Kingsblood Royal, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 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.

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