Kingsblood Royal, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 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.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38