After her parents die in a wagon accident, Lucy, 11, goes to live with her missionary aunt and uncle, the Wilkinses, who run an Indian school in northern Michigan. Aunt Emma is a taskmaster, while gentle Uncle Edward makes Lucy feel welcome. When Lost Owl asks the Wilkinses to take in his two children for the winter (the only members of his family to have survived a smallpox epidemic), Aunt Emma refuses, but Uncle Edward insists. Raven, who is about Lucy's age, and her younger brother, Star Face (later called Matthew by Aunt Emma) come to stay, and from the first, Raven and Aunt Emma do not get along. Raven rebels against school rules, refuses to answer to the name Aunt Emma gives her (Eleanor), and generally acts like a hellion. When Aunt Emma forbids her to see Matthew, Raven runs away. Only when Matthew becomes desperately illa combination of pneumonia and chicken poxdoes Raven return.
Whelan's (Once On This Island, 1995, etc.) plot is contrived, and her characters who never come off the page; Aunt Emma's stern manner is tiresome. Still, the friendship between Raven and Lucy as they come to understand each other is a good lesson for readers that never seems didactic.
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Indian School, The SNYChapter OneIt was September before they knew what to do with me. I was to go to my aunt Emma and uncle Edward. It came about in this way. A letter was sent telling them of the terrible wagon accident that killed Mama and Papa. They wrote at once kindly offering to care for me.
Uncle Edward, who was my father's brother, was a minister. Some years ago he and Aunt Emma traveled north to start a mission school for Indian children.
Just as they would take me in and care for me, so they took in and cared for the children of the Indians. Mama and Papa always spoke kindly of Uncle Edward. "He means well "Mama had said, "but he has a weakness. Just when something must be done, he cannot make up his mind."
"Emma makes up for him," Papa had answered. "She is strong enough for the two of them."
It was Aunt Emma who wrote:
September 3, 1839
My dear Lucy,
Your uncle and I were greatly sorrowed to hear of the unfortunate accident that befell your dear mother and father The Lord has gathered them into heaven.. We must not question His ways.
We have arranged for Luke Jones, a blacksmith from our school, to bring you here to us. He will be in Detroit to purchase iron the first week in September and will return with you.
Bring only sensible clothes. Your mother, God rest her soul, was not a practical woman. It may be that you have fripperies in your wardrobe. Do not bring them. Our life here is a simple one. It will be best if your parents' possessions are sold. Such money as they bring can be given over to you to provide for your keep.There is little money to spare here.
Since you are an only child, it is likely that you received much coddling. You must not took to us for the kind of attention you had from your mother and father The good work we do in our school for Indian children takes all of our time. You will be welcome here but you will be expected to do your share.
In the Lord,
The letter seemed a cold one. It did nothing to ease the misery I had felt since losing my dear mama and papa. I told myself I was fortunate to have a place to go. Still, I could not be happy, for I found little welcome in my aunt's words.
I was curious about the Indian school. Indians were often seen in Detroit. They brought furs to trade. They came to collect yearly payments given in exchange for the sale of their lands. Some had taken up residence in the city. A few attended Father Richard's university. The only Indian I knew well was Waugoosh, who worked along with Papa building ships.
When the day came to leave, Mr. Jones appeared, at our door. Although he was dressed as a white man, I could see he was an Indian gentleman. One of his pant legs was rolled up to reveal a wooden leg. He did not seem bothered by his infirmity but had a pleasant way about him. There played about his mouth a little smile as though his thoughts took him only to agreeable places. Though he limped badly, his arms and shoulders were those of a strong man. It was not hard to imagine him shaping iron on his anvil.
I had heeded my aunt's words, so I had only one small trunk to take with me. This Mr. Jones placed in the wagon on top of his new store of iron rods. I kept beside me a small package of books. My mama and papa had often read to me from them. When I held them, I could still hear their voices.
I bid good-bye to our elderly neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Bontee, who had cared for me since the accident. After reading my aunt's letter, Mrs. Bontee had shaken her head. "I only wish, Lucy, that Mr. Bontee and I could keep you with us. Sadly, we are too old. You are only eleven and must have someone younger to care for you." They embraced me warmly. Mrs. Bontee had prepared a large basket of food for my journey. I wished I did not have to eat it. I wanted to keep it with me as a reminder of the Bontees' kindness.
As the wagon headed away from Detroit, I looked over my shoulder at the town that had been my home. How often Mama and I had visited the town market. This time of year the stands were heaped with apples and plums and the pears for which our French farmers are so famous. I thought of the times Papa and I had walked down to the wharves. We loved to see the great puffing steamships and the schooners with their sails out like soaring gulls. Papa would point with great pride to those ships he had helped to build.
Mr. Jones watched me, the little smile still on his lips. "I could not live in such a town," he said. "Too many people. In the forest I pick up wood for my forge. Underneath are ants. Many, many. They run this way. They run that way. That is a town."
In no time the road took us into the woods. At first there were cabins scattered among the trees. Then there were no cabins. Only great empty fields where stumps of trees appeared to grow like some ghostly crop. "What has happened to all the trees?" I asked.
It was the only time that day the little smile left Mr. Jones' face. He took one of his hands from the reins and made a chopping motion. "That is another reason I do not like your town. All the houses there once grew in this forest."
We left the empty fields behind and entered into a wood so thick and dark the sun could not find its way into it. "How do you know where to go?" I asked. "The trails all look the same to me."Indian School, The SNY. Copyright © by Gloria Whelan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.