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My Antonia

Book V. Cuzak's Boys
I
I TOLD ANTONIA I would come back, but life intervened, and it was twenty years
before I kept my promise. I heard of her from time to time; that she married, very
soon after I last saw her, a young Bohemian, a cousin of Anton Jelinek; that they
were poor, and had a large family. Once when I was abroad I went into Bohemia,
and from Prague I sent Antonia some photographs of her native village. Months
afterward came a letter from her, telling me the names and ages of her many
children, but little else; signed, `Your old friend, Antonia Cuzak.' When I met Tiny
Soderball in Salt Lake, she told me that Antonia had not `done very well'; that her
husband was not a man of much force, and she had had a hard life. Perhaps it
was cowardice that kept me away so long. My business took me West several
times every year, and it was always in the back of my mind that I would stop in
Nebraska some day and go to see Antonia. But I kept putting it off until the next
trip. I did not want to find her aged and broken; I really dreaded it. In the course
of twenty crowded years one parts with many illusions. I did not wish to lose the
early ones. Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can
ever happen to one again.
I owe it to Lena Lingard that I went to see Antonia at last. I was in San Francisco
two summers ago when both Lena and Tiny Soderball were in town. Tiny lives in
a house of her own, and Lena's shop is in an apartment house just around the
corner. It interested me, after so many years, to see the two women together.
Tiny audits Lena's accounts occasionally, and invests her money for her; and
Lena, apparently, takes care that Tiny doesn't grow too miserly. `If there's
anything I can't stand,' she said to me in Tiny's presence, `it's a shabby rich
woman.' Tiny smiled grimly and assured me that Lena would never be either
shabby or rich. `And I don't want to be,' the other agreed complacently.
Lena gave me a cheerful account of Antonia and urged me to make her a visit.
`You really ought to go, Jim. It would be such a satisfaction to her. Never mind
what Tiny says. There's nothing the matter with Cuzak. You'd like him. He isn't a
hustler, but a rough man would never have suited Tony. Tony has nice children--
ten or eleven of them by this time, I guess. I shouldn't care for a family of that
size myself, but somehow it's just right for Tony. She'd love to show them to you.'
On my way East I broke my journey at Hastings, in Nebraska, and set off with an
open buggy and a fairly good livery team to find the Cuzak farm. At a little past
midday, I knew I must be nearing my destination. Set back on a swell of land at
my right, I saw a wide farm-house, with a red barn and an ash grove, and cattle-
yards in front that sloped down to the highroad. I drew up my horses and was
wondering whether I should drive in here, when I heard low voices. Ahead of me,
in a plum thicket beside the road, I saw two boys bending over a dead dog. The
little one, not more than four or five, was on his knees, his hands folded, and his
close-clipped, bare head drooping forward in deep dejection. The other stood
beside him, a hand on his shoulder, and was comforting him in a language I had
not heard for a long while. When I stopped my horses opposite them, the older
 
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