My Antonia HTML version

LAST summer I happened to be crossing the plains of Iowa in a season of
intense heat, and it was my good fortune to have for a traveling companion
James Quayle Burden--Jim Burden, as we still call him in the West. He and I are
old friends--we grew up together in the same Nebraska town--and we had much
to say to each other. While the train flashed through never-ending miles of ripe
wheat, by country towns and bright-flowered pastures and oak groves wilting in
the sun, we sat in the observation car, where the woodwork was hot to the touch
and red dust lay deep over everything. The dust and heat, the burning wind,
reminded us of many things. We were talking about what it is like to spend one's
childhood in little towns like these, buried in wheat and corn, under stimulating
extremes of climate: burning summers when the world lies green and billowy
beneath a brilliant sky, when one is fairly stifled in vegetation, in the color and
smell of strong weeds and heavy harvests; blustery winters with little snow, when
the whole country is stripped bare and gray as sheet-iron. We agreed that no one
who had not grown up in a little prairie town could know anything about it. It was
a kind of freemasonry, we said.
Although Jim Burden and I both live in New York, and are old friends, I do not
see much of him there. He is legal counsel for one of the great Western railways,
and is sometimes away from his New York office for weeks together. That is one
reason why we do not often meet. Another is that I do not like his wife.
When Jim was still an obscure young lawyer, struggling to make his way in New
York, his career was suddenly advanced by a brilliant marriage. Genevieve
Whitney was the only daughter of a distinguished man. Her marriage with young
Burden was the subject of sharp comment at the time. It was said she had been
brutally jilted by her cousin, Rutland Whitney, and that she married this unknown
man from the West out of bravado. She was a restless, headstrong girl, even
then, who liked to astonish her friends. Later, when I knew her, she was always
doing something unexpected. She gave one of her town houses for a Suffrage
headquarters, produced one of her own plays at the Princess Theater, was
arrested for picketing during a garment-makers' strike, etc. I am never able to
believe that she has much feeling for the causes to which she lends her name
and her fleeting interest. She is handsome, energetic, executive, but to me she
seems unimpressionable and temperamentally incapable of enthusiasm. Her
husband's quiet tastes irritate her, I think, and she finds it worth while to play the
patroness to a group of young poets and painters of advanced ideas and
mediocre ability. She has her own fortune and lives her own life. For some
reason, she wishes to remain Mrs. James Burden.
As for Jim, no disappointments have been severe enough to chill his naturally
romantic and ardent disposition. This disposition, though it often made him seem
very funny when he was a boy, has been one of the strongest elements in his
success. He loves with a personal passion the great country through which his
railway runs and branches. His faith in it and his knowledge of it have played an