To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 24)
“Atticus, are we going to win it?”
“Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win,” Atticus said.
“You sound like Cousin Ike Finch,” I said. Cousin Ike Finch was Maycomb County’s sole surviving Confederate veteran. He wore a General Hood type beard of which he was inordinately vain. At least once a year Atticus, Jem and I called on him, and I would have to kiss him. It was horrible. Jem and I would listen respectfully to Atticus and Cousin Ike rehash the war. “Tell you, Atticus,” Cousin Ike would say, “the Missouri Compromise was what licked us, but if I had to go through it agin I’d walk every step of the way there an’ every step back jist like I did before an’ furthermore we’d whip ’em this time . . . now in 1864, when Stonewall Jackson came around by—I beg your pardon, young folks. Ol’ Blue Light was in heaven then, God rest his saintly brow. . . .”
“Come here, Scout,” said Atticus. I crawled into his lap and tucked my head under his chin. He put his arms around me and rocked me gently. “It’s different this time,” he said. “This time we aren’t fighting the Yankees, we’re fighting our friends. But remember this, no matter how bitter things get, they’re still our friends and this is still our home.”
With this in mind, I faced Cecil Jacobs in the schoolyard next day: “You gonna take that back, boy?”
“You gotta make me first!” he yelled. “My folks said your daddy was a disgrace an’ that nigger oughta hang from the water-tank!”
I drew a bead on him, remembered what Atticus had said, then dropped my fists and walked away, “Scout’s a cow—ward!” ringing in my ears. It was the first time I ever walked away from a fight.
Somehow, if I fought Cecil I would let Atticus down. Atticus so rarely asked Jem and me to do something for him, I could take being called a coward for him. I felt extremely noble for having remembered, and remained noble for three weeks. Then Christmas came and disaster struck.
Jem and I viewed Christmas with mixed feelings. The good side was the tree and Uncle Jack Finch. Every Christmas Eve day we met Uncle Jack at Maycomb Junction, and he would spend a week with us.
A flip of the coin revealed the uncompromising lineaments of Aunt Alexandra and Francis.
I suppose I should include Uncle Jimmy, Aunt Alexandra’s husband, but as he never spoke a word to me in my life except to say, “Get off the fence,” once, I never saw any reason to take notice of him. Neither did Aunt Alexandra. Long ago, in a burst of friendliness, Aunty and Uncle Jimmy produced a son named Henry, who left home as soon as was humanly possible, married, and produced Francis. Henry and his wife deposited Francis at his grandparents’ every Christmas, then pursued their own pleasures.
No amount of sighing could induce Atticus to let us spend Christmas day at home. We went to Finch’s Landing every Christmas in my memory. The fact that Aunty was a good cook was some compensation for being forced to spend a religious holiday with Francis Hancock. He was a year older than I, and I avoided him on principle: he enjoyed everything I disapproved of, and disliked my ingenuous diversions.
Aunt Alexandra was Atticus’s sister, but when Jem told me about changelings and siblings, I decided that she had been swapped at birth, that my grandparents had perhaps received a Crawford instead of a Finch. Had I ever harbored the mystical notions about mountains that seem to obsess lawyers and judges, Aunt Alexandra would have been analogous to Mount Everest: throughout my early life, she was cold and there.
When Uncle Jack jumped down from the train Christmas Eve day, we had to wait for the porter to hand him two long packages. Jem and I always thought it funny when Uncle Jack pecked Atticus on the cheek; they were the only two men we ever saw kiss each other. Uncle Jack shook hands with Jem and swung me high, but not high enough: Uncle Jack was a head shorter than Atticus; the baby of the family, he was younger than Aunt Alexandra. He and Aunty looked alike, but Uncle Jack made better use of his face: we were never wary of his sharp nose and chin.
He was one of the few men of science who never terrified me, probably because he never behaved like a doctor. Whenever he performed a minor service for Jem and me, as removing a splinter from a foot, he would tell us exactly what he was going to do, give us an estimation of how much it would hurt, and explain the use of any tongs he employed. One Christmas I lurked in corners nursing a twisted splinter in my foot, permitting no one to come near me. When Uncle Jack caught me, he kept me laughing about a preacher who hated going to church so much that every day he stood at his gate in his dressing-gown, smoking a hookah and delivering five-minute sermons to any passers-by who desired spiritual comfort. I interrupted to make Uncle Jack let me know when he would pull it out, but he held up a bloody splinter in a pair of tweezers and said he yanked it while I was laughing, that was what was known as relativity.
“What’s in those packages?” I asked him, pointing to the long thin parcels the porter had given him.
“None of your business,” he said.
Jem said, “How’s Rose Aylmer?”
Rose Aylmer was Uncle Jack’s cat. She was a beautiful yellow female Uncle Jack said was one of the few women he could stand permanently. He reached into his coat pocket and brought out some snapshots. We admired them.
“She’s gettin’ fat,” I said.
“I should think so. She eats all the leftover fingers and ears from the hospital.”
“Aw, that’s a damn story,” I said.
“I beg your pardon?”
Atticus said, “Don’t pay any attention to her, Jack. She’s trying you out. Cal says she’s been cussing fluently for a week, now.”
Uncle Jack raised his eyebrows and said nothing. I was proceeding on the dim theory, aside from the innate attractiveness of such words, that if Atticus discovered I had picked them up at school he wouldn’t make me go.
But at supper that evening when I asked him to pass the damn ham, please, Uncle Jack pointed at me. “See me afterwards, young lady,” he said.
When supper was over, Uncle Jack went to the livingroom and sat down. He slapped his thighs for me to come sit on his lap. I liked to smell him: he was like a bottle of alcohol and something pleasantly sweet. He pushed back my bangs and looked at me. “You’re more like Atticus than your mother,” he said. “You’re also growing out of your pants a little.”