Go Set a Watchman/2
oved like a thirteen-year-old boy and abjured most feminine adornment, he found something so intensely feminine about her that he fell in love. She was easy to look at and easy to be with most of the time, but she was in no sense of the word an easy person. She was afflicted with a restlessness of spirit he could not guess at, but he knew she was the one for him. He would protect her; he would marry her.
"Tired of New York?" he said.
"Give me a free hand for these two weeks and I'll make you tired of it."
"Is that an improper suggestion?"
"Go to hell, then."
Henry stopped the car. He turned off the ignition switch, slewed around, and looked at her. She knew when he became serious about something: his crew cut bristled like an angry brush, his face colored, its scar reddened.
"Honey, do you want me to put it like a gentleman? Miss Jean Louise, I have now reached an economic status that can provide for the support of two. I, like Israel of Old, have labored seven years in the vineyards of the University and the pastures of your daddy's office for you--"
"I'll tell Atticus to make it seven more."
"Besides," she said, "it was Jacob anyway. No, they were the same. They always changed their names every third verse. How's Aunty?"
"You know good and well she's been fine for thirty years. Don't change the subject."
Jean Louise's eyebrows flickered. "Henry," she said primly, "I'll have an affair with you but I won't marry you."
It was exactly right.
"Don't be such a damn child, Jean Louise!" Henry sputtered, and forgetting the latest dispensations from General Motors, grabbed for a gearshift and stomped at a clutch. These denied him, he wrenched the ignition key violently, pressed some buttons, and the big car glided slowly and smoothly down the highway.
"Slow pickup, isn't it?" she said. "No good for city driving."
Henry glared at her. "What do you mean by that?"
In another minute this would become a quarrel. He was serious. She'd better make him furious, thus silent, so she could think about it.
"Where'd you get that appalling tie?" she said.
She was almost in love with him. No, that's impossible, she thought: either you are or you aren't. Love's the only thing in this world that is unequivocal. There are different kinds of love, certainly, but it's a you-do or you-don't proposition with them all.
She was a person who, when confronted with an easy way out, always took the hard way. The easy way out of this would be to marry Hank and let him labor for her. After a few years, when the children were waist-high, the man would come along whom she should have married in the first place. There would be searchings of hearts, fevers and frets, long looks at each other on the post office steps, and misery for everybody. The hollering and the high-mindedness over, all that would be left would be another shabby little affair a la the Birmingham country club set, and a self-constructed private Gehenna with the latest Westinghouse appliances. Hank didn't deserve that.
No. For the present she would pursue the stony path of spinsterhood. She set about restoring peace with honor:
"Honey, I'm sorry, truly sorry," she said, and she was.
"That's okay," said Henry, and slapped her knee. "It's just that I could kill you sometimes."
"I know I'm hateful."
Henry looked at her. "You're an odd one, sweet. You can't dissemble."
She looked at him. "What are you talking about?"
"Well, as a general rule, most women, before they've got 'em, present to their men smiling, agreeing faces. They hide their thoughts. You now, when you're feeling hateful, honey, you are hateful."
"Isn't it fairer for a man to be able to see what he's letting himself in for?"
"Yes, but don't you see you'll never catch a man that way?"
She bit her tongue on the obvious, and said, "How do I go about being an enchantress?"
Henry warmed to his subject. At thirty, he was an adviser. Maybe because he was a lawyer. "First," he said dispassionately, "hold your tongue. Don't argue with a man, especially when you know you can beat him. Smile a lot. Make him feel big. Tell him how wonderful he is, and wait on him."
She smiled brilliantly and said, "Hank, I agree with everything you've said. You are the most perspicacious individual I've met in years, you are six feet five, and may I light your cigarette? How's that?"
They were friends again.
ATTICUS FINCH SHOT his left cuff, then cautiously pushed it back. One-forty. On some days he wore two watches: he wore two this day, an ancient watch and chain his children had cut their teeth on, and a wristwatch. The former was habit, the latter was used to tell time when he could not move his fingers enough to dig in his watchpocket. He had been a big man before age and arthritis reduced him to medium size. He was seventy-two last month, but Jean Louise always thought of him as hovering somewhere in his middle fifties--she could not remember him being any younger, and he seemed to grow no older.
In front of the chair in which he was sitting was a steel music stand, and on the stand was The Strange Case of Alger Hiss. Atticus leaned forward a little, the better to disapprove of what he was reading. A stranger would not have seen annoyance on Atticus's face, for he seldom expressed it; a friend, however, would expect a dry "H-rm" to come soon: Atticus's eyebrows were elevated, his mouth was a pleasant thin line.
"H-rm," he said.
"What, dear?" said his sister.
"I don't understand how a man like this can have the brass to give us his views on the Hiss case. It's like Fenimore Cooper writin' the Waverley Novels."
"He has a childlike faith in the integrity of civil servants and he seems to think Congress corresponds to their aristocracy. No understanding of American politics a-tall."
His sister peered at the book's dust jacket. "I'm not familiar with the author," she said, thus condemning the book forever. "Well, don't worry, dear. Shouldn't they be here now?"
"I'm not worrying, Zandra." Atticus glanced at his sister, amused. She was an impossible woman, but a sight better than having Jean Louise permanently home and miserable. When his daughter was miserable she prowled, and Atticus liked his women to be relaxed, not constantly emptying ashtrays.
He heard a car turn into the driveway, he heard two of its doors slam, then the front door slam. He carefully nudged the music stand away from him with his feet, made one futile attempt to rise from the deep armchair without using his hands, succeeded the second time, and had just balanced himself when Jean Louise was upon him. He suffered her embrace and returned it as best he could.
"Atticus--" she said.
"Put her suitcase in the bedroom, please, Hank," said Atticus over her shoulder. "Thanks for meeting her."
Jean Louise pecked at her aunt and missed, took a package of cigarettes from her bag, and hurled it at the sofa. "How's the rheumatism, Aunty?"
"Some better, sweet."
"Some better, sweet. Did you have a good trip down?"
"Yes sir." She collapsed on the sofa. Hank returned from his chores, said, "Move over," and sat down beside her.
Jean Louise yawned and stretched. "What's the news?" she asked. "All I get these days is reading between the lines in the Maycomb Tribune. You all never write me anything."
Alexandra said, "You saw of the death of Cousin Edgar's boy. That was a mighty sad thing."
Jean Louise saw Henry and her father exchange glances. Atticus said, "He came in late one afternoon hot from football practice and raided the Kappa Alpha icebox. He also ate a dozen bananas and washed 'em down with a pint of whiskey. An hour later he was dead. It wasn't sad at all."
Jean Louise said, "Whew."
Alexandra said, "Atticus! You know he was Edgar's baby boy."
Henry said, "It was awful, Miss Alexandra."
"Cousin Edgar still courtin' you, Aunty?" asked Jean Louise. "Looks like after eleven years he'd ask you to marry him."
Atticus raised his eyebrows in warning. He watched his daughter's daemon rise and dominate her: her eyebrows, like his, were lifted, the heavy-lidded eyes beneath them grew round, and one corner of her mouth was raised dangerously. When she looked thus, only God and Robert Browning knew what she was likely to say.
Her aunt protested. "Really, Jean Louise, Edgar is your father's and my first cousin."
"At this stage of the game, it shouldn't make much difference, Aunty."
Atticus asked quickly, "How did you leave the big city?"
"Right now I want to know about this big city. You two never write me any dirt. Aunty, I'm depending on you to give me a year's news in fifteen minutes." She patted Henry on the arm, more to keep him from starting a business conversation with Atticus than anything else. Henry interpreted it as a warm gesture and returned it.
"Well--" said Alexandra. "Well, you must have heard about the Merriweathers. That was a mighty sad thing."
"What?" said Jean Louise in genuine amazement. "You mean separated?"
"Yes," her aunt nodded.
She turned to her father. "The Merriweathers? How long have they been married?"
Atticus looked at the ceiling, remembering. He was a precise man. "Forty-two years," he said. "I was at their wedding."
Alexandra said, "We first got wind of something wrong when they'd come to church and sit on opposite sides of the auditorium ..."
Henry said, "They glared at each other for Sundays on end ..."
Atticus said, "And the next thing you know they were in the office asking me to get 'em a divorce."
"Did you?" Jean Louise looked at her father.
"On what grounds?"
Jean Louise shook her head in wonder. Lord, she thought, there must be something in the water--
Alexandra's voice cut through her ruminations: "Jean Louise, did you come down on the train Like That?"
Caught offside, it took a moment for her to ascertain what her aunt meant by Like That.
"Oh--yessum," she said, "but wait a minute, Aunty. I left New York stockinged, gloved, and shod. I put on these right after we passed Atlanta."
Her aunt sniffed. "I do wish this time you'd try to dress better while you're home. Folks in town get the wrong impression of you. They think you are--ah--slumming."
Jean Louise had a sinking feeling. The Hundred Years' War had progressed to approximately its twenty-sixth year with no indications of anything more than periods of uneasy truce.
"Aunty," she said. "I've come home for two weeks of just sitting, pure and simple. I doubt if I'll ever move from the house the whole time. I beat my brains out all year round--"
She stood up and went to the fireplace, glared at the mantelpiece, and turned around. "If the folks in Maycomb don't get one impression, they'll get another. They're certainly not used to seeing me dressed up." Her voice became patient: "Look, if I suddenly sprang on 'em fully clothed they'd say I'd gone New York. Now you come along and say they think I don't care what they think when I go around in slacks. Good Lord, Aunty, Maycomb knows I didn't wear anything but overalls till I started having the Curse--"
Atticus forgot his hands. He bent over to tie perfectly tied shoelaces and came up with a flushed but straight face. "That'll do, Scout," he said. "Apologize to your aunt. Don't start a row the minute you get home."
Jean Louise smiled at her father. When registering disapprobation, he always reverted back to her childhood nickname. She sighed. "I'm sorry, Aunty. I'm sorry, Hank. I am oppressed, Atticus."
"Then go back to New York and be uninhibited."
Alexandra stood up and smoothed the various whalebone ridges running up and down her person. "Did you have any dinner on the train?"
"Yessum," she lied.
"Then how about coffee?"
Alexandra left the room without consulting her brother. Jean Louise said, "Still haven't learned to drink it?"
"No," said her father.
"Cigarettes and women?"
"You have any fun these days?"
Jean Louise made a golf grip with her hands. "How is it?" she asked.
"None of your business."
"Can you still use a putter?"
"You used to do pretty well for a blind man."
Atticus said, "There's nothing wrong with my--"
"Nothing except you just can't see."
"Would you care to prove that statement?"
"Yes sir. Tomorrow at three okay?"
"Yes--no. I've got a meeting on. How about Monday? Hank, do we have anything on for Monday afternoon?"
Hank stirred. "Nothing but that mortgage coming up at one. Shouldn't take more than an hour."
Atticus said to his daughter, "I'm your man, then. From the looks of you, Miss Priss, it'll be the blind leading the blind."
At the fireplace, Jean Louise had picked up a blackened old wooden-shaft putter which had done years of double-duty as a poker. She emptied a great antique spittoon of its contents--golf balls--turned it on its side, kicked the golf balls into the middle of the livingroom, and was putting them back into the spittoon when her aunt reappeared carrying a tray of coffee, cups and saucers, and cake.
"Between you and your father and your brother," Alexandra said, "that rug is a disgrace. Hank, when I came to keep house for him the first thing I did was have it dyed as dark as I could. You remember how it used to look? Why, there was a black path from here to the fireplace nothing could take out...."
Hank said, "I remember it, ma'am. I'm afraid I was a contributor to it."
Jean Louise drove the putter home beside the fire tongs, gathered up the golf balls, and threw them at the spittoon. She sat on the sofa and watched Hank retrieve the strays. I never tire of watching him move, she thought.
He returned, drank a cup of scalding black coffee at an alarming rate of speed, and said, "Mr. Finch, I'd better be going."
"Wait a bit and I'll come with you," said Atticus.
"Feel like it, sir?"
"Certainly. Jean Louise," he said suddenly, "how much of what's going on down here gets into the newspapers?"
"You mean politics? Well, every time the Governor's indiscreet it hits the tabloids, but beyond that, nothing."
"I mean about the Supreme Court's bid for immortality."
"Oh, that. Well, to hear the Post tell it, we lynch 'em for breakfast; the Journal doesn't care; and the Times is so wrapped up in its duty to posterity it bores you to death. I haven't paid any attention to it except for the bus strikes and that Mississippi business. Atticus, the state's not getting a conviction in that case was our worst blunder since Pickett's Charge."
"Yes, it was. I suppose the papers made hay with it?"
"They went insane."
"And the NAACP?"
"I don't know anything about that bunch except that some misguided clerk sent me some NAACP Christmas seals last year, so I stuck 'em on all the cards I sent home. Did Cousin Edgar get his?"
"He did, and he made a few suggestions as to what I should do with you." Her father was smiling broadly.
"That I should go to New York, grab you by the hair of the head, and take a switch to you. Edgar's always disapproved of you, says you're much too independent...."
"Never did have a sense of humor, pompous old catfish. That's just what he is: whiskers here and here and a catfish mouth. I reckon he thinks my living alone in New York is ipso facto living in sin."
"It amounts to that," said Atticus. He hauled himself out of the armchair and motioned for Henry to get going.
Henry turned to Jean Louise. "Seven-thirty, honey?"
She nodded, then looked at her aunt out of the corner of her eye. "All right if I wear my slacks?"
"Good for you, Hank," said Alexandra.
THERE WAS NO doubt about it: Alexandra Finch Hancock was imposing from any angle; her behind was no less uncompromising than her front. Jean Louise had often wondered, but never asked, where she got her corsets. They drew up her bosom to giddy heights, pinched in her waist, flared out her rear, and managed to suggest that Alexandra's had once been an hourglass figure.
Of all her relatives, her father's sister came closest to setting Jean Louise's teeth permanently on edge. Alexandra had never been actively unkind to her--she had never been unkind to any living creature, except to the rabbits that ate her azaleas, which she poisoned--but she had made Jean Louise's life hell on wheels in her day, in her own time, and in her own way. Now that Jean Louise was grown, they had never been able to sustain fifteen minutes' conversation with one another without advancing irreconcilable points of view, invigorating in friendships, but in close blood relations producing only uneasy cordiality. There were so many things about her aunt Jean Louise secretly delighted in when half a continent separated them, which on contact were abrasive, and were canceled out when Jean Louise undertook to examine her aunt's motives. Alexandra was one of those people who had gone through life at no cost to themselves; had she been obliged to pay any emotional bills during her earthly life, Jean Louise could imagine her stopping at the check-in desk in heaven and demanding a refund.
Alexandra had been married for thirty-three years; if it had made any impression on her one way or another, she never showed it. She had spawned one son, Francis, who in Jean Louise's opinion looked and behaved like a horse, and who long ago left Maycomb for the glories of selling insurance in Birmingham. It was just as well.
Alexandra had been and was still technically married to a large placid man named James Hancock, who ran a cotton warehouse with great exactitude for six days a week and fished on the seventh. One Sunday fifteen years ago he sent word to his wife by way of a Negro boy from his fishing camp on the Tensas River that he was staying down there and not coming back. After Alexandra made sure no other female was involved, she could not have cared less. Francis chose to make it his cross to bear in life; he never understood why his Uncle Atticus remained on excellent but remote terms with his father--Francis thought Atticus should Do Something--or why his mother wa