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Antonia, by Willa Sibert Cather
Book IV: The Pioneer Woman's Story
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.
thought you'd come, Jim. I
heard you were at Mrs. Steavens's last night. I've been looking for you
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
Why, it flashed across me that though so much had happened in her
life and in mine, she was barely twenty-four years old.
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.
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.'
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.'
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
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
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.
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.
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
come back,' I said earnestly, through the soft, intrusive darkness.
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.'
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.
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