My antonia, p.46
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       My Antonia, p.46

           Willa Cather
 

  III

  AFTER DINNER THE NEXT day I said good-bye and drove back to Hastings totake the train for Black Hawk. Antonia and her children gathered roundmy buggy before I started, and even the little ones looked up at me withfriendly faces. Leo and Ambrosch ran ahead to open the lane gate. WhenI reached the bottom of the hill, I glanced back. The group was stillthere by the windmill. Antonia was waving her apron.

  At the gate Ambrosch lingered beside my buggy, resting his arm on thewheel-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 ofanybody mother makes a fuss over, even the priest.'

  I found I hated to leave this boy, with his pleasant voice and his finehead and eyes. He looked very manly as he stood there without a hat, thewind rippling his shirt about his brown neck and shoulders.

  'Don't forget that you and Rudolph are going hunting with me up on theNiobrara next summer,' I said. 'Your father's agreed to let you offafter harvest.'

  He smiled. 'I won't likely forget. I've never had such a nice thingoffered to me before. I don't know what makes you so nice to us boys,'he added, blushing.

  'Oh, yes, you do!' I said, gathering up my reins.

  He made no answer to this, except to smile at me with unabashed pleasureand affection as I drove away.

  My day in Black Hawk was disappointing. Most of my old friends weredead or had moved away. Strange children, who meant nothing to me, wereplaying in the Harlings' big yard when I passed; the mountain ash hadbeen cut down, and only a sprouting stump was left of the tall Lombardypoplar that used to guard the gate. I hurried on. The rest of themorning I spent with Anton Jelinek, under a shady cottonwood tree inthe yard behind his saloon. While I was having my midday dinner at thehotel, I met one of the old lawyers who was still in practice, and hetook me up to his office and talked over the Cutter case with me. Afterthat, I scarcely knew how to put in the time until the night express wasdue.

  I took a long walk north of the town, out into the pastures where theland was so rough that it had never been ploughed up, and the long redgrass of early times still grew shaggy over the draws and hillocks. Outthere I felt at home again. Overhead the sky was that indescribable blueof autumn; bright and shadowless, hard as enamel. To the south I couldsee the dun-shaded river bluffs that used to look so big to me, and allabout stretched drying cornfields, of the pale-gold colour, I rememberedso well. Russian thistles were blowing across the uplands and pilingagainst the wire fences like barricades. Along the cattle-paths theplumes of goldenrod were already fading into sun-warmed velvet, greywith gold threads in it. I had escaped from the curious depression thathangs over little towns, and my mind was full of pleasant things; tripsI meant to take with the Cuzak boys, in the Bad Lands and up on theStinking Water. There were enough Cuzaks to play with for a long whileyet. Even after the boys grew up, there would always be Cuzak himself! Imeant to tramp along a few miles of lighted streets with Cuzak.

  As I wandered over those rough pastures, I had the good luck to stumbleupon a bit of the first road that went from Black Hawk out to the northcountry; to my grandfather's farm, then on to the Shimerdas' and to theNorwegian settlement. Everywhere else it had been ploughed under whenthe highways were surveyed; this half-mile or so within the pasturefence was all that was left of that old road which used to run likea wild thing across the open prairie, clinging to the high places andcircling and doubling like a rabbit before the hounds.

  On the level land the tracks had almost disappeared--were mere shadingsin the grass, and a stranger would not have noticed them. But whereverthe road had crossed a draw, it was easy to find. The rains had madechannels of the wheel-ruts and washed them so deeply that the sod hadnever healed over them. They looked like gashes torn by a grizzly'sclaws, on the slopes where the farm-wagons used to lurch up out of thehollows with a pull that brought curling muscles on the smooth hipsof the horses. I sat down and watched the haystacks turn rosy in theslanting sunlight.

  This was the road over which Antonia and I came on that night whenwe 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 closemy eyes to hear the rumbling of the wagons in the dark, and to be againovercome by that obliterating strangeness. The feelings of that nightwere so near that I could reach out and touch them with my hand. Ihad the sense of coming home to myself, and of having found out what alittle circle man's experience is. For Antonia and for me, this had beenthe road of Destiny; had taken us to those early accidents of fortunewhich predetermined for us all that we can ever be. Now I understoodthat the same road was to bring us together again. Whatever we hadmissed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past.

 
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