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My Ántonia

Willa Cather

  My Antonia

  By Willa Sibert Cather

  Optima dies {~HORIZONTAL ELLIPSIS~} prima fugit Virgil

  with illustrations byW. T. Benda

  The Riverside Press]Boston and New YorkHoughton Mifflin CompanysThe Riverside Press Cambridge


  To Carrie and Irene Miner

  _In memory of affections old and true_


  IntroductionBook I-- The Shimerdas II III IV V VI VII VIII IX X XI XII XIII XIV XV XVI XVII XVIII XIXBook II--The Hired Girls I II III IV V VI VII VIII IX X XI XII XIII XIV XVBook III--Lena Lingard I II III IVBook IV--The Pioneer Woman's Story I II III IVBook V--Cuzak's Boys I II III


  Illustration: Immigrant family huddled together on the train platformIllustration: Mr. Shimerda walking on the upland prairie with a gun overhis shoulderIllustration: Mrs. Shimerda gathering mushrooms in a Bohemian forestIllustration: Jake bringing home a Christmas treeIllustration: Antonia ploughing in the fieldIllustration: Jim and Antonia in the gardenIllustration: Lena Lingard knitting stockingsIllustration: Antonia driving her cattle home


  LAST summer I happened to be crossing the plains of Iowa in a season ofintense heat, and it was my good fortune to have for a traveling companionJames Quayle Burden--Jim Burden, as we still call him in the West. He and Iare old friends--we grew up together in the same Nebraska town--and we hadmuch to say to each other. While the train flashed through never-endingmiles of ripe wheat, by country towns and bright-flowered pastures and oakgroves wilting in the sun, we sat in the observation car, where thewoodwork was hot to the touch and red dust lay deep over everything. Thedust and heat, the burning wind, reminded us of many things. We weretalking about what it is like to spend one's childhood in little townslike these, buried in wheat and corn, under stimulating extremes ofclimate: burning summers when the world lies green and billowy beneath abrilliant sky, when one is fairly stifled in vegetation, in the color andsmell of strong weeds and heavy harvests; blustery winters with littlesnow, when the whole country is stripped bare and gray as sheet-iron. Weagreed that no one who had not grown up in a little prairie town couldknow anything about it. It was a kind of freemasonry, we said.

  Although Jim Burden and I both live in New York, and are old friends, I donot see much of him there. He is legal counsel for one of the greatWestern railways, and is sometimes away from his New York office for weekstogether. That is one reason why we do not often meet. Another is that Ido not like his wife.

  When Jim was still an obscure young lawyer, struggling to make his way inNew York, his career was suddenly advanced by a brilliant marriage.Genevieve Whitney was the only daughter of a distinguished man. Hermarriage with young Burden was the subject of sharp comment at the time.It was said she had been brutally jilted by her cousin, Rutland Whitney,and that she married this unknown man from the West out of bravado. Shewas a restless, headstrong girl, even then, who liked to astonish herfriends. Later, when I knew her, she was always doing somethingunexpected. She gave one of her town houses for a Suffrage headquarters,produced one of her own plays at the Princess Theater, was arrested forpicketing during a garment-makers' strike, etc. I am never able to believethat she has much feeling for the causes to which she lends her name andher fleeting interest. She is handsome, energetic, executive, but to meshe seems unimpressionable and temperamentally incapable of enthusiasm.Her husband's quiet tastes irritate her, I think, and she finds it worthwhile to play the patroness to a group of young poets and painters ofadvanced ideas and mediocre ability. She has her own fortune and lives herown life. For some reason, she wishes to remain Mrs. James Burden.

  As for Jim, no disappointments have been severe enough to chill hisnaturally romantic and ardent disposition. This disposition, though itoften made him seem very funny when he was a boy, has been one of thestrongest elements in his success. He loves with a personal passion thegreat country through which his railway runs and branches. His faith in itand his knowledge of it have played an important part in its development.He is always able to raise capital for new enterprises in Wyoming orMontana, and has helped young men out there to do remarkable things inmines and timber and oil. If a young man with an idea can once get JimBurden's attention, can manage to accompany him when he goes off into thewilds hunting for lost parks or exploring new canyons, then the moneywhich means action is usually forthcoming. Jim is still able to losehimself in those big Western dreams. Though he is over forty now, he meetsnew people and new enterprises with the impulsiveness by which his boyhoodfriends remember him. He never seems to me to grow older. His fresh colorand sandy hair and quick-changing blue eyes are those of a young man, andhis sympathetic, solicitous interest in women is as youthful as it isWestern and American.

  During that burning day when we were crossing Iowa, our talk keptreturning to a central figure, a Bohemian girl whom we had known long agoand whom both of us admired. More than any other person we remembered,this girl seemed to mean to us the country, the conditions, the wholeadventure of our childhood. To speak her name was to call up pictures ofpeople and places, to set a quiet drama going in one's brain. I had lostsight of her altogether, but Jim had found her again after long years, hadrenewed a friendship that meant a great deal to him, and out of his busylife had set apart time enough to enjoy that friendship. His mind was fullof her that day. He made me see her again, feel her presence, revived allmy old affection for her.

  "I can't see," he said impetuously, "why you have never written anythingabout Antonia."

  I told him I had always felt that other people--he himself, for one--knewher much better than I. I was ready, however, to make an agreement withhim; I would set down on paper all that I remembered of Antonia if hewould do the same. We might, in this way, get a picture of her.

  He rumpled his hair with a quick, excited gesture, which with him oftenannounces a new determination, and I could see that my suggestion tookhold of him. "Maybe I will, maybe I will!" he declared. He stared out ofthe window for a few moments, and when he turned to me again his eyes hadthe sudden clearness that comes from something the mind itself sees. "Ofcourse," he said, "I should have to do it in a direct way, and say a greatdeal about myself. It's through myself that I knew and felt her, and I'vehad no practice in any other form of presentation."

  I told him that how he knew her and felt her was exactly what I mostwanted to know about Antonia. He had had opportunities that I, as a littlegirl who watched her come and go, had not.