"But I don't understand."
"Then I'll make it plain. Go to any college you want. But if you go to Sewanee, then I'll pay for it."
Ray went to Sewanee, without the baggage of family money, and was supported by his father, who provided an allowance that barely covered tuition, books, board, and fraternity dues. Law school was at Tulane, where Ray survived by waiting tables at an oyster bar in the French Quarter.
For thirty-two years, the Judge had earned a chancellor's salary, which was among the lowest in the country. While at Tulane Ray read a report on judicial compensation, and he was saddened to learn that Mississippi judges were earning fifty-two thousand dollars a year when the national average was ninety-five thousand.
The Judge lived alone, spent little on the house, had no bad habits except for his pipe, and he preferred cheap tobacco. He drove an old Lincoln, ate bad food but lots of it, and wore the same black suits he'd been wearing since the fifties. His vice was charity. He saved his money, then he gave it away.
No one knew how much money the Judge donated annually. An automatic ten percent went to the Presbyterian Church. Sewanee got two thousand dollars a year, same for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Those three gifts were carved in granite. The rest were not.
Judge Atlee gave to anyone who would ask. A crippled child in need of crutches. An all-star team traveling to a state tournament. A drive by the Rotary Club to vaccinate babies in the Congo. A shelter for stray dogs and cats in Ford County. A new roof for Clanton's only museum.
The list was endless, and all that was necessary to receive a check was to write a short letter and ask for it. Judge Atlee always sent money and had been doing so ever since Ray and Forrest left home.
Ray could not see him now, lost in the clutter and dust of his rolltop, pecking out short notes on his Underwood and sticking them in his chancellors envelopes with scarcely readable checks drawn on the First National Bank of Clanton--fifty dollars here, a hundred dollars there, a little for everyone until it was all gone.
The estate would not be complicated because there would be so little inventory. The ancient law books, threadbare furniture, painful family photos and mementos, long forgotten files and papers--all a bunch of rubbish that would make an impressive bonfire. He and Forrest would sell the house for whatever it might bring and be quite happy to salvage anything from the last of the Atlee family money.
He should call Forrest, but those calls were always easy to put off. Forrest was a different set of issues and problems, much more complicated than a dying, reclusive old father hell-bent on giving away his money. Forrest was a living, walking disaster, a boy thirty-six whose mind had been deadened by every legal and illegal substance known to American culture.
What a family, Ray mumbled to himself.
He posted a cancellation for his eleven oclock class, and went for therapy.
Excerpted from The Summons by John Grisham Copyright 2002 by Belfry Holdings, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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