Go Set a Watchman (To Kill a Mockingbird #2)
Author:Harper Lee

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 was 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?”

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