My antonia, p.31
My Antonia, p.31Willa Cather
WICK CUTTER WAS the money-lender who had fleeced poor Russian Peter.When a farmer once got into the habit of going to Cutter, it was likegambling or the lottery; in an hour of discouragement he went back.
Cutter's first name was Wycliffe, and he liked to talk about his piousbringing-up. He contributed regularly to the Protestant churches, 'forsentiment's sake,' as he said with a flourish of the hand. He came froma town in Iowa where there were a great many Swedes, and could speaka little Swedish, which gave him a great advantage with the earlyScandinavian settlers.
In every frontier settlement there are men who have come there to escaperestraint. Cutter was one of the 'fast set' of Black Hawk business men.He was an inveterate gambler, though a poor loser. When we saw a lightburning in his office late at night, we knew that a game of poker wasgoing on. Cutter boasted that he never drank anything stronger thansherry, and he said he got his start in life by saving the money thatother young men spent for cigars. He was full of moral maxims forboys. When he came to our house on business, he quoted 'Poor Richard'sAlmanack' to me, and told me he was delighted to find a town boy whocould milk a cow. He was particularly affable to grandmother, andwhenever they met he would begin at once to talk about 'the good oldtimes' and simple living. I detested his pink, bald head, and his yellowwhiskers, always soft and glistening. It was said he brushed them everynight, as a woman does her hair. His white teeth looked factory-made.His skin was red and rough, as if from perpetual sunburn; he often wentaway to hot springs to take mud baths. He was notoriously dissolute withwomen. Two Swedish girls who had lived in his house were the worse forthe experience. One of them he had taken to Omaha and established in thebusiness for which he had fitted her. He still visited her.
Cutter lived in a state of perpetual warfare with his wife, and yet,apparently, they never thought of separating. They dwelt in a fussy,scroll-work house, painted white and buried in thick evergreens, witha fussy white fence and barn. Cutter thought he knew a great deal abouthorses, and usually had a colt which he was training for the track.On Sunday mornings one could see him out at the fair grounds, speedingaround the race-course in his trotting-buggy, wearing yellow gloves anda black-and-white-check travelling cap, his whiskers blowing back in thebreeze. If there were any boys about, Cutter would offer one of thema quarter to hold the stop-watch, and then drive off, saying he had nochange and would 'fix it up next time.' No one could cut his lawn orwash his buggy to suit him. He was so fastidious and prim about hisplace that a boy would go to a good deal of trouble to throw a dead catinto his back yard, or to dump a sackful of tin cans in his alley. Itwas a peculiar combination of old-maidishness and licentiousness thatmade Cutter seem so despicable.
He had certainly met his match when he married Mrs. Cutter. She was aterrifying-looking person; almost a giantess in height, raw-boned, withiron-grey hair, a face always flushed, and prominent, hysterical eyes.When she meant to be entertaining and agreeable, she nodded her headincessantly and snapped her eyes at one. Her teeth were long and curved,like a horse's; people said babies always cried if she smiled at them.Her face had a kind of fascination for me: it was the very colour andshape of anger. There was a gleam of something akin to insanity inher full, intense eyes. She was formal in manner, and made callsin rustling, steel-grey brocades and a tall bonnet with bristlingaigrettes.
Mrs. Cutter painted china so assiduously that even her wash-bowls andpitchers, and her husband's shaving-mug, were covered with violets andlilies. Once, when Cutter was exhibiting some of his wife's china to acaller, he dropped a piece. Mrs. Cutter put her handkerchief to her lipsas if she were going to faint and said grandly: 'Mr. Cutter, you havebroken all the Commandments--spare the finger-bowls!'
They quarrelled from the moment Cutter came into the house until theywent to bed at night, and their hired girls reported these scenes tothe town at large. Mrs. Cutter had several times cut paragraphs aboutunfaithful husbands out of the newspapers and mailed them to Cutter ina disguised handwriting. Cutter would come home at noon, find themutilated journal in the paper-rack, and triumphantly fit the clippinginto the space from which it had been cut. Those two could quarrelall morning about whether he ought to put on his heavy or his lightunderwear, and all evening about whether he had taken cold or not.
The Cutters had major as well as minor subjects for dispute. The chiefof these was the question of inheritance: Mrs. Cutter told her husbandit was plainly his fault they had no children. He insisted that Mrs.Cutter had purposely remained childless, with the determination tooutlive him and to share his property with her 'people,' whom hedetested. To this she would reply that unless he changed his modeof life, she would certainly outlive him. After listening to herinsinuations about his physical soundness, Cutter would resume hisdumb-bell practice for a month, or rise daily at the hour when his wifemost liked to sleep, dress noisily, and drive out to the track with histrotting-horse.
Once when they had quarrelled about household expenses, Mrs. Cutterput on her brocade and went among their friends soliciting orders forpainted china, saying that Mr. Cutter had compelled her 'to live by herbrush.' Cutter wasn't shamed as she had expected; he was delighted!
Cutter often threatened to chop down the cedar trees which half-buriedthe house. His wife declared she would leave him if she were strippedof the I privacy' which she felt these trees afforded her. That was hisopportunity, surely; but he never cut down the trees. The Cutters seemedto find their relations to each other interesting and stimulating, andcertainly the rest of us found them so. Wick Cutter was different fromany other rascal I have ever known, but I have found Mrs. Cuttersall over the world; sometimes founding new religions, sometimes beingforcibly fed--easily recognizable, even when superficially tamed.
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