“I never know you was so brave, Jim,” she went on comfortingly. “You is just like big mans. . . .”See Important Quotations Explained
One day, Ántonia and Jim ride Jim’s pony to Peter’s house to borrow a spade for Ambrosch, her older brother. On the way home, they stop to examine a group of prairie-dog holes. Suddenly, Ántonia spots an enormous snake and lets out a scream, which causes the snake to coil in their direction. She points at the snake and shouts at Jim in her native Bohemian. Jim turns around and sees the huge snake. He swiftly gathers his wits and uses the spade to bludgeon the snake several times to kill it. Jim gets angry at Ántonia for not warning him in English about the presence of the snake, but her admiration for his bravery quickly wins him over. They resolve to bring the dead snake home to show off Jim’s victory. The size of the snake impresses Jim’s elders, and Ántonia derives great pleasure from relating the story to all interested listeners.
Meanwhile, the Russians, Peter and Pavel, have fallen upon hard times. Peter finds himself deeply in debt to a Black Hawk moneylender named Wick Cutter, and Pavel seriously injures himself in a fall. When Peter arrives at the Burdens’ to ask the Shimerdas, who are visiting, for help, Jim decides to accompany Ántonia and her father to the Russians’ farm. They arrive after nightfall and find Pavel lying incapacitated. Frantic preoccupation with wolves punctuates his illness—a fascination whose origins Ántonia explains to Jim on the ride home: when Pavel and Peter were living in Russia, they attended a winter wedding party between a mutual friend and a girl from a neighboring town. On the ride home from the wedding, a pack of wolves attacked the wedding party in their sledges. Everyone perished, with the exception of Pavel and Peter, who were driving the sledge that carried the newly married couple; in a frantic effort to lighten that sledge’s load to increase its speed, Pavel had thrown the couple to the wolves. The shame of this incident drove Pavel and Peter from their hometown and later from Russia.
The memory of the horror of that evening plagues both Pavel and Peter. Pavel dies mere days after Ántonia and Jim’s visit, and, with Pavel gone, Peter sells off everything and leaves America. Mr. Shimerda thus quickly loses two of the only friends he had made in the country, and Pavel’s story continues to fascinate Ántonia and Jim long after Pavel’s death.
At the first snowfall, Otto Fuchs builds a sleigh for Jim to drive. After a test run, Jim sets out to give Ántonia and Yulka a ride. The girls are unprepared for the cold weather, and Jim gives them some of his clothing to help them keep warm. As a result, he himself is vulnerable to the cold, and ends up bedridden for two weeks with quinsy, a severe tonsil disease.
Jim’s next encounter with Ántonia occurs when Mrs. Burden resolves to bring a gift of a rooster and foodstuffs to the Shimerdas. As they approach the Shimerda farm, Jim spots Ántonia working at the water pump, but she quickly flees back to the house. When Mrs. Shimerda answers the Burdens’ call, she is in tears. The Shimerdas have very little food stored up for the winter, and much of what they do have is rotting. When Jake brings in the gift basket of food, Mrs. Shimerda only cries harder. Mr. Shimerda explains that they were not beggars in Bohemia, but that several unexpected turns in -America have left them with very little money. While Mrs. Burden reassures the Shimerdas, Jim plays with Yulka’s kitten. As the Burdens rise to leave, Mrs. Shimerda presents a small gift package of food to Mrs. Burden. On the ride home, Jake and Mrs. Burden -discuss the Shimerdas’ plight. Later, while preparing supper, Mrs. Burden discards the gift package of food. Though he is unsure of what the food is, Jim breaks off a small piece and eats it anyway.
During the week before Christmas, with Jake preparing to go into town to do the Burdens’ Christmas shopping, a heavy snow begins to fall. Mr. Burden decides that the roads are unfit for travel, and the family sets about to create homemade Christmas presents. Jim makes a pair of picture books for Ántonia and Yulka, and Mrs. Burden bakes gingerbread cookies. After delivering an offering to the Shimerdas, Jake brings back a small cedar tree, which the Burdens decorate on Christmas Eve.