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_Title:_ Kingsblood Royal
_Date of first publication:_ 1947
_Author:_ Sinclair Lewis (1885 – 1951)
_Date first posted:_ Dec. 5, 2016
_Date last updated:_ Dec. 5, 2016
Faded Page eBook #20161203

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                            KINGSBLOOD ROYAL




                      NOVELS BY SINCLAIR LEWIS

                   _Our Mr. Wrenn_ 1914
                   _The Trail of the Hawk_ 1915
                   _The Job_ 1917
                   _The Innocents_ 1917
                   _Free Air_ 1919
                   _Main Street_ 1920
                   _Babbitt_ 1922
                   _Arrowsmith_ 1925
                   _Mantrap_ 1926
                   _Elmer Gantry_ 1927
                   _The Man Who Knew Coolidge_ 1928
                   _Dodsworth_ 1929
                   _Ann Vickers_ 1933
                   _Work of Art_ 1934
                   _It Can’t Happen Here_ 1935
                   _The Prodigal Parents_ 1938
                   _Bethel Merriday_ 1940
                   _Gideon Planish_ 1943
                   _Cass Timberlane_ 1945
                   _Kingsblood Royal_ 1947




                      S I N C L A I R L E W I S


                               KINGSBLOOD
                                 ROYAL


              R A N D O M H O U S E · N E W Y O R K




                   Copyright, 1947, by Sinclair Lewis

                All Rights Reserved under International
                 and Pan American Copyright Conventions

              Published in New York by Random House, Inc.
                 and simultaneously in Toronto, Canada
                 by Random House of Canada, Ltd., 1947

                       Designed by Stefan Salter

              Manufactured in the United States of America




                _To S.S.S., who first heard this story_




                                   1


MR. BLINGHAM, and may he fry in his own cooking-oil, was assistant
treasurer of the Flaver-Saver Company. He was driving from New York to
Winnipeg, accompanied by Mrs. Blingham and their horrible daughter. As
they were New Yorkers, only a business trip could have dragged them into
this wilderness, and they found everything west of Pennsylvania
contemptible. They laughed at Chicago for daring to have skyscrapers and
at Madison for pretending to have a university, and they stopped the car
and shrieked when they entered Minnesota and saw a billboard advertising
“Ten Thousand Lakes.”

Miss Blingham, whom they called “Sister,” commented, “Unless you had a
New York sense of humor, you would never be able to understand why that
sign is so funny!”

When they came to their first prairie hamlet in Minnesota, six cottages,
a garage, a store and a tall red grain elevator, Mrs. Blingham giggled,
“Why, they’ve got an Empire State Building here!”

“And all the Svensons and Bensons and Hensons go up to the Rainbow Room
every evening!” gurgled Sister.

Their laughter buoyed them for a hundred miles, till it was time to
think of lunch. Miss Blingham looked at the map. “Grand Republic,
Minnesota. That seems to be about forty miles from here, and it’s quite
a village—85,000 people.”

“Let’s try it. They ought to have some sort of a hotel to eat at,”
yawned Mr. Blingham.

“All the best people there eat at the Salvation Army Shelter!” yelped
Mrs. Blingham.

“Oh, you slay me!” said Sister.

When, from the bluffs of the Sorshay River, they looked down to the
limestone shaft of the Blue Ox National Bank Building and the welter of
steel and glass sheds that had been erected for the Wargate Wood
Products Corporation since 1941, Mr. Blingham said, “Fair-sized war
plant they got there.”

Since the beginning of World War II, Grand Republic had grown from
85,000 to 90,000. To some ninety thousand immortal souls, it was the
center of the universe, and all distances were to be measured from it;
Moscow was defined as a place 6,100 miles from Home, and Saudi Arabia as
a market for Wargate wallboard and huts and propellers. The Blinghams,
who knew that the true center of the solar system is the corner of Fifth
Avenue and Fifty-seventh Street, would have been irritated to find out
how many of the simpletons in the valley below them believed that New
York contained nothing but hotels, burlesque shows, a ghetto and Wall
Street.

Mrs. Blingham urged, “Come on. We can’t waste all day looking at this
dump. The hotel-guide gives the Pineland as the best place for chow.
Let’s try it.”

They did not notice them, but on the way to the Pineland they must have
passed scrollwork palaces of 1880, an Italian Catholic Church, a
pawn-shop in which a Lithuanian lumberjack had recently pawned the Lüger
pistol with which he had murdered a Siamese mining-camp cook, the best
women’s dress-shop between Fort William and Dallas, a Victoria Cross
aviator, and a Negro clergyman who was a Doctor of Philosophy.

In front of the tapestry-brick, nine-storied Hotel Pineland (designed by
Lefleur, O’Flaherty, and Zipf of Minneapolis), Mr. Blingham said
doubtfully, “Well, I suppose we can get _some_ kind of grub here.”

They thought it very funny that the more choosy of the two restaurants
in the Pineland should presumptuously be named “The Fiesole Room,”
though they would not have found it funny if they had known that locally
it was pronounced “Feesoly,” because that was how the Blinghams
pronounced it, also.

The Fiesole Room had, for cinquecento atmosphere, Pompeian-red walls,
majolica dishes, a Spanish wine-jar on either side of the doorway, and a
frieze of antique Grecian runners done by a local portrait-painter.

“My, my, don’t they put on the dog in—what’s the name of this town
again?” mocked Sister.

“Grand Rapids,” said Mr. Blingham.

“No, that’s the furniture, where Aunt Ella comes from. This,” said Mrs.
Blingham authoritatively, after looking at the map, “is Grand Republic.”

“What a silly name!” pronounced Sister. “Sounds like Fourthajuly. Oh,
God, these hicks!”

They were elaborately escorted to a table by the headwaiter, a
dignified, erect colored man whose head resembled a brown billiard ball.
They did not know that he was Drexel Greenshaw, the leader of the
conservative wing of the Negro Community. He looked like a bishop, like
a general, like a senator, any of whom he might have been if he had
chosen another calling than table-waiting and another color.

Mr. Blingham had the Hungarian goulash. Mrs. Blingham was bold in the
matter of roast lamb. Sister took the chicken salad, snapping at the
colored waiter, “And do try to have a little chicken in it, will yuh?”

They found it highly comic that the waiter bowed, and said, “Yes, Miss.”
They could not have explained why they found it comic. As they said,
“You have to be a New Yorker to understand our Sense of Humor. A nigger
hash-hustler in a dump like this making like he was at the Ritz!”

It is true that in New York, on their evenings of festival, they did not
dine at the Ritz but at a Schrafft’s.

Toying delicately with her chicken salad, but finishing all of it as
well as all the rolls, Sister looked cynically about the Fiesole Room.

“Mm, mm! Respected parents, will you look at the table to my right?
Please buy him for me—the young one.”

The person whom she had thus favored was an amiable man of thirty with
solid shoulders and freckled paws and the clear skin that often goes
with red hair like his. You thought of football, later tempered by
tennis. But what you most noticed was the singular innocence of his blue
eyes and the innocence and enthusiasm of his smile.

“He looks like a Scotch army officer,” approved Sister. “He ought to be
wearing kilts.”

“Sister! And he looks to me like a shoe-clerk,” sniffed Mrs. Blingham.

With that, they forgot the young man, who was neither a shoe-clerk nor
more than a quarter Scotch. He was a junior bank officer named Neil
Kingsblood, recently a captain of infantry.

On their way north, after lunch, the Blinghams got off their proper
route. They were too proud to ask questions of the barbaric natives, and
they circled through the expensive residence district of Ottawa Heights
and a new, gray-shingle and stucco and asphalt-roof and picture-window
real-estate development called Sylvan Park. As they turned from Linden
Lane upon Balsam Trail, they did not note a “colonial cottage,” new and
neat and painty, with broad white clapboards and blue shutters, on the
northwest corner; nor did they look at the brisk and handsome young
woman and the four-year-old girl, all pink and pale gold, who were
coming out of the cottage. Yet this was the house of Captain Neil
Kingsblood, and these were his wife, Vestal, and Biddy, his lively
daughter.

“I guess we’ll have to ask the way. Do you s’pose the folks out here
speak English?” said Mrs. Blingham irritably.

That evening, as they were approaching Crookston, where they were to
spend the night, Mr. Blingham mused, “What was the name of that burg
where we had lunch today—where we got lost, leaving town?”

“Funny, I can’t remember it,” said Mrs. Blingham. “Big River or
something.”

“Where the good-looking young man was,” said Sister.




                                   2


NEIL and Vestal Kingsblood were having an amount of servant trouble that
seemed improbable with so tolerant a couple, and it was not entirely a
comedy of domestic mishaps. Tragedy in wry forms may come even to the
Colonial Residence of a Young Banker.

You would have said of Neil Kingsblood that he would not encounter
either tragedy or remarkable success. Red-headed, curly-headed,
blue-eyed, stalwart, cheerful, and as free of scholarship as he was of
malice, Neil was, in November, 1944, an assistant cashier in the Second
National Bank of Grand Republic, of which Mr. John William Prutt was
president.

He was devoted to his family, his friends, his job, to shooting and
fishing and golf, and to the guns, rods, canoes and other enchanting and
childish objects associated with those sports. But he was now unfitted
for excursions among the forests and lakes of Northern Minnesota. A year
ago, when he was a captain of infantry, his right leg had been wrecked
in the capture of an Italian village.

That leg would always be half an inch shorter than the other, but he
could limp briskly now, and by spring of 1945, he was sure, he would be
able to hitch about the court in a sort of tennis. The limp did not
damage his position as one of the best-looking men in town; it gave an
almost humorous lurch to his gait, and his chest and arms were as
powerful as ever.

Last Christmas he had spent in agony in an army hospital in England;
this Christmas, he would be with his beloved Vestal, a tall, gay,
affectionate but sensible matron, and his daughter Elizabeth, aged four
and always known as “Biddy”—the enchanting, the good-tempered Biddy,
with her skin of strawberries and cream, her hair like champagne.

Neil was born in 1914, during the fever-symptoms of the First World War;
he had believed in the sanctity of the Second World War; and over
highballs at the Sylvan Park Tennis Club, he stated bravely and he
almost believed that there would not be a Third World War arriving just
in time to catch the son whom the benevolent gods (his God was Baptist
and Vestal’s was Episcopal) might send them.

His father, still blessedly alive and in practice, was Dr. Kenneth M.
Kingsblood, the popular dentist (office in the Professional and Arts
Building, Chippewa Avenue at West Ramsey Street) and his maternal
grandfather was Edgar Saxinar, retired telephone official living in
Minneapolis. He had, thus, a scientific and industrial background, very
solid, but it must be owned that for wealth and social standing, his
family could not touch the gentility of Vestal’s father, who was Morton
Beehouse, president of the Prairie Power and Light Corporation, brother
of Oliver Beehouse, chief counsel for the Wargate industries. In Grand
Republic, we say “Beehouse” as you say Adams or Cecil or Pignatelli.

Vestal had been president of the Junior League, women’s golf-champion of
the Heather Country Club, top war-bond saleswoman of the county,
secretary of the St. Anselm’s Altar Guild, chairman of the Program
Committee of the Women’s Club, and winner of the after-dinner coffee-set
at the Cosmopollies’ bridge-tournament. She was, however, human.

She was a graduate of Sweet Briar College in Virginia, and it was
understood that she was possessed of rather better taste than Neil, who
had had a boarding-house and beer existence at the University of
Minnesota. But she said, “I’m no highbrow. At heart, I’m a Hausfrau.”

Her face was narrow, a bit long, but lightened by humorous gray eyes,
and her hair, of an average chestnut, was remarkably thick. Her hands
were squarer than Neil’s, which were strong but tapered to slender
fingers. Vestal laughed easily and not too much. She loved Neil, she
respected him, she liked him; she often held his hand at the movies, and
in the bedroom she was serious about him. She had, before his leg was
injured, enjoyed canoeing with him all through the lonely Border Lakes;
and she shared with him his Sound Conservative Republican Beliefs about
banking, taxes, and the perfidy of labor unions. They were truly a Happy
Young American Married Couple.

                 * * * * *

Though she had been reared in a Beehouse mansion of gray stone, in the
old faubourg of Beltrami Avenue, Vestal liked coming home to the artful
simplicities of Sylvan Park. Here were forests ancient as the hills
enclosing sunny spots of greenery, all laid out in curves and crescents,
regardless of expense, by Mr. William Stopple, Realtor and Developer.

Vestal was friendly with her own white cottage and the smart
semi-circular stoop and its slim pillars. Inside, the living-room was
modest enough but bright as a gold purse, with barrel-chairs in
dark-blue corduroy, maroon curtains, a ship’s-clock, an ardent
hearth-fire (electric, with glass coals), and on the mantel a German
helmet which Neil was supposed to have captured in combat. But even more
indicative of their prosperity was the “sun-porch,” with green wicker
furniture and red-tile floor and a portable bar and, for grandeur, a
view of the mound on which was “Hillhouse,” the fabulous residence of
Berthold Eisenherz.

No ordinary bank teller could have afforded such richness, and Neil had
been only a teller until a couple of months ago. His father-in-law had
helped to make this splendor possible, and to enable them to have a maid
of all work, that last and dearest luxury in a pattern of American
civilization in which you own a Cadillac but black your own shoes; and a
sound civilization it is, too, in which you may bully only the servants
that are made of steel.

In Sylvan Park there are none of the brick-walled gardens and
brick-faced chauffeurs which adorn Ottawa Heights. Neil’s neighbors
rejoice in Cape Cod cottages, seven-room chalets, and plain wooden boxes
with fake half-timbering. Along the half-moon Lanes and Trails are
fountains, and the chief square, named “The Carrefour,” is surrounded by
smart shops with illegitimate Spanish arcading. But all over this
plaster Granada children are passionately running, mothers are wheeling
baby-carriages, and fathers are raking leaves.

Mr. William Stopple (and remember that not long ago he was mayor of
Grand Republic) privately advises you that Sylvan Park is just as free
of Jews, Italians, Negroes, and the exasperatingly poor as it is of
noise, mosquitoes, and rectangularity of streets. Publicly, he
announces:

    “WHERE are boyhood’s dreams and the maiden’s fancy, where are
    old-time romance and the lily-white maid beside the mirroring
    pool under the shadow of the castle tower flying its gallant
    gonfalon? YOU can recapture that dream today. Sylvan Park is
    where gracious living, artistic landscaping, the American Way of
    Life, and up-to-the-minute conveniences are exemplified in Dream
    o’ Mine Come True, at surprisingly reasonable prices and liberal
    terms, phone or write, two offices, open ’til ‘ten P.M. Wedns.’”

Neil and Vestal jeered at this true modern poetry, but they did consider
Sylvan Park a paradise and a highly sensible paradise—and their house
was almost paid for.

Back of their own double bedroom (it had a tiled bathroom adorned with
seahorses and lotos blossoms) was Biddy’s apartment, bunnies and Mickey
Mouses, and behind that a coop, all angles and eaves, with things tucked
behind other things, which they called Neil’s “den,” and which could
serve as guest-room. Here Neil came to gloat over his rods and clubs,
the Arrowhead Rifle Marksmanship Cup, which he had won in 1941, and his
beloved collection of guns. He had a Hudson’s-Bay trade rifle, a .45
automatic pistol which had belonged to the Royal Mounted, and half a
dozen contemporary rifles. He had always wanted to be a frontiersman, an
Astor Company trader of 1820 on the Minnesota border, and he liked
calendars portraying canoemen and the habits of the moose.

And here were his own not-very-numerous books. The set of Kipling, the
set of O. Henry, the set of Sherlock Holmes, a history of banking, and
the bound volumes of the _National Geographic Magazine_, with Beasley on
tennis and Morrison on golf. Among these solid wares, pushed back on a
shelf, was a volume of Emily Dickinson, which a girl, whose name and
texture he had now forgotten, had given to him in college, and sometimes
Neil picked at it and wondered.

                 * * * * *

The rooms to which they gave the most nervous care were at the end of a
constricted hall: the bedroom and private bath of their maid, Miss
Belfreda Gray, a young lady of color.

In the hope of keeping a maid at all in these war days, they had made
Belfreda’s suite as pretty as they could afford. The bedroom was
complete with radio, candlewick spread, and copies of _Good
Housekeeping_, and in an entirely insane moment, Vestal had bought a
real English loofah for the bathroom. Belfreda had considered it some
form of mummified bug, and had almost quit when Vestal presented it to
her.

Also, Belfreda declined to use the cake of pink bathsoap, in the shape
of a duck, which Vestal provided, explaining that her dark skin was
delicate and she could tolerate only Gout de Rose, at a dollar a
cake. . . . Vestal got that for her, too, and still Belfreda thought
about quitting. She was a good cook, when she wanted to be, but just now
she did not want to be.

Belfreda was twenty-one, and beautiful in her slim elastic way. She
firmly preferred not to wear stockings, even when waiting on table, and
her voluptuous legs of warm, satin-finished bronze, not much concealed
by her flirting skirts, bothered Neil and his masculine visitors
continually, though they didn’t do anything about it.

It is to be feared that, after putting more spiritual agony into holding
a maid than it would have taken to do the housework themselves, Neil and
Vestal had a distinct anti-Ethiopian bias in the matter of Belfreda,
along with no very remarkable pro-Semitism or love for the Hindus, the
Javanese, or the Finns.




                                   3


“NO,” said Neil to Vestal, “I’ve always considered Mr. Prutt too
conservative. He thinks that only people like us, from British and
French and Heinie stock, amount to anything. He’s prejudiced against
Scandinavians and the Irish and Hunkies and Polacks. He doesn’t
understand that we have a new America. Still and all, even hating
prejudice, I do see where the Negroes are inferior and always will be. I
realized that when I saw them unloading ships in Italy, all safe, while
we white soldiers were under fire. And Belfreda expecting to get paid
like a Hollywood star—and still out, at midnight!”

They were having a highball in their wondrous kitchen, with its
white-enamel electric stove and refrigerator and dishwasher and
garbage-disposer, seated on crimson metal chairs at the deep-blue metal
table—the Model Kitchen that had replaced the buffalo and the log cabin
as a symbol of America.

It was one of Vestal’s nights for being advanced and humanitarian.

“I don’t see that, Neil. I don’t see that Belfreda is any more demanding
than these white bobby-soxers that are only fifteen years old and have
to have the family car every evening. I wouldn’t like it if I had to
spend all day in somebody else’s kitchen, in the grease and
cabbage-smell. Would you like it, you bloated financier?”

“No, I don’t guess I would. But still: private bath, and no six in a
room, like I hear there are in the nigger quarter, on Mayo Street;
chance to sleep quiet and alone. At least, I hope Belfreda sleeps alone,
but I always wonder about those back stairs. And a rest every afternoon
from two to four-thirty, just when we’re going crazy in the bank over
the books. Free board and room and eighteen dollars a week to put away.”

“Well, you make eighty!”

“But I’ve got to support you—and Belfreda!”

“But she tells me she has to help her granddad—you know, that old
colored bootblack at the Pineland, old Wash.”

“Oh, I know.” Neil was reasonably tender-hearted. “She probably doesn’t
have much fun, always taking care of some other girl’s baby. Charley
Sayward claims the time will come when nobody will do domestic work for
strangers except as a specialist, at fifty dollars a week, and go home
every night like a banker—or a plumber. But I wouldn’t like it! I liked
it when the hired girl worked all week for eight dollars and did the
washing and baked cookies for the little massa—that was me. Won’t it be
a hell of a joke on the returned heroes if all the subject peoples that
we fought to free, _get_ free, and grab our jobs? Oh, Vestal, this world
is getting too much for a poor rifleman!”

She had been inspecting a cupboard. She wailed, “That dratted girl has
gone and made two pies again, to save herself trouble, and the second
one will get soggy before we eat it! I swear, I’m going to fire her and
do my own work.”

“Aren’t you busting down in your defense of the downtrodden?”

“Grrrr! Let’s take a look at her room, while she’s out.”

Feeling like spies, they tiptoed upstairs and into Belfreda’s boudoir.
Her bed was not made—it never was made—and over it were scattered
shoes and pink-ribboned underwear and movie magazines, and the pillow
was black with hair-grease. Upon her Bible, on the night-table, was a
pamphlet labeled, “High John the Conqueror Magic Catalogue: Lodestones,
Hoodoo Bags, Jickey Perfume, Mo-Jo Salts, Adam and Eve Roots, Ancient
Seal of Shemhamforas.” An odor of incense and perfume was solid in the
room.

“And it was such a sweet room when we gave it to her,” mourned Vestal.

“Let’s get out of this. I feel as if we were in a conjuh den and
somebody’s likely to sneak out from under the bed and start cutting.”

As they came to the head of the back stairs, Belfreda was skipping up.
She stopped to stare at them, malevolently.

“Oh, uh—good evening,” said Neil, with a sound of guilt and idiocy.

Belfreda’s face was very dark, with round little cheeks and a mouth of
humor, but it was rigid as she looked at them, and they fled to their
bedroom.

Neil mumbled, “She was plenty sore at our snooping. Do you suppose
she’ll burn a wax image of us? The lives and ideas of these niggers are
certainly incomprehensible to our kind of people.”

“Neil, I think they like you to say ‘Negro,’ not ‘nigger.’”

“Okay, okay! Anything to oblige. These Negresses, then.”

“But Belfreda says that ‘Negress’ is the one word that you must never
use.”

“Oh, for God’s sake! Why are all these—uh—Negroes so touchy? What
difference does it make what they’re called? As I say: we don’t know
where Belfreda goes or what she does—rug-cutting or witchcraft or maybe
she belongs to some colored leftwing political gang that’s planning to
take this house away from us. One thing is obvious: the whole biological
and psychological make-up of the Negroes is different from that of white
people, especially from us Anglo-Saxons (course I have some French
blood, too).

“It’s too bad, but you have to face facts and it’s evident that the
niggers—all right, the Negroes—don’t quite belong to the same human
race with you and me and Biddy. I used to laugh at the Southern fellows
in the Army who said that, but I guess they were right. Look at that
trapped-animal glare that Belfreda gave us. Still, I’m glad that in the
North there’s no discrimination against ’em—going to the same public
schools with our own white kids. Some day I suppose Biddy might have a
desk right next to a little pickaninny.”

“I don’t know that it will hurt that little snob particularly!” sniffed
Vestal.

“No, no, sure it won’t, as long as it’s only in school, but how would
you like it if your own daughter married a Negro?”

“Well, so far, even at the enticing age of four, I don’t notice that
she’s bothered by any very big gang of dusky suitors!”

“Sure—sure—I just mean—I mean——”

The struggle of the honest and innocent Neil to express his racial ideas
was complicated by the fact that he had no notion what these ideas were.

“I mean, up North here, we been proceeding on the idea that a Negro is
just as good as we are and has just as much chance to be President of
the United States. But maybe we’ve been on the wrong track.

“I met a doctor from Georgia in the Army, and he assured me—and good
Lord, he certainly ought to know, he’s lived down there among the
darkies all his life, and him a doctor and a scientist—and he told me
that it’s been proven that all Negroes have smaller brain-capacity than
we have, and the sutures in their skulls close up earlier, so even if
they start well in school, pretty soon they drop out and spend the rest
of their lives loafing, and if that isn’t inferior—Oh, nuts! I guess
the fact is I hate to hate anybody. I never hated the Italians or the
Krauts, but I do hate Belfreda. Damn her, she’s always laughing at me,
right here in our own house. Doing as little as she can and getting as
much as she can out of us, and sneering at us for giving it to her;
never taking any pride in cooking decent meals, but just thinking how
many evenings she can get off, and always watching us, and snickering at
us and trying to get something on us, hating us!”

He meditated, after Vestal had gone to sleep:

——That colored fellow in my class all through school—what was his
name?—Emerson Woolcape, was it?—he always seemed quiet and decent
enough and yet it always irritated me to see that black face of his
among all the nice white girls.

——Come to think of it, his face wasn’t black. It was as fair as mine;
we’d’ve all thought he was white if they hadn’t _told_ us he was part
Negro. Still and all, when you knew that, you _thought_ of him as being
black, and it made you sore to see him showing off and answering
questions when Judd and Eliot had failed on ’em.

——Those black roustabouts in uniform in Italy—I never really talked
to any of ’em, but they always seemed so different—the standoffish way
they stared at us—I wouldn’t’ve stood for a three-star general looking
at me like those boogies did. Yessir, if we want to preserve our
standards of civilization, we got to be firm and keep the niggers in
their place. Though I guess I’m not so hot in being firm with Belfreda,
the little monkey!

                 * * * * *

The great young banker-warrior, legitimate heir of the sword-swallowers
of Dumas, the princely puzzlers of Tolstoy, the brave young gentlemen of
Kipling, twisted in bed, not altogether happy.




                                   4


THEY were finding again the Christmas spirit that had been lost through
the war years. All of his intimates were still fighting in Europe or the
Pacific, and it was as much for the thought of them as for Biddy that
Neil and Vestal bustled all over town, buying a Christmas tree a full
month early.

They hoped to have Belfreda as a sweet and trusting member of the
Yuletide family, and Vestal throbbed at her, “Mr. Kingsblood and I have
already found the jolliest tree, and the expressman is bringing it here
tonight. We’ll keep it in the garage. Wouldn’t you like to help us—you
know, make a little ceremony of it? The tree is just as much for you as
it is for us, of course.”

“We got our own tree, at home.”

“Oh, do you have Christmas trees on Mayo Street?”

“Yes, we got Christmas trees on Mayo Street! And we got families on Mayo
Street!”

Vestal was more furious with herself than with the girl. She perceived
that she had been assuming that Christmas was a holiday invented by the
Pilgrim Fathers at Plymouth, along with Santa Claus and yule-logs and
probably the winter solstice, and must all be delightful novelties to
persons of African descent. She stuttered:

“Yes, I meant—I didn’t mean—I just thought it might amuse you——”

Belfreda said airily, “No, thanks. I’m going out with my boyfriend this
evening,” and she departed, leaving Vestal and Neil flat in the kitchen
which they had once loved, but which Belfreda had turned into an alien
and hostile cave.

“Oh, let’s get out of here! The place reeks of her,” Neil raged.

“Yes, I’ve got so I hate to come in here. She acts as if I were an
intruder—as though I was going to snoop into the refrigerator and see
if she keeps it clean.”

“Well, you do. And she doesn’t.”

“What gets me is the way she just looks at you, if you ask her to do
anything unusual. She always does what you tell her, but she always
makes you think she’s going to refuse, and then you wonder what you’ll
do—fire her or apologize. Oh, dear!”

Neil boasted, “I’ve got so I can laugh off that look, but what gets me
is the way she never empties all the ash-trays. By God, she’ll leave one
of them dirty, even if it kills her. I’ll bet she makes a memo to do
it.”

“That doesn’t worry me as much as that sullen look, as though she’s
going to get out a razor.”

“I believe the ice pick is preferred now, by the better smokes,” said
Neil. “Oh, I’m sorry. That sounds snooty. Poor Belfreda—dirty dishes
all day. We’ve got a phobia on the dinges.”

But after dinner, the next evening, Neil again viewed with alarm:

“We’ve got to do something about our Topsy. Maybe it’s time to fire her.
That was the worst meal she’s ever given us. She managed to fry the meat
hard as leather and—I thought all zigs were wonderful at sweet
potatoes, to which they’re believed to be related, but she does
something to them that makes ’em taste like squash. And I swear, this is
the fourth time this week she’s given us that same pudding.”

“Second. But I do hope I can persuade her to do something different for
the Havocks tomorrow evening. I dislike Curtiss so much that we simply
have to give him a wonderful spread.”

For the preparation of that wonderful spread, Belfreda did do something
different. She failed to appear at all.

                 * * * * *

Curtiss, son of the lusty contractor, Boone Havock, had always been a
mistake. He had probably been confused in the cradle by the
boisterousness of his father, the screaming humor of his mother. He was
a large lout, good-looking in a sulky way, and he had a large allowance,
but he had never been popular with the girls whose love he had tried to
buy or the boys with whom he sought companionship in boozing.

In the single month of January, 1942, Curtiss had married Nancy Pzort,
who came from a family of inconsiderable market-gardeners, their
daughter, Peggy, had been born, and Curtiss had run off to join the
Marines. When he was invalided out, as a corporal, his father, though he
noisily disapproved of _his_ son’s having married a dollarless Slav,
arranged for Curtiss a makeshift job in the Blue Ox National Bank, and
bought for the young couple a fancy villa of stucco and green tiles,
next-door to Neil.

As a veteran of four, Biddy considered the Havocks’ Peggy, at two and
three-quarters, a mere child, but they played together all day. Curtiss
assumed that as a fellow-banker and old schoolmate, Neil must love him
and desire to listen to his damp stories about chasing stenographers.
Curtiss was, in fact, a nuisance.

He dropped in at any time from before breakfast to after midnight,
expecting coffee, expecting a highball, expecting an audience, and Neil
and Vestal were so annoyed by him that they were extra careful to be
cordial. And they were sorry for little Nancy Pzort Havock, that poor
child of nature inducted into a family of bank-robbers.

The Kingsbloods were having the Curtiss Havocks in for dinner, this
mid-December evening.

Vestal looked forward to it calmly and resolutely. She went to the
market for squabs, chestnuts, and mushrooms, and on the morning of the
ordeal, she begged of Belfreda, in the manner of a new captain
addressing an old top-sergeant, “Look, uh, honey, I’ll be away for
lunch—just give Biddy her cereal. Now see if you can’t run up a dinner
that’ll knock the Havocks’ eyes out tonight. You’ll have all day for it.
Use the good silver and the lace tablecloth.”

Belfreda only nodded, and Vestal went off merrily. Neil would come home
by bus; it was her day to have the car; and she was a gallant spectacle
as she sped to the Women’s Club for bridge-luncheon.

She won.

She went with Jinny Timberlane out to the Judge’s smart house in the
Country Club District. Jinny had a new moleskin winter suit that was a
sight worth traveling for, and Vestal did not go home till after six.
She hoped that Belfreda would have the table set as well as the squabs
cleaned, and that Biddy would be lenient with a tardy mother.

She bounced into a curiously still house that smelled empty. No one
answered her “Oo-hoo!” and there was no one upstairs, downstairs, in the
kitchen. The squabs remained nakedly in the refrigerator, and on the
kitchen table was a note in Belfreda’s writing, which was the smooth
machine-made script of a business-college:

“My grandpa sick, I had to go to him, I took Biddy to Grandma
Kingsblood’s, maybe back this evening, Belfreda.”

Vestal said one brief and extraordinarily unladylike word and went into
action. She telephoned to Neil’s sister, Joan, to bring the baby over,
she vaulted into working dress, she cleaned the squabs and mixed the
dressing. When Neil came in, she said only, “The dinge has walked out on
us for the evening. I knew she was a tart. Set the table. The vulgar
lace cloth and all the agony.”

His long and freckled hands were deft, and he did a worthy job, calling
to her, “When I get fired, we can hire out as cook and butler.”

“Yes, and don’t think we may not have to, if these Democrats and
Communists keep on jacking up the income tax.”

Curtiss and Nancy Havock came in, screaming, at five minutes to seven.
If they were late for everything else, they were always a little
beforetime for drinks. That good-natured wench, Nancy, dipped the
French-fried sweet potatoes into the kettle of fat, while Curtiss
volunteered to mix the cocktails, which was unfortunate, as his favorite
recipe was ninety per cent. gin, five per cent. vermouth, and five per
cent. white mule. By the time they sat down, not later than twenty-five
minutes past seven, Curtiss was already full of jollity and viciousness.

“You got to fire that nigger tonight. I always told you they were dogs.
If you don’t whip ’em, they don’t respect you. God, I hate the whole
black mess of ’em. I know a fellow from Washington that’s right on the
inside, and he claims Congress is going to bring back slavery. That
would be the smartest thing they ever done. Wouldn’t I like to see one
of these nigger college professors sent back to making cotton, and laid
over a barrel and getting fifty lashes if he bellyached!”

“Nuts, you got mixed up,” said his wife genially. “What the fellow said
was, the big guns in Congress are thinking about moving all the darkies
to Africa. That would be a dandy idea.”

Curtiss was sufficiently plastered now to scream at his wife, “So I’m a
liar, am I, you little Polack bitch!”

Neil heaved up his great shoulders, preparing to remark, “Havock, I’d
like to have you shut up and go home,” but Nancy was rather pleased by
such ardent attention, and she crooned, “Why, dearie, I don’t think
that’s a nice way to talk.” She beamed on Vestal with, “Yeh, why don’t
you can the zig?” (In English, this meant discharge the Negro.) “I know
where I can get you a hired girl—my cousin, Shirley Pzort. She’s been
working at Wargate’s and they fired her for just necking the least
little bit with a foreman.”

That wounded Curtiss’s ever-present pride of gentility, and he observed,
“Bad enough for you to have a manure-shoveler for a father and a chippy
like Shirley for a cousin, without having her work as a hash-hustler
right next door to us—for the son of a tooth-jerker!”

Before Neil could say anything, Vestal had them all out in the kitchen,
washing the dishes, and neighborhood amity was preserved, even at the
cost of a platter which Curtiss broke.

It must have been by voodoo and clairvoyance that Belfreda came flirting
in at the second when Neil had wiped the last saucepan. “Howdy!” she
chirruped, and it seemed to Neil that she winked at Curtiss. “My
granddad was sick. Sorry. Well, good night, folks!”

If there was gin on her breath, and there probably was, none of them was
in a condition to know it. She frisked off to bed without so much as
breaking out the ice-cubes which would obviously be needed, if Curtiss
was to be kept in the state of imbecility demanded by the Havock idea of
hospitality—in their house or anybody else’s. Neil stared after her,
but Vestal warned him with, “Hush! After all, she does save me a little
work.”

“But she expected us to fire her! She was waiting for it! She had a good
come-back all ready. Shame to rob her of the chance. The way she
gloated—I’ve got to crack down on her.”

“You leave her alone till after the Christmas cheer, if any, and then I
really will hustle and find somebody else,” promised Vestal.




                                   5


ALWAYS Neil felt that the malign small presence of Belfreda was in the
room, making his large, ruddy, Caucasian strength seem bloated. When he
was shaving, he fancied that she was standing behind him, snickering.
When he learnedly answered Biddy’s questions and explained to her that
God wants us to go to Sunday School (up to and including age eighteen),
he could hear Belfreda’s tiny jeer.

And it was this time, when her flea-like insignificance had reduced his
St. Bernard bulk to quivering ridiculousness, that Belfreda picked out
for being a race-conscious crusader.

For years they had had a black cocker spaniel which they had named
“Nigger” without any thought except that black dogs _do_ get called
Nigger. He was an imploring, mournful-eyed hound, and Biddy’s best
friend—next to Belfreda.

On a snowy evening, with Christmas close, Neil came home from the bank
with cheerfulness. When Vestal let him in, she stood on the stoop
calling, “Nigger, Nigger, here Nigger, here Nig!” The dog dashed up in a
complicated and happy waltz and almost upset Biddy in an excess of
affection, while the young parents looked on fondly. It was altogether a
model family scene, until Belfreda, a black rose, much too pretty in a
much too short black skirt, remarked from behind them, “I guess you
folks just despise all the colored people, don’t you!”

It was the first time that either of them had ever heard a Negro mention
the race; and there was feebleness and embarrassment in Vestal’s plaint,
“Why, what do you mean?”

“Calling Nigger, Nigger, Nigger at the front door that way.”

“But my dear, it’s the dog’s name. Always has been.”

“Makes it worse, calling a _dog_ that. We colored people don’t like the
word ‘nigger,’ and when you act like dogs and us are just the same——”

Neil was angry. “All right, all right, we’ll change it! Anything to
please you! We’ll call the mutt ‘Prince’!”

Untouched by the effort at sarcasm, blissful in her missionary zeal,
Belfreda granted, “That’ll be nice,” and sailed off, while the prancing
Biddy, a flitting white moth of a child, yelped, “I don’t want his name
to be changed! Nigger, Nigger, Nigger!” Her chirp made the word so
enchanting that her correct parents were betrayed into smiling, and that
was enough; the little prima donna had a hit, and she knew it.

Though they called after her, she went through the house screaming
“Nigger, Nigger!” while the spaniel followed her fondly, a little
surprised by all this attention to his name but considering it an
excellent idea.

An expressman came with a Christmas package, and Biddy greeted (and
offended) that high Caucasian with a hearty, “Hello, Mr. Nigger!”

“Oh, now, darling, you mustn’t use that word!” said Vestal.

Biddy was always willing to co-operate, but this seemed to her a lot of
nonsense. “Then why do you and Daddy use it? Why did you call Nigger
‘Nigger’?” she said reasonably, looking friendly but firm.

“We don’t, any more. We just decided that maybe, after all, it isn’t a
pretty word.” Vestal was rather too sweet about it.

“Oh, I think it’s a lovely word!” Biddy said with enthusiasm.

Uncle Robert Kingsblood, Neil’s older brother, dropped in then for a
free drink, and Biddy yelled at him, “It’s Uncle Nigger!”

“What’s the big idea!” protested Uncle Robert, while Vestal insisted,
“Biddy! You stop it now!” But, thoroughly excited by this attention, and
slightly hysterical, as all good and energetic children are bound to be
at the wrong time, Biddy flashed off to the kitchen, and in horror they
heard her address Belfreda, “Hello, Miss Nigger!”

To make disaster utterly distraught, they heard Belfreda cackling with
laughter.

They had to explain everything to Brother Robert, who was as curious as
a cat, and about as literate.

He commented on the crisis from his experience as Vice-President in
Charge of Sales of the Osterud Baking Corporation, Makers of Vitavim
Bread, Crisp Crunchy Crusts Jammed with Health and Yumyum:

“You kids want to know how to handle the niggers and not have any
trouble? I’ll tell you how to handle the niggers and not have any
trouble. At My Firm, we never have any trouble with the niggers, and we
never have to fire them, because we never hire any of ’em in the first
place! That’s the way to handle ’em and not have any trouble. See how I
mean? Same time, I don’t know as I blame Belfreda much, getting sore
when you called her a nigger right to her face.”

“But Bob, we didn’t call her that. It was the dog that we called
‘Nigger,’” Vestal clarified it.

“Well, same principle, ain’t it? The girl got sore, didn’t she? She
wouldn’t of been here to _get_ sore if you hadn’t never of hired her in
the first place, would she? That shows the difference in what we call
the inherent mental capacities of the two races. I wouldn’t never get
sore if somebody called _me_ a nigger. See how I mean? That’s the
trouble with you two, going to college instead of getting right into a
business career, like I done. Never hire ’em in the first place. So now
do I get a drink?”

That was Brother and Uncle Robert Kingsblood, v.p. in c. of s.

At dinner, the Belfreda who had laughed at Biddy’s “Miss Nigger” looked
evangelical and unforgiving again, but toward the end of the meal they
heard boisterousness from the kitchen: the giggles of Belfreda and a
masculine barking.

“My, my, what’s all this! I’m going out and get a glass of water,”
alleged Vestal, who had a full glass of water in front of her. She
scouted into the kitchen. There, by the gay metal table, standing
upright yet seeming to lounge, was a Negro of perhaps thirty-five. His
color was dark, his hair frizzly, his lips not thin, yet his nose was a
thin blade. He did not suggest cotton-fields but the musical comedy, the
race-track, the sweet shooting of craps; and he wore bright-blue
trousers, a sports-jacket in wide checks, and a shrimp-colored bow tie.
He had fine hands and the poised shoulders of a middleweight
prizefighter; there was in him an animal beauty made devilish by his
stare at Vestal, a bold and amused stare, as though he had known every
woman from Sappho to Queen Marie and had understood them all perfectly.
His eyes did not merely undress Vestal; they hinted that, in a flustered
and hateful way, she was enjoying it.

She was at once saying to herself, “I’ve never in my life seen such a
circus-clown get-up,” and wishing that her substantial Neil could wear
clothes like that and still look romantic.

Belfreda smiled as though they were just girls together, and cooed, “Oh,
Mis’ Kingsblood, this is Mr. Borus Bugdoll. He owns the Jumpin’ Jive
Night Club—it’s a lovely place. He’s a friend of mine. He come to see
how I was getting along.”

Borus spoke with only the smallest musky taste of Southern Negro accent.
“I have heard of Mrs. Kingsblood, often. This is an honor. May I hope
that it will be repeated?”

“He’s laughing his head off at me!” Vestal quaked, and with a mumbled
something which did no especial credit to her intellectual superiority,
she bolted from the kitchen—without the glass of water. She grinned at
Neil and quavered, not displeased, “I’ve just been insulted, I think,
and I think the gentleman got away with it.”

“Who’s this? Curtiss?”

“No, a person of color named Borus or Boreas Bugdoll, Mister Bugdoll,
and don’t leave out the Mister, or else. Borus and Belfreda! I tell you,
the darkies _are_ comic! And what a lie _that_ is! Don’t look now, but I
imagine I’ve just been privileged to gaze upon the most attractive and
horrid heel I ever saw.”

“What _is_ all this? Some one in the kitchen?” Neil said mildly.

“Now for Heaven’s sake, don’t be your brother Robert!”

“But who is the brash boy-friend? I’m going out and take a look.”

With Vestal following and in a lively way wondering whether Neil or
Borus would do the murdering, he marched into the kitchen. But Borus was
gone, and so was Belfreda, and so was the red coupé that had been parked
behind the house, and the dishes lay there in the sink, miserable and
untouched.

                 * * * * *

Neil’s sister, the pleasant Kitty, three years older, had always been
closest to him of the whole family. She was married to Charles Sayward,
a very decent young lawyer who for a term had been city attorney. Kitty
and Charles came in this evening, to further their lifework, which was
contract bridge.

Serenely playing, forgetting the horrors of domestic insurrection,
Vestal looked up, late in the evening, to see Belfreda crooking a finger
from the half-darkness of the hall. Behind her was the sardonic Borus
Bugdoll.

“You back? What is it?” said Vestal crossly.

“Oh, Mis’ Kingsblood, I’m sorry but I got to quit. Right away. We got
sickness in the family.”

The grim warrior-woman snapped, “You mean quit now, for good, at this
hour, with the dishes unwashed?”

Borus said smoothly, “You might dock her four bits for failing to do the
dishes.”

Not Vestal alone but all the others felt uncomfortably that Borus was
laughing at them.

“Oh, I’ll wash ’em,” Belfreda said sulkily.

“No you won’t! I want you to get out right now, and get out quick. I’ll
pay you at once.” Vestal stalked to her little cream-colored desk and
slammed open her efficient small account-book. “With what I’ve advanced
you this month deducted, I owe you $63.65, Belfreda. Oh. I haven’t got
that much.”

To the bridge-table: “Anybody got any money?”

From Neil and Charles Sayward, she was able to garner sixty-four
dollars, but they had not enough silver for change.

“You might make it the even sixty-four,” purred Borus.

Neil sprang up, full of the most romantic notions about ordering this
bandit out of the house, but as he looked at Borus’s amused ease, it was
revealed to him that, for his own sport, this was what Borus hoped for.

“Good idea. Make it even,” said Neil. “Good luck, Belfreda. Good-bye,
Mr.—Bugdoll, is it?”

He resolutely moved over, like a small but very select company, to shake
Borus’s hand. There was a moment’s trial of strength, Borus’s steel claw
against Neil’s fist, and then Borus smiled. Neil liked that smile so
much that half a minute passed before he remembered to be a superior
white man and to say, with the grave courtesy which is the essence of
insult, “Would you care to sit down in the kitchen, Mr. Bugdoll, while
Belfreda packs?”

“Yes, thank you, Mr. Kingsblood. Yes, I’ll sit down in the kitchen . . .
while Miss Gray packs.” And vanished.

                 * * * * *

Vestal came back with laughter from supervising Belfreda’s packing.

“Damn those tramps, they win!”

“How come?” they all said.

“I was simply delighted that Belfreda had up and quit. I felt so free.
And I thought I’d show ’em what a grand white-lady I am by being cordial
and forgiving. I thought they’d slink off repentantly in his car (which
is quite a bus, by the way; I wish we could afford one like it). But
they didn’t. They drove off yelling ‘Good-bye, honey’ like hyenas.
Because while Belfreda was up packing, Borus washed all the dishes and
put ’em away, neater than I ever saw, and he’s left for us, right in the
middle of the kitchen table, a jorum of champagne! My God, I never saw a
jorum of champagne before, outside of an advertisement!”

“What a man!” admired Kitty Sayward. “I thought he had the most stunning
build I ever laid eyes on.”

“Yes, quite a man,” murmured Vestal absently.

But Charles Sayward, most genial of husbands, protested, “What kind of
white women do you two think you are, falling for a notorious,
booze-peddling, slot-machine-owning, white-slaving black gangster! At
least half of this country has plumb gone to hell—the women!”




                                   6


THE breakfasts were better, now that Vestal made them, and there was
always an ash-tray on the table, and the morning _Banner_. Now and then
Neil danced a jig on the kitchen floor, and gloated “This is all ours
again!”

But, with the perversity of children and animals, Biddy and Prince kept
mourning for Belfreda, coming in to search for her, looking
reproachfully at Neil and Vestal, and saying, if only with their eyes,
“What did you do to our friend?”

Within a week Vestal engaged Nancy Havock’s cousin, Shirley Pzort, as
maid.

Shirley was highly willing to share the cheer of the coming Christmas;
she was even friendlier than Vestal desired, and always addressed her as
“sweetie.” She was what at that period was known as a “bobby-soxer”; an
almost pure young woman, innocent and graceful as a kitten, devoted to
bubble-gum and dancing.

As December grew colder, Neil’s injured leg began to ache again, and he
thought of the war, of companions who had been killed, of the lonely
hospital Christmas a year ago. The Englishwomen had been so kind, but he
had longed for the voices of the Middlewest, for his mother and Vestal
and Biddy, his sisters Joan and Kitty. He had them all now; it would be
their first Christmas together in three years.

He wondered what effect the war had had on him. Had there been any at
all?

Lying in the hospital, he had been certain that all of the young
soldiers would get together when they returned and shut up that one
single revolving door called “the Republican and Democratic Parties,”
and vote for righteousness and prosperity and no more wars. But when he
had been in the bank for six weeks, as he heard nothing from the bankers
and lawyers and merchants except the prophecy that That Man Roosevelt
would be dictator of the country by 1950, he slipped back into his
normal faith in the security of zeros.

But lately, at the Federal and Sylvan Park Tennis clubs, he had found
himself irritated by the frequent sneers at “kikes.” He meditated:

——I don’t suppose the Jews like being called “kikes” any more than my
French-Canadian ancestors liked being called “frog-eaters.” I admitted
that fellow Lieutenant Rosen got killed by the land-mine. Sure, lots of
Jews are just like us—I guess. I ought to get the liberal point of view
while I’m still young, and then hold onto it, or I might turn mean, when
I’m fat and middle-aged and president of this bank—or maybe of the
First National of St. Paul.

                 * * * * *

These meditations were conducted at his desk, under the marble vaulted
ceiling of the Second National’s banking-room. He had been busy with
Small Loans all morning, particularly with returned soldiers who wanted
to start businesses, and he had tried to combine generosity with
caution. It is not true that every banker lies awake days plotting to
ruin all establishments belonging to small indignant men with crippled
daughters. The banking business is usually not so good in a community
with no money whatever.

He had before him a pile of folders with complicated financial
statements, and as he recalled his dawn-thoughts during the war, the
folders looked dreary. He sighed over a cigarette and glanced
suspiciously at the fine brass plate with “N. Kingsblood, Asst.
Cashier.”

When he had graduated from the University of Minnesota, in 1935, he had
planned to study medicine. But in the summer he went temporarily to work
as a messenger in the Second National. Nothing happened that would blast
him out of that smug mausoleum, and when he had married Vestal and begot
Biddy, he was caught, and not at all unhappy about it. He read books on
banking; he rose to be teller; he was popular with women customers who
saw his smile and his red hair through the bars that he did not know
were there. He was a favorite of President John William Prutt for his
steadiness and good-humor and honesty, and this year, after his return
from the service, he had been made an assistant cashier.

Mr. Prutt believed in training his young men in all branches of banking,
and Neil, even now, was shifted about from “contacting prospects” and
the nursing of old customers through overdrafts to book-work, to signing
cashier-checks, and the transfer of funds, and Prutt kept him familiar
with the depositors by having him sit in as teller for an hour or two
every day.

He was as much in favor with the cashier, S. Ashiel Denver, who was a
neighbor in Sylvan Park, as he was with Mr. Prutt.

There were eight banks in Grand Republic, of which the largest was the
Blue Ox National: Norton Trock, president, Boone Havock, chairman of the
board, Curtiss Havock, general nuisance. But Mr. Prutt considered that
institution and its twelve-story building merely utilitarian. He felt
that the Second National (there was no First) was in the true Morgan or
Tellson’s tradition. In its two-story marble temple, with massive bronze
gates, at Chippewa Avenue and Sibley Street, there were no offices to
rent, and it did not house alien chiropractors and machinery-agents.

In the banking-room, under the arched ecclesiastic vastness of its
ceiling, which was upheld by ponderous pillars of green Italian marble,
upon the glossy sea-shining floor of black marble inlaid with squares
and diamonds of polished granite and pink quartz, where there was
lacking only a robed choir of High-Church bookkeepers to complete the
spell of sanctity and of solvency, Neil considered himself a minor
canon.

Actually, he was another schoolboy in a row of schoolboy desks.

For all its slanted brass name-plate and its onyx combination
clock-inkstand-calendar-thermometer-barometer, his was a small desk, a
leg-cramping desk, and his only personal treasures were the
silver-framed photograph of Vestal and Biddy, his pipe and tobacco
pouch, a copy of _True Detective Stories_, and a begging letter from his
alumni secretary.

                 * * * * *

If Neil had any singular virtue, it was his loyalty to his friends.

He was thinking that at Christmas most of the dozen or so men whom he
called his “close friends” would still be in peril abroad, his three
intimates, Eliot and Judd and Rod, among them.

Eliot Hansen, the flashing, the dance-mad, the party-giver, was the
inheritor from his plain Norwegian father of the Sweet Scent Dairy and
Ice Cream Company, of which the symbol, to be seen on billboards along
every highway into Grand Republic, was a pot of honey and a penny-piece.

Judd Browler, the sturdy, the careful, son of Duncan Browler who was the
first vice-president of Wargate’s, had sold prunes and biscuits in
carload lots before the war.

The great man in that gallery was Rodney Aldwick.

Five years older than Neil, Princeton _cum_ Harvard law-school, now a
well-decorated major in the tank corps, Rod Aldwick was the Great
Gentleman, the High Adventurer. He was a polo-player, he was a
ski-stunter, he was a quick-memorizing genius who had only to look at a
page of print to know it. He had the standard Anglo-Prussian
specifications for a hero: crisp hair, broad shoulders, slim waist, and
6′ 2″. Major Aldwick would never seduce any woman in the limbo between
countess and chambermaid, and if he had had slaves, he would have hacked
them to death, but he would never have nagged them. Probably he will
some day be found dead in bed, not necessarily his own bed, with either
a dagger in his lungs or a laurel-wreath, slightly twisted, on his fine
white brow.

Neil reflected that if these intimates were here, he would be able to
discuss such personal puzzles as why he had recently enjoyed hating
Belfreda. Then he admitted that all three of them had shied away from
any subject more spiritual than the legs of their stenographers, any
topic more embarrassing than the Republican Party. Only once in his life
had Neil possessed a friend with whom he could talk about fear and love
and God, and that friend he had known for only two weeks.

He had been young Captain Ellerton, whom Neil had met on the transport
to Italy. All day, all night, they had talked. Ellerton was a designer
of machinery, with a taste for Mozart and Eugene O’Neill and
Toulouse-Lautrec and Veblen, and he had not seemed to be impertinent
when he had asked, “Do you ever think about personal immortality?” and
“Do you love your Vestal out of love or out of loyalty?”

Ellerton was killed by a sniper, forty-two minutes after they had landed
in Italy.

Neil had forgotten, by now, just what he had answered when, under the
Mediterranean stars, Tony Ellerton had speculated, “Since you have only
one life that you know of, do you enjoy devoting most of it to banking?”




                                   7


“WE’LL have an honest-to-God traditional Christmas, carols and
bellyaches and everything. We’ll celebrate, because the war will be over
by next year, and the boys will be coming home . . . and we’ll get more
butter,” Vestal rejoiced.

Their tree was a tall spruce from a northern swamp, but when she came to
decorate it she protested that the war was indeed terrible, for in the
Five-and-Tens and Tarr’s Emporium there were only a few silver balls and
twisted sticks of colored glass.

She resolutely explored her father-in-law’s attic and in a lurching
pasteboard carton, like Captain Kidd’s treasure in a shoe-box, she found
the trinkets remaining from the good old days of 1940: a great silver
star, a silver-and-gold angel, glass oranges and grapes and cherries, a
handful of tinsel rain, and a jocose little plaster statue of Santa
Claus with a red coat and a red nose and a lighted pipe.

She came home like a walking Christmas van, and that evening the tree
was ridden from the garage into the living-room on Neil’s stout back,
and Vestal, Neil, Biddy, Prince, and Shirley danced round it, squealing.

It was Neil’s turn, this year, to entertain the whole Kingsblood tribe
on Christmas Day. So, with all of her womanly genius raging, Vestal
coursed through Tarr’s, allowing herself a strict budget of seven
presents to every ten dollars, and she accomplished a fabulous wonder by
finding, at Bozard’s, a four-strand almost-real pearl necklace for
Mother Kingsblood for eleven dollars. With a not-even-almost-real
diamond pendant attached to it.

It was at Tarr’s that Vestal snatched up the gifts for Biddy: the
lovely, old-fashioned, starry-eyed, flaxen-headed doll which resembled a
plumper Biddy, and the lovely, new-fashioned machine gun which, in the
1940’s, had become just the right token of the Christchild for a nice
little girl. And at Tarr’s she got the new collar and the rubber bone
for Prince, the scarf for Shirley, and the rosewood pipe for Neil’s
father, which the good dentist would admire extravagantly and never use.

For themselves, Neil and Vestal put Biddy to bed early and spent
Christmas Eve dancing at the Pineland.

“It’s a crime that you have to feed my whole hungry tribe tomorrow,”
murmured Neil.

“Sweetie, anybody that you manage to get related to, even if it’s that
second cousin of yours that runs the filling-station in Hiawatha,
Wisconsin, is my pal, and always will be.”

“And I love you very much, and I’m praying that we’ll have fifty more
happy Christmases together.”

“I drink to that!” cried Vestal, holding up her tiny glass of the white
crème de menthe, frappé, which in Grand Republic is considered the most
elegant cordial.

Drexel Greenshaw, the dark-brown, stately headwaiter of the Fiesole
Room, with his small white mustache like that of a Haitian general
trained in France, smiled to see his young people still so much in love.
It elevated his feudal soul to hover near Captain Kingsblood, future
president of the Second National, and his young wife, a real lady,
daughter of the Prairie Power and Light.

Drexel thought to himself, “It’s just as I told that little fool,
Belfreda: if she didn’t get along with a fine lady and gentleman like
that, it was all her fault. My race will never have any trouble with
high-class white people. I keep telling these colored agitators like
Clem Brazenstar that they do more harm to my race than any mean buckra,
and then they laugh at me and call me an ‘Uncle Tom’! Those radical scum
don’t know nothing about aristocratic society. I’m tickled to death to
serve a gentleman like Captain Kingsblood, that couldn’t never be
nothing but a gentleman, nohow.”

Thus did the magisterial old Tory take his triumph all by himself,
though he seemed to be considering nothing profounder than napkins. When
Neil and Vestal rose, Drexel humbly shadowed them to the door, and
chanted, “We always feel it’s a great honor to have you here in the
Feesoly Room, Captain and Madam, and we hope we shall be privileged to
serve you again soon.”

Drexel was almost hurt when Neil answered the tribute with a dollar, but
he controlled himself.

                 * * * * *

Back home, Neil telephoned a Merry Christmas to his father and mother,
at midnight, and they brought out the presents. Vestal had dug up
wrinkled wrappings from pre-war Christmases, scarlet and silver and
crocus-yellow, and ironed them out, and the odd-shaped boxes under the
tree were a sparkling heap.

“It’s so pretty!” she exulted. “Oh, my dear lover, it’s been Christmas
now for seventeen minutes, and you’re back from the war all safe, and
everybody loves us, and we’re going to be happy forever.”

They clung together and trembled.

They were a handsome, confident and parental couple, in flannel
dressing-gowns and purple scarves, when they came down before breakfast
on Christmas morning, to help open the presents; and Biddy was a shining
butterball in her tiny blue-and-white robe, Shirley a small dark Eskimo,
and Prince a barking whirligig of excitement as they dragged the bright
boxes out of the pile under the tree. Vestal was pleased by her own
major gift, the fur-piece, because it was handsomer than Nancy Havock’s.
They had waffles for breakfast, all of them—including Prince, and what
a mistake that was—and Christmas carols on the radio, and they dressed
and bustled into preparations for the family feast at two o’clock.

                 * * * * *

Head of the family was Neil’s father, Dr. Kenneth M. Kingsblood, whom
the community esteemed equally for his bridgework, for his Adult Bible
Class at the Baptist Church, for his trap-shooting, and for the jig-saw
puzzles which he cut out on a private lathe. He was a ginger-colored
man, tall and thin and kindly and hesitating.

Neil’s mother, Faith, was small and slight and brown-haired, and she
always seemed to be a little afraid of life, a little surprised that the
four powerful children were really hers. Yet her dark eyes were as hot
as those of her own mother, Julie Saxinar, that piquant and bawdy
Frenchwoman, who lacked only a scarlet kerchief and a tambourine to
become a gipsy. Faith’s eyes seemed to have a life of their own, while
all the rest of her was gentle and entirely vague, and she never
listened to anybody at all.

Next in the family were Brother Robert, the Vitavim Bread salesman, the
joker and total-recaller, and his wife Alice and their three children,
including Biddy’s pal, Ruby. But it must be understood that Alice was
not merely the wife of Robert Kingsblood. She was nothing less than
sister of Harold W. Whittick, the poetic bull-frog of advertising.

After them were Neil’s sister, Kitty Sayward, with her Charles. And
youngest of Dr. Kenneth’s children was Joan, who was still living at
home. Joan was ten years younger than Neil; reasonably pretty,
reasonably intelligent, reasonably uninteresting. She thought that she
wanted to go to Chicago and study dress-designing and she knew that she
wanted to stay here and be married, preferably to her fiancé, an affable
young man who was now a lieutenant in the Navy.

The tribe gathered, nine adults and six children—not to include Shirley
and Prince—and though they talked about Russia and chemotherapy, they
gave the feeling of the farmhouse-kitchen from which none of them was
ancestrally far distant. The younger women all bustled about the stove
and set the table (including the cut-glass dish of brandied peaches),
while Neil elaborately served cocktails to the men, and Mother Faith was
throned in the blue wing-chair by the fireplace, smiling and vague.

Dr. Kenneth took the head of the table of fifteen. (Under the linen
table-cloths, there were concealed two cardtables, eking out the
mahogany.) He looked down the two robust lines of people, loving them
all, surprised at how beautiful and buoyant they were. He bowed his
head, and in his thin kind voice he said grace:

“Dear Father in Heaven, through all these perilous days Thou hast
preserved us, to celebrate again the birthday of Thy dear son. God keep
us together all this wondrous coming year, and bless these, my children,
bless them, oh, bless them!”

Neil remembered the hospital ward of a year ago. He looked past those
beloved faces to the worn face of his father, and his breath caught
sharply.

“Gee, two turkeys!” reverently whispered Robert’s Ruby.

                 * * * * *

After dinner, children and dogs and aunties were sleeping all over the
house. Vestal’s father, Morton Beehouse, accompanied by his brother
Oliver—they were widowers and they had dined at Oliver’s—honored the
house by dropping in, bearing unnecessary things in leather and
synthetic ivory. Dr. Kenneth was pleased to see how easy his son Neil
was with the fabulous Beehouses.

“He’s a sterling young man,” gloated Dr. Kenneth. “He will go far. Maybe
it’s time to tell him The Secret.”

He watched his son through the quiet supper, the games of Monopoly and
gin-poker and charades, and in mid-evening he said to Neil fondly,
“Young fellow, you seem to think so blame well of your trifling house
and family, but your old man has to take you up to your den and tell you
the facts of life.”

He was a man whose fancies sometimes ran away, and Neil followed him
upstairs with a degree of nervous surprise.




                                   8


DR. Kenneth M. Kingsblood (the M. was for his Scotch mother, Jennie
McCale) had puttered contentedly through life. He was proud of having
once seen Ex-President Herbert Hoover on a train, and of having bought a
new X-ray machine, and to him each of his four children was a golden
filling. He was more often tired than he should be, at sixty, and his
heart fluttered, and he thought that perhaps Mother and he ought to go
to Florida next March, when it would be raw in Minnesota.

He was particularly pleased that Neil, the miracle child, was going to
be a financier and a civic leader, who would carry out all the
reforms—larger schools and a new water-reservoir—of which Dr. Kenneth
had dreamed, but which he had been too busy with dentistry and gardening
and scrollwork to carry out.

As they sat with knees close together in Neil’s “den,” smoking cigars
that harmonized only with Christmas or a dinner for the Governor, Dr.
Kenneth puffed:

“Boy, it’s curious, your changing your dog’s name to Prince, because our
family might have a special reason to be interested in princes.”

“How’s that, Dad?”

“Well, maybe it’s all foolishness. I like to call it The Secret to
myself and here I am acting mysterious—guess the fact is, I don’t quite
believe it myself, and I’ll only tell you and not the rest of the
family, because you’re the only one that’s got enough imagination so you
won’t laugh at me. Just the same, there’s one chance in ten thousand
that the story might be true, and if it was, I guess the Beehouses would
be mighty proud to be intermarried with the Kingsbloods, and not the
other way around.”

“Dad, what _is_ this big mystery?”

“Son, my dad and his dad before him believed that we have sure-enough
royal blood in our veins.”

“How do you mean?”

“Just what I say. Maybe we’re kings. No joke. And not any of these
French or German rulers, either—Looeys and Ferdinands and that lot, but
real royal _British_ kings. Some people think the name Kingsblood is
kind of unusual. Well, it is, and for a very good reason. According to
my dad’s theory (if he ever really believed it, of which I ain’t too
sure), ‘Kingsblood’ was originally a kind of nickname for our forbears,
indicating that they had the blood of kings—as you and I have! Now what
do you think of _that_?”

“I don’t know as I’d care so much, Dad. I’d rather live in Grand
Republic than in a drafty old palace.”

“Well, so would I, for that matter. I bet none of them have automatic
furnaces. But I just mean it would be kind of nice if, while we went
right on sticking to business here, we could know that by
rights—maybe—we’re really the kings of England. It would tickle your
mother and Joan and Vestal and some day Biddy. And I don’t guess it
would hurt your position in the bank one bit if Mr. Prutt realized what
kind of a high-born guy he had working for him. _If_ it’s true!

“The theory is that by the true line of descent, I’m the king of
Britain, and you would be my successor. Of course I suppose your brother
could claim to be Prince of Wales, but (if the thing were true), I don’t
know but what I’d ask Robert to step aside, as he certainly ought to,
fellow with no imagination like that, and I do wish to God he would quit
referring to my really very fine collection of Florida seashells, as
‘that junk’!

“Well, here’s the dope. I was told about it by my father, William, who
may not have been any great shakes as a royal monarch but he certainly
was the smartest farmer and horsetrader in Blue Earth County. He had the
story from _his_ father, Daniel Kingsblood, the Civil War one, and he
had it in turn from _his_ father, Henry Aragon Kingsblood, who was born
in Kent, England, in 1797, and emigrated to New Jersey, after having
been arrested for publicly claiming, at a state fair or whatever they
had in those days in England, that he was the Legitimate Monarch of
Great Britain and Ireland—and I suppose all these Realms Beyond the
Sea, whatever they are. He’d of been King Henry the Ninth. And born
right there in England that way, maybe he knew—maybe it’s true! How’s
that?”

“Well, it’s interesting, but I don’t suppose we could prove it, even if
it was true.”

“That’s what I’m coming to. I notice that, now your leg keeps you from
going out for sports, you read a lot more than you used to. So maybe it
would amuse you to look into this. I’d kind of like to know about it,
before I pass on.

“We haven’t a scrap of written proof. I always intended to try and check
the facts, but I’ve been awful busy, and household cares and so on, and
all of us dentists overworked, with so many of the profession in the
armed services, and here lately it seems as if people have no
consideration about a dentist’s schedule and think you can work ’em in
any time, especially these young punks home from school on vacation. If
you let ’em, they’d simply work a dentist to death, and _then_ never pay
their bills, and so—I never got the time. But here’s what happened, the
way I got it.

“This Henry Aragon Kingsblood claimed he was descended from a son of
Henry the Eighth and Catherine of Aragon, who would be the real heir.
But when Henry got sore at Catherine and kicked her out, he concealed
the existence of this son, who’s supposed to have been named Julian,
Prince Julian, and who was brought up by faithful cottagers who called
him ‘Julian of the King’s Blood’—hence our name.

“Now of course, him being the son of Catherine, that makes us part
Spanish, and I don’t know as I like that so much—I’ve always been proud
of our English and Scotch blood; you know my mother was very distantly
related to Bruce and Wallace and all those famous kilties, and _that’s_
a _real_ fact! But still, when you think that Catherine’s folks were
Ferdinand and Isabella, that told Columbus to go and discover America,
that makes her just about as high-born as the English, and you can see
from our red hair, yours and mine, that the Spanish blood hasn’t done us
any harm.

“Well, there’s the story. Maybe there isn’t a word of truth in it, but
do you suppose you could make a little effort to find out, boy?”

He looked so wistful. Neil was fond of his gentle father, and he vowed,
“You bet I will, Dad.”

“I’d appreciate it. Just remember that it’s not plumb impossible. There
was this fellow out West, in Alberta, I think it was, or it might have
been Wyoming—I don’t believe he was a Mormon, but very likely he
was—and he found out he was the rightful earl of something or
other—just a plain ranchman! So you see.”

“Anyway, be kind of nice to know,” Neil agreed. “And you may think it’s
a joke, but when Biddy put on that gilt crown in front of the tree, she
sure looked like a real queen. Yes, I’ll take a shot at it.”

And in January of the new year, he did.




                                   9


HE had read enough of pretenders to titles and lands to be certain that
his father’s claim was fool’s gold. But the arrogant nonsense of it
amused him, and he wanted a new hobby.

Since his leg would not let him ski, or go wallowing through the
snowdrifts after rabbits, swimming at the Federal Club was his only
sport. He had bored himself with bridge, with crossword puzzles, with an
aimless reading of travel and biographies and the novels, the spiritual
flowering of the war, in which Elizabethan tarts delighted several
million respectable readers by doing things which would be considered
undesirable in a young lady of Elizabeth, New Jersey.

He was glad that it was England of which he was to be king. He had seen
little of it beyond docks, trains and a Tudor manor house which had been
turned into a hospital, but he had felt that the kind and weary
Englishwomen who had nursed him had been veritably his own people. From
his room of convalescence he had looked out all day at a flint church
with a battlemented tower and long harp-strings of winter-bleached ivy,
and coming and going through its pointed door he had seen Tess and Jude
and Little Neil and Lorna Doone—and J. G. Reeder and Henry Baskerville.
There was no building in Grand Republic, not even the bit of log
stockade from 1862 which was built into the Fashion Livery Stable
Garage, which was to him so admirable a proof of the enduring courage of
mankind.

He had a much shrewder notion than his father of what would happen if
the London newspapers were to be informed that an American banking
gentleman had decided to be their king. Yet if there were that
one-millionth chance, if it could be true——

Why not look into the history books and find out whether his father’s
Secret was completely absurd, or only ninety-nine per cent. so? It would
be exciting for Biddy to be able to say that she was the king’s
daughter. From what he knew of that dictatorial young lady, he would not
think it beyond her to round up all the neighborhood children and yelp,
“Oyez, oyez, you canst now approach my royal person.” He remembered the
Christmas crown of gilt paper, which she had worn proudly though
sidewise.

At the kitchen table, over gin-and-ginger-ale, he explained it all to
Vestal. It was on a winter Sunday afternoon. They had gorged on turkey,
napped, listened to the broadcast of the Philharmonic Orchestra, studied
the sports and fashions in the _Sunday Frontier-Banner_. On the
sun-porch, Biddy, with her cousin Ruby and Peggy Havock, was playing
with the debris of her Christmas presents. As children of the final
Anglo-Saxon civilization, they were machine-gunning a sad-eyed brown
woolen pup and a doll with a glass necklace and a broken nose.

“So look who’s a king!” Vestal jeered. “Your dad certainly is an old
darling, and the craziest dreamer in town. Isn’t that nice! If we ever
save up enough money, which with the present price of meat is highly
unlikely, we might go over to the Old Country and look at Our palace,
and then get the hell back here, where we understand the dialect. But
may I say, Captain, that I couldn’t love you better if you were not only
King of Britain but Exalted Ruler of the Elks. Anyway, I bet I play a
sharper game of gin-rummy than any other queen living. Come here.”

In the sun-room she dug Biddy’s crown out from the Christmas ruins and
gravely placed it on Neil’s brow, adjusting it as she would a new hat,
and she demanded of the three delighted babies, “Now tell me, chicks,
what is he?”

“He’s a king!” they all shrieked.

Vestal curtsied to him.

“You are both very silly,” said Biddy.

In that world of war-widowed wives and of babies who had never seen
their fathers, Biddy was proud of having a visible and proven father.

“How would you like it if I were a sure-enough king?” asked Neil.

His daughter admired, “I think you’d be a dandy king, and then maybe you
could be an actor in the movies!”

It was Shirley’s Sunday night off. As Neil and Vestal got the supper,
she meditated, “I love trying to think of you as a king, but I can’t do
it. You’re so obviously just what you are: a one-hundred per cent.
normal, white, Protestant, male, middle-class, efficient, golf-loving,
bound-to-succeed, wife-pampering, Scotch-English Middlewestern American.
I wouldn’t believe that you were anything else, not if you brought me
papers signed by General Eisenhower to prove it. Oh, didums want to be a
king, in a castle? Well, you shall be king in my heart.”

“Maybe there’s a lot of girls that would like me to be king in their
hearts.”

“Are there now! Isn’t that lovely. Slice those potatoes as fine as you
can, will you, sire?”

                 * * * * *

He would never have begun the great genealogical research if his father
had not twice begged, “Started to look up our ancestors yet?” Suddenly,
on a Saturday afternoon when Vestal had the car and was off playing
bridge, he determined, “Why not? At least it would be nice, now that
I’ll never get much credit in golf or tennis again, if I got to be known
as a good historian. Why not?”

He went up to his den, and sat down at his table, a scholar, dedicated
and immovable, the vows taken, his lifework clear and vigorously begun,
while Vestal and Rod Aldwick and Mr. Prutt and his one-time professor of
European History all stood behind him, in awe.

There was one trouble: Now that he had begun his research, just how did
you begin a research?

His head slowly turned as he peered speculatively about the room. There
seemed to be no very relevant material except Dickens’s _A Child’s
History of England_, a _World Almanac_, and _The Yankee Universal
Cyclopedia_, in four volumes.

Resolutely he opened the cyclopedia to look up Catherine of Aragon. All
that he learned was that she had been married to Henry, had had a
daughter but no son, and that it had taken the destruction of the True
Church to get rid of her.

——Well, if she didn’t have a son, then her son could have been our
ancestor. No, that doesn’t sound right.

_A Child’s History_ was no more helpful.

What _did_ you do with this research stuff?

Probably, you first wrote and bothered some authority. But which
authority? His university history professor had never indicated that he
longed for correspondence with tennis players. Was there some fellow in
the Government whose job it was to explain how you got historical facts?
And who was this writer who knew so much about all kinds of history and
wrote these great, big books—five dollars a throw?

How did all these professors chase out and get all this information
about some guy who had been dead for a couple hundred years? In the
university, he had had no singular respect for professors; they had
seemed to him oppressive and full of nasty tricks to catch a fellow who
had been out on a bock-beer party last evening.

“Those guys may have it harder than I realized. How do you suppose they
decide what Shakespeare meant in some line when chances are he was
cockeyed when he wrote it, and didn’t know himself? I probably missed a
lot of chances when I was in college. I’ll make up for them now.”

It is to be said for Neil Kingsblood that the hardness of a task did not
repel him. Now that he saw the disinterring of his royal ancestors as
arduous digging, he really began to work.

He hobbled rapidly to Sylvan Circle, took the bus down to Rita Kamber’s
Vanguard Book Shop, and bought Trevelyan’s _History of England_. In the
second-hand bins he saw two treasures which could not help him greatly,
he knew, but which he could not resist: Lady Montressor’s _Memoirs of
Court, Camp, and Stately Residences of Our Fair Isle_, two volumes,
bound in white buckram with heraldic stampings, extra-illustrated, a
great bargain, marked down from $22.50 to $4.67, and _Metaphrastic
Documentation of Feoffments under Henry VIII_, a doctoral thesis by J.
Humboldt Spare, Ph.D., published at $2.50, now fifteen cents.

His arm ached as he lugged them back to the bus, and he wondered, “Will
I ever really go through them?” He was having the first, great, gloomy
disillusionment in his career as a scholar.

He also bought _Hard-Hitting Hockey_, by Sandy Gough, and this, later,
he actually read.

                 * * * * *

When his father heard that the research was begun, he hunted through old
trunks and gave Neil a holograph letter from Daniel Kingsblood, the
carpenter-farmer who had been in the Civil War, son of the Henry Aragon
who had been driven out of England. Neil tasted it avidly:

                                                       Agst 7, 1864

    My dr wfe:

    I take my pen in hand to tell you all well so far hope Wm & you
    same. We are somewhere in Va or Car not sure which the sarjent
    will not tell us. Food is very bad am not complaining I suppose
    somebody has to fight this damn war but no place for man of
    almost 40 officers very mean and stuck up reumatism comes back
    when damp do not like these mts too hard to go up & down much
    prefer our Mich farm even if in wild & wooly west well there is
    no special news camp was attacked other night but halfharted do
    not think the graybellies like this War any better than us so
    getting along alright hope you all well. Must close now, your
    affct husband

                                             Daniel R. Kingsblood

Dr. Kenneth, nervously trotting his fingers in air, urged, “Wonderful
letter, eh! Can’t you just see the old boy? Golly, those fellows were
patriotic! Took things like they came—endure anything for the sake of
preserving the nation. Wonderful letter. I bet a historian would pay a
lot to see that letter, but I’m not going to let one of those fellows
even take a look at it, and don’t you ever show it to ’em if they come
snooping around. Well, that ought to be an inspiration to you, eh?”

“Oh yes—yes—sure, Dad.”

“Well now, this is going to be a great surprise to you. I think I know
where there’s a lot of letters from not only my father and old Daniel
but maybe Henry Aragon himself! Think of that! My cousin, Abby Kiphers,
was a great hand to save papers, in Milwaukee, the hardware-dealer’s
wife, and I’ve already written to her. How’ll that be for honest-to-God
treasure-trove, eh?”

“Grand,” said Neil feebly. “Original documents. I guess they’re what you
want for research.”

                 * * * * *

From Cousin Abby came the letters from William, Daniel, and Henry Aragon
Kingsblood, and Neil fell upon them like a kitten upon a catnip-mouse.

He learned a good deal about the price of wheat in 1852, the
voraciousness of pigs in 1876, and the health of a whole gallery of
Emmas, Abigails, and Lucys, but all of it was singularly unilluminating
about royalty. Even in Henry Aragon’s letters, written in New Jersey
between 1826 and 1857, there was only one sentence that might be of
guidance:

“These Jerseyites can never seem to decide whether they prefer a Fool or
a Scoundrel for Governor, and if I were King of this ignorant Land, I
would hang the whole pack of them.”

Neil unhappily concluded that his father’s ancestors were an
industrious, sober, and dreary lot, and that if he ever did reach back
to the putative son of Catherine, the fellow would probably prove to
have become a pious gravedigger. He sighed, “I never did think I’d have
much luck at getting to be royal. It was just a chore I promised to do
for Dad. I believe I’ll chuck it and think about Biddy and the future,
not about Lord High Prince Whoozit. Hell with him.”

But he had been aroused to enough interest in his family to consider now
his mother’s line. He hoped that they would be spicier.

He knew little of them, though as a student at the university he had
often seen his mother’s mother Julie Saxinar, who was still living. His
mother and Gramma Julie had never been harmonious, and for five years
now Neil had not seen her, but he remembered her as a spark-eyed, tiny,
scoffing old Frenchwoman, whose childhood had been struggled through on
the Wisconsin frontier. The next time he saw his mother, late one
afternoon, he suggested:

“I’ve been reading about Dad’s family, Mom, but what about yours?”

They were in the “back parlor” of Dr. Kenneth’s lean and aging house, an
ill-ventilated room, all brown and dark-gray, jammed with a decrepit
roll-top desk and imitation-ebony chairs carved with dragons. Faith
Kingsblood was small and flexible, and in her there was a curious
stillness. She said little; she seemed always to be waiting for
something of which she was apprehensive. Her eyes were bead-black, but
her face pale and her lips a faded pink. She trusted Neil and approved
of him, and she never gave him advice nor anything more demonstrative
than a pat on the arm.

She mused as though she was trying to remember something pleasant but
dusty with time.

“I don’t really know much about my folks. My father’s folks, the
Saxinars, were about like your father’s: Scotch and English stock, good
steady farmers and little businesses. All I know about Mama’s family is,
they were French, and I understand that in the old days they were in the
fur trade in Canada. But those frontiersmen, I don’t suppose they ever
wrote down much about themselves. One time when I asked Mama about them,
she just laughed, and she said, ‘Oh, they were a terrible lot of boozy
canoemen—nobody for a clean little girl to hear about.’ You know, Mama
is a funny woman. I think she always kind of objected to my having so
much Saxinar in me, and being so neat and orderly, and clean pinnies.
Ain’t that strange!”

She slipped back into her silent waiting, and the quest of his ancestors
became to Neil slightly absurd.

                 * * * * *

In so vast a universe as Grand Republic, with nearly a hundred thousand
people, there are many worlds unknown to one another. One of the worlds
least known to Neil was the feverish one of music: violin teachers
giving lessons in the “front parlors” of red-brick houses in rows;
little girls learning the saxophone; the Symphony Association which,
once a year, managed to bring the Duluth Orchestra to town.

This year, with the local Finnish Choral Society, the orchestra appeared
at the Wargate Memorial Auditorium, in late January. Along with such
ordinary citizens as Neil and Vestal, the fabulously great appeared at
the concert: Webb and Louise Wargate, Dr. Henry Sparrock, Madge Dedrick
with her daughter, Eve Champeris, Oliver and Morton Beehouse, Greg and
Diantha Marl, Judge and Mrs. Cass Timberlane—she a frail, excited
sparkle. Even Boone and Queenie Havock were there, both slightly drunk,
as that was the only state in which they could endure the enjoyment of
music.

(There were also present, but unmarked by the _Frontier_ society
reporter, a number of people who liked music.)

It amused Neil to think of how they would all turn from the mild
magnificence of Hannikainen on the podium to _him_, if they knew that he
was a Royal Personage. . . . He might wear his crown and ermine down to
work on the Sylvan Park bus, and set up court at his desk at the Second
National.

He forgot these splendors as the orchestra and the chorus marched into
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. He was borne into a place he had never seen.
It was a spacious prospect across ornamental waters and oak-shadowed
lawns to the pillars of a great house whose windows were wreathed with
stone flowers. Behind it was a hill of heather, and over all a tower,
broken and ancient. And it seemed to him that this was all his own.

“Is this some ancestral memory?” he wondered. “Did some
great-great-something, that is me now, own that once? Is it maybe true
that I could be a king?

“Or duke?

“Oh, settle for a baron!”




                                   10


HE was developing a new idea in banking, and it had been gratifyingly
approved by Mr. Prutt and Cashier S. Ashiel Denver.

He was establishing a Veterans’ Advisory Center where, as they were
discharged from the Army or Navy, Neil’s former companions in arms could
come for information about finding jobs and renting houses, about
Government compensation and educational grants—and it would be all
right if they started new accounts in the Second National, or took out
wholesome mortgages.

Neil was to be in charge, with a salary increase to three hundred and
fifty a month, and if the Center grew enough, he was to have an
assistant. Now, in that Northern April that was not spring but a
dilution of winter, he was certain that the war in Germany would be over
in a few months, and he hastened to get ready the Center’s corner, which
resembled a handsome mahogany horse-stall, with Neil’s desk and two
velvet chairs and a considerably less velvety bench, all fit for heroes.

He bustled all day and bubbled every evening. Vestal was pleased with
his achievement and his advancement, and Biddy started a bank of her
own, in which her cousin Ruby, Uncle Robert’s daughter, deposited six
pins, the very first day, and Prince a damaged dog-biscuit. This bank
came to no good, however, because Ruby, whose ethics were not up to
Prutt banking standards, managed to withdraw eleven out of her six pins,
and Biddy, after counsel from Uncle Oliver Beehouse, declared
bankruptcy.

Mr. Prutt was cautious in his hopes for the Veterans’ Center, but Neil
saw no limits to it, and late in April he went by train to St. Paul and
Minneapolis, to consult bankers, state officials, and the heads of the
American Legion and the other organizations of veterans.

                 * * * * *

As a banking expert, he took the chair-car _Borup_.

To the chronic globe-trotters of Grand Republic and Duluth, the _Borup_
had for many years been an ambulatory home. It was so old that its
familiars insisted it was not constructed of steel but of wood hardened
by winter storms and the prairie July, when the thermometer goes to a
hundred and ten. Its interior was decorated with inlaid woods,
olive-green and rose and gray. It had been laid out with such pleasant
irregularity that you might have known it for years before you opened a
door and discovered another compartment with a table for card-players
and four aged chairs covered with prickly green hair-shirting.

On the _Borup_ Old Mr. Sparrock, Hiram Sparrock, Dr. Henry’s father,
still alive though somewhat retired at ninety-four, keeps spare sets of
his five pills and three tonics and two dentures, with a comb and a
stick of mustache-brilliantine. Hiram, that genial old cut-throat who
knew John D. Rockefeller, Sr., and Cecil Rhodes, still has, despite the
properties he made over to his son, a million acres of land in the
United States, and his holdings in Mexico are measured not by miles but
by airplane time. It is generally believed in Grand Republic that Hiram
is richer even than the Wargates or the Eisenherzes, but he invariably
talks about his poverty, and he never gives Mac, the colored porter on
the _Borup_, more than a quarter.

His son, Dr. Henry Sparrock, keeps on the _Borup_ a Modern Library
edition of Karl Marx, which for five years he has been trying to read,
in the hope that he will find out “what all these leftwing congressmen
and these radical labor leaders are up to,” but for five years an
invitation to play bridge has always interrupted him just as he has
started to read page two again.

And on the _Borup_, Madge Dedrick keeps her pack of monogrammed cards
for solitaire, and Oliver Beehouse a crossword-puzzle book, and Diantha
Marl a book on psycho-analysis, a book on etiquette, and a bottle of
brandy.

Mac the porter, fat and very dark and nearly seventy and professionally
genial, knows all of them. He shepherds the college-going daughters of
couples whose wedding journey he remembers, and calls them “Miss,” even
though all through younger years he has known them as “Toots” or “Kay.”
He finds their lost compacts and candy-boxes, and tries to keep them
from being too chummy with handsome strangers met on the train. He knows
which husbands say farewell to which wives at one end of the run, and
which husbands meet and kiss them at the other.

Mac is the Almanach de Gotha, the sexless maid-valet, the fichu-less
chaperon of Duluth and Grand Republic and all the towns along the D. &
T. C.; it were better socially to be cut by Dr. Sparrock and ignored by
Mrs. Dedrick than to be unrecognized by Mac; and to call him “George”
instead of “Mac” is to be admittedly an outer barbarian; and so far as
Neil or his friends had ever known, he has no surname.

He greeted Neil with, “Mighty nice to have you traveling with us,
Captain Kingsblood, sir. I hope to hear your injured limb is
ameliorating, sir.”

“Yes, thanks, it’s a lot better, Mac.”

——Kind of flattering to have Mac remember me. Mustn’t forget to tip
him two bits.

“Would you like to see the Minneapolis morning paper, Captain, sir?”

“Oh, thank you, Mac.”

——No, four bits. There’s an old darky that knows his place. Why can’t
these young fools like Belfreda be considerate that way? Be just too bad
if I hand Mac fifty or even seventy-five cents!

——And of course it would go on my expense-account.

                 * * * * *

At the end of the journey, when Mac had brushed him off as though he was
brushing him off, and had caressed him with, “Hope we’re going to have
the honor of having you with us on your return trip, Captain, sir,” Neil
solemnly handed him a dollar.

Farther down the car, as they came into the station, Old Hiram Sparrock
growled at Mac, “Hey, you Machiavellian bastard, aren’t you going to
hope you’ll have the honor of my riding back with you?”

“No, _sir_, General. You always make too much trouble—you and those ole
pills.”

“Why, you gold-digging, uncle-tomming, old, black he-courtesan! Here’s a
quarter, and you’re mighty lucky to get it.”

“I sure am, General. Big lot of money for doing nothing but look at you.
Usually ain’t but fifteen cents. You make another stock-market killing,
General?”

“None of your damn intrusive business. How many newspapers do you spy
for?”

“All of ’em, General. See you soon.”

Neither of them mentioned the fact that Old Hiram gave Old Mac fifty
dollars every Christmas. The two relics of the lumber-land-iron
feudalism of 1900 grinned at each other, and young Neil Kingsblood
looked approvingly at their stock-company performance.




                                   11


NEIL had fancied that the vague estrangement between his mother and her
parents had come from Gramma Julie Saxinar’s habit of diminutively
managing every one within range of her cackling and cheery voice. There
had never been real hostility, but the family coolness had kept Neil
from any great custom of intimacy with his grandparents.

But he did take one evening during his four-day official mission in
Minneapolis to go out to Lake Minnetonka and call on the Saxinars.

At sixty-five, when he had retired from the telephone company (he was
still living, at eighty-five), Edgar Saxinar had purchased something
very tidy in the way of a one-story house. He had admirably described it
in a letter:

“We have settled down in a stone bungalow right on the romantic waters
of old Lake Minnetonka, with views. There is no city as large as
Minneapolis that has as large not to say lovely a lake as Minnetonka
within so small a comparable distance. Mrs. Saxinar and I often talk
about the romantic Indians who used to canoe on these romantic waters.”

The bungalow was not actually of stone, but of cement blocks so pressed
as to look somewhat like stones, and the Saxinars’ view did not actually
include the justly celebrated expanse of Minnetonka, three blocks away
from them, but only an eight-flat frame apartment house, a Seventh-Day
Adventist chapel, and a grove of cottonwoods. But it was as snug a
refuge for two happily querulous old parties as could have been
contrived, and Neil felt content as he sat on a tufted yellow plush
chair in the small living-room, whose yellow wallpaper was bedecked with
a pattern of cat-tails and water lilies.

Though he had had a steak dinner at the Hotel Swanson-Grand, Gramma
Julie insisted on taking him out to the kitchen and stuffing chocolate
brownies into him. Hers was no glass-and-enamel magazine-advertisement
kitchen. She cooked on an aged, not-too-well-polished coal-stove, and
kept her treasures in a series of broken-nosed blue teapots and tin
cracker-cans and her china came out of an antique shop and should have
stayed there. Neil remembered that while his mother and Grampa Edgar had
always insisted that they were neat (usually it was pins that they were
as neat as), the gay little black beetle, Julie, was a genius of gipsy
disorder.

But he noted that in this mess of crockery Gramma Julie could find
anything she wanted, while his mother and Grampa, proud of arranging
everything geometrically, of properly filing away addresses and letters
and laundry bills and not-quite-wornout shoelaces, could never remember
their own systems.

He returned with Julie to the living-room, to be grand-filial to that
squat, bald, cheerful and complaining patriot, Grampa Edgar Saxinar.

He dutifully made the regulation queries about Edgar’s views on the
state income tax, the last-season Minneapolis baseball team and future
models of telephone instruments. (Edgar thought very little of any of
them.) Then Neil demanded the one thing he really wanted to know:

“Gramma Julie, something Dad told me has got me interested in my
ancestors. Tell me about your family, and Grampa’s.”

The little, odd, old lady, eighty-three now by the calendar and
forty-three by the clock of her taut slim throat and the obsidian eyes
that needed no spectacles, half gipsy and half Irish fay with a trace of
Yankee stringency for preservative, knitting and rocking in the untidy
old cane-seated chair that her husband detested, while he, with
old-fashioned half-moon eyeglasses clerkly in his round red face, smoked
a long stogie and constantly grunted in disbelief—Gramma Julie clucked
like a nesting hen:

“Your Grampa Saxinar—that solid object there, smoking the
stinkeroo—was born in Wisconsin and he worked for a sawmill, as
bookkeeper, and he was a clerk and a telegrapher for the Chicago,
Milwaukee before he got a job in the telephone office. And his folks, as
far as he knows ’em, were like everybody else: cheese-makers and
mouse-trap salesmen—nice stupid people.”

Edgar spouted like a pond-sized whale. “Now that’s all right now!
Saxinars good people, and so was Neil’s father’s folks. I had good,
solid antecedents, Republicans and Calvinist Presbyterians, almost
without an exception, thank God!”

Julie snickered, “That’s what I said. Nice and stupid. But my own folks,
they were French. The women all wore ribbons and the men all took ’em
off!”

Neil cajoled her, “Now Granny, I learned in the Army that the French
aren’t a bit wicked, as their funny papers make out. They’re the
carefullest farmers in Europe, and the tightest shopkeepers.”

“Maybe one kind of French are. But my ancestors were the light-footed
breed that skipped off from Europe because it was too tame, and settled
in Quebec, and skipped off from there, too, because it was too pious,
and they drank high wines and wouldn’t have any truck with anybody that
was tamer than the wolves and lynxes and Assiniboins.”

She looked inward on a red-lit girlhood, and mused aloud: “I was born in
Wisconsin, too, in Hiawatha, and my, it was a tough lumbertown, then,
and I danced with the raftsmen—I could dance awful light and they wore
red caps.”

Edgar snorted, “Isn’t that kind of mixed-up?”

“Well, it _was_ mixed up—more’n you’ll ever know, old man! Even then,
when it was all tarpaper shanties and pine clearings, you Saxinars read
your _Sabbath Extracts for Little Christians_. But my folks——My
father, Alexandre Payzold, he died when I was ten, and so did my mama,
it was a small-pox epidemic.”

Neil was wondering how Vestal, Old Bay Colony out of Dorset, would
accept this torch-glaring wilderness origin, as Julie clucked on, in
tune to her knitting-needles:

“Yes, Alexandre Payzold. I don’t guess I recollect him very good, except
he was a fine, big man, with a huge, enormous black beard—it
tickled!—and he sang lots. He was a mail-runner and he worked some in
the Big Woods and he drove the first coach—oh, he spoke English good, I
remember that, but he’d yell at the horses in French. When him and Mama
died, I was only ten, and I was raised by Mama’s brother, Uncle Emil
Aubert. He was a fur-trader. He never told me much about Papa’s folks,
the Payzolds.

“But I know my Papa’s papa, Louis Payzold, was a farmer and a trapper
and he dug some copper on Lake Superior, and he married a girl named
Sidonie Pic, and _her_ father was Xavier Pic—let’s see—Xavier would be
your great-great-great-grandfather.

“Uncle Emil knew a little about Xavier, because Xavier was a wonderful
fellow that got around all over the frontier. I don’t suppose there’s
anything about him in history—he never got rich, and of course they
never kept many records or had any newspapers in the wilderness. From
what I recall of what Uncle Emil told me—oh dear, it’s maybe seventy
years ago now since I heard his stories!—Xavier was the best kind of
French _voyageur_. Maybe there was some bad things about him, too, but I
guess Uncle Emil wouldn’t tattle about them to a little girl like I.”

“I don’t think I’d talk about Pic,” urged Grampa Edgar.

“I will so! I’m proud of him. Well, Xavier Pic, he must of been born
around 1790. Uncle Emil said that some folks claimed he was born on
Mackinac Island and some on Lake Pepin and some in New Orleans or even
back in the Old Country, in France, and they all said Xavier wasn’t a
tall man, but awful strong and brave, and he could sing fine and he
drank too much, and languages, my! they claim he spoke all the languages
there are—French and English and Spanish and Chippewa and Sioux and
Cree—Xavier spoke them all, Uncle Emil told me, and my Uncle Emil was a
truthful man, except about furs. Oh, Edgar would have hated Xavier Pic!”

“Always did. If you didn’t just make him up,” explained Grampa Edgar.

“Yes, like I said. So Xavier—they say he was a _voyageur_ for the
Hudson’s-Bay Company, but afterwards he was a _coureur de bois_ for
himself, a free trader and a fur-buyer. He was slick at shooting the
rapids. Prob’ly when he was young, he wore a sash, like the _voyageurs_
did, and he sang—

“Why, Neil, I think I must of told you a little about Xavier when you
were only as high as my kitchen stove. You would forget it now, but do
you remember the little song I taught you of the _voyageurs, Dans Mon
Chemin_?”

“Yes, by golly I do begin to remember it now, Gramma.”

                 * * * * *

From his anecdotal Minnesota history in high school, from lost tales of
his mother and Gramma Julie, Neil could see the outlines now of his
ancestor, Xavier Pic.

While Gramma Julie nodded in silence, he sketched that robust and jovial
French adventurer.

Xavier was not plowing dun English fields, like the worthy forbears of
Dr. Kenneth, who were doubtless as rustic as they alleged themselves to
be royal. Xavier belonged not to evening and mist and gossiping cowbells
but to alert morning on the glittering rapids of unknown rivers. Neil
saw him coming out of Montreal on a spring morning, with the squadron of
canoes bound away for the pine-darkened fort at the mouth of the
Kaministikwia.

Xavier Pic. He would be a pink-cheeked and ribald roisterer with a short
and curly golden beard, and he would be wearing a blanketcloth capote of
morning blue, thrown back, with his tobacco pouch and his agile knife
swung from his scarlet sash. His moccasins and leggins were of elkskin,
and in his knitted cap was the feather of a Nor’wester.

Challenging the rapids and the wolf-haunted night in the immense
loneliness of the Northern forest, laughing back at the monstrous storms
of Lake Superior, scoffing at cold and hunger and the malign Indians,
Xavier would be singing with his mates, at the gay start of the journey:

                  _Dans mon chemin j’ai rencontré_
                  _Trois cavaliers bien montés—_
                      _Lon, Lon, laridon daine._

Thus, not in words but in images, bright and strong, Neil recalled the
springtime hero who was his source.

                 * * * * *

All that would have been when Xavier was young. When Gramma Julie roused
from her catnap and went on, she surmised, from the shadows of great
legends she had heard in girlhood, that Xavier became an independent
trader. She knew that he lived on till 1850, always a mover, and she was
certain that he had been the first white man to explore dark leagues of
wasteland where now there are farms and villages that were founded on
the rock of Xavier’s skill and bravery.

It was unquestionable, she stridently maintained against her husband’s
grunting, that this pioneering Frenchman had been one of the builders,
the primitive warrior-kings, of the new provinces of the Americans and
the British: Minnesota and Wisconsin, Ontario and Manitoba.

But, Neil improvised, Xavier’s service to the Anglican visky-guzzlers
must have been involuntary. He must still have borne in his heart the
Lilies of the Sun, not the beef-red banner of the British nor the
candy-striped bunting of the Yanks. Might not this valorous Gaul, more
than some lanky English lordling, have been the ancestor who established
for him a valid claim to the blood royal?

This would not gratify Dr. Kenneth, who had none of Xavier’s fire in his
brittle veins, but some day it would enchant a Biddy who was as
venturesome as Xavier.

Why not? Who could tell? Perhaps this singular Xavier Pic was the exiled
offspring of some half-royal Duc of Picardie!

But the ducal banner was instantly taken from Neil’s hand.

                 * * * * *

“You understand,” said Gramma Julie, “that Xavier may not have been pure
French? I wouldn’t wonder if he was part Indian. We may be part Chippewa
ourselves, you and me.”

“Chippewa?” said Neil, not very brightly.

“Why, you haven’t got any prejudice against our having some Indian
blood?” said the old lady, with a foxy glance at her husband.

“No, no, certainly not!” declared Neil, with an extraordinary lack of
conviction. “I haven’t any prejudices against any race. After all, I was
in the War Against Prejudice!”

Grampa Edgar complained, “’Tain’t a question of the boy having
prejudices against being a nekkid, baby-scalping Indian. You just don’t
have to advertise everything you know!”

Julie eyed her man. “Don’t talk like you got the simples! I ain’t afraid
to advertise what _my_ folks were! They never peddled wooden clocks,
like some! If anybody came up to me and asked, ‘Are you a tomahawking
Indian?’ I’d say, Sure. And tomahawk ’em!”

While the old ones bickered, with the skill of sixty years’ practice,
Neil was in a small state of shock. In a general way, he believed that
Indians were very fine people—they were good at canoeing and the
tanning of deerskins. But it was a tumble from the castle of a Duc de
Picardie to a bark lodge, smoke-encrusted.

After some spirited notes on Edgar’s ancestors as Yankee skinflints,
Julie was going on:

“Anyway, the only time that I ever heard of Xavier’s getting careless
and marrying, the girl was a Chippewa squaw, so I guess we got Indian
blood from her, even if Xavier wasn’t part Indian himself. And me, I’d
rather have kin that et berries and fresh pickerel than Edgar’s folks,
that never had anything but codfish—dried—and that’s how they all come
to look so dry themselves.”

“Mine didn’t eat boiled dog, like you Chippewas,” said Edgar. “And far’s
Neil’s concerned, my folks are _his_ folks, codfish and all, just as
much as your folks is, ain’t they?”

“That’s what you think! Anyway, if you like it or not, Neil, whether
you’re a wild Injun or not, you’re descended from Xavier Pic, the
smartest man on the frontier, and that’s pretty good, hey?”

“Oh, yes, Gramma, that’s fine!”

But his new-found Indian blood impressed him more than M. Pic’s
“smartness.”

He was recalling that, as a small boy, from some forgotten hint or other
of Gramma Julie, he had for a while considered himself to have a warlike
Indian streak in him. He had boasted of it to Ackley Wargate, and that
pale scion had been envious. Yes, a royal heritage, Chippewa bravery; a
people unafraid of rocks and nightfall and creeping enemies.

But still—

That might be fine for most people, but not for the conformable husband
of Vestal Beehouse. And he was unhappy to suspect that his rare Biddy,
that bright being of crystal and rose and silver, was less certainly
cousin to English princesses and to demoiselles in robes broidered with
the golden lilies than to unbathed squaws in shirts of branded
flour-sacking.

——Wonder how many Indian kids running around reservations and picking
nits out of their hair can claim to be Biddy’s cousins?

——Oh, let ’em claim it! Might be good for her and me to have some
honest-to-God primitive American in us! . . . Mr. and Mrs. Neil
Injunblood announce the engagement of their daughter, Elizabeth Running
Mink, to John Pierpont Morgan Wargate, and damn lucky that little prig
would be to get her!

He remembered a Christmas grocery calendar and the portrait of an Indian
maid with whom, in boyhood, he had been in love: a slim maid complete
with riband, beaded doeskin jacket, canoe, waterfall, pine forest, and
moonlight, and she seemed not too feeble a symbol beside the fair but
weak-minded Elaine simpering over the Camelot traffic.

At last he spoke, and briskly.

“Okay, Gramma, I’m a Chippewa. Do Chippewas get a drink?”

Grampa Edgar cackled, “They do not. They ain’t safe, after firewater,
and they get nothing but fried beaver-tails. But any grandson of Ed
Saxinar gets a drink—gets two drinks!”




                                   12


HE said nothing about Chippewas when he returned to Grand Republic. What
had seemed a cheery topic with Gramma Julie did not go well with
Vestal’s Junior League airiness. He tried to pump his parents, and he
guessed that neither of them knew anything about his mother’s ancestry.
If Faith had ever known, in her gentle estrangement from Gramma Julie
she had conveniently forgotten.

And Julie had given no proof that either Xavier Pic or his wife was
Indian, Neil insisted. He insisted a little too often and too strongly.

He kept wondering about the sacred Biddy as a vessel for Indian blood.
He had a new, anxious way of watching that Saxon child, and comparing
her with her playmates. He decided that Biddy was rougher and more
practical than the other children, and in a sidelight, at dusk, he
imagined a copper shade on her camellia cheeks.

Biddy, he noted, was abnormally good at playing that the living-room
couch was a canoe and paddling it with a tennis racket—with no especial
advantage to the racket; she was masterful at walking stealthily, at
breaking out in ungodly whoops; and when she and he built a bonfire to
celebrate the thaw at the end of April, he noted that both of them were
competent with hatchet and bark kindling.

——Maybe this isn’t just a game. I really do see Indian traits in both
of us.

Then, as he watched Vestal sewing beads in a small pair of moccasins for
Biddy, he absent-mindedly observed, “Only an Indian would think up
patterns like that.” He remembered then it was not the Beehousely Vestal
who was to be studied and detected as an Indian, and he saw how
sumptuously spurious all his discoveries had been. And he most
illogically triumphed, proved that neither he nor Biddy really did have
“Indian blood.”

But even if they had—well, he now remembered hearing that the admirable
Judge Cass Timberlane was part Sioux, and that it was something or other
called the “genes” which carried racial appearances, not the blood.

Learnedly summing it all up, Neil decided that (1), he probably had no
Indian blood or Indian genes or whatever it was and (2), it wouldn’t
matter if he had, but (3), he wouldn’t mention it to Vestal and (4),
recalling Gramma Julie’s swarthy gracefulness, he was sure that Biddy
and he were as Indian as Sitting Bull, and (5), he had now completely
lost interest in the subject and (6), he was going to find out for
certain, as soon as he could, whether he did have any Indian blood
and/or genes.

                 * * * * *

His second business trip to Minneapolis was on Monday, May 7th, and on
that day exploded the premature announcement, confirmed a day later, of
peace with Germany. While the motor-horns and the flat-voiced church
bells were strident in prairie villages along the railway, the car
_Borup_ was blazing with jubilation. Strangers shook hands and drank
from pocket-flasks together and patted Mac the porter on the shoulder
and, all standing, they sang “Auld Lang Syne.”

Judd and Eliot and Rod Aldwick would be coming back now, Neil rejoiced.
He would no longer be friendless and unadvised. It was only, he assured
himself, because he had been lonely that he had “taken this Indian
nonsense so seriously.”

But Jamie Wargate would not be coming back. No one would find out where
he lay in Germany, under an airplane engine, his fine hands a pulp that
was one with the battered steel.

Neil’s friend of the transport, Captain Ellerton, would not be coming
back. He, least prim of all young men, was prim now under a prim cross
in a graveyard like a suburban lawn.

                 * * * * *

His talks with the Minneapolis bankers and politicians done, Neil
marched himself over to St. Paul, on Wednesday morning, to see Dr.
Werweiss, official in the Minnesota Historical Society, whose building
was beside the great bubble of the Capitol dome.

Dr. Werweiss was in his office, a friendly and learned-looking man, and
Neil spoke to him casually, without quite knowing that he was planning
to lie.

“I served as a captain in Italy, and one of my men has returned,
wounded, and he’s been begging me to ask somebody here about a pioneer
ancestor of his—a trader named Xavier Pic, round 1830.”

“I don’t recall the name just now. Was it spelled P-E-A-K-E?”

“No, P-I-C, I believe. I suppose it could be a corruption of Picardy?”
Neil said hopefully.

“Ye-es, I suppose it could be.”

“Well, this G.I., this soldier, would like to find out if there’s any
authoritative record of old Xavier in your documents. He was born about
1790, this fellow thinks, maybe born in France. I gather he’d especially
like to know whether Xavier was pure French, or part Indian, also—that
is, what race it would make this fellow himself.”

“Did you feel that your soldier would be pleased if he proved to be part
Indian, Mr. Kingsblood, or is he one of these simple-minded Croix de Feu
racialists?”

“A——? Oh, yes, he——What? Oh, I don’t know. I don’t believe I went
into that with him—not thoroughly, I mean.”

“If you’ll wait a few moments, Mr. Kingsblood?”

Dr. Werweiss returned with an aged manuscript book. “I’m on Monsieur
Pic’s trail, I think.”

“You are?” It was the second of waiting before the judge’s sentence.

Dr. Werweiss was casual. “I’ve found him here in Taliaferro’s diary.
Yes. ‘X. Pic.’ May be the same one—helped arrest a bad Indian, it
seems. But Major Taliaferro doesn’t say whether Pic had any Indian blood
himself or not. Of course, if he was born in France, he wouldn’t have,
unless his father had brought a squaw wife home from Canada, which did
happen, but not frequently.”

Neil was relieved, and ashamed of being relieved, and relieved again
that Biddy and Biddy’s father were uncorrupted Caucasians.

“But,” Dr. Werweiss went on, “whether Pic had Indian blood or not, he
did marry a Chippewa wife.”

——Oh, blast it! I forgot all about great-great-great-grandmama, bless
her tanned hide! Why didn’t Xavier stay home in France or New Orleans or
wherever he belonged, curse his itching feet! What did I ever do to him,
a century and a quarter ago, to make him do this to me?

Then, all unconscious and benign, Dr. Werweiss let him have it:

“No, I think it’s very doubtful that Xavier Pic was part Indian,
because—now I don’t know whether you’ll consider it wise to tell your
inquiring veteran or not; so many people do have vulgar superstitions
about race; but the fact is that your friend’s ancestor, Xavier, is
mentioned by Major Taliaferro as being a full-blooded Negro.”

Neil’s face could not have changed, for Dr. Werweiss went on, quite
cheerfully, “Of course you know that in most Southern states and a few
Northern ones, a ‘Negro’ is defined, by statute, as a person having even
‘one drop of Negro blood,’ and according to that barbaric psychology,
your soldier friend and any children he may have, no matter how white
they look, are legally one-hundred-percent Negroes.”

Neil was thinking less of himself than of his golden Biddy.




                                   13


HE found himself sitting at a lunch-counter, gravely staring at the wet
slab of wood, the catsup bottle, the tricky nickel holder of paper
napkins. He was vague, but he did remember that Dr. Werweiss was to make
further search for him, that he was to return to the Society at two, and
that he had not admitted anything.

He was in a still horror, beyond surprise now, like a man who has
learned that last night, walking in his sleep, he murdered a man, that
the police are looking for him.

He was apparently eating a sandwich. He regarded it with astonishment.
How had he ever ordered a thing like that, dirty hunks of bread piled
around flat-tasting ham? And the lunchroom was stinking, an offense
against God and the sweet May afternoon.

——Why did I ever come in here? But I better try and like it. This is
the kind of dump I’ll get from now on. Or worse. Probably even this
joint thinks it’s too elegant to serve us niggers.

It was the first time that he had put what he was into a word, and he
was too sick to soften it to “Negroes,” and anyway, the word seemed so
trivial beside the fact. He was protesting that he should be called a
black man or a green man or any kind of a man except the plain human and
multicolored kind of man that, as Neil Kingsblood, he always had been
and always would be.

But _They_ would say that he was a black man, a Negro.

To Neil, to be a Negro was to be a Belfreda Gray or a Borus Bugdoll; to
be Mac the porter, obsequious to white pawnbrokers; to be a leering
black stevedore on the docks at Naples, wearing an American uniform but
not allowed to have a gun, allowed only to stagger and ache with
shouldering enormous boxes; to be a fieldhand under the Delta sun, under
the torchlight in salvation orgies, an animal with none of the animal
freedom from shame; to be an assassin on Beale Street or a clown dancing
in a saloon for pennies and humiliation.

To be a Negro was to live in a decaying shanty or in a frame tenement
like a foul egg-crate, and to wear either slapping old shoes or the
shiny toothpicks of a procurer; to sleep on unchanged bedclothes that
were like funguses, and to have for spiritual leader only a howling and
lecherous swindler.

There were practically no other kinds of Negroes. Had he not heard so
from his Georgia army doctor?

To be a Negro, once they found you out, no matter how pale you were, was
to work in kitchens—always in other people’s thankless kitchens—or in
choking laundries or fever-hot foundries or at shoeshine stands where
the disdainful white gentry thought about spitting down on you.

To be a Negro was to be unable—biologically, fundamentally,
unchangeably unable—to grasp any science beyond addition and plain
cooking and the driving of a car, any philosophy beyond comic
dream-books. It was to be mysteriously unable ever to take a bath, so
that you were more offensive than the animals who clean themselves.

It was to have such unpleasant manners, invariably, that you were never
admitted to the dining-table of any decent house nor to the assemblies
of most labor unions which, objectionable though they were to a
conscientious banker like himself, still did have enough sense to see
that all Negroes are scabs and spies and loafers.

It was to be an animal physically. It was to be an animal culturally,
deaf to Beethoven and St. Augustine. It was to be an animal ethically,
unable to keep from stealing and violence, from lying and treachery. It
was literally and altogether to be an animal, somewhere between human
beings and the ape.

It was to know that your children, no matter how much you loved them or
strove for them, no matter if they were fair as Biddy, were doomed to be
just as ugly and treacherous and brainless and bestial as yourself, and
their children’s children beyond them forever, under the curse of
Ezekiel.

——But I’m not like that—Mum isn’t—Biddy isn’t—old Julie isn’t.
We’re decent, regular people. So there’s some mistake. We aren’t
Negroes, not one drop, and there were two Xavier Pics.

——You know that’s phony, Kingsblood. Somehow, you know, way down, that
he was your ancestor. Oh, damn him for being black! Poor sweet Biddy!

——All right. If Bid is a Negro, then everything I’ve ever heard about
the Negroes—yes, and maybe everything I’ve heard about the Jews and the
Japs and the Russians, about religion and politics—all of that may be a
lie, too.

——If you _are_ a Negro, you be one and fight as one. See if you can
grow up, and then fight.

——But I’ve got to learn what a Negro is; I’ve got to learn, from the
beginning, what I am!

Behind his struggle to think rationally there was a picture of the pert
and candid face of Biddy—the little Duchess of Picardy, royal heir of
Catherine of Aragon—and of her being unmasked by jeering neighbors as a
Negro—a nigger, a zigaboo, a disgusting imitation of a real human
child, flat-headed and obscenely capering, something to be driven around
to the back door.

——She’s not like that. We’re not like that. Negroes are not like that.
Are we?

                 * * * * *

Dr. Werweiss, he informed Neil, had found an original letter from Xavier
Pic to General Henry Sibley, and he handed it over.

The paper had turned brown, but the ink was unfaded and the script
delicate and precise, the writing of a literate man. Neil wondered if he
was not the first, except for Dr. Werweiss and his assistant and General
Sibley, who had touched this letter since Xavier had written it, by
candlelight or northern sun, on a puncheon table or the side of a birch
canoe, a hundred dead years ago:

    “When you were here, honored General, and I had the priviledge
    to entertain you with a little fish and tea, more worthy fare
    being beyond my powers in the wilderness, I told you I am to all
    intent a full-blooded negro born in Martinique, though maybe I
    have a very little French and Portuguese and Spanish blood, too,
    not much.

    “My wife was a good Ojibway woman and now my dear dauter Sidonie
    has married a Frenchman, Louis Payzold, and while I am proud of
    the negroes, they are such a brave passionat people, the
    Southern States have made a curse of life to the dark people and
    I do not want to have Sidonie or her children to be known as
    blacks and to suffer as my people do suffer there and planely
    told they are beasts. I ask for her little ones only a chance.
    So please always refer to me now as French.

    “I am getting a little old for wilderness work and my purposes
    are almost done and do not want to think of my grandchildren
    under the lash, so please not say anything about my color and
    how black it is, honored General Sibley.

    “Though Indian ladies seem to admire the color very much and all
    the warriors say I am first white man ever come to their
    country. Mes estimes les plus distinguées.

                                                          “X. Pic.”

Dr. Werweiss spoke:

“He sounds like a grand old fellow—lot nobler than the Sieur de Saint
Lusson or any of the other Parisian courtiers who showed up on the
frontier. If your soldier friend has the guts to take it, and the
imagination, he can be pretty proud of his ancestor.

“You know, it’s true, what he says. Only red men and white men were
recognized by the Indians on the Northern frontier, and so Negroes like
Xavier and the Bongas were the first ‘white men’ to carry
civilization—meaning the bottle, the bomb, and the Bible—to the poor
heathen. They were like Perry opening up Japan, and if the results have
been just as disastrous, that wasn’t their fault.

“What a kingly set of names the whole bunch of them had: Sidonie
marrying a Louis, and we found that their son, though we found nothing
more about him, was royally named Alexandre!”

It was the chain as Gramma Julie had given it to him: Xavier, Sidonie,
Louis Payzold, Alexandre, and, if he told the world of it, that chain
bound him, bound Biddy.

_If_ he told.

                 * * * * *

——And I was so certain (he thought on the interurban car back to
Minneapolis) that Xavier had a short, golden beard!

——Me, with my red hair, even a drop of blackness? Or Biddy? Still,
Gramma Julie is dark enough. O God, even to have to think about it!

——What’s this about colored people “passing,” if they’re light enough?
I certainly shall. Why should I be so conceited as to imagine that God
has specially called me to be a martyr? And pretty vicious kind of a
martyr, that would sacrifice his mother and his daughter to his holy
vanity! Everything can be just as it was. It _has_ to be, for Biddy’s
sake. You wouldn’t deliberately turn your own mother into an outcast,
would you?

——A man couldn’t do that!

——But what if a lot of people know it already? Or can detect the Negro
in me? I hear lots of Southerners claim they can do that. That man
goggling at me down the car—can he see I’m part Negro? Has everybody
always guessed it?




                                   14


HE crossed the lobby of his hotel in Minneapolis with his eyes rigidly
held on the black-and-white marble of the floor, irritably noting that
it _was_ black and white, careful as a drunk who betrays himself by
being too careful in his gait. He was wondering who might be staring at
him, suspecting the Negro in him. Wilbur Feathering, who was a
food-dealer in Grand Republic but who had been born in Mississippi,
frequently asserted that he could catch any “Nigra” who passed for
white, even if he was but a sixty-fourth black. If Wilbur did detect it,
he would be nasty about it.

Right in the center of the lobby he wanted to stop and look at his
hands. He remembered hearing that a Negro of any degree, though pale of
face as Narcissus, is betrayed by the blue halfmoons of his fingernails.
He wildly wanted to examine them. But he kept his arms rigidly down
beside him (so that people did wonder at his angry stiffness and did
stare at him) and marched into the elevator. He managed, with what he
felt to be the most ingenious casualness, to prop himself with his hand
against the side of the cage, and so to look at his nails.

No! The halfmoons were as clear as Biddy’s.

——But I know now how a Negro who has just passed must feel all the
time, when he’s staying at a hotel like this: hoping that none of these
high-and-mighty traveling men will notice him and ask the manager to
throw him out. Does it keep up? All the time?

                 * * * * *

In the vast hidden lore of Being a Negro which he was to con, Neil was
to learn that in many Northern states, including his own, there is a
“civil rights law” which forbids the exclusion of Negroes and members of
the other non-country-club races from hotels, restaurants, theaters, and
that this law worked fully as well as had national prohibition.

White hotel guests snorted, “Why can’t these niggers stay where they’re
wanted, among their own people, and not come horning in where they don’t
belong?” These monitors did not explain how a Negro, arriving in a
strange city at midnight, was to find out precisely where he was wanted.
Whenever they had been contaminated and almost destroyed by the presence
of a Negro sleeping two hundred feet away, they threatened the hotel
manager, who assumed that he had to earn a living and therefore devised
a technique of treating the Negroes with nerve-freezing civility and
with evasiveness about “accommodations.”

Even on this, his first night of being a Negro, Neil knew that the night
assistant-manager of the hotel might telephone up, “I’m terribly sorry,
sir, but we find that the room we gave you is reserved.”

He knew it already. He knew it more sensitively and acutely than he had
ever known any of the complex etiquette of being an
officer-and-gentleman.

He looked bulky enough and straight-shouldered enough in the refuge of
his hotel room, but he felt bent and cowering as he listened for the
telephone. He did not hear it, yet he heard it a hundred times.

And if he did not belong in this hotel, he thought, he would be no more
welcome on the Pullman _Borup_. They could not arrest him for taking it,
but he would not again be able to patronize genially the black Mac, who
was now his uncle and his superior. In his hazardous future, it might be
he who would hope for a condescending dollar from Mac.

He belonged with the other lepers in a day-coach—in a Southern jimcrow
day-coach, foul and broken, so that his simian odor might not offend the
delicate white nostrils of Curtiss Havock.

All this he thought, but he did not dare think of going back to Vestal
and telling her that he had given her a Negro daughter.

He had planned to get his hair cut at the Swanson-Grand barbershop, this
late afternoon.

He sat at the small desk in his room, tapping his teeth with his
fingernail, occasionally looking suddenly at that nail again, a study in
brooding. Whether or not he needed a haircut to the point of social
peril, he had to go down to the shop, as a matter of manliness. He
wasn’t going to let any barber jimcrow _him_! He was a citizen and a
guest; he paid his taxes and his hotel bills; he had as much right to be
served in a barbershop as any white man——

He stood up wrathfully, but the wrath was against himself.

——Now for God’s sake, Kingsblood, haven’t you got enough real trouble
in being a Negro, and having to tell Vestal, without making up imaginary
troubles? That Svenska barber is no more likely to treat you as colored
than anybody else ever has, these thirty-one years! Quit acting like a
white boy trying to pretend to be a Negro. You _are_ Negro, all right,
_and_ Chippewa, _and_ West Indian spig, and you don’t have to pretend.
Funny, though, if I’m being too imaginative. Always thought I was too
matter-of-fact. Everybody thought so.

——It couldn’t be, could it, that what I needed, what Grand Republic
needs, is a good dash of sun-warmed black blood?

He found a streak of humor in the astonishing collapse of everything
that had been Neil Kingsblood; in noting that a black boy like himself
could never conceivably be a banker, a golf-club member, an army
captain, husband of the secure and placid Vestal, son of a
Scotch-porridge dentist, intimate of the arrogant Major Rodney Aldwick.
Suddenly he was nothing that he was, only he still was, and what he was,
he did not know.

That the #3 barber in the Swanson-Grand Salon de Coiffeur would actually
treat Mr. Kingsblood just as he always _had_ treated Mr. Kingsblood was
so obvious that Neil scarcely noticed that while he was still wondering
whether #3 would refuse to cut his hair, #3 was already contentedly
cutting it. But even in the soporific routine of the barber’s shears and
cool, damp hands, Neil could not ease his disquiet.

The head-barber, the girl cashier, the Negro bootblack, his #3
barber—had they guessed that he was a Negro, had they known it for
years? Were they waiting for the proper time to threaten him, to
blackmail him—waiting, lurking, laughing at him?

“Mighty hard to cut that curly hair of yours smooth, Captain,” said the
barber.

Now what was he referring to? Curly hair. Kinky hair. Negro wool.

Was his barber, standing back of him, winking at the barber at the next
chair? Why had he yanked a lock of hair that way? Was the inconceivable
social night already drawing in, and the black winter of blackness?

With the most itching carefulness, Neil crept one hand out from under
the drab sheet covering him, scratched his nose, let the hand drop into
his lap, and so was able to study his nails again. Was it this mercury
vapor light, or was there really a blue tinge in the halfmoons?

He wanted to jump from the chair, flee to his safe room—no, flee to
yet-unknown Negro friends who would sympathize with him, hide him,
protect him.

It was no elegant green-and-ivory barber chair but the electric chair
from which he was finally released. In his room, he quivered:

——Vestal’s always loved to run her fingers through my hair. Will she,
if she finds out what kind of hair it is? Same color as my dad’s used to
be, but his isn’t curly. What would Vestal think? She mustn’t find out,
ever.

He thought constantly of new things, pleasant and customary, from which
his status as Negro might bar him: Biddy’s adoration. The lordly Federal
Club. Dances and stag-drinking at the Heather Country Club, where once
he had been chairman of the Bengali pool tournament. His college
fraternity. His career in the bank. His friendship with Major Rodney
Aldwick.

He repeated a slice of English doggerel that Rod Aldwick used to quote
with unction:

             _All the white man’s memories:_
             _Hearths at eventide,_
             _The twinkling lights of Christmas nights_
             _And our high Imperial pride._

What had been his own picture, his own observations, of the Negroes?

——Come on, you high Imperial white man, what are we? Let’s have it,
Mister!

——Well, the Negroes are all sullen and treacherous, like Belfreda.

——Nonsense! Mac the porter isn’t and I’m not and I’m no longer so sure
about Belfreda.

——They’re all black, flat-nosed, puff-lipped.

He went to the mirror, and laughed.

——What a lot I used to know that I didn’t know! What a clack-mouthed
parrot I was! Quoting that fool of a Georgia doctor. Negroes not quite
human, eh? Kingsblood, Congoblood, you deserve anything you get—if it’s
bad enough. I think God turned me black to save my soul, if I have any
beyond ledgers and college yells. I’ve got to say, “You’re as blind and
mean and ignorant as a white man,” and that’s a tough thing to take,
even from myself.

——Oh, don’t be so prejudiced against the white people. No doubt
there’s a lot of them who would be just as good as anybody else, if they
had my chance of redemption.

——Captain, aren’t you kind of overdoing your glee in becoming a
colored boy?

——Okay. I am.

                 * * * * *

Under a decayed newspaper in the desk he found one sheet of
Swanson-Grand letter-paper, with a half-tone of the hotel and the name
of the proprietor in flourishing 1890 type, but with practically no
space for writing, an accomplishment apparently not expected of the
guests. He turned it over, took out his bankerish gold-mounted fountain
pen, and drew up an altogether bankerish table of one branch of his
ancestors:

    Xavier Pic, possible French and Spanish elements but counts as
    100% Negro

    Sidonie, his daughter, who married Louis Payzold, was ½ Chippewa
    and ½ Negro

    Alexandre Payzold, their son, Gramma Julie’s father, ¼ Negro

    My Grandmother, Julie Saxinar, an octoroon, 1/8 Negro

    Her daughter, my mother, 1/16 Negro

    Myself, 1/32 Negro

    Biddy, 1/64 Negro

——Well, I finally do have something interesting about our royal
ancestry to report to Dad!




                                   15


IT was late, but he did not go down to dinner at the Swanson-Grand
Coffee Shop. He could not endure sitting there and wondering whether he
was being stared at. He had already discovered that the Negroes do not
stay by themselves so much because they love the other Negroes as
because they cannot stand the sheep-faced whites and their sheep-like
gawking.

In a stilled panic he rode out to Excelsior and to the decent bungalow
of Grampa Edgar Saxinar. As he came in, the old gentleman, in a voice
like the squeak of his patent rocker, greeted him, “Welcome, young man!
’Tain’t often we get a chance to see your cheerful face twice in one
season!”

It was Gramma Julie who demanded, “What’s matter, boy?”

Standing rigid and large in the center of the room, which smelled of
pine-needle cushions, Neil said earnestly, “Gramma, are you sure that
your forbears, going back to Pic, were just French and Chippewa?”

“I told you not to talk about Pic!” Grampa Edgar wailed.

She looked drawn into herself. She knew!

Neil pressed it, “Are you sure we haven’t a little Negro blood, too?”

She screamed, “What do you mean, you young scamp? I never heard such a
thing in my life!” But her wrath was too facile, and too facile was
Grampa Edgar’s fury. He was no longer a comic old griper sitting by the
fire. His face was terrible, the unsparing and murderous face of a
lyncher. Neil had once seen a German captive look like that, and once, a
drunken American military policeman. Edgar raged, “Just exactly what do
you think you’re hinting at, heh? Mean to say you’ve got some crazy idea
your gramma’s folks had nigger blood? Or are you stinking drunk? Are you
trying to make me out the father of part-nigger kids—make your Uncle
Emery and your own mother into niggers?”

Neil had always been chatty and tender with his grandfather, as he was
with all pleasant old people, but there was no chat nor tenderness in
him now. “I hope not, but I’d like a little truth, for once. What is the
truth?”

Grandpa Edgar looked pitifully old, and his passion drained out in
futility. “Don’t you ever pay the least bit of attention to stories and
dirty lies like that, Neil. It ain’t true, not a word of it, but even if
it was, there’d be no need for anybody but us to know it. For God’s
sake, boy, let’s never mention it again.”

Gramma Julie was very shrill. “Absolute lie, Neilly. Some folks in
Hiawatha got it up because they was jealous of how well Ed and I done.”

It was intolerable to watch the two ancient and withered householders
strip themselves naked, and Neil retreated, but with a brusqueness he
could not avoid. “All right, all right, forget it. Well, got to be
getting back. Night.”

On the train into Minneapolis he was irritable.

——I’m sick of all this _Gone With the Wind_ and Thomas Nelson Page
stuff! massa on de ole plantation—massa in de cold, cold
counting-house—swords and roses, and lick the damn nigger. If I’m a
Negro—all right, I’ll be one.

——I never needed a drink as bad as I do now.

But in the bar at the Hotel Swanson-Grand, he had orangeade, and dared
not take so much as one highball. He wondered if he would ever drink
another one, though highballs and he had been good friends. He looked at
his many fellow-drinkers and thought of how they would turn into wolves
and foxes and hyenas if his tongue were oiled enough to say what he
could say.

                 * * * * *

All the way home, on the _Borup_, he resented the attentions of Mac. He
wanted to growl, “Oh, chuck it. I belong with you.” He was exasperated
by Mac’s obsequious laughter at the not-very-good jokes of Orlo Vay of
Grand Republic, who was a lovely man when he stuck to fitting
eyeglasses, but only then.

Neil wanted to demand of Mac, “How can you stand listening to that white
flannel-mouth? Our people must have dignity.”

Not till he had almost reached home did it occur to him that his
twenty-eight hours as a Negro was possibly too brief a training for him
to take over all of his people’s manners.

                 * * * * *

Vestal usually saw through his blundering efforts to look cheerful when
things had gone wrong, but when he came booming into the house with
“Your husband has just bought all the banks in the Twin Cities!” when he
kissed her and tousled Biddy’s hair in the best manner of the hearty
young husband, she was not suspicious, and she said only, “Glad you had
a nice trip. Isn’t it glorious about the end of the war! Can you stand a
giddy round of bridge at Curtiss Havock’s tonight?”

“Yes, sure.”

Curtiss, son of Boone, would be the first to yelp at him.

                 * * * * *

He could decide nothing at all, since he could not decide the one
dominant question: was he going to tell the world, would he even tell
Vestal?

If he kept silence, it was likely that no one would know, aside from
Gramma Julie and Edgar, who most vigorously would say nothing. Dr.
Werweiss would have no reason to trace Pic and the Payzolds to the
Kingsbloods.

He had no accuser except himself. But that lone accuser was so
persistent that sometimes he fancied himself blurting, “Certainly I’m
part Negro. Do you think I’m the kind of Judas who would deny the race
of his mother?”

But whenever he had agreed to do something bold and immediate, a more
cynical self always jeered:

——Listen to the brave captain! Going to be defiant, is he, the little
man! Going to put your self in the clutches of a bunch of Southern
deputies, with their fishy eyes and their red fists, when you don’t have
to, when it wouldn’t do any good, when nobody’s asking you to? You
armchair martyr!

                 * * * * *

It was this slice of hell that Neil was carrying in his pocket as he
supervised the arrangement of the Veterans’ Center booth at the bank.
Mr. John William Prutt coughed his way up to him, having in tow Mrs.
John William Prutt, who had an astringent face but what would have been
a voluptuous bosom if it had not also been a thoroughly Christian bosom.

The lady gurgled, “It seems to me that Mr. Prutt and you are making a
mistake in having this booth so severe in color. As you know, I never
intrude on banking business—I know how many marriages have been ruined
by the wife’s doing that, even with the best intentions—but I do feel I
have a real instinct for Decoration—I know how many women claim to have
that, with their silly chatter about ‘curtains picking up the mauve of
the couch,’ but I feel I really do have it—and after all, so many of
the veterans will be coming in here with their sweethearts or brides or
whatnot, and you can appeal to them by a deft dash of color—say, a
lovely cushion of crocus-yellow on the bench—so spring-like and
appealing. I think that might be very important, don’t you—one of these
things that’s often neglected, but is really important!”

Then Mr. Prutt, in his more jovial mood, rich joviality with just a
splash of vinegar: “Now Neil, you don’t have to agree with my good lady,
you know. Are you really sold on the idea that it’s important?”

“I’m not sure that I know what is important, sir,” said Neil.

——What would they say if I told them?

                 * * * * *

And “What would they say if I told them?” frightened him and depressed
him and devilishly tempted him to speak up whenever he met Wilbur
Feathering, that Southerner who was now reconciled to Northern
cash-registers and who sang “Bringing in the Sheaves” to the tune of
“Dixie.” Or whenever, at the Sylvan Park Tennis Club, he listened to W.
S. Vander, the lumberman, Cedric Staubermeyer, dealer in rugs and
anti-Semitism, and Orlo Vay, the political optician, who agreed, between
sets, that our American liberties, including the rights to chew tobacco
and to charge customers whatever you damn well pleased, were threatened.

They were all good neighbors, ready to lend Neil the lawnmower or a
bottle of gin, all good customers at the bank, speaking well of his
courtesy and steadiness, and they were all lynchers, of the Northern or
inoperative variety, who had “built up good businesses by their own
unaided industry and efforts, and didn’t for one by God second intend to
let any sentimental love for the lazy bums of workers stand in the way
of their holding onto what they got.”

With them, there was no question of what they would say if told.

                 * * * * *

Vestal had gone up to bed. He was alone on the sun-porch, that bland May
midnight, restless in his chintz-and-wicker armchair, trying to read an
article on “The Use of Bills of Lading in International Credit under
Temporary Post-War Financial Structures.” It was very bright and well
written, and it had a picture of the Paris Bourse for illustration, but
he laid it down, he laid it down firmly, and heard the suburban quiet
flow over him.

He looked about the airy room, at the ivy on the indoor trellis, the
glass-and-nickel-cocktail shaker on the little green bar. He thought of
Vestal’s face serene on her pillow, and Biddy curled in a golden ball.
Next month, Biddy would have her fifth birthday, and she wanted to know
why she couldn’t be of age to vote then. She stated that she wished to
vote for her father for President, and she would not be put off by her
mother’s frivolous reason, “Oh, no, dear; your father is much too
good-looking to be President.”

All this simple happiness——

He would say something that would betray him; some Wilbur Feathering
would pick it up; he would be disgraced, lose their modest security,
this true home that was his love and Vestal’s made visible. He pictured
the ruthless second-hand-furniture dealers and grinning neighbors
crowding in here to buy this furniture—cheap—while Vestal and Biddy
stood weeping like a Mid-Victorian widow and orphan with shawl.

“No! I’ll preserve our home with my life!”

——Sounds like old-fashioned melodrama. Well, I feel like melodrama!

It came to him, slyly, shockingly, that he could best preserve that home
by his death. From the cold tombs he could say nothing that would give
him away. As a Sylvan Park businessman would, he carried large life
insurance. There must be some way of committing suicide so that it would
not be found out—something about a car running off an embankment and
burning?

That day in the bank had been hard and fussy with Pruttery and he was
tired in a way that he had not known he could be, drained out by the
vision of what might happen to him. If he could quietly pass out, secure
Biddy’s future——

Then he laughed.

——I seem to be learning a lot of new possibilities. I despise the rich
investors who jumped out of windows during the last depression—poor
white leeches who couldn’t take it unless they had two chauffeurs to
bleed. We Negroes don’t do that.

He laughed again, not affectedly, not for any audience, not even for his
own audience.

                 * * * * *

Randy Spruce, Executive Secretary of the Grand Republic Chamber of
Commerce, was a chum of Wilbur Feathering who, though born in Stote,
Mississippi, on a red clay hill, was now a citizen of Minnesota and a
patron of skiing, a sport which he gave the impression of having
invented, though he did not actually practise it. Mr. Feathering was
founder and president of “The Hot on the Spot Home Food Supply
Company—hot meals in your own dinette—everything from a sandwich to a
banquich—linen & silver if desired—run, rite, or fone.”

That was Wilbur Feathering. The meals were not bad, the profits were
enormous, and he was popular throughout Grand Republic except among
people who did not like race-hatred or noises of the mouth.

He had been useful in giving ideas to the Chamber of Commerce, and Randy
Spruce often said, “I often say a man in my position as a professional
booster of all forward-looking enterprises and the American Way of Life
has ideas as his chief stock in trade. I make a practice of not merely
reading the magazines and listening to all the round-tables on the
radio, but I am not above taking suggestions from the humblest—as I
often say, like a Polack or a union member.”

Randy was glad to have from one of the Featherings of Stote the Real
Lowdown on the Negro Problem.

The benefit of this Lowdown was felt second-hand by Neil, when Randy and
he served on a committee of nine to arrange a citywide welcome to the
returning veterans.

Randy was fretting, “Of course there’s quite a few nigger G.I.’s, and we
got to fix it so they don’t horn in on the parade of our white heroes.”

“Couldn’t the black veterans be heroes, too?” suggested Dr. Norman
Kamber.

“Hell, no!” Randy explained. “As I often say, all the nigger troops were
insubordinate and afraid of cold Steel. The high command just handed out
a few decorations to ’em to keep ’em from mutiny, so we wouldn’t have to
shoot the whole bunch. A colonel told me that. But Wilbur Feathering has
a fine suggestion. We’ll cook up a separate homecoming for the zigaboos,
on Mayo Street; parade and fireworks and banners and some portion of a
horse like Congressman Oberg to make an oration. We’ll tell ’em that we
didn’t want to have ’em get lost in the white shuffle, so we’re honoring
’em special. Those niggers are so dumb they’ll believe it.”

“Are all Negroes dumb?” Neil wanted to know.

“All of ’em!”

“What about the ones that are just part Negro?”

“My boy, as I often say, if a man has one drop of nigger blood, he’s a
phony. Uncreative, that’s the idee. You don’t think a circus dog is
intelligent because his owner has trained him to ride a bicycle and act
drunk like a scholar, do you? That’s why no nigger can hold down a
responsible position. Doc, you can call me a liar if you can show me one
nigger that could be a United States Senator.”

“Hiram Revels or B. K. Bruce,” said Dr. Kamber.

“Who? What makes you think those niggers could be Senators?”

“They were!”

“Oh, I get you. Wasn’t that in Reconstruction days? Feathering explains
that. It was because those niggers were just out of slavery, where
they’d been trained in industry and obedience. But since then, with all
this loose freedom, the colored folks have simply gone to hell in a hack
intellectually, to say nothing of their immorality, and today there
isn’t one of them that’s fit to hold down any appointment higher than
cityhall janitor.”

Neil was brooding:

——What’s the use? I shall never tell anybody. That’s settled! It was
as simple as that.




                                   16


JUNE the twelfth was all brightness and lilacs and new leaves, as was
required, for June the twelfth was Biddy’s fifth birthday. It was fit
for the birthday of a little white lady, with white blossoms, white
dresses, and all the white children in the block admiring her and the
new roller skates and the toy theater, gold and white.

Neil came home early. The half-dozen girls and the four screaming but
attentive young gentlemen of Biddy’s age were playing hide-and-seek in
the back yard, around the cement fish-pond and Biddy’s playhouse, of
white clapboards thick-covered with vines. All the children, especially
Peggy Havock, were fond of Neil, and they danced about him
affectionately, crying, “Oh, Mister Capten Kingsblood—oh Mister Capten
Kingsblood!”

Vestal came out of the house, tall and benign as an angel, in a long
sage-green dress, gold-girdled, and she bore the maple layer-cake of the
day, on which, in white on yellow icing, was handsomely engrossed, “Our
Biddy—5.” The six pink candles (one to grow on) were steady in the
calm, happy summer afternoon.

To receive the cake, the histrionic Biddy popped into her playhouse and
came out wearing her gilt Christmas crown. But if she insisted on being
a queen, she was a popular constitutional monarch, and she cut and
distributed the slices of cake with royal justice. Neil watched her, and
remembered that not for many days had he thought of the Blood Royal. She
had it, clearly, but was it from the old lecher, Henry VIII, or from
Xavier Pic, regent of the wilderness?

Biddy romped up to him, her eyes diamonds for happiness. She reached up
to hug his waist. “Daddy, I never did have such a lovely birthday, not
in all my life. Am I always going to have lovely birthdays like this?”

He kissed her roughly.

Prince, erstwhile “Nigger,” who all along had assumed that this was his
birthday party and that it was his social duty to welcome his little
friends by yelping at them and pushing them over, came hysterically
bounding up, licking Biddy’s face, knocking off her crown and laughing
at her, and Biddy forgot her royal dignity in a shrill, “Now you bad ole
dog, you stop it and be good now or I’ll rule you right out of my
cas-tel, you bad ole dog you, _Nigger_!”

Neil was irritated.

                 * * * * *

To Neil at his desk in the bank, came Dr. Ash Davis, and Dr. Davis was a
Negro, his face the color of dry brown bright autumn leaves in the sun.
Neil had heard that one of the dismaying exigencies of the war had been
that the Wargate experimental laboratory had had to hire this colored
fellow, Davis—oh, a good enough chemist, a Doctor of Science from the
University of Chicago, but still and all, just a darky. That certainly
showed, didn’t it (agreed everybody at the Boosters Club luncheon), how
hard-up we were for manpower. Though it was a question whether any
conceivable contribution to the war effort could justify a precedent
like that, of giving a white man’s job to a tough dinge. God knows what
it might lead to!

Oh, yes, Neil had heard of Ash Davis.

For the first time in his life he really looked at a “colored man.” He
had never looked at Belfreda, at the Emerson Woolcape who had been in
his class all through school, at Mac, at the Negro soldiers; he had not
looked at them but only been impatiently aware of them, as though in
Arabia he were searching for a road-sign in English or French or some
human language, and found nothing but an absurd sign in Arabic.
Certainly he had never looked at the Negro callers who had arranged with
him for bank loans. They had been merely dark hands holding papers, dark
voices that were over-ingratiating.

He looked now at Ash Davis, but he did not see a “Negro,” a “colored
man.” He saw a curiously charming man of the world who seemed also to be
a scholar. He was pricked by the familiar feeling, “Where have I known
him before?” He realized that here, plus an extra tan, was Captain Tony
Ellerton of the army transport, his one completely ungrudging friend.

Dr. Davis was a man of forty, slim, compact, very easy, not tall,
wearing a small black mustache without foppishness. His eyes were
steady. He was dressed like any other well-to-do professional man, but
he wore his gray lounge-suit with a vaguely European air. Had Neil been
Sherlock Holmes, he might have detected in Dr. Davis’s accent an Ohio
boyhood, three years in England and France and Russia, friendships with
tennis-partners and piano-teachers and laboratory-mates. But he knew
only that Dr. Davis spoke clearly and pleasantly, rather like Rodney
Aldwick, but more accurately.

He was, in fact, deciding, “This Davis is a bright-looking fellow. I
didn’t know there were any Negroes like him. Well, how could I? I’ve
never even had the chance to see them.”

(As a matter of fact, a few months before, Neil had sat opposite Dr. Ash
Davis in a bus, had heard him talking to a large Negro with a clerical
collar, and had never looked at either of them.)

Dr. Davis had, he said, come to beg.

With the war over, hundreds of Negroes would be dismissed from local
factories, and the leaders of the Negro community were working with the
Urban League in trying to persuade local business firms to give them
jobs. Could the Second National hire one or two? He could produce a
number of colored business-school graduates who in wartime had been
clerks, bookkeepers. How about it?

“How do you happen to come to me?” fretted Neil. “I’d like to do
anything I can, but I’m only an assistant cashier.”

Ash Davis had a smile that invited companionship. “Dr. Norman Kamber,
who is a good friend of my race, told me you were one banker who could
be quite human. I’m afraid that doesn’t sound too complimentary!”

“For Doc Kamber it does. Well, I’ll see what can be done. I really
will!”

He tried to think of something that would hold Dr. Davis in talk. He
acutely needed someone who understood this Thing that he had become. And
the thoughts that had been growing pallidly in the darkness of his
brooding became fresh and strong in the clear light of Ash Davis’s
presence. He reflected, “This seems to be a very agreeable fellow and he
has to beg white men for a chance for his people. It makes me mad that
he should have to be almost obsequious to a louse of a bank clerk like
me. He’s a lot smarter than I am. Well, Kingsblood, there is a chance
for you, if you can recognize your superiors.”

He made talk, so far as he could, about jobs for Negroes, but he shyly
did not know whether to say “Negro” or “colored people” or neither. Dr.
Davis eased away and, for the second time in his life (the first was
Borus Bugdoll), in this hand-mauling land, Neil was shaking hands with a
Negro.

He seemed to suffer no injuries from it.

                 * * * * *

He put it cunningly to John William Prutt that, as they had several
prosperous Negro depositors, and some day they might have more, perhaps
they ought to hire one or two Negro clerks. Prutt looked at him
pityingly.

“My boy, I’m pleased that you take a liberal attitude toward the Negro.
I long for the day when they’ll get a decent education and be able to
take their stand right alongside white laborers—in their own Southland.
But they don’t belong up here, and the kindest thing to do is to let ’em
starve till it penetrates their thick heads that they ought to hustle
back South. . . . Besides, our customers would kick like hell!”

                 * * * * *

On his way home, he stopped for a cocktail with his father. That gentle
fusser fussed gently, “Got any furtherer on our royal path, Neilly?”

“I think maybe I have, Dad.”

                 * * * * *

He thought of Dr. Ash Davis by contrast that evening, for it was Rod
Aldwick’s great homecoming party—staged by Rod himself, since no one
else could stage it so well.

Major Rodney Aldwick of the Tank Corps, in private life lawyer and
investor, graduate of Princeton and of Harvard Law, trained in National
Guard maneuvers, tanned and tall and lean, with cropped Prussian hair,
was a soldier, a gentleman adventurer, a hawk, a handsaw, a hero. To
Neil, five years his junior, Rod in highschool days had always been
_the_ hero. Rod could do his algebra, correct his tango step, show him
where the best pickerel camped in Dead Squaw Lake, coach him in hockey,
reinforce him in wars with gangs of Poles and Italians, comfort him when
Ellen Havock turned him down, lend him fifty cents, and explain the
mysteries of taxes and the Trinity and why decent men like their fathers
never voted the Democratic ticket. Not that Rod did do any of these
heroic things for Neil, who had gone through boyhood pretty steadily on
his own feet, but Neil had felt fervently that he would do them if he
were asked.

In his Eastern college days, as Neil learned from afar, Rod had been
equally deft at debating and at polo, and while he sozzled with the
rowdies he picked up in New York bars and took the oath of the Brother
in Blood in pretzels and in salt, he seduced none but girls of families
above or below the blackmail line, and said with the humorous clarity
typical of him even in youth, “When I get ready to run for the Senate,
there won’t be any little bastards on the platform.”

Rod lived not in the sweet neighborliness of Sylvan Park but next door
to Dr. Roy Drover, in the grandeur of Ottawa Heights. He was now on
terminal leave from the Army, a figure of romantic war, given to
specially tailored battle-jackets. For his own welcome, the wide oaken
floors of his large house had been waxed, his collection of crystal
vases and bowls, new-washed and glittering, had been filled with
daffodils, and behind a Chinese screen, liberated from the unlawful
hands of German looters, a four-piece orchestra played Delius and
Copland. It was the first warm summer-evening in that Northern land, and
the men were out in white-flannel dinner jackets (and damn cold they
were, too) and the flower of local womanhood were in white net with
Mexican shawls.

Rod moved like a Candidate from admiring knot to knot, and to Neil and
Vestal he said simply, “You two—now I _know_ I’m home! Neilly, I’ve
heard how gallantly you took your wound, and I heard it from some pretty
high-ranking brass on the Other Side. I said to them, ‘He’s about my
oldest friend, that boy, and am I proud of him!’”

Neil’s stomach burned with pride, and he was annoyed later to hear Dr.
Drover speculate, “Looks to me like Rod is going in for popularity and
politics when he gets out of the Army.”

Rod’s wife, Janet, was just a little taller than Vestal and a little
better made-up and a little chattier about horse-shows, and Rod’s son
and daughter were as cool and decorative as the wide house, and Neil
felt that he was where he ought to be. When Rod could detach himself
from circulating like a first secretary of embassy and exchange with
Neil precious recollections of juvenile basketball and of beer in the
highschool locker room, Neil decided that they were two gentlemen and
officers and responsible men of affairs, standing together, shoulder to
shoulder, for the higher ideals and enterprise of America.

The thought of Xavier Pic was but a ghost haunting a ghost, and Ash
Davis was a fellow who worked in a laboratory.

                 * * * * *

Captain Kingsblood asked in a high manner of Major Aldwick, “Did you see
any colored troops in action? Didn’t happen to, myself.”

“I certainly did! A black tank outfit brigaded with mine, and they were
terrible: sullen and undisciplined and we had to keep pushing ’em ahead
of us into combat. There was a colored sergeant in that outfit that was
an absolute Bolshevik. Instead of going through proper channels, he was
always sneaking complaints to the general commanding, through crooked
orderlies—endangering our whole morale with a lot of bellyaching about
the Negroes being segregated in transportation and Red Cross supplies.
If our staff could have managed it, there was one dusky gentleman that
would never have come home to his hot mama in the sweet land of
liberty!”

Suddenly, to Neil, it wasn’t so; the black soldiers had not been like
that; and as to the rebellious sergeant whom Rod had sportingly wanted
to murder—“It could be me!” thought Neil.

He was most civil to Rod at parting.




                                   17


IF he could not believe that many of his own race were as Rod Aldwick
had found them, he had to see something of what they actually were.
Where could he look at a gathering of them? In a movie theater? In a
church?

There must be a Negro church in Grand Republic, now that it had a couple
of thousand black inhabitants; there must be Negroes who went to church,
wouldn’t you think? (His mother did!)

When he was having his shoes shined in the basement washroom of the
Hotel Pineland, he looked down more gently than had been his custom at
old Wash, the shine-boy, whose name was not Wash, but George Gray, and
who was not a boy but a man aged and tiny and infinitely patient. He was
the one Negro whom Randy Spruce most favored, as “knowing his place and
taking his cap off to us white gents.” He was also the grandfather of
Belfreda Gray.

There was something shameful in Wash, bent and spiderlike and more gray
than black. He peered up at Neil and out of his ancient dusty memories
he picked an unclean one about Belfreda, and he sniggered tinily, “Well,
Cap’n, suh, you suttinly done right when you kicked Belfreda’s tail outa
yo’ house. She’s a little slut. I can’t do nothin’ with huh.” He
giggled. “She sleeps with every no-count niggah in town. Can’t do
nothin’ with these biggity young No’th’n niggahs, no suh!”

Neil said genially, as the young prince, “Oh, Belfreda wasn’t so bad.
She’s just young. Uh, Wash—uh—where is there a colored church in this
town?”

Wash turned rigid. He looked up painfully, his filmy eyes were grim and
discerning, and most of his “cullud” stage dialect dropped as he
demanded, “What you want to know for?”

“I’d like to attend one.”

“We don’t like white folks coming to laugh at us—not when we’re
praying.”

“Honestly, Wash, I had no idea of laughing.”

“What else man like you want to come for?”

“I just felt I ought to understand your part of town better.”

“We don’t like gang of people slumming.”

“I’d be alone, and perfectly reverent, I hope.”

Neil was not conscious of how humble he had become to this venerable
elder of his race. Wash said grudgingly, “Well, Mister, they’s fo’ or
five, but you might try the Ebenezer Baptist—Reverend Brewster’s
church—in the Five Points, Mayo Street and Omaha Avenue. I go there. We
think Reverend Brewster is real smart.”

Neil knew vaguely that the Darktown of Grand Republic was called the
“Five Points,” and had Mayo Street as its principal thoroughfare. His
bank held mortgages there, and he had driven through it, but eyelessly.
Of “Reverend Brewster” he had never heard, and with a white man’s matey
joviality, as Wash returned to shining his shoes, Neil crowed, “Isn’t
Brewster kind of a Yankee name, for a colored preacher?”

“He is a Yankee.”

“Oh!”

“He’s what they call a Doctor of Philosophy.”

Neil could not but chuckle at this darky malapropism. “You mean Doctor
of Divinity.”

Something of Wash’s professional Dixie dialect crept back into humble
speech as he insisted, “No, _suh_! He got one these Doctor Philosophy
degrees from this Columbia University, in Harlem.”

“And _Doctor_ Davis. Has everybody on Mayo Street got a college degree?”

“No, suh, there’s a few of us come along too early.”

The white man in Captain Kingsblood wondered, “Is this old devil kidding
me?”

                 * * * * *

He had lied to Vestal.

On that June Sunday morning he had told her that he was going to lunch
with a Veterans’ Association in the South End. He recalled the fictions
he had produced at the State Historical Society, and reflected that he
was becoming only too good a liar.

He went by bus to the Five Points, and walked westward on Mayo Street.
It was like any other lower-middle-class shopping center, in its flabby
look, its tawdry wooden store-buildings plastered with home-painted
signs. In the block between Denver Avenue and Omaha, there were two
drugstores not so unlike the domestic treasure-houses of Sylvan Park in
their displays of waterbottles, prayer-books, aspirin, douches, and
piles of the _Sunday Frontier-Banner_. The Co-op Food Store, the Old
English Grocery, the Electric Shop, with “reconditioned radios” in the
show-window, all reminded him of that Anglo-Saxon city, Grand Republic,
and so did the Lustgarten Meat Market, which was in an old residence
with a new shop-front carelessly slapped on the ground floor and family
washing still flourishing above. Yet this familiar huddle became strange
to Neil as he realized that he did not see one white face on the crowded
sidewalk.

In front of shuttered doors, over each of which was the sign “Beds 75¢,”
were groups of burly Negro workers staring at him as though he was the
intruder that he was, and most of them were talking in dialect from the
Deep South so thick that he could not understand them. He saw a young
blade in a zoot-suit: yellow sports-jacket, flaring lavender trousers,
toothpick-toed shoes, and a broad black hat edged with white. He saw a
couple rolling up the middle of the Street, arms entwined, singing, and,
as advertised, he saw one “colored mammy,” fat ebon face grinning under
a red and yellow bandanna.

And when he looked down a side street he saw that behind neat stucco
cottages, with tidy small lawns, there was such a diminutive jungle slum
as he had not known could exist in the enlightened Northern States:
shacks one behind another, three deep, in the center of the block,
tilted doghouses such as no truly enterprising dog would have endured,
each with a couple of inches of stove pipe for chimney. The whole ground
between the shacks was a maggot-heap of dogs, chickens, and bare brown
babies.

That frightened him. “How would I like turning black, and having to
bring Vestal and Biddy down here?”

And he was more certain that he could never become “colored” when he
passed the Beale Street Bar-B-Q and saw the dark cloud of Negroes
looking hatefully through the steamy window at the slumming white man;
when he came to the Jumpin’ Jive night club which, he thought, belonged
to Belfreda’s friend, the sardonic Borus Bugdoll, who had made light of
the Kingsbloods in their own kitchen. It had been a store; the
show-window was now filled with a gilded plaster seashell decked with
silvered pine-cones and poison-green ribbons, framing the blown-up
photograph of an almost naked black dancing-girl.

The street was more alien to Neil than Italy in wartime, and it seemed
to him that every dusky face, every rickety wall, hated him and would
always hate him, and he might as well go home.

But all of this had taken only five minutes of slow walking, and in the
sixth minute the sorcery was lifted and he was among people who, though
their faces were more beloved of the sun, were like any other group of
middle-class church-going Americans.

They were Dr. Brewster’s congregation, enjoying their weekly gossip
before the church bell should summon them in: placid and well-shaven
men, wearing the kind of Sunday clothes that people do wear on Sunday;
Mothers in Zion, nervously thin or comfortably buxom, talking about
their sons in the service; supernaturally Sunday-neatened small boys
restless in tight shoes and little girls flaunting Sunday splendor;
elders with a long good life recorded in their etched faces; voluble
babies who had not yet heard that they were Negroes and who assumed that
they were babies.

The voices of that half of them who were Northern-born sounded like the
voices of any other Minnesotans; and while they looked at Neil with a
slight doubtfulness, they did not make him feel like an intruder as had
the derisive loafers at the Bar-B-Q.

The Ebenezer Baptist Church was a small tidy oblong of brick, with an
absurd dwarf steeple. The clear glass windows, rather narrow, with
wooden frames rising to peaks that tried to suggest Gothic arches, had
inserts of colored glass displaying Bible texts in script. With that,
the Gothic revival ended.

The little bell quacked, and the amiable crowd bobbed slowly up the
steps, shyly followed by Neil.

Inside, the church seemed to Neil less like a place of worship than a
lodge room. It was lined with gray wallboard, neatly fastened with
red-topped thumb-tacks, and neat and gray the straight lines of pews.
Texts, gold-embossed on black placards, were on the walls, with a
portrait of a black St. Augustine of Carthage. On a platform in front
was a choir of nine girls in black gowns and mortar boards. Two of them
were creamy white.

The surprise to Neil, himself a Baptist and brought up to denounce the
heathen gauds of Rome, was that against a pathetic little reredos of
wooden latticework stood a homemade altar with a lace-edged cloth on
which was an imitation jeweled cross.

He had been standing as awkwardly as a new patient in a doctor’s
waiting-room. Would _They_ resent him; ask him to get out? But the usher
who tiptoed toward him, a man black-silk black, with a flat nose and
heavy lips, smiled at him as though in the House of God they were
friends. He was wearing a blue-gray herring-bone suit exactly like the
newest pride of Neil’s father. He touched Neil’s arm politely, led him
halfway down, gravely motioned, and Neil had another First in his career
as a Negro. He sat down between two colored people and they seemed to
him very much like people.

On his left was a small woman who ignored him, as her lips moved in
rapid silent prayer; on the other side was a large man, black as a
cellar, who was probably a carpenter or a painter and who bowed
good-naturedly in answer to Neil’s flustered nod.

He looked over the mimeographed church bulletin, and wondered about the
title of the pastor’s sermon: “Delivered from Corruption.” Would it be
something funny and inferior and Negroid, for all that doubtful pastoral
Ph.D. degree, or would it be just another of the Baptist sermons that
all these years (once a month or so) he had been chewing without
tasting?

Then, through a narrow side door to the chancel, the Reverend Dr. Evan
Brewster made entrance. For a moment he seemed to be showing off, as he
halted to look over his flock, to stare doubtfully at Neil. But the
theatricality, if it was such, lasted only a moment; then Dr. Brewster
chatted with the choir, muttered something to an usher—Neil was afraid
that it might be a scurrility about himself—and to the reading stand, a
priest in his temple, confident and serene.

Evan Brewster was a large man, black as a japanned deed-box, with the
shoulders of a roustabout and just the kinks of hair, the pushed-in
nose, bulbous mouth, sloping forehead, thin legs that Neil had seen in
every picture of a black dock-walloper, every primeval brute who
regularly assaults fatherly white policemen. He was everything that
would give a petal-pale white lady a shock, and if Neil was less
delicate, still he was disapproving that this bruiser should mock the
holy Baptist pulpit by wearing, over his rather shiny blue suit, the
canonical primness of a Geneva gown.

Dr. Brewster was silent, looking at them, and Neil slowly permitted
himself to see that never, in any human face, had he known such
gentleness, such kindness, such honest and manly sweetness, such
outpouring love for all living beings and all life. And when he spoke,
his voice was that of any vigorous and scholarly man who had gone from a
literate family to a shrewd university, the voice of a man who could
also be intolerably eloquent.

“Friends—and especially the new friends whom we welcome here this
morning—may we start with singing _How Firm a Foundation, Ye Saints of
the Lord_? It is a _Battle Hymn of the Republic_ for these days of
battle.”

                 * * * * *

Evan Brewster—and he really was a Ph.D. of Columbia—had also attended
Harvard College and the Union Theological Seminary, where the students
believe in a trinity of Father, Son and Sociology—the Father as a
symbol, the Son as a poetic myth, and Sociology with a pink halo. But
after that, Evan got religion and race.

He had been born in a Massachusetts village of elms and white steeples,
his father a tailor with white patrons. He was something over forty now,
with a quiet wife, a daughter named Thankful, and a son named Winthrop,
who now in high school was showing talent for physics. When he had first
come to Grand Republic, as a missionary to his people, his church had
been a shanty in Swede Hollow. In his dozen years here he had seen the
Negro island expand from three or four hundred to two thousand; had seen
over-timid or over-bumptious dark immigrants from the Carolinas and
Texas turn into citizens; seen the young people going to college,
becoming army officers, writing for the _Defender_, the _Courier_, the
_Spokesman_.

Swede Hollow became overcrowded with Finns and Poles and Scandinavians;
rents were grossly raised (by favorite customers of the Second National
Bank); and Dr. Brewster led his own flock and most of the other Negroes
from Swede Hollow to the brickfields and swamps where the Five Points
was to rise. When his new church was built, he worked with his members
in laying brick, while his doe-like wife, Corinne, served coffee and
brought the hymn-books to the men and lent her lipstick to the sisters.

Judge Cass Timberlane had once said that Dr. Evan Brewster was the most
intelligent person in Grand Republic. That was doubtful, when you
considered Sweeney Fishberg or Dr. and Mrs. Kamber or a couple of
Wargate chemists named Ash Davis and Cope Anderson, or possibly Judge
Timberlane himself. But none of these competent people had Evan
Brewster’s love for all suffering human beings.

Neil Kingsblood’s friends had never heard of Dr. Brewster.

                 * * * * *

During the hymn, which the congregation sang with neither a comic swing
nor any of the richness fictionally associated with spirituals, but like
any other evangelical Americans, Neil looked at the people about him.

Except for four or five of whom he was in doubt, they all seemed
“colored.” He recognized only two: Wash, the bootblack-sage, who now, in
a double-breasted blue jacket, looked like a tiny, secret, fatherly old
Jewish international banker, and Judge Timberlane’s cook-general, Mrs.
Higbee.

When they had finished singing and sat listening to the gospel, Neil
discovered that his sense of their being “colored,” being alien, being
fundamentally different from himself, had evaporated. Their similarity
to one another in duskiness and fuzzy hair was so much less than their
individual differences that they had already ceased being Negroes and
become People, to wonder about, to love and hate.

Evan Brewster was no longer ugly to him, in his thick virility, but
noble as a grizzly is noble, and Neil saw dimly what a piece of
impertinence it had been for the Caucasians to set up their own anemic
dryness as the correct standard of beauty.

He was not an amused tourist; it was desperate for him to know his own
people. His vision was magnified, and he was able to see how these
Negroes varied in complexion, from black-glass to vellum and cream and
copper and lemon-yellow; and there was one man, pale and heavily
freckled and almost as red-headed as Neil himself, about whom you
nevertheless felt certain that he was a “Negro.”

He began to identify them with the white people he knew. The large and
probably bad-tempered woman who had been singing with such powerful
unction was unquestionably Mrs. Boone Havock. The dashing lady, slender,
amiable but aloof, whose face was shadowed by a tilted black hat
dripping with lilac net, with pearl earrings clear against her dark
neck, was Mrs. Don Pennloss, and a proud woman who was more white than
any white person and yet obviously was not “white,” could be no one but
the exclusive Eve Champeris.

The workman beside him, who had smiled and offered him an opened
hymn-book, was the old Scotch-Irish carpenter who used to give him, as a
small boy, the long sweet shavings for use as beards and wigs and
kindling for Indian campfires.

Neil had never seen how beautiful hands can be till now, when he was
sensitively aware of the carpenter’s palms. The backs of his hands were
dark-gray, a weary color, but the palms were worn pink as Neil’s own,
except in the creases, where there still clung a dark tint, and his
nails were pink as Neil’s. They were hands competent to rip off old
boards, to grasp a hammer, to guide a chisel, to bless a child.

“Maybe hands like that do something better than make figures in
ledgers,” sighed Neil.

                 * * * * *

He tried to find out whether they _did_ smell like that.

Like most Americans, he had always touchingly believed that all Negroes
have an especial and detestable savor, and he could be seen now
earnestly sniffing. He did catch a distinct odor, but it was the aroma
of soap, moth balls, and laundry which is peculiar to all church
congregations, white, black, yellow, or magenta, on any warm Sunday
morning. Indeed his exploration into the mysteries of his own people was
a failure insofar as he expected to find them different from that other
caste, equally his own people, who were called whites.

He, the customary even if not very credulous Baptist, felt at home in
this Baptist church.

As he had begun to find in Dr. Brewster the harsh beauty of a rough
bronze statue and the spiritual beauty of a Coptic saint beneath the
desert sun, so he began to relish the leopard beauty in the woman with
the pearl earrings, and the healthy, flapper-and-bobby-sox beauty of
these appallingly typical American schoolgirls about him.




                                   18


THE sermon of Dr. Brewster was long and stately. Under divine law and
divine love, he lectured, there can be no corruption save by the will of
the corrupted.

It did not mean very much to a young man who wanted to know what was the
right course for a person whom God had made white but whom the
legislative enactments of many God-fearing States of the Union had made
black. It was such a sermon as might have been preached in any
Rockefeller-Gothic church on Fifth Avenue, Michigan Avenue, or Hollywood
Boulevard. In Neil’s waxing desire to know how real was reality, it was
too collegiate and cultured and generally white. He could have done with
more tom-toms and jungle-dancing, more samples of what his darker
ancestors might have been, and through the whole sermon, the
congregation showed unction with not more than two or three dehydrated
Hallelujahs and one “Praise God, ain’t it de trufe!”

Neil was rather comforted when the Harvard-Columbia-Union Seminary
superiority broke down, and Dr. Brewster was guilty of “My brethrens”
and of “cherubims,” and not only confided that for one summer he had
“pastored” a church in St. Joe, but that its members had
enthusiastically “brotherhooded.”

That was more like it, Neil thought gleefully. That was getting nearer
to the Southern darky sermons reported by the Southern-gent-journalists
and joyfully quoted by Rod Aldwick, in which all Tinted Men of God
invariably spout, “Mah bretherens and sisterens, Ah absqualulates dat
dis-here congoleum of crapshooters is powuhful lakly to perish in dat
ole lake of fire.”

——If I _am_ going to be a Negro, I want my sermons hot. I might as
well enjoy getting away from certifying checks and playing bridge, and
roll the bones in the jook.

——Quit being sentimental, Kingsblood. If you get caught and publicly
turn Negro, you’re going to play it just as safe and respectable as you
can, and hope that the kind white folks won’t mind your nasty little
Biddy being in school with their darlings.

——And it comes to me that I’ve heard my own white Baptist preacher,
Doc Buncer, say “cherubims” and “to pastor.” This is plain hell, to get
myself nerved up to being a Negro and then find there aren’t any special
Negro things _to_ be. Wouldn’t it be flat for an enthusiastic martyr to
find that the fire just warmed him pleasantly?

——Don’t worry. It won’t feel flat when Biddy and I get kicked off a
Tennessee bus by a Mick conductor and a hillbilly cop breaks my jaw
while a Wop detective grabs Biddy and snickers and begins——Oh, stop
tormenting yourself. Stop it!

                 * * * * *

If he had criticized Dr. Brewster for an address that was pretentious in
that humble chapel, he was stirred when Brewster read the Scripture.
Neil was no judge of drama, but he felt a high moment like King Lear’s
madness as the pastor read, tenderly and movingly, the eternal cry of
all dark peoples, all Orientals, all women, all men sick and bewildered
and lame with poverty:

“I did mourn as a dove; mine eyes fail with looking upward. O Lord, I am
oppressed; undertake for me. . . . I shall go softly all my days in the
bitterness of my soul. . . . Behold, for peace I had great bitterness,
but thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of
corruption. . . . The grave cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate
thee; they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. _The
living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day._”

                 * * * * *

The audience were softly moaning, “Were you there when they crucified my
Lord?” and they leaped to sudden cheerful jazz in “Just a little talk
with Jesus makes it right, all right!” and Neil saw a turpentine camp
and men molded in copper and ebony singing slow and stopping to laugh
under the chains of the white men as they swaggered, bound, into the
swamps, into the sunrise.

——This is my history, thought Neil; this is my people; I must come
out.




                                   19


DURING the sermon, Neil had noticed, in the pew across the aisle, a
family of father, who was a man of sixty or so, mother, a son who was in
uniform as a captain, a young woman holding a baby who was being
extraordinarily good, and a girl of perhaps seventeen. All of them were
serious, capable-looking people, and all of them, except for the darkish
young wife and her baby, might unquestionably have been taken for white,
if they had not seemed so habitual here.

Where had he seen that captain?

He realized that this was the “colored boy” who had been in his class
all through school, respected and ignored. Some of the white girls had
even pretended to like him, and he had once been elected class
secretary. Now what was his name? Oh. Emerson Woolcape.

Neil had heard that the fellow had become a dentist, with an office in
the Five Points, with a regular chair and X-ray outfit and even a
uniformed girl assistant, just like a regular practitioner. As the son
of a real dentist, Neil had found this slightly comic.

He did not, just now, find it so comic, nor the fact that Woolcape
should be pretending to be a captain, like himself, and that on his
collar there was no suggestion of gentlemanly guns for killing people,
but merely the caduceus with a D which indicated nothing more warlike
and noble than saving their teeth.

Neil recalled that as a boy he had once seen the whole Woolcape family
picnicking on the bluffs of the Sorshay River, about a red and white
tablecloth spread on the rocks. They had all been singing, and he had
enviously thought that they were having more fun than his family ever
had. He was sure that he had seen the Woolcape father around that crazy
Mermaid Tavern Building, with its phony half-timbering, as janitor and
handyman. But there was nothing apparent of the mop and furnace-dust
about him now. His gray suit was easy, his tie was well knotted, and his
face of a Roman Senator, crowned with gray-shot sable hair, was proudly
back as he listened to the sermon.

Staring at the grave competence of John Woolcape, Neil felt a
premonitory chill about his own future in a world, his own world of
Pruttery, which had nothing more than a dirty and half-servile job for a
man who looked like that. He warmly assured himself that however
sympathetic he might be with these Negroes, it would not be a very
bright notion financially to announce himself as one. But, “I wish I had
that man’s dignity,” he sighed.

Mrs. Woolcape had an especial look of familiarity that perplexed Neil
until he realized that she was surprisingly like his own mother. He
denied it, and shivered, and looked again. She seemed older than “Mum,”
and at once more calm and more resolute, yet in her color of pale honey,
her chiseled-down nose, her small shy mouth, her eyes that asked nothing
for herself, she was so like his mother that he felt bound to her and to
her family by something more than a tale about a moccasined frontier
rover. This was a woman whose questions he would answer gladly, and in
her smile and tenderness he could find solace.

                 * * * * *

“The Lord be with us, while we are parted one from another, the Lord
wash us clean of corruption, the Lord dwell in loving kindness among
us——”

Evan Brewster paused, he looked straight at Neil, he had a wonderful
smile of friendship, and he ended, “loving kindness among us all, rich
or needy, black and white—His children.”

The African girls in the choir, who were American girls, were chanting
“Blessed be the tie that binds,” but the spell was shattered as everyone
rose—everyone but Neil, who sat enchanted.

When he moved toward the door with the last of the congregation, he felt
their doubt whether he was friendly or just curious; whether they should
bow or ignore him. But all of them who had come from the South had
learned that it was safer to do both, and get away quick.

At the door, Dr. Brewster was shaking hands, and he spoke to Neil not
otherwise than to the others: “It has been pleasant to have you with us
this morning, Brother.”

The conventionality of it irritated Neil, yet was that not just what his
own Dr. Buncer said?

Seen close, as they shook hands—and by now Neil had enough training so
that he no longer made a production of it—Dr. Brewster had tiny folds
of flesh over the inner corners of his eyes, he was moist as a fieldhand
and had the dismaying grip of one, and in his eyes was every sorrow
since Golgotha.

When Neil was rather confusedly out on the sidewalk, he was not glad
that the ordeal was finished; he was lost and puzzled in a common world
where neither the hard-faced whites whom he saw now on the Street nor
the tough and lounging Negro gamblers could conceivably have any of Evan
Brewster’s patience for his quandary.

For a long time he stared at the Ethiopia Motion Picture Playhouse,
across the way, as though it were Chartres Cathedral. He did not realize
that he was standing beside the Woolcape family, who were in
after-church gossip with neighbors. Captain Emerson Woolcape looked as
though he recognized Neil but did not expect to be recognized himself,
and he was surprised when Neil half bowed, and babbled, “I thought that
was you, o’ man. Haven’t seen you since high school.”

The Woolcapes stared at him with a silence that could become either
welcome or hostility. He rushed on, longing, for reasons not too clear
to him, to be accepted by them:

“In fact, years ago, I saw all of you having a grand picnic together,
and I wished I were with you.”

They all widened their mouths in forbidding politeness, and Neil urged,
as one who would be loved even if he had to kill them for it, “Sorry I
never had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Brewster before. Uh—did you get
over to the other side, Captain—Emerson?”

“I saw a little of the show there.” Reluctantly, Emerson did what was
necessary. “Captain Kingsblood, this is my wife—I imagine you know her
father, Drexel Greenshaw of the Fiesole Room—and our baby. My father
and mother, and this young lady is my niece, Phoebe. . . . Mother,
you’ve heard me speak of Mr. Kingsblood—we were in school together.”

The Woolcapes all looked like children who have done their politenesses
to the nosey deacon and feel that they may sneak away now and be happy.
But, at whatever risk of being snubbed, Neil wasn’t having it. This
family had become immensely important to him. When a man is born a Negro
at thirty-one, he needs a family.

He had never done much in the youthfully-beseeching line; yet, he was
solicitous now with Emerson.

“Which way you going, Captain? I don’t know this part of town very
well.”

It was not Emerson but his mother who rose to a hearty, “Oh, wouldn’t
you like to walk along with us, Captain?”

John and Mary Woolcape lived a block from the church, with Emerson next
door. As they trudged, John pointed out the dwarf parsonage of Evan
Brewster, and tried, “Did you enjoy the sermon, Captain Kingsblood? We
think quite highly of Dr. Brewster.”

The Woolcapes were surprised by the ardor with which this white
banker—probably down here on some regrettable piece of financial
spying—answered, “Seriously, I thought he had a remarkable combination
of power and gentleness. A saint—but smart!”

“He’s too good a bowler and much too good a cook to be classed as a
saint, but we’re very fond of Dr. Brewster,” said Mrs. Woolcape, and
Neil felt that she was faintly laughing at him and his status of amateur
critic. But he would not be smiled down. He studied the parsonage,
shabby white, one-story, three or four small rooms, the whole thing not
much larger than his own modest living-room. There were prim curtained
windows, and on the pocket-handkerchief porch were three jars of
geraniums.

“Rather small house for a man as big as he is. And I suppose he’s
married?”

“Yes, and two children. Dr. Brewster says they manage by sleeping on top
of the cook-stove and keeping the bathtub and the cat underneath it, and
his library—_both_ books!” said Mr. Woolcape.

His wife rose to it. “Now John, you know perfectly well that Evan has a
splendid library for a man on his salary—hundreds of books—all the
important new ones—Myrdal and Wright and Langston Hughes and Alain
Locke and everything!”

They laughed at her like a family who love one another.

Neil found some more conversation to offer: “Small church—don’t suppose
you can possibly pay him a high salary. Seems a shame.”

John said proudly, “No, we can’t. None of us make very much ourselves,
you know. So Evan—Dr. Brewster—has to work nights in the post office,
to make both ends meet, as his children are still young. But he just
laughs about it. He says we’re lucky to have a preacher that’s a
civil-service employee and not a panhandler. And,” boastfully, “he’s a
supervisor, and he has quite a few white men working under him!”

“Yet for a man like that,” offered Neil, “college degrees and all, to
have to waste his time sorting circulars——”

“We don’t think so,” Mr. Woolcape insisted. “We’re glad Reverend
Brewster is willing to work with common people like ourselves, and not
soak away in dreams in a pastor’s study. Especially my son Ryan feels
that—he’s home on leave from the Army but he didn’t come with us today.
He’s a little leftwing, I’m afraid.”

“My, my, my, Captain Kingsblood must be simply fascinated by our family
history. Do tell him about the pup we had once that had six toes on each
foot!” Mary Woolcape scoffed, and stretched out her hand to Neil in
farewell.

He wilfully did not see it.

They were standing in front of the Woolcape house, which was not much
larger than Evan Brewster’s, one-storied, white, immaculate; they were
standing there, and Neil just stood there, till John Woolcape could
scarce escape saying, “Won’t you come in?” And Neil did come in; he
stepped right in after them, like it or not, and he was determined that
nothing so petty as good manners should keep him from a chance of
enlightenment.

He saw the shared glance of Emerson and his father which meant, “What
does this loan-shark from the bank want? What sort of a crooked
white-man’s trick is he up to?”

He tried to set up an old-schoolmates-together atmosphere with, “Do you
remember that funny old hen we had in algebra, Captain?” Emerson
chuckled. “She was a crank, all right.”

“But she had a good heart. One time after class she said to me, ‘Neil,
if you would do your algebra better, you might become Governor of the
State.’”

“Did she, Captain?” Emerson spoke with a drawl that was on the insulting
side. “What she said to _me_, one time after class, was that she was
considering only my welfare, and for a boy of my race to learn algebra
instead of short-order cooking was ‘my, such a waste of time!’”

All the classmate cordiality was frozen. The Woolcapes were looking at
Neil bleakly, they were waiting for his real mission. . . . Did bank
clerks sell burial insurance?

“Please, I don’t intend to intrude. I know that you want to get your
Sunday dinner, and I’m going to skip right along, but there’s a few
things I earnestly want to know about—I mean, I don’t know much of
anything about—uh—about this part of town, and I simply must have a
better understanding of—_of this part of town_.”

What Neil was trying to say, without offense, was “better understanding
of Negroes.” But did one say _to_ them “Negroes” or “colored people” or
“Ethiopians” or that cumbersome “Afro-Americans” or what? What would
offend them least? Once, in Italy, he had heard a Negro soldier bawl at
another, “Hustle up, nigger,” and yet he knew now that they were not
fond of the word. It was confusing.

They looked more cordial. “What can we tell you, Captain Kingsblood?”
asked Emerson.

(How did they know he had been a captain? Was it true, as some people
said, that the whole dark world was a conspiracy planning the
destruction of all the white people, viciously clever yet jungle-mad,
wild as smoke-blackened midnight fires for human sacrifice; a cabal that
spied on every white person’s acts and noted them in little books
audited by witch-doctors and Communist agents?)

Now the one thing he yearned to say was “Shall I, who am a Negro, become
a Negro?” While he struggled to phrase it, he looked about.

There was no reason why a man of average perception should have been
astonished that the house of middle-class Negroes with ordinary good
taste and neatness should be exactly like the house of any other
middle-class Americans with ordinary taste and neatness. What, Neil
taxed himself, did he expect? A voodoo altar? Drums and a leopard skin?
A crap-game and a demijohn of corn liquor? Or an Eldzier Cortor painting
and signed photographs of Haile Selassie, Walter White and Pushkin? Yes,
probably he _had_ expected something freakish.

But, if they were janitors, instead of lawyers and salesmen, he and all
of his friends would have living-rooms exactly like this: the same worn
carpet-rug, tapestry chair with foot-rest, love seat, ornamented
ash-trays, satinwood radio-cabinet, women’s magazines, and not very good
reproductions of not very good floral pieces!

——Vestal would approve of this room and point out that Mrs. Woolcape
keeps it better than Shirley does ours.

Then he stopped lying to himself and with a pang he admitted how
impossible it would be to conceive of Vestal as ever being here and
being natural with these, his own people.

Well, they were waiting, and he tried to speak out.

“What I wanted to ask—I don’t quite know how to express it, but certain
things have happened, and they make me feel that I ought to know you,
uh——”

“‘Negroes’ is the word,” said John Woolcape.

“Or ‘colored people.’ We don’t mind either,” said his wife, and they
were both suave about it and rather tolerant.

“What Mother means,” Emerson explained, “is that we dislike both terms
intensely, but we consider them slightly less ruffling than ‘nigger’ or
‘coon’ or ‘jig’ or ‘spade’ or ‘smoke’ or any of the other labels by
which white ditch-diggers indicate their superiority to Negro bishops.
We expect it to take a few more decades before we’re simply called
‘Americans’ or ‘human beings.’”

“Don’t be so damn smug!” Emerson’s father threw at him. “You’re right
about the unpleasantness of the labels, but when did a ditch-digger get
to be so inferior to a bishop? I’m an ash-shoveler myself! But if
Captain Kingsblood would like to ask about the Negroes—that’s the word
that I happen to use—we’d be glad to tell him anything we can.”

Emerson hastened, “Of course we will. I didn’t mean to be smug. I just
don’t like being branded as a kind of barnyard animal. But Captain, if
you’d really enjoy a red-hot race-talk, wait till my brother Ryan comes
in. He’s only twenty-three, but he can be as wonderful and wrong as if
he were ninety. He’s on leave—hopes to be out soon, but he’s still in
the service, as I am; he’s a sergeant, and how he does look down on us
captains! Ryan’s been out in India, and way he tells it, he was
hobnobbing with Gandhi and Nehru, though _they_ may not have noticed it.
And Burma.”

The reference to foreign service sent the two soldiers off on the
shop-talk of veterans. Captain and Doctor Emerson Woolcape looked like a
soldier, sounded like a soldier, had the very tune of it, and Neil
reflected that if Emerson had little of the magic of that great leader,
Major Rodney Aldwick, he seemed no less professional, as they traded
opinions of B-29’s, rations, colonels and seasickness.

They were all seated now, though only Neil looked settled and
comfortable.

Emerson’s niece, Phoebe, who had not yet been explained, was as bored by
the droning of these venerable soldiers as any other seventeen-year-old
American girl would have been. She was a graceful thing, breathless with
youth; she was as gilt-headed as Biddy, as pink-and-white as Neil’s
sister, Joan, and more restless. She sprang up now as a boy of her own
age burst in.

He was thoroughly black, his features Negroid, yet in his blue Sunday
suit and his beige sweater edged with maroon at the neck, he was
completely the American High School Boy, shoulders proudly back, free
and independent—probably too free and too independent, like his white
classmates, who were the despair of their clucking teachers.

“This is Winthrop Brewster, our pastor’s boy. Phoebe and he are driving
to Duluth for lunch,” said Mrs. Woolcape, as though that flight,
seventy-odd miles each way, were a step across to the park.

Winthrop said How was he, Phoebe said Sorryhaftrunaway, with decently
veiled joy at escaping from an old man of thirty-one, and they were gone
in a blur, the same blur of gasoline fumes in which two other American
children, Neil and Vestal, had flickered, only a dozen years ago.

And in just the tone of Vestal’s mother then, Mrs. Woolcape lamented,
“I’m worried about that child. Our granddaughter Phoebe. Her mother and
father have passed on, and we’re responsible for her. I’m sure I didn’t
act like that when I was in high school and Oberlin. She seems to be
simultaneously in love with Winthrop Brewster—he’s a wonderful boy;
he’ll be a great expert in electronics or something after he goes to
college, but Phoebe thinks Winthrop is too sober and fussy, and so, if
you please, our young lady calmly up and announces that she is also in
love with Bobby Gowse, who’s a wild stage dancer here, and with our
neighboring boy, Leo Jensing. But Leo is white, so of course we wouldn’t
like that.”

“Are you prejudiced against white people, then?” wondered Neil.

Her husband raged, “She certainly is, and I keep telling her that with
her education—I only finished grade school, myself—she has no excuse
for condemning a whole race. I tell her that if she is patient and looks
for it, she’ll find just as many kind-hearted and understanding people
among the whites as in our own race. . . . But I’m also somewhat opposed
to intermarriage, though only because there are so many people, both
white and black, who have been denied the power to love and so they are
envious and do all the harm they can when they see a mixed couple who
love each other so much that they are willing to stand social exile. Of
course this whole color code is nonsense, but it’s so tied up with the
old aristocratic class myth, like the D.A.R. or the English nobility (so
I read), that you can’t ignore it any more than you can syphilis, which
it greatly resembles.”

“John!” said Mrs. Woolcape.

“And so,” her husband continued, “I would—well, to tell the truth,
Captain Kingsblood, I’m hanged if I know whether, if Phoebe wanted to
marry a white boy, I would lock her in, or throw up my janitor’s cap and
shoot anybody who tried to interfere with her rights!”

“Now John, stop being so racial,” said Mrs. Woolcape, but in a strictly
routine way.

Emerson’s wife had taken the baby and gone home—somewhat pointedly.
Neil knew that they were waiting for him to leave.

“I mustn’t stay any longer but——Tell me. Is it hard to be a Negro?
Here in the North, I mean—in Grand Republic? I’m not just being
curious. I want terribly to know.”

The older Woolcapes and Emerson took wordless counsel, and Emerson
answered for them:

“Yes, it is hard, unceasingly.”

His mother corrected him, “Not always. Most of the time we forget we are
classed as pariahs, and go about our business without thinking of race,
without thinking of ourselves as anything special. But occasionally it
is intolerable, not so much for yourself as for the people you love, and
I can understand the young men who talk so wildly about
machine-guns—wicked talk, but I understand.”

Neil worried it, “But—I’m honestly not trying to argue, Mrs. Woolcape,
but I want to know. I have no doubt it’s tough in the South, but here in
the North there’s certainly no prejudice—oh, maybe some individuals,
but no legal bars. Why,” with pride, “I even understand there’s a Civil
Rights law in this state, so Negroes can go into any restaurant! And
your son and Phoebe, the way they look, they don’t seem to have suffered
from any discrimination!”

“Captain,” said Emerson, “we were classmates. I thought then, and I see
now I was right, that you were a frank, good-hearted fellow. You made a
point of being pleasant to most of the boys, and you and I had common
interests—track, mathematics, civics—and yet in twelve years, you
almost never spoke to me except to say ‘Good morning’ as if you were
doubtful about it.”

Neil nodded. “Yes. And too late to apologize. I wish I could. But
Phoebe, her generation is different. She seems as unself-conscious as my
sister.”

The quiet mother, Mary Woolcape, cried out, “That child is just
beginning to learn the humiliation that every Negro feels every day,
particularly in our self-satisfied North Middlewest. In the South, we’re
told we’re dogs who simply have to get used to our kennels, and then
we’ll get a nice bone and a kind word. But up here we’re told that we’re
complete human beings, and encouraged to hope and think, and as a
consequence we feel the incessant little reminders of supposed
inferiority, the careless humiliations, more than our Southern cousins
do the fear of lynching. Humiliation! That’s a word you white people
ought to know about!

“Especially we who look white get humiliated here. We’re constantly
meeting people who don’t know about It and who take to us, so that we
drop our defenses—like fools. Then one day they snub us or glare at us
or run away from meeting us, and we know that _they_ know, and the
pleasant times with them are over.

“But those who are visibly black——No discrimination in the North? No,
merely looked at like rattlesnakes by all the mean-tempered people on
trains and buses and in stores. Rarely get jobs better than the kitchen,
no matter what our ability. Ambitious colored boys becoming gamblers or
hoboes because no one will try them at responsible work. Admitted
grudgingly to restaurants because of the law, and then insulted or
neglected there, so that next time we’d rather go hungry—so that we’d
rather walk the streets all of a winter night than ask for a room in
what you’d call a good hotel. So that John and I, who _would_ be
admitted, hate to take a hotel room when we travel, with our own
brothers driven to the streets.

“Humiliated till we get broken or else, like John and me, prefer to stay
home, always, always, and not take a chance on meeting any white man,
any time. And we’re not bad, oh, we’re not, and when I think how good
and courageous my husband is, and my children, and my father, the
zoologist that——

“Oh, sorry. Being sentimental. I know you white people think it’s very
funny for a black woman to praise her men like that!”

“No—please!” Neil was extraordinarily moved and shaky.

“Don’t you read the humorous stories about pretentious darkies in the
magazines, hear the jokes about Mandy and Rastus at banquets? And
Phoebe—you spoke of her new generation. Just the other day, a
fifty-year-old white garage attendant, and Phoebe is much whiter than he
is, told her that he would be willing to sleep with her, if he could
only get used to her being a nigger. That’s not as bad as the South,
where a friend of ours, a colored woman, was hurt in an automobile
accident, bleeding to death, and they turned her away from white
hospital after hospital, and she died in the Street—murdered.

“But still, when Phoebe went out for the school play, at your own
Hamilton High, before she had a chance to read at the try-out, they told
her the cast was already chosen, but they told a white friend of hers
that nobody had been chosen. And one of her teachers this year keeps
looking at her and at the Greek and Italian and Russian youngsters, and
then she says something like ‘those of us who have New England ancestors
will not need to be told that so-and-so is a point of honor.’

“But that won’t break her bones, as it did her father’s. He was our
oldest son, Bayard. He would have become a fine economics teacher. He
graduated from Carleton—earned his way through, doing chores, but he
was _summa cum laude_—and he married a wonderful girl.

“He was brought up entirely in the North—yes, yes, I know I’m
inconsistent; I admit the South is worse, even worse! He was brought up
here, and he’d never experienced one minute of _legal_ segregation, and
he just couldn’t believe that a decent, educated Negro would ever run
into violence in the South.

“He went to teach in a Negro college in Georgia, where his
great-grandfather had been a slave. The first time he saw that hideous
sign ‘For colored only,’ he wrote me, he felt so angry and so scared, as
if a man were coming at him with a knife, that he had to draw the car up
beside the road and be sick.

“But he tried to do what his Southern acquaintances advised and to ‘play
the game’—a game in which the other side always makes the rules. Then
when he’d been there only a month, a policeman stopped his car and acted
as if he’d stolen it. This man had seen Bayard around the college—he
knew that though he was so pale, he was classed as ‘colored.’ He was so
vicious that Bayard forgot and talked back, and they took him to the
police-station and said he was drunk—he never even touched beer—and he
got angry and they beat him. They beat him to death. My son.

“They beat him a long time. Till he died there on the cement floor. He
was a handsome boy. And they told his wife that she’d better keep still
or she’d never get to bear her baby—who was our Phoebe.

“After the baby came, she escaped North, all day and all night in the
jimcrow coach, and she died within a year. He really was a handsome boy,
and they kept kicking his head, on the cement floor, all dirty and
bloody, and he died there.”

Mary Woolcape was crying, and it was the more racking that she was not
hysterical but hopeless. Neil wanted to make her the greatest offering
he could, and he heard himself saying, “I understand, because I’ve found
out that I am part Negro myself.”

——Good Lord, I’ve done it! How could I be such a fool?




                                   20


“YOU say you’re part Negro? That’s not our idea of a joke.”

John Woolcape, who was less ruddy than Neil and therefore more “white,”
was stern.

“It’s not my idea of a joke, either! I never knew it till recently.” He
felt trapped. Oh, these Woolcapes were admirable people, but he did not
want to be in their power. He urged them, “Maybe I shouldn’t have
blurted it out. Nobody knows it, not even my parents or my wife, but I’m
afraid it’s true. Only a small percentage, but legally, so many places,
I’m afraid I’m a colored man.”

He was surprised that they did not look more surprised. They looked,
indeed, rather hard. He tried to be airy:

“Well, I suppose I’ll just have to face it.”

John Woolcape said evenly, “Don’t be so sorry for yourself. Don’t be so
childish. I’ve ‘faced’ being a Negro for sixty-five years now, and my
wife and children and a few million other decent folks have managed to
‘face it’!”

They glared at each other, but it was Neil’s arrogance that was broken.

“You’re entirely right, Mr. Woolcape. I guess I’ll have to apologize
again. It’s just that the idea is so new that I haven’t been able to get
used to it. Not even Dad and Mum know it. I was looking up my ancestry
and I ran into a—well——”

“You white folks would call it a ‘touch of the tar brush,’” Emerson said
sardonically. “Not so easy, eh?”

“Well, God Almighty, you two ought to know whether it’s easy or not!”
Neil snarled.

“John and you, Emerson, both of you, you quit badgering that boy!” Mary
Woolcape’s voice had a mother’s tenderness and a mother’s sharpness. “Of
course he’s upset. Poor boy!” Her arm was about Neil’s shoulder and she
lightly kissed his cheek. It was his own mother comforting him.

“How old are you, son?” she murmured.

“Thirty-one, nearly, Mrs. Woolcape.”

He had almost said “Mum.”

“It’s tough to wake up to what the world’s really like as late as that.
We colored have to understand both our own world and the white folks’
world, to be safe. But I tell you what!” Mrs. Woolcape sounded practical
and bustling. “You stay and have dinner with us. Will your wife let you?
You sit right down and telephone her.”

Vestal said Okay, and was he enjoying his spree with the veterans?

                 * * * * *

He found that Mary Woolcape carried out the myth of the “typical
Negress” in one detail: she was an excellent cook. But he was still
novice enough to marvel that they did not have fried chicken and
watermelon for Sunday dinner, but a quite Aryan roast of beef.

Emerson had gone to his own house for dinner. He had said, “I won’t
repeat anything at all about—uh—about what you told us, Captain,
unless or until you want me to. But welcome to our club. Swell
membership, even if we haven’t a pool.” They shook hands. They were
friends, as they might have been twenty years before.

John sighed, “Ryan late again. These young revolutionists are going to
be late at the barricades. We’ll start without him. . . . Mary! Let’s
feed!”

So for the first time Neil sat down and ate with his new friends: that
most ancient and universal symbol of equality.

He thought that it was to make him feel at home that the Woolcapes told
him their stories.

John Woolcape was a “colored man,” and he was entirely “white,” which
means pink and brown and gray, and he had never in his life been south
of Iowa or east of Chicago. He was born in North Dakota, his family the
only “Negroes” in their county. His father was a railroad section-gang
foreman; his father’s father had been a slave in Georgia and, after the
Civil War, had been a farmhand in Florida, which he had apparently not
viewed as a paradise of roulette wheels and beach umbrellas.

John himself had worked on farms, had hoped for college or school of
agriculture, but when he was a freshman in the village high school, his
father had been killed by a runaway boxcar, and he had apprenticed
himself to the local barber. As a barber, he had come to Grand Republic,
in 1902, and there, at twenty-two, he had first learned what it is to be
a Negro.

Till then he had known little more of the diplomatic art of being
colored than had a Neil Kingsblood. Perceiving that his father was a
good Baptist and a good boss of Irish and Swedish section-hands, John
had never heard the news that he was biologically inferior, and his
untutored white playmates, boys and girls, had not known that the touch
of his hands was pollution.

Especially the girls.

There had been a few people in that Dakota village who had muttered
something unpleasant about “tar-brushes,” but they had been “cranks” and
“grouches,” and to John their venom had been incomprehensible.

Accepted in Grand Republic as a white man and a sound barber, he had
forgotten the infrequent hints from his father that connected with his
family was a mystery called “the race problem.” At that time it would
have seemed to John just as reasonable for anyone to say to him “You’re
a Hydrangean Polypus” as to say “You’re a black man.” Not being black.
And not caring a hang whether he was “black” or “white,” so long as his
customers and his Swiss sweetheart liked him.

But a man moved in from his boyhood village in North Dakota and
whispered something to the boss barber, who said to John, “Why, you’re
part-nigger, ain’t you?”

“I suppose so. What of it?”

“Don’t know ’s it makes any difference to me, personally, but the
customers don’t like it. They’ll all kick, and leave me.”

“Have any of them kicked yet?”

“No, but they might. Can’t take no chances. I will say for you, you’re
the best barber I got, but can’t take no chances.”

Back in 1904 they were already using this formula of caution which,
unchanged in its massive dignity, imbecility and cowardice, was to go
down to the middle of the Century of Democracy and Enlightenment.

John was discharged from shop after shop, and never because he was
incompetent or because the customers disliked him—at least, they never
disliked him till the Great Fact was whispered to them. Sometimes John
himself flung the Fact at them, for he had no taste for the rancid
butter of uncle-tomming, and in that two minutes of accusation by the
first boss barber who had fired him, he had become “Negro” and
“race-conscious.”

His Swiss girl, a rosy chambermaid to whom he had been teaching English,
had thought nothing about it when she learned the Great Fact, but her
Irish and Scandinavian colleagues taught her that if she was to belong
to this Land of Democracy, she must drive him away.

John was the first raceman in Grand Republic to hear of the founding of
the N.A.A.C.P.—the National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People, the Grand Army of the Negroes—and at its convention in
Minneapolis, he met Mary, who, like himself, was imperceptibly
“colored.”

She was a graduate of Oberlin College, the daughter of a prosperous and
rather scientific experimenter with turkeys and chickens and geese in
Iowa. John and Mary disliked each other when they met, because they were
both white and resented the swank of whiteness. But the fact that both
of them refused to be anything so tyrannical as white drew them
together. What had kept them together since was a common liking for
integrity and humor.

John set up his own barbershop, and it failed, not because he was a
Negro, since few of the customers seemed to object to his Ethiopian
touch, but because he would not jimcrow it and bar out Negro customers,
and the whites felt they had a social duty to be nasty about that.

Then, with his natural skill with tools, John had tried to become a
mechanic. But he had little training, and technical schools then were
distant and segregated. Mary and he wanted to go off to a larger, more
mechanized city, where he could learn, but they had been so foolish as
to believe the white real-estate men’s slogan that a community honors
any worker who shows his faith in it by buying his own home and having a
nice little family.

They had bought the home, and they had the nice little family in the
person of Bayard, and so they were stuck here, and always would be, and
John became a janitor and was glad to get the job, and Mary helped him
out by baking cakes for sale and by working as extra-waitress at
party-dinners.

“Yes, I’ve seen you several times, Captain, when I’ve helped wait on
table at the Havocks’ and Mrs. Dedrick’s, but you never saw me, I
imagine,” she said, and though she was too maternal and sensible to mean
it that way, Neil was shamed.

He was certain that with white for a label and some Morton Beehouse as
father-in-law, John Woolcape might now be president of the Second
National Bank, and that with an equal adjustment, John William Prutt
might be a janitor. But while it would work out admirably, in so far as
Mr. Prutt would be a methodical furnace-tender and a passionate sweeper
and remover of old bottles, Mr. Woolcape would be less happy and
certainly less dignified in flattering large depositors than he was now.

Through most of dinner, they discussed, with few reticences, the
propriety of the Negro Neil becoming a Negro.

“The only thing I’m sure of is that you mustn’t do anything hasty, Mr.
Kingsblood,” said John.

Neil felt as near to them as to his own father and mother, of whose
lives and purposes he now knew less than of the Woolcapes’. He would
have been comforted if they had called him “Neil,” but they had only
softened the Captain to Mister, with an occasional affectionate Son.

“Don’t take martyrdom as a game,” John insisted. “Before you can know
what you ought to do, or at least want to do, you must read the great
books about my race, as I’ve been trying to do, with my defective
education, these thirty years. But I reckon I’m lucky. A janitor’s chair
by the furnace is the perfect place for study.

“When you have read a lot and thought a lot, you may decide you don’t
want to come over. It might not do any good to our race, and it might be
horrible for your mother and wife and little girl. I’m proud of being a
Negro. I know so many plain, ordinary folks among my race that are like
the great poets and heroes in the Bible. But white businessmen don’t
like it when humble people are heroic—black _or_ white. They claw us
down. Anyway, you have no right to expect your ladies to enjoy sharing
your sacrifices. I wonder do many women enjoy martyrdom? Maybe they got
too much sense.”

Mary complained, “I never can make John understand about Joan of
Arc—or, to take a much more sensible person, Harriet Tubman. He just
won’t get the feminist point of view. It’s that old barbershop
training.”

Neil meditated, “As a matter of fact, I never have thought of coming out
as a Negro. Do you despise Negroes that give up the fight and pass?”

The elders sighed. John pondered, “No. We’re sorry to lose them, but we
know how hard they’ve found it, and I’d say there’s a general rule that
if your old friend goes by you on the Street, with white folks, and
doesn’t know you, you don’t even wink—not public. Just as we’d cut our
tongues out before we gave _your_ confidence away. So will my younger
son, Ryan, if you meet him and feel like telling him. Yes, he’d be the
loyalest of us all, even if he is the most leftwing and gets awful
ornery, sometimes, with you white folks!

“Maybe you’d like to come here next Friday evening. Clement Brazenstar
of the Urban League will be here, and Ash Davis, a chemist——”

“I’ve met Dr. Davis. In the bank.”

“And maybe Sophie Concord. She’s a very pretty colored lady, a city
nurse, real smart. Those folks are all terrific race-talkers, even worse
than I am. Maybe, for an evening, it might be more interesting than
pinochle, or whatever game of cards it is you play.”

“_Bridge!_” said the more fashionable Mary.

“I’ll come,” said Neil.

John went on, “You won’t need to tell ’em you’re colored. In fact, Mr.
Kingsblood, I don’t know as I’d go around saying that, except here with
us, who feel kind of like your family—Emerson used to tell us about
you, when you and him were in school together. He admired you so much.

“If you come next Friday, you’ll learn something from Clem Brazenstar.
He’s as black as Tophet; by birth, he’s a real, low-down Mississippi
Delta Nigra fieldhand, and he never went to college, but I doubt if
there’s any of these fancy college professors that reads as much as him.

“And then Ash and Martha Davis, they’re kind of betwixt and between.
They aren’t black and born between the cotton bolls, like Clem, nor yet
white and born in a blizzard, like Mary and me. They’re high yella in
color and border-state by family, and you know how these border white
folks, Tennessee and Kentucky, never quite make up their minds. They
appoint a colored fellow to the police force one day and lynch him the
next and have a lovely obituary about him in the _Courier-Journal_ the
third.”

Neil sighed, “I’m not sure my own record with the Negroes is any too
good.”

“Hm?”

“We recently had a colored maid, Belfreda Gray, and I got awfully
prejudiced against her. I thought she was slovenly and sullen—I almost
hated her, almost hated _all_ Negroes, because of her. Do you know her?”

“Oh, yes, we know the little tart,” Mrs. Woolcape said serenely, and
Neil was as shocked as if his official mother had said it.

Mr. Woolcape was equally placid. “Yes, Belfreda is bad medicine, a bad
example for our young people. I don’t think we’ll hold that prejudice
against you, except as, like most white folks, you concluded that all of
us are like her. And there’s some excuse for Belfreda. Her parents are
dead, her grandfather, Wash, is pretty weak, and her grandmother is a
tough old devil. Belfreda is a real slick-chick. She likes to tell the
Polish girls how much smarter she is than they are. Still, that’s better
than being a Topsy and clowning around and eating dirt to amuse the
white folks. Or getting sloppy and lazy and thieving, as the Southerners
claim their colored servants do. (Why _wouldn’t_ they, when they have no
hope at all except the kitchen!) Oh, there’s a lot of excuse for
Belfreda.”

“You,” said his wife, “make me tired! I’m sick of all these
environmental excuses. A cause isn’t an excuse. All these murderers,
black and white, smirking, ‘It’s not my fault, because my parents didn’t
understand me.’ Whose parents ever did understand them? Everybody
excusing themselves that way for drinking and whoring, even here in the
Five Points. I’m sick of it! I don’t think Borus Bugdoll, who sells dope
and girls, is justified by having been born on a bankrupt farm!”

Her husband flared back, “Even Borus feels the discrimination against
him——”

It was the first of the debates, the “race-talks,” that Neil was to hear
in the Five Points: debates that continued all night, contradictory and
emotional, learnedly and sometimes ungrammatically carried on by Negro
tailors and waiters and oilers who never, like Oliver Beehouse or John
William Prutt, bought a ranked regiment of books and put them up on oak
shelves, but borrowed them, one at a time, from the public library.

Neil tried to get into the talk with an offering of “I don’t think many
white people are really vicious. I don’t believe most of them know there
_is_ any discrimination.”

Behind him, an unknown voice, somewhat youthful but somewhat basso,
jeered, “Then who are the mysterious guys that start the
discrimination?”

“Mr. Kingsblood, this is our son, Ryan,” said Mrs. Woolcape.

“Our son Ryan, who is always late,” said Mr. Woolcape.

“Your loving son Ryan, who is damn near always right on racial issues
too. And who may our friend be?”




                                   21


SERGEANT Ryan Woolcape, in uniform, could have been taken for a typical
Anglo-Saxon collegian in the Army. He was six-two or -three, with a
proud back and a head rearing as haughtily as his father’s. He was
snarling, “What is all this junk about you pinks not wanting
discrimination?”

John spoke sharply: “That’ll do, Ryan. This is a friend of ours—Captain
Kingsblood, of the Second National Bank.”

“I’m aware of that noble fact, Dad. I’ve seen him captaining in the
bank. . . . Cap, excuse me for my bumptiousness. I have some reason for
being in a temper. I’ve just been in God’s holy temple, listening to the
Reverend Dr. Jat Snood, that Kansas Fundamentalist Evangelist and
all-around bastard. I doubt if I’d ever have gotten in if the ushers had
known I’m a spook, blast their worm-eaten souls and slimy handshakes.
But I did, and I heard Snood explain that Jesus wants the frozen-toed
Christians up here in Minnesota to chase all us niggers back to Georgia.
So the Captain must excuse me if I get rough when I find one of the
pious ofays here in this low shack.”

“Ryan,” said Mr. Woolcape, “shut up!”

“Ryan,” said Mrs. Woolcape, “Mr. Kingsblood is not a white man,
legally.”

(——I knew I shouldn’t’ve told!)

“He is one of us, Ryan. He’s just found it out. You’re under pledge of
complete secrecy, by the way. He came to us for advice and friendship,
and then you go and talk like a Texas sheriff!”

Ryan held out his heavy paw to Neil, smiled like a happy giant, and
grunted, “I don’t know whether to be pleased or sympathetic, but I
always thought you looked like a good guy, for an officer, and now I
understand why. Welcome! Sure, I’ll say nothing, and I’m sorry I shot my
mouth off. But in the Army you get to hate all white officers.”

Neil demanded, “Why? Did you really run into much discrimination? It
happens I didn’t serve with any colored troops.”

“I’ll tell you, Cap. One camp where I was in the South, the white G.I.’s
had movies or U.S.O. shows every night, in a big theater, and swell
rooms for playing cards and writing letters, and all the buses they
wanted into town, and dozens of bars. We had movies only once a week, no
place to write letters, and we had to walk two miles to a bus, and not
enough buses and no bars, and the white M.P.’s watching you, making you
feel like a criminal.

“And our colored officers had no power—they were just token officers,
to keep the black vote happy. Colored colonels on shaky old jimcrow
cars. One colored captain, in uniform, traveling on official business,
was thrown into a civilian jail because there was no phone in the
colored waiting-room, so he had to step into the white waiting-room to
telephone—to his commanding officer!

“But I did get one thing out of it: a trip to Burma and Java, where I
learned what the local boys thought about _their_ being jimcrowed and
how glad they’ll be to join us American untouchables against the whole
damn world oligarchy of whites!”

Ryan stopped, a stricken giant. “I’ve been hypnotized into another
race-tirade! Blame it on Reverend Snood!”

He beamed at Neil as at his best friend, while Neil was appalled at so
devastating a hatred of the whites. He wanted to get out of this. It
wasn’t _his_ race-problem!

Mrs. Woolcape tried to soothe everybody by purring, “We ran into Mr.
Kingsblood at church, this morning, Ryan. He thinks Evan is a fine
preacher.”

Ryan grinned. “Any dinner left? I will not be trapped into my Number 5B
speech—about all the Negro churches being even deader than the white
ones. The young spooks that would have taught Sunday-school a generation
ago are working for the N. Double-A C.P., and all the hot ones, that
would have become hell-roaring deacons once, have joined the Communist
Party. Brewster is a nice guy, but he’s still the favorite of a lot of
foot-kissing Uncle Toms, and he’s capable of preaching a sermon where a
sinful white man—but smart and rich—is converted by a dumb woolly-head
that can’t pay his poll-tax. No, Mum, you shouldn’t have told me the
news about Simon Legree, if you wanted me to stick to Christianity and
mild manners.”

                 * * * * *

While the affable assassin gobbled cold roast beef, Mrs. Woolcape
explained that Ryan’s particular hope was to organize a Negro
co-operative farm. But Neil could not be interested, could not take any
more revolution and race-doctrine that day.

He promised that he would come back on Friday. Ryan said heartily, “I’m
not sure we’ll let you join us Senegambians. You’ll be too shocked when
you find out what our real opinions are—the ones we don’t tell any
white man. Why, we don’t even believe in dressing for dinner every
evening!”

Neil decided that Ryan was being humorous, and that it was but manners
to smile and look gratified. But as he walked to the bus, loathing the
Sunday-afternoon colored loafers strutting their stuff on Mayo Street,
he was raging.

“So, my fine young sergeant, you’re not sure whether you’re going to
allow me to join your race! Oh, I might’ve known! Why am I such a fool?
Well, here I am back in the unfortunate plight of being a future
bank-president—white!”

It was no go. He could not escape. The eyes of Mary Woolcape were
sorrowfully rebuking him now, as they had comforted him when he had been
a new-found son in tribulation.

He came into his house unknowing what and where and how Neil Kingsblood
was going to be.

                 * * * * *

Vestal was easy on him. “How were the veterans? Did you boys all tell
one another how brave you were?”

“Now I want to tell you I learned something!” he said stoutly. “The
Negro troops never got enough credit—building airfields and driving
trucks under fire, and no decorations.”

“My, my, did I fall down on that, too, and not give ’em any medals? I’ll
call in Congress and tell ’em to fix that up right away. The poor
darkies! I’ll give ’em all Purple Hearts and Rosy Crosses and Orders of
the Emerald Watermelon, Second Class.”

“You ought to take ’em more seriously, and I’m going to take a nap,” he
complained.

“Take it seriously?” she jeered.

Before he slept, he had to look at Biddy’s new design for a
bomb-carrying airplane.

                 * * * * *

He had forgotten to open the windows, that afternoon in early summer,
and he slept heavily.

He was running in terror through a midnight wood, staggering through
bogs, colliding with tree-trunks, branches slashing at his
forward-thrust face. He was panting so that his lungs were seared, and a
cavern of thirst was in his mouth. He did not know who were pounding
after him, but they loathed him, they would knee him in the groin, smash
his jaw, tear out his eyes.

He was stopped by a circle of small flashing lights. He saw that they
were the eyes of bloodhounds, on their haunches. Behind the hounds he
made out, as torches were kindled, a semicircle of men, such horrible
men as he had never seen, wrinkled like the bloodhounds, puckered of
neck, snake-cold of eye, and these men were moving toward him, moving,
coming, close.

Somebody said, quite conversationally, “God damned raping nigger, I bet
this brush-hook will go right through his shinbone, one nip.”

He was on the ground, and a big boot—he could distinctly catch its reek
of manure—was kicking him in the side of the head, but he was no longer
lying on the forest leaf-mold, he was lying on a cement floor, dirty and
bloody, and the boot was going thump, thump, and the intolerable pain
went through to the center of his skull.

They were lifting him up, while he struggled; a rope was lifting him up,
slowly up, choking him; then he was standing in a boggy woods aisle and
looking up at himself, hanging and kicking, and he saw that while his
face was his own white-man’s face, ruddy and freckled, his naked body
was iron-black, black iron radiant with sweat in the jagged torchlight,
while his black limbs kicked, mechanically, grotesquely, and he and all
the other white men stood and laughed, “Look at the nigger kick, will
yuh! He looks like a damn frog kicking, black frog, lookit him kick, the
black nigger. And they claim to be human, like us! Haw—haw!”

                 * * * * *

He lay in unrelieved terror.

——This could be me. They have lynched Negroes, even in Minnesota. They
would hate me even more than they do fellows that have always been
colored. I could feel that rope.

——I can’t come out and take that. But if it’s that urgent with my
people, I’ve got to.

——But I can’t do that to Biddy. She mustn’t be sick with remembering a
murdered father, way Phoebe Woolcape is. But maybe she wants to fight
for her own. Maybe even the small girls are like that now, designers of
bombers, ruthless.

——Look at the nigger frog kicking, and they claim to be human!

He caught himself wanting to run to the Woolcapes, to Mary Woolcape, but
most of all to Ryan.




                                   22


DR. Kenneth Kingsblood winked at his son, to show that they had a secret
from the womenfolks, and led him aside to chuckle, “Got any furtherer
with your research? We the rightful kings of Britain?”

The question so belonged to the antiquity of six months ago that he
might as well have asked, “Have you finally decided to vote for
Rutherford B. Hayes?”

With the oppression of that afternoon’s dream still on him, Neil had
gone to his father’s for Sunday Evening Supper—hot soup, cold chicken,
potato chips, drug-store ice cream. Biddy was asleep on a couch
upstairs, and Vestal was talking Servants & Children with Neil’s mother
and his sister, Joan, as nice women must have talked in the primitive
caves, in the Norman castles, under the tinkling eaves of China’s first
dynasty. It was a maid’s-night-out evening of sweetness and security and
affection.

To his father, Neil could answer only, “Haven’t got much farther with
the court documents, Your Majesty,” and hastily skip it.

He studied his mother and found Negro ancestry in her dark eyes, then
reminded himself that he had once found Chippewa traits in Vestal.

He mustn’t, in his urge toward Africa, forget that he had Indian bravery
in him as well. Tonight, when he was restless, he’d like to be out on a
stormy lake in a Chippewa canoe. It excited him to think that he had in
him canoes and Kaffir knives as well as account-books and plowshares.

If that bland Sabbath domesticity did not soothe him, neither did the
effervescence of the next evening dazzle him.

This was another of the practically incessant series of “Welcome home,
Major Rodney Aldwick, well done, sir!” parties which had adorned Rod’s
terminal leave. He was going back to camp now, to get demajorized, and
he would come back a Veteran, with an honorable record; he would let the
newspapers announce that he had resumed his practice at the bar.

Through this positively last final party, Neil heard Rod keeping to his
high theme:

“We vets must stand together against all the elements which produced the
Fascism which we have conquered: that is, the inferior races, which
turned disloyal and weakened the British and American and French and
Dutch Empires, and so gave mongrels like Hitler a chance to pick on
Winston Churchill.”

Neil was in an empty daze as he realized that his hero was not only
vicious but a bore. No man could have been more miserable than Neil in
the unmasking of a friend.

                 * * * * *

He did not lie awake, the two nights after his dream of terror. Very few
things could make Neil Kingsblood lie awake. His best period for
brooding was during his morning shave, when he was in the thoughtful
mood produced by the manifold beauties of his electric razor, that
lovely body of nickel and ivory (imitation) which, without the feudal
superstitions of soap and shaving-brush, whisked like the hand of love
across his solid jaw, nipping off the shiny hairs and proving that there
may be something to modern civilization.

He thought that his curly hair, revealed in the round shaving-mirror on
a bracket-arm beside the medicine cabinet, was as kinky as Dr.
Brewster’s. He thought of Evan Brewster, and his earnestness, his simple
goodness. And, since Brewster was a Baptist, like himself, Neil
contemplated the special wisdom and glory of Baptist preachers and their
divine program.

He demanded of himself: What was his actual creed? Did he believe in a
definable God? In personal immortality? What, except to remain in love
with Vestal and to give Biddy a chance to grow up happily, was his
purpose in life? And why had God punished Vestal by making her husband a
Negro? Or was it no punishment at all, but a noble revelation?

He held the razor stationary as he admitted that for a dozen years,
except with Tony Ellerton, he had given no more thought to theological
guesses than he had to Washington and the cherry-tree.

He had an official pastor, the Reverend Dr. Shelley Buncer of the Sylvan
Park Baptist Church, a sensible and friendly man. Why shouldn’t he for
once make himself believe that this learned pastor did actually know
things about God and Immortality that were hidden from the common
laborer or banker, and assume that the church had hired Dr. Buncer for
that reason, and not because he was a companionable golfer, a skillful
executive at weddings and children’s birthday-parties, and a dependable
extemporaneous speaker at bond-drives?

So on Tuesday evening Neil called on Dr. Buncer, and considerably
embarrassed him by asking what he knew about God and Truth.

                 * * * * *

It was a pleasant summer-evening walk among the maples and fresh-watered
lawns of Sylvan Park. The Baptist Church was a bulky pile of red and
gray stone in layers, and next door to it was the parsonage, a
hungry-looking old white wooden house which Mrs. Buncer (she came from
the East, from Ohio) had made as worldly as possible with blue-and-gold
Tunisian curtains.

The pastor’s office—he called it his “studio,” and sometimes gaily
spoke of it as “the sanctum sanctorum,” poor fellow—was at once
reverent and dashing. On the morose dark-red desk were roses in an
etched Swedish vase, and on the wall, between the portraits of Adoniram
Judson and Harry Emerson Fosdick, was a print labeled “Kids and Kits.”

Dr. Buncer was rotund but enthusiastic, a product of Brown University
and Yale Theological, twenty years older than Neil. He had thin hair and
an Episcopal voice, he wore tweeds and a red tie, and he gave Neil a
good cigar—well, good within reason.

“My boy,” he pronounced, “my feeling is that to prefer the pulpy
cigarette to the mellow and manly weed is a sign of degeneracy in the
age, so sit ye doon and light up, and I shall lay aside my volume of
Saki. I must confess I have been escaping from the sordid problems of
the day into that treasury of wit and abandon.”

And with that he deftly slid into a desk drawer his book—_Murder Most
Foul_.

To the pastor’s dismay, instead of having come to ask him to address the
Boosters Club or the Young Executives Association, Neil wanted to know
something, and wanted to know something the doctor couldn’t look up in
that fine reference-library. He would have gone mad and barked if he had
guessed the real purposes of this simple parishioner.

“Dr. Buncer, I’ve had some letters from a soldier who served under me,
and he claims he’s learned something that makes him suspect that he has
a little Negro blood. So he’s asked me about an ethical problem that you
can solve better than I can. I understand he’s married, apparently
fairly happily, and has a couple of sons, and none of them have any idea
of this Negro ancestry—which, I deduce, must be very distant. Now he
wants to know what’s the honorable thing to do. Ought he to tell his
family, and maybe his friends, or shut up about the whole thing?”

Dr. Buncer gave an exhibition of thinking deeply, an exercise at which
he was rusty. Then, “Tell me, Neil, does anyone suspect his plight?”

“I judge not, from his letter.”

“Has he associated much with Negroes?”

“I doubt it.”

“And by the way, Neil, have _you_ ever associated much with Negroes?”

The chill was absolute.

Neil tried to sound uninterested as he droned, “Afraid I’ve never known
any n——”

No! He would not say “niggers,” not even if he was betrayed by it, and
he finished up: “——never known any Negroes except maids and Pullman
porters.”

“Reason I ask is, in that case you can hardly understand this poor
fellow’s quandary in all its profound and I may even say religious
aspects.”

——God, what a relief!

“Now it just happens that I’ve had a good deal to do with the darkies,
Neil, one time and another. In Brown, I roomed right near one, and
many’s the time, oh, half a dozen times at least, when I’ve dropped in
at his room and tried to act as if he were my equal in every way. But
those fellows, even the ones that go through the motions of getting a
college education, are uneasy with us whites, who’ve inherited our
culture and so take it naturally.

“We know and rejoice that they too are the sons of an all-merciful God,
and maybe some day, a hundred years from now or two hundred, they’ll be
scarcely distinguishable from us, psychologically. But now they all feel
so inferior, no matter how small a share of the taint they have in their
veins, that unfortunately it’s impossible for us to sit down for even
half an hour and talk frankly and manfully with them, as you and I are
doing.

“Then here in Grand Republic, I’ve served with darkies on several
different committees, sat at the council table with them and so come to
know them intimately. But where I really learned to understand the
darkies was in the South, on their home heath. As a sort of a—ha,
ha—internship I spent an entire month working in a settlement house in
Shreveport, Louisiana, where I learned that segregation in the South was
instituted not to discriminate against the Negroes, but to protect them,
from the evil-minded men of both races, until such time as they grow up
mentally and are able to face reality like you and I and other white men
do.

“Understand me, I don’t condone it as a permanent arrangement. There is
no reason under heaven why American citizens should be compelled to
travel in jimcrow cars and have to eat separately, _provided_ they are
Americancitizensinthefullestsenseoftheword, and that, I am very much
afraid, none of even the more intelligent among our colored friends
would even pretend to be!

“There is no one more eager than myself to recognize any slight advances
toward civilization on the part of the darkies—like rotating their
crops and more hogs and diet—but a parson has to deal with the
profoundest reality—and how folks do hate us for being so honest and
forthright; well, let ’em, I say; it’s really a compliment to us, I
always say, ha, ha!

“Now to come back to your soldier and his problem. If he never has been
taken for a Negro, I don’t see that he would be committing any moral
offense if he just kept silent and remained technically a white man.
After all, none of us has to tell _everything_ he knows, ha, ha!

“I do think, though, if you’re well enough acquainted with him to tell
him this without hurting his feelings, you might advise him to stay away
as much as he can from the white folks because otherwise the cloven hoof
of his genetic mutation would be sure to show its hand. With my Southern
training, I’m sure I’d spot him at once.

“So, in all solicitude, tell him to go slow, lay low, keep his own
counsel, and play the game! Ha, ha. See how I mean?”

“Yes, I guess that might——” Neil was uninterested now in any doctrine
that Buncer might have. But he fell into the temptation, that menaces
all of us, to ask priests and judges and doctors and senators and
traffic policemen what they really think when they are in their baths,
unfortified by their uniforms.

“Dr. Buncer, I suppose you serve on committees not only with Negroes but
with Jews?”

“Often! I’ve even had a rabbi here for dinner once, with Mrs. Buncer and
Sister and Junior at the table. I think you may say I’m an out-and-out
Liberal.”

“But you take a Negro, Doctor. Would you feel that it was wise to have a
Negro for dinner, if he was a qualified preacher?”

“Now, now, Neil, don’t try to pin me down! As I told you, I belong to
the New School. I wouldn’t in the least mind, say at a Convention,
sitting down with Negro intellectuals. But to have one for dinner in my
house—oh no, my friend! That would not be kind to _them_! They aren’t
used to our way of living and thinking. Can you imagine any Negro, no
matter what theological training he might pretend to have, being
comfortable with Mrs. Buncer, who is highly interested in Scarlatti and
the harpsichord, and who studied at the Fort Wayne Conservatory of
Music? No, Neil—no!”

“What do you think of this local colored Baptist preacher, Dr.
Brewster—some such a name?”

“I’ve met _Doctor_ Brewster. Oh, he seems a very decent, humble man.”

“Why is it that we don’t seem to have any colored members in our church,
and so few even drop in for services?”

“When they do drop in, as you somewhat lightly put it, I’ve told our
ushers to explain that while any darky is perfectly welcome to
fellowship with us, still we feel that he would be much happier with his
own people, down in the Five Points. I imagine the ushers make that
point quite clear—as, indeed, they should.

“There are some young ministers who disagree with me. They act as if
they were the paid agents of the labor unions and a lot of Jewish and
Negro organizations. Even birth-control! Well, we are told that Our Lord
broke bread with thieves and sinners, but there is no hint that He sat
down with doubters and trouble-makers and destroyers of the Christian
home and self-seeking agitators, white, black, or yellow, do you see, my
boy?”

“I see more clearly now, and many thanks, Doctor,” said Neil.




                                   23


MR. Prutt noticed his mooning at the bank, and in his joky, pecking way
he tittered, “You look so absent-minded, you must be in love, Neil.” Yet
through these days of wandering destiny, Neil was still one of our most
trusty young executives, and the Veterans’ Center was bringing in
desirable new accounts of discharged soldiers, who might be wearing
greasy tunics now, but later might become obstetricians or juke-box
lessees or manufacturers of candy bars.

An unexpected number of the veterans who consulted him were Negroes, and
Neil wondered uneasily if Ryan had sent them, and what Ryan had told
them, and just how safe he was. But he dared ask nothing.

All this meditation was prelude to his Friday evening among the colored
intellectuals.

                 * * * * *

He insisted on Vestal’s taking the car that evening, because “he was
going to another veterans’ organization,” and by bus and foot, he went
to John Woolcape’s.

Emerson had gone back to army duty, but Neil was greeted by John, Mary,
Ryan, and by Ash and Martha Davis. To the surprise of everybody,
including himself, he hailed Dr. Davis as a friend long trusted and
eagerly found again.

With his fluid way of moving, with the woven gold chain of his
wrist-watch against a skin dark-brown and smooth, Ash Davis had more an
air of Parisian boulevards than of anything American, and his small
black mustache suggested the French artillerist. You saw him in horizon
blue. If his fellow laboratory-workers considered Ash a somewhat fancy
fellow in his tastes for tennis, the piano, and amateur botanizing, they
admitted that he was a solid research chemist, with a respectable
knowledge of plastics. He had had three years in laboratories in Paris,
Zurich, and Moscow, and in Europe he had almost forgotten that he was a
Colored Man and come to consider himself a Man.

If he had hated to return to the great gray republic, yet he had
returned resolutely. He was no rhapsodist about the joys of being an
exile among the tables of the Café Select and the white hobohemians. The
shortage of chemists in the war had given him the chance of a superior
job at the Wargate Corporation. He had naively believed that he could
stay there permanently, and instead of going on living out of a trunk,
Martha and he had bought an ugly cottage on Canoe Heights and remodeled
it.

His was a busy, useful and innocent life, and, except for Martha and
their daughter Nora, he was a little lonely. He respected the Woolcapes
and Evan Brewster as fighters and solid citizens, but they had no liking
for the frivolous and learned conversation that was his cake.

Martha, the plump and lovely Martha with the radiant, dark-brown skin,
was Kentucky-born, daughter of a Negro lawyer. In college she had been
earnest about the drama, and her Nora was named in memory of _A Doll’s
House_. Martha never could understand that her husband was a Fresh
Nigger Who Didn’t Know His Place. To her he was the most exact scholar,
the most honorable man, the gayest companion, and the tenderest lover of
whom she had ever heard.

She gave some effort to trying to keep the poorer members of the Negro
Community from considering them as just another family of social
climbers. For this suspicion the poor had some precedent. In every city
they had seen too many Negroes who, prosperous with hair-tonics or
portentous with jobs in the court house, forgot the cabins of their
grandfathers and chased something called the Best Colored Society, with
its coffee-colored debutantes and coffee-colored limousines, its
sweetmen and kept poets and white pansies in the salon of Mme.
Noire-Mozambique, and its hunt-breakfasts complete with red jackets and
mention in the society columns (colored).

But Neil did not know that there was any Best Colored Society for Martha
Davis to dislike. He was making the inevitable mistake of all converts
and assuming that Negroes cannot be as smug and trivial as the whites.
Why, bless their souls, they can put on frilled shirts and a thirty per
cent. solution of a London accent and be just as tedious as Park Avenue
any time. Neil had so much to learn about colored people and then, under
this revelation, about white people.

                 * * * * *

The Woolcapes and the Davises and Neil sat around and sat around and
picked up pieces of conversation and looked at them and dropped them.
Everyone was being too polite for comfort when the door banged and into
the room came a man like a skilled and enchanting little comedian, and
they all yelled, “Hey, _Clem_!”

Clement Brazenstar, the notorious field-agent of the Urban League, was
the son of a dirt-common, black, Mississippi Delta sharecropper, whose
very surname came from that of a plantation. Clem had had no college. He
snatched his books (but so many of them!) out of the air when, as a
youngster, he had flashed all over the country as bell-boy, cook,
fertilizer-salesman, newspaperman, organizer. His mission now was to
find more tolerable jobs for Negroes, to denounce black farmers who were
too lazy to study gas motors and co-operative buying and (the office did
not assign him to this; it was just his own notion) to bedevil white
college presidents who approved of jimcrowing. He was a lover of whisky,
peanuts, Tolstoy, and prizefighting. His French, which he got in
Marseilles during World War I, was fair, but his Italian and Yiddish
were only utilitarian.

If the Woolcapes were de-ebonized Northerners and the Davises just
pleasantly brown, suggesting Arabs and the Alhambra gardens, in Clem
Brazenstar the astonished Neil saw everything that the missionaries of
hate meant by “a little Delta nigger clown.” He was a small man,
grinning, monkey-faced, popping up like a jack-in-the-box. He was
midnight-black; he was black and lustrous like a fresh sheet of black
carbon paper; he seemed to be black not just on the surface, like Evan
Brewster, but clear through to his bones. His lips were almost purple,
there was a shine of black inside his ears, to his eyes there was a tint
of yellow, and even the palms of his hands were darker than pink. His
face was always comic, especially when he was serious, because then he
laughed at himself as well as at the world.

His small but puffy mouth was always moving in derisive parentheses, his
forehead was an agitated whirlpool of wrinkles. He was as enchantingly
ugly as a Boston bull, yet his skin was so darkly brilliant, he had so
gay and confident a manner, that he was as beautiful as a blackbird airy
on a swaying reed.

His accent was a mixture of Mississippi, Harlem and the twangy
Middlewest. He frequently used the word “nigger” for himself and his
friends, but he never let the enemy use it without reprisals. To most
people he seemed unbelievable, because he was a perfectly natural and
normal man who had never been fettered by an ambitious family, a busy
school or any kind of a bank-book.

                 * * * * *

“This is Captain Kingsblood, a new white friend, and a good one,” said
John Woolcape.

Clem greeted Neil with the smile of a friendly workman, but he gave
little effort to it. He was as accustomed to soothing or denouncing
whites as he was to spurring or slapping down blacks.

“How are you, Captain? Well, my battling brethren, it’s always good to
get back to Grand Republic, the Development Dainty with no
Discriminations. Coming up on the bus, I sit down next to a handsome gal
from Miteuropa, with her fine young Nazi boy, and he studies me and
yells, ‘Maw, lookit the funny dinge!’ and she says in one of the warmest
coloraturas I ever heard, ‘Id’s an outraitch and I’m goink to write to
the bus company how ve Americans get crowtet in vit all kinds riff and
raff.’ Mr. Riff, meet Mr. Raff!”

Clem was beaming, he was laughing audibly, at his own discomfiture. The
astonished Neil was to learn that this was a habit of the most
incorrigible of race-champions. They found nothing quite so funny as
their own defeats.

                 * * * * *

They were merry enough, but inevitably they told the “new white friend”
about certain trials in being a second-class citizen. Talking of his own
Border States, Ash Davis said cheerfully:

“It’s the inconsistency of discrimination that gets the poor Sambo down.
In one town in the South he can shop in any department store and ride on
the front elevators and his wife can try on the clothes; and in the next
one, forty miles away, he isn’t allowed to enter any decent white store
at all, and gets pinched if he tries it, and the elevators are jimcrowed
even in twenty-story office buildings. For years we pariahs may buy
magazines in the white waiting room of a station, then suddenly we’re
arrested by a big peckerwood cop for going in there at all.

“Captain Kingsblood, it isn’t only the humiliation of segregation that
riles us. It’s the impossibility of telling when the simplest thing,
like raising your hat to a nun, will be considered criminal, and you’ll
get slugged for it. It’s that doubt that makes so many timid fellows go
grab a razor.

“Oh, some cullud brethren praise the South because, under segregation, a
certain number of sepia merchants get rich on the rest of us chosen
people. In fact there’s a controversy now in the colored press about
whether to go North and get frozen out or stay South and get burned out.
Well, either way, there’s always fine conversation about being rooked.”

Clem Brazenstar raged, “Say, for God’s sake, are we going to start
another all-night race-discussion?” and settled comfortably on the couch
for same.

“Not for me. I never want to hear about our blasted race again!”
proclaimed Ryan Woolcape, also making himself comfortable.

Neil said hastily, “Before you get entirely off the subject—” Somebody
laughed. “—I would like to have your comments on a letter I got, months
ago, from a classmate serving in the South Pacific. May I read part of
it?”

Their grunts apparently meant Yes, he might, and he droned:

“I’ve been having a sticky job as an army criminal investigator lately
and I’ve been surprised to find how differently I feel now about
Negroes. They are very unpopular. The white G.I. has more friendliness
toward the members of any alien race, because the Negro does not extend
to white soldiers the same cheerful courtesy that the whites extend to
one another, and that is important where men live so close together. No
doubt there are excellent Negro soldiers. But in every stockade the
Negro prisoners outnumber the whites three to one, on a percentage
basis, and they are in for AWOL, disobeying direct orders, sex crimes,
stabbings, and stealing from other soldiers, and in all these cases they
are given to lying, freely and volubly. So our boys who before the war
had no contact with Negroes will go back into civilian life with a great
deal of prejudice.”

                 * * * * *

Neil expected rage, but he was answered only by a silence with no
particular emphasis in it, and the belligerent Sergeant Ryan Woolcape
commented uninterestedly:

“Your friend is a typical cop. He isn’t interested in finding good
soldiers, only bad ones. He doesn’t know one thing about the innumerable
colored outfits—like, say, the 761st Tank Battalion—that had great
records. But I will hand it to him he probably knows the effect of the
story that guys like him spread all over Asia and Europe—that all of us
colored fellows have tails! Did _that_ make us cheerfully courteous!”

They laughed, and Clem Brazenstar ruled, “Come off the soap-box, Ryan,
and let a professional talk! . . . Cap, what that fellow said is part
true, and the truer it is, the more you whites have to do something
drastic, for your own sake.

“The old Uncle Toms lifted up their voices in hallelujahs if they got
treated as well as the livestock, but not the young tribesmen. They’ve
read a book. Get it clear—the New Negro demands every right of the New
White Man, every one, and he doesn’t whine for them now; he’ll fight for
them. You white Iagos have built up a revolutionary army of thirteen
million Othellos, male and female. Of course the colored boys are
impolite to the white gemmuns, in a war they never wanted to fight.
Their own war was closer.

“The boys that were brought up as I was, in shacks beside cricks where
dead dogs and human waste floated, shacks without even a privy, where
the plantation storekeepers or the cotton-buyers all stole from us and
wouldn’t even let us look at our accounts—some of these boys steal
back. What a haunt you whites have built up!

“Segregated! John and Mary, Ash and Martha, segregated just as much as
an old boot like me. Segregated! Told that we’re like hogs, not fit to
mix with human beings, and then your military gumshoe friend expects us
to be obedient—and chummy!

“Segregated! ‘Separate but equal accommodations’—new coaches for the
whites and pest-houses on wheels for the happy jigs! New brick schools
for your kids—see pictures in the Atlanta Sunday paper—and unpainted
barns for us, and benches without backs and no desks, no desks at all,
for our pickaninnies, as you would call ’em. Let the little bastards
write on their knees, if they have to write—which sensible folks
gravely question.

“Segregated! School buses for your darling chicks, but ours can hoof it
five miles. Marble-floored hospitals for you and slaughterhouses for us.
No jobs except the hard work, the dirty work, the dangerous work, and
the white cops making their own laws to use against us and acting as
provocateurs and our judges and our executioners all put together. And
then your classmate complains that we won’t whisper our secrets in his
dainty ears! I’ll say!”

And Clem yelled with laughter and looked at Neil affectionately. And
affectionately Martha Davis crooned at Neil:

“Mr. Kingsblood, the Southern white man invariably tells you that when
he was a boy, his best friend was a lil black rascal who was his guide
and bootlegger and pimp and pal. Good Ole Jim! He never tells you he was
friendly with a black boy who was studious and sober. He didn’t know
there _were_ any colored boys like that—he still doesn’t!

“And really kind, sweet Southern women who give the tenderest care to a
cullud wench if she takes typhoid but are offended if she takes
psychology.

“It isn’t merely the major horrors that oppress us in the South—the
fear of being lynched, burnt, beaten. We can forget those things, except
on sultry nights with heat lightning like the flash of guns. Then you
lie rigid in the dark and listen and you’re terrified when you hear a
car, a footstep, a whisper, terrified that the whites may be coming, and
they never come for any good.

“But it’s not that fear so much as the constant, quiet slaps. It’s the
little things, in a South that cherishes the little things—roses and
Grandfather’s sword and Lanier’s verses and the joyful controversy
between bruising and crushing the mint for a julep. It’s the signs ‘For
colored only,’ that tell a pretentious Negro female like me that she’s
unclean.

“I taught for a year in the Deep South, after college. I believed the
story that the whites liked to have the colored teachers be extra clean
and neat as an example to the children. I had a funny, rickety little
old car, and I painted it white, myself. One Saturday I was coming into
town, and I washed the car—it was like glass—and I was so proud of my
new white suit and white shoes. And new white gloves! I got out at a
drugstore, and there was a horrible old peckerwood farmer—yellow as an
angleworm—and he walked over and deliberately spat a huge gob of
tobacco juice right on the door of my clean car. And the other white men
all laughed. Then I knew that Hell has the sign ‘For colored only.’”




                                   24


CLEM Brazenstar insisted that if they spoke only of these trivialities,
if they did not mention the more lusty violence in the South, such as a
returned Negro soldier’s having his eyes gouged out with a policeman’s
night-stick, their new white friend would be bored, and Clem’s own
virility as a Southerner would be slighted.

They all laughed again, but now Neil shuddered.

He insisted, “But there’s no such violence against the Negroes in any
Northern state.”

“Sure there is, in race riots,” Clem said placidly. “But the job-ceiling
is more important; trained brownskin teachers and stenographers flatly
told they can’t have the job, not because they’re incapable but because
they’re beige. And restaurants that, in this state, are compelled by law
to admit Negroes, so a lot of them either keep the smokes waiting or
else salt their food so much that they can’t eat it. And Negroes doing
war-work in factories not allowed to drink from the same bubbling
fountains as the sacred whites. It certainly makes an ardent patriot out
of a guy who happens to like bathing every night to be told he can’t
even share the same running stream of water with a Yankee farmer or a
Tennessee hillbilly who earnestly believes that a bathtub was invented
to keep angleworms in.

“No, get it straight, Little White Father; in this democratic Northern
town, they don’t lynch Negroes—not often—but they tell us every day
that we’re all diseased and filthy and criminal. And do they believe it?
Hell, no! But they make themselves believe it and then they make other
people believe it and so they get rid of us as rivals for the good jobs
that they’d like themselves.

“But what inspires us here in Grand Republic is that the vile Ethiope is
not allowed to join the Y.M.C.A., the very well-endowed association to
spread the example of Christ, so that his brown body won’t contaminate
the swimming pool and poison the feeble little sons of sons of so and so
of white contributors to African missions. The Y.M.C.A.! The Yes-Men’s
Crawling Arena!”

“I didn’t know there were discriminations like that in Grand Republic,”
said Neil meekly.

                 * * * * *

“The thing that got me most,” said Ryan, “was that when I was a little
kid in school here, I was friendly with all the whites, boys and girls;
swam with ’em and built mud forts and skated and went on the same
toboggan, and so I came to believe they really were my chums, and then
when we got to puberty, they discovered I was ‘colored,’ and said so
frankly, and when I went to see a girl with whom I’ve played for years,
right in their front yard, I was told she ‘wasn’t home,’ and then I saw
her come out of the house with a white pimple-face that we all despised.
Segregation here, Cap? No. Just quarantine!”

                 * * * * *

John Woolcape said gently, “Mary and I don’t run into much
discrimination. It does irritate me sometimes, in my basement, to have
some twelve-year-old white child bellow, ‘Here you, Johnny, where the
hell are you?’ But that’s what any janitor expects. And as far as having
our feelings hurt in restaurants and movie theaters goes, we just feel
it’s better not to take a chance on them. We stay home evenings and read
or listen to the radio or play cards with our friends, and never, never
go outside. Mary and I don’t like squabbling and screaming, and we feel
it’s safer so. Then nobody can say we’re bad people, and try to run us
out of our home. Yes, we love our home, and here we’re safe.”

“So far you are!” said Clem rudely. “But the South is getting
better—less lynching, more of us voting, equal pay for teachers in some
places. So the North is getting worse, very obligingly, just to keep my
job going.”

“Yes,” said Ash Davis, “the Northerner has a great future as a synthetic
Lee. Take Mr. Pete Snitch, of the Snitch Brothers Steel Company of
Illinois. He buys a winter home in South Carolina, and inside of two
years he is more Southern-born than any born Southerner.

“He’s been an iron-puddler but now he has a million, and so he and the
little woman long for an aristocratic tradition, the real Walter Scott
pawing charger and ivy. And there in the South he has it—magnolias and
mocking birds and white columns and the glen where the gallants used to
duel and the respectful poor—at least they sound respectful. The only
known living descendant of the family whose house the Snitches cuckooed
into is working on a newspaper in Birmingham, so Mr. Snitch feels he’s
taken over the family ghosts, in crinoline, along with the title-deed.

“He’s a gent by purchase and a Southerner by linguaphone. But he has to
prove his gentility, and the best way to do that, obviously, is to be
insulting to his inferiors, and as we Africans lack his fine,
Anglo-Saxon beer-flush, we’re elected as the inferiors, and he yells at
us even louder than a Carolina jailer, and in any conversation at
Bollington Hall, Colonel Peterborough Snitch will be the first to be
heard screaming, ‘You wouldn’t want your daughter to marry a nigger,
would you?’ Oh, yes, you Northerners have a great future in the chivalry
and blacksnake business.

“And I have revised the old rule, to read, ‘In Rome, do as the Romans
do, but you don’t have to claim that you invented it.’”

                 * * * * *

Then the race-talk became a little hysterical, to Neil a little
confusing. It was broken by the arrival of Sugar Gowse, with lunch-pail.

Sugar had been born to the Louisiana canefields, but he had picked up a
knowledge of tools and lathes. He was on his way now to the Wargate
plant, where he was a machinist on the graveyard shift. Since his work
was faultless, he believed that Wargate’s would keep him on in peace
time and, as naive as Ash Davis, he had bought a two-room shack where he
“bached it” with his motherless son, Bobby, the fleet-footed and antic
dancer, the boogie-woogie wizard of the Five Points.

His Black Belt accent was like blackjack molasses and Neil could but
half understand him. He looked like an Indian, with thin lips, thin
black hawk nose; tall and straight; an impression of Judge Cass
Timberlane cut in basalt. He was wearing now the blue-denim blouse and
overalls that were romantic as all work-clothes are.

When they tried to drag him into the race-talk, Sugar said, no, he knew
nothing about discrimination, except that here or any other place, the
colored folks were always the last to be hired and the first to be
fired, so why worry?

Neil wondered, “But can you stand our cold winters?”

“Mister, it’s colder in a Louisiana shack, full of holes, at forty above
than it is here in my plastered house at forty below.”

“Sugar just wants room to rest his hat. He’s sensible enough not to have
the constant feeling of insecurity and futility that gets Martha and me
down,” said Ash.

“You educated fellows are too touchy, Doc. You don’t know how a worker
feels,” said Sugar.

“Worker!” Ash protested. “When I got out of college, I was cook on a
private car—that ineffable official and his booze!—and when I finished
graduate work in chemistry, my first job was in a patent-medicine dump,
where I packed boxes and loaded ’em on trucks when I wasn’t making up
formulae.”

Clem Brazenstar argued with Sugar, “You get touchy, too, when some woman
changes her seat because you sit next to her in a bus. Sophie! My
eagle!”

A brownskin girl had slipped into the room, and Mary announced to Neil,
“This is Sophie Concord. She’s a district nurse. . . . Mr. Kingsblood, a
new friend.”

“I’ve seen Mr. Kingsblood in the bank,” said Sophie, and added, as
though she was trying not to, “being efficient and handsome!” She looked
at him with no signs of anesthesia, and he was certain that she was the
most beautiful young woman he had ever seen and the least frigid.

                 * * * * *

Sophie Concord, Alabama-born and Neil’s own age, was tall, like Vestal,
and frank-faced like her, but more endowed with curves and long sweet
lines that interested even a sober carthorse like Neil. She had a
generous mouth and a skin nearly as dark as Ash Davis’s, a rich brown
skin that was incredibly satin-smooth, and her bare arms were the color
of a polished dry fig against the white rayon of her rather ancient
party-dress.

Sophie had once been a torch-singer in minor night clubs in New York;
she had been accepted in sequin and champagne circles in Harlem; but she
had resented having to clown for gap-mouthed white patrons. She had
turned flippantly pious, taken a knight’s oath sung to jazz, and after
three hard years had become a nurse, well trained, patiently
consecrated, and very pert.

She preferred, she mockingly asserted, the care of infants afflicted
with nits to the care of white gentlemen patrons with leers. The
exacting Ryan Woolcape admitted, “Sophie is a hardboiled nurse even if
she does look like Cobra perfume and lace pillows.”

                 * * * * *

“Our new white friend seems to be a good guy,” Clem explained publicly
to Sophie. “We’ve been giving him Second Year Subversive Doctrine, and
he hasn’t blinked yet. He must have a little drop of chocolate in him, I
guess!”

Everybody laughed—except the Woolcapes, and Neil, who felt frozen.

“You _would_ drag out the propaganda, to entertain a poor man that wants
to know about Joe Louis. He must by this time be as sick of your racial
soapboxing as I am,” protested Sophie, climbing on her own soapbox.
“Tell me, Mr. Kingsblood, are you another white slummer, or a real
friend of our race?”

“You have no idea how real!” said Neil.

“He is a sweet, fine man,” insisted Mother Woolcape.

“Goody, goody!” Sophie’s voice, Neil thought, even when she was
lamentably trying to be cute, was like summer dusk quick with fireflies.
“Lots of white people think we’re suspicious and hard to get acquainted
with. And maybe we are. We’ve all had the most shaming experiences with
apparently friendly whites who come around and tell us ‘You’re just
dandy’ and then go home and make a funny story out of it.

“For one white like Sweeney Fishberg or Cope Anderson, that never even
notices your color if you’re a friend, any more than he especially
notices whether you’re black-headed or red-headed, there’s ten ofays who
pretend they want to be chummy but are either on the make, trying to
sell us something—a sewing-machine or a church or Communist
doctrine—or else they’re taking up Social Equality for the Poor Colored
Brethren, in between Bundles for Britain and Thomas Wolfe, between Dali
and Monsignor Sheean. Or else they’re failures in their own white world,
frustrated women and reporters without a job and preachers without pews,
who believe they can be important and get loved hot in our world, which
they think is just panting to be patronized by some gray that once read
a life of Booker T. Washington. They make us awful leery of our dear
white friends. So you see, Mr. Kingsblood, we’ll be examining you as
cautiously as you will us.”

While she was lecturing as a missionary, Neil was looking at her as a
woman. She was a soft-moving cat, a bronze cat whose bronze would turn
into soft flesh under the fingertips. Her breasts were firm like bronze
and softer, he speculated, than the sides of a cat.

Then he shook his head fretfully.

——Don’t you think you could love the race without wanting to pet its
representative, Kingsblood, you frustrated white man?

Sugar Gowse got up, lunch-pail in hand, and drawled, “I reckon I like
the white fellows I work with better than the biggety guys Miss Sophie
talks about. At the factory, they either divvy their beer and bolony
with you, or they hate you and tell you so with a crow-bar. Good night.”

Sugar’s pronunciation was as thick as gumbo; he said “excusing” for
“except,” and he remarked that when the foreman “lowrated him,” he had
“paid him no mind.” But Neil saw that Sugar had ceased to be a Nigra, a
half-human creature who, had he remained in the South, would by even the
kindliest whites have been rated as “pretty decent, for a darky.” He had
become a human being here, like Webb Wargate or John Woolcape. Only,
more gay!

Neil noticed that he had not heard tonight the wild picturesqueness of
speech that he had found in fiction about Southern Negroes, nor the
gilded perversions of the stories about Harlem and dope and creepers.
Except for an occasional self-consciously used word like “ofay,” these
people—it was another shock—talked like the people he knew, like all
the people he had ever known, in the bank or the army or the university.
Only, more gaily!

                 * * * * *

Clem was holding forth:

“Uncle Bodacious—I want to tell Mr. Kingsblood about Uncle Bodacious.
He’s the guy—he’s white but he has some cullud cousins across the
tracks—he’s the clothhead that first invented ‘Some of my best friends
are Jews’ and I’m all for unions but I hate these outside agitators.’
And Uncle Bodacious is the authority who explains that the reason for
segregation is that otherwise the blues would marry all the white women,
and with a jackass like that, there’s no use pointing out that most of
us sables would rather marry a gal like Sophie than a chalkette.

“My own frau, bless her, is none of your high yallas. She’s a high
patent-leather. But if I wanted to marry a pink who wanted to marry me,
I sure would.

“When anybody hollers that there’s any importance to the amount of
marriage between blacks and whites, you can be sure that he’s trying to
find a good, pious, obscene reason for low-grading his colored help, so
he’ll feel virtuous in underpaying them.

“But Uncle Bodacious’s prime cackle is, ‘There is no solution of the
Negro Problem.’ That sounds learned and ethnological as hell, but all it
means is that there is no solution, this side of a nice tomb in Forest
Lawn, for Uncle Bodacious! . . . And now, for the Lord’s sake, Mary, do
we get coffee and doughnuts?”

And coffee and doughnuts were what Mary did serve. They were wonderful.

                 * * * * *

Holding his cup and leaning over a youngish colored woman, Neil may not
have appeared as a man in a dramatic crisis, but Sophie Concord and her
sliding eyes and her tawny voice embodied for him all the tempting
strangeness of a mythical Africa, and he felt that she should be
chanting a voodoo charm instead of being emphatic about funds for the
treatment of infantile paralysis.

As a recent convert, Neil longed to be close to these initiates; he
wished they would call him by his first name as they did one another,
but they went on gravely Mistering him. Even when he slipped and
absently spoke to Dr. Davis as “Ash,” he was put in his place by a
Mister. He politely said “Miss Concord,” but that way of addressing her
seemed like the damp saucer of a women’s club teacup, as he watched her
throw back her head, shake her dark hair, and mutter “De Lawd!” He
longed to see her in the steaming lushness of her Broadway night-spots,
not eating doughnuts on Mayo Street.

Talking to her alone, he got out, “How do you feel about the future of
the race?” and was fairly proud of himself for being professional.

Sophie was as crisp as Vestal. “Just what does that mean, Mr.
Kingsblood? That’s one of those insurance-man-on-the-telephone
questions, like ‘How did you sleep last night?’ or ‘Well, well, well,
how’s every lil thing this morning?’”

“Maybe it is, except I do want to know.”

“Why?”

“It’s——Miss Concord, I have such a liking for your friends here—and
you.”

“Mister, I haven’t had a white banker so attentive since I worked in the
Tiger Divan, in Harlem, and an ofay high financier, a jig-chaser from
Bismarck, wanted to come up to my flat and look at etchings, and he was
willing to bring the etchings, done by the Government, and——”

“Stop that!”

“What?”

“I really want to learn about Negroes. I’m a humble student.”

“Laws amassy, listen at the man!”

“What was your college, Sophie?”

“Hm?”

“You’re just another educated Alabama girl trying to be African.”

“Mister, you’re learning! I only had a year, and I spent all my time
studying French history, God help me!”

“I didn’t expect tonight that I’d find quite so many of your race that
are better-read than I am.”

“Don’t get fooled. Mostly, they ain’t!”

“The bunch here are. Don’t make fun of the poor dumb whites like me.
Tell me about yourself.”

“Mister, don’t you realize what I am? I’m that beautiful convent-trained
New Orleans octoroon, that passionate slave-girl with the lambent eyes
and long raven tresses, standing on the block with hot blushes, and
practically nothing else on, before the leering planters (or theatrical
agents) with their beaver hats and beaver watch-chains. But one young
man there, young Nevil Calhoun Kingsblood of Kingsblood Corners,
Kentucky, pities her, and soon, along the gal’ry of a mysterious old
mansion nigh Lexington, there is to be seen a veiled figure
gliding—lookit her glide, lookit her, the _nebig_!

“Now, dear Mr. Kingsblood, don’t try to find any of us romantic. We’re a
bunch of hard-working people who believe in just one thing—getting the
job-ceiling raised for the whole race, so that a highly competent
colored girl will have a chance at a $32.75 job as a filing-clerk
instead of working in the laundry all her life. That’s all we are!”

But as she said it, they were friends.

He was at last noticing what she wore: a white long dress with a
barbaric gold jacket, a huge topaz ring that questioned her plain-talk.

“I must be sure and remember what she has on, to tell Vestal,” he had
dutifully recorded before he realized that he was unlikely to tell
Vestal about Sophie’s costume or anything else regarding that
statistical hoyden.

                 * * * * *

When the race-talk, which was resistless to them as a ball of paper to a
kitten, started all over again, Neil learned that whenever a
well-meaning white asks, “Wouldn’t the Negroes be satisfied with——”
the answer is No. He learned that a Southern Liberal is a man who
explains to a Northern Liberal that Beale Street has been re-christened
Beale Avenue.

He heard of colored judges, surgeons, war correspondents for the Negro
press. Odd things he heard of: black Buddhists and black Orthodox Jews,
colored Communists and colored Masons and Oddfellows and Elks and
Greek-letter fraternities, lowly Negroes who hated all Jewish
shopkeepers and Negroes so highly placed that they hated all lowly
Negroes.

They came, inevitably, to the Second Question, and Neil said awkwardly
to Dr. Davis, “It’s probably old stuff to you, but what about this
argument that the Negroes must be inferior because they didn’t build a
lot of cathedrals and Parthenons in Africa?”

Everybody laughed, but Dr. Davis answered gravely:

“Did you ever try building a Parthenon among the tse-tse flies? As a
matter of fact, our people have built their share—along with the other
slaves in Egypt and Rome. And who do you suppose built our
plantation-houses? The owners? And do you know how many young colored
architects there are now?

“Mr. Kingsblood, you can’t count on the Negroes remaining less
architectural than the whites, despite the eloquence of the pecker-wood
preacher who talks, in an unpainted plank chapel, about ‘The Nigras that
the myster’ous han’ of God done fix so they cain’t nevuh build no
Pa’thenonses.’ It’s one o’clock! I’m going home!”

                 * * * * *

He felt that he had come on a new world that was stranger than the moon,
darker than the night, brighter than morning hills, a world exciting and
dangerous.

“I love these people!” he thought.




                                   25


“I WOULDN’T know about you millionaires, but I’m a working woman and I
have to go home,” said Sophie Concord.

——I’ve heard Vestal say that!

Martha Davis was to drive Sophie home. Ash suggested, “I’ll walk over
and put Mr. Kingsblood on a bus. . . . Just as well not to wander around
here alone, after one in the morning. Some bad actors—not all colored.
I’ll promise to keep off the race-talk, though there is no complete cure
for it. The other day, in the bathroom, I read a label ‘facial tissues’
as ‘racial issues.’”

To Mary Woolcape, Neil said privately, “This evening has been exciting
but I still don’t know that I can tell even our friends here that I am a
Negro.”

“I’m not even sure you ought to, not sure at all. Why risk the
humiliations we’ve been talking about tonight?”

There were late-burning lights behind dark curtains along Mayo Street,
and from the rooms over a store came a high cackle of laughter. The
alleys were filled with shadows—they may have been men lurking and they
may have been barrels, but in neither case did Neil like them. Ash had
nothing to say, and Neil saw how attentively he watched every sliding
alley cat, every dusky loafer squatted on his heels on a grating.

Neil insisted on their walking from the bus stop up to Canoe Heights,
and Ash’s house.

It was a small house and low-roofed, but Neil saw from its great window,
which made one whole corner a cage of glass, that this was what was
called a “modern house,” in revolt from all the Cape Cod and Tudor of
Sylvan Park. He had heard Mr. Prutt condemn such structures as
anarchistic, but he had never been inside one.

Ash murmured, “You must come in for a drink,” and Neil entered a room
that repelled him and fascinated him by its conscious bareness, its
freedom from all silver-boxery. It had two centers: the huge corner
window, through which he could see a net of pale lights far down below
them in the Five Points, and a severe fireplace, of polished stone,
without a mantel. The few chairs, covered with rough-woven material,
were of unconventional shapes, more attentive to the human form than to
Chippendale; and on the wall, which was lined with something that seemed
at once to be wallpaper and metal, there was just one picture, an orgy
of reeling triangles. On the small piano was a lump of awkward black
sculpture.

“Well—so this is a Modern House,” Neil marveled, as Ash mixed a
highball at a competent closet-bar.

“So they call it.”

“Who was your architect?”

“Me, so far as there was one. This was a kind of shed, and Martha and I
made it over. But you know, I think this house is the symbol of my
shame. I’m afraid I really did it to spite Lucian Firelock, and keeping
up with the highbrows is worse than keeping up with the Joneses. You
know Firelock?”

“Advertising manager at Wargate’s—Southern guy? Yes, a little.”

“He’s a Southern Liberal—Vanderbilt University—the kind that wants
both to keep us evil darkies in our place and get credit for being very
tolerant—wants us to study the same things as a white man, but do it
under the table. Firelock lives two doors from here in a dreadful old
Noah’s Ark with trimmings like fungus—only place he could get, in the
war shortage, poor gentleman!

“He was agitated when he found I was a neighbor. He’s used to having
‘darkies’ in the neighborhood, only they’re supposed to remain poor and
humble and grateful. He looked down his nose at me when he first saw me.
Then his kids got to playing with my Nora, and we got half acquainted,
and the worst of it is, the poor devil likes me better than anybody else
around here, and he can’t admit it.

“When I made over this place, I didn’t realize at first that I was going
out for this Modern Style, which is, of course, a Freudian form of
Puritanism, just in order to impress Firelock. The worst of it is, I
succeeded, and every time I see him go by, he’s looking envious. Can you
beat that for a low human motive on my part? And this room is so blasted
chaste that I long for a golden-oak rocker under a picture of the old
church by moonlight. I’m a Rotarian in professor’s clothing.

“No, that’s not true. (God, I am talking so much tonight! That’s because
almost every evening I stay home.) I’m not in the least either an
affable businessman or a heated race-agitator.

“I’d like to live in an ivory tower, play Bach, read Yeats and Melville,
be an authority on the history of chemistry and alchemy instead of a
plodding laboratory hack. But the white scholars won’t accept me, so I
try to become an ardent race-crusader. But it’s a role, and I’m not a
good actor.

“I have an affection for our friends tonight, but I find Clem too
emphatic, Ryan too ridden by Communist Jesuitism, Sophie too imitative
of the white Talking Women, and John and Mary, whom I honestly love, too
smug. My notion of an agreeable evening would be to sit by the fireplace
with George Moore, saying nothing. Oh, it’s not easy for me to bellow
for our ‘rights’—even though I do emphatically believe that they _are_
our rights.

“I think I’m telling you this so that you may know that neither we nor
our propaganda are as simple as we seem. Nor are you!

“I think you have some quite special interest in the race. You certainly
are not a philanthropic dabbler. What is it?”

——Here’s the man that really might have something to tell me, that
might become the friend I need. I don’t want to go on blabbing this,
but——

“Ash, I think possibly I have some Negro blood myself, way back.”

There was no sympathy from Ash nor surprise but only a quiet, “Oh. Well,
perhaps it’s something to be proud of. Perhaps you’re in a better war
now.”

“But I’m scared of being found out—and by people for whose opinions I
don’t really care a damn.”

“If you need a refuge, at least verbal, Mr. Kingsblood, I shall be glad
if you’ll come here.”

“I certainly shall. Good night, Ash.”

Dr. Davis distinctly hesitated before he said, “Good night—Neil.”

                 * * * * *

As he tramped on home, a good-looking but stolid-looking youngish man,
through streets where clerks and foremen lived, streets like the aisles
between boxes in a dark warehouse, there was more hope than apprehension
in him. If he was still nervous about a conceivable future as a Negro,
he no longer hated anything in it; in spirit he was on the side of the
bars with Ash and Sophie and Ryan and Clem.

When he came dubiously into the bedroom, Vestal woke only to jeer,
affectionately, “Some evening you vets must have had!” and went back to
sleep.

It was astonishing, he thought, that his beloved wife did not instantly
perceive that this evening had been the most critical in his history.
Would Sophie have seen it?

                 * * * * *

Vestal and Neil were off for their two-weeks summer vacation in a rented
cottage on the North Shore of Lake Superior. Before they went, Mr. S.
Ashiel Denver, cashier of the Second National, gave them a dinner at the
Pineland Hotel, to celebrate the glory and profitableness of the
Veterans’ Center. In the pink glow from the rose-shaped wall-brackets
against the Pompeian frescoes of the Fiesole Room, they were ushered to
their table, handsome with silver and roses, by the senatorial Drexel
Greenshaw, with his dark-brown dome, his clipped white mustache.

As they toyed with sardines lying exhausted on little couches of cold
toast, Vestal looked after Mr. Greenshaw’s majestic back, and admired,
“He’s quite the old-fashioned darky, isn’t he! I bet he loves pork chops
and watermelon and shooting craps.”

Mr. Denver agreed, “Yes, he’s a fine old fellow. Never gets fresh or
tries to act like he was white. He knows his place and does just what
he’s told and says ‘Thank you,’ instead of trying to make you think he
owned the hotel, like some of these flip young niggers would.”

But Mrs. Denver was not quite sure that she could grant Drexel a license
to live. “He gets a little _too_ friendly, for my taste. I do think one
has to keep up standards in these critical days, with the breakdown of
morale and all, and I can’t say I enjoy seeing a colored waiter acting
like he belonged to the family. I don’t see why they don’t get rid of
all the nigger help, in a place that claims to be so highclass, and hire
some nice waitresses—but American ones, not all these thick
Scandinavians.”

“Oh, I think all these darky waiters mean well. Only thing that bothers
me about them is, I simply can’t tell them apart,” Vestal said
broadmindedly, looking at the three waiters now in sight, one squat and
black, one slim and coffee-colored, one very tall, very pale, and
spectacled. “Can you, Neil?”

“Oh, yes, they seem like individuals to me.”

Mrs. Denver wheezed on—there was always a sound of corsets in her
voice—“But Neil, even if you can tell ’em apart, you don’t like that
old fussbudget of a headwaiter, do you?”

“Yes, I do. I think he’s a fine old gentleman.”

“Gentleman? My, what a funny word to use about a darky!”

After the festal dinner, they drove to the Denver abode, just back of
Neil’s house, and in came a spate of neighbors: Don and Rose Pennloss,
and Cedric Staubermeyer, the much-traveled dealer in paints, wallpaper,
linoleum and other objects of art, with wife. There was pleasant but
intellectual conversation, and Neil was able to compare the prosperous
white man’s range of cultural interests with the primitive outlook of
the Negroes to whom he had listened, three evenings before, at the house
of a colored janitor:

“I think it’s getting quite a bit warmer.”

“Yes, but June was awfully cold.”

“Oh, did you think so? I didn’t think it was colder than usual. Not
especially, I mean.”

“Wasn’t it? Well, I felt like it was colder.”

Flashes like that, thrown off without effort.

But Mrs. Cedric Staubermeyer was more studied and, it might be said,
educational:

“My, my, doesn’t seem like ten years ago, just seems like yesterday we
were in Rome. We saw the Eternal City through and through, and the
ruins, very ancient, and the Vatican and the airfield, and the lady at
the English teashop, she was English, and she said my! we seemed like
old inhabitants to her, and of course we had a great advantage, not
staying at a hotel but at a pension where we met the native Italians, we
met several, and they explained everything to us, and such an
interesting Frenchman, my! he spoke the most beautiful English, just
like Cedric’s and mine, and imagine! he told us he had a cousin living
right here in Grand Republic!”

But Mr. Staubermeyer put in a sour note:

“We never looked his cousin up when we got back here, because I suspect
this French guy was a Jew, and you know what I think of Jews, and so
would you, if you had to do business with them, and so I said to my
wife, ‘Oh, the hell with him! I can stand foreigners in foreign parts,’
I said, ‘and I like the natives all right, except for the way they live
and do business, but let’s just keep ’em abroad, where they belong.’”

                 * * * * *

Their range of interests was by no means limited to travel. They went
thoroughly into the prospects for pheasant-hunting this coming fall, the
crookedness of their congressman—for whom, however, they would continue
to vote, lest a Farmer-Labor-Democrat get in, and the facts that Mr.
Jones was buying the house of Mr. Brown and Mr. Brown was drinking too
much. They skillfully compared the prices for women’s stockings in
Tarr’s Emporium, the Beaux Arts, and the shops in Duluth, Minneapolis
and St. Paul, until Mrs. Denver cried, “My gracious, we’ve been chatting
away so that I never realized it was so late, but you don’t mean to say
that you’re going home, Neil?”

He was.




                                   26


THE waves of Lake Superior splashed among the bare dark roots of the
birch and cedar and white pine, and their log cabin smelled damp and
fresh. They dived into the cold water and came out blissfully screaming,
and on the warmer small lakes, back in the solid forest of the
Arrowhead, they canoed, they fished for small-mouth bass, and made a
whole warfare of shooting at tin cans floating. And in all this peace,
Neil never stopped fretting.

This was old Chippewa country. Xavier Pic must have driven his canoe
through the shadow of these cliffs on his journeys to Thunder Bay. There
was, indeed, still a Chippewa Reservation near their cabin, and Neil had
prickly ideas about getting his Biddy to love the redskin brethren and
gradually becoming able to tell her that she—though, of course, a very
sweet little white girl, too—was part Chippewa, part Negro, and wasn’t
it all nice and natural!

Like every thoughtful parent in every age of history, Neil consoled
himself, “My generation failed, but this new one is going to change the
entire world, and go piously to the polls even on rainy election-days,
and never drink more than one cocktail, and end all war.”

He sat in the car with Biddy at a small encampment of Chippewa women and
children, who were lodged in bark huts for the summer, selling baskets
and toy canoes of birchbark to the tourists.

“Biddy! Look at the Indian pickaninnies, or whatever they call ’em.
Aren’t they cute! Wouldn’t you like to play with them, play scouts and
make campfires and everything?”

“No.”

“Why not, dear?”

“They’re dirty.”

“The little Indian children? Dirty?”

“Yes.”

“Well, maybe they are, but think of beaver-dams and, uh, war-bonnets.
Aren’t they wonderful?”

“No.”

“But why do you object to their being a little dirty? It’s just smoke
from cooking. After all, Daddy’s little girl gets pretty dirty, too,
sometimes!”

“They look like niggers.”

“And what’s the matter with—Negroes?”

“I don’t like ’em.”

“Did you ever know one?”

“Yes.”

“And just who, now, besides Belfreda?”

“Little Eva.”

“She wasn’t a Negro. She was white.”

“I didn’t like her.”

“May I put it to you, Elizabeth, that you are being a horrid little
girl?”

“With a curl in the middle of my forehead?”

“Oh, hell!”

“Oh, Daddy, you said it, you did—you said ‘Hell.’ Hell, hell, hell,
hell, hell!”

In the midst of her feminine seizing of an advantage, Biddy was so
enchantingly pink and white and gleeful that he loved her despairingly
and realized, like cold dough in his brain, that all the cheerful little
viciousnesses of common belief among nice people are more devastating
than bombs and great wings.

Because he had a fortnight of leisure, because it occurred to him that
Vestal was “the white wife of a colored man,” he studied her as they
loafed on the lichen-cushioned rocks. She was less intelligent and
worldly-wise than Nurse Concord, he thought, less warm and beautiful,
but possessed of more clarity and control. She was a “fine type of young
American matron,” clean, athletic, well read—well, well-enough
read—and Interested in What Goes on in the World. She had a piety
adequate for Sylvan Park, and derision of sentimentality. She had,
indeed, everything, except any individuality whatsoever.

In a matter of weeks, he had learned that without suffering and doubt,
there can be no whole human being. Vestal had never known suffering
except in child-birth, nor any upsetting surprise and doubt except on
her wedding-night.

In one thing she was clearly superior to a good many virtuous women: she
did not enjoy intentional cruelty. But Neil was discovering that
unconscious cruelty can be very effective.

Vestal, remembering old days, kept singing, “Coon, coon, coon, how I
wish my color would fade.”

——That’s what I am. What Biddy is. A coon. A moke. A boogie. Something
so grotesque that a fine lady like Vestal couldn’t imagine hurting its
feelings.

Prince trotted up, shaking off a shower of mud, and Vestal scolded him,
“We shouldn’t have changed your name, dog! You’re no prince. You’re
nothing but a dirty, good-for-nothing nigger!”

And smiled at Neil so trustingly.

                 * * * * *

He saw that, to Vestal, his devotion to the Negroes would be half
insanity and half naughtiness, if she knew. Why take on such a silly
character? And two weeks can do an extensive healing, in a Northern
magic of gray rocks and orange lichens and sweet pines and sliding red
canoes and blade-blue distances across the tremendous lake. He bathed
with her in shock-cold water and, for all his hobbling, they raced like
children, and he came back to town cured of his frenzy.

He came back to it an energetic young banker—white.




                                   27


THAT Neil was going to be a bank-president, but with a salary ten times
that of Mr. Prutt, was too obvious for Vestal to talk about it. What
interested her was the house that would then dignify their position.
Neil was amused by her ambition to buy half of The Hill from Berthold
Eisenherz and build the perfect house that every woman wants.

Could he, Neil teased, interest her in a “modern type” house, all
windows and plaster, such as he had seen when—oh, well, he’d seen one
some place.

He could not! She would patronize nothing so cold and queer. She had
decided on a stone Norman manor house, only with sleeping-porches, a
pine-paneled Rumpus Room with a built-in bar, and a doll’s-house for
Biddy which should have—or am I too crazy? Vestal wanted to know—a
doll’s-bathroom with real running water!

“Is that important for her?” Neil asked.

“Nothing could be more important, because she’ll be a little girl only
once, you know.”

They had gone so far toward the assemblage of this Norman dungeon as to
have planned to buy a new gas-stove.

The war with Japan had ended, and while Vestal was properly glad that
their friends would be coming home from the South Pacific, she confessed
to an equal delight that now the manufacturers would turn from arms to
unimaginable domestic treasures: plastic dressing-tables and crystal
coffee-pots and automatic dish-washers. She was already thinking of the
wardrobe, in fabrics still uninvented, which she would prepare for Biddy
when she went to Bryn Mawr, a dozen years from now.

At breakfast she suggested to Neil, “I’ll come downtown today, and you
buy me a lunch and we’ll look at the gas-stove that I’ve set my girlish
heart on. It’s a jewel of a stove, a rose, an eagle, a Bedlington of a
stove, a stone, a leaf, a door, and I love it more than I do virtue—at
least, it’s more practical.”

When he saw it, the stove did possess most of the splendors that Vestal
had advertised, and she gloated, “That’ll make even our present dump of
a kitchen look like the manorhouse of our destiny.”

He sighed, “But you still do like our house, don’t you?”

“Oh, Neil, no matter how I rave about future palaces, I love our little
shack violently—our own place, that not even a crazy, wild-haired
Democrat government can take away from us. Comes the depression, we’ll
retire there and grow onions in the bathrooms and be happy as grigs—how
happy is an average-size grig, do you suppose? Oh.” She nodded toward
the arm-folded and wearily back-tilted salesman. “I think you can jew
him down five dollars on the price. Try it.”

——I wonder if a Jew likes that phrase, “jew him down,” any better than
my people like “sweating like a nigger”? Oh, quit it! You’re the
possessor of a beautiful wife, a beautiful gas-stove, and you were going
to forget all this race-hysteria.

It was on that same afternoon that Ash Davis came to sit by his desk and
say formally, lest anyone be listening, “Mr. Kingsblood, may I disturb
you for a minute?”

“Nobody around, Ash.”

“Neil, again I’m here begging. Bad news. Several colored returned
soldiers arrested in South Carolina for a murder they couldn’t have
committed. Sophie and I are raising a fund for lawyers. I want all the
money you can spare. And I warn you that if you’re so simple as to give
me one cent, it will be only the beginning of the leech’s daughters
yelling, ‘Give, give!’”

Neil decided what he could afford, and made out a check for slightly
more than that. He was longing for the cool, humorous, devastating talk
of Ash and Clem and Sophie.

“When can I sit in with all of you again?” he urged.

“Clem won’t be back in town for weeks. But would you like to have dinner
with Martha and me at my place—maybe Sophie, if I can get her? What
about tonight?”

His lie to Vestal was almost automatic, this time. But he felt pitifully
that he would not again be able to glow with her over her beloved
gas-stove. She was a great lady in her assumptions; she was a poor child
in her trusting heart.

When he sat with the Davises and Sophie at the table which had popped
out from beneath a bookcase and turned all that end of the severe room
into a dining-room, he had nothing to say. They belonged to a world that
was closed to Our Mr. Kingsblood of the Second National; and the more
taboo Sophie was, the more tempting were her soft, seal-brown hands,
moving surely as a cabinetmaker’s or lying in peace.

He played with his food (which was plain hamburger steak, after
excellent mushroom soup), and he demanded, “What are you three arguing
about? Who is ‘the Turk’ and why is he a stinker?”

Sophie said, rather wearily, “He’s a colored fellow named Vanderbilt
Litch—a usurer—the only suspected colored Quisling in town. But you
wouldn’t be interested.”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“How could you take any interest in the fussing of us local busy-bodies?
Our sign is ‘For colored only,’ and that lets you out, Captain.”

——Don’t say it! Don’t tell her you’re colored! Shut up! Don’t say
_anything_! You’ve already told Ash and the Woolcapes—too many. Wait
now, wait!

And with that he babbled, “That lets me in, Sophie, because I’ve
discovered, here recently, that I’m part colored.”

Her mouth stayed open, her fingers, like brown reeds, stayed motionless
in air, holding a cigarette, her breast pulsed, and then her
astonishment deepened into a look of tragic commiseration for him. The
nurse who had been a small-town-neighborhood girl was tenderly concerned
for him, but it was the Broadway singer who spoke:

“No foolin’?”

                 * * * * *

He heard himself discussed, genially but firmly.

“Why, you smart little devil,” crowed Sophie, “to think that you passed
and got away with it, and I never guessed!”

“But I didn’t know till just recently, I tell you!”

“Really he didn’t,” said Ash, like a schoolmaster.

“Come off it!” Sophie gloated. “How could you help feeling that rhythm,
little Neil? Why, I tell you, when you’re black, you’re in the groove,
you’re in the grove, you got reet, you got meat, you got feet, you can
feel that ole mumbo-jum right out of Africa zizzing right through you!”

“That’s enough, Sophie!” from Ash.

“Well, you get the idea, anyway. Maybe I was trying to strut a little
Harlem stuff, but honest to God, I don’t see how anybody could have
Congo genes in him and think he belonged to those hot-fisted,
cold-hearted freaks that call themselves the white race! Anyway,
congratulations, pal!”

“Stop it!” said Ash. “Neil, her jungle blood is pure fake, and so is her
aversion to the whites—a heterogeneous group with many virtues. Sophie
is a conscientious uplifter and record-keeper. But——”

There was a “But” in everything Ash and Sophie said—not in what Martha
said, because Martha didn’t say anything. The nearer Neil came to them,
the more complex they seemed in their dual attitude toward him as a
friend to be protected and as a convert to be exploited as publicity for
the race. Without much reference to his feelings, they speculated
whether “Even though it might be hard—just a little hard—just at
first—might it not be a good thing if you did come out frankly as a
Negro?”

But they thought they might let him off for a while.

It had not occurred to him that the news that he was a Negro, with its
public branding or crowning, could come from anyone save himself. He
realized that the words had gone out of his mouth, swift and
unrecapturable, and that it depended only on the whim of these three and
of the Woolcapes—any Woolcape—whether he should be betrayed. But if he
was slightly in fear, he was also relaxed in accepting Sophie and Ash
and Martha as his own people. When Sophie rose, he said, “I’ll trot out
to your car with you.”

He sat with her in her shaky coupé and held her hand, warmer than any
hand he had ever known, with the curious warmth that has nothing to do
with the thermometer, that is cool and smooth while it is hot and
seamed.

But the Sophie who had just been advertising the unrestrained joys of
the jungle was reluctant. When he urged, “If I do get known all over as
a Negro, can I count on you to make up for the people I’ll lose?” she
burst into shrill scolding:

“Damn it, you won’t lose anybody that’s worth keeping! Man, don’t expect
us brownskins to be _sorry_ for a person who’s lucky enough to become a
brownskin!” She relented: “There, there, mother’s baby!” It was too
exactly the wifely tone of Vestal. “Didums get crestfallen—crest shot
to pieces? Mother make it well!”

She kissed him. He had not known a kiss like that, the closeness of it
and the softness and the frankness of what it said. But she hastily drew
back.

“Sorry! I don’t kiss white men, and even if your heart is good and
black, your poor brains are still white, like a baby’s. Good night!”

He looked after her car as it rattled off.

——I can’t do this to Vestal—so excited about her little gas-stove!
I’ve got to get out of this African world. It’s too complex for
countryfolks like Vestal and me. Prutt, I’m coming home!




                                   28


THEY were all back from the wars, all his friends: Rod Aldwick, the
sturdy Judd Browler, “Elegant Eliot” Hansen. They were back, and they
powerfully assumed that no matter how rackety the rest of the world,
Good Old Neil would not have changed.

Day on day he never saw Ash or Sophie. Vestal and he had Judd or Eliot
and their wives for dinner, and insensibly he again became the Sterling
Young Banker in every part. His racial adventure had been a dream,
perhaps a nightmare. The good sense of The Boys made his fancies seem
sentimental, and he suspected that the Rodney Aldwick who had been his
model in dancing-class, in hockey, in the display of loose silk ties,
could not have been as vicious about colored troops as he remembered.

At the Federal Club, he heard Rod debating those colored troops with
another returned officer, Colonel Levi Tarr. Now Rod was only a major,
but he seemed to Neil so much more of a major than Tarr was of a
colonel.

Levi Tarr had been assistant general manager of his father’s department
store, the Emporium. He was tall, scant, spectacled, and while he was
reported to have led a great counter-attack in the Bulge, no one could
see this professional ribbon-seller waving a sword or doing anything
else with a sword, while you pictured Rod Aldwick eating his shredded
wheat with a dirk, scratching himself with a bayonet, writing
love-letters with a saber.

Neil had to agree, however uneasily, when Rod laughed at Colonel Tarr’s
nervous praise of the black soldiers. Then he was confused all over
again when he found a partisan of the Negroes in his own cousin,
Patricia, daughter of his mother’s brother, Uncle Emery Saxinar, the
energetic dealer in pumps and valves. Pat had always been a comely girl
but peering and withdrawn. Back now after serving as ensign in the
WAVES, she was noisy and interested. She praised the colored sailors,
and one evening she astonished Neil by extemporizing:

“I want to deny this rumor that the Daughters of the American Revolution
are the women’s auxiliary of the Ku Klux Klan, because there are no
Negroes in the Klan, but there must be a lot of them in the D.A.R.,
since the first man killed in the American Revolution was a Negro.”

Vestal protested, “A fine, ribald barroom louse you got to be in this
woman’s war, Pat!”

Neil was troubled.

                 * * * * *

Rod Aldwick came to dinner, with his handsome, fresh-faced wife, Janet.
Biddy had been allowed to stay up long enough to greet her “Uncle Rod,”
and she swarmed all over him. She made a proposal that if she was
allowed to stay up half-an-hour longer to talk things over with him, she
would not be naughty at all for two and a half days.

“You’re wonderful with children, and I bet you were with your troops,”
said Vestal to Rod.

At dinner, Rod volunteered his plans for the whole future of his son,
Graham, aged nine but already doomed. Graham would, like his father, go
to Lawrenceville with a couple of summers at Culver Military Academy, go
joyfully on to Princeton and Harvard Law, enter his father’s firm, enter
the National Guard, be a gentleman, marry a lady and, when his time
came, defend Anglo-American Civilization and the Bar Association against
Spics, Wops, Kikes, Chinks, Bolos, and the Pan-Islamic Union. And with
any luck, he ought to be not just a major but a major-general.

                 * * * * *

The emotions have their own logic, swift and incomprehensible, and it
was by that logic that Neil thought of Winthrop Brewster, son of the
Reverend Evan. Winthrop was lucky; he would not be sent in a plush-lined
coffin through Princeton and the officers’ club; he could honorably be
independent and poor.

And by that same logic, dismissing his promise to himself that he would
play safe, next afternoon Neil drove down to the little house of Dr.
Brewster, off Mayo Street.

He had not thought out the whole reason for his going; he had nothing
pertinent to say when he walked in on a surprised Evan, his wife
Corinne, who was less dark and a good deal less cordial, and the
children, Winthrop and Thankful, those true Yankees whose family had
been in Massachusetts ever since a very black Pilgrim ancestor had fled
there, if not by the _Mayflower_, at least by the underground, which is
the same thing.

He had not lied to Vestal, this time; he had telephoned Shirley to
explain that he might not be able to get home for dinner.

Business.




                                   29


IT was not that Winthrop and Thankful were much less black than their
father, or had straighter hair or beakier noses, but they had even more
assurance as American citizens. The easy confidence with which they
looked at Neil, the straightness with which they carried their
shoulders, made them seem not like products of the slave-block and the
cotton-field, but like what they were—American school children, unusual
only in unusual gentleness.

You cannot hear constantly at school that Americans are the bravest,
richest and mose generous people in history without absorbing a certain
pride, which is not too objectionable if it be tempered by a more serene
and informed culture at home.

Neil lumbered in, explaining that he had never forgotten Dr. Brewster’s
sermon. “Just thought—coming past this way—might drop in and say
hello.” Winthrop took to him as to a robust older brother, and Thankful
rather considered him the type of man she had been thinking of marrying
but hadn’t noticed around here anywhere.

Out of pulpit clothes, in a brown jacket, a soft white shirt and an
insignificant blue bow-tie, Dr. Brewster was as much the post-office
worker as he was the clergyman, and if his grammar persisted in being
more accurate than Neil’s (or Rod Aldwick’s) and his vocabulary more
flexible, he was much jollier. His laughter came from a huge chest, a
large mouth, a tolerant heart. His wife was more watchful of the
intruding white man, more suspicious, less willing to risk the security
of the family. She was a more delicate image than Dr. Brewster, with a
thin nose carved in brown agate.

Neil suspected that both of them nervously wanted to know what he had
come for, and he understood that very well, since he rather wanted to
know it himself. They chatted about the weather and city politics, in
that small room that was the more cramped with a venerable typewriter
sitting on a homemade and unpainted table, and books of history and
theology and anthropology on seismographic old chairs.

Winthrop was glad to see a male visitor who might know something about
electricity. He demanded, “Were you ever a radio ham?”

“No, but I used to sit in with a friend who was.”

“Come down to the basement and see my set.”

Neil regretted that to him the collection of wires and tubes in that
tiny cellar looked like a junk pile, and when Winthrop boasted, “I get
Miami, right along!” he was impressed.

“Have you any favorite ham that you talk to?”

“Yeh, a fellow in Dallas, Texas.”

“Is he colored?”

“I’ve never asked! I guess maybe he’s white—anyway, he’s silly about
the Civil War. But what difference does it make?” Winthrop rebuked, and
Neil felt humble.

“What do you and he chat about?”

“Mostly about _jai alai_. I want to learn it, some day. But naturally,
what I’m really interested in now is radar. Don’t you think that’s the
coming thing?”

“I certainly do,” said Neil, who knew of radar only that it had
something to do with fooling icebergs.

Winthrop rattled, “I want to get into electricity as soon as they’ll let
me, at the U. I’m going there this fall.”

“I went to the University, too,” said Neil.

“Swell!”

“Aren’t you a little young for it?”

“Golly no! Why, I’m seventeen! Did you know I was salutatorian in high
school this spring?” Winthrop spoke not priggishly but with artless
pride. “But of course I was lucky, having Dad to coach me. We did four
years math in two. Say, look, Mr. Kingsblood, you must do a lot of
fishing in the Arrowhead country.”

“I used to. Northern pike in Sawbill Lake.”

“If I could only do that—camp and swim and fish—zowie! Instead of
having to sit around and listen to all this race-talk. What’s the use of
it? These days, everybody except a hillbilly knows that colored and
white folks are exactly alike, same as black and white kittens are.
Didn’t you always know that?”

“No, not—uh—not entirely.” Neil hastily tried to get out of his
examination with an enthusiastic, “Why don’t you spend a summer in the
Arrowhead? I could tell you some fine places.”

The boy turned his face away, and muttered, “You forget. None of these
summer places will take in colored folks. Not even Dad and Mother. Oh,
gee, I guess we still do have to go on with this race-business and all
the talk, talk. . . . And then, we haven’t much money. I have to work
all summer, and save for the U.”

“What are you doing, Win?”

“Well—it was all I could get—I asked at the electric company but they
turned me down hard—same at the radio stores. I’m scrubbing floors in
the waiting-room and the men’s toilet at the railway station.”

                 * * * * *

Neil had to knock together some explanation of his intrusion. When he
came up with Winthrop, he said to Mrs. Brewster, “Will you let me tell
you something you already know? Win has most unusual talent. I’m proud
to know him. And he represents something I’m trying to find out, on
behalf of both the bank and myself: the progress of all the so-called
minorities here—the Finns and Poles and Negroes and, uh, the
Lithuanians and——” His geography was running out. “And everybody! I
hope you’ll accept me as a student.”

Evan Brewster had accepted him before he was born. Corinne Brewster
began to look as if she might accept him after he was grown up.

“I wish you’d let me do something: get hold of Dr. Ash Davis and Mrs.
Davis and maybe Miss Sophie Concord, and let me take you all to dinner
at this Bar-B-Q place I’ve noticed. I’m afraid it’s a little impertinent
to ask you so late, but if you could manage it——”

They could but encourage so earnest a disciple.

On their way to the Bar-B-Q, Winthrop and Thankful, the raceless and
young, each clung to an arm of their burly new banker friend, and
interrupted each other in stories about their collie pup, Algernon C.
Swinburne.

——But what would happen if we met Rod Aldwick on the way?

The Bar-B-Q was almost filled with a long lunch-counter, but there were
tables, like card-tables, with twisted-wire chairs. The napkins were of
paper. The bill of fare featured spare-ribs, ham, hamburg steak, and
tenderloin—which was out; and the waitresses were young women with good
will, gum, and no training. It was like any other cheap restaurant in
the entire land, where democracy has begun with food and clothing and
adjectives, and often promises to end there.

Most of the diners were black workmen, a few of them in overalls. But,
with a feeling of having neighbors now in the Negro world, Neil saw John
and Mary Woolcape and greeted them more readily than he ever had S.
Ashiel Denver & wife. And in the village talk with the Brewsters and
Sophie and Ash and Martha, over the ham and cabbage, he could join more
familiarly now.

It is not, perhaps, a remarkable fact that a good deal of that talk
should have been concerned with the woes of Negroes. Well, and if Neil
had heard a good deal of it before, he had also repeatedly heard
everything that Mr. Prutt and Mr. Denver had to say about the woes of
bankers and Rod Aldwick about the woes of serious lawyers and
duck-hunters.

The liveliest topic tonight was the Reverend Dr. Jat Snood, who was
probably the nastiest piece of goods in Grand Republic.

With the drifting of the great denominations, the Methodists and
Baptists and Presbyterians, from moaning and hallelujahs to
indirectly-lighted Gothic and pulpit book-reviews, the job-tortured
masses in America had dribbled into new churches which promised that
they should have salvation if they could not have larger paychecks, and
which encouraged them to howl publicly at the Devil, the Pope, and Wall
Street, in recompense for not daring to howl publicly at the Boss. In
lofts and empty store-buildings there had been organized such wondrous
new creeds as The Church of God in Christ Through Bible Salvation, and
The Assembly of the Divinely Appointed Saints, which signified ten tired
men and women, eight hymn-books, and four benches.

With true American enterprise, spiritual leaders who in less cultivated
days would have been Indian-medicine showmen or itinerant lady milliners
had seen that they could make a tidy living by appointing themselves
ministers or even bishops, renting a hall and setting up a church, with
no annoying work except yelling loud and mourning low, and taking up
three collections at every meeting.

Among these latter-day Barnums in Grand Republic was one Jat Snood, who
had not finished high school but who was a Doctor of Divinity. He was
the owner and chief ballyhooer of a vast shed down on South Champlain
Avenue and East Winchell Street, in the South End, and he had
romantically named it “God’s Prophecy Tabernacle: Founded on the Book:
Christ for All and All for Christ.”

It is true that the Reverend Doctor had never been able to stay in any
one town for more than five years, because he knew only fifteen sermons
and fifty vaudeville tricks, and even his faded and gnarled and
gum-chewing audiences got sick of him. But while it lasted, he did very
well financially, because he titillated his crowds with ginger and
hell-fire and made Swedish hired girls and German grocery-clerks and
Yankee linemen feel that if they could not meet Hiram Sparrock at the
Federal Club, they could meet God and His angels and the souls of the
elect at God’s Prophecy Tabernacle: contributions voluntary (but
frequent). Jat screamed at them, in high-toned polysyllables flavored
with jazz and slang, that if they were ill-used by the snobs among the
Old Americans, still they could be snobs themselves, and he invited them
to look down, contemptuously, upon all Jews, Negroes, Catholics, and
Socialists.

Ash Davis explained to Neil, at the Bar-B-Q, “There’s two or three
Snoods in this town, though Jat runs the biggest crap-game of them all,
and they’ve trained their congregations as perfect recruits for the Ku
Klux Klan. They aren’t so comic when their gangs of Christian knights
beat up frightened little brownskins and burn their houses. As a friend
of our race, do you think there’s anything you can do with Mr. Snood?”

“I’ll certainly try,” said Neil.

And knew that he certainly would do nothing at all.

                 * * * * *

A young man in uniform as captain in the army air corps,
cinnamon-colored, erect and smiling, joined their table. He was, they
explained, Captain Philip Windeck, who had been a senior in the
University of Minnesota engineering school when he had enlisted, and who
had flown on many missions over Italy.

“You know,” he said to Neil, “I really haven’t the right to be wearing
this uniform any more, but I had a reunion with the fellows tonight.
Tomorrow, I go back to overalls.”

“What doing?”

“I’d like to earn a little money and get married and take my wife back
to school with me. I thought, with some engineering and a little
aviation experience, I might get a job. Well, the airfield here and the
automobile dealers all turned me down, but I’ve been lucky enough to get
back the job I had before I ever went to engineering school—washing and
greasing cars at the O’Toole Cut Rate Garage. Drex Greenshaw—I’m
engaged to his daughter—thinks he could get me on as a bus-boy. But I
feel it’s better for my martial vanity—the returned hero that was going
to be so modest when he was greeted by the mayor and two bands—to have
white ex-privates yelling at me, ‘Here you, boy, get a hustle on, you
black bastard!’”

As always, all of them, including Phil Windeck, roared at his plight. It
was better to laugh at the Thankless Republic than to grow faint and
whining. Only Neil looked angry. He was rather gratified when he was
accepted by this fellow veteran of the Italian campaign as a friend, and
it was as a friend that he greeted Ryan Woolcape when he came in—out of
uniform, out of the Army.

Neil was in deep now, deeper than he knew.

                 * * * * *

Like any good woman pleased that her new beau is welcomed by the family
circle, Sophie Concord watched Neil in his approach to Phil, to Ryan, to
Evan’s children, and looked proud. It was Sophie who suggested to Neil,
“The Brewsters and Davises have to go to a committee meeting—naturally.
They couldn’t get through a night without one. Committees are the most
habit-forming drug that exists. But let’s Ryan and Phil and you and I go
to the Jumpin’ Jive and see the brownskins at their most
uncommitteeized. You’re a typical good-hearted slummer. You meet Ash and
Evan and conclude that all of us are intellectuals with pure hearts, who
just lead hell out of the race. Let’s go take a look at the ones that
get led—and do they hate it! I don’t know whether the dumb fieldhand or
the city hep-cat or the rich sepia professional man like Dr. Melody most
hates getting taken in hand and being led into the Ethiopian spiritual
commonwealth. Anyway, let’s go see the flick-chicks.”

                 * * * * *

The Jumpin’ Jive was noisy enough and tinseled enough, but it was not as
evil as the romantic heart of Neil had hoped. It was a large, L-shaped
room decorated with pink and gilt latticework with artificial orchids.
An orchestra of drum, piano and clarinet, manhandled by three fat merry
Negroes in plum-colored dress-coats with gold derbies, gave Grand
Republic versions of Duke Ellington. Colored sailors and soldiers were
dancing, some of them with white factory girls, as close-packed as
though this were the most expensive resort of gaiety and sweat in New
York. With dark or ashen colored girls, laughing but not talking much,
danced young Negroes with the elegance and suavity that seem natural to
them.

Neil belatedly realized that at another table was Borus Bugdoll,
proprietor of the Jive, and that the girl with him, pert in filmy green
tulle, was Belfreda Gray, and that they were grinning at him. He
complained to his table, “There’s a girl that used to work for us and
that hates me—Belfreda. She’s a tough baby. Now don’t go and get
socialistic on me, Ryan, and tell me she’s a victim of environment.”

“Why not? Let’s all go over and talk to her. I’ve known her since she
was a kid. You’ve probably never had the cultural advantage of being
slapped by a hired girl.”

And Neil, vastly surprised, found himself really looking at the Belfreda
who for months had slept just down the hall from him, and discovering
that she was a Nell Gwyn in ebony, eyes and smile and ruffles and
spirited flexibility of morals. With the languidness of that lovely
orange-seller insulting a lord, she drawled:

“Why, if it isn’t Mr. Kingsblood! I’m surprised, seeing you in a dump
like this. I thought you never went no place except to teach Sunday
school.”

“You know I never taught a Sunday-school class!” protested Neil, his
manhood as a duck-hunter insulted.

“I heard diff’rent.”

“What are you doing now, Belfreda?”

Belfreda and Borus glanced at each other as though this was a very funny
question, but she took pity on the untutored white burgher, and
condescended, “I sort of got my own beauty-parlor. Me and another girl
are partners. We only got choosy customers—high-class ladies and
preachers’ wives—and there ain’t a bit of use your trying to date ’em
up just because you know me. They already got sharp fellows, with real
dough.”

She looked at Neil with defiance, she looked at Sophie with dislike, she
looked at Borus and giggled.

Neil begged, “I hope you don’t remember us too badly, Belfreda.”

Airily, “Oh, that’s all right. You were dumb, but _Mrs._ Kingsblood, she
was swell. She’s got savvy. Nobody can blame a white man like you for
being slow, but her, she’s so smart she could almost be colored. Well,
glad to seen you, Mister.”

“Uh—Belfreda—I’m sorry we didn’t get along better. Maybe a good deal
of it was my fault.”

“Yes, it was! You always acted like you was expecting me to be mean, and
so I’d _get_ mean. Jesus! I wasn’t raised in no parlor! I was raised in
a shoeshine dump, with all the white guys trying to make me when I was
thirteen. First, at you folks’ house, I thought I had such a nice room,
but you and Vestal used to sneak in there and laugh at my stuff and the
way I kept it. Listen, Mister, when you make enough beds for other
people, you’re so sick of it you ain’t got much pep left for making your
own, and you figure there’s _one_ place where you ought to be allowed to
be just as God-damn sloppy as you want to. But even there I wasn’t safe.
And whisper about me—whisper, whisper, whisper!”

“Belfreda, I’m extremely sorry.”

“Okay, forget it. Well, glad to seen you.”

                 * * * * *

Our Mr. Kingsblood had the sensation of having been dismissed, and he
choked and meekly followed a muted Sophie, a smiling Phil Windeck, a
derisive Ryan back to their table. But before they could voice the
“Well?” that was arching their lips, he burst out, “She’s magnificent!”

Miss Sophie Concord did not tease him for having been snubbed by his
ex-cook. Quite the contrary. She snapped matrimonially, “Just how
intimate were your relations with Miss Belfreda Blackbird, my friend?
Eh? That’s what I want to know!”

                 * * * * *

In an alcove of the Jive was a table at which gathered habitually the
sardonic sires of the colored colony: Drexel Greenshaw, Wash the
bootblack and, when he stopped over in town to see his sister, Mac, the
porter of the _Borup_. Sugar Gowse, the machinist, was with them
tonight. Since Drexel was to be his father-in-law, Phil Windeck
tolerated the handsome old Squire of the Damask Tablecloths, and he
lured Neil over to the Uncle Toms’ _Stammtisch_.

They looked uncomfortable at having one of the people who tipped them
intrude on their private conversation as gentlemen.

“Mr. Greenshaw Captain Kingsblood is getting to be a real friend of the
race, and he wants to know whether Mac and Wash and you, who have such a
chance to study the white man when he’s showing off, really think all
white men are stupid.”

Drexel glanced cautiously at Neil, and hemmed, “No, no, Phil. They just
don’t have much chance to get on the other side of the swinging door.”

Mac the porter stared at Neil almost as at a fellow man, and held forth:

“I’m sure Captain Kingsblood will excuse me if I say—he’s one of the
few _smart_ people that can afford to travel on the _Borup_—and the way
I look at it, as the fellow says, white folks are awful nice, but of
course they’re all babies, and have to be taken care of. They never look
things over real sharp, way we colored folks have, since we were
knee-high to a traveling-man. They’re like some Delta colored fellows
that we all know—believe what the preachers and the law tell ’em. You
can’t blame ’em, poor things.”

Drexel commented, “I think higher of the whites than you do, Mac. Now
take a man like Mr. Hiram Sparrock. No colored fellow ever made as many
millions as he has, and that takes brains. . . . And he give me a
five-dollar tip once!”

——Already they’ve almost forgotten that I’m white. Only, I’m not! Can
they see the colored blood in me?

Mac said scornfully, “Mr. Sparrock? He’s the worst baby of all. Why,
them pills he takes all the time, they ain’t nothing but sugar—his
doctor told me so, Dr. Drover—and he said I could give him all he
wanted.”

Sugar Gowse ventured, “You older gentlemen got to excuse a machine-hand
for butting in, but way I see the white gentlemen, they’re always
playing big. My foreman, he asks me can I fix a machine, and I does, and
then he takes hisself a chew of tobacco and struts hisself around like a
turkey gobbler and he says to the super, ‘Look what I done!’ But they
ain’t so mean to you and don’t lie about you so much if you help ’em.
I’m always studying on how to handle ’em, the bastards—oh, excuse me,
Captain, sir.”

They looked at Neil like solemn black owls in a circle; they shifted to
politics; but presently, fascinated by the unforgettable topic, Drexel
went on. He had been magnificently trained in servility to white men,
but also he had seen too many of them drunk and lecherous in his
restaurant to have any awe of their Mumbo Jumbo; and if a white man
deliberately asked for the truth—let him have it!

“Handle ’em? Ain’t but one way to handle a white man: uncle-tom him. Be
humble, tell him how smart he is, tickle his shoulder-blades and pick
his pockets. . . . I mean, that’s what _some_ fellows says, Captain!”

Mac protested, “I don’t like this uncle-tomming. Course I _can_ do
it——”

The venerable Wash cackled, “You can and I does! They’s just like
babies—got to have a sugar-tit. Only they’s got awful big shotguns and
awful strong ropes, so I says, ‘Uncle-tomming, here we is,’ and I
uncle-toms their silly, grinning heads off. . . . Course I don’t mean
_you_, Mister!”

“Oh, we darkies are all notorious for humor and humility!” said Captain
Philip Windeck, U.S.A.A.F. But with his smile he looked to Neil for
forgiveness.

                 * * * * *

He walked with Sophie to her tenement, two blocks from Mayo Street. He
said, “Lot of life and color there tonight. It makes me feel more like a
real member of the race. They’re so—I don’t know anything as brave as
the way they laugh at themselves.”

“My benevolent but sophomoric friend, there isn’t any They among human
beings, only We!”

He was not quite sure, at her door, whether or not he was to kiss her.
She was. He was not. As he limped away, for a time he thought less about
Sophie than about Winthrop Brewster _versus_ the favored son of Rodney
Aldwick. Which side was he on, which side demanded the loyalty he had
once sworn as a soldier? With a purpose definite but not admitted, he
marched back to Evan Brewster’s parsonage. Through a window, he could
see the huge shoulders humped over a desk.

Dr. Brewster came to the door looking, in his dressing-gown, like
Othello played by Paul Robeson. Inside, Neil said evenly—you didn’t lie
to a man like this as you did to a Buncer—“Something I would like to
tell you, Dr. Brewster. I must get it off my chest quick, or I’ll turn
prudent. I’ve found I have some Negro blood in me, way back. I’ve told
Ash, Sophie, the Woolcapes—no whites. In your opinion, is it my duty to
come out and acknowledge it to the world?”

He expected Evan to snarl, “Certainly!” whereupon he could turn angry
and defend himself, but Evan gasped, “I don’t know—I don’t know.” He
stared, looking more like the warlike Moor than any neat Doctor of
Philosophy, in that small house of learning and post-office jobs, while
Neil told about Xavier Pic, and ended with a curt, “Now how does it
strike you I ought to act?”

“I’m not sure at all.” Evan was moving his vast hands curiously, as
though he wanted to give a blessing. “I _believe_ I’d say that there is
no reason at all for your acknowledging something that doesn’t really
exist but is just an American superstition—a theoretical kinship to my
people.”

“Oh.” Neil was disappointed that no one wanted him to volunteer,
disappointed and markedly relieved.

“But Neil, when I think of the growing attacks on my people by swine
like Jat Snood, when I picture men lighting our torture fires with the
cross of Christ, then I’m moved to say, ‘Yes, certainly, you must give
up wife and father and ease and good repute and join us.’ But I don’t
_know_! . . . Confound it, let me think, before I butt in on your life,
will you! Come again in a few days and—you might try praying, mightn’t
you?”

Neil attempted to look as though he piously agreed, but he could hear
Ryan Woolcape chuckling.

When he was safely back in Sylvan Park, where monsters of holiness like
Evan Brewster were as improbable as lizards like Jat Snood, Neil tried
to be defiant.

——That was the silliest thing I ever heard of: a man with some
responsibility going to a black religious fanatic to whimper, “Please,
sir, may I give up my wife and my daughter and my home, in order to
hoist gin with Belfreda at the Jumpin’ Jive?”

It did not work. He recalled, from university days, attending a
storefront church and hearing a white Okie preacher shout, “When the
Lord ketches holt on you, you can kick and scream and holler, but He
ain’t never going to let you go!”




                                   30


HE would hear this Reverend Dr. Jat Snood and see whether the fellow was
as eloquent or as evil as the admiring world declared, and he would take
Vestal with him into this obscure suburb of the dark city of man. For
however jumpily Sophie might attract him, it did not occur to Neil that
his devotion to Vestal could ever diminish—a phenomenon which has been
the cause of rage to free women in their contest with secure wives
throughout history.

When he suggested the spiritual slumming, the joke was that Vestal
protested, “Why, I’m surprised at you, wanting to hear a vicious Ku
Kluxer like Snood and his race-prejudices!”

“Oh, I’m all against him. I have a considerable respect for Negroes,”
said Neil, affably.

“Since when?”

——Could she really stand it if I came out and told her? Oh, don’t be a
fool, Kingsblood!

His cousin, Patricia Saxinar, former officer of the Navy, was about the
house that evening of early fall, and they took her along. “Though,”
said Pat, “I never did like to hear little dogs yap.”

“God’s Prophecy Tabernacle” was as humble as the stable in which the
Savior was born, but much better publicized. It was a shed holding eight
or nine hundred people, built of secondhand boards so cheaply painted
over that you saw the old nail-holes. As you crossed the weedy and
stinking waste-lot, scattered with ancient tires and decayed shoes, on
the side of the tabernacle you read a sign in three-foot letters,
“Low-down on the international conspiracy, revealed by God’s Word & Dr.
Snood.”

The unplastered walls inside were scrofulous with red signs depicting
both the Soviet premier and the Pope as demons leering through the
flames—“which seems fair enough,” said Pat Saxinar. Hung at the far end
was a diagram indicating that Napoleon, Tom Paine and all the
Rockefellers and Vanderbilts were in hell, which promised a highly
diverting show, lasting through eternity with tickets free, for the poor
bakers and butchers and factory-workers who filled the hall. They gave
the place a pleasant domestic flavor: hard-working fathers and mothers,
in Sunday best, with children sucking lollipops. They were the salt of
the earth; also, when used by dictators, they could become the saltpeter
of the earth.

Pat fluttered, “Nice, plain folks, and my word, how they would enjoy a
nice, plain lynching to break up the monotony. As a worshipper of Abe
Lincoln, I love ’em, but I’d be terrified of this Old Testament gang,
led by a Snood, if I were a Jew or an Italian or a Negro.”

Neil remembered that Pat’s relationship to Xavier Pic was of the same
degree as his own. He could see these neighborly faces, these worn,
bleached faces, horrible in the torchlight of his dream.

Before the service, the audience strolled at the back of the tabernacle,
gossiped, agreed that the rain and the machinations of the Vatican had
been somethin’ fierce here lately. Children ran after dogs and dogs ran
after black beetles. Mrs. Jat Snood, a scared and shriveled woman, stood
behind a book-counter, which had formerly been an ironing-board, selling
copies of a magazine called _Trumpet on High_, which was illustrated
with half-tones of Jerusalem and Colonel Charles Augustus Lindbergh.

The ushers, solid men who looked like stone-masons, wearing solid blue
suits which looked like stone, affably patted the human mortar into
vibratory folding chairs, and on the platform, the All for Christ Silver
Trumpet Orchestra played “Hello, Central, Give Me Heaven,” and mounted
frantically to “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” as that modern version of
a herald angel, the Reverend Dr. Jat Snood, bounced across the platform,
knelt center-stage, with head bowed but not so bowed that he could not
count the audience, and raised his tremendous voice in prayer, assuring
God Almighty that if He listened this evening, He would hear a lot of
extremely perplexing mysteries solved.

Snood leaped up then, as brisk as though he had not just been engaged in
the presumably startling experience of chatting with God, and skipped to
the pulpit, on which were a Bible, a pitcher of water, and a bunch of
Russian thistles. But before he got down to the sermon of revelation
which (except for the collection) was the chief business of the evening,
he led them in three hymns, flapping his arms as though he were scaring
away crows, and he gave them the devil for not coming through better
with the hard cash (his phrase) in the collection box.

Snood looked like neither a mystic priest, a dangerous demagogue, nor a
scoundrel, but like an ambitious small-town businessman who is ingenious
about window-displays and a little hard on delinquent debtors. He could
be dynamite to his followers, yet he was a short, square, bushy-haired
merchant with the latest thing in octagonal rimless spectacles.

He was droning, he was illiterate, he was dull. But he had two gifts of
genius: a magnificent voice, on which he played as on a mouth-organ, and
a yet more magnificent lack of scruples. He was indifferent as to who
got lynched, so long as he made six thousand dollars a year. He had a
very sweet, natural little pride in making so much, for in the
barbed-wire line, to which he had been trained, he had never got above
$22.75 a week, and plenty of the barbed-wire fraternity had laughed at
him and insisted that he never would make good.

He often said playfully, after private prayer-circles, “Mother and me
have no yen for caviere and champagne wine, but we do want to see
Atlantic City and make a trip to the Holy Land before we die, and stay
at the best hotels.”

He has often been compared to Abraham Lincoln and Huey Long, as a
potential leader of the Common People. Jat is young yet; he was born in
the early 1890’s, and he may still have some very interesting things to
show the cynical journalists who think he is funny and unimportant.

He began his gospel with the zest of a man who takes cold showers:

“This ain’t any sermon that I’m going to give you! It’s a plain
bellyache! I’m getting good and sick and tired, and God Great Almighty
is getting good and sick and tired, of having the gang of Jew Communists
that run our Government in Washington hand over our wages and the
education of our dear prog-geny to the hell-hound agents of Rome and
Moscow!”

He explained things. Essentially, he explained them just as the
fastidious Major Rodney Aldwick did. He explained that there was an
International Conspiracy of Jewish bankers, British noblemen like Sir
Cripps, Soviet plotters, Mohammedan priests, Hindu agitators, Catholics,
and American labor leaders (“though not the union rank and file, my
brethren, for you and me belong there; it’s the big bums of grafting
leaders that I’m gunning for”).

He explained that the English are the lost tribes of Israel. He
explained that the dimensions of the Great Pyramid can be used to
prophesy almost anything you want—though probably not whether it will
rain tomorrow and spoil the picnic—he did not _think_ the Pyramid would
do that for you, though he certainly had heard some awful amazing things
about that ole Pyramid.

Even handier for prophetic use, he said, were Revelations and Ezekiel,
chapters thirty-eight and thirty-nine. The Biblical Rosh, he told them,
is clearly Russia, and Mesheck is Moscow. He rasped:

“The United States Senate, the old boys there fuss and fume and get in a
sweat under the arms, not on their foreheads, because they ain’t got
anything behind their foreheads, and all because the old goats are
trying to figure out what’s going to happen between Russia and Uncle
Sam. Well, if them Senators would come to me and say, ‘Doctor, what is
going to happen?’ I would say to them, ‘Boys,’ I would say, ‘I’ll just
open the old Book and tell you just exactly what will happen!’

“But do you suppose the people would have the sense to elect _me_ a
Senator? Not on your tintype—not them—though there is a dear old lady
out here on a farm in Tamarack County, a dear old Christian lady who is
a regular contributor to our work, God bless her, and she writes me that
she gets down on her knees every night and prays that I will be
nominated and elected to the Senate and go to Washington and so give God
a chance to take a hand in running the Government.

“But I wrote back and told her, ‘No, Sister,’ I wrote her, ‘I think
maybe my work here in dear old Grand Republic, with its gamblers and
agnostics and pimps, is more necessary, and God willing, and providing
some of you milk-and-water Christians, that keep your hearts and your
pocket-books buttoned up so tight, will occasionally come across with
something sweeter unto the Lord than a dime or two-bits, we will get the
devil and the Jews and the radicals on the run, and start the Kingdom of
God right here in this small city, like once it was started in the hick
town of Bethlehem—in the Holy Land, I mean.’”

Toward the end, after a happy interlude devoted to the collection,
Snood’s voice became hard, rhythmical, deep, like a brazen clock
striking:

“I haven’t said so much about our colored friends tonight, but you come
tomorrow night and I’ll reveal something about those black and accursed
Sons of Baal, whom God turned black for their ancient sins and made into
the eternal servants of the white man. I’ll tell you about the Jewish
plot to put all of us under the black heel of these
degenerates—something the newspapers are afraid to print, and that’ll
make you sit up in your seats and shiver.

“The time hasn’t come yet to revive the Klan, but when we do, I want all
of you, my dear saints in Christ, to realize what it means to erect in
high places the cross that regenerates, the fire that purifies, the Book
that gives wisdom, and the whip and rope that were used by our Lord
himself upon the money-changers in the Temple, and that we shall use
upon the fiends, in the black image of Satan, who have run away from the
kindly Southland to force themselves, by the thousands, into our
factories, our restaurants, our very homes and beds! You bet! You come
tomorrow night, and you’ll learn something!

“And now, O loving master, gentle Jesus, send that our message tonight
shall, not by our power and eloquence but by Thy grace, have touched the
hearts of all suffering mankind let us pray.”

                 * * * * *

On their way home, under the generous September moon, Neil drove in
silence, Pat was silent, after grumbling, “As an issue-confuser, that
Snood is a magician; he managed to make me simultaneously love the
Communists and the Roman Catholics.”

Vestal rambled, “I didn’t like him, did you? I thought he was very
vulgar—as ignorant as these clowns of nigger preachers that Rod Aldwick
is always taking off—you know: ‘Brebben, you is done been stealin’ moh
watuh-melonses dan is rightfully comin’ even to Massa God’s black
chilluns!’”

She laughed boisterously, and Neil thought that it was less the horrors
of Snood than the pleasantries of wives like Vestal that would make him
join forever that “clown of a nigger preacher,” Evan Brewster.

                 * * * * *

When, after banking-hours, he went again to the Brewsters’, he had to
wait till Evan came home from his post-office job. In an old sweater, he
looked like any other working-man. His hand rested quietly on Neil’s
shoulder, and his eyes had the look, tender and unwaveringly steady and
not entirely sane, of a saint of Byzantium.

“Please sit down, Neil. I ventured to do something—to slip out to
Sylvan Park and walk past your house a couple of times. I saw Mrs.
Kingsblood and your little daughter in the yard. I’m sure they never
noticed me. I was careful not to disturb them. They just saw another
darky who probably had a girl in some neighborhood kitchen.

“I thought they were both unusually fine people—indeed, since they were
yours, I ventured to love them. And I asked myself, have I the right to
do anything that would help drag them into the Battle of Humiliation?

“I don’t think so. It’s my battle, but I can’t see that it’s theirs—or
yours either! Maybe you owe that child and that bright, lovely,
confident-looking young woman something more than you owe the race—if
you owe it anything. I can’t even tell you that the Lord will guide you.
Either you believe that already, or you will never believe it. Neil!
Don’t tell!”

Winthrop galloped into the room, which was his normal gait of entrance
anywhere, and he yelled, “Hey, will you teach me gin-rummy, Captain?”

“Sure I will, if you’ll call me Neil!”

“Well, okay. But couldn’t I call you ‘Captain’? I’m nuts about military
titles!” said the reactionary young American scientist.




                                   31


IT was accident—there had been no conscious plan in it. He met Sophie
Concord on the Street, invited her to lunch, and she nodded Yes. He did
not feel that they were “compromised” till he had hesitated, “Where do
you suppose we can go?”

Then he saw all that his question meant, and that it was horrible to him
to have said, to a woman more intelligent and better-bred than any he
knew, what amounted to, “You must not forget that you are a colored
wench, and what dive is so slatternly that it will admit a monstrosity
like you? And it is probable that even my asking you amounts to rape.”

But there was no guilty coyness in her matter-of-fact “We might go to
the Shaker Shicken Shack. That’s a sepia joint—out on the Old North
Military Road—on the left-hand side just after you turn away from the
Big Eagle River. Meet you there? One o’clock tomorrow?”

There was no reason why he should have been as jittery as though he were
going to be married or hanged the next day. He was a steady man, a
married man, and a banker _sans peur_, and he was merely going to take
lunch with a high-minded district nurse. Yet all afternoon, all evening,
he felt guilty toward Vestal, he felt that he would probably be fired if
he were seen at a colored resort, he felt as sickeningly loose as
Curtiss Havock.

When he put it to himself frankly, “Just what are your intentions toward
this young woman, if you can get away with them?” he had no answer
except a shaky explanation that if he ever did come out as a Negro, he
would need some one more friendly than Ash Davis, more courageous than
Vestal.

Would, in fact, need Sophie.

                 * * * * *

The Shicken Shack was a streakily whitewashed shanty of old boards, low
and unsteady, and when this white man parked his car and ventured in,
the small old Negro proprietor, the two bulky Negro waiters, the
half-dozen Negro guests, all stared at him, waiting for something
unpleasant. To their primitive experience, the white man’s burden always
consisted of bills, writs, and trouble.

“Uh—I’m to meet Miss Sophie Concord here,” he tried.

“You know Miss Concord?” the proprietor said grudgingly.

“Why, yes.”

“The nurse?”

“That’s it.”

“Dark-brown girl?”

“Yes, I suppose——”

“Never heard of her. You got the wrong place, Mister!”

There was a hissing of small laughter around him, behind him, all
through the place, but before he had time to get angry at this gross
instance of race-prejudice, Sophie blew in, panting with being late,
throwing “H’are you, Punty?” at the proprietor, and having for Neil
nothing more compromising than “Wonderful September day.”

Punty reluctantly gave them a table in a distinctly segregated corner at
the far end of the bar, in an alcove with portraits of Count Basie and
Kid Chocolate, and assumed, “You’ll have the Fresh Southern Terrapin,
folks?”

“Two Maryland fry and beat it, Punt,” said Sophie. To Neil, then, “This
is a horrible little hole, isn’t it?”

“It’s not so bad.”

“Oh, yes, it is. It’s worse. But I’m used to it, and anyway, this is the
sort of place where you white gentlemen expect to work your will on us
poor, beautiful girls.”

“Sophie! I know you’re being highly humorous and so on, but you don’t
seriously mean that you think I invited you to lunch with any—uh——”

“Evil intentions? I have some such skittish idea.”

“Honestly, you make me sore! Why should you think that?”

“Isn’t it the only thing that would bring the two of us together? We
don’t belong in the same room. Oh, I don’t mean any nonsense about
difference in shades. Only a bumpkin with a mental age of ten thinks
anything about that, nowadays. I mean, I’m the working woman and I’m the
uplifter, worse than a nobody—I’m the pest that constantly buzzes
around and annoys the prosperous somebodies like you. We don’t
harmonize. Any more than a cat and a dog.”

“Cats and dogs do sometimes like each other and even lie down together,
Sophie.”

“Hey, less of that discussion of lying down together, my worldly
friend!”

“Worldly, hell! I’m a back-street suburbanite, with much less experience
of the bright lights than you have. I’m so unworldly and such a
backwoodsman that, I give you my word, I hadn’t thought about it till
now. But I see no basic reason why I shouldn’t fall in love with you,
and make all the low gentlemanly proposals. What reason is there?”

“Let’s see. One: you don’t know me.”

“You and I knew each other five minutes after we’d met.”

“Two: I don’t especially like you.”

“That’s another lie. You look right now as if you liked me.”

“Oh, that? That’s just playing the game—sort of expression a
good-natured gal is expected to put on, in a fly-by-night joint like
this.”

“Oh, God, Sophie, you know I’d much rather take you to the Fiesole
Room——”

“Or to your home?”

A metallic silence, before he said, rather coldly, “You know that would
take me a little time—entirely aside from the ethics of introducing
one’s love to one’s wife. I can’t jump from being a cash-register to
being a raceman on a soap-box in six months. It took too long to build
the register. I can’t take you home till I can take my own self there.”

“And how would Vestal like it? Aah, you see! You wince when I call that
woman ‘Vestal!’ Of course you do, Neil. Poor baby, you’ve been brought
up to the strongest superstitions since Feudalism. I think maybe I could
be reasonably in love with you, because you’re broad and red and white
and meaty and honest, just as I loved my last man because he was slim
and dark and devious. But no more hole-and-corner loves for me. I’m a
nurse, and a good one. And I’m an American and blatantly proud of it.
When I look at Lake Superior or the Root River Valley or the Mississippi
bluffs below Red Wing, I get all trembly, and I mutter, ‘Breathes there
a girl with soul so dead!’ And I remember that I’ve been an American for
eight generations! And we Old Families are very snooty about our loves.

“If you did have the courage to come out as a Negro, and so got turned
down by that ice-water woman, Vestal—oh, I’ve seen her, at
public-health meetings, at a distance—and if you came running to me,
hurt, then I might love you—hot, baby! But you’ll never do it.
Something will give you a scare, and you’ll yell for Mother Vestal, and
go back to being a super-banker and whiter than Stonewall Jackson on
Sunday.”

“You may be right—you may be right, Sophie.”

He was staring at her dark-red lips, at the curve of her bosom under the
jacket of her utilitarian suit. He thought of her as a woman, warm and
enveloping; he thought of her as a fiercely competent human being who
knew the evil of the world and fought it with laughter. He admired the
humor of her mouth, which was never tight with meanness, admired the
cinnamon of her cheeks, which made the women of Sylvan Park seem
washed-out sacrifices. But more than her bodily magic, he admired her
resoluteness.

“No,” he was grumbling, “I don’t know that I can come out. The cards are
stacked against me. And you’re right. I do love Vestal.”

“You’re telling _me_!”

“But maybe she won’t be able to stand by, if I get in trouble. How could
she? She’s been educated to believe that God’s purpose in creating the
universe was to lead gently up to the Junior League. But—so—when—if I
need you, will you be there?”

“I doubt it.”

“Hm?”

“Darling, the loyalty to the good white massa during his critical
struggle to get elected representative from Plantagenet County is clean
gone out of me. I could love you like a lady Casanova—I even like to
contemplate kissing you and having those Norse God arms around me—but I
don’t get any farther with such unworthy thoughts than you do with a
like fancy for Nurse Concord. Our last great kiss has done been kissed.
Oh, Neil, darling, darling one-per-cent-solution lover, you might have
been a grand New Negro if you hadn’t been brought up as a suburban
Christian white gentleman! But as it is—farewell forever, for maybe a
couple of weeks.”

“Rot!”

“I beg your pardon, Mr. Kingsblood!”

“The fact that we’ve been honest—and I think quite caddish—about
Vestal has pulled down the blinds between you and me. You’ll always have
me on your conscience now.”

“No, just on my phone-list. Dear Neil, good luck. . . . Hang it, I
wonder if I ever _will_ fall in love with you, you blasted Yorktown
drill-sergeant!”

                 * * * * *

Fondness for Sophie and Ash had fixed in him a partisan view of the
whites’ mouthings about the Negro, and he heard plenty of such mouthings
now, with the increasing dislike among the citizens of Grand Republic
for the colored factory-workers who, during the war, had been tolerated
as patriots.

These were the great days of gold and crimson October weather before the
long Northern winter set in. Once, Neil would have devoted the enchanted
season to golf and shooting, but now he seized the last free afternoons
before the invasion of ice to hobble rapidly about the courts of the
Sylvan Park Tennis Club with Vestal, the fleet and silver-armed.

There was no real clubhouse but only a cabin like a white country
schoolhouse, for balls and rackets and lockers of liquor.

That afternoon gave pure zest of living—the white flannels and shorts
of the players, the twang of the rackets, the lively scoring, sun and
air and motion and the autumn leaves. After the game they sat beside the
courts on camp chairs, attentive to highballs: the veterans Eliot Hansen
and Judd Browler, with wives, Curtiss Havock, Neil’s brother, Robert,
and his Alice, Rita Kamber, wife of the cranky doctor, and
Lieutenant-Colonel Tom Crenway, who had recently returned to his
printing-business, with his Violet, who took her melting eyes into all
sorts of reforms and charities and then froze them.

They were generous friends and neighbors, reflected Neil, and he was
grateful for the loving kindness with which they had let his lameness
cramp their games. Nowhere in the world was there such neighborliness as
here in the Middlewest. There was none of the obsequiousness of the
humble toward the gentry, of the fight for precedence among the wives of
doctors and lawyers and merchants that staled the air of Europe and
Great Britain and the British colonies—including New England. These
were his affectionate friends, and the standard-bearers of democracy.

They mentioned the newspaper account of a mild stabbing at the Jumpin’
Jive, last evening, and the increased Negro migration to Grand Republic.
Colonel Crenway said that he wanted to define the present place of the
Negroes in our civilization, and they were glad to help him. Curtiss
Havock had learned “the real truth about the niggers” from
fellow-marines who came from the South, and Colonel Crenway, invited to
dinners at plantation-houses near his training-camp in Mississippi, had
acquired such secrets as are rarely divulged to Northerners.

Most of the neighbors accepted the Crenway-Havock report, though Rita
Kamber and Neil Kingsblood said nothing at all, and Violet Crenway
flirtatiously questioned a few clauses. Violet often observed, looking
into the bulging eyes of philanthropic and otherwise guilty old
gentlemen, that she just couldn’t help being a liberal and a highbrow.
She was on all known committees, for and against practically any Cause,
though she was not distinguished so much for action as for displaying
her neat little bust and drowning eyes. Violet also explained that she
“knew the Negroes first-hand, thoroughly,” which meant that she had once
had a colored cook.

Thus the group worked out an American Credo about the Negroes which is
here presented in summary:

No person has the right to judge or even to talk about Negroes except a
born Southerner or a Northerner who owns a winter home in the South. But
all Southerners, whether they be professors at Chapel Hill or pious
widows in Blackjack Hollow, are authorities upon all phases of Negro
psychology, biology and history. But the term “all Southerners” does not
include any Southern Negroes.

As infants, all (white) Southerners, including cotton-mill hands, had
colored Mammies, of whom they and their fathers, all of whom were
Colonels, were almost excessively fond.

All Negroes, without exception, however pale, are lazy but good-natured,
thieving and lecherous and murderous but very kind to children, and all
of them are given to singing merry lyrics about slavery. These are
called Spirituals, and they are beautiful but funny.

All Negroes so revere the godlike white man that no Negro wants to be
mistaken for a white man, and all Negroes (which is pronounced Nigras)
want to pass and be taken for white. This is called Logic, a favorite
subject in Southern (white) colleges.

Any Southern white man, upon meeting any Negro, including judges and
congressmen, invariably says, “Here’s a dollar, Jim, you black rascal,
and you go around to my back door and get a big meal of vittles.”
Indeed, Negro welfare is the sole interest of all white Southerners, and
since it is also the chief desire of the Negroes, we have the agreeable
spectacle of the Southern Negroes as the best-paid, best-housed, and
most extensively and intensively educated group in all history. This is
known as the New Industrialism in the Sunny South.

Negroes are not human beings but a cross between the monkey and the
colonel. This is proven by their invariably having skulls so thick that,
as experiments at the University of Louisiana have conclusively shown,
cocoanuts, sledge-hammers and very large rocks may be dropped upon their
heads without their noticing anything except that they have been kissed
by butterflies. This is called Science.

(But what it really all comes down to is, would you want your daughter
to marry a nigger?)

All Negroes, including college presidents and bio-physicists, spend all
of their lives, when they are not hanging around white folks’ kitchens,
in drunkenness, dice, funny camp-meetings, and the sale of marihuana.

Persons who maintain that, psychologically, socially, industrially,
Negroes are exactly like the whites are technically called
“trouble-makers,” and their heresies are “a lot of confused, half-baked
ideas,” and all pretty women should answer them by saying, “If my
husband were here, he would horsewhip you for trying to give the Nigras
a lot of false ideas.” This is officially known as Loyalty, or The
Heritage of Our Gallant Defenders, and is particularly prized by the
Lees and Jacksons who produce our patriotic Confederate films in
Hollywood.

Even if these cranks that go round criticizing the white attitude toward
the darkies are partly right, they don’t provide any Solution, and I
make it a rule to never pay any attention to these cynics that don’t
Furnish a Practical Solution to the Whole Problem. “You’re very smart,”
I always tell them, “but what do you expect _me_ to do?”

All Negroes constantly indulge in ferocious fighting with knives, but
all Negro soldiers are afraid of and abstain from ferocity, fighting and
all forms of cold Steel. This is the branch of wisdom called Folk Ways.

Since they are all indolent, no Negro ever earns more than eleven
dollars a week, but since they are all extravagant, out of that sum each
of them spends eighty dollars every week in the purchase of silk shirts,
radios, and the premiums of the Big Creek & Hallelujah Burial Society.

(It ain’t a question of prejudice; it’s just a matter of freedom to
choose your own associates; and let me ask you this: would you like your
daughter, sister or aunt to marry a colored man, now answer me
honestly.)

All Negroes who move to Chicago are perpetually chilly there, especially
on July afternoons in the rolling-mill, and they are ceaselessly
homesick for the warmth, cotton blossoms, pecans, magnolias, grits,
black-eyed peas, pork chops, watermelons, corn bread, banjos, jails and
congressmen of the Southland, and whenever they see any real Southern
white man, they rush up to him and volunteer a confession that they
should never have left the South and their God-given, natural,
Caucasian, meridional guardians.

All Negro males have such wondrous sexual powers that they unholily
fascinate all white women and all Negro males are such uncouth monsters
that no white woman whatsoever could possibly be attracted by one. This
is called Biology.

All Negroes who reside in swamps are extremely happy, and laugh their
heads off at the pretentiousness of Negro would-be doctors, lawyers and
them phony highbrows in general.

(And just what would you do if some big black Nigra breezed up to you
and said, “I’ve been necking with your daughter, and so what?” And
believe me, that’s what we’d have, if them mokes made just as good dough
as you or me.)

All mixed breeds are bad. This information we owe to the British, to
whom we also owed the original importation of a good share of our
slaves. Thus, a mulatto invariably lacks both the honor and creativeness
of the whites, and the patience and merriment of the blacks. So, the
reason why so many mulattoes display talent and high morality is because
they have so much white blood, and the reason why so many extremely dark
Negroes show just as much talent and morality is because it simply ain’t
so. This is called Ethnology, Eugenics, or Winston Churchill.

The Nigra press is full of lies about injustices to the darkies, and
down my way we would correct the editors by gently showing them a rope.
This is called Good Breeding.

All Negroes, including Waiter White, Richard Wright, and
Brigadier-General Benjamin Davis, have very funny names, like Sim
Sowbelly, Cleopatra Gutch, and I Will Arise Pipsqueak, which proves that
all Negroes are ridiculous, and how would you like your daughter to
become Mrs. I. W. A. Pipsqueak? This is called Genealogy.

Any writer who portrays any Negro as acting like a normal American is
either an ignorant Northerner or a traitor who is trying to destroy
civilization.

In discussing the education of Negroes, it shows both profundity and
originality if you start by saying, “They got to learn to walk before
they learn to fly,” and, later, when the matter of Heredity has breezed
into the conversation, to look pretty profound and explain “Water can’t
rise higher than its source.” This is a branch of Dialectics called
Argument-by-Metaphor, as favored by women and clergymen.

All Negroes are inefficient, which is the reason why, during the war,
they were able to organize so efficient a movement to jostle white
persons every Wednesday afternoon at 3:17, and to drive white women into
the appalling horror of doing their own housework, that it was the envy
of the German General Staff. For seven months, all Negro women
incessantly shouted at white ladies, “You’ll be in _my_ kitchen, by
Christmas.” I know that this is true, because my Aunt Annabel, a woman
of probity, told me so.

There may be a little discrimination against Negroes in backward
sections of the South, but nowhere in the North is there any
discrimination whatever.

In fact, to be authoritative about it, _the Negro Problem Is Insoluble_.

Did I ever tell you the story about the nigger preacher that was bawling
out his congregation——

                 * * * * *

When the American Credo had thus been outlined, Judd Browler doubted, “I
think some of that goes a little too far.”

But Vestal Kingsblood, who had gone to college in Virginia, insisted,
“No, I think it’s a fair picture generally.”

Brother Robert, great-great-great-grandson of Xavier Pic of the islands,
exulted, “I’d be for a law to make it a crime for any man with a single
drop of nigger blood in him to pass for a white man. If one of my girls
was deceived into marrying a fellow like that, I’d kill him with my bare
hands!”

But the hands that Robert held up were better fitted for signing letters
than for garroting.

Neil silently looked at him, looked at his neighbors, good and kind and
generous and literate.

Violet Crenway piped up then, with some enthusiasm for herself as a
thinker:

“All of you miss the point. The darkies aren’t really so bad. Some of
the educated ones are just like us—practically. But where they are all
going haywire is in wanting to rush their advancement too fast, instead
of taking it naturally and depending on their own honest, unaided
efforts to so develop that eventually, _some_ day, they’ll make us
whites recognize their evolution.

“I always say to my colored friends, ‘Yes, yes, I know there are some
talented members of your race who don’t get their due. I’m a regular
rebel myself, and I believe in you coons grabbing all you can get. But
let me remind you of something maybe you haven’t noticed. There’s just
been a war on. Europe isn’t settled yet, and there’s a lot of labor
trouble and so on and so forth in the United States, and so, while I’m
all for equal rights and maybe social equality some day for you darkies,
when the time is right, can’t you see that _now isn’t the time for it_?”

Neil knew, without having been instructed, that this was the most
vicious thing that had been said, and the most foolish.




                                   32


THE gold was gone, the streets were mud, and November was near, when
Neil lunched with Randy Spruce of the Chamber of Commerce, Lucian
Firelock, who had come from a Georgia newspaper to be advertising
manager of Wargate’s, and Wilbur Feathering, who had also migrated
North, but more after the fashion of Morgan’s raiders.

Wilbur was the newest business sensation in town; small, trim,
forty-five and full of twenty-dollar bills. He had been born in
Mississippi, the son of a bankrupt grocer, but he thought that it would
be much nicer if you supposed him to be the scion of a plantation-owner.
Randy said, in a Boosters Club speech, “Wilbur may be as Southern as a
hot tamale but he’s also Northern as a blizzard and as streamlined as a
flying torpedo.”

After six years in Grand Republic, Wilbur had added to his Delta accent
the virile phrases of Chippewa Avenue, and he was now more likely to say
“That’s for sure” than “Ah declare,” and not Randy himself more often
crowned a sentence with “Or what have you.”

Wilbur had a mission, even aside from the nurture of his bank-account, a
mission to enlighten Grand Republic about the danger of race riots that,
he said, was inherent in the growth, since 1939, of its Negro colony
from eight hundred to two thousand—to nearly two and a quarter per
cent. of the total population, which, by Wilbur’s arithmetic, was
ninety-eight and a quarter per cent.

Neil met them in the maple-paneled Green Mountain Cocktail Lounge of the
Pineland for a quick one, and they lunched in the Fiesole Room. The
presence of the colored waiters started them talking Negro Problem.

“Where you boys got it wrong,” said Mr. Wilbur Feathering, “is in
looking on the Nigras here as a reservoir of labor to use in breaking
strikes and busting the unions. Used to could, but the damn unions are
some of ’em beginning to enroll the niggers just like human beings.”

“I believe he’s right,” said Randy.

They heard their friend, Glenn Tartan, manager of the Pineland, asking a
waiter, “Where is Mr. Greenshaw?”

Wilbur wailed, “That’s exactly what I mean about you Northerners!
_Mister_ Greenshaw! For a nigger headwaiter! None of you know how to
treat the black apes.”

Lucian Firelock objected, “On committees, I’ve often said ‘Mister’ to
Nigras.”

“Aw, you’re just trying to show off, Firelock,” said Feathering. “Me, I
have never in my whole life called any colored person Mister, Missus, or
Miss, and I never shall, so help me God! Here’s what you might call the
philosophy of it. The minute you call one of the bastards Mister, you’re
admitting that they’re as good as you are, and bang goes the whole
God-damn White Supremacy racket!”

Lucian Firelock, once highly thought of in Georgia university circles,
protested, “Do you always have to talk of the Nigras with hatred?”

“I don’t hate the shines. Fact, they tickle me to death. They’re such
sly, thievish monkeys, and they all dance good, and when they find a
white man that’s onto ’em, like me, they just laugh like hell and admit
they’d all be a damn sight better off under slavery. But you’re one of
these New Southern Liberals that claim it’s okay to have niggers right
at your house for dinner!”

Lucian said earnestly, “No, I believe thoroughly in Segregation. It
prevents conflicts. But I also believe in scrupulously seeing that the
Nigras get accommodations exactly as good as ours. For example, there is
a Nigra chemist here named Dr. Ash Davis, and while I don’t want to
intrude on his home or have him intrude on mine, he deserves the best of
everything.”

Feathering snorted, “I’ve heard of that guy, and I wouldn’t worry about
his equal accommodations being so damn equal! Fact, his having his
appointment at all is a stinking injustice to some young white scientist
that’s toiled and sacrificed and prepared himself for a good position,
and then he finds this fat, greasy, four-flushing nigger has plotted and
connived and grabbed it! Don’t that make your blood boil?

“And take this nigger headwaiter here. Does he have the decency to ask
Glenn, ‘Please, boss, don’t mister me no misters! It makes me ashamed
befo’ de white quality’? Not him! You Yankees——”

And then he said it, he really did say it:
“IwastwelveyearsoldbeforeIknewdamnYankeewastwowords.”

“You Yankees have spoiled him and he’ll stay spoiled till he gets a
little kind-hearted flick of the bull-whip.”

Neil was saved from bursting out by Lucian’s abrupt, “Oh, don’t talk
like a Mississippi Senator!”

“Now that’s all right now! Those Senators may be hicks, but they talk
sense on this _one_ subject! Say! I hear this headwaiter has a daughter
that’s married to a nigger dentist! Can you imagine that—poking around
in people’s mouths with his big black fingers! He ought to be run out of
town. Yes, and maybe we’ll do it. Some day you boys may be glad that one
man come here and stirred up a little action before any nigger trouble
could start!”

Neil was choking inside.

——God curse all white people, all of them! When shall I speak up? When
shall I come out?

Uncle Bodacious Feathering was going on, “Used to be in the South we had
a lot of dignified colored waiters that said ‘Sir’ to every white man
even if he was a night watchman or what have you, but we had to kick out
a good share of ’em and put in white waitresses, because those
anthracites were getting corrupted by hearing the educated Nigras talk
about what they called ‘the wrongs of the race’—lot of stuff that never
happened. I’d like to hang every buttinsky that helps any nigger to go
to college, and deep down in your heart, Firelock, so would you.”

“I would not!”

“Oh, I’m naturally a tolerant guy, myself. I love dogs. But when my dog
has been rolling in manure and comes parading in and claims a right to
sit right down at the same table with me——”

Neil heard nothing more. He had risen and walked out.

                 * * * * *

He sat in the Green Mountain Cocktail Lounge, with its hand-pegged maple
furniture, its glass icicles on cartwheel chandeliers. He attentively
drank one glass of water, throbbing, “I must come out—I must come out,”
in a rhythm that beat and beat on endlessly. As he cautiously went back
into the lobby, he saw that a Negro, dark-brown, handsome, slim, in
tweeds, was standing at the desk. Neil guessed that he was a doctor or a
teacher, and that, with his dove-like brown wife, he had been daring to
motor and look at his own country.

The room-clerk was yelling, “Oh, Mr. Tartan, could you step this way?”

A year ago, Neil would certainly not have stopped, would have seen
nothing, would have heard nothing. Now, he heard Glenn Tartan explain to
the unknown, “Yes, sure, Doc, I know it’s the Minnesota law—and a most
unjust and discriminatory law it is, and the legislators who passed it
would be sore as goats if there were a law compelling _them_ to shelter
people they don’t like in their own homes. It’s the law, but I want you
to understand—you look fairly intelligent—that there has been a lot of
complaint among our decent guests at you people horning in. So if you
could go some place else, we would be very much obliged.”

The husband and wife turned away, silent. Neil caught them at the door,
with, “I think you can find fairly clean accommodations at the
Blackstone, at Astor and Omaha, in the Five Points.”

The man answered, “If it’s not rude, may I say that my people don’t
ordinarily expect such courtesy from a white man!”

“I’m not white. I’m colored, thank God!”

He heard himself saying it.




                                   33


HE saw his father sweeping up the last of the fallen leaves, only a
block away. He strolled over, with his mind blank, as though he had been
saying good-bye to a number of people.

Dr. Kenneth Kingsblood’s house was an antiquity in Sylvan Park: thirty
years old! It was of brown wood, faded, and it had a lot of assorted
architecture that you could never remember, though you might recall the
flying balcony on the third story, and a fern in a glazed brown jar
between the lace curtains of a plate-glass window looking on the front
porch. It was as homelike as the minor poems of Longfellow.

Dr. Kenneth puffed briskly, “Well, my boy, glad to have you drop by and
report that you’re still alive. You living up North there, in Grand
Republic?”

“If you can call it living, with the thermometer dropping this way.”

“Somebody said you were in the banking line now. You must write and tell
me about it.”

“I don’t think you could stand the scandal.”

“Seriously, what you been doing with the research? I don’t take the
royal business too much to heart, but I do feel there’s certain duties
inherent in your blue blood—your red, white and blue blood. _Noblesse
oblige!_”

Neil spoke tonelessly, with no desire to be cruel but no particular
passion to be kind.

“Dad, maybe you have red, white and blue blood, but, according to your
own classification, my blood is plain black, and I want it that way.”

“What the——”

“I find that Mom’s family was part Negro, and I’ve decided that goes for
me, too.”

“What is this joke? I don’t like it!”

“Mom is descended on _her_ mother’s side from a frontiersman who was a
full-blooded Negro—incidentally, married to a Chippewa. Do you mean
she’s never told you?”

“Your mother has never told me a word of any such a cock-and-bull story,
and I never heard such a vicious charge in all my life, and I don’t want
to hear it! She’s descended from a fine French family, on her mother’s
side, and that’s all I want to know. Why, good God Almighty, are you
trying to make out your own mother—my wife—is a nigger?”

“I’m not trying to make her out anything, Dad.”

“The whole story is a dirty libel, and if anybody but you dared to
repeat it, he’d get himself clapped into jail pretty darn quick, let me
tell you, and you can quote me on that. There’s not one drop of blood in
you that’s either Chippewa or nigger!”

“Can’t you say _Negro_?”

“No, I can’t and I won’t and I don’t intend to, and I’ll tell you right
now——My God, boy, your own father ought to know _something_ about your
ancestors, and I can tell you, you haven’t one iota of inferior or
barbaric blood in you and I ought to know, hadn’t I—I’ve studied
bacteriology! Oh, Neil, my dear boy, in the name of all that’s holy, try
to understand the ghastly seriousness of this! Even if it _were_ true,
you’d have to conceal it, for your mother’s sake—your daughter’s. _Got_
to!”

“Dad, I’ve been trying to, but I don’t know how much longer I can do it.
And I’m not sure I entirely want to. I’m not sure but that I have more
affection for a lot of supposed colored folks than I do for most of the
whites.”

“You can’t say that! It’s insane, it’s treachery, it’s treason to your
own race and country and religion—and it would be very bad for you in
your job at the bank! Say, uh——Who was this frontier impostor?”

“Xavier Pic. P-I-C.”

“How did you ever get the idea this fellow was colored?”

“From Gramma Julie, from the Historical Society, from Xavier’s own
letters.”

He wanted to spare this kindly, rustic man, his father, but he had to
enlist against Wilbur Feathering, and he could not see that his mother
would do ill to consort with Mary Woolcape more than with Mrs.
Feathering.

Dr. Kenneth was shaky, at the end; he begged of Neil, “You’ve simply got
to keep all this dark till I can think it over and get my head around
it.”

This, Neil realized, meant Forever, but he gave what sounded even to
himself like a promise.

                 * * * * *

On that cold fall evening in Neil’s living-room, a room dark-blue and
maroon, with the formal ship’s-clock that was the denomination of Grand
Republic respectability, Biddy cut out paper dolls and stayed up much
later than was allowed—as usual, Vestal wrote letters and listened to a
hockey game on the radio, and Neil looked at the Business & Finance
notes in _Time_ and perceived, in the flushing and paling quiver of the
electric fire, that none of this Negro nonsense need exist, none at all,
and that he had been monstrous not to have known better how his father
would take it.

The doorbell. Vestal answered. She came back with a casual, “There’s a
colored woman here wants to see you—something about some relief
committee.” She went back to her letters with no instinctive fear in
her, though she had let in Sophie Concord.

Sophie was urgent:

“No, we’ll just stand here in the hall. Speak low. I’ve been talking to
Evan Brewster. We—your friends—we don’t think you should come out as a
Negro, and we’re scared you’re up to something melodramatic. With us,
it’s been ground into us from birth, but we don’t see why you should
have to take it, and as a white man you can do just as much for the
race. How we will milk you for contributions! Neil, don’t say anything!
I could have telephoned you this, but I did want to see your house and
your baby and see your wife again. She’s beautiful, like a race-horse.
They’re your sort, all right. Good night, my dear, _and shut up_!”

Sophie was gone, into a filtering of gray snow.

In the living-room, Vestal mumbled, “Who was the gal?”

“A city nurse. Miss Concord.”

“Oh. . . . Oh, Neil, did I tell you that Jinny Timberlane has the cutest
embroidered blue-wool suit from an Austrian shop in New York? I think
I’ll get one like it.”

That seemed to Neil altogether reasonable.

And so, without communicating his reason, without consulting Neil, Dr.
Kenneth Kingsblood in mid-November summoned a council of the entire
family.




                                   34


NEIL was at an evening meeting of the financial committee at the Federal
Club when his father telephoned, “Your mother and I want to see you
immediately. It’s important. Can you stop by at the house in not over
forty minutes? Good.”

That there was to be a council, even that Vestal was to be there, Neil
did not guess. He came into the narrow, Brussels-carpeted hall of his
father’s house, into the “front-parlor,” whistling, and stopped at the
spectacle of the entire family, beneath the pictures of Pilgrim Fathers
and sleigh-rides and Venice, sitting on the imitation-petit-point
chairs, on the egg-yolk-yellow couch, on the floor, looking at one
another and at souvenir ash-trays and an Album of the New York World’s
Fair.

Including Vestal and Neil and his parents, there were fifteen worriers
gathered, none of them except Dr. Kenneth knowing why they had been
summoned: Brother Robert and Alice, with her brother, who was none other
than Harold W. Whittick, the entrepreneur of radio and advertising;
Sister Kitty and her husband, Charles Sayward, the attorney; Joan,
Neil’s unwed sister; the tribe of Saxinar—Uncle Emery and Aunt Laura
and Pat. To make it all legal, Dr. Kenneth had also gathered in the
portly presences of Vestal’s father, Morton Beehouse, and his brother
Oliver, dean of the Grand Republic bar and the only connoisseur of
Napoleon brandy and of the odes of Pindar in town.

Oliver Beehouse was short and solid, with a fringe of fine, sand-colored
hair about his huge freckled tonsure. He was always pouting all over his
pale but freckled face at the contemplation of the perfidious attacks on
capitalism. Brother Morton, taller and four years younger, substituted a
small liver-spot on his right cheek for Oliver’s freckles.

Pat Saxinar and Vestal and Joan giggled together, thinking how
old-fashioned were the house and their elders, who were muttering about
the reason for this parliament, while Neil’s mother sat reserved and
frail, and Dr. Kenneth ambled about with mystery and lemonade.

Such was the grand jury when Neil came in.

They smiled upon him, for if there really was trouble ahead, no one
could be more depended upon for common sense than good old Neil.

Dr. Kenneth, fluttering his hands, looking frightened, cried, “Now you
young people please get up off the floor and all be properly seated.
Oliver, you take that big green-plush chair. Now please let me have your
close attention.

“My son Neil, who hitherto has been a boy to be proud of and with a
lovely wife and daughter, has astonished me by wanting to do something
of which I violently disapprove, in fact you might say it appals me,
something of which, as I understand it, even Vestal hasn’t the slightest
idea, and which I shall certainly not tolerate without his first asking
all your advice, and which he will now confess to you. Neil!”

Dr. Kenneth sank on a frail gilt chair, and Neil was sick with pity for
his father, but he stood out and spoke gravely, like a man on the
scaffold with no more hope of reprieve:

“I have learned that my mother—she may not even know it—is descended
from one Xavier Pic, who lived from about 1790 to 1850, and who was a
brave and honorable pioneer on the Northern Minnesota border, an
ancestor to be proud of, and who was also a full-blooded Negro. Which
makes every one of us, technically, either a Negro or the close relative
of one.”

He got only so far before he was whelmed by the fury, the denials, the
shouts that he was insane. Vestal was burning with an unspoken
astonishment that he had told her nothing, burning and rigid. Only his
mother and Pat were altogether quiet. He held up his hand and the
hecklers slowly stopped. He chronicled the story of Gramma Julie, the
discoveries of Dr. Werweiss, and he wound up:

“A few months ago I would have been scared or apologetic about telling
you this, but now I see that the only apology is to the Negroes, the
Indians, the Orientals, for the wrongs that have been done to them for
hundreds of years——”

Oliver Beehouse, not even rising, took charge:

“So, young man, you propose to correct those wrongs by hideously
wronging all of us, your friends and family, who have never given you
anything but loving assistance—to ruin even your wife, my own niece!
Will you kindly stop your self-pity and your self-dramatization? I think
you’ve been shameless enough, for one evening!”

Neil suggested, “Will you go to hell?”

“What?”

“You heard me. Quit acting supreme court. Maybe I would have shut up and
never told, if Dad hadn’t summoned this inquisition and you hadn’t
appointed yourself referee, but since you have, the question is, shall I
be plain honest and tell the world the truth about what we are? Oh, Mom,
I’m so sorry you got dragged into this!”

                 * * * * *

The comments of the distressed tribe did not come so clearly and patly
as they are here given, but together, and all mixed with wails, curses,
protests, interdicts from Oliver, something like laughter from Pat
Saxinar. Dr. Kenneth asserted, “Neil, I think we are all agreed that if
you continue to say nothing to outsiders, we’ll try to ignore this whole
business.”

Since he had already told the Woolcapes, Ash, Sophie, Evan, Neil had
nothing handy with which to answer, and his father soared on, “You claim
you revere the truth, but do you call it the truth to make your own
mother, that bore you, into a nigger, when obviously she isn’t?”

“I don’t——”

“Why, her and your daughter and your grandmother and your brothers and
sisters are the last people living that any intelligent man would ever
call niggers,” Dr. Kenneth insisted. “I suppose it would tickle you to
see your own Biddy a low-down nigger tramp!”

“_Negro!_ And she wouldn’t be low-down; she’d be just what she is now.
She won’t change; it’s your ideas that have to change. And will you
please quit saying nigger? Least you can do!”

“And the least _you_ can do, that want to torture your own family, is
not to be frivolous and quibble about mere words!” snapped Oliver
Beehouse.

Dr. Kenneth was laboring on, “Boy, none of us has to tell all he knows.
Suppose I were a dope-fiend. I wouldn’t expect you to go around blabbing
that I——”

Pat Saxinar piped, “But you aren’t, Uncle Kenneth. Or are you?”

“Shut up!” contributed her father, Uncle Emery, son of Gramma Julie, who
was in no exhilarated mood at having been nominated a Negro. Pat’s
mother (a Pedick of Winona) added, “This is no time for you to be
impertinent and saucy, Patricia. I wish I’d never let you join the
WAVES.”

Neil’s brother, Robert, simple-heartedly denied the whole thing.

Neil, he ventured to say, had gone batty from his war-injury, and even
if this disgusting story could be true—but it was merely the addled
recollection of an old woman like Gramma Julie—there was no proof.
Nobody could pin it on them. A letter from Xavier Pic? Why, a forgery!

Charles Sayward suggested, Forget the whole thing. Cheer up. There was
no law that they had to incriminate themselves. He led thus to a set
speech by Oliver Beehouse:

“Neil, I’ve been thinking it over, and I was wrong and you were quite
right, my boy, in insisting upon our having the courtesy to refer to
this nation’s darker wards as Negroes, not niggers. We appreciate the
finer qualities of the better class of Negroes, and have since long
before you were born! Didn’t T.R., when he was President, have Booker T.
Washington to lunch? (That’s more than F.D.R. would’ve done, let me tell
you!) But hot-heads like you, by demanding more for these unfortunates
than they’re able to digest, more than the decent ones would even think
of asking for, are merely interfering with the orderly processes of
evolution, and——And so shut up about the whole thing, Neil, and try to
have the sense of a moron at least! And while, as an illegal act, none
of us would take any personal part in it, I think some day those
documents about Xavier Pic may be found missing from the files of the
Historical Society, and then none of us need worry!”

Oliver’s cheery smile urged, “Have courage, my young friend,” and Neil
expected to hear an archangelic judge say, “Motion granted.” But the
court-room silence was ruined by Harold Whittick, brother of Robert’s
wife. He was screaming, “The hell with Neil and his ‘truth’! It’s
outrageous that my own sister should be dragged into this and wake up
and find she’s married to a nigger like Bob. And what the scandal may do
to my advertising business, I hesitate to even contemplate!”

Alice yelled in agreement, “Outrage is right!” She turned upon Robert a
glare of extreme dislike, and hissed, “I see now why you always make
such noises in the bathroom!”

Robert, a dull man but fond of home and slippers, mourned, “Great God,
it’s not my fault if I have some queer blood. Besides—you heard me—I
deny the story, lock, stock and barrel, and I think Neil has gone plumb
crazy!”

“Something worse than crazy,” said Morton Beehouse.

Aunt Laura Saxinar looked sniffy at all this vulgarity, and stated,
“This is a vile mess, with which I simply do not care to be associated.
My husband will tell you whether or no he considers himself a black man.
But as for my daughter, Patricia, I have not merely a mother’s heart to
feel but a mother’s eye to see that she is most certainly no—no Negro,
or whatever you prefer to call those freaks—and I am told that none of
them can ever learn to speak a foreign language, whereas Patricia speaks
French like a native!”

Her husband, Uncle Emery, looked at her with no tenderness, and snarled,
“Very kind of you to allow me to define my own racial status! Well, Neil
says that his mother, his own mother, is a coon, but it just happens
that she is also my sister, and let me tell you right here and now that
she is no nigger, or me either, and if I’m descended from any Xavier
Pic, and who the hell he was I don’t know a thing about it, but I can
tell you beyond the peradventure of a doubt, he was no nigger, and
unfortunately that goes for Neil, too, though just now nothing would
give me more pleasure, you young stinker, than to have you exposed as
the blackest shine in Christendom, if it wasn’t that it dragged in all
the rest of us, you hear me? But as for my family——”

He was cut off by Neil’s young sister, Joan:

“Oh, for God’s sake, Uncle Emery, shut up about your family. They’re
has-beens. You’re married, and Aunt Laura has _got_ to stand for you.
But what about me—what about me? Johnny will never marry me now, and
he’ll bawl me out plenty for deceiving him about my race, and I never
meant to, I never did!

“Oh, Neil, what made you do this to me? I’ve never hurt you, never!
You’ve turned me into an outcast for my whole life, just to satisfy some
silly idea of justice. Why? How could you deliberately make me queer
like this, hiding from people all my life, never daring to have a
friend, not one boy-friend, not my whole life now, when I was so happy
with Johnny? Oh, why—how could you?”

But his sister Kitty Sayward, his loyal playmate all through childhood,
was intent on him with unspoken horror that he should have destroyed her
when she had loved him so.

He was frightened, ready to cry out that it had all been a maniac joke,
when defense came from the still woman who was his mother.

They had been particularly tender of her, because she was so fragile and
out of the common world. Her husband had been keeping a hand of
affirmation and love on her shoulder, Joan had been smoothing her hair,
Neil had peeped at her wretchedly. But she spoke more clearly than
anyone else in the room. They stopped squabbling as she raised her hand,
and so they got it full:

“Please! I think maybe Neil is right.”

The chorus was tremendous, but it ceased in agonized attention.

“I never could see why there is all this fuss about whether you’re
‘white’ or ‘black,’ so long as your folks love you, but you all seem to
be so worried about it, so I must tell you.

“Once or twice when I was very little, there was an uncle of mine, my
mother’s brother, Uncle Benoit Payzold, that used to come calling on us,
but only when Daddy was away. I always thought he looked like a
light-complected darky. My mother never talked about him. He was a
gambler, and he drifted off somewheres and I don’t know if he’s alive
today or dead.

“I asked my mother wasn’t Uncle Benoit a colored man, and she slapped me
and told me to be still, and I went and forgot it till just now. I guess
maybe I made myself forget it, and I think my mother did, too. I think
she knows about us, about our being——You know.

“She had a voodoo lodestone that, she told me one time, came from
Martinique, maybe a hundred and fifty years ago, and then long
afterwards I couldn’t find it, and I asked her where it was, and she got
mad and said there never had been such a stone. I don’t know. Maybe I
just imagined it. But you mustn’t punish Neil if he tried to tell the
truth.”

Dr. Kenneth was triumphing, “There, you see, Neil? Your mother’s had the
sense and the magnificent will-power to simply forget evil and only look
upon the good, like the Bible says. . . . Mother, I want you to simply
_forbid_ Neil to go around trying to convince himself and everybody else
that this miserable business is true.”

His wife wondered, “I don’t know, Kenny. If it _is_ true——”

Robert turned hysterical then. “Mother! God is going to curse you for
making a nigger out of me, when I’m really white and decent, and I’m
getting so successful——I’m going insane! You and Neil have driven me
absolutely dotty, and it’s a dirty fake, and all because of a damn-fool
lodestone that could of come from anywheres and you don’t even know for
sure it existed! . . . Alice! Don’t you _see_ I’m white, darling? It’s a
lie and I’m white and our kids are white! They are! I’m not going to be
ruined by any lunatic like Neil! I’m white, and God help any bastard
that comes around trying to prove different. Look at me, Alice!”

She did.

                 * * * * *

Pat Saxinar’s voice was precise and frigid.

“All of you are assuming that you are superior to the ‘colored people,’
which isn’t obvious to me at all. I’ve been infuriated by discrimination
against extremely nice colored sailors, and I’ve wanted to do something
about it, and now that I’m colored myself, I shall!”

The chorus, this time, was catastrophic, and it lasted for many minutes,
while Neil turned toward Vestal.

She had ardently said nothing at all. When he had a chance to mutter
“Well?” she answered, “I must think it over. Naturally, I’m a little
surprised.”

After one o’clock, her eyes told Neil that it was time to go home, and,
with nothing whatever settled, with even his father determined to stay
up all night and exclaim, it was hard for Neil and Vestal to break away.

They did, by the admirable feint of sudden deafness, and now the unknown
Negro, Neil, faced his white wife, and he had no allies.




                                   35


THERE was but a three-minute walk to their own house. Vestal was silent,
her hand trustingly on his arm, till they were on their doorstep, and
she spoke then naturally, not angrily nor too carefully:

“My dear, why didn’t you tell me before? I’d’ve tried to understand and
help.”

“I was going to. Dad sprang this on me before I’d worked out what I
wanted to say. Now you can help me. The biggest question is: must I
admit this publicly? It is the truth!”

“Hush now. Be quiet. I know what you’re going to do, because I know
you!” She touched his lips to silence, and drew him into the house.
Holding his hand as though they were young lovers again, she led him up
to the pink-and-white room where Biddy was sleeping, curled tight, very
earnest about it, with Prince curled and asleep at the foot of the low
bed.

“Look at her, Neil. I know you wouldn’t let anyone hurt or shame _her_,
and even if the story about Pic being a colored man were true, you
wouldn’t tell the world, you wouldn’t torture her, to satisfy your
vanity about being so truthful. But I’m as sure as I ever can be of
anything, as sure as I am of your love or of our immortality, that the
story is not true! There’s some mistake in what Gramma Julie told
you—she’s old and forgetful—and she always was a malicious old pixie,
curse her! We’ll find out there was some other Xavier Pic or Pick or
Peake or whatever his horrible name was—and how I hate him! So! You’ll
see! It’ll come out all right. Neil! Will you look at that child—all
rose and satin and gold. There’s no Negro blood in _her_!”

But Neil remembered Phoebe Woolcape, all rose and satin and gold, and a
Negro.

“We’ll wait and see,” was all he could manage.

                 * * * * *

Next morning, his father telephoned that, under the chairmanship of
Counselor Beehouse, the family had Resolved that it was the sense of
this assembly that Neil would please shut up.

It was weeks later when Neil received from Dr. Werweiss of the State
Historical Society a copy of a letter from Xavier Pic to Major Joseph
Renshaw Brown which had been found in the society’s files:

“The castors you ask about are not plentiful this winter. The white men
have been stripping our forests. I have been thinking about you whites.
Of course to the Ojibways I am white too as they recognize only white &
Indian, but I think I would rather be counted as Indian then.

“You said to me, ‘Why don’t you defy them all and wear your black visage
as a badge of honor?’ But why should I explain it or excuse it or think
about it at all? Why should a man with red hair excuse it to men with
black hair & brown & straw color?

“You white men set yrselves up as the image of God, but which of you
have seen Him? You have seen Genl Sibley & you have seen Govr Ramsey but
which of you has seen God? Maybe He is dark, like the Indians and me,
and maybe He is all colors, or no color at all, like a rock in the
moonlight.

“I have been reading the Scriptures a gd deal lately & found a text to
tell you whites, He that hateth Me hateth my Father also. Excuse writing
as my hands are stiff I froze them last week getting a missionary out of
some rapids when his canoe upset, he asked me, Can you or the heathen
Indians read & write?”

                 * * * * *

Neil admired, “There is blood royal for Biddy to be proud of.” Then he
laughed. He could hear Clem Brazenstar jeering, “That’s the trouble with
all you mulattoes. You got to be so high and biggety, while the rest of
us only want good jobs and a good seegar!”

                 * * * * *

As December froze its way toward Christmas, the family avoided Neil
except for urgent private conferences at which only Charles Sayward
seemed quite human—and firmly hostile. The rest of the tribe were
either touchy or desperately respectful.

Pat Saxinar was constantly running in. To an extent which did not at all
please Vestal, Pat assumed that Neil and she were underground
conspirators, and she had tales for him of how frantically Harold
Whittick and Alice were sniffing at Brother Robert to see if he really
had done the foul crime of getting himself born a Negro.

Vestal did not again speak of “that other Xavier Pic,” and Neil guessed
that while consciously she would not believe in his piebald origin, deep
down and hopelessly she was certain. She held Biddy on her lap and
looked at her so long.

He remembered how she had skipped through the sacred chores of Christmas
a year ago, while now she sighed, “There’s still such a post-war
shortage of all the pretty things; let’s not try to get any new
Christmas-tree ornaments this year, but use the old junk.” In pity he
saw that her zest in life was being wiped out, saw that he and his
social justice had done this to her.

They did try to make a festival of Christmas shopping. They lunched
together at the Fiesole Room, looking at the unconscious Drexel
Greenshaw as at an unwelcome relative. They struggled through the human
surf at Tarr’s Emporium. Levi Tarr, who had been a colonel four months
ago, was now trying to learn again how to rub his hands and be piously
attentive to women who wanted an electric refrigerator for forty-nine
ninety-five. He shepherded them through the toy-department, calling them
Neil and Vestal, and when with slightly heavy secrecy they parted, to
shop for each other, he murmured to Neil that he could get a very fine
thing for Vestal in the way of matching bracelet, earrings, necklace, in
brilliants.

When they came out of the store, they plodded to the grim parking-lot,
and Vestal’s cheeriest Yuletide comment was, “My, the traffic is thick!
I thought the cars were all worn-out, but seems as if these dubs have
just as many as ever. Look at that lavender sports-job. My, my, and who
is that driving it but that awful nigger, Borus Bugdoll. Oh! Sorry!
Honestly, darling, I _am_ sorry! I forgot that——Well, it’s hard for me
to realize.”

                 * * * * *

It was tacitly understood by the whole family that he was to say nothing
_until_. Just when _until_ would arrive had not been mentioned. He was
constantly afraid, meantime, that the news of his honorable state would
sift out through Brother Robert’s confusion or Uncle Emery’s fury or Pat
Saxinar’s excess of courage or the conniving spite of Harold Whittick.
How many people actually knew It? Fifteen in the family, eight or ten
colored people—oh, too many! And who else knew, who suspected, who was
watching and leering, holding a match to blow him up?

At Eliot Hansen’s buffet supper, when Violet Crenway tittered at Neil,
“Oh, you red-heads are always peculiar,” what did she imply? How could
she possibly know of Xavier’s letter about red hair and black?

At Ackley Wargate’s annual snow-party, what was Pomona Browler getting
at when she sang the voyageur’s song, “Dans mon chemin”? That whole
fiesta gave Neil a depressed feeling of leaving forever the easy
white-man’s life: the cheerful guests driving in cutters through the
great stand of white pine to Ackley’s enormous log lodge on frozen Lake
Riflestock; old friends, pine torches, the frail afterglow at the end of
a forest trail, girls, hot rum punch, rapturous singing of traditional
songs like “Seeing Nellie Home” and “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”

Yes, that was all very nice, but wasn’t Ackley watching him in a curious
way?

Neil felt safer when he went down to the Five Points, one afternoon just
before the holidays, with small gifts for the Brewsters, Davises,
Woolcapes—but not for Sophie, lest he slip.

He talked for an hour with Mary Woolcape, as he had every week or two.
With her he had the comfort and reassurance of sharing in little things
that once he had treasured with his mother and Vestal: meditatively
gnawing a doughnut, really getting right down deep into a discussion of
whether the thermometer had gone down to seventeen above this morning or
only eighteen.

“Don’t worry too much, son,” said Mary, the eternal. “You have more
people that love you than you know.”

                 * * * * *

At the Brewsters’, that afternoon, only Winthrop, back for vacation from
his first year in the University, was at home. That typical
bright-young-college-man in sweater and moccasin-shoes was full of yells
and welcome.

“Neil! I just heard you’ve come over to my race! Oh, boy, am I glad!”

“Where did you hear that?”

“Listened to Dad and Mother doing a fine job of worrying about you.”

As, with overstrained cordiality, he shook hands with his youthful
admirer, Neil was fretful. So many others could have been listening. It
could all pop out so easily. His “Okay—let it!” was not highly
spirited. But he was proud that this ambitious boy turned to him as a
friend with whom he could drop the parboiled cynicism with which his
kind protected themselves against a dull and extremely advisory adult
world.

“Neil! Maybe you’ll really get into the race-struggle and be able to
give us some new slants. I wish you could do something with the racemen
that are too touchy, and insist that the colored press spell That Word
as n-blank-r, and have a cat-fit when they hear a bunch of innocent
white kids doing some corny old song like ‘You could hear those darkies
singing.’ I’ll bet some of ’em insist that Niggardly ought to be
pronounced Negrodly. Couldn’t you make fun of them? Gee, you know, you
could maybe become one of the leaders of the race.”

Neil was gratified by such faith, after days when he had been creepily
conscious of the Family muttering, secretly telephoning to one another
late at night.

The Family stood there looking at him, no matter where he was.

The Charles Sayward who had always been the most cheerful and reasonable
and decent of his in-laws was most firmly alienated. He had quietly
abolished Neil along with any silly rumors that Kitty might have “Negro
blood.” Charles had the simple-hearted immobility of the small man who
knows his small job perfectly, and Kitty turned to him now for the
sweetness she had once found in a brother named Neil, who had died here
recently—very regrettable, but let’s not talk about it.

He found a measure of sympathy only in his mother and Vestal and Pat.
And his mother, though she was tender, though she was not retaliatory,
was now asserting that she had thought it all over and received a new
revelation, to the effect that Uncle Benoit had been neither colored nor
a gambler, but a respectable Caucasian in the bill-collecting line.

So they came to a Christmas that was a caricature of Christmases past,
with more Topsies than Tiny Tims. No Saywards or Beehouses appeared at
the holiday dinner, held at Robert’s this year, and the rest of the
Family poured a horrid sweetness upon a self-sufficient young woman to
whom they could not help referring as “poor Biddy.”

Snow was falling all day, and from time to time somebody would say
brightly, “Fine! It’s a real _white_ Christmas,” and every time he heard
it, Neil thought, “So even Christmas gets jimcrowed.”

The Family did not, as of old, stay on for a rackety supper, but managed
to get themselves gone by three. When he had escorted Vestal and Biddy
home, Neil muttered, “I think I’ll get a little fresh air,” and hastened
to Ash Davis’s for a taste of security.

Not only was Sophie there, patting his hand, placidly fond of him, but
also there was that jittery and courteous Southern Liberal, Mr. Lucian
Firelock, of Wargate’s, discussing the part of Negro sculptors in a
black world that had once seemed to Neil a mass of dark pathos or of
dark poison but that seemed now as lively and multicolored and
unpredictable as a tropic aviary.

Lucian was apologetic: “The Davises and Nora have been so nice to my
kids that I thought I’d drop in and—and so I’ll be running along.”

Neil wanted to stay with Sophie in the warmth, but he could feel Vestal
and Biddy alone at Christmas twilight. As he limped home through the
snow, he meditated that he could conceivably have for Sophie a love that
was altogether spiritual, but that he had for Vestal a fleshly love, and
that of the two, it was the flesh that was likely to endure.

Sophie was his sister, his other self. As he had once shared toys and
all the small rebellions against their father with Kitty, so with Sophie
he shared the greatest rebellion he had known. But Vestal—she was his
love. Every thought that the brownskin Alabama girl might have was
natural to him and familiar; every thought of the woman with whom he had
gone to high school, played tennis, shared a bedroom for seven years,
was exotic and amazing, and so he loved her most of all and hoped some
day to captivate her and even to understand her.

Oh, he had understood her once, had known everything that she would do
and would say, but that had been in a day when she had nothing to do
that was not perfectly scheduled, when she had not been called upon to
say anything upon the topic of a man who seemed prepared to ruin her and
ruin himself for the love of a God in whom he did not very ardently
believe.

Vestal looked bright as a candle at his return. She seemed to Neil
little older than Biddy and more defenseless. That child would always
attack life and scare it into obedience; the humble and unexacting
Sophie would always get along, in hospital or nunnery or low cabaret;
but the brisk Vestal, pride of the Junior League, would always be
forlorn and bewildered without a man: a father, a husband, a son, a
priest.

He kissed her fairly, and they were happy cooking their supper. Shirley
had gone off to a Balkan carnival. They put Biddy to bed and sat at the
shiny kitchen table, eating scrambled eggs and agreeing about the
viciousness of Curtiss Havock and the virtues of Father Kenneth, and the
putative cost of a “picture-window” in the living-room.

Yes, they really might get the new window, they said joyfully, on this
black night after a black Christmas.




                                   36


NO Jew, no musician, no teacher and very few Democrats had ever belonged
to the Federal Club. Not that there was any bylaw against them. There
was no need of one.

Here the veteran millionaires of Grand Republic, like Hiram Sparrock,
played bridge or backgammon every evening, with a hot toddy exactly at
eleven. If the club servants were not English by origin nor baronially
trained, the Tudor architecture of the members’ faces turned them so
within six months, and when any old-enough member saw a stranger in
those crypts, he would summon Jeems and puff, “Who’s that fella? Throw
him out.” The inner ring of the club regarded the coming of new
industries to town as vulgar, and felt placidly that there was enough
money in Grand Republic already.

They owned most of it.

No one had ever dared propose the names of Randy Spruce or Wilbur
Feathering for membership; Curtiss Havock had been ignored, despite his
father’s solidity; and Neil Kingsblood had been elected chiefly because
he was the son-in-law of Morton Beehouse. It was only by a rare slip
that his brother Robert had been elected also.

Nothing in the higher social events of the year in Grand Republic was
more significant than the Federal Club’s Auld Lang Syne Holiday Stag,
holden annually between Christmas and New Year’s, which enabled the
members to escape from the young relatives who are so especially present
and flippant at Yuletide, and to bask in the clear sun of male
conversation. Dinner-jackets were obligatory, mutton chops were
regulation, and they were never affronted by salads or ice cream. The
whole affair resembled a bachelor-dinner given by J. P. Morgan the Elder
to King Edward VII, but it was called Supper, and spread in the
Pillsbury Grill, which had a bold atmosphere of oak tables, Flemish
tiles and pewter mugs.

The Stag this year had a distinguished array of Sparrocks, Wargates,
Beehouses, Grannicks, Tarrs, a Havock, a Timberlane, a Drover, a Mari, a
Prutt, a Trock, a general, a commander, and an Episcopal bishop.

Neil, with his feeling of walking constantly on an icy roof-slope, did
not want to go, but he had to please Mr. Prutt. He carefully brought his
gold cigarette case and carefully left outside his new opinions. During
the conversation before the supper, he had to skate around somewhat
rapidly to avoid Brother Robert and Hal Whittick, and he took refuge
with Rodney Aldwick.

After supper, they worshipped with church-warden pipes and with tankards
of old bitter ale, which most of them disliked and changed for highballs
as soon as it seemed reverent. Then—feet upon the table, which was also
obligatory except for the sixty per cent. or so of members with
arthritis—they began the canonical Auld Lang Syne Hy-Syne, an annual
presentation of short, funny talks, occasionally with an important
financial announcement, to be held confidential. This secrecy was almost
guaranteed by the presence and the consent of Gregory Marl, the large,
quiet man who had inherited both of the two newspapers published in
Grand Republic.

The president of the club, Dr. Roy Drover, introduced Rod Aldwick as
speaker.

Usually, Dr. Drover was humorous, but tonight he said with emphasis,
“I’m not going to guarantee that we’ll get to any short Hy-Synes this
evening. Major Aldwick, our friend Rodney, has something so important to
say that I’ve given him the green light to take as long as he wants.”

Looking at Rod’s curt hair, wide shoulders, shaped waist, you thought of
all sorts of Kipling words: sirdar, sahib, polo, tiffin, pukka—duty,
power—beggar, native—pure breed, outcast, blood—lightly answered the
colonel’s son, I hold by the blood of my clan; your son I’ll take and we
shall make a Quisling of the man. And Rod’s voice, as he spoke, had the
true parade-ground bark, with legal refinements.

He was very happy, or so he said, about the behavior of all our white
troops in Europe. “The commonest commodity in our outfit wasn’t beans or
bullets but sheer courage!” But he had to tell them that there had been
one disappointment: the behavior of our Jewish and Negro soldiers.

He devoted ten spirited minutes to the Jews, and carried on:

“Those minority laddies like to dish it out, in their seditious press,
but on the field of honor, those bellyachers can’t take it, especially
the darker brothers. If you will permit a rude soldier to use the
expression—they stink!”

(Neil looked at his wincing brother; at Webb and Ackley Wargate, who
employed Negro skilled labor. Webb was an eyeglassed, medium-sized
bookkeeper worrying about the balance, and Ackley a small-sized
bookkeeper who had not yet learned to worry.)

Rod grew measured and firm:

“I have no prejudices, the Army and Navy have no prejudices, I presume
God has no prejudices. We had hoped that these tinted gentry had learned
their lesson of playing the game in the former war. We gave them every
chance in this—even made a Negro general and a number of colonels! And
if there was any segregation, it was always and only at the request of
their own colored leaders, who frankly admitted that their black lambs
were not up to the strain of associating with the whites.

“I have seen a mild-mannered and spectacled little Caucasian sergeant
keeping a gang of black soldiers, headed by a big buck with the nerve to
wear two bars on his shoulders, from running away during an assault, and
when that ‘captain’ saw me, he just snickered foolishly. But they were
all brave enough when it came to forcing their ill-odored attentions on
ignorant French peasant girls!

“The worst incident connected with the Negro monstrosities and
atrocities that I saw personally, however, was when one of them, and he
must have been drunk, had the nerve to say to a big Irish-American
sergeant of M.P.’s, ‘I’m going to get invalided home, and when I do,
I’ll service your girl for you.’ Now I don’t know how legal it was, and
I shall never inquire, but _that_ buck had a funeral without honors!”

(Laughter and applause.)

“What’s the answer? Well, I think our new friend and member here, Lucian
Firelock, has the only answer, _complete segregation_, so successful in
the South and some day soon, God willing, to be universally demanded
throughout the North. In the next war, I’d like to see the Negroes not
even called soldiers, not given any uniforms except overalls, and kept
by force in a work corps.”

(Neil looked at Lucian Firelock, who sat next to Duncan Browler,
vice-president of Wargate’s. He did not think that Lucian was
comfortable over either Rod’s compliments or putting his feet up on the
table.)

“But now,” said Rod, “I have a few things to tell you about the Negroes
right here in Grand Republic. When we citizens-in-arms went off to fight
for our homes, there were only a few of the black folk here, and the
predominant element among them were well-trained old-timers like Wash,
who has blacked all our shoes since we were kids, and enjoyed it, bless
his dear old ebony hide, and whom we all loved and respected!

“But we G.I.’s came back to find that hundreds of the worst type of
colored men have forced their way in here, and are being followed by all
their unwashed and unwanted and lice-infested relatives from the
South—which is powerful glad to get rid of them—and so we are on our
way to accumulate such a sinister darktown that race-riots are going to
be inevitable—and all because of a false liberalism, an ignorant
tolerance of the Negro.”

(Major Rodney Aldwick never said “nigger.” He would not have said it
even at a lynching.)

“We already have approximately two thousand of these Sons and Daughters
of Mumbo-jumbo here, and soon there will be twenty thousand, and a fair
city will be fouled and smirched and ruined—_if we don’t do something
about it_!

“On my own initiative, I have been having an investigation made of some
Negro agitators who are trying to corrupt our labor picture, and I’m
going to tell you about these fancy fellows, of whom most of you have
never heard, but who are getting ready to take over your own business,
gentlemen, and have a pretty fair chance to do it, too, if you don’t
wake up and get very, very busy!”

(At this line of the spy-melodrama, all their heads went up.)

“They are plotting to compel the unions, most of which have hitherto
barred out black members, or hamstrung them by keeping them in phony
auxiliary unions, to open their ranks, so that any ignorant, black
ditch-digger can come in and even take office.

“Soon you will have the spectacle of a big, black union official coming
into your private office and sitting down with his hat on, puffing a
fifty-cent cigar in your face and telling you how to run your business,
that you’ve given the best years of your life to building up. Yes, and
you’ll have coal-black wenches demanding the ‘right’ to share the
toilets with your own daughters and delicately bred secretaries!

“And you professional men, you doctors and my fellow-lawyers and even
the clergy—don’t think that _you_ will escape! If you don’t _do_
something, there will be pressure to compel you to hire swarthy
secretaries and cashiers—and all of you clever leaders of the community
have been letting this plot go on under your very noses!”

(It was a sensation. They had known that Rod Aldwick was a good fellow,
a swell soldier, a smart lawyer, but not that he was a thinker and
orator like this. Say! How about him for Governor or United States
Senator some day?)

“And now, confidentially, so that you may defend yourselves and your
most sacred honor and businesses, I’m going to give you the names of the
ringleaders in this plot—educated Negroes with soft jobs and none of
them having the smallest show of right to intrude on labor
organizations.

“The worst of them is one Clement Brazenstein, a professional agitator
with shady antecedents. He does not live here, but he comes sneaking in
here by night to pour his devil’s brew of sedition into the, I must say,
highly capable local traitors. These include one Ryan Woolcape, a
veteran who was kicked out for insubordination, and Susan, sometimes
known as Sophia, Concord, who is actually a city nurse, paid out of
taxes, out of your money and mine, to sow subversive propaganda in every
decent Negro shanty in town!

“Plotting with them are a fly-by-night black preacher and spell-binder
known to his dupes as ‘Evangelist’ Brewster, who uses the sanctity of
his pulpit to spread the red doctrines of slave revolt, and a former
handyman in a patent-medicine joint who got in here on the pretense that
he is a qualified chemist, and calls himself ‘Doctor’ Asher Davis.

“All these delightful playmates are in constant touch with the Jewish
bureaucrats in Washington, who are secretly scheming to make the
F.E.P.C.—the Future Enemy Power Conspiracy—the basic law of the land,
to replace our American Way of Life and to force every industrialist to
employ a gang of black men, whether or not he needs anybody at all. All
over America they are organizing this titanic revolution, from the
fish-canneries of old New England to the studios of Hollywood—and don’t
take my word for it, gentlemen, but read the Negroes’ own outrageous
weekly newspapers!

“But here in Grand Republic they are particularly insidious, and meeting
nightly with certain white men—and not Jews, not tramps and crooks, but
actually of our own class!”

(As Rod’s triumphant glance swept over the listeners, it flickered on
Neil, who answered it with an unspoken, “All right, Rod. I’m ready.”)

Rod pounded on, “The Wargates and Dunc Browler, who are with us tonight,
deserve our heartiest applause for their generosity in affording a vast
number of black gentlemen a chance to show what they can really do.

“Now the starry-eyed leftwing boys in Washington maintain that the
colored brethren have made just as good a showing as white machinists in
punctuality, discipline, and quality of work done. But I am authorized
to state that Webb and Ackley and Dunc have arrived at an entirely
different conclusion, and at Wargate’s we shall see from now on an
economic picture in which there will be a lot less of grinning slaty
faces!”

(Neil looked at Ackley, in whose forest camp he had had so lively a
party, two weeks ago. Ackley and his father seemed self-conscious, but
they were not contradicting anything.)

“So, gentlemen, I have not given you the traditional comic Hy-Syne,
because those of us who faced the enemy guns cannot feel very comic
until we are assured that you are going to preserve for us what we
fought to preserve for you—the pure, clean, square-dealing,
enterprising, freely-competitive America of the Founding Fathers!”

                 * * * * *

They pounded their tankards on the tables and broke their clay pipes in
applause.

Neil was thinking, “This is it. Come on. That’s the warden and the
chaplain coming.”

Dr. Drover was asking for silence, to thank the speaker, when Neil stood
up. He spoke as unemotionally as an official making a routine
announcement, and they all listened. Nice, sensible boy, fine future,
young Kingsblood—you know, in the Second National—son-in-law of Mort
Beehouse.

“I was junior to Major Aldwick as an officer,” Neil said, “but I must
correct him.”

He saw the eyes of Rodney shrewd upon him.

“Gentlemen, what Aldwick said about Negro soldiers was half fireworks
and half fake. It was poisonous nonsense.”

Rod was rising to interrupt, but Neil insisted, “You’ve had your chance,
Rod.” Dr. Drover made sounds like a chairman, but Dr. Henry Sparrock
yelped, “Let the boy talk!” Through the room there were mutters of “Give
him a chance,” and a more sinister “This sounds interesting!”

But Robert Kingsblood, on his feet but hunched over, was wailing, “Shut
up, Neil! Oh, God!” as Neil lumbered on:

“Aldwick never mentioned Negro gallantry, nor the seditious efforts of
officers and non-coms from the Deep South to corrupt our army by
prejudice. I wouldn’t expect that, from a political climber. But I will
say that his statements about Dr. Davis and Dr. Brewster and Miss
Concord are plain untrue—and he didn’t even have their names right. I’m
ashamed of myself for having sat and listened, because——”

Robert’s agonized voice—perhaps he did not know that he spoke
aloud—was beseeching, “Don’t do it, boy!”

“——because,” Neil went on, “I have some of what you call ‘Negro blood’
myself.”

They were paralyzed and still.

“I am only one thirty-second Negro, but according to the standards of
Lucian Firelock and his friend Mr. Wilbur Feathering——”

Lucian’s voice was even: “No friend of mine, Neil!”

“Well, according to the general Southern myth, which they have sold to
simple careerists like Aldwick, that makes me one-hundred per cent.
Negro. All right! I accept it! And I have no friends whom I honor more
than Dr. Davis and Dr. Brewster and Miss Concord and Mr. Brazen_star_!
I’m very cheerful about being a Negro, gentlemen, and about the future
of our race, and I think that’s enough.”

Boone Havock drawled, “I’ll say it’s enough—plenty!”

In the babble, Neil heard Prutt’s scream that this was all an
ill-advised joke, caught Robert’s hysterical denials, and part of an
argument between Firelock and Dunc Browler about Ash Davis’s competence.
All such chatter was crushed by the fury of Boone Havock, the vasty
railroad-contractor, who was roaring at Browler:

“You boys talking about whether some nigger knows a test-tube from his
finger, while this terrible thing has happened: a member of this club
confesses he’s a nigger and covers us all with shame! Who cares anything
about nigger soldiers——”

Colonel Levi Tarr began, “I care! The discrimination against them——”

Dr. Roy Drover blanketed him: “The hell with that! As president of this
club, I suggest that we accept Mr. Neil Kingsblood’s resignation right
here and now—this minute.”

Neil looked not at Drover but at Rod Aldwick, relaxed, smiling,
malicious.

Greg Marl was standing. “Roy! Before we do that or anything else, I
suggest that we go home and think about it, and tomorrow you can appoint
a committee to talk this over with Neil. Meantime, I can promise that
nothing will appear in my papers, nor in the press services, if I can
help it—and if all of you will keep quiet.”

Judge Cass Timberlane insisted, “Whether he was wise or not, Neil has
been courageous, and we must keep our heads.”

Ackley Wargate—Neil used to play checkers with him—and win—Ackley
shouted, “Sure we’ll keep our heads, but I know what my attitude is,
right now. I have always considered Neil a good friend and been glad to
entertain him in my home. I think I have always been nice to him. And I
resent his having pretended to be a white man—sneaking in and meeting
my wife and children on a basis of equality. I just want to assure him
and all of you that that will not happen again.”

Judd Browler, bless him, solidest and oldest of friends, stood up to
proclaim, “I think that’s nonsense! We all of us know that Neil is the
swellest guy and the most loyal friend in town. What’s a mere
thirty-second part Negro blood? He’s the whitest man here, and I stand
by him.”

There were controversial rages, and Neil walked out on them. He was
tired. He could no longer hear their voices. A curtain had been lowered
between him and these white men. To have resigned from the white race
was more important than to have resigned from the Federal Club.

Judd Browler caught him in the lobby, and grunted, “God, I think you
were an awful fool to spill the beans like that, old man, but we’ll back
you up. You and Ves come in for dinner—say next Tuesday, New Year’s
Day—and we’ll talk it all over. Okay? Swell!”




                                   37


WHEN he walked into their living-room Vestal was in fluffy negligee and
was knitting, no usual domesticity for her. “I’m afraid you’ve caught
me. I’ve been making a scarf for you, but I didn’t get it done in time
for Christmas, drat it, so I’m finishing it up for New Year’s
and——What is it? Neil! Why are you standing there? Oh! Neil! No! It
hasn’t come out?”

“Rod Aldwick made such an attack on Negroes that I had to tell
them—publicly—I’m one. Sounds curious to say ‘I’m a Negro’!”

“Curious. Yes. Yes, it does sound curious. It sounds curious to say that
I’m the wife of a colored man. That Biddy is colored—and damned forever
now. Yes. Curious. And we have to do something quick, to make up for
your delightful public confession. I don’t know what.”

She was at the telephone, calling Dr. Kenneth, begging him to meet them
at Morton Beehouse’s. She called her father and Brother Robert at the
Federal Club. As she dressed, upstairs, with Neil blankly watching, she
moaned, “If you just won’t say anything!”

“I’m not saying anything!”

She tried to smile. “Well then, if you just won’t not say anything, or
_something_! I think I’m going to stand by you—or maybe you don’t want
me to, any longer? Maybe I’m not even good enough to be a colored man’s
wife.”

“Don’t be silly.”

“What can I think? You could do this to me. I’m pretty tough, or I
thought I was, but to Biddy——”

“Vestal, there’s no use. I guess it’s simple. If I’m a Negro, then I’m a
Negro. And Judd Browler—probably a lot of others, too—back me in
wanting to be honest about it.”

“I could hate you, I believe, if I put my mind to it, and yet I don’t,
not now, and when I look at you, just as ruddy and red-headed and decent
as ever, I don’t seem to have any revulsion, and yet——Suppose Uncle
Oliver could prove that there’s been some mistake—you’re not even a
tiny bit Negro?”

“Then I’d volunteer. I prefer Ash and Evan and Phil and Sophie and the
Woolcapes to Rod Aldwick and Doc Drover and Oliver Beehouse.”

“Who are all these weird people? Coons?”

Surely it was impossible that she should not know these, the most
important persons living. “They are Negroes whom I prize for their
kindness and courage and intelligence and——”

“Oh nuts! You’ve become impossible!”

The residence of Mr. Morton Beehouse needs only one word: Solidity.

Thirty thoughtful years had been devoted to selecting the final place
for his slippers, and to finding a buffet of the right solidity. In this
fortress, where the air seemed composed of the same oak as the panels of
the walls, Dr. Kenneth, with a suit and a plaid overcoat over his
pajamas, was waiting like a fluttering stork when Neil trailed in, while
Brother Robert was a bumptious bull, and their host was altogether
motionless, except for his eyes.

Robert proclaimed, “Neil, I’ve been talking to Mother on the phone, and
she absolutely denies the whole story. She insists on your getting the
Federal Club members together again, and telling them you had a stroke.”

Morton Beehouse said, “That would be very much like a private citizen
ordering Congress to reassemble. It’s too late. After all, I was there,
and I may tell you, Neil, that you might better have murdered my
daughter than have done this obscene thing to her. She will, of course,
leave you immediately, in mere self-respect.”

“I will not,” said Vestal.

“Think so? Wait till Lorraine Wargate and Janet Aldwick cut you on the
Street,” her father said solidly.

“I won’t wait. I’ll cut them first.”

Morton was calm. “Go ahead, my dear. Get it out of your system. I would
expect you to be loyal. The Beehouses are a loyal folk. But when you
have done enough for honor, you will agree with me that this fellow,
your husband—temporarily—is the most unspeakable, selfish,
exhibitionistic, vile, brawling sot and bounder that ever disgraced this
city!”

Robert was frightened, but he was a decent clansman, and he rumbled at
Morton, “We’ve had enough of your sauce, Beehouse!”

“We certainly have!” said Dr. Kenneth, and Robert kept it up with, “My
father and I love this boy, even if he is as crazy as a loon, and I
guess maybe your daughter does, and seems like there’s nothing more to
say.”

But there was, oh, there was, and Neil and Vestal were not home till
after three. When they came in, Biddy awoke, crying. They wretchedly
tried to comfort her, and crawled to their sleepless twin beds. Vestal
vowed, “I do love you very much and I’m going to stand by you—as long
as I can. I’m not a professional martyr, though. Apparently I’m not even
intellectual enough to be one of your fancy niggers.”

“Don’t!”

“How can I help it?”

Till dawn, a dawn of sleet and metallic gray.

The next day, the courteous Verne Avondene, secretary of the Federal
Club, telephoned to Neil that a committee had met that noon and
“accepted his resignation.” Verne hoped that “your good lady and Miss
Elizabeth are having joyful holidays.”

“Not half!” said Vestal, who had been eavesdropping on the extension
phone.

                 * * * * *

As husbands do, he believed that his victory had been easy and sure,
that she had forgiven him for the bad taste of being born a Negro. As
wives do, even very good wives, she let him drop his guard and then she
hit. Late in the dim December afternoon, a defenseless time, when they
had cheerfully agreed that, yes, they’d better not go to Norton Trock’s
party, she turned on him with:

“And don’t think, because I’m not kicking and screaming, that I don’t
resent not being allowed to go any where, nowheres again ever, because
of this idiotic stand of yours. Sometimes I begin to see the Negro in
you—I hope I’ll forget it again, but I see you shambling and grinning
foolishly——”

“Is that really the way you think you see all Negroes?”

“That’s the way I _know_ I see them, _all_ of ’em. And I imagine a kind
of horrible shadow over your face. Oh, I’ve always hated all darkies,
and their beastly simpering, that gives them away. They know they’re
inferior!”

He demanded, not too cherubically, “Did you ever know any Negro, besides
Belfreda?”

“Yes! You and your dumb brother, Robert, and your sisters——Oh, I’m
sorry, dear, I’m truly sorry. I’m upset. I could slap myself for saying
that.”

“Saying what? It’s true, isn’t it?”

“Honestly, Neil, I’ll endure anything except your getting calm and
strong and wise on me! I can’t stand that.”

But they escaped—this time—from the more ardent tortures of
quarreling.

                 * * * * *

The Federal Club Smoker had been on Thursday, December 27th. Neil’s bank
was open all day Friday and half of Saturday; it was also open on
Monday, the day before New Year’s. An automaton called Our Mr.
Kingsblood was in busy attendance upon those days, sitting in at a
teller’s window, giving advice to veterans whose advice to himself he
would have been afraid to hear, talking to Mr. Prutt about the
window-cleaning service.

Prutt did a lot of throat-clearing and quick, unnecessary smiling during
their talk, and Neil wondered if the miracle had come: if Prutt was
going to be so heroic as to decide that this Negro myth was none of his
business. He saw Prutt’s glance craftily hitch-hiking all over the
place, and he realized that the good man was trying to look down at his
fingernails . . . to see if the halfmoons were blue.

He sat as chilly as a palace guard at whom the dictator peeps too
meditatively. There was the smell of death in the air. But he was safe
until some customer should complain about having to do business with
this colored fellow Kingsblood.

At the annual bonus-giving, when all the employees were supposed to be
surprised and pleased by the bank’s fatherliness (and once in a while
some of them were considerably surprised), when they were all lined up
like a daisy-chain in the president’s office, Neil seemed to be still on
the payroll. But just before Mr. Prutt should have handed him his
envelope and his cliché, Prutt coughed, “I’ll be back, just a minute,”
and Neil received the annual gilded leg-chain not from the pale, aseptic
hand of the president but from the broad fist of Mr. S. Ashiel Denver.

——I’m still working here, but I begin to get an idea I’m not going to
be first vice-president.

                 * * * * *

Of course it got out. Though slowly.

Of course every one present at the Federal Club’s Scandal in High Life
had promised to keep silence; and of course every one of them confided
in someone else. In New Year’s week there was nothing in print, but
Radio Station KICH, the property of the highly disaffected Mr. Harold W.
Whittick, on its chatty Home News Hour promised that within a few days
it would be able to give to its far-flung audience—the KICH staff were
among the most horrible far-flungers in the country—the details of a
shameful incident which had revealed that a well-known financier in the
North Middlewest had been leading a shocking double life.

Neil and Vestal listened and looked at each other and were scared.

The day before New Year’s, Judd Browler telephoned, “Look, old man, I’m
in kind of an embarrassing position. My wife and my dad are simply
raising Cain about my wanting to publicly stand back of you for—you
know. So I guess you better not come here for dinner tomorrow evening.
Might be uncomfortable for you. But _privately_, I agree with you. I’ll
call you for lunch, this week.”

Judd did not call again.

                 * * * * *

They had planned gaily to go to the big New Year’s Eve Party at the
Heather Country Club. They stayed home and were reasonably bleak. Neil
worried, “I don’t think I could lose my job, could I? What would we do,
if I did?”

“I don’t know. We’ve always been so sort of sure of a decent living. You
don’t suppose Papa Morton, the old clubman, would cut off my
pocket-money, do you?”

“Oh, what if he does! We’ll get along somehow.” It did not sound like a
bugle-call of courage.

“I suppose,” she speculated, startled by the revolutionary observation,
“that there’s quite a proportion of American families that, every New
Year’s Eve, worry about whether their jobs will hold up through the
coming year.”

“Yes, I doubt if my friend John Woolcape, the janitor, is spending this
New Year’s Eve wondering whether he’ll switch his investments from
General Motors to real estate.”

“Oh, don’t be so damned smug! You and your crusading friends! I don’t
see that it took any special virtue in you to get yourself born colored.
Can’t you forget it, while you’re with me? I’m trying hard enough to!”

“You’re right. I’ll probably become as self-righteous as Corinne
Brewster.”

“And just who may Miss Corinne be? I don’t know any of these new people
you seem to have been seeing. Neil, you’re drifting pretty far away from
me. I say!” Her wistfulness turned to sharpness. “Was she that extremely
good-looking colored woman that sneaked in here to see you, one
evening?”

“No, that was another girl. I’m very popular. Are you paying me the
compliment of being jealous, puss?”

He tried to make it airy and domestic.

All of New Year’s Eve, the only person who came in was Pat Saxinar, and
she was so profusely enthusiastic about being colored—she had just
discovered Harriet Tubman and the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People—that she annoyed that veteran
race-crusader, Neil, as much as he had ever annoyed Corinne Brewster.

At one minute after midnight, Dr. Kenneth telephoned to them, and his
voice was very old. “My dear boy, I do hope everything will go all right
with you and yours, this coming year. I’m trying to get things straight,
and God bless you, any way!”

——It would be hard on Dad and his practice if his hand got shaky.
Maybe I shouldn’t——Too late.

                 * * * * *

Vestal was carefully careless with Biddy, these days; everything in her
manner said breezily, “Oh, yes, dear, Mother is ever so happy.” But the
child caught something of the shadow of horror that was moving through
the house, and with it some notion that Negroes were aggravatingly
important here. With the innocent hellishness of all Dear Little Ones,
she restored Prince’s name, and went through the house calling “Nigger,
Nigger, Nigger!”

Vestal was trembling with something like fury when she whispered to
Neil, “Suppose Curtiss Havock heard that from next door? He probably
knows, from his father. But if I try to shut the baby up, I’ll just make
her worse.”

Late on a January night they heard that thin wailing, “Nigger, Nigger,
Nigger” woven with the snow-wind.

“I _am_ going up and make her stop that,” sighed Vestal.

Neil said, “Are you sure that was Biddy?”




                                   38


IT broke suddenly.

Neil was at his desk in the bank on Tuesday, a week after New Year’s,
when honest Judd Browler, whose house was well within sight of Neil’s
but whom he mysteriously never seemed to encounter now, marched up and
said, “Neil, as you know, I haven’t got any prejudices myself, but
everybody seems to think I ought to protect my wife and daughter, so
maybe it would look better if you and I just didn’t see each other from
now on, when we can avoid it.” And lumped off without waiting for an
answer.

Then, while Neil was chafed by Prutt’s constant watching, all the old
friends attacked. Curtiss Havock shouted to his wife, when he saw Neil
in the yard, twenty feet away, “Christ, there’s that nigger!” Elegant
Eliot Hansen telephoned to Vestal a message that, translated from hints
into English, meant that when she got tired of the shame of living with
a colored man, he would gladly take her out for cocktails and see what
he could do. (She told Neil.)

But the worst was passing Rodney Aldwick and having him croon like an
Easter benediction, “_Good_ morn-ing, Neil!”

Then, like a cold drizzle, came certainty that the news was slipping all
through the city. A stranger, dark and dramatic, bent over Neil’s lonely
table at the cafeteria which he frequented these days and muttered, “You
don’t know me; I’m supposed to be a Greek fruit-dealer, but I’m part
colored, like you. But I’ve kept my mouth shut about it. You take my tip
and do the same, Brother.”

The openest insult came from Ed Fleeron, who was now mayor of Grand
Republic, in succession to William Stopple. He owned a big cut-rate
drugstore which sold sandwiches, rubber bathing-caps, gritty candy,
velocipedes, electric fans, and some drugs, all in dirty piles
incompetently attended by girls who should have been back on the farm.

Mayor Fleeron came like a one-man parade into Neil’s living-room, when
Vestal was away, and blurted, “I’m the mayor of this city, and a
neighbor of yours—unfortunately!”

Neil was adequately angry. “Oh, are you, Ed? I thought you lived in
Swede Hollow.”

“I don’t want any of your lip, Kingsblood! I’m the mayor of this
city——”

“Still?”

“——and I tell you we don’t want any of you niggers horning into decent
white neighborhoods, corrupting the kids and frightening the women.”

“And bringing down real-estate values? That’s the usual line, Ed.”

“Yes, and it’s a damn good line, too, and you’ll hear a lot more about
it, and if my policemen get awful interested in you and your actions,
don’t come bellyaching to me, as mayor!”

“Before I’d come to you for—Oh, all right. Get out!”

Mayor Fleeron’s chronic rival, Ex-Mayor Stopple, who as agent for
Berthold Eisenherz had been the original developer of Sylvan Park, came
calling the next evening. But his was the affable racket.

He did not mention Negroes; he chirped, “Neil—Mrs. Kingsblood—I’ve got
a customer that’s crazy to move out here to the Park and likes the look
of your house, and same time, I have a lovely little house in Canoe
Heights, right near that wonderful fellow, Lucian Firelock.” He did not
suggest that this would also make it near to Dr. Ash Davis, and not far
from Sugar Gowse. “While it isn’t as elaborate as this house, it has a
much better view—talk about your magic beauty, why, say, that view
across the South End is simply breath-taking. If I could persuade you
folks to think about a swap, with something to boot, I could get you a
nice offer for this place, and I guess you like to make a profit ’bout
as much as most folks, ha, ha, ha.”

Neil said, “No. This is our home.”

Vestal said, “Certainly not. It’s a silly idea. Why Canoe Heights?
There’s a terrible mixed population there—Jews and Italians and
even——Oh. I see.”

Mr. Stopple put it gently: “Do you think this is a time for you to be
haughty, Mrs. Kingsblood? And the price won’t be anything like so good,
next time. But I’ll hold the offer open for a few days. Good night.”

                 * * * * *

Neil said, “He knows.”

Vestal said, “Of course he does, my good man. Maybe everybody does, by
now. . . . Do all the high-toned darkies live on Canoe Heights? Like
this Dr. Melody?”

“I have no idea.”

“Don’t any of your—don’t you know _any_ Negroes on Canoe Heights?”

“I didn’t say that! I didn’t say anything of the kind! I didn’t say I
didn’t know _any_ Negroes on Canoe Heights! I just said—all I said was
that I didn’t know where Dr. Melody lives, and I don’t!”

“Oh, Neil, you never used to talk to me like that!”

“I know, and——I’m sorry. Yes, let’s not squabble.” (He realized that
superhumanly she was refraining from saying, “_I_ wasn’t squabbling,”
and that encouraged him.) “Let’s not let Them beat us by dividing us.”

“We won’t! . . . I don’t think we will.”

They wondered, then and every evening, how many of Them knew and what
They were saying. It was a gasping relief to Vestal that as yet the
neighborhood children were not taking it out on Biddy but continuing to
see her only as the charming and ingenious imp who had always led them
in producing incredible amounts of noise. All but Peggy Havock, next
door. She had been Biddy’s acolyte, but now she rarely came out when
Biddy clamored, and Vestal was sick as she watched Biddy, after yelling
for Peggy, stand puzzled, slowly tracing a circle with her small red
boot in the snow, staring at the Havock house, vainly waiting.

Most of the neighbors were extra cordial, and extra brief, on the
Street. From their look it was evident that they were finding something
new and objectionable in Neil, even in Vestal. The frankest was their
gentle neighbor, Mr. Topman, who at over fifty was still a teller in the
Merchants & Miners Bank.

He stopped Neil, to say humbly, “I am told that you have Negro blood,
Neil. I must say I was surprised. I always thought that all Negroes were
big and black and did a lot of thieving. Could I have been wrong?”

He spoke as to a tremendous authority, and authoritatively Neil put it,
“You could be.”

“Now isn’t that interesting! Tell me, do the Negroes like it, when they
go back to Africa?”

“I don’t suppose they go back.”

“They don’t? I never realized that. But I know a Swedish fellow that
went back to the Old Country.”

“I think that’s different.”

“Is it? I just wanted to know. Tell me, Neil, do you know a Negro
preacher down in Atlanta, Georgia—I read about him—his name was—well,
I don’t recall it exactly, but it was something like George Brown—do
you know who I mean?”

“I’m afraid I don’t.”

“Or it might have been Thomas. I thought you might know about him. Say,
tell me—here’s something I’ve always been curious about. How much do
these top-notch colored orchestra-leaders, say like Duke Ellington—how
much do they make a year, net?”

“I’m afraid I can’t tell you _that_.”

“Oh, don’t you know? Well say, do all Negroes want to marry white
women?”

“I doubt it very much, but I couldn’t say definitely.”

“That’s funny! I thought all you colored fellows knew all about such
subjects like that.”

If there was anything comic in Mr. Topman’s effort to find a common
ground with this Ethiopian, Kingsblood (whom he had known for only
thirty-one years), the comedy faltered when he solicitously asked:

“If Vestal and you have another child, is there very much danger that it
will be coal-black?”

                 * * * * *

Considering Biddy’s pellucidness, the question was funny, then, and
slightly exasperating, but later, when he had heard it put half a dozen
times and hinted at a hundred times, it was extremely exasperating and
not funny at all. Neil had asked Ash Davis for the exact genetic facts,
and learned, as definite, that with the union of a “colored” and a
“white” person, the children will not have one chance in ten thousand of
being darker than the darker parent. But he was to find that the
universal folk belief, among such peasants as college-presidents and
sewing-machine salesmen and popular lecturers, was that if any one with
.000001 per cent. of Negro genes married anyone fair as alabaster (which
is notoriously fair), their children were more than likely to be all of
them as black as the heart of a dictator. The fact that none of these
civic worriers had ever heard of such a case was unimportant, because
they all had heard of somebody who _had_ heard of it!

Not for a time did it come to Neil that if such parents could have such
an ebon child, it would still be their child to love.

                 * * * * *

Orlo Vay said to W. S. Vander, a fellow pillar of Sylvan Park, “He’s a
sap, but he’s always been a good neighbor of mine, right across the
street, and I’m not sure you could really call him a nigger, if he’s
only one thirty-second.”

Mr. Vander growled, “My definition of a nigger is a fellow that publicly
admits it and means it and so kicks himself right out of the human race,
even if he ain’t but one-hundred and thirty-second part black.”

“I guess maybe you’re right,” admitted Orlo, not unwillingly.

Presently, throughout Grand Republic, the belief was fixed that Neil
was—“if you want to know exactly”—one-quarter Negro.

                 * * * * *

Now, when he fled to the Davises and the Woolcapes, he pleasantly felt
that he need not lie to Vestal about them. By grapevine, all of Mayo
Street knew of his testimony at the club smoker, and they loved him—or
just laughed. Without realizing how often, he was in a way of slipping
out to John and Mary’s late in the afternoon, before he went home. And
often, in an uneasy friendliness, as though he was waiting for
something, he saw Sophie at Ash’s.

He needed their comfort, for no day in late January went by without
someone, with a feeling of being very original about it, reminding him
that he was “colored.”

Tom Crenway, as he could not think of anything reproving to say, just
looked it. Cedric Staubermeyer tried to stare like a white man staring
at a Negro. But Rose Pennloss, in the next block, waved her hand with a
timid cordiality. Shirley Pzort, in the kitchen, got a little mixed-up
and thought it was Vestal who was the Negro, and was extra friendly to
her, as to a fellow immigrant. Dr. Cope Anderson, a chemist colleague of
Ash, came calling, with the Reverend Lloyd Gadd, liberal clergyman;
while in the bank, Lucian Firelock went out of his way to be seen
shaking hands with Neil in public.

Then he saw the person who for years had been known to the household
only as “the little man who comes to the back door.” He frequently
showed up with a basket in the early evening, to sell them a juicy
chicken, cherry marmalade, eggs, or a rococo coffee cake that his wife
had made at their farm, out beyond Dead Squaw Lake. This time his
fumbling ring at the back door came after eleven, and they heard it
anxiously, thinking of Curtiss Havock drunk, of the hostile Mayor
Fleeron and his policemen. Vestal went to the door with Neil, as stoutly
as though she were two bodyguards with automatics.

The Little Man, standing in half-darkness on the cement back porch,
piped, “Mr. Kingsblood—Neil—I haven’t brought anything to sell
tonight, but I’ve just heard about how much nerve you showed, and I want
to thank you.”

But again: on a bus, a small and unknown old woman flared at Neil, “My
young nigger friend, do you know what God is going to do to you for
having set yourself up against His plain commandment that Ethiopia shall
stay in perpetual bondage in the kitchen and not go riding in no public
buses with no decent white folks? Oh, he that heedeth not the words of
God, he shall go down to hell and gnashing, and that’s the Bible-truth,
that’s God’s truth, praise His merciful name!”

That was the prelude to the letters.

Grandfather Edgar Saxinar wrote from Minneapolis that Neil was a lying
ingrate, that there never had been a Xavier Pic.

Berthold Eisenherz, lord of the manor, wrote from his winter villa at
Palm Beach that while he prized his acquaintanceship, he could make it
to Neil’s financial advantage if he would move away.

Drexel Greenshaw wrote regretting that a white gentleman like Mr.
Kingsblood should call any attention at all to his unfortunate race, and
so merely make it the harder for them.

Then the anonymous letters, those wry tributes to glory, written in
painful ecstasy by neurotics who spend the rest of their time in
sneaking along back alleys, after midnight, poisoning small cats.

They began with a sheet of ruled tablet-paper, inscribed in a rheumatic
hand, mailed in a characterless envelope, with the name and address
clumsily lettered.

    Dear Mister Smart Nigger Kingsblood:

    I guess you never thought I would here about how you come out
    and admitted all these years you been pertending to be a decent
    white man and now they caught you with your pants down and you
    are nothing but a nigger and you are trying to get away with it
    and claim where niggers are just as good as white men and if you
    red your Bible you would know different it says there plane God
    made niggers to be white man’s servants and if God had
    intentioned to have niggers same as us white men and become
    doctors and lawyers and so on and so forth would he made them
    different color of course he wouldn’t. He gave them that
    disgusting black color like yours to show they inferior dont you
    see that now you just never thought about that.

    The trouble with you fellows you never try and use your socalled
    branes and if you would stop and think once you would see what I
    mean and go back to the cabin where God intended you to be.

    Well thats a good joke on you, Mr. Dinge, and come now be a good
    sport and see how ridiculous you make yourself when you open
    your mouth and show your igorance and so I had a good laugh and
    if you admit now that the joke is on you I will forgive you and
    let byguns be byguns. I freely grant just my luck I had good
    education while you niggers are all igorant but dont you ever
    dare say anything about the Mississippi & Louisiana senators
    they are fine gentlemen and black beggars like you are not fit
    to black their boots and so you can just put that in your pipe
    and smoke it, Mister Educated Nigger and thank

          An unknown Friend

    P.S. The next time you wont get off so easy we dont give you
    coons a second chants trying to look like a white man you better
    watch your step you dont know how many people got there eye on
    you and you never know beforehand when blow will fall.

Vestal received only one anonymous letter, to Neil’s dozen, but hers was
accurately typed, on linen paper, scented:

    Dear Vestal (or Virgin):

    This socially impoverished community owes a _great deal_ to you
    and your handsome “hubby” for providing it with a scandal that
    will amuse us all for _years_ to come. But please do let us know
    whether your _darling_ spouse will run for Congress, as a
    Colored Gempman, and thus enable you to flaunt your “charms” and
    your fifty-dollar hats in the higher (colored) circles in
    Washington as you have in G.R. Your fairy daughter, so
    “superior” to all the normal brats—we have long found her
    childish swank and parading _very_ funny—will in Washington be
    able to associate with infants _worthy_ of her, the precocious
    offspring of Negro professors, Jewish “experts” and Haitian
    ambassadors.

    Doubtless any failure now on the part of your “better half” to
    earn a living will, as hitherto, be compensated for by the
    charity handed out by your impressive, even if slightly dreary,
    Papa.

    You might tell your husband—did you ever chance to think of
    what a pretty “chorus boy” he would make?—that we are _fed up_
    with the arrogance of the niggers. The deah boy could not have
    picked a _worse_ time to have allied himself with these gentry.
    So the niggers now _demand_ the _right_ to mix with the D.A.R.,
    and the nigger wenches will not work in kitchens or laundries,
    because they are all _ex-lieutenants_, forsooth!

    The Negroes—tell your _delightful_ but singularly unalphabet
    sweetie—will not get along until they perceive that we are not
    one bit “prejudiced” against their enchanting complexions and
    noses, but against their preventable diseases, their parasites,
    their idleness and utter filth and abysmal _ignorance_. Of
    course all of us know that you appreciate all this about that
    ilk, and we are duly impressed by your loyalty in sticking to a
    member of that Neanderthal tribe. Gracious, what a _good time_
    he must give you when you cuddle and scream!!

    Oh, don’t _mention_ it, my dear Mrs. K., and I hope—and the
    numerous ladies whom I have heard discussing it _all_ hope—that
    the interest which dear Mr. Eliot Hansen has always shown in you
    will develop into another “interesting situation.” We are all
    really very _jealous_ of the neat arts and wrigglings you employ
    to attract these dubious types of males, and we shall observe
    your dual activities with _impressment_.

    Or will Neilly and you get _wise_ to yourselves and get out of
    town? The voice of Thersites is the voice of Truth.

                                               A Friend Indeed

As she handed this case-history to Neil, Vestal said wildly, “Is there
any chance of my proving that I have decent Negro blood, too?”




                                   39


NEW Year’s Day prophecy and hangovers were finished with, and Neil was
primarily a man with a job, at the bank, in the realistic world of bonds
and marble and Pruttery.

On Friday morning, ten days after New Year’s, Mr. Prutt called him into
his office.

Mr. Prutt was a virtuous and thrifty man, though an Episcopalian, and he
was motherly in his manner of saying, “Neil, sit down, my boy.” He made
a tent of his fingers, and looked over the ridgepole.

“I have concluded that your statement about your ancestry, at the club
smoker, was not a joke—that you were not drunk, as I had hoped. Of
course you regret having made it, and you see how shockingly it will
affect your career, but what I don’t know is whether you comprehend how
seriously it affects _me_, since I am responsible for the credit and
stability of this bank.

“As a born Yankee, I have always had great commiseration for you colored
people, and have always maintained that it would be more charitable not
to educate you beyond the fourth grade, so that you will not get false
ideas and realize how unhappy you are. But in your case, I suppose your
white blood outweighs any inferior stock, so I imagine that you have
always been truly loyal to this Institution, as certainly this
Institution has always been loyal to its employees.

“In this unfortunate situation, and you will note that I do not pry
unduly into your motives, we shall underwrite you to the limit, and try
our best to find out if there is any way in which we can keep from
letting you go. BUT.

“For a time, as you will appreciate, it will be much better if the
public don’t come into contact with you directly. We can scarcely afford
to be known as an Institution that employs a lot of colored people when
so many of our white veterans are beginning to look for work.

“So I am afraid I shall have to make other arrangements about the
managership of our Veterans’ Center, and I’ll find book-work for you,
inside, where none of our customers need see you and misunderstand.
People are so inconsiderate! But I shall try to get our Board of
Directors not to reduce your salary . . . yet.

“Now, Neilly,” very brightly, “I’m sure you see my philosophy!”

“Yes.”

And that was all that this colored man contributed to helping out poor
Mr. Prutt.

                 * * * * *

He had gone back to his desk in the Veterans’ Center, which he had
planned and organized, and he was gathering up his private souvenirs,
the photograph of Vestal and Biddy, and his pipe and an Italian coin he
had found on a battlefield.

The telephone called him. It was Dr. Norman Kamber.

“Neil, can you come right over to your father’s office? I am phoning
from there. Your father dropped dead, just a few minutes ago.”

                 * * * * *

He thought, “This is just silly. This is just melodrama.” There was even
a not unpleasurable excitement at so much happening. It was only slowly
that he took in the heavy fact that he would never be able to talk with
his father again; never see his anxious, sandy, smile or hear his
chirping little jokes; never be able to make it right with him for
having become a Negro.

He remembered that his father had wanted to live on to be the founder of
a line of kings; remembered how handy around the house his father had
been; and wondered whether the funeral would be on Sunday or on Monday;
and if it was to be on Monday, would he be expected to come back to the
bank that afternoon? The Veterans’ Center would certainly need him.

And remembered that his Center would never need him again.

These distractions were gone in tenderness for his mother, who would be
so alone now. No, she would not be alone. She would have Joan with her.
And he had just seen fit to turn them both into Negroes, with the
loneliness that all Negroes have in a white community.

He plodded out of the bank in a vision of his mother alone, not daring
to talk to her closest neighbor, even in this urgency of death.




                                   40


THE office of Dr. Kenneth Kingsblood was on Chippewa Avenue, only a
block from the Second National, in the Professional and Arts Building,
known as the P. & A.

The lobby was so crowded with men on crutches, men with bandaged arms,
blank-faced mothers with babies in their arms, that he had to wait for a
third elevator. The elevator girl was pretty. She flirted with a young
man in a white coat, but she smiled at Neil and said “Fifth
floor—_your_ floor,” caressingly. He marveled that she probably did not
know what was awaiting him on that floor, a few feet from her cage.

It was shocking to go into the neat triviality of Dr. Kenneth’s
waiting-room—the two ruddy maple chairs with tartan cushions, the maple
table with a stack of picture-magazines and the always-lighted electric
lamp with a shade picturing a frigate in full sail—and to see, on the
maple couch with the tartan cushions, his father lying dead. His stilled
head was in the shadow of the table, on which lay his engagement book,
open to this morning, with a name neatly set down for half an hour from
now. On the book rested his old spectacles, idle. The righthand
ear-piece of the spectacles was mended with adhesive tape grown gray
now, and Neil remembered that, looking gaily at him through those
streaky lenses, his father had promised to step down the hall in the P.
& A. and have the frame mended.

The girl assistant was looking down at the lax thin body and crying, her
face red with amazement and loss.

As Neil turned to Dr. Kamber for the comfort of the medicine man,
Brother Robert bumbled in, with, “Good thing you caught me at the bank,
Doc. I was just going to leave for the bakery and maybe I wouldn’t of
been able to get here for a long time and——Oh, Pop, Pop! I can’t
believe it, Pop! That you won’t be with us now!”

He turned on Neil: “And you killed him! Your crazy lies were too much
for him. You’re responsible for his death, and I won’t forget it!”

Dr. Kamber ordered, “Chuck it, Bob. Your dad apparently died of a
coronary. Neil had nothing to do with it. Your dad was probably proud of
Neil’s courage.”

Dr. Roy Drover, president of the Federal Club, and Dr. Cortez Kelly,
duck-hunting neighbor of Neil, who both had their offices in the P. &
A., seemed to have crowded into that small room now, and Drover, after a
good strong look of dislike at Neil, commented to Kamber, “Well, you
can’t tell now, Doctor. The way Neil was cutting up may have had a bad
effect on the old man. How can we be sure?”

Dr. Kelly protested, “Oh, for Pete’s sake; quit it, Roy. Neil is a fool,
and I hope to see him driven out of my neighborhood, like any other
nigger, but he didn’t kill the old man. Come on, Roy, let’s scram.”

The two medical gentlemen argued off down the hall, and Neil and Robert
and Dr. Kamber and the shaky girl assistant silently gazed down at the
unnatural silence of the man on the couch.

Neil thought of his father happily raking the leaves, last October, and
prosing, “The fall is the best time of the year. It’s so peaceful. I’ve
always been a busy man, even if collections are so bad, and I look
forward to a lot of peace and enjoyment in the autumn of my life. I like
it when I can be peaceful.”

But not peaceful like this, lying in a waiting-room, nervous hands
rigid.

——Am I his murderer? He’ll never know about the Catherine of Aragon
line now, and maybe it was true. Did I kill that for him, too?

Dr. Kamber’s hand was on his shoulder, but Neil wished that Vestal were
here. . . . And Sophie. And Mary Woolcape.

Robert was blubbering. Oldest of Dr. Kenneth’s children, he was yet the
most childish and most likely to run to his father with troubles, even
after he had himself become a father. He was an overgrown farm-boy, awed
and afraid now, and Neil realized what his announcement of Negro kinship
must have done to this simple, loving and mercenary family-man.

Then Robert Hearth, the undertaker, arrived, and from that second till
the coffin sank in the January earth, the two Roberts took charge of
everything. They were so much alike: equally solemn, equally efficient
in the superb accomplishment of utterly childish ends, equally sure that
it must be a comfort to Dr. Kenneth in the coffin to have a little,
clean soft pillow under his head.

And equally certain that Neil had killed him.

                 * * * * *

The once lean and hearty face of his father at the funeral had been
painted to a horrible semblance of a waxwork pretty-boy. Neil edgily
wondered if the dainty padding of the coffin, displayed through the open
trapdoor at the top, thriftily stopped there, and he hated the whole
sparkling business of death without annoyance to friends & family; hated
the two whispering Roberts, whose stately manner said, “Grieve not—see
how bravely _we_ take it—costs surprisingly low—24 hr. service.”

They both managed to make Neil feel like a stranger, here in his
father’s house.

His mother was only a wisp of fog, she was quiet, she did not sob, she
would not take advantage of her one great day and show off. She humbly
did whatever the two Roberts told her. They were so manly with her, and
so obliging in their butterfingered offers to take from her a burden of
sorrow that neither of them could understand.

What most flattered the two Roberts was the attendance of both Mayor
Fleeron and Ex-Mayor Bill Stopple, hats in hands, looking politically at
Neil with an unworded leering promise that they would let him off for
today.

And the coffin lay in the center of the parlor, and there were strangers
all around, people who, Neil could have sworn, had never seen Dr.
Kenneth before, and the frescoed figure in the coffin seemed waiting,
and they all seemed waiting, sitting around on hired chairs, and there
was a stink of improbable massed flowers, and over Dr. Kenneth’s crayon
portrait hung a black pall hastily cut out of an old air-raid curtain.
But the two Roberts had failed to put away Dr. Kenneth’s corncob pipe,
which still rested on top of the piano, the only thing there that was
honest and not waiting.

Robert Hearth pontifically raised his hand, and Robert Kingsblood raised
his hand, and turned to his mother, who now first sobbed. The
pall-bearers looked self-conscious as they moved in like automata. Among
them were Cedric Staubermeyer and W. S. Vander, the neighbors who most
hated the reborn Neil.

At no time did any of the attendants speak to him, and they only bowed
to the blank, polite Vestal and the interested Biddy.

The coffin, sloping as it passed down the front steps, slowly moved out
of the house. Then Neil first understood how final was death. This was
the last time when his father would ever use these steps, up and down
which he had trotted, so fussily, so happily, for so many years; and on
this last passage, he could not go by himself. He had to be carried, and
he could not look back at the house one last time.

Hearth ushered them to their proper places in the funeral cars, in a
complicated order of court precedence as though Death were a monarch
touchy and demanding of propriety. There were words between Alice
Whittick Kingsblood and Kitty Kingsblood Sayward as to which of them
ought to sit with Mother. Robert Hearth solved it soothingly, with a
brisk bland piety that said, This too shall pass away and you will be
surprised and gratified by the reasonableness of my bill.

The cars, when they started, all had their lights on, to indicate that
this was a funeral. It was by state law an offense punishable by fine to
cross the line of the procession, lest Dr. Kenneth’s feelings be hurt.

Then the coffin was swaying up the steps into the Sylvan Park Baptist
Church, and Dr. Shelley Buncer, in Geneva gown, was waiting as though he
had never played rummy, but always in shadowy cloisters had meditated
upon the resurrection. His sermon was consoling, and he promised all of
them that they would soon see their friend again, but he did not seem
excited about it.

Neil wondered again at the strangers who had come to mourn his father.
Who were they all? Patients? Perhaps some of them knew his father better
than he did now. He felt lonely, and suddenly Vestal’s intelligent hand
was reassuring him.

He realized how many were staring at him rather than at the pastor; he
remembered that to half of them he was a masquerading black man who had
been caught and was going to be driven out of town. Then he noticed two
unexpected guests whose eyes, as they sat in the back row, tried to tell
him their enduring friendship—Evan Brewster, and Dr. Emerson Woolcape,
a fellow-dentist to whom Dr. Kenneth had never spoken.

                 * * * * *

It was cold at the grave, out at Forest Lawn Cemetery on Ottawa Heights,
and over the shivering few who had stayed, Dr. Buncer’s brave words
seemed to hang and tremble like gray snowflakes.

Then they all turned away and left his father there alone.

                 * * * * *

When they were home, the Vestal who had been so patient became sharp.

“Oh, quit being sentimental about your father. There’s nothing you can
do for him now. But it occurs to me that there’s a lot of things you can
do for me and our child. Do you ever stop and think that she is very
much your child, too, and so like you in her thoughtlessness? Now that
your notorious love of truth and justice has inspired you to turn us
into Negroes, just what are your plans for us outcasts? I wasn’t
consulted about your public exhibit of yourself, and now I’m waiting to
be told what to do!”

“Why, Ves, when you were so wonderful at the funeral——”

“Maybe I’ve been too wonderful. Just what do you intend to do, if that
old horsehair sofa, Prutt, turns you out of the bank?”

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t you think you better begin to know?”

He nodded.




                                   41


THEY were alone in the evening, sadly reading. At the door-bell’s sound,
Vestal speculated, “After ten—what gives? It’s probably Brother Robert,
come over to enjoy a little knitting and worry. I better go. I’ll tell
him we’re just off to bed.”

There was a jangle of voices when the door opened, and high laughter,
rough and derisive. Neil rose, ready for battle, but he heard Vestal,
like a flute too shrill, inviting, “Certainly, come right in. Enchanted
to see you. . . . Now that was very thoughtful of you!”

At the living-room door there were three black faces and one plastered
dead-white, all maliciously merry, and they were Borus Bugdoll of the
Jumpin’ Jive, Hack Riley, a dark ex-soldier, a white Polish girl called
Faydis—surname forever unknown—and the black rose, Belfreda Gray,
bubbling, “I always swore I’d come in the front door here, and by God, I
have!”

“And, by God, so you have!” Vestal said sweetly.

Self-assured yet languid, hard as a flyer, his thin nose dark and bold
above a race-track tie, a black hawk that liked to kill little birds,
Borus winked at Vestal, glanced derisively at the jangled Neil, and said
smoothly, “Good evening. My name is Bugdoll. I am a saloon-keeper. I
heard there was a new mixed couple in town, and I always call and
welcome them to our gang.”

Faydis crowed, “Yeh, him and me are mixed. He used to go with Bel, but
her and Hack have clicked, and Borus is my fellow, and I’m just as white
as you folks, maybe more so, but do I love my little brown dumpling!
Yeh, I’m just like you, Vestal, living with a colored boy, and is it
good cuddling—I’ll say!”

Neil drew the breath of one about to repel boarders, but Vestal’s voice,
clear, low, only to be caught by a husband, insisted, “No. I want you to
see what your intellectual friends are like!” Then, cheerily, “Do sit
down, everybody. Belfreda—if I’m not being too intimate—how is
everything going?”

She was so placid, so merry, that already she had taken the fuse out of
their joke. Borus, an expert in social relations, stood easily, a little
taller than Vestal, and he condescended, “You know, you’re a good guy,
lady.”

He stared at her with such amusement, as though he knew all her thoughts
and snobbishnesses and generosities, knew her in ball-gown or bathing
suit, that she flushed and lost the lead. She said hastily, “Neil, I’ll
get some drinks for your friends. Will you make them at home?”

He thought how taut, quick, knife-sliding, Borus looked, and he said
carefully, with the expectation of trouble, “What do you mean by butting
in here?”

“Maybe just to needle you, and maybe to see whether you’re an
honest-to-God raceman or another gravy-sermon, race-relations highbrow.
We was wondering if you can take it with us coalheavers, Neil?”

He felt that properly he ought to be offended, and found that he was not
at all offended; that a lot of fine, high social fences which he had
supposed to exist between Captain Kingsblood (of the Kingsbloods) and
Borus the black bartender had been shadows, and that he might be lucky
to have the friendship of a Borus, when all the Featherings set upon
him.

“I hope so, Borus,” he said, very gravely. “But I’m green. I’ll have to
count on you, if I can.”

“You bet!” said Hack Riley, and Borus drawled, “Maybe you can,” as one
who meant it, or would mean it some day, or would very nearly mean it.

Vestal came in with a huge maple tray with drinks and ice and soda. Hack
clumsily rose, reaching out his hands to take it, but the deft Borus was
ahead of him, and he began to mix, while Hack and Faydis looked shyly
about the serenity and assurance of the room. They all had highballs,
and everything was changed, and these were no longer black invaders
resented by lofty whites, but just six young people, fond of ribaldry
and laughter, having a surprisingly good time together. They laughed at
Borus’s stories of greedy white policemen, at Hack’s opinion of white
sergeants, at Vestal’s first surprise at their entrance.

Belfreda wanted to know, “How’s Biddy?”

“Getting so big now!” said Mother Vestal.

“You ought to give her more broccoli.”

“That’s so.”

“And how is Nigger—Prince, I mean!” said Belfreda.

There was a trace, inevitably, of race-talk.

Borus agreed completely with Mr. Feathering about Negro culture. “What
does a smoke want of drayma when he can get a bankroll and a nice
piece—pink or tan?” he scoffed.

Rack Riley offered, “I meant to kid the pants off you, Cap, but you’re
all right. I guess you’ll have a mean time with the ofays. So what? I’ve
had one, all my life! I’d like to see you stowing cargo, or
pearl-diving!”

It is almost certain that Vestal supposed “pearl-diving” to mean diving
for pearls. She replied firmly, “I’m sure he’ll do it splendidly. He’s
such a wonderful swimmer.”

She wondered why they laughed so flatteringly.

They stayed not an hour. At farewell, Belfreda patted Vestal’s hand, and
the troop of the gay enchanted went sliding off in Borus’s sumptuous
car, with shrieks of “You two guys are okay! Come see us at the Jive.”
Once, their people had plodded the Carolina roads while Massa galloped,
but a Negro in a car goes as fast as a white man.

Neil crowed, “They’re roughnecks, but they’re fun. They’d be swell
friends, if you ever needed them. Can’t you see why I take them
seriously?”

Vestal examined him coldly. “Those clowns? My dear boy, have you gone
quite mad?”

“I thought you rather liked them.”

“Well, I didn’t want our throats cut.”

“Oh, nonsense!” Neil protested. “They’re much decenter than Curtiss
Havock, and much smarter.”

“Who isn’t! You mean to say you could ever tolerate the way that
horrible Bugdoll leers? I could have him whipped! I’m not Southern, but
I’m awful white.”

“Oh, I liked it as much as I do the way Eliot Hansen simpers at you and
always manages to touch you! And Borus has courage. Some day we might be
very glad to have a house next to him.”

“You might. Not me. I won’t be there!”

“No? Well, I think I’ll walk a few blocks before I turn in.”

He rather wanted to be unfaithful to his oppressive wife, as regularized
young husbands often do when they are sorely puzzled, when they feel
that new and’ surprising caresses of warmer arms might provide a
rational explanation of everything. He very much wanted to telephone to
Sophie Concord.

And so, after five minutes of cold air and loneliness, he came home and
argued with Vestal till midnight.

February had come in, and the sidewalks were perilously icy under the
shifty covering of snow. Cars stalled and slipped backward when they
tried to run up the hills, and the chains about the tires as they hit
the fenders flapped all day long in an irritable chorus.

In the Capital of the Nation, a few Southern Senators refused to let
their fellow Titans even vote upon a bill to prevent employers from
refusing jobs on the grounds of an applicant’s color.

Fort Sumter had been fired on again, and the Deep South had again
seceded from the American Constitution, and this time they were
supported by more Northern Copperheads. The new Jefferson Davis was yet
to be chosen, but a clear statement of Southern ideals and a bugle-call
to armed rebellion had been issued by that aristocratic old planter, Mr.
David L. Cohn, who in the obliging _Atlantic Monthly_ had recently
stated:

“There are whites and Negroes who would attempt to break down
segregation in the South by Federal fiat. Let them beware. I have no
doubt that in such an event every Southern white man would spring to
arms and the country would be swept by civil war.”

There was no Lincoln now to call for troops and, eighty-five years after
it had started, the War Between the States was won by the South. And in
a small frozen city in the North Central States, a Negro named Neil
Kingsblood was having trouble in keeping his job, not because of any
incompetence or incivility but because of his color—even though he did
not have that color, and God still reigned and everything was mysterious
in its wondrous lack of any sense whatever.




                                   42


“CONSIDERING the British, French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese and their
excursions in the shadier portions of their empires and the handmaidens
they brought home, considering the wanderings of the Moors southward in
Africa and north in Europe, considering human nature on warm evenings in
the South, it is probable that every ‘white person’ in Europe and the
Americas, from British dukes up to Georgia politicians, has some trace
of ‘Negro blood.’”

It was Clement Brazenstar holding forth, back in town and staying at the
Woolcapes’. Neil was delighted to see that dark clown face again, but at
this outrageous theory, he was offended. What would happen to the whole
careful structure of his unhappiness if Vestal and John William Prutt
and Wilbur Feathering and Rodney Aldwick could also be denounced as
“colored”?

That evening, Clem had a few other bombs:

If the whites in such portions of the South as have seventy or eighty
per cent. of colored population are disturbed by being so outnumbered,
there is one thing they might do besides rig all law and government in
order to keep control. They might take the same privilege they have
often and generously granted to discontented Negroes, and move away.

With mechanical cotton-pickers and rice-cultivators, four or five
million Negro farmhands will probably move to the North in the next
fifteen years, and the righteous citizens of the North will have a
chance to see whether they constitute a White Problem.

Whenever Negroes break loose and viciously start fighting white
merchants and policemen, their viciousness is in exact ratio to the
viciousness with which they have been treated. This is an ancient rule
from the biology of revolutions.

Prejudice is the most precious birthright of the ignorant, and if the
seven wisest men in the world, in person and sober, were for seven
straight hours to argue that a Negro like Ash Davis is as admirable a
voter and dinner-companion as the average white bootlegger, any properly
reared Southerner, particularly if a woman, would at the end only smile
politely and answer, “You boys don’t understand the Nigras like I do,
and how would you like to have Nigras marry your seven daughters?”

So Clem laughed jovially.

                 * * * * *

Neil had to leave at midnight, which is merely tuning-up time in a
race-discussion. When he came out of the Woolcapes’ little house, he
found Wilbur Feathering strolling by, unabashed.

Wilbur said genially, “How are you, Kingsblood? Have a good time
tonight? I see you’re like me; you enjoy coming down here and studying
the downtrodden blacks.”

It was from Feathering, then, that Rod Aldwick had his information about
the “agitators”?

Neil grunted, and left him.

Next morning, in the bank, he saw Mr. Feathering talking to S. Ashiel
Denver. Afterward, Mr. Denver summoned him.

“Neil, I want you to do your best to please Mr. Prutt. He’s a very fine
man, and _the_ most correct moral code. He told me how, when he was a
boy in Maine, he once had no penny to put in the Sunday-school
collection, and as soon as he got one, by raking a lawn, he tramped five
miles to give it to the Sunday-school superintendent, a shoe-dealer, who
was so moved by the little fellow’s piety that he gave him a pair of
rubber boots, only slightly shopworn! And of course Mr. Prutt’s fidelity
to those of us who are his fellow-servants in the bank is
unimpeachable.”

“What’s the trouble, S.A.?”

“Well, there have been complaints from certain of our substantial
depositors about our employing a non-Caucasian. But you know us, Neil.
Mr. Prutt and I will do our best for you. But.”

One depositor seemed unoffended by Neil’s presence, and that was Lucian
Firelock, who sent word to him, in his isolated coop, that he would like
to take him out to lunch. Neil was pleased. For two weeks now he had
been creeping off to lunch alone, at some dog-wagon.

They went to the pretentious Oscar’s Montparnasse, a resort of fashion
and of wit which was even more elegant than the Fiesole Room. As they
walked in, Neil thought that the patrons were staring at him with
contempt or hostility, and he felt more uncomfortable for Lucian than
for himself.

They were amiably received, and shown to an excellent table, but he
immediately saw Randy Spruce and Boone Havock peep at him and speak to
the headwaiter. Was he imagining it, or did their own waiter become
impertinent now? He was standing on one foot and sucking his teeth, and
he threw at them, “How’s about some veal chops?”

“That would be all right,” said Lucian, while Neil found himself not
liking to answer. The waiter demanded of him, “What about you, Brother?”

“All right.”

“You boys ought to like ’em. Our best customers do!”

Or was the waiter merely friendly and untrained? Lucian looked annoyed,
and Neil resolved:

——I wouldn’t care, if I were alone. But I’ll never go with any of my
white friends to a restaurant again and subject them to this
embarrassment. And you can’t even explain it to them. They wouldn’t
understand. They’d say “Why don’t you complain?”

                 * * * * *

They did not talk, till the end of lunch, of Negro lore, but of Diantha,
consort of the newspaper-owner, Gregory Marl. With singular force and
simplicity, Diantha tried to dominate all the polite arts in town, from
the little theater to the Foreign Policy Association, and she might have
succeeded if she could only have stopped after three cocktails.

(It is a fact that Neil found himself wondering if it was proper for
_him_ to discuss a white lady like this.)

Then Lucian blurted, “I know you’ve been avoiding the Federal Club. Why
don’t you march right in there?”

“I’m not a member!”

“They couldn’t throw you out.”

“What would it prove?”

“I don’t know,” Lucian admitted. “Maybe it would prove something right
against my whole argument for segregation, which is that there is an
inherent difference between Nigras and whites. Oh, Neil, my good friend,
you have led me into strange heresies, even though I scarcely know you.
Maybe it’s just as well I don’t know you better. I might find myself a
Rosicrucian or a sun-worshipper!”

Neil returned to the bank stepping high.

In mid-afternoon, Mr. Prutt called him in and said, with no fond fussing
this time, “I don’t want you to ever cause talk again by going to lunch
publicly with a white man. Will you give me your promise to that
effect?”

“What? No! Certainly not!”

“I have been very generous, Neil, keeping you on, after the complaints
from our depositors. And have you appreciated it? The other evening you
went to the house of a colored man named Woolcape and met a group of
Negro trouble-makers who are plotting to destroy our entire business
system.”

Neil stood up. “If you believe that, you’ll believe anything. I resign.”

“That will be rather of a relief all round, Kingsblood, and I shall try
to bear you no ill will for having taken advantage of our tolerance.”
Mr. Prutt held out a dry hand to be shaken, but Neil sighed:

“That’s quite all right, sir, but I don’t like to shake hands with white
men. Good day, sir.”

He looked for S. Ashiel Denver, to say good-bye. He saw him hiding in
the vault.

So, with the silver-framed photograph of Vestal and Biddy under his arm,
Neil walked out of the bank, a Negro out of a job.

The final payment on his house was due, but this would be only a couple
of hundred dollars, and he had a bank-balance of $1127.79, and a loyal
wife.

He was sure about the bank-balance.




                                   43


VESTAL, as the heir of a thousand Beehouses, had no more experience with
the men of her family looking for work than with their turning into
Chippewas and Hottentots. But she had been fifteen years old in the
Panic of 1929, and she could remember quite respectable men, graduates
of Yale and Dartmouth, who had lost brokerage houses and courageously
gone on facing life on incomes of less than ten thousand a year.

She was not worried about Neil’s lack of income. It was only a question
of whether he would accept a position, probably at a better salary, in
the Blue Ox National Bank, or favor the smaller Merchants & Miners.

Nor, except when he was a schoolboy and had borrowed a lawnmower from
Uncle Emery Saxinar and set up in the jobbing-gardener business (over
the summer he got three lawns to do, at thirty-five cents apiece, but
there was no future in it, because he squandered his gains on
black-and-white sodas), had Neil himself ever looked for work. His
appointment to the Second National, after college, had come as naturally
as the wrist-watch that was his father’s Commencement gift.

He did not understand that the world simply does not care what happens
to cautious rebels, once they have ceased to play the safe game of
Pruttery. It does not persecute them; it merely sends out word that it
is not at home, when they call to say that they are starving.

Neil would not gratify the Blue Ox National by offering to join it, not
he, for he disapproved of the Havocks. No, he would go help out the
Merchants & Miners and his mousy teller friend, Mr. Topman. But Vestal
said that he must do it grandly; he must take the car. No, no, she was
only going to the women’s club for a little bridge, and she could _just_
as well take the bus.

He breezed into the brown diminutiveness of the Merchants & Miners, but
Mr. Topman, behind the bars, jerked back as though Neil were known to
bite. He reluctantly took Neil to the bank’s president, who once had
praised his tennis at a Heather Club tournament but could not quite
recall him now, and mumbled, “Sorry, doesn’t seem to be any kind of
opening.”

Less confidently—less and less confidently—Neil went on to the other
banks, to a brokerage house, to Scott Zago’s Northern Insurance
Brokerage.

Mr. Zago was grievously busy, or so Neil was informed by Verne Avondene,
the office manager, a courtly old man who had once been rich himself.
Mr. Avondene’s lawn had been one of those mowed by the enterprising
young firm of Neil & Co., and Mr. Avondene had then said to him, “What
great thing in life do you intend to discover? The golden fleece or the
cabin at Innisfree?”

“I’m not sure if I’m going to be a doctor or an aviator,” Neil had said.

It had been Verne Avondene who, as secretary of the Federal Club, had
telephoned to Neil a few days ago that he was resignated. Now, listening
to Neil’s fumbling hints about wanting a job, he looked at Neil as at a
light colored man whose effrontery was amusing. He did not take the
trouble to say No. He just smiled it.

At the Emporium, Levi Tarr said that the accounting and credit
departments were already overstaffed, but would Neil care to be a
salesman? “I wish you’d try it. The pay isn’t much, but you might work
up to a position as buyer, fairly quickly. I’d like to have you, both as
an intelligent man and because I want to get my father to let me use
some Negro clerks. You’d be a wedge.”

Neil was very polite, and lied about “other openings.”

——Me a wedge! Me waiting on old women! Selling ’em ribbons or whatever
it is you do sell ’em.

He went reluctantly to the Power & Light Company, to his father-in-law,
Morton Beehouse, whom he had stringently not seen since New Year’s and
who had stopped the intermittent income he had given to Vestal. To that
oak façade he stated, “I don’t want a job as charity. I think I’m a
fairly good executive.”

“And no doubt you also think that you can support my daughter
adequately, after you have antagonized every decent businessman in town.
Well, let me tell you, if you get any job whatever with this
organization, it will be nothing _but_ charity!”

“Okay,” said Neil as he went.

This was on his second sleety day of job-hunting, and in the afternoon
he drove down to the South End, to talk with a Home Loan Association.
The streets were slippery enough for chains, and he drove into a garage
to have them put on. On the wet floor, gouging the ice off a fender, was
a greasy Negro car-washer in torn overalls, who grinned at him and half
waved his hand. Slowly, aghast, Neil recognized in this gnome the
Captain Philip Windeck whom he had seen at the Jumpin’ Jive, precise and
authoritative in his uniform as a flyer.

“Phil!” he cried, with an affection that surprised both of them.

“How are you, Captain—Neil?” the grub hesitated.

When they had trudged over the necessary bridge-approaches of
conversation, Neil wanted to know: “How about engineering school? Going
to be able to go back?”

“I haven’t had the nerve to tackle it—to start all over again on that
magnificent career that works up through study to officer-and-gentleman
to chamois-rag. I feel too segregated. When I started to look for a job,
I found that my having been an officer was against me. The white
engineers said it had been an impertinence.

“So I took the long trail of the Negroes. I hope you never have to
follow it: city to city—Omaha to Dallas to Seattle to
Pittsburgh—always hearing that in the next town they’re hiring the
brownskins, hustling there by boxcar and finding that they aren’t. I got
lonely for Garnet and the home town. You know it’s my home, too, and I
love the hills and the rivers. So I’m back, and I’ll save up a few
dollars and start off again—school or the trail.

“You know, in every machine shop I had one test demand: will you give me
the chance to set up any job you pick out on a turret lathe? And they
always said the same thing: do you think we’re going to ruin an
expensive rig like that to please a nigger garageman? Oh, well, _so
geht’s_.”

He was looking at Neil resentfully, but when Neil said simply, “Phil,
I’m also a Negro, and I’ve also been fired for it,” the defiance went
out of him and, after most carefully wiping his hand on a piece of
waste, Phil shook hands with his fellow captain, his fellow penniless
job-hunter, his friend.

After work-hours, after Neil had been refused another job, Phil and he
went out for a cup of coffee at an Automobile Row diner, where the
proprietor, with so many greasy-faced customers, had given up trying to
decide which of them were “colored” and which were “white.”

Phil said, “You must have seen my dad, old Cloat Windeck, running an
elevator at the Blue Ox National Building. The poor old boy is
broken-hearted about my decline and fall. He always insisted that I
inherited my flying technique from him—running his elevator up to a
twelve-story altitude.”

And, “I had one fine week in Denver, on my trek. Monday, I got a job
hacking, lovely new purple cab, and I was good. I taught myself to say
‘Yes, sir’ and ‘Yes, ma’am’ perfectly and to take tips just as
cheerfully as I’d taken an officer’s pay. No accidents or rows or
anything, not even a cop looking cross-eyed, but on Tuesday some white
friend kicked to the office about having been driven by an ignorant
colored man, and so I was fired on Wednesday. On Thursday, I got a job
driving a truck. Four white drivers waylaid me and beat me up and set
fire to my truck, and you know, it just didn’t seem worth while
reporting to the office, so I climbed a freight for Cheyenne. ‘America,
I love thy friendships, strong men, camerados, aid each to each in
labors.’ Whitman.”

Neil pondered, “I must meet some white people some day. Phil, when you
get very mad, do you think about machine-guns?”

“I start to, and then I won’t let myself. God, these whites will never
know the patience the colored peoples have shown, all over the world.
It’s like the patience of God himself.”

Neil had never been able to talk thus, freely, passionately,
romantically, profanely, with Judd Browler or Elegant Eliot Hansen. But
he realized, as he drove home, that his Vestal would welcome Judd or
Eliot, but not Phil Windeck, not the dripping car-washer, not a man
called “Hey you, boy!”

                 * * * * *

He had made the last payment on their house.

“It’s sure-enough ours, forever!” he rejoiced, and they danced through
the blue and maroon living-room, the sunporch, the small crystal and
mahogany dining-room.

“Honestly, Neil, wouldn’t you think it was a perfectly charming house,
even if you had no idea who it belonged to?” she cried with loving
enthusiasm.

“I certainly would!”

It did not seem the moment to inform her that they now had only $767.61
in the bank, with his war pension not large enough to make a vast
difference, and that his masquerade, as a young white gentleman
pretending to be a job-hunting Negro, was losing its romance with
rapidity.

But he had to tell her, in a few days, that he had no prospects of work
whatever.

“I guess you’ll have to help me find something—anything,” he confessed.

Vestal went into action. She let Shirley go, but so gracefully that
Shirley left with a kiss for Biddy and a warm farewell to Vestal as to a
fellow-victim of them guys in Wall Street.

Vestal cut down on their food, rejected the almost obligatory movie,
menacingly eyed Prince’s undiminished appetite, and abruptly told Biddy
that, no, she could not have a pony.

Then they sold the car. In the United States, that is the same as
saying, “Then they sold their four daughters into slavery.”

They got a satisfactory price, in the post-war shortage. But not to own
any sort of car was an acknowledgment of social death, for a Prosperous
American Business Man, for a Busy and Popular Young Matron who was
trying to keep up her rank while her oldest friends were staring at her
as though they had just met her and didn’t think they liked her.

As a substitute for the other gifts which Biddy wanted from moment to
moment, Vestal had bought for her a fifteen-cent book of “comic strips.”
Looking through this enterprising literature, which in America had
replaced the Brothers Grimm and _The Wind in the Willows_, Neil found
that no few of the cartoons dealt with Negro characters, clownish and
vile.

But, in weariness with sermons, he said nothing; he merely stole the
opus from his own daughter and threw it into the furnace and sat down to
a season of agitation about Biddy’s future as a Negro. What school, what
job, what marriage would she have when It was publicly admitted?

He could hear Vestal reprimanding him, “You should have thought of all
this before you went off half-cocked.”

He could hear Wilbur Feathering wallow, “H.w.y.l.y.d.t.m.a.N.?” And how,
he interrogated himself, _would_ he like to have Biddy marry a boy like
Winthrop Brewster?

——Why not, if Win would stand for anything so dictatorial and bouncing
as Biddy! He’s the most charming and intelligent boy I know.

——How incorrigibly the white man I am—Nature’s most devastating
freak, after the earthquake and the bubonic plague; debating whether
Winthrop is as good as his obvious inferiors, and thinking I’m such a
courageous soul for debating it!

Of that debate he did not tell Vestal.

                 * * * * *

When Orlo Vay started off for his optical shop in the morning in his
well-heated car and saw that nigger, Kingsblood, a beggar who hadn’t
even a car or a hired girl, crawl off down the windy street to start his
daily search for a job, and when the fellow stumbled on the
snow-upholstered ice and danced and waved his arms like a human top in
his effort to keep his balance, then Orlo laughed with moral joy.

But Virga, Mrs. Orlo Vay, nervously brought a maple-layer cake across
the Street to Vestal who, as she furiously vacuumed and dusted the
house, did not know whether to feel touched or insulted. For Mrs. Vay
had belonged to a distinctly lower layer in that creamy social cake that
was Sylvan Park—till now she had.




                                   44


VESTAL did not care for this hermit business. She loved parties, all
kinds of parties. She did not hold with sitting around at home and
having noble principles.

Her father, who was one of the most high-minded inventors of civic
duties, who believed that both matrimonial and electric-lighting
contracts were drawn up in Heaven, was nevertheless urging her to leave
her wedded husband, come home, and be divorced. Then she would again be
able to go, panoplied in Caucasian superiority, to evening carnivals
where you ate lobster Newburg and played “Who am I?” If it did not work
out, he promised, he would send her off to live in some scenic locality
where the taint in Biddy was unknown.

When she dropped in to see her father, he looked up from his desk as
though the desk itself were looking up, and said steadily, “Why duck
your fate, Vessy? I have talked it over with your Uncle Oliver and with
Reverend Yarrow, than whom there are no greater believers in the
sanctity of marriage—when it’s a real marriage. But they agree with me
that you cannot look at it as a genuine bond when you were betrayed into
wedlock with a homicidal maniac, a degenerate, or a Negro, and when a
man is more or less all three——We don’t want a divorce from this fella
Kingsblood; we want an annulment.”

“Nuts.”

“What did you say?”

“I said ‘Nuts.’”

“Do you think that’s respectful?”

“I’m extremely fond of Neil. He’s good fun—or he used to be, before he
became a mass-meeting. Besides, I don’t want to let him down.”

“You’re letting me down, aren’t you?”

“Could be.”

“Then you certainly can’t expect me——”

“We don’t. We won’t. We won’t take another cent from you. Besides, Neil
has the refusal of the most wonderful position in——I won’t tell you
anything about it, till it’s made public. Oh, Dad, you don’t want to
persecute me, do you?”

“No, I want to save you.”

Repeat.

                 * * * * *

Elegant Eliot Hansen, whatever he might think of Neil Kingsblood, that
traitor to his class and race, made it clear to Neil’s wife that he,
Eliot, was merely the more loyal to her, and that he stood humbly ready
to serve her with advice, sympathy, petty cash, discussion of the opera,
brotherly handshakes, or anything of his that she could use. That
resourceful willingness, combined with Eliot’s fresh, thin good looks
and his habit of tilting his head at her like a worshipping dachshund,
made him a more dangerous escape for Vestal than you would have thought.

Except for Eliot and Curtiss Havock, the men in what, till a few weeks
ago, had been Neil and Vestal’s “bunch” were not a lecherous lot. They
were solid homecomers who would have been embarrassed in strange
bedrooms and impotent at the sight of a pink valence. They would have
defined “venery” (if they had ever tried to define any words besides
trade-balance, torque, and this-here-Fascism) as “sports of the
hunting-field,” not as “sports of the boudoir.” But Eliot made up for
the timidity of his peers. He was the specialist in goatishness as Judd
Browler was the master of trout flies and Tom Crenway of salad-dressing.
Just to be seen smiling privily with Eliot was enough to give a bored
wife a secondary thrill and an interesting reputation. In the cosmos of
Grand Republic, you can find everything, even if in miniature, and Eliot
Hansen was Casanova and Solomon and the purer parts of the Marquis de
Sade as condensed for newsstand sale in a reprint magazine.

Even to be in Eliot’s house, alone with his wife Daisy, was considered
suggestive, and Vestal found herself there only because she was on the
flower committee of the church, along with Daisy, Pomona Browler and
Violet Crenway. They had tea at Daisy’s and, to their fury, were given
tea at the tea, and as they all disliked one another, they concentrated
on Vestal and hinted that they would be glad to receive any confidences
about her troubles with Neil.

“What’s this I hear—that Neil is going to a bigger bank?” chirruped
Violet, obviously meaning (or so the agitated Vestal suspected), “What’s
the poor zany going to do, now that he’s fired?”

“Is Neil’s leg going to be strong enough for him to play tennis, next
summer?” soothed Pomona, probably meaning “Will he dare to poke his nose
into our dear little club and take a chance on having big, strong,
indignantly family-protective aristocrats like my husband smash that
black, flat, intrusive snout?”

Daisy Hansen probed, “I declare, I’m crazy about your husband. When you
see so much of him, can he possibly go on being just as wonnerful as the
rest of us girls think he is?” and Vestal interpreted this one as “Come
on and tell us about refusing to sleep with that horrible swindler, now
that you’ve found out he’s a—you know.”

Vestal answered all of them with nothing more than a modest presentation
of Neil as the new Apollo with touches of Ajax and St. Sebastian.

Whether the things they said did have these secret meanings, whether
their glee in her tragedy was real or a sick imagining, made no
difference in Vestal’s uneasiness at being investigated, being the
eccentric wife of a Negro, and she felt relieved when Eliot came in with
a humming-bird sound of “What, you girls not getting any cocktails? Come
on, Ves, help me make one.”

The well-appointed butler’s pantry in that select modern residence, with
its special white-enamel miniature refrigerator for ice-cubes, was
Eliot’s private café on the boulevards, and scene of the inception of
many of his happiest seductions, over the swizzle-stick and the slightly
gummy bottle of Italian vermouth. Solemnly pumping up and down the
silver-plated shaker, which had a dent in it from the time Daisy had
thrown it at him, he looked up at Vestal, who was half an inch taller,
and purred, “Have you heard the story yet about the pilot that had a
studio-couch put in his plane?”

“No—I mean yes—I mean I don’t want to hear it!”

“No? You’re missing something good, baby. Say, you remember Bradd
Criley, the lawyer that used to live here—moved to New York?”

“Yes, I knew him.”

“Doc Kelly was in New York here recently, and he says Criley has a real,
sure-enough New York actress for girl-friend now, and does he give her a
good time! He blew her to a bed six feet wide with a sponge-rubber
mattress—baby!”

Eliot referred, with no greater relevance, to soldiers and their amours
in Europe, to a cabin that he owned up the Big Eagle River and that was,
among his friends, in the appalling argot of the day, referred to as a
“love nest.” Vestal concluded that he was trying, with all the subtlety
inherent in the ice-cream business (wholesale), to get over to her the
news that people were still doing it, so why not?

She wanted to choke on a mixture of finding it funny and finding it
atrocious.

——He’d never dare to hint this way if I weren’t married to a colored
gentleman. Now I know Eliot’s regular approach, how he goes to work when
the love-bells tinkle in that boy-sized brain. . . . Mr. Hansen, if you
touch my wrist again, I’m going to sock you over the head with your own
cocktail-shaker.

——You know what’s funny? Borus Bugdoll would do this so much better.
He’s a swine, Borus is, but he’s much more educated than this amateur
barkeep; he’s lived in Harlem.

——I _will_ have this out with Neil—things like this happening all
because of him. I haven’t complained much, but I’ve got to go to town on
the whole business. We’ve got to move away and change our name and I’d
see to it that Neil never pulled the brave-Negro-pioneer junk again. And
this morning I woke up confused and tried to think what crime I’d
committed and then I realized that I’m married to a Negro, that I’m up
against it. Oh, dear God!

Thus, while the delightful Eliot shook and tasted and babbled and
smiled.




                                   45


HAD he not known that to a great many people job-hunting was a heavier
part of life than job-holding; more nervous, more humiliating and
entirely unpaid.

On foot, to save bus fares, he trudged from office building to factory
to warehouse, slipping on the glassy pavements. It had been so cold,
this late February, that the First Duty of the high-minded citizen and
householder—to clean his walks—was reversed, for if he shoveled them
off instead of leaving them in soft lumps of snow for a footing, after
the slightest melting of the snow-banks along them the walks became
sheets of clear ice through which you could see the cement, and on them
everybody in town, practically, broke an ankle or at least sat down hard
and looked around indignant.

As the thermometer was depressed to fifteen below, seventeen below,
twenty-five below, the citizens appeared in voluminous buckled
overshoes, and earmuffs below felt hats, and wished that they had not
yielded to fashion and given away the scrofulous sealskin caps they had
inherited from their warmer and worthier sires.

Chippewa Avenue, the Corso of the town, which had seemed busy and almost
stately in October, was floored with streaky ice, and at each curb was a
low wall of caked and dirty snow turning to a gray barrier over which
you had to climb, after you had unhappily left the warm bus. There were
no crimson awnings now, nor window-displays of summery dresses and red
canoes, but just stoves and flannel and cough-medicine. Grand Republic
had lost the air of a brisk and confidently growing city, and the
buildings seemed low and shabby and scattered, under a drained sky that
would never shine blue again. There were sleds and skis and healthy
children in red caps, but not in the dolorous industrial districts where
Neil looked for work.

Never had he so longed for spring to come again, for the soft air, the
friendly sun. He was like an old man wondering how many more times he
will see the blessed summer.

As he plodded through this limbo of unrelieved gray, from door to
unwelcoming door, he did now and then have an offer of work, but always
of such lowly clerical labor that (or so he thought) to take it would
prejudice his future. “I’m no longer ashamed of any kind of work, but
this would be a bad precedent,” he assured himself, as he trudged on.

Job-hunt—job-hunt—job-hunt—two blocks—cold blocks—job-hunt.

No longer grandly willing-to-accept-an-appointment. No longer
seeking-a-position-with-suitable-advancement. No longer
salary-no-object. Salary a whale of an object! Salary. Money coming in
again—money every week!

Job-hunt, job-hunt, job-hunt, all day, pound the pavements, through the
slush, through the cold, feet sore on lumps of ice, blackening ice, feet
tired in overshoes, tired feet that squushed in snow, to a wretched tune
of job-hunt, job-hunt, job-hunt.

And job-hunt no more as a banker but as a tired Negro who assumed that
he had to live.

When he had warned himself, a month ago, that to be a penniless Negro in
this Christian land would be difficult, that just to get through one day
of the threat and actuality of snubs would be hard, he had not quite
known that it would be hell in the cold, hell in the employers’ insults,
hell in the pocketbook so flat that you took coffee or soup at your
grubby lunch, hell in the screaming tendons of the lame, jarring leg he
had almost lost in defending the freedom of white Americans to refuse
jobs to black Americans.

Even if some day the Government should give him a vastly larger
allowance for having been wounded, he did not think that he could endure
settling down as an idle pensioner, with all life a dreary poor-farm,
and Vestal and Biddy a cautious meagerness beside an ambitionless
loafer.

He asked himself, “Would I have been so brash and announced myself as a
Negro if I had known how hard it would be to get a job without
concealing my race?”

The doubt made him stubbornly angry.

“I couldn’t do anything else. I had to come out. Job-_hunt_. I had to
come out. Job-_hunt_. I had to . . . This leg hurts so, and I am so
cold!”

But with it all, whenever he had to fill out an application blank with
the query “Race?” he put down “colored.”

                 * * * * *

He had, inevitably, asked for work at Wargate’s, but he would not bother
Lucian Firelock, and the stranger in the employment office had nothing
for him but a place as timekeeper at twenty-six dollars a week—an old
man’s post.

The stories that Vestal’s friend, Mrs. Timberlane, had told about
Fliegend, the toy-maker, sent Neil there, and the old man welcomed him,
but there seemed to be nothing in the toy-factory that he could do. He
realized that though he had been assuming that he was a well-trained and
valuable member of society, he had no skills outside of camping and
organizing golf-tournaments and working in a bank. Even in the bank, he
had no knowledge outside of routine tasks, and he had been an ornament
in the Second National chiefly because he had a smile and was the
son-in-law of Morton Beehouse and was so unquestionably conservative and
Gentile and white.

He could, he considered, steer a canoe, but not so well as any Indian;
he could handle a car, but not so well as any taxi-driver; and while his
technique in cooking muskalonge steaks on an open fire was sound, it was
not commercial.

He had a new view of Sophie and Ash. With all his fondness for them, he
had been a little condescending. He admitted now that while he might
conceivably starve, Sophie was very competent, thank you, even in a
white world, as nurse and as singer, and Ash Davis could serenely make
some sort of rough way not only as chemist but as a packer, musician,
waiter, cook, linguist, teacher, and probably, Neil sighed, as a
Shakespearean actor or the chairman of the board of a steel company.

When he next saw Sophie, with Ash and Martha, it was with noticeably
increased humility that this simple child of midwestern nature asked
these sophisticated big-city dwellers where he could get a job.

“Child, I’ve got to take you in hand. You’d do all right for yourself if
you’d ever been around,” sighed Sophie. “You go down to Mayo Street and
grab off a fat job with Vanderbilt Litch. He’s an undertaker and an
insurance-man and a money-lender and a very smart egg, and the only spy
and tattler in our Bronzeville, and maybe he’d pay big to have a high
yalla who is kin to the local squirearchy working for him.”

“Oh—I—don’t—think—so,” said Neil.

To himself he vowed, “I won’t go down that far,” and then, considerably
shocked, understood that Mayo Street and Negro businessmen still _were_
far-down, to him, and that Hack Riley had been right in scolding that he
was playing at being a Negro.

But he was not playing, even if he was slightly confused as to what he
wanted to do, in the unceasing job-hunt.

                 * * * * *

He had tried the printing-plant of his neighbor, Tom Crenway, who
brushed him off. At the Laverick Flour Mills, his old poker companion,
Jay Laverick, offered him a drink and inquired whether there was any
good love-making to be had on Mayo Street, but when Neil asked for work,
Jay shouted, “You? A job here? Hell, no! Matter of principle not to hire
you folks.”

Then he was employed by the Beaux Arts, but that was all chance.

He was about to walk past that stylish and expensive “women’s specialty
shop”—dresses, perfume in gold and crystal flasks, costume jewelry,
sweaters like the breath of a virtuous baby—when it occurred to him to
go in and try his former golf partner, Harley Bozard, the proprietor, a
plump, active, eyeglassed man who was proud of being recognized at the
21 Club in New York, and who knew something about pictures.

Neil had refused to take a salesman’s job from Levi Tarr, but he was
still naive enough to suppose that it would be more soothing to sell
Nylon stockings to the wives of large lumbermen, on the fawn-colored
carpets of the Beaux Arts, than to gingham-clad housewives on the
clattering bare floors of Tarr’s Emporium.

Grand Republic was small enough so that, except at factories like
Wargate’s, the owner of a business did his own hiring instead of leaving
it to a Ph.D. with aptitude tests instead of eyes. Harley Bozard
welcomed Neil in his silk-paneled office, with greetings manly but
strictly refined:

“How are you, how are you, old man? Haven’t seen you in a month of
Sundays. What are you doing now?”

“That’s what I’d like to find out, Harley. You know I’m fairly good at
figures——”

“Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait!”

Harley waved his china cigarette-holder in a magic circle and closed his
eyes in holy dread, for he on honey dew had fed and been demoniacally
possessed of an Idea. He looked like an advertising man, like an
interior decorator. “Neil! I’ve never developed my sports department
adequately; always been waiting for a big Idea-Man, and maybe you could
be him! Put the department in charge of a great golfer, great
tennis-player, great skier, great fisherman, with a record as a
high-class war hero—oh, boy! ‘Captain Kingsblood brings you the breath
of the great outdoors—his expert sports-advice at your service!’ It’s a
natural! I see you as buyer and head, expanding the department to suit
yourself, but I suppose you’d better start in learning the technique of
selling, and during your apprenticeship I don’t know that I could pay
you over forty a week—no, we’ll raise it to forty-five! But I don’t see
why you shouldn’t be making two hundred a week before long, and maybe a
partner! Neil, it’s a go!”

Neil said, yes, it was a go, and went out to telephone to Vestal, “I’ve
got it—I’ve got a job!”

“Oh, darling, I am so pleased. You have had the hardest time and—What
is the job?”

“Sort of reorganizing the sports department for Harley Bozard.”

“Oh.”

“Of course, just at first, I’ll have to start in as a sort of clerk——”

“Oh.”

It was the flattest sound he had ever heard. Not much more buoyant was
her query, “What did he say about hiring—uh—colored help?”

“What? By golly, he never spoke of it, and I plumb forgot I _was_
‘colored help.’”

“And you aren’t, either! You’re the wonderful Captain K. and my only
love, and I’m sorry I sounded unenthusiastic. I was a bit surprised,
that was all. Harley is such a back-slapper and shoulder-blade tickler.
But I’m sure it will be splendid.”

Neil was not at all sure of that, now. He remembered that he had never
particularly liked Harley. The man had been to him only a mass of tweeds
bending over an ill-conducted mashie. And Neil realized that he was not
a great-enough soldier or explorer to be sought out by a congregation of
worshipping virgins for inspired counsel about lunch-baskets.

——Not on the level? I should worry about that. I’m at work again.
That’s important!

                 * * * * *

He went to work on Monday. In the newspaper on Sunday there had been a
box in the Beaux Arts page-advertisement confiding that Mr. Harley
Bozard had the honor of announcing that Captain Neil Kingsblood, the
famous soldier and sportsman, had consented to associate himself with
the distinguished Beaux Arts English Games & Sports Shop, and would be
pleased to give all lovers of out-o’-doors the benefit of his experience
in many lands.

On Sunday evening, Cope Anderson, the chemist, and the Reverend Lloyd
Gadd, Congregational minister, telephoned to Neil that Harley Bozard and
his chiefs of staff were buzzing about town, whispering, “Come in and
get waited on by our Gentleman Negro and see the fun. Ask him any
questions you want to.”

On his first morning at the Beaux Arts, Neil was not received in any
office by any Harley, but at the damp, slaty employees’ entrance, by a
greasy-haired misanthrope in an alpaca coat, who said bitterly, “You got
to check in on time and punch the clock same as anybody else,
Kingsblood. Report to the sports department and Miss Garr will show you
how to make out a sales-slip and try to teach you, if you can learn it,
how to be respectful to the customers. Now here’s your locker, and for
God’s sake keep it locked. And stay strictly away from other folks’
lockers. And how the hell they ever let one of you dinges dress with
decent people is beyond me, but don’t you for one minute think that if
the management has gone haywire, we boys have!”

His look dared Neil to hit him.

Miss Garr, Neil’s instructor, was a thin and indignant lady, and she
kept Neil waiting for ten minutes while she finished her conversation
with three other salesladies. They peeped at Neil and giggled, and he
heard the word “nigger.” When Miss Garr came to tutor him in the higher
mathematics of sales-slips and the art of distinguishing a canoe-cushion
from a tennis-ball, she kept shrinking back from his contaminating
touch.

Negroes do learn silence.

                 * * * * *

If the sales-force did not welcome Neil’s starred expertness, that
monster known as the Female Buying Public welcomed him with writhing and
with humorous squeals. It seemed to him that every woman in Grand
Republic, including a few that he knew, dashed in to peer at him and to
say things that ostensibly had to do with sports but that actually
signified, “Are you really a Negro and do you really have these superior
sex-powers that I’ve heard about and is there anything I can do besides
look skittish and be ready to yell for help?” Their panting bosoms,
their fixed looks, their horrible little wriggling shoulders spoke a
superstitious and obscene language.

They stared at his Negro hair (sorrel-red), at his Negro face (of
winter-tanned morocco), his big Negro hands (terracotta and
freckled-sown), his long Negro legs and his powerful Negro middle. And
since a Negro is always thick-witted and enjoys being laughed at, they
discussed his funny traits not too far from his hearing.

They asked him a menagerie of questions. Do you use a fly for
salmon-fishing in Nova Scotia, and which fly? Could Joe Louis have
beaten Jack Dempsey? Did he know anything about the tennis-rating of my
cousin, William V. Getch of the South Milwaukee Country Club? Are
Chinese checkers anything like Mahjong? How much did a chess set
cost—oh, you know—just any chess set? How much would it cost per week
for family of self, husband, two boys (aged 9½ and 11), one daughter (6,
going on 7), and father-in-law who enjoys pitching horseshoes, at the
Nippisag Fishing Camp on Lake Winnigigonabash next summer, and will the
rates be higher than in 1939?

But the question that really passed through the guarded portal of his
ears was that of a don’t-try-to-pull-that-on-_me_ matron of forty, who
jeered at him in a voice like a cow-bell, “I suppose all you colored
G.I.’s were just crazy to get at them little French girls!”

And one old young woman, not of reasonable architecture, insisted on his
showing sweaters to her, though they were not in his department, and
leered at him as she smoothed an astragal which he now suspected to be
partly constructed of handkerchiefs. Still he did not vomit.

When he had been a white banker, a person to be careful with, he had
never encountered women who reeked like these. He warned himself that
they were not normal; they were only the sort who skittered to see the
dark house of a murder. But he was not hopeful about his future as a
freak attraction.

A good many of them pressed too close to him, and a good many more
flinched away when he merely held out a croquet mallet. Whatever their
physical currents, they agreed in never calling him Mister. He was
Captain, he was Uh, he was, in Chinese fashion, Say Look.

As dismaying as the women were their infrequent husbands, who could
distinctly be heard protesting, “No, I don’t want to talk to the
bastard,” and worse than these was dear old friend Harley Bozard,
hovering, mentally hand-rubbing. And more disheartening than Harley were
the ex-privates with their girls, rejoicing in the abasement of a former
officer and gloating, “Say, Cap, you know anything about fitting the
girl-friend here with a pair of ski-pants? I want you to be doggone
careful about the fit around her fanny, get me?”

At various painful times he saw Violet Crenway, Rose Pennloss and
Diantha Marl, curving round the crowd to avoid his department and
holding up their spiritual skirts as they sniffed past. And when he was
looking after Diantha, he saw Major Rodney Aldwick, standing by one of
the big white pillars, erect, arms folded, watching him, not sneering
but just amused. Neil knew then the knee-loosening inferiority that
comes to the virtuous slave and turns him to raging murder.

But his rage faded into gray. Sell sweaters and fishing-lines all his
life? He was not angry but only washed-out when, at home, Vestal met him
with a frigid “Well?”

                 * * * * *

The sensation-licking crowd did not continue all week. After two days,
Neil had to spend a good deal of his time leaning against a counter,
which was sharp against his legs.

Saturday morning, Harley Bozard came to fuss, “Can’t you do a little
better selling your customers? I notice a lot of ’em came in, thanks to
the generous way in which we supported you by our advertising, but your
sales-report is most unsatisfactory. You got to think less about how
handsome you are, Kingsblood, and more about getting the sales-message
over to the public.”

Neil went home to a Vestal who was not fretful now, but savage.

“I hear you’re thoroughly enjoying chumming up to a lot of loud-mouthed
young women at the store, laughing with them and humiliating me by
talking to them about me!” she observed.

“Now who——”

“Somebody we both know perfectly well told me. I won’t tell you who. She
was sorry for me. She saw you in the store, all right.”

“But _you_ didn’t come to see how I was getting along.”

“I most certainly did not!”

“It didn’t occur to you that it may not be easy for me to learn how——”

“Oh, for Heaven’s sake, don’t go getting high-minded on me about the
social injustices of sock-selling, too!”

He walked out, with no words. He did not come home for dinner. He headed
for the arms of Sophie Concord.

He walked through the cold to Mayo Street, and a good deal of his
exile’s fury against Vestal was softened.

——It’s been hard on her. She really cares for what she calls “social
position.” As I guess I did, once. Maybe it would be better for her if
she quit me and took Biddy and went back to her father. He’d retire, and
move to California with her, maybe, and nobody would know. Why should
she and Biddy have to take up my fight? It might be better so, before
Vestal gets any more irritated, says anything worse. Dear Vestal, I did
love you a lot!

                 * * * * *

Sophie’s tenement-house was like a cheerful little hotel, with whole
Negro families camped out in one room and making merry over a pot of
gumbo. In a hall-room, preaching aloud to an audience of himself, was
Elder Mies, a black and meaty freelance prophet who was at once a
cobbler and the proprietor of The Inspiration Temple of the Divine
Assembly of High Holiness, which did not happen to have any
meeting-place just now. Along the hall, as Neil came in at six, airy
gamblers of the eventide, who by day were porters and grain-loaders,
were displaying their fawn overcoats and green hats with feathers.

When Sophie sang out “Come in” to his knock, he lumbered into her one
lone housekeeping-room. He had been there before, but only for uneasy
moments at parting.

The room was square, on a corner, a mixture of poverty and reminiscent
luxury. The studio-couch was a rickety cot covered with a scarlet-dyed
deerskin, edged with worn and somewhat ratty shreds of leopard, taken
from a defunct theatrical costume. A two-burner kerosene stove, a
nurse’s cap, a miniature city of cosmetic bottles, and the major
writings of John Dewey were on a long table. On the wall were a Vermont
valley painted by Lucioni, a quite outrageous abstractionism, the
photograph of a Negro girl, naked and shameless and shining, and a huge
calendar presenting the portrait of a kitten in a basket, with the days
of the month marked with a nurse’s notations. In the midst of this
litter of a woman too busy for housewifery, too interested in everything
alive to arrange her surroundings so that they would set off her own
loveliness, Sophie sat buffing her nails, at a dressing-table made out
of a golden-oak filing-cabinet.

She rose to look at Neil, serene, unafraid, as tall as Vestal, a loose
robe of gold-shot purple open on her autumnal brown bosom. She glanced
at him more sharply as she saw how he swayed; she murmured, “Ah, poor
baby!” and held out her arms, and he rested his cheek on the smoothness
of her breast.

As they sat trustingly on the couch, arms about each other, she spoke
tenderly: “Sweet, it’s been hell, at that goldfish shop, hasn’t it! I
stayed away, for fear I’d make it worse for you. But you’re as far down
now as you’ll ever go. It’s the first time you’ve had to face the
evil-eyes. They won’t be able to hurt you again. Oh, I could love you,
now. But—you said it yourself. There isn’t enough jungle left in me.

“I’ve sold all that, to be a missionary. But so have you. So kiss me and
go home. Oh, I do get so tired of being so blasted virtuous and
hard-working. So tired!”

It had not occurred to this quite typical male that Sophie could also be
discouraged. With a certain surprise, he put her head on his shoulder
instead of collapsing on hers, and petted her, “You’re all in.”

She changed from divine mother to child. She whimpered, “Why wouldn’t I
be? . . . Why do you love that woman so much?”

“Oh, well, for one thing, she’s so beautiful—you said it yourself—like
a race horse.”

“She hasn’t got legs like that!” Sophie spoke demurely, and stretched
out one bronze, bright, stockingless leg like a ballet-dancer, curling
her toes.

“She does all right!”

“Seriously, why?”

“The word I think of for Vestal is ‘gallant.’ She’s square; she tried to
give everybody a square deal.”

“Including herself!”

“Why not?”

“Listen, my sturdy little man, I’m not complaining because you cherish
Vestal. If she’s going to take you away from me, as she apparently goes
right on doing, I _want_ her to be good. I don’t want to be frozen out
by an absolute marmoset.” Sophie nestled against his shoulder. “All
right, all right. She’s the wonder of the ages. The only trouble with
her is, she went to school instead of getting educated. She’s never
delivered a baby in a taxicab, or had to chase a café-owner out of her
room without losing the café job. Maybe she’ll be all right for you
and——”

Sophie paused; her voice then was, at first, almost timid.

“Neil, I’d really like to know her, some day. I don’t suppose that’ll be
possible, but bless her and bless you, and you stick to her . . . you
congenital white banker! . . . _you Yale man!_”

“Why, I didn’t go to Yale.”

“_Oh God!_”

“But Sophie, suppose she won’t stay with me?”

“Then make her stay, damn it! Don’t come to old Aunty Concord for advice
to the love-lorn! There’s too much of that highly inflammable girl
Sophie around this place. Go on back to your Pilgrim mother, Vestal, and
may you be elected to the Sons of the American Revolution, you
_schlemiehl_!”

He kissed her with quietness and propriety. As he walked home he most
ungratefully did not think of Sophie or Vestal or any other woman, but
of a good, clean, dirty fight with men like Harley Bozard and Wilbur
Feathering and Major Rodney Aldwick, D.S.C.

When he came in, Vestal said gravely, “I think I behaved very badly to
you, and I’m sorry—I think I am. But I don’t like the way things are
going. There has to be some change.”

The newly grown-up Neil answered her with an unemphasized kiss and no
chatter. He had to be about his business of swords and trumpets.




                                   46


ALL Sunday he brooded on his Beaux Arts job, his week of humiliation as
a large crested bird in a very small gilded cage surrounded by tittering
bird-fanciers. He determined that as a Negro worker he would neither
drift nor put up with insolence. He would look for the pattern and learn
it.

He did not punch the time-clock on Monday morning, but walked into
Harley’s private office and said breezily, “That certainly was a phony
job, Harley. Let me know, next summer, anything I can do to improve your
golf, and good luck till then!”

It was a time for a Negro, even one so newly born, to be defiant or be
broken. The first considerable race-riot since the end of World War II
had exploded, in Tennessee; the typical war of uniformed policemen
against terrified plain tanned citizens and their women and children.

It seemed to Neil that he would have considerable solace if he could
have one more good lunch before he started the cold job-hunt again. He
marched into the Fiesole Room at the Pineland, stating to himself, “I’m
not looking for any trouble here, none at all; I’m just standing on my
rights.” In other words, he was looking for trouble, and doing a dance
on his rights.

Drexel Greenshaw seemed to hesitate about admitting him to that Pompeian
sanctity but, merely nodding, he escorted Neil to a third-rate table by
a back pillar, the kind that was reserved for farmers, small-town
ministers, saints, and such riffraff. But the colored waiter served Neil
quickly and politely, and Neil contentedly thought about ordering a
large cigar. Then Glenn Tartan, manager of the hotel, had materialized
out of some garlanded Orient jar, and was standing beside him,
pleasantly inquiring, “Was everything all right? Service all right?”

Neil said heartily, “Why, fine, Glenn, just fine.”

“Then please note that we have fully complied with the law. Our regular
clientele complain vigorously about you colored gentlemen coming in here
and spoiling their lunch, but we have served you. And now may I ask you
never to come in here again?”

Glenn went away quickly.

While Neil was still gasping, the Drexel Greenshaw who had so recently
been so humble to the young banker, Mr. Kingsblood, moved up and said
blankly, “Let me give you a little friendly advice, Neil. You ought to
get a steady job and be humble to white folks and know your place and
not step out of it, and stay away from exclusive places like this. The
whites have the power, and it’s much wiser not to antagonize them. I
know exactly how to get along with them; I never have the slightest
trouble. I’ll never lose my job—as you did, at the Beaux Arts.”

“How did you know that?”

“We Negroes have to know everything, in order to get along in a mean
white world. So get wise to yourself, boy, and stay where you belong.
Maybe, in time, if you get a reputation as a sensible darky, your
daughter will go ahead of you, as my daughters have, and be able to get
a nice clean job. There’s certainly got to be a change in the colored
position, _but this isn’t the time for it_. All this revolution talk is
wicked and foolish—and by the way, I want you to quit putting a lot of
rebellious ideas in Phil Windeck’s head. He’s to be my son-in-law, and I
don’t want you corrupting him!”

“Me cor——”

“Yes, sure. You been acting very bad. Neil, it don’t make no difference
what you were _once_. Now, you’re nothing but another colored man. Play
safe, like me. Now scram. I’m taking a chance on even being seen talking
to you.”

——My daughter, my shining, light-footed Biddy, in a “nice, clean
job”—maybe in Rod Aldwick’s kitchen!

                 * * * * *

On Sophie’s insistence, he finally went down to Mayo Street, to see Mr.
Vanderbilt Litch, who was a Prominent Colored Elk and who did very well
with undertaking, insurance and roulette. Mr. Litch, in a
scarlet-and-chromium office with a smart colored stenographer, frigidly
explained that he did not care to employ a white man who only pretended
to be a Negro in order to get in on the policy racket.

——Well, I’m glad to know that some of the colored boys have reached
such a high point of culture that they can snub you just as quietly as
Uncle Oliver Beehouse!

He did find, in the Five Points, enough spare-time bookkeeping to keep
him from starving, and that with the most successful two Negro
businessmen in town: Axel Skagstrom of the Gunflint Trail Canoe
Corporation, and Albert Woolcape of the Ne Plus Ultra Laundry, men who
did not belong in the Feathering picture of the Shiftless Darky.

Mr. Skagstrom, who was married to a white Finnish woman and who was half
Swede, quarter Negro, quarter Chinese, with traces of Choctaw and
Mexican—which made him one-hundred per cent. African—manufactured
excellent canoes. He was a pious Lutheran and he disapproved of what he
called “all this vice and laziness that you find among so many colored
folks.” He felt pretty well about his generosity in employing as many
Negroes as whites in his factory. He was a typical American businessman,
except that he was less interested in race-questions than most of them,
and he was glad to have Neil step into his accounting-room every
Friday—at cut rates.

Albert Woolcape was the brother of John, the uncle of Ryan, but no
friend of either. They were too radical for him. In his busy laundry on
Chicago Avenue, he was willing to employ Negroes, but as most of his
customers were white, he insisted that all of his drivers and collectors
be white also. When he took on Neil for part-time accounting, Albert
granted, “I guess maybe this race-ideal stuff is all right, but a fellow
has got to think of himself first, ain’t he? Look at the difference
between my bank-account and John’s! And that Ryan, with all his
education, got nothing but a job on a farm!”

Working on Albert’s and Skagstrom’s books, with the telephone always
querulous just behind him and the light never quite right, Neil felt
exactly as he had in his hours of book-work at the Second National,
except that his two employers were more anxious to please him, as one
who, after all, might be “white.” He was not sure but that he preferred
the suspiciousness of Mr. Vanderbilt Litch.

When he indignantly reported his employers’ distrust of Negroes to Ash
and Martha, they laughed. Said Ash, “You’re a promising ethnologist. The
only thing you’ve missed is the whole point. We’ve told you right along
that there isn’t any difference. It’s only you and radical Harlem who
insist that everything in ebony must be better than anything in
birchwood. Quit being a race-fancier! Besides, there’s a lot of our race
and a lot of our white friends who believe that the way for us to be
popular and urged to join the Federal Club is to have a conspicuous
number of our boys who become rich and own apartment houses. True, the
Irish and Jews have tried the method for centuries and failed at it, but
what of that!”

                 * * * * *

Neil had had only a month of job-hunting, but he had stumped his way to
so many places that it seemed a year. Through it all, they had their
home, sacred and secure—and paid for! To Neil it was the more
important, now that he had no office, no club, no houses of old-time
friends where he could be sure of welcome, and he did not think that,
without it, Vestal would have been able to stand by him.

On most evenings, they stayed home, and when they did not, they usually
regretted it. As:

Louise Wargate, Mrs. Webb Wargate, had always seemed to Neil
traditionally the Great Lady; gentle, literate, thoughtful, not
altogether human. (She was born an Osthoek of Utica, and met Webb when
he was in Harvard. Her position was so ducal that she could afford to
look like a farm-wife: in gardening-gloves, freckled, without lipstick.
We are on a high plane here, and know nothing of Nurse Concord or Albert
the Laundryman or white cottages bought on the installment-plan.) As the
mother of his old playmate, Ackley, Mrs. Wargate had been to Neil an
even smile, a cool hand, and chocolate peppermints in a silver box, but
never singing or cookies or sliding down hill, never.

Now, when Neil and Vestal were in a social concentration camp, they had
from Mrs. Wargate a civil invitation to dinner, the first they had ever
had from her. Neil, after a false dawn of exultation, decided that they
had been invited because Louise Wargate felt guilty over not having done
for the Negroes all that she had intended when she had first encouraged
Webb to hire more of them at the plant. Neil was beginning to see a good
deal of that uncomfortable guilt among the worthier clergy and legal
gentlemen.

Vestal said, “I don’t think I’m very crazy to go.”

“I’m not, either. It’ll be like tea at the morgue. But I do think we
ought to recognize her effort. I do know it’s been hell on you, getting
dropped out of everything that we used to consider decent society——”

“_Used_ to?”

“——and having to become a hermit. Won’t you believe that I’ve suffered
about you, in my dumb way?”

“Oh, I know. And I don’t want to be a Christian martyr chanting. I’ll
learn to take it. Only sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be better for
you if——Neil, isn’t there some awfully nice colored gal that could
help you more than I can?”

“Conceivably, but I have dedicated my life to you, and I’d like to try
and keep that dedication straight.”

She beamed, though what she said, since this was Grand Republic, was
“Okay, Romeo, let’s go!”

                 * * * * *

The Webb Wargate house, on Varennes Boulevard overlooking the Sorshay
Valley, was a red-roofed Touraine chateau, larger than Bertie
Eisenherz’s manorial Hillhouse, and with more ells, eaves, gables,
ornamental chimneys, portes-cochères, near-marble near-fauns, fountains
containing nothing but old hand-bills, flying buttresses, stationary
buttresses, raped intaglios, hanging gardens, weather vanes, xats, and
Keep-er-Klosed Kasement Windows, but with less books and less pictures.
Altogether high-class and European, with pioneer Yankee-lumberman
trimmings.

Neil and Vestal were received with gray-silk courtesy by Mrs. Wargate
and with jittery incredulity by Webb, who as usual looked like the
Second Bookkeeper and Gravedigger, like a saver of paper clips and
rubber bands—inquiring but mute, and always apprehensive lest somebody
take it away from him.

They had cocktails in the Small Drawing Room, and as Webb passed them to
the guests, he was a little taut, as though he were not at all sure but
that these ravening black fieldhands might bite him. He had played
bridge with Vestal’s father for centuries, but he seemed to be saying,
“I know so little about you colored people that I don’t even know
whether it is considered etiquette to offer you a cocktail.”

The Wargate dining-room was vast, with exposed beams painted in gold and
crimson, and a flooring of figured tiles. They were waited upon by an
aged Swedish woman who evidently had been prewarned and held out
platters to Vestal and Neil as though she were handling baskets of hot
coals. The food was all hardnesses covered with floury sauces. And there
were no other guests. Son Ackley and his consort were so conspicuously
absent and unmentioned that they were overwhelmingly present.

The talk tried to keep itself away from the subject of Negroes. It was
Vestal who deliberately yanked up the curtain.

“You know, it’s been funny, the number of confused people who assume
that somehow I have magically become a Lady of Color—oh, yes, people we
all know, who are bright enough to sign checks and go round in
eighty-four. The poor Junior Leaguers are in a quandary, one of the
deepest quandaries this side of the Grand Canyon. They don’t like to
kick out the daughter of Morton the Magnificent, and maybe the easiest
thing for the poor darlings would be to disband the League. Don’t you
think so, Mr. Wargate?”

“Yes—yes—I see how you mean,” faltered Webb.

He had a suspicion that she was being humorous, and however powerful
Webb Wargate was at selling wallboard and plastic brushes in Chicago and
Venice and on Mount Kaimakischalan, he always had vertigo and pains
behind the eyeballs in the presence of humor. But he also had his duty
as a leading member of the National Association of Manufacturers, and
now that these guinea pigs had themselves brought up the embarrassing
subject of vivisection, he felt that he ought to encourage them, he
ought to Get in Touch with Changing Conditions. He turned quakingly to
Neil:

“Tell me—I’m perhaps inexcusably ignorant—but is the desire for
political participation making much headway among the, uh, colored
population?”

“I haven’t much information on it, sir, but I imagine so.”

“You mean, from your own personal experience, you would, on the whole,
be inclined to think so?”

“Yes, I—well—I might say that I think I have been somewhat aware of
it.”

The conversation never rose again to such dramatic heights.

As they drooped down the Italian marble front steps, Vestal sighed to
Neil, “Well, there’s another place we’ll never go again.”

“Looks that way.”

“Who cares? Webb’s grandfather used to saw wood for my grandfather, back
in Maine.”

“Is that so?”

“No, but it might be.”

“I wonder how the Wargates ever made so much money and got such a big
house?” said Neil.

“I don’t. I wonder what makes them think Brussels sprouts are a
food. . . . Oh, sweet, Webb wasn’t trying to highhat you. He’s just a
smug, ignorant man. He doesn’t matter—none of them matter—just you and
me.”




                                   47


HE was alone in the house, after the daily job-hunt. Vestal and Biddy
and Prince were out at the Timberlanes’, one of the houses where they
would not be resented nor yet greased with the tactful kindness that was
worse than jeering. He stood at the western window of the sun-room,
meditating.

Why not flee to a metropolis or to the wilderness, and seek anonymity?
No. Vestal and Biddy (and Prince) were too gregarious for any forest
clearing, and New York or Chicago would be too hard and rectangular and
grim. A flat would seem too constricted, after this house where there
was space to dance and freedom to yell and this view up Eisenherz Hill
in the last forgiving light of the frozen March afternoon.

Against the gold-leaf of the sunset, Hillhouse was a proud brick hulk
with limestone-framed Tudor Windows, and a flat, balustraded roof
instead of the swoops of the Wargates’ roofs and rooflets. The pines on
the hillside were against an apple-green strip of sky with a tapestry of
apricot and purple draped above it. Pines and sunset recalled to him old
canoe journeys on the Northern lakes so near to this, his own city. If
his one-time friends here seemed to hate him, at least they gave him
that much attention, while in Megalopolis there would be no one even to
wish him bad luck. No, they would brave it out in Grand Republic.

He remembered that once he had longed to be able to buy Hillhouse. Then,
he was to have become a super-banker. Biddy would be coming home from
Farmington and Bryn Mawr, and Hillhouse would be full of her young set,
Wargates and Sparrocks and Prutts and Drovers. Yes, he marveled, once he
had longed for all this! Well, he had a livelier fight now. He would be
lucky if he could keep the cottage. But to guarding that, he swore, he
would devote the patience and ferocity of his Chippewa ancestors, whose
bark lodges must have stood up on that hillside, only a hundred years
ago.

Vestal came in gaily, started supper. They were well content. Neil
informed Biddy, after supper, that once upon a time there were some
extraordinary people called the Ojibways, or Chippewas, who used to camp
right up there on our hill, and right here where we’re sitting, maybe
they used to fight with bows and arrows among the rocks. Biddy was so
entranced that she brought all her dolls and her velocipede and the
slightly mutinous Prince to sit in a half-circle and listen to him.

While Vestal was putting Biddy to bed, under martial law, he wandered
again into the sun-room. In the bold moonlight, the shadows of branches
were inky on the snow-patches that were webbed with Biddy’s tracks. It
was all his, his and Vestal’s and Bid’s. Here they would stay, every
evening, all their lives.

Yet they did venture out once more, to an interracial and tolerant and
fiercely intellectual party given by Diantha Marl, at Brian Angle’s
studio. After that, they really did stay home.

Diantha, as the wife of Gregory Marl, who owned both of the newspapers
in Grand Republic, was a social leader. But all on her own she was, at
forty-five, an authority on China, which she had never seen, James
Joyce, whom she had never read, the qualifications of all political
candidates, particularly of those who were entirely unqualified, and the
sulfa drugs, which she ever so faintly mixed up with vitamins. As a
Talking Woman, she could currycomb a private audience as violently as
any leaderess in New York or Washington.

On Race-Relations, she was tremendous. She had once sat down at the same
luncheon table with a colored woman, and had been so kind to her that
the poor soul had talked up just like a human being. (There had been
sixteen other people at that table, and the object of Diantha’s charity
had been a professional lecturer for the Nigerian Anthropological
Foundation.) Whenever Negroes were mentioned, Diantha always told this
story of her own tolerance; a hundred times she had told it.

Her husband’s papers were very liberal about Negroes, and stated
editorially that there was no reason why they should not be employed at
any work whatsoever, provided they could do it as well as any white man.

These newspapers had never employed any Negro.

Diantha was giving the party to show that whites and Negroes can mix
socially without any harm, but she was not so reckless as to have it
right in her own home. She had borrowed the studio of Brian Angle, who
was the local art-world and who still went on believing that Diantha was
really going to order that portrait of herself.

Nor was she so offensive to the social code as to invite any such
ill-conditioned Negroes as John Woolcape, who was merely janitor in this
same Mermaid Tavern Building in which was Mr. Angle’s studio. The
Mermaid was half-timbered, or anyway it looked half-timbered, and it
contained a photographer’s establishment, a music shop, a twittering of
voice teachers, and Rita Kamber’s Vanguard Bookshop.

The Negroes whom Diantha did decide to invite could be counted upon for
fairly civil conduct. They were Ash Davis and Neil Kingsblood.

She had also summoned Martha Davis, whom she had never met. But, by
refusing to come, the woman had shown how ungrateful these darkies
really are. Diantha bore up gallantly and explained to everybody who was
interested, “Probably it’s just as well she’s not coming. You never know
what kind of illiterate hoydens these half-educated colored climbers
like this Davis will have picked up along the way.”

Diantha was surprisingly cordial in the social _habeas corpus_ which she
issued to Neil, by whom, when he had been a white banker, she had been
bored, but who had now become as interesting as Gargantua the gorilla,
and in the same way. Neil had not wanted to go, but Diantha had insisted
with pretty petulance, “Don’t be silly! Don’t tell me you’re going to
miss this chance to do something for your race. Why, you’ll meet the
best people in town, Kingsblood!”

Vestal said, “You bet I’m going with you, Neil! Think I’d have Diantha
probing into what she’d call our ‘love-life’ without being there to
protect you?”

                 * * * * *

In the long studio, which was furnished chiefly with stacks of unsold
pictures, there were sixty guests. They who did not know Neil and Ash
made several unfortunate errors in picking out the Negroes at whom they
were to stare, and caused Colonel Crenway to go home early and
indignant.

Their host-by-pressure, Brian Angle, was a young man with a tentative
beard and too much mother, who was nevertheless not a bad painter. He
considered Neil undistinguished, but he told Ash that he looked like a
stern and youthful doge. Lorenzo Gristad, a dark and nervous little man,
a photographer, whispered to Ash, “These white guys can’t do a thing in
the world for you except give you a job, can they?”

Dr. Cope Anderson, the chemist, and Peace, his wife, astonished the
slummers, the rich illiterates, by talking to Neil and Ash as they would
to any other reasonable human beings, and so did Dr. and Mrs. Kamber and
Lloyd Gadd, the Congregational minister, though they still thought of
Negroes as people whom you meet on committees. But fifty out of the
sixty guests just watched Ash and Neil and waited for them to do
something dirty or funny.

Nor was Neil cheered by Vestal’s first meeting with Ash.

She had never encountered him; she had heard of him only as a man whom
Neil respected. All she saw now, in the man with whom Neil shook hands
so affectionately, was what she described to herself as “a quite
nice-looking darky, very neatly dressed, maybe an expert valet.” She
gaped when Neil glowed, “Vestal, this is my great friend, Dr. Davis.”

She reflected, “A doctor? Could be. I’ve heard there are some colored
doctors.”

She observed, “How d’you do,” and she made it extraordinarily plain to
Ash that she did not really care how he did, and did not want to hear
how he did, and why introduce _her_ to colored chiropractors?

Ash bowed, not too deep, and that was all of the joyous meeting of
Neil’s wife and Neil’s friend.

                 * * * * *

There was a quantity of whisky and a fair supply of chicken salad, but
the tourists got tired of looking at the exhibits. The party had not
been going at all, and what made it go now and go vigorously and go very
badly was Wilfrid Spode.

There is a name and a talent to mark: Wilfrid Spode, known to thousands,
and most unhappily, as Friddy Spode: a man who has been intimate with
all the most devastating geniuses, the most obscene drunks, and the most
determined Lesbians in Taos, Taxco, Woodstock, Minorca, Munich, Carmel,
Chelsea, Greenwich Village, and the Left Bank of the Seine. There is a
man as alien to Grand Republic as an ornithorhynchus, a man who by
contrast makes Curtiss Havock seem decent and Dr. Drover gentle.

Friddy Spode was born in Kansas City, but he was an author. Nor, mind
you, was he an unpublished author. His novels, which were catalogs of
fornication, in style very much like mail-order catalogs, with the
four-letter words all spelled out, had, till World War II, been
privately published in Paris and paid for by his wife.

Friddy had a seamed and rather dirty face, the face of an evil old
horse; his neck was always dirty and his nails an exhibit of dirt and
his hair not so much worn long as always needing to be cut. He usually
wore a corduroy jacket that was rather on the boyish side for a man of
forty, and the only reason he did not wear the traditional Rive Gauche
broad black hat was that people expected it of him, and he loved to
disappoint them. He did better. He wore a cap—very dirty.

Yet his wife, Susan, half a dozen years younger, was as plump and clean
a little pigeon as you could find outside a pot-pie. She was a painter,
except that she did not paint and could not paint. And she was Vestal
Kingsblood’s own cousin. She was the legitimate daughter of Counselor
Oliver Beehouse.

When she met Friddy, she had been doing something exciting but phony
which she called “studying art in Paris.” She was lonely there, and she
could speak no French and not much of anything else. Friddy picked her
up at the Café Select. He lived by borrowing money; he was as
painstaking at begging as he was sloppy in composition; no sum was too
large to whine for and none too small to take. He asked visiting
American businessmen for five hundred dollars and accepted fifty; he
asked little students of singing for ten francs and got fifteen.

He borrowed a hundred francs from Sue, on sight, and that night he
negligently seduced her. He found out that her father was rich, and
yawningly he married her. He never had any interest in her afterward,
nor any especial aversion to her, while she adored him and never noticed
the dirt, and believed his sour jealousies to be wit and his lore of the
privy to be literature.

When the Germans were about to enter Paris, the Spodes fled, and since
then they had been able to live in California by blackmailing Oliver
Beehouse with the threat that if he did not come through, they would
come home. Sometimes, as now, they did come, just to show how
distressing it would be if they remained in Grand Republic.

For a month they had had a studio-flat in the Mermaid Tavern Building.
Sue cheerfully did the cooking and the financing and made their bed
whenever she could get Friddy out of it.

It had been the existence of Friddy as his own son-in-law that had
caused Oliver to be so agitated when his brother Morton found that he
had a Negro for son-in-law. To Oliver’s classic legal mind, Negroes and
Hindus and American Indians and criminals were all alike, and the only
worse menace than Friddy was Neil.

As soon as the food got better, Friddy and Sue would be back in Paris.
Meantime they endured the bestial American tiled bathroom by finding
their fun where they could. They found a lot of it to-night, in taking
over the management of the helpless black barbarians, Neil and Ash.

It was not that Friddy cared a hang about Negroes, but he got a lot of
innocent pleasure out of annoying Diantha’s friends.

He was in superb, international form, tonight. He had a drink and hailed
Vestal as his cousin and tried to kiss her on the cheek. He had a drink
and most audibly congratulated his happy and humming wife, Sue, on
having in the Negro Neil one connection who was not a fool. Then he had
another drink, a lot more drinks, and delivered an unscheduled public
lecture.

He stated that all Negro music, sculpture, acting, pugilism and sexual
hypnosis were superior to the accomplishments of the whites, and he
wound up, “If you’ll all shut your traps, maybe I can get one of our
colored guests to explain why it is that his race is so much subtler and
more sensitive than you white bourgeois.”

Ash muttered to Neil, “That jackass knows his business. Usually, it’s a
woman who does this to us. The only absolutely guaranteed way to ruin us
is for some exhibitionist to overpraise us. He’s making me anti-Negro
myself!”

But Friddy Spode was not forever to take over the bedeviling of the
guests. The hostess, Mrs. Marl, may not have been trained on the Left
Bank, but her natural capacity for making reasonableness sound
disgusting was even greater than Friddy’s. It was just that she had been
slow in starting, tonight, but, after enough drinks, she caught up.

In Grand Republic we do not say that a lady is a notorious drunkard. We
say that she “enjoys a little nip now and then.” Diantha had enjoyed a
number of nips, big and little, and she suddenly took the lead over
Friddy.

She managed to annoy the two guests, Judge Cass Timberlane and Mrs.
Shelley Buncer, who, by talking together in a corner and not listening
to Friddy, had escaped going mad. Diantha came up to them and mourned,
with all the woe of the world in her voice, “Really, I did think I could
count on _you_ two to show a little common courtesy to our poor guests
of honor! There’s Mr. Kingsblood and poor Dr. Dash having to stand up,
while you two monopolize these chairs!”

Cass got his wife and went home at once. Mrs. Buncer beat him by two
stairs and one yelp.

Then Diantha got Ash to herself, and cozily complained to him, for the
benefit of twenty onlisteners, “Dr. Dash, I have a bone to pick with
you! Why don’t you tell these colored women not to try and talk like
_us_? It’s too confusing. When I got your wife on the phone—and I must
say she took her own sweet time answering it!—I thought she must be
some white lady, and I got all balled up. Of course you know I adore
Negresses and think they’re very artistic, but honest-lee, they haven’t
got any right to throw us off like that!”

She took in Neil then:

“All you colored people sing spirituals so beautifully. It’s the high
point of American art. So now you two boys go ahead and sing us some
spirituals. . . . Shut up everybody, will you! These colored fellows are
going to do some spirituals.”

“Don’t know any,” growled Neil.

Ash Davis had a wistful love for spirituals, and he did not intend to
parade them for drunken whites. To him they meant that half of his
ancestors who had been Negro and Indian limping on the old trail of
thirst and horror, singing low that they might not whimper. He said,
“Thank you, but I’m rather ignorant of them, and I’m afraid I’ll have to
slip away now, Mrs. Marl.”

Diantha broke into a vast and alcoholic pity for herself, and her
cultured accent slipped back into the ancestral shanty across the
tracks, as she wept, “I wonner if you preshate what I—tried—oh—tried
s’hard do f’ you darkies, sevenin’?”

                 * * * * *

Lucian Firelock and his wife were there, and it was she who fluttered,
“I’m a real Southern woman, Mr. Kingsblood, but I want to shout right
out that Dr. Davis has been our best neighbor in Grand Republic, the
nicest to our children, and I’m just mad—I’m not sure what I’m
apologizing about, but I sure am doing it!”

What worried Neil was that after their introduction, Vestal and Ash had
not spoken again. On the way home, he said anxiously to Vestal, “What
did you think of Dr. Davis?”

“Who? Dr. Davis? Which one was he?”

If there was any sequel at all to the Case of the Drunken Hostess, it
was that Neil was driven into violently embracing his crusade. It was
his bride, his sword, his crown, his scourge, his victory, his defeat.
It was his busy little fad and it was his prayer and his madness, his
crucifixion and his glory.




                                   48


THEY were at home, snug against the evening of March winds, and Biddy
was singing herself to sleep upstairs, when the Neighborhood Committee
rang and marched in. They were four solid citizens and their resolute
look indicated that they preferred to be courteous, but they were going
to be hard.

They were Former Mayor Stopple, Former Friends Don Pennloss and Judd
Browler, and Mr. W. S. Vander, ex-lumberjack, who had carried into his
Wholesale lumber-business the good old methods of eye-gouging and spiked
boot, and who was as harsh and honest as Bill Stopple was slick and
crooked.

All of them arranged their grins and, except the tough Mr. Vander, sat
on the edges of their chairs. In that cheerful room, they seemed as out
of place as so many shiny-black bull-fish. Neil stood by the fireplace
and Vestal, at her small white desk, frigidly played with a lavender
quill-pen.

As Gruppenführer, Honorable Stopple emitted, between throat-struggles,
“Folks, some time ago I told you about a dandy little house I could show
you on Canoe Heights. My, is that a view!”

“What do you want? Come to the point!” Vestal snapped.

“At your service, Ma’am, and may I say that there is no one who has a
greater admiration for your father than I have?”

“You may, if you feel you have to.”

Honorable Stopple was becoming irritated by this ingratitude. Was he not
here unselfishly, on behalf of the public weal? Nobody loved a public
weal more than Honorable Stopple, but he did want a little credit for
it. On the surface, however, he still held that noble calm of a man who
is always looking for votes and quick turnovers.

“I shall always accept your judgment, Ma’am. Now I have been somewhat
concerned over the thought that you folks may not be altogether happy
here.” Vander grunted. “I think we may call Sylvan Park the highest type
of residential addition, without excessive valuations, but I must say,
regretfully, that there is a lot of social prejudice here. Personally,
my motto is live and let live. Whether the cause of this local prejudice
is some lack in our religious training, I would not presume to say. As a
layman, I feel that it is impossible for us to comprehend the task of
the clergyman, and it ill behooves us——”

“Will you please stop admiring your philosophy, and get to work?” Vestal
was snarling now. Neil was looking appraisingly at a large and chunky
vase.

“I certainly will, Ma’am! Lots of folks around here don’t want colored
neighbors, and that’s the clux or the clue or whatever it is of the
whole matter! They can’t understand that it isn’t Neil’s fault that he’s
colored. But there you are: a sort of what you might call a growing
resentment against you folks. And so maybe you would be happier in some
other neighborhood . . . and a whole lot safer!”

He was too level-voiced for Vestal to go on being pert, and he continued
more blandly:

“Mr. Berthold Eisenherz, who once owned all this property, a very fine
man, is willing to take your place back at just what Neil paid for it,
figuring that depreciation on the house and any appreciation on the lot
will just about balance. This seems to me a very generous offer, very,
and may I venture to advise you——”

“Mr. Stopple, we had this all out before,” said Vestal. “You don’t
seriously expect us to listen, do you?”

Don Pennloss came in. “Look, Vestal, we are here more as friends of
yours than as authorized representatives of the property-holders. But we
are that, too.”

Judd Browler blurted, “Neil, you got no idea how we’ve worked to keep
certain neighbors from—well—demonstrating. They’re fed up. You can’t
go on fooling with them. They simply will not tolerate a non-Caucasian
living here and lowering the social tone of the community.”

Honorable Stopple said, “I hate to think of what some of the hot-heads
might do—charivaris that would scare your sweet little girl—and
worse.”

“Mayor, I just don’t like blackmail. Or blackmailers,” said Neil, and
Vestal nodded.

Then Vander got to work. Mr. Vander had not gone to school with dear
Neil nor gone to parties nor played hockey with him. He was twenty years
older, and all his salad days had been pork-and-beans days and he had
been in the Big Woods, freezing half the time and getting warm by
fighting with axe-handles the other half. He loved both his family and
his investments and he did not love Negroes or anybody who was not a
Vander. He had a flat head, a stormy jaw, a steady, blue eye, and no
sentimental objections to clubs, ropes, fire, or splinters under the
nails. He was a good wholesale-lumber dealer, but he might have been a
good sea captain, prime minister, executioner or lieutenant-general, and
he barked now as one with authority, so that Prince woke up, under the
couch, and barked back, and Vestal rose, to walk across the room and
stand beside Neil.

“Blackmail, hell!” said Mr. Vander. “It’s going to be a lot worse than
blackmail. You folks apparently got no idea how sore people are at
having niggers right in their front yard. I know I am! I get damn sick
and tired of paying my taxes right on the dot and then finding some
Christ-forsaken Spig or Wop or Kike or Dinge——”

“Careful of the language, ol’ man!” tittered Stopple.

“Oh, these niggers are used to any kind of language.”

Vestal, her hand on Neil’s arm, restrained him, and now she laughed at a
certain wistfulness in Mr. Vander:

“Honestly, I’m getting fed to the gills on having the boys downtown rib
me all the time! ‘So you’re living in a nigger neighborhood, now—ain’t
a nigger yourself, are you?’ they say—you know, kidding. One time in
Chicago, I heard a workman—some kind of city work he was on, where they
had some shines doing clerical work, and he was grousing, ‘It just
naturally makes me sore to see a nigger sitting at a desk while I have
to stand up with a shovel.’ Say, I know just how he felt! Makes me sore
and it ain’t right to see you darkies living as nice as I do myself,
after all the hard work I put in to get where I am. By God, that ain’t
justice and by God I ain’t going to have it!”

Stopple ballooned up again, lovely silken pear-shape, glittering and
yellow, full of gas, always going up and collapsing and surprised about
it. “Now, now, Brother Vander, you must of got out of bed on the wrong
side, this morning. But Neil, it was pretty foolish of you to talk about
‘blackmail.’ I must say, I never heard of a black-mailer that did the
paying!

“Nothing could be more friendly than we are. I said to my wife,
‘Pauline, I never expected Mr. Eisenherz to be that generous. He’s a
diplomat and a swell,’ I told her, ‘but just the same,’ I said, ‘you
scratch an Eisenherz and you find a tightwad, no matter how many French
paintings he buys, or what have you,’ I said, and to tell you the truth,
Neil, I was simply astonished, and I hope my influence may have had
something to do with it, when he come right out and was willing to
refund the full purchase-price, cash on the nail, and no if and or but
about it. So, if you take his offer, you won’t be one cent out of
pocket. But mind you, the next time a committee calls on you, maybe it
won’t be this same committee, and maybe they won’t be so friendly, and
maybe you’ll be only too glad to sell for one whale of a lot less
dough.”

Vander growled, “Maybe you’ll be glad to get away with a whole hide, and
no dough at all!”

“I _am_ going to hit him!” Neil stated to Vestal.

“No! That’s what this fellow wants!”

Vander chuckled. “Sure, let’s have a little hitting, Kingsblood, a
little action!”

Vestal’s hand was firm on Neil’s arm.

Stopple oiled them, “Now, now, you boys be good. We’re talking business!
So, Neil, after another twenty-four hours, my offer will be lower, a lot
lower, but meanwhile you can get me on the phone any time, night or
day. . . . Well, gentlemen, I think it’s all perfectly clear now, but I
don’t want to go without assuring Neil and his good lady that they have
our heartiest good wishes. Good night—good night! This way, gentlemen.”

                 * * * * *

Vestal embraced him. “Oh, my darling, darling Neil! I’m getting it
through my thick head now what it’s all about. Never mind those
shirttail Nazis. We’ll stick right here.”

“You realize tough things could happen?”

“Hallelujah!”

The ghost of Sophie Concord smiled on Neil with a wistful benediction
and was gone.

He complained, “Why didn’t you let me hit Vander?”

“They’d have had you arrested, and that would get in the papers and make
a lovely case against us. Besides,” judiciously, “I think probably Mr.
Vander would have licked you, and I don’t want to have you beaten up. I
need you around. Oh, Neil, we’ll live now, even if we die from it!”




                                   49


BUT next morning Neil felt low and cold as he tramped the streets,
trying not to slip on the ice. He could not afford to break his legs
now; they had to carry him until he could find a job.

And suddenly, that March day, he had a job.

He had gone into the establishment of Brandl: The Beltrami Avenue
Florist to see if he could buy a crocus or two for Vestal. The little
old Bavarian, Ulrich Brandl, who in grander days had sold him orchids
(white scarf and white kid gloves and Vestal’s smile and glitter and all
the white man’s memories), hailed him cozily:

“Ah, Captain, let me have the pleasure to give you this small bunch of
crocuses. I have heard about your braveness. I understand it, for I was
born a German and, though I hated Hitler and all oppression, and though
I have been a good American for thirty-five years, when I come in a
saloon for my glass of beer, I hear certain fellows say, ‘The only good
German is a dead German.’ All prejudice is one. Could I shake your
hand?”

“You wouldn’t happen to have a job for me, would you?”

“That also, perhaps. I would be flattered if you worked for me.”

So Neil became a florist’s clerk, probably knowing less about flowers
and the freshening of them and their packing than anybody except Hack
Riley of Mayo Street. But he was zealous, and the customers did not
indicate that they were undergoing any horrors in being waited upon by a
Negro. The jungle dampness of the shop, the gilded tinfoil, the piles of
unwrinkled tissue paper, were relaxing, after miles of factories and the
hard chairs outside the boss’s office.

All day long he argued mildly with Mr. Brandl, who inveighed against all
prejudices and superstitions, and himself, it proved, was prejudiced
against nothing except Englishmen, Jews, Brazilians, Irishmen,
Presbyterians, Mormons, chewing-gum, sunflowers, Heinrich Heine, and
two-door coupés.

But Neil could not, on his pension and his tentative salary at Brandl’s,
keep up the home which had become his extreme symbol of dignity and
independence. He must turn to—what?

Then he was betrayed from inside.

                 * * * * *

He had never, of late, quite known what to do about his family, and he
regarded them with a wry mixture of humor and deepest guilt. He dropped
in to see his mother and Joan two or three times a week and found them
becoming hermits. He told himself that it was not he but superstition
that had made them “Negroes,” but the argument did not relieve him much
nor relieve them at all.

His sister, Kitty Sayward, had nothing for him now but a “Yes, what is
it?” One member of the family, Cousin Pat Saxinar, had taken the whole
business adventurously, perhaps gladly. She had gone to live in a
settlement-house in the Southwest End, and was busy there and seemingly
content—a good woman as only a good woman can be good.

But Neil had to avoid Brother Robert’s house, because of the resentment
of his sister-in-law, Alice, backed by her brother Harold W. Whittick.
She was a bad woman as only a good woman can be bad. In March, she sued
Robert for divorce, for cruelty, humiliation, and deceit in not having,
before their marriage, told her that he was “colored.”

When Neil brought the news to Vestal, she hesitated. She did not look so
disgusted as a man would have liked, but finally she achieved:

“Oh, well, Alice always was one of these what-do-I-get-out-of-it wives.
And all her relatives were hammering at her to leave him. I know. My
father and sister act as if I were a traitor to them because I don’t
leave you. But so far, I’ve pounded them down. I can’t seem to get you
out of my heart and soul and flesh. Oh, Neil!”

It was like one of the moments early in marriage when, without
preliminary, they had suddenly wanted each other. He could feel the
intensity in her, and while her eyes were smiling on him, utterly
concentrated on him, she panted and her lips were slightly open. He
moved close to her, and the two bodies pressed together, as though they
had wills of their own.

He knew that she had unconsciously eaten up the myth that all Negroes,
even deskmen and strained and nervous scholars, are superior sexual
animals and that her renewed passion was all self-deception, that she
was being violated by a son of Xavier Pic who did not really exist. But
he could not feel that this was the moment for disquisitions on
psychology, as he kissed her and she slowly sighed.

                 * * * * *

If she was going to be loyal, he thought, she must take her place with
Martha Davis and Corinne Brewster. With a complete wife, an adoring
child, a friend like Ash, and with Vestal and Martha become friends,
what more could a man have?

He advanced his desire to have Ash and Martha here for dinner. Vestal
moved uneasily. “Do you think that would be wise? I have no doubt
they’re very fine people, but wouldn’t they be embarrassed? Would it be
kind to them?”

“Ash is a distinguished chemist, and after dining with Sorbonne
professors at the Ritz, in Paris, I guess they won’t wilt before the
luxuries of this house!”

“Don’t roar at me! By all means have them, if you insist. But how do you
know they ever dined with any professors at any Ritz? Do they boast of
things like that?”

“Ash and Martha have never boasted about anything! About the Ritz—I’m
just imagining——”

“Why should your Sorbonne professors want to dine with Dr. Davis? Is he
that big a chemist? And if he is, why should he want to dine with us?
All the chemistry we know is that salt isn’t any good in coffee.”

“I tell you, I’m not thinking of him as a chemist.”

“You didn’t tell me, but never mind that.”

“I think of him as about the most charming man I know.”

“You forget that I met him. He seemed a nice, civil person, but I didn’t
notice that he was so reeking with charm.”

“Well, maybe you would have, if you’d looked at him carefully.”

“N’ doubt, n’ doubt. Well, we’ll have them here, and I’ll look at ’em
both carefully!”

No, the augury was not good. And Ash said, when he was invited by
telephone, “Are you certain that Mrs. Kingsblood would like to have us?”

                 * * * * *

The Davises came, well-dressed, soft-voiced, attentive, everything
perfect except that they never were really there. Most of the time, they
spoke only in response to whatever Vestal might offer, and as there was
very little offering, there was very little responding. Neil had to make
talk for all of them, but he was not especially inventive.

Vestal was dreadful. She was too polite; she agreed with everything,
without listening to what she was agreeing with.

“I guess the President is having quite a little trouble with all these
strikes,” Neil tried.

“Yes, that’s so and——Strikes, did you say?” mumbled Vestal.

“Oh, yes—strikes,” Ash achieved.

Before dinner, Ash and Martha had obediently taken cocktails, but they
never quite finished them. “Just like poor relations—conciliatory,”
Vestal spitefully muttered to Neil. He had done the ordering and laid
the table, but she had cooked the dinner herself and, not listening to
Martha’s shy offer to help, she served it, with a look which said to
Neil, “Are you satisfied, my lord, now that you see me humbly waiting on
these dark intruders?”

When the conversation had almost swooned and died, and no one took up
any of Neil’s remarks about airplane service and the Junior College
basketball team, Ash straightened up and began to talk, as an expert,
about the future of plastics.

“They’re almost too practical,” he said. “We shall have bedrooms for a
fairy princess, with concealed lights and transparent beds and
cupboards—it will make all the previous conspicuous waste look
utilitarian.”

“I take it you don’t approve of people having pretty things,” said
Vestal, and that killed that.

When they were drinking coffee in the living-room and everybody was
suffering and waiting for the end of the bad farce, Biddy came down in
pajamas, quite illicitly. She stood in front of Ash, looked polite and
solicitous, and chanted, “Oh, your face is dirty!”

Even Vestal was shocked, but Ash smiled, with “No, that’s just my tan,
young lady.”

“Did you go to Florida and get tanned? My dolls have just been to
Florida. They stayed at Palm Beach and they said it was very expensive.
Or did you drink too much coffee? My mummy says if I drink coffee before
I’m sixteen, I’ll get all brown, too. My, I wouldn’t like to be all
brown. Don’t you mind being all brown?”

She said it with the liveliest interest and, ignoring the signals from
her mother’s shaking head, she crawled into Martha’s lap and rested her
head against Martha’s shoulder.

So Vestal was altogether too bright and jolly about it.

Ash looked at her more steadily than before, then glanced at Biddy with
a quality of pure love, and Ash said, “No, baby, I wouldn’t mind being
permanently tanned if there weren’t so many people that can’t seem to
stand the sun. They like cellars and anemia better.”

“What’s denemia?” demanded Biddy.

Vestal did a Viennese operetta in the jocundity with which she caroled,
“Now dearest, you skip up to bed and don’t bother Dr. and
Mrs.—uh—Davis.”

                 * * * * *

The guests managed to get away without violence.

Vestal sobbed, “Oh, I know, I know I was horrid, but Neil, I just can’t
do it. I don’t mind your being a Negro—because I don’t think you really
_are_—I think there’s a trick in it. But I can’t stand _them_, or any
other colored people, and there’s no use my trying.”

“You listen here!”

“Don’t scream.”

“How can I help it? Nobody could have been more well bred and
intelligent than Ash and Martha, if you’d given them a chance——”

“That’s the trouble! I’ve been brought up to believe that darkies are
funny people, dancing and laughing and saying, ‘Oh, thank you, Miss
Vestal, ma’am, you white folks is sure wonderful to us poor coons.’ But
this Davis sketch thinks I’m just another female that’s dumb about
chemistry and economics. Cellar and anemia indeed! Oh, I know I’m
unreasonable, but my heart isn’t in it. And my heart has to be in
anything I do now, because I’m going to have another baby.”

                 * * * * *

When Neil had thoroughly betrayed all his anxiety by trying to sound
delighted, Vestal said gravely, “Let’s not have any guff about welcoming
_this_ little stranger. I hate it, oh, I simply hate it! I’ve been
longing all day to escape somewhere where nobody knows me. I can’t stand
giving birth to a Negro baby! Somehow Biddy doesn’t seem like one—I’m
sure she isn’t. But now to have a black baby—I can’t do it. I want an
abortion, and I don’t want one and I won’t have one, and I’m nearly
crazy!”

She sobbed all night. Biddy came anxiously in to see “what she could do
for poor Mummy,” and Neil lay on the other bed and stared at the rolling
films of light thrown on the ceiling by passing cars.




                                   50


SHE was the Little Woman of the Ages, very pleasant and kind, helpful to
the ambitions of her husband and the boys, and many of them were very
bad ambitions. She made cookies for the neighborhood children and
listened fondly to foolish serials on the radio; she was a good
church-worker and a willing neighbor. She believed everything that her
minister, her congressman and the secret anarch who invents the fashions
in shoes and cosmetics told her, and it is she who has licensed and
justified all the ravenous armies, all the pompous churches and courts
and universities and good society, all the wars and misery since time
was.

The Little Woman of the Ages spoke, and she said, “I don’t know anything
about anthropology and ethnology and biology and all that silly highbrow
junk, and you can say what you like and quote all these long books, but
I tell you there’s a darky family lives right down the alley from us
where they keep goats, and I know and I’m telling you that the darkies
_are_ inferior to us, and I’m not going to have ’em working in any store
or bank or office where I have to go. I’m sure I wish ’em all the good
luck in the world, as long as they stay in their places. And folks that
say the colored folks are just like you and me—why should I pay any
attention to ignorant talk like that—they don’t really believe a word
they say.

“I am the Little Woman of the Ages, and my dainty foot is upon all
thrones and swords and mitres; for my nice little voice are all songs
made, and for my delight on lonely evenings all stories told; nations
shall not assemble nor men and women love nor labor save by such bonds
and ceremonies and complexions as are approved in the holy laws that I
learned from my father, who was a wonderful man, and if he were alive
today, he simply would not stand for all this nonsense that a lot of
irresponsible people seem to be spreading around, and who learned the
laws from his mother who had them from her pastor who had them from his
bishop who had them from his mother who had them from her spiritualist
medium to whom they were handed during a trance in which the medium
talked with God in person.

“You can say what you like, but Italians are tricky and Okies are
shiftless and Negroes are lazy and Jews are too smart and a
world-government is against human nature and against all the principles
laid down by George Washington, and I don’t want to hear any more such
wicked nonsense, and I, who am Hertha and Isis and Ashtaroth and the
recording secretary of the D.A.R., proclaim that when all civilization
flattens out in the universal propriety of death, then everything will
be nice and respectable everywhere, and there won’t be any more of this
trying to be smart and show off with such silly talk, and now let’s have
another nice cup of coffee and say nothing more about it.”




                                   51


ASH said on the telephone, “No, I thought your wife was very pleasant,
last evening—trying her best to be natural with us. You must expect her
to take a long time before she accepts Negroes as normal. I’ve tried to
do the same thing for forty years, and I’m still a little bewildered to
find that I’m not an American citizen or a father or a chemist but a
Negro. And now, forget all that, because something very dangerous is
starting.”

So Ash gave him the first news of the Sant Tabac.

When Neil had rushed home after work, to inquire how Vestal felt—she
just felt like Vestal, and she was irritated that he should insist on
her feeling any other way—he telephoned to Evan Brewster, to Cope
Anderson, and put together his information:

The Sant Tabac was a new organization, founded in Grand Republic and
likely to spread to other Northern cities. It was a conspiracy to drive
as many Negroes as possible back South. To prospective members who
thought that it resembled the Ku Klux Klan, the organizers explained,
“No, there is to be no violence whatever. In fact, we want to protect
the colored people—from their own leaders, who’d like to get them into
riots, to please the Kremlin. We won’t stand for any lynchings, or even
any beatings—not unless the mokes act nasty and rile the cops. Our
policy is entirely benevolent and constructive: to get all the niggers
that have grabbed off white men’s jobs in the North fired, and no new
ones hired.”

There was a great deal of wit and archness in this campaign for economic
murder. The name Sant Tabac was made from the initial letters in their
slogan: “Stop all Negro trouble, take action before any comes.” The
first set of officers were Mr. Wilbur Feathering, who was “Big Havana,”
Mr. William Stopple, “Little Havana,” Mr. Randy Spruce, “Penatela”—not
Panatela—while the treasurer, or “Ole Leather Pouch,” was Mr. Norton
Trock of the Blue Ox National Bank. Among the directors were Mayor Ed
Fleeron, Dr. Cortez Kelly, and the Reverend Dr. Jat Snood.

The Peter the Hermit of the order was Feathering, but the whimsy in the
titles and name were from Randy and that advocate of Modern Art in
Advertising, Mr. Harold W. Whittick, whose merry notion it had been to
invent a Portuguese island called Sant Tabac, where tobacco had been
discovered and all colored peoples had been banned.

Many of the crusaders were wearing a button depicting a pipe-smoking
monk, but their achievements were less playful than their ritual, for
the members were solid men of affairs, and if the local peerage, as
incorporated in the Federal Club, were above joining, they did
contribute. The leaders were trusty, swift and secretive men, given to
strategy. And everything they did was known to the Negro world before it
was known to the members. Randy Spruce’s office, where the plans were
made, was in the Blue Ox Bank Building, and Cloat Windeck, the father of
Phil, was head elevator man at that building and in charge of all waste
paper.

Evan Brewster suggested to Randy Spruce that the members would save
money if Negroes were accepted as workers instead of being expensively
jailed or hospitalized, but Randy had no time to waste in listening to a
blatherskite preacher.

The Sant Tabac, however earnest, cannot be credited with all the
discharges of Negroes in Grand Republic. The return of the white
soldiers, the strikes, the conversion of factories from tanks to
suspender buckles, and the general conviction, richly cultivated by the
radio and the comic strip, that all Negroes are amusing but bungling
fools, were greater elements, but all of them worked sweetly together to
start the epidemic of firing Negro workers, which began on All Fools
Day.

It began at Wargate’s, with the letting out of two hundred brown-skin
workers.

The management explained to them that they were being sent back to the
breadlines solely because, with war manufacture ended, Wargate’s had to
close several departments entirely.

Some of these departments were opened again in a couple of weeks, with
new designations and with all-white workers.

The Five Points was certain that, by the end of the year, all of the
Negroes working for Wargate’s would be dismissed. The discharged men
stood about on corners, not parading, homeless, scared, swapping
information about mythical towns in which, “fellow told me they’re
hiring spooks now.”

One of the six hundred Negroes working for Wargate’s was a chemist named
Ash Davis.

                 * * * * *

Ash said cheerfully to Martha and Neil, “If I get fired, I can probably
get twenty a week fronting for some hair-straightener.”

The naive Neil marveled, “Wargate’s can’t let you go. Why, they’ll make
hundreds of thousands of dollars out of your discoveries.”

“They will, but they don’t know it. They think I’m just fooling around
at pure research. The South made tens of millions out of Carver’s
discoveries about the lowly peanut, but they still made him use the back
door. You whites are idealists. You put principle above mere
money-grubbing—the principle of hate of the unknown. However. Wargate’s
might keep me on as a floor-sweeper. I’m a neat sweeper.”

“Or,” Martha said cheerfully, “you might become a red cap and carry
baggage, like most of our people that finish graduate school.”

“Not a chance. The Ph.D.’s that get taken on as red caps have to speak
at least seven languages, and I speak only three.”

Then Drexel Greenshaw walked in on them. “Heard about the firing at
Wargate’s?” said Ash.

Drexel was pontifical. “Naturally, but I’m not as worried as you young
people. I’ve seen too many set-backs for our race. And you must ask
yourselves if this really is as unfortunate as some say. Remember that
the folks who are being let out are mostly these new colored fieldhands
that have just come up from the Southern backwoods—lot of ignorant,
rude, money-wasting hicks—typical immigrants, I’d call ’em. All the
old-timers, like Al Woolcape and me, have suffered a lot from having the
white folks think _we’re_ like those cattle. Oh, I’m sorry for them, but
they better go back South, where they belong.”

“I’m an immigrant, too,” Ash pointed out.

“You’re different. You belong.”

“To what? I’d like to find out!”

Drexel expanded, “The white folks are only too glad to have colored
gentlemen like you and me working for ’em. Mr. Tartan says to me,
‘Mister Greenshaw, I don’t know how we could ever run the Feesoly Room
and satisfy our high-class clienteel without you.’ ‘I try to do my
best,’ I says to him, and he says, ‘I know you do, and we appreciate
it.’

“Why, I figure some of my best friends are white folks. Mind you, I’m no
Uncle Tom. They got to treat me dignified. You young people don’t
understand white psychology. If you make yourself valuable to ’em,
they’ll treat you more than square, and if they been getting kind of
prejudiced against us, it’s the fault of the black trash. Why, years ago
here, we all got along real nice with the whites. My girls were brought
up to play with real nice white kids, and when I went to church, I was
treated like any other communicant. But the white folks are disgusted
with these rug-cutters and slick-chicks that try to act like they’re the
same as white folks. All the whites ask of us is humility, and that’s
one of the best Bible virtues, ain’t it?”

They did not listen; they had heard it all from Drexel Greenshaw before.
They were fond of the erect old man, the father of their friend Cynthia
Woolcape; the gentlemen’s gentlemen’s gentleman, the Southern colonels’
Southern sergeant.

                 * * * * *

That week a Negro veteran was lynched in the Deep South.

From the Mississippi Delta to the Howard Law School to the clubs of
Harlem ran a shudder and a mutter, “Next time it could be me,” and dark
Communist and Fundamentalist were united as they looked quickly back on
the streets at night. Ash Davis as despairingly as Sugar Gowse, Drexel
Greenshaw and Dr. Darius Melody along with Hack Riley, heard the horror
within hours after it had happened, and they cried “How long, O Lord?”
and not meekly. And a Negro named Neil Kingsblood looked at his wife in
honest terror and shivered, “It could be us and here and now.”

                 * * * * *

More of the black workers were dismissed every day by Wargate’s and the
smaller firms. Every day the Mayo Street corners were more packed, the
grumbling less amiable, and so the canny authorities sent in more
policemen—and so the policemen were stoned now and then—and so they
sent in still more policemen—and so one Negro was shot and four were
arrested—and so a two-by-four was dropped from a third story upon a
policeman’s head—and so Feathering said, “I told you so; join the Sant
Tabac”—and so there were accelerated dismissals of Negroes from
Wargate’s, from the Aurora Coke Company, from the Kippery Knitting
Works, from the grain-loading gangs at the elevators, from the railroad
car-shops—and so the street-corner gangs became more ugly—and so more
policemen were sent in _per omnia saecula saeculorum_.

Among the white labor-union leaders, a third protested, a third said
nothing, and a third rejoiced.

And then, with a handsome letter from Duncan Browler about his work, Ash
Davis was fired.

There had been no warning. The letter was awaiting him when he came home
on a Friday evening. When he had read it, Ash lost, for an hour, his
poise as a skeptical man of the world, and became a frightened and
belligerent workman out of work.

He wrote to a number of firms in the East which knew his ability. They
answered that there were so many white chemists returning from the wars
and, besides, maybe their present staff might object to working with a
non-Caucasian.

Anyway, chirped he to Martha, he would prefer teaching to working in
another commercial house.

He could get no appointment in any white college, including one that had
intended to give him an honorary degree. There were a few, an increasing
group, of Negroes on university staffs, but Ash did not have that luck.
The college presidents lovingly answered—when they answered at
all—that while _they_ had no “prejudices,” not one prejudice, all of
their present band of hope and light were likely to object to working
with a brownskin.

Months later, after he had gone to New York, Ash was sold down the river
to a small Negro college in the Deep South, salary $1800 a year and a
house, only there wasn’t any house yet.

Then Phil Windeck lost his job at the garage.

Then Drexel Greenshaw lost his job.




                                   52


GLENN Tartan called in Drexel Greenshaw, and tittered, “I’ve got some
bad news to tell you, old man, and I want you to know that it isn’t in
any way my fault. The owners have decided to change our policy and
employ only white help in the dining rooms and so I’m afraid——But we
wish you the very best of luck, and I’ve dictated a letter of
recommendation that’ll knock your eye out.”

If the oratorical Drexel said anything now, it was not heard.

He tried to see the chief owners of the Hotel Pineland, but they were
too busy. They were Dr. Henry Sparrock and Mrs. Webb Wargate, who was
everywhere known as a Great Friend of the Negro. Dr. Sparrock was busy
campaigning for the Red Cross, and Mrs. Wargate for the Suffer the
Little Children League.

Drexel sneaked back to the three-room cottage which he shared with his
daughter Garnet, and for a week he was ashamed to leave it. The tough
boys from Texas and Arkansas, kicked out of Wargate’s and loafing around
the Bar-B-Q, would have laughed at him.

Garnet said good-bye to Phil Windeck and went off to work in Chicago.
Drexel sold his house, and lived with his other daughter, Mrs. Emerson
Woolcape.

He tried not to, but he could not help criticizing her cooking, her
bed-making, and her care of the baby. He told himself—she did not tell
him—that he would have to stay away from her house by day. He got a
waiter’s job in a very nasty hash-house, from which he was discharged
within a week, for criticizing everything in sight, including the
overcharges. Albert Woolcape was willing to set him up in a
chicken-joint of his own, but Drexel was suddenly afraid of
responsibility.

For some months he sat on Emerson’s porch, wondering whether the
no-count white waiters now at the Fiesole Room would understand that Mr.
Randy Spruce had to have four lumps in his coffee—things like that,
which only Drexel understood.

Drexel died alone, suddenly, during a summer thunderstorm. Garnet came
back for his funeral, and gave up all notion of marrying Phil Windeck,
who was running whisky into Oklahoma, in partnership with Sugar Gowse.
Garnet is now a civil-service stenographer in Chicago, lonely and
chaste, she who was so ripe for love.

When the Fiesole Room had changed to white waiters, Randy Spruce had
made another entry in the Sant Tabac books, and chuckled. Poor dear
fuzzy Randy, who was some day to be caught in a scandal with a telephone
operator and to skip town. He did such a lot of evil, but all so
innocently. If he had ever asked himself why he hated Negroes, he would
probably have found that he did not hate them. He had never really met
one. He meant so well. They say he has a wonderful job now with the
Atomic Bomb Perfume Company.

                 * * * * *

Select portions of that April might have been called spring, even in
Grand Republic. As he made pyramids of early daffodils in the showcase,
Neil whistled, with a feeling that he had never been anything but a
devoted florist.

Mr. Brandl looked anxious over his morning mail and over a couple of
unexplained telephone calls, during which he answered nothing but “Yes”
and “I see.” After scratching his hands and worrying his soft gray bush
of hair, he trembled, “Neil, I keep hearing where you are a friend of a
Dr. Davis, that is a very bad Negro agitator. I would like to stand by
you, but I know from the war what tattle and rumor can be like. I could
lose all my business, and I have an old wife.”

Neil sighed, “Okay, Ulrich, I quit. Tell the Sant Tabac boys that you
fired me.”

Mr. Brandl mourned, “I want to give you a lovely reference for your next
job.”

What next job?

                 * * * * *

Vestal was not too astonished when he walked into the house before
eleven in the morning, a man out of work. “Cheer up. I knew it would
come. Now _I’m_ going to get a job myself, and keep it till Booker T. is
about ready to arrive.”

“How?”

“I’ve already talked with Levi Tarr, at the Emporium. I won’t be on the
counter at first, but in the marking-room. And don’t go getting proud
and uxorious on me, and be offended by my working. We have to have the
money.”

“I’m not _going_ to get proud and what-is-it! I know we do.”

After seeing wartime women in uniform, in overalls, he was not so
ashamed of letting her go to work as his father would have been, but he
still had his young-white-gentleman worries:

“Will it be all right for Booker T.?”

(They had never agreed on this working title for the coming baby, and
neither of them really approved of anything so flippant. It had chosen
itself and it persisted.)

“Sure, he’s a healthy little brute. And they have a doctor’s office
right in the store.”

“The other clerks will plague you, as the wife of a colored man.”

“Not me they won’t! I’ll plague back. I’m not tolerant like you,
Captain! And your mother—she does face things, when she has to—she’s
promised to fetch Biddy from kindergarten and keep her afternoons till I
get back. Oh, it won’t be so bad. And some day—I’ve been thinking; all
this prejudice against you simply must cease. Isn’t this the Land of the
Noble Free? I hear so. In a couple years you’ll be in the dough again,
and I can stay home with Biddy and Booker and recline on my new chaise
longue and say to my maid, very languid, ‘Bring me my nail-polish,
Anzolette, and just pop your head out of the window, will you, and see
if little Master Booker is playing around in his helicopter.’ Oh, Neil,
Neil, he will be white then, when all this is over, he will be white,
_won’t_ he!”

She did go to work at Tarr’s. Apparently she was quick and competent,
and soon she was selling furniture, on which she was an expert—by a
Sylvan Park standard. Apparently no one dared to mock her, twice.

Neil rose before seven, got her breakfast, bullied Biddy into resuming
the burdens of life, waved good-bye to the family wage-earner when she
hurried off, washed the dishes and swept the house, took Biddy to
kindergarten. But instead of feeling degraded and made small, he was
pleased that he could do this little for Vestal, and pleased that there
was this one place where he could work without rebuke for being black.

It was when he trudged out to look for more virile labor, like making
figures in large books and saying, “The discount rate is one and a
quarter per cent.,” that he was dreary; it was when he abandoned the
refuge of home to go and be dutiful to the other members of his family
that he was helpless. His brother Robert hated him, had resigned his job
and was going off to anonymity in Chicago even before he should be
divorced.

Sometimes Neil could work up a little rage in his own defense. Why
couldn’t his family admit that they were, by the very definitions they
had all maintained, Negroes, and face the world with Negro courage, not
with the white mythology about the delights of exclusive clubs and
polite churches and invitations to dull houses? Was this structure of
anxious jealousies, this “good society,” so precious that, in losing it,
his family had suffered very picturesquely?

Sometimes, aside from his mother, these people seemed not related to him
at all. Much closer were not only Ash and Phil and Sophie but a
youngster like Winthrop Brewster who, in the university, was studying
electricity and manners, teleology and basketball, Sibelius symphonies
and dancing with girls of all colors, and who at pipe-fogged “bull
sessions” spoke up as briskly as any of the collegians who were the
sacred descendants of Norfolk hedgers, Killarney potato-diggers, Welsh
miners and French skunk-skinners. Why could Kitty and Charley Sayward
not be as realistic as this boy?

It was hard to be so realistic himself as to demand that Vestal accept
the fact that her two children would be “colored,” and learn to see all
“colored” people as human. He was joyful when, on a Sunday morning,
Vestal said eagerly, “Know what I’m going to do? I’m going to take Biddy
and go call on Dr. and Mrs. Davis.” (She never did come to call them Ash
and Martha.) “I want to have their little girl come play with Biddy some
day.”

“But Nora is almost ten years older than Bid.”

She was touchy. “Of course if you don’t _want_ me to call on your——”

“No, no, no, no, I’d be delighted, and I do hope you’ll come to like
them. You know, don’t you, that Ash has been fired?”

“So?”

She had no notion, clearly, that Ash’s discharge meant anything more to
him than a like embarrassment to a white chemist. Ash was still in town
only to sell his house, with a choice between being cheated by Frank
Brightwing and gypped by William Stopple. He might not be in a mood to
be patronized by Vestal, but she was so pleased with her own resolution
that Neil tried to cheer it.

She would not let him go with them. She was full of enterprise and
benevolence, though Biddy did ruffle her by a certain over-enthusiasm
about going to see “Uncle Ash and Aunt Martha and darling, _darling_
Nora.” Biddy had made detailed plans for the presentation of a play and
a grand opera by herself and Nora (whom she had never seen), this coming
summer, and when Neil explained that Nora would no longer be here, Biddy
waved all such triviality away, as blithely arrogant as her mother.

——I guess that’s all to the good. Bid will be like Winthrop. She’ll
say, “Certainly I’m colored. I also have one crooked toe. So what!”

On that cold April afternoon, after lunch, Vestal started beamingly off
for the bus, with Biddy prancing under the skeleton maple trees. They
were to be home at five. At a quarter past four, they returned, silent.

“Don’t be such a baby—take your own coat off, and skip upstairs and
play,” Vestal ordered Biddy, while Neil was rigid. His “Well?” was
cautious.

“If you must know, it didn’t go so well. Oh, they were just as pleasant
as they could be, and they do have a nice house, but——Maybe it had
nothing to do with their being colored, maybe they’re just too
intelligent for me, but I caught myself wishing that I were at Judd
Browler’s, talking about vegetable gardens. And Nora was just too darned
nice and patronizing to our poor moron child. Neil, are you so sure you
really want me to try and feel natural with your highbrow buddies—all
these Hindus and Koreans and Zionists and Nigerians? I do get so sick of
propaganda. I’m not sure I can do it, my dear. I’m not sure it will go.
At all.”

Neither was Neil.

                 * * * * *

Ash had not yet found his teaching job (he had given up calling it a
college position), but he had sold his house through Frank Brightwing,
who was very jovial about “you darkies” and had willingly persuaded the
purchaser to pay almost half the value. Ash believed that jobs would be
more easily found in the educational slave-market of New York, and he
was leaving Grand Republic—probably forever, lamented Neil.

Vestal said abruptly, No, she did not think she wanted to go with him to
see the Davises off. Besides, she couldn’t run away from her job that
way! Whether she meant to or not, it seemed to Neil that she was
reminding him that she, the tragic white woman, was toiling to support a
vagrant Negro, and that such heroism was too uncomfortable to last.

Grand Republic was proud of its new Union Station and the waiting-room,
the Great Hall, of gray limestone with murals of the explorers Radisson
and Groseilliers, David Thompson, Le Sueur, Lieutenant Pike, the Sieur
Dulhut. Neil plumed himself, “Xavier was one of those fellows. Biddy and
I belong with them, not with the Prutts and Wargates—those parvenus!”

Not the departing Ash himself had more greeters among the Negro crowd
than Neil. How many of them he had come to know on first-name terms in
these six months: all the Woolcapes and Davises and Brewsters, Phil
Windeck—who was now a bootlegger and overdressed in zoot-suit
fanciness, Axel Skagstrom, Borus Bugdoll, Wash, Hack Riley, Dr. Darius
Melody, Sugar Gowse. As for Sophie, Neil twined his arm with hers so
naturally that he did not know he was doing it.

They were all crying to the Davises, “Gosh, we’re going to miss you,
Professor,” and “Kiss Harlem for me, Ash,” and “Oh, Martha, we need
you!” and “Oh, come back soon, Nora.” But as Ash turned away from them
to go through the train gate, the portal through which he would never
return, his eyes had no hope in them. He was leaving not only his
friends but the one place—in America—where, for a time, the whites had
permitted him to pretend that he was a scientist and a responsible
citizen.

The last thing Neil saw of Ash, as he started down the stairs to the
train-platform below, his hand in Nora’s, was the apology in his face as
a fat white woman cursed him because she had jostled him.

Behind him Neil heard a white man explaining to a friend, “That guy they
were saying good-bye to was this educated nigger that was a draftsman or
something at Wargate’s. Well, every nigger that leaves here makes this
burg just that much better!”

The two men laughed, for they did not hear the earth moving.

                 * * * * *

When the telephone rang, at home that evening, a woman’s voice, entirely
unknown to him, said “Neilly?”

“Yes?”

“So your friend Ash has sneaked out of town and your friend Drexel got
the axe. It’ll be your turn soon, sweetie!”

“Who is this?”

“Don’t you wish you knew! But I wouldn’t want a bunch of niggers and
perverts to know my nice name! Say, is it true that Vestal has nigger
blood, too, on her mother’s side? Why don’t you two unspeakable fakes
get out of town? Nobody wants you here!”

Neil hung up; he told Vestal nothing.

Later in the evening, when they were reading, he heard Vestal say, low
and urgent, “Don’t look up, but there’s somebody staring in through the
window.”

He sprang up, he hobbled rapidly outside, but he found no one.

                 * * * * *

Mr. Cedric Staubermeyer demanded of Dr. Cortez Kelly, his neighbor,
“Wouldn’t you say that Kingsblood absolutely broke his father’s heart,
and killed him by his misbehavior?”

The Kelly who had once denied that fine theory agreed: “Yuh, you might
put it that way.”

Long hatred of the Jews had given Mr. Staubermeyer both training and
professional delight in the art of Rumorizing. Evening after evening,
when other residents of Sylvan Park said, “I don’t see anything
particularly objectionable about Kingsblood; seems a nice quiet fellow,”
Mr. Staubermeyer gave forth, “You know he not only got fired from the
bank for embezzlement but had a fight with his own father and yelled at
him so outrageously that the poor old fellow dropped dead from a heart
attack. I heard that from old Doc Kingsblood’s own assistant, who was
right there at the time.”

“What? Is that so? Well!”




                                   53


THE epidemic of firing went on, but not everything was evil for the lost
people in dark Egypt. Certain returned soldiers said that if a man could
die with them in Europe, he could dine with them in Minnesota, and they
had Phil Windeck elected to the American Legion.

Yet they were less friendly than their fathers might have been. Thirty
years before, the Negroes had seemed to be gaining so much more of what
they wanted because they had apparently wanted so much less. They had
demanded then only a roof and sidemeat and not to be lynched. Now, they
were demanding every human right, and whites who were self-admiringly
willing to give them a dish of cold potatoes were sometimes unwilling to
give them room at the workbench and the polling-booth, and muttered,
“We’ve been too easy. We got to clamp down on these apes before they
claim they can do our job just as good as we can.” The black crusade had
never seemed so risky as now, but any gain that was made was a real
increase in human dignity, not a pink bow tied on inescapable chains.

Neil might have been comforted by Phil’s small laurels—he did not know
how doubtful Phil himself was about accepting them—but he was suffering
from domestic twinges. Vestal was doing so well at Tarr’s that she began
to see herself not just as husband’s little helper but, quite properly,
as on her way to a lively career of her own in what she had come to
consider “the art of merchandising.” She was turning from a Popular
Young Matron into a woman. She exulted to Neil that, after Booker T.
arrived, she could hire a nurse for him and become a buyer, a
department-head, at Tarr’s, with her own office, her trips to New York,
drawing-room on the train, hotel suite, handsome dinners.

——Maybe some day she’ll own a business and give me a job as colored
porter. Am I doing her any kindness by sticking to her? Why not give up
this house, this way of living? Could I be a man on my own? Can I get
the education that enables a Sugar Gowse to live alone? Ought I to go? I
will if it seems best for her.

But that mild resolution did not help him a couple of days later when he
walked in on the interesting scene of Morton Beehouse, backed by Brother
Oliver and by Vestal’s sister from Duluth, making his most determined
effort to save his poor daughter.

“Ah, good evening, Neil. Do sit down,” said Morton—in Neil’s own house.
“We are faced by no pleasant duty this afternoon, but I give you credit,
whatever faults of evasion of responsibility you may have shown, for
possessing good intentions. We feel you don’t realize how you have
permitted Vestal and Biddy to drift into a position of ignominy.”

Vestal was merely listening. Either she agreed, or she had promised to
keep still.

“If you did realize it,” Morton went on, “you would take steps to end it
immediately. It isn’t their fault, it isn’t their doing, that you are a
colored man, and I can’t see why you should expect them to bear the
penalty.”

Neil wondered, “You expect me to _encourage_ them to leave me?”

Uncle Oliver jumped in, splashing. “My dear boy, isn’t that obvious? It
still isn’t too late to save their reputation, but if you delay much
longer——”

“No.”

“What?”

“I said No. I’m completely devoted to Vestal; I do realize her
discomfort; I shan’t try to control her; she must do what she
wants—which may not be what _you_ want, by the way. I did not marry
you.”

“Thank God!” said Oliver, with equal vulgarity.

“But I have decided that Biddy and the baby that is to come—if I’m a
Negro, then they’re Negroes, and no more of this shame about being what
we are that you white men have put over on us.”

“Quite,” said Uncle Oliver. “I see,” said Uncle Oliver. “So you intend
to visit on these two innocents the—oh, let’s call it the mark of——”

“No, let’s not call it that. What you don’t understand is that I don’t
any longer think they’d be better off as white children. I don’t think
my Negro friends _are_ inferior to a parchment-head like you. Not to be
rude, you know.”

“I see. Quite.”

                 * * * * *

Now Oliver’s firm had represented the Eisenherz estate, and Oliver knew
all about Sylvan Park real-estate titles and about “restrictive
covenants,” those gentlemanly agreements whereby white purchasers of
property agreed never to sell to any Negro, not even to Dumas or St.
Augustine. All of Grand Republic, except the Five Points, Swede Hollow,
Canoe Heights and a few tracts of swampland, was now covered by these
restrictive covenants, which have been the most delightful of devices
for tactfully saying to all clean and ambitious Negroes that the better
whites preferred them to be dirty, unambitious, and distant.

Oliver also knew a great deal about the Sant Tabac, and he went to Boone
Havock and Rodney Aldwick to discuss it, though none of the three was on
the official roll of Sant Tabac members.

                 * * * * *

Neil and Vestal heard the street door close, that Sunday afternoon, and
then, in the dining-room, the sound of Biddy, crying desperately. When
they galloped in, she raised her head to stare at them mutinously, her
wet eyes red and desolate. She choked, “Mummy, Mrs. Staubermeyer says
I’m a nigger.”

“Oh——”

“Am I a nigger?”

“Only as much as your father and mother are, and you can see for
yourself how much that is,” Vestal swore, “and we think we’re pretty
nice, don’t you?”

“Am I a nigger like Little Black Sambo? Or that nasty boy on the
shoeblacking can?”

“Not a bit like Little Black Sambo. More like Uncle Ash. Or Nora.”

“Oh, I love them!”

“Biddy! Quick! What happened?”

“I was playing with Teddy and Tessie Staubermeyer and Teddy said I was a
nigger, and I said no I wasn’t, and he said his papa and mama were all
the time laughing at my daddy because he is a nigger and so I’m a
nigger, too, Teddy said, and he said I couldn’t play with them any more
unless I all undressed, and I didn’t want to——”

“What’s all this?” Neil’s anger was that of a cold man.

“He said and Tessie said, if I was a nigger, I was a slave, and slaves
aren’t good for nothing except to take off their clothes and parade
around in front of their masters, bare-naked. And then Mrs.
Staubermeyer, she was listening to us from the porch——”

“She was?”

“——and she said no, they didn’t ought to make me undress, it was too
cold, but it was a good joke on me, though, my daddy was so high and
mighty and he wasn’t nothing but a nigger, she said, and I better get
out of there and go home. And I went.”

They coaxed Biddy into laughing before she was put to bed, and she
announced that while she was a Negro like Nora Davis, she was also an
Indian princess named Rosemary Kitten Sunshine. She was already devoted
to both of those romantic strains, with a sentimentality her father
could never achieve.

Outside her room, Neil growled, “I’m sorry she had to get the news that
way, from a family of degenerates. Come. We’re going to have a talk with
the Staubermeyers.”

On his way down the hall, he glanced into his “den” and noticed his
favorite Winchester on the wall. He made no particular connection, but
he did remember that he was an excellent rifle-shot and that this form
of sport is not hindered by a lame leg.

                 * * * * *

Cedric Staubermeyer, dealer in paints and carpets, was not meaty and
resolute like his neighbor, Mr. W. S. Vander. He was puffy and pouting
and unpunctual, but in his hysteria he was dangerous. When he found Neil
and Vestal at his front door—it was of golden oak, with net curtain
inside a diamond-shaped plate-glass insert—he looked embarrassed and
sulkily muttered, “Come in.”

The mantel in the parlor was also of golden-oak, with a plate-glass
mirror, and on the more-or-less Oriental table-cover was a pamphlet by
Jat Snood.

Mrs. Staubermeyer was a loftier character than her husband: a vixen with
free-running gray hair. She stood with her arms in two sharp V’s.

Neil remarked, “I’m not going to talk about calling the police or any of
that monkey-business, but if there’s any repetition of what happened to
my daughter this afternoon, I’m going to start trouble.”

“And just how?” demanded Mrs. Staubermeyer.

As that was a challenge hard to meet, Neil was relieved when Cedric
started shrieking, “You’ll start trouble? You’ll get into trouble, more
trouble, you mean! Got any idea how glad this neighborhood would be to
get rid of all you coons? Including yours truly! I always had an idea
you were a nigger or something, Kingsblood, because you got along so
well with the kikes and the wops!”

Vestal bored in, “Are you two cultured Gentiles aware that your son
suggested that my daughter take off her clothes?”

Mrs. Staubermeyer laughed, like the scratch of a file, and she giggled,
“Oh, he’s practically a grown man, that way. All the Staubermeyer men
mature so early. And let me tell you, madam, that we don’t never want
your daughter to come into our yard again, so you needn’t worry!”

                 * * * * *

For days, Biddy was alternately afraid and slightly proud of her
misadventure, and in sleep she trembled. Various more or less horrible
versions of what had happened skipped about the neighborhood, and in no
few of them, Biddy had been flagrantly indecent. They kept her at home
as much as they could, and they rejoiced:

“Anyway, thank Heaven, she always will have a nice yard of her own to
play in.”




                                   54


IT was revealed to Mr. Oliver Beehouse that since Sylvan Park was
altogether protected by restrictive covenants, when Neil Kingsblood had
contracted to buy his house, back in 1941, he had, by concealing the
fact that he was “colored,” been guilty of grave crimes against Mr.
Eisenherz, Mr. Stopple, the State health code, the Constitution, the
Bible, and Magna Carta. Oliver supposed that when his niece, Vestal, saw
her husband not only unemployed but houseless, she would leave him.
Oliver knew a great deal about corporation taxes but not much about
women.

One other person knew as surprisingly little about them, and that was
Neil. He assumed that because Vestal backed him in saucing Uncle Oliver,
because she let Biddy believe that both her parents were “colored,” he
could count on her being his true follower all the way.

But one afternoon when she came home from work, not many days after, it
was clear that there was no overflowing font of patience and love in her
at all. She looked at his clothes with disfavor, and sniffed, “Aren’t
you letting yourself get kind of sloppy? You’ve got to try and keep
neat, if you ever _are_ going to get a decent job.”

“I can’t afford a new suit, but I’ve been careful about brushing and
pressing this one.”

“There’s an ick, jam or something, on your tie.”

“I’m no fuss-Prutt!”

It was a family phrase which once they had found funny, but Vestal did
not smile as she continued the attack: “And another sign of your losing
your grip, and it worries me, is the fact that you want to run away from
me so often. You spend so much time with these lowdown soapboxers, like
this fellow Brewster—is that the preacher’s name?”

“It is, and you know it is. And let me tell you that I don’t spend a
quarter as much time away from you, with my race—though I ought to—as
I used to spend playing poker with Judd’s gang or going hunting and
generally wasting time. You think my real interest as a boy crusader is
a bore, whereas you used to think that my foolin’ with games was manly
and noble.”

“I still do! As compared with these fanatic field-days where you and the
other crackpots rearrange the world.”

“Vestal!”

“Well, I’m tired of it, tired clean through. I think I’ll take a little
nap before I get supper. Tired! What really makes it hard for me, Neil,
is that you’re two people: the boy I married and a Negro whose interests
I don’t know at all. Which of them am I married to now?”

In his distress at never being able to chart Vestal’s loyalty, he went
for counsel to his mother. It was a lively spring afternoon outside,
with clouds playing tag with the sun, but his mother sat over solitaire
in a room with the shades down, a chill ghost of a woman, like the soul
of a baby in limbo.

He begged, “Mom, how can I persuade Vestal that she’s no worse off than
millions of Negro women?”

“I don’t think you can, Boy, and she is worse off, if she thinks she is.
I’m not sure but that you ought to tell her to go, go far off, when the
new baby comes. You’ll be lonely—you got no idea how lonely—as lonely
as you’ve made Joan and me. But I imagine things will get worse with
Vestal and you. She’s a spirited girl. Maybe you ought to ask her to go
before they do get worse.”

“Maybe.”

                 * * * * *

In late spring, when the snow still filtered down for half an hour now
and then and veiled the plum blossoms and lilacs and flowering almond,
but when the trees were almost in full leaf, that full-bodied
ex-diplomat, Mr. Berthold Eisenherz, left his Florida villa and migrated
home as though he were going into exile.

With his eyes fixed on a signed photograph of H.E. the Rt. Hon. Sir
Reginald Widescombe, G.C.M.G., on a satinwood table in his library at
Hillhouse, with his fingertips together, each of them like a miniature
of his polite bald head, Mr. Eisenherz listened while Mr. William
Stopple explained that by selling property to this Neil Kingsblood, a
notorious Negro agitator, they had been guilty of breaking the covenant
and injuring the equity of the innocent white property-holders in Sylvan
Park. That they had been ignorant of the fellow’s taint was probably no
excuse in law and, what was worse than any legal foot-slipping, if they
didn’t do something at once, Mr. Eisenherz’s remaining unsold property
in the addition might drop in value.

Had it dropped yet? worried Mr. Eisenherz.

No, not yet, but everybody knew that it would, because everybody knew
that all Negroes like this fellow were unbathed and noisy, and while he,
Mr. Stopple, had no prejudices, and neither had he, Mr. Eisenherz, still
facts were facts. Weren’t they?

Bertie Eisenherz had been very fond of the mulatto mistress he had had
for two years while he was with the legation in Portugal, and he was
irritated by all this insular imbecility, but he needed the money, he
always needed the money, for the maintenance of his precarious
conviction that he was a great gentleman. And though he was devoted to
his Renoir and his autographed set of Henry James, he was legitimately
the grandson of Simon Eisenherz, the shrewdest and most resolute
pilferer of Indian forest-land titles in Northern Minnesota.

And so:

Neil received from the law-firm in which Rodney Aldwick was a partner a
letter bleakly asking him to call.

He went in warily to see Aldwick, who wanted to shake hands and who was
altogether on the friendly and jolly side:

“Neil, personally I think this whole matter is picayune nonsense, but
unfortunately, under the restrictive-covenant custom, both your
neighbors and poor old Bill Stopple’s firm could sue you for having
purchased your home on fraudulent pretenses, knowing all the while that
you were—colored, shall we say?”

He looked at Neil brightly, as if awaiting the pleasure of having him
get angry and rave that he had not “known all the while.” Neil sat
bulkily still and Aldwick, a little disappointed, went on:

“Mr. Eisenherz is still willing to refund what you paid. But he is no
longer just offering it; he is insisting. He demands that you hand over
the place at once. After all, what is it? Just another house and lot,
that’s all. If you refuse, he will take legal action, and I imagine that
in the settlement, any costs that Mr. Eisenherz may be forced to undergo
will be assessed against you. And they will be considerable. Eli see to
that! Ha, ha. Well, my dear fellow? After all, you know!”

“It’s my house, bought legally, honestly paid for, and I stick.”

“Oh, come now, Neil, we’re both of us men of the world.”

“Not me.”

“You know that this has nothing to do with reason or legality, Neil. If
the Sylvan Park suburbanites want to keep their tedious neighborhood
lily-white, they will, you know, and you’d be happier in a more
cosmopolitan district. Same like me.”

“You heard me.”

“Yes—yes—I heard you, my friend. So in all geniality let me tell you
that we shall file suit and chase you out of the house, with speed. If
you refuse to go, you will be jailed for contempt of court. So! I’ll be
seeing you.”

Neil took the case to Sweeney Fishberg, which was to proclaim that he
had a righteous cause and that he would probably lose it. Sweeney was
half Jew and half Irish, half Communist and half Roman Catholic, half
propagandist against all prejudice and half cynic about all propaganda.
He was St. Francis rewritten by Henry Mencken, Lenin with footnotes by
George Schuyler. He liked to talk with Clem Brazenstar, but he preferred
to go hunting with Boone Havock.

He estimated, “You could fight on the ground that they can’t prove
you’re a Negro at all, or on the ground that in this State, as small a
number of Negro genes as you have don’t legally constitute you a Negro.”

“No,” Neil said stubbornly, “I want to fight out the whole business of
restrictive covenants. We’ll make ’em illegal. Now that they’ve forced
me to be a Negro, I’m going to _be_ one.”

“You kind of helped ’em on the forcing, didn’t you? So you’re another
chronic martyr. I thought you were too good a golfer for that. Still
fighting to save John Brown from the gallows? Why do all you cranks and
abolitionists come to _me_? I’m a Boston Catholic _and_ a Republican.
The case would cost you a lot of money that you haven’t got, with the
bumbling Beehouses backing Rod, the young Lord God, and my services will
set you back a lot more than you’d think from this ratty office. No, you
better grab old Bertie’s offer, and sneak up and paint swastikas on his
house at night and——All right, all right, all right! Don’t badger me!
I’ll take it, and I’ll twist Aldwick’s powdered neck off!”

                 * * * * *

Slipping under Rod’s vigilant arm, Sweeney Fishberg went directly to
Bertie Eisenherz and got his consent to having the case postponed till
fall, in the hope, eternal among radicals like Sweeney, that God would
awaken in the next three or four months and see what His children on
earth were doing to one another.

The news of the postponement, the news that they would have to endure
the dreadful Kingsbloods for another season, started a combustion in
Sylvan Park. W. S. Vander and Cedric Staubermeyer, shuddering at being
contaminated by Biddy, were heard screaming, “We’re not going to wait
for no court action! We’re going to drive those niggers out of here
before our property is ruined!”

Since their zeal was not directed that way, none of them even thought of
Neil’s mother, who may have had more “Negro blood” than her son.

                 * * * * *

That warm evening, Prince dashed up and down the yard, a happy dog and,
for one of middle age, full of romance. They heard him singing a small,
contented, doggy song of love. But something made him uneasy, and
presently he came to the screened open window with low barks of inquiry.
Neil went out to the yard to reassure him, and when he patted that sleek
head, Prince mooned up with adoration, and rolled away again, to look
into the unusual matter of a night-roistering squirrel.

When Neil had settled with his newspaper, he heard, from just outside,
the astonishing crash of a shotgun. He leaped up and, despite Vestal’s
wail of “Don’t go—don’t!” he slipped out to the stoop.

Prince lay near the sidewalk, a mass of raw meat, already stiffening. As
Neil gaped, he felt something brush by him like a breeze, and Biddy, in
pajamas, had run out and was kneeling beside the stilled dog, her one
only remaining playmate. In the dusk, Neil thought he saw the dog’s head
lift in a reproachful look.

Vestal moaned, “Oh, the cowards! Neil! It could be you, next time—or
Biddy!”

Two evenings later, he found their carrier-brought newspaper on the
lawn, torn to pieces, and next morning, a straggling sign “Nigger get
out” had been painted on the side of their garage. That day, though the
organization was supposed to be dead in Grand Republic, he got a
full-dress Ku Klux Klan warning: “You better get out of this
neighborhood quick don’t think we are fooling this is sent to you in the
name of the cross of Christ, decent womanhood and American
civilization.”

All they could do, in the still and listening evenings, was to sit and
wait, sit and listen, waiting.

                 * * * * *

Mr. Josephus Lovejoy Smith—but he signed it “Jos L. Smith”—was born in
Upper New York State, and he affirmed, “No, I’m not related to Joseph
Smith, the Mormon, though he used to talk with the angels right near
where I was born. But I am distant kin to Gerrit Smith, who raised
abolitionist hell and teetotaler hell, and continued to be a respectable
land-promoter.”

He was a fat, immobile, gentle man of sixty who had a book and toy and
stationery shop of merit, just off Chippewa Avenue. He was a
lowchurchman, a right-of-center Republican, but his abolitionist
tradition, and a regret that Gerrit Smith had denied his ally, John
Brown, at the last, had always made him feel guilty that he had not
“done more for the poor darkies.” But he did not know what to do, except
to be indignant over newspaper accounts of lynchings and to sell as many
books by Myrdal and Cayton and Du Bois as he could.

Neil and Vestal had bought magazines and Christmas cards in his shop.
His brown house, which resembled a large sitting hen, was not far from
theirs, and they had seen him taking walks, under an umbrella, in the
rain. But they had never said anything more to him than “Good morning”
or “Have you any water-color sets?”

When he came calling and sat down breathless in their living-room, they
were perplexed.

He puffed, “You might not be interested, but my father was in the last
year of the Civil War, as a boy. My mother’s father was a colonel in a
Vermont regiment and he was related to Owen Lovejoy, who was, I believe,
a desperate anti-slavery man. But—I hope I’m not intruding, but I felt
that I must come and tell you that I have been hearing—in fact, I was
approached to join the gang—there is a plan among some of the folks
around here to mob your house and drive you out.”

“They really mean it?” from Neil.

“May I ask if you will defend your house—if you will fight?”

Neil looked inquiringly at Vestal, and she answered, “To the limit!”
Neil droned, “I would rather they didn’t start anything, but if they do,
I have some guns here.”

Mr. Smith considered, “I don’t believe I hold with violence or the use
of firearms in general. I don’t even hunt pa’tridges more than once a
year. But I don’t like this mob rule. If you can use some ten-gauge
shotgun shells, I’d be glad to lend them to you. It’s quite an old gun
that I have. By the way, the fellow that came to enlist me, I tried to
get out of him—he was Curtiss Havock, your next-door neighbor—I asked
him what night they plan it for, but he wouldn’t tell me. And
incidentally, Mr. Kingsblood—Neil—would you like to go to work for me
in my store—starting tomorrow, if you’d care to?”

                 * * * * *

“You know,” said Vestal afterwards, “there _is_ something to race
differences. No gang of Negroes, however mean they are, could be as
hideous as Curtiss and Feathering and the Staubermeyers. I’m beginning
to get annoyed.”

                 * * * * *

His day at Smith’s Book Store was disappointingly casual. No one stared
at him, no one objected to receiving 1 doz. bl. pencils #2 from his
black hand. Vestal came over from Tarr’s to have lunch with him, and
they took the bus home together, and nobody paid any attention to them,
and they felt silly—and then they did not feel silly at all, but
frightened all over again. For one Mr. Matozas, a man with an 1890
cyclist’s mustache, a detective on the Special Squad of the Safety
Commissioner (which meant chief of police), came calling that evening,
slyly making with his derby hat.

“Just kind of on some routine inquiries for the Commissioner,” he
gurgled.

Vestal—she did not like him nor his derby nor the leather-covered billy
visible in his side pocket—snapped, “Tell the Commissioner that you
found this family acting suspiciously: staying home in their own house,
listening to ‘This Land of Freedom’ program on the radio, and reading a
speech by President Truman.”

Matozas was a great laugher, chronic, though his red knuckles had been
split. He laughed, and he said, “Yuh, I’ll sure tell the Commissioner
that. He’ll be glad _one_ family is behaving itself, in this
gin-hoisting town! That’s a fine little girl you got.”

“Yes. We’ve noticed that. But when did you ever see her? She’s been in
bed for half an hour now.”

“Oh, I get around. The Special Squad gets around quite a lot.”

Neil took charge. “What do you want?”

“The Commissioner thought there’s something you folks ought to know. Of
course ordinarily, with your wife related to Counselor Beehouse, the
Commissioner would come to see you himself, but Judge Beehouse has come
out flatfooted and told us that he doesn’t want any part of this
business, and the law will have to take its course.”

“What law? What course? I wish you’d make your threats a little
clearer!” said Neil.

“Threats? And me coming here to tip you off that if you want to pack up
and move out right away, our Squad will give you any help we can! But if
you don’t—Mind you, I don’t know nothing about no mobs, but it would be
just too bad if a mob assembled, illegal, and we got here too late! Good
night, folks.”

Neil said then, “The Commissioner, this fellow’s boss, isn’t only an
appointee of Mayor Fleeron but a great friend of his, and of Wilbur
Feathering and, curiously enough, of Rod Aldwick. I think we better get
Biddy out of here, quick.”

They picked up the baby and dressed her without her ever quite
awakening, and Neil carried her to Mother Kingsblood’s, Vestal stalking
beside him like Diana in a camel’s-hair topcoat. They almost ran on the
way back, so apprehensive were they.

From the darkened living-room they kept watch on the street. Neil
brought his favorite rifle down from his den. His fingers felt cool on
the barrel. The evening was pleasant, tempting the strollers out after
the long imprisonment of the Northern winter, yet there were rather too
many people ambling by, neighbors and strangers, and Neil fancied that
everybody halted slightly and stared at the house.

And among the strollers, quite separate and casual, they noticed
Detective Matozas, Mayor Fleeron, and Mr. Wilbur Feathering.

And nothing happened, nothing at all, and they went to bed. They did not
sleep well, and Neil kept rising, to look out. There was nothing
suspicious . . . except that Detective Matozas was standing by a
cottonwood tree in Curtiss Havock’s yard, smoking cigarettes, all night
long. Perhaps he just liked cottonwood trees and cigarettes.

At breakfast, when Neil said “It’ll be tonight, sure,” she nodded, and
he pleaded, “Don’t you want to quit?”

“Never!”

“I can get some of the boys to come in—say, a colored captain I know,
Captain Windeck. Why don’t you go to your father’s for tonight, and not
bother us?”

“Do you want me to go?”

“Yes, I think I do.”

“Well, I’m not going! I stick,” said Vestal.

                 * * * * *

Pat Saxinar left the Marxian nunnery of her settlement-house that day
and came to see Neil in the Smith store. From her father, the alienated
Uncle Emery, she had rumors that Neil’s house was to be bombed.

Neil telephoned to Phil Windeck at the garage where Phil had a new job,
virtuous and underpaid, and to Evan Brewster, but neither of them knew
anything clearly. He wished that Ash and Ryan Woolcape were in town. He
tried to reach Dr. Cope Anderson, for that bulky chemist, to whom his
Negro friends were exactly like his white friends, only slightly more
so, would be a competent bruiser in a fight. But Cope and Peace Anderson
were in Milwaukee.

At the store, Mr. Smith brought him two boxes of shotgun shells, but Mr.
Smith said only, “Uh—some shells I happened to come across. You might
want to go hunting, next fall.” To Neil these shells were of value only
as antiques and symbols of faith. They were ten-gauge, and he hadn’t
seen a ten-gauge shotgun since the Civil War.

Vestal and he again returned together on the bus. They had the nervous
calmness of before-the-battle, and they did not feel moved to prepare
anything for their dinner beyond sandwiches and coffee. He no longer
suggested that Vestal desert. It was not that she said anything in
particular, but she had the look of battle.

They hastened over to Mother Kingsblood’s to see Biddy, hastened back.
Neil began to bring his guns and ammunition down to the living-room.

From that room, which they again kept dark, they could watch the small,
semi-circular stoop, and when the bell rang they saw Pat Saxinar out
there, and admitted her with enthusiasm.

Three minutes later, at another bell-ring, the sentry Vestal called out,
“It’s a nice-looking young man, some kind of a soldier, in what I think
is an American Legion uniform. Hot stuff. Golly, I think he’s colored.”

She let in Phil Windeck, soldierly again and trim, with a .45 automatic
in his pocket. She was as casual with him as with Pat—more easy and
casual than with the next recruit, who was Sweeney Fishberg.

That grumbler was bushy-haired and tart, and about as soldierly as
Professor Einstein. He was growling, “This is a service we give all our
clients, and most of ’em need it.” He disapproved of Phil’s automatic;
it was illegal, useless and tended to violence. But he handed it back.

Then, fat and stooped, walking slowly down the middle of the Street,
concealing nothing from anybody, carrying his enormous shotgun
unsportingly over his shoulder, his nose like a rabbit’s but his eyes
like an aged hawk’s, came Josephus Lovejoy Smith, formerly of the
Republican County Committee. And right after him, walking nervously and
looking down as if he was thinking hard, carrying a Marlin
repeating-rifle in a neat case, appeared Lucian Firelock, who said to
Pat, at the door, “Good evening. Is Mr. Kingsblood at home? Oh, good
evening, Neil. Good evening, Nurse.”

The Nurse, following him, was Sophie Concord, in uniform with a dark
cape over it.

She merely nodded to Neil, but to Vestal she said cheerily, “I thought I
might be able to help you, Mrs. Kingsblood, if there’s any cooking to
do—or any nursing.”

Last of all, in the clerical collar and black waistcoat that he rarely
wore, with a rifle under his arm, was the Reverend Evan Brewster, S.T.D.

Lucian Firelock said to him, “Have you any information about the
primaries in Mississippi, Mr. Brewster?”

It had been harder for him to call Evan “Mister” than to call him
“General” or “Eminence.”

Jos. L. Smith was introduced to Phil Windeck and Evan. He shook hands
firmly, and afterward said to Neil, “I don’t think I have met any
colored gentlemen socially before. They seem to have scarcely any
accent.”

The party became cheerful. It was a Sylvan Park evening of early summer,
with birds and the sound of playing children and peace over everything,
with plenty of guns and ammunition, and hot coffee by courtesy of Vestal
and Sophie. Neil gave a lesson in the handling of guns to Sophie, who
had the unprejudiced idea of closing both eyes when she pulled the
trigger, and Vestal laughed with them. Since most of them had not dined,
she started to cook ham and eggs, but Evan took it away from her, and
showed how a dining-car cook can turn a fried egg by flipping it in air.

“This whole combination of party and firearms,” said Evan, “makes me
think of when I first studied Greek, with a Congregational minister in
Massachusetts. He had a shack for his study, in the garden, and he used
to sit with his Greek Testament on a cardtable in front of him, and a
.22 rifle ready to pot the rabbits that ate his carrots——”

They heard a rock smashing through the sun-room window. They slipped to
the front of the house, to see people gathered across the Street, in the
thin darkness. . . . But Evan carefully turned off the gas in the
kitchen before he turned to war, and brought out a plate of the eggs
that had already been cooked. The besieged picked them up in their hands
and ate, while Neil turned off all the lights. The people in the
neighboring yards were moving about, shadowy, not laughing. It was
absurd to think of them as dangerous. But Neil posted his guards
sharply.

Vestal insisted, “Phone the police, Neil.”

“Don’t think it’ll do any good.”

“Possibly have a legal value,” said Fishberg.

When Neil reached the desk sergeant at police headquarters by telephone,
the sergeant was evasive. “People round your house, Mister? Whaddayuh
got? A menagerie?”

“They’re threatening us. I’m a, well, a Negro, and they’re trying to run
us out.”

“Ain’t that mean of ’em! Nigger, eh? Where yuh say you live? Mayo
Street?”

“I told you before.”

“Sure, I know all about you, Kingsblood. We have information there’s a
few kids roughhousing around there. What the hell are you? An old maid?
I always heard you zigs were scared of your own shadows. Can’t you stand
a little good-natured charivariing without bothering the police force?
We—” A yawn. “—got something more important to do.”

Neil reported to his army, “That’s interesting. The police knew all
about this, even before it started. And Mayor Fleeron is one of the
neighbors that want to drive me away. Fine fellows, the police.”

“And how!” said Sweeney Fishberg. “You’ve never been on a picket-line.”

There was no more laughter. Neil had chosen for his own firing-post one
window of the living-room, had stationed Phil Windeck at the other. He
fretted at Vestal, “You stand back in the dining-room, way back. You got
to be careful about the new baby.”

It occurred to Sweeney to telephone the office of Sheriff Alex
Snowflower, who was not dominated by Fleeron. Sweeney worked the hook up
and down, in the dimness, and said uncomfortably, “The phone wire has
just been cut.”

Lucian Firelock was annoyed and bewildered that he should be on this
side of the barricade. But he turned decisively to Phil with, “Mr.
Windeck, where should you hit a man if you want to stop him but not kill
him, not hurt him badly, Phil?”

The background of suburban Street could not have been more placid, with
the branches in a gently moving screen across the cool lamplighted
windows over the way. But against this background, the menace grew
rapidly. Dozens and then scores of men and excited women filled the
yards opposite, oozed into the Street. Aggressive men pushed forward in
the center, men whose killer faces were the more grotesque above their
pert ties, their near-gentlemanly tweed jackets.

They ceased to be human beings; they became bubbles on a dark cataract
of hate. Rigid in the living-room, Neil saw that the leaders of the mob
were Wilbur Feathering, the Reverend Dr. Jat Snood, Harold W. Whittick
and Cedric Staubermeyer, with the flat-headed but sturdy W. S. Vander as
war-chief. Following them were seventy or eighty face-screwed,
hot-voiced maniacs: poor neighbors, prosperous neighbors, a blot of
toughs whom Neil had never seen, with irate pietists from Snood’s
tabernacle.

But he could also make out a good many people who were flapping their
arms and bobbing up and down in protest: Charley Sayward, S. Ashiel
Denver, Norman and Rita Kamber, and the lovely Violet Crenway, who
worked up the general homicidal tension by screaming, “Oh, be careful,
everybody be careful!” while her delicate face was rosy with the joys of
horror. And a fortress of five clerics—Buncer, Gadd, Lenstra, Father
Pardon and Rabbi Sarouk—stood together, their hands flung high, warning
back the crowd—twenty years too late.

Through all the assembling, Sweeney Fishberg, by the light of a pocket
torch, was casually noting down their names, as future witnesses.
Neither Randy Spruce nor Mayor Fleeron nor Rodney Aldwick was to be
seen, but there were unrecognizable people up on Judd Browler’s roof.

At first the crowd stayed in the streets at Neil’s corner, or in the
yards of Curtiss Havock and Orlo Vay, with no perceptible objections
from the owners. But they were edging up on the sidewalks at the front
and side of Neil’s yard, and the protesting ministers had been pushed
back into the tree-thick darkness.

“You heard he killed his father!” cried an unknown, and a dozen unknowns
answered, “Sure, and we’ll get him for it!”

There was a diversion then, and for a time Neil did not see what it
meant. Swinging into the crowd, headed for his front door, three men
marched like the Continentals of 1776: John Woolcape, Albert Woolcape,
and Borus Bugdoll. There was nothing to choose among the scholar, the
haggling laundryman and the racketeer for pure, high fury, but it was
Albert, who had tried so hard not to be a Negro belligerent, who could
be heard shrieking, “You let us pass!”

The crowd realized, from Borus’s color, what they were, and eddied about
them. Neil did not see them again. He saw only the bulk of the crowd,
saw the clubs rising, and heard one scream.

Now, like a slow tide of mud, the crowd moved into Neil’s own yard. Not
thinking, not much afraid, outraged at their trespass, Neil stumped to
the front door, unlocked and opened it, and stood in the doorway, rifle
on his arm. He was conscious of how fresh and pleasant the air was, and
conscious that behind him were Phil, and Vestal with an absurdly large
automatic pistol.

He called out, “I’m going to kill the next fellow that takes a step.”

They froze.

From the front of the crowd, his voice rough and resolute, Vander the
lumberjack croaked, “Don’t talk like a fool! You’re going to move out of
this neighborhood tonight, or we’ll tear the house down and take care of
every damn nigger in it!”

Neil said with chilliness, “Mr. Vander?”

“Yuh?”

“We ordinarily say ‘Negro,’ not ‘nigger.’”

Jat Snood let loose. “Come on, brethren! Get going! It’s the work of the
Lord! Let’s go!”

Neil nuzzled his rifle at his shoulder, and Feathering yelped, “Look out
for him!” But Vander snarled, “He don’t dare!”

So Vander and Snood and Feathering swayed toward Neil together. As they
did, there was a shot from the crowd, and a bullet, passing over Neil’s
shoulder, got Vestal. He heard her gasp; for a second turned his head
toward her. She snapped, “It’s nothing. Just touched m’ arm. Let ’em
have it!”

But Neil took his time, because he was a target shot, and because he was
meticulously choosing among Vander, Snood, Feathering. Really, Vander
should come first, but the missionary from hell had his merits——

Then he fired. His first shot caught the Reverend Dr. Jat Snood in his
right thigh, and he went down. The second got Feathering’s right knee,
but unfortunately the third—perhaps Neil was nervous by now—missed
Vander, nipped off a toe of Cedric Staubermeyer, and sent him home
howling.

The crowd stumbled backward, beginning to shoot. Then Mr. Jos. L. Smith,
from an upstairs window—that of Biddy’s pink-and-white little room—let
go with his ten-gauge cannon, and sprinkled quail shot over the whole
brigade, and they broke, screaming for aid.

The policemen in their patrol wagon must have been waiting not two
blocks away. As Mr. Smith’s artillery roared, the gong was heard, the
patrol wagon pushed politely through the retreating crowd, and the
policemen leaped out and trotted toward Neil and Phil and Vestal in the
doorway.

At their head was Detective Matozas. He and his gallants must have had
careful orders. They seized Neil and Phil, but at Vestal, who stood just
inside the door with Sophie beginning to bandage her arm, Matozas
growled, “Get back in the house there, you. We don’t want you. We just
want these niggers—starting all this riot, shooting prominent
citizens!”

Vestal put aside Sophie’s ministrations with an affectionate pat, and
spoke to Mr. Matozas clearly: “Then you’ll have to take me. Didn’t you
know I’m a Negro, too?”

One policeman muttered to another, “I didn’t know she was a tar-baby,”
and his mate revealed, “Don’t be so dumb. Can’t you see it by her jaw?”

Matozas commanded, “Well, we’re not _going_ to take you, no such a damn
thing, and you get back in there and quit trying to work up sympathy!”

He reached for her arm.

“Oh, you’ll take me!” said Vestal, quite sweetly, and brought the butt
of her automatic down on the detective’s head.

As she was herded with Neil toward the patrol wagon, she squeezed his
arm. “Are you as scared as I am? Will you hold my hand in the wagon? It
looks so dark in there, but if you hold my hand, I shan’t be too
frightened. What a wonderful start this is for little Booker T.! Neil!
Listen! Listen to Josephus Smith bawling out the policemen. There must
be lots of good white men, aren’t there?”

“Keep moving,” said a policeman.

“We’re moving,” said Vestal.

                                THE END




                           TRANSCRIBER NOTES

Misspelled words and printer errors have been corrected. Where multiple
spellings occur, majority use has been employed.

Punctuation has been maintained except where obvious printer errors
occur.

A cover was created for this eBook and is placed in the public domain.

[The end of _Kingsblood Royal_ by Sinclair Lewis]

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