Go Set a Watchman/15
"For years and years all that man thought he had that made him any better than his black brothers was the color of his skin. He was just as dirty, he smelled just as bad, he was just as poor. Nowadays he's got more than he ever had in his life, he has everything but breeding, he's freed himself from every stigma, but he sits nursing his hangover of hatred...."
Dr. Finch got up and poured more coffee. Jean Louise watched him. Good Lord, she thought, my own grandfather fought in it. His and Atticus's daddy. He was only a child. He saw the corpses stacked and watched the blood run in little streams down Shiloh's hill....
"Now then, Scout," said her uncle. "Now, at this very minute, a political philosophy foreign to it is being pressed on the South, and the South's not ready for it--we're finding ourselves in the same deep waters. As sure as time, history is repeating itself, and as sure as man is man, history is the last place he'll look for his lessons. I hope to God it'll be a comparatively bloodless Reconstruction this time."
"I don't understand."
"Look at the rest of the country. It's long since gone by the South in its thinking. The time-honored, common-law concept of property--a man's interest in and duties to that property--has become almost extinct. People's attitudes toward the duties of a government have changed. The have-nots have risen and have demanded and received their due--sometimes more than their due. The haves are restricted from getting more. You are protected from the winter winds of old age, not by yourself voluntarily, but by a government that says we do not trust you to provide for yourself, therefore we will make you save. All kinds of strange little things like that have become part and parcel of this country's government. America's a brave new Atomic world and the South's just beginning its Industrial Revolution. Have you looked around you in the past seven or eight years and seen a new class of people down here?"
"Good grief, child. Where are your tenant farmers? In factories. Where are your field hands? Same place. Have you ever noticed who are in those little white houses on the other side of town? Maycomb's new class. The same boys and girls who went to school with you and grew up on tiny farms. Your own generation."
Dr. Finch pulled his nose. "Those people are the apples of the Federal Government's eye. It lends them money to build their houses, it gives them a free education for serving in its armies, it provides for their old age and assures them of several weeks' support if they lose their jobs--"
"Uncle Jack, you are a cynical old man."
"Cynical, hell. I'm a healthy old man with a constitutional mistrust of paternalism and government in large doses. Your father's the same--"
"If you tell me that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely I will throw this coffee at you."
"The only thing I'm afraid of about this country is that its government will someday become so monstrous that the smallest person in it will be trampled underfoot, and then it wouldn't be worth living in. The only thing in America that is still unique in this tired world is that a man can go as far as his brains will take him or he can go to hell if he wants to, but it won't be that way much longer."
Dr. Finch grinned like a friendly weasel. "Melbourne said once, that the only real duties of government were to prevent crime and preserve contracts, to which I will add one thing since I find myself reluctantly in the twentieth century: and to provide for the common defense."
"That's a cloudy statement."
"Indeed it is. It leaves us with so much freedom."
Jean Louise put her elbows on the table and ran her fingers through her hair. Something was the matter with him. He was deliberately making some eloquent unspoken plea to her, he was deliberately keeping off the subject. He was oversimplifying here, skittering off there, dodging and feinting. She wondered why. It was so easy to listen to him, to be lulled by his gentle rain of words, that she did not miss the absence of his purposeful gestures, the shower of "hum"s and "hah"s that peppered his usual conversation. She did not know he was deeply worried.
"Uncle Jack," she said. "What's this got to do with the price of eggs in China, and you know exactly what I mean."
"Ho," he said. His cheeks became rosy. "Gettin' smart, aren't you?"
"Smart enough to know that relations between the Negroes and white people are worse than I've ever seen them in my life--by the way, you never mentioned them once--smart enough to want to know what makes your sainted sister act the way she does, smart enough to want to know what the hell has happened to my father."
Dr. Finch clenched his hands and tucked them under his chin. "Human birth is most unpleasant. It's messy, it's extremely painful, sometimes it's a risky thing. It is always bloody. So is it with civilization. The South's in its last agonizing birth pain. It's bringing forth something new and I'm not sure I like it, but I won't be here to see it. You will. Men like me and my brother are obsolete and we've got to go, but it's a pity we'll carry with us the meaningful things of this society--there were some good things in it."
"Stop woolgathering and answer me!"
Dr. Finch stood up, leaned on the table, and looked at her. The lines from his nose sprang to his mouth and made a harsh trapezoid. His eyes blazed, but his voice was still quiet:
"Jean Louise, when a man's looking down the double barrel of a shotgun, he picks up the first weapon he can find to defend himself, be it a stone or a stick of stovewood or a citizens' council."
"That is no answer!"
Dr. Finch shut his eyes, opened them, and looked down at the table.
"You've been giving me some kind of elaborate runaround, Uncle Jack, and I've never known you to do it before. You've always given me a straight answer to anything I ever asked you. Why won't you now?"
"Because I cannot. It is neither within my power nor my province to do so."
"I've never heard you talk like this."
Dr. Finch opened his mouth and clamped it shut again. He took her by the arm, led her into the next room, and stopped in front of the gilt-framed mirror.
"Look at you," he said.
"What do you see?"
"Myself, and you." She turned toward her uncle's reflection. "You know, Uncle Jack, you're handsome in a horrible sort of way."
She saw the last hundred years possess her uncle for an instant. He made a cross between a bow and a nod, said, "That's kind of you, ma'am," stood behind her, and gripped her shoulders. "Look at you," he said. "I can only tell you this much. Look at your eyes. Look at your nose. Look at your chin. What do you see?"
"I see myself."
"I see two people."
"You mean the tomboy and the woman?"
She saw Dr. Finch's reflection shake its head. "No-o, child. That's there all right, but it's not what I mean."
"Uncle Jack, I don't know why you elect to disappear into the mist...."
Dr. Finch scratched his head and a tuft of gray hair stood up. "I'm sorry," he said. "Go ahead. Go ahead and do what you're going to do. I can't stop you and I mustn't stop you, Childe Roland. But it's such a messy, risky thing. Such a bloody business--"
"Uncle Jack, sweetie, you're not with us."
Dr. Finch faced her and held her at arm's length. "Jean Louise, I want you to listen carefully. What we've talked about today--I want to tell you something and see if you can hook it all together. It's this: what was incidental to the issue in our War Between the States is incidental to the issue in the war we're in now, and is incidental to the issue in your own private war. Now think it over and tell me what you think I mean."
Dr. Finch waited.
"You sound like one of the Minor Prophets," she said.
"I thought so. Very well, now listen again: when you can't stand it any longer, when your heart is in two, you must come to me. Do you understand? You must come to me. Promise me." He shook her. "Promise me."
"Yes sir, I promise, but--"
"Now scat," said her uncle. "Go off somewhere and play post office with Hank. I've got better things to do--"
"None of your business. Git."
When Jean Louise went down the steps, she did not see Dr. Finch bite his under lip, go to his kitchen, and tug Rose Aylmer's fur, or return to his study with his hands in his pockets and walk slowly back and forth across the room until, finally, he picked up the telephone.
MAD, MAD, MAD as a hatter. Well, that's the way of all Finches. Difference between Uncle Jack and the rest of 'em, though, is he knows he's crazy.
She was sitting at a table behind Mr. Cunningham's ice cream shop, eating from a wax-paper container. Mr. Cunningham, a man of uncompromising rectitude, had given her a pint free of charge for having guessed his name yesterday, one of the tiny things she adored about Maycomb: people remembered their promises.
What was he driving at? Promise me--incidental to the issue--Anglo-Saxon--dirty word--Childe Roland. I hope he doesn't lose his sense of propriety or they will have to shut him up. He's so far out of this century he can't go to the bathroom, he goes to the water closet. But mad or not, he's the only one of 'em who hasn't done something or said something--
Why did I come back here? Just to rub it in, I suppose. Just to look at the gravel in the back yard where the trees were, where the carhouse was, and wonder if it was all a dream. Jem parked his fishing car over there, we dug earthworms by the back fence, I planted a bamboo shoot one time and we fought it for twenty years. Mr. Cunningham must have salted the earth where it grew, I don't see it any more.
Sitting in the one o'clock sun, she rebuilt her house, populated the yard with her father and brother and Calpurnia, put Henry across the street and Miss Rachel next door.
It was the last two weeks of the school year and she was going to her first dance. Traditionally, the members of the senior class invited their younger brothers and sisters to the Commencement Dance, held the night before the Junior-Senior Banquet, which was always the last Friday in May.
Jem's football sweater had grown increasingly gorgeous--he was captain of the team, the first year Maycomb beat Abbottsville in thirteen seasons. Henry was president of the Senior Debating Society, the only extracurricular activity he had time for, and Jean Louise was a fat fourteen, immersed in Victorian poetry and detective novels.
In those days when it was fashionable to court across the river, Jem was so helplessly in love with a girl from Abbott County he seriously considered spending his senior year at Abbottsville High, but was discouraged by Atticus, who put his foot down and solaced Jem by advancing him sufficient funds to purchase a Model-A coupe. Jem painted his car bright black, achieved the effect of whitewalled tires with more paint, kept his conveyance polished to perfection, and motored to Abbottsville every Friday evening in quiet dignity, oblivious to the fact that his car sounded like an oversized coffee mill, and that wherever he went hound dogs tended to congregate in large numbers.
Jean Louise was sure Jem had made some kind of deal with Henry to take her to the dance, but she did not mind. At first she did not want to go, but Atticus said it would look funny if everybody's sisters were there except Jem's, told her she'd have a good time, and that she could go to Ginsberg's and pick out any dress she wanted.
She found a beauty. White, with puffed sleeves and a skirt that billowed when she spun around. There was only one thing wrong: she looked like a bowling pin in it.
She consulted Calpurnia, who said nobody could do anything about her shape, that's just the way she was, which was the way all girls more or less were when they were fourteen.
"But I look so peculiar," she said, tugging at the neckline.
"You look that way all the time," said Calpurnia. "I mean you're the same in every dress you have. That'un's no different."
Jean Louise worried for three days. On the afternoon of the dance she returned to Ginsberg's and selected a pair of false bosoms, went home, and tried them on.
"Look now, Cal," she said.
Calpurnia said, "You're the right shape all right, but hadn't you better break 'em in by degrees?"
"What do you mean?"
Calpurnia muttered, "You should'a been wearing 'em for a while to get used to 'em--it's too late now."
"Oh Cal, don't be silly."
"Well, give 'em here. I'm gonna sew 'em together."
As Jean Louise handed them over, a sudden thought rooted her to the spot. "Oh golly," she whispered.
"What's the matter now?" said Calpurnia. "You've been fixin' for this thing a slap week. What did you forget?"
"Cal, I don't think I know how to dance."
Calpurnia put her hands on her hips. "Fine time to think of that," she said, looking at the kitchen clock. "Three forty-five."
Jean Louise ran to the telephone. "Six five, please," she said, and when her father answered she wailed into the mouthpiece.
"Keep calm and consult Jack," he said. "Jack was good in his day."
"He must have cut a mean minuet," she said, but called her uncle, who responded with alacrity.
Dr. Finch coached his niece to the tune of Jem's record player: "Nothing to it ... like chess ... just concentrate ... no,no,no, tuck in your butt ... you're not playing tackle ... loathe ballroom dancing ... too much like work ... don't try to lead me ... when he steps on your foot it's your own fault for not moving it ... don't look down ... don't,don't,don't ... now you've got it ... basic, so don't try anything fancy."
After one hour's intense concentration Jean Louise mastered a simple box step. She counted vigorously to herself, and admired her uncle's ability to talk and dance simultaneously.
"Relax and you'll do all right," he said.
His exertions were repaid by Calpurnia with the offer of coffee and an invitation to supper, both of which he accepted. Dr. Finch spent a solitary hour in the livingroom until Atticus and Jem arrived; his niece locked herself in the bathroom and remained there scrubbing herself and dancing. She emerged radiant, ate supper in her bathrobe, and vanished into her bedroom unconscious of her family's amusement.
While she was dressing she heard Henry's step on the front porch and thought him calling for her too early, but he walked down the hall toward Jem's room. She applied Tangee Orange to her lips, combed her hair, and stuck down her cowlick with some of Jem's Vitalis. Her father and Dr. Finch rose to their feet when she entered the livingroom.
"You look like a picture," said Atticus. He kissed her on the forehead.
"Be careful," she said. "You'll muss up my hair."
Dr. Finch said, "Shall we take a final practice turn?"
Henry found them dancing in the livingroom. He blinked when he saw Jean Louise's new figure, and he tapped Dr. Finch on the shoulder. "May I cut in, sir?
"You look plain pretty, Scout," Henry said. "I've got something for you."
"You look nice too, Hank," said Jean Louise. Henry's blue serge Sunday pants were creased to painful sharpness, his tan jacket smelled of cleaning fluid; Jean Louise recognized Jem's light-blue necktie.
"You dance well," said Henry, and Jean Louise stumbled.
"Don't look down, Scout!" snapped Dr. Finch. "I told you it's like carrying a cup of coffee. If you look at it you spill it."
Atticus opened his watch. "Jem better get a move on if he wants to get Irene. That trap of his won't do better than thirty."
When Jem appeared Atticus sent him back to change his tie. When he reappeared, Atticus gave him the keys to the family car, some money, and a lecture on not doing over fifty.
"Say," said Jem, after duly admiring Jean Louise, "you all can go in the Ford, and you won't have to go all that way to Abbottsville with me."
Dr. Finch was fidgeting with his coat pockets. "It is immaterial to me how you go," he said. "Just go. You're making me nervous standing around in all your finery. Jean Louise is beginning to sweat. Come in, Cal."
Calpurnia was standing shyly in the hall, giving her grudging approval to the scene. She adjusted Henry's tie, picked invisible lint from Jem's coat, and desired the presence of Jean Louise in the kitchen.
"I think I ought to sew 'em in," she said doubtfully.
Henry shouted come on or Dr. Finch would have a stroke.
"I'll be okay, Cal."
Returning to the livingroom, Jean Louise found her uncle in a suppressed whirlwind of impatience, in vivid contrast to her father, who was standing casually with his hands in his pockets. "You'd better get going," said Atticus. "Alexandra'll be here in another minute--then you will be late."
They were on the front porch when Henry halted. "I forgot!" he yelped, and ran to Jem's room. He returned carrying a box, presenting it to Jean Louise with a low bow: "For you, Miss Finch," he said. Inside the box were two pink camellias.
"Ha-ank," said Jean Louise. "They're bought!"
"Sent all the way to Mobile for 'em," said Henry. "They came up on the six o'clock bus."
"Where'll I put 'em?"
"Heavenly Fathers, put 'em where they belong!" exploded Dr. Finch. "Come here!"
He snatched the camellias from Jean Louise and pinned them to her shoulder, glaring sternly at her false front. "Will you now do me the favor of leaving the premises?"
"I forgot my purse."
Dr. Finch produced his handkerchief and made a pass at his jaw. "Henry," he said, "go get that abomination cranked. I'll meet you out in front with her."
She kissed her father goodnight, and he said, "I hope you have the time of your life."
The Maycomb County High School gymnasium was tastefully decorated with balloons and white-and-red crepe paper streamers. A long table stood at the far end; paper cups, plates of sandwiches, and napkins surrounded two punch bowls filled with a purple mixture. The gymnasium floor was freshly waxed and the basketball goals were folded to the ceiling. Greenery enveloped the stage front, and in the center, for no particular reason, were large red cardboard letters: MCHS.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" said Jean Louise.
"Looks awfully nice," said Henry. "Doesn't it look bigger when there's no game going on?"
They joined a group of younger and elder brothers and sisters standing around the punch bowls. The crowd was visibly impressed with Jean Louise. Girls she saw every day asked her where she got her dress, as if they didn't all get them there: "Ginsberg's. Calpurnia took it up," she said. Several o