Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Homesteader, by Oscar Micheaux - Full Text


From a painting by W.M. Farrow.

Author of "The Forged Note"




How much of the story of Jean Baptiste is a work of the author's own imagination and how much comes from an authentic source we do not consider it necessary to say. But that he has in this instance drawn more largely and directly from fact than is the practice of the novelist is admitted, and we have his consent therefore, to make certain statements concerning himself that relate to the story, and why he has written it.
To begin with, that which any writer has been more closely associated with, are the things he can best portray. Wherefore, in "THE HOMESTEADER," Oscar Micheaux has written largely along the lines he has lived, and, naturally of what he best knows. His experience has been somewhat unusual; his association largely out of the ordinary. Born thirty-three years ago in Southern Illinois, he left those parts at an early age to come into his larger education in the years that followed through extensive traveling and a varied association. Purchasing a relinquishment on a homestead in South Dakota at the age of twenty; five years later he had succeeded and owned considerable lands in the country wherein he had settled. Always literarily inclined he wrote articles for newspapers and magazines as a beginner, and then during his twenty-sixth and twenty-seventh years occurred the conflicting incident that changed the whole course of his life, and gave him more than anything else, the subsequent material for the building of this story.
Shortly after this his first book appeared, and he at last had found his calling. He wrote his second book two years later. But the episode that had changed his life from ranching to writing was ever in his mind and always so forcibly until he was never a contented man until he had written it—and "The Homesteader" is the story.


Agnes, Whose Eyes Were Baffling
Jean Baptiste, The Homesteader
Jack Stewart, Agnes' Father
Augustus M. Barr, an Infidel
Isaac Syfe, a Jew
Peter Kaden, The Victim
N. Justine McCarthy, a Preacher
Orlean, his Daughter, Without the Courage of Her Convictions
Ethel, her Sister, Who Was Different
Glavis, Ethel's Husband
Eugene Crook, a Banker

[Pg 13]



THEIR cognomen was Stewart, and three years had gone by since their return from Western Kansas where they had been on what they now chose to regard as a "Wild Goose Chase." The substance was, that as farmers they had failed to raise even one crop during the three years they spent there, so had in the end, therefore, returned broken and defeated to the rustic old district of Indiana where they had again taken up their residence on a rented farm.
Welcomed home like the "return of the prodigal," the age old gossip of "I told you so!" had been exchanged, and the episode was about forgotten.
But there was one in the family, the one with whom our story is largely concerned, who, although she had found little in Western Kansas to encourage her to stay there, had not, on the other hand, found much cheer back in old Indiana so long as they found no place to live but "Nubbin Ridge." Although but a girl, it so happened through circumstances over which she had no control, that whatever she thought or did, concerned largely the whole family's welfare or destiny.
Her father was a quaint old Scotchman, coming directly from Scotland to this country, a Highlander from the highest of the Highlands, and carried the accent still. But concerning her mother, she had never known her. Indeed, few[Pg 14]had known her mother intimately; but it was generally understood that she had been the second wife of her father, and that she had died that Agnes might live. She was the only offspring by this marriage, although there were two boys by the first union. These lived at home with her and her father, but were, unfortunately, half-witted. Naturally Agnes was regarded as having been fortunate in being born of the second wife. But, what seemed rather singular, unlike her half brothers who were simple, she, on the other hand, appeared to be possessed with an unusual amount of wit; rare wit, extraordinary wit.
She was now twenty, and because she possessed such sweet ways, she was often referred to as beautiful, although, in truth she was not. Her face was somewhat square, and while there was a semblance of red roses in her cheeks when she smiled, her complexion was unusually white—almost pale. Her mouth, like her face, was also inclined to be square, while her lips were the reddest. She had a chin that was noticeable due to the fact that it was so prominent, and her nose was straight almost to the point where it took a slight turn upwards. It was her hair, however, that was her greatest attraction. Unusually long, it was thick and heavy, of a flaxen tint, and was her pride. Her eyes, however, were a mystery—baffling. Sometimes when they were observed by others they were called blue, but upon second notice they might be taken for brown. Few really knew their exact color, and to most they were a puzzle. There was a flash about them at times that moved people, a peculiarity withal that even her father had never been able to understand. At such times he was singularly frightened, frightened with what he saw, and what he didn't see but felt. Always she then reminded him of her mother whom he had known only briefly before taking her as his[Pg 15]wife. He had loved her, this wife, and had also feared her as he now feared this daughter when her eyes flashed.
Her mother had kept a secret from him—and the world! In trust she left some papers. What they contained he did not know, and would not until the day before she, Agnes, was to marry; and should she not marry by the time she reached thirty, the papers were to be given her then anyhow.
And so Jack Stewart had resigned himself to the situation; had given her the best education possible, which had not been much. She had gone through the grade schools, however, and barely succeeded in completing two years of the high school course. The love that he had been deprived of giving her mother because of her early death he had given to Agnes; she was his joy, his pride. She read to him because his eyes were not the best; she wrote his letters, consulted with him, assisted and conducted what business he had, and had avoided the society of young men.
So we have met, and know some little of the girl we are to follow. In the beginning of our story, we find her anything but contented. Living in quaint old "Nubbin Ridge," could not, to say the most, be called illustrious. It was a small district where the soil was very poor—as poor, perhaps, as Indiana afforded. So poor indeed, that it was capable of producing nothing but nubbins (corn) from which it derived its name. When a man went to rent a farm in "Nubbin Ridge" he was considered all in, down and out.... To continue life there was to grow poorer. It was a part of the state wherein no one had ever been known to grow rich, and Stewarts had proven no exception to the rule. But this story is to be concerned only briefly with "Nubbin Ridge," so we will come back to the one around whom it will in a measure center.
Her chief accomplishments since their disastrous con[Pg 16]quest of Western Kansas had been the simple detail of keeping a diary. But at other times she had attempted musical composition and had even sent the same to publishers, one after another. Of course all she sent had duly come back, and she had by this time grown to expect the returned manuscripts as the inevitable. But since sending the same gave her a diversion, she had kept it up—and had today received a letter! A letter, that was all, and a short one at that; but even a letter in view of her previous experiences was highly appreciated. It stated briefly that her composition had been carefully examined—studied, but had, they very much regretted to inform her, been found unavailable for their needs. Although they had returned the same, they wished to say that she had shown some merit—"symptoms" she thought would have sounded better—and that they would always be patient and glad to examine anything she might be so kind as to submit!
She read the letter over many times. Not that she hoped that doing so would bring her anything, but because in her little life in "Nubbin Ridge" there was so little to break the usual monotonous routine. When she had read and studied it until she knew every letter by heart, she sighed, picked up her diary, and wrote therein:
There is little to record tonight. Today just passed was like yesterday, and yesterday was like the day before that, except it rained yesterday, and it didn't the day before. Papa and Bill and George have just completed picking corn—nubbins, the kind and only thing that grows in Nubbin Ridge. Verily does the name fit the production! We will perhaps have enough when it is sold to pay the rent, send to Sears & Roebuck for a few things, and that's all. George wants a gun and thinks he's worked hard enough[Pg 17]this summer to earn one. He has found one in the catalogue that can be had for $4.85 and is all heart that papa will get it for him; along with four boxes of shells that will, all told, reach $6.00. Little enough, to say the least, for a summer's work! Bill has his mind set on a watch, but papa bought him a suit of clothes that cost $5.89 two months ago when we sold the hogs, so I don't think Bill will get in on anything this fall or winter. As for me, I would like to have a dress that I see can be had through a catalogue for a reasonable sum; but if it will crowd papa I will say nothing about it. He has the mortgage on the horses to pay, and by the time we get the few other necessities, it will not leave much, if anything.
Later—Papa has been growing very restless of late. I don't wonder, either. Any one that had any energy, any spark of ambition, would grow restless or crazy in Nubbin Ridge! The very name smacks of poverty, ignorance and degeneration! But a real estate man from South Dakota has been in the neighborhood for a week, and has told some wonderful tales of opportunities out there. He has made it plain to papa that Western Kansas has been a failure to thousands of people for forty years; that South Dakota is different; that the rainfall is abundant; the climate is the best, and that every renter in Indiana should there proceed forthwith. I'm surprised that he should waste his time talking with papa who has no money, but he seems to be just as anxious for him to go as he is for others. Perhaps it's because he wishes a crowd. A crowd even though some are poor would, I imagine, appear more like business.
Bill and George are full for going, and papa has hinted to me as to whether I would like it. How should I know? It couldn't be worse than this place even if it was the jumping off place of all creation! I have about come to the[Pg 18]place where I am willing to try anywhere once. There surely must be some place in this wide world where people have a chance to rise. Of course, with us—poor Bill and George, and papa's getting old, I don't suppose we will ever get hold of much anywhere. But the real estate man says we could all take homesteads; that in those parts—I cannot quite call the name, I'll study a while.... The Rosebud Country, is what he called it—there had been a great land opening, and there would be another in a few years. That we could go out now and rent on a place, raise big crops and get in good financial circumstances by the time the opening comes, go forth then and all take homesteads and grow rich! It sounds fishy—us growing rich; but since we have nothing we couldn't lose.
He says that people have grown wealthy in two years; that among the successful men—those who have made it quickly—is a colored man out there who came from—he couldn't say just where; but that if a colored man could make it, and get money together, surely any one else should. I will close this now because it is late, the light is low; besides I'm sleepy, and since that is surely one thing a person can do with success in "Nubbin Ridge," I will retire and have my share of it.
A month later—It has happened! We are going West! The real estate man has gone back, and papa has been out there. He is carried away with the country. Says it is the greatest place on earth. I won't attempt to put down the wonders he has told of. Rich land to be rented for one-third of the crops—and we pay two-fifths in Nubbin Ridge where there is no soil, just a sprinkling of dust over the surface. Has rented a place already, and has made arrangements with the man that we owe to give him a year's time to pay the two hundred dollars. So[Pg 19]we have enough to get out there and buy seed next spring! Everybody says we are going on another "Wild Goose Chase," but they would say that if we were going into the next county. It would seem better, however, if we would wait until spring, but Papa is getting ready to go right after Xmas. That settles it! I will make no more notes in this diary until we have reached the "promised land." In the meantime I am full of dreams, dreams, dreams! I had a strange dream last night; a real dream in which things happened! Always I have those day dreams, but last night I had a real dream. I dreamed that we went out to this country and that we rented and lived on a farm near the colored man the real estate man spoke of. I dreamed that he was an unusual man, a wonderful personality, and that we—he and I—became very close friends! That a strange murder occurred near where we went; a murder that no one could ever understand; but that in after years it was all made plain—and I was involved! Think of such a dream! Me being involved in anything; I, of "Nubbin Ridge!" I am sure that if I told out there the name of the place from where we came they would think we were crazy! But that was not all the dream—and it was all so plain! It frightens me when I think of it. I cannot realize how I could have had such a strange dream. I dreamed after we had been there a while that I fell in love—but it's the man I fell in love with which makes the dream so unusual, and—impossible! Yet there is a saying that nothing is impossible!
I will not record here or describe the one with whom I fell in love. Strangely I feel that I should wait. I cannot say why, but something seems to caution me; to tell me not to say more now.
There remains but one thing more. Yesterday I hap[Pg 20]pened to glance at myself in the mirror. As if by magic I was drawn closer and studied myself, studied something in my features I had never seen before—at least not in that way. I observed then my hands. They, too, appeared unlike they had been before. It seems to have been the dream that prompted me to look—and the dream that revealed this about myself that I cannot understand. My eyes did not appear the same; they were as if—as if, they belonged to some other! My lips were red as usual; but there was about them something too I had not seen before: they appeared thicker, and as I studied them in the mirror more closely, I couldn't resist that singularity in my eyes. They became large and then small; they were blue, so blue, and then they were brown. It was when they appeared brown that I could not understand. I will close now for I wish to think. My brain is afire, I must think, think, think

View the rest of The Homesteader, by Oscar Micheaux - Full Text

No comments:

Post a Comment