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 Pat had always been a comely girl but peering and withdrawn.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 Spigs, 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.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11