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

“What would you say if Hank became your nephew?”

Alexandra stopped drying her hands on the dishtowel. She turned and looked sharply at Jean Louise. “Are you serious?”

“I might be.”

“Don’t be in a hurry, honey.”

“Hurry? I’m twenty-six, Aunty, and I’ve known Hank forever.”

“Yes, but—”

“What’s the matter, don’t you approve of him?”

“It’s not that, it’s—Jean Louise, dating a boy is one thing, but marrying him’s another. You must take all things into account. Henry’s background—”

“—is literally the same as mine. We grew up in each other’s pockets.”

“There’s a drinking streak in that family—”

“Aunty, there’s a drinking streak in every family.”

Alexandra’s back stiffened. “Not in the Finch family.”

“You’re right. We’re just all crazy.”

“That’s untrue and you know it,” said Alexandra.

“Cousin Joshua was ’round the bend, don’t forget that.”

“You know he got it from the other side. Jean Louise, there’s no finer boy in this county than Henry Clinton. He would make some girl a lovely husband, but—”

“But you’re just saying that a Clinton’s not good enough for a Finch. Aunty hon-ey, that sort of thing went out with the French Revolution, or began with it, I forget which.”

“I’m not saying that at all. It’s just that you should be careful about things like this.”

Jean Louise was smiling, and her defenses were checked and ready. It was beginning again. Lord, why did I ever even hint at it? She could have kicked herself. Aunt Alexandra, if given the chance, would pick out some nice clean cow of a girl from Wild Fork for Henry and give the children her blessing. That was Henry’s place in life.

“Well, I don’t know how careful you can get, Aunty. Atticus would love having Hank officially with us. You know it’d tickle him to death.”

Indeed it would. Atticus Finch had watched Henry’s ragged pursuit of his daughter with benign objectivity, giving advice when asked for it, but absolutely declining to become involved.

“Atticus is a man. He doesn’t know much about these things.”

Jean Louise’s teeth began to hurt. “What things, Aunty?”

“Now look, Jean Louise, if you had a daughter what would you want for her? Nothing but the best, naturally. You don’t seem to realize it, and most people your age don’t seem to—how would you like to know your daughter was going to marry a man whose father deserted him and his mother and died drunk on the railroad tracks in Mobile? Cara Clinton was a good soul, and she had a sad life, and it was a sad thing, but you think about marrying the product of such a union. It’s a solemn thought.”

A solemn thought indeed. Jean Louise saw the glint of gold-rimmed spectacles slung across a sour face looking out from under a crooked wig, the twitter of a bony finger. She said:

“The question, gentlemen—is one of liquor;

You ask for guidance—this is my reply:

He says, when tipsy, he would thrash and kick her,

Let’s make him tipsy, gentlemen, and try!”

Alexandra was not amused. She was extremely annoyed. She could not comprehend the attitudes of young people these days. Not that they needed understanding—young people were the same in every generation—but this cockiness, this refusal to take seriously the gravest questions of their lives, nettled and irritated her. Jean Louise was about to make the worst mistake of her life, and she glibly quoted those people at her, she mocked her. That girl should have had a mother. Atticus had let her run wild since she was two years old, and look what he had reaped. Now she needed bringing up to the line and bringing up sharply, before it was too late.

“Jean Louise,” she said, “I would like to remind you of a few facts of life. No”—Alexandra held out her hand for silence—“I’m quite sure you know those facts already, but there are a few things you in your wisecracking way don’t know, and bless goodness I’m going to tell you. You are as innocent as a new-laid egg for all your city living. Henry is not and never will be suitable for you. We Finches do not marry the children of rednecked white trash, which is exactly what Henry’s parents were when they were born and were all their lives. You can’t call them anything better. The only reason Henry’s like he is now is because your father took him in hand when he was a boy, and because the war came along and paid for his education. Fine a boy as he is, the trash won’t wash out of him.

“Have you ever noticed how he licks his fingers when he eats cake? Trash. Have you ever seen him cough without covering his mouth? Trash. Did you know he got a girl in trouble at the University? Trash. Have you ever watched him pick at his nose when he didn’t think anybody was looking? Trash—”

“That’s not the trash in him, that’s the man in him, Aunty,” she said mildly. Inwardly, she was seething. Give her a few more minutes and she’ll have worked herself into a good humor again. She can never be vulgar, as I am about to be. She can never be common, like Hank and me. I don’t know what she is, but she better lay off or I’ll give her something to think about—

“—and to top it all, he thinks he can make a place for himself in this town riding on your father’s coattails. The very idea, trying to take your father’s place in the Methodist Church, trying to take over his law practice, driving all around the country in his car. Why, he acts like this house was his own already, and what does Atticus do? He takes it, that’s what he does. Takes it and loves it. Why, all of Maycomb’s talking about Henry Clinton grabbing everything Atticus has—”

Jean Louise stopped running her fingers around the lip of a wet cup on the sink. She flicked a drop of water off her finger onto the floor and rubbed it into the linoleum with her shoe.

“Aunty,” she said, cordially, “why don’t you go pee in your hat?”