Kingsblood Royal, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 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-inlaw 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 Marl, 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-inarms 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 spellbinder 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 handy-man 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-inlaw 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. BrazenSTAR! 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!”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/lewis/sinclair/kingsblood/chapter36.html

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