My antonia, p.2
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       My Antonia, p.2
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           Willa Cather

  I

  I FIRST HEARD OF Antonia on what seemed to me an interminable journeyacross the great midland plain of North America. I was ten yearsold then; I had lost both my father and mother within a year, and myVirginia relatives were sending me out to my grandparents, who lived inNebraska. I travelled in the care of a mountain boy, Jake Marpole, oneof the 'hands' on my father's old farm under the Blue Ridge, who was nowgoing West to work for my grandfather. Jake's experience of the worldwas not much wider than mine. He had never been in a railway train untilthe morning when we set out together to try our fortunes in a new world.

  We went all the way in day-coaches, becoming more sticky and grimy witheach stage of the journey. Jake bought everything the newsboys offeredhim: candy, oranges, brass collar buttons, a watch-charm, and for me a'Life of Jesse James,' which I remember as one of the most satisfactorybooks I have ever read. Beyond Chicago we were under the protection of afriendly passenger conductor, who knew all about the country to whichwe were going and gave us a great deal of advice in exchange for ourconfidence. He seemed to us an experienced and worldly man who had beenalmost everywhere; in his conversation he threw out lightly the namesof distant states and cities. He wore the rings and pins and badges ofdifferent fraternal orders to which he belonged. Even his cuff-buttonswere engraved with hieroglyphics, and he was more inscribed than anEgyptian obelisk.

  Once when he sat down to chat, he told us that in the immigrant carahead there was a family from 'across the water' whose destination wasthe same as ours.

  'They can't any of them speak English, except one little girl, and allshe can say is "We go Black Hawk, Nebraska." She's not much older thanyou, twelve or thirteen, maybe, and she's as bright as a new dollar.Don't you want to go ahead and see her, Jimmy? She's got the prettybrown eyes, too!'

  This last remark made me bashful, and I shook my head and settled downto 'Jesse James.' Jake nodded at me approvingly and said you were likelyto get diseases from foreigners.

  I do not remember crossing the Missouri River, or anything about thelong day's journey through Nebraska. Probably by that time I had crossedso many rivers that I was dull to them. The only thing very noticeableabout Nebraska was that it was still, all day long, Nebraska.

  I had been sleeping, curled up in a red plush seat, for a long whilewhen we reached Black Hawk. Jake roused me and took me by the hand. Westumbled down from the train to a wooden siding, where men were runningabout with lanterns. I couldn't see any town, or even distant lights; wewere surrounded by utter darkness. The engine was panting heavily afterits long run. In the red glow from the fire-box, a group of people stoodhuddled together on the platform, encumbered by bundles and boxes. Iknew this must be the immigrant family the conductor had told us about.The woman wore a fringed shawl tied over her head, and she carried alittle tin trunk in her arms, hugging it as if it were a baby. Therewas an old man, tall and stooped. Two half-grown boys and a girl stoodholding oilcloth bundles, and a little girl clung to her mother'sskirts. Presently a man with a lantern approached them and beganto talk, shouting and exclaiming. I pricked up my ears, for it waspositively the first time I had ever heard a foreign tongue.

  Another lantern came along. A bantering voice called out: 'Hello, areyou Mr. Burden's folks? If you are, it's me you're looking for. I'mOtto Fuchs. I'm Mr. Burden's hired man, and I'm to drive you out. Hello,Jimmy, ain't you scared to come so far west?'

  I looked up with interest at the new face in the lantern-light. He mighthave stepped out of the pages of 'Jesse James.' He wore a sombrerohat, with a wide leather band and a bright buckle, and the ends of hismoustache were twisted up stiffly, like little horns. He looked livelyand ferocious, I thought, and as if he had a history. A long scar ranacross one cheek and drew the corner of his mouth up in a sinister curl.The top of his left ear was gone, and his skin was brown as an Indian's.Surely this was the face of a desperado. As he walked about the platformin his high-heeled boots, looking for our trunks, I saw that he was arather slight man, quick and wiry, and light on his feet. He told us wehad a long night drive ahead of us, and had better be on the hike. Heled us to a hitching-bar where two farm-wagons were tied, and I saw theforeign family crowding into one of them. The other was for us. Jake goton the front seat with Otto Fuchs, and I rode on the straw in the bottomof the wagon-box, covered up with a buffalo hide. The immigrants rumbledoff into the empty darkness, and we followed them.

  I tried to go to sleep, but the jolting made me bite my tongue, and Isoon began to ache all over. When the straw settled down, I had a hardbed. Cautiously I slipped from under the buffalo hide, got up on myknees and peered over the side of the wagon. There seemed to be nothingto see; no fences, no creeks or trees, no hills or fields. If therewas a road, I could not make it out in the faint starlight. There wasnothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of whichcountries are made. No, there was nothing but land--slightly undulating,I knew, because often our wheels ground against the brake as we wentdown into a hollow and lurched up again on the other side. I had thefeeling that the world was left behind, that we had got over the edge ofit, and were outside man's jurisdiction. I had never before looked upat the sky when there was not a familiar mountain ridge against it. Butthis was the complete dome of heaven, all there was of it. I did notbelieve that my dead father and mother were watching me from up there;they would still be looking for me at the sheep-fold down by the creek,or along the white road that led to the mountain pastures. I had lefteven their spirits behind me. The wagon jolted on, carrying me I knewnot whither. I don't think I was homesick. If we never arrived anywhere,it did not matter. Between that earth and that sky I felt erased,blotted out. I did not say my prayers that night: here, I felt, whatwould be would be.

 
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