Jed comes into his house after scraping copious mud off his boots at the door.
Jed: Got a letter from Bart, Ma.
Ma looks up ~~ eagerly ~~ from the stove, where she is stirring soup that has things other than cabbage in it now.
Jed sits on the bench and pulls his boots off to avoid tracking the residual mud into the house. He proceeds to the stove in his stocking feet and leans against it to warm up.
Ma: What does he say? Has he been keeping warm this winter? Will he be able to visit soon?
Jed: Here you go.
Jed hands the letter over.
Jed: Good news.
Ma takes a card and several sheets of paper out of the envelope.
Ma inspects the card, which is covered with fancy printing, none of which she can read.
Ma: Whatever is this? I hope it's not something important that Bart got mixed in with the letter?
Ma hands the card to Jed.
Jed: It's in Simelan. He explains it in the letter.
Ma opens the letter and scans it, then sits down heavily in a chair.
Ma: Graduating! Bart's graduating.
Jed: Yup. Through his apprenticeship and now he's like a journeyman, but better paid.
Ma looks rather ~~ stunned ~~.
Jed: Smart boy, eh? Wasn't that fast?
Ma: It seems like it's a bit more formal than that, if they're holding this ceremony. It's almost as if he went to a real college and all.
Jed: Well, it's not something many people can do, so why not make a bit of a fuss for the ones that succeed?
Ma: I don't think anyone in my family ever went to a college, before. Have any of the Mullinses?
Jed: Not that I ever heard of.
Ma: I don't think anyone else in Gumgeeville has, either, except Reverend Kallin.
Jed: I think you're right.
Ma: Whoever would have thought it would be our son who'd be first?
Jed: Hey, we've got a couple of good boys. We raised them right.
Ma is feeling a lot of ~~ pardonable pride ~~ herself.
Ma: We did.
Jed doesn't think what Bart will have accomplished in six months is comparable to a college education, but he doesn't want to discourage Ma's pride. She's never gotten comfortable with the idea of Bart working for the Simes in Nivet.
Jed: So, we're invited. That's what the fancy card is -- an invitation.
Ma: To the graduation ceremony?
Ma is still on the first half of the letter, which is all questions about life in Gumgeeville.
Ma looks up.
Ma: The ceremony in Simeland?
Jed: That's where it is.
Ma looks at Jed, ~~ conflicted ~~.
Ma: I miss Bart so much. But there's the farm to consider. And... it's such a long way to travel. It's not like going to Hannard's Ford.
Jed: Well, the timing is pretty good. We'll have all the planting done, and it won't be time to cut hay yet. Vrian can manage it. Gegg can keep an eye on him, and help him out if he needs it.
Ma: It is time Vrian had more responsibility.
Jed: He's doing good. He did a great job with them pumpkins last year, and the pigs. And he's been shouldering most of Bart's chores since he left. He's a born farmer.
Jed is proud of his younger son too. He's glad there'll be someone to take on the farm after him, but wishes it was more of a farm. Well, maybe now they can buy more land over the years.
Ma: He is. He'll take good care of the farm, and it will take care of his wife and kids, eventually.
Jed: I'd like to make more of it. My father always hoped to buy back all the land his widowed mother sold off. Maybe we'll be able to fulfill his dream.
Ma: And now, it looks like Bart's future is really settled, as well. It may be selfish of me, but I admit I was hoping that he'd wash out of the training and come home.
Jed: He'd be real bitter if that happened. You can read between the lines how happy he is at this work. He's got a real talent for it, like Seruffin told him.
Ma: I know, and it looks like the Sime was right about how much it pays, too. Those gifts he's been sending.... I know some things are less expensive in Simeland, but don't you think they're a little extravagant?
Jed: And that was just as an apprentice. That talent he's got is rare, and very very valuable to them Simes.
Ma: I suppose they would pay a journeyman more, wouldn't they?
Jed: I suppose. And the way we raised him, he's not dependent on luxuries, now is he?
Ma: I don't know if the world knows what to do with a rich Mullins.
Jed: I'm sure he'll have some ideas eventually. And no doubt he'll want to get married and have a family and a nice place to raise his kids.
Ma: Do you think he's been sending us more than he can afford?
Jed: He's getting room and board and uniforms as well as the money. So he probably has lots more than he knows what to do with.
Jed puts an arm around his wife's shoulders.
Jed: If we go see him, we can find out.
Jed wonders if this is the right time for Ma to rethink her fear of donating.
Ma: Yes, but... it's so far to travel.
Jed: Couple days by train each way. Be home in less than a week.
Jed has never travelled that far either.
Ma: Don't you need all kinds of papers and things to go to Simeland?
Jed: I suppose there's some. I can ask next week when we go donate.
Ma: Donate. I guess they'd insist on that, wouldn't they.
Ma clutches the letter so hard she crinkles the paper.
Jed: I'm pretty sure so, Ma. Even Gegg had to before he went there.
Ma: I know.
Ma carefully unclenches her hands and smooths out the letter.
Ma: I suppose if Gegg can do it, in spite of everything, I ought to be able to bear it, as well.
Jed tightens his arm around Ma's shoulders.
Jed: I think you can do it, now, but it's up to you. I promised never to push you into it.
Ma: You've kept your promise. I don't like the idea any better than I did, but... it's been so long since we've seen Bart. It would mean a lot to him if we went and saw him graduate.
Ma is sorely ~~ tempted ~~.
Jed: Well, he might be able to come visit us some time, or if he's working out here, we can go see him. He knows how hard it is for you, so he won't take it personally if you don't go.
Jed is keeping his promise, but aside from Ma being able to visit Bart, income from her monthly donations would be really useful if they want to save up to buy more land.
Ma: And what would he tell his new friends, then? That his mother is so intimidated by their channel colleagues that she can't come to see him graduate? He might understand; I doubt his friends would.
Jed: Bart's a smart young man. He doesn't have to embarrass you to justify himself. He can just say you couldn't make it. Everybody knows how farmers are tied to their farms.
Ma: I won't ask him to cover for me. But, Jed, is it even possible? I didn't manage to let Seruffin do it. And they had to send a specialist for Gegg.
Jed: Well, it's been some time, and we know a lot more about Simes than we did then. Tell you what, you go into town with us next week, and do some shopping, and we'll have lunch in a restaurant, and you think about whether you might want to come into the Sime Center with us and talk to Bibi. Not to donate, just to talk. If she thinks you can't do it, she won't try.
Ma considers this offer.
Ma: The place on the corner near the station, that serves the little sandwiches?
Jed: Sure, why not?
Ma: Why not, indeed. We should at least find out if going to see Bart graduate is possible at all, so we can give him an answer to his invitation.
Ma: Travel is expensive. Can we afford the tickets?
Jed: Yes, we can.
Jed refrains from remarking that Ma's donation would cover the works.
Jed: And Bart says that once we're there, they'll house and feed us at the school.
Ma: A Sime school. And our son's alma mater.
Jed: Actually, it's a Gen school, right? All the students are Gens.
Ma: I suppose.
Ma gives a sly smile.
Ma: It just occurred to me... Bart's outdoing the Conmers boy. You know, the one who almost became a medic when he joined the army?
Jed: He is at that. He'll be a kind of medic too, I guess. And he'll be paid a whole lot better than an army medic.
Ma: Not to mention, he won't be sent into danger at the whim of a superior.
Jed: Right. And no Sime can harm him now, either.
Ma: It's strange, isn't it, to think that our Bart is now as bold and fearless around Simes as, well, as any Sime-Sider in a book.
Jed: I guess them Sime-Siders were all people like Bart, with that kind of rare talent.
Ma: The ones in the stories don't like Simes, though. And Bart does.
Jed: Maybe they just didn't tell anybody that their secret was they liked Simes instead of hating or fearing them.
Ma: Do you think? Wouldn't that be hard to hide?
Jed: I guess nobody would suspect it. They'd think the Sime-Siders were just such tough fierce guys that even the Simes were afraid of them. Nobody knew about channels and Donors in those days, or they didn't believe it if they heard about it.
Ma: You have to admit, it still seems kind of fantastic, even with Bart learning how to do it.
Jed has gotten used to the whole thing, after donating for more than a year.
Jed: My dad saw it, and told me about it, and now we've seen it. Times have changed. Who'd have believed that all the Simes in Simeland could stop killing just like that? But it happened, and in our lifetime, too.
Ma: At this rate, who can tell what might happen in the future? One day, there might be a Sime Center in Gumgeeville for Bart to work in.
Jed: Gumgeeville has produced a channel and a Donor in just one year. At that rate, anything is possible.
Ma: Do you think they'd send one back to us, as our share of the talent?
Jed: Dunno. How do you think the village would feel about a Sime living here permanently?
Ma looks ~~ doubtful ~~.
Ma: Nobody objected to the ones staying in Gegg's barn. Much. And they stayed for weeks.
Jed: You can talk to Bibi about it next week, maybe. She'd know.
Ma: One thing at a time. Let's see Bart started on his new career, and then worry about the future of Gumgeeville.