SHE NEVER KNEW how she got the car started, how she held it in the road, how she got home without a serious accident.
I love you. As you please. Had he not said that, perhaps she would have survived. If he had fought her fairly, she could have flung his words back at him, but she could not catch mercury and hold it in her hands.
She went to her room and threw her suitcase onto the bed. I was born right where this suitcase is. Why didn’t you throttle me then? Why did you let me live this long?
“Jean Louise, what are you doing?”
Alexandra came to the side of the bed. “You have ten more days with us. Is something wrong?”
“Aunty, leave me alone for Christ’s sake!”
Alexandra bridled. “I’ll thank you not to use that Yankee expression in this house! What’s wrong?”
Jean Louise went to the closet, snatched her dresses from their hangers, returned to the bed, and crammed them into her suitcase.
“That’s no way to pack,” said Alexandra.
“It’s my way.”
She scooped up her shoes from beside the bed and threw them in after her dresses.
“What is it, Jean Louise?”
“Aunty, you may issue a communiqu'e to the effect that I am going so far away from Maycomb County it’ll take me a hundred years to get back! I never want to see it or anybody in it again, and that goes for every one of you, the undertaker, the probate judge, and the chairman of the board of the Methodist Church!”
“You’ve had a fight with Atticus, haven’t you?”
Alexandra sat on the bed and clasped her hands. “Jean Louise, I don’t know what it was about, and the way you look it must have been bad, but I do know this. No Finch runs.”
She turned to her aunt: “Jesus Christ, don’t you go telling me what a Finch does and what a Finch doesn’t do! I’m up to here with what Finches do, and I can’t take it one second longer! You’ve been ramming that down my throat ever since I was born-your father this, the Finches that! My father’s something unspeakable and Uncle Jack’s like Alice in Wonderland! And you, you are a pompous, narrow-minded old—”
Jean Louise stopped, fascinated by the tears running down Alexandra’s cheeks. She had never seen Alexandra cry; Alexandra looked like other people when she cried.
“Aunty, please forgive me. Please say it-I hit you below the belt.”
Alexandra’s fingers pulled tufts of tatting from the bedspread. “That’s all right. Don’t you worry about it.”
Jean Louise kissed her aunt’s cheek. “I haven’t been on the track today. I guess when you’re hurt your first instinct’s to hurt back. I’m not much of a lady, Aunty, but you are.”
“You’re mistaken, Jean Louise, if you think you’re no lady,” said Alexandra. She wiped her eyes. “But you are right peculiar sometimes.”
Jean Louise closed her suitcase. “Aunty, you go on thinking I’m a lady, just for a little while, just until five o’clock when Atticus comes home. Then you’ll find out different. Well, goodbye.”
She was carrying her suitcase to the car when she saw the town’s one white taxi drive up and deposit Dr. Finch on the sidewalk.
Come to me. When you can’t stand it any longer, come to me. Well, I can’t stand you any longer. I just can’t take any more of your parables and diddering around. Leave me alone. You are fun and sweet and all that, but please leave me alone.
From the corner of her eye, she watched her uncle tacking peacefully up the driveway. He takes such long steps for a short man, she thought. That is one of the things I will remember about him. She turned and put a key in the lock of the trunk, the wrong key, and she tried another one. It worked, and she raised the lid.
“I’m gonna get in this car and drive it to Maycomb Junction and sit there until the first train comes along and get on it. Tell Atticus if he wants his car back he can send after it.”
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself and listen to me.”
“Uncle Jack, I am so sick and damn tired of listening to the lot of you I could yell bloody murder! Won’t you leave me alone? Can’t you get off my back for one minute?”
She slammed down the trunk lid, snatched out the key, and straightened up to catch Dr. Finch’s savage backhand swipe full on the mouth.
Her head jerked to the left and met his hand coming viciously back. She stumbled and groped for the car to balance herself. She saw her uncle’s face shimmering among the tiny dancing lights.
“I am trying,” said Dr. Finch, “to attract your attention.”
She pressed her fingers to her eyes, her temples, to the sides of her head. She struggled to keep from fainting, to keep from vomiting, to keep her head from spinning. She felt blood spring to her teeth, and she spat blindly on the ground. Gradually, the gonglike reverberations in her head subsided, and her ears stopped ringing.
“Open your eyes, Jean Louise.”
She blinked several times, and her uncle snapped into focus. His walking stick nestled in his left elbow; his vest was immaculate; there was a scarlet rosebud in his lapel.
He was holding out his handkerchief to her. She took it and wiped her mouth. She was exhausted.
“All passion spent?”
She nodded. “I can’t fight them any more,” she said.
Dr. Finch took her by the arm. “But you can’t join ’em, either, can you?” he muttered.
She felt her mouth swelling and she moved her lips with difficulty. “You nearly knocked me cold. I’m so tired.”
Silently, he walked her to the house, down the hall, and into the bathroom. He sat her on the edge of the tub, went to the medicine cabinet, and opened it. He put on his glasses, tilted his head back, and took a bottle from the top shelf. He plucked a wad of cotton from a package and turned to her.
“Hold up your mug,” he said. He filled the cotton with liquid, turned back to her upper lip, made a hideous face, and dabbed at her cuts. “This’ll keep you from giving yourself something. Zandra!” he shouted.
Alexandra appeared from the kitchen. “What is it, Jack? Jean Louise, I thought you—”
“Never mind that. Is there any missionary vanilla in this house?”
“Jack, don’t be silly.”
“Come on, now. I know you keep it for fruitcakes. Gracious God, Sister, get me some whiskey! Go in the livingroom, Jean Louise.”
She walked in her daze to the livingroom and sat down. Her uncle came in carrying in one hand a tumbler three fingersful of whiskey, and in the other a glass of water.
“If you drink all this at once I’ll give you a dime,” he said.
Jean Louise drank and choked.
“Hold your breath, stupid. Now chase it.”
She grabbed for the water and drank rapidly. She kept her eyes closed and let the warm alcohol creep through her. When she opened them she saw her uncle sitting on the sofa contemplating her placidly.
Presently he said, “How do you feel?”
“That’s the liquor. Tell me what’s in your head now.”
She said weakly: “A blank, my lord.”
“Fractious girl, don’t you quote at me! Tell me, how do you feel?”
She frowned, squeezed her eyelids together, and touched her tender mouth with her tongue. “Different, somehow. I’m sitting right here, and it’s just like I’m sitting in my apartment in New York. I don’t know-I feel funny.”
Dr. Finch rose and thrust his hands into his pockets, drew them out, and cradled his arms behind his back. “We-ll now, I think I’ll just go and have myself a drink on that. I never struck a woman before in my life. Think I’ll go strike your aunt and see what happens. You just sit there for a while and be quiet.”
Jean Louise sat there, and giggled when she heard her uncle fussing at his sister in the kitchen. “Of course I’m going to have a drink, Zandra. I deserve one. I don’t go about hittin’ women every day, and I tell you if you’re not used to it, it takes it out of you… oh, she’s all right… I fail to detect the difference between drinking it and eatin’ it… we’re all of us going to hell, it’s just a question of time… don’t be such an old pot, Sister, I’m not lyin’ on the floor yet… why don’t you have one?”
She felt that time had stopped and she was inside a not unpleasant vacuum. There was no land around, and no beings, but there was an aura of vague friendliness in this indifferent place. I’m getting high, she thought.
Her uncle bounced back into the livingroom, sipping from a tall glass filled with ice, water, and whiskey. “Look what I got out of Zandra. I’ve played hell with her fruitcakes.”
Jean Louise attempted to pin him down: “Uncle Jack,” she said. “I have a definite idea that you know what happened this afternoon.”
“I do. I know every word you said to Atticus, and I almost heard you from my house when you lit into Henry.”
The old bastard, he followed me to town.
“You eavesdropped? Of all the—”
“Of course not. Do you think you can discuss it now?”
Discuss it? “Yes, I think so. That is, if you’ll talk straight to me. I don’t think I can take Bishop Colenso now.”
Dr. Finch arranged himself neatly on the sofa and leaned in toward her. He said, “I will talk straight to you, my darling. Do you know why? Because I can, now.”
“Because you can?”
“Yes. Look back, Jean Louise. Look back to yesterday, to the Coffee this morning, to this afternoon—”
“What do you know about this morning?”
“Have you never heard of the telephone? Zandra was glad to answer a few judicious questions. You telegraph your pitches all over the place, Jean Louise. This afternoon I tried to give you some help in a roundabout way to make it easier for you, to give you some insight, to soften it a little—”
“To soften what, Uncle Jack?”
“To soften your coming into this world.”
When Dr. Finch pulled at his drink, Jean Louise saw his sharp brown eyes flash above the glass. That’s what you tend to forget about him, she thought. He’s so busy fidgeting you don’t notice how closely he’s watching you. He’s crazy, all right, like every fox that was ever born. And he knows so much more than foxes. Gracious, I’m drunk.
“… look back, now,” her uncle was saying. “It’s still there, isn’t it?”
She looked. It was there, all right. Every word of it. But something was different. She sat in silence, remembering.
“Uncle Jack,” she finally said. “Everything’s still there. It happened. It was. But you know, it’s bearable somehow. It’s-it’s bearable.”
She was speaking the truth. She had not made the journey through time that makes all things bearable. Today was today, and she looked at her uncle in wonder.
“Thank God,” said Dr. Finch quietly. “Do you know why it’s bearable now, my darling?”
“No sir. I’m content with things as they are. I don’t want to question, I just want to stay this way.”
She was conscious of her uncle’s eyes upon her, and she moved her head to one side. She was far from trusting him: if he starts on Mackworth Praed and tells me I’m just like him I’ll be at Maycomb Junction before sundown.
“You’d eventually figure this out for yourself,” she heard him say. “But let me speed it up for you. You’ve had a busy day. It’s bearable, Jean Louise, because you are your own person now.”
Not Mackworth Praed’s, mine. She looked up at her uncle.
Dr. Finch stretched out his legs. “It’s rather complicated,” he said, “and I don’t want you to fall into the tiresome error of being conceited about your complexes-you’d bore us for the rest of our lives with that, so we’ll keep away from it. Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience. There is no such thing as a collective conscious.”
This was news, coming from him. But let him talk, he would find his way to the nineteenth century somehow.
“… now you, Miss, born with your own conscience, somewhere along the line fastened it like a barnacle onto your father’s. As you grew up, when you were grown, totally unknown to yourself, you confused your father with God. You never saw him as a man with a man’s heart, and a man’s failings-I’ll grant you it may have been hard to see, he makes so few mistakes, but he makes ’em like all of us. You were an emotional cripple, leaning on him, getting the answers from him, assuming that your answers would always be his answers.”
She listened to the figure on the sofa.
“When you happened along and saw him doing something that seemed to you to be the very antithesis of his conscience-your conscience-you literally could not stand it. It made you physically ill. Life became hell on earth for you. You had to kill yourself, or he had to kill you to get you functioning as a separate entity.”
Kill myself. Kill him. I had to kill him to live… “You talk like you’ve known this a long time. You—”
“I have. So’s your father. We wondered, sometimes, when your conscience and his would part company, and over what.” Dr. Finch smiled. “Well, we know now. I’m just thankful I was around when the ructions started. Atticus couldn’t talk to you the way I’m talking—”
“Why not, sir?”
“You wouldn’t have listened to him. You couldn’t have listened. Our gods are remote from us, Jean Louise. They must never descend to human level.”
“Is that why he didn’t-didn’t lam into me? Is that why he didn’t even try to defend himself?”
“He was letting you break your icons one by one. He was letting you reduce him to the status of a human being.”
I love you. As you please. Where she would have had a spirited argument only, an exchange of ideas, a clash of hard and different points of view with a friend, with him she had tried to destroy. She had tried to tear him to pieces, to wreck him, to obliterate him. Childe Roland to the dark tower came.
“Do you understand me, Jean Louise?”
“Yes, Uncle Jack, I understand you.”
Dr. Finch crossed his legs and jammed his hands into his pockets. “When you stopped running, Jean Louise, and turned around, that turn took fantastic courage.”
“Oh, not the kind of courage that makes a soldier go across no-man’s-land. That’s the kind that he summons up because he has to. This kind is-well, it is part of one’s will to live, part of one’s instinct for self-preservation. Sometimes, we have to kill a little so we can live, when we don’t-when women don’t, they cry themselves to sleep and have their mothers wash out their hose every day.”
“What do you mean, when I stopped running?”
Dr. Finch chuckled. “You know,” he said. “You’re very much like your father. I tried to point that out to you today; I regret to say I used tactics the late George Washington Hill would envy-you’re very much like him, except you’re a bigot and he’s not.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Dr. Finch bit his under lip and let it go. “Um hum. A bigot. Not a big one, just an ordinary turnip-sized bigot.”
Jean Louise rose and went to the bookshelves. She pulled down a dictionary and leafed through it. “‘Bigot,’” she read. “‘Noun. One obstinately or intolerably devoted to his own church, party, belief, or opinion.’ Explain yourself, sir.”
“I was just tryin’ to answer your running question. Let me elaborate a little on that definition. What does a bigot do when he meets someone who challenges his opinions? He doesn’t give. He stays rigid. Doesn’t even try to listen, just lashes out. Now you, you were turned inside out by the granddaddy of all father things, so you ran. And how you ran.
“You’ve no doubt heard some pretty offensive talk since you’ve been home, but instead of getting on your charger and blindly striking it down, you turned and ran. You said, in effect, ‘I don’t like the way these people do, so I have no time for them.’ You’d better take time for ’em, honey, otherwise you’ll never grow. You’ll be the same at sixty as you are now-then you’ll be a case and not my niece. You have a tendency not to give anybody elbow room in your mind for their ideas, no matter how silly you think they are.”
Dr. Finch clasped his hands and rested them on the back of his head. “Good grief, baby, people don’t agree with the Klan, but they certainly don’t try to prevent them from puttin’ on sheets and making fools of themselves in public.”
“Why did you let Mr. O’Hanlon get up there?” “Because he wanted to.” Oh God, what have I done?
“But they beat people, Uncle Jack—”
“Now, that’s another thing, and it’s just one more thing you’ve failed to take into consideration about your father. You’ve been extravagant with your talk of despots, Hitlers, and ring-tailed sons of bitches-by the way, where did you get that? Reminds me of a cold winter’s night, possum hunting—”
Jean Louise winced. “He told you all that?”
“Oh yes, but don’t start worrying about what you called him. He’s got a lawyer’s hide. He’s been called worse in his day.”
“Not by his daughter, though.”
“Well, as I was saying—”
For the first time in her memory, her uncle was bringing her back to the point. For the second time in her memory, her uncle was out of character: the first time was when he sat mutely in their old livingroom, listening to the soft murmurs: the Lord never sends you more than you can bear, and he said, “My shoulders ache. Is there any whiskey in this house?” This is a day of miracles, she thought.
“—the Klan can parade around all it wants, but when it starts bombing and beating people, don’t you know who’d be the first to try and stop it?”
“The law is what he lives by. He’ll do his best to prevent someone from beating up somebody else, then he’ll turn around and try to stop no less than the Federal Government-just like you, child. You turned and tackled no less than your own tin god-but remember this, he’ll always do it by the letter and by the spirit of the law. That’s the way he lives.”
“Now don’t start feeling guilty, Jean Louise. You’ve done nothing wrong this day. And don’t, for the sake of John Henry Newman, start worrying over what a bigot you are. I told you you were only a turnip-sized one.”
“But Uncle Jack—”
“Remember this also: it’s always easy to look back and see what we were, yesterday, ten years ago. It is hard to see what we are. If you can master that trick, you’ll get along.”
“Uncle Jack, I thought I’d gone through all that being-disillusioned-about-your-parents stuff when I took my bachelor’s degree, but there’s something—”
Her uncle began fidgeting with his coat pockets. He found what he was seeking, pulled one from the package, and said, “Have you a match?”
Jean Louise was mesmerized.
“I said, do you have a match?”
“Have you gone nuts? You beat hell out of me when you caught me at it… you old bastard!”
He had, unceremoniously, one Christmas when he found her under the house with stolen cigarettes.
“This should prove to you there’s no justice in this world. I smoke sometimes, now. It’s my one concession to old age. I find myself becoming anxious sometimes… it gives me something to do with my hands.”
Jean Louise found a match flip on the table by her chair. She struck one and held it to her uncle’s cigarette. Something to do with his hands, she thought. She wondered how many times his hands in rubber gloves, impersonal and omnipotent, had set some child on its feet. He’s crazy, all right.
Dr. Finch held his cigarette with his thumb and two fingers. He looked at it pensively. “You’re color blind, Jean Louise,” he said. “You always have been, you always will be. The only differences you see between one human and another are differences in looks and intelligence and character and the like. You’ve never been prodded to look at people as a race, and now that race is the burning issue of the day, you’re still unable to think racially. You see only people.”
“But, Uncle Jack, I don’t especially want to run out and marry a Negro or something.”
“You know, I practiced medicine for nearly twenty years, and I’m afraid I regard human beings mostly on a basis of relative suffering, but I’ll risk a small pronouncement. There’s nothing under the sun that says because you go to school with one Negro, or go to school with them in droves, you’ll want to marry one. That’s one of the tom-toms the white supremacists beat. How many mixed marriages have you seen in New York?”
“Come to think of it, darn few. Relatively, that is.”
“There’s your answer. The white supremacists are really pretty smart. If they can’t scare us with the essential inferiority line, they’ll wrap it in a miasma of sex, because that’s the one thing they know is feared in our fundamentalist hearts down here. They try to strike terror in Southern mothers, lest their children grow up to fall in love with Negroes. If they didn’t make an issue of it, the issue would rarely arise. If the issue arose, it would be met on private ground. The NAACP has a great deal to answer for in that department, too. But the white supremacists fear reason, because they know cold reason beats them. Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.”
“That’s odd, isn’t it?”
“It’s one of the oddities of this world.” Dr. Finch got up from the sofa and extinguished his cigarette in an ashtray on the table beside her. “Now, young lady, take me home. It’s nearly five. It’s almost time for you to fetch your father.”
Jean Louise surfaced. “Get Atticus? I’ll never be able to look him in the eye again!”
“Listen, girl. You’ve got to shake off a twenty-year-old habit and shake it off fast. You will begin now. Do you think Atticus is going to hurl a thunderbolt at you?”
“After what I said to him? After the—”
Dr. Finch jabbed the floor with his walking stick. “Jean Louise, have you ever met your father?”
No. She had not. She was terrified.
“I think you’ll have a surprise coming,” said her uncle.
“Uncle Jack, I can’t.”
“Don’t you tell me you can’t, girl! Say that again and I’ll take this stick to you, I mean that!”
They walked to the car.
“Jean Louise, have you ever thought about coming home?”
“If you will refrain from echoing either the last clause or the last word of everything I say to you, I will be much obliged. Home. Yes, home.”
Jean Louise grinned. He was becoming Uncle Jack again. “No sir,” she said.
“Well, at the risk of overloading you, could you possibly give an undertaking to think about it? You may not know it, but there’s room for you down here.”
“You mean Atticus needs me?”
“Not altogether. I was thinking of Maycomb.”
“That’d be great, with me on one side and everybody else on the other. If life’s an endless flow of the kind of talk I heard this morning, I don’t think I’d exactly fit in.”
“That’s the one thing about here, the South, you’ve missed. You’d be amazed if you knew how many people are on your side, if side’s the right word. You’re no special case. The woods are full of people like you, but we need some more of you.”
She started the car and backed it down the driveway. She said, “What on earth could I do? I can’t fight them. There’s no fight in me any more…”
“I don’t mean by fighting; I mean by going to work every morning, coming home at night, seeing your friends.”
“Uncle Jack, I can’t live in a place that I don’t agree with and that doesn’t agree with me.”
Dr. Finch said, “Hmph. Melbourne said—”
“If you tell me what Melbourne said I’ll stop this car and put you out, right here! I know how you hate to walk-after your stroll to church and back and pushin’ that cat around the yard, you’ve had it. I’ll put you right out, and don’t you think I won’t!”
Dr. Finch sighed. “You’re mighty belligerent toward a feeble old man, but if you wish to continue in darkness that is your privilege…”
“Feeble, hell! You’re about as feeble as a crocodile!” Jean Louise touched her mouth.
“Very well, if you won’t let me tell you what Melbourne said I’ll put it in my own words: the time your friends need you is when they’re wrong, Jean Louise. They don’t need you when they’re right—”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean it takes a certain kind of maturity to live in the South these days. You don’t have it yet, but you have a shadow of the beginnings of it. You haven’t the humbleness of mind—”
“I thought fear of the Lord was the beginning of wisdom.”
“It’s the same thing. Humility.”
They had come to his house. She stopped the car.
“Uncle Jack,” she said. “What am I going to do about Hank?”
“What you will eventually,” he said.
“Let him down easy?”
“He’s not your kind.”
Love whom you will, marry your own kind. “Look, I’m not going to argue with you over the relative merits of trash—”
“That has nothing to do with it. I’m tired of you. I want my supper.”
Dr. Finch put his hand out and pinched her chin. “Good afternoon, Miss,” he said.
“Why did you take so much trouble with me today? I know how you hate to move out of that house.”
“Because you’re my child. You and Jem were the children I never had. You two gave me something long ago, and I’m trying to pay my debts. You two helped me a—”
Dr. Finch’s eyebrows went up. “Didn’t you know? Hasn’t Atticus gotten around to telling you that? Why, I’m amazed at Zandra not… good heavens, I thought all of Maycomb knew that.”
“I was in love with your mother.”
“Oh yes. When Atticus married her, and I’d come home from Nashville for Christmas and things like that, why I fell head over heels in love with her. I still am-didn’t you know that?”
Jean Louise put her head on the steering wheel. “Uncle Jack, I’m so ashamed of myself I don’t know what to do. Me yelling around like-oh, I could kill myself!”
“I shouldn’t do that. There’s been enough focal suicide for one day.”
“All that time, you—”
“Why sure, honey.”
“Did Atticus know it?”
“Uncle Jack, I feel one inch high.”
“Well, I didn’t mean to do that. You’re not by yourself, Jean Louise. You’re no special case. Now go get your father.”
“You can say all this, just like that?”
“Um hum. Just like that. As I said, you and Jem were very special to me-you were my dream-children, but as Kipling said, that’s another story… call on me tomorrow, and you’ll find me a grave man.”
He was the only person she ever knew who could paraphrase three authors into one sentence and have them all make sense.
“Thanks, Uncle Jack.”
“Thank you, Scout.”
Dr. Finch got out of the car and shut the door. He poked his head inside the window, elevated his eyebrows, and said in a decorous voice:
“I was once an exceedingly odd young lady —
Suffering much from spleen and vapors.”
Jean Louise was halfway to town when she remembered. She stepped on the brake, leaned out the window, and called to the spare figure in the distance:
“But we only cut respectable capers, don’t we, Uncle Jack?”