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Antonia, by Willa Sibert Cather
Book V: Cuzak's Boys
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
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.
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
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.
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.'
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.
yes, you do!' I said, gathering
up my reins.
made no answer to this, except to smile at me with unabashed pleasure and
affection as I drove away.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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