Go set a watchman, p.14
Go Set a Watchman,
Part #2 of To Kill a Mockingbird series by Harper Lee
When her uncle appeared, Jean Louise thought styles may come and styles may go, but he and Atticus will cling to their vests forever. Dr. Finch was coatless, and in his arms was Rose Aylmer, his old cat.
"Where were you yesterday, in the river again?" He looked at her sharply. "Stick out your tongue."
Jean Louise stuck out her tongue, and Dr. Finch shifted Rose Aylmer to the crook of his right elbow, fished in his vest pocket, brought out a pair of half-glasses, flicked them open, and clapped them to his face.
"Well, don't leave it there. Put it back," he said. "You look like hell. Come on to the kitchen."
"I didn't know you had half-glasses, Uncle Jack," said Jean Louise.
"Hah--I discovered I was wasting money."
"Looking over my old ones. These cost half as much."
A table stood in the center of Dr. Finch's kitchen, and on the table was a saucer containing a cracker upon which rested a solitary sardine.
Jean Louise gaped. "Is that your dinner? Honestly, Uncle Jack, can you possibly get any weirder?"
Dr. Finch drew a high stool to the table, deposited Rose Aylmer upon it, and said, "No. Yes."
Jean Louise and her uncle sat down at the table. Dr. Finch picked up the cracker and sardine and presented them to Rose Aylmer. Rose Aylmer took a small bite, put her head down, and chewed.
"She eats like a human," said Jean Louise.
"I hope I've taught her manners," said Dr. Finch. "She's so old now I have to feed her bit by bit."
"Why don't you put her to sleep?"
Dr. Finch looked indignantly at his niece. "Why should I? What's the matter with her? She's got a good ten years yet."
Jean Louise silently agreed and wished, comparatively speaking, that she would look as good as Rose Aylmer when she was as old. Rose Aylmer's yellow coat was in excellent repair; she still had her figure; her eyes were bright. She slept most of her life now, and once a day Dr. Finch walked her around the back yard on a leash.
Dr. Finch patiently persuaded the old cat to finish her lunch, and when she had done so he went to a cabinet over the sink and took out a bottle. Its cap was a medicine dropper. He drew up a mighty portion of the fluid, set the bottle down, caught the back of the cat's head, and told Rose Aylmer to open her mouth. The cat obeyed. She gulped and shook her head. Dr. Finch drew more fluid into the dropper and said, "Open your mouth," to Jean Louise.
Jean Louise gulped and spluttered. "Dear Lord, what was that?"
"Vitamin C. I want you to let Allen have a look at you."
Jean Louise said she would, and asked her uncle what was on his mind these days.
Dr. Finch, stooping at the oven, said, "Sibthorp."
Dr. Finch took from the oven a wooden salad bowl filled, to Jean Louise's amazement, with greens. I hope it wasn't on.
"Sibthorp, girl. Sibthorp," he said. "Richard Waldo Sibthorp. Roman Catholic priest. Buried with full Church of England ceremonials. Tryin' to find another one like him. Highly significant."
Jean Louise was accustomed to her uncle's brand of intellectual shorthand: it was his custom to state one or two isolated facts, and a conclusion seemingly unsupported thereby. Slowly and surely, if prodded correctly, Dr. Finch would unwind the reel of his strange lore to reveal reasoning that glittered with a private light of its own.
But she was not there to be entertained with the vacillations of a minor Victorian esthete. She watched her uncle maneuver salad greens, olive oil, vinegar, and several ingredients unknown to her with the same precision and assurances he employed on a difficult osteotomy. He divided the salad into two plates and said, "Eat, child."
Dr. Finch chewed ferociously on his lunch and eyed his niece, who was arranging lettuce, hunks of avocado, green pepper, and onions in a neat row on her plate. "All right, what's the matter? Are you pregnant?"
"Gracious no, Uncle Jack."
"That's about the only thing I can think of that worries young women these days. Do you want to tell me?" His voice softened. "Come on, old Scout."
Jean Louise's eyes blurred with tears. "What's been happening, Uncle Jack? What is the matter with Atticus? I think Hank and Aunty have lost their minds and I know I'm losing mine."
"I haven't noticed anything the matter with them. Should I?"
"You should have seen them sitting in that meeting yesterday--"
Jean Louise looked up at her uncle, who was balancing himself dangerously on the back legs of his chair. He put his hands on the table to steady himself, his incisive features melted, his eyebrows shot up, he laughed loudly. The front legs of his chair came down with a bang, and he subsided into chuckles.
Jean Louise raged. She got up from the table, tipped over her chair, restored it, and walked to the door. "I didn't come here to be made fun of, Uncle Jack," she said.
"Oh sit down and shut up," said her uncle. He looked at her with genuine interest, as if she were something under a microscope, as though she were some medical marvel that had inadvertently materialized in his kitchen.
"As I sit here and breathe, I never thought the good God would let me live to see someone walk into the middle of a revolution, pull a lugubrious face, and say, 'What's the matter?'" He laughed again, shaking his head.
"Matter, child? I'll tell you what's the matter if you collect yourself and refrain from carrying on like--arum!--I wonder if your eyes and ears ever make anything save spasmodic contact with your brain." His face tightened. "You won't be pleased with some of it," he said.
"I don't care what it is, Uncle Jack, if you'll only tell me what's turned my father into a nigger-hater."
"Hold your tongue." Dr. Finch's voice was stern. "Don't you ever call your father that. I detest the sound of it as much as its matter."
"What am I to call him, then?"
Her uncle sighed at length. He went to the stove and turned on the front burner under the coffeepot. "Let us consider this calmly," he said. When he turned around Jean Louise saw amusement banish the indignation in his eyes, then meld into an expression she could not read. She heard him mutter, "Oh dear. Oh dear me, yes. The novel must tell a story."
"What do you mean by that?" she said. She knew he was quoting at her but she didn't know what, she didn't know why, and she didn't care. Her uncle could annoy the hell out of her when he chose, apparently he was choosing to do so now, and she resented it.
"Nothing." He sat down, took off his glasses, and returned them to his vest pocket. He spoke deliberately. "Baby," he said, "all over the South your father and men like your father are fighting a sort of rearguard, delaying action to preserve a certain kind of philosophy that's almost gone down the drain--"
"If it's what I heard yesterday I say good riddance."
Dr. Finch looked up. "You're making a bad mistake if you think your daddy's dedicated to keeping the Negroes in their places."
Jean Louise raised her hands and her voice: "What the hell am I to think? It made me sick, Uncle Jack. Plain-out sick--"
Her uncle scratched his ear. "You no doubt, somewhere along the line, have had certain historical facts and nuances placed in front of you--"
"Uncle Jack, don't hand me that kind of talk now--fightin' the War has nothing to do with it."
"On the contrary, it has a great deal to do with it if you want to understand. The first thing you must realize is something--God help us, it was something--that three-fourths of a nation have failed to this day to understand. What kind of people were we, Jean Louise? What kind of people are we? Who are we still closest to in this world?"
"I thought we were just people. I have no idea."
Her uncle smiled, and an unholy light appeared in his eyes. He's gonna skate off now, she thought. I can never catch him and bring him back.
"Consider Maycomb County," said Dr. Finch. "It's typical South. Has it never struck you as being singular that nearly everybody in the county is either kin or almost kin to everybody else?"
"Uncle Jack, how ca
"Quite simple. You remember Frank Buckland, don't you?"
In spite of herself, Jean Louise felt she was being lured slowly and stealthily into Dr. Finch's web. He is a wonderful old spider, but nevertheless he is a spider. She inched toward him: "Frank Buckland?"
"The naturalist. Carried dead fish around in his suitcase and kept a jackal in his rooms."
"You remember Matthew Arnold, don't you?"
She said she did.
"Well, Frank Buckland was Matthew Arnold's father's sister's husband's brother's son, therefore, they were almost kin. See?"
"Yes sir, but--"
Dr. Finch looked at the ceiling. "Wasn't my nephew Jem," he said slowly, "engaged to marry his great-uncle's son's wife's second cousin?"
She put her hands over her eyes and thought furiously. "He was," she finally said. "Uncle Jack, I think you've made a non sequitur but I'm not at all positive."
"All the same thing, really."
"But I don't get the connection."
Dr. Finch put his hands on the table. "That's because you haven't looked," he said. "You've never opened your eyes."
Jean Louise jumped.
Her uncle said, "Jean Louise, there are to this day in Maycomb County the living counterparts of every butt-headed Celt, Angle, and Saxon who ever drew a breath. You remember Dean Stanley, don't you?"
They were coming back to her, the days of the endless hours. She was in this house, in front of a warm fire, being read to from musty books. Her uncle's voice was its usual low growl, or pitched high with helpless laughter. The absentminded, fluff-haired little clergyman and his stalwart wife drifted into her memory.
"Doesn't he remind you of Fink Sewell?"
"No sir," she said.
"Think, girl. Think. Since you are not thinking, I'll give you a hint. When Stanley was Dean of Westminster he dug up nearly everybody in the Abbey looking for James the First."
"Oh my God," she said.
During the Depression, Mr. Finckney Sewell, a Maycomb resident long noted for his independence of mind, disentombed his own grandfather and extracted all his gold teeth to pay off a mortgage. When the sheriff apprehended him for grave-robbery and gold-hoarding, Mr. Fink demurred on the theory that if his own grandfather wasn't his, whose was he? The sheriff said old Mr. M. F. Sewell was in the public domain, but Mr. Fink said testily he supposed it was his cemetery lot, his granddaddy, and his teeth, and declined forthwith to be arrested. Public opinion in Maycomb was with him: Mr. Fink was an honorable man, he was trying his best to pay his debts, and the law molested him no further.
"Stanley had the highest historical motives for his excavations," mused Dr. Finch, "but their minds worked exactly alike. You can't deny he invited every heretic he could lay hands on to preach in the Abbey. I believe he once gave communion to Mrs. Annie Besant. You remember how he supported Bishop Colenso."
She remembered. Bishop Colenso, whose views on everything were considered unsound that day and are archaic in this, was the little dean's particular pet. Colenso was the object of acrimonious debate wherever the clergy gathered, and Stanley once made a ringing Convocation speech in his defense, asking that body was it aware that Colenso was the only colonial bishop who had bothered to translate the Bible into Zulu, which was rather more than the rest had done.
"Fink was just like him," said Dr. Finch. "He subscribed to the Wall Street Journal in the depths of the Depression and dared anybody to say a word about it." Dr. Finch chuckled. "Jake Jeddo at the post office nearly had a spasm every time he put the mail up."
Jean Louise stared at her uncle. She sat in his kitchen, in the middle of the Atomic Age, and in the deepest recesses of her consciousness she knew that Dr. Finch was outrageously correct in his comparisons.
"--just like him," Dr. Finch was saying, "or take Harriet Martineau--"
Jean Louise found herself treading water in the Lake District. She floundered to keep her head up.
"Do you remember Mrs. E. C. B. Franklin?"
She did. She groped through the years for Miss Martineau, but Mrs. E.C.B. was easy: she remembered a crocheted tam, a crocheted dress through which peeped pink crocheted drawers, and crocheted stockings. Every Saturday Mrs. E.C.B. walked three miles to town from her farm, which was called Cape Jessamine Copse. Mrs. E.C.B. wrote poetry.
Dr. Finch said, "Remember the minor women poets?"
"Yes sir," she said.
When she was a child she had deviled for a while at the Maycomb Tribune office and had witnessed several altercations, including the last, between Mrs. E.C.B. and Mr. Underwood. Mr. Underwood was an old-time printer and stood for no nonsense. He worked all day at a vast black Linotype, refreshing himself at intervals from a gallon jug containing harmless cherry wine. One Saturday Mrs. E.C.B. stalked into the office with an effusion Mr. Underwood said he refused to disgrace the Tribune with: it was a cow obituary in verse, beginning:
O kine no longer mine
With those big brown eyes of thine....
and containing grave breaches of Christian philosophy. Mr. Underwood said, "Cows don't go to heaven," to which Mrs. E.C.B. replied, "This one did," and explained poetic license. Mr. Underwood, who in his time had published memorial verses of indeterminate variety, said he still couldn't print this because it was blasphemous and didn't scan. Furious, Mrs. E.C.B. unlocked a frame and scattered the Biggs Store ad all over the office. Mr. Underwood inhaled like a whale, drank an enormous slug of cherry wine in her face, swallowed it down, and cursed her all the way to the courthouse square. After that, Mrs. E.C.B. composed verse for her private edification. The county felt the loss.
"Now are you willing to concede that there is some faint connection, not necessarily between two eccentrics, but with a--um--general turn of mind that exists in some quarters across the water?"
Jean Louise threw in the towel.
Dr. Finch said more to himself than to his niece, "In the 1770s where did the white-hot words come from?"
"Virginia," said Jean Louise, confidently.
"And in the 1940s, before we got into it, what made every Southerner read his newspaper and listen to newscasts with a special kind of horror? Tribal feelin', honey, at the bottom of it. They might be sons of bitches, the British, but they were our sons of bitches--"
Dr. Finch caught himself. "Go back now," he said briskly. "Go back to the early 1800s in England, before some pervert invented machinery. What was life there?"
Jean Louise answered automatically, "A society of dukes and beggars--"
"Hah! You are not so far corrupted as I thought, if you still remember Caroline Lamb, poor thing. You've almost got it, but not quite: it was mainly an agricultural society, with a handful of landowners and multitudes of tenants. Now, what was the South before the War?"
"An agricultural society with a handful of large landowners, multitudes of dirt farmers, and slaves."
"Correct. Leave the slaves out of it for a while, and what do you have? Your Wade Hamptons by the scores, and your small landowners and tenants by the thousands. The South was a little England in its heritage and social structure. Now, what is the one thing that has beat in the heart of every Anglo-Saxon--don't cringe, I know it's a dirty word these days--no matter what his condition or status in life, no matter what the barriers of ignorance, since he stopped painting himself blue?"
"He is proud. He's sort of stubborn."
"You're damn right. What else?"
"I--I don't know."
"What was it that made the ragtag little Confederate Army the last of its kind? What made it so weak, but so powerful it worked miracles?"
"Ah--Robert E. Lee?"
"Good God, girl!" shouted her uncle. "It was an army of individuals! They walked off their farms and walked to the War!"
As if to study a rare specimen, Dr. Finch produced his glasses, put them on, tilted his head back, and looked at her. "No machine," he said, "w
"I reckon it was the slaves and tariffs and things. I never thought about it much."
Dr. Finch said softly, "Jehovah God."
He made a visible effort to master his temper by going to the stove and silencing the coffeepot. He poured out two cups of blistering black brew and brought them to the table.
"Jean Louise," he said dryly, "not much more than five per cent of the South's population ever saw a slave, much less owned one. Now, something must have irritated the other ninety-five per cent."
Jean Louise looked blankly at her uncle.
"Has it never occurred to you--have you never, somewhere along the line, received vibrations to the effect--that this territory was a separate nation? No matter what its political bonds, a nation with its own people, existing within a nation? A society highly paradoxical, with alarming inequities, but with the private honor of thousands of persons winking like lightning bugs through the night? No war was ever fought for so many different reasons meeting in one reason clear as crystal. They fought to preserve their identity. Their political identity, their personal identity."
Dr. Finch's voice softened. "It seems quixotic today, with jet airplanes and overdoses of Nembutal, that a man would go through a war for something so insignificant as his state."
He blinked. "No, Scout, those ragged ignorant people fought until they were nearly exterminated to maintain something that these days seems to be the sole privilege of artists and musicians."
As it rolled by, Jean Louise made a frantic dive for her uncle's trolley: "That's been over for a--nearly a hundred years, sir."
Dr. Finch grinned. "Has it really? It depends how you look at it. If you were sitting on the sidewalk in Paris, you'd say certainly. But look again. The remnants of that little army had children--God, how they multiplied--the South went through the Reconstruction with only one permanent political change: there was no more slavery. The people became no less than what they were to begin with--in some cases they became horrifyingly more. They were never destroyed. They were ground into the dirt and up they popped. Up popped Tobacco Road, and up popped the ugliest, most shameful aspect of it all--the breed of white man who lived in open economic competition with freed Negroes.
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee / History & Fiction have rating 4.5 out of 5 / Based on18 votes