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Antonia, by Willa Sibert Cather
Book II: The Hired Girls
HAD BEEN LIVING with my grandfather for nearly three years when he decided
to move to Black Hawk. He and
grandmother were getting old for the heavy work of a farm, and as I was
now thirteen they thought I ought to be going to school. Accordingly our
homestead was rented to `that good woman, the Widow Steavens,' and her
bachelor brother, and we bought Preacher White's house, at the north end
of Black Hawk. This was the first town house one passed driving in from
the farm, a landmark which told country people their long ride was over.
were to move to Black Hawk in March, and as soon as grandfather had fixed
the date he let Jake and Otto know of his intention. Otto said he would
not be likely to find another place that suited him so well; that he was
tired of farming and thought he would go back to what he called the `wild
West.' Jake Marpole, lured by Otto's stories of adventure, decided to go
with him. We did our best to
dissuade Jake. He was so handicapped by illiteracy and by his trusting
disposition that he would be an easy prey to sharpers. Grandmother begged
him to stay among kindly, Christian people, where he was known; but there
was no reasoning with him. He wanted to be a prospector.
He thought a silver mine was waiting for him in Colorado.
and Otto served us to the last. They moved us into town, put down the carpets in our new
house, made shelves and cupboards for grandmother's kitchen, and seemed
loath to leave us. But at last they went, without warning.
Those two fellows had been faithful to us through sun and storm,
had given us things that cannot be bought in any market in the world. With
me they had been like older brothers; had restrained their speech and
manners out of care for me, and given me so much good comradeship. Now they got on the westbound train one morning, in their
Sunday clothes, with their oilcloth valises--and I never saw them again.
Months afterward we got a card from Otto, saying that Jake had been
down with mountain fever, but now they were both working in the Yankee
Girl Mine, and were doing well. I wrote to them at that address, but my
letter was returned to me, `Unclaimed.' After that we never heard from
Hawk, the new world in which we had come to live, was a clean, well-planted
little prairie town, with white fences and good green yards about the
dwellings, wide, dusty streets, and shapely little trees growing along the
wooden sidewalks. In the centre of the town there were two rows of new brick
`store' buildings, a brick schoolhouse, the court-house, and four white
churches. Our own house looked
down over the town, and from our upstairs windows we could see the winding
line of the river bluffs, two miles south of us. That river was to be my
compensation for the lost freedom of the farming country.
came to Black Hawk in March, and by the end of April we felt like town
people. Grandfather was a
deacon in the new Baptist Church, grandmother was busy with church suppers
and missionary societies, and I was quite another boy, or thought I was.
Suddenly put down among boys of my own age, I found I had a great
deal to learn. Before the spring term of school was over, I could fight,
play `keeps,' tease the little girls, and use forbidden words as well as any
boy in my class. I was restrained from utter savagery only by the fact that
Mrs. Harling, our nearest neighbour, kept an eye on me, and if my behaviour
went beyond certain bounds I was not permitted to come into her yard or to
play with her jolly children.
saw more of our country neighbours now than when we lived on the farm. Our
house was a convenient stopping-place for them.
We had a big barn where the farmers could put up their teams, and
their womenfolk more often accompanied them, now that they could stay with
us for dinner, and rest and set their bonnets right before they went
shopping. The more our house was like a country hotel, the better I liked
it. I was glad, when I came home from school at noon, to see a farm-wagon
standing in the back yard, and I was always ready to run downtown to get
beefsteak or baker's bread for unexpected company. All through that first
spring and summer I kept hoping that Ambrosch would bring Antonia and Yulka
to see our new house. I wanted to show them our red plush furniture, and the
trumpet-blowing cherubs the German paperhanger had put on our parlour
Ambrosch came to town, however, he came alone, and though he put his horses
in our barn, he would never stay for dinner, or tell us anything about his
mother and sisters. If we ran
out and questioned him as he was slipping through the yard, he would merely
work his shoulders about in his coat and say, `They all right, I guess.'
Steavens, who now lived on our farm, grew as fond of Antonia as we had been,
and always brought us news of her. All
through the wheat season, she told us, Ambrosch hired his sister out like a
man, and she went from farm to farm, binding sheaves or working with the
threshers. The farmers liked her and were kind to her; said they would
rather have her for a hand than Ambrosch.
When fall came she was to husk corn for the neighbours until
Christmas, as she had done the year before; but grandmother saved her from
this by getting her a place to work with our neighbours, the Harlings.
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