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My Antonia

Book III. Lena Lingard
I
AT THE UNIVERSITY I had the good fortune to come immediately under the
influence of a brilliant and inspiring young scholar. Gaston Cleric had arrived in
Lincoln only a few weeks earlier than I, to begin his work as head of the Latin
Department. He came West at the suggestion of his physicians, his health having
been enfeebled by a long illness in Italy. When I took my entrance examinations,
he was my examiner, and my course was arranged under his supervision.
I did not go home for my first summer vacation, but stayed in Lincoln, working off
a year's Greek, which had been my only condition on entering the freshman
class. Cleric's doctor advised against his going back to New England, and,
except for a few weeks in Colorado, he, too, was in Lincoln all that summer. We
played tennis, read, and took long walks together. I shall always look back on
that time of mental awakening as one of the happiest in my life. Gaston Cleric
introduced me to the world of ideas; when one first enters that world everything
else fades for a time, and all that went before is as if it had not been. Yet I found
curious survivals; some of the figures of my old life seemed to be waiting for me
in the new.
In those days there were many serious young men among the students who had
come up to the university from the farms and the little towns scattered over the
thinly settled state. Some of those boys came straight from the cornfields with
only a summer's wages in their pockets, hung on through the four years, shabby
and underfed, and completed the course by really heroic self-sacrifice. Our
instructors were oddly assorted; wandering pioneer school-teachers, stranded
ministers of the Gospel, a few enthusiastic young men just out of graduate
schools. There was an atmosphere of endeavour, of expectancy and bright
hopefulness about the young college that had lifted its head from the prairie only
a few years before.
Our personal life was as free as that of our instructors. There were no college
dormitories; we lived where we could and as we could. I took rooms with an old
couple, early settlers in Lincoln, who had married off their children and now lived
quietly in their house at the edge of town, near the open country. The house was
inconveniently situated for students, and on that account I got two rooms for the
price of one. My bedroom, originally a linen-closet, was unheated and was barely
large enough to contain my cot-bed, but it enabled me to call the other room my
study. The dresser, and the great walnut wardrobe which held all my clothes,
even my hats and shoes, I had pushed out of the way, and I considered them
non-existent, as children eliminate incongruous objects when they are playing
house. I worked at a commodious green-topped table placed directly in front of
the west window which looked out over the prairie. In the corner at my right were
all my books, in shelves I had made and painted myself. On the blank wall at my
left the dark, old-fashioned wall-paper was covered by a large map of ancient
Rome, the work of some German scholar. Cleric had ordered it for me when he
 
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