Go set a watchman, p.11
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       Go Set a Watchman, p.11
 

         Part #2 of To Kill a Mockingbird series by Harper Lee  
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  Damn it to hell, I've flooded it.

  She wheeled the mower into the sun and returned to the garage where she armed herself with heavy hedge clippers. She went to the culvert at the entrance to the driveway and snipped the sturdier grass growing at its two mouths. Something moved at her feet, and she closed her cupped left hand over a cricket. She edged her right hand beneath the creature and scooped it up. The cricket beat frantically against her palms and she let it down again. "You were out too late," she said. "Go home to your mamma."

  A truck drove up the hill and stopped in front of her. A Negro boy jumped from the running-board and handed her three quarts of milk. She carried the milk to the front steps, and on her way back to the culvert she gave the mower another tug. This time it started.

  She glanced with satisfaction at the neat swath behind her. The grass lay crisply cut and smelled like a creek bank. The course of English Literature would have been decidedly different had Mr. Wordsworth owned a power mower, she thought.

  Something invaded her line of vision and she looked up. Alexandra was standing at the front door making come-here-this-minute gestures. I believe she's got on a corset. I wonder if she ever turns over in bed at night.

  Alexandra showed little evidence of such activity as she stood waiting for her niece: her thick gray hair was neatly arranged, as usual; she had on no makeup and it made no difference. I wonder if she has ever really felt anything in her life. Francis probably hurt her when he appeared, but I wonder if anything has ever touched her.

  "Jean Louise!" hissed Alexandra. "You're waking up this whole side of town with that thing! You've already waked your father, and he didn't get two winks last night. Stop it right now!"

  Jean Louise kicked off the motor, and the sudden silence broke her truce with them.

  "You ought to know better than to run that thing barefooted. Fink Sewell got three toes chopped off that way, and Atticus killed a snake three feet long in the back yard just last fall. Honestly, the way you behave sometimes, anybody'd think you were behind the pale!"

  In spite of herself, Jean Louise grinned. Alexandra could be relied upon to produce a malapropism on occasions, the most notable being her comment on the gulosity displayed by the youngest member of a Mobile Jewish family upon completing his thirteenth year: Alexandra declared that Aaron Stein was the greediest boy she had ever seen, that he ate fourteen ears of corn at his Menopause.

  "Why didn't you bring in the milk? It's probably clabber by now."

  "I didn't want to wake you all up, Aunty."

  "Well, we are up," she said grimly. "Do you want any breakfast?"

  "Just coffee, please."

  "I want you to get dressed and go to town for me this morning. You'll have to drive Atticus. He's pretty crippled today."

  She wished she had stayed in bed until he had left the house, but he would have waked her anyway to drive him to town.

  She went into the house, went to the kitchen, and sat down at the table. She looked at the grotesque eating equipment Alexandra had put by his plate. Atticus drew the line at having someone feed him, and Dr. Finch solved the problem by jamming the handles of a fork, knife, and spoon into the ends of big wooden spools.

  "Good morning."

  Jean Louise heard her father enter the room. She looked at her plate. "Good morning, sir."

  "I heard you weren't feeling good. I looked in on you when I got home and you were sound asleep. All right this morning?"

  "Yes sir."

  "Don't sound it."

  Atticus asked the Lord to give them grateful hearts for these and all their blessings, picked up his glass, and spilled its contents over the table. The milk ran into his lap.

  "I'm sorry," he said. "It takes me a while to get going some mornings."

  "Don't move, I'll fix it." Jean Louise jumped up and went to the sink. She threw two dishtowels over the milk, got a fresh one from a drawer of the cabinet, and blotted the milk from her father's trousers and shirt front.

  "I have a whopping cleaning bill these days," he said.

  "Yes sir."

  Alexandra served Atticus bacon and eggs and toast. His attention upon his breakfast, Jean Louise thought it would be safe to have a look at him.

  He had not changed. His face was the same as always. I don't know why I expected him to be looking like Dorian Gray or somebody.

  She jumped when the telephone rang.

  Jean Louise was unable to readjust herself to calls at six in the morning, Mary Webster's Hour. Alexandra answered it and returned to the kitchen.

  "It's for you, Atticus. It's the sheriff."

  "Ask him what he wants, please, Zandra."

  Alexandra reappeared saying, "Something about somebody asked him to call you--"

  "Tell him to call Hank, Zandra. He can tell Hank whatever he wants to tell me." He turned to Jean Louise. "I'm glad I have a junior partner as well as a sister. What one misses the other doesn't. Wonder what the sheriff wants at this hour?"

  "So do I," she said flatly.

  "Sweet, I think you ought to let Allen have a look at you today. You're offish."

  "Yes sir."

  Secretly, she watched her father eat his breakfast. He managed the cumbersome tableware as if it were its normal size and shape. She stole a glance at his face and saw it covered with white stubble. If he had a beard it would be white, but his hair's just turning and his eyebrows are still jet. Uncle Jack's already white to his forehead, and Aunty's gray all over. When I begin to go, where will I start? Why am I thinking these things?

  She said, "Excuse me," and took her coffee to the livingroom. She put her cup on a lamp table and was opening the blinds when she saw Henry's car turn into the driveway. He found her standing by the window.

  "Good morning. You look like pale blue sin," he said.

  "Thank you. Atticus is in the kitchen."

  Henry looked the same as ever. After a night's sleep, his scar was less vivid. "You in a snit about something?" he said. "I waved at you in the balcony yesterday but you didn't see me."

  "You saw me?"

  "Yeah. I was hoping you'd be waiting outside for us, but you weren't. Feeling better today?"

  "Yes."

  "Well, don't bite my head off."

  She drank her coffee, told herself she wanted another cup, and followed Henry into the kitchen. He leaned against the sink, twirling his car keys on his forefinger. He is nearly as tall as the cabinets, she thought. I shall never be able to speak one lucid sentence to him again.

  "--happened all right," Henry was saying. "It was bound to sooner or later."

  "Was he drinking?" asked Atticus.

  "Not drinking, drunk. He was coming in from an all-night boozing down at that jook they have."

  "What's the matter?" said Jean Louise.

  "Zeebo's boy," said Henry. "Sheriff said he has him in jail--he'd asked him to call Mr. Finch to come get him out--huh."

  "Why?"

  "Honey, Zeebo's boy was coming out of the Quarters at daybreak this morning splittin' the wind, and he ran over old Mr. Healy crossing the road and killed him dead."

  "Oh no--"

  "Whose car was it?" asked Atticus.

  "Zeebo's, I reckon."

  "What'd you tell the sheriff?" asked Atticus.

  "Told him to tell Zeebo's boy you wouldn't touch the case."

  Atticus leaned his elbows against the table and pushed himself back.

  "You shouldn't've done that, Hank," he said mildly. "Of course we'll take it."

  Thank you, God. Jean Louise sighed softly and rubbed her eyes. Zeebo's boy was Calpurnia's grandson. Atticus may forget a lot of things, but he would never forget them. Yesterday was fast dissolving into a bad night. Poor Mr. Healy, he was probably so loaded he never knew what hit him.

  "But Mr. Finch," Henry said. "I thought none of the--"

  Atticus eased his arm on the corner of the chair. When concentrating it was his practice to finger his watch-chain and rummage abstractedly in his watchp
ocket. Today his hands were still.

  "Hank, I suspect when we know all the facts in the case the best that can be done for the boy is for him to plead guilty. Now, isn't it better for us to stand up with him in court than to have him fall into the wrong hands?"

  A smile spread slowly across Henry's face. "I see what you mean, Mr. Finch."

  "Well, I don't," said Jean Louise. "What wrong hands?"

  Atticus turned to her. "Scout, you probably don't know it, but the NAACP-paid lawyers are standing around like buzzards down here waiting for things like this to happen--"

  "You mean colored lawyers?"

  Atticus nodded. "Yep. We've got three or four in the state now. They're mostly in Birmingham and places like that, but circuit by circuit they watch and wait, just for some felony committed by a Negro against a white person--you'd be surprised how quick they find out--in they come and ... well, in terms you can understand, they demand Negroes on the juries in such cases. They subpoena the jury commissioners, they ask the judge to step down, they raise every legal trick in their books--and they have 'em aplenty--they try to force the judge into error. Above all else, they try to get the case into a Federal court where they know the cards are stacked in their favor. It's already happened in our next-door-neighbor circuit, and there's nothing in the books that says it won't happen here."

  Atticus turned to Henry. "So that's why I say we'll take his case if he wants us."

  "I thought the NAACP was forbidden to do business in Alabama," said Jean Louise.

  Atticus and Henry looked at her and laughed.

  "Honey," said Henry, "you don't know what went on in Abbott County when something just like this happened. This spring we thought there'd be real trouble for a while. People across the river here even, bought up all the ammunition they could find--"

  Jean Louise left the room.

  In the livingroom, she heard Atticus's even voice:

  "... stem the tide a little bit this way ... good thing he asked for one of the Maycomb lawyers...."

  She would keep her coffee down come hell or high water. Who were the people Calpurnia's tribe turned to first and always? How many divorces had Atticus gotten for Zeebo? Five, at least. Which boy was this one? He was in real dutch this time, he needed real help and what do they do but sit in the kitchen and talk NAACP ... not long ago, Atticus would have done it simply from his goodness, he would have done it for Cal. I must go to see her this morning without fail....

  What was this blight that had come down over the people she loved? Did she see it in stark relief because she had been away from it? Had it percolated gradually through the years until now? Had it always been under her nose for her to see if she had only looked? No, not the last. What turned ordinary men into screaming dirt at the top of their voices, what made her kind of people harden and say "nigger" when the word had never crossed their lips before?

  "--keep them in their places, I hope," Alexandra said, as she entered the livingroom with Atticus and Henry.

  "There's nothing to fret about," said Henry. "We'll come out all right. Seven-thirty tonight, hon?"

  "Yes."

  "Well, you might show some enthusiasm about it."

  Atticus chuckled. "She's already tired of you, Hank."

  "Can I take you to town, Mr. Finch? It's powerfully early, but I think I'll run down and tend to some things in the cool of the morning."

  "Thanks, but Scout'll run me down later."

  His use of her childhood name crashed on her ears. Don't you ever call me that again. You who called me Scout are dead and in your grave.

  Alexandra said, "I've got a list of things for you to get at the Jitney Jungle, Jean Louise. Now go change your clothes. You can run to town now--it's open--and come back for your father."

  Jean Louise went to the bathroom and turned on the hot water tap in the tub. She went to her room, pulled out a cotton dress from the closet, and slung it over her arm. She found some flat-heeled shoes in her suitcase, picked up a pair of panties, and took them all into the bathroom.

  She looked at herself in the medicine-cabinet mirror. Who's Dorian now?

  There were blue-brown shadows under her eyes, and the lines from her nostrils to the corners of her mouth were definite. No doubt about them, she thought. She pulled her cheek to one side and peered at the tiny mother line. I couldn't care less. By the time I'm ready to get married I'll be ninety and then it'll be too late. Who'll bury me? I'm the youngest by far--that's one reason for having children.

  She cut the hot water with cold, and when she could stand it she got into the tub, scrubbed herself soberly, released the water, rubbed herself dry, and dressed quickly. She gave the tub a rinse, dried her hands, spread the towel on the rack, and left the bathroom.

  "Put on some lipstick," said her aunt, meeting her in the hall. Alexandra went to the closet and dragged out the vacuum cleaner.

  "I'll do that when I come back," said Jean Louise.

  "It'll be done when you get back."

  THE SUN HAD not yet blistered the sidewalks of Maycomb, but it soon would. She parked the car in front of the grocery store and went in.

  Mr. Fred shook hands with her, said he was glad to see her, drew out a wet Coke from the machine, wiped it on his apron, and gave it to her.

  This is one good thing about life that never changes, she thought. As long as he lived, as long as she returned, Mr. Fred would be here with his ... simple welcome. What was that? Alice? Brer Rabbit? It was Mole. Mole, when he returned from some long journey, desperately tired, had found the familiar waiting for him with its simple welcome.

  "I'll rassle up these groceries for you and you can enjoy your Coke," said Mr. Fred.

  "Thank you, sir," she said. Jean Louise glanced at the list and her eyes widened. "Aunty's gettin' more like Cousin Joshua all the time. What does she want with cocktail napkins?"

  Mr. Fred chuckled. "I reckon she means party napkins. I've never heard of a cocktail passing her lips."

  "You never will, either."

  Mr. Fred went about his business, and presently he called from the back of the store. "Hear about Mr. Healy?"

  "Ah--um," said Jean Louise. She was a lawyer's daughter.

  "Didn't know what hit him," said Mr. Fred. "Didn't know where he was going to begin with, poor old thing. He drank more jack-leg liquor than any human I ever saw. That was his one accomplishment."

  "Didn't he used to play the jug?"

  "Sure did," said Mr. Fred. "You remember back when they'd have talent nights at the courthouse? He'd always be there blowin' that jug. He'd bring it full and drink a bit to get the tone down, then drink some more until it was real low, and then play his solo. It was always Old Dan Tucker, and he always scandalized the ladies, but they never could prove anything. You know pure shinny doesn't smell much."

  "How did he live?"

  "Pension, I think. He was in the Spanish--to tell you the truth he was in some war but I can't remember what it was. Here's your groceries."

  "Thanks, Mr. Fred," Jean Louise said. "Good Lord, I've forgot my money. Can I leave the slip on Atticus's desk? He'll be down before long."

  "Sure, honey. How's your daddy?"

  "He's grim today, but he'll be at the office come the Flood."

  "Why don't you stay home this time?"

  She lowered her guard when she saw nothing but incurious good humor in Mr. Fred's face: "I will, someday."

  "You know, I was in the First War," said Mr. Fred. "I didn't go overseas, but I saw a lot of this country. I didn't have the itch to get back, so after the war I stayed away for ten years, but the longer I stayed away the more I missed Maycomb. I got to the point where I felt like I had to come back or die. You never get it out of your bones."

  "Mr. Fred, Maycomb's just like any other little town. You take a cross-section--"

  "It's not, Jean Louise. You know that."

  "You're right," she nodded.

  It was not because this was where your life began. It was because this w
as where people were born and born and born until finally the result was you, drinking a Coke in the Jitney Jungle.

  Now she was aware of a sharp apartness, a separation, not from Atticus and Henry merely. All of Maycomb and Maycomb County were leaving her as the hours passed, and she automatically blamed herself.

  She bumped her head getting into the car. I shall never become accustomed to these things. Uncle Jack has a few major points in his philosophy.

  ALEXANDRA TOOK THE groceries from the back seat. Jean Louise leaned over and opened the door for her father; she reached across him and shut it.

  "Want the car this morning, Aunty?"

  "No, dear. Going somewhere?"

  "Yessum. I won't be gone long."

  She watched the street closely. I can do anything but look at him and listen to him and talk to him.

  When she stopped in front of the barbershop she said, "Ask Mr. Fred how much we owe him. I forgot to take the slip out of the sack. Said you'd pay him."

  When she opened the door for him, he stepped into the street.

  "Be careful!"

  Atticus waved to the driver of the passing car. "It didn't hit me," he said.

  She drove around the square and out the Meridian highway until she came to a fork in the road. This is where it must have happened, she thought.

  There were dark patches in the red gravel where the pavement ended, and she drove the car over Mr. Healy's blood. When she came to a fork in the dirt road she turned right, and drove down a lane so narrow the big car left no room on either side. She went on until she could go no farther.

  The road was blocked by a line of cars standing aslant halfway in the ditch. She parked behind the last one and got out. She walked down the row past a 1939 Ford, a Chevrolet of ambiguous vintage, a Willys, and a robin's-egg blue hearse with the words HEAVENLY REST picked out in a chromium semicircle on its front door. She was startled, and she peered inside: in the back there were rows of chairs screwed to the floor and no place for a recumbent body, quick or dead. This is a taxi, she thought.

  She pulled a wire ring off the gatepost and went inside. Calpurnia's was a swept yard: Jean Louise could tell it had been swept recently, brushbroom scratches were still visible between smooth footprints.

 
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