Go set a watchman, p.4
Go Set a Watchman,
Part #2 of To Kill a Mockingbird series by Harper Lee
New people rarely went there to live. The same families married the same families until relationships were hopelessly entangled and the members of the community looked monotonously alike. Jean Louise, until the Second World War, was related by blood or marriage to nearly everybody in the town, but this was mild compared to what went on in the northern half of Maycomb County: there was a community called Old Sarum populated by two families, separate and apart in the beginning, but unfortunately bearing the same name. The Cunninghams and the Coninghams married each other until the spelling of the names was academic--academic unless a Cunningham wished to jape with a Coningham over land titles and took to the law. The only time Jean Louise ever saw Judge Taylor at a dead standstill in open court was during a dispute of this kind. Jeems Cunningham testified that his mother spelled it Cunningham occasionally on deeds and things but she was really a Coningham, she was an uncertain speller, and she was given to looking far away sometimes when she sat on the front porch. After nine hours of listening to the vagaries of Old Sarum's inhabitants, Judge Taylor threw the case out of court on grounds of frivolous pleading and declared he hoped to God the litigants were satisfied by each having had his public say. They were. That was all they had wanted in the first place.
Maycomb did not have a paved street until 1935, courtesy of F. D. Roosevelt, and even then it was not exactly a street that was paved. For some reason the President decided that a clearing from the front door of the Maycomb Grammar School to the connecting two ruts adjoining the school property was in need of improvement, it was improved accordingly, resulting in skinned knees and cracked crania for the children and a proclamation from the principal that nobody was to play Pop-the-Whip on the pavement. Thus the seeds of states' rights were sown in the hearts of Jean Louise's generation.
The Second World War did something to Maycomb: its boys who came back returned with bizarre ideas about making money and an urgency to make up for lost time. They painted their parents' houses atrocious colors; they whitewashed Maycomb's stores and put up neon signs; they built red brick houses of their own in what were formerly corn patches and pine thickets; they ruined the old town's looks. Its streets were not only paved, they were named (Adeline Avenue, for Miss Adeline Clay), but the older residents refrained from using street names--the road that runs by the Tompkins Place was sufficient to get one's bearings. After the war young men from tenant farms all over the county flocked to Maycomb and erected matchbox wooden houses and started families. Nobody quite knew how they made a living, but they did, and they would have created a new social stratum in Maycomb had the rest of the town acknowledged their existence.
Although Maycomb's appearance had changed, the same hearts beat in new houses, over Mixmasters, in front of television sets. One could whitewash all he pleased, and put up comic neon signs, but the aged timbers stood strong under their additional burden.
"You don't like it, do you?" asked Henry. "I saw your face when you walked in the door."
"Conservative resistance to change, that's all," said Jean Louise behind a mouthful of fried shrimp. They were in the Maycomb Hotel diningroom sitting on chromium chairs at a table for two. The air-conditioning unit made its will known by a constant low rumble. "The only thing I like about it is the smell's gone."
A long table laden with many dishes, the smell of musty old room and hot grease in the kitchen. "Hank, what's Hot-Grease-in-the-Kitchen?"
"It was a game or something."
"You mean Hot Peas, honey. That's jumping rope, when they turn the rope fast and try to trip you."
"No, it had something to do with Tag."
She could not remember. When she was dying, she probably would remember, but now only the faint flash of a denim sleeve caught in her mind, a quick cry, "Hotgreaseinthekit-chen!" She wondered who owned the sleeve, what had become of him. He might be raising a family out in one of those new little houses. She had an odd feeling that time had passed her by.
"Hank, let's go to the river," she said.
"Didn't think we weren't, did you?" Henry was smiling at her. He never knew why, but Jean Louise was most like her old self when she went to Finch's Landing: she seemed to breathe something out of the air--"You're a Jekyll-and-Hyde character," he said.
"You've been watching too much television."
"Sometimes I think I've got you like this"--Henry made a fist--"and just when I think I've got you, holding you tight, you go away from me."
Jean Louise raised her eyebrows. "Mr. Clinton, if you'll permit an observation from a woman of the world, your hand is showing."
She grinned. "Don't you know how to catch a woman, honey?" She rubbed an imaginary crew cut, frowned, and said, "Women like for their men to be masterful and at the same time remote, if you can pull that trick. Make them feel helpless, especially when you know they can pick up a load of light'ud knots with no trouble. Never doubt yourself in front of them, and by no means tell them you don't understand them."
"Touche, baby," said Henry. "But I'd quibble with your last suggestion. I thought women liked to be thought strange and mysterious."
"No, they just like to look strange and mysterious. When you get past all the boa feathers, every woman born in this world wants a strong man who knows her like a book, who's not only her lover but he who keepeth Israel. Stupid, isn't it?"
"She wants a father instead of a husband, then."
"That's what it amounts to," she said. "The books are right on that score."
Henry said, "You're being very wise this evening. Where'd you pick up all this?"
"Living in sin in New York," she said. She lighted a cigarette and inhaled deeply. "I learned it from watching sleek, Madison Avenuey young marrieds--you know that language, baby? It's lots of fun, but you need an ear for it--they go through a kind of tribal fandango, but the application's universal. It begins by the wives being bored to death because their men are so tired from making money they don't pay any attention to 'em. But when their wives start hollering, instead of trying to understand why, the men just go find a sympathetic shoulder to cry on. Then when they get tired of talking about themselves they go back to their wives. Everything's rosy for a while, but the men get tired and their wives start yellin' again and around it goes. Men in this age have turned the Other Woman into a psychiatrist's couch, and at far less expense, too."
Henry stared at her. "I've never heard you so cynical," he said. "What's the matter with you?"
Jean Louise blinked. "I'm sorry, honey." She crushed out her cigarette. "It's just that I'm so afraid of making a mess of being married to the wrong man--the wrong kind for me, I mean. I'm no different from any other woman, and the wrong man would turn me into a screamin' shrew in record time."
"What makes you so sure you'll marry the wrong man? Didn't you know I'm a wife-beater from way back?"
A black hand held out the check on a tray. The hand was familiar to her and she looked up. "Hi, Albert," she said. "They've put you in a white coat."
"Yes ma'am, Miss Scout," said Albert. "How's New York?"
"Just fine," she said, and wondered who else in Maycomb still remembered Scout Finch, juvenile desperado, hellraiser extraordinary. Nobody but Uncle Jack, perhaps, who sometimes embarrassed her unmercifully in front of company with a tinkling recitative of her childhood felonies. She would see him at church tomorrow, and tomorrow afternoon she would have a long visit with him. Uncle Jack was one of the abiding pleasures of Maycomb.
"Why is it," said Henry deliberately, "that you never drink more than half your second cup of coffee after supper?"
She looked down at her cup, surprised. Any reference to her personal eccentricities, even from Henry, made her shy. Astute of Hank to notice that. Why had he waited fifteen years to tell her?
WHEN SHE WAS getting in the car she bumped her head hard against its top. "Damnation! Why don't they make these things high enough to get into?" She rubbed her forehead until her eyes fo
"Yeah. I'm all right."
Henry shut the door softly, went around, and got in beside her. "Too much city living," he said. "You're never in a car up there, are you?"
"No. How long before they'll cut 'em down to one foot high? We'll be riding prone next year."
"Shot out of a cannon," said Henry. "Shot from Maycomb to Mobile in three minutes."
"I'd be content with an old square Buick. Remember them? You sat at least five feet off the ground."
Henry said, "Remember when Jem fell out of the car?"
She laughed. "That was my hold over him for weeks--anybody who couldn't get to Barker's Eddy without falling out of the car was a big wet hen."
In the dim past, Atticus had owned an old canvas-top touring car, and once when he was taking Jem, Henry, and Jean Louise swimming, the car rolled over a particularly bad hump in the road and deposited Jem without. Atticus drove serenely on until they reached Barker's Eddy, because Jean Louise had no intention of advising her father that Jem was no longer present, and she prevented Henry from doing so by catching his finger and bending it back. When they arrived at the creek bank, Atticus turned around with a hearty "Everybody out!" and the smile froze on his face: "Where's Jem?" Jean Louise said he ought to be coming along any minute now. When Jem appeared puffing, sweaty, and filthy from his enforced sprint, he ran straight past them and dived into the creek with his clothes on. Seconds later a murderous face appeared from beneath the surface, saying, "Come on in here, Scout! I dare you, Hank!" They took his dare, and once Jean Louise thought Jem would choke the life out of her, but he let her go eventually: Atticus was there.
"They've put a planing mill on the eddy," said Henry. "Can't swim in it now."
Henry drove up to the E-Lite Eat Shop and honked the horn. "Give us two set-ups please, Bill," he said to the youth who appeared at his summons.
In Maycomb, one drank or did not drink. When one drank, one went behind the garage, turned up a pint, and drank it down; when one did not drink, one asked for set-ups at the E-Lite Eat Shop under cover of darkness: a man having a couple of drinks before or after dinner in his home or with his neighbor was unheard of. That was Social Drinking. Those who Drank Socially were not quite out of the top drawer, and because no one in Maycomb considered himself out of any drawer but the top, there was no Social Drinking.
"Make mine light, honey," she said. "Just color the water."
"Haven't you learned to hold it yet?" Henry said. He reached under the seat and came up with a brown bottle of Seagram's Seven.
"Not the hard kind," she said.
Henry colored the water in her paper cup. He poured himself a man-sized drink, stirred it with his finger, and bottle between his knees, he replaced its cap. He shoved it under the seat and started the car.
"We're off," he said.
The car tires hummed on the asphalt and made her sleepy. The one thing she liked most about Henry Clinton was that he let her be silent when she wanted to be. She did not have to entertain him.
Henry never attempted to pester her when she was thus. His attitude was Asquithian, and he knew she appreciated him for his patience. She did not know he was learning that virtue from her father. "Relax, son," Atticus had told him in one of his rare comments on her. "Don't push her. Let her go at her own speed. Push her and every mule in the county'd be easier to live with."
Henry Clinton's class in Law School at the University was composed of bright, humorless young veterans. The competition was terrific, but Henry was accustomed to hard work. Although he was able to keep up and manage very well, he learned little of practical value. Atticus Finch was right when he said the only good the University did Henry was let him make friends with Alabama's future politicians, demagogues, and statesmen. One began to get an inkling of what law was about only when the time came to practice it. Alabama and common law pleading, for instance, was a subject so ethereal in nature that Henry passed it only by memorizing the book. The bitter little man who taught the course was the lone professor in the school who had guts enough to try to teach it, and even he evinced the rigidity of imperfect understanding. "Mr. Clinton," he had said, when Henry ventured to inquire about a particularly ambiguous examination, "you may write until doomsday for all I care, but if your answers do not coincide with my answers they are wrong. Wrong, sir." No wonder Atticus confounded Henry in the early days of their association by saying, "Pleading's little more than putting on paper what you want to say." Patiently and unobtrusively Atticus had taught him everything Henry knew about his craft, but Henry sometimes wondered if he would be as old as Atticus before he reduced law to his possession. Tom, Tom, the chimney sweep's son. Was that the old bailment case? No, the first of the treasure trove cases: possession holds good against all comers except the true owner. The boy found a brooch. He looked down at Jean Louise. She was dozing.
He was her true owner, that was clear to him. From the time she threw rocks at him; when she almost blew her head off playing with gunpowder; when she would spring upon him from behind, catch him in a hard half nelson, and make him say Calf Rope; when she was ill and delirious one summer yelling for him and Jem and Dill--Henry wondered where Dill was. Jean Louise would know, she kept in touch.
"Honey, where's Dill?"
Jean Louise opened her eyes. "Italy, last time I heard."
She stirred. Charles Baker Harris. Dill, the friend of her heart. She yawned and watched the front of the car consume the white line in the highway. "Where are we?"
"Ten more miles to go yet."
She said, "You can feel the river already."
"You must be half alligator," said Henry. "I can't."
"Is Two-Toed Tom still around?"
Two-Toed Tom lived wherever there was a river. He was a genius: he made tunnels beneath Maycomb and ate people's chickens at night; he was once tracked from Demopolis to Tensas. He was as old as Maycomb County.
"We might see him tonight."
"What made you think of Dill?" she asked.
"I don't know. Just thought of him."
"You never liked him, did you?"
Henry smiled. "I was jealous of him. He had you and Jem to himself all summer long, while I had to go home the day school was out. There was nobody at home to fool around with."
She was silent. Time stopped, shifted, and went lazily in reverse. Somehow, then, it was always summer. Hank was down at his mother's and unavailable, and Jem had to make do with his younger sister for company. The days were long, Jem was eleven, and the pattern was set:
They were on the sleeping porch, the coolest part of the house. They slept there every night from the beginning of May to the end of September. Jem, who had been lying on his cot reading since daybreak, thrust a football magazine in her face, pointed to a picture, and said, "Who's this, Scout?"
"Johnny Mack Brown. Let's play a story."
Jem rattled the page at her. "Who's this then?"
"You," she said.
"Okay. Call Dill."
It was unnecessary to call Dill. The cabbages trembled in Miss Rachel's garden, the back fence groaned, and Dill was with them. Dill was a curiosity because he was from Meridian, Mississippi, and was wise in the ways of the world. He spent every summer in Maycomb with his great-aunt, who lived next door to the Finches. He was a short, square-built, cotton-headed individual with the face of an angel and the cunning of a stoat. He was a year older than she, but she was a head taller.
"Hey," said Dill. "Let's play Tarzan today. I'm gonna be Tarzan."
"You can't be Tarzan," said Jem.
"I'm Jane," she said.
"Well, I'm not going to be the ape again," said Dill. "I always have to be the ape."
"You want to be Jane, then?" asked Jem. He stretched, pulled on his pants, and said, "We'll play Tom Swift. I'm Tom."
"I'm Ned," said Dill and she together. "No you're not," she said to Dill.
Dill's face reddened. "Scout, you always have to be second-be
"You want to do something about it?" she asked politely, clenching her fists.
Jem said, "You can be Mr. Damon, Dill. He's always funny and he saves everybody in the end. You know, he always blesses everything."
"Bless my insurance policy," said Dill, hooking his thumbs through invisible suspenders. "Oh all right."
"What's it gonna be," said Jem, "His Ocean Airport or His Flying Machine?"
"I'm tired of those," she said. "Make us up one."
"Okay. Scout, you're Ned Newton. Dill, you're Mr. Damon. Now, one day Tom's in his laboratory working on a machine that can see through a brick wall when this man comes in and says, 'Mr. Swift?' I'm Tom, so I say, 'Yessir?'--"
"Can't anything see through a brick wall," said Dill.
"This thing could. Anyway, this man comes in and says, 'Mr. Swift?'"
"Jem," she said, "if there's gonna be this man we'll need somebody else. Want me to run get Bennett?"
"No, this man doesn't last long, so I'll just tell his part. You've got to begin a story, Scout--"
This man's part consisted of advising the young inventor that a valuable professor had been lost in the Belgian Congo for thirty years and it was high time somebody tried to get him out. Naturally he had come to seek the services of Tom Swift and his friends, and Tom leaped at the prospect of adventure.
The three climbed into His Flying Machine, which was composed of wide boards they had long ago nailed across the chinaberry tree's heaviest branches.
"It's awful hot up here," said Dill. "Huh-huh-huh."
"What?" said Jem.
"I say it's awful hot up here so close to the sun. Bless my long underwear."
"You can't say that, Dill. The higher you go the colder it gets."
"I reckon it gets hotter."
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee / History & Fiction have rating 4.5 out of 5 / Based on18 votes