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Antonia, by Willa Sibert Cather
Book II: The Hired Girls
NOTICED ONE AFTERNOON that grandmother had been crying. Her feet seemed to
drag as she moved about the house, and I got up from the table where I was
studying and went to her, asking if she didn't feel well, and if I
couldn't help her with her work.
thank you, Jim. I'm troubled,
but I guess I'm well enough. Getting a little rusty in the bones, maybe,'
she added bitterly.
stood hesitating. `What are
you fretting about, grandmother? Has grandfather lost any money?'
it ain't money. I wish it
was. But I've heard things.
You must 'a' known it would come back to me sometime.' She dropped into a
chair, and, covering her face with her apron, began to cry. `Jim,' she said, `I was never one that claimed old folks
could bring up their grandchildren. But it came about so; there wasn't any
other way for you, it seemed like.'
put my arms around her. I
couldn't bear to see her cry.
is it, grandmother? Is it the
sorry I sneaked off like that. But there's nothing wrong about the dances, and I haven't
done anything wrong. I like all those country girls, and I like to dance
with them. That's all there is to it.'
it ain't right to deceive us, son, and it brings blame on us. People say you
are growing up to be a bad boy, and that ain't just to us.'
don't care what they say about me, but if it hurts you, that settles it. I
won't go to the Firemen's Hall again.'
kept my promise, of course, but I found the spring months dull enough. I sat
at home with the old people in the evenings now, reading Latin that was not
in our high-school course. I
had made up my mind to do a lot of college requirement work in the summer,
and to enter the freshman class at the university without conditions in the
fall. I wanted to get away as soon as possible.
hurt me, I found--even that of people whom I did not admire. As the spring
came on, I grew more and more lonely, and fell back on the telegrapher and
the cigar-maker and his canaries for companionship. I remember I took a
melancholy pleasure in hanging a May-basket for Nina Harling that spring.
I bought the flowers from an old German woman who always had more
window plants than anyone else, and spent an afternoon trimming a little
workbasket. When dusk came on, and the new moon hung in the sky, I went
quietly to the Harlings' front door with my offering, rang the bell, and
then ran away as was the custom. Through the willow hedge I could hear
Nina's cries of delight, and I felt comforted.
those warm, soft spring evenings I often lingered downtown to walk home with
Frances, and talked to her about my plans and about the reading I was doing.
One evening she said she thought Mrs. Harling was not seriously
offended with me.
is as broad-minded as mothers ever are, I guess. But you know she was hurt
about Antonia, and she can't understand why you like to be with Tiny and
Lena better than with the girls of your own set.'
you?' I asked bluntly.
laughed. `Yes, I think I can.
You knew them in the country, and you like to take sides.
In some ways you're older than boys of your age. It will be all right
with mama after you pass your college examinations and she sees you're in
you were a boy,' I persisted, `you wouldn't belong to the Owl Club, either.
You'd be just like me.'
shook her head. `I would and I
wouldn't. I expect I know the country girls better than you do.
You always put a kind of glamour over them.
The trouble with you, Jim, is that you're romantic.
Mama's going to your Commencement.
She asked me the other day if I knew what your oration is to be
about. She wants you to do well.'
thought my oration very good. It
stated with fervour a great many things I had lately discovered.
Mrs. Harling came to the Opera House to hear the Commencement
exercises, and I looked at her most of the time while I made my speech. Her
keen, intelligent eyes never left my face. Afterward she came back to the
dressing-room where we stood, with our diplomas in our hands, walked up to
me, and said heartily: `You surprised me, Jim.
I didn't believe you could do as well as that.
You didn't get that speech out of books.' Among my graduation
presents there was a silk umbrella from Mrs. Harling, with my name on the
walked home from the Opera House alone.
As I passed the Methodist Church, I saw three white figures ahead of
me, pacing up and down under the arching maple trees, where the moonlight
filtered through the lush June foliage. They hurried toward me; they were
waiting for me--Lena and Tony and Anna Hansen.
Jim, it was splendid!' Tony was
breathing hard, as she always did when her feelings outran her language.
`There ain't a lawyer in Black Hawk could make a speech like that.
I just stopped your grandpa and said so to him. He won't tell you,
but he told us he was awful surprised himself, didn't he, girls?'
sidled up to me and said teasingly, `What made you so solemn? I thought you
were scared. I was sure you'd
must make you very happy, Jim, to have fine thoughts like that in your mind
all the time, and to have words to put them in. I always wanted to go to
school, you know.'
I just sat there and wished my papa could hear you!
Jim'--Antonia took hold of my coat lapels--'there was something in
your speech that made me think so about my papa!'
thought about your papa when I wrote my speech, Tony,' I said. `I dedicated
it to him.'
threw her arms around me, and her dear face was all wet with tears.
stood watching their white dresses glimmer smaller and smaller down the
sidewalk as they went away. I
have had no other success that pulled at my heartstrings like that one.
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