After many telephone calls, much pleading on behalf of the defendant, and a longforgiving letter from his mother, it was decided that Dill could stay. We had a week ofpeace together. After that, little, it seemed. A nightmare was upon us.
It began one evening after supper. Dill was over; Aunt Alexandra was in her chair inthe corner, Atticus was in his; Jem and I were on the floor reading. It had been a placidweek: I had minded Aunty; Jem had outgrown the treehouse, but helped Dill and meconstruct a new rope ladder for it; Dill had hit upon a foolproof plan to make Boo Radleycome out at no cost to ourselves (place a trail of lemon drops from the back door to thefront yard and he’d follow it, like an ant). There was a knock on the front door, Jemanswered it and said it was Mr. Heck Tate.
“Well, ask him to come in,” said Atticus.
“I already did. There’s some men outside in the yard, they want you to come out.”
In Maycomb, grown men stood outside in the front yard for only two reasons: deathand politics. I wondered who had died. Jem and I went to the front door, but Atticuscalled, “Go back in the house.”
Jem turned out the livingroom lights and pressed his nose to a window screen. AuntAlexandra protested. “Just for a second, Aunty, let’s see who it is,” he said.
Dill and I took another window. A crowd of men was standing around Atticus. They allseemed to be talking at once.
“…movin‘ him to the county jail tomorrow,” Mr. Tate was saying, “I don’t look for anytrouble, but I can’t guarantee there won’t be any…”
“Don’t be foolish, Heck,” Atticus said. “This is Maycomb.”
“…said I was just uneasy.”
“Heck, we’ve gotten one postponement of this case just to make sure there’s nothingto be uneasy about. This is Saturday,” Atticus said. “Trial’ll probably be Monday. Youcan keep him one night, can’t you? I don’t think anybody in Maycomb’ll begrudge me aclient, with times this hard.”
There was a murmur of glee that died suddenly when Mr. Link Deas said, “Nobodyaround here’s up to anything, it’s that Old Sarum bunch I’m worried about… can’t youget a—what is it, Heck?”
“Change of venue,” said Mr. Tate. “Not much point in that, now is it?”
Atticus said something inaudible. I turned to Jem, who waved me to silence.
“—besides,” Atticus was saying, “you’re not scared of that crowd, are you?”
“…know how they do when they get shinnied up.”
“They don’t usually drink on Sunday, they go to church most of the day…” Atticus said.
“This is a special occasion, though…” someone said.
They murmured and buzzed until Aunty said if Jem didn’t turn on the livingroom lightshe would disgrace the family. Jem didn’t hear her.
“—don’t see why you touched it in the first place,” Mr. Link Deas was saying. “You’vegot everything to lose from this, Atticus. I mean everything.”
“Do you really think so?”
This was Atticus’s dangerous question. “Do you really think you want to move there,Scout?” Bam, bam, bam, and the checkerboard was swept clean of my men. “Do youreally think that, son? Then read this.” Jem would struggle the rest of an eveningthrough the speeches of Henry W. Grady.
“Link, that boy might go to the chair, but he’s not going till the truth’s told.” Atticus’svoice was even. “And you know what the truth is.”
There was a murmur among the group of men, made more ominous when Atticusmoved back to the bottom front step and the men drew nearer to him.
Suddenly Jem screamed, “Atticus, the telephone’s ringing!”
The men jumped a little and scattered; they were people we saw every day:
merchants, in-town farmers; Dr. Reynolds was there; so was Mr. Avery.
“Well, answer it, son,” called Atticus.
Laughter broke them up. When Atticus switched on the overhead light in thelivingroom he found Jem at the window, pale except for the vivid mark of the screen onhis nose.
“Why on earth are you all sitting in the dark?” he asked.
Jem watched him go to his chair and pick up the evening paper. I sometimes thinkAtticus subjected every crisis of his life to tranquil evaluation behind The MobileRegister, The Birmingham News and The Montgomery Advertiser.
“They were after you, weren’t they?” Jem went to him. “They wanted to get you, didn’tthey?”
Atticus lowered the paper and gazed at Jem. “What have you been reading?” heasked. Then he said gently, “No son, those were our friends.”
“It wasn’t a—a gang?” Jem was looking from the corners of his eyes.
Atticus tried to stifle a smile but didn’t make it. “No, we don’t have mobs and thatnonsense in Maycomb. I’ve never heard of a gang in Maycomb.”
“Ku Klux got after some Catholics one time.”
“Never heard of any Catholics in Maycomb either,” said Atticus, “you’re confusing thatwith something else. Way back about nineteen-twenty there was a Klan, but it was apolitical organization more than anything. Besides, they couldn’t find anybody to scare.
They paraded by Mr. Sam Levy’s house one night, but Sam just stood on his porch andtold ‘em things had come to a pretty pass, he’d sold ’em the very sheets on their backs.
Sam made ‘em so ashamed of themselves they went away.”
The Levy family met all criteria for being Fine Folks: they did the best they could withthe sense they had, and they had been living on the same plot of ground in Maycombfor five generations.
“The Ku Klux’s gone,” said Atticus. “It’ll never come back.”
I walked home with Dill and returned in time to overhear Atticus saying to Aunty, “…infavor of Southern womanhood as much as anybody, but not for preserving polite fictionat the expense of human life,” a pronouncement that made me suspect they had beenfussing again.
I sought Jem and found him in his room, on the bed deep in thought. “Have they beenat it?” I asked.
“Sort of. She won’t let him alone about Tom Robinson. She almost said Atticus wasdisgracin‘ the family. Scout… I’m scared.”
“Scared about Atticus. Somebody might hurt him.” Jem preferred to remainmysterious; all he would say to my questions was go on and leave him alone.
Next day was Sunday. In the interval between Sunday School and Church when thecongregation stretched its legs, I saw Atticus standing in the yard with another knot ofmen. Mr. Heck Tate was present, and I wondered if he had seen the light. He neverwent to church. Even Mr. Underwood was there. Mr. Underwood had no use for anyorganization but The Maycomb Tribune, of which he was the sole owner, editor, andprinter. His days were spent at his linotype, where he refreshed himself occasionallyfrom an ever-present gallon jug of cherry wine. He rarely gathered news; people broughtit to him. It was said that he made up every edition of The Maycomb Tribune out of hisown head and wrote it down on the linotype. This was believable. Something must havebeen up to haul Mr. Underwood out.
I caught Atticus coming in the door, and he said that they’d moved Tom Robinson tothe Maycomb jail. He also said, more to himself than to me, that if they’d kept him therein the first place there wouldn’t have been any fuss. I watched him take his seat on thethird row from the front, and I heard him rumble, “Nearer my God to thee,” some notesbehind the rest of us. He never sat with Aunty, Jem and me. He liked to be by himself inchurch.
The fake peace that prevailed on Sundays was made more irritating by AuntAlexandra’s presence. Atticus would flee to his office directly after dinner, where if wesometimes looked in on him, we would find him sitting back in his swivel chair reading.
Aunt Alexandra composed herself for a two-hour nap and dared us to make any noise inthe yard, the neighborhood was resting. Jem in his old age had taken to his room with astack of football magazines. So Dill and I spent our Sundays creeping around in Deer’sPasture.
Shooting on Sundays was prohibited, so Dill and I kicked Jem’s football around thepasture for a while, which was no fun. Dill asked if I’d like to have a poke at Boo Radley.
I said I didn’t think it’d be nice to bother him, and spent the rest of the afternoon fillingDill in on last winter’s events. He was considerably impressed.
We parted at suppertime, and after our meal Jem and I were settling down to a routineevening, when Atticus did something that interested us: he came into the livingroomcarrying a long electrical extension cord. There was a light bulb on the end.
“I’m going out for a while,” he said. “You folks’ll be in bed when I come back, so I’ll saygood night now.”
With that, he put his hat on and went out the back door.
“He’s takin‘ the car,” said Jem.
Our father had a few peculiarities: one was, he never ate desserts; another was thathe liked to walk. As far back as I could remember, there was always a Chevrolet inexcellent condition in the carhouse, and Atticus put many miles on it in business trips,but in Maycomb he walked to and from his office four times a day, covering about twomiles. He said his only exercise was walking. In Maycomb, if one went for a walk with nodefinite purpose in mind, it was correct to believe one’s mind incapable of definitepurpose.
Later on, I bade my aunt and brother good night and was well into a book when Iheard Jem rattling around in his room. His go-to-bed noises were so familiar to me that Iknocked on his door: “Why ain’t you going to bed?”
“I’m goin‘ downtown for a while.” He was changing his pants.
“Why? It’s almost ten o’clock, Jem.”
He knew it, but he was going anyway.
“Then I’m goin‘ with you. If you say no you’re not, I’m goin’ anyway, hear?”
Jem saw that he would have to fight me to keep me home, and I suppose he thought afight would antagonize Aunty, so he gave in with little grace.
I dressed quickly. We waited until Aunty’s light went out, and we walked quietly downthe back steps. There was no moon tonight.
“Dill’ll wanta come,” I whispered.
“So he will,” said Jem gloomily.
We leaped over the driveway wall, cut through Miss Rachel’s side yard and went toDill’s window. Jem whistled bob-white. Dill’s face appeared at the screen, disappeared,and five minutes later he unhooked the screen and crawled out. An old campaigner, hedid not speak until we were on the sidewalk. “What’s up?”
“Jem’s got the look-arounds,” an affliction Calpurnia said all boys caught at his age.
“I’ve just got this feeling,” Jem said, “just this feeling.”
We went by Mrs. Dubose’s house, standing empty and shuttered, her camellias grownup in weeds and johnson grass. There were eight more houses to the post office corner.
The south side of the square was deserted. Giant monkey-puzzle bushes bristled oneach corner, and between them an iron hitching rail glistened under the street lights. Alight shone in the county toilet, otherwise that side of the courthouse was dark. A largersquare of stores surrounded the courthouse square; dim lights burned from deep withinthem.
Atticus’s office was in the courthouse when he began his law practice, but afterseveral years of it he moved to quieter quarters in the Maycomb Bank building. Whenwe rounded the corner of the square, we saw the car parked in front of the bank. “He’sin there,” said Jem.
But he wasn’t. His office was reached by a long hallway. Looking down the hall, weshould have seen Atticus Finch, Attorney-at-Law in small sober letters against the lightfrom behind his door. It was dark.
Jem peered in the bank door to make sure. He turned the knob. The door was locked.
“Let’s go up the street. Maybe he’s visitin‘ Mr. Underwood.”
Mr. Underwood not only ran The Maycomb Tribune office, he lived in it. That is, aboveit. He covered the courthouse and jailhouse news simply by looking out his upstairswindow. The office building was on the northwest corner of the square, and to reach itwe had to pass the jail.
The Maycomb jail was the most venerable and hideous of the county’s buildings.
Atticus said it was like something Cousin Joshua St. Clair might have designed. It wascertainly someone’s dream. Starkly out of place in a town of square-faced stores andsteep-roofed houses, the Maycomb jail was a miniature Gothic joke one cell wide andtwo cells high, complete with tiny battlements and flying buttresses. Its fantasy washeightened by its red brick facade and the thick steel bars at its ecclesiastical windows.
It stood on no lonely hill, but was wedged between Tyndal’s Hardware Store and TheMaycomb Tribune office. The jail was Maycomb’s only conversation piece: its detractorssaid it looked like a Victorian privy; its supporters said it gave the town a good solidrespectable look, and no stranger would ever suspect that it was full of niggers.
As we walked up the sidewalk, we saw a solitary light burning in the distance. “That’sfunny,” said Jem, “jail doesn’t have an outside light.”
“Looks like it’s over the door,” said Dill.
A long extension cord ran between the bars of a second-floor window and down theside of the building. In the light from its bare bulb, Atticus was sitting propped againstthe front door. He was sitting in one of his office chairs, and he was reading, oblivious ofthe nightbugs dancing over his head.
I made to run, but Jem caught me. “Don’t go to him,” he said, “he might not like it. He’sall right, let’s go home. I just wanted to see where he was.”
We were taking a short cut across the square when four dusty cars came in from theMeridian highway, moving slowly in a line. They went around the square, passed thebank building, and stopped in front of the jail.
Nobody got out. We saw Atticus look up from his newspaper. He closed it, folded itdeliberately, dropped it in his lap, and pushed his hat to the back of his head. Heseemed to be expecting them.
“Come on,” whispered Jem. We streaked across the square, across the street, untilwe were in the shelter of the Jitney Jungle door. Jem peeked up the sidewalk. “We canget closer,” he said. We ran to Tyndal’s Hardware door—near enough, at the same timediscreet.
In ones and twos, men got out of the cars. Shadows became substance as lightsrevealed solid shapes moving toward the jail door. Atticus remained where he was. Themen hid him from view.
“He in there, Mr. Finch?” a man said.
“He is,” we heard Atticus answer, “and he’s asleep. Don’t wake him up.”
In obedience to my father, there followed what I later realized was a sickeningly comicaspect of an unfunny situation: the men talked in near-whispers.
“You know what we want,” another man said. “Get aside from the door, Mr. Finch.”
“You can turn around and go home again, Walter,” Atticus said pleasantly. “HeckTate’s around somewhere.”
“The hell he is,” said another man. “Heck’s bunch’s so deep in the woods they won’tget out till mornin‘.”
“Indeed? Why so?”
“Called ‘em off on a snipe hunt,” was the succinct answer. “Didn’t you think a’that, Mr.
“Thought about it, but didn’t believe it. Well then,” my father’s voice was still the same,“that changes things, doesn’t it?”
“It do,” another deep voice said. Its owner was a shadow.
“Do you really think so?”
This was the second time I heard Atticus ask that question in two days, and it meantsomebody’s man would get jumped. This was too good to miss. I broke away from Jemand ran as fast as I could to Atticus.
Jem shrieked and tried to catch me, but I had a lead on him and Dill. I pushed my waythrough dark smelly bodies and burst into the circle of light.
I thought he would have a fine surprise, but his face killed my joy. A flash of plain fearwas going out of his eyes, but returned when Dill and Jem wriggled into the light.
There was a smell of stale whiskey and pigpen about, and when I glanced around Idiscovered that these men were strangers. They were not the people I saw last night.
Hot embarrassment shot through me: I had leaped triumphantly into a ring of people Ihad never seen before.
Atticus got up from his chair, but he was moving slowly, like an old man. He put thenewspaper down very carefully, adjusting its creases with lingering fingers. They weretrembling a little.
“Go home, Jem,” he said. “Take Scout and Dill home.”
We were accustomed to prompt, if not always cheerful acquiescence to Atticus’sinstructions, but from the way he stood Jem was not thinking of budging.
“Go home, I said.”
Jem shook his head. As Atticus’s fists went to his hips, so did Jem’s, and as theyfaced each other I could see little resemblance between them: Jem’s soft brown hairand eyes, his oval face and snug-fitting ears were our mother’s, contrasting oddly withAtticus’s graying black hair and square-cut features, but they were somehow alike.
Mutual defiance made them alike.
“Son, I said go home.”
Jem shook his head.
“I’ll send him home,” a burly man said, and grabbed Jem roughly by the collar. Heyanked Jem nearly off his feet.
“Don’t you touch him!” I kicked the man swiftly. Barefooted, I was surprised to see himfall back in real pain. I intended to kick his shin, but aimed too high.
“That’ll do, Scout.” Atticus put his hand on my shoulder. “Don’t kick folks. No—” hesaid, as I was pleading justification.
“Ain’t nobody gonna do Jem that way,” I said.
“All right, Mr. Finch, get ‘em outa here,” someone growled. “You got fifteen seconds toget ’em outa here.”
In the midst of this strange assembly, Atticus stood trying to make Jem mind him. “Iain’t going,” was his steady answer to Atticus’s threats, requests, and finally, “PleaseJem, take them home.”
I was getting a bit tired of that, but felt Jem had his own reasons for doing as he did, inview of his prospects once Atticus did get him home. I looked around the crowd. It was asummer’s night, but the men were dressed, most of them, in overalls and denim shirtsbuttoned up to the collars. I thought they must be cold-natured, as their sleeves wereunrolled and buttoned at the cuffs. Some wore hats pulled firmly down over their ears.
They were sullen-looking, sleepy-eyed men who seemed unused to late hours. I soughtonce more for a familiar face, and at the center of the semi-circle I found one.
“Hey, Mr. Cunningham.”
The man did not hear me, it seemed.
“Hey, Mr. Cunningham. How’s your entailment gettin‘ along?”
Mr. Walter Cunningham’s legal affairs were well known to me; Atticus had oncedescribed them at length. The big man blinked and hooked his thumbs in his overallstraps. He seemed uncomfortable; he cleared his throat and looked away. My friendlyoverture had fallen flat.
Mr. Cunningham wore no hat, and the top half of his forehead was white in contrast tohis sunscorched face, which led me to believe that he wore one most days. He shiftedhis feet, clad in heavy work shoes.
“Don’t you remember me, Mr. Cunningham? I’m Jean Louise Finch. You brought ussome hickory nuts one time, remember?” I began to sense the futility one feels whenunacknowledged by a chance acquaintance.
“I go to school with Walter,” I began again. “He’s your boy, ain’t he? Ain’t he, sir?”
Mr. Cunningham was moved to a faint nod. He did know me, after all.
“He’s in my grade,” I said, “and he does right well. He’s a good boy,” I added, “a realnice boy. We brought him home for dinner one time. Maybe he told you about me, I beathim up one time but he was real nice about it. Tell him hey for me, won’t you?”
Atticus had said it was the polite thing to talk to people about what they wereinterested in, not about what you were interested in. Mr. Cunningham displayed nointerest in his son, so I tackled his entailment once more in a last-ditch effort to makehim feel at home.
“Entailments are bad,” I was advising him, when I slowly awoke to the fact that I wasaddressing the entire aggregation. The men were all looking at me, some had theirmouths half-open. Atticus had stopped poking at Jem: they were standing togetherbeside Dill. Their attention amounted to fascination. Atticus’s mouth, even, was half-open, an attitude he had once described as uncouth. Our eyes met and he shut it.
“Well, Atticus, I was just sayin‘ to Mr. Cunningham that entailments are bad an’ allthat, but you said not to worry, it takes a long time sometimes… that you all’d ride it outtogether…” I was slowly drying up, wondering what idiocy I had committed. Entailmentsseemed all right enough for livingroom talk.
I began to feel sweat gathering at the edges of my hair; I could stand anything but abunch of people looking at me. They were quite still.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
Atticus said nothing. I looked around and up at Mr. Cunningham, whose face wasequally impassive. Then he did a peculiar thing. He squatted down and took me by bothshoulders.
“I’ll tell him you said hey, little lady,” he said.
Then he straightened up and waved a big paw. “Let’s clear out,” he called. “Let’s getgoing, boys.”
As they had come, in ones and twos the men shuffled back to their ramshackle cars.
Doors slammed, engines coughed, and they were gone.
I turned to Atticus, but Atticus had gone to the jail and was leaning against it with hisface to the wall. I went to him and pulled his sleeve. “Can we go home now?” Henodded, produced his handkerchief, gave his face a going-over and blew his noseviolently.
A soft husky voice came from the darkness above: “They gone?”
Atticus stepped back and looked up. “They’ve gone,” he said. “Get some sleep, Tom.
They won’t bother you any more.”
From a different direction, another voice cut crisply through the night: “You’re damntootin‘ they won’t. Had you covered all the time, Atticus.”
Mr. Underwood and a double-barreled shotgun were leaning out his window aboveThe Maycomb Tribune office.
It was long past my bedtime and I was growing quite tired; it seemed that Atticus andMr. Underwood would talk for the rest of the night, Mr. Underwood out the window andAtticus up at him. Finally Atticus returned, switched off the light above the jail door, andpicked up his chair.
“Can I carry it for you, Mr. Finch?” asked Dill. He had not said a word the whole time.
“Why, thank you, son.”
Walking toward the office, Dill and I fell into step behind Atticus and Jem. Dill wasencumbered by the chair, and his pace was slower. Atticus and Jem were well ahead ofus, and I assumed that Atticus was giving him hell for not going home, but I was wrong.
As they passed under a streetlight, Atticus reached out and massaged Jem’s hair, hisone gesture of affection.