It was revealed to Mr. Oliver Beehouse that since Sylvan Park was altogether protected by restrictive covenants, when Neil Kingsblood had contracted to buy his house, back in 1941, he had, by concealing the fact that he was “colored,” been guilty of grave crimes against Mr. Eisenherz, Mr. Stopple, the state health code, the Constitution, the Bible, and Magna Carta. Oliver supposed that when his niece, Vestal, saw her husband not only unemployed but houseless, she would leave him. Oliver knew a great deal about corporation taxes but not much about women.
One other person knew as surprisingly little about them, and that was Neil. He assumed that because Vestal backed him in saucing Uncle Oliver, because she let Biddy believe that both her parents were “colored,” he could count on her being his true follower all the way.
But one afternoon when she came home from work, not many days after, it was clear that there was no overflowing font of patience and love in her at all. She looked at his clothes with disfavor, and sniffed, “Aren’t you letting yourself get kind of sloppy? You’ve got to try and keep neat, if you ever ARE going to get a decent job.”
“I can’t afford a new suit, but I’ve been careful about brushing and pressing this one.”
“There’s an ick, jam or something, on your tie.”
“I’m no fuss-Prutt!”
It was a family phrase which once they had found funny, but Vestal did not smile as she continued the attack: “And another sign of your losing your grip, and it worries me, is the fact that you want to run away from me so often. You spend so much time with these lowdown soap-boxers, like this fellow Brewster — is that the preacher’s name?”
“It is, and you know it is. And let me tell you that I don’t spend a quarter as much time away from you, with my race — though I ought to — as I used to spend playing poker with Judd’s gang or going hunting and generally wasting time. You think my real interest as a boy crusader is a bore, whereas you used to think that my foolin’ with games was manly and noble.”
“I still do! As compared with these fanatic field-days where you and the other crackpots rearrange the world.”
“Well, I’m tired of it, tired clean through. I think I’ll take a little nap before I get supper. Tired! What really makes it hard for me, Neil, is that you’re two people: the boy I married and a Negro whose interests I don’t know at all. Which of them am I married to now?”
In his distress at never being able to chart Vestal’s loyalty, he went for counsel to his mother. It was a lively spring afternoon outside, with clouds playing tag with the sun, but his mother sat over solitaire in a room with the shades down, a chill ghost of a woman, like the soul of a baby in limbo.
He begged, “Mom, how can I persuade Vestal that she’s no worse off than millions of Negro women?”
“I don’t think you can, Boy, and she is worse off, if she thinks she is. I’m not sure but that you ought to tell her to go, go far off, when the new baby comes. You’ll be lonely — you got no idea how lonely — as lonely as you’ve made Joan and me. But I imagine things will get worse with Vestal and you. She’s a spirited girl. Maybe you ought to ask her to go before they do get worse.”
In late spring, when the snow still filtered down for half an hour now and then and veiled the plum blossoms and lilacs and flowering almond, but when the trees were almost in full leaf, that full-bodied ex-diplomat, Mr. Berthold Eisenherz, left his Florida villa and migrated home as though he were going into exile.
With his eyes fixed on a signed photograph of H.E. the Rt. Hon. Sir Reginald Widescombe, G.C.M.G., on a satinwood table in his library at Hillhouse, with his fingertips together, each of them like a miniature of his polite bald head, Mr. Eisenherz listened while Mr. William Stopple explained that by selling property to this Neil Kingsblood, a notorious Negro agitator, they had been guilty of breaking the covenant and injuring the equity of the innocent white property-holders in Sylvan Park. That they had been ignorant of the fellow’s taint was probably no excuse in law and, what was worse than any legal foot-slipping, if they didn’t do something at once, Mr. Eisenherz’s remaining unsold property in the addition might drop in value.
Had it dropped yet? worried Mr. Eisenherz.
No, not yet, but everybody knew that it would, because everybody knew that all Negroes like this fellow were unbathed and noisy, and while he, Mr. Stopple, had no prejudices, and neither had he, Mr. Eisenherz, still facts were facts. Weren’t they?
Bertie Eisenherz had been very fond of the mulatto mistress he had had for two years while he was with the legation in Portugal, and he was irritated by all this insular imbecility, but he needed the money, he always needed the money, for the maintenance of his precarious conviction that he was a great gentleman. And though he was devoted to his Renoir and his autographed set of Henry James, he was legitimately the grandson of Simon Eisenherz, the shrewdest and most resolute pilferer of Indian forest-land titles in Northern Minnesota.
Neil received from the law-firm in which Rodney Aldwick was a partner a letter bleakly asking him to call.
He went in warily to see Aldwick, who wanted to shake hands and who was altogether on the friendly and jolly side:
“Neil, personally I think this whole matter is picayune nonsense, but unfortunately, under the restrictive-covenant custom, both your neighbors and poor old Bill Stopple’s firm could sue you for having purchased your home on fraudulent pretenses, knowing all the while that you were — colored, shall we say?”
He looked at Neil brightly, as if awaiting the pleasure of having him get angry and rave that he had not “known all the while.” Neil sat bulkily still and Aldwick, a little disappointed, went on:
“Mr. Eisenherz is still willing to refund what you paid. But he is no longer just offering it; he is insisting. He demands that you hand over the place at once. After all, what is it? Just another house and lot, that’s all. If you refuse, he will take legal action, and I imagine that in the settlement, any costs that Mr. Eisenherz may be forced to undergo will be assessed against you. And they will be considerable. I’ll see to that! Ha, ha. Well, my dear fellow? After all, you know!”
“It’s my house, bought legally, honestly paid for, and I stick.”
“Oh, come now, Neil, we’re both of us men of the world.”
“You know that this has nothing to do with reason or legality, Neil. If the Sylvan Park suburbanites want to keep their tedious neighborhood lily-white, they will, you know, and you’d be happier in a more cosmopolitan district. Same like me.”
“You heard me.”
“Yes — yes — I heard you, my friend. So in all geniality let me tell you that we shall file suit and chase you out of the house, with speed. If you refuse to go, you will be jailed for contempt of court. So! I’ll be seeing you.”
Neil took the case to Sweeney Fishberg, which was to proclaim that he had a righteous cause and that he would probably lose it. Sweeney was half Jew and half Irish, half Communist and half Roman Catholic, half propagandist against all prejudice and half cynic about all propaganda. He was St. Francis rewritten by Henry Mencken, Lenin with footnotes by George Schuyler. He liked to talk with Clem Brazenstar, but he preferred to go hunting with Boone Havock.
He estimated, “You could fight on the ground that they can’t prove you’re a Negro at all, or on the ground that in this state, as small a number of Negro genes as you have don’t legally constitute you a Negro.”
“No,” Neil said stubbornly, “I want to fight out the whole business of restrictive covenants. We’ll make ’em illegal. Now that they’ve forced me to be a Negro, I’m going to BE one.”
“You kind of helped ’em on the forcing, didn’t you? So you’re another chronic martyr. I thought you were too good a golfer for that. Still fighting to save John Brown from the gallows? Why do all you cranks and abolitionists come to ME? I’m a Boston Catholic AND a Republican. The case would cost you a lot of money that you haven’t got, with the bumbling Beehouses backing Rod, the young Lord God, and my services will set you back a lot more than you’d think from this ratty office. No, you better grab old Bertie’s offer, and sneak up and paint swastikas on his house at night and — All right, all right, all right! Don’t badger me! I’ll take it, and I’ll twist Aldwick’s powdered neck off!”
Slipping under Rod’s vigilant arm, Sweeney Fishberg went directly to Bertie Eisenherz and got his consent to having the case postponed till fall, in the hope, eternal among radicals like Sweeney, that God would awaken in the next three or four months and see what His children on earth were doing to one another.
The news of the postponement, the news that they would have to endure the dreadful Kingsbloods for another season, started a combustion in Sylvan Park. W. S. Vander and Cedric Staubermeyer, shuddering at being contaminated by Biddy, were heard screaming, “We’re not going to wait for no court action! We’re going to drive those niggers out of here before our property is ruined!”
Since their zeal was not directed that way, none of them even thought of Neil’s mother, who may have had more “Negro blood” than her son.
That warm evening, Prince dashed up and down the yard, a happy dog and, for one of middle age, full of romance. They heard him singing a small, contented, doggy song of love. But something made him uneasy, and presently he came to the screened open window with low barks of inquiry. Neil went out to the yard to reassure him, and when he patted that sleek head, Prince mooned up with adoration, and rolled away again, to look into the unusual matter of a night-roistering squirrel.
When Neil had settled with his newspaper, he heard, from just outside, the astonishing crash of a shotgun. He leaped up and, despite Vestal’s wail of “Don’t go — don’t!” he slipped out to the stoop.
Prince lay near the sidewalk, a mass of raw meat, already stiffening. As Neil gaped, he felt something brush by him like a breeze, and Biddy, in pajamas, had run out and was kneeling beside the stilled dog, her one only remaining playmate. In the dusk, Neil thought he saw the dog’s head lift in a reproachful look.
Vestal moaned, “Oh, the cowards! Neil! It could be you, next time — or Biddy!” Two evenings later, he found their carrier-brought newspaper on the lawn, torn to pieces, and next morning, a straggling sign “Nigger get out” had been painted on the side of their garage. That day, though the organization was supposed to be dead in Grand Republic, he got a full-dress Ku Klux Klan warning: “You better get out of this neighborhood quick don’t think we are fooling this is sent to you in the name of the cross of Christ, decent womanhood and American civilization.”
All they could do, in the still and listening evenings, was to sit and wait, sit and listen, waiting.
Mr. Josephus Lovejoy Smith — but he signed it “Jos L. Smith”— was born in Upper New York State, and he affirmed, “No, I’m not related to Joseph Smith, the Mormon, though he used to talk with the angels right near where I was born. But I am distant kin to Gerrit Smith, who raised abolitionist hell and teetotaler hell, and continued to be a respectable land-promoter.”
He was a fat, immobile, gentle man of sixty who had a book and toy and stationery shop of merit, just off Chippewa Avenue. He was a lowchurchman, a right-of-center Republican, but his abolitionist tradition, and a regret that Gerrit Smith had denied his ally, John Brown, at the last, had always made him feel guilty that he had not “done more for the poor darkies.” But he did not know what to do, except to be indignant over newspaper accounts of lynchings and to sell as many books by Myrdal and Cayton and Du Bois as he could.
Neil and Vestal had bought magazines and Christmas cards in his shop. His brown house, which resembled a large sitting hen, was not far from theirs, and they had seen him taking walks, under an umbrella, in the rain. But they had never said anything more to him than “Good morning” or “Have you any water-color sets?”
When he came calling and sat down breathless in their living-room, they were perplexed.
He puffed, “You might not be interested, but my father was in the last year of the Civil War, as a boy. My mother’s father was a colonel in a Vermont regiment and he was related to Owen Lovejoy, who was, I believe, a desperate anti-slavery man. But — I hope I’m not intruding, but I felt that I must come and tell you that I have been hearing — in fact, I was approached to join the gang — there is a plan among some of the folks around here to mob your house and drive you out.”
“They really mean it?” from Neil.
“May I ask if you will defend your house — if you will fight?”
Neil looked inquiringly at Vestal, and she answered, “To the limit!” Neil droned, “I would rather they didn’t start anything, but if they do, I have some guns here.”
Mr. Smith considered, “I don’t believe I hold with violence or the use of firearms in general. I don’t even hunt pa’tridges more than once a year. But I don’t like this mob rule. If you can use some ten-gauge shotgun shells, I’d be glad to lend them to you. It’s quite an old gun that I have. By the way, the fellow that came to enlist me, I tried to get out of him — he was Curtiss Havock, your next-door neighbor — I asked him what night they plan it for, but he wouldn’t tell me. And incidentally, Mr. Kingsblood — Neil — would you like to go to work for me in my store — starting tomorrow, if you’d care to?”
“You know,” said Vestal afterwards, “there IS something to race differences. No gang of Negroes, however mean they are, could be as hideous as Curtiss and Feathering and the Staubermeyers. I’m beginning to get annoyed.”
His day at Smith’s Book Store was disappointingly casual. No one stared at him, no one objected to receiving 1 doz. bl. pencils #2 from his black hand. Vestal came over from Tarr’s to have lunch with him, and they took the bus home together, and nobody paid any attention to them, and they felt silly — and then they did not feel silly at all, but frightened all over again. For one Mr. Matozas, a man with an 1890 cyclist’s mustache, a detective on the Special Squad of the Safety Commissioner (which meant chief of police), came calling that evening, slyly making with his derby hat.
“Just kind of on some routine inquiries for the Commissioner,” he gurgled.
Vestal — she did not like him nor his derby nor the leather-covered billy visible in his side pocket — snapped, “Tell the Commissioner that you found this family acting suspiciously: staying home in their own house, listening to ‘This Land of Freedom’ program on the radio, and reading a speech by President Truman.”
Matozas was a great laugher, chronic, though his red knuckles had been split. He laughed, and he said, “Yuh, I’ll sure tell the Commissioner that. He’ll be glad ONE family is behaving itself, in this gin — hoisting town! That’s a fine little girl you got.”
“Yes. We’ve noticed that. But when did you ever see her? She’s been in bed for half an hour now.”
“Oh, I get around. The Special Squad gets around quite a lot.”
Neil took charge. “What do you want?”
“The Commissioner thought there’s something you folks ought to know. Of course ordinarily, with your wife related to Counselor Beehouse, the Commissioner would come to see you himself, but Judge Beehouse has come out flatfooted and told us that he doesn’t want any part of this business, and the law will have to take its course.”
“What law? What course? I wish you’d make your threats a little clearer!” said Neil.
“Threats? And me coming here to tip you off that if you want to pack up and move out right away, our Squad will give you any help we can! But if you don’t — Mind you, I don’t know nothing about no mobs, but it would be just too bad if a mob assembled, illegal, and we got here too late! Good night, folks.”
Neil said then, “The Commissioner, this fellow’s boss, isn’t only an appointee of Mayor Fleeron but a great friend of his, and of Wilbur Feathering and, curiously enough, of Rod Aldwick. I think we better get Biddy out of here, quick.”
They picked up the baby and dressed her without her ever quite awakening, and Neil carried her to Mother Kingsblood’s, Vestal stalking beside him like Diana in a camel’s-hair topcoat. They almost ran on the way back, so apprehensive were they.
From the darkened living-room they kept watch on the street. Neil brought his favorite rifle down from his den. His fingers felt cool on the barrel. The evening was pleasant, tempting the strollers out after the long imprisonment of the Northern winter, yet there were rather too many people ambling by, neighbors and strangers, and Neil fancied that everybody halted slightly and stared at the house.
And among the strollers, quite separate and casual, they noticed Detective Matozas, Mayor Fleeron, and Mr. Wilbur Feathering.
And nothing happened, nothing at all, and they went to bed. They did not sleep well, and Neil kept rising, to look out. There was nothing suspicious . . . except that Detective Matozas was standing by a cottonwood tree in Curtiss Havock’s yard, smoking cigarettes, all night long. Perhaps he just liked cottonwood trees and cigarettes.
At breakfast, when Neil said “It’ll be tonight, sure,” she nodded, and he pleaded, “Don’t you want to quit?”
“I can get some of the boys to come in-say, a colored captain I know, Captain Windeck. Why don’t you go to your father’s for tonight, and not bother us?”
“Do you want me to go?”
“Yes, I think I do.”
“Well, I’m not going! I stick,” said Vestal.
Pat Saxinar left the Marxian nunnery of her settlement-house that day and came to see Neil in the Smith store. From her father, the alienated Uncle Emery, she had rumors that Neil’s house was to be bombed.
Neil telephoned to Phil Windeck at the garage where Phil had a new job, virtuous and underpaid, and to Evan Brewster, but neither of them knew anything clearly. He wished that Ash and Ryan Woolcape were in town. He tried to reach Dr. Cope Anderson, for that bulky chemist, to whom his Negro friends were exactly like his white friends, only slightly more so, would be a competent bruiser in a fight. But Cope and Peace Anderson were in Milwaukee.
At the store, Mr. Smith brought him two boxes of shotgun shells, but Mr. Smith said only, “Uh — some shells I happened to come across. You might want to go hunting, next fall.” To Neil these shells were of value only as antiques and symbols of faith. They were ten-gauge, and he hadn’t seen a ten-gauge shotgun since the Civil War.
Vestal and he again returned together on the bus. They had the nervous calmness of before-the-battle, and they did not feel moved to prepare anything for their dinner beyond sandwiches and coffee. He no longer suggested that Vestal desert. It was not that she said anything in particular, but she had the look of battle.
They hastened over to Mother Kingsblood’s to see Biddy, hastened back. Neil began to bring his guns and ammunition down to the living-room.
From that room, which they again kept dark, they could watch the small, semi-circular stoop, and when the bell rang they saw Pat Saxinar out there, and admitted her with enthusiasm.
Three minutes later, at another bell-ring, the sentry Vestal called out, “It’s a nice-looking young man, some kind of a soldier, in what I think is an American Legion uniform. Hot stuff. Golly, I think he’s colored.”
She let in Phil Windeck, soldierly again and trim, with a .45 automatic in his pocket. She was as casual with him as with Pat — more easy and casual than with the next recruit, who was Sweeney Fishberg.
That grumbler was bushy-haired and tart, and about as soldierly as Professor Einstein. He was growling, “This is a service we give all our clients, and most of ’em need it.” He disapproved of Phil’s automatic; it was illegal, useless and tended to violence. But he handed it back.
Then, fat and stooped, walking slowly down the middle of the street, concealing nothing from anybody, carrying his enormous shotgun unsportingly over his shoulder, his nose like a rabbit’s but his eyes like an aged hawk’s, came Josephus Lovejoy Smith, formerly of the Republican County Committee. And right after him, walking nervously and looking down as if he was thinking hard, carrying a Marlin repeating-rifle in a neat case, appeared Lucian Firelock, who said to Pat, at the door, “Good evening. Is Mr. Kingsblood at home? Oh, good evening, Neil. Good evening, Nurse.”
The Nurse, following him, was Sophie Concord, in uniform with a dark cape over it.
She merely nodded to Neil, but to Vestal she said cheerily, “I thought I might be able to help you, Mrs. Kingsblood, if there’s any cooking to do — or any nursing.”
Last of all, in the clerical collar and black waistcoat that he rarely wore, with a rifle under his arm, was the Reverend Evan Brewster, S.T.D.
Lucian Firelock said to him, “Have you any information about the primaries in Mississippi, Mr. Brewster?”
It had been harder for him to call Evan “Mister” than to call him “General” or “Eminence.”
Jos. L. Smith was introduced to Phil Windeck and Evan. He shook hands firmly, and afterward said to Neil, “I don’t think I have met any colored gentlemen socially before. They seem to have scarcely any accent.”
The party became cheerful. It was a Sylvan Park evening of early summer, with birds and the sound of playing children and peace over everything, with plenty of guns and ammunition, and hot coffee by courtesy of Vestal and Sophie. Neil gave a lesson in the handling of guns to Sophie, who had the unprejudiced idea of closing both eyes when she pulled the trigger, and Vestal laughed with them. Since most of them had not dined, she started to cook ham and eggs, but Evan took it away from her, and showed how a dining-car cook can turn a fried egg by flipping it in air.
“This whole combination of party and firearms,” said Evan, “makes me think of when I first studied Greek, with a Congregational minister in Massachusetts. He had a shack for his study, in the garden, and he used to sit with his Greek Testament on a card-table in front of him, and a .22 rifle ready to pot the rabbits that ate his carrots —”
They heard a rock smashing through the sun-room window. They slipped to the front of the house, to see people gathered across the street, in the thin darkness. . . . But Evan carefully turned off the gas in the kitchen before he turned to war, and brought out a plate of the eggs that had already been cooked. The besieged picked them up in their hands and ate, while Neil turned off all the lights. The people in the neighboring yards were moving about, shadowy, not laughing. It was absurd to think of them as dangerous. But Neil posted his guards sharply.
Vestal insisted, “Phone the police, Neil.”
“Don’t think it’ll do any good.”
“Possibly have a legal value,” said Fishberg.
When Neil reached the desk sergeant at police headquarters by telephone, the sergeant was evasive. “People round your house, Mister? Whaddayuh got? A menagerie?”
“They’re threatening us. I’m a, well, a Negro, and they’re trying to run us out.”
“Ain’t that mean of ’em! Nigger, eh? Where yuh say you live? Mayo Street?”
“I told you before.”
“Sure, I know all about you, Kingsblood. We have information there’s a few kids roughhousing around there. What the hell are you? An old maid? I always heard you zigs were scared of your own shadows. Can’t you stand a little good-natured charivariing without bothering the police force? We —” A yawn. “— got something more important to do.”
Neil reported to his army, “That’s interesting. The police knew all about this, even before it started. And Mayor Fleeron is one of the neighbors that want to drive me away. Fine fellows, the police.”
“And how!” said Sweeney Fishberg. “You’ve never been on a picket-line.”
There was no more laughter. Neil had chosen for his own firing-post one window of the living-room, had stationed Phil Windeck at the other. He fretted at Vestal, “You stand back in the dining-room, way back. You got to be careful about the new baby.”
It occurred to Sweeney to telephone the office of Sheriff Alex Snowflower, who was not dominated by Fleeron. Sweeney worked the hook up and down, in the dimness, and said uncomfortably, “The phone wire has just been cut.”
Lucian Firelock was annoyed and bewildered that he should be on this side of the barricade. But he turned decisively to Phil with, “Mr. Windeck, where should you hit a man if you want to stop him but not kill him, not hurt him badly, Phil?”
The background of suburban street could not have been more placid, with the branches in a gently moving screen across the cool lamplighted windows over the way. But against this background, the menace grew rapidly. Dozens and then scores of men and excited women filled the yards opposite, oozed into the street. Aggressive men pushed forward in the center, men whose killer faces were the more grotesque above their pert ties, their near-gentlemanly tweed jackets.
They ceased to be human beings; they became bubbles on a dark cataract of hate. Rigid in the living-room, Neil saw that the leaders of the mob were Wilbur Feathering, the Reverend Dr. Jat Snood, Harold W. Whittick and Cedric Staubermeyer, with the flat-headed but sturdy W. S. Vander as war-chief. Following them were seventy or eighty face-screwed, hot-voiced maniacs: poor neighbors, prosperous neighbors, a blot of toughs whom Neil had never seen, with irate pietists from Snood’s tabernacle.
But he could also make out a good many people who were flapping their arms and bobbing up and down in protest: Charley Sayward, S. Ashiel Denver, Norman and Rita Kamber, and the lovely Violet Crenway, who worked up the general homicidal tension by screaming, “Oh, be careful, everybody be careful!” while her delicate face was rosy with the joys of horror. And a fortress of five clerics — Buncer, Gadd, Lenstra, Father Pardon and Rabbi Sarouk — stood together, their hands flung high, warning back the crowd — twenty years too late.
Through all the assembling, Sweeney Fishberg, by the light of a pocket torch, was casually noting down their names, as future witnesses. Neither Randy Spruce nor Mayor Fleeron nor Rodney Aldwick was to be seen, but there were unrecognizable people up on Judd Browler’s roof.
At first the crowd stayed in the streets at Neil’s corner, or in the yards of Curtiss Havock and Orlo Vay, with no perceptible objections from the owners. But they were edging up on the sidewalks at the front and side of Neil’s yard, and the protesting ministers had been pushed back into the tree-thick darkness.
“You heard he killed his father!” cried an unknown, and a dozen unknowns answered, “Sure, and we’ll get him for it!”
There was a diversion then, and for a time Neil did not see what it meant. Swinging into the crowd, headed for his front door, three men marched like the Continentals of 1776: John Woolcape, Albert Woolcape, and Borus Bugdoll. There was nothing to choose among the scholar, the haggling laundryman and the racketeer for pure, high fury, but it was Albert, who had tried so hard not to be a Negro belligerent, who could be heard shrieking, “You let us pass!”
The crowd realized, from Borus’s color, what they were, and eddied about them. Neil did not see them again. He saw only the bulk of the crowd, saw the clubs rising, and heard one scream.
Now, like a slow tide of mud, the crowd moved into Neil’s own yard. Not thinking, not much afraid, outraged at their trespass, Neil stumped to the front door, unlocked and opened it, and stood in the doorway, rifle on his arm. He was conscious of how fresh and pleasant the air was, and conscious that behind him were Phil, and Vestal with an absurdly large automatic pistol.
He called out, “I’m going to kill the next fellow that takes a step.”
From the front of the crowd, his voice rough and resolute, Vander the lumberjack croaked, “Don’t talk like a fool! You’re going to move out of this neighborhood tonight, or we’ll tear the house down and take care of every damn nigger in it!”
Neil said with chilliness, “Mr. Vander?”
“We ordinarily say ‘Negro,’ not ‘nigger.’”
Jat Snood let loose. “Come on, brethren! Get going! It’s the work of the Lord! Let’s go!”
Neil nuzzled his rifle at his shoulder, and Feathering yelped, “Look out for him!” But Vander snarled, “He don’t dare!”
So Vander and Snood and Feathering swayed toward Neil together. As they did, there was a shot from the crowd, and a bullet, passing over Neil’s shoulder, got Vestal. He heard her gasp; for a second turned his head toward her. She snapped, “It’s nothing. Just touched m’ arm. Let ’em have it!”
But Neil took his time, because he was a target shot, and because he was meticulously choosing among Vander, Snood, Feathering. Really, Vander should come first, but the missionary from hell had his merits —
Then he fired. His first shot caught the Reverend Dr. Jat Snood in his right thigh, and he went down. The second got Feathering’s right knee, but unfortunately the third — perhaps Neil was nervous by now — missed Vander, nipped off a toe of Cedric Staubermeyer, and sent him home howling.
The crowd stumbled backward, beginning to shoot. Then Mr. Jos. L. Smith, from an upstairs window — that of Biddy’s pink-and-white little room — let go with his ten-gauge cannon, and sprinkled quail shot over the whole brigade, and they broke, screaming for aid.
The policemen in their patrol wagon must have been waiting not two blocks away. As Mr. Smith’s artillery roared, the gong was heard, the patrol wagon pushed politely through the retreating crowd, and the policemen leaped out and trotted toward Neil and Phil and Vestal in the doorway.
At their head was Detective Matozas. He and his gallants must have had careful orders. They seized Neil and Phil, but at Vestal, who stood just inside the door with Sophie beginning to bandage her arm, Matozas growled, “Get back in the house there, you. We don’t want you. We just want these niggers — starting all this riot, shooting prominent citizens!”
Vestal put aside Sophie’s ministrations with an affectionate pat, and spoke to Mr. Matozas clearly: “Then you’ll have to take me. Didn’t you know I’m a Negro, too?”
One policeman muttered to another, “I didn’t know she was a tar-baby,” and his mate revealed, “Don’t be so dumb. Can’t you see it by her jaw?”
Matozas commanded, “Well, we’re not GOING to take you, no such a damn thing, and you get back in there and quit trying to work up sympathy!”
He reached for her arm.
“Oh, you’ll take me!” said Vestal, quite sweetly, and brought the butt of her automatic down on the detective’s head.
As she was herded with Neil toward the patrol wagon, she squeezed his arm. “Are you as scared as I am? Will you hold my hand in the wagon? It looks so dark in there, but if you hold my hand, I shan’t be too frightened. What a wonderful start this is for little Booker T.! Neil! Listen! Listen to Josephus Smith bawling out the policemen. There must be lots of good white men, aren’t there?”
“Keep moving,” said a policeman.
“We’re moving,” said Vestal.
This web edition published by:
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57