|Table of Contents|
Antonia, by Willa Sibert Cather
Book I: The Shimerdas
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.
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.
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.'
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.
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
who don't like this country ought to stay at home,' I said severely. `We
don't make them come here.'
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.'
mama,' I said angrily, `wants other people's things.'
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.'
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.
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.
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.'
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.
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:
got a birthday present this time, Jim, and no mistake. They was a full-grown
blizzard ordered for you.'
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.
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.
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.
|Table of Contents|