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

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?”

“Yessum, please.”

“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.