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´╗┐Title: My Antonia
Author: Cather, Willa Sibert, 1873-1947
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "My Antonia" ***

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MY ANTONIA

By Willa Cather



CONTENTS

          Introduction
          BOOK I.   The Shimerdas
          BOOK II.  The Hired Girls
          BOOK III. Lena Lingard
          BOOK IV.  The Pioneer Woman's Story
          BOOK V.   Cuzak's Boys


TO CARRIE AND IRENE MINER In memory of affections old and true


Optima dies... prima fugit VIRGIL



INTRODUCTION

LAST summer I happened to be crossing the plains of Iowa in a season
of intense heat, and it was my good fortune to have for a traveling
companion James Quayle Burden--Jim Burden, as we still call him in the
West. He and I are old friends--we grew up together in the same Nebraska
town--and we had much to say to each other. While the train flashed
through never-ending miles of ripe wheat, by country towns and
bright-flowered pastures and oak groves wilting in the sun, we sat in
the observation car, where the woodwork was hot to the touch and red
dust lay deep over everything. The dust and heat, the burning wind,
reminded us of many things. We were talking about what it is like to
spend one's childhood in little towns like these, buried in wheat and
corn, under stimulating extremes of climate: burning summers when the
world lies green and billowy beneath a brilliant sky, when one is fairly
stifled in vegetation, in the color and smell of strong weeds and heavy
harvests; blustery winters with little snow, when the whole country is
stripped bare and gray as sheet-iron. We agreed that no one who had not
grown up in a little prairie town could know anything about it. It was a
kind of freemasonry, we said.


Although Jim Burden and I both live in New York, and are old friends, I
do not see much of him there. He is legal counsel for one of the great
Western railways, and is sometimes away from his New York office for
weeks together. That is one reason why we do not often meet. Another is
that I do not like his wife.

When Jim was still an obscure young lawyer, struggling to make his way
in New York, his career was suddenly advanced by a brilliant marriage.
Genevieve Whitney was the only daughter of a distinguished man. Her
marriage with young Burden was the subject of sharp comment at the time.
It was said she had been brutally jilted by her cousin, Rutland Whitney,
and that she married this unknown man from the West out of bravado. She
was a restless, headstrong girl, even then, who liked to astonish
her friends. Later, when I knew her, she was always doing something
unexpected. She gave one of her town houses for a Suffrage headquarters,
produced one of her own plays at the Princess Theater, was arrested
for picketing during a garment-makers' strike, etc. I am never able to
believe that she has much feeling for the causes to which she lends her
name and her fleeting interest. She is handsome, energetic, executive,
but to me she seems unimpressionable and temperamentally incapable of
enthusiasm. Her husband's quiet tastes irritate her, I think, and she
finds it worth while to play the patroness to a group of young poets and
painters of advanced ideas and mediocre ability. She has her own fortune
and lives her own life. For some reason, she wishes to remain Mrs. James
Burden.

As for Jim, no disappointments have been severe enough to chill his
naturally romantic and ardent disposition. This disposition, though it
often made him seem very funny when he was a boy, has been one of the
strongest elements in his success. He loves with a personal passion the
great country through which his railway runs and branches. His faith
in it and his knowledge of it have played an important part in its
development. He is always able to raise capital for new enterprises in
Wyoming or Montana, and has helped young men out there to do remarkable
things in mines and timber and oil. If a young man with an idea can once
get Jim Burden's attention, can manage to accompany him when he goes off
into the wilds hunting for lost parks or exploring new canyons, then the
money which means action is usually forthcoming. Jim is still able to
lose himself in those big Western dreams. Though he is over forty now,
he meets new people and new enterprises with the impulsiveness by which
his boyhood friends remember him. He never seems to me to grow older.
His fresh color and sandy hair and quick-changing blue eyes are those
of a young man, and his sympathetic, solicitous interest in women is as
youthful as it is Western and American.

During that burning day when we were crossing Iowa, our talk kept
returning to a central figure, a Bohemian girl whom we had known
long ago and whom both of us admired. More than any other person we
remembered, this girl seemed to mean to us the country, the conditions,
the whole adventure of our childhood. To speak her name was to call
up pictures of people and places, to set a quiet drama going in one's
brain. I had lost sight of her altogether, but Jim had found her again
after long years, had renewed a friendship that meant a great deal to
him, and out of his busy life had set apart time enough to enjoy that
friendship. His mind was full of her that day. He made me see her again,
feel her presence, revived all my old affection for her.

"I can't see," he said impetuously, "why you have never written anything
about Antonia."

I told him I had always felt that other people--he himself, for one knew
her much better than I. I was ready, however, to make an agreement with
him; I would set down on paper all that I remembered of Antonia if he
would do the same. We might, in this way, get a picture of her.

He rumpled his hair with a quick, excited gesture, which with him often
announces a new determination, and I could see that my suggestion took
hold of him. "Maybe I will, maybe I will!" he declared. He stared out
of the window for a few moments, and when he turned to me again his eyes
had the sudden clearness that comes from something the mind itself sees.
"Of course," he said, "I should have to do it in a direct way, and say
a great deal about myself. It's through myself that I knew and felt her,
and I've had no practice in any other form of presentation."

I told him that how he knew her and felt her was exactly what I most
wanted to know about Antonia. He had had opportunities that I, as a
little girl who watched her come and go, had not.

Months afterward Jim Burden arrived at my apartment one stormy winter
afternoon, with a bulging legal portfolio sheltered under his fur
overcoat. He brought it into the sitting-room with him and tapped it
with some pride as he stood warming his hands.

"I finished it last night--the thing about Antonia," he said. "Now, what
about yours?"

I had to confess that mine had not gone beyond a few straggling notes.

"Notes? I didn't make any." He drank his tea all at once and put down
the cup. "I didn't arrange or rearrange. I simply wrote down what of
herself and myself and other people Antonia's name recalls to me. I
suppose it hasn't any form. It hasn't any title, either." He went into
the next room, sat down at my desk and wrote on the pinkish face of
the portfolio the word, "Antonia." He frowned at this a moment, then
prefixed another word, making it "My Antonia." That seemed to satisfy
him.

"Read it as soon as you can," he said, rising, "but don't let it
influence your own story."

My own story was never written, but the following narrative is Jim's
manuscript, substantially as he brought it to me.


NOTE: The Bohemian name Antonia is strongly accented on the first
syllable, like the English name Anthony, and the 'i' is, of course,
given the sound of long 'e'. The name is pronounced An'-ton-ee-ah.



BOOK I. The Shimerdas



I

I FIRST HEARD OF Antonia on what seemed to me an interminable journey
across the great midland plain of North America. I was ten years
old then; I had lost both my father and mother within a year, and my
Virginia relatives were sending me out to my grandparents, who lived in
Nebraska. I travelled in the care of a mountain boy, Jake Marpole, one
of the 'hands' on my father's old farm under the Blue Ridge, who was now
going West to work for my grandfather. Jake's experience of the world
was not much wider than mine. He had never been in a railway train until
the morning when we set out together to try our fortunes in a new world.

We went all the way in day-coaches, becoming more sticky and grimy with
each stage of the journey. Jake bought everything the newsboys offered
him: candy, oranges, brass collar buttons, a watch-charm, and for me a
'Life of Jesse James,' which I remember as one of the most satisfactory
books I have ever read. Beyond Chicago we were under the protection of a
friendly passenger conductor, who knew all about the country to which
we were going and gave us a great deal of advice in exchange for our
confidence. He seemed to us an experienced and worldly man who had been
almost everywhere; in his conversation he threw out lightly the names
of distant states and cities. He wore the rings and pins and badges of
different fraternal orders to which he belonged. Even his cuff-buttons
were engraved with hieroglyphics, and he was more inscribed than an
Egyptian obelisk.

Once when he sat down to chat, he told us that in the immigrant car
ahead there was a family from 'across the water' whose destination was
the same as ours.

'They can't any of them speak English, except one little girl, and all
she can say is "We go Black Hawk, Nebraska." She's not much older than
you, twelve or thirteen, maybe, and she's as bright as a new dollar.
Don't you want to go ahead and see her, Jimmy? She's got the pretty
brown eyes, too!'

This last remark made me bashful, and I shook my head and settled down
to 'Jesse James.' Jake nodded at me approvingly and said you were likely
to get diseases from foreigners.

I do not remember crossing the Missouri River, or anything about the
long day's journey through Nebraska. Probably by that time I had crossed
so many rivers that I was dull to them. The only thing very noticeable
about Nebraska was that it was still, all day long, Nebraska.

I had been sleeping, curled up in a red plush seat, for a long while
when we reached Black Hawk. Jake roused me and took me by the hand. We
stumbled down from the train to a wooden siding, where men were running
about with lanterns. I couldn't see any town, or even distant lights; we
were surrounded by utter darkness. The engine was panting heavily after
its long run. In the red glow from the fire-box, a group of people stood
huddled together on the platform, encumbered by bundles and boxes. I
knew this must be the immigrant family the conductor had told us about.
The woman wore a fringed shawl tied over her head, and she carried a
little tin trunk in her arms, hugging it as if it were a baby. There
was an old man, tall and stooped. Two half-grown boys and a girl stood
holding oilcloth bundles, and a little girl clung to her mother's
skirts. Presently a man with a lantern approached them and began
to talk, shouting and exclaiming. I pricked up my ears, for it was
positively the first time I had ever heard a foreign tongue.

Another lantern came along. A bantering voice called out: 'Hello, are
you Mr. Burden's folks? If you are, it's me you're looking for. I'm
Otto Fuchs. I'm Mr. Burden's hired man, and I'm to drive you out. Hello,
Jimmy, ain't you scared to come so far west?'

I looked up with interest at the new face in the lantern-light. He might
have stepped out of the pages of 'Jesse James.' He wore a sombrero
hat, with a wide leather band and a bright buckle, and the ends of his
moustache were twisted up stiffly, like little horns. He looked lively
and ferocious, I thought, and as if he had a history. A long scar ran
across one cheek and drew the corner of his mouth up in a sinister curl.
The top of his left ear was gone, and his skin was brown as an Indian's.
Surely this was the face of a desperado. As he walked about the platform
in his high-heeled boots, looking for our trunks, I saw that he was a
rather slight man, quick and wiry, and light on his feet. He told us we
had a long night drive ahead of us, and had better be on the hike. He
led us to a hitching-bar where two farm-wagons were tied, and I saw the
foreign family crowding into one of them. The other was for us. Jake got
on the front seat with Otto Fuchs, and I rode on the straw in the bottom
of the wagon-box, covered up with a buffalo hide. The immigrants rumbled
off into the empty darkness, and we followed them.

I tried to go to sleep, but the jolting made me bite my tongue, and I
soon began to ache all over. When the straw settled down, I had a hard
bed. Cautiously I slipped from under the buffalo hide, got up on my
knees and peered over the side of the wagon. There seemed to be nothing
to see; no fences, no creeks or trees, no hills or fields. If there
was a road, I could not make it out in the faint starlight. There was
nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which
countries are made. No, there was nothing but land--slightly undulating,
I knew, because often our wheels ground against the brake as we went
down into a hollow and lurched up again on the other side. I had the
feeling that the world was left behind, that we had got over the edge of
it, and were outside man's jurisdiction. I had never before looked up
at the sky when there was not a familiar mountain ridge against it. But
this was the complete dome of heaven, all there was of it. I did not
believe that my dead father and mother were watching me from up there;
they would still be looking for me at the sheep-fold down by the creek,
or along the white road that led to the mountain pastures. I had left
even their spirits behind me. The wagon jolted on, carrying me I knew
not whither. I don't think I was homesick. If we never arrived anywhere,
it did not matter. Between that earth and that sky I felt erased,
blotted out. I did not say my prayers that night: here, I felt, what
would be would be.



II


I DO NOT REMEMBER our arrival at my grandfather's farm sometime before
daybreak, after a drive of nearly twenty miles with heavy work-horses.
When I awoke, it was afternoon. I was lying in a little room, scarcely
larger than the bed that held me, and the window-shade at my head was
flapping softly in a warm wind. A tall woman, with wrinkled brown skin
and black hair, stood looking down at me; I knew that she must be my
grandmother. She had been crying, I could see, but when I opened my eyes
she smiled, peered at me anxiously, and sat down on the foot of my bed.

'Had a good sleep, Jimmy?' she asked briskly. Then in a very different
tone she said, as if to herself, 'My, how you do look like your father!'
I remembered that my father had been her little boy; she must often
have come to wake him like this when he overslept. 'Here are your clean
clothes,' she went on, stroking my coverlid with her brown hand as she
talked. 'But first you come down to the kitchen with me, and have a nice
warm bath behind the stove. Bring your things; there's nobody about.'

'Down to the kitchen' struck me as curious; it was always 'out in the
kitchen' at home. I picked up my shoes and stockings and followed her
through the living-room and down a flight of stairs into a basement.
This basement was divided into a dining-room at the right of the
stairs and a kitchen at the left. Both rooms were plastered and
whitewashed--the plaster laid directly upon the earth walls, as it used
to be in dugouts. The floor was of hard cement. Up under the wooden
ceiling there were little half-windows with white curtains, and pots of
geraniums and wandering Jew in the deep sills. As I entered the kitchen,
I sniffed a pleasant smell of gingerbread baking. The stove was very
large, with bright nickel trimmings, and behind it there was a long
wooden bench against the wall, and a tin washtub, into which grandmother
poured hot and cold water. When she brought the soap and towels, I told
her that I was used to taking my bath without help. 'Can you do your
ears, Jimmy? Are you sure? Well, now, I call you a right smart little
boy.'

It was pleasant there in the kitchen. The sun shone into my bath-water
through the west half-window, and a big Maltese cat came up and rubbed
himself against the tub, watching me curiously. While I scrubbed, my
grandmother busied herself in the dining-room until I called anxiously,
'Grandmother, I'm afraid the cakes are burning!' Then she came laughing,
waving her apron before her as if she were shooing chickens.

She was a spare, tall woman, a little stooped, and she was apt to carry
her head thrust forward in an attitude of attention, as if she were
looking at something, or listening to something, far away. As I grew
older, I came to believe that it was only because she was so often
thinking of things that were far away. She was quick-footed and
energetic in all her movements. Her voice was high and rather shrill,
and she often spoke with an anxious inflection, for she was exceedingly
desirous that everything should go with due order and decorum. Her
laugh, too, was high, and perhaps a little strident, but there was a
lively intelligence in it. She was then fifty-five years old, a strong
woman, of unusual endurance.

After I was dressed, I explored the long cellar next the kitchen. It was
dug out under the wing of the house, was plastered and cemented, with a
stairway and an outside door by which the men came and went. Under one
of the windows there was a place for them to wash when they came in from
work.


While my grandmother was busy about supper, I settled myself on the
wooden bench behind the stove and got acquainted with the cat--he caught
not only rats and mice, but gophers, I was told. The patch of
yellow sunlight on the floor travelled back toward the stairway, and
grandmother and I talked about my journey, and about the arrival of the
new Bohemian family; she said they were to be our nearest neighbours. We
did not talk about the farm in Virginia, which had been her home for so
many years. But after the men came in from the fields, and we were all
seated at the supper table, then she asked Jake about the old place and
about our friends and neighbours there.

My grandfather said little. When he first came in he kissed me and
spoke kindly to me, but he was not demonstrative. I felt at once his
deliberateness and personal dignity, and was a little in awe of him.
The thing one immediately noticed about him was his beautiful, crinkly,
snow-white beard. I once heard a missionary say it was like the beard of
an Arabian sheik. His bald crown only made it more impressive.

Grandfather's eyes were not at all like those of an old man; they were
bright blue, and had a fresh, frosty sparkle. His teeth were white and
regular--so sound that he had never been to a dentist in his life. He
had a delicate skin, easily roughened by sun and wind. When he was a
young man his hair and beard were red; his eyebrows were still coppery.

As we sat at the table, Otto Fuchs and I kept stealing covert glances at
each other. Grandmother had told me while she was getting supper that
he was an Austrian who came to this country a young boy and had led an
adventurous life in the Far West among mining-camps and cow outfits. His
iron constitution was somewhat broken by mountain pneumonia, and he had
drifted back to live in a milder country for a while. He had relatives
in Bismarck, a German settlement to the north of us, but for a year now
he had been working for grandfather.

The minute supper was over, Otto took me into the kitchen to whisper to
me about a pony down in the barn that had been bought for me at a sale;
he had been riding him to find out whether he had any bad tricks, but
he was a 'perfect gentleman,' and his name was Dude. Fuchs told me
everything I wanted to know: how he had lost his ear in a Wyoming
blizzard when he was a stage-driver, and how to throw a lasso. He
promised to rope a steer for me before sundown next day. He got out
his 'chaps' and silver spurs to show them to Jake and me, and his best
cowboy boots, with tops stitched in bold design--roses, and true-lover's
knots, and undraped female figures. These, he solemnly explained, were
angels.

Before we went to bed, Jake and Otto were called up to the living-room
for prayers. Grandfather put on silver-rimmed spectacles and
read several Psalms. His voice was so sympathetic and he read so
interestingly that I wished he had chosen one of my favourite chapters
in the Book of Kings. I was awed by his intonation of the word 'Selah.'
'He shall choose our inheritance for us, the excellency of Jacob whom
He loved. Selah.' I had no idea what the word meant; perhaps he had not.
But, as he uttered it, it became oracular, the most sacred of words.

Early the next morning I ran out-of-doors to look about me. I had been
told that ours was the only wooden house west of Black Hawk--until
you came to the Norwegian settlement, where there were several. Our
neighbours lived in sod houses and dugouts--comfortable, but not very
roomy. Our white frame house, with a storey and half-storey above the
basement, stood at the east end of what I might call the farmyard, with
the windmill close by the kitchen door. From the windmill the ground
sloped westward, down to the barns and granaries and pig-yards. This
slope was trampled hard and bare, and washed out in winding gullies by
the rain. Beyond the corncribs, at the bottom of the shallow draw, was
a muddy little pond, with rusty willow bushes growing about it. The road
from the post-office came directly by our door, crossed the farmyard,
and curved round this little pond, beyond which it began to climb the
gentle swell of unbroken prairie to the west. There, along the western
sky-line it skirted a great cornfield, much larger than any field I had
ever seen. This cornfield, and the sorghum patch behind the barn, were
the only broken land in sight. Everywhere, as far as the eye could
reach, there was nothing but rough, shaggy, red grass, most of it as
tall as I.

North of the house, inside the ploughed fire-breaks, grew a thick-set
strip of box-elder trees, low and bushy, their leaves already turning
yellow. This hedge was nearly a quarter of a mile long, but I had to
look very hard to see it at all. The little trees were insignificant
against the grass. It seemed as if the grass were about to run over
them, and over the plum-patch behind the sod chicken-house.

As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country, as the water
is the sea. The red of the grass made all the great prairie the colour
of winestains, or of certain seaweeds when they are first washed up. And
there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be
running.

I had almost forgotten that I had a grandmother, when she came out, her
sunbonnet on her head, a grain-sack in her hand, and asked me if I did
not want to go to the garden with her to dig potatoes for dinner.

The garden, curiously enough, was a quarter of a mile from the house,
and the way to it led up a shallow draw past the cattle corral.
Grandmother called my attention to a stout hickory cane, tipped with
copper, which hung by a leather thong from her belt. This, she said,
was her rattlesnake cane. I must never go to the garden without a heavy
stick or a corn-knife; she had killed a good many rattlers on her way
back and forth. A little girl who lived on the Black Hawk road was
bitten on the ankle and had been sick all summer.

I can remember exactly how the country looked to me as I walked beside
my grandmother along the faint wagon-tracks on that early September
morning. Perhaps the glide of long railway travel was still with me, for
more than anything else I felt motion in the landscape; in the fresh,
easy-blowing morning wind, and in the earth itself, as if the shaggy
grass were a sort of loose hide, and underneath it herds of wild buffalo
were galloping, galloping...

Alone, I should never have found the garden--except, perhaps, for
the big yellow pumpkins that lay about unprotected by their withering
vines--and I felt very little interest in it when I got there. I wanted
to walk straight on through the red grass and over the edge of the
world, which could not be very far away. The light air about me told me
that the world ended here: only the ground and sun and sky were left,
and if one went a little farther there would be only sun and sky, and
one would float off into them, like the tawny hawks which sailed over
our heads making slow shadows on the grass. While grandmother took the
pitchfork we found standing in one of the rows and dug potatoes, while I
picked them up out of the soft brown earth and put them into the bag, I
kept looking up at the hawks that were doing what I might so easily do.

When grandmother was ready to go, I said I would like to stay up there
in the garden awhile.

She peered down at me from under her sunbonnet. 'Aren't you afraid of
snakes?'

'A little,' I admitted, 'but I'd like to stay, anyhow.'

'Well, if you see one, don't have anything to do with him. The big
yellow and brown ones won't hurt you; they're bull-snakes and help to
keep the gophers down. Don't be scared if you see anything look out of
that hole in the bank over there. That's a badger hole. He's about as
big as a big 'possum, and his face is striped, black and white. He takes
a chicken once in a while, but I won't let the men harm him. In a new
country a body feels friendly to the animals. I like to have him come
out and watch me when I'm at work.'

Grandmother swung the bag of potatoes over her shoulder and went down
the path, leaning forward a little. The road followed the windings
of the draw; when she came to the first bend, she waved at me and
disappeared. I was left alone with this new feeling of lightness and
content.

I sat down in the middle of the garden, where snakes could scarcely
approach unseen, and leaned my back against a warm yellow pumpkin. There
were some ground-cherry bushes growing along the furrows, full of fruit.
I turned back the papery triangular sheaths that protected the berries
and ate a few. All about me giant grasshoppers, twice as big as any I
had ever seen, were doing acrobatic feats among the dried vines. The
gophers scurried up and down the ploughed ground. There in the sheltered
draw-bottom the wind did not blow very hard, but I could hear it singing
its humming tune up on the level, and I could see the tall grasses
wave. The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through
my fingers. Queer little red bugs came out and moved in slow squadrons
around me. Their backs were polished vermilion, with black spots. I
kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything
to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the
pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy.
Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something
entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any
rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and
great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.



III

ON SUNDAY MORNING Otto Fuchs was to drive us over to make the
acquaintance of our new Bohemian neighbours. We were taking them some
provisions, as they had come to live on a wild place where there was no
garden or chicken-house, and very little broken land. Fuchs brought up
a sack of potatoes and a piece of cured pork from the cellar, and
grandmother packed some loaves of Saturday's bread, a jar of butter, and
several pumpkin pies in the straw of the wagon-box. We clambered up to
the front seat and jolted off past the little pond and along the road
that climbed to the big cornfield.

I could hardly wait to see what lay beyond that cornfield; but there
was only red grass like ours, and nothing else, though from the high
wagon-seat one could look off a long way. The road ran about like a wild
thing, avoiding the deep draws, crossing them where they were wide and
shallow. And all along it, wherever it looped or ran, the sunflowers
grew; some of them were as big as little trees, with great rough leaves
and many branches which bore dozens of blossoms. They made a gold ribbon
across the prairie. Occasionally one of the horses would tear off with
his teeth a plant full of blossoms, and walk along munching it, the
flowers nodding in time to his bites as he ate down toward them.

The Bohemian family, grandmother told me as we drove along, had bought
the homestead of a fellow countryman, Peter Krajiek, and had paid him
more than it was worth. Their agreement with him was made before they
left the old country, through a cousin of his, who was also a relative
of Mrs. Shimerda. The Shimerdas were the first Bohemian family to come
to this part of the county. Krajiek was their only interpreter, and
could tell them anything he chose. They could not speak enough English
to ask for advice, or even to make their most pressing wants known. One
son, Fuchs said, was well-grown, and strong enough to work the land; but
the father was old and frail and knew nothing about farming. He was a
weaver by trade; had been a skilled workman on tapestries and upholstery
materials. He had brought his fiddle with him, which wouldn't be of much
use here, though he used to pick up money by it at home.

'If they're nice people, I hate to think of them spending the winter in
that cave of Krajiek's,' said grandmother. 'It's no better than a badger
hole; no proper dugout at all. And I hear he's made them pay twenty
dollars for his old cookstove that ain't worth ten.'

'Yes'm,' said Otto; 'and he's sold 'em his oxen and his two bony old
horses for the price of good workteams. I'd have interfered about the
horses--the old man can understand some German--if I'd I a' thought it
would do any good. But Bohemians has a natural distrust of Austrians.'

Grandmother looked interested. 'Now, why is that, Otto?'

Fuchs wrinkled his brow and nose. 'Well, ma'm, it's politics. It would
take me a long while to explain.'

The land was growing rougher; I was told that we were approaching Squaw
Creek, which cut up the west half of the Shimerdas' place and made the
land of little value for farming. Soon we could see the broken,
grassy clay cliffs which indicated the windings of the stream, and the
glittering tops of the cottonwoods and ash trees that grew down in
the ravine. Some of the cottonwoods had already turned, and the yellow
leaves and shining white bark made them look like the gold and silver
trees in fairy tales.

As we approached the Shimerdas' dwelling, I could still see nothing but
rough red hillocks, and draws with shelving banks and long roots hanging
out where the earth had crumbled away. Presently, against one of those
banks, I saw a sort of shed, thatched with the same wine-coloured grass
that grew everywhere. Near it tilted a shattered windmill frame, that
had no wheel. We drove up to this skeleton to tie our horses, and then
I saw a door and window sunk deep in the drawbank. The door stood
open, and a woman and a girl of fourteen ran out and looked up at us
hopefully. A little girl trailed along behind them. The woman had on her
head the same embroidered shawl with silk fringes that she wore when she
had alighted from the train at Black Hawk. She was not old, but she was
certainly not young. Her face was alert and lively, with a sharp chin
and shrewd little eyes. She shook grandmother's hand energetically.

'Very glad, very glad!' she ejaculated. Immediately she pointed to the
bank out of which she had emerged and said, 'House no good, house no
good!'

Grandmother nodded consolingly. 'You'll get fixed up comfortable after
while, Mrs. Shimerda; make good house.'

My grandmother always spoke in a very loud tone to foreigners, as if
they were deaf. She made Mrs. Shimerda understand the friendly intention
of our visit, and the Bohemian woman handled the loaves of bread
and even smelled them, and examined the pies with lively curiosity,
exclaiming, 'Much good, much thank!'--and again she wrung grandmother's
hand.

The oldest son, Ambroz--they called it Ambrosch--came out of the cave
and stood beside his mother. He was nineteen years old, short and
broad-backed, with a close-cropped, flat head, and a wide, flat face.
His hazel eyes were little and shrewd, like his mother's, but more sly
and suspicious; they fairly snapped at the food. The family had been
living on corncakes and sorghum molasses for three days.

The little girl was pretty, but Antonia--they accented the name thus,
strongly, when they spoke to her--was still prettier. I remembered what
the conductor had said about her eyes. They were big and warm and full
of light, like the sun shining on brown pools in the wood. Her skin was
brown, too, and in her cheeks she had a glow of rich, dark colour. Her
brown hair was curly and wild-looking. The little sister, whom they
called Yulka (Julka), was fair, and seemed mild and obedient. While I
stood awkwardly confronting the two girls, Krajiek came up from the barn
to see what was going on. With him was another Shimerda son. Even from a
distance one could see that there was something strange about this boy.
As he approached us, he began to make uncouth noises, and held up his
hands to show us his fingers, which were webbed to the first knuckle,
like a duck's foot. When he saw me draw back, he began to crow
delightedly, 'Hoo, hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo!' like a rooster. His mother scowled
and said sternly, 'Marek!' then spoke rapidly to Krajiek in Bohemian.

'She wants me to tell you he won't hurt nobody, Mrs. Burden. He was
born like that. The others are smart. Ambrosch, he make good farmer.' He
struck Ambrosch on the back, and the boy smiled knowingly.

At that moment the father came out of the hole in the bank. He wore no
hat, and his thick, iron-grey hair was brushed straight back from his
forehead. It was so long that it bushed out behind his ears, and made
him look like the old portraits I remembered in Virginia. He was
tall and slender, and his thin shoulders stooped. He looked at us
understandingly, then took grandmother's hand and bent over it. I
noticed how white and well-shaped his own hands were. They looked calm,
somehow, and skilled. His eyes were melancholy, and were set back
deep under his brow. His face was ruggedly formed, but it looked like
ashes--like something from which all the warmth and light had died out.
Everything about this old man was in keeping with his dignified manner.
He was neatly dressed. Under his coat he wore a knitted grey vest, and,
instead of a collar, a silk scarf of a dark bronze-green, carefully
crossed and held together by a red coral pin. While Krajiek was
translating for Mr. Shimerda, Antonia came up to me and held out her
hand coaxingly. In a moment we were running up the steep drawside
together, Yulka trotting after us.

When we reached the level and could see the gold tree-tops, I pointed
toward them, and Antonia laughed and squeezed my hand as if to tell me
how glad she was I had come. We raced off toward Squaw Creek and did not
stop until the ground itself stopped--fell away before us so abruptly
that the next step would have been out into the tree-tops. We stood
panting on the edge of the ravine, looking down at the trees and bushes
that grew below us. The wind was so strong that I had to hold my hat on,
and the girls' skirts were blown out before them. Antonia seemed to like
it; she held her little sister by the hand and chattered away in that
language which seemed to me spoken so much more rapidly than mine. She
looked at me, her eyes fairly blazing with things she could not say.

'Name? What name?' she asked, touching me on the shoulder. I told her
my name, and she repeated it after me and made Yulka say it. She pointed
into the gold cottonwood tree behind whose top we stood and said again,
'What name?'

We sat down and made a nest in the long red grass. Yulka curled up like
a baby rabbit and played with a grasshopper. Antonia pointed up to the
sky and questioned me with her glance. I gave her the word, but she was
not satisfied and pointed to my eyes. I told her, and she repeated the
word, making it sound like 'ice.' She pointed up to the sky, then to my
eyes, then back to the sky, with movements so quick and impulsive that
she distracted me, and I had no idea what she wanted. She got up on her
knees and wrung her hands. She pointed to her own eyes and shook her
head, then to mine and to the sky, nodding violently.

'Oh,' I exclaimed, 'blue; blue sky.'

She clapped her hands and murmured, 'Blue sky, blue eyes,' as if it
amused her. While we snuggled down there out of the wind, she learned
a score of words. She was alive, and very eager. We were so deep in the
grass that we could see nothing but the blue sky over us and the gold
tree in front of us. It was wonderfully pleasant. After Antonia had
said the new words over and over, she wanted to give me a little chased
silver ring she wore on her middle finger. When she coaxed and insisted,
I repulsed her quite sternly. I didn't want her ring, and I felt there
was something reckless and extravagant about her wishing to give it away
to a boy she had never seen before. No wonder Krajiek got the better of
these people, if this was how they behaved.

While we were disputing 'about the ring, I heard a mournful voice
calling, 'Antonia, Antonia!' She sprang up like a hare. 'Tatinek!
Tatinek!' she shouted, and we ran to meet the old man who was coming
toward us. Antonia reached him first, took his hand and kissed it. When
I came up, he touched my shoulder and looked searchingly down into my
face for several seconds. I became somewhat embarrassed, for I was used
to being taken for granted by my elders.

We went with Mr. Shimerda back to the dugout, where grandmother was
waiting for me. Before I got into the wagon, he took a book out of his
pocket, opened it, and showed me a page with two alphabets, one English
and the other Bohemian. He placed this book in my grandmother's hands,
looked at her entreatingly, and said, with an earnestness which I shall
never forget, 'Te-e-ach, te-e-ach my Antonia!'



IV

ON THE AFTERNOON of that same Sunday I took my first long ride on my
pony, under Otto's direction. After that Dude and I went twice a week to
the post-office, six miles east of us, and I saved the men a good deal
of time by riding on errands to our neighbours. When we had to borrow
anything, or to send about word that there would be preaching at the sod
schoolhouse, I was always the messenger. Formerly Fuchs attended to such
things after working hours.

All the years that have passed have not dimmed my memory of that first
glorious autumn. The new country lay open before me: there were no
fences in those days, and I could choose my own way over the grass
uplands, trusting the pony to get me home again. Sometimes I followed
the sunflower-bordered roads. Fuchs told me that the sunflowers were
introduced into that country by the Mormons; that at the time of the
persecution, when they left Missouri and struck out into the wilderness
to find a place where they could worship God in their own way, the
members of the first exploring party, crossing the plains to Utah,
scattered sunflower seed as they went. The next summer, when the long
trains of wagons came through with all the women and children, they had
the sunflower trail to follow. I believe that botanists do not confirm
Fuchs's story, but insist that the sunflower was native to those plains.
Nevertheless, that legend has stuck in my mind, and sunflower-bordered
roads always seem to me the roads to freedom.

I used to love to drift along the pale-yellow cornfields, looking for
the damp spots one sometimes found at their edges, where the smartweed
soon turned a rich copper colour and the narrow brown leaves hung curled
like cocoons about the swollen joints of the stem. Sometimes I went
south to visit our German neighbours and to admire their catalpa grove,
or to see the big elm tree that grew up out of a deep crack in the
earth and had a hawk's nest in its branches. Trees were so rare in that
country, and they had to make such a hard fight to grow, that we used to
feel anxious about them, and visit them as if they were persons. It
must have been the scarcity of detail in that tawny landscape that made
detail so precious.

Sometimes I rode north to the big prairie-dog town to watch the brown
earth-owls fly home in the late afternoon and go down to their nests
underground with the dogs. Antonia Shimerda liked to go with me, and we
used to wonder a great deal about these birds of subterranean habit.
We had to be on our guard there, for rattlesnakes were always lurking
about. They came to pick up an easy living among the dogs and owls,
which were quite defenceless against them; took possession of their
comfortable houses and ate the eggs and puppies. We felt sorry for the
owls. It was always mournful to see them come flying home at sunset and
disappear under the earth. But, after all, we felt, winged things who
would live like that must be rather degraded creatures. The dog-town was
a long way from any pond or creek. Otto Fuchs said he had seen populous
dog-towns in the desert where there was no surface water for fifty
miles; he insisted that some of the holes must go down to water--nearly
two hundred feet, hereabouts. Antonia said she didn't believe it; that
the dogs probably lapped up the dew in the early morning, like the
rabbits.

Antonia had opinions about everything, and she was soon able to make
them known. Almost every day she came running across the prairie to have
her reading lesson with me. Mrs. Shimerda grumbled, but realized it was
important that one member of the family should learn English. When the
lesson was over, we used to go up to the watermelon patch behind the
garden. I split the melons with an old corn-knife, and we lifted out the
hearts and ate them with the juice trickling through our fingers.
The white Christmas melons we did not touch, but we watched them with
curiosity. They were to be picked late, when the hard frosts had set
in, and put away for winter use. After weeks on the ocean, the Shimerdas
were famished for fruit. The two girls would wander for miles along the
edge of the cornfields, hunting for ground-cherries.

Antonia loved to help grandmother in the kitchen and to learn about
cooking and housekeeping. She would stand beside her, watching her
every movement. We were willing to believe that Mrs. Shimerda was a
good housewife in her own country, but she managed poorly under new
conditions: the conditions were bad enough, certainly!

I remember how horrified we were at the sour, ashy-grey bread she gave
her family to eat. She mixed her dough, we discovered, in an old tin
peck-measure that Krajiek had used about the barn. When she took the
paste out to bake it, she left smears of dough sticking to the sides of
the measure, put the measure on the shelf behind the stove, and let this
residue ferment. The next time she made bread, she scraped this sour
stuff down into the fresh dough to serve as yeast.

During those first months the Shimerdas never went to town. Krajiek
encouraged them in the belief that in Black Hawk they would somehow be
mysteriously separated from their money. They hated Krajiek, but they
clung to him because he was the only human being with whom they could
talk or from whom they could get information. He slept with the old man
and the two boys in the dugout barn, along with the oxen. They kept him
in their hole and fed him for the same reason that the prairie-dogs and
the brown owls house the rattlesnakes--because they did not know how to
get rid of him.



V

WE KNEW THAT THINGS were hard for our Bohemian neighbours, but the two
girls were lighthearted and never complained. They were always ready to
forget their troubles at home, and to run away with me over the prairie,
scaring rabbits or starting up flocks of quail.

I remember Antonia's excitement when she came into our kitchen one
afternoon and announced: 'My papa find friends up north, with Russian
mans. Last night he take me for see, and I can understand very much
talk. Nice mans, Mrs. Burden. One is fat and all the time laugh.
Everybody laugh. The first time I see my papa laugh in this kawntree.
Oh, very nice!'

I asked her if she meant the two Russians who lived up by the big
dog-town. I had often been tempted to go to see them when I was riding
in that direction, but one of them was a wild-looking fellow and I was
a little afraid of him. Russia seemed to me more remote than any other
country--farther away than China, almost as far as the North Pole. Of
all the strange, uprooted people among the first settlers, those two
men were the strangest and the most aloof. Their last names were
unpronounceable, so they were called Pavel and Peter. They went about
making signs to people, and until the Shimerdas came they had no
friends. Krajiek could understand them a little, but he had cheated them
in a trade, so they avoided him. Pavel, the tall one, was said to be an
anarchist; since he had no means of imparting his opinions, probably his
wild gesticulations and his generally excited and rebellious manner gave
rise to this supposition. He must once have been a very strong man, but
now his great frame, with big, knotty joints, had a wasted look, and the
skin was drawn tight over his high cheekbones. His breathing was hoarse,
and he always had a cough.

Peter, his companion, was a very different sort of fellow; short,
bow-legged, and as fat as butter. He always seemed pleased when he met
people on the road, smiled and took off his cap to everyone, men as well
as women. At a distance, on his wagon, he looked like an old man; his
hair and beard were of such a pale flaxen colour that they seemed white
in the sun. They were as thick and curly as carded wool. His rosy face,
with its snub nose, set in this fleece, was like a melon among its
leaves. He was usually called 'Curly Peter,' or 'Rooshian Peter.'

The two Russians made good farm-hands, and in summer they worked out
together. I had heard our neighbours laughing when they told how
Peter always had to go home at night to milk his cow. Other bachelor
homesteaders used canned milk, to save trouble. Sometimes Peter came to
church at the sod schoolhouse. It was there I first saw him, sitting
on a low bench by the door, his plush cap in his hands, his bare feet
tucked apologetically under the seat.

After Mr. Shimerda discovered the Russians, he went to see them almost
every evening, and sometimes took Antonia with him. She said they came
from a part of Russia where the language was not very different from
Bohemian, and if I wanted to go to their place, she could talk to them
for me. One afternoon, before the heavy frosts began, we rode up there
together on my pony.

The Russians had a neat log house built on a grassy slope, with a
windlass well beside the door. As we rode up the draw, we skirted a big
melon patch, and a garden where squashes and yellow cucumbers lay
about on the sod. We found Peter out behind his kitchen, bending over
a washtub. He was working so hard that he did not hear us coming. His
whole body moved up and down as he rubbed, and he was a funny sight
from the rear, with his shaggy head and bandy legs. When he straightened
himself up to greet us, drops of perspiration were rolling from his
thick nose down onto his curly beard. Peter dried his hands and seemed
glad to leave his washing. He took us down to see his chickens, and
his cow that was grazing on the hillside. He told Antonia that in his
country only rich people had cows, but here any man could have one who
would take care of her. The milk was good for Pavel, who was often sick,
and he could make butter by beating sour cream with a wooden spoon.
Peter was very fond of his cow. He patted her flanks and talked to her
in Russian while he pulled up her lariat pin and set it in a new place.

After he had shown us his garden, Peter trundled a load of watermelons
up the hill in his wheelbarrow. Pavel was not at home. He was off
somewhere helping to dig a well. The house I thought very comfortable
for two men who were 'batching.' Besides the kitchen, there was a
living-room, with a wide double bed built against the wall, properly
made up with blue gingham sheets and pillows. There was a little
storeroom, too, with a window, where they kept guns and saddles and
tools, and old coats and boots. That day the floor was covered with
garden things, drying for winter; corn and beans and fat yellow
cucumbers. There were no screens or window-blinds in the house, and all
the doors and windows stood wide open, letting in flies and sunshine
alike.

Peter put the melons in a row on the oilcloth-covered table and stood
over them, brandishing a butcher knife. Before the blade got fairly into
them, they split of their own ripeness, with a delicious sound. He gave
us knives, but no plates, and the top of the table was soon swimming
with juice and seeds. I had never seen anyone eat so many melons as
Peter ate. He assured us that they were good for one--better than
medicine; in his country people lived on them at this time of year. He
was very hospitable and jolly. Once, while he was looking at Antonia,
he sighed and told us that if he had stayed at home in Russia perhaps
by this time he would have had a pretty daughter of his own to cook and
keep house for him. He said he had left his country because of a 'great
trouble.'

When we got up to go, Peter looked about in perplexity for something
that would entertain us. He ran into the storeroom and brought out a
gaudily painted harmonica, sat down on a bench, and spreading his fat
legs apart began to play like a whole band. The tunes were either very
lively or very doleful, and he sang words to some of them.

Before we left, Peter put ripe cucumbers into a sack for Mrs. Shimerda
and gave us a lard-pail full of milk to cook them in. I had never heard
of cooking cucumbers, but Antonia assured me they were very good. We had
to walk the pony all the way home to keep from spilling the milk.



VI

ONE AFTERNOON WE WERE having our reading lesson on the warm, grassy bank
where the badger lived. It was a day of amber sunlight, but there was
a shiver of coming winter in the air. I had seen ice on the little
horsepond that morning, and as we went through the garden we found the
tall asparagus, with its red berries, lying on the ground, a mass of
slimy green.

Tony was barefooted, and she shivered in her cotton dress and was
comfortable only when we were tucked down on the baked earth, in the
full blaze of the sun. She could talk to me about almost anything by
this time. That afternoon she was telling me how highly esteemed our
friend the badger was in her part of the world, and how men kept a
special kind of dog, with very short legs, to hunt him. Those dogs, she
said, went down into the hole after the badger and killed him there in
a terrific struggle underground; you could hear the barks and yelps
outside. Then the dog dragged himself back, covered with bites and
scratches, to be rewarded and petted by his master. She knew a dog who
had a star on his collar for every badger he had killed.

The rabbits were unusually spry that afternoon. They kept starting up
all about us, and dashing off down the draw as if they were playing a
game of some kind. But the little buzzing things that lived in the grass
were all dead--all but one. While we were lying there against the warm
bank, a little insect of the palest, frailest green hopped painfully
out of the buffalo grass and tried to leap into a bunch of bluestem. He
missed it, fell back, and sat with his head sunk between his long legs,
his antennae quivering, as if he were waiting for something to come and
finish him. Tony made a warm nest for him in her hands; talked to him
gaily and indulgently in Bohemian. Presently he began to sing for us--a
thin, rusty little chirp. She held him close to her ear and laughed, but
a moment afterward I saw there were tears in her eyes. She told me that
in her village at home there was an old beggar woman who went about
selling herbs and roots she had dug up in the forest. If you took her
in and gave her a warm place by the fire, she sang old songs to the
children in a cracked voice, like this. Old Hata, she was called, and
the children loved to see her coming and saved their cakes and sweets
for her.

When the bank on the other side of the draw began to throw a narrow
shelf of shadow, we knew we ought to be starting homeward; the chill
came on quickly when the sun got low, and Antonia's dress was thin. What
were we to do with the frail little creature we had lured back to life
by false pretences? I offered my pockets, but Tony shook her head and
carefully put the green insect in her hair, tying her big handkerchief
down loosely over her curls. I said I would go with her until we could
see Squaw Creek, and then turn and run home. We drifted along lazily,
very happy, through the magical light of the late afternoon.

All those fall afternoons were the same, but I never got used to them.
As far as we could see, the miles of copper-red grass were drenched in
sunlight that was stronger and fiercer than at any other time of the
day. The blond cornfields were red gold, the haystacks turned rosy and
threw long shadows. The whole prairie was like the bush that burned
with fire and was not consumed. That hour always had the exultation
of victory, of triumphant ending, like a hero's death--heroes who died
young and gloriously. It was a sudden transfiguration, a lifting-up of
day.

How many an afternoon Antonia and I have trailed along the prairie under
that magnificence! And always two long black shadows flitted before us
or followed after, dark spots on the ruddy grass.

We had been silent a long time, and the edge of the sun sank nearer and
nearer the prairie floor, when we saw a figure moving on the edge of
the upland, a gun over his shoulder. He was walking slowly, dragging his
feet along as if he had no purpose. We broke into a run to overtake him.

'My papa sick all the time,' Tony panted as we flew. 'He not look good,
Jim.'

As we neared Mr. Shimerda she shouted, and he lifted his head and peered
about. Tony ran up to him, caught his hand and pressed it against her
cheek. She was the only one of his family who could rouse the old man
from the torpor in which he seemed to live. He took the bag from his
belt and showed us three rabbits he had shot, looked at Antonia with a
wintry flicker of a smile and began to tell her something. She turned to
me.

'My tatinek make me little hat with the skins, little hat for winter!'
she exclaimed joyfully. 'Meat for eat, skin for hat'--she told off these
benefits on her fingers.

Her father put his hand on her hair, but she caught his wrist and lifted
it carefully away, talking to him rapidly. I heard the name of old Hata.
He untied the handkerchief, separated her hair with his fingers, and
stood looking down at the green insect. When it began to chirp faintly,
he listened as if it were a beautiful sound.

I picked up the gun he had dropped; a queer piece from the old country,
short and heavy, with a stag's head on the cock. When he saw me
examining it, he turned to me with his far-away look that always made
me feel as if I were down at the bottom of a well. He spoke kindly and
gravely, and Antonia translated:

'My tatinek say when you are big boy, he give you his gun. Very fine,
from Bohemie. It was belong to a great man, very rich, like what you not
got here; many fields, many forests, many big house. My papa play for
his wedding, and he give my papa fine gun, and my papa give you.'

I was glad that this project was one of futurity. There never were such
people as the Shimerdas for wanting to give away everything they
had. Even the mother was always offering me things, though I knew she
expected substantial presents in return. We stood there in friendly
silence, while the feeble minstrel sheltered in Antonia's hair went on
with its scratchy chirp. The old man's smile, as he listened, was so
full of sadness, of pity for things, that I never afterward forgot it.
As the sun sank there came a sudden coolness and the strong smell of
earth and drying grass. Antonia and her father went off hand in hand,
and I buttoned up my jacket and raced my shadow home.



VII

MUCH AS I LIKED Antonia, I hated a superior tone that she sometimes took
with me. She was four years older than I, to be sure, and had seen more
of the world; but I was a boy and she was a girl, and I resented her
protecting manner. Before the autumn was over, she began to treat me
more like an equal and to defer to me in other things than reading
lessons. This change came about from an adventure we had together.

One day when I rode over to the Shimerdas' I found Antonia starting off
on foot for Russian Peter's house, to borrow a spade Ambrosch needed.
I offered to take her on the pony, and she got up behind me. There had
been another black frost the night before, and the air was clear and
heady as wine. Within a week all the blooming roads had been despoiled,
hundreds of miles of yellow sunflowers had been transformed into brown,
rattling, burry stalks.

We found Russian Peter digging his potatoes. We were glad to go in and
get warm by his kitchen stove and to see his squashes and Christmas
melons, heaped in the storeroom for winter. As we rode away with the
spade, Antonia suggested that we stop at the prairie-dog-town and dig
into one of the holes. We could find out whether they ran straight
down, or were horizontal, like mole-holes; whether they had underground
connections; whether the owls had nests down there, lined with feathers.
We might get some puppies, or owl eggs, or snakeskins.

The dog-town was spread out over perhaps ten acres. The grass had been
nibbled short and even, so this stretch was not shaggy and red like the
surrounding country, but grey and velvety. The holes were several yards
apart, and were disposed with a good deal of regularity, almost as if
the town had been laid out in streets and avenues. One always felt that
an orderly and very sociable kind of life was going on there. I picketed
Dude down in a draw, and we went wandering about, looking for a hole
that would be easy to dig. The dogs were out, as usual, dozens of them,
sitting up on their hind legs over the doors of their houses. As
we approached, they barked, shook their tails at us, and scurried
underground. Before the mouths of the holes were little patches of
sand and gravel, scratched up, we supposed, from a long way below the
surface. Here and there, in the town, we came on larger gravel patches,
several yards away from any hole. If the dogs had scratched the sand up
in excavating, how had they carried it so far? It was on one of these
gravel beds that I met my adventure.

We were examining a big hole with two entrances. The burrow sloped
into the ground at a gentle angle, so that we could see where the
two corridors united, and the floor was dusty from use, like a little
highway over which much travel went. I was walking backward, in a
crouching position, when I heard Antonia scream. She was standing
opposite me, pointing behind me and shouting something in Bohemian.
I whirled round, and there, on one of those dry gravel beds, was the
biggest snake I had ever seen. He was sunning himself, after the cold
night, and he must have been asleep when Antonia screamed. When I
turned, he was lying in long loose waves, like a letter 'W.' He twitched
and began to coil slowly. He was not merely a big snake, I thought--he
was a circus monstrosity. His abominable muscularity, his loathsome,
fluid motion, somehow made me sick. He was as thick as my leg, and
looked as if millstones couldn't crush the disgusting vitality out
of him. He lifted his hideous little head, and rattled. I didn't run
because I didn't think of it--if my back had been against a stone wall I
couldn't have felt more cornered. I saw his coils tighten--now he would
spring, spring his length, I remembered. I ran up and drove at his head
with my spade, struck him fairly across the neck, and in a minute he
was all about my feet in wavy loops. I struck now from hate. Antonia,
barefooted as she was, ran up behind me. Even after I had pounded his
ugly head flat, his body kept on coiling and winding, doubling and
falling back on itself. I walked away and turned my back. I felt
seasick.

Antonia came after me, crying, 'O Jimmy, he not bite you? You sure? Why
you not run when I say?'

'What did you jabber Bohunk for? You might have told me there was a
snake behind me!' I said petulantly.

'I know I am just awful, Jim, I was so scared.' She took my handkerchief
from my pocket and tried to wipe my face with it, but I snatched it away
from her. I suppose I looked as sick as I felt.

'I never know you was so brave, Jim,' she went on comfortingly. 'You is
just like big mans; you wait for him lift his head and then you go for
him. Ain't you feel scared a bit? Now we take that snake home and show
everybody. Nobody ain't seen in this kawntree so big snake like you
kill.'

She went on in this strain until I began to think that I had longed for
this opportunity, and had hailed it with joy. Cautiously we went back to
the snake; he was still groping with his tail, turning up his ugly belly
in the light. A faint, fetid smell came from him, and a thread of green
liquid oozed from his crushed head.

'Look, Tony, that's his poison,' I said.

I took a long piece of string from my pocket, and she lifted his
head with the spade while I tied a noose around it. We pulled him out
straight and measured him by my riding-quirt; he was about five and a
half feet long. He had twelve rattles, but they were broken off
before they began to taper, so I insisted that he must once have
had twenty-four. I explained to Antonia how this meant that he was
twenty-four years old, that he must have been there when white men first
came, left on from buffalo and Indian times. As I turned him over, I
began to feel proud of him, to have a kind of respect for his age and
size. He seemed like the ancient, eldest Evil. Certainly his kind have
left horrible unconscious memories in all warm-blooded life. When we
dragged him down into the draw, Dude sprang off to the end of his tether
and shivered all over--wouldn't let us come near him.

We decided that Antonia should ride Dude home, and I would walk. As she
rode along slowly, her bare legs swinging against the pony's sides,
she kept shouting back to me about how astonished everybody would be.
I followed with the spade over my shoulder, dragging my snake. Her
exultation was contagious. The great land had never looked to me so big
and free. If the red grass were full of rattlers, I was equal to them
all. Nevertheless, I stole furtive glances behind me now and then to see
that no avenging mate, older and bigger than my quarry, was racing up
from the rear.

The sun had set when we reached our garden and went down the draw toward
the house. Otto Fuchs was the first one we met. He was sitting on the
edge of the cattle-pond, having a quiet pipe before supper. Antonia
called him to come quick and look. He did not say anything for a minute,
but scratched his head and turned the snake over with his boot.

'Where did you run onto that beauty, Jim?'

'Up at the dog-town,' I answered laconically.

'Kill him yourself? How come you to have a weepon?'

'We'd been up to Russian Peter's, to borrow a spade for Ambrosch.'

Otto shook the ashes out of his pipe and squatted down to count the
rattles. 'It was just luck you had a tool,' he said cautiously. 'Gosh! I
wouldn't want to do any business with that fellow myself, unless I had
a fence-post along. Your grandmother's snake-cane wouldn't more than
tickle him. He could stand right up and talk to you, he could. Did he
fight hard?'

Antonia broke in: 'He fight something awful! He is all over Jimmy's
boots. I scream for him to run, but he just hit and hit that snake like
he was crazy.'

Otto winked at me. After Antonia rode on he said: 'Got him in the head
first crack, didn't you? That was just as well.'

We hung him up to the windmill, and when I went down to the kitchen,
I found Antonia standing in the middle of the floor, telling the story
with a great deal of colour.

Subsequent experiences with rattlesnakes taught me that my first
encounter was fortunate in circumstance. My big rattler was old, and had
led too easy a life; there was not much fight in him. He had probably
lived there for years, with a fat prairie-dog for breakfast whenever he
felt like it, a sheltered home, even an owl-feather bed, perhaps, and he
had forgot that the world doesn't owe rattlers a living. A snake of his
size, in fighting trim, would be more than any boy could handle. So in
reality it was a mock adventure; the game was fixed for me by chance, as
it probably was for many a dragon-slayer. I had been adequately armed by
Russian Peter; the snake was old and lazy; and I had Antonia beside me,
to appreciate and admire.

That snake hung on our corral fence for several days; some of the
neighbours came to see it and agreed that it was the biggest rattler
ever killed in those parts. This was enough for Antonia. She liked me
better from that time on, and she never took a supercilious air with me
again. I had killed a big snake--I was now a big fellow.



VIII

WHILE THE AUTUMN COLOUR was growing pale on the grass and cornfields,
things went badly with our friends the Russians. Peter told his troubles
to Mr. Shimerda: he was unable to meet a note which fell due on the
first of November; had to pay an exorbitant bonus on renewing it, and
to give a mortgage on his pigs and horses and even his milk cow. His
creditor was Wick Cutter, the merciless Black Hawk money-lender, a man
of evil name throughout the county, of whom I shall have more to say
later. Peter could give no very clear account of his transactions with
Cutter. He only knew that he had first borrowed two hundred dollars,
then another hundred, then fifty--that each time a bonus was added to
the principal, and the debt grew faster than any crop he planted. Now
everything was plastered with mortgages.

Soon after Peter renewed his note, Pavel strained himself lifting
timbers for a new barn, and fell over among the shavings with such a
gush of blood from the lungs that his fellow workmen thought he would
die on the spot. They hauled him home and put him into his bed, and
there he lay, very ill indeed. Misfortune seemed to settle like an evil
bird on the roof of the log house, and to flap its wings there, warning
human beings away. The Russians had such bad luck that people were
afraid of them and liked to put them out of mind.

One afternoon Antonia and her father came over to our house to get
buttermilk, and lingered, as they usually did, until the sun was low.
Just as they were leaving, Russian Peter drove up. Pavel was very bad,
he said, and wanted to talk to Mr. Shimerda and his daughter; he had
come to fetch them. When Antonia and her father got into the wagon, I
entreated grandmother to let me go with them: I would gladly go without
my supper, I would sleep in the Shimerdas' barn and run home in the
morning. My plan must have seemed very foolish to her, but she was often
large-minded about humouring the desires of other people. She asked
Peter to wait a moment, and when she came back from the kitchen she
brought a bag of sandwiches and doughnuts for us.

Mr. Shimerda and Peter were on the front seat; Antonia and I sat in the
straw behind and ate our lunch as we bumped along. After the sun sank,
a cold wind sprang up and moaned over the prairie. If this turn in the
weather had come sooner, I should not have got away. We burrowed down in
the straw and curled up close together, watching the angry red die out
of the west and the stars begin to shine in the clear, windy sky. Peter
kept sighing and groaning. Tony whispered to me that he was afraid Pavel
would never get well. We lay still and did not talk. Up there the stars
grew magnificently bright. Though we had come from such different parts
of the world, in both of us there was some dusky superstition that those
shining groups have their influence upon what is and what is not to
be. Perhaps Russian Peter, come from farther away than any of us, had
brought from his land, too, some such belief.

The little house on the hillside was so much the colour of the night
that we could not see it as we came up the draw. The ruddy windows
guided us--the light from the kitchen stove, for there was no lamp
burning.

We entered softly. The man in the wide bed seemed to be asleep. Tony and
I sat down on the bench by the wall and leaned our arms on the table in
front of us. The firelight flickered on the hewn logs that supported
the thatch overhead. Pavel made a rasping sound when he breathed, and
he kept moaning. We waited. The wind shook the doors and windows
impatiently, then swept on again, singing through the big spaces. Each
gust, as it bore down, rattled the panes, and swelled off like the
others. They made me think of defeated armies, retreating; or of ghosts
who were trying desperately to get in for shelter, and then went moaning
on. Presently, in one of those sobbing intervals between the blasts,
the coyotes tuned up with their whining howl; one, two, three, then
all together--to tell us that winter was coming. This sound brought an
answer from the bed--a long complaining cry--as if Pavel were having bad
dreams or were waking to some old misery. Peter listened, but did not
stir. He was sitting on the floor by the kitchen stove. The coyotes
broke out again; yap, yap, yap--then the high whine. Pavel called for
something and struggled up on his elbow.

'He is scared of the wolves,' Antonia whispered to me. 'In his country
there are very many, and they eat men and women.' We slid closer
together along the bench.

I could not take my eyes off the man in the bed. His shirt was hanging
open, and his emaciated chest, covered with yellow bristle, rose and
fell horribly. He began to cough. Peter shuffled to his feet, caught up
the teakettle and mixed him some hot water and whiskey. The sharp smell
of spirits went through the room.

Pavel snatched the cup and drank, then made Peter give him the bottle
and slipped it under his pillow, grinning disagreeably, as if he
had outwitted someone. His eyes followed Peter about the room with a
contemptuous, unfriendly expression. It seemed to me that he despised
him for being so simple and docile.

Presently Pavel began to talk to Mr. Shimerda, scarcely above a whisper.
He was telling a long story, and as he went on, Antonia took my hand
under the table and held it tight. She leaned forward and strained her
ears to hear him. He grew more and more excited, and kept pointing all
around his bed, as if there were things there and he wanted Mr. Shimerda
to see them.


'It's wolves, Jimmy,' Antonia whispered. 'It's awful, what he says!'

The sick man raged and shook his fist. He seemed to be cursing people
who had wronged him. Mr. Shimerda caught him by the shoulders, but could
hardly hold him in bed. At last he was shut off by a coughing fit which
fairly choked him. He pulled a cloth from under his pillow and held it
to his mouth. Quickly it was covered with bright red spots--I thought I
had never seen any blood so bright. When he lay down and turned his face
to the wall, all the rage had gone out of him. He lay patiently fighting
for breath, like a child with croup. Antonia's father uncovered one of
his long bony legs and rubbed it rhythmically. From our bench we could
see what a hollow case his body was. His spine and shoulder-blades stood
out like the bones under the hide of a dead steer left in the fields.
That sharp backbone must have hurt him when he lay on it.

Gradually, relief came to all of us. Whatever it was, the worst was
over. Mr. Shimerda signed to us that Pavel was asleep. Without a word
Peter got up and lit his lantern. He was going out to get his team to
drive us home. Mr. Shimerda went with him. We sat and watched the long
bowed back under the blue sheet, scarcely daring to breathe.

On the way home, when we were lying in the straw, under the jolting and
rattling Antonia told me as much of the story as she could. What she
did not tell me then, she told later; we talked of nothing else for days
afterward.


When Pavel and Peter were young men, living at home in Russia, they were
asked to be groomsmen for a friend who was to marry the belle of another
village. It was in the dead of winter and the groom's party went over to
the wedding in sledges. Peter and Pavel drove in the groom's sledge, and
six sledges followed with all his relatives and friends.

After the ceremony at the church, the party went to a dinner given
by the parents of the bride. The dinner lasted all afternoon; then it
became a supper and continued far into the night. There was much dancing
and drinking. At midnight the parents of the bride said good-bye to her
and blessed her. The groom took her up in his arms and carried her out
to his sledge and tucked her under the blankets. He sprang in beside
her, and Pavel and Peter (our Pavel and Peter!) took the front
seat. Pavel drove. The party set out with singing and the jingle of
sleigh-bells, the groom's sledge going first. All the drivers were more
or less the worse for merry-making, and the groom was absorbed in his
bride.

The wolves were bad that winter, and everyone knew it, yet when they
heard the first wolf-cry, the drivers were not much alarmed. They had
too much good food and drink inside them. The first howls were taken
up and echoed and with quickening repetitions. The wolves were coming
together. There was no moon, but the starlight was clear on the snow. A
black drove came up over the hill behind the wedding party. The wolves
ran like streaks of shadow; they looked no bigger than dogs, but there
were hundreds of them.


Something happened to the hindmost sledge: the driver lost control--he
was probably very drunk--the horses left the road, the sledge was caught
in a clump of trees, and overturned. The occupants rolled out over the
snow, and the fleetest of the wolves sprang upon them. The shrieks that
followed made everybody sober. The drivers stood up and lashed their
horses. The groom had the best team and his sledge was lightest--all the
others carried from six to a dozen people.

Another driver lost control. The screams of the horses were more
terrible to hear than the cries of the men and women. Nothing seemed to
check the wolves. It was hard to tell what was happening in the rear;
the people who were falling behind shrieked as piteously as those who
were already lost. The little bride hid her face on the groom's shoulder
and sobbed. Pavel sat still and watched his horses. The road was clear
and white, and the groom's three blacks went like the wind. It was only
necessary to be calm and to guide them carefully.

At length, as they breasted a long hill, Peter rose cautiously and
looked back. 'There are only three sledges left,' he whispered.

'And the wolves?' Pavel asked.

'Enough! Enough for all of us.'

Pavel reached the brow of the hill, but only two sledges followed him
down the other side. In that moment on the hilltop, they saw behind them
a whirling black group on the snow. Presently the groom screamed. He saw
his father's sledge overturned, with his mother and sisters. He sprang
up as if he meant to jump, but the girl shrieked and held him back. It
was even then too late. The black ground-shadows were already crowding
over the heap in the road, and one horse ran out across the fields, his
harness hanging to him, wolves at his heels. But the groom's movement
had given Pavel an idea.

They were within a few miles of their village now. The only sledge left
out of six was not very far behind them, and Pavel's middle horse was
failing. Beside a frozen pond something happened to the other sledge;
Peter saw it plainly. Three big wolves got abreast of the horses, and
the horses went crazy. They tried to jump over each other, got tangled
up in the harness, and overturned the sledge.

When the shrieking behind them died away, Pavel realized that he was
alone upon the familiar road. 'They still come?' he asked Peter.

'Yes.'

'How many?'

'Twenty, thirty--enough.'

Now his middle horse was being almost dragged by the other two. Pavel
gave Peter the reins and stepped carefully into the back of the sledge.
He called to the groom that they must lighten--and pointed to the bride.
The young man cursed him and held her tighter. Pavel tried to drag her
away. In the struggle, the groom rose. Pavel knocked him over the side
of the sledge and threw the girl after him. He said he never remembered
exactly how he did it, or what happened afterward. Peter, crouching in
the front seat, saw nothing. The first thing either of them noticed was
a new sound that broke into the clear air, louder than they had ever
heard it before--the bell of the monastery of their own village, ringing
for early prayers.

Pavel and Peter drove into the village alone, and they had been alone
ever since. They were run out of their village. Pavel's own mother
would not look at him. They went away to strange towns, but when people
learned where they came from, they were always asked if they knew the
two men who had fed the bride to the wolves. Wherever they went, the
story followed them. It took them five years to save money enough to
come to America. They worked in Chicago, Des Moines, Fort Wayne, but
they were always unfortunate. When Pavel's health grew so bad, they
decided to try farming.


Pavel died a few days after he unburdened his mind to Mr. Shimerda, and
was buried in the Norwegian graveyard. Peter sold off everything, and
left the country--went to be cook in a railway construction camp where
gangs of Russians were employed.

At his sale we bought Peter's wheelbarrow and some of his harness.
During the auction he went about with his head down, and never
lifted his eyes. He seemed not to care about anything. The Black Hawk
money-lender who held mortgages on Peter's livestock was there, and he
bought in the sale notes at about fifty cents on the dollar. Everyone
said Peter kissed the cow before she was led away by her new owner. I
did not see him do it, but this I know: after all his furniture and his
cookstove and pots and pans had been hauled off by the purchasers,
when his house was stripped and bare, he sat down on the floor with his
clasp-knife and ate all the melons that he had put away for winter. When
Mr. Shimerda and Krajiek drove up in their wagon to take Peter to the
train, they found him with a dripping beard, surrounded by heaps of
melon rinds.

The loss of his two friends had a depressing effect upon old Mr.
Shimerda. When he was out hunting, he used to go into the empty log
house and sit there, brooding. This cabin was his hermitage until the
winter snows penned him in his cave. For Antonia and me, the story of
the wedding party was never at an end. We did not tell Pavel's secret
to anyone, but guarded it jealously--as if the wolves of the Ukraine had
gathered that night long ago, and the wedding party been sacrificed,
to give us a painful and peculiar pleasure. At night, before I went to
sleep, I often found myself in a sledge drawn by three horses, dashing
through a country that looked something like Nebraska and something like
Virginia.



IX

THE FIRST SNOWFALL came early in December. I remember how the world
looked from our sitting-room window as I dressed behind the stove that
morning: the low sky was like a sheet of metal; the blond cornfields had
faded out into ghostliness at last; the little pond was frozen under its
stiff willow bushes. Big white flakes were whirling over everything and
disappearing in the red grass.

Beyond the pond, on the slope that climbed to the cornfield, there was,
faintly marked in the grass, a great circle where the Indians used to
ride. Jake and Otto were sure that when they galloped round that ring
the Indians tortured prisoners, bound to a stake in the centre; but
grandfather thought they merely ran races or trained horses there.
Whenever one looked at this slope against the setting sun, the circle
showed like a pattern in the grass; and this morning, when the
first light spray of snow lay over it, it came out with wonderful
distinctness, like strokes of Chinese white on canvas. The old figure
stirred me as it had never done before and seemed a good omen for the
winter.

As soon as the snow had packed hard, I began to drive about the country
in a clumsy sleigh that Otto Fuchs made for me by fastening a wooden
goods-box on bobs. Fuchs had been apprenticed to a cabinetmaker in the
old country and was very handy with tools. He would have done a better
job if I hadn't hurried him. My first trip was to the post-office, and
the next day I went over to take Yulka and Antonia for a sleigh-ride.

It was a bright, cold day. I piled straw and buffalo robes into the
box, and took two hot bricks wrapped in old blankets. When I got to the
Shimerdas', I did not go up to the house, but sat in my sleigh at the
bottom of the draw and called. Antonia and Yulka came running out,
wearing little rabbit-skin hats their father had made for them. They
had heard about my sledge from Ambrosch and knew why I had come. They
tumbled in beside me and we set off toward the north, along a road that
happened to be broken.


The sky was brilliantly blue, and the sunlight on the glittering white
stretches of prairie was almost blinding. As Antonia said, the whole
world was changed by the snow; we kept looking in vain for familiar
landmarks. The deep arroyo through which Squaw Creek wound was now only
a cleft between snowdrifts--very blue when one looked down into it. The
tree-tops that had been gold all the autumn were dwarfed and twisted, as
if they would never have any life in them again. The few little cedars,
which were so dull and dingy before, now stood out a strong, dusky
green. The wind had the burning taste of fresh snow; my throat and
nostrils smarted as if someone had opened a hartshorn bottle. The cold
stung, and at the same time delighted one. My horse's breath rose like
steam, and whenever we stopped he smoked all over. The cornfields got
back a little of their colour under the dazzling light, and stood the
palest possible gold in the sun and snow. All about us the snow was
crusted in shallow terraces, with tracings like ripple-marks at the
edges, curly waves that were the actual impression of the stinging lash
in the wind.

The girls had on cotton dresses under their shawls; they kept shivering
beneath the buffalo robes and hugging each other for warmth. But
they were so glad to get away from their ugly cave and their mother's
scolding that they begged me to go on and on, as far as Russian Peter's
house. The great fresh open, after the stupefying warmth indoors, made
them behave like wild things. They laughed and shouted, and said they
never wanted to go home again. Couldn't we settle down and live in
Russian Peter's house, Yulka asked, and couldn't I go to town and buy
things for us to keep house with?


All the way to Russian Peter's we were extravagantly happy, but when we
turned back--it must have been about four o'clock--the east wind grew
stronger and began to howl; the sun lost its heartening power and the
sky became grey and sombre. I took off my long woollen comforter and
wound it around Yulka's throat. She got so cold that we made her hide
her head under the buffalo robe. Antonia and I sat erect, but I held the
reins clumsily, and my eyes were blinded by the wind a good deal of the
time. It was growing dark when we got to their house, but I refused to
go in with them and get warm. I knew my hands would ache terribly if I
went near a fire. Yulka forgot to give me back my comforter, and I had
to drive home directly against the wind. The next day I came down with
an attack of quinsy, which kept me in the house for nearly two weeks.

The basement kitchen seemed heavenly safe and warm in those days--like
a tight little boat in a winter sea. The men were out in the fields all
day, husking corn, and when they came in at noon, with long caps pulled
down over their ears and their feet in red-lined overshoes, I used
to think they were like Arctic explorers. In the afternoons, when
grandmother sat upstairs darning, or making husking-gloves, I read 'The
Swiss Family Robinson' aloud to her, and I felt that the Swiss family
had no advantages over us in the way of an adventurous life. I was
convinced that man's strongest antagonist is the cold. I admired the
cheerful zest with which grandmother went about keeping us warm and
comfortable and well-fed. She often reminded me, when she was preparing
for the return of the hungry men, that this country was not like
Virginia; and that here a cook had, as she said, 'very little to do
with.' On Sundays she gave us as much chicken as we could eat, and on
other days we had ham or bacon or sausage meat. She baked either pies
or cake for us every day, unless, for a change, she made my favourite
pudding, striped with currants and boiled in a bag.

Next to getting warm and keeping warm, dinner and supper were the most
interesting things we had to think about. Our lives centred around
warmth and food and the return of the men at nightfall. I used to
wonder, when they came in tired from the fields, their feet numb and
their hands cracked and sore, how they could do all the chores so
conscientiously: feed and water and bed the horses, milk the cows, and
look after the pigs. When supper was over, it took them a long while
to get the cold out of their bones. While grandmother and I washed the
dishes and grandfather read his paper upstairs, Jake and Otto sat on
the long bench behind the stove, 'easing' their inside boots, or rubbing
mutton tallow into their cracked hands.

Every Saturday night we popped corn or made taffy, and Otto Fuchs used
to sing, 'For I Am a Cowboy and Know I've Done Wrong,' or, 'Bury Me Not
on the Lone Prairee.' He had a good baritone voice and always led the
singing when we went to church services at the sod schoolhouse.

I can still see those two men sitting on the bench; Otto's close-clipped
head and Jake's shaggy hair slicked flat in front by a wet comb. I can
see the sag of their tired shoulders against the whitewashed wall. What
good fellows they were, how much they knew, and how many things they had
kept faith with!

Fuchs had been a cowboy, a stage-driver, a bartender, a miner; had
wandered all over that great Western country and done hard work
everywhere, though, as grandmother said, he had nothing to show for it.
Jake was duller than Otto. He could scarcely read, wrote even his name
with difficulty, and he had a violent temper which sometimes made him
behave like a crazy man--tore him all to pieces and actually made him
ill. But he was so soft-hearted that anyone could impose upon him. If
he, as he said, 'forgot himself' and swore before grandmother, he went
about depressed and shamefaced all day. They were both of them jovial
about the cold in winter and the heat in summer, always ready to work
overtime and to meet emergencies. It was a matter of pride with them
not to spare themselves. Yet they were the sort of men who never get on,
somehow, or do anything but work hard for a dollar or two a day.

On those bitter, starlit nights, as we sat around the old stove that fed
us and warmed us and kept us cheerful, we could hear the coyotes howling
down by the corrals, and their hungry, wintry cry used to remind the
boys of wonderful animal stories; about grey wolves and bears in the
Rockies, wildcats and panthers in the Virginia mountains. Sometimes
Fuchs could be persuaded to talk about the outlaws and desperate
characters he had known. I remember one funny story about himself that
made grandmother, who was working her bread on the bread-board, laugh
until she wiped her eyes with her bare arm, her hands being floury. It
was like this:

When Otto left Austria to come to America, he was asked by one of his
relatives to look after a woman who was crossing on the same boat, to
join her husband in Chicago. The woman started off with two children,
but it was clear that her family might grow larger on the journey. Fuchs
said he 'got on fine with the kids,' and liked the mother, though she
played a sorry trick on him. In mid-ocean she proceeded to have not
one baby, but three! This event made Fuchs the object of undeserved
notoriety, since he was travelling with her. The steerage stewardess
was indignant with him, the doctor regarded him with suspicion. The
first-cabin passengers, who made up a purse for the woman, took an
embarrassing interest in Otto, and often enquired of him about his
charge. When the triplets were taken ashore at New York, he had, as he
said, 'to carry some of them.' The trip to Chicago was even worse than
the ocean voyage. On the train it was very difficult to get milk for the
babies and to keep their bottles clean. The mother did her best, but
no woman, out of her natural resources, could feed three babies. The
husband, in Chicago, was working in a furniture factory for modest
wages, and when he met his family at the station he was rather crushed
by the size of it. He, too, seemed to consider Fuchs in some fashion to
blame. 'I was sure glad,' Otto concluded, 'that he didn't take his hard
feeling out on that poor woman; but he had a sullen eye for me, all
right! Now, did you ever hear of a young feller's having such hard luck,
Mrs. Burden?'

Grandmother told him she was sure the Lord had remembered these things
to his credit, and had helped him out of many a scrape when he didn't
realize that he was being protected by Providence.



X

FOR SEVERAL WEEKS after my sleigh-ride, we heard nothing from the
Shimerdas. My sore throat kept me indoors, and grandmother had a cold
which made the housework heavy for her. When Sunday came she was glad
to have a day of rest. One night at supper Fuchs told us he had seen Mr.
Shimerda out hunting.

'He's made himself a rabbit-skin cap, Jim, and a rabbit-skin collar that
he buttons on outside his coat. They ain't got but one overcoat among
'em over there, and they take turns wearing it. They seem awful scared
of cold, and stick in that hole in the bank like badgers.'

'All but the crazy boy,' Jake put in. 'He never wears the coat. Krajiek
says he's turrible strong and can stand anything. I guess rabbits must
be getting scarce in this locality. Ambrosch come along by the cornfield
yesterday where I was at work and showed me three prairie dogs he'd
shot. He asked me if they was good to eat. I spit and made a face and
took on, to scare him, but he just looked like he was smarter'n me and
put 'em back in his sack and walked off.'

Grandmother looked up in alarm and spoke to grandfather. 'Josiah, you
don't suppose Krajiek would let them poor creatures eat prairie dogs, do
you?'

'You had better go over and see our neighbours tomorrow, Emmaline,' he
replied gravely.

Fuchs put in a cheerful word and said prairie dogs were clean beasts
and ought to be good for food, but their family connections were against
them. I asked what he meant, and he grinned and said they belonged to
the rat family.

When I went downstairs in the morning, I found grandmother and Jake
packing a hamper basket in the kitchen.

'Now, Jake,' grandmother was saying, 'if you can find that old rooster
that got his comb froze, just give his neck a twist, and we'll take him
along. There's no good reason why Mrs. Shimerda couldn't have got hens
from her neighbours last fall and had a hen-house going by now. I reckon
she was confused and didn't know where to begin. I've come strange to a
new country myself, but I never forgot hens are a good thing to have, no
matter what you don't have.

'Just as you say, ma'm,' said Jake, 'but I hate to think of Krajiek
getting a leg of that old rooster.' He tramped out through the long
cellar and dropped the heavy door behind him.

After breakfast grandmother and Jake and I bundled ourselves up and
climbed into the cold front wagon-seat. As we approached the Shimerdas',
we heard the frosty whine of the pump and saw Antonia, her head tied
up and her cotton dress blown about her, throwing all her weight on the
pump-handle as it went up and down. She heard our wagon, looked back
over her shoulder, and, catching up her pail of water, started at a run
for the hole in the bank.

Jake helped grandmother to the ground, saying he would bring the
provisions after he had blanketed his horses. We went slowly up the icy
path toward the door sunk in the drawside. Blue puffs of smoke came from
the stovepipe that stuck out through the grass and snow, but the wind
whisked them roughly away.

Mrs. Shimerda opened the door before we knocked and seized grandmother's
hand. She did not say 'How do!' as usual, but at once began to cry,
talking very fast in her own language, pointing to her feet which were
tied up in rags, and looking about accusingly at everyone.

The old man was sitting on a stump behind the stove, crouching over as
if he were trying to hide from us. Yulka was on the floor at his feet,
her kitten in her lap. She peeped out at me and smiled, but, glancing up
at her mother, hid again. Antonia was washing pans and dishes in a
dark corner. The crazy boy lay under the only window, stretched on
a gunny-sack stuffed with straw. As soon as we entered, he threw a
grain-sack over the crack at the bottom of the door. The air in the cave
was stifling, and it was very dark, too. A lighted lantern, hung over
the stove, threw out a feeble yellow glimmer.

Mrs. Shimerda snatched off the covers of two barrels behind the door,
and made us look into them. In one there were some potatoes that had
been frozen and were rotting, in the other was a little pile of flour.
Grandmother murmured something in embarrassment, but the Bohemian woman
laughed scornfully, a kind of whinny-laugh, and, catching up an empty
coffee-pot from the shelf, shook it at us with a look positively
vindictive.

Grandmother went on talking in her polite Virginia way, not admitting
their stark need or her own remissness, until Jake arrived with the
hamper, as if in direct answer to Mrs. Shimerda's reproaches. Then the
poor woman broke down. She dropped on the floor beside her crazy son,
hid her face on her knees, and sat crying bitterly. Grandmother paid no
heed to her, but called Antonia to come and help empty the basket. Tony
left her corner reluctantly. I had never seen her crushed like this
before.

'You not mind my poor mamenka, Mrs. Burden. She is so sad,' she
whispered, as she wiped her wet hands on her skirt and took the things
grandmother handed her.

The crazy boy, seeing the food, began to make soft, gurgling noises
and stroked his stomach. Jake came in again, this time with a sack of
potatoes. Grandmother looked about in perplexity.

'Haven't you got any sort of cave or cellar outside, Antonia? This is no
place to keep vegetables. How did your potatoes get frozen?'

'We get from Mr. Bushy, at the post-office what he throw out. We got no
potatoes, Mrs. Burden,' Tony admitted mournfully.

When Jake went out, Marek crawled along the floor and stuffed up the
door-crack again. Then, quietly as a shadow, Mr. Shimerda came out from
behind the stove. He stood brushing his hand over his smooth grey hair,
as if he were trying to clear away a fog about his head. He was clean
and neat as usual, with his green neckcloth and his coral pin. He took
grandmother's arm and led her behind the stove, to the back of the room.
In the rear wall was another little cave; a round hole, not much bigger
than an oil barrel, scooped out in the black earth. When I got up on one
of the stools and peered into it, I saw some quilts and a pile of straw.
The old man held the lantern. 'Yulka,' he said in a low, despairing
voice, 'Yulka; my Antonia!'

Grandmother drew back. 'You mean they sleep in there--your girls?' He
bowed his head.

Tony slipped under his arm. 'It is very cold on the floor, and this
is warm like the badger hole. I like for sleep there,' she insisted
eagerly. 'My mamenka have nice bed, with pillows from our own geese in
Bohemie. See, Jim?' She pointed to the narrow bunk which Krajiek had
built against the wall for himself before the Shimerdas came.

Grandmother sighed. 'Sure enough, where WOULD you sleep, dear! I
don't doubt you're warm there. You'll have a better house after while,
Antonia, and then you will forget these hard times.'

Mr. Shimerda made grandmother sit down on the only chair and pointed
his wife to a stool beside her. Standing before them with his hand
on Antonia's shoulder, he talked in a low tone, and his daughter
translated. He wanted us to know that they were not beggars in the old
country; he made good wages, and his family were respected there. He
left Bohemia with more than a thousand dollars in savings, after their
passage money was paid. He had in some way lost on exchange in New York,
and the railway fare to Nebraska was more than they had expected. By the
time they paid Krajiek for the land, and bought his horses and oxen
and some old farm machinery, they had very little money left. He wished
grandmother to know, however, that he still had some money. If they
could get through until spring came, they would buy a cow and chickens
and plant a garden, and would then do very well. Ambrosch and Antonia
were both old enough to work in the fields, and they were willing to
work. But the snow and the bitter weather had disheartened them all.

Antonia explained that her father meant to build a new house for them in
the spring; he and Ambrosch had already split the logs for it, but the
logs were all buried in the snow, along the creek where they had been
felled.

While grandmother encouraged and gave them advice, I sat down on the
floor with Yulka and let her show me her kitten. Marek slid cautiously
toward us and began to exhibit his webbed fingers. I knew he wanted
to make his queer noises for me--to bark like a dog or whinny like a
horse--but he did not dare in the presence of his elders. Marek was
always trying to be agreeable, poor fellow, as if he had it on his mind
that he must make up for his deficiencies.

Mrs. Shimerda grew more calm and reasonable before our visit was over,
and, while Antonia translated, put in a word now and then on her own
account. The woman had a quick ear, and caught up phrases whenever she
heard English spoken. As we rose to go, she opened her wooden chest and
brought out a bag made of bed-ticking, about as long as a flour sack and
half as wide, stuffed full of something. At sight of it, the crazy boy
began to smack his lips. When Mrs. Shimerda opened the bag and stirred
the contents with her hand, it gave out a salty, earthy smell, very
pungent, even among the other odours of that cave. She measured a teacup
full, tied it up in a bit of sacking, and presented it ceremoniously to
grandmother.

'For cook,' she announced. 'Little now; be very much when cook,'
spreading out her hands as if to indicate that the pint would swell to
a gallon. 'Very good. You no have in this country. All things for eat
better in my country.'

'Maybe so, Mrs. Shimerda,' grandmother said dryly. 'I can't say but I
prefer our bread to yours, myself.'

Antonia undertook to explain. 'This very good, Mrs. Burden'--she clasped
her hands as if she could not express how good--'it make very much when
you cook, like what my mama say. Cook with rabbit, cook with chicken, in
the gravy--oh, so good!'

All the way home grandmother and Jake talked about how easily good
Christian people could forget they were their brothers' keepers.

'I will say, Jake, some of our brothers and sisters are hard to
keep. Where's a body to begin, with these people? They're wanting in
everything, and most of all in horse-sense. Nobody can give 'em that,
I guess. Jimmy, here, is about as able to take over a homestead as they
are. Do you reckon that boy Ambrosch has any real push in him?'

'He's a worker, all right, ma'm, and he's got some ketch-on about him;
but he's a mean one. Folks can be mean enough to get on in this world;
and then, ag'in, they can be too mean.'

That night, while grandmother was getting supper, we opened the package
Mrs. Shimerda had given her. It was full of little brown chips that
looked like the shavings of some root. They were as light as feathers,
and the most noticeable thing about them was their penetrating, earthy
odour. We could not determine whether they were animal or vegetable.

'They might be dried meat from some queer beast, Jim. They ain't dried
fish, and they never grew on stalk or vine. I'm afraid of 'em. Anyhow, I
shouldn't want to eat anything that had been shut up for months with old
clothes and goose pillows.'

She threw the package into the stove, but I bit off a corner of one of
the chips I held in my hand, and chewed it tentatively. I never forgot
the strange taste; though it was many years before I knew that those
little brown shavings, which the Shimerdas had brought so far and
treasured so jealously, were dried mushrooms. They had been gathered,
probably, in some deep Bohemian forest....



XI

DURING THE WEEK before Christmas, Jake was the most important person
of our household, for he was to go to town and do all our Christmas
shopping. But on the twenty-first of December, the snow began to fall.
The flakes came down so thickly that from the sitting-room windows
I could not see beyond the windmill--its frame looked dim and grey,
unsubstantial like a shadow. The snow did not stop falling all day, or
during the night that followed. The cold was not severe, but the storm
was quiet and resistless. The men could not go farther than the barns
and corral. They sat about the house most of the day as if it were
Sunday; greasing their boots, mending their suspenders, plaiting
whiplashes.

On the morning of the twenty-second, grandfather announced at breakfast
that it would be impossible to go to Black Hawk for Christmas purchases.
Jake was sure he could get through on horseback, and bring home our
things in saddle-bags; but grandfather told him the roads would be
obliterated, and a newcomer in the country would be lost ten times
over. Anyway, he would never allow one of his horses to be put to such a
strain.

We decided to have a country Christmas, without any help from town. I
had wanted to get some picture books for Yulka and Antonia; even Yulka
was able to read a little now. Grandmother took me into the ice-cold
storeroom, where she had some bolts of gingham and sheeting. She cut
squares of cotton cloth and we sewed them together into a book. We
bound it between pasteboards, which I covered with brilliant calico,
representing scenes from a circus. For two days I sat at the dining-room
table, pasting this book full of pictures for Yulka. We had files
of those good old family magazines which used to publish coloured
lithographs of popular paintings, and I was allowed to use some of
these. I took 'Napoleon Announcing the Divorce to Josephine' for my
frontispiece. On the white pages I grouped Sunday-School cards and
advertising cards which I had brought from my 'old country.' Fuchs got
out the old candle-moulds and made tallow candles. Grandmother hunted up
her fancy cake-cutters and baked gingerbread men and roosters, which we
decorated with burnt sugar and red cinnamon drops.

On the day before Christmas, Jake packed the things we were sending
to the Shimerdas in his saddle-bags and set off on grandfather's grey
gelding. When he mounted his horse at the door, I saw that he had a
hatchet slung to his belt, and he gave grandmother a meaning look which
told me he was planning a surprise for me. That afternoon I watched
long and eagerly from the sitting-room window. At last I saw a dark spot
moving on the west hill, beside the half-buried cornfield, where the
sky was taking on a coppery flush from the sun that did not quite break
through. I put on my cap and ran out to meet Jake. When I got to the
pond, I could see that he was bringing in a little cedar tree across
his pommel. He used to help my father cut Christmas trees for me in
Virginia, and he had not forgotten how much I liked them.

By the time we had placed the cold, fresh-smelling little tree in a
corner of the sitting-room, it was already Christmas Eve. After supper
we all gathered there, and even grandfather, reading his paper by the
table, looked up with friendly interest now and then. The cedar was
about five feet high and very shapely. We hung it with the gingerbread
animals, strings of popcorn, and bits of candle which Fuchs had fitted
into pasteboard sockets. Its real splendours, however, came from the
most unlikely place in the world--from Otto's cowboy trunk. I had never
seen anything in that trunk but old boots and spurs and pistols, and
a fascinating mixture of yellow leather thongs, cartridges, and
shoemaker's wax. From under the lining he now produced a collection of
brilliantly coloured paper figures, several inches high and stiff enough
to stand alone. They had been sent to him year after year, by his old
mother in Austria. There was a bleeding heart, in tufts of paper lace;
there were the three kings, gorgeously apparelled, and the ox and the
ass and the shepherds; there was the Baby in the manger, and a group
of angels, singing; there were camels and leopards, held by the black
slaves of the three kings. Our tree became the talking tree of the
fairy tale; legends and stories nestled like birds in its branches.
Grandmother said it reminded her of the Tree of Knowledge. We put sheets
of cotton wool under it for a snow-field, and Jake's pocket-mirror for a
frozen lake.

I can see them now, exactly as they looked, working about the table in
the lamplight: Jake with his heavy features, so rudely moulded that his
face seemed, somehow, unfinished; Otto with his half-ear and the savage
scar that made his upper lip curl so ferociously under his twisted
moustache. As I remember them, what unprotected faces they were; their
very roughness and violence made them defenceless. These boys had no
practised manner behind which they could retreat and hold people at a
distance. They had only their hard fists to batter at the world with.
Otto was already one of those drifting, case-hardened labourers who
never marry or have children of their own. Yet he was so fond of
children!



XII

ON CHRISTMAS MORNING, when I got down to the kitchen, the men were just
coming in from their morning chores--the horses and pigs always had
their breakfast before we did. Jake and Otto shouted 'Merry Christmas!'
to me, and winked at each other when they saw the waffle-irons on the
stove. Grandfather came down, wearing a white shirt and his Sunday coat.
Morning prayers were longer than usual. He read the chapters from Saint
Matthew about the birth of Christ, and as we listened, it all seemed
like something that had happened lately, and near at hand. In his prayer
he thanked the Lord for the first Christmas, and for all that it had
meant to the world ever since. He gave thanks for our food and comfort,
and prayed for the poor and destitute in great cities, where the
struggle for life was harder than it was here with us. Grandfather's
prayers were often very interesting. He had the gift of simple and
moving expression. Because he talked so little, his words had a peculiar
force; they were not worn dull from constant use. His prayers reflected
what he was thinking about at the time, and it was chiefly through them
that we got to know his feelings and his views about things.

After we sat down to our waffles and sausage, Jake told us how pleased
the Shimerdas had been with their presents; even Ambrosch was friendly
and went to the creek with him to cut the Christmas tree. It was a
soft grey day outside, with heavy clouds working across the sky, and
occasional squalls of snow. There were always odd jobs to be done about
the barn on holidays, and the men were busy until afternoon. Then
Jake and I played dominoes, while Otto wrote a long letter home to his
mother. He always wrote to her on Christmas Day, he said, no matter
where he was, and no matter how long it had been since his last letter.
All afternoon he sat in the dining-room. He would write for a while,
then sit idle, his clenched fist lying on the table, his eyes following
the pattern of the oilcloth. He spoke and wrote his own language so
seldom that it came to him awkwardly. His effort to remember entirely
absorbed him.

At about four o'clock a visitor appeared: Mr. Shimerda, wearing his
rabbit-skin cap and collar, and new mittens his wife had knitted. He had
come to thank us for the presents, and for all grandmother's kindness to
his family. Jake and Otto joined us from the basement and we sat about
the stove, enjoying the deepening grey of the winter afternoon and
the atmosphere of comfort and security in my grandfather's house. This
feeling seemed completely to take possession of Mr. Shimerda. I suppose,
in the crowded clutter of their cave, the old man had come to believe
that peace and order had vanished from the earth, or existed only in the
old world he had left so far behind. He sat still and passive, his head
resting against the back of the wooden rocking-chair, his hands relaxed
upon the arms. His face had a look of weariness and pleasure, like that
of sick people when they feel relief from pain. Grandmother insisted on
his drinking a glass of Virginia apple-brandy after his long walk in the
cold, and when a faint flush came up in his cheeks, his features might
have been cut out of a shell, they were so transparent. He said almost
nothing, and smiled rarely; but as he rested there we all had a sense of
his utter content.

As it grew dark, I asked whether I might light the Christmas tree before
the lamp was brought. When the candle-ends sent up their conical yellow
flames, all the coloured figures from Austria stood out clear and full
of meaning against the green boughs. Mr. Shimerda rose, crossed himself,
and quietly knelt down before the tree, his head sunk forward. His
long body formed a letter 'S.' I saw grandmother look apprehensively at
grandfather. He was rather narrow in religious matters, and sometimes
spoke out and hurt people's feelings. There had been nothing strange
about the tree before, but now, with some one kneeling before
it--images, candles... Grandfather merely put his finger-tips to his
brow and bowed his venerable head, thus Protestantizing the atmosphere.

We persuaded our guest to stay for supper with us. He needed little
urging. As we sat down to the table, it occurred to me that he liked
to look at us, and that our faces were open books to him. When his
deep-seeing eyes rested on me, I felt as if he were looking far ahead
into the future for me, down the road I would have to travel.

At nine o'clock Mr. Shimerda lighted one of our lanterns and put on his
overcoat and fur collar. He stood in the little entry hall, the lantern
and his fur cap under his arm, shaking hands with us. When he took
grandmother's hand, he bent over it as he always did, and said slowly,
'Good woman!' He made the sign of the cross over me, put on his cap and
went off in the dark. As we turned back to the sitting-room, grandfather
looked at me searchingly. 'The prayers of all good people are good,' he
said quietly.



XIII

THE WEEK FOLLOWING Christmas brought in a thaw, and by New Year's Day
all the world about us was a broth of grey slush, and the guttered slope
between the windmill and the barn was running black water. The soft
black earth stood out in patches along the roadsides. I resumed all my
chores, carried in the cobs and wood and water, and spent the afternoons
at the barn, watching Jake shell corn with a hand-sheller.

One morning, during this interval of fine weather, Antonia and her
mother rode over on one of their shaggy old horses to pay us a visit.
It was the first time Mrs. Shimerda had been to our house, and she ran
about examining our carpets and curtains and furniture, all the while
commenting upon them to her daughter in an envious, complaining tone.
In the kitchen she caught up an iron pot that stood on the back of
the stove and said: 'You got many, Shimerdas no got.' I thought it
weak-minded of grandmother to give the pot to her.

After dinner, when she was helping to wash the dishes, she said, tossing
her head: 'You got many things for cook. If I got all things like you, I
make much better.'

She was a conceited, boastful old thing, and even misfortune could not
humble her. I was so annoyed that I felt coldly even toward Antonia and
listened unsympathetically when she told me her father was not well.

'My papa sad for the old country. He not look good. He never make music
any more. At home he play violin all the time; for weddings and for
dance. Here never. When I beg him for play, he shake his head no. Some
days he take his violin out of his box and make with his fingers on
the strings, like this, but never he make the music. He don't like this
kawntree.'

'People who don't like this country ought to stay at home,' I said
severely. 'We don't make them come here.'

'He not want to come, never!' she burst out. 'My mamenka make him come.
All the time she say: "America big country; much money, much land for
my boys, much husband for my girls." My papa, he cry for leave his old
friends what make music with him. He love very much the man what play
the long horn like this'--she indicated a slide trombone. "They go
to school together and are friends from boys. But my mama, she want
Ambrosch for be rich, with many cattle."'

'Your mama,' I said angrily, 'wants other people's things.'

"Your grandfather is rich," she retorted fiercely. 'Why he not help my
papa? Ambrosch be rich, too, after while, and he pay back. He is very
smart boy. For Ambrosch my mama come here.'

Ambrosch was considered the important person in the family. Mrs.
Shimerda and Antonia always deferred to him, though he was often surly
with them and contemptuous toward his father. Ambrosch and his mother
had everything their own way. Though Antonia loved her father more than
she did anyone else, she stood in awe of her elder brother.

After I watched Antonia and her mother go over the hill on their
miserable horse, carrying our iron pot with them, I turned to
grandmother, who had taken up her darning, and said I hoped that
snooping old woman wouldn't come to see us any more.

Grandmother chuckled and drove her bright needle across a hole in Otto's
sock. 'She's not old, Jim, though I expect she seems old to you. No, I
wouldn't mourn if she never came again. But, you see, a body never knows
what traits poverty might bring out in 'em. It makes a woman grasping to
see her children want for things. Now read me a chapter in "The Prince
of the House of David." Let's forget the Bohemians.'

We had three weeks of this mild, open weather. The cattle in the corral
ate corn almost as fast as the men could shell it for them, and we hoped
they would be ready for an early market. One morning the two big bulls,
Gladstone and Brigham Young, thought spring had come, and they began to
tease and butt at each other across the barbed wire that separated them.
Soon they got angry. They bellowed and pawed up the soft earth with
their hoofs, rolling their eyes and tossing their heads. Each withdrew
to a far corner of his own corral, and then they made for each other at
a gallop. Thud, thud, we could hear the impact of their great heads, and
their bellowing shook the pans on the kitchen shelves. Had they not been
dehorned, they would have torn each other to pieces. Pretty soon the fat
steers took it up and began butting and horning each other. Clearly, the
affair had to be stopped. We all stood by and watched admiringly while
Fuchs rode into the corral with a pitchfork and prodded the bulls again
and again, finally driving them apart.

The big storm of the winter began on my eleventh birthday, the twentieth
of January. When I went down to breakfast that morning, Jake and Otto
came in white as snow-men, beating their hands and stamping their feet.
They began to laugh boisterously when they saw me, calling:

'You've got a birthday present this time, Jim, and no mistake. They was
a full-grown blizzard ordered for you.'

All day the storm went on. The snow did not fall this time, it simply
spilled out of heaven, like thousands of featherbeds being emptied. That
afternoon the kitchen was a carpenter-shop; the men brought in their
tools and made two great wooden shovels with long handles. Neither
grandmother nor I could go out in the storm, so Jake fed the chickens
and brought in a pitiful contribution of eggs.

Next day our men had to shovel until noon to reach the barn--and the
snow was still falling! There had not been such a storm in the ten years
my grandfather had lived in Nebraska. He said at dinner that we would
not try to reach the cattle--they were fat enough to go without their
corn for a day or two; but tomorrow we must feed them and thaw out their
water-tap so that they could drink. We could not so much as see the
corrals, but we knew the steers were over there, huddled together under
the north bank. Our ferocious bulls, subdued enough by this time, were
probably warming each other's backs. 'This'll take the bile out of 'em!'
Fuchs remarked gleefully.

At noon that day the hens had not been heard from. After dinner Jake and
Otto, their damp clothes now dried on them, stretched their stiff arms
and plunged again into the drifts. They made a tunnel through the snow
to the hen-house, with walls so solid that grandmother and I could walk
back and forth in it. We found the chickens asleep; perhaps they thought
night had come to stay. One old rooster was stirring about, pecking at
the solid lump of ice in their water-tin. When we flashed the lantern
in their eyes, the hens set up a great cackling and flew about clumsily,
scattering down-feathers. The mottled, pin-headed guinea-hens, always
resentful of captivity, ran screeching out into the tunnel and tried to
poke their ugly, painted faces through the snow walls. By five o'clock
the chores were done just when it was time to begin them all over again!
That was a strange, unnatural sort of day.



XIV

ON THE MORNING of the twenty-second I wakened with a start. Before I
opened my eyes, I seemed to know that something had happened. I heard
excited voices in the kitchen--grandmother's was so shrill that I knew
she must be almost beside herself. I looked forward to any new crisis
with delight. What could it be, I wondered, as I hurried into my
clothes. Perhaps the barn had burned; perhaps the cattle had frozen to
death; perhaps a neighbour was lost in the storm.

Down in the kitchen grandfather was standing before the stove with
his hands behind him. Jake and Otto had taken off their boots and were
rubbing their woollen socks. Their clothes and boots were steaming, and
they both looked exhausted. On the bench behind the stove lay a man,
covered up with a blanket. Grandmother motioned me to the dining-room. I
obeyed reluctantly. I watched her as she came and went, carrying dishes.
Her lips were tightly compressed and she kept whispering to herself:
'Oh, dear Saviour!' 'Lord, Thou knowest!'

Presently grandfather came in and spoke to me: 'Jimmy, we will not
have prayers this morning, because we have a great deal to do. Old Mr.
Shimerda is dead, and his family are in great distress. Ambrosch came
over here in the middle of the night, and Jake and Otto went back with
him. The boys have had a hard night, and you must not bother them with
questions. That is Ambrosch, asleep on the bench. Come in to breakfast,
boys.'

After Jake and Otto had swallowed their first cup of coffee, they began
to talk excitedly, disregarding grandmother's warning glances. I held my
tongue, but I listened with all my ears.

'No, sir,' Fuchs said in answer to a question from grandfather, 'nobody
heard the gun go off. Ambrosch was out with the ox-team, trying to
break a road, and the women-folks was shut up tight in their cave. When
Ambrosch come in, it was dark and he didn't see nothing, but the
oxen acted kind of queer. One of 'em ripped around and got away from
him--bolted clean out of the stable. His hands is blistered where the
rope run through. He got a lantern and went back and found the old man,
just as we seen him.'

'Poor soul, poor soul!' grandmother groaned. 'I'd like to think he never
done it. He was always considerate and un-wishful to give trouble. How
could he forget himself and bring this on us!'

'I don't think he was out of his head for a minute, Mrs. Burden,' Fuchs
declared. 'He done everything natural. You know he was always sort of
fixy, and fixy he was to the last. He shaved after dinner, and washed
hisself all over after the girls had done the dishes. Antonia heated the
water for him. Then he put on a clean shirt and clean socks, and after
he was dressed he kissed her and the little one and took his gun and
said he was going out to hunt rabbits. He must have gone right down to
the barn and done it then. He layed down on that bunk-bed, close to
the ox stalls, where he always slept. When we found him, everything was
decent except'--Fuchs wrinkled his brow and hesitated--'except what he
couldn't nowise foresee. His coat was hung on a peg, and his boots was
under the bed. He'd took off that silk neckcloth he always wore, and
folded it smooth and stuck his pin through it. He turned back his shirt
at the neck and rolled up his sleeves.'

'I don't see how he could do it!' grandmother kept saying.

Otto misunderstood her. 'Why, ma'am, it was simple enough; he pulled the
trigger with his big toe. He layed over on his side and put the end
of the barrel in his mouth, then he drew up one foot and felt for the
trigger. He found it all right!'

'Maybe he did,' said Jake grimly. 'There's something mighty queer about
it.'

'Now what do you mean, Jake?' grandmother asked sharply.

'Well, ma'm, I found Krajiek's axe under the manger, and I picks it up
and carries it over to the corpse, and I take my oath it just fit the
gash in the front of the old man's face. That there Krajiek had been
sneakin' round, pale and quiet, and when he seen me examinin' the axe,
he begun whimperin', "My God, man, don't do that!" "I reckon I'm a-goin'
to look into this," says I. Then he begun to squeal like a rat and run
about wringin' his hands. "They'll hang me!" says he. "My God, they'll
hang me sure!"'

Fuchs spoke up impatiently. 'Krajiek's gone silly, Jake, and so have
you. The old man wouldn't have made all them preparations for Krajiek to
murder him, would he? It don't hang together. The gun was right beside
him when Ambrosch found him.'

'Krajiek could 'a' put it there, couldn't he?' Jake demanded.

Grandmother broke in excitedly: 'See here, Jake Marpole, don't you go
trying to add murder to suicide. We're deep enough in trouble. Otto
reads you too many of them detective stories.'

'It will be easy to decide all that, Emmaline,' said grandfather
quietly. 'If he shot himself in the way they think, the gash will be
torn from the inside outward.'

'Just so it is, Mr. Burden,' Otto affirmed. 'I seen bunches of hair and
stuff sticking to the poles and straw along the roof. They was blown up
there by gunshot, no question.'

Grandmother told grandfather she meant to go over to the Shimerdas' with
him.

'There is nothing you can do,' he said doubtfully. 'The body can't be
touched until we get the coroner here from Black Hawk, and that will be
a matter of several days, this weather.'

'Well, I can take them some victuals, anyway, and say a word of comfort
to them poor little girls. The oldest one was his darling, and was like
a right hand to him. He might have thought of her. He's left her alone
in a hard world.' She glanced distrustfully at Ambrosch, who was now
eating his breakfast at the kitchen table.

Fuchs, although he had been up in the cold nearly all night, was going
to make the long ride to Black Hawk to fetch the priest and the coroner.
On the grey gelding, our best horse, he would try to pick his way across
the country with no roads to guide him.

'Don't you worry about me, Mrs. Burden,' he said cheerfully, as he put
on a second pair of socks. 'I've got a good nose for directions, and I
never did need much sleep. It's the grey I'm worried about. I'll save
him what I can, but it'll strain him, as sure as I'm telling you!'

'This is no time to be over-considerate of animals, Otto; do the best
you can for yourself. Stop at the Widow Steavens's for dinner. She's a
good woman, and she'll do well by you.'

After Fuchs rode away, I was left with Ambrosch. I saw a side of him I
had not seen before. He was deeply, even slavishly, devout. He did not
say a word all morning, but sat with his rosary in his hands, praying,
now silently, now aloud. He never looked away from his beads, nor lifted
his hands except to cross himself. Several times the poor boy fell
asleep where he sat, wakened with a start, and began to pray again.

No wagon could be got to the Shimerdas' until a road was broken, and
that would be a day's job. Grandfather came from the barn on one of our
big black horses, and Jake lifted grandmother up behind him. She wore
her black hood and was bundled up in shawls. Grandfather tucked his
bushy white beard inside his overcoat. They looked very Biblical as they
set off, I thought. Jake and Ambrosch followed them, riding the other
black and my pony, carrying bundles of clothes that we had got together
for Mrs. Shimerda. I watched them go past the pond and over the hill by
the drifted cornfield. Then, for the first time, I realized that I was
alone in the house.

I felt a considerable extension of power and authority, and was anxious
to acquit myself creditably. I carried in cobs and wood from the long
cellar, and filled both the stoves. I remembered that in the hurry and
excitement of the morning nobody had thought of the chickens, and the
eggs had not been gathered. Going out through the tunnel, I gave the
hens their corn, emptied the ice from their drinking-pan, and filled
it with water. After the cat had had his milk, I could think of nothing
else to do, and I sat down to get warm. The quiet was delightful, and
the ticking clock was the most pleasant of companions. I got 'Robinson
Crusoe' and tried to read, but his life on the island seemed dull
compared with ours. Presently, as I looked with satisfaction about our
comfortable sitting-room, it flashed upon me that if Mr. Shimerda's
soul were lingering about in this world at all, it would be here, in
our house, which had been more to his liking than any other in the
neighbourhood. I remembered his contented face when he was with us on
Christmas Day. If he could have lived with us, this terrible thing would
never have happened.

I knew it was homesickness that had killed Mr. Shimerda, and I wondered
whether his released spirit would not eventually find its way back to
his own country. I thought of how far it was to Chicago, and then to
Virginia, to Baltimore--and then the great wintry ocean. No, he would
not at once set out upon that long journey. Surely, his exhausted
spirit, so tired of cold and crowding and the struggle with the
ever-falling snow, was resting now in this quiet house.

I was not frightened, but I made no noise. I did not wish to disturb
him. I went softly down to the kitchen which, tucked away so snugly
underground, always seemed to me the heart and centre of the house.
There, on the bench behind the stove, I thought and thought about Mr.
Shimerda. Outside I could hear the wind singing over hundreds of miles
of snow. It was as if I had let the old man in out of the tormenting
winter, and were sitting there with him. I went over all that Antonia
had ever told me about his life before he came to this country; how
he used to play the fiddle at weddings and dances. I thought about the
friends he had mourned to leave, the trombone-player, the great forest
full of game--belonging, as Antonia said, to the 'nobles'--from which
she and her mother used to steal wood on moonlight nights. There was a
white hart that lived in that forest, and if anyone killed it, he would
be hanged, she said. Such vivid pictures came to me that they might have
been Mr. Shimerda's memories, not yet faded out from the air in which
they had haunted him.

It had begun to grow dark when my household returned, and grandmother
was so tired that she went at once to bed. Jake and I got supper, and
while we were washing the dishes he told me in loud whispers about the
state of things over at the Shimerdas'. Nobody could touch the body
until the coroner came. If anyone did, something terrible would happen,
apparently. The dead man was frozen through, 'just as stiff as a dressed
turkey you hang out to freeze,' Jake said. The horses and oxen would not
go into the barn until he was frozen so hard that there was no longer
any smell of blood. They were stabled there now, with the dead man,
because there was no other place to keep them. A lighted lantern was
kept hanging over Mr. Shimerda's head. Antonia and Ambrosch and the
mother took turns going down to pray beside him. The crazy boy went with
them, because he did not feel the cold. I believed he felt cold as much
as anyone else, but he liked to be thought insensible to it. He was
always coveting distinction, poor Marek!

Ambrosch, Jake said, showed more human feeling than he would have
supposed him capable of, but he was chiefly concerned about getting a
priest, and about his father's soul, which he believed was in a place
of torment and would remain there until his family and the priest had
prayed a great deal for him. 'As I understand it,' Jake concluded, 'it
will be a matter of years to pray his soul out of Purgatory, and right
now he's in torment.'

'I don't believe it,' I said stoutly. 'I almost know it isn't true.' I
did not, of course, say that I believed he had been in that very kitchen
all afternoon, on his way back to his own country. Nevertheless, after
I went to bed, this idea of punishment and Purgatory came back on me
crushingly. I remembered the account of Dives in torment, and shuddered.
But Mr. Shimerda had not been rich and selfish: he had only been so
unhappy that he could not live any longer.



XV

OTTO FUCHS GOT back from Black Hawk at noon the next day. He reported
that the coroner would reach the Shimerdas' sometime that afternoon,
but the missionary priest was at the other end of his parish, a hundred
miles away, and the trains were not running. Fuchs had got a few hours'
sleep at the livery barn in town, but he was afraid the grey gelding had
strained himself. Indeed, he was never the same horse afterward. That
long trip through the deep snow had taken all the endurance out of him.

Fuchs brought home with him a stranger, a young Bohemian who had taken
a homestead near Black Hawk, and who came on his only horse to help his
fellow countrymen in their trouble. That was the first time I ever saw
Anton Jelinek. He was a strapping young fellow in the early twenties
then, handsome, warm-hearted, and full of life, and he came to us like
a miracle in the midst of that grim business. I remember exactly how he
strode into our kitchen in his felt boots and long wolfskin coat,
his eyes and cheeks bright with the cold. At sight of grandmother, he
snatched off his fur cap, greeting her in a deep, rolling voice which
seemed older than he.

'I want to thank you very much, Mrs. Burden, for that you are so kind to
poor strangers from my kawntree.'

He did not hesitate like a farmer boy, but looked one eagerly in the eye
when he spoke. Everything about him was warm and spontaneous. He said
he would have come to see the Shimerdas before, but he had hired out to
husk corn all the fall, and since winter began he had been going to the
school by the mill, to learn English, along with the little children. He
told me he had a nice 'lady-teacher' and that he liked to go to school.

At dinner grandfather talked to Jelinek more than he usually did to
strangers.

'Will they be much disappointed because we cannot get a priest?' he
asked.


Jelinek looked serious.

'Yes, sir, that is very bad for them. Their father has done a great
sin'--he looked straight at grandfather. 'Our Lord has said that.'

Grandfather seemed to like his frankness.

'We believe that, too, Jelinek. But we believe that Mr. Shimerda's soul
will come to its Creator as well off without a priest. We believe that
Christ is our only intercessor.'

The young man shook his head. 'I know how you think. My teacher at the
school has explain. But I have seen too much. I believe in prayer for
the dead. I have seen too much.'

We asked him what he meant.

He glanced around the table. 'You want I shall tell you? When I was a
little boy like this one, I begin to help the priest at the altar. I
make my first communion very young; what the Church teach seem plain to
me. By 'n' by war-times come, when the Prussians fight us. We have very
many soldiers in camp near my village, and the cholera break out in that
camp, and the men die like flies. All day long our priest go about
there to give the Sacrament to dying men, and I go with him to carry the
vessels with the Holy Sacrament. Everybody that go near that camp catch
the sickness but me and the priest. But we have no sickness, we have
no fear, because we carry that blood and that body of Christ, and it
preserve us.' He paused, looking at grandfather. 'That I know, Mr.
Burden, for it happened to myself. All the soldiers know, too. When
we walk along the road, the old priest and me, we meet all the time
soldiers marching and officers on horse. All those officers, when they
see what I carry under the cloth, pull up their horses and kneel down
on the ground in the road until we pass. So I feel very bad for my
kawntree-man to die without the Sacrament, and to die in a bad way for
his soul, and I feel sad for his family.'

We had listened attentively. It was impossible not to admire his frank,
manly faith.

'I am always glad to meet a young man who thinks seriously about these
things,' said grandfather, 'and I would never be the one to say you were
not in God's care when you were among the soldiers.' After dinner it was
decided that young Jelinek should hook our two strong black farm-horses
to the scraper and break a road through to the Shimerdas', so that
a wagon could go when it was necessary. Fuchs, who was the only
cabinetmaker in the neighbourhood was set to work on a coffin.

Jelinek put on his long wolfskin coat, and when we admired it, he told
us that he had shot and skinned the coyotes, and the young man who
'batched' with him, Jan Bouska, who had been a fur-worker in Vienna,
made the coat. From the windmill I watched Jelinek come out of the barn
with the blacks, and work his way up the hillside toward the cornfield.
Sometimes he was completely hidden by the clouds of snow that rose about
him; then he and the horses would emerge black and shining.

Our heavy carpenter's bench had to be brought from the barn and carried
down into the kitchen. Fuchs selected boards from a pile of planks
grandfather had hauled out from town in the fall to make a new floor for
the oats-bin. When at last the lumber and tools were assembled, and the
doors were closed again and the cold draughts shut out, grandfather rode
away to meet the coroner at the Shimerdas', and Fuchs took off his coat
and settled down to work. I sat on his worktable and watched him. He did
not touch his tools at first, but figured for a long while on a piece of
paper, and measured the planks and made marks on them. While he was
thus engaged, he whistled softly to himself, or teasingly pulled at his
half-ear. Grandmother moved about quietly, so as not to disturb him. At
last he folded his ruler and turned a cheerful face to us.

'The hardest part of my job's done,' he announced. 'It's the head end
of it that comes hard with me, especially when I'm out of practice. The
last time I made one of these, Mrs. Burden,' he continued, as he sorted
and tried his chisels, 'was for a fellow in the Black Tiger Mine, up
above Silverton, Colorado. The mouth of that mine goes right into the
face of the cliff, and they used to put us in a bucket and run us over
on a trolley and shoot us into the shaft. The bucket travelled across a
box canon three hundred feet deep, and about a third full of water. Two
Swedes had fell out of that bucket once, and hit the water, feet down.
If you'll believe it, they went to work the next day. You can't kill
a Swede. But in my time a little Eyetalian tried the high dive, and it
turned out different with him. We was snowed in then, like we are now,
and I happened to be the only man in camp that could make a coffin for
him. It's a handy thing to know, when you knock about like I've done.'

'We'd be hard put to it now, if you didn't know, Otto,' grandmother
said.


'Yes, 'm,' Fuchs admitted with modest pride. 'So few folks does know
how to make a good tight box that'll turn water. I sometimes wonder
if there'll be anybody about to do it for me. However, I'm not at all
particular that way.'

All afternoon, wherever one went in the house, one could hear the
panting wheeze of the saw or the pleasant purring of the plane. They
were such cheerful noises, seeming to promise new things for living
people: it was a pity that those freshly planed pine boards were to be
put underground so soon. The lumber was hard to work because it was full
of frost, and the boards gave off a sweet smell of pine woods, as the
heap of yellow shavings grew higher and higher. I wondered why Fuchs
had not stuck to cabinet-work, he settled down to it with such ease and
content. He handled the tools as if he liked the feel of them; and when
he planed, his hands went back and forth over the boards in an eager,
beneficent way as if he were blessing them. He broke out now and then
into German hymns, as if this occupation brought back old times to him.

At four o'clock Mr. Bushy, the postmaster, with another neighbour who
lived east of us, stopped in to get warm. They were on their way to the
Shimerdas'. The news of what had happened over there had somehow got
abroad through the snow-blocked country. Grandmother gave the visitors
sugar-cakes and hot coffee. Before these callers were gone, the brother
of the Widow Steavens, who lived on the Black Hawk road, drew up at our
door, and after him came the father of the German family, our
nearest neighbours on the south. They dismounted and joined us in the
dining-room. They were all eager for any details about the suicide, and
they were greatly concerned as to where Mr. Shimerda would be buried.
The nearest Catholic cemetery was at Black Hawk, and it might be weeks
before a wagon could get so far. Besides, Mr. Bushy and grandmother were
sure that a man who had killed himself could not be buried in a Catholic
graveyard. There was a burying-ground over by the Norwegian church, west
of Squaw Creek; perhaps the Norwegians would take Mr. Shimerda in.

After our visitors rode away in single file over the hill, we returned
to the kitchen. Grandmother began to make the icing for a chocolate
cake, and Otto again filled the house with the exciting, expectant song
of the plane. One pleasant thing about this time was that everybody
talked more than usual. I had never heard the postmaster say anything
but 'Only papers, to-day,' or, 'I've got a sackful of mail for ye,'
until this afternoon. Grandmother always talked, dear woman: to herself
or to the Lord, if there was no one else to listen; but grandfather was
naturally taciturn, and Jake and Otto were often so tired after supper
that I used to feel as if I were surrounded by a wall of silence. Now
everyone seemed eager to talk. That afternoon Fuchs told me story after
story: about the Black Tiger Mine, and about violent deaths and casual
buryings, and the queer fancies of dying men. You never really knew
a man, he said, until you saw him die. Most men were game, and went
without a grudge.

The postmaster, going home, stopped to say that grandfather would
bring the coroner back with him to spend the night. The officers of the
Norwegian church, he told us, had held a meeting and decided that the
Norwegian graveyard could not extend its hospitality to Mr. Shimerda.

Grandmother was indignant. 'If these foreigners are so clannish, Mr.
Bushy, we'll have to have an American graveyard that will be more
liberal-minded. I'll get right after Josiah to start one in the spring.
If anything was to happen to me, I don't want the Norwegians holding
inquisitions over me to see whether I'm good enough to be laid amongst
'em.'

Soon grandfather returned, bringing with him Anton Jelinek, and that
important person, the coroner. He was a mild, flurried old man, a Civil
War veteran, with one sleeve hanging empty. He seemed to find this case
very perplexing, and said if it had not been for grandfather he would
have sworn out a warrant against Krajiek. 'The way he acted, and the way
his axe fit the wound, was enough to convict any man.'

Although it was perfectly clear that Mr. Shimerda had killed himself,
Jake and the coroner thought something ought to be done to Krajiek
because he behaved like a guilty man. He was badly frightened,
certainly, and perhaps he even felt some stirrings of remorse for his
indifference to the old man's misery and loneliness.

At supper the men ate like vikings, and the chocolate cake, which I
had hoped would linger on until tomorrow in a mutilated condition,
disappeared on the second round. They talked excitedly about where
they should bury Mr. Shimerda; I gathered that the neighbours were all
disturbed and shocked about something. It developed that Mrs. Shimerda
and Ambrosch wanted the old man buried on the southwest corner of
their own land; indeed, under the very stake that marked the corner.
Grandfather had explained to Ambrosch that some day, when the country
was put under fence and the roads were confined to section lines, two
roads would cross exactly on that corner. But Ambrosch only said, 'It
makes no matter.'

Grandfather asked Jelinek whether in the old country there was some
superstition to the effect that a suicide must be buried at the
cross-roads.

Jelinek said he didn't know; he seemed to remember hearing there had
once been such a custom in Bohemia. 'Mrs. Shimerda is made up her mind,'
he added. 'I try to persuade her, and say it looks bad for her to all
the neighbours; but she say so it must be. "There I will bury him, if
I dig the grave myself," she say. I have to promise her I help Ambrosch
make the grave tomorrow.'

Grandfather smoothed his beard and looked judicial. 'I don't know whose
wish should decide the matter, if not hers. But if she thinks she will
live to see the people of this country ride over that old man's head,
she is mistaken.'



XVI

MR. SHIMERDA LAY DEAD in the barn four days, and on the fifth they
buried him. All day Friday Jelinek was off with Ambrosch digging the
grave, chopping out the frozen earth with old axes. On Saturday we
breakfasted before daylight and got into the wagon with the coffin. Jake
and Jelinek went ahead on horseback to cut the body loose from the pool
of blood in which it was frozen fast to the ground.

When grandmother and I went into the Shimerdas' house, we found the
womenfolk alone; Ambrosch and Marek were at the barn. Mrs. Shimerda sat
crouching by the stove, Antonia was washing dishes. When she saw me, she
ran out of her dark corner and threw her arms around me. 'Oh, Jimmy,'
she sobbed, 'what you tink for my lovely papa!' It seemed to me that I
could feel her heart breaking as she clung to me.

Mrs. Shimerda, sitting on the stump by the stove, kept looking over her
shoulder toward the door while the neighbours were arriving. They came
on horseback, all except the postmaster, who brought his family in a
wagon over the only broken wagon-trail. The Widow Steavens rode up from
her farm eight miles down the Black Hawk road. The cold drove the women
into the cave-house, and it was soon crowded. A fine, sleety snow was
beginning to fall, and everyone was afraid of another storm and anxious
to have the burial over with.

Grandfather and Jelinek came to tell Mrs. Shimerda that it was time
to start. After bundling her mother up in clothes the neighbours had
brought, Antonia put on an old cape from our house and the rabbit-skin
hat her father had made for her. Four men carried Mr. Shimerda's box up
the hill; Krajiek slunk along behind them. The coffin was too wide for
the door, so it was put down on the slope outside. I slipped out from
the cave and looked at Mr. Shimerda. He was lying on his side, with his
knees drawn up. His body was draped in a black shawl, and his head was
bandaged in white muslin, like a mummy's; one of his long, shapely hands
lay out on the black cloth; that was all one could see of him.

Mrs. Shimerda came out and placed an open prayer-book against the body,
making the sign of the cross on the bandaged head with her fingers.
Ambrosch knelt down and made the same gesture, and after him Antonia and
Marek. Yulka hung back. Her mother pushed her forward, and kept saying
something to her over and over. Yulka knelt down, shut her eyes, and put
out her hand a little way, but she drew it back and began to cry wildly.
She was afraid to touch the bandage. Mrs. Shimerda caught her by the
shoulders and pushed her toward the coffin, but grandmother interfered.

'No, Mrs. Shimerda,' she said firmly, 'I won't stand by and see that
child frightened into spasms. She is too little to understand what you
want of her. Let her alone.'

At a look from grandfather, Fuchs and Jelinek placed the lid on the box,
and began to nail it down over Mr. Shimerda. I was afraid to look at
Antonia. She put her arms round Yulka and held the little girl close to
her.

The coffin was put into the wagon. We drove slowly away, against the
fine, icy snow which cut our faces like a sand-blast. When we reached
the grave, it looked a very little spot in that snow-covered waste. The
men took the coffin to the edge of the hole and lowered it with ropes.
We stood about watching them, and the powdery snow lay without melting
on the caps and shoulders of the men and the shawls of the women.
Jelinek spoke in a persuasive tone to Mrs. Shimerda, and then turned to
grandfather.

'She says, Mr. Burden, she is very glad if you can make some prayer for
him here in English, for the neighbours to understand.'

Grandmother looked anxiously at grandfather. He took off his hat, and
the other men did likewise. I thought his prayer remarkable. I still
remember it. He began, 'Oh, great and just God, no man among us knows
what the sleeper knows, nor is it for us to judge what lies between him
and Thee.' He prayed that if any man there had been remiss toward the
stranger come to a far country, God would forgive him and soften his
heart. He recalled the promises to the widow and the fatherless, and
asked God to smooth the way before this widow and her children, and to
'incline the hearts of men to deal justly with her.' In closing, he said
we were leaving Mr. Shimerda at 'Thy judgment seat, which is also Thy
mercy seat.'

All the time he was praying, grandmother watched him through the black
fingers of her glove, and when he said 'Amen,' I thought she looked
satisfied with him. She turned to Otto and whispered, 'Can't you start a
hymn, Fuchs? It would seem less heathenish.'

Fuchs glanced about to see if there was general approval of her
suggestion, then began, 'Jesus, Lover of my Soul,' and all the men and
women took it up after him. Whenever I have heard the hymn since, it has
made me remember that white waste and the little group of people; and
the bluish air, full of fine, eddying snow, like long veils flying:

'While the nearer waters roll, While the tempest still is high.'

Years afterward, when the open-grazing days were over, and the red grass
had been ploughed under and under until it had almost disappeared from
the prairie; when all the fields were under fence, and the roads
no longer ran about like wild things, but followed the surveyed
section-lines, Mr. Shimerda's grave was still there, with a sagging
wire fence around it, and an unpainted wooden cross. As grandfather had
predicted, Mrs. Shimerda never saw the roads going over his head. The
road from the north curved a little to the east just there, and the road
from the west swung out a little to the south; so that the grave, with
its tall red grass that was never mowed, was like a little island; and
at twilight, under a new moon or the clear evening star, the dusty roads
used to look like soft grey rivers flowing past it. I never came upon
the place without emotion, and in all that country it was the spot most
dear to me. I loved the dim superstition, the propitiatory intent, that
had put the grave there; and still more I loved the spirit that could
not carry out the sentence--the error from the surveyed lines, the
clemency of the soft earth roads along which the home-coming wagons
rattled after sunset. Never a tired driver passed the wooden cross, I am
sure, without wishing well to the sleeper.



XVII

WHEN SPRING CAME, AFTER that hard winter, one could not get enough of
the nimble air. Every morning I wakened with a fresh consciousness that
winter was over. There were none of the signs of spring for which I used
to watch in Virginia, no budding woods or blooming gardens. There was
only--spring itself; the throb of it, the light restlessness, the vital
essence of it everywhere: in the sky, in the swift clouds, in the pale
sunshine, and in the warm, high wind--rising suddenly, sinking suddenly,
impulsive and playful like a big puppy that pawed you and then lay down
to be petted. If I had been tossed down blindfold on that red prairie, I
should have known that it was spring.

Everywhere now there was the smell of burning grass. Our neighbours
burned off their pasture before the new grass made a start, so that the
fresh growth would not be mixed with the dead stand of last year. Those
light, swift fires, running about the country, seemed a part of the same
kindling that was in the air.

The Shimerdas were in their new log house by then. The neighbours had
helped them to build it in March. It stood directly in front of their
old cave, which they used as a cellar. The family were now fairly
equipped to begin their struggle with the soil. They had four
comfortable rooms to live in, a new windmill--bought on credit--a
chicken-house and poultry. Mrs. Shimerda had paid grandfather ten
dollars for a milk cow, and was to give him fifteen more as soon as they
harvested their first crop.

When I rode up to the Shimerdas' one bright windy afternoon in April,
Yulka ran out to meet me. It was to her, now, that I gave reading
lessons; Antonia was busy with other things. I tied my pony and went
into the kitchen where Mrs. Shimerda was baking bread, chewing poppy
seeds as she worked. By this time she could speak enough English to ask
me a great many questions about what our men were doing in the fields.
She seemed to think that my elders withheld helpful information, and
that from me she might get valuable secrets. On this occasion she asked
me very craftily when grandfather expected to begin planting corn. I
told her, adding that he thought we should have a dry spring and that
the corn would not be held back by too much rain, as it had been last
year.

She gave me a shrewd glance. 'He not Jesus,' she blustered; 'he not know
about the wet and the dry.

I did not answer her; what was the use? As I sat waiting for the hour
when Ambrosch and Antonia would return from the fields, I watched Mrs.
Shimerda at her work. She took from the oven a coffee-cake which she
wanted to keep warm for supper, and wrapped it in a quilt stuffed with
feathers. I have seen her put even a roast goose in this quilt to keep
it hot. When the neighbours were there building the new house, they saw
her do this, and the story got abroad that the Shimerdas kept their food
in their featherbeds.


When the sun was dropping low, Antonia came up the big south draw with
her team. How much older she had grown in eight months! She had come
to us a child, and now she was a tall, strong young girl, although her
fifteenth birthday had just slipped by. I ran out and met her as she
brought her horses up to the windmill to water them. She wore the boots
her father had so thoughtfully taken off before he shot himself, and his
old fur cap. Her outgrown cotton dress switched about her calves, over
the boot-tops. She kept her sleeves rolled up all day, and her arms and
throat were burned as brown as a sailor's. Her neck came up strongly out
of her shoulders, like the bole of a tree out of the turf. One sees that
draught-horse neck among the peasant women in all old countries.

She greeted me gaily, and began at once to tell me how much ploughing
she had done that day. Ambrosch, she said, was on the north quarter,
breaking sod with the oxen.

'Jim, you ask Jake how much he ploughed to-day. I don't want that Jake
get more done in one day than me. I want we have very much corn this
fall.'

While the horses drew in the water, and nosed each other, and then drank
again, Antonia sat down on the windmill step and rested her head on her
hand.

'You see the big prairie fire from your place last night? I hope your
grandpa ain't lose no stacks?'

'No, we didn't. I came to ask you something, Tony. Grandmother wants to
know if you can't go to the term of school that begins next week over at
the sod schoolhouse. She says there's a good teacher, and you'd learn a
lot.'

Antonia stood up, lifting and dropping her shoulders as if they were
stiff. 'I ain't got time to learn. I can work like mans now. My mother
can't say no more how Ambrosch do all and nobody to help him. I can work
as much as him. School is all right for little boys. I help make this
land one good farm.'

She clucked to her team and started for the barn. I walked beside her,
feeling vexed. Was she going to grow up boastful like her mother, I
wondered? Before we reached the stable, I felt something tense in her
silence, and glancing up I saw that she was crying. She turned her face
from me and looked off at the red streak of dying light, over the dark
prairie.

I climbed up into the loft and threw down the hay for her, while she
unharnessed her team. We walked slowly back toward the house. Ambrosch
had come in from the north quarter, and was watering his oxen at the
tank.


Antonia took my hand. 'Sometime you will tell me all those nice things
you learn at the school, won't you, Jimmy?' she asked with a sudden rush
of feeling in her voice. 'My father, he went much to school. He know a
great deal; how to make the fine cloth like what you not got here. He
play horn and violin, and he read so many books that the priests in
Bohemie come to talk to him. You won't forget my father, Jim?' 'No,' I
said, 'I will never forget him.'

Mrs. Shimerda asked me to stay for supper. After Ambrosch and Antonia
had washed the field dust from their hands and faces at the wash-basin
by the kitchen door, we sat down at the oilcloth-covered table. Mrs.
Shimerda ladled meal mush out of an iron pot and poured milk on it.
After the mush we had fresh bread and sorghum molasses, and coffee with
the cake that had been kept warm in the feathers. Antonia and Ambrosch
were talking in Bohemian; disputing about which of them had done more
ploughing that day. Mrs. Shimerda egged them on, chuckling while she
gobbled her food.

Presently Ambrosch said sullenly in English: 'You take them ox tomorrow
and try the sod plough. Then you not be so smart.'

His sister laughed. 'Don't be mad. I know it's awful hard work for break
sod. I milk the cow for you tomorrow, if you want.'

Mrs. Shimerda turned quickly to me. 'That cow not give so much milk like
what your grandpa say. If he make talk about fifteen dollars, I send him
back the cow.'

'He doesn't talk about the fifteen dollars,' I exclaimed indignantly.
'He doesn't find fault with people.'

'He say I break his saw when we build, and I never,' grumbled Ambrosch.

I knew he had broken the saw, and then hid it and lied about it. I began
to wish I had not stayed for supper. Everything was disagreeable to
me. Antonia ate so noisily now, like a man, and she yawned often at
the table and kept stretching her arms over her head, as if they ached.
Grandmother had said, 'Heavy field work'll spoil that girl. She'll lose
all her nice ways and get rough ones.' She had lost them already.

After supper I rode home through the sad, soft spring twilight. Since
winter I had seen very little of Antonia. She was out in the fields from
sunup until sundown. If I rode over to see her where she was ploughing,
she stopped at the end of a row to chat for a moment, then gripped
her plough-handles, clucked to her team, and waded on down the furrow,
making me feel that she was now grown up and had no time for me. On
Sundays she helped her mother make garden or sewed all day. Grandfather
was pleased with Antonia. When we complained of her, he only smiled and
said, 'She will help some fellow get ahead in the world.'

Nowadays Tony could talk of nothing but the prices of things, or how
much she could lift and endure. She was too proud of her strength. I
knew, too, that Ambrosch put upon her some chores a girl ought not to
do, and that the farm-hands around the country joked in a nasty way
about it. Whenever I saw her come up the furrow, shouting to her beasts,
sunburned, sweaty, her dress open at the neck, and her throat and chest
dust-plastered, I used to think of the tone in which poor Mr. Shimerda,
who could say so little, yet managed to say so much when he exclaimed,
'My Antonia!'



XVIII

AFTER I BEGAN TO go to the country school, I saw less of the Bohemians.
We were sixteen pupils at the sod schoolhouse, and we all came on
horseback and brought our dinner. My schoolmates were none of them very
interesting, but I somehow felt that, by making comrades of them, I
was getting even with Antonia for her indifference. Since the father's
death, Ambrosch was more than ever the head of the house, and he seemed
to direct the feelings as well as the fortunes of his womenfolk. Antonia
often quoted his opinions to me, and she let me see that she admired
him, while she thought of me only as a little boy. Before the spring
was over, there was a distinct coldness between us and the Shimerdas. It
came about in this way.


One Sunday I rode over there with Jake to get a horse-collar which
Ambrosch had borrowed from him and had not returned. It was a beautiful
blue morning. The buffalo-peas were blooming in pink and purple
masses along the roadside, and the larks, perched on last year's dried
sunflower stalks, were singing straight at the sun, their heads thrown
back and their yellow breasts a-quiver. The wind blew about us in warm,
sweet gusts. We rode slowly, with a pleasant sense of Sunday indolence.

We found the Shimerdas working just as if it were a week-day. Marek was
cleaning out the stable, and Antonia and her mother were making garden,
off across the pond in the draw-head. Ambrosch was up on the windmill
tower, oiling the wheel. He came down, not very cordially. When Jake
asked for the collar, he grunted and scratched his head. The collar
belonged to grandfather, of course, and Jake, feeling responsible for
it, flared up. 'Now, don't you say you haven't got it, Ambrosch, because
I know you have, and if you ain't a-going to look for it, I will.'

Ambrosch shrugged his shoulders and sauntered down the hill toward
the stable. I could see that it was one of his mean days. Presently he
returned, carrying a collar that had been badly used--trampled in the
dirt and gnawed by rats until the hair was sticking out of it.

'This what you want?' he asked surlily.

Jake jumped off his horse. I saw a wave of red come up under the rough
stubble on his face. 'That ain't the piece of harness I loaned you,
Ambrosch; or, if it is, you've used it shameful. I ain't a-going to
carry such a looking thing back to Mr. Burden.'

Ambrosch dropped the collar on the ground. 'All right,' he said coolly,
took up his oil-can, and began to climb the mill. Jake caught him by the
belt of his trousers and yanked him back. Ambrosch's feet had scarcely
touched the ground when he lunged out with a vicious kick at Jake's
stomach. Fortunately, Jake was in such a position that he could dodge
it. This was not the sort of thing country boys did when they played
at fisticuffs, and Jake was furious. He landed Ambrosch a blow on the
head--it sounded like the crack of an axe on a cow-pumpkin. Ambrosch
dropped over, stunned.

We heard squeals, and looking up saw Antonia and her mother coming on
the run. They did not take the path around the pond, but plunged through
the muddy water, without even lifting their skirts. They came on,
screaming and clawing the air. By this time Ambrosch had come to his
senses and was sputtering with nosebleed.

Jake sprang into his saddle. 'Let's get out of this, Jim,' he called.

Mrs. Shimerda threw her hands over her head and clutched as if she were
going to pull down lightning. 'Law, law!' she shrieked after us. 'Law
for knock my Ambrosch down!'

'I never like you no more, Jake and Jim Burden,' Antonia panted. 'No
friends any more!'

Jake stopped and turned his horse for a second. 'Well, you're a damned
ungrateful lot, the whole pack of you,' he shouted back. 'I guess the
Burdens can get along without you. You've been a sight of trouble to
them, anyhow!'

We rode away, feeling so outraged that the fine morning was spoiled
for us. I hadn't a word to say, and poor Jake was white as paper and
trembling all over. It made him sick to get so angry.

'They ain't the same, Jimmy,' he kept saying in a hurt tone. 'These
foreigners ain't the same. You can't trust 'em to be fair. It's dirty to
kick a feller. You heard how the women turned on you--and after all we
went through on account of 'em last winter! They ain't to be trusted. I
don't want to see you get too thick with any of 'em.'

'I'll never be friends with them again, Jake,' I declared hotly. 'I
believe they are all like Krajiek and Ambrosch underneath.'

Grandfather heard our story with a twinkle in his eye. He advised Jake
to ride to town tomorrow, go to a justice of the peace, tell him he had
knocked young Shimerda down, and pay his fine. Then if Mrs. Shimerda
was inclined to make trouble--her son was still under age--she would
be forestalled. Jake said he might as well take the wagon and haul to
market the pig he had been fattening. On Monday, about an hour after
Jake had started, we saw Mrs. Shimerda and her Ambrosch proudly driving
by, looking neither to the right nor left. As they rattled out of sight
down the Black Hawk road, grandfather chuckled, saying he had rather
expected she would follow the matter up.

Jake paid his fine with a ten-dollar bill grandfather had given him for
that purpose. But when the Shimerdas found that Jake sold his pig in
town that day, Ambrosch worked it out in his shrewd head that Jake had
to sell his pig to pay his fine. This theory afforded the Shimerdas
great satisfaction, apparently. For weeks afterward, whenever Jake and I
met Antonia on her way to the post-office, or going along the road with
her work-team, she would clap her hands and call to us in a spiteful,
crowing voice:

'Jake-y, Jake-y, sell the pig and pay the slap!'

Otto pretended not to be surprised at Antonia's behaviour. He only
lifted his brows and said, 'You can't tell me anything new about a
Czech; I'm an Austrian.'

Grandfather was never a party to what Jake called our feud with the
Shimerdas. Ambrosch and Antonia always greeted him respectfully, and he
asked them about their affairs and gave them advice as usual. He thought
the future looked hopeful for them. Ambrosch was a far-seeing fellow; he
soon realized that his oxen were too heavy for any work except breaking
sod, and he succeeded in selling them to a newly arrived German. With
the money he bought another team of horses, which grandfather selected
for him. Marek was strong, and Ambrosch worked him hard; but he could
never teach him to cultivate corn, I remember. The one idea that had
ever got through poor Marek's thick head was that all exertion was
meritorious. He always bore down on the handles of the cultivator
and drove the blades so deep into the earth that the horses were soon
exhausted.

In June, Ambrosch went to work at Mr. Bushy's for a week, and took Marek
with him at full wages. Mrs. Shimerda then drove the second cultivator;
she and Antonia worked in the fields all day and did the chores at
night. While the two women were running the place alone, one of the new
horses got colic and gave them a terrible fright.

Antonia had gone down to the barn one night to see that all was well
before she went to bed, and she noticed that one of the roans was
swollen about the middle and stood with its head hanging. She mounted
another horse, without waiting to saddle him, and hammered on our door
just as we were going to bed. Grandfather answered her knock. He did not
send one of his men, but rode back with her himself, taking a syringe
and an old piece of carpet he kept for hot applications when our horses
were sick. He found Mrs. Shimerda sitting by the horse with her lantern,
groaning and wringing her hands. It took but a few moments to release
the gases pent up in the poor beast, and the two women heard the rush of
wind and saw the roan visibly diminish in girth.

'If I lose that horse, Mr. Burden,' Antonia exclaimed, 'I never stay
here till Ambrosch come home! I go drown myself in the pond before
morning.'

When Ambrosch came back from Mr. Bushy's, we learned that he had given
Marek's wages to the priest at Black Hawk, for Masses for their father's
soul. Grandmother thought Antonia needed shoes more than Mr. Shimerda
needed prayers, but grandfather said tolerantly, 'If he can spare six
dollars, pinched as he is, it shows he believes what he professes.'

It was grandfather who brought about a reconciliation with the
Shimerdas. One morning he told us that the small grain was coming on so
well, he thought he would begin to cut his wheat on the first of July.
He would need more men, and if it were agreeable to everyone he would
engage Ambrosch for the reaping and threshing, as the Shimerdas had no
small grain of their own.

'I think, Emmaline,' he concluded, 'I will ask Antonia to come over and
help you in the kitchen. She will be glad to earn something, and it will
be a good time to end misunderstandings. I may as well ride over this
morning and make arrangements. Do you want to go with me, Jim?' His tone
told me that he had already decided for me.

After breakfast we set off together. When Mrs. Shimerda saw us coming,
she ran from her door down into the draw behind the stable, as if she
did not want to meet us. Grandfather smiled to himself while he tied his
horse, and we followed her.

Behind the barn we came upon a funny sight. The cow had evidently been
grazing somewhere in the draw. Mrs. Shimerda had run to the animal,
pulled up the lariat pin, and, when we came upon her, she was trying
to hide the cow in an old cave in the bank. As the hole was narrow and
dark, the cow held back, and the old woman was slapping and pushing at
her hind quarters, trying to spank her into the drawside.

Grandfather ignored her singular occupation and greeted her politely.
'Good morning, Mrs. Shimerda. Can you tell me where I will find
Ambrosch? Which field?'

'He with the sod corn.' She pointed toward the north, still standing in
front of the cow as if she hoped to conceal it.

'His sod corn will be good for fodder this winter,' said grandfather
encouragingly. 'And where is Antonia?'

'She go with.' Mrs. Shimerda kept wiggling her bare feet about nervously
in the dust.

'Very well. I will ride up there. I want them to come over and help me
cut my oats and wheat next month. I will pay them wages. Good morning.
By the way, Mrs. Shimerda,' he said as he turned up the path, 'I think
we may as well call it square about the cow.'

She started and clutched the rope tighter. Seeing that she did not
understand, grandfather turned back. 'You need not pay me anything more;
no more money. The cow is yours.'

'Pay no more, keep cow?' she asked in a bewildered tone, her narrow eyes
snapping at us in the sunlight.

'Exactly. Pay no more, keep cow.' He nodded.

Mrs. Shimerda dropped the rope, ran after us, and, crouching down beside
grandfather, she took his hand and kissed it. I doubt if he had ever
been so much embarrassed before. I was a little startled, too. Somehow,
that seemed to bring the Old World very close.

We rode away laughing, and grandfather said: 'I expect she thought we
had come to take the cow away for certain, Jim. I wonder if she wouldn't
have scratched a little if we'd laid hold of that lariat rope!'

Our neighbours seemed glad to make peace with us. The next Sunday Mrs.
Shimerda came over and brought Jake a pair of socks she had knitted. She
presented them with an air of great magnanimity, saying, 'Now you not
come any more for knock my Ambrosch down?'

Jake laughed sheepishly. 'I don't want to have no trouble with Ambrosch.
If he'll let me alone, I'll let him alone.'

'If he slap you, we ain't got no pig for pay the fine,' she said
insinuatingly.

Jake was not at all disconcerted. 'Have the last word ma'm,' he said
cheerfully. 'It's a lady's privilege.'



XIX

JULY CAME ON with that breathless, brilliant heat which makes the plains
of Kansas and Nebraska the best corn country in the world. It seemed
as if we could hear the corn growing in the night; under the stars one
caught a faint crackling in the dewy, heavy-odoured cornfields where the
feathered stalks stood so juicy and green. If all the great plain from
the Missouri to the Rocky Mountains had been under glass, and the heat
regulated by a thermometer, it could not have been better for the yellow
tassels that were ripening and fertilizing the silk day by day. The
cornfields were far apart in those times, with miles of wild grazing
land between. It took a clear, meditative eye like my grandfather's to
foresee that they would enlarge and multiply until they would be, not
the Shimerdas' cornfields, or Mr. Bushy's, but the world's cornfields;
that their yield would be one of the great economic facts, like the
wheat crop of Russia, which underlie all the activities of men, in peace
or war.

The burning sun of those few weeks, with occasional rains at night,
secured the corn. After the milky ears were once formed, we had
little to fear from dry weather. The men were working so hard in the
wheatfields that they did not notice the heat--though I was kept busy
carrying water for them--and grandmother and Antonia had so much to do
in the kitchen that they could not have told whether one day was hotter
than another. Each morning, while the dew was still on the grass,
Antonia went with me up to the garden to get early vegetables for
dinner. Grandmother made her wear a sunbonnet, but as soon as we reached
the garden she threw it on the grass and let her hair fly in the breeze.
I remember how, as we bent over the pea-vines, beads of perspiration
used to gather on her upper lip like a little moustache.

'Oh, better I like to work out-of-doors than in a house!' she used to
sing joyfully. 'I not care that your grandmother say it makes me like
a man. I like to be like a man.' She would toss her head and ask me to
feel the muscles swell in her brown arm.

We were glad to have her in the house. She was so gay and responsive
that one did not mind her heavy, running step, or her clattery way with
pans. Grandmother was in high spirits during the weeks that Antonia
worked for us.

All the nights were close and hot during that harvest season. The
harvesters slept in the hayloft because it was cooler there than in the
house. I used to lie in my bed by the open window, watching the heat
lightning play softly along the horizon, or looking up at the gaunt
frame of the windmill against the blue night sky. One night there was a
beautiful electric storm, though not enough rain fell to damage the cut
grain. The men went down to the barn immediately after supper, and when
the dishes were washed, Antonia and I climbed up on the slanting roof
of the chicken-house to watch the clouds. The thunder was loud and
metallic, like the rattle of sheet iron, and the lightning broke in
great zigzags across the heavens, making everything stand out and
come close to us for a moment. Half the sky was chequered with black
thunderheads, but all the west was luminous and clear: in the lightning
flashes it looked like deep blue water, with the sheen of moonlight on
it; and the mottled part of the sky was like marble pavement, like the
quay of some splendid seacoast city, doomed to destruction. Great warm
splashes of rain fell on our upturned faces. One black cloud, no bigger
than a little boat, drifted out into the clear space unattended, and
kept moving westward. All about us we could hear the felty beat of the
raindrops on the soft dust of the farmyard. Grandmother came to the door
and said it was late, and we would get wet out there.

'In a minute we come,' Antonia called back to her. 'I like your
grandmother, and all things here,' she sighed. 'I wish my papa live to
see this summer. I wish no winter ever come again.'

'It will be summer a long while yet,' I reassured her. 'Why aren't you
always nice like this, Tony?'

'How nice?'

'Why, just like this; like yourself. Why do you all the time try to be
like Ambrosch?'

She put her arms under her head and lay back, looking up at the sky. 'If
I live here, like you, that is different. Things will be easy for you.
But they will be hard for us.'



BOOK II. The Hired Girls



I


I HAD BEEN LIVING with my grandfather for nearly three years when he
decided to move to Black Hawk. He and grandmother were getting old for
the heavy work of a farm, and as I was now thirteen they thought I ought
to be going to school. Accordingly our homestead was rented to 'that
good woman, the Widow Steavens,' and her bachelor brother, and we bought
Preacher White's house, at the north end of Black Hawk. This was the
first town house one passed driving in from the farm, a landmark which
told country people their long ride was over.

We were to move to Black Hawk in March, and as soon as grandfather had
fixed the date he let Jake and Otto know of his intention. Otto said he
would not be likely to find another place that suited him so well; that
he was tired of farming and thought he would go back to what he called
the 'wild West.' Jake Marpole, lured by Otto's stories of adventure,
decided to go with him. We did our best to dissuade Jake. He was so
handicapped by illiteracy and by his trusting disposition that he
would be an easy prey to sharpers. Grandmother begged him to stay among
kindly, Christian people, where he was known; but there was no reasoning
with him. He wanted to be a prospector. He thought a silver mine was
waiting for him in Colorado.

Jake and Otto served us to the last. They moved us into town, put
down the carpets in our new house, made shelves and cupboards for
grandmother's kitchen, and seemed loath to leave us. But at last they
went, without warning. Those two fellows had been faithful to us through
sun and storm, had given us things that cannot be bought in any market
in the world. With me they had been like older brothers; had restrained
their speech and manners out of care for me, and given me so much good
comradeship. Now they got on the westbound train one morning, in their
Sunday clothes, with their oilcloth valises--and I never saw them again.
Months afterward we got a card from Otto, saying that Jake had been down
with mountain fever, but now they were both working in the Yankee Girl
Mine, and were doing well. I wrote to them at that address, but my
letter was returned to me, 'Unclaimed.' After that we never heard from
them.

Black Hawk, the new world in which we had come to live, was a clean,
well-planted little prairie town, with white fences and good green
yards about the dwellings, wide, dusty streets, and shapely little trees
growing along the wooden sidewalks. In the centre of the town there
were two rows of new brick 'store' buildings, a brick schoolhouse, the
court-house, and four white churches. Our own house looked down over the
town, and from our upstairs windows we could see the winding line of
the river bluffs, two miles south of us. That river was to be my
compensation for the lost freedom of the farming country.

We came to Black Hawk in March, and by the end of April we felt like
town people. Grandfather was a deacon in the new Baptist Church,
grandmother was busy with church suppers and missionary societies, and I
was quite another boy, or thought I was. Suddenly put down among boys of
my own age, I found I had a great deal to learn. Before the spring term
of school was over, I could fight, play 'keeps,' tease the little girls,
and use forbidden words as well as any boy in my class. I was restrained
from utter savagery only by the fact that Mrs. Harling, our nearest
neighbour, kept an eye on me, and if my behaviour went beyond certain
bounds I was not permitted to come into her yard or to play with her
jolly children.

We saw more of our country neighbours now than when we lived on the
farm. Our house was a convenient stopping-place for them. We had a big
barn where the farmers could put up their teams, and their womenfolk
more often accompanied them, now that they could stay with us for
dinner, and rest and set their bonnets right before they went shopping.
The more our house was like a country hotel, the better I liked it.
I was glad, when I came home from school at noon, to see a farm-wagon
standing in the back yard, and I was always ready to run downtown to
get beefsteak or baker's bread for unexpected company. All through that
first spring and summer I kept hoping that Ambrosch would bring Antonia
and Yulka to see our new house. I wanted to show them our red plush
furniture, and the trumpet-blowing cherubs the German paperhanger had
put on our parlour ceiling.

When Ambrosch came to town, however, he came alone, and though he put
his horses in our barn, he would never stay for dinner, or tell us
anything about his mother and sisters. If we ran out and questioned him
as he was slipping through the yard, he would merely work his shoulders
about in his coat and say, 'They all right, I guess.'

Mrs. Steavens, who now lived on our farm, grew as fond of Antonia as
we had been, and always brought us news of her. All through the wheat
season, she told us, Ambrosch hired his sister out like a man, and she
went from farm to farm, binding sheaves or working with the threshers.
The farmers liked her and were kind to her; said they would rather have
her for a hand than Ambrosch. When fall came she was to husk corn for
the neighbours until Christmas, as she had done the year before; but
grandmother saved her from this by getting her a place to work with our
neighbours, the Harlings.



II

GRANDMOTHER OFTEN SAID THAT if she had to live in town, she thanked
God she lived next the Harlings. They had been farming people, like
ourselves, and their place was like a little farm, with a big barn and
a garden, and an orchard and grazing lots--even a windmill. The Harlings
were Norwegians, and Mrs. Harling had lived in Christiania until she
was ten years old. Her husband was born in Minnesota. He was a grain
merchant and cattle-buyer, and was generally considered the most
enterprising business man in our county. He controlled a line of grain
elevators in the little towns along the railroad to the west of us, and
was away from home a great deal. In his absence his wife was the head of
the household.

Mrs. Harling was short and square and sturdy-looking, like her house.
Every inch of her was charged with an energy that made itself felt the
moment she entered a room. Her face was rosy and solid, with bright,
twinkling eyes and a stubborn little chin. She was quick to anger, quick
to laughter, and jolly from the depths of her soul. How well I remember
her laugh; it had in it the same sudden recognition that flashed into
her eyes, was a burst of humour, short and intelligent. Her rapid
footsteps shook her own floors, and she routed lassitude and
indifference wherever she came. She could not be negative or perfunctory
about anything. Her enthusiasm, and her violent likes and dislikes,
asserted themselves in all the everyday occupations of life. Wash-day
was interesting, never dreary, at the Harlings'. Preserving-time was a
prolonged festival, and house-cleaning was like a revolution. When
Mrs. Harling made garden that spring, we could feel the stir of her
undertaking through the willow hedge that separated our place from hers.

Three of the Harling children were near me in age. Charley, the only
son--they had lost an older boy--was sixteen; Julia, who was known as
the musical one, was fourteen when I was; and Sally, the tomboy with
short hair, was a year younger. She was nearly as strong as I, and
uncannily clever at all boys' sports. Sally was a wild thing, with
sunburned yellow hair, bobbed about her ears, and a brown skin, for she
never wore a hat. She raced all over town on one roller skate, often
cheated at 'keeps,' but was such a quick shot one couldn't catch her at
it.

The grown-up daughter, Frances, was a very important person in our
world. She was her father's chief clerk, and virtually managed his
Black Hawk office during his frequent absences. Because of her unusual
business ability, he was stern and exacting with her. He paid her a
good salary, but she had few holidays and never got away from her
responsibilities. Even on Sundays she went to the office to open the
mail and read the markets. With Charley, who was not interested in
business, but was already preparing for Annapolis, Mr. Harling was very
indulgent; bought him guns and tools and electric batteries, and never
asked what he did with them.

Frances was dark, like her father, and quite as tall. In winter she
wore a sealskin coat and cap, and she and Mr. Harling used to walk home
together in the evening, talking about grain-cars and cattle, like two
men. Sometimes she came over to see grandfather after supper, and her
visits flattered him. More than once they put their wits together to
rescue some unfortunate farmer from the clutches of Wick Cutter, the
Black Hawk money-lender. Grandfather said Frances Harling was as good a
judge of credits as any banker in the county. The two or three men who
had tried to take advantage of her in a deal acquired celebrity by their
defeat. She knew every farmer for miles about: how much land he had
under cultivation, how many cattle he was feeding, what his liabilities
were. Her interest in these people was more than a business interest.
She carried them all in her mind as if they were characters in a book or
a play.

When Frances drove out into the country on business, she would go miles
out of her way to call on some of the old people, or to see the women
who seldom got to town. She was quick at understanding the grandmothers
who spoke no English, and the most reticent and distrustful of them
would tell her their story without realizing they were doing so. She
went to country funerals and weddings in all weathers. A farmer's
daughter who was to be married could count on a wedding present from
Frances Harling.

In August the Harlings' Danish cook had to leave them. Grandmother
entreated them to try Antonia. She cornered Ambrosch the next time he
came to town, and pointed out to him that any connection with Christian
Harling would strengthen his credit and be of advantage to him. One
Sunday Mrs. Harling took the long ride out to the Shimerdas' with
Frances. She said she wanted to see 'what the girl came from' and to
have a clear understanding with her mother. I was in our yard when they
came driving home, just before sunset. They laughed and waved to me
as they passed, and I could see they were in great good humour. After
supper, when grandfather set off to church, grandmother and I took my
short cut through the willow hedge and went over to hear about the visit
to the Shimerdas'.

We found Mrs. Harling with Charley and Sally on the front porch,
resting after her hard drive. Julia was in the hammock--she was fond
of repose--and Frances was at the piano, playing without a light and
talking to her mother through the open window.

Mrs. Harling laughed when she saw us coming. 'I expect you left your
dishes on the table tonight, Mrs. Burden,' she called. Frances shut the
piano and came out to join us.

They had liked Antonia from their first glimpse of her; felt they knew
exactly what kind of girl she was. As for Mrs. Shimerda, they found her
very amusing. Mrs. Harling chuckled whenever she spoke of her. 'I expect
I am more at home with that sort of bird than you are, Mrs. Burden.
They're a pair, Ambrosch and that old woman!'

They had had a long argument with Ambrosch about Antonia's allowance
for clothes and pocket-money. It was his plan that every cent of his
sister's wages should be paid over to him each month, and he would
provide her with such clothing as he thought necessary. When Mrs.
Harling told him firmly that she would keep fifty dollars a year for
Antonia's own use, he declared they wanted to take his sister to town
and dress her up and make a fool of her. Mrs. Harling gave us a lively
account of Ambrosch's behaviour throughout the interview; how he kept
jumping up and putting on his cap as if he were through with the whole
business, and how his mother tweaked his coat-tail and prompted him in
Bohemian. Mrs. Harling finally agreed to pay three dollars a week for
Antonia's services--good wages in those days--and to keep her in shoes.
There had been hot dispute about the shoes, Mrs. Shimerda finally saying
persuasively that she would send Mrs. Harling three fat geese every year
to 'make even.' Ambrosch was to bring his sister to town next Saturday.

'She'll be awkward and rough at first, like enough,' grandmother said
anxiously, 'but unless she's been spoiled by the hard life she's led,
she has it in her to be a real helpful girl.'

Mrs. Harling laughed her quick, decided laugh. 'Oh, I'm not worrying,
Mrs. Burden! I can bring something out of that girl. She's barely
seventeen, not too old to learn new ways. She's good-looking, too!' she
added warmly.


Frances turned to grandmother. 'Oh, yes, Mrs. Burden, you didn't tell
us that! She was working in the garden when we got there, barefoot and
ragged. But she has such fine brown legs and arms, and splendid colour
in her cheeks--like those big dark red plums.'

We were pleased at this praise. Grandmother spoke feelingly. 'When she
first came to this country, Frances, and had that genteel old man to
watch over her, she was as pretty a girl as ever I saw. But, dear me,
what a life she's led, out in the fields with those rough threshers!
Things would have been very different with poor Antonia if her father
had lived.'

The Harlings begged us to tell them about Mr. Shimerda's death and the
big snowstorm. By the time we saw grandfather coming home from church,
we had told them pretty much all we knew of the Shimerdas.

'The girl will be happy here, and she'll forget those things,' said Mrs.
Harling confidently, as we rose to take our leave.



III

ON SATURDAY AMBROSCH drove up to the back gate, and Antonia jumped down
from the wagon and ran into our kitchen just as she used to do. She was
wearing shoes and stockings, and was breathless and excited. She gave me
a playful shake by the shoulders. 'You ain't forget about me, Jim?'

Grandmother kissed her. 'God bless you, child! Now you've come, you must
try to do right and be a credit to us.'

Antonia looked eagerly about the house and admired everything. 'Maybe I
be the kind of girl you like better; now I come to town,' she suggested
hopefully.

How good it was to have Antonia near us again; to see her every day and
almost every night! Her greatest fault, Mrs. Harling found, was that
she so often stopped her work and fell to playing with the children. She
would race about the orchard with us, or take sides in our hay-fights
in the barn, or be the old bear that came down from the mountain and
carried off Nina. Tony learned English so quickly that by the time
school began she could speak as well as any of us.

I was jealous of Tony's admiration for Charley Harling. Because he was
always first in his classes at school, and could mend the water-pipes
or the doorbell and take the clock to pieces, she seemed to think him
a sort of prince. Nothing that Charley wanted was too much trouble for
her. She loved to put up lunches for him when he went hunting, to mend
his ball-gloves and sew buttons on his shooting-coat, baked the kind of
nut-cake he liked, and fed his setter dog when he was away on trips with
his father. Antonia had made herself cloth working-slippers out of Mr.
Harling's old coats, and in these she went padding about after Charley,
fairly panting with eagerness to please him.

Next to Charley, I think she loved Nina best. Nina was only six, and she
was rather more complex than the other children. She was fanciful,
had all sorts of unspoken preferences, and was easily offended. At the
slightest disappointment or displeasure, her velvety brown eyes filled
with tears, and she would lift her chin and walk silently away. If we
ran after her and tried to appease her, it did no good. She walked on
unmollified. I used to think that no eyes in the world could grow
so large or hold so many tears as Nina's. Mrs. Harling and Antonia
invariably took her part. We were never given a chance to explain. The
charge was simply: 'You have made Nina cry. Now, Jimmy can go home, and
Sally must get her arithmetic.' I liked Nina, too; she was so quaint and
unexpected, and her eyes were lovely; but I often wanted to shake her.

We had jolly evenings at the Harlings' when the father was away. If he
was at home, the children had to go to bed early, or they came over
to my house to play. Mr. Harling not only demanded a quiet house, he
demanded all his wife's attention. He used to take her away to their
room in the west ell, and talk over his business with her all evening.
Though we did not realize it then, Mrs. Harling was our audience when we
played, and we always looked to her for suggestions. Nothing flattered
one like her quick laugh.

Mr. Harling had a desk in his bedroom, and his own easy-chair by the
window, in which no one else ever sat. On the nights when he was at
home, I could see his shadow on the blind, and it seemed to me an
arrogant shadow. Mrs. Harling paid no heed to anyone else if he was
there. Before he went to bed she always got him a lunch of smoked salmon
or anchovies and beer. He kept an alcohol lamp in his room, and a French
coffee-pot, and his wife made coffee for him at any hour of the night he
happened to want it.

Most Black Hawk fathers had no personal habits outside their domestic
ones; they paid the bills, pushed the baby-carriage after office hours,
moved the sprinkler about over the lawn, and took the family driving on
Sunday. Mr. Harling, therefore, seemed to me autocratic and imperial in
his ways. He walked, talked, put on his gloves, shook hands, like a man
who felt that he had power. He was not tall, but he carried his head so
haughtily that he looked a commanding figure, and there was something
daring and challenging in his eyes. I used to imagine that the 'nobles'
of whom Antonia was always talking probably looked very much like
Christian Harling, wore caped overcoats like his, and just such a
glittering diamond upon the little finger.

Except when the father was at home, the Harling house was never quiet.
Mrs. Harling and Nina and Antonia made as much noise as a houseful of
children, and there was usually somebody at the piano. Julia was the
only one who was held down to regular hours of practising, but they
all played. When Frances came home at noon, she played until dinner was
ready. When Sally got back from school, she sat down in her hat and coat
and drummed the plantation melodies that Negro minstrel troupes brought
to town. Even Nina played the Swedish Wedding March.

Mrs. Harling had studied the piano under a good teacher, and somehow she
managed to practise every day. I soon learned that if I were sent over
on an errand and found Mrs. Harling at the piano, I must sit down and
wait quietly until she turned to me. I can see her at this moment: her
short, square person planted firmly on the stool, her little fat hands
moving quickly and neatly over the keys, her eyes fixed on the music
with intelligent concentration.



IV

     'I won't have none of your weevily wheat,
      and I won't have none of your barley,
     But I'll take a measure of fine white
      flour, to make a cake for Charley.'

WE WERE SINGING rhymes to tease Antonia while she was beating up one of
Charley's favourite cakes in her big mixing-bowl.

It was a crisp autumn evening, just cold enough to make one glad to quit
playing tag in the yard, and retreat into the kitchen. We had begun to
roll popcorn balls with syrup when we heard a knock at the back door,
and Tony dropped her spoon and went to open it.

A plump, fair-skinned girl was standing in the doorway. She looked
demure and pretty, and made a graceful picture in her blue cashmere
dress and little blue hat, with a plaid shawl drawn neatly about her
shoulders and a clumsy pocket-book in her hand.

'Hello, Tony. Don't you know me?' she asked in a smooth, low voice,
looking in at us archly.

Antonia gasped and stepped back.

'Why, it's Lena! Of course I didn't know you, so dressed up!'

Lena Lingard laughed, as if this pleased her. I had not recognized her
for a moment, either. I had never seen her before with a hat on her
head--or with shoes and stockings on her feet, for that matter. And here
she was, brushed and smoothed and dressed like a town girl, smiling at
us with perfect composure.

'Hello, Jim,' she said carelessly as she walked into the kitchen and
looked about her. 'I've come to town to work, too, Tony.'

'Have you, now? Well, ain't that funny!' Antonia stood ill at ease, and
didn't seem to know just what to do with her visitor.

The door was open into the dining-room, where Mrs. Harling sat
crocheting and Frances was reading. Frances asked Lena to come in and
join them.

'You are Lena Lingard, aren't you? I've been to see your mother, but you
were off herding cattle that day. Mama, this is Chris Lingard's oldest
girl.'

Mrs. Harling dropped her worsted and examined the visitor with quick,
keen eyes. Lena was not at all disconcerted. She sat down in the chair
Frances pointed out, carefully arranging her pocket-book and grey
cotton gloves on her lap. We followed with our popcorn, but Antonia hung
back--said she had to get her cake into the oven.

'So you have come to town,' said Mrs. Harling, her eyes still fixed on
Lena. 'Where are you working?'

'For Mrs. Thomas, the dressmaker. She is going to teach me to sew. She
says I have quite a knack. I'm through with the farm. There ain't any
end to the work on a farm, and always so much trouble happens. I'm going
to be a dressmaker.'

'Well, there have to be dressmakers. It's a good trade. But I wouldn't
run down the farm, if I were you,' said Mrs. Harling rather severely.
'How is your mother?'

'Oh, mother's never very well; she has too much to do. She'd get away
from the farm, too, if she could. She was willing for me to come. After
I learn to do sewing, I can make money and help her.'

'See that you don't forget to,' said Mrs. Harling sceptically, as she
took up her crocheting again and sent the hook in and out with nimble
fingers.


'No, 'm, I won't,' said Lena blandly. She took a few grains of the
popcorn we pressed upon her, eating them discreetly and taking care not
to get her fingers sticky.

Frances drew her chair up nearer to the visitor. 'I thought you were
going to be married, Lena,' she said teasingly. 'Didn't I hear that Nick
Svendsen was rushing you pretty hard?'

Lena looked up with her curiously innocent smile. 'He did go with me
quite a while. But his father made a fuss about it and said he wouldn't
give Nick any land if he married me, so he's going to marry Annie
Iverson. I wouldn't like to be her; Nick's awful sullen, and he'll take
it out on her. He ain't spoke to his father since he promised.'

Frances laughed. 'And how do you feel about it?'

'I don't want to marry Nick, or any other man,' Lena murmured. 'I've
seen a good deal of married life, and I don't care for it. I want to be
so I can help my mother and the children at home, and not have to ask
lief of anybody.'

'That's right,' said Frances. 'And Mrs. Thomas thinks you can learn
dressmaking?'

'Yes, 'm. I've always liked to sew, but I never had much to do with.
Mrs. Thomas makes lovely things for all the town ladies. Did you know
Mrs. Gardener is having a purple velvet made? The velvet came from
Omaha. My, but it's lovely!' Lena sighed softly and stroked her cashmere
folds. 'Tony knows I never did like out-of-door work,' she added.

Mrs. Harling glanced at her. 'I expect you'll learn to sew all right,
Lena, if you'll only keep your head and not go gadding about to dances
all the time and neglect your work, the way some country girls do.'

'Yes, 'm. Tiny Soderball is coming to town, too. She's going to work
at the Boys' Home Hotel. She'll see lots of strangers,' Lena added
wistfully.


'Too many, like enough,' said Mrs. Harling. 'I don't think a hotel is a
good place for a girl; though I guess Mrs. Gardener keeps an eye on her
waitresses.'

Lena's candid eyes, that always looked a little sleepy under their long
lashes, kept straying about the cheerful rooms with naive admiration.
Presently she drew on her cotton gloves. 'I guess I must be leaving,'
she said irresolutely.

Frances told her to come again, whenever she was lonesome or wanted
advice about anything. Lena replied that she didn't believe she would
ever get lonesome in Black Hawk.

She lingered at the kitchen door and begged Antonia to come and see her
often. 'I've got a room of my own at Mrs. Thomas's, with a carpet.'

Tony shuffled uneasily in her cloth slippers. 'I'll come sometime, but
Mrs. Harling don't like to have me run much,' she said evasively.

'You can do what you please when you go out, can't you?' Lena asked in
a guarded whisper. 'Ain't you crazy about town, Tony? I don't care
what anybody says, I'm done with the farm!' She glanced back over her
shoulder toward the dining-room, where Mrs. Harling sat.

When Lena was gone, Frances asked Antonia why she hadn't been a little
more cordial to her.

'I didn't know if your mother would like her coming here,' said Antonia,
looking troubled. 'She was kind of talked about, out there.'

'Yes, I know. But mother won't hold it against her if she behaves well
here. You needn't say anything about that to the children. I guess Jim
has heard all that gossip?'

When I nodded, she pulled my hair and told me I knew too much, anyhow.
We were good friends, Frances and I.

I ran home to tell grandmother that Lena Lingard had come to town. We
were glad of it, for she had a hard life on the farm.

Lena lived in the Norwegian settlement west of Squaw Creek, and she used
to herd her father's cattle in the open country between his place and
the Shimerdas'. Whenever we rode over in that direction we saw her
out among her cattle, bareheaded and barefooted, scantily dressed in
tattered clothing, always knitting as she watched her herd. Before I
knew Lena, I thought of her as something wild, that always lived on the
prairie, because I had never seen her under a roof. Her yellow hair was
burned to a ruddy thatch on her head; but her legs and arms, curiously
enough, in spite of constant exposure to the sun, kept a miraculous
whiteness which somehow made her seem more undressed than other girls
who went scantily clad. The first time I stopped to talk to her, I was
astonished at her soft voice and easy, gentle ways. The girls out there
usually got rough and mannish after they went to herding. But Lena asked
Jake and me to get off our horses and stay awhile, and behaved exactly
as if she were in a house and were accustomed to having visitors. She
was not embarrassed by her ragged clothes, and treated us as if we were
old acquaintances. Even then I noticed the unusual colour of her eyes--a
shade of deep violet--and their soft, confiding expression.

Chris Lingard was not a very successful farmer, and he had a large
family. Lena was always knitting stockings for little brothers and
sisters, and even the Norwegian women, who disapproved of her, admitted
that she was a good daughter to her mother. As Tony said, she had been
talked about. She was accused of making Ole Benson lose the little sense
he had--and that at an age when she should still have been in pinafores.

Ole lived in a leaky dugout somewhere at the edge of the settlement. He
was fat and lazy and discouraged, and bad luck had become a habit with
him. After he had had every other kind of misfortune, his wife, 'Crazy
Mary,' tried to set a neighbour's barn on fire, and was sent to the
asylum at Lincoln. She was kept there for a few months, then escaped and
walked all the way home, nearly two hundred miles, travelling by night
and hiding in barns and haystacks by day. When she got back to the
Norwegian settlement, her poor feet were as hard as hoofs. She promised
to be good, and was allowed to stay at home--though everyone realized
she was as crazy as ever, and she still ran about barefooted through the
snow, telling her domestic troubles to her neighbours.

Not long after Mary came back from the asylum, I heard a young Dane, who
was helping us to thresh, tell Jake and Otto that Chris Lingard's oldest
girl had put Ole Benson out of his head, until he had no more sense than
his crazy wife. When Ole was cultivating his corn that summer, he used
to get discouraged in the field, tie up his team, and wander off to
wherever Lena Lingard was herding. There he would sit down on the
drawside and help her watch her cattle. All the settlement was talking
about it. The Norwegian preacher's wife went to Lena and told her she
ought not to allow this; she begged Lena to come to church on Sundays.
Lena said she hadn't a dress in the world any less ragged than the one
on her back. Then the minister's wife went through her old trunks and
found some things she had worn before her marriage.

The next Sunday Lena appeared at church, a little late, with her hair
done up neatly on her head, like a young woman, wearing shoes and
stockings, and the new dress, which she had made over for herself
very becomingly. The congregation stared at her. Until that morning no
one--unless it were Ole--had realized how pretty she was, or that she
was growing up. The swelling lines of her figure had been hidden under
the shapeless rags she wore in the fields. After the last hymn had
been sung, and the congregation was dismissed, Ole slipped out to the
hitch-bar and lifted Lena on her horse. That, in itself, was shocking;
a married man was not expected to do such things. But it was nothing to
the scene that followed. Crazy Mary darted out from the group of women
at the church door, and ran down the road after Lena, shouting horrible
threats.

'Look out, you Lena Lingard, look out! I'll come over with a corn-knife
one day and trim some of that shape off you. Then you won't sail round
so fine, making eyes at the men!...'

The Norwegian women didn't know where to look. They were formal
housewives, most of them, with a severe sense of decorum. But Lena
Lingard only laughed her lazy, good-natured laugh and rode on, gazing
back over her shoulder at Ole's infuriated wife.

The time came, however, when Lena didn't laugh. More than once Crazy
Mary chased her across the prairie and round and round the Shimerdas'
cornfield. Lena never told her father; perhaps she was ashamed; perhaps
she was more afraid of his anger than of the corn-knife. I was at the
Shimerdas' one afternoon when Lena came bounding through the red grass
as fast as her white legs could carry her. She ran straight into the
house and hid in Antonia's feather-bed. Mary was not far behind: she
came right up to the door and made us feel how sharp her blade was,
showing us very graphically just what she meant to do to Lena. Mrs.
Shimerda, leaning out of the window, enjoyed the situation keenly,
and was sorry when Antonia sent Mary away, mollified by an apronful of
bottle-tomatoes. Lena came out from Tony's room behind the kitchen,
very pink from the heat of the feathers, but otherwise calm. She begged
Antonia and me to go with her, and help get her cattle together; they
were scattered and might be gorging themselves in somebody's cornfield.

'Maybe you lose a steer and learn not to make somethings with your eyes
at married men,' Mrs. Shimerda told her hectoringly.

Lena only smiled her sleepy smile. 'I never made anything to him with my
eyes. I can't help it if he hangs around, and I can't order him off. It
ain't my prairie.'



V

AFTER LENA CAME To Black Hawk, I often met her downtown, where she
would be matching sewing silk or buying 'findings' for Mrs. Thomas. If
I happened to walk home with her, she told me all about the dresses she
was helping to make, or about what she saw and heard when she was with
Tiny Soderball at the hotel on Saturday nights.

The Boys' Home was the best hotel on our branch of the Burlington, and
all the commercial travellers in that territory tried to get into Black
Hawk for Sunday. They used to assemble in the parlour after supper on
Saturday nights. Marshall Field's man, Anson Kirkpatrick, played the
piano and sang all the latest sentimental songs. After Tiny had helped
the cook wash the dishes, she and Lena sat on the other side of the
double doors between the parlour and the dining-room, listening to the
music and giggling at the jokes and stories. Lena often said she hoped
I would be a travelling man when I grew up. They had a gay life of it;
nothing to do but ride about on trains all day and go to theatres
when they were in big cities. Behind the hotel there was an old store
building, where the salesmen opened their big trunks and spread out
their samples on the counters. The Black Hawk merchants went to look at
these things and order goods, and Mrs. Thomas, though she was I retail
trade,' was permitted to see them and to 'get ideas.' They were all
generous, these travelling men; they gave Tiny Soderball handkerchiefs
and gloves and ribbons and striped stockings, and so many bottles of
perfume and cakes of scented soap that she bestowed some of them on
Lena.

One afternoon in the week before Christmas, I came upon Lena and
her funny, square-headed little brother Chris, standing before the
drugstore, gazing in at the wax dolls and blocks and Noah's Arks
arranged in the frosty show window. The boy had come to town with a
neighbour to do his Christmas shopping, for he had money of his own this
year. He was only twelve, but that winter he had got the job of sweeping
out the Norwegian church and making the fire in it every Sunday morning.
A cold job it must have been, too!

We went into Duckford's dry-goods store, and Chris unwrapped all his
presents and showed them to me something for each of the six younger
than himself, even a rubber pig for the baby. Lena had given him one of
Tiny Soderball's bottles of perfume for his mother, and he thought he
would get some handkerchiefs to go with it. They were cheap, and he
hadn't much money left. We found a tableful of handkerchiefs spread out
for view at Duckford's. Chris wanted those with initial letters in the
corner, because he had never seen any before. He studied them seriously,
while Lena looked over his shoulder, telling him she thought the red
letters would hold their colour best. He seemed so perplexed that I
thought perhaps he hadn't enough money, after all. Presently he said
gravely:

'Sister, you know mother's name is Berthe. I don't know if I ought to
get B for Berthe, or M for Mother.'

Lena patted his bristly head. 'I'd get the B, Chrissy. It will please
her for you to think about her name. Nobody ever calls her by it now.'

That satisfied him. His face cleared at once, and he took three reds
and three blues. When the neighbour came in to say that it was time to
start, Lena wound Chris's comforter about his neck and turned up his
jacket collar--he had no overcoat--and we watched him climb into the
wagon and start on his long, cold drive. As we walked together up the
windy street, Lena wiped her eyes with the back of her woollen glove. 'I
get awful homesick for them, all the same,' she murmured, as if she were
answering some remembered reproach.



VI

WINTER COMES DOWN SAVAGELY over a little town on the prairie. The wind
that sweeps in from the open country strips away all the leafy screens
that hide one yard from another in summer, and the houses seem to draw
closer together. The roofs, that looked so far away across the green
tree-tops, now stare you in the face, and they are so much uglier than
when their angles were softened by vines and shrubs.

In the morning, when I was fighting my way to school against the wind,
I couldn't see anything but the road in front of me; but in the late
afternoon, when I was coming home, the town looked bleak and desolate to
me. The pale, cold light of the winter sunset did not beautify--it was
like the light of truth itself. When the smoky clouds hung low in the
west and the red sun went down behind them, leaving a pink flush on the
snowy roofs and the blue drifts, then the wind sprang up afresh, with a
kind of bitter song, as if it said: 'This is reality, whether you like
it or not. All those frivolities of summer, the light and shadow, the
living mask of green that trembled over everything, they were lies, and
this is what was underneath. This is the truth.' It was as if we were
being punished for loving the loveliness of summer.

If I loitered on the playground after school, or went to the post-office
for the mail and lingered to hear the gossip about the cigar-stand, it
would be growing dark by the time I came home. The sun was gone; the
frozen streets stretched long and blue before me; the lights were
shining pale in kitchen windows, and I could smell the suppers cooking
as I passed. Few people were abroad, and each one of them was hurrying
toward a fire. The glowing stoves in the houses were like magnets. When
one passed an old man, one could see nothing of his face but a red nose
sticking out between a frosted beard and a long plush cap. The young men
capered along with their hands in their pockets, and sometimes tried
a slide on the icy sidewalk. The children, in their bright hoods and
comforters, never walked, but always ran from the moment they left their
door, beating their mittens against their sides. When I got as far as
the Methodist Church, I was about halfway home. I can remember how glad
I was when there happened to be a light in the church, and the painted
glass window shone out at us as we came along the frozen street. In
the winter bleakness a hunger for colour came over people, like the
Laplander's craving for fats and sugar. Without knowing why, we used to
linger on the sidewalk outside the church when the lamps were lighted
early for choir practice or prayer-meeting, shivering and talking until
our feet were like lumps of ice. The crude reds and greens and blues of
that coloured glass held us there.

On winter nights, the lights in the Harlings' windows drew me like the
painted glass. Inside that warm, roomy house there was colour, too.
After supper I used to catch up my cap, stick my hands in my pockets,
and dive through the willow hedge as if witches were after me. Of
course, if Mr. Harling was at home, if his shadow stood out on the blind
of the west room, I did not go in, but turned and walked home by the
long way, through the street, wondering what book I should read as I sat
down with the two old people.

Such disappointments only gave greater zest to the nights when we acted
charades, or had a costume ball in the back parlour, with Sally always
dressed like a boy. Frances taught us to dance that winter, and she
said, from the first lesson, that Antonia would make the best dancer
among us. On Saturday nights, Mrs. Harling used to play the old operas
for us--'Martha,' 'Norma,' 'Rigoletto'--telling us the story while she
played. Every Saturday night was like a party. The parlour, the back
parlour, and the dining-room were warm and brightly lighted, with
comfortable chairs and sofas, and gay pictures on the walls. One always
felt at ease there. Antonia brought her sewing and sat with us--she was
already beginning to make pretty clothes for herself. After the long
winter evenings on the prairie, with Ambrosch's sullen silences and
her mother's complaints, the Harlings' house seemed, as she said, 'like
Heaven' to her. She was never too tired to make taffy or chocolate
cookies for us. If Sally whispered in her ear, or Charley gave her three
winks, Tony would rush into the kitchen and build a fire in the range on
which she had already cooked three meals that day.

While we sat in the kitchen waiting for the cookies to bake or the taffy
to cool, Nina used to coax Antonia to tell her stories--about the calf
that broke its leg, or how Yulka saved her little turkeys from drowning
in the freshet, or about old Christmases and weddings in Bohemia. Nina
interpreted the stories about the creche fancifully, and in spite of our
derision she cherished a belief that Christ was born in Bohemia a
short time before the Shimerdas left that country. We all liked Tony's
stories. Her voice had a peculiarly engaging quality; it was deep,
a little husky, and one always heard the breath vibrating behind it.
Everything she said seemed to come right out of her heart.

One evening when we were picking out kernels for walnut taffy, Tony told
us a new story.

'Mrs. Harling, did you ever hear about what happened up in the
Norwegian settlement last summer, when I was threshing there? We were at
Iversons', and I was driving one of the grain-wagons.'

Mrs. Harling came out and sat down among us. 'Could you throw the wheat
into the bin yourself, Tony?' She knew what heavy work it was.

'Yes, ma'm, I did. I could shovel just as fast as that fat Andern boy
that drove the other wagon. One day it was just awful hot. When we got
back to the field from dinner, we took things kind of easy. The men put
in the horses and got the machine going, and Ole Iverson was up on the
deck, cutting bands. I was sitting against a straw-stack, trying to get
some shade. My wagon wasn't going out first, and somehow I felt the heat
awful that day. The sun was so hot like it was going to burn the world
up. After a while I see a man coming across the stubble, and when he
got close I see it was a tramp. His toes stuck out of his shoes, and
he hadn't shaved for a long while, and his eyes was awful red and wild,
like he had some sickness. He comes right up and begins to talk like he
knows me already. He says: 'The ponds in this country is done got so low
a man couldn't drownd himself in one of 'em.'

'I told him nobody wanted to drownd themselves, but if we didn't have
rain soon we'd have to pump water for the cattle.

'"Oh, cattle," he says, "you'll all take care of your cattle! Ain't you
got no beer here?" I told him he'd have to go to the Bohemians for beer;
the Norwegians didn't have none when they threshed. "My God!" he says,
"so it's Norwegians now, is it? I thought this was Americy."

'Then he goes up to the machine and yells out to Ole Iverson, "Hello,
partner, let me up there. I can cut bands, and I'm tired of trampin'. I
won't go no farther."

'I tried to make signs to Ole, 'cause I thought that man was crazy and
might get the machine stopped up. But Ole, he was glad to get down out
of the sun and chaff--it gets down your neck and sticks to you something
awful when it's hot like that. So Ole jumped down and crawled under one
of the wagons for shade, and the tramp got on the machine. He cut bands
all right for a few minutes, and then, Mrs. Harling, he waved his hand
to me and jumped head-first right into the threshing machine after the
wheat.

'I begun to scream, and the men run to stop the horses, but the belt had
sucked him down, and by the time they got her stopped, he was all beat
and cut to pieces. He was wedged in so tight it was a hard job to get
him out, and the machine ain't never worked right since.'

'Was he clear dead, Tony?' we cried.

'Was he dead? Well, I guess so! There, now, Nina's all upset. We won't
talk about it. Don't you cry, Nina. No old tramp won't get you while
Tony's here.'

Mrs. Harling spoke up sternly. 'Stop crying, Nina, or I'll always send
you upstairs when Antonia tells us about the country. Did they never
find out where he came from, Antonia?'

'Never, ma'm. He hadn't been seen nowhere except in a little town they
call Conway. He tried to get beer there, but there wasn't any saloon.
Maybe he came in on a freight, but the brakeman hadn't seen him. They
couldn't find no letters nor nothing on him; nothing but an old penknife
in his pocket and the wishbone of a chicken wrapped up in a piece of
paper, and some poetry.'

'Some poetry?' we exclaimed.

'I remember,' said Frances. 'It was "The Old Oaken Bucket," cut out of
a newspaper and nearly worn out. Ole Iverson brought it into the office
and showed it to me.'

'Now, wasn't that strange, Miss Frances?' Tony asked thoughtfully. 'What
would anybody want to kill themselves in summer for? In threshing time,
too! It's nice everywhere then.'

'So it is, Antonia,' said Mrs. Harling heartily. 'Maybe I'll go home and
help you thresh next summer. Isn't that taffy nearly ready to eat? I've
been smelling it a long while.'

There was a basic harmony between Antonia and her mistress. They had
strong, independent natures, both of them. They knew what they liked,
and were not always trying to imitate other people. They loved children
and animals and music, and rough play and digging in the earth. They
liked to prepare rich, hearty food and to see people eat it; to make
up soft white beds and to see youngsters asleep in them. They ridiculed
conceited people and were quick to help unfortunate ones. Deep down in
each of them there was a kind of hearty joviality, a relish of life, not
over-delicate, but very invigorating. I never tried to define it, but I
was distinctly conscious of it. I could not imagine Antonia's living for
a week in any other house in Black Hawk than the Harlings'.



VII

WINTER LIES TOO LONG in country towns; hangs on until it is stale and
shabby, old and sullen. On the farm the weather was the great fact, and
men's affairs went on underneath it, as the streams creep under the ice.
But in Black Hawk the scene of human life was spread out shrunken and
pinched, frozen down to the bare stalk.

Through January and February I went to the river with the Harlings on
clear nights, and we skated up to the big island and made bonfires on
the frozen sand. But by March the ice was rough and choppy, and the
snow on the river bluffs was grey and mournful-looking. I was tired of
school, tired of winter clothes, of the rutted streets, of the dirty
drifts and the piles of cinders that had lain in the yards so long.
There was only one break in the dreary monotony of that month: when
Blind d'Arnault, the Negro pianist, came to town. He gave a concert at
the Opera House on Monday night, and he and his manager spent Saturday
and Sunday at our comfortable hotel. Mrs. Harling had known d'Arnault
for years. She told Antonia she had better go to see Tiny that Saturday
evening, as there would certainly be music at the Boys' Home.

Saturday night after supper I ran downtown to the hotel and slipped
quietly into the parlour. The chairs and sofas were already occupied,
and the air smelled pleasantly of cigar smoke. The parlour had once been
two rooms, and the floor was swaybacked where the partition had been cut
away. The wind from without made waves in the long carpet. A coal stove
glowed at either end of the room, and the grand piano in the middle
stood open.

There was an atmosphere of unusual freedom about the house that night,
for Mrs. Gardener had gone to Omaha for a week. Johnnie had been having
drinks with the guests until he was rather absent-minded. It was Mrs.
Gardener who ran the business and looked after everything. Her husband
stood at the desk and welcomed incoming travellers. He was a popular
fellow, but no manager.

Mrs. Gardener was admittedly the best-dressed woman in Black Hawk, drove
the best horse, and had a smart trap and a little white-and-gold sleigh.
She seemed indifferent to her possessions, was not half so solicitous
about them as her friends were. She was tall, dark, severe, with
something Indian-like in the rigid immobility of her face. Her manner
was cold, and she talked little. Guests felt that they were receiving,
not conferring, a favour when they stayed at her house. Even the
smartest travelling men were flattered when Mrs. Gardener stopped to
chat with them for a moment. The patrons of the hotel were divided into
two classes: those who had seen Mrs. Gardener's diamonds, and those who
had not.

When I stole into the parlour, Anson Kirkpatrick, Marshall Field's man,
was at the piano, playing airs from a musical comedy then running in
Chicago. He was a dapper little Irishman, very vain, homely as a monkey,
with friends everywhere, and a sweetheart in every port, like a sailor.
I did not know all the men who were sitting about, but I recognized a
furniture salesman from Kansas City, a drug man, and Willy O'Reilly, who
travelled for a jewellery house and sold musical instruments. The talk
was all about good and bad hotels, actors and actresses and musical
prodigies. I learned that Mrs. Gardener had gone to Omaha to hear Booth
and Barrett, who were to play there next week, and that Mary Anderson
was having a great success in 'A Winter's Tale,' in London.

The door from the office opened, and Johnnie Gardener came in, directing
Blind d'Arnault--he would never consent to be led. He was a heavy, bulky
mulatto, on short legs, and he came tapping the floor in front of him
with his gold-headed cane. His yellow face was lifted in the light, with
a show of white teeth, all grinning, and his shrunken, papery eyelids
lay motionless over his blind eyes.

'Good evening, gentlemen. No ladies here? Good evening, gentlemen. We
going to have a little music? Some of you gentlemen going to play for
me this evening?' It was the soft, amiable Negro voice, like those I
remembered from early childhood, with the note of docile subservience
in it. He had the Negro head, too; almost no head at all; nothing behind
the ears but folds of neck under close-clipped wool. He would have
been repulsive if his face had not been so kindly and happy. It was the
happiest face I had seen since I left Virginia.

He felt his way directly to the piano. The moment he sat down, I noticed
the nervous infirmity of which Mrs. Harling had told me. When he was
sitting, or standing still, he swayed back and forth incessantly, like
a rocking toy. At the piano, he swayed in time to the music, and when
he was not playing, his body kept up this motion, like an empty mill
grinding on. He found the pedals and tried them, ran his yellow hands up
and down the keys a few times, tinkling off scales, then turned to the
company.

'She seems all right, gentlemen. Nothing happened to her since the
last time I was here. Mrs. Gardener, she always has this piano tuned
up before I come. Now gentlemen, I expect you've all got grand voices.
Seems like we might have some good old plantation songs tonight.'

The men gathered round him, as he began to play 'My Old Kentucky Home.'
They sang one Negro melody after another, while the mulatto sat rocking
himself, his head thrown back, his yellow face lifted, his shrivelled
eyelids never fluttering.

He was born in the Far South, on the d'Arnault plantation, where the
spirit if not the fact of slavery persisted. When he was three weeks
old, he had an illness which left him totally blind. As soon as he was
old enough to sit up alone and toddle about, another affliction, the
nervous motion of his body, became apparent. His mother, a buxom young
Negro wench who was laundress for the d'Arnaults, concluded that her
blind baby was 'not right' in his head, and she was ashamed of him. She
loved him devotedly, but he was so ugly, with his sunken eyes and his
'fidgets,' that she hid him away from people. All the dainties she
brought down from the Big House were for the blind child, and she beat
and cuffed her other children whenever she found them teasing him or
trying to get his chicken-bone away from him. He began to talk early,
remembered everything he heard, and his mammy said he 'wasn't all
wrong.' She named him Samson, because he was blind, but on the
plantation he was known as 'yellow Martha's simple child.' He was docile
and obedient, but when he was six years old he began to run away from
home, always taking the same direction. He felt his way through the
lilacs, along the boxwood hedge, up to the south wing of the Big House,
where Miss Nellie d'Arnault practised the piano every morning. This
angered his mother more than anything else he could have done; she was
so ashamed of his ugliness that she couldn't bear to have white folks
see him. Whenever she caught him slipping away from the cabin, she
whipped him unmercifully, and told him what dreadful things old Mr.
d'Arnault would do to him if he ever found him near the Big House. But
the next time Samson had a chance, he ran away again. If Miss d'Arnault
stopped practising for a moment and went toward the window, she saw this
hideous little pickaninny, dressed in an old piece of sacking,
standing in the open space between the hollyhock rows, his body
rocking automatically, his blind face lifted to the sun and wearing an
expression of idiotic rapture. Often she was tempted to tell Martha that
the child must be kept at home, but somehow the memory of his foolish,
happy face deterred her. She remembered that his sense of hearing was
nearly all he had--though it did not occur to her that he might have
more of it than other children.

One day Samson was standing thus while Miss Nellie was playing her
lesson to her music-teacher. The windows were open. He heard them get up
from the piano, talk a little while, and then leave the room. He heard
the door close after them. He crept up to the front windows and stuck
his head in: there was no one there. He could always detect the presence
of anyone in a room. He put one foot over the window-sill and straddled
it.

His mother had told him over and over how his master would give him to
the big mastiff if he ever found him 'meddling.' Samson had got too near
the mastiff's kennel once, and had felt his terrible breath in his face.
He thought about that, but he pulled in his other foot.

Through the dark he found his way to the Thing, to its mouth. He touched
it softly, and it answered softly, kindly. He shivered and stood
still. Then he began to feel it all over, ran his finger-tips along the
slippery sides, embraced the carved legs, tried to get some conception
of its shape and size, of the space it occupied in primeval night. It
was cold and hard, and like nothing else in his black universe. He went
back to its mouth, began at one end of the keyboard and felt his way
down into the mellow thunder, as far as he could go. He seemed to know
that it must be done with the fingers, not with the fists or the feet.
He approached this highly artificial instrument through a mere instinct,
and coupled himself to it, as if he knew it was to piece him out and
make a whole creature of him. After he had tried over all the sounds,
he began to finger out passages from things Miss Nellie had been
practising, passages that were already his, that lay under the bone of
his pinched, conical little skull, definite as animal desires.

The door opened; Miss Nellie and her music-master stood behind it, but
blind Samson, who was so sensitive to presences, did not know they were
there. He was feeling out the pattern that lay all ready-made on the
big and little keys. When he paused for a moment, because the sound was
wrong and he wanted another, Miss Nellie spoke softly. He whirled about
in a spasm of terror, leaped forward in the dark, struck his head on the
open window, and fell screaming and bleeding to the floor. He had what
his mother called a fit. The doctor came and gave him opium.

When Samson was well again, his young mistress led him back to the
piano. Several teachers experimented with him. They found he had
absolute pitch, and a remarkable memory. As a very young child he could
repeat, after a fashion, any composition that was played for him. No
matter how many wrong notes he struck, he never lost the intention of
a passage, he brought the substance of it across by irregular and
astonishing means. He wore his teachers out. He could never learn like
other people, never acquired any finish. He was always a Negro prodigy
who played barbarously and wonderfully. As piano-playing, it was perhaps
abominable, but as music it was something real, vitalized by a sense of
rhythm that was stronger than his other physical senses--that not only
filled his dark mind, but worried his body incessantly. To hear him, to
watch him, was to see a Negro enjoying himself as only a Negro can. It
was as if all the agreeable sensations possible to creatures of flesh
and blood were heaped up on those black-and-white keys, and he were
gloating over them and trickling them through his yellow fingers.

In the middle of a crashing waltz, d'Arnault suddenly began to play
softly, and, turning to one of the men who stood behind him, whispered,
'Somebody dancing in there.' He jerked his bullet-head toward the
dining-room. 'I hear little feet--girls, I spect.'

Anson Kirkpatrick mounted a chair and peeped over the transom. Springing
down, he wrenched open the doors and ran out into the dining-room. Tiny
and Lena, Antonia and Mary Dusak, were waltzing in the middle of the
floor. They separated and fled toward the kitchen, giggling.

Kirkpatrick caught Tiny by the elbows. 'What's the matter with you
girls? Dancing out here by yourselves, when there's a roomful of
lonesome men on the other side of the partition! Introduce me to your
friends, Tiny.'

The girls, still laughing, were trying to escape. Tiny looked alarmed.
'Mrs. Gardener wouldn't like it,' she protested. 'She'd be awful mad if
you was to come out here and dance with us.'

'Mrs. Gardener's in Omaha, girl. Now, you're Lena, are you?--and you're
Tony and you're Mary. Have I got you all straight?'

O'Reilly and the others began to pile the chairs on the tables. Johnnie
Gardener ran in from the office.

'Easy, boys, easy!' he entreated them. 'You'll wake the cook, and
there'll be the devil to pay for me. She won't hear the music, but
she'll be down the minute anything's moved in the dining-room.'

'Oh, what do you care, Johnnie? Fire the cook and wire Molly to bring
another. Come along, nobody'll tell tales.'

Johnnie shook his head. ''S a fact, boys,' he said confidentially. 'If I
take a drink in Black Hawk, Molly knows it in Omaha!'

His guests laughed and slapped him on the shoulder. 'Oh, we'll make it
all right with Molly. Get your back up, Johnnie.'

Molly was Mrs. Gardener's name, of course. 'Molly Bawn' was painted
in large blue letters on the glossy white sides of the hotel bus,
and 'Molly' was engraved inside Johnnie's ring and on his
watch-case--doubtless on his heart, too. He was an affectionate little
man, and he thought his wife a wonderful woman; he knew that without her
he would hardly be more than a clerk in some other man's hotel.

At a word from Kirkpatrick, d'Arnault spread himself out over the piano,
and began to draw the dance music out of it, while the perspiration
shone on his short wool and on his uplifted face. He looked like some
glistening African god of pleasure, full of strong, savage blood.
Whenever the dancers paused to change partners or to catch breath, he
would boom out softly, 'Who's that goin' back on me? One of these city
gentlemen, I bet! Now, you girls, you ain't goin' to let that floor get
cold?'

Antonia seemed frightened at first, and kept looking questioningly at
Lena and Tiny over Willy O'Reilly's shoulder. Tiny Soderball was trim
and slender, with lively little feet and pretty ankles--she wore her
dresses very short. She was quicker in speech, lighter in movement
and manner than the other girls. Mary Dusak was broad and brown of
countenance, slightly marked by smallpox, but handsome for all that.
She had beautiful chestnut hair, coils of it; her forehead was low and
smooth, and her commanding dark eyes regarded the world indifferently
and fearlessly. She looked bold and resourceful and unscrupulous, and
she was all of these. They were handsome girls, had the fresh colour
of their country upbringing, and in their eyes that brilliancy which is
called--by no metaphor, alas!--'the light of youth.'

D'Arnault played until his manager came and shut the piano. Before he
left us, he showed us his gold watch which struck the hours, and a
topaz ring, given him by some Russian nobleman who delighted in Negro
melodies, and had heard d'Arnault play in New Orleans. At last he tapped
his way upstairs, after bowing to everybody, docile and happy. I walked
home with Antonia. We were so excited that we dreaded to go to bed.
We lingered a long while at the Harlings' gate, whispering in the cold
until the restlessness was slowly chilled out of us.



VIII

THE HARLING CHILDREN and I were never happier, never felt more contented
and secure, than in the weeks of spring which broke that long winter.
We were out all day in the thin sunshine, helping Mrs. Harling and Tony
break the ground and plant the garden, dig around the orchard trees, tie
up vines and clip the hedges. Every morning, before I was up, I could
hear Tony singing in the garden rows. After the apple and cherry trees
broke into bloom, we ran about under them, hunting for the new nests
the birds were building, throwing clods at each other, and playing
hide-and-seek with Nina. Yet the summer which was to change everything
was coming nearer every day. When boys and girls are growing up, life
can't stand still, not even in the quietest of country towns; and they
have to grow up, whether they will or no. That is what their elders are
always forgetting.

It must have been in June, for Mrs. Harling and Antonia were preserving
cherries, when I stopped one morning to tell them that a dancing
pavilion had come to town. I had seen two drays hauling the canvas and
painted poles up from the depot.

That afternoon three cheerful-looking Italians strolled about Black
Hawk, looking at everything, and with them was a dark, stout woman who
wore a long gold watch-chain about her neck and carried a black lace
parasol. They seemed especially interested in children and vacant lots.
When I overtook them and stopped to say a word, I found them affable and
confiding. They told me they worked in Kansas City in the winter, and in
summer they went out among the farming towns with their tent and taught
dancing. When business fell off in one place, they moved on to another.

The dancing pavilion was put up near the Danish laundry, on a vacant
lot surrounded by tall, arched cottonwood trees. It was very much like
a merry-go-round tent, with open sides and gay flags flying from the
poles. Before the week was over, all the ambitious mothers were sending
their children to the afternoon dancing class. At three o'clock one
met little girls in white dresses and little boys in the round-collared
shirts of the time, hurrying along the sidewalk on their way to the
tent. Mrs. Vanni received them at the entrance, always dressed in
lavender with a great deal of black lace, her important watch-chain
lying on her bosom. She wore her hair on the top of her head, built up
in a black tower, with red coral combs. When she smiled, she showed two
rows of strong, crooked yellow teeth. She taught the little children
herself, and her husband, the harpist, taught the older ones.

Often the mothers brought their fancywork and sat on the shady side
of the tent during the lesson. The popcorn man wheeled his glass wagon
under the big cottonwood by the door, and lounged in the sun, sure of a
good trade when the dancing was over. Mr. Jensen, the Danish laundryman,
used to bring a chair from his porch and sit out in the grass plot. Some
ragged little boys from the depot sold pop and iced lemonade under a
white umbrella at the corner, and made faces at the spruce youngsters
who came to dance. That vacant lot soon became the most cheerful place
in town. Even on the hottest afternoons the cottonwoods made a rustling
shade, and the air smelled of popcorn and melted butter, and Bouncing
Bets wilting in the sun. Those hardy flowers had run away from the
laundryman's garden, and the grass in the middle of the lot was pink
with them.

The Vannis kept exemplary order, and closed every evening at the hour
suggested by the city council. When Mrs. Vanni gave the signal, and
the harp struck up 'Home, Sweet Home,' all Black Hawk knew it was ten
o'clock. You could set your watch by that tune as confidently as by the
roundhouse whistle.

At last there was something to do in those long, empty summer evenings,
when the married people sat like images on their front porches, and the
boys and girls tramped and tramped the board sidewalks--northward to
the edge of the open prairie, south to the depot, then back again to the
post-office, the ice-cream parlour, the butcher shop. Now there was a
place where the girls could wear their new dresses, and where one could
laugh aloud without being reproved by the ensuing silence. That silence
seemed to ooze out of the ground, to hang under the foliage of the black
maple trees with the bats and shadows. Now it was broken by lighthearted
sounds. First the deep purring of Mr. Vanni's harp came in silvery
ripples through the blackness of the dusty-smelling night; then the
violins fell in--one of them was almost like a flute. They called
so archly, so seductively, that our feet hurried toward the tent of
themselves. Why hadn't we had a tent before?

Dancing became popular now, just as roller skating had been the summer
before. The Progressive Euchre Club arranged with the Vannis for the
exclusive use of the floor on Tuesday and Friday nights. At other times
anyone could dance who paid his money and was orderly; the railroad men,
the roundhouse mechanics, the delivery boys, the iceman, the farm-hands
who lived near enough to ride into town after their day's work was over.

I never missed a Saturday night dance. The tent was open until midnight
then. The country boys came in from farms eight and ten miles away, and
all the country girls were on the floor--Antonia and Lena and Tiny, and
the Danish laundry girls and their friends. I was not the only boy who
found these dances gayer than the others. The young men who belonged to
the Progressive Euchre Club used to drop in late and risk a tiff with
their sweethearts and general condemnation for a waltz with 'the hired
girls.'



IX

THERE WAS A CURIOUS social situation in Black Hawk. All the young men
felt the attraction of the fine, well-set-up country girls who had come
to town to earn a living, and, in nearly every case, to help the father
struggle out of debt, or to make it possible for the younger children of
the family to go to school.

Those girls had grown up in the first bitter-hard times, and had got
little schooling themselves. But the younger brothers and sisters, for
whom they made such sacrifices and who have had 'advantages,' never seem
to me, when I meet them now, half as interesting or as well educated.
The older girls, who helped to break up the wild sod, learned so much
from life, from poverty, from their mothers and grandmothers; they had
all, like Antonia, been early awakened and made observant by coming at a
tender age from an old country to a new.

I can remember a score of these country girls who were in service
in Black Hawk during the few years I lived there, and I can remember
something unusual and engaging about each of them. Physically they were
almost a race apart, and out-of-door work had given them a vigour which,
when they got over their first shyness on coming to town, developed into
a positive carriage and freedom of movement, and made them conspicuous
among Black Hawk women.

That was before the day of high-school athletics. Girls who had to
walk more than half a mile to school were pitied. There was not a
tennis-court in the town; physical exercise was thought rather inelegant
for the daughters of well-to-do families. Some of the high-school girls
were jolly and pretty, but they stayed indoors in winter because of
the cold, and in summer because of the heat. When one danced with them,
their bodies never moved inside their clothes; their muscles seemed to
ask but one thing--not to be disturbed. I remember those girls merely
as faces in the schoolroom, gay and rosy, or listless and dull, cut off
below the shoulders, like cherubs, by the ink-smeared tops of the
high desks that were surely put there to make us round-shouldered and
hollow-chested.

The daughters of Black Hawk merchants had a confident, unenquiring
belief that they were 'refined,' and that the country girls, who
'worked out,' were not. The American farmers in our county were quite
as hard-pressed as their neighbours from other countries. All alike had
come to Nebraska with little capital and no knowledge of the soil they
must subdue. All had borrowed money on their land. But no matter in what
straits the Pennsylvanian or Virginian found himself, he would not
let his daughters go out into service. Unless his girls could teach a
country school, they sat at home in poverty.

The Bohemian and Scandinavian girls could not get positions as teachers,
because they had had no opportunity to learn the language. Determined
to help in the struggle to clear the homestead from debt, they had no
alternative but to go into service. Some of them, after they came to
town, remained as serious and as discreet in behaviour as they had been
when they ploughed and herded on their father's farm. Others, like the
three Bohemian Marys, tried to make up for the years of youth they had
lost. But every one of them did what she had set out to do, and sent
home those hard-earned dollars. The girls I knew were always helping to
pay for ploughs and reapers, brood-sows, or steers to fatten.

One result of this family solidarity was that the foreign farmers in our
county were the first to become prosperous. After the fathers were out
of debt, the daughters married the sons of neighbours--usually of like
nationality--and the girls who once worked in Black Hawk kitchens are
to-day managing big farms and fine families of their own; their children
are better off than the children of the town women they used to serve.

I thought the attitude of the town people toward these girls very
stupid. If I told my schoolmates that Lena Lingard's grandfather was a
clergyman, and much respected in Norway, they looked at me blankly. What
did it matter? All foreigners were ignorant people who couldn't speak
English. There was not a man in Black Hawk who had the intelligence or
cultivation, much less the personal distinction, of Antonia's father.
Yet people saw no difference between her and the three Marys; they were
all Bohemians, all 'hired girls.'

I always knew I should live long enough to see my country girls come
into their own, and I have. To-day the best that a harassed Black Hawk
merchant can hope for is to sell provisions and farm machinery and
automobiles to the rich farms where that first crop of stalwart Bohemian
and Scandinavian girls are now the mistresses.

The Black Hawk boys looked forward to marrying Black Hawk girls, and
living in a brand-new little house with best chairs that must not be
sat upon, and hand-painted china that must not be used. But sometimes a
young fellow would look up from his ledger, or out through the grating
of his father's bank, and let his eyes follow Lena Lingard, as she
passed the window with her slow, undulating walk, or Tiny Soderball,
tripping by in her short skirt and striped stockings.

The country girls were considered a menace to the social order. Their
beauty shone out too boldly against a conventional background. But
anxious mothers need have felt no alarm. They mistook the mettle of
their sons. The respect for respectability was stronger than any desire
in Black Hawk youth.

Our young man of position was like the son of a royal house; the boy who
swept out his office or drove his delivery wagon might frolic with the
jolly country girls, but he himself must sit all evening in a plush
parlour where conversation dragged so perceptibly that the father often
came in and made blundering efforts to warm up the atmosphere. On his
way home from his dull call, he would perhaps meet Tony and Lena, coming
along the sidewalk whispering to each other, or the three Bohemian Marys
in their long plush coats and caps, comporting themselves with a dignity
that only made their eventful histories the more piquant. If he went to
the hotel to see a travelling man on business, there was Tiny, arching
her shoulders at him like a kitten. If he went into the laundry to get
his collars, there were the four Danish girls, smiling up from their
ironing-boards, with their white throats and their pink cheeks.

The three Marys were the heroines of a cycle of scandalous stories,
which the old men were fond of relating as they sat about the
cigar-stand in the drugstore. Mary Dusak had been housekeeper for a
bachelor rancher from Boston, and after several years in his service
she was forced to retire from the world for a short time. Later she
came back to town to take the place of her friend, Mary Svoboda, who was
similarly embarrassed. The three Marys were considered as dangerous as
high explosives to have about the kitchen, yet they were such good cooks
and such admirable housekeepers that they never had to look for a place.

The Vannis' tent brought the town boys and the country girls together on
neutral ground. Sylvester Lovett, who was cashier in his father's bank,
always found his way to the tent on Saturday night. He took all the
dances Lena Lingard would give him, and even grew bold enough to walk
home with her. If his sisters or their friends happened to be among the
onlookers on 'popular nights,' Sylvester stood back in the shadow
under the cottonwood trees, smoking and watching Lena with a harassed
expression. Several times I stumbled upon him there in the dark, and I
felt rather sorry for him. He reminded me of Ole Benson, who used to
sit on the drawside and watch Lena herd her cattle. Later in the summer,
when Lena went home for a week to visit her mother, I heard from Antonia
that young Lovett drove all the way out there to see her, and took her
buggy-riding. In my ingenuousness I hoped that Sylvester would marry
Lena, and thus give all the country girls a better position in the town.

Sylvester dallied about Lena until he began to make mistakes in his
work; had to stay at the bank until after dark to make his books
balance. He was daft about her, and everyone knew it. To escape from his
predicament he ran away with a widow six years older than himself, who
owned a half-section. This remedy worked, apparently. He never looked at
Lena again, nor lifted his eyes as he ceremoniously tipped his hat when
he happened to meet her on the sidewalk.

So that was what they were like, I thought, these white-handed,
high-collared clerks and bookkeepers! I used to glare at young Lovett
from a distance and only wished I had some way of showing my contempt
for him.



X

IT WAS AT THE Vannis' tent that Antonia was discovered. Hitherto she
had been looked upon more as a ward of the Harlings than as one of the
'hired girls.' She had lived in their house and yard and garden; her
thoughts never seemed to stray outside that little kingdom. But after
the tent came to town she began to go about with Tiny and Lena and their
friends. The Vannis often said that Antonia was the best dancer of them
all. I sometimes heard murmurs in the crowd outside the pavilion that
Mrs. Harling would soon have her hands full with that girl. The young
men began to joke with each other about 'the Harlings' Tony' as they did
about 'the Marshalls' Anna' or 'the Gardeners' Tiny.'

Antonia talked and thought of nothing but the tent. She hummed the
dance tunes all day. When supper was late, she hurried with her dishes,
dropped and smashed them in her excitement. At the first call of the
music, she became irresponsible. If she hadn't time to dress, she merely
flung off her apron and shot out of the kitchen door. Sometimes I went
with her; the moment the lighted tent came into view she would break
into a run, like a boy. There were always partners waiting for her; she
began to dance before she got her breath.

Antonia's success at the tent had its consequences. The iceman
lingered too long now, when he came into the covered porch to fill the
refrigerator. The delivery boys hung about the kitchen when they brought
the groceries. Young farmers who were in town for Saturday came tramping
through the yard to the back door to engage dances, or to invite Tony to
parties and picnics. Lena and Norwegian Anna dropped in to help her with
her work, so that she could get away early. The boys who brought her
home after the dances sometimes laughed at the back gate and wakened Mr.
Harling from his first sleep. A crisis was inevitable.

One Saturday night Mr. Harling had gone down to the cellar for beer. As
he came up the stairs in the dark, he heard scuffling on the back porch,
and then the sound of a vigorous slap. He looked out through the side
door in time to see a pair of long legs vaulting over the picket fence.
Antonia was standing there, angry and excited. Young Harry Paine, who
was to marry his employer's daughter on Monday, had come to the tent
with a crowd of friends and danced all evening. Afterward, he begged
Antonia to let him walk home with her. She said she supposed he was a
nice young man, as he was one of Miss Frances's friends, and she
didn't mind. On the back porch he tried to kiss her, and when she
protested--because he was going to be married on Monday--he caught her
and kissed her until she got one hand free and slapped him.

Mr. Harling put his beer-bottles down on the table. 'This is what
I've been expecting, Antonia. You've been going with girls who have
a reputation for being free and easy, and now you've got the same
reputation. I won't have this and that fellow tramping about my back
yard all the time. This is the end of it, tonight. It stops, short. You
can quit going to these dances, or you can hunt another place. Think it
over.'

The next morning when Mrs. Harling and Frances tried to reason with
Antonia, they found her agitated but determined. 'Stop going to the
tent?' she panted. 'I wouldn't think of it for a minute! My own father
couldn't make me stop! Mr. Harling ain't my boss outside my work. I
won't give up my friends, either. The boys I go with are nice fellows.
I thought Mr. Paine was all right, too, because he used to come here. I
guess I gave him a red face for his wedding, all right!' she blazed out
indignantly.

'You'll have to do one thing or the other, Antonia,' Mrs. Harling told
her decidedly. 'I can't go back on what Mr. Harling has said. This is
his house.'

'Then I'll just leave, Mrs. Harling. Lena's been wanting me to get a
place closer to her for a long while. Mary Svoboda's going away from the
Cutters' to work at the hotel, and I can have her place.'

Mrs. Harling rose from her chair. 'Antonia, if you go to the Cutters' to
work, you cannot come back to this house again. You know what that man
is. It will be the ruin of you.'

Tony snatched up the teakettle and began to pour boiling water over the
glasses, laughing excitedly. 'Oh, I can take care of myself! I'm a lot
stronger than Cutter is. They pay four dollars there, and there's no
children. The work's nothing; I can have every evening, and be out a lot
in the afternoons.'

'I thought you liked children. Tony, what's come over you?'

'I don't know, something has.' Antonia tossed her head and set her jaw.
'A girl like me has got to take her good times when she can. Maybe there
won't be any tent next year. I guess I want to have my fling, like the
other girls.'

Mrs. Harling gave a short, harsh laugh. 'If you go to work for the
Cutters, you're likely to have a fling that you won't get up from in a
hurry.'

Frances said, when she told grandmother and me about this scene, that
every pan and plate and cup on the shelves trembled when her mother
walked out of the kitchen. Mrs. Harling declared bitterly that she
wished she had never let herself get fond of Antonia.



XI

WICK CUTTER WAS the money-lender who had fleeced poor Russian Peter.
When a farmer once got into the habit of going to Cutter, it was like
gambling or the lottery; in an hour of discouragement he went back.

Cutter's first name was Wycliffe, and he liked to talk about his pious
bringing-up. He contributed regularly to the Protestant churches, 'for
sentiment's sake,' as he said with a flourish of the hand. He came from
a town in Iowa where there were a great many Swedes, and could speak
a little Swedish, which gave him a great advantage with the early
Scandinavian settlers.

In every frontier settlement there are men who have come there to escape
restraint. Cutter was one of the 'fast set' of Black Hawk business men.
He was an inveterate gambler, though a poor loser. When we saw a light
burning in his office late at night, we knew that a game of poker was
going on. Cutter boasted that he never drank anything stronger than
sherry, and he said he got his start in life by saving the money that
other young men spent for cigars. He was full of moral maxims for
boys. When he came to our house on business, he quoted 'Poor Richard's
Almanack' to me, and told me he was delighted to find a town boy who
could milk a cow. He was particularly affable to grandmother, and
whenever they met he would begin at once to talk about 'the good old
times' and simple living. I detested his pink, bald head, and his yellow
whiskers, always soft and glistening. It was said he brushed them every
night, as a woman does her hair. His white teeth looked factory-made.
His skin was red and rough, as if from perpetual sunburn; he often went
away to hot springs to take mud baths. He was notoriously dissolute with
women. Two Swedish girls who had lived in his house were the worse for
the experience. One of them he had taken to Omaha and established in the
business for which he had fitted her. He still visited her.

Cutter lived in a state of perpetual warfare with his wife, and yet,
apparently, they never thought of separating. They dwelt in a fussy,
scroll-work house, painted white and buried in thick evergreens, with
a fussy white fence and barn. Cutter thought he knew a great deal about
horses, and usually had a colt which he was training for the track.
On Sunday mornings one could see him out at the fair grounds, speeding
around the race-course in his trotting-buggy, wearing yellow gloves and
a black-and-white-check travelling cap, his whiskers blowing back in the
breeze. If there were any boys about, Cutter would offer one of them
a quarter to hold the stop-watch, and then drive off, saying he had no
change and would 'fix it up next time.' No one could cut his lawn or
wash his buggy to suit him. He was so fastidious and prim about his
place that a boy would go to a good deal of trouble to throw a dead cat
into his back yard, or to dump a sackful of tin cans in his alley. It
was a peculiar combination of old-maidishness and licentiousness that
made Cutter seem so despicable.

He had certainly met his match when he married Mrs. Cutter. She was a
terrifying-looking person; almost a giantess in height, raw-boned, with
iron-grey hair, a face always flushed, and prominent, hysterical eyes.
When she meant to be entertaining and agreeable, she nodded her head
incessantly and snapped her eyes at one. Her teeth were long and curved,
like a horse's; people said babies always cried if she smiled at them.
Her face had a kind of fascination for me: it was the very colour and
shape of anger. There was a gleam of something akin to insanity in
her full, intense eyes. She was formal in manner, and made calls
in rustling, steel-grey brocades and a tall bonnet with bristling
aigrettes.

Mrs. Cutter painted china so assiduously that even her wash-bowls and
pitchers, and her husband's shaving-mug, were covered with violets and
lilies. Once, when Cutter was exhibiting some of his wife's china to a
caller, he dropped a piece. Mrs. Cutter put her handkerchief to her lips
as if she were going to faint and said grandly: 'Mr. Cutter, you have
broken all the Commandments--spare the finger-bowls!'

They quarrelled from the moment Cutter came into the house until they
went to bed at night, and their hired girls reported these scenes to
the town at large. Mrs. Cutter had several times cut paragraphs about
unfaithful husbands out of the newspapers and mailed them to Cutter in
a disguised handwriting. Cutter would come home at noon, find the
mutilated journal in the paper-rack, and triumphantly fit the clipping
into the space from which it had been cut. Those two could quarrel
all morning about whether he ought to put on his heavy or his light
underwear, and all evening about whether he had taken cold or not.

The Cutters had major as well as minor subjects for dispute. The chief
of these was the question of inheritance: Mrs. Cutter told her husband
it was plainly his fault they had no children. He insisted that Mrs.
Cutter had purposely remained childless, with the determination to
outlive him and to share his property with her 'people,' whom he
detested. To this she would reply that unless he changed his mode
of life, she would certainly outlive him. After listening to her
insinuations about his physical soundness, Cutter would resume his
dumb-bell practice for a month, or rise daily at the hour when his wife
most liked to sleep, dress noisily, and drive out to the track with his
trotting-horse.

Once when they had quarrelled about household expenses, Mrs. Cutter
put on her brocade and went among their friends soliciting orders for
painted china, saying that Mr. Cutter had compelled her 'to live by her
brush.' Cutter wasn't shamed as she had expected; he was delighted!

Cutter often threatened to chop down the cedar trees which half-buried
the house. His wife declared she would leave him if she were stripped
of the I privacy' which she felt these trees afforded her. That was his
opportunity, surely; but he never cut down the trees. The Cutters seemed
to find their relations to each other interesting and stimulating, and
certainly the rest of us found them so. Wick Cutter was different from
any other rascal I have ever known, but I have found Mrs. Cutters
all over the world; sometimes founding new religions, sometimes being
forcibly fed--easily recognizable, even when superficially tamed.



XII

AFTER ANTONIA WENT TO live with the Cutters, she seemed to care about
nothing but picnics and parties and having a good time. When she was
not going to a dance, she sewed until midnight. Her new clothes were
the subject of caustic comment. Under Lena's direction she copied
Mrs. Gardener's new party dress and Mrs. Smith's street costume so
ingeniously in cheap materials that those ladies were greatly annoyed,
and Mrs. Cutter, who was jealous of them, was secretly pleased.

Tony wore gloves now, and high-heeled shoes and feathered bonnets, and
she went downtown nearly every afternoon with Tiny and Lena and the
Marshalls' Norwegian Anna. We high-school boys used to linger on the
playground at the afternoon recess to watch them as they came tripping
down the hill along the board sidewalk, two and two. They were growing
prettier every day, but as they passed us, I used to think with pride
that Antonia, like Snow-White in the fairy tale, was still 'fairest of
them all.'

Being a senior now, I got away from school early. Sometimes I overtook
the girls downtown and coaxed them into the ice-cream parlour, where
they would sit chattering and laughing, telling me all the news from the
country.

I remember how angry Tiny Soderball made me one afternoon. She declared
she had heard grandmother was going to make a Baptist preacher of me. 'I
guess you'll have to stop dancing and wear a white necktie then. Won't
he look funny, girls?'

Lena laughed. 'You'll have to hurry up, Jim. If you're going to be a
preacher, I want you to marry me. You must promise to marry us all, and
then baptize the babies.'

Norwegian Anna, always dignified, looked at her reprovingly.

'Baptists don't believe in christening babies, do they, Jim?'

I told her I didn't know what they believed, and didn't care, and that I
certainly wasn't going to be a preacher.

'That's too bad,' Tiny simpered. She was in a teasing mood. 'You'd make
such a good one. You're so studious. Maybe you'd like to be a professor.
You used to teach Tony, didn't you?'

Antonia broke in. 'I've set my heart on Jim being a doctor. You'd be
good with sick people, Jim. Your grandmother's trained you up so nice.
My papa always said you were an awful smart boy.'

I said I was going to be whatever I pleased. 'Won't you be surprised,
Miss Tiny, if I turn out to be a regular devil of a fellow?'

They laughed until a glance from Norwegian Anna checked them; the
high-school principal had just come into the front part of the shop to
buy bread for supper. Anna knew the whisper was going about that I was
a sly one. People said there must be something queer about a boy who
showed no interest in girls of his own age, but who could be lively
enough when he was with Tony and Lena or the three Marys.


The enthusiasm for the dance, which the Vannis had kindled, did not at
once die out. After the tent left town, the Euchre Club became the Owl
Club, and gave dances in the Masonic Hall once a week. I was invited to
join, but declined. I was moody and restless that winter, and tired of
the people I saw every day. Charley Harling was already at Annapolis,
while I was still sitting in Black Hawk, answering to my name at
roll-call every morning, rising from my desk at the sound of a bell and
marching out like the grammar-school children. Mrs. Harling was a little
cool toward me, because I continued to champion Antonia. What was there
for me to do after supper? Usually I had learned next day's lessons by
the time I left the school building, and I couldn't sit still and read
forever.

In the evening I used to prowl about, hunting for diversion. There lay
the familiar streets, frozen with snow or liquid with mud. They led to
the houses of good people who were putting the babies to bed, or simply
sitting still before the parlour stove, digesting their supper. Black
Hawk had two saloons. One of them was admitted, even by the church
people, to be as respectable as a saloon could be. Handsome Anton
Jelinek, who had rented his homestead and come to town, was the
proprietor. In his saloon there were long tables where the Bohemian and
German farmers could eat the lunches they brought from home while they
drank their beer. Jelinek kept rye bread on hand and smoked fish and
strong imported cheeses to please the foreign palate. I liked to drop
into his bar-room and listen to the talk. But one day he overtook me on
the street and clapped me on the shoulder.

'Jim,' he said, 'I am good friends with you and I always like to see
you. But you know how the church people think about saloons. Your
grandpa has always treated me fine, and I don't like to have you come
into my place, because I know he don't like it, and it puts me in bad
with him.'

So I was shut out of that.

One could hang about the drugstore; and listen to the old men who sat
there every evening, talking politics and telling raw stories. One could
go to the cigar factory and chat with the old German who raised canaries
for sale, and look at his stuffed birds. But whatever you began with
him, the talk went back to taxidermy. There was the depot, of course; I
often went down to see the night train come in, and afterward sat
awhile with the disconsolate telegrapher who was always hoping to be
transferred to Omaha or Denver, 'where there was some life.' He was sure
to bring out his pictures of actresses and dancers. He got them with
cigarette coupons, and nearly smoked himself to death to possess these
desired forms and faces. For a change, one could talk to the station
agent; but he was another malcontent; spent all his spare time writing
letters to officials requesting a transfer. He wanted to get back to
Wyoming where he could go trout-fishing on Sundays. He used to say
'there was nothing in life for him but trout streams, ever since he'd
lost his twins.'

These were the distractions I had to choose from. There were no other
lights burning downtown after nine o'clock. On starlight nights I used
to pace up and down those long, cold streets, scowling at the little,
sleeping houses on either side, with their storm-windows and covered
back porches. They were flimsy shelters, most of them poorly built
of light wood, with spindle porch-posts horribly mutilated by the
turning-lathe. Yet for all their frailness, how much jealousy and envy
and unhappiness some of them managed to contain! The life that went on
in them seemed to me made up of evasions and negations; shifts to save
cooking, to save washing and cleaning, devices to propitiate the tongue
of gossip. This guarded mode of existence was like living under a
tyranny. People's speech, their voices, their very glances, became
furtive and repressed. Every individual taste, every natural appetite,
was bridled by caution. The people asleep in those houses, I thought,
tried to live like the mice in their own kitchens; to make no noise,
to leave no trace, to slip over the surface of things in the dark.
The growing piles of ashes and cinders in the back yards were the only
evidence that the wasteful, consuming process of life went on at all. On
Tuesday nights the Owl Club danced; then there was a little stir in
the streets, and here and there one could see a lighted window until
midnight. But the next night all was dark again.

After I refused to join 'the Owls,' as they were called, I made a bold
resolve to go to the Saturday night dances at Firemen's Hall. I knew it
would be useless to acquaint my elders with any such plan. Grandfather
didn't approve of dancing, anyway; he would only say that if I wanted to
dance I could go to the Masonic Hall, among 'the people we knew.' It was
just my point that I saw altogether too much of the people we knew.

My bedroom was on the ground floor, and as I studied there, I had a
stove in it. I used to retire to my room early on Saturday night, change
my shirt and collar and put on my Sunday coat. I waited until all was
quiet and the old people were asleep, then raised my window, climbed
out, and went softly through the yard. The first time I deceived my
grandparents I felt rather shabby, perhaps even the second time, but I
soon ceased to think about it.

The dance at the Firemen's Hall was the one thing I looked forward to
all the week. There I met the same people I used to see at the Vannis'
tent. Sometimes there were Bohemians from Wilber, or German boys who
came down on the afternoon freight from Bismarck. Tony and Lena and Tiny
were always there, and the three Bohemian Marys, and the Danish laundry
girls.

The four Danish girls lived with the laundryman and his wife in their
house behind the laundry, with a big garden where the clothes were hung
out to dry. The laundryman was a kind, wise old fellow, who paid his
girls well, looked out for them, and gave them a good home. He told me
once that his own daughter died just as she was getting old enough to
help her mother, and that he had been 'trying to make up for it ever
since.' On summer afternoons he used to sit for hours on the sidewalk
in front of his laundry, his newspaper lying on his knee, watching
his girls through the big open window while they ironed and talked in
Danish. The clouds of white dust that blew up the street, the gusts of
hot wind that withered his vegetable garden, never disturbed his calm.
His droll expression seemed to say that he had found the secret of
contentment. Morning and evening he drove about in his spring wagon,
distributing freshly ironed clothes, and collecting bags of linen that
cried out for his suds and sunny drying-lines. His girls never looked so
pretty at the dances as they did standing by the ironing-board, or over
the tubs, washing the fine pieces, their white arms and throats bare,
their cheeks bright as the brightest wild roses, their gold hair moist
with the steam or the heat and curling in little damp spirals about
their ears. They had not learned much English, and were not so ambitious
as Tony or Lena; but they were kind, simple girls and they were always
happy. When one danced with them, one smelled their clean, freshly
ironed clothes that had been put away with rosemary leaves from Mr.
Jensen's garden.

There were never girls enough to go round at those dances, but everyone
wanted a turn with Tony and Lena.

Lena moved without exertion, rather indolently, and her hand often
accented the rhythm softly on her partner's shoulder. She smiled if one
spoke to her, but seldom answered. The music seemed to put her into a
soft, waking dream, and her violet-coloured eyes looked sleepily and
confidingly at one from under her long lashes. When she sighed she
exhaled a heavy perfume of sachet powder. To dance 'Home, Sweet Home,'
with Lena was like coming in with the tide. She danced every dance like
a waltz, and it was always the same waltz--the waltz of coming home to
something, of inevitable, fated return. After a while one got restless
under it, as one does under the heat of a soft, sultry summer day.

When you spun out into the floor with Tony, you didn't return to
anything. You set out every time upon a new adventure. I liked to
schottische with her; she had so much spring and variety, and was always
putting in new steps and slides. She taught me to dance against and
around the hard-and-fast beat of the music. If, instead of going to the
end of the railroad, old Mr. Shimerda had stayed in New York and picked
up a living with his fiddle, how different Antonia's life might have
been!

Antonia often went to the dances with Larry Donovan, a passenger
conductor who was a kind of professional ladies' man, as we said. I
remember how admiringly all the boys looked at her the night she first
wore her velveteen dress, made like Mrs. Gardener's black velvet. She
was lovely to see, with her eyes shining, and her lips always a little
parted when she danced. That constant, dark colour in her cheeks never
changed.

One evening when Donovan was out on his run, Antonia came to the hall
with Norwegian Anna and her young man, and that night I took her home.
When we were in the Cutters' yard, sheltered by the evergreens, I told
her she must kiss me good night.

'Why, sure, Jim.' A moment later she drew her face away and whispered
indignantly, 'Why, Jim! You know you ain't right to kiss me like that.
I'll tell your grandmother on you!'

'Lena Lingard lets me kiss her,' I retorted, 'and I'm not half as fond
of her as I am of you.'

'Lena does?' Tony gasped. 'If she's up to any of her nonsense with you,
I'll scratch her eyes out!' She took my arm again and we walked out of
the gate and up and down the sidewalk. 'Now, don't you go and be a fool
like some of these town boys. You're not going to sit around here and
whittle store-boxes and tell stories all your life. You are going away
to school and make something of yourself. I'm just awful proud of you.
You won't go and get mixed up with the Swedes, will you?'

'I don't care anything about any of them but you,' I said. 'And you'll
always treat me like a kid, suppose.'

She laughed and threw her arms around me. 'I expect I will, but you're a
kid I'm awful fond of, anyhow! You can like me all you want to, but if
I see you hanging round with Lena much, I'll go to your grandmother, as
sure as your name's Jim Burden! Lena's all right, only--well, you know
yourself she's soft that way. She can't help it. It's natural to her.'

If she was proud of me, I was so proud of her that I carried my head
high as I emerged from the dark cedars and shut the Cutters' gate softly
behind me. Her warm, sweet face, her kind arms, and the true heart in
her; she was, oh, she was still my Antonia! I looked with contempt at
the dark, silent little houses about me as I walked home, and thought of
the stupid young men who were asleep in some of them. I knew where the
real women were, though I was only a boy; and I would not be afraid of
them, either!


I hated to enter the still house when I went home from the dances, and
it was long before I could get to sleep. Toward morning I used to have
pleasant dreams: sometimes Tony and I were out in the country, sliding
down straw-stacks as we used to do; climbing up the yellow mountains
over and over, and slipping down the smooth sides into soft piles of
chaff.

One dream I dreamed a great many times, and it was always the same. I
was in a harvest-field full of shocks, and I was lying against one of
them. Lena Lingard came across the stubble barefoot, in a short skirt,
with a curved reaping-hook in her hand, and she was flushed like the
dawn, with a kind of luminous rosiness all about her. She sat down
beside me, turned to me with a soft sigh and said, 'Now they are all
gone, and I can kiss you as much as I like.'

I used to wish I could have this flattering dream about Antonia, but I
never did.



XIII

I NOTICED ONE AFTERNOON that grandmother had been crying. Her feet
seemed to drag as she moved about the house, and I got up from the table
where I was studying and went to her, asking if she didn't feel well,
and if I couldn't help her with her work.

'No, thank you, Jim. I'm troubled, but I guess I'm well enough. Getting
a little rusty in the bones, maybe,' she added bitterly.

I stood hesitating. 'What are you fretting about, grandmother? Has
grandfather lost any money?'

'No, it ain't money. I wish it was. But I've heard things. You must 'a'
known it would come back to me sometime.' She dropped into a chair, and,
covering her face with her apron, began to cry. 'Jim,' she said, 'I was
never one that claimed old folks could bring up their grandchildren. But
it came about so; there wasn't any other way for you, it seemed like.'

I put my arms around her. I couldn't bear to see her cry.

'What is it, grandmother? Is it the Firemen's dances?'

She nodded.

'I'm sorry I sneaked off like that. But there's nothing wrong about
the dances, and I haven't done anything wrong. I like all those country
girls, and I like to dance with them. That's all there is to it.'

'But it ain't right to deceive us, son, and it brings blame on us.
People say you are growing up to be a bad boy, and that ain't just to
us.'

'I don't care what they say about me, but if it hurts you, that settles
it. I won't go to the Firemen's Hall again.'

I kept my promise, of course, but I found the spring months dull enough.
I sat at home with the old people in the evenings now, reading Latin
that was not in our high-school course. I had made up my mind to do a
lot of college requirement work in the summer, and to enter the freshman
class at the university without conditions in the fall. I wanted to get
away as soon as possible.

Disapprobation hurt me, I found--even that of people whom I did not
admire. As the spring came on, I grew more and more lonely, and fell
back on the telegrapher and the cigar-maker and his canaries for
companionship. I remember I took a melancholy pleasure in hanging a
May-basket for Nina Harling that spring. I bought the flowers from an
old German woman who always had more window plants than anyone else, and
spent an afternoon trimming a little workbasket. When dusk came on, and
the new moon hung in the sky, I went quietly to the Harlings' front door
with my offering, rang the bell, and then ran away as was the custom.
Through the willow hedge I could hear Nina's cries of delight, and I
felt comforted.

On those warm, soft spring evenings I often lingered downtown to walk
home with Frances, and talked to her about my plans and about the
reading I was doing. One evening she said she thought Mrs. Harling was
not seriously offended with me.

'Mama is as broad-minded as mothers ever are, I guess. But you know she
was hurt about Antonia, and she can't understand why you like to be with
Tiny and Lena better than with the girls of your own set.'

'Can you?' I asked bluntly.

Frances laughed. 'Yes, I think I can. You knew them in the country, and
you like to take sides. In some ways you're older than boys of your age.
It will be all right with mama after you pass your college examinations
and she sees you're in earnest.'

'If you were a boy,' I persisted, 'you wouldn't belong to the Owl Club,
either. You'd be just like me.'

She shook her head. 'I would and I wouldn't. I expect I know the country
girls better than you do. You always put a kind of glamour over them.
The trouble with you, Jim, is that you're romantic. Mama's going to your
Commencement. She asked me the other day if I knew what your oration is
to be about. She wants you to do well.'

I thought my oration very good. It stated with fervour a great many
things I had lately discovered. Mrs. Harling came to the Opera House to
hear the Commencement exercises, and I looked at her most of the time
while I made my speech. Her keen, intelligent eyes never left my face.
Afterward she came back to the dressing-room where we stood, with
our diplomas in our hands, walked up to me, and said heartily: 'You
surprised me, Jim. I didn't believe you could do as well as that. You
didn't get that speech out of books.' Among my graduation presents there
was a silk umbrella from Mrs. Harling, with my name on the handle.

I walked home from the Opera House alone. As I passed the Methodist
Church, I saw three white figures ahead of me, pacing up and down under
the arching maple trees, where the moonlight filtered through the lush
June foliage. They hurried toward me; they were waiting for me--Lena and
Tony and Anna Hansen.

'Oh, Jim, it was splendid!' Tony was breathing hard, as she always did
when her feelings outran her language. 'There ain't a lawyer in Black
Hawk could make a speech like that. I just stopped your grandpa and
said so to him. He won't tell you, but he told us he was awful surprised
himself, didn't he, girls?'

Lena sidled up to me and said teasingly, 'What made you so solemn? I
thought you were scared. I was sure you'd forget.'

Anna spoke wistfully.

'It must make you very happy, Jim, to have fine thoughts like that
in your mind all the time, and to have words to put them in. I always
wanted to go to school, you know.'

'Oh, I just sat there and wished my papa could hear you! Jim'--Antonia
took hold of my coat lapels--'there was something in your speech that
made me think so about my papa!'

'I thought about your papa when I wrote my speech, Tony,' I said. 'I
dedicated it to him.'

She threw her arms around me, and her dear face was all wet with tears.

I stood watching their white dresses glimmer smaller and smaller down
the sidewalk as they went away. I have had no other success that pulled
at my heartstrings like that one.



XIV

THE DAY AFTER COMMENCEMENT I moved my books and desk upstairs, to an
empty room where I should be undisturbed, and I fell to studying in
earnest. I worked off a year's trigonometry that summer, and began
Virgil alone. Morning after morning I used to pace up and down my sunny
little room, looking off at the distant river bluffs and the roll of the
blond pastures between, scanning the 'Aeneid' aloud and committing long
passages to memory. Sometimes in the evening Mrs. Harling called to me
as I passed her gate, and asked me to come in and let her play for me.
She was lonely for Charley, she said, and liked to have a boy about.
Whenever my grandparents had misgivings, and began to wonder whether I
was not too young to go off to college alone, Mrs. Harling took up my
cause vigorously. Grandfather had such respect for her judgment that I
knew he would not go against her.


I had only one holiday that summer. It was in July. I met Antonia
downtown on Saturday afternoon, and learned that she and Tiny and Lena
were going to the river next day with Anna Hansen--the elder was all in
bloom now, and Anna wanted to make elderblow wine.

'Anna's to drive us down in the Marshalls' delivery wagon, and we'll
take a nice lunch and have a picnic. Just us; nobody else. Couldn't you
happen along, Jim? It would be like old times.'

I considered a moment. 'Maybe I can, if I won't be in the way.'

On Sunday morning I rose early and got out of Black Hawk while the dew
was still heavy on the long meadow grasses. It was the high season for
summer flowers. The pink bee-bush stood tall along the sandy roadsides,
and the cone-flowers and rose mallow grew everywhere. Across the wire
fence, in the long grass, I saw a clump of flaming orange-coloured
milkweed, rare in that part of the state. I left the road and went
around through a stretch of pasture that was always cropped short in
summer, where the gaillardia came up year after year and matted over
the ground with the deep, velvety red that is in Bokhara carpets. The
country was empty and solitary except for the larks that Sunday morning,
and it seemed to lift itself up to me and to come very close.

The river was running strong for midsummer; heavy rains to the west of
us had kept it full. I crossed the bridge and went upstream along
the wooded shore to a pleasant dressing-room I knew among the dogwood
bushes, all overgrown with wild grapevines. I began to undress for a
swim. The girls would not be along yet. For the first time it occurred
to me that I should be homesick for that river after I left it. The
sandbars, with their clean white beaches and their little groves of
willows and cottonwood seedlings, were a sort of No Man's Land, little
newly created worlds that belonged to the Black Hawk boys. Charley
Harling and I had hunted through these woods, fished from the fallen
logs, until I knew every inch of the river shores and had a friendly
feeling for every bar and shallow.

After my swim, while I was playing about indolently in the water, I
heard the sound of hoofs and wheels on the bridge. I struck downstream
and shouted, as the open spring wagon came into view on the middle span.
They stopped the horse, and the two girls in the bottom of the cart
stood up, steadying themselves by the shoulders of the two in front,
so that they could see me better. They were charming up there, huddled
together in the cart and peering down at me like curious deer when they
come out of the thicket to drink. I found bottom near the bridge and
stood up, waving to them.

'How pretty you look!' I called.

'So do you!' they shouted altogether, and broke into peals of laughter.
Anna Hansen shook the reins and they drove on, while I zigzagged back to
my inlet and clambered up behind an overhanging elm. I dried myself in
the sun, and dressed slowly, reluctant to leave that green enclosure
where the sunlight flickered so bright through the grapevine leaves and
the woodpecker hammered away in the crooked elm that trailed out over
the water. As I went along the road back to the bridge, I kept picking
off little pieces of scaly chalk from the dried water gullies, and
breaking them up in my hands.

When I came upon the Marshalls' delivery horse, tied in the shade, the
girls had already taken their baskets and gone down the east road which
wound through the sand and scrub. I could hear them calling to each
other. The elder bushes did not grow back in the shady ravines between
the bluffs, but in the hot, sandy bottoms along the stream, where their
roots were always in moisture and their tops in the sun. The blossoms
were unusually luxuriant and beautiful that summer.

I followed a cattle path through the thick under-brush until I came to a
slope that fell away abruptly to the water's edge. A great chunk of
the shore had been bitten out by some spring freshet, and the scar was
masked by elder bushes, growing down to the water in flowery terraces. I
did not touch them. I was overcome by content and drowsiness and by the
warm silence about me. There was no sound but the high, singsong buzz
of wild bees and the sunny gurgle of the water underneath. I peeped over
the edge of the bank to see the little stream that made the noise; it
flowed along perfectly clear over the sand and gravel, cut off from the
muddy main current by a long sandbar. Down there, on the lower shelf of
the bank, I saw Antonia, seated alone under the pagoda-like elders. She
looked up when she heard me, and smiled, but I saw that she had been
crying. I slid down into the soft sand beside her and asked her what was
the matter.

'It makes me homesick, Jimmy, this flower, this smell,' she said softly.
'We have this flower very much at home, in the old country. It always
grew in our yard and my papa had a green bench and a table under the
bushes. In summer, when they were in bloom, he used to sit there with
his friend that played the trombone. When I was little I used to go down
there to hear them talk--beautiful talk, like what I never hear in this
country.'

'What did they talk about?' I asked her.

She sighed and shook her head. 'Oh, I don't know! About music, and
the woods, and about God, and when they were young.' She turned to
me suddenly and looked into my eyes. 'You think, Jimmy, that maybe my
father's spirit can go back to those old places?'

I told her about the feeling of her father's presence I had on that
winter day when my grandparents had gone over to see his dead body and I
was left alone in the house. I said I felt sure then that he was on his
way back to his own country, and that even now, when I passed his grave,
I always thought of him as being among the woods and fields that were so
dear to him.

Antonia had the most trusting, responsive eyes in the world; love and
credulousness seemed to look out of them with open faces.

'Why didn't you ever tell me that before? It makes me feel more sure for
him.' After a while she said: 'You know, Jim, my father was different
from my mother. He did not have to marry my mother, and all his brothers
quarrelled with him because he did. I used to hear the old people at
home whisper about it. They said he could have paid my mother money, and
not married her. But he was older than she was, and he was too kind to
treat her like that. He lived in his mother's house, and she was a poor
girl come in to do the work. After my father married her, my grandmother
never let my mother come into her house again. When I went to my
grandmother's funeral was the only time I was ever in my grandmother's
house. Don't that seem strange?'

While she talked, I lay back in the hot sand and looked up at the blue
sky between the flat bouquets of elder. I could hear the bees humming
and singing, but they stayed up in the sun above the flowers and did not
come down into the shadow of the leaves. Antonia seemed to me that day
exactly like the little girl who used to come to our house with Mr.
Shimerda.

'Some day, Tony, I am going over to your country, and I am going to the
little town where you lived. Do you remember all about it?'

'Jim,' she said earnestly, 'if I was put down there in the middle of
the night, I could find my way all over that little town; and along the
river to the next town, where my grandmother lived. My feet remember all
the little paths through the woods, and where the big roots stick out to
trip you. I ain't never forgot my own country.'

There was a crackling in the branches above us, and Lena Lingard peered
down over the edge of the bank.

'You lazy things!' she cried. 'All this elder, and you two lying there!
Didn't you hear us calling you?' Almost as flushed as she had been in
my dream, she leaned over the edge of the bank and began to demolish our
flowery pagoda. I had never seen her so energetic; she was panting with
zeal, and the perspiration stood in drops on her short, yielding upper
lip. I sprang to my feet and ran up the bank.

It was noon now, and so hot that the dogwoods and scrub-oaks began
to turn up the silvery underside of their leaves, and all the foliage
looked soft and wilted. I carried the lunch-basket to the top of one
of the chalk bluffs, where even on the calmest days there was always a
breeze. The flat-topped, twisted little oaks threw light shadows on the
grass. Below us we could see the windings of the river, and Black Hawk,
grouped among its trees, and, beyond, the rolling country, swelling
gently until it met the sky. We could recognize familiar farm-houses and
windmills. Each of the girls pointed out to me the direction in which
her father's farm lay, and told me how many acres were in wheat that
year and how many in corn.

'My old folks,' said Tiny Soderball, 'have put in twenty acres of rye.
They get it ground at the mill, and it makes nice bread. It seems like
my mother ain't been so homesick, ever since father's raised rye flour
for her.'

'It must have been a trial for our mothers,' said Lena, 'coming out here
and having to do everything different. My mother had always lived in
town. She says she started behind in farm-work, and never has caught
up.'

'Yes, a new country's hard on the old ones, sometimes,' said Anna
thoughtfully. 'My grandmother's getting feeble now, and her mind
wanders. She's forgot about this country, and thinks she's at home in
Norway. She keeps asking mother to take her down to the waterside and
the fish market. She craves fish all the time. Whenever I go home I take
her canned salmon and mackerel.'

'Mercy, it's hot!' Lena yawned. She was supine under a little oak,
resting after the fury of her elder-hunting, and had taken off the
high-heeled slippers she had been silly enough to wear. 'Come here, Jim.
You never got the sand out of your hair.' She began to draw her fingers
slowly through my hair.

Antonia pushed her away. 'You'll never get it out like that,' she said
sharply. She gave my head a rough touzling and finished me off with
something like a box on the ear. 'Lena, you oughtn't to try to wear
those slippers any more. They're too small for your feet. You'd better
give them to me for Yulka.'

'All right,' said Lena good-naturedly, tucking her white stockings under
her skirt. 'You get all Yulka's things, don't you? I wish father didn't
have such bad luck with his farm machinery; then I could buy more things
for my sisters. I'm going to get Mary a new coat this fall, if the sulky
plough's never paid for!'

Tiny asked her why she didn't wait until after Christmas, when coats
would be cheaper. 'What do you think of poor me?' she added; 'with six
at home, younger than I am? And they all think I'm rich, because when I
go back to the country I'm dressed so fine!' She shrugged her shoulders.
'But, you know, my weakness is playthings. I like to buy them playthings
better than what they need.'

'I know how that is,' said Anna. 'When we first came here, and I was
little, we were too poor to buy toys. I never got over the loss of a
doll somebody gave me before we left Norway. A boy on the boat broke her
and I still hate him for it.'

'I guess after you got here you had plenty of live dolls to nurse, like
me!' Lena remarked cynically.

'Yes, the babies came along pretty fast, to be sure. But I never minded.
I was fond of them all. The youngest one, that we didn't any of us want,
is the one we love best now.'

Lena sighed. 'Oh, the babies are all right; if only they don't come in
winter. Ours nearly always did. I don't see how mother stood it. I tell
you what, girls'--she sat up with sudden energy--'I'm going to get my
mother out of that old sod house where she's lived so many years. The
men will never do it. Johnnie, that's my oldest brother, he's wanting to
get married now, and build a house for his girl instead of his mother.
Mrs. Thomas says she thinks I can move to some other town pretty soon,
and go into business for myself. If I don't get into business, I'll
maybe marry a rich gambler.'

'That would be a poor way to get on,' said Anna sarcastically. 'I wish
I could teach school, like Selma Kronn. Just think! She'll be the first
Scandinavian girl to get a position in the high school. We ought to be
proud of her.'

Selma was a studious girl, who had not much tolerance for giddy things
like Tiny and Lena; but they always spoke of her with admiration.

Tiny moved about restlessly, fanning herself with her straw hat. 'If I
was smart like her, I'd be at my books day and night. But she was born
smart--and look how her father's trained her! He was something high up
in the old country.'

'So was my mother's father,' murmured Lena, 'but that's all the good it
does us! My father's father was smart, too, but he was wild. He married
a Lapp. I guess that's what's the matter with me; they say Lapp blood
will out.'

'A real Lapp, Lena?' I exclaimed. 'The kind that wear skins?'

'I don't know if she wore skins, but she was a Lapps all right, and his
folks felt dreadful about it. He was sent up North on some government
job he had, and fell in with her. He would marry her.'

'But I thought Lapland women were fat and ugly, and had squint eyes,
like Chinese?' I objected.

'I don't know, maybe. There must be something mighty taking about the
Lapp girls, though; mother says the Norwegians up North are always
afraid their boys will run after them.'

In the afternoon, when the heat was less oppressive, we had a lively
game of 'Pussy Wants a Corner,' on the flat bluff-top, with the little
trees for bases. Lena was Pussy so often that she finally said she
wouldn't play any more. We threw ourselves down on the grass, out of
breath.

'Jim,' Antonia said dreamily, 'I want you to tell the girls about how
the Spanish first came here, like you and Charley Harling used to talk
about. I've tried to tell them, but I leave out so much.'

They sat under a little oak, Tony resting against the trunk and the
other girls leaning against her and each other, and listened to the
little I was able to tell them about Coronado and his search for the
Seven Golden Cities. At school we were taught that he had not got so far
north as Nebraska, but had given up his quest and turned back somewhere
in Kansas. But Charley Harling and I had a strong belief that he had
been along this very river. A farmer in the county north of ours, when
he was breaking sod, had turned up a metal stirrup of fine workmanship,
and a sword with a Spanish inscription on the blade. He lent these
relics to Mr. Harling, who brought them home with him. Charley and I
scoured them, and they were on exhibition in the Harling office all
summer. Father Kelly, the priest, had found the name of the Spanish
maker on the sword and an abbreviation that stood for the city of
Cordova.

'And that I saw with my own eyes,' Antonia put in triumphantly. 'So Jim
and Charley were right, and the teachers were wrong!'

The girls began to wonder among themselves. Why had the Spaniards come
so far? What must this country have been like, then? Why had Coronado
never gone back to Spain, to his riches and his castles and his king?
I couldn't tell them. I only knew the schoolbooks said he 'died in the
wilderness, of a broken heart.'

'More than him has done that,' said Antonia sadly, and the girls
murmured assent.

We sat looking off across the country, watching the sun go down. The
curly grass about us was on fire now. The bark of the oaks turned red
as copper. There was a shimmer of gold on the brown river. Out in the
stream the sandbars glittered like glass, and the light trembled in the
willow thickets as if little flames were leaping among them. The breeze
sank to stillness. In the ravine a ringdove mourned plaintively, and
somewhere off in the bushes an owl hooted. The girls sat listless,
leaning against each other. The long fingers of the sun touched their
foreheads.

Presently we saw a curious thing: There were no clouds, the sun was
going down in a limpid, gold-washed sky. Just as the lower edge of the
red disk rested on the high fields against the horizon, a great black
figure suddenly appeared on the face of the sun. We sprang to our feet,
straining our eyes toward it. In a moment we realized what it was. On
some upland farm, a plough had been left standing in the field. The
sun was sinking just behind it. Magnified across the distance by the
horizontal light, it stood out against the sun, was exactly contained
within the circle of the disk; the handles, the tongue, the share--black
against the molten red. There it was, heroic in size, a picture writing
on the sun.

Even while we whispered about it, our vision disappeared; the ball
dropped and dropped until the red tip went beneath the earth. The fields
below us were dark, the sky was growing pale, and that forgotten plough
had sunk back to its own littleness somewhere on the prairie.



XV

LATE IN AUGUST the Cutters went to Omaha for a few days, leaving Antonia
in charge of the house. Since the scandal about the Swedish girl, Wick
Cutter could never get his wife to stir out of Black Hawk without him.

The day after the Cutters left, Antonia came over to see us. Grandmother
noticed that she seemed troubled and distracted. 'You've got something
on your mind, Antonia,' she said anxiously.

'Yes, Mrs. Burden. I couldn't sleep much last night.' She hesitated, and
then told us how strangely Mr. Cutter had behaved before he went away.
He put all the silver in a basket and placed it under her bed, and with
it a box of papers which he told her were valuable. He made her promise
that she would not sleep away from the house, or be out late in the
evening, while he was gone. He strictly forbade her to ask any of the
girls she knew to stay with her at night. She would be perfectly safe,
he said, as he had just put a new Yale lock on the front door.

Cutter had been so insistent in regard to these details that now she
felt uncomfortable about staying there alone. She hadn't liked the way
he kept coming into the kitchen to instruct her, or the way he looked at
her. 'I feel as if he is up to some of his tricks again, and is going to
try to scare me, somehow.'

Grandmother was apprehensive at once. 'I don't think it's right for you
to stay there, feeling that way. I suppose it wouldn't be right for
you to leave the place alone, either, after giving your word. Maybe Jim
would be willing to go over there and sleep, and you could come here
nights. I'd feel safer, knowing you were under my own roof. I guess
Jim could take care of their silver and old usury notes as well as you
could.'

Antonia turned to me eagerly. 'Oh, would you, Jim? I'd make up my bed
nice and fresh for you. It's a real cool room, and the bed's right next
the window. I was afraid to leave the window open last night.'

I liked my own room, and I didn't like the Cutters' house under any
circumstances; but Tony looked so troubled that I consented to try this
arrangement. I found that I slept there as well as anywhere, and when I
got home in the morning, Tony had a good breakfast waiting for me. After
prayers she sat down at the table with us, and it was like old times in
the country.

The third night I spent at the Cutters', I awoke suddenly with the
impression that I had heard a door open and shut. Everything was still,
however, and I must have gone to sleep again immediately.

The next thing I knew, I felt someone sit down on the edge of the bed.
I was only half awake, but I decided that he might take the Cutters'
silver, whoever he was. Perhaps if I did not move, he would find it and
get out without troubling me. I held my breath and lay absolutely still.
A hand closed softly on my shoulder, and at the same moment I felt
something hairy and cologne-scented brushing my face. If the room had
suddenly been flooded with electric light, I couldn't have seen more
clearly the detestable bearded countenance that I knew was bending over
me. I caught a handful of whiskers and pulled, shouting something. The
hand that held my shoulder was instantly at my throat. The man became
insane; he stood over me, choking me with one fist and beating me in the
face with the other, hissing and chuckling and letting out a flood of
abuse.

'So this is what she's up to when I'm away, is it? Where is she, you
nasty whelp, where is she? Under the bed, are you, hussy? I know your
tricks! Wait till I get at you! I'll fix this rat you've got in here.
He's caught, all right!'

So long as Cutter had me by the throat, there was no chance for me at
all. I got hold of his thumb and bent it back, until he let go with a
yell. In a bound, I was on my feet, and easily sent him sprawling to the
floor. Then I made a dive for the open window, struck the wire screen,
knocked it out, and tumbled after it into the yard.

Suddenly I found myself running across the north end of Black Hawk in
my night-shirt, just as one sometimes finds one's self behaving in
bad dreams. When I got home, I climbed in at the kitchen window. I
was covered with blood from my nose and lip, but I was too sick to do
anything about it. I found a shawl and an overcoat on the hat-rack, lay
down on the parlour sofa, and in spite of my hurts, went to sleep.

Grandmother found me there in the morning. Her cry of fright awakened
me. Truly, I was a battered object. As she helped me to my room, I
caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My lip was cut and stood
out like a snout. My nose looked like a big blue plum, and one eye was
swollen shut and hideously discoloured. Grandmother said we must have
the doctor at once, but I implored her, as I had never begged for
anything before, not to send for him. I could stand anything, I told
her, so long as nobody saw me or knew what had happened to me. I
entreated her not to let grandfather, even, come into my room. She
seemed to understand, though I was too faint and miserable to go into
explanations. When she took off my night-shirt, she found such bruises
on my chest and shoulders that she began to cry. She spent the whole
morning bathing and poulticing me, and rubbing me with arnica. I heard
Antonia sobbing outside my door, but I asked grandmother to send her
away. I felt that I never wanted to see her again. I hated her almost as
much as I hated Cutter. She had let me in for all this disgustingness.
Grandmother kept saying how thankful we ought to be that I had been
there instead of Antonia. But I lay with my disfigured face to the wall
and felt no particular gratitude. My one concern was that grandmother
should keep everyone away from me. If the story once got abroad, I would
never hear the last of it. I could well imagine what the old men down at
the drugstore would do with such a theme.

While grandmother was trying to make me comfortable, grandfather went
to the depot and learned that Wick Cutter had come home on the night
express from the east, and had left again on the six o'clock train
for Denver that morning. The agent said his face was striped with
court-plaster, and he carried his left hand in a sling. He looked so
used up, that the agent asked him what had happened to him since ten
o'clock the night before; whereat Cutter began to swear at him and said
he would have him discharged for incivility.

That afternoon, while I was asleep, Antonia took grandmother with her,
and went over to the Cutters' to pack her trunk. They found the place
locked up, and they had to break the window to get into Antonia's
bedroom. There everything was in shocking disorder. Her clothes had
been taken out of her closet, thrown into the middle of the room, and
trampled and torn. My own garments had been treated so badly that I
never saw them again; grandmother burned them in the Cutters' kitchen
range.

While Antonia was packing her trunk and putting her room in order,
to leave it, the front doorbell rang violently. There stood Mrs.
Cutter--locked out, for she had no key to the new lock--her head
trembling with rage. 'I advised her to control herself, or she would
have a stroke,' grandmother said afterward.

Grandmother would not let her see Antonia at all, but made her sit down
in the parlour while she related to her just what had occurred the night
before. Antonia was frightened, and was going home to stay for a while,
she told Mrs. Cutter; it would be useless to interrogate the girl, for
she knew nothing of what had happened.

Then Mrs. Cutter told her story. She and her husband had started home
from Omaha together the morning before. They had to stop over several
hours at Waymore Junction to catch the Black Hawk train. During the
wait, Cutter left her at the depot and went to the Waymore bank to
attend to some business. When he returned, he told her that he would
have to stay overnight there, but she could go on home. He bought her
ticket and put her on the train. She saw him slip a twenty-dollar bill
into her handbag with her ticket. That bill, she said, should have
aroused her suspicions at once--but did not.

The trains are never called at little junction towns; everybody knows
when they come in. Mr. Cutter showed his wife's ticket to the conductor,
and settled her in her seat before the train moved off. It was not until
nearly nightfall that she discovered she was on the express bound for
Kansas City, that her ticket was made out to that point, and that Cutter
must have planned it so. The conductor told her the Black Hawk train was
due at Waymore twelve minutes after the Kansas City train left. She saw
at once that her husband had played this trick in order to get back to
Black Hawk without her. She had no choice but to go on to Kansas City
and take the first fast train for home.

Cutter could have got home a day earlier than his wife by any one of a
dozen simpler devices; he could have left her in the Omaha hotel, and
said he was going on to Chicago for a few days. But apparently it was
part of his fun to outrage her feelings as much as possible.

'Mr. Cutter will pay for this, Mrs. Burden. He will pay!' Mrs. Cutter
avouched, nodding her horse-like head and rolling her eyes.

Grandmother said she hadn't a doubt of it.

Certainly Cutter liked to have his wife think him a devil. In some
way he depended upon the excitement He could arouse in her hysterical
nature. Perhaps he got the feeling of being a rake more from his wife's
rage and amazement than from any experiences of his own. His zest
in debauchery might wane, but never Mrs. Cutter's belief in it. The
reckoning with his wife at the end of an escapade was something he
counted on--like the last powerful liqueur after a long dinner. The
one excitement he really couldn't do without was quarrelling with Mrs.
Cutter!



BOOK III. Lena Lingard



I

AT THE UNIVERSITY I had the good fortune to come immediately under the
influence of a brilliant and inspiring young scholar. Gaston Cleric had
arrived in Lincoln only a few weeks earlier than I, to begin his work
as head of the Latin Department. He came West at the suggestion of his
physicians, his health having been enfeebled by a long illness in Italy.
When I took my entrance examinations, he was my examiner, and my course
was arranged under his supervision.

I did not go home for my first summer vacation, but stayed in Lincoln,
working off a year's Greek, which had been my only condition on entering
the freshman class. Cleric's doctor advised against his going back to
New England, and, except for a few weeks in Colorado, he, too, was in
Lincoln all that summer. We played tennis, read, and took long walks
together. I shall always look back on that time of mental awakening as
one of the happiest in my life. Gaston Cleric introduced me to the world
of ideas; when one first enters that world everything else fades for
a time, and all that went before is as if it had not been. Yet I found
curious survivals; some of the figures of my old life seemed to be
waiting for me in the new.


In those days there were many serious young men among the students
who had come up to the university from the farms and the little towns
scattered over the thinly settled state. Some of those boys came
straight from the cornfields with only a summer's wages in their
pockets, hung on through the four years, shabby and underfed, and
completed the course by really heroic self-sacrifice. Our instructors
were oddly assorted; wandering pioneer school-teachers, stranded
ministers of the Gospel, a few enthusiastic young men just out of
graduate schools. There was an atmosphere of endeavour, of expectancy
and bright hopefulness about the young college that had lifted its head
from the prairie only a few years before.

Our personal life was as free as that of our instructors. There were
no college dormitories; we lived where we could and as we could. I took
rooms with an old couple, early settlers in Lincoln, who had married off
their children and now lived quietly in their house at the edge of
town, near the open country. The house was inconveniently situated for
students, and on that account I got two rooms for the price of one. My
bedroom, originally a linen-closet, was unheated and was barely large
enough to contain my cot-bed, but it enabled me to call the other room
my study. The dresser, and the great walnut wardrobe which held all
my clothes, even my hats and shoes, I had pushed out of the way, and I
considered them non-existent, as children eliminate incongruous objects
when they are playing house. I worked at a commodious green-topped table
placed directly in front of the west window which looked out over the
prairie. In the corner at my right were all my books, in shelves I
had made and painted myself. On the blank wall at my left the dark,
old-fashioned wall-paper was covered by a large map of ancient Rome, the
work of some German scholar. Cleric had ordered it for me when he was
sending for books from abroad. Over the bookcase hung a photograph
of the Tragic Theatre at Pompeii, which he had given me from his
collection.

When I sat at work I half-faced a deep, upholstered chair which stood
at the end of my table, its high back against the wall. I had bought it
with great care. My instructor sometimes looked in upon me when he
was out for an evening tramp, and I noticed that he was more likely to
linger and become talkative if I had a comfortable chair for him to sit
in, and if he found a bottle of Benedictine and plenty of the kind
of cigarettes he liked, at his elbow. He was, I had discovered,
parsimonious about small expenditures--a trait absolutely inconsistent
with his general character. Sometimes when he came he was silent and
moody, and after a few sarcastic remarks went away again, to tramp the
streets of Lincoln, which were almost as quiet and oppressively domestic
as those of Black Hawk. Again, he would sit until nearly midnight,
talking about Latin and English poetry, or telling me about his long
stay in Italy.

I can give no idea of the peculiar charm and vividness of his talk. In
a crowd he was nearly always silent. Even for his classroom he had no
platitudes, no stock of professorial anecdotes. When he was tired, his
lectures were clouded, obscure, elliptical; but when he was interested
they were wonderful. I believe that Gaston Cleric narrowly missed
being a great poet, and I have sometimes thought that his bursts of
imaginative talk were fatal to his poetic gift. He squandered too much
in the heat of personal communication. How often I have seen him draw
his dark brows together, fix his eyes upon some object on the wall or a
figure in the carpet, and then flash into the lamplight the very image
that was in his brain. He could bring the drama of antique life before
one out of the shadows--white figures against blue backgrounds. I shall
never forget his face as it looked one night when he told me about the
solitary day he spent among the sea temples at Paestum: the soft wind
blowing through the roofless columns, the birds flying low over the
flowering marsh grasses, the changing lights on the silver, cloud-hung
mountains. He had wilfully stayed the short summer night there, wrapped
in his coat and rug, watching the constellations on their path down
the sky until 'the bride of old Tithonus' rose out of the sea, and the
mountains stood sharp in the dawn. It was there he caught the fever
which held him back on the eve of his departure for Greece and of which
he lay ill so long in Naples. He was still, indeed, doing penance for
it.

I remember vividly another evening, when something led us to talk of
Dante's veneration for Virgil. Cleric went through canto after canto
of the 'Commedia,' repeating the discourse between Dante and his 'sweet
teacher,' while his cigarette burned itself out unheeded between
his long fingers. I can hear him now, speaking the lines of the poet
Statius, who spoke for Dante: 'I was famous on earth with the name which
endures longest and honours most. The seeds of my ardour were the sparks
from that divine flame whereby more than a thousand have kindled; I
speak of the "Aeneid," mother to me and nurse to me in poetry.'

Although I admired scholarship so much in Cleric, I was not deceived
about myself; I knew that I should never be a scholar. I could never
lose myself for long among impersonal things. Mental excitement was
apt to send me with a rush back to my own naked land and the figures
scattered upon it. While I was in the very act of yearning toward the
new forms that Cleric brought up before me, my mind plunged away from
me, and I suddenly found myself thinking of the places and people of my
own infinitesimal past. They stood out strengthened and simplified now,
like the image of the plough against the sun. They were all I had for
an answer to the new appeal. I begrudged the room that Jake and Otto and
Russian Peter took up in my memory, which I wanted to crowd with other
things. But whenever my consciousness was quickened, all those
early friends were quickened within it, and in some strange way they
accompanied me through all my new experiences. They were so much alive
in me that I scarcely stopped to wonder whether they were alive anywhere
else, or how.



II

ONE MARCH EVENING in my sophomore year I was sitting alone in my room
after supper. There had been a warm thaw all day, with mushy yards and
little streams of dark water gurgling cheerfully into the streets out of
old snow-banks. My window was open, and the earthy wind blowing through
made me indolent. On the edge of the prairie, where the sun had gone
down, the sky was turquoise blue, like a lake, with gold light throbbing
in it. Higher up, in the utter clarity of the western slope, the evening
star hung like a lamp suspended by silver chains--like the lamp engraved
upon the title-page of old Latin texts, which is always appearing in new
heavens, and waking new desires in men. It reminded me, at any rate, to
shut my window and light my wick in answer. I did so regretfully, and
the dim objects in the room emerged from the shadows and took their
place about me with the helpfulness which custom breeds.

I propped my book open and stared listlessly at the page of the
'Georgics' where tomorrow's lesson began. It opened with the melancholy
reflection that, in the lives of mortals the best days are the first to
flee. 'Optima dies... prima fugit.' I turned back to the beginning of
the third book, which we had read in class that morning. 'Primus ego in
patriam mecum... deducam Musas'; 'for I shall be the first, if I live,
to bring the Muse into my country.' Cleric had explained to us that
'patria' here meant, not a nation or even a province, but the little
rural neighbourhood on the Mincio where the poet was born. This was not
a boast, but a hope, at once bold and devoutly humble, that he might
bring the Muse (but lately come to Italy from her cloudy Grecian
mountains), not to the capital, the palatia Romana, but to his own
little I country'; to his father's fields, 'sloping down to the river
and to the old beech trees with broken tops.'

Cleric said he thought Virgil, when he was dying at Brindisi, must have
remembered that passage. After he had faced the bitter fact that he was
to leave the 'Aeneid' unfinished, and had decreed that the great canvas,
crowded with figures of gods and men, should be burned rather than
survive him unperfected, then his mind must have gone back to the
perfect utterance of the 'Georgics,' where the pen was fitted to the
matter as the plough is to the furrow; and he must have said to himself,
with the thankfulness of a good man, 'I was the first to bring the Muse
into my country.'

We left the classroom quietly, conscious that we had been brushed by the
wing of a great feeling, though perhaps I alone knew Cleric intimately
enough to guess what that feeling was. In the evening, as I sat staring
at my book, the fervour of his voice stirred through the quantities on
the page before me. I was wondering whether that particular rocky strip
of New England coast about which he had so often told me was Cleric's
patria. Before I had got far with my reading, I was disturbed by a
knock. I hurried to the door and when I opened it saw a woman standing
in the dark hall.

'I expect you hardly know me, Jim.'

The voice seemed familiar, but I did not recognize her until she stepped
into the light of my doorway and I beheld--Lena Lingard! She was so
quietly conventionalized by city clothes that I might have passed her
on the street without seeing her. Her black suit fitted her figure
smoothly, and a black lace hat, with pale-blue forget-me-nots, sat
demurely on her yellow hair.

I led her toward Cleric's chair, the only comfortable one I had,
questioning her confusedly.

She was not disconcerted by my embarrassment. She looked about her with
the naive curiosity I remembered so well. 'You are quite comfortable
here, aren't you? I live in Lincoln now, too, Jim. I'm in business for
myself. I have a dressmaking shop in the Raleigh Block, out on O Street.
I've made a real good start.'

'But, Lena, when did you come?'

'Oh, I've been here all winter. Didn't your grandmother ever write you?
I've thought about looking you up lots of times. But we've all heard
what a studious young man you've got to be, and I felt bashful. I didn't
know whether you'd be glad to see me.' She laughed her mellow, easy
laugh, that was either very artless or very comprehending, one never
quite knew which. 'You seem the same, though--except you're a young man,
now, of course. Do you think I've changed?'

'Maybe you're prettier--though you were always pretty enough. Perhaps
it's your clothes that make a difference.'

'You like my new suit? I have to dress pretty well in my business.'

She took off her jacket and sat more at ease in her blouse, of some
soft, flimsy silk. She was already at home in my place, had slipped
quietly into it, as she did into everything. She told me her business
was going well, and she had saved a little money.

'This summer I'm going to build the house for mother I've talked about
so long. I won't be able to pay up on it at first, but I want her to
have it before she is too old to enjoy it. Next summer I'll take her
down new furniture and carpets, so she'll have something to look forward
to all winter.'

I watched Lena sitting there so smooth and sunny and well-cared-for, and
thought of how she used to run barefoot over the prairie until after
the snow began to fly, and how Crazy Mary chased her round and round
the cornfields. It seemed to me wonderful that she should have got on so
well in the world. Certainly she had no one but herself to thank for it.

'You must feel proud of yourself, Lena,' I said heartily. 'Look at me;
I've never earned a dollar, and I don't know that I'll ever be able to.'

'Tony says you're going to be richer than Mr. Harling some day. She's
always bragging about you, you know.'

'Tell me, how IS Tony?'

'She's fine. She works for Mrs. Gardener at the hotel now. She's
housekeeper. Mrs. Gardener's health isn't what it was, and she can't
see after everything like she used to. She has great confidence in Tony.
Tony's made it up with the Harlings, too. Little Nina is so fond of her
that Mrs. Harling kind of overlooked things.'

'Is she still going with Larry Donovan?'

'Oh, that's on, worse than ever! I guess they're engaged. Tony talks
about him like he was president of the railroad. Everybody laughs about
it, because she was never a girl to be soft. She won't hear a word
against him. She's so sort of innocent.'

I said I didn't like Larry, and never would.

Lena's face dimpled. 'Some of us could tell her things, but it wouldn't
do any good. She'd always believe him. That's Antonia's failing, you
know; if she once likes people, she won't hear anything against them.'

'I think I'd better go home and look after Antonia,' I said.

'I think you had.' Lena looked up at me in frank amusement. 'It's a good
thing the Harlings are friendly with her again. Larry's afraid of them.
They ship so much grain, they have influence with the railroad people.
What are you studying?' She leaned her elbows on the table and drew my
book toward her. I caught a faint odour of violet sachet. 'So that's
Latin, is it? It looks hard. You do go to the theatre sometimes, though,
for I've seen you there. Don't you just love a good play, Jim? I can't
stay at home in the evening if there's one in town. I'd be willing to
work like a slave, it seems to me, to live in a place where there are
theatres.'

'Let's go to a show together sometime. You are going to let me come to
see you, aren't you?'

'Would you like to? I'd be ever so pleased. I'm never busy after six
o'clock, and I let my sewing girls go at half-past five. I board, to
save time, but sometimes I cook a chop for myself, and I'd be glad to
cook one for you. Well'--she began to put on her white gloves--'it's
been awful good to see you, Jim.'

'You needn't hurry, need you? You've hardly told me anything yet.'

'We can talk when you come to see me. I expect you don't often have lady
visitors. The old woman downstairs didn't want to let me come up very
much. I told her I was from your home town, and had promised your
grandmother to come and see you. How surprised Mrs. Burden would be!'
Lena laughed softly as she rose.

When I caught up my hat, she shook her head. 'No, I don't want you to go
with me. I'm to meet some Swedes at the drugstore. You wouldn't care for
them. I wanted to see your room so I could write Tony all about it, but
I must tell her how I left you right here with your books. She's always
so afraid someone will run off with you!' Lena slipped her silk sleeves
into the jacket I held for her, smoothed it over her person, and
buttoned it slowly. I walked with her to the door. 'Come and see me
sometimes when you're lonesome. But maybe you have all the friends
you want. Have you?' She turned her soft cheek to me. 'Have you?' she
whispered teasingly in my ear. In a moment I watched her fade down the
dusky stairway.

When I turned back to my room the place seemed much pleasanter than
before. Lena had left something warm and friendly in the lamplight.
How I loved to hear her laugh again! It was so soft and unexcited and
appreciative gave a favourable interpretation to everything. When I
closed my eyes I could hear them all laughing--the Danish laundry girls
and the three Bohemian Marys. Lena had brought them all back to me. It
came over me, as it had never done before, the relation between girls
like those and the poetry of Virgil. If there were no girls like them in
the world, there would be no poetry. I understood that clearly, for the
first time. This revelation seemed to me inestimably precious. I clung
to it as if it might suddenly vanish.

As I sat down to my book at last, my old dream about Lena coming across
the harvest-field in her short skirt seemed to me like the memory of an
actual experience. It floated before me on the page like a picture, and
underneath it stood the mournful line: 'Optima dies... prima fugit.'



III

IN LINCOLN THE BEST part of the theatrical season came late, when the
good companies stopped off there for one-night stands, after their
long runs in New York and Chicago. That spring Lena went with me to
see Joseph Jefferson in 'Rip Van Winkle,' and to a war play called
'Shenandoah.' She was inflexible about paying for her own seat; said
she was in business now, and she wouldn't have a schoolboy spending
his money on her. I liked to watch a play with Lena; everything was
wonderful to her, and everything was true. It was like going to revival
meetings with someone who was always being converted. She handed her
feelings over to the actors with a kind of fatalistic resignation.
Accessories of costume and scene meant much more to her than to me.
She sat entranced through 'Robin Hood' and hung upon the lips of the
contralto who sang, 'Oh, Promise Me!'

Toward the end of April, the billboards, which I watched anxiously in
those days, bloomed out one morning with gleaming white posters on which
two names were impressively printed in blue Gothic letters: the name of
an actress of whom I had often heard, and the name 'Camille.'

I called at the Raleigh Block for Lena on Saturday evening, and we
walked down to the theatre. The weather was warm and sultry and put us
both in a holiday humour. We arrived early, because Lena liked to watch
the people come in. There was a note on the programme, saying that the
'incidental music' would be from the opera 'Traviata,' which was made
from the same story as the play. We had neither of us read the play, and
we did not know what it was about--though I seemed to remember having
heard it was a piece in which great actresses shone. 'The Count of Monte
Cristo,' which I had seen James O'Neill play that winter, was by the
only Alexandre Dumas I knew. This play, I saw, was by his son, and I
expected a family resemblance. A couple of jack-rabbits, run in off the
prairie, could not have been more innocent of what awaited them than
were Lena and I.

Our excitement began with the rise of the curtain, when the moody
Varville, seated before the fire, interrogated Nanine. Decidedly, there
was a new tang about this dialogue. I had never heard in the theatre
lines that were alive, that presupposed and took for granted, like those
which passed between Varville and Marguerite in the brief encounter
before her friends entered. This introduced the most brilliant, worldly,
the most enchantingly gay scene I had ever looked upon. I had never seen
champagne bottles opened on the stage before--indeed, I had never seen
them opened anywhere. The memory of that supper makes me hungry now;
the sight of it then, when I had only a students' boarding-house dinner
behind me, was delicate torment. I seem to remember gilded chairs and
tables (arranged hurriedly by footmen in white gloves and stockings),
linen of dazzling whiteness, glittering glass, silver dishes, a great
bowl of fruit, and the reddest of roses. The room was invaded by
beautiful women and dashing young men, laughing and talking together.
The men were dressed more or less after the period in which the play was
written; the women were not. I saw no inconsistency. Their talk seemed
to open to one the brilliant world in which they lived; every sentence
made one older and wiser, every pleasantry enlarged one's horizon.
One could experience excess and satiety without the inconvenience
of learning what to do with one's hands in a drawing-room! When the
characters all spoke at once and I missed some of the phrases they
flashed at each other, I was in misery. I strained my ears and eyes to
catch every exclamation.

The actress who played Marguerite was even then old-fashioned, though
historic. She had been a member of Daly's famous New York company, and
afterward a 'star' under his direction. She was a woman who could not be
taught, it is said, though she had a crude natural force which carried
with people whose feelings were accessible and whose taste was not
squeamish. She was already old, with a ravaged countenance and a
physique curiously hard and stiff. She moved with difficulty--I think
she was lame--I seem to remember some story about a malady of the spine.
Her Armand was disproportionately young and slight, a handsome youth,
perplexed in the extreme. But what did it matter? I believed devoutly in
her power to fascinate him, in her dazzling loveliness. I believed her
young, ardent, reckless, disillusioned, under sentence, feverish, avid
of pleasure. I wanted to cross the footlights and help the slim-waisted
Armand in the frilled shirt to convince her that there was still loyalty
and devotion in the world. Her sudden illness, when the gaiety was at
its height, her pallor, the handkerchief she crushed against her lips,
the cough she smothered under the laughter while Gaston kept playing the
piano lightly--it all wrung my heart. But not so much as her cynicism
in the long dialogue with her lover which followed. How far was I from
questioning her unbelief! While the charmingly sincere young man pleaded
with her--accompanied by the orchestra in the old 'Traviata' duet,
'misterioso, misterios' altero!'--she maintained her bitter scepticism,
and the curtain fell on her dancing recklessly with the others, after
Armand had been sent away with his flower.

Between the acts we had no time to forget. The orchestra kept sawing
away at the 'Traviata' music, so joyous and sad, so thin and far-away,
so clap-trap and yet so heart-breaking. After the second act I left Lena
in tearful contemplation of the ceiling, and went out into the lobby
to smoke. As I walked about there I congratulated myself that I had
not brought some Lincoln girl who would talk during the waits about the
junior dances, or whether the cadets would camp at Plattsmouth. Lena was
at least a woman, and I was a man.

Through the scene between Marguerite and the elder Duval, Lena wept
unceasingly, and I sat helpless to prevent the closing of that chapter
of idyllic love, dreading the return of the young man whose ineffable
happiness was only to be the measure of his fall.

I suppose no woman could have been further in person, voice, and
temperament from Dumas' appealing heroine than the veteran actress who
first acquainted me with her. Her conception of the character was as
heavy and uncompromising as her diction; she bore hard on the idea
and on the consonants. At all times she was highly tragic, devoured by
remorse. Lightness of stress or behaviour was far from her. Her voice
was heavy and deep: 'Ar-r-r-mond!' she would begin, as if she were
summoning him to the bar of Judgment. But the lines were enough. She had
only to utter them. They created the character in spite of her.

The heartless world which Marguerite re-entered with Varville had never
been so glittering and reckless as on the night when it gathered in
Olympe's salon for the fourth act. There were chandeliers hung from the
ceiling, I remember, many servants in livery, gaming-tables where the
men played with piles of gold, and a staircase down which the guests
made their entrance. After all the others had gathered round the
card-tables and young Duval had been warned by Prudence, Marguerite
descended the staircase with Varville; such a cloak, such a fan, such
jewels--and her face! One knew at a glance how it was with her. When
Armand, with the terrible words, 'Look, all of you, I owe this woman
nothing!' flung the gold and bank-notes at the half-swooning Marguerite,
Lena cowered beside me and covered her face with her hands.

The curtain rose on the bedroom scene. By this time there wasn't a nerve
in me that hadn't been twisted. Nanine alone could have made me cry. I
loved Nanine tenderly; and Gaston, how one clung to that good fellow!
The New Year's presents were not too much; nothing could be too much
now. I wept unrestrainedly. Even the handkerchief in my breast-pocket,
worn for elegance and not at all for use, was wet through by the time
that moribund woman sank for the last time into the arms of her lover.

When we reached the door of the theatre, the streets were shining with
rain. I had prudently brought along Mrs. Harling's useful Commencement
present, and I took Lena home under its shelter. After leaving her, I
walked slowly out into the country part of the town where I lived. The
lilacs were all blooming in the yards, and the smell of them after the
rain, of the new leaves and the blossoms together, blew into my face
with a sort of bitter sweetness. I tramped through the puddles and under
the showery trees, mourning for Marguerite Gauthier as if she had died
only yesterday, sighing with the spirit of 1840, which had sighed so
much, and which had reached me only that night, across long years and
several languages, through the person of an infirm old actress. The idea
is one that no circumstances can frustrate. Wherever and whenever that
piece is put on, it is April.



IV

HOW WELL I REMEMBER the stiff little parlour where I used to wait for
Lena: the hard horsehair furniture, bought at some auction sale, the
long mirror, the fashion-plates on the wall. If I sat down even for a
moment, I was sure to find threads and bits of coloured silk clinging
to my clothes after I went away. Lena's success puzzled me. She was so
easygoing; had none of the push and self-assertiveness that get people
ahead in business. She had come to Lincoln, a country girl, with no
introductions except to some cousins of Mrs. Thomas who lived there, and
she was already making clothes for the women of 'the young married set.'
Evidently she had great natural aptitude for her work. She knew, as
she said, 'what people looked well in.' She never tired of poring over
fashion-books. Sometimes in the evening I would find her alone in
her work-room, draping folds of satin on a wire figure, with a quite
blissful expression of countenance. I couldn't help thinking that the
years when Lena literally hadn't enough clothes to cover herself might
have something to do with her untiring interest in dressing the human
figure. Her clients said that Lena 'had style,' and overlooked her
habitual inaccuracies. She never, I discovered, finished anything by the
time she had promised, and she frequently spent more money on materials
than her customer had authorized. Once, when I arrived at six o'clock,
Lena was ushering out a fidgety mother and her awkward, overgrown
daughter. The woman detained Lena at the door to say apologetically:

'You'll try to keep it under fifty for me, won't you, Miss Lingard? You
see, she's really too young to come to an expensive dressmaker, but I
knew you could do more with her than anybody else.'

'Oh, that will be all right, Mrs. Herron. I think we'll manage to get a
good effect,' Lena replied blandly.

I thought her manner with her customers very good, and wondered where
she had learned such self-possession.

Sometimes after my morning classes were over, I used to encounter Lena
downtown, in her velvet suit and a little black hat, with a veil tied
smoothly over her face, looking as fresh as the spring morning. Maybe
she would be carrying home a bunch of jonquils or a hyacinth plant. When
we passed a candy store her footsteps would hesitate and linger. 'Don't
let me go in,' she would murmur. 'Get me by if you can.' She was very
fond of sweets, and was afraid of growing too plump.

We had delightful Sunday breakfasts together at Lena's. At the back of
her long work-room was a bay-window, large enough to hold a box-couch
and a reading-table. We breakfasted in this recess, after drawing the
curtains that shut out the long room, with cutting-tables and wire women
and sheet-draped garments on the walls. The sunlight poured in, making
everything on the table shine and glitter and the flame of the alcohol
lamp disappear altogether. Lena's curly black water-spaniel, Prince,
breakfasted with us. He sat beside her on the couch and behaved very
well until the Polish violin-teacher across the hall began to practise,
when Prince would growl and sniff the air with disgust. Lena's landlord,
old Colonel Raleigh, had given her the dog, and at first she was not at
all pleased. She had spent too much of her life taking care of animals
to have much sentiment about them. But Prince was a knowing little
beast, and she grew fond of him. After breakfast I made him do his
lessons; play dead dog, shake hands, stand up like a soldier. We used
to put my cadet cap on his head--I had to take military drill at the
university--and give him a yard-measure to hold with his front leg. His
gravity made us laugh immoderately.

Lena's talk always amused me. Antonia had never talked like the people
about her. Even after she learned to speak English readily, there was
always something impulsive and foreign in her speech. But Lena had
picked up all the conventional expressions she heard at Mrs. Thomas's
dressmaking shop. Those formal phrases, the very flower of small-town
proprieties, and the flat commonplaces, nearly all hypocritical in their
origin, became very funny, very engaging, when they were uttered in
Lena's soft voice, with her caressing intonation and arch naivete.
Nothing could be more diverting than to hear Lena, who was almost as
candid as Nature, call a leg a 'limb' or a house a 'home.'

We used to linger a long while over our coffee in that sunny corner.
Lena was never so pretty as in the morning; she wakened fresh with the
world every day, and her eyes had a deeper colour then, like the blue
flowers that are never so blue as when they first open. I could sit idle
all through a Sunday morning and look at her. Ole Benson's behaviour was
now no mystery to me.

'There was never any harm in Ole,' she said once. 'People needn't have
troubled themselves. He just liked to come over and sit on the drawside
and forget about his bad luck. I liked to have him. Any company's
welcome when you're off with cattle all the time.'

'But wasn't he always glum?' I asked. 'People said he never talked at
all.'

'Sure he talked, in Norwegian. He'd been a sailor on an English boat and
had seen lots of queer places. He had wonderful tattoos. We used to sit
and look at them for hours; there wasn't much to look at out there. He
was like a picture book. He had a ship and a strawberry girl on one arm,
and on the other a girl standing before a little house, with a fence and
gate and all, waiting for her sweetheart. Farther up his arm, her sailor
had come back and was kissing her. "The Sailor's Return," he called it.'

I admitted it was no wonder Ole liked to look at a pretty girl once in a
while, with such a fright at home.

'You know,' Lena said confidentially, 'he married Mary because he
thought she was strong-minded and would keep him straight. He never
could keep straight on shore. The last time he landed in Liverpool he'd
been out on a two years' voyage. He was paid off one morning, and by the
next he hadn't a cent left, and his watch and compass were gone. He'd
got with some women, and they'd taken everything. He worked his way to
this country on a little passenger boat. Mary was a stewardess, and she
tried to convert him on the way over. He thought she was just the one to
keep him steady. Poor Ole! He used to bring me candy from town, hidden
in his feed-bag. He couldn't refuse anything to a girl. He'd have given
away his tattoos long ago, if he could. He's one of the people I'm
sorriest for.'

If I happened to spend an evening with Lena and stayed late, the Polish
violin-teacher across the hall used to come out and watch me descend the
stairs, muttering so threateningly that it would have been easy to fall
into a quarrel with him. Lena had told him once that she liked to hear
him practise, so he always left his door open, and watched who came and
went.


There was a coolness between the Pole and Lena's landlord on her
account. Old Colonel Raleigh had come to Lincoln from Kentucky and
invested an inherited fortune in real estate, at the time of inflated
prices. Now he sat day after day in his office in the Raleigh Block,
trying to discover where his money had gone and how he could get some of
it back. He was a widower, and found very little congenial companionship
in this casual Western city. Lena's good looks and gentle manners
appealed to him. He said her voice reminded him of Southern voices, and
he found as many opportunities of hearing it as possible. He painted and
papered her rooms for her that spring, and put in a porcelain bathtub in
place of the tin one that had satisfied the former tenant. While these
repairs were being made, the old gentleman often dropped in to consult
Lena's preferences. She told me with amusement how Ordinsky, the Pole,
had presented himself at her door one evening, and said that if the
landlord was annoying her by his attentions, he would promptly put a
stop to it.

'I don't exactly know what to do about him,' she said, shaking her head,
'he's so sort of wild all the time. I wouldn't like to have him say
anything rough to that nice old man. The colonel is long-winded, but
then I expect he's lonesome. I don't think he cares much for Ordinsky,
either. He said once that if I had any complaints to make of my
neighbours, I mustn't hesitate.'

One Saturday evening when I was having supper with Lena, we heard a
knock at her parlour door, and there stood the Pole, coatless, in a
dress shirt and collar. Prince dropped on his paws and began to growl
like a mastiff, while the visitor apologized, saying that he could
not possibly come in thus attired, but he begged Lena to lend him some
safety pins.

'Oh, you'll have to come in, Mr. Ordinsky, and let me see what's the
matter.' She closed the door behind him. 'Jim, won't you make Prince
behave?'

I rapped Prince on the nose, while Ordinsky explained that he had not
had his dress clothes on for a long time, and tonight, when he was going
to play for a concert, his waistcoat had split down the back. He thought
he could pin it together until he got it to a tailor.

Lena took him by the elbow and turned him round. She laughed when she
saw the long gap in the satin. 'You could never pin that, Mr. Ordinsky.
You've kept it folded too long, and the goods is all gone along the
crease. Take it off. I can put a new piece of lining-silk in there for
you in ten minutes.' She disappeared into her work-room with the vest,
leaving me to confront the Pole, who stood against the door like a
wooden figure. He folded his arms and glared at me with his excitable,
slanting brown eyes. His head was the shape of a chocolate drop, and was
covered with dry, straw-coloured hair that fuzzed up about his pointed
crown. He had never done more than mutter at me as I passed him, and
I was surprised when he now addressed me. 'Miss Lingard,' he said
haughtily, 'is a young woman for whom I have the utmost, the utmost
respect.'

'So have I,' I said coldly.

He paid no heed to my remark, but began to do rapid finger-exercises on
his shirt-sleeves, as he stood with tightly folded arms.

'Kindness of heart,' he went on, staring at the ceiling, 'sentiment,
are not understood in a place like this. The noblest qualities are
ridiculed. Grinning college boys, ignorant and conceited, what do they
know of delicacy!'

I controlled my features and tried to speak seriously.

'If you mean me, Mr. Ordinsky, I have known Miss Lingard a long time,
and I think I appreciate her kindness. We come from the same town, and
we grew up together.'

His gaze travelled slowly down from the ceiling and rested on me. 'Am I
to understand that you have this young woman's interests at heart? That
you do not wish to compromise her?'

'That's a word we don't use much here, Mr. Ordinsky. A girl who makes
her own living can ask a college boy to supper without being talked
about. We take some things for granted.'

'Then I have misjudged you, and I ask your pardon'--he bowed gravely.
'Miss Lingard,' he went on, 'is an absolutely trustful heart. She
has not learned the hard lessons of life. As for you and me, noblesse
oblige'--he watched me narrowly.

Lena returned with the vest. 'Come in and let us look at you as you go
out, Mr. Ordinsky. I've never seen you in your dress suit,' she said as
she opened the door for him.

A few moments later he reappeared with his violin-case a heavy muffler
about his neck and thick woollen gloves on his bony hands. Lena
spoke encouragingly to him, and he went off with such an important
professional air that we fell to laughing as soon as we had shut the
door. 'Poor fellow,' Lena said indulgently, 'he takes everything so
hard.'

After that Ordinsky was friendly to me, and behaved as if there
were some deep understanding between us. He wrote a furious article,
attacking the musical taste of the town, and asked me to do him a great
service by taking it to the editor of the morning paper. If the editor
refused to print it, I was to tell him that he would be answerable to
Ordinsky 'in person.' He declared that he would never retract one word,
and that he was quite prepared to lose all his pupils. In spite of
the fact that nobody ever mentioned his article to him after it
appeared--full of typographical errors which he thought intentional--he
got a certain satisfaction from believing that the citizens of Lincoln
had meekly accepted the epithet 'coarse barbarians.' 'You see how
it is,' he said to me, 'where there is no chivalry, there is no
amour-propre.' When I met him on his rounds now, I thought he carried
his head more disdainfully than ever, and strode up the steps of front
porches and rang doorbells with more assurance. He told Lena he would
never forget how I had stood by him when he was 'under fire.'

All this time, of course, I was drifting. Lena had broken up my serious
mood. I wasn't interested in my classes. I played with Lena and Prince,
I played with the Pole, I went buggy-riding with the old colonel, who
had taken a fancy to me and used to talk to me about Lena and the 'great
beauties' he had known in his youth. We were all three in love with
Lena.


Before the first of June, Gaston Cleric was offered an instructorship at
Harvard College, and accepted it. He suggested that I should follow him
in the fall, and complete my course at Harvard. He had found out about
Lena--not from me--and he talked to me seriously.

'You won't do anything here now. You should either quit school and go
to work, or change your college and begin again in earnest. You
won't recover yourself while you are playing about with this handsome
Norwegian. Yes, I've seen her with you at the theatre. She's very
pretty, and perfectly irresponsible, I should judge.'

Cleric wrote my grandfather that he would like to take me East with him.
To my astonishment, grandfather replied that I might go if I wished. I
was both glad and sorry on the day when the letter came. I stayed in
my room all evening and thought things over. I even tried to persuade
myself that I was standing in Lena's way--it is so necessary to be
a little noble!--and that if she had not me to play with, she would
probably marry and secure her future.

The next evening I went to call on Lena. I found her propped up on the
couch in her bay-window, with her foot in a big slipper. An awkward
little Russian girl whom she had taken into her work-room had dropped a
flat-iron on Lena's toe. On the table beside her there was a basket
of early summer flowers which the Pole had left after he heard of the
accident. He always managed to know what went on in Lena's apartment.

Lena was telling me some amusing piece of gossip about one of her
clients, when I interrupted her and picked up the flower basket.

'This old chap will be proposing to you some day, Lena.'

'Oh, he has--often!' she murmured.

'What! After you've refused him?'

'He doesn't mind that. It seems to cheer him to mention the subject.
Old men are like that, you know. It makes them feel important to think
they're in love with somebody.'

'The colonel would marry you in a minute. I hope you won't marry some
old fellow; not even a rich one.' Lena shifted her pillows and looked up
at me in surprise.

'Why, I'm not going to marry anybody. Didn't you know that?'

'Nonsense, Lena. That's what girls say, but you know better. Every
handsome girl like you marries, of course.'

She shook her head. 'Not me.'

'But why not? What makes you say that?' I persisted.

Lena laughed.

'Well, it's mainly because I don't want a husband. Men are all right
for friends, but as soon as you marry them they turn into cranky old
fathers, even the wild ones. They begin to tell you what's sensible and
what's foolish, and want you to stick at home all the time. I prefer to
be foolish when I feel like it, and be accountable to nobody.'

'But you'll be lonesome. You'll get tired of this sort of life, and
you'll want a family.'

'Not me. I like to be lonesome. When I went to work for Mrs. Thomas I
was nineteen years old, and I had never slept a night in my life when
there weren't three in the bed. I never had a minute to myself except
when I was off with the cattle.'

Usually, when Lena referred to her life in the country at all, she
dismissed it with a single remark, humorous or mildly cynical. But
tonight her mind seemed to dwell on those early years. She told me she
couldn't remember a time when she was so little that she wasn't lugging
a heavy baby about, helping to wash for babies, trying to keep their
little chapped hands and faces clean. She remembered home as a place
where there were always too many children, a cross man and work piling
up around a sick woman.

'It wasn't mother's fault. She would have made us comfortable if she
could. But that was no life for a girl! After I began to herd and milk,
I could never get the smell of the cattle off me. The few underclothes I
had I kept in a cracker-box. On Saturday nights, after everybody was in
bed, then I could take a bath if I wasn't too tired. I could make two
trips to the windmill to carry water, and heat it in the wash-boiler on
the stove. While the water was heating, I could bring in a washtub out
of the cave, and take my bath in the kitchen. Then I could put on a
clean night-gown and get into bed with two others, who likely hadn't
had a bath unless I'd given it to them. You can't tell me anything about
family life. I've had plenty to last me.'

'But it's not all like that,' I objected.

'Near enough. It's all being under somebody's thumb. What's on your
mind, Jim? Are you afraid I'll want you to marry me some day?'

Then I told her I was going away.

'What makes you want to go away, Jim? Haven't I been nice to you?'

'You've been just awfully good to me, Lena,' I blurted. 'I don't think
about much else. I never shall think about much else while I'm with you.
I'll never settle down and grind if I stay here. You know that.'

I dropped down beside her and sat looking at the floor. I seemed to have
forgotten all my reasonable explanations.

Lena drew close to me, and the little hesitation in her voice that had
hurt me was not there when she spoke again.

'I oughtn't to have begun it, ought I?' she murmured. 'I oughtn't to
have gone to see you that first time. But I did want to. I guess I've
always been a little foolish about you. I don't know what first put it
into my head, unless it was Antonia, always telling me I mustn't be
up to any of my nonsense with you. I let you alone for a long while,
though, didn't I?'

She was a sweet creature to those she loved, that Lena Lingard!

At last she sent me away with her soft, slow, renunciatory kiss.

'You aren't sorry I came to see you that time?' she whispered. 'It
seemed so natural. I used to think I'd like to be your first sweetheart.
You were such a funny kid!'

She always kissed one as if she were sadly and wisely sending one away
forever.

We said many good-byes before I left Lincoln, but she never tried to
hinder me or hold me back. 'You are going, but you haven't gone yet,
have you?' she used to say.

My Lincoln chapter closed abruptly. I went home to my grandparents for a
few weeks, and afterward visited my relatives in Virginia until I joined
Cleric in Boston. I was then nineteen years old.



BOOK IV. The Pioneer Woman's Story



I

TWO YEARS AFTER I left Lincoln, I completed my academic course at
Harvard. Before I entered the Law School I went home for the summer
vacation. On the night of my arrival, Mrs. Harling and Frances and
Sally came over to greet me. Everything seemed just as it used to be. My
grandparents looked very little older. Frances Harling was married now,
and she and her husband managed the Harling interests in Black Hawk.
When we gathered in grandmother's parlour, I could hardly believe that I
had been away at all. One subject, however, we avoided all evening.

When I was walking home with Frances, after we had left Mrs. Harling at
her gate, she said simply, 'You know, of course, about poor Antonia.'

Poor Antonia! Everyone would be saying that now, I thought bitterly. I
replied that grandmother had written me how Antonia went away to marry
Larry Donovan at some place where he was working; that he had deserted
her, and that there was now a baby. This was all I knew.

'He never married her,' Frances said. 'I haven't seen her since she came
back. She lives at home, on the farm, and almost never comes to town.
She brought the baby in to show it to mama once. I'm afraid she's
settled down to be Ambrosch's drudge for good.'

I tried to shut Antonia out of my mind. I was bitterly disappointed in
her. I could not forgive her for becoming an object of pity, while
Lena Lingard, for whom people had always foretold trouble, was now the
leading dressmaker of Lincoln, much respected in Black Hawk. Lena gave
her heart away when she felt like it, but she kept her head for her
business and had got on in the world.

Just then it was the fashion to speak indulgently of Lena and severely
of Tiny Soderball, who had quietly gone West to try her fortune the year
before. A Black Hawk boy, just back from Seattle, brought the news that
Tiny had not gone to the coast on a venture, as she had allowed people
to think, but with very definite plans. One of the roving promoters
that used to stop at Mrs. Gardener's hotel owned idle property along the
waterfront in Seattle, and he had offered to set Tiny up in business
in one of his empty buildings. She was now conducting a sailors'
lodging-house. This, everyone said, would be the end of Tiny. Even if
she had begun by running a decent place, she couldn't keep it up; all
sailors' boarding-houses were alike.

When I thought about it, I discovered that I had never known Tiny as
well as I knew the other girls. I remembered her tripping briskly about
the dining-room on her high heels, carrying a big trayful of dishes,
glancing rather pertly at the spruce travelling men, and contemptuously
at the scrubby ones--who were so afraid of her that they didn't dare
to ask for two kinds of pie. Now it occurred to me that perhaps the
sailors, too, might be afraid of Tiny. How astonished we should have
been, as we sat talking about her on Frances Harling's front porch, if
we could have known what her future was really to be! Of all the girls
and boys who grew up together in Black Hawk, Tiny Soderball was to lead
the most adventurous life and to achieve the most solid worldly success.

This is what actually happened to Tiny: While she was running her
lodging-house in Seattle, gold was discovered in Alaska. Miners and
sailors came back from the North with wonderful stories and pouches of
gold. Tiny saw it and weighed it in her hands. That daring, which nobody
had ever suspected in her, awoke. She sold her business and set out
for Circle City, in company with a carpenter and his wife whom she had
persuaded to go along with her. They reached Skaguay in a snowstorm,
went in dog-sledges over the Chilkoot Pass, and shot the Yukon in
flatboats. They reached Circle City on the very day when some Siwash
Indians came into the settlement with the report that there had been a
rich gold strike farther up the river, on a certain Klondike Creek.
Two days later Tiny and her friends, and nearly everyone else in Circle
City, started for the Klondike fields on the last steamer that went
up the Yukon before it froze for the winter. That boatload of people
founded Dawson City. Within a few weeks there were fifteen hundred
homeless men in camp. Tiny and the carpenter's wife began to cook for
them, in a tent. The miners gave her a building lot, and the carpenter
put up a log hotel for her. There she sometimes fed a hundred and fifty
men a day. Miners came in on snowshoes from their placer claims twenty
miles away to buy fresh bread from her, and paid for it in gold.

That winter Tiny kept in her hotel a Swede whose legs had been frozen
one night in a storm when he was trying to find his way back to his
cabin. The poor fellow thought it great good fortune to be cared for by
a woman, and a woman who spoke his own tongue. When he was told that
his feet must be amputated, he said he hoped he would not get well; what
could a working-man do in this hard world without feet? He did, in fact,
die from the operation, but not before he had deeded Tiny Soderball his
claim on Hunker Creek. Tiny sold her hotel, invested half her money in
Dawson building lots, and with the rest she developed her claim. She
went off into the wilds and lived on the claim. She bought other claims
from discouraged miners, traded or sold them on percentages.

After nearly ten years in the Klondike, Tiny returned, with a
considerable fortune, to live in San Francisco. I met her in Salt Lake
City in 1908. She was a thin, hard-faced woman, very well-dressed, very
reserved in manner. Curiously enough, she reminded me of Mrs. Gardener,
for whom she had worked in Black Hawk so long ago. She told me about
some of the desperate chances she had taken in the gold country, but the
thrill of them was quite gone. She said frankly that nothing interested
her much now but making money. The only two human beings of whom she
spoke with any feeling were the Swede, Johnson, who had given her his
claim, and Lena Lingard. She had persuaded Lena to come to San Francisco
and go into business there.


'Lincoln was never any place for her,' Tiny remarked. 'In a town of that
size Lena would always be gossiped about. Frisco's the right field
for her. She has a fine class of trade. Oh, she's just the same as
she always was! She's careless, but she's level-headed. She's the only
person I know who never gets any older. It's fine for me to have her
there; somebody who enjoys things like that. She keeps an eye on me and
won't let me be shabby. When she thinks I need a new dress, she makes it
and sends it home with a bill that's long enough, I can tell you!'

Tiny limped slightly when she walked. The claim on Hunker Creek took
toll from its possessors. Tiny had been caught in a sudden turn of
weather, like poor Johnson. She lost three toes from one of those pretty
little feet that used to trip about Black Hawk in pointed slippers and
striped stockings. Tiny mentioned this mutilation quite casually--didn't
seem sensitive about it. She was satisfied with her success, but not
elated. She was like someone in whom the faculty of becoming interested
is worn out.



II

SOON AFTER I GOT home that summer, I persuaded my grandparents to have
their photographs taken, and one morning I went into the photographer's
shop to arrange for sittings. While I was waiting for him to come out of
his developing-room, I walked about trying to recognize the likenesses
on his walls: girls in Commencement dresses, country brides and grooms
holding hands, family groups of three generations. I noticed, in a
heavy frame, one of those depressing 'crayon enlargements' often seen
in farm-house parlours, the subject being a round-eyed baby in short
dresses. The photographer came out and gave a constrained, apologetic
laugh.

'That's Tony Shimerda's baby. You remember her; she used to be the
Harlings' Tony. Too bad! She seems proud of the baby, though; wouldn't
hear to a cheap frame for the picture. I expect her brother will be in
for it Saturday.'

I went away feeling that I must see Antonia again. Another girl would
have kept her baby out of sight, but Tony, of course, must have its
picture on exhibition at the town photographer's, in a great gilt frame.
How like her! I could forgive her, I told myself, if she hadn't thrown
herself away on such a cheap sort of fellow.

Larry Donovan was a passenger conductor, one of those train-crew
aristocrats who are always afraid that someone may ask them to put up
a car-window, and who, if requested to perform such a menial service,
silently point to the button that calls the porter. Larry wore this
air of official aloofness even on the street, where there were no
car-windows to compromise his dignity. At the end of his run he stepped
indifferently from the train along with the passengers, his street
hat on his head and his conductor's cap in an alligator-skin bag, went
directly into the station and changed his clothes. It was a matter of
the utmost importance to him never to be seen in his blue trousers away
from his train. He was usually cold and distant with men, but with
all women he had a silent, grave familiarity, a special handshake,
accompanied by a significant, deliberate look. He took women, married or
single, into his confidence; walked them up and down in the moonlight,
telling them what a mistake he had made by not entering the office
branch of the service, and how much better fitted he was to fill the
post of General Passenger Agent in Denver than the rough-shod man who
then bore that title. His unappreciated worth was the tender secret
Larry shared with his sweethearts, and he was always able to make some
foolish heart ache over it.

As I drew near home that morning, I saw Mrs. Harling out in her yard,
digging round her mountain-ash tree. It was a dry summer, and she had
now no boy to help her. Charley was off in his battleship, cruising
somewhere on the Caribbean sea. I turned in at the gate it was with a
feeling of pleasure that I opened and shut that gate in those days;
I liked the feel of it under my hand. I took the spade away from Mrs.
Harling, and while I loosened the earth around the tree, she sat down
on the steps and talked about the oriole family that had a nest in its
branches.

'Mrs. Harling,' I said presently, 'I wish I could find out exactly how
Antonia's marriage fell through.'

'Why don't you go out and see your grandfather's tenant, the Widow
Steavens? She knows more about it than anybody else. She helped Antonia
get ready to be married, and she was there when Antonia came back. She
took care of her when the baby was born. She could tell you everything.
Besides, the Widow Steavens is a good talker, and she has a remarkable
memory.'



III

ON THE FIRST OR second day of August I got a horse and cart and set out
for the high country, to visit the Widow Steavens. The wheat harvest was
over, and here and there along the horizon I could see black puffs of
smoke from the steam threshing-machines. The old pasture land was now
being broken up into wheatfields and cornfields, the red grass was
disappearing, and the whole face of the country was changing. There
were wooden houses where the old sod dwellings used to be, and little
orchards, and big red barns; all this meant happy children, contented
women, and men who saw their lives coming to a fortunate issue. The
windy springs and the blazing summers, one after another, had enriched
and mellowed that flat tableland; all the human effort that had gone
into it was coming back in long, sweeping lines of fertility. The
changes seemed beautiful and harmonious to me; it was like watching the
growth of a great man or of a great idea. I recognized every tree and
sandbank and rugged draw. I found that I remembered the conformation of
the land as one remembers the modelling of human faces.

When I drew up to our old windmill, the Widow Steavens came out to meet
me. She was brown as an Indian woman, tall, and very strong. When I was
little, her massive head had always seemed to me like a Roman senator's.
I told her at once why I had come.

'You'll stay the night with us, Jimmy? I'll talk to you after supper. I
can take more interest when my work is off my mind. You've no prejudice
against hot biscuit for supper? Some have, these days.'

While I was putting my horse away, I heard a rooster squawking. I looked
at my watch and sighed; it was three o'clock, and I knew that I must eat
him at six.

After supper Mrs. Steavens and I went upstairs to the old sitting-room,
while her grave, silent brother remained in the basement to read his
farm papers. All the windows were open. The white summer moon was
shining outside, the windmill was pumping lazily in the light breeze. My
hostess put the lamp on a stand in the corner, and turned it low because
of the heat. She sat down in her favourite rocking-chair and settled
a little stool comfortably under her tired feet. 'I'm troubled with
calluses, Jim; getting old,' she sighed cheerfully. She crossed her
hands in her lap and sat as if she were at a meeting of some kind.

'Now, it's about that dear Antonia you want to know? Well, you've come
to the right person. I've watched her like she'd been my own daughter.

'When she came home to do her sewing that summer before she was to
be married, she was over here about every day. They've never had a
sewing-machine at the Shimerdas', and she made all her things here. I
taught her hemstitching, and I helped her to cut and fit. She used
to sit there at that machine by the window, pedalling the life out of
it--she was so strong--and always singing them queer Bohemian songs,
like she was the happiest thing in the world.

'"Antonia," I used to say, "don't run that machine so fast. You won't
hasten the day none that way."

'Then she'd laugh and slow down for a little, but she'd soon forget and
begin to pedal and sing again. I never saw a girl work harder to go to
housekeeping right and well-prepared. Lovely table-linen the Harlings
had given her, and Lena Lingard had sent her nice things from Lincoln.
We hemstitched all the tablecloths and pillow-cases, and some of
the sheets. Old Mrs. Shimerda knit yards and yards of lace for her
underclothes. Tony told me just how she meant to have everything in her
house. She'd even bought silver spoons and forks, and kept them in her
trunk. She was always coaxing brother to go to the post-office. Her
young man did write her real often, from the different towns along his
run.

'The first thing that troubled her was when he wrote that his run had
been changed, and they would likely have to live in Denver. "I'm a
country girl," she said, "and I doubt if I'll be able to manage so well
for him in a city. I was counting on keeping chickens, and maybe a cow."
She soon cheered up, though.

'At last she got the letter telling her when to come. She was shaken by
it; she broke the seal and read it in this room. I suspected then that
she'd begun to get faint-hearted, waiting; though she'd never let me see
it.

'Then there was a great time of packing. It was in March, if I remember
rightly, and a terrible muddy, raw spell, with the roads bad for hauling
her things to town. And here let me say, Ambrosch did the right thing.
He went to Black Hawk and bought her a set of plated silver in a purple
velvet box, good enough for her station. He gave her three hundred
dollars in money; I saw the cheque. He'd collected her wages all those
first years she worked out, and it was but right. I shook him by the
hand in this room. "You're behaving like a man, Ambrosch," I said, "and
I'm glad to see it, son."

''Twas a cold, raw day he drove her and her three trunks into Black Hawk
to take the night train for Denver--the boxes had been shipped before.
He stopped the wagon here, and she ran in to tell me good-bye. She threw
her arms around me and kissed me, and thanked me for all I'd done for
her. She was so happy she was crying and laughing at the same time, and
her red cheeks was all wet with rain.

'"You're surely handsome enough for any man," I said, looking her over.

'She laughed kind of flighty like, and whispered, "Good-bye, dear
house!" and then ran out to the wagon. I expect she meant that for you
and your grandmother, as much as for me, so I'm particular to tell you.
This house had always been a refuge to her.

'Well, in a few days we had a letter saying she got to Denver safe, and
he was there to meet her. They were to be married in a few days. He was
trying to get his promotion before he married, she said. I didn't like
that, but I said nothing. The next week Yulka got a postal card, saying
she was "well and happy." After that we heard nothing. A month went by,
and old Mrs. Shimerda began to get fretful. Ambrosch was as sulky with
me as if I'd picked out the man and arranged the match.

'One night brother William came in and said that on his way back from
the fields he had passed a livery team from town, driving fast out the
west road. There was a trunk on the front seat with the driver, and
another behind. In the back seat there was a woman all bundled up;
but for all her veils, he thought 'twas Antonia Shimerda, or Antonia
Donovan, as her name ought now to be.

'The next morning I got brother to drive me over. I can walk still, but
my feet ain't what they used to be, and I try to save myself. The lines
outside the Shimerdas' house was full of washing, though it was the
middle of the week. As we got nearer, I saw a sight that made my
heart sink--all those underclothes we'd put so much work on, out there
swinging in the wind. Yulka came bringing a dishpanful of wrung clothes,
but she darted back into the house like she was loath to see us. When
I went in, Antonia was standing over the tubs, just finishing up a big
washing. Mrs. Shimerda was going about her work, talking and scolding
to herself. She didn't so much as raise her eyes. Tony wiped her hand on
her apron and held it out to me, looking at me steady but mournful. When
I took her in my arms she drew away. "Don't, Mrs. Steavens," she says,
"you'll make me cry, and I don't want to."

'I whispered and asked her to come out-of-doors with me. I knew she
couldn't talk free before her mother. She went out with me, bareheaded,
and we walked up toward the garden.

'"I'm not married, Mrs. Steavens," she says to me very quiet and
natural-like, "and I ought to be."

'"Oh, my child," says I, "what's happened to you? Don't be afraid to
tell me!"

'She sat down on the drawside, out of sight of the house. "He's run away
from me," she said. "I don't know if he ever meant to marry me."

'"You mean he's thrown up his job and quit the country?" says I.

'"He didn't have any job. He'd been fired; blacklisted for knocking down
fares. I didn't know. I thought he hadn't been treated right. He was
sick when I got there. He'd just come out of the hospital. He lived with
me till my money gave out, and afterward I found he hadn't really been
hunting work at all. Then he just didn't come back. One nice fellow at
the station told me, when I kept going to look for him, to give it up.
He said he was afraid Larry'd gone bad and wouldn't come back any more.
I guess he's gone to Old Mexico. The conductors get rich down there,
collecting half-fares off the natives and robbing the company. He was
always talking about fellows who had got ahead that way."

'I asked her, of course, why she didn't insist on a civil marriage at
once--that would have given her some hold on him. She leaned her head
on her hands, poor child, and said, "I just don't know, Mrs. Steavens. I
guess my patience was wore out, waiting so long. I thought if he saw how
well I could do for him, he'd want to stay with me."

'Jimmy, I sat right down on that bank beside her and made lament.
I cried like a young thing. I couldn't help it. I was just about
heart-broke. It was one of them lovely warm May days, and the wind was
blowing and the colts jumping around in the pastures; but I felt bowed
with despair. My Antonia, that had so much good in her, had come home
disgraced. And that Lena Lingard, that was always a bad one, say what
you will, had turned out so well, and was coming home here every summer
in her silks and her satins, and doing so much for her mother. I give
credit where credit is due, but you know well enough, Jim Burden, there
is a great difference in the principles of those two girls. And here it
was the good one that had come to grief! I was poor comfort to her. I
marvelled at her calm. As we went back to the house, she stopped to feel
of her clothes to see if they was drying well, and seemed to take pride
in their whiteness--she said she'd been living in a brick block, where
she didn't have proper conveniences to wash them.

'The next time I saw Antonia, she was out in the fields ploughing corn.
All that spring and summer she did the work of a man on the farm; it
seemed to be an understood thing. Ambrosch didn't get any other hand
to help him. Poor Marek had got violent and been sent away to an
institution a good while back. We never even saw any of Tony's pretty
dresses. She didn't take them out of her trunks. She was quiet and
steady. Folks respected her industry and tried to treat her as if
nothing had happened. They talked, to be sure; but not like they would
if she'd put on airs. She was so crushed and quiet that nobody seemed to
want to humble her. She never went anywhere. All that summer she never
once came to see me. At first I was hurt, but I got to feel that it was
because this house reminded her of too much. I went over there when I
could, but the times when she was in from the fields were the times when
I was busiest here. She talked about the grain and the weather as if
she'd never had another interest, and if I went over at night she always
looked dead weary. She was afflicted with toothache; one tooth after
another ulcerated, and she went about with her face swollen half the
time. She wouldn't go to Black Hawk to a dentist for fear of meeting
people she knew. Ambrosch had got over his good spell long ago, and was
always surly. Once I told him he ought not to let Antonia work so hard
and pull herself down. He said, "If you put that in her head, you better
stay home." And after that I did.

'Antonia worked on through harvest and threshing, though she was too
modest to go out threshing for the neighbours, like when she was young
and free. I didn't see much of her until late that fall when she begun
to herd Ambrosch's cattle in the open ground north of here, up toward
the big dog-town. Sometimes she used to bring them over the west hill,
there, and I would run to meet her and walk north a piece with her. She
had thirty cattle in her bunch; it had been dry, and the pasture was
short, or she wouldn't have brought them so far.

'It was a fine open fall, and she liked to be alone. While the steers
grazed, she used to sit on them grassy banks along the draws and sun
herself for hours. Sometimes I slipped up to visit with her, when she
hadn't gone too far.

'"It does seem like I ought to make lace, or knit like Lena used to,"
she said one day, "but if I start to work, I look around and forget
to go on. It seems such a little while ago when Jim Burden and I was
playing all over this country. Up here I can pick out the very places
where my father used to stand. Sometimes I feel like I'm not going to
live very long, so I'm just enjoying every day of this fall."

'After the winter begun she wore a man's long overcoat and boots, and a
man's felt hat with a wide brim. I used to watch her coming and
going, and I could see that her steps were getting heavier. One day in
December, the snow began to fall. Late in the afternoon I saw Antonia
driving her cattle homeward across the hill. The snow was flying round
her and she bent to face it, looking more lonesome-like to me than
usual. "Deary me," I says to myself, "the girl's stayed out too late.
It'll be dark before she gets them cattle put into the corral." I seemed
to sense she'd been feeling too miserable to get up and drive them.

'That very night, it happened. She got her cattle home, turned them into
the corral, and went into the house, into her room behind the kitchen,
and shut the door. There, without calling to anybody, without a groan,
she lay down on the bed and bore her child.

'I was lifting supper when old Mrs. Shimerda came running down the
basement stairs, out of breath and screeching:

'"Baby come, baby come!" she says. "Ambrosch much like devil!"

'Brother William is surely a patient man. He was just ready to sit down
to a hot supper after a long day in the fields. Without a word he rose
and went down to the barn and hooked up his team. He got us over there
as quick as it was humanly possible. I went right in, and began to do
for Antonia; but she laid there with her eyes shut and took no account
of me. The old woman got a tubful of warm water to wash the baby. I
overlooked what she was doing and I said out loud: "Mrs. Shimerda,
don't you put that strong yellow soap near that baby. You'll blister its
little skin." I was indignant.

'"Mrs. Steavens," Antonia said from the bed, "if you'll look in the top
tray of my trunk, you'll see some fine soap." That was the first word
she spoke.

'After I'd dressed the baby, I took it out to show it to Ambrosch. He
was muttering behind the stove and wouldn't look at it.

'"You'd better put it out in the rain-barrel," he says.

'"Now, see here, Ambrosch," says I, "there's a law in this land, don't
forget that. I stand here a witness that this baby has come into the
world sound and strong, and I intend to keep an eye on what befalls it."
I pride myself I cowed him.

'Well I expect you're not much interested in babies, but Antonia's got
on fine. She loved it from the first as dearly as if she'd had a ring
on her finger, and was never ashamed of it. It's a year and eight
months old now, and no baby was ever better cared-for. Antonia is a
natural-born mother. I wish she could marry and raise a family, but I
don't know as there's much chance now.'


I slept that night in the room I used to have when I was a little boy,
with the summer wind blowing in at the windows, bringing the smell of
the ripe fields. I lay awake and watched the moonlight shining over the
barn and the stacks and the pond, and the windmill making its old dark
shadow against the blue sky.



IV

THE NEXT AFTERNOON I walked over to the Shimerdas'. Yulka showed me
the baby and told me that Antonia was shocking wheat on the southwest
quarter. I went down across the fields, and Tony saw me from a long way
off. She stood still by her shocks, leaning on her pitchfork, watching
me as I came. We met like the people in the old song, in silence, if not
in tears. Her warm hand clasped mine.

'I thought you'd come, Jim. I heard you were at Mrs. Steavens's last
night. I've been looking for you all day.'

She was thinner than I had ever seen her, and looked as Mrs. Steavens
said, 'worked down,' but there was a new kind of strength in the gravity
of her face, and her colour still gave her that look of deep-seated
health and ardour. Still? Why, it flashed across me that though so much
had happened in her life and in mine, she was barely twenty-four years
old.

Antonia stuck her fork in the ground, and instinctively we walked toward
that unploughed patch at the crossing of the roads as the fittest place
to talk to each other. We sat down outside the sagging wire fence that
shut Mr. Shimerda's plot off from the rest of the world. The tall red
grass had never been cut there. It had died down in winter and come up
again in the spring until it was as thick and shrubby as some tropical
garden-grass. I found myself telling her everything: why I had decided
to study law and to go into the law office of one of my mother's
relatives in New York City; about Gaston Cleric's death from pneumonia
last winter, and the difference it had made in my life. She wanted to
know about my friends, and my way of living, and my dearest hopes.

'Of course it means you are going away from us for good,' she said with
a sigh. 'But that don't mean I'll lose you. Look at my papa here; he's
been dead all these years, and yet he is more real to me than almost
anybody else. He never goes out of my life. I talk to him and consult
him all the time. The older I grow, the better I know him and the more I
understand him.'

She asked me whether I had learned to like big cities. 'I'd always be
miserable in a city. I'd die of lonesomeness. I like to be where I know
every stack and tree, and where all the ground is friendly. I want to
live and die here. Father Kelly says everybody's put into this world
for something, and I know what I've got to do. I'm going to see that my
little girl has a better chance than ever I had. I'm going to take care
of that girl, Jim.'

I told her I knew she would. 'Do you know, Antonia, since I've been
away, I think of you more often than of anyone else in this part of the
world. I'd have liked to have you for a sweetheart, or a wife, or my
mother or my sister--anything that a woman can be to a man. The idea of
you is a part of my mind; you influence my likes and dislikes, all my
tastes, hundreds of times when I don't realize it. You really are a part
of me.'

She turned her bright, believing eyes to me, and the tears came up in
them slowly, 'How can it be like that, when you know so many people, and
when I've disappointed you so? Ain't it wonderful, Jim, how much people
can mean to each other? I'm so glad we had each other when we were
little. I can't wait till my little girl's old enough to tell her about
all the things we used to do. You'll always remember me when you think
about old times, won't you? And I guess everybody thinks about old
times, even the happiest people.'

As we walked homeward across the fields, the sun dropped and lay like a
great golden globe in the low west. While it hung there, the moon rose
in the east, as big as a cart-wheel, pale silver and streaked with rose
colour, thin as a bubble or a ghost-moon. For five, perhaps ten minutes,
the two luminaries confronted each other across the level land, resting
on opposite edges of the world.

In that singular light every little tree and shock of wheat, every
sunflower stalk and clump of snow-on-the-mountain, drew itself up high
and pointed; the very clods and furrows in the fields seemed to stand up
sharply. I felt the old pull of the earth, the solemn magic that comes
out of those fields at nightfall. I wished I could be a little boy
again, and that my way could end there.

We reached the edge of the field, where our ways parted. I took her
hands and held them against my breast, feeling once more how strong and
warm and good they were, those brown hands, and remembering how many
kind things they had done for me. I held them now a long while, over my
heart. About us it was growing darker and darker, and I had to look hard
to see her face, which I meant always to carry with me; the closest,
realest face, under all the shadows of women's faces, at the very bottom
of my memory.

'I'll come back,' I said earnestly, through the soft, intrusive
darkness.


'Perhaps you will'--I felt rather than saw her smile. 'But even if you
don't, you're here, like my father. So I won't be lonesome.'

As I went back alone over that familiar road, I could almost believe
that a boy and girl ran along beside me, as our shadows used to do,
laughing and whispering to each other in the grass.



BOOK V. Cuzak's Boys



I

I TOLD ANTONIA I would come back, but life intervened, and it was twenty
years before I kept my promise. I heard of her from time to time; that
she married, very soon after I last saw her, a young Bohemian, a cousin
of Anton Jelinek; that they were poor, and had a large family. Once when
I was abroad I went into Bohemia, and from Prague I sent Antonia some
photographs of her native village. Months afterward came a letter from
her, telling me the names and ages of her many children, but little
else; signed, 'Your old friend, Antonia Cuzak.' When I met Tiny
Soderball in Salt Lake, she told me that Antonia had not 'done very
well'; that her husband was not a man of much force, and she had had
a hard life. Perhaps it was cowardice that kept me away so long. My
business took me West several times every year, and it was always in
the back of my mind that I would stop in Nebraska some day and go to see
Antonia. But I kept putting it off until the next trip. I did not want
to find her aged and broken; I really dreaded it. In the course of
twenty crowded years one parts with many illusions. I did not wish to
lose the early ones. Some memories are realities, and are better than
anything that can ever happen to one again.


I owe it to Lena Lingard that I went to see Antonia at last. I was in
San Francisco two summers ago when both Lena and Tiny Soderball were
in town. Tiny lives in a house of her own, and Lena's shop is in an
apartment house just around the corner. It interested me, after so
many years, to see the two women together. Tiny audits Lena's accounts
occasionally, and invests her money for her; and Lena, apparently, takes
care that Tiny doesn't grow too miserly. 'If there's anything I can't
stand,' she said to me in Tiny's presence, 'it's a shabby rich woman.'
Tiny smiled grimly and assured me that Lena would never be either shabby
or rich. 'And I don't want to be,' the other agreed complacently.

Lena gave me a cheerful account of Antonia and urged me to make her a
visit.

'You really ought to go, Jim. It would be such a satisfaction to her.
Never mind what Tiny says. There's nothing the matter with Cuzak. You'd
like him. He isn't a hustler, but a rough man would never have suited
Tony. Tony has nice children--ten or eleven of them by this time, I
guess. I shouldn't care for a family of that size myself, but somehow
it's just right for Tony. She'd love to show them to you.'

On my way East I broke my journey at Hastings, in Nebraska, and set off
with an open buggy and a fairly good livery team to find the Cuzak farm.
At a little past midday, I knew I must be nearing my destination. Set
back on a swell of land at my right, I saw a wide farm-house, with a red
barn and an ash grove, and cattle-yards in front that sloped down to the
highroad. I drew up my horses and was wondering whether I should drive
in here, when I heard low voices. Ahead of me, in a plum thicket beside
the road, I saw two boys bending over a dead dog. The little one, not
more than four or five, was on his knees, his hands folded, and his
close-clipped, bare head drooping forward in deep dejection. The other
stood beside him, a hand on his shoulder, and was comforting him in
a language I had not heard for a long while. When I stopped my horses
opposite them, the older boy took his brother by the hand and came
toward me. He, too, looked grave. This was evidently a sad afternoon for
them.


'Are you Mrs. Cuzak's boys?' I asked.

The younger one did not look up; he was submerged in his own feelings,
but his brother met me with intelligent grey eyes. 'Yes, sir.'

'Does she live up there on the hill? I am going to see her. Get in and
ride up with me.'

He glanced at his reluctant little brother. 'I guess we'd better walk.
But we'll open the gate for you.'

I drove along the side-road and they followed slowly behind. When I
pulled up at the windmill, another boy, barefooted and curly-headed, ran
out of the barn to tie my team for me. He was a handsome one, this chap,
fair-skinned and freckled, with red cheeks and a ruddy pelt as thick as
a lamb's wool, growing down on his neck in little tufts. He tied my team
with two flourishes of his hands, and nodded when I asked him if his
mother was at home. As he glanced at me, his face dimpled with a seizure
of irrelevant merriment, and he shot up the windmill tower with a
lightness that struck me as disdainful. I knew he was peering down at me
as I walked toward the house.

Ducks and geese ran quacking across my path. White cats were sunning
themselves among yellow pumpkins on the porch steps. I looked through
the wire screen into a big, light kitchen with a white floor. I saw a
long table, rows of wooden chairs against the wall, and a shining range
in one corner. Two girls were washing dishes at the sink, laughing
and chattering, and a little one, in a short pinafore, sat on a stool
playing with a rag baby. When I asked for their mother, one of the girls
dropped her towel, ran across the floor with noiseless bare feet, and
disappeared. The older one, who wore shoes and stockings, came to the
door to admit me. She was a buxom girl with dark hair and eyes, calm and
self-possessed.

'Won't you come in? Mother will be here in a minute.'

Before I could sit down in the chair she offered me, the miracle
happened; one of those quiet moments that clutch the heart, and take
more courage than the noisy, excited passages in life. Antonia came in
and stood before me; a stalwart, brown woman, flat-chested, her curly
brown hair a little grizzled. It was a shock, of course. It always is,
to meet people after long years, especially if they have lived as much
and as hard as this woman had. We stood looking at each other. The eyes
that peered anxiously at me were--simply Antonia's eyes. I had seen no
others like them since I looked into them last, though I had looked at
so many thousands of human faces. As I confronted her, the changes grew
less apparent to me, her identity stronger. She was there, in the full
vigour of her personality, battered but not diminished, looking at me,
speaking to me in the husky, breathy voice I remembered so well.

'My husband's not at home, sir. Can I do anything?'

'Don't you remember me, Antonia? Have I changed so much?'

She frowned into the slanting sunlight that made her brown hair look
redder than it was. Suddenly her eyes widened, her whole face seemed to
grow broader. She caught her breath and put out two hard-worked hands.

'Why, it's Jim! Anna, Yulka, it's Jim Burden!' She had no sooner caught
my hands than she looked alarmed. 'What's happened? Is anybody dead?'

I patted her arm.

'No. I didn't come to a funeral this time. I got off the train at
Hastings and drove down to see you and your family.'

She dropped my hand and began rushing about. 'Anton, Yulka, Nina, where
are you all? Run, Anna, and hunt for the boys. They're off looking for
that dog, somewhere. And call Leo. Where is that Leo!' She pulled them
out of corners and came bringing them like a mother cat bringing in her
kittens. 'You don't have to go right off, Jim? My oldest boy's not here.
He's gone with papa to the street fair at Wilber. I won't let you go!
You've got to stay and see Rudolph and our papa.' She looked at me
imploringly, panting with excitement.

While I reassured her and told her there would be plenty of time,
the barefooted boys from outside were slipping into the kitchen and
gathering about her.

'Now, tell me their names, and how old they are.'

As she told them off in turn, she made several mistakes about ages, and
they roared with laughter. When she came to my light-footed friend of
the windmill, she said, 'This is Leo, and he's old enough to be better
than he is.'

He ran up to her and butted her playfully with his curly head, like
a little ram, but his voice was quite desperate. 'You've forgot! You
always forget mine. It's mean! Please tell him, mother!' He clenched his
fists in vexation and looked up at her impetuously.

She wound her forefinger in his yellow fleece and pulled it, watching
him. 'Well, how old are you?'

'I'm twelve,' he panted, looking not at me but at her; 'I'm twelve years
old, and I was born on Easter Day!'

She nodded to me. 'It's true. He was an Easter baby.'

The children all looked at me, as if they expected me to exhibit
astonishment or delight at this information. Clearly, they were proud
of each other, and of being so many. When they had all been introduced,
Anna, the eldest daughter, who had met me at the door, scattered
them gently, and came bringing a white apron which she tied round her
mother's waist.

'Now, mother, sit down and talk to Mr. Burden. We'll finish the dishes
quietly and not disturb you.'

Antonia looked about, quite distracted. 'Yes, child, but why don't
we take him into the parlour, now that we've got a nice parlour for
company?'

The daughter laughed indulgently, and took my hat from me. 'Well, you're
here, now, mother, and if you talk here, Yulka and I can listen, too.
You can show him the parlour after while.' She smiled at me, and went
back to the dishes, with her sister. The little girl with the rag doll
found a place on the bottom step of an enclosed back stairway, and sat
with her toes curled up, looking out at us expectantly.

'She's Nina, after Nina Harling,' Antonia explained. 'Ain't her eyes
like Nina's? I declare, Jim, I loved you children almost as much as I
love my own. These children know all about you and Charley and Sally,
like as if they'd grown up with you. I can't think of what I want to
say, you've got me so stirred up. And then, I've forgot my English so.
I don't often talk it any more. I tell the children I used to speak
real well.' She said they always spoke Bohemian at home. The little
ones could not speak English at all--didn't learn it until they went to
school.

'I can't believe it's you, sitting here, in my own kitchen. You wouldn't
have known me, would you, Jim? You've kept so young, yourself. But it's
easier for a man. I can't see how my Anton looks any older than the day
I married him. His teeth have kept so nice. I haven't got many left.
But I feel just as young as I used to, and I can do as much work. Oh,
we don't have to work so hard now! We've got plenty to help us, papa and
me. And how many have you got, Jim?'

When I told her I had no children, she seemed embarrassed. 'Oh, ain't
that too bad! Maybe you could take one of my bad ones, now? That Leo;
he's the worst of all.' She leaned toward me with a smile. 'And I love
him the best,' she whispered.

'Mother!' the two girls murmured reproachfully from the dishes.

Antonia threw up her head and laughed. 'I can't help it. You know I do.
Maybe it's because he came on Easter Day, I don't know. And he's never
out of mischief one minute!'

I was thinking, as I watched her, how little it mattered--about her
teeth, for instance. I know so many women who have kept all the things
that she had lost, but whose inner glow has faded. Whatever else was
gone, Antonia had not lost the fire of life. Her skin, so brown and
hardened, had not that look of flabbiness, as if the sap beneath it had
been secretly drawn away.

While we were talking, the little boy whom they called Jan came in and
sat down on the step beside Nina, under the hood of the stairway. He
wore a funny long gingham apron, like a smock, over his trousers, and
his hair was clipped so short that his head looked white and naked. He
watched us out of his big, sorrowful grey eyes.

'He wants to tell you about the dog, mother. They found it dead,' Anna
said, as she passed us on her way to the cupboard.

Antonia beckoned the boy to her. He stood by her chair, leaning his
elbows on her knees and twisting her apron strings in his slender
fingers, while he told her his story softly in Bohemian, and the tears
brimmed over and hung on his long lashes. His mother listened, spoke
soothingly to him and in a whisper promised him something that made him
give her a quick, teary smile. He slipped away and whispered his secret
to Nina, sitting close to her and talking behind his hand.

When Anna finished her work and had washed her hands, she came and stood
behind her mother's chair. 'Why don't we show Mr. Burden our new fruit
cave?' she asked.

We started off across the yard with the children at our heels. The boys
were standing by the windmill, talking about the dog; some of them ran
ahead to open the cellar door. When we descended, they all came down
after us, and seemed quite as proud of the cave as the girls were.

Ambrosch, the thoughtful-looking one who had directed me down by the
plum bushes, called my attention to the stout brick walls and the cement
floor. 'Yes, it is a good way from the house,' he admitted. 'But, you
see, in winter there are nearly always some of us around to come out and
get things.'

Anna and Yulka showed me three small barrels; one full of dill pickles,
one full of chopped pickles, and one full of pickled watermelon rinds.

'You wouldn't believe, Jim, what it takes to feed them all!' their
mother exclaimed. 'You ought to see the bread we bake on Wednesdays and
Saturdays! It's no wonder their poor papa can't get rich, he has to buy
so much sugar for us to preserve with. We have our own wheat ground for
flour--but then there's that much less to sell.'

Nina and Jan, and a little girl named Lucie, kept shyly pointing out to
me the shelves of glass jars. They said nothing, but, glancing at me,
traced on the glass with their finger-tips the outline of the cherries
and strawberries and crabapples within, trying by a blissful expression
of countenance to give me some idea of their deliciousness.

'Show him the spiced plums, mother. Americans don't have those,' said
one of the older boys. 'Mother uses them to make kolaches,' he added.

Leo, in a low voice, tossed off some scornful remark in Bohemian.

I turned to him. 'You think I don't know what kolaches are, eh? You're
mistaken, young man. I've eaten your mother's kolaches long before that
Easter Day when you were born.'

'Always too fresh, Leo,' Ambrosch remarked with a shrug.

Leo dived behind his mother and grinned out at me.

We turned to leave the cave; Antonia and I went up the stairs first,
and the children waited. We were standing outside talking, when they all
came running up the steps together, big and little, tow heads and gold
heads and brown, and flashing little naked legs; a veritable explosion
of life out of the dark cave into the sunlight. It made me dizzy for a
moment.

The boys escorted us to the front of the house, which I hadn't yet seen;
in farm-houses, somehow, life comes and goes by the back door. The
roof was so steep that the eaves were not much above the forest of tall
hollyhocks, now brown and in seed. Through July, Antonia said, the
house was buried in them; the Bohemians, I remembered, always planted
hollyhocks. The front yard was enclosed by a thorny locust hedge, and
at the gate grew two silvery, moth-like trees of the mimosa family. From
here one looked down over the cattle-yards, with their two long ponds,
and over a wide stretch of stubble which they told me was a ryefield in
summer.

At some distance behind the house were an ash grove and two orchards: a
cherry orchard, with gooseberry and currant bushes between the rows,
and an apple orchard, sheltered by a high hedge from the hot winds. The
older children turned back when we reached the hedge, but Jan and Nina
and Lucie crept through it by a hole known only to themselves and hid
under the low-branching mulberry bushes.

As we walked through the apple orchard, grown up in tall bluegrass,
Antonia kept stopping to tell me about one tree and another. 'I love
them as if they were people,' she said, rubbing her hand over the bark.
'There wasn't a tree here when we first came. We planted every one, and
used to carry water for them, too--after we'd been working in the fields
all day. Anton, he was a city man, and he used to get discouraged. But I
couldn't feel so tired that I wouldn't fret about these trees when there
was a dry time. They were on my mind like children. Many a night after
he was asleep I've got up and come out and carried water to the poor
things. And now, you see, we have the good of them. My man worked in the
orange groves in Florida, and he knows all about grafting. There ain't
one of our neighbours has an orchard that bears like ours.'

In the middle of the orchard we came upon a grape arbour, with seats
built along the sides and a warped plank table. The three children
were waiting for us there. They looked up at me bashfully and made some
request of their mother.

'They want me to tell you how the teacher has the school picnic here
every year. These don't go to school yet, so they think it's all like
the picnic.'

After I had admired the arbour sufficiently, the youngsters ran away
to an open place where there was a rough jungle of French pinks, and
squatted down among them, crawling about and measuring with a string.

'Jan wants to bury his dog there,' Antonia explained. 'I had to tell him
he could. He's kind of like Nina Harling; you remember how hard she used
to take little things? He has funny notions, like her.'

We sat down and watched them. Antonia leaned her elbows on the table.
There was the deepest peace in that orchard. It was surrounded by a
triple enclosure; the wire fence, then the hedge of thorny locusts, then
the mulberry hedge which kept out the hot winds of summer and held fast
to the protecting snows of winter. The hedges were so tall that we could
see nothing but the blue sky above them, neither the barn roof nor the
windmill. The afternoon sun poured down on us through the drying grape
leaves. The orchard seemed full of sun, like a cup, and we could smell
the ripe apples on the trees. The crabs hung on the branches as thick as
beads on a string, purple-red, with a thin silvery glaze over them.
Some hens and ducks had crept through the hedge and were pecking at
the fallen apples. The drakes were handsome fellows, with pinkish grey
bodies, their heads and necks covered with iridescent green feathers
which grew close and full, changing to blue like a peacock's neck.
Antonia said they always reminded her of soldiers--some uniform she had
seen in the old country, when she was a child.

'Are there any quail left now?' I asked. I reminded her how she used to
go hunting with me the last summer before we moved to town. 'You weren't
a bad shot, Tony. Do you remember how you used to want to run away and
go for ducks with Charley Harling and me?'

'I know, but I'm afraid to look at a gun now.' She picked up one of the
drakes and ruffled his green capote with her fingers. 'Ever since I've
had children, I don't like to kill anything. It makes me kind of faint
to wring an old goose's neck. Ain't that strange, Jim?'

'I don't know. The young Queen of Italy said the same thing once, to a
friend of mine. She used to be a great huntswoman, but now she feels as
you do, and only shoots clay pigeons.'

'Then I'm sure she's a good mother,' Antonia said warmly.

She told me how she and her husband had come out to this new country
when the farm-land was cheap and could be had on easy payments. The
first ten years were a hard struggle. Her husband knew very little about
farming and often grew discouraged. 'We'd never have got through if I
hadn't been so strong. I've always had good health, thank God, and I
was able to help him in the fields until right up to the time before
my babies came. Our children were good about taking care of each other.
Martha, the one you saw when she was a baby, was such a help to me, and
she trained Anna to be just like her. My Martha's married now, and has a
baby of her own. Think of that, Jim!

'No, I never got down-hearted. Anton's a good man, and I loved my
children and always believed they would turn out well. I belong on a
farm. I'm never lonesome here like I used to be in town. You remember
what sad spells I used to have, when I didn't know what was the matter
with me? I've never had them out here. And I don't mind work a bit, if I
don't have to put up with sadness.' She leaned her chin on her hand and
looked down through the orchard, where the sunlight was growing more and
more golden.


'You ought never to have gone to town, Tony,' I said, wondering at her.

She turned to me eagerly.

'Oh, I'm glad I went! I'd never have known anything about cooking or
housekeeping if I hadn't. I learned nice ways at the Harlings', and I've
been able to bring my children up so much better. Don't you think they
are pretty well-behaved for country children? If it hadn't been for
what Mrs. Harling taught me, I expect I'd have brought them up like wild
rabbits. No, I'm glad I had a chance to learn; but I'm thankful none of
my daughters will ever have to work out. The trouble with me was, Jim, I
never could believe harm of anybody I loved.'

While we were talking, Antonia assured me that she could keep me for the
night. 'We've plenty of room. Two of the boys sleep in the haymow till
cold weather comes, but there's no need for it. Leo always begs to sleep
there, and Ambrosch goes along to look after him.'

I told her I would like to sleep in the haymow, with the boys.

'You can do just as you want to. The chest is full of clean blankets,
put away for winter. Now I must go, or my girls will be doing all the
work, and I want to cook your supper myself.'

As we went toward the house, we met Ambrosch and Anton, starting off
with their milking-pails to hunt the cows. I joined them, and Leo
accompanied us at some distance, running ahead and starting up at us
out of clumps of ironweed, calling, 'I'm a jack rabbit,' or, 'I'm a big
bull-snake.'

I walked between the two older boys--straight, well-made fellows, with
good heads and clear eyes. They talked about their school and the new
teacher, told me about the crops and the harvest, and how many steers
they would feed that winter. They were easy and confidential with me,
as if I were an old friend of the family--and not too old. I felt like
a boy in their company, and all manner of forgotten interests revived in
me. It seemed, after all, so natural to be walking along a barbed-wire
fence beside the sunset, toward a red pond, and to see my shadow moving
along at my right, over the close-cropped grass.

'Has mother shown you the pictures you sent her from the old country?'
Ambrosch asked. 'We've had them framed and they're hung up in the
parlour. She was so glad to get them. I don't believe I ever saw her
so pleased about anything.' There was a note of simple gratitude in his
voice that made me wish I had given more occasion for it.

I put my hand on his shoulder. 'Your mother, you know, was very much
loved by all of us. She was a beautiful girl.'

'Oh, we know!' They both spoke together; seemed a little surprised
that I should think it necessary to mention this. 'Everybody liked
her, didn't they? The Harlings and your grandmother, and all the town
people.'

'Sometimes,' I ventured, 'it doesn't occur to boys that their mother was
ever young and pretty.'

'Oh, we know!' they said again, warmly. 'She's not very old now,'
Ambrosch added. 'Not much older than you.'

'Well,' I said, 'if you weren't nice to her, I think I'd take a club
and go for the whole lot of you. I couldn't stand it if you boys were
inconsiderate, or thought of her as if she were just somebody who looked
after you. You see I was very much in love with your mother once, and I
know there's nobody like her.'

The boys laughed and seemed pleased and embarrassed.

'She never told us that,' said Anton. 'But she's always talked lots
about you, and about what good times you used to have. She has a picture
of you that she cut out of the Chicago paper once, and Leo says he
recognized you when you drove up to the windmill. You can't tell about
Leo, though; sometimes he likes to be smart.'

We brought the cows home to the corner nearest the barn, and the boys
milked them while night came on. Everything was as it should be: the
strong smell of sunflowers and ironweed in the dew, the clear blue and
gold of the sky, the evening star, the purr of the milk into the pails,
the grunts and squeals of the pigs fighting over their supper. I began
to feel the loneliness of the farm-boy at evening, when the chores seem
everlastingly the same, and the world so far away.

What a tableful we were at supper: two long rows of restless heads in
the lamplight, and so many eyes fastened excitedly upon Antonia as she
sat at the head of the table, filling the plates and starting the dishes
on their way. The children were seated according to a system; a little
one next an older one, who was to watch over his behaviour and to see
that he got his food. Anna and Yulka left their chairs from time to time
to bring fresh plates of kolaches and pitchers of milk.

After supper we went into the parlour, so that Yulka and Leo could play
for me. Antonia went first, carrying the lamp. There were not nearly
chairs enough to go round, so the younger children sat down on the
bare floor. Little Lucie whispered to me that they were going to have
a parlour carpet if they got ninety cents for their wheat. Leo, with
a good deal of fussing, got out his violin. It was old Mr. Shimerda's
instrument, which Antonia had always kept, and it was too big for him.
But he played very well for a self-taught boy. Poor Yulka's efforts were
not so successful. While they were playing, little Nina got up from her
corner, came out into the middle of the floor, and began to do a pretty
little dance on the boards with her bare feet. No one paid the least
attention to her, and when she was through she stole back and sat down
by her brother.

Antonia spoke to Leo in Bohemian. He frowned and wrinkled up his face.
He seemed to be trying to pout, but his attempt only brought out dimples
in unusual places. After twisting and screwing the keys, he played some
Bohemian airs, without the organ to hold him back, and that went better.
The boy was so restless that I had not had a chance to look at his
face before. My first impression was right; he really was faun-like. He
hadn't much head behind his ears, and his tawny fleece grew down thick
to the back of his neck. His eyes were not frank and wide apart like
those of the other boys, but were deep-set, gold-green in colour, and
seemed sensitive to the light. His mother said he got hurt oftener than
all the others put together. He was always trying to ride the colts
before they were broken, teasing the turkey gobbler, seeing just how
much red the bull would stand for, or how sharp the new axe was.

After the concert was over, Antonia brought out a big boxful of
photographs: she and Anton in their wedding clothes, holding hands; her
brother Ambrosch and his very fat wife, who had a farm of her own, and
who bossed her husband, I was delighted to hear; the three Bohemian
Marys and their large families.

'You wouldn't believe how steady those girls have turned out,' Antonia
remarked. 'Mary Svoboda's the best butter-maker in all this country, and
a fine manager. Her children will have a grand chance.'

As Antonia turned over the pictures the young Cuzaks stood behind her
chair, looking over her shoulder with interested faces. Nina and Jan,
after trying to see round the taller ones, quietly brought a chair,
climbed up on it, and stood close together, looking. The little boy
forgot his shyness and grinned delightedly when familiar faces came into
view. In the group about Antonia I was conscious of a kind of physical
harmony. They leaned this way and that, and were not afraid to touch
each other. They contemplated the photographs with pleased recognition;
looked at some admiringly, as if these characters in their mother's
girlhood had been remarkable people. The little children, who could
not speak English, murmured comments to each other in their rich old
language.

Antonia held out a photograph of Lena that had come from San Francisco
last Christmas. 'Does she still look like that? She hasn't been home
for six years now.' Yes, it was exactly like Lena, I told her; a comely
woman, a trifle too plump, in a hat a trifle too large, but with the
old lazy eyes, and the old dimpled ingenuousness still lurking at the
corners of her mouth.

There was a picture of Frances Harling in a befrogged riding costume
that I remembered well. 'Isn't she fine!' the girls murmured. They all
assented. One could see that Frances had come down as a heroine in the
family legend. Only Leo was unmoved.

'And there's Mr. Harling, in his grand fur coat. He was awfully rich,
wasn't he, mother?'

'He wasn't any Rockefeller,' put in Master Leo, in a very low tone,
which reminded me of the way in which Mrs. Shimerda had once said that
my grandfather 'wasn't Jesus.' His habitual scepticism was like a direct
inheritance from that old woman.

'None of your smart speeches,' said Ambrosch severely.

Leo poked out a supple red tongue at him, but a moment later broke
into a giggle at a tintype of two men, uncomfortably seated, with an
awkward-looking boy in baggy clothes standing between them: Jake and
Otto and I! We had it taken, I remembered, when we went to Black Hawk on
the first Fourth of July I spent in Nebraska. I was glad to see Jake's
grin again, and Otto's ferocious moustaches. The young Cuzaks knew all
about them. 'He made grandfather's coffin, didn't he?' Anton asked.

'Wasn't they good fellows, Jim?' Antonia's eyes filled. 'To this day
I'm ashamed because I quarrelled with Jake that way. I was saucy and
impertinent to him, Leo, like you are with people sometimes, and I wish
somebody had made me behave.'

'We aren't through with you, yet,' they warned me. They produced a
photograph taken just before I went away to college: a tall youth in
striped trousers and a straw hat, trying to look easy and jaunty.

'Tell us, Mr. Burden,' said Charley, 'about the rattler you killed
at the dog-town. How long was he? Sometimes mother says six feet and
sometimes she says five.'

These children seemed to be upon very much the same terms with Antonia
as the Harling children had been so many years before. They seemed
to feel the same pride in her, and to look to her for stories and
entertainment as we used to do.

It was eleven o'clock when I at last took my bag and some blankets and
started for the barn with the boys. Their mother came to the door with
us, and we tarried for a moment to look out at the white slope of the
corral and the two ponds asleep in the moonlight, and the long sweep of
the pasture under the star-sprinkled sky.

The boys told me to choose my own place in the haymow, and I lay down
before a big window, left open in warm weather, that looked out into the
stars. Ambrosch and Leo cuddled up in a hay-cave, back under the eaves,
and lay giggling and whispering. They tickled each other and tossed and
tumbled in the hay; and then, all at once, as if they had been shot,
they were still. There was hardly a minute between giggles and bland
slumber.


I lay awake for a long while, until the slow-moving moon passed my
window on its way up the heavens. I was thinking about Antonia and her
children; about Anna's solicitude for her, Ambrosch's grave affection,
Leo's jealous, animal little love. That moment, when they all came
tumbling out of the cave into the light, was a sight any man might have
come far to see. Antonia had always been one to leave images in the mind
that did not fade--that grew stronger with time. In my memory there
was a succession of such pictures, fixed there like the old woodcuts of
one's first primer: Antonia kicking her bare legs against the sides
of my pony when we came home in triumph with our snake; Antonia in
her black shawl and fur cap, as she stood by her father's grave in
the snowstorm; Antonia coming in with her work-team along the evening
sky-line. She lent herself to immemorial human attitudes which we
recognize by instinct as universal and true. I had not been mistaken.
She was a battered woman now, not a lovely girl; but she still had that
something which fires the imagination, could still stop one's breath
for a moment by a look or gesture that somehow revealed the meaning in
common things. She had only to stand in the orchard, to put her hand
on a little crab tree and look up at the apples, to make you feel the
goodness of planting and tending and harvesting at last. All the strong
things of her heart came out in her body, that had been so tireless in
serving generous emotions.

It was no wonder that her sons stood tall and straight. She was a rich
mine of life, like the founders of early races.



II

WHEN I AWOKE IN THE morning, long bands of sunshine were coming in at
the window and reaching back under the eaves where the two boys lay.
Leo was wide awake and was tickling his brother's leg with a dried
cone-flower he had pulled out of the hay. Ambrosch kicked at him and
turned over. I closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep. Leo lay on
his back, elevated one foot, and began exercising his toes. He picked up
dried flowers with his toes and brandished them in the belt of sunlight.
After he had amused himself thus for some time, he rose on one elbow and
began to look at me, cautiously, then critically, blinking his eyes in
the light. His expression was droll; it dismissed me lightly. 'This old
fellow is no different from other people. He doesn't know my secret.'
He seemed conscious of possessing a keener power of enjoyment than
other people; his quick recognitions made him frantically impatient of
deliberate judgments. He always knew what he wanted without thinking.

After dressing in the hay, I washed my face in cold water at the
windmill. Breakfast was ready when I entered the kitchen, and Yulka was
baking griddle-cakes. The three older boys set off for the fields early.
Leo and Yulka were to drive to town to meet their father, who would
return from Wilber on the noon train.

'We'll only have a lunch at noon,' Antonia said, and cook the geese for
supper, when our papa will be here. I wish my Martha could come down to
see you. They have a Ford car now, and she don't seem so far away from
me as she used to. But her husband's crazy about his farm and about
having everything just right, and they almost never get away except on
Sundays. He's a handsome boy, and he'll be rich some day. Everything
he takes hold of turns out well. When they bring that baby in here, and
unwrap him, he looks like a little prince; Martha takes care of him so
beautiful. I'm reconciled to her being away from me now, but at first I
cried like I was putting her into her coffin.'

We were alone in the kitchen, except for Anna, who was pouring cream
into the churn. She looked up at me. 'Yes, she did. We were just ashamed
of mother. She went round crying, when Martha was so happy, and the rest
of us were all glad. Joe certainly was patient with you, mother.'

Antonia nodded and smiled at herself. 'I know it was silly, but I
couldn't help it. I wanted her right here. She'd never been away from me
a night since she was born. If Anton had made trouble about her when she
was a baby, or wanted me to leave her with my mother, I wouldn't have
married him. I couldn't. But he always loved her like she was his own.'

'I didn't even know Martha wasn't my full sister until after she was
engaged to Joe,' Anna told me.

Toward the middle of the afternoon, the wagon drove in, with the father
and the eldest son. I was smoking in the orchard, and as I went out to
meet them, Antonia came running down from the house and hugged the two
men as if they had been away for months.

'Papa,' interested me, from my first glimpse of him. He was shorter than
his older sons; a crumpled little man, with run-over boot-heels, and he
carried one shoulder higher than the other. But he moved very quickly,
and there was an air of jaunty liveliness about him. He had a strong,
ruddy colour, thick black hair, a little grizzled, a curly moustache,
and red lips. His smile showed the strong teeth of which his wife was so
proud, and as he saw me his lively, quizzical eyes told me that he knew
all about me. He looked like a humorous philosopher who had hitched up
one shoulder under the burdens of life, and gone on his way having a
good time when he could. He advanced to meet me and gave me a hard hand,
burned red on the back and heavily coated with hair. He wore his Sunday
clothes, very thick and hot for the weather, an unstarched white shirt,
and a blue necktie with big white dots, like a little boy's, tied in
a flowing bow. Cuzak began at once to talk about his holiday--from
politeness he spoke in English.

'Mama, I wish you had see the lady dance on the slack-wire in the street
at night. They throw a bright light on her and she float through the air
something beautiful, like a bird! They have a dancing bear, like in the
old country, and two-three merry-go-around, and people in balloons, and
what you call the big wheel, Rudolph?'

'A Ferris wheel,' Rudolph entered the conversation in a deep baritone
voice. He was six foot two, and had a chest like a young blacksmith. 'We
went to the big dance in the hall behind the saloon last night, mother,
and I danced with all the girls, and so did father. I never saw so many
pretty girls. It was a Bohunk crowd, for sure. We didn't hear a word of
English on the street, except from the show people, did we, papa?'

Cuzak nodded. 'And very many send word to you, Antonia. You will
excuse'--turning to me--'if I tell her.' While we walked toward the
house he related incidents and delivered messages in the tongue he spoke
fluently, and I dropped a little behind, curious to know what their
relations had become--or remained. The two seemed to be on terms of easy
friendliness, touched with humour. Clearly, she was the impulse, and
he the corrective. As they went up the hill he kept glancing at her
sidewise, to see whether she got his point, or how she received it. I
noticed later that he always looked at people sidewise, as a work-horse
does at its yokemate. Even when he sat opposite me in the kitchen,
talking, he would turn his head a little toward the clock or the stove
and look at me from the side, but with frankness and good nature. This
trick did not suggest duplicity or secretiveness, but merely long habit,
as with the horse.

He had brought a tintype of himself and Rudolph for Antonia's
collection, and several paper bags of candy for the children. He looked
a little disappointed when his wife showed him a big box of candy I had
got in Denver--she hadn't let the children touch it the night before. He
put his candy away in the cupboard, 'for when she rains,' and glanced
at the box, chuckling. 'I guess you must have hear about how my family
ain't so small,' he said.

Cuzak sat down behind the stove and watched his womenfolk and the little
children with equal amusement. He thought they were nice, and he thought
they were funny, evidently. He had been off dancing with the girls
and forgetting that he was an old fellow, and now his family rather
surprised him; he seemed to think it a joke that all these children
should belong to him. As the younger ones slipped up to him in his
retreat, he kept taking things out of his pockets; penny dolls, a wooden
clown, a balloon pig that was inflated by a whistle. He beckoned to the
little boy they called Jan, whispered to him, and presented him with a
paper snake, gently, so as not to startle him. Looking over the boy's
head he said to me, 'This one is bashful. He gets left.'

Cuzak had brought home with him a roll of illustrated Bohemian papers.
He opened them and began to tell his wife the news, much of which seemed
to relate to one person. I heard the name Vasakova, Vasakova, repeated
several times with lively interest, and presently I asked him whether he
were talking about the singer, Maria Vasak.

'You know? You have heard, maybe?' he asked incredulously. When I
assured him that I had heard her, he pointed out her picture and told me
that Vasak had broken her leg, climbing in the Austrian Alps, and would
not be able to fill her engagements. He seemed delighted to find that I
had heard her sing in London and in Vienna; got out his pipe and lit
it to enjoy our talk the better. She came from his part of Prague. His
father used to mend her shoes for her when she was a student. Cuzak
questioned me about her looks, her popularity, her voice; but he
particularly wanted to know whether I had noticed her tiny feet, and
whether I thought she had saved much money. She was extravagant, of
course, but he hoped she wouldn't squander everything, and have nothing
left when she was old. As a young man, working in Wienn, he had seen a
good many artists who were old and poor, making one glass of beer last
all evening, and 'it was not very nice, that.'

When the boys came in from milking and feeding, the long table was laid,
and two brown geese, stuffed with apples, were put down sizzling before
Antonia. She began to carve, and Rudolph, who sat next his mother,
started the plates on their way. When everybody was served, he looked
across the table at me.

'Have you been to Black Hawk lately, Mr. Burden? Then I wonder if you've
heard about the Cutters?'

No, I had heard nothing at all about them.

'Then you must tell him, son, though it's a terrible thing to talk about
at supper. Now, all you children be quiet, Rudolph is going to tell
about the murder.'

'Hurrah! The murder!' the children murmured, looking pleased and
interested.

Rudolph told his story in great detail, with occasional promptings from
his mother or father.

Wick Cutter and his wife had gone on living in the house that Antonia
and I knew so well, and in the way we knew so well. They grew to be
very old people. He shrivelled up, Antonia said, until he looked like
a little old yellow monkey, for his beard and his fringe of hair never
changed colour. Mrs. Cutter remained flushed and wild-eyed as we had
known her, but as the years passed she became afflicted with a shaking
palsy which made her nervous nod continuous instead of occasional. Her
hands were so uncertain that she could no longer disfigure china, poor
woman! As the couple grew older, they quarrelled more and more often
about the ultimate disposition of their 'property.' A new law was passed
in the state, securing the surviving wife a third of her husband's
estate under all conditions. Cutter was tormented by the fear that Mrs.
Cutter would live longer than he, and that eventually her 'people,' whom
he had always hated so violently, would inherit. Their quarrels on this
subject passed the boundary of the close-growing cedars, and were heard
in the street by whoever wished to loiter and listen.

One morning, two years ago, Cutter went into the hardware store and
bought a pistol, saying he was going to shoot a dog, and adding that
he 'thought he would take a shot at an old cat while he was about
it.' (Here the children interrupted Rudolph's narrative by smothered
giggles.)

Cutter went out behind the hardware store, put up a target, practised
for an hour or so, and then went home. At six o'clock that evening, when
several men were passing the Cutter house on their way home to supper,
they heard a pistol shot. They paused and were looking doubtfully at
one another, when another shot came crashing through an upstairs window.
They ran into the house and found Wick Cutter lying on a sofa in his
upstairs bedroom, with his throat torn open, bleeding on a roll of
sheets he had placed beside his head.

'Walk in, gentlemen,' he said weakly. 'I am alive, you see, and
competent. You are witnesses that I have survived my wife. You will find
her in her own room. Please make your examination at once, so that there
will be no mistake.'

One of the neighbours telephoned for a doctor, while the others went
into Mrs. Cutter's room. She was lying on her bed, in her night-gown and
wrapper, shot through the heart. Her husband must have come in while she
was taking her afternoon nap and shot her, holding the revolver near her
breast. Her night-gown was burned from the powder.

The horrified neighbours rushed back to Cutter. He opened his eyes
and said distinctly, 'Mrs. Cutter is quite dead, gentlemen, and I am
conscious. My affairs are in order.' Then, Rudolph said, 'he let go and
died.'

On his desk the coroner found a letter, dated at five o'clock that
afternoon. It stated that he had just shot his wife; that any will she
might secretly have made would be invalid, as he survived her. He meant
to shoot himself at six o'clock and would, if he had strength, fire a
shot through the window in the hope that passersby might come in and see
him 'before life was extinct,' as he wrote.

'Now, would you have thought that man had such a cruel heart?' Antonia
turned to me after the story was told. 'To go and do that poor woman out
of any comfort she might have from his money after he was gone!'

'Did you ever hear of anybody else that killed himself for spite, Mr.
Burden?' asked Rudolph.

I admitted that I hadn't. Every lawyer learns over and over how strong
a motive hate can be, but in my collection of legal anecdotes I had
nothing to match this one. When I asked how much the estate amounted to,
Rudolph said it was a little over a hundred thousand dollars.

Cuzak gave me a twinkling, sidelong glance. 'The lawyers, they got a
good deal of it, sure,' he said merrily.

A hundred thousand dollars; so that was the fortune that had been
scraped together by such hard dealing, and that Cutter himself had died
for in the end!

After supper Cuzak and I took a stroll in the orchard and sat down by
the windmill to smoke. He told me his story as if it were my business to
know it.

His father was a shoemaker, his uncle a furrier, and he, being a younger
son, was apprenticed to the latter's trade. You never got anywhere
working for your relatives, he said, so when he was a journeyman he went
to Vienna and worked in a big fur shop, earning good money. But a young
fellow who liked a good time didn't save anything in Vienna; there were
too many pleasant ways of spending every night what he'd made in the
day. After three years there, he came to New York. He was badly advised
and went to work on furs during a strike, when the factories were
offering big wages. The strikers won, and Cuzak was blacklisted. As he
had a few hundred dollars ahead, he decided to go to Florida and raise
oranges. He had always thought he would like to raise oranges! The
second year a hard frost killed his young grove, and he fell ill with
malaria. He came to Nebraska to visit his cousin, Anton Jelinek, and
to look about. When he began to look about, he saw Antonia, and she
was exactly the kind of girl he had always been hunting for. They were
married at once, though he had to borrow money from his cousin to buy
the wedding ring.

'It was a pretty hard job, breaking up this place and making the first
crops grow,' he said, pushing back his hat and scratching his grizzled
hair. 'Sometimes I git awful sore on this place and want to quit, but my
wife she always say we better stick it out. The babies come along pretty
fast, so it look like it be hard to move, anyhow. I guess she was right,
all right. We got this place clear now. We pay only twenty dollars an
acre then, and I been offered a hundred. We bought another quarter ten
years ago, and we got it most paid for. We got plenty boys; we can work
a lot of land. Yes, she is a good wife for a poor man. She ain't always
so strict with me, neither. Sometimes maybe I drink a little too much
beer in town, and when I come home she don't say nothing. She don't ask
me no questions. We always get along fine, her and me, like at first.
The children don't make trouble between us, like sometimes happens.' He
lit another pipe and pulled on it contentedly.

I found Cuzak a most companionable fellow. He asked me a great
many questions about my trip through Bohemia, about Vienna and the
Ringstrasse and the theatres.

'Gee! I like to go back there once, when the boys is big enough to farm
the place. Sometimes when I read the papers from the old country, I
pretty near run away,' he confessed with a little laugh. 'I never did
think how I would be a settled man like this.'

He was still, as Antonia said, a city man. He liked theatres and lighted
streets and music and a game of dominoes after the day's work was over.
His sociability was stronger than his acquisitive instinct. He liked
to live day by day and night by night, sharing in the excitement of the
crowd.--Yet his wife had managed to hold him here on a farm, in one of
the loneliest countries in the world.

I could see the little chap, sitting here every evening by the windmill,
nursing his pipe and listening to the silence; the wheeze of the pump,
the grunting of the pigs, an occasional squawking when the hens were
disturbed by a rat. It did rather seem to me that Cuzak had been made
the instrument of Antonia's special mission. This was a fine life,
certainly, but it wasn't the kind of life he had wanted to live. I
wondered whether the life that was right for one was ever right for two!

I asked Cuzak if he didn't find it hard to do without the gay company
he had always been used to. He knocked out his pipe against an upright,
sighed, and dropped it into his pocket.

'At first I near go crazy with lonesomeness,' he said frankly, 'but my
woman is got such a warm heart. She always make it as good for me as she
could. Now it ain't so bad; I can begin to have some fun with my boys,
already!'

As we walked toward the house, Cuzak cocked his hat jauntily over one
ear and looked up at the moon. 'Gee!' he said in a hushed voice, as
if he had just wakened up, 'it don't seem like I am away from there
twenty-six year!'



III

AFTER DINNER THE NEXT day I said good-bye and drove back to Hastings to
take the train for Black Hawk. Antonia and her children gathered round
my buggy before I started, and even the little ones looked up at me with
friendly faces. Leo and Ambrosch ran ahead to open the lane gate. When
I reached the bottom of the hill, I glanced back. The group was still
there by the windmill. Antonia was waving her apron.

At the gate Ambrosch lingered beside my buggy, resting his arm on the
wheel-rim. Leo slipped through the fence and ran off into the pasture.

'That's like him,' his brother said with a shrug. 'He's a crazy kid.
Maybe he's sorry to have you go, and maybe he's jealous. He's jealous of
anybody mother makes a fuss over, even the priest.'

I found I hated to leave this boy, with his pleasant voice and his fine
head and eyes. He looked very manly as he stood there without a hat, the
wind rippling his shirt about his brown neck and shoulders.

'Don't forget that you and Rudolph are going hunting with me up on the
Niobrara next summer,' I said. 'Your father's agreed to let you off
after harvest.'

He smiled. 'I won't likely forget. I've never had such a nice thing
offered to me before. I don't know what makes you so nice to us boys,'
he added, blushing.

'Oh, yes, you do!' I said, gathering up my reins.

He made no answer to this, except to smile at me with unabashed pleasure
and affection as I drove away.

My day in Black Hawk was disappointing. Most of my old friends were
dead or had moved away. Strange children, who meant nothing to me, were
playing in the Harlings' big yard when I passed; the mountain ash had
been cut down, and only a sprouting stump was left of the tall Lombardy
poplar that used to guard the gate. I hurried on. The rest of the
morning I spent with Anton Jelinek, under a shady cottonwood tree in
the yard behind his saloon. While I was having my midday dinner at the
hotel, I met one of the old lawyers who was still in practice, and he
took me up to his office and talked over the Cutter case with me. After
that, I scarcely knew how to put in the time until the night express was
due.

I took a long walk north of the town, out into the pastures where the
land was so rough that it had never been ploughed up, and the long red
grass of early times still grew shaggy over the draws and hillocks. Out
there I felt at home again. Overhead the sky was that indescribable blue
of autumn; bright and shadowless, hard as enamel. To the south I could
see the dun-shaded river bluffs that used to look so big to me, and all
about stretched drying cornfields, of the pale-gold colour, I remembered
so well. Russian thistles were blowing across the uplands and piling
against the wire fences like barricades. Along the cattle-paths the
plumes of goldenrod were already fading into sun-warmed velvet, grey
with gold threads in it. I had escaped from the curious depression that
hangs over little towns, and my mind was full of pleasant things; trips
I meant to take with the Cuzak boys, in the Bad Lands and up on the
Stinking Water. There were enough Cuzaks to play with for a long while
yet. Even after the boys grew up, there would always be Cuzak himself! I
meant to tramp along a few miles of lighted streets with Cuzak.

As I wandered over those rough pastures, I had the good luck to stumble
upon a bit of the first road that went from Black Hawk out to the north
country; to my grandfather's farm, then on to the Shimerdas' and to the
Norwegian settlement. Everywhere else it had been ploughed under when
the highways were surveyed; this half-mile or so within the pasture
fence was all that was left of that old road which used to run like
a wild thing across the open prairie, clinging to the high places and
circling and doubling like a rabbit before the hounds.

On the level land the tracks had almost disappeared--were mere shadings
in the grass, and a stranger would not have noticed them. But wherever
the road had crossed a draw, it was easy to find. The rains had made
channels of the wheel-ruts and washed them so deeply that the sod had
never healed over them. They looked like gashes torn by a grizzly's
claws, on the slopes where the farm-wagons used to lurch up out of the
hollows with a pull that brought curling muscles on the smooth hips
of the horses. I sat down and watched the haystacks turn rosy in the
slanting sunlight.

This was the road over which Antonia and I came on that night when
we got off the train at Black Hawk and were bedded down in the straw,
wondering children, being taken we knew not whither. I had only to close
my eyes to hear the rumbling of the wagons in the dark, and to be again
overcome by that obliterating strangeness. The feelings of that night
were so near that I could reach out and touch them with my hand. I
had the sense of coming home to myself, and of having found out what a
little circle man's experience is. For Antonia and for me, this had been
the road of Destiny; had taken us to those early accidents of fortune
which predetermined for us all that we can ever be. Now I understood
that the same road was to bring us together again. Whatever we had
missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past.





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