“Jeremy Finch, I told you you’d live to regret tearing up my camellias. You regret it now, don’t you?”
Jem would say he certainly did.
“Thought you could kill my Snow-on-the-Mountain, did you? Well, Jessie says the top’s growing back out. Next time you’ll know how to do it right, won’t you? You’ll pull it up by the roots, won’t you?”
Jem would say he certainly would.
“Don’t you mutter at me, boy! You hold up your head and say yes ma’am. Don’t guess you feel like holding it up, though, with your father what he is.”
Jem’s chin would come up, and he would gaze at Mrs. Dubose with a face devoid of resentment. Through the weeks he had cultivated an expression of polite and detached interest, which he would present to her in answer to her most blood-curdling inventions.
At last the day came. When Mrs. Dubose said, “That’ll do,” one afternoon, she added, “And that’s all. Good-day to you.”
It was over. We bounded down the sidewalk on a spree of sheer relief, leaping and howling.
That spring was a good one: the days grew longer and gave us more playing time. Jem’s mind was occupied mostly with the vital statistics of every college football player in the nation. Every night Atticus would read us the sports pages of the newspapers. Alabama might go to the Rose Bowl again this year, judging from its prospects, not one of whose names we could pronounce. Atticus was in the middle of Windy Seaton’s column one evening when the telephone rang.
He answered it, then went to the hat rack in the hall. “I’m going down to Mrs. Dubose’s for a while,” he said. “I won’t be long.”
But Atticus stayed away until long past my bedtime. When he returned he was carrying a candy box. Atticus sat down in the living-room and put the box on the floor beside his chair.
“What’d she want?” asked Jem.
We had not seen Mrs. Dubose for over a month. She was never on the porch any more when we passed.
“She’s dead, son,” said Atticus. “She died a few minutes ago.”
“Oh,” said Jem. “Well.”
“Well is right,” said Atticus. “She’s not suffering any more. She was sick for a long time. Son, didn’t you know what her fits were?”
Jem shook his head.
“Mrs. Dubose was a morphine addict,” said Atticus. “She took it as a pain-killer for years. The doctor put her on it. She’d have spent the rest of her life on it and died without so much agony, but she was too contrary—”
“Sir?” said Jem.
Atticus said, “Just before your escapade she called me to make her will. Dr. Reynolds told her she had only a few months left. Her business affairs were in perfect order but she said, ‘There’s still one thing out of order.’ ”
“What was that?” Jem was perplexed.
“She said she was going to leave this world beholden to nothing and nobody. Jem, when you’re sick as she was, it’s all right to take anything to make it easier, but it wasn’t all right for her. She said she meant to break herself of it before she died, and that’s what she did.”
Jem said, “You mean that’s what her fits were?”
“Yes, that’s what they were. Most of the time you were reading to her I doubt if she heard a word you said. Her whole mind and body were concentrated on that alarm clock. If you hadn’t fallen into her hands, I’d have made you go read to her anyway. It may have been some distraction. There was another reason—”
“Did she die free?” asked Jem.
“As the mountain air,” said Atticus. “She was conscious to the last, almost. Conscious,” he smiled, “and cantankerous. She still disapproved heartily of my doings, and said I’d probably spend the rest of my life bailing you out of jail. She had Jessie fix you this box—”
Atticus reached down and picked up the candy box. He handed it to Jem.
Jem opened the box. Inside, surrounded by wads of damp cotton, was a white, waxy, perfect camellia. It was a Snow-on-the-Mountain.
Jem’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. “Old hell-devil, old hell-devil!” he screamed, flinging it down. “Why can’t she leave me alone?”
In a flash Atticus was up and standing over him. Jem buried his face in Atticus’s shirt front. “Sh-h,” he said. “I think that was her way of telling you—everything’s all right now, Jem, everything’s all right. You know, she was a great lady.”
“A lady?” Jem raised his head. His face was scarlet. “After all those things she said about you, a lady?”