She had been a pretty girl back in the 1830’s when she married Matthew Creighton, but prettiness was short-lived among country women of her time; she didn’t think much about it anymore except now and then when Jenny’s fourteen-year-old radiance was especially compelling.
the state of having little or no money and few or no material possessions
She had borne twelve children, four of whom were dead—perhaps five, for the oldest son had not been heard from since he left for the goldfields of California twelve years before; she had lived through sickness, poverty, and danger for over thirty years;
the ultimate agency regarded as predetermining the course of events (often personified as a woman)
"Destiny" is capitalized and personified here, which makes it seem like a goddess. While this would not be a proper belief for a woman who says that "the Lord God created the earth and all upon it," it reflects Ellen's need to hold on to a larger than normal hope that her youngest son was spared death so that he could achieve something great.
It was a weakness of her advancing years, she supposed, but this was the son who had been spared that summer when children all around were dying of the agonizing sickness; it looked as if, somehow, Destiny had marked him.
make psychologically or physically used (to something)
Ellen was grave and absorbed in the anxious thoughts of that spring; Jethro was accustomed to adapting himself to the behaviors and moods of older people, and he found enough in the world about him to occupy his interest as he worked.
There was a strong tie of affection between the two of them; Ellen counted Shadrach as a part of her family and looked after him as she did her own, and Shadrach Yale, in turn, showed a thoughtful courtesy for her that few women of the prairies received from their own sons.
He was mature enough at twenty to appreciate being a hero to a nine-year-old boy; besides that, Jethro’s quick mind and delight in learning had been a source of pleasure for studious young Yale, who had known the frustration of trying to penetrate the apathy and unconcern of a backwoods classroom.
something serving to conceal plans; a fictitious reason that is concocted in order to conceal the real reason
Matt had made a pretext of needing supplies from town, but she knew that this trip to Newton in the midst of a late planting season would have been unthinkable except for the urgency of getting word from the world beyond their own fields and woods pastures.
"Furor" and "fury" come from the same Latin word, furere, which means to rage. This sense of anger is present in the example sentence and in the fights that broke out among people who were following the political news of the time and could not agree about the election of President Lincoln and the possibilities of war.
For months he had moved along the edge of the furor that raged among the adults of his family, of the neighborhood, and even of the church.
a characteristic likelihood of or natural disposition toward a certain condition or character or effect
Jethro, forgetting the lecture to his mother on the inclination of people to select beliefs that bring them most satisfaction, never doubted that if Tom and Eb got their chance to go to war, they’d be back home when it was over, and that it would be shadowy men from distant parts who would die for the pages of future history books.
Matthew Creighton was held in high esteem by his neighbors, and the senseless killing of his daughter stirred up a rage that was heightened by the fact that the whole Burdow family was commonly despised throughout the countryside as a shiftless lot with a bad background.
get involved, so as to alter or hinder an action, or through force or threat of force
But Matt Creighton had intervened, and it was a mark of the respect he commanded in the community that the men listened as he stood for an hour in the icy afternoon pleading with them to keep their hands free of further bloodshed.
Jethro had to admit to himself an uncomfortable feeling of anger for both the President and his father; they had not shown the hard, unyielding attitude that he admired in the talk of Tom and Eb and their friends.
It was a coveted honor and he accepted it with dignity, looking somewhat like a solemn dwarf as he sat between his father and Bill, his eyes wide beneath the tumble of yellow curls that clung to his forehead and the back of his neck.
In an environment where reading was not regarded highly there was something suspect about a young man who not only cared very little for hunting or wrestling and nothing at all for drinking and rampaging about the country, but who read every book he could lay his hands upon as if he prized a printed page more than the people around him.
“We might ha’ had cake and fixin’s though, if Shad had been eatin’ with us,” Tom said, grinning at his sister, who could hardly hold back the pleased smile that mention of the young schoolmaster elicited.
Compare the example sentence to an earlier description: "Then Ellen’s voice was heard, timid and a little tremulous; farm women didn’t enter often into man-talk of politics or national affairs." When Ellen was expressing her thoughts on slavery, her voice was tremulous from fear of being wrong and out of place, but when she was telling her sons to stop arguing about war and be respectful during dinner, her voice had the strength of her rights as a mother.
Her voice was no longer tremulous; it carried the authoritative note sharpened by long years of mothering a large family.