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Antonia, by Willa Sibert Cather
Book IV: The Pioneer Woman's Story
YEARS AFTER I left Lincoln, I completed my academic course at Harvard.
Before I entered the Law School I went home for the summer vacation. On
the night of my arrival, Mrs. Harling and Frances and Sally came over to
greet me. Everything seemed
just as it used to be. My grandparents looked very little older.
Frances Harling was married now, and she and her husband managed
the Harling interests in Black Hawk. When we gathered in grandmother's
parlour, I could hardly believe that I had been away at all.
One subject, however, we avoided all evening.
I was walking home with Frances, after we had left Mrs. Harling at her
gate, she said simply, `You know, of course, about poor Antonia.'
Antonia! Everyone would be
saying that now, I thought bitterly. I replied that grandmother had
written me how Antonia went away to marry Larry Donovan at some place
where he was working; that he had deserted her, and that there was now a
baby. This was all I knew.
never married her,' Frances said. `I haven't seen her since she came back.
She lives at home, on the farm, and almost never comes to town.
She brought the baby in to show it to mama once. I'm afraid she's
settled down to be Ambrosch's drudge for good.'
tried to shut Antonia out of my mind. I
was bitterly disappointed in her. I
could not forgive her for becoming an object of pity, while Lena Lingard,
for whom people had always foretold trouble, was now the leading dressmaker
of Lincoln, much respected in Black Hawk. Lena gave her heart away when she
felt like it, but she kept her head for her business and had got on in the
then it was the fashion to speak indulgently of Lena and severely of Tiny
Soderball, who had quietly gone West to try her fortune the year before. A
Black Hawk boy, just back from Seattle, brought the news that Tiny had not
gone to the coast on a venture, as she had allowed people to think, but with
very definite plans. One of the
roving promoters that used to stop at Mrs. Gardener's hotel owned idle
property along the waterfront in Seattle, and he had offered to set Tiny up
in business in one of his empty buildings. She was now conducting a sailors'
lodging-house. This, everyone said, would be the end of Tiny.
Even if she had begun by running a decent place, she couldn't keep it
up; all sailors' boarding-houses were alike.
I thought about it, I discovered that I had never known Tiny as well as I
knew the other girls. I
remembered her tripping briskly about the dining-room on her high heels,
carrying a big trayful of dishes, glancing rather pertly at the spruce
travelling men, and contemptuously at the scrubby ones-- who were so afraid
of her that they didn't dare to ask for two kinds of pie. Now it occurred to
me that perhaps the sailors, too, might be afraid of Tiny. How astonished we
should have been, as we sat talking about her on Frances Harling's front
porch, if we could have known what her future was really to be! Of all the girls and boys who grew up together in Black Hawk,
Tiny Soderball was to lead the most adventurous life and to achieve the most
solid worldly success.
is what actually happened to Tiny: While
she was running her lodging-house in Seattle, gold was discovered in Alaska.
Miners and sailors came back from the North with wonderful stories and
pouches of gold. Tiny saw it and weighed it in her hands. That daring, which
nobody had ever suspected in her, awoke. She sold her business and set out
for Circle City, in company with a carpenter and his wife whom she had
persuaded to go along with her. They reached Skaguay in a snowstorm, went in
dog-sledges over the Chilkoot Pass, and shot the Yukon in flatboats. They
reached Circle City on the very day when some Siwash Indians came into the
settlement with the report that there had been a rich gold strike farther up
the river, on a certain Klondike Creek. Two days later Tiny and her friends,
and nearly everyone else in Circle City, started for the Klondike fields on
the last steamer that went up the Yukon before it froze for the winter. That
boatload of people founded Dawson City.
Within a few weeks there were fifteen hundred homeless men in camp.
Tiny and the carpenter's wife began to cook for them, in a tent. The miners
gave her a building lot, and the carpenter put up a log hotel for her.
There she sometimes fed a hundred and fifty men a day. Miners came in
on snowshoes from their placer claims twenty miles away to buy fresh bread
from her, and paid for it in gold.
winter Tiny kept in her hotel a Swede whose legs had been frozen one night
in a storm when he was trying to find his way back to his cabin.
The poor fellow thought it great good fortune to be cared for by a
woman, and a woman who spoke his own tongue.
When he was told that his feet must be amputated, he said he hoped he
would not get well; what could a working-man do in this hard world without
feet? He did, in fact, die from the operation, but not before he had deeded
Tiny Soderball his claim on Hunker Creek. Tiny sold her hotel, invested half
her money in Dawson building lots, and with the rest she developed her
claim. She went off into the wilds and lived on the claim. She bought other
claims from discouraged miners, traded or sold them on percentages.
nearly ten years in the Klondike, Tiny returned, with a considerable
fortune, to live in San Francisco. I met her in Salt Lake City in 1908. She was a thin,
hard-faced woman, very well-dressed, very reserved in manner. Curiously
enough, she reminded me of Mrs. Gardener, for whom she had worked in Black
Hawk so long ago. She told me
about some of the desperate chances she had taken in the gold country, but
the thrill of them was quite gone. She said frankly that nothing interested
her much now but making money. The only two human beings of whom she spoke
with any feeling were the Swede, Johnson, who had given her his claim, and
Lena Lingard. She had persuaded Lena to come to San Francisco and go into
was never any place for her,' Tiny remarked. `In a town of that size Lena
would always be gossiped about. Frisco's the right field for her.
She has a fine class of trade. Oh,
she's just the same as she always was! She's careless, but she's
level-headed. She's the only person I know who never gets any older.
It's fine for me to have her there; somebody who enjoys things like
that. She keeps an eye on me and won't let me be shabby. When she thinks I
need a new dress, she makes it and sends it home with a bill that's long
enough, I can tell you!'
limped slightly when she walked. The claim on Hunker Creek took toll from its possessors.
Tiny had been caught in a sudden turn of weather, like poor Johnson.
She lost three toes from one of those pretty little feet that used to
trip about Black Hawk in pointed slippers and striped stockings. Tiny
mentioned this mutilation quite casually--didn't seem sensitive about it.
She was satisfied with her success, but not elated. She was like
someone in whom the faculty of becoming interested is worn out.
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