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Authors: Langston Hughes

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BOOK: The Ways of White Folks
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“Yes, sir, Mr. Lloyd,” I said, I knew where my bread was buttered. So I never went near the office or saw any of his other help but the chauffeur—and him a Jap.

Only thing I didn’t like about the job, he used to bring some awfully cheap women there sometimes—big timers, but cheap inside. They didn’t know how to treat a servant. One of ’em used to nigger and darkie me around, till I got her told right quietly one time, and Mr. Lloyd backed me up.

The boss said, “This is no ordinary boy, Lucille. True, he’s my servant, but I’ve got him in Columbia studying to be a dentist, and he’s just as white inside as he is black. Treat him right, or I’ll see why.” And it wasn’t long before this Lucille dame was gone, and he had a little Irish girl with blue eyes he treated mean as hell.

Another thing I didn’t like, though. Sometimes I used to have to drink a lot with him. When there was no women around, and Mr. Lloyd would get one of his blue spells and start talking about his wife, and how she hadn’t walked for eighteen years, just laying flat on her back, after about an hour of
this, he’d want me to start drinking with him. And when he felt good from licker he’d start talking about women in general, and he’d ask me what they were like in Harlem. Then he’d tell me what they were like in Montreal, and Havana, and Honolulu. He’d even had Gypsy women in Spain, Mr. Lloyd.

Then he would drink and drink, and make me drink with him. And we’d both be so drunk I couldn’t go to classes the next morning, and he wouldn’t go to the office all day. About four o’clock he’d send me for some clam broth and an American Mercury, so he could sober up on Mencken. I’d give him an alcohol rub, then he’d go off to the Roosevelt and have dinner with the society folks he knew. I might not see him again for days. But he’d slip me a greenback usually.

“Boy, you’ll never lose anything through sticking with me! Here,” and it would be a fiver.

Sometimes I wouldn’t see Mr. Lloyd for weeks. Then he’d show up late at night with a chippie, and I’d start making drinks and sandwiches and smoothing down the bed. Then there’d be a round o’ women, six or eight different ones in a row, for days. And me working my hips off keeping ’em fed and lickered up. This would go on till he got tired, and had the blues again. Then he’d beat the hell out of one of ’em and send her off. Then we’d get drunk. When he sobered up he’d telephone for his chauffeur and drive to White Plains to see his old lady,
or down to the hotel where he lived with a secretary. And that would be that.

He had so damn much money, Mr. Lloyd. I don’t see where folks get so much cash. But I don’t care so long as they’re giving some of it to me. And if it hadn’t been for this colored woman, boy, I’d still be sitting pretty.

I don’t know where he got her. Out of one of the Harlem night clubs, I guess. They came bustin’ in about four o’clock one morning. I heard a woman laughing in the living-room, and I knew it was a colored laugh—one of ours. So deep and pretty, it couldn’t have been nothing else. I got up, of course, like I always did when I heard Mr. Lloyd come in. I broke some ice, and took ’em out some drinks.

Yep, she was colored, all right. One of those golden browns, like an Alabama moon. Swell looking kid. She had the old man standing on his ears. I never saw him looking so happy before. She kept him laughing till daylight, hugging and kissing. She had a hot line, that kid did, without seemin’ serious. He fell for it. She hadn’t worked in Harlem speakeasies for nothing. Jesus! She was like gin and vermouth mixed. You know!

We got on swell, too, that girl and I. “Hy, Pal,” she said when she saw me bringing out the drinks. “If it ain’t old Harlem, on the Drive.”

She wasn’t a bit hinkty like so many folks when they’re light-complexioned and up in the money.
If she hadn’t been the boss’s girl, I’d have tried to make her myself. But she had a black boy friend—a number writer on 135th Street—so she didn’t need me. She was in love with him. Used to call him up soon as the boss got in the elevator bound for the office.

“Can I use this phone?” she asked me that very morning.

“Sure, Madam,” I answered.

“Call me Pauline,” she said, “I ain’t white.” And we got on swell. I cooked her some bacon and eggs while she called up her sweetie. She told him she’d hooked a new butter and egg man with bucks.

Well, the days went on. Each time, the boss would show up with Pauline. It looked like blondes didn’t have a break—a sugar-brown had crowded the white babies out. But it was good for Mr. Lloyd. He didn’t have the blues. And he stopped asking me to drink with him, thank God!

He was crazy about this Pauline. Didn’t want no other woman. She kept him laughing all the time. She used to sing him bad songs that didn’t seem bad when she was singing them, only seemed funny and good natured. She was nice, that girl. A gorgeous thing to have around the house.

But she knew what it was all about. Don’t think she didn’t. “You’ve got to kid white folks along,” she said to me. “When you’re depending on ’em for a living, make ’em
you like it.”

“You said it,” I agreed.

And she really put the bee on Mr. Lloyd. He bought her everything she wanted, and was as faithful to her as a husband. Used to ask me when she wasn’t there, what I thought she needed. I don’t know what got into him, he loved her like a dog.

She used to spend two or three nights a week with him—and the others with her boy-friend in Harlem. It was a hell of a long time before Mr. Lloyd found out about this colored fellow. When he did, it was pure accident. He saw Pauline going into the movies with him at the Capitol one night—a tall black good-looking guy with a diamond on his finger. And it made the old man sore.

That same night Mr. Lloyd got a ring-side table at the Cabin Club in Harlem. When Pauline came dancing out in the two o’clock revue, he called her, and told her to come there. He looked mad. Funny, boy, but that rich white man was jealous of the colored guy he had seen her with. Mr. Lloyd, jealous of a jig! Wouldn’t that freeze you?

They had a hell of a quarrel that morning when they came to the apartment. First time I ever heard them quarrel. Pauline told him finally he could go to hell. She told him, yes, she loved that black boy, that he was the only boy she loved in the wide world, the only man she wanted.

They were all drunk, because between words they would drink licker. I’d left two bottles of Haig & Haig
on the tray when I went to bed. I thought Pauline was stupid, talking like that, but I guess she was so drunk she didn’t care.

“Yes, I love that colored boy,” she hollered. “Yes, I love him. You don’t think you’re buying my heart, do you?”

And that hurt the boss. He’d always thought he was a great lover, and that women liked him for something else besides his money. (Because most of them wanted his money, nobody ever told him he wasn’t so hot. His girls all swore they loved him, even when he beat them. They all let
out. They hung on till the last dollar.)

But that little yellow devil of a Pauline evidently didn’t care what she said. She began cussing the boss. Then Mr. Lloyd slapped her. I could hear it way back in my bedroom where I was sleeping, with one eye open.

In a minute I heard a crash that brought me to my feet. I ran out, through the kitchen, through the living-room, and opened Mr. Lloyd’s door. Pauline had thrown one of the whisky bottles at him. They were battling like hell in the middle of the floor.

“Get out of here, boy!” Mr. Lloyd panted. So I got. But I stood outside the door in case I was needed. A white man beating a Negro woman wasn’t so good. If she wanted help, I was there. But Pauline was a pretty tough little scrapper herself. It sounded like the boss was getting the worst of it.
Finally, the tussling stopped. It was so quiet in there I thought maybe one of them was knocked out, so I cracked the door to see. The boss was kneeling at Pauline’s feet, his arms around her knees.

“My God, Pauline, I love you!” I heard him say. “I want you, child. Don’t mind what I’ve done. Stay here with me. Stay, stay, stay.”

“Lemme out of here!” said Pauline, kicking at Mr. Lloyd.

But the boss held her tighter. Then she grabbed the other whisky bottle and hit him on the head. Of course, he fell out. I got a basin of cold water and put him in bed with a cloth on his dome. Pauline took off all the rings and things he’d given her and threw them at him, lying there on the bed like a ghost.

“A white bastard!” she said. “Just because they pay you, they always think they own you. No white man’s gonna own me. I laugh with ’em and they think I like ’em. Hell, I’m from Arkansas where the crackers lynch niggers in the streets. How could
like ’em?”

She put on her coat and hat and went away.

When the boss came to, he told me to call his chauffeur. I thought he was going to a doctor, because his head was bleeding. But the chauffeur told me later he spent the whole day driving around Harlem trying to find Pauline. He wanted to bring her back. But he never found her.

He had a lot of trouble with that head, too. Seems like a piece of glass or something stuck in it. I didn’t see him again for eight weeks. When I did see him, he wasn’t the same man. No, sir, boy, something had happened to Mr. Lloyd. He didn’t seem quite right in the head. I guess Pauline dazed him for life, made a fool of him.

He drank more than ever and had me so high I didn’t know B from Bull’s Foot. He had his white women around again, but he’d got the idea from somewhere that he was the world’s greatest lover, and that he didn’t have to give them anything but himself—which wasn’t so forty for them little Broadway gold diggers who wanted diamonds and greenbacks.

Women started to clearing out early when they discovered Mr. Lloyd had gone romantic—and cheap. There were scandals and fights and terrible goings on when the girls didn’t get their presents and checks. But Mr. Lloyd just said, “To hell with them,” and drank more than ever, and let the pretty girls go. He picked up women off the streets and then wouldn’t pay them, cheap as they are. Late in the night he would start drinking and crying about Pauline. The sun would be rising over the Hudson before he’d stop his crazy carryings on—making me drink with him and listen to the nights he’d spent with Pauline.

“I loved her, boy! She thought I was trying to
buy her. Some black buck had to come along and cut me out. But I’m just as good a lover as that black boy any day.”

And he would begin to boast about the women he could have—without money, too. (Wrong, of course.) But he sent me to Harlem to find Pauline.

I couldn’t find her. She’d gone away with her boy-friend. Some said they went to Memphis. Some said Chicago. Some said Los Angeles. Anyway, she was gone—that kid who looked like an Alabama moon.

I told Mr. Lloyd she was gone, so we got drunk again. For more’n a week, he made no move to go to the office. I began to be worried, cutting so many classes, staying up all night to drink with the old man, and hanging around most of the day. But if I left him alone, he acted like a fool. I was scared. He’d take out women’s pictures and beat ’em and stamp on ’em and then make love to ’em and tear ’em up. Wouldn’t eat. Didn’t want to see anybody.

Then, one night, I knew he was crazy—so it was all up. He grabs the door like it was a woman, and starts to kiss it. I couldn’t make him stop pawing at the door, so I telephoned his chauffeur. The chauffeur calls up one of Mr. Lloyd’s broker friends. And they take him to the hospital.

That was last April. They’ve had him in the sanatorium ever since. The apartment’s closed. His stuff’s in storage, and I have no more job than a
snake’s got hips. Anyway, I went through college on it, but I don’t know how the hell I’ll get to dental school. I just wrote Ma down in Atlanta and told her times was hard. There ain’t many Mr. Lloyd’s, you can bet your life on that.

The chauffeur told me yesterday he’s crazy as a loon now. Sometimes he thinks he’s a stud-horse chasing a mare. Sometimes he’s a lion. Poor man, in a padded cell! He was a swell guy when he had his right mind. But a yellow woman sure did drive him crazy. For me, well, it’s just a good job gone!

Say, boy, gimme a smoke, will you? I hate to talk about it.




. E
, handsome beyond words, stood on the platform of the main ballroom of the big hotel facing Central Park at 59th Street, New York. He stood there speaking in a deep smooth voice, with a slight drawl, to a thousand well dressed women and some two or three hundred men who packed the place. His subject was “Motion and Joy”, the last of his series of six Friday morning lectures, each of which had to do with something and Joy.

As the hour of his last lecture approached, expensive chauffeured motors turned off Fifth Avenue, circled around from the Park, drew up at the 59th Street entrance, discharged women. In the elevators leading to the level of the hotel ballroom, delicate foreign perfumes on the breasts of befurred ladies scented the bronze cars.

“I’ve just heard of it this week. Everybody’s talking about him. Did you hear him before?”

“My dear, I shall have heard all six.… He sent me an announcement.”

“Oh, why didn’t I …?”

“He’s marvellous!”

“I simply can’t tell you …”

The great Lesche speaking.

As he spoke, a thousand pairs of feminine eyes gazed as one. The men gazed, too. Hundreds of ears heard, entranced: Relax and be happy. Let Lesche tell you how to live. Lesche knows. Look at Lesche in a morning coat, strong and handsome, right here before you. Listen!

At $2.50 a seat (How little for his message!) they listened.

“Joy,” said the great Lesche, “what is life without joy?… And how can we find joy? Not through sitting still with our world of troubles on our minds; not through taking thought—too often only another phrase for brooding; not by the sedentary study of books or pamphlets, of philosophies and creeds, of ancient lore; not through listening to
lecture or listening to any other person lecture,” this was the
talk of his series, “but only through motion, through joyous motion; through life in motion! Lift up your arms to the sun,” said Lesche. “Lift them up now! Right now,” appealing to his audience. “Up, up, up!”

BOOK: The Ways of White Folks
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