Study Guide

Across Five Aprils Admiration

By Irene Hunt


Shadrach smiled at the thing eager face turned up to him. He was mature enough at twenty to appreciate being a hero to a nine-year-old boy. (1.19)

Jethro doesn't just like Shad or fancy his company—the kid thinks Shad is a hero. That's some next level admiration right there. And of course Shad is cool enough to graciously accept the honor.

Jethro loved Bill far and away beyond his other brothers; his mother understood why. "He'd put his hand in the fire fer you, Jeth," she told him once, and Jethro believed her. (1.91)

Shad has some major competition in the hero category. Bill tops the list of Jethro's favorite brothers, and we have a strong feeling that Jethro is near the top of Bill's.

Jethro flushed with pleasure. Shad was like that. He was different. He had book learning and was almost twenty-one; still he could make a ten-year-old schoolboy feel proud as a man. (4.66)

No wonder Jethro adores Shad. Nobody likes being talked down to or made to feel inferior, especially as a kid. So when Shad talks about himself and Jethro as "hungry bachelors" (4.65), it's like he's putting them on equal ground. We'd flush with pleasure, too.

He would remember the rebuke to the end of his days. He would remember, and he would feel ashamed at the memory, but still, he would wonder. People—smart people, one would suppose since they printed newspaper and drew pictures for them—many of these people spoke of the President as "the baboon," "the ugly, ignorant, backwoods Lincoln," and other names as vicious and expressive of hate. To say, "Old Abe" was not mean or vicious; people from all around called Matthew Creighton "Old Matt." They meant no disrespect. Under no circumstances would he, Jethro Creighton, show disrespect to the President. (4.115)

And thus begins Jethro's veneration of Abraham Lincoln. Despite "Old Abe" not being intended as an insult, Shad's correction of Jethro's nickname for the President leaves an impression on young Jethro, and from this moment on, Jethro wants to be certain that he gives Lincoln the respect he deserves. This is a good rule of thumb to go by for everyone, even today.

Jethro studied the rough-hewn floor. "I set such great store by him," he said finally.

"I know," Shadrach answered. "So do I." (4.126-127)

If we weren't hip to Hunt's old-timey lingo, we might have missed this one. To set great store by someone is to think that they're the bee's knees. The cat's pajamas. The icing on the cake. And both Jethro and Shad have loads of respect and admiration for Bill, despite the whole going-to-the-dark-side ordeal.

"My pa don't teach me one way or the other. He knows that I think more of my brother than anybody else in the world—no matter where he is. And that's all I've got to say to you." He looked directly at the man with an anger that dissipated his weakness. (5.88)

Bam—Jethro lays down the law. Nobody is going to tell him how to feel about his favorite brother. Not Matt and certainly not Wortman.

Jethro flushed. He wished that he could find suitable words of appreciation, but he suddenly felt a great shyness about saying anything in the presence of this man who had actually written a book about correct speech. (5.139)

Getting a little star-struck, Jeth? Ross Milton is probably used to that. And the fact that Jethro gets nervous in thanking Ross shows how in awe he is of the editor. But Jeth doesn't have to worry about that shyness for much longer, because thanks to the book and some one-on-one from Mr. Milton, Jethro is on his way toward speaking like a proper young gent.

But Mr. Lincoln was a man who looked at problems from all sides. Mr. Lincoln was not a faraway man like General McClellan or Senator Sumner or Secretary of State Seward. Mr. Lincoln had plowed fields in Illinois; he had thought of the problems men came up against; he was not ready to say, "Everything on this side of the line is right, and everything on the other side is wrong." (9.140)

Presidents, they're just like us. Jethro appreciates how Lincoln is from his home state of Illinois and worked in the fields like he does. In this aspect, Jethro can relate to the President. But Jeth also respects how Lincoln keeps an open mind toward situations and considers everyone's feelings, which is a super tough thing to do when you're trying to end a civil war.

Jethro didn't know. He loved Mr. Lincoln and felt deeply drawn to him; it angered him to read the mouthings of hate directed toward the President but as to whether the address at Gettysburg was a great one or just another speech, an eleven-year-old farm boy did not know. (11.20)

As far as Jeth is concerned, Lincoln could have read the phone book and it would be worthy of an Academy Award. It doesn't matter if Lincoln's speeches were the greatest thing ever written (though some people will argue they are) because other people's opinions won't change the fact that Jethro thinks Lincoln is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Oh, wait… time warp—we mean the greatest thing before sliced bread.

In December Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation of amnesty, in which he promised pardon and full rights to any individual Confederate who would swear to protect the Constitution and the Union of the states, to abide by the government's pronouncements against slavery. He promised, too, that a Confederate state could return to the Union whenever ten percent of its voters should reestablish a loyal Union government within their state.

"Never hev I loved him so much," Matt exclaimed tearfully. And Jethro remembered words in the President's letter: "There will be much criticism, but if I err it will be on the side of mercy." (11.24-25)

Check out Matt Creighton getting all emotional. See Jeth? It's not disgraceful to shed a tear or two. Especially when the President does something awesome like offering pardon to Confederate states and soldiers.