My Antonia HTML version
Book II. The Hired Girls
I 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.
We 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.
Jake 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 them.
Black 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.
We 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