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Antonia, by Willa Sibert Cather
Book IV: The Pioneer Woman's Story
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.
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.'
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.
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.
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.
Harling,' I said presently, `I wish I could find out exactly how Antonia's
marriage fell through.'
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.'
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