Royce will shun her at school now, especially since the town is all atwitter with gossip about Maxine Patch. But when he catches her eye across the classroom, he winks.
  • A few days later, Grandma tells Mary Alice to invite her English teacher, Miss Butler, over for supper one night. Mary Alice is surprised by this; Grandma has never invited one of her teachers over before. She doesn't want to do it, but Grandma insists, so Mary Alice extends the invitation.
  • Miss Butler comes over, and Mary Alice is appalled to find that Grandma has invited Arnold down to eat with them too—even though Miss Butler is a nice prim lady, and Arnold is an artist who is being gossiped about by all the townspeople.
  • They get talking about art and literature, and sparks fly. Over the next few weeks, Arnold spends much of his free time with Miss Butler talking about art and other common interests. How did Grandma know that they'd get on so well?
  • As for Mary Alice, she finds that although she and Royce are friendly, they keep their distance from each other…at least for now.

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