Kingsblood Royal, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 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.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57