“I wish Bob Ewell wouldn’t chew tobacco,” was all Atticus said about it.
According to Miss Stephanie Crawford, however, Atticus was leaving the post office when Mr. Ewell approached him, cursed him, spat on him, and threatened to kill him. Miss Stephanie said Atticus didn’t bat an eye, just took out his handkerchief and wiped his face and stood there and let Mr. Ewell call him names wild horses could not bring her to repeat. So Mr. Ewell said, “Too proud to fight, you n****r-lovin’ bastard?” And Atticus replied, “No, too old,” put his hands in his pockets and strolled on.
A few days later, Atticus noticed that Jem and I were really worried because Bob Ewell had threatened to kill Atticus. He told Jem, “Jem, see if you can stand in Bob Ewell’s shoes a minute. I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with. The man had to have some kind of comeback, his kind always does. So if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that’s something I’ll gladly take. He had to take it out on somebody and I’d rather it be me than that houseful of children out there. You understand?”
After that, we were not afraid. Atticus also told us that nothing would happen to Tom Robinson until the higher court reviewed his case, and that Tom had a good chance of going free, or at least of having a new trial. He was at Enfield Prison Farm, seventy miles away in Chester County. I asked Atticus if Tom’s wife and children were allowed to visit him, but Atticus said no. “If he loses his appeal,” I asked one evening, “what’ll happen to him?”
“He’ll go to the electric chair,” said Atticus, “unless the Governor commutes his sentence. Not time to worry yet, Scout. We’ve got a good chance.”
Atticus’s fingers went to his watchpocket. “No it didn’t,” he said, more to himself than to us. “That was the one thing that made me think, well, this may be the shadow of a beginning. That jury took a few hours. An inevitable verdict, maybe, but usually it takes ‘em just a few minutes. You might like to know that there was one fellow who took considerable wearing down – in the beginning he was wanting to set Tom free.”
“Who?” Jem was astonished.
Atticus’s eyes twinkled. “It’s not for me to say, but I’ll tell you this much. He was one of your Old Sarum friends…”
“One of the Cunninghams?” Jem yelped. “One of – I didnt’ recognize any of ‘em… you’re jokin’.”
“One of their connections. On a hunch, I didn’t dismiss him from the jury even though I could have.”
“Golly Moses,” Jem said reverently. “One minute they’re tryin’ to kill Tom and the next they’re tryin’ to turn him loose… I’ll never understand those folks as long as I live.”
After Atticus left the room, I decided that I would be nice to Water Cunningham from now on since his someone in his family had been on the jury and wanted to set Tom free. I even said that I would invite him over to spend the night some time.
“We’ll see about that,” Aunt Alexandra said.
Surprised, I turned to her. “Why not, Aunty? They’re good folks.”
She looked at me over her sewing glasses. “Jean Louise, there is no doubt in my mind that they’re good folks. But they’re not our kind of folks. You can scrub Walter Cunningham till he shines, you can put him in shoes and a new suit, but he’ll never be like Jem. Besides, there’s a drinking streak in that family a mile wide. Finch women aren’t interested in that sort of people.”
“If they’re good folks, then why can’t I be nice to Walter?”
“I didn’t say not to be nice to him. You should be friendly and polite to him, you should be gracious to everybody, dear. But you don’t have to invite him home.”
“But I want to play with Walter, Aunty, why can’t I?”
She took off her glasses and stared at me. “I’ll tell you why,” she said. “Because – he—is—trash, that’s why you can’t play with him. I’ll not have you around him, picking up his habits and learning Lord-knows-what. You’re enough of a problem to your father as it is.”
I was so angry and upset, but Jem put his arm around me and led me, sobbing in fury, to his room. He told me that Aunty was trying to make me into a lady and told me I should take up sewing or something.
I told Jem that I was so upset that Aunty called Walter Cunningham trash. “But Walter isn’t trash. He ain’t like the Ewells,” I told Jem.
“You know something, Scout? I’ve got it all figured out, now. I’ve thought about it a lot lately and I’ve got it figured out. There’s four kinds of folks in the world. There’s the ordinary kind like us and the neighbors, there’s the kind like the Cunninghams out in the woods, the kind like the Ewells down at the dump, and the Negroes. Our kind of folks don’t like the Cunninghams, the Cunninghams don’t like the Ewells, and the Ewells hate and despise the colored folks. Background means that a family has been reading and writing for a long time.”
“I don’t’ think that’s what background is, Jem. Everybody’s gotta learn, nobody’s born knowin’. That Walter’s as smart as he can be, he just gets held back sometimes because he has to stay out and help his daddy. Nothin’s wrong with him. Naw, Jem, I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”
Jem said, “That’s what I thought too, when I was your age. If there’s just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other? Scout, I think I’m beginning to understand something. I think I’m beginning to understand why Boo Radley’s stayed shut up in the house all this time… it’s because he wants to stay inside.
Chapter 24 It was on the brink of September and Dill would be leaving tomorrow. He was off with Jem swimming. They said they were going in naked and I couldn’t come, so I divided my time between Calpurnia and Miss Maudie.
Today Aunt Alexandra was having the ladies over. After they talked, they were going to have refreshments. Aunt Alexandra told me to join them for refreshments. I didn’t know if I should go into the dining room or stay out. I was wearing my pink Sunday dress, shoes and a petticoat. Since Aunty let Calpurnia serve them today, I thought if I spilled something on my dress Calpurnia would have to wash it out before tomorrow. I didn’t want to give her anymore work today.
“Can I help you, Cal?” I asked, wishing to be of some service.
“You be still as a mouse in that corner,” she said, “an‘ you can help me load up the trays when I come back.”
I helped Calplurnia carry in the coffee pot and did not spill a thing. Aunt Alexandra smiled brilliantly. “Stay with us, Jean Louise,” she said. This was all her campaign to teach me to be a lady. I sat next to Miss Maudie. I tightly gripped the sides of the chair and waited for someone to speak to me.
“You’re mighty dressed up, Miss Jean Louise,” Miss Maudie said, “Where are your britches today?”
“Under my dress.”
I hadn’t meant it to be funny, but the ladies laughed. My cheeks grew hot as I realized my mistake, but Miss Maudie looked gravely down at me. She never laughed at me unless I meant it to be funny.
I asked Mrs. Merriweather who was sitting to my right about what they had been talking about before I came in. She filled me in on how she had been out to visit a family who was living in sin and squalor. She told me how fortunate I was to live in a good Christian family with Christian folks in a Christian town.
The conversation then turned toward Tom Robinson’s wife. Mrs. Merriweather continued, “there’s one thing I truly believe, Gertrude,” she continued, “but some people just don’t see it my way. If we just let then know we forgive ‘em, that we’ve forgotten it, then this whole thing’ll blow over.”
“Ah – Mrs. Merriweather,” I interrupted once more, “what’ll blow over?”
“Nothing, Jean Louise,” she said, “the cooks and field hands are just dissatisfied, but they’re settling down now – they grumbled all next day after that trial.” She paused and turned to another woman in the group, “Gertrude, I tell you there’s nothing more distracting than a sulky darky. Their mouths go down to here. Just ruins your day to have one of ‘em in the kitchen.”
Another lady said, “Looks like we’re fightin’ a losing battle, a losing battle… it doesn’t matter to ‘em one bit. We can educate ‘em till we’re blue in the face, we can try till we drop to make Christians out of ‘em, but there’s no lady safe in her bed these nights.”
I had lost interest in the conversation when they quit talking about Tom Robinson’s wife.
Mrs. Merriweather spoke up again. “Northerners are hypocrites… at least we don’t have that sin on our shoulders down here. People up there set ‘em free, but you don’t see ‘em settin’ at the table with ‘em. At least we don’t have the deceit to say to ‘em yes, you’re as good as we are but stay away from us. Down here we just say you live your way and we’ll live ours. I think that woman, that Mrs. Roosevelt’s lost her mind – just plain lost her mind coming down to Birmingham and tryin’ to sit with ‘em. If I was the Mayor of Birmingham I’d –“
I was thinking if I was the Governor of Alabama I’d let Tom Robinson go so quick. I heard Calpurnia talking about how bad it was going for Tom. He said that there wasn’t a thingt Atticus could do to make being shut up easier for him. The last thing he had said to Atticus the day before he was taken to the prison camp was, “Good-bye, Mr. Finch, there ain’t nothin’ you can do now, so there ain’t no use tryin’.” He had just given up hope.
Atticus came in the door and his face was white. He apologized for the interruption and asked if he could speak with Alexandra. He wanted to borrow Calpurnia for a while.
“Cal,” Atticus said, “I want you to go with me out to Helen Robinson’s house—“
“What’s the matter?” Aunt Alexandra said, alarmed by the look on my father’s face.
Aunt Alexandra put her hand to her mouth.
“They shot him” said Atticus. “He was running. It was during their exercise period. They said he just broke into a blind raving charge at the fence and started climbing over. Right in front of them—“
“Didn’t they try to stop him? Didn’t they give him any warning?” Aunt Alexandtra’s voice shook.
“Oh, yes, the guards called to him to stop. They fired a few shots in the air, then to kill. They got him just as he went over the fence. They said if he’s had two good arms he’d have made it, he was moving that fast. Seventeen bullet holes in him. They didn’t have to shoot him that much. Cal I want you to come out with me and help me tell Helen.”
“Yes sir,” she murmured, fumbling with her apron. Miss Maudie went to Calpurnia and untied it.
“Depends on how you look at it,” he said. “What was one Negro, more or less, among two hundred of ‘em? He wasn’t Tom to them, he was an escaping prisoner. We had a good chance,” he said. “ I told him what I thought, but I couldn’t in truth say that we had more than a good chance. I guess Tom was tired of white men’s chances and preferred to take his own. Ready, Cal?”
“Yessir, Mr. Finch.”
“Then let’s go.”
Aunt Alexandra sat down in the chair and put her hands to her face. I thought she was crying. When she took her hands away she wasn’t but she looked weary. I heard Miss Maudie breathing heavily and heard the ladies in the other room chatting happily.
“I can’t say I approve of everything he does, Maudie, but he’s my brother, and I just want him to know when this will ever end. It tears him to pieces. He doesn’t show it much, but it tears him to pieces. I’ve seen him when – what else do they want from him, Maudie, what else?”
“What does who want, Alexandra?” Miss Maudie asked.
“I mean this town. They’re perfectly willing to let him wreck his health doing what they’re afraid to do, they’re –“
“Be quiet, they’ll hear you,” said Miss Maudie. “Have you ever thought of it this way, Alexandra? Whether Maycomb knows it or not, we’re paying the highest tribute we can pay a man. We trust him to do right. It’s that simple.”
“The handful of people in this town who say that fair play is not marked White Only; the handful of people who say a fair trial is for everybody, not just us; the handful of people with enough humility to think when they look at a Negro, there but for the Lord’s kindness am I… The handful of people in this town with background, that’s who they are.”
I was shaking and Miss Maudie told me to stop and she also told Aunt Alexandra to get up because we had left the ladies too long already.
“Are you together again, Jean Louise?” Miss Maudie asked.
“Then let’s join the ladies.”
We all went in and Aunt Alexandra refilled coffee cups and dished out goodies. The conversation resumed with the Christian works they had done.
Aunt Alexandra looked across the room at me and smiled. She looked at a tray of cookies on the table and nodded at them. I carefully picked up the tray and watched myself walk to Mrs. Merriweather. With my best company manners, I asked her if she would have some.
After all, if Aunty could be a lady at a time like this, so could I.
Chapter 25 September had come, but not a trace of cool weather with it, and we were still sleeping on the back screen porch. A roly poly insect had crawled onto the porch. Jem was scowling when I went to mash it. This was probably a part of the stage he was going through, and I wished he would hurry up and get through it.
“Why couldn’t’ I mash him?” I asked.
“Because they don’t bother you,” Jem answered in the darkness.
“Reckon you’re at the stage now where you don’t kill flies and mosquitoes now, I reckon,” I said. “Lemme know when you change your mind. Tell you one thing though, I ain’t gonna sit around and not scratch a redbug.”
“Aw, dry up,” he answered drowsily.
Jem was the one who was getting more like a girl every day, not I. I was thinking of Dill. He had left us the first of the month saying that he would be back the minute school was out. Dill told me of the time he and Jem were swimming and on their way back, they saw Atticus driving up the road. He stopped and Jem pleaded for a ride. Atticus finally agreed. He and Calpurnia were on their way to Tom Robinson’s place.
They turned off the highway, rode slowly by the dump and past the Ewell residence, down the narrow lane to the Negro cabins. Dill said a crowd of black children were playing marbles in Tom’s front yard. Atticus parked the car and got out. Calpurnia followed him through the front gate.
Dill heard him ask one of the children, “Where’s your mother, Sam?” and heard Sam say, “She down at Sis Steven’s, Mr. Finch. Want me run fetch her?”
Dill said Atticus looked uncertain, then he said yes, and Sam scampered off. “Go on with your game, boys,” Atticus said to the children.
A little girl came to the door and she needed some help getting up the steps. Dill said that Atticus offered her his finger to help her and then gave her over to Calpurnia.
Sam was trotting behind his mother when they came up. Dill said Helen said, “’Evenin’, Mr. Finch, won’t you have a seat?” But she didn’t say anymore. Neither did Atticus.
“Scout,” said Dill, “she just fell down in the dirt. Just fell down in the dirt, like a giant with a big foot just came along and stepped on her. Just ump—“ Dill’s fat foot hit the ground. “Like you’d step on an ant.”
Dill said Calpurnia and Atticus lifted Helen to her feet and half carried, half walked her to the cabin. They stayed inside a long time, and Atticus came out alone. When they drove back by the dump, some of the Ewells hollered at them, but Dill didn’t catch what they said.
Maycomb was interested by the news of Tom’s death for perhaps two days. To Maycomb, Tom’s death was typical. Typical for a n****r to cut and run. Typical of a n****’s mentality to have no plan, no thought for the future, just run blind first chance he saw. Funny thing, Atticus Finch might’ve got him off scot free, but wait --? Hell no. You know how they are. Easy come, easy go. Just shows you that Robinson was legally married, they say he kept himself clean, went to church and all that, but when it comes down to the line, the n****r always comes out in ‘em.
The Maycomb Tribune appeared the following Thursday. There was a brief obituary, but there was also an editorial.
Mr. Underwood was at this most bitter, and he couldn’t care less who cancelled advertising and subscriptions as a result of his editorial. He didn’t write about the injustices, he was writing so children could understand. Mr. Underwood simply figured it was a sin to kill cripples, be they standing, sitting, or escaping. He likened Tom’s death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children.
How could this be so, I wondered, as I read Mr. Underwood’s editorial. Senseless killing – Tom had been given due process of law to the day of this death; he had been tried openly and convicted by twelve good men and true; my father had fought for him all the way. Then Mr. Underwood’s meaning became clear: Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men’s hearts, Atticus had no case. Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed.
The name Ewell gave me a queasy feeling. Mr. Ewell said it made one down and about two more to go. Jem told me not to be afraid, Mr. Ewell was more hot gas than anything. Jem also told me that if I breathed a word to Atticus, if in anyway I let Atticus know I knew, Jem would personally never speak to me again.
Chapter 26 School started, and so did our daily trips past the Radley Place. Jem was in the seventh grade now and went to high school, beyond the grammar-school building; I was now in the third grade, and our routines were so different I only walked to school with Jem in the mornings and saw him at mealtimes.
The Radley Place didn’t terrify me anymore. I sometimes felt a bit of remorse, when passing by the old place, at ever having taken part in what must have been sheer torment to Arthur Radley – what reasonable recluse wants children peeping through his shutters, delivering greetings on the end of a fishing-pole, wandering in his collards at night?
And yet I remembered. Two Indian-head pennies, chewing gum, soap dolls, a rusty medal, a broken watch and chain. Jem must have put them away somewhere. I stopped and looked at the tree one afternoon: the trunk was swelling around its cement patch. The patch itself was turning yellow.
I still looked for Boo each time I went by. Maybe someday we would see him. I imagined how it would be: when it happened, he’d just be sitting in the swing when I came along. “Hidy do, Mr. Arthur,” I would say, as if I had said it every afternoon of my life.
“Evening, Jean Louise,” he would say, as if he had said it every afternoon of my life, “Right pretty spell we’re having, isn’t it?”
“Yes, sir, right pretty” I would say, and go on. It was only a fantasy though. We would never see him.
One night when I told Atticus that I wanted to see Boo Radley someday, he said “Don’t start with that again, Scout. I’m too old to go chasing you off the Radley property. Besides, it’s dangerous. You might get shot. You know, Mr. Nathan shoots at every shadow he sees, even shadows that leave size-four bare footprints. You were lucky not to be killed.”
I couldn’t believe it! Atticus KNEW it was US that Mr. Radley shot at that night! This was the first time he had let us know that he knew a lot more about something than we thought he knew.
One day in school, Cecil Jacobs presented a current event about Adolf Hitler. He presented the news article to the class. “Adolf Hitler has been after the Jews and he’s puttin’ ‘em in prisons and he’s taking away all their property and he won’t let any of ‘em out of the country…”
A student in the back of the room asked, “How can he do that?”
“Who do what?” asked Miss Gates, our teacher, patiently.
“I mean how can Hitler just put a lot of folks in a pen like that, looks like the government’d stop him,” said the student.
“Hitler is the government,” said Miss Gates. She went to the blackboard and printed the work DEMOCRACY in large letters. “Democracy,” she said. “Does anybody have a definition?”
I raised my hand and said, “Equal rights for all, special privileges for none.”
“Very good, Jean Louise, very good,” Miss Gates smiled. In front of “DEMOCRACY”, she printed “WE ARE A”. “Now class, say it all together, ‘We are a democracy.’”
We said it. Then Miss Gates said, “That’s the difference between America and Germany. We are a democracy and Germany is a dictatorship. Over there we don’t believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced. Prejudice,” she said carefully. “There are no better people in the world than the Jews, and why Hitler doesn’t think so is a mystery to me.”
I went home later that day and asked Atticus if it was okay to hate Hitler.
“It is not,” he said. “it’s not okay to hate anybody.”
I was still confused about things so I went to see Jem. I said, “Jem, coming out of the courthouse that night Miss Gates was – she was goin’ down the steps in front of us, you must not of seen her – she was talking with Miss Stephanie Crawford. I heard her say it’s time somebody taught ‘em a lesson, they were gettin’ way above themselves, and the next thing they think they can do is marry us. She was talking about the black folks. Jem , how can she say she hates Hitler so bad and then turn around and be ugly about folks right here at home?”
Jem was suddenly furious. He leaped off the bed, grabbed me by the collar and shook me. “I never wanta hear about that courthouse again, ever, ever, you hear me? You hear me? Don’t’ you ever say one word to me about it again, you hear? Now go on!”
I was too surprised to cry. I crept from Jem’s room and shut the door softly. I found Atticus and tried to climb up in his lap. Atticus smiled. “You’re getting so big now, I’ll just have to hold a part of you.” He held me close. “Scout,” he said softly, “don’t let Jem get you down. He’s having a rough time these days. I heard you back there.”
Atticus said that Jem was trying hard to forget all the prejudice and injustice he saw at Tom’s trial. After enough time passed, Jem would be able to make sense of it all and sort things out, but right now he was very upset.
Chapter 27 Something weird happened to Judge Taylor one Sunday night. He was lost in a book when he noticed a scratching noise. “Hush,” he said to Ann Taylor, his fat dog. Then he realized he was speaking to an empty room; the scratching noise was coming from the rear of the house. Judge Taylor clumped to the back porch to let Ann out and found the screen door swinging open. A shadow on the corner of the house caught his eye, and that was all he saw of the visitor. Mrs. Taylor came home from church to find her husband in his chair, lost in the writing of Bob Taylor, with a shotgun across his lap. I bet that his “visitor” was Bob Ewell who was mad at him because he appointed Atticus to Tom’s case, which meant the judge wanted Tom to have a fair chance.
Something happened to Helen Robinson too. Mr. Link Deas, who had been Tom’s boss, created a job for Helen because he felt so badly about what happened to Tom. Helen had to walk nearly a mile out of her way to work in order to avoid the Ewell place. The Ewells would swear at her if she tried to use the public road that ran past their house. When Link Deas realized that Helen was coming the long way to work, he asked her why. He got very mad and went to the Ewell house. He yelled out to Bob that he would have him arrested if he kept bothering Helen. But Bob kept annoying her. He would follow behind her saying foul, evil things. Link Deas threatened again to have him arrested and eventually he stopped bothering her.
Halloween was approaching, and this year we were having a pageant. Mrs. Grace Merriweather had composed an original pageant, and I was going to be a ham. She thought I would be adorable if some of the children were costumed to represent the county’s agricultural products: Cecil Jacobs would be dressed up to look like a cow; Agnes Boone would make a lovely butterbean, another child would be a peanut, and on down the line. Our only duties, as far as I could gather from our two rehearsals, were to enter from stage left as Mrs. Merriweather identified us. When she called out “PORK”, that was my cue.
A few hours before the pageant I practiced my part for Calpurnia in the kitchen and she said I was wonderful. I wanted to go across the street to show Miss Maudie, but Jem said she’d probably be at the pageant anyway.
After that, it didn’t matter whether they went or not. Jem said he would take me. Thus began our longest journey together.