Part 4 out of 4
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
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
`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
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
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
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
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
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
`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.
`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
`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
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.
The Pioneer Woman's Story
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
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
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
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
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
`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
`'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
`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
`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
`"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
`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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
`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
`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
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
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
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, mothlike 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
`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
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
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.
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
`Hurrah! The murder!' the children murmured, looking pleased and
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
`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.