My antonia, p.33
My Antonia, p.33Willa Cather
I NOTICED ONE AFTERNOON that grandmother had been crying. Her feetseemed to drag as she moved about the house, and I got up from the tablewhere I was studying and went to her, asking if she didn't feel well,and if I couldn't help her with her work.
'No, thank you, Jim. I'm troubled, but I guess I'm well enough. Gettinga little rusty in the bones, maybe,' she added bitterly.
I stood hesitating. 'What are you fretting about, grandmother? Hasgrandfather lost any money?'
'No, it ain't money. I wish it was. But I've heard things. You must 'a'known it would come back to me sometime.' She dropped into a chair, and,covering her face with her apron, began to cry. 'Jim,' she said, 'I wasnever one that claimed old folks could bring up their grandchildren. Butit came about so; there wasn't any other way for you, it seemed like.'
I put my arms around her. I couldn't bear to see her cry.
'What is it, grandmother? Is it the Firemen's dances?'
'I'm sorry I sneaked off like that. But there's nothing wrong aboutthe dances, and I haven't done anything wrong. I like all those countrygirls, and I like to dance with them. That's all there is to it.'
'But it ain't right to deceive us, son, and it brings blame on us.People say you are growing up to be a bad boy, and that ain't just tous.'
'I don't care what they say about me, but if it hurts you, that settlesit. I won't go to the Firemen's Hall again.'
I kept my promise, of course, but I found the spring months dull enough.I sat at home with the old people in the evenings now, reading Latinthat was not in our high-school course. I had made up my mind to do alot of college requirement work in the summer, and to enter the freshmanclass at the university without conditions in the fall. I wanted to getaway as soon as possible.
Disapprobation hurt me, I found--even that of people whom I did notadmire. As the spring came on, I grew more and more lonely, and fellback on the telegrapher and the cigar-maker and his canaries forcompanionship. I remember I took a melancholy pleasure in hanging aMay-basket for Nina Harling that spring. I bought the flowers from anold German woman who always had more window plants than anyone else, andspent an afternoon trimming a little workbasket. When dusk came on, andthe new moon hung in the sky, I went quietly to the Harlings' front doorwith my offering, rang the bell, and then ran away as was the custom.Through the willow hedge I could hear Nina's cries of delight, and Ifelt comforted.
On those warm, soft spring evenings I often lingered downtown to walkhome with Frances, and talked to her about my plans and about thereading I was doing. One evening she said she thought Mrs. Harling wasnot seriously offended with me.
'Mama is as broad-minded as mothers ever are, I guess. But you know shewas hurt about Antonia, and she can't understand why you like to be withTiny and Lena better than with the girls of your own set.'
'Can you?' I asked bluntly.
Frances laughed. 'Yes, I think I can. You knew them in the country, andyou like to take sides. In some ways you're older than boys of your age.It will be all right with mama after you pass your college examinationsand she sees you're in earnest.'
'If you were a boy,' I persisted, 'you wouldn't belong to the Owl Club,either. You'd be just like me.'
She shook her head. 'I would and I wouldn't. I expect I know the countrygirls better than you do. You always put a kind of glamour over them.The trouble with you, Jim, is that you're romantic. Mama's going to yourCommencement. She asked me the other day if I knew what your oration isto be about. She wants you to do well.'
I thought my oration very good. It stated with fervour a great manythings I had lately discovered. Mrs. Harling came to the Opera House tohear the Commencement exercises, and I looked at her most of the timewhile I made my speech. Her keen, intelligent eyes never left my face.Afterward she came back to the dressing-room where we stood, withour diplomas in our hands, walked up to me, and said heartily: 'Yousurprised me, Jim. I didn't believe you could do as well as that. Youdidn't get that speech out of books.' Among my graduation presents therewas a silk umbrella from Mrs. Harling, with my name on the handle.
I walked home from the Opera House alone. As I passed the MethodistChurch, I saw three white figures ahead of me, pacing up and down underthe arching maple trees, where the moonlight filtered through the lushJune foliage. They hurried toward me; they were waiting for me--Lena andTony and Anna Hansen.
'Oh, Jim, it was splendid!' Tony was breathing hard, as she always didwhen her feelings outran her language. 'There ain't a lawyer in BlackHawk could make a speech like that. I just stopped your grandpa andsaid so to him. He won't tell you, but he told us he was awful surprisedhimself, didn't he, girls?'
Lena sidled up to me and said teasingly, 'What made you so solemn? Ithought you were scared. I was sure you'd forget.'
Anna spoke wistfully.
'It must make you very happy, Jim, to have fine thoughts like thatin your mind all the time, and to have words to put them in. I alwayswanted to go to school, you know.'
'Oh, I just sat there and wished my papa could hear you! Jim'--Antoniatook hold of my coat lapels--'there was something in your speech thatmade me think so about my papa!'
'I thought about your papa when I wrote my speech, Tony,' I said. 'Idedicated it to him.'
She threw her arms around me, and her dear face was all wet with tears.
I stood watching their white dresses glimmer smaller and smaller downthe sidewalk as they went away. I have had no other success that pulledat my heartstrings like that one.
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