Go Set a Watchman/3
s not prostrate from his father's eccentric, therefore unforgivable, behavior. Uncle Jimmy got wind of Francis's attitude and sent up another message from the woods that he was ready and willing to meet him if Francis wanted to come shoot him, but Francis never did, and eventually a third communication reached Francis, to wit: if you won't come down here like a man, hush.
Uncle Jimmy's defection caused not a ripple on Alexandra's bland horizon: her Missionary Society refreshments were still the best in town; her activities in Maycomb's three cultural clubs increased; she improved her collection of milk glass when Atticus pried Uncle Jimmy's money loose from him; in short, she despised men and thrived out of their presence. That her son had developed all the latent characteristics of a three-dollar bill escaped her notice--all she knew was that she was glad he lived in Birmingham because he was oppressively devoted to her, which meant that she felt obliged to make an effort to reciprocate, which she could not with any spontaneity do.
To all parties present and participating in the life of the county, however, Alexandra was the last of her kind: she had river-boat, boarding-school manners; let any moral come along and she would uphold it; she was a disapprover; she was an incurable gossip.
When Alexandra went to finishing school, self-doubt could not be found in any textbook, so she knew not its meaning; she was never bored, and given the slightest chance she would exercise her royal prerogative: she would arrange, advise, caution, and warn.
She was completely unaware that with one twist of the tongue she could plunge Jean Louise into a moral turmoil by making her niece doubt her own motives and best intentions, by tweaking the protestant, philistine strings of Jean Louise's conscience until they vibrated like a spectral zither. Had Alexandra ever pressed Jean Louise's vulnerable points with awareness, she could have added another scalp to her belt, but after years of tactical study Jean Louise knew her enemy. Although she could rout her, Jean Louise had not yet learned how to repair the enemy's damage.
The last time she skirmished with Alexandra was when her brother died. After Jem's funeral, they were in the kitchen cleaning up the remains of the tribal banquets that are a part of dying in Maycomb. Calpurnia, the Finches' old cook, had run off the place and not come back when she learned of Jem's death. Alexandra attacked like Hannibal: "I do think, Jean Louise, that now is the time for you to come home for good. Your father needs you so."
From long experience, Jean Louise bristled immediately. You lie, she thought. If Atticus needed me I would know it. I can't make you understand how I'd know it because I can't get through to you. "Need me?" she said.
"Yes, dear. Surely you understand that. I shouldn't have to tell you."
Tell me. Settle me. There you go, wading in your clodhoppers through our private territory. Why, he and I don't even talk about it.
"Aunty, if Atticus needs me, you know I'll stay. Right now he needs me like a hole in the head. We'd be miserable here in the house together. He knows it, I know it. Don't you see that unless we go back to what we were doing before this happened, our recovery'll be far slower? Aunty, I can't make you understand, but truly, the only way I can do my duty to Atticus is by doing what I'm doing--making my own living and my own life. The only time Atticus'll need me is when his health fails, and I don't have to tell you what I'd do then. Don't you see?"
No, she didn't. Alexandra saw what Maycomb saw: Maycomb expected every daughter to do her duty. The duty of his only daughter to her widowed father after the death of his only son was clear: Jean Louise would return and make her home with Atticus; that was what a daughter did, and she who did not was no daughter.
"--you can get a job at the bank and go to the coast on weekends. There's a cute crowd in Maycomb now; lots of new young people. You like to paint, don't you?"
Like to paint. What the hell did Alexandra think she was doing with her evenings in New York? The same as Cousin Edgar, probably. Art Students League every weeknight at eight. Young ladies sketched, did watercolors, wrote short paragraphs of imaginative prose. To Alexandra, there was a distinct and distasteful difference between one who paints and a painter, one who writes and a writer.
"--there are a lot of pretty views on the coast and you'll have weekends free."
Jehovah. She catches me when I'm nearly out of my mind and lays out the avenues of my life. How can she be his sister and not have the slightest idea what goes on in his head, my head, anybody's head? Oh Lord, why didn't you give us tongues to explain to Aunt Alexandra? "Aunty, it's easy to tell somebody what to do--"
"But very hard to make them do it. That's the cause of most trouble in this world, people not doing as they're told."
It was decided upon, definitely. Jean Louise would stay home. Alexandra would tell Atticus, and it would make him the happiest man in the world.
"Aunty, I'm not staying home, and if I did Atticus would be the saddest man in the world ... but don't worry, Atticus understands perfectly, and I'm sure once you get started you'll make Maycomb understand."
The knife hit deep, suddenly: "Jean Louise, your brother worried about your thoughtlessness until the day he died!"
It was raining softly on his grave now, in the hot evening. You never said it, you never even thought it; if you'd thought it you'd have said it. You were like that. Rest well, Jem.
She rubbed salt into it: I'm thoughtless, all right. Selfish, self-willed, I eat too much, and I feel like the Book of Common Prayer. Lord forgive me for not doing what I should have done and for doing what I shouldn't have done--oh hell.
She returned to New York with a throbbing conscience not even Atticus could ease.
This was two years ago, and Jean Louise had long since quit worrying about how thoughtless she was, and Alexandra had disarmed her by performing the one generous act of Alexandra's life: when Atticus developed arthritis, Alexandra went to live with him. Jean Louise was humble with gratitude. Had Atticus known of the secret decision between his sister and his daughter he would have never forgiven them. He did not need anyone, but it was an excellent idea to have someone around to keep an eye on him, button his shirts when his hands were useless, and run his house. Calpurnia had done it until six months ago, but she was so old Atticus did more housekeeping than she, and she returned to the Quarters in honorable retirement.
"I'll do those, Aunty," Jean Louise said, when Alexandra collected the coffee cups. She rose and stretched. "You get sleepy when it's like this."
"Just these few cups," said Alexandra. "I can do 'em in a minute. You stay where you are."
Jean Louise stayed where she was and looked around the livingroom. The old furniture set well in the new house. She glanced toward the diningroom and saw on the sideboard her mother's heavy silver water pitcher, goblets, and tray shining against the soft green wall.
He is an incredible man, she thought. A chapter of his life comes to a close, Atticus tears down the old house and builds a new one in a new section of town. I couldn't do it. They built an ice cream parlor where the old one was. Wonder who runs it?
She went to the kitchen.
"Well, how's New York?" said Alexandra. "Want another cup before I throw this out?"
"Oh, by the way, I'm giving a Coffee for you Monday morning."
"Aunty!" Jean Louise groaned. Coffees were peculiarly Maycombian in nature. They were given for girls who came home. Such girls were placed on view at 10:30 A.M. for the express purpose of allowing the women of their age who had remained enisled in Maycomb to examine them. Childhood friendships were rarely renewed under such conditions.
Jean Louise had lost touch with nearly everyone she grew up with and did not wish particularly to rediscover the companions of her adolescence. Her schooldays were her most miserable days, she was unsentimental to the point of callousness about the women's college she had attended, nothing displeased her more than to be set in the middle of a group of people who played Remember Old So-and-So.
"I find the prospect of a Coffee infinitely horrifyin'," she said, "but I'd love one."
"I thought you would, dear."
A pang of tenderness swept over her. She would never be able to thank Alexandra enough for coming to stay with Atticus. She considered herself a heel for ever having been sarcastic to her aunt, who in spite of her corsets had a certain defenselessness plus a certain fineness Jean Louise would never have. She is the last of her kind, she thought. No wars had ever touched her, and she had lived through three; nothing had disturbed that world of hers, where gentlemen smoked on the porch or in hammocks, where ladies fanned themselves gently and drank cool water.
"How's Hank doing?"
"He's doing beautifully, hon. You know he was made Man of the Year by the Kiwanis Club. They gave him a lovely scroll."
"No, I didn't."
Man of the Year by the Kiwanis Club, a postwar Maycomb innovation, usually meant Young Man Going Places.
"Atticus was so proud of him. Atticus says he doesn't know the meaning of the word contract yet, but he's doing fine with taxation."
Jean Louise grinned. Her father said it took at least five years to learn law after one left law school: one practiced economy for two years, learned Alabama Pleading for two more, reread the Bible and Shakespeare for the fifth. Then one was fully equipped to hold on under any conditions.
"What would you say if Hank became your nephew?"
Alexandra stopped drying her hands on the dishtowel. She turned and looked sharply at Jean Louise. "Are you serious?"
"I might be."
"Don't be in a hurry, honey."
"Hurry? I'm twenty-six, Aunty, and I've known Hank forever."
"What's the matter, don't you approve of him?"
"It's not that, it's--Jean Louise, dating a boy is one thing, but marrying him's another. You must take all things into account. Henry's background--"
"--is literally the same as mine. We grew up in each other's pockets."
"There's a drinking streak in that family--"
"Aunty, there's a drinking streak in every family."
Alexandra's back stiffened. "Not in the Finch family."
"You're right. We're just all crazy."
"That's untrue and you know it," said Alexandra.
"Cousin Joshua was 'round the bend, don't forget that."
"You know he got it from the other side. Jean Louise, there's no finer boy in this county than Henry Clinton. He would make some girl a lovely husband, but--"
"But you're just saying that a Clinton's not good enough for a Finch. Aunty hon-ey, that sort of thing went out with the French Revolution, or began with it, I forget which."
"I'm not saying that at all. It's just that you should be careful about things like this."
Jean Louise was smiling, and her defenses were checked and ready. It was beginning again. Lord, why did I ever even hint at it? She could have kicked herself. Aunt Alexandra, if given the chance, would pick out some nice clean cow of a girl from Wild Fork for Henry and give the children her blessing. That was Henry's place in life.
"Well, I don't know how careful you can get, Aunty. Atticus would love having Hank officially with us. You know it'd tickle him to death."
Indeed it would. Atticus Finch had watched Henry's ragged pursuit of his daughter with benign objectivity, giving advice when asked for it, but absolutely declining to become involved.
"Atticus is a man. He doesn't know much about these things."
Jean Louise's teeth began to hurt. "What things, Aunty?"
"Now look, Jean Louise, if you had a daughter what would you want for her? Nothing but the best, naturally. You don't seem to realize it, and most people your age don't seem to--how would you like to know your daughter was going to marry a man whose father deserted him and his mother and died drunk on the railroad tracks in Mobile? Cara Clinton was a good soul, and she had a sad life, and it was a sad thing, but you think about marrying the product of such a union. It's a solemn thought."
A solemn thought indeed. Jean Louise saw the glint of gold-rimmed spectacles slung across a sour face looking out from under a crooked wig, the twitter of a bony finger. She said:
"The question, gentlemen--is one of liquor;
You ask for guidance--this is my reply:
He says, when tipsy, he would thrash and kick her,
Let's make him tipsy, gentlemen, and try!"
Alexandra was not amused. She was extremely annoyed. She could not comprehend the attitudes of young people these days. Not that they needed understanding--young people were the same in every generation--but this cockiness, this refusal to take seriously the gravest questions of their lives, nettled and irritated her. Jean Louise was about to make the worst mistake of her life, and she glibly quoted those people at her, she mocked her. That girl should have had a mother. Atticus had let her run wild since she was two years old, and look what he had reaped. Now she needed bringing up to the line and bringing up sharply, before it was too late.
"Jean Louise," she said, "I would like to remind you of a few facts of life. No"--Alexandra held out her hand for silence--"I'm quite sure you know those facts already, but there are a few things you in your wisecracking way don't know, and bless goodness I'm going to tell you. You are as innocent as a new-laid egg for all your city living. Henry is not and never will be suitable for you. We Finches do not marry the children of rednecked white trash, which is exactly what Henry's parents were when they were born and were all their lives. You can't call them anything better. The only reason Henry's like he is now is because your father took him in hand when he was a boy, and because the war came along and paid for his education. Fine a boy as he is, the trash won't wash out of him.
"Have you ever noticed how he licks his fingers when he eats cake? Trash. Have you ever seen him cough without covering his mouth? Trash. Did you know he got a girl in trouble at the University? Trash. Have you ever watched him pick at his nose when he didn't think anybody was looking? Trash--"
"That's not the trash in him, that's the man in him, Aunty," she said mildly. Inwardly, she was seething. Give her a few more minutes and she'll have worked herself into a good humor again. She can never be vulgar, as I am about to be. She can never be common, like Hank and me. I don't know what she is, but she better lay off or I'll give her something to think about--
"--and to top it all, he thinks he can make a place for himself in this town riding on your father's coattails. The very idea, trying to take your father's place in the Methodist Church, trying to take over his law practice, driving all around the country in his car. Why, he acts like this house was his own already, and what does Atticus do? He takes it, that's what he does. Takes it and loves it. Why, all of Maycomb's talking about Henry Clinton grabbing everything Atticus has--"
Jean Louise stopped running her fingers around the lip of a wet cup on the sink. She flicked a drop of water off her finger onto the floor and rubbed it into the linoleum with her shoe.
"Aunty," she said, cordially, "why don't you go pee in your hat?"
THE RITUAL ENACTED on Saturday nights between Jean Louise and her father was too old to be broken. Jean Louise walked into the livingroom and stood in front of his chair. She cleared her throat.
Atticus put down the Mobile Press and looked at her. She turned around slowly.
"Am I all zipped up? Stocking seams straight? Is my cowlick down?"
"Seven o'clock and all's well," said Atticus. "You've been swearing at your aunt."
"I have not."
"She told me you had."
"I was crude, but I didn't cuss her." When Jean Louise and her brother were children, Atticus had occasionally drawn them a sharp distinction between mere scatology and blasphemy. The one he could abide; he hated dragging God into it. As a result, Jean Louise and her brother never swore in his presence.
"She got my goat, Atticus."
"You shouldn't have let her. What did you say to her?"
Jean Louise told him. Atticus winced. "Well, you'd better make peace with her. Sweet, she gets on a high horse sometimes, but she's a good woman--"
"It was about Hank and she made me mad."
Atticus was a wise man, so he dropped the subject.
The Finch doorbell was a mystical instrument; it was possible to tell the state of mind of whoever pushed it. When it said deeding! Jean Louise knew Henry was outside bearing down happily. She hurried to the door.
The pleasant, remotely masculine smell of him hit her when he walked into the hall, but shaving cream, tobacco, new car, and dusty books faded at the memory of the conversation in the kitchen. Suddenly she put her arms around his waist and nuzzled her head on his chest.
"What was that for?" said Henry delightedly.
"General Principles, who fought in the Peninsular War. Let's get going."
Henry peered around the corner at Atticus in the livingroom. "I'll bring her home early, Mr. Finch." Atticus jiggled the paper at him.
When they walked out into the night, Jean Louise wondered what Alexandra would do if she knew her niece was closer to marrying trash than she had ever been in her life.
THE TOWN OF Maycomb, Alabama, owed its location to the presence of mind of one Sinkfield, who in the early dawnings of the county operated an inn where two pig trails met, the only tavern in the territory. Governor William Wyatt Bibb, with a view to promoting the domestic tranquillity of the new county, sent out a team of surveyors to locate its exact center and there establish its seat of government: had not Sinkfield made a bold stroke to preserve his holdings, Maycomb would have sat in the middle of Winston Swamp, a place totally devoid of interest.
Instead, Maycomb grew and sprawled out from its hub, Sinkfield's Tavern, because Sinkfield made the surveyors drunk one evening, induced them to bring forward their maps and charts, lop off a little here, add a bit there, and adjust the center of the county to meet his requirements. He sent them packing the next day armed with their charts and five quarts of shinny in their saddlebags--two apiece and one for the Governor.
Jean Louise could never make up her mind whether Sinkfield's maneuver was wise; he placed the young town twenty miles away from the only kind of public transportation in those days--river-boat