Go Set a Watchman/6
. Atticus and Reverend Moorehead made uninteresting conversation, and Mrs. Moorehead frankly stared at the children. Jem looked at Mrs. Moorehead and smiled. His smile was not returned, so he gave up.
To the relief of everyone, Calpurnia rang the dinnerbell. At the table, they sat for a moment in uneasy silence, and Atticus asked Reverend Moorehead to return thanks. Reverend Moorehead, instead of asking an impersonal blessing, seized the opportunity to advise the Lord of Jem's and her misdeeds. By the time Reverend Moorehead got around to explaining that these were motherless children she felt one inch high. She peeked at Jem: his nose was almost in his plate and his ears were red. She doubted if Atticus would ever be able to raise his head again, and her suspicion was confirmed when Reverend Moorehead finally said Amen and Atticus looked up. Two big tears had run from beneath his glasses down the sides of his cheeks. They had hurt him badly this time. Suddenly he said, "Excuse me," rose abruptly, and disappeared into the kitchen.
Calpurnia came in carefully, bearing a heavily laden tray. With company came Calpurnia's company manners: although she could speak Jeff Davis's English as well as anybody, she dropped her verbs in the presence of guests; she haughtily passed dishes of vegetables; she seemed to inhale steadily. When Calpurnia was at her side Jean Louise said, "Excuse me, please," reached up, and brought Calpurnia's head to the level of her own. "Cal," she whispered, "is Atticus real upset?"
Calpurnia straightened up, looked down at her, and said to the table at large, "Mr. Finch? Nawm, Miss Scout. He on the back porch laughin'!"
'MR. FINCH? HE laughin'. Car wheels running from pavement to dirt roused her. She ran her fingers through her hair. She opened the glove compartment, found a package of cigarettes, took one out of the pack, and lighted it.
"We're almost there," said Henry. "Where were you? Back in New York with your boyfriend?"
"Just woolgathering," she said. "I was thinking about the time we held a revival. You missed that one."
"Thank goodness. That's one of Dr. Finch's favorites."
She laughed. "Uncle Jack's told me that one for nearly twenty years, and it still embarrasses me. You know, Dill was the one person we forgot to tell when Jem died. Somebody sent him a newspaper clipping. He found out like that."
Henry said, "Always happens that way. You forget the oldest ones. Think he'll ever come back?"
Jean Louise shook her head. When the Army sent Dill to Europe, Dill stayed. He was born a wanderer. He was like a small panther when confined with the same people and surroundings for any length of time. She wondered where he would be when his life ended. Not on the sidewalk in Maycomb, that was for sure.
Cool river air cut through the hot night.
"Finch's Landing, madam," said Henry.
Finch's Landing consisted of three hundred and sixty-six steps going down a high bluff and ending in a wide jetty jutting out into the river. One approached it by way of a great clearing some three hundred yards wide extending from the bluff's edge back into the woods. A two-rut road ran from the far end of the clearing and vanished among dark trees. At the end of the road was a two-storied white house with porches extending around its four sides, upstairs and downstairs.
Far from being in an advanced stage of decay, the Old Finch House was in an excellent state of repair: it was a hunting club. Some businessmen from Mobile had leased the land around it, bought the house, and established what Maycomb thought was a private gambling hell. It was not: the rooms of the old house rang on winter nights with male cheer, and occasionally a shotgun would be let off, not in anger but in excessive high spirits. Let them play poker and carouse all they wanted, all Jean Louise wanted was for the old house to be taken care of.
The house had a routine history for the South: it was bought by Atticus Finch's grandfather from the uncle of a renowned lady poisoner who operated on both sides of the Atlantic but who came from a fine old Alabama family. Atticus's father was born in the house, and so were Atticus, Alexandra, Caroline (who married a Mobile man), and John Hale Finch. The clearing was used for family reunions until they went out of style, which was well within Jean Louise's recollection.
Atticus Finch's great-great-grandfather, an English Methodist, settled by the river near Claiborne and produced seven daughters and one son. They married the children of Colonel Maycomb's troops, were fruitful, and established what the county called the Eight Families. Through the years, when the descendants gathered annually, it would become necessary for the Finch in residence at the Landing to hack away more of the woods for picnic grounds, thus accounting for the clearing's present size. It was used for more things than family reunions, however: Negroes played basketball there, the Klan met there in its halcyon days, and a great tournament was held in Atticus's time in which the gentlemen of the county jousted for the honor of carrying their ladies into Maycomb for a great banquet. (Alexandra said watching Uncle Jimmy drive a pole through a ring at full gallop was what made her marry him.)
Atticus's time also was when the Finches moved to town: Atticus read law in Montgomery and returned to practice in Maycomb; Alexandra, overcome by Uncle Jimmy's dexterity, went with him to Maycomb; John Hale Finch went to Mobile to study medicine; and Caroline eloped at seventeen. When their father died they rented out the land, but their mother would not budge from the old place. She stayed on, watching the land rented and sold piece by piece from around her. When she died, all that was left was the house, the clearing, and the landing. The house stayed empty until the gentlemen from Mobile bought it.
Jean Louise thought she remembered her grandmother, but was not sure. When she saw her first Rembrandt, a woman in a cap and ruff, she said, "There's Grandma." Atticus said no, it didn't even look like her. But Jean Louise had an impression that somewhere in the old house she had been taken into a faintly lighted room, and in the middle of the room sat an old, old, lady dressed in black, wearing a white lace collar.
The steps to the Landing were called, of course, the Leap-Year Steps, and when Jean Louise was a child and attended the annual reunions, she and multitudes of cousins would drive their parents to the brink of the bluff worrying about them playing on the steps until the children were caught and divided into two categories, swimmers and nonswimmers. Those who could not swim were relegated to the forest side of the clearing and made to play innocuous games; swimmers had the run of the steps, supervised casually by two Negro youths.
The hunting club had kept the steps in decent repair, and used the jetty as a dock for their boats. They were lazy men; it was easier to drift downstream and row over to Winston Swamp than to thrash through underbrush and pine slashes. Farther downstream, beyond the bluff, were traces of the old cotton landing where Finch Negroes loaded bales and produce, and unloaded blocks of ice, flour and sugar, farm equipment, and ladies' things. Finch's Landing was used only by travelers: the steps gave the ladies an excellent excuse to swoon; their luggage was left at the cotton landing--to debark there in front of the Negroes was unthinkable.
"Think they're safe?"
Henry said, "Sure. The club keeps 'em up. We're trespassing, you know."
"Trespassing, hell. I'd like to see the day when a Finch can't walk over his own land." She paused. "What do you mean?"
"They sold the last of it five months ago."
Jean Louise said, "They didn't say word one to me about it."
The tone of her voice made Henry stop. "You don't care, do you?"
"No, not really. I just wish they'd told me."
Henry was not convinced. "For heaven's sake, Jean Louise, what good was it to Mr. Finch and them?"
"None whatever, with taxes and things. I just wish they'd told me. I don't like surprises."
Henry laughed. He stooped down and brought up a handful of gray sand. "Going Southern on us? Want me to do a Gerald O'Hara?"
"Quit it, Hank." Her voice was pleasant.
Henry said, "I believe you are the worst of the lot. Mr. Finch is seventy-two years young and you're a hundred years old when it comes to something like this."
"I just don't like my world disturbed without some warning. Let's go down to the landing."
"You up to it?"
"I can beat you down any day."
They raced to the steps. When Jean Louise started the swift descent her fingers brushed cold metal. She stopped. They had put an iron-pipe railing on the steps since last year. Hank was too far ahead to catch, but she tried.
When she reached the landing, out of breath, Henry was already sprawled out on the boards. "Careful of the tar, hon," he said.
"I'm getting old," she said.
They smoked in silence. Henry put his arm under her neck and occasionally turned and kissed her. She looked at the sky. "You can almost reach up and touch it, it's so low."
Henry said, "Were you serious a minute ago when you said you didn't like your world disturbed?"
"Hm?" She did not know. She supposed she was. She tried to explain: "It's just that every time I've come home for the past five years--before that, even. From college--something's changed a little more ..."
"--and you're not sure you like it, eh?" Henry was grinning in the moonlight and she could see him.
She sat up. "I don't know if I can tell you, honey. When you live in New York, you often have the feeling that New York's not the world. I mean this: every time I come home, I feel like I'm coming back to the world, and when I leave Maycomb it's like leaving the world. It's silly. I can't explain it, and what makes it sillier is that I'd go stark raving living in Maycomb."
Henry said, "You wouldn't, you know. I don't mean to press you for an answer--don't move--but you've got to make up your mind to one thing, Jean Louise. You're gonna see change, you're gonna see Maycomb change its face completely in our lifetime. Your trouble, now, you want to have your cake and eat it: you want to stop the clock, but you can't. Sooner or later you'll have to decide whether it's Maycomb or New York."
He so nearly understood. I'll marry you, Hank, if you bring me to live here at the Landing. I'll swap New York for this place but not for Maycomb.
She looked out at the river. The Maycomb County side was high bluffs; Abbott County was flat. When it rained the river overflowed and one could row a boat over cotton fields. She looked upstream. The Canoe Fight was up there, she thought. Sam Dale fit the Indians and Red Eagle jumped off the bluff.
And then he thinks he knows
The hills where his life rose,
And the Sea where it goes.
"Did you say something?" said Henry.
"Nothing. Just being romantic," she said. "By the way, Aunty doesn't approve of you."
"I've known that all my life. Do you?"
"Then marry me."
"Make me an offer."
Henry got up and sat beside her. They dangled their feet over the edge of the landing. "Where are my shoes?" she said suddenly.
"Back by the car where you kicked 'em off. Jean Louise, I can support us both now. I can keep us well in a few years if things keep on booming. The South's the land of opportunity now. There's enough money right here in Maycomb County to sink a--how would you like to have a husband in the legislature?"
Jean Louise was surprised. "You running?"
"I'm thinking about it."
"Against the machine?"
"Yep. It's about ready to fall of its own weight, and if I get in on the ground floor ..."
"Decent government in Maycomb County'd be such a shock I don't think the citizens could stand it," she said. "What does Atticus think?"
"He thinks the time is ripe."
"You won't have it as easy as he did." Her father, after making his initial campaign, served in the state legislature for as long as he wished, without opposition. He was unique in the history of the county: no machines opposed Atticus Finch, no machines supported him, and no one ran against him. After he retired, the machine gobbled up the one independent office left.
"No, but I can give 'em a run for their money. The Courthouse Crowd are pretty well asleep at the switch now, and a hard campaign might just beat 'em."
"Baby, you won't have a helpmate," she said. "Politics bores me to distraction."
"Anyway, you won't campaign against me. That's a relief in itself."
"A rising young man, aren't you? Why didn't you tell me you were Man of the Year?"
"I was afraid you'd laugh," Henry said.
"Laugh at you, Hank?"
"Yeah. You seem to be half laughing at me all the time."
What could she say? How many times had she hurt his feelings? She said, "You know I've never been exactly tactful, but I swear to God I've never laughed at you, Hank. In my heart I haven't."
She took his head in her arms. She could feel his crew cut under her chin; it was like black velvet. Henry, kissing her, drew her down to him on the floor of the landing.
Some time later, Jean Louise broke it up: "We'd better be going, Hank."
Hank said wearily, "The thing I hate most about this place is you always have to climb back up."
"I have a friend in New York who always runs up stairs a mile a minute. Says it keeps him from getting out of breath. Why don't you try it?"
"He your boyfriend?"
"Don't be silly," she said.
"You've said that once today."
"Go to hell, then," she said.
"You've said that once today."
Jean Louise put her hands on her hips. "How would you like to go swimming with your clothes on? I haven't said that once today. Right now I'd just as soon push you in as look at you."
"You know, I think you'd do it."
"I'd just as soon," she nodded.
Henry grabbed her shoulder. "If I go you go with me."
"I'll make one concession," she said. "You have until five to empty your pockets."
"This is insane, Jean Louise," he said, pulling out money, keys, billfold, cigarettes. He stepped out of his loafers.
They eyed one another like game roosters. Henry got the jump on her, but when she was falling she snatched at his shirt and took him with her. They swam swiftly in silence to the middle of the river, turned, and swam slowly to the landing. "Give me a hand up," she said.
Dripping, their clothes clinging to them, they made their way up the steps. "We'll be almost dry when we get to the car," he said.
"There was a current out there tonight," she said.
"Too much dissipation."
"Careful I don't push you off this bluff. I mean that." She giggled. "Remember how Mrs. Merriweather used to do poor old Mr. Merriweather? When we're married I'm gonna do you the same way."
It was hard on Mr. Merriweather if he happened to quarrel with his wife while on a public highway. Mr. Merriweather could not drive, and if their dissension reached the acrimonious, Mrs. Merriweather would stop the car and hitchhike to town. Once they disagreed in a narrow lane, and Mr. Merriweather was abandoned for seven hours. Finally he hitched a ride on a passing wagon.
"When I'm in the legislature we can't take midnight plunges," said Henry.
"Then don't run."
The car hummed on. Gradually, the cool air receded and it was stifling again. Jean Louise saw the reflection of headlights behind them in the windshield, and a car passed. Soon another came by, and another. Maycomb was near.
With her head on his shoulder, Jean Louise was content. It might work after all, she thought. But I am not domestic. I don't even know how to run a cook. What do ladies say to each other when they go visiting? I'd have to wear a hat. I'd drop the babies and kill 'em.
Something that looked like a giant black bee whooshed by them and careened around the curve ahead. She sat up, startled. "What was that?"
"Carload of Negroes."
"Mercy, what do they think they're doing?"
"That's the way they assert themselves these days," Henry said. "They've got enough money to buy used cars, and they get out on the highway like ninety-to-nothing. They're a public menace."
"Not many. No insurance, either."
"Golly, what if something happens?"
"It's just too sad."
AT THE DOOR, Henry kissed her gently and let her go. "Tomorrow night?" he said.
She nodded. "Goodnight, sweet."
Shoes in hand, she tiptoed into the front bedroom and turned on the light. She undressed, put on her pajama tops, and sneaked quietly into the livingroom. She turned on a lamp and went to the bookshelves. Oh murder, she thought. She ran her finger along the volumes of military history, lingered at The Second Punic War, and stopped at The Reason Why. Might as well bone up for Uncle Jack, she thought. She returned to her bedroom, snapped off the ceiling light, groped for the lamp, and switched it on. She climbed into the bed she was born in, read three pages, and fell asleep with the light on.
"JEAN LOUISE, JEAN Louise, wake up!"
Alexandra's voice penetrated her unconsciousness, and she struggled to meet the morning. She opened her eyes and saw Alexandra standing over her. "Wh--" she said.
"Jean Louise, what do you mean--what do you and Henry Clinton mean--by going swimming last night naked?"
Jean Louise sat up in bed. "Hnh?"
"I said, what do you and Henry Clinton mean by going swimming in the river last night naked? It's all over Maycomb this morning."
Jean Louise put her head on her knees and tried to wake up. "Who told you that, Aunty?"
"Mary Webster called at the crack of dawn. Said you two were seen stark in the middle of the river last night at one o'clock!"
"Anybody with eyes that good was up to no good." Jean Louise shrugged her shoulders. "Well, Aunty, I suppose I've got to marry Hank now, haven't I?"
"I--I don't know what to think of you, Jean Louise. Your father will die, simply die, when he finds out. You'd better tell him before he finds out on the street corner."
Atticus was standing in the door with his hands in his pockets. "Good morning," he said. "What'll kill me?"
Alexandra said, "I'm not going to tell him, Jean Louise. It's up to you."
Jean Louise silently signaled her father; her message was received and understood. Atticus looked grave. "What's the matter?" he said.
"Mary Webster was on the blower. Her advance agents saw Hank and me swimming in the mi