Jem heard me. He thrust his head around the connecting door. As he came to my bedAtticus’s light flashed on. We stayed where we were until it went off; we heard him turnover, and we waited until he was still again.
Jem took me to his room and put me in bed beside him. “Try to go to sleep,” he said,“It’ll be all over after tomorrow, maybe.”
We had come in quietly, so as not to wake Aunty. Atticus killed the engine in thedriveway and coasted to the carhouse; we went in the back door and to our roomswithout a word. I was very tired, and was drifting into sleep when the memory of Atticuscalmly folding his newspaper and pushing back his hat became Atticus standing in themiddle of an empty waiting street, pushing up his glasses. The full meaning of thenight’s events hit me and I began crying. Jem was awfully nice about it: for once hedidn’t remind me that people nearly nine years old didn’t do things like that.
Everybody’s appetite was delicate this morning, except Jem’s: he ate his way throughthree eggs. Atticus watched in frank admiration; Aunt Alexandra sipped coffee andradiated waves of disapproval. Children who slipped out at night were a disgrace to thefamily. Atticus said he was right glad his disgraces had come along, but Aunty said,“Nonsense, Mr. Underwood was there all the time.”
“You know, it’s a funny thing about Braxton,” said Atticus. “He despises Negroes,won’t have one near him.”
Local opinion held Mr. Underwood to be an intense, profane little man, whose father ina fey fit of humor christened Braxton Bragg, a name Mr. Underwood had done his bestto live down. Atticus said naming people after Confederate generals made slow steadydrinkers.
Calpurnia was serving Aunt Alexandra more coffee, and she shook her head at what Ithought was a pleading winning look. “You’re still too little,” she said. “I’ll tell you whenyou ain’t.” I said it might help my stomach. “All right,” she said, and got a cup from thesideboard. She poured one tablespoonful of coffee into it and filled the cup to the brimwith milk. I thanked her by sticking out my tongue at it, and looked up to catch Aunty’swarning frown. But she was frowning at Atticus.
She waited until Calpurnia was in the kitchen, then she said, “Don’t talk like that infront of them.”
“Talk like what in front of whom?” he asked.
“Like that in front of Calpurnia. You said Braxton Underwood despises Negroes right infront of her.”
“Well, I’m sure Cal knows it. Everybody in Maycomb knows it.”
I was beginning to notice a subtle change in my father these days, that came out whenhe talked with Aunt Alexandra. It was a quiet digging in, never outright irritation. Therewas a faint starchiness in his voice when he said, “Anything fit to say at the table’s fit tosay in front of Calpurnia. She knows what she means to this family.”
“I don’t think it’s a good habit, Atticus. It encourages them. You know how they talkamong themselves. Every thing that happens in this town’s out to the Quarters beforesundown.”
My father put down his knife. “I don’t know of any law that says they can’t talk. Maybeif we didn’t give them so much to talk about they’d be quiet. Why don’t you drink yourcoffee, Scout?”
I was playing in it with the spoon. “I thought Mr. Cunningham was a friend of ours. Youtold me a long time ago he was.”
“He still is.”
“But last night he wanted to hurt you.”
Atticus placed his fork beside his knife and pushed his plate aside. “Mr. Cunningham’sbasically a good man,” he said, “he just has his blind spots along with the rest of us.”
Jem spoke. “Don’t call that a blind spot. He’da killed you last night when he first wentthere.”
“He might have hurt me a little,” Atticus conceded, “but son, you’ll understand folks alittle better when you’re older. A mob’s always made up of people, no matter what. Mr.
Cunningham was part of a mob last night, but he was still a man. Every mob in everylittle Southern town is always made up of people you know—doesn’t say much for them,does it?”
“I’ll say not,” said Jem.
“So it took an eight-year-old child to bring ‘em to their senses, didn’t it?” said Atticus.
“That proves something—that a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply becausethey’re still human. Hmp, maybe we need a police force of children… you children lastnight made Walter Cunningham stand in my shoes for a minute. That was enough.”
Well, I hoped Jem would understand folks a little better when he was older; I wouldn’t.
“First day Walter comes back to school’ll be his last,” I affirmed.
“You will not touch him,” Atticus said flatly. “I don’t want either of you bearing a grudgeabout this thing, no matter what happens.”
“You see, don’t you,” said Aunt Alexandra, “what comes of things like this. Don’t say Ihaven’t told you.”
Atticus said he’d never say that, pushed out his chair and got up. “There’s a dayahead, so excuse me. Jem, I don’t want you and Scout downtown today, please.”
As Atticus departed, Dill came bounding down the hall into the diningroom. “It’s allover town this morning,” he announced, “all about how we held off a hundred folks withour bare hands…” Aunt Alexandra stared him to silence. “It was not a hundred folks,”
she said, “and nobody held anybody off. It was just a nest of those Cunninghams, drunkand disorderly.”
“Aw, Aunty, that’s just Dill’s way,” said Jem. He signaled us to follow him.
“You all stay in the yard today,” she said, as we made our way to the front porch.
It was like Saturday. People from the south end of the county passed our house in aleisurely but steady stream.
Mr. Dolphus Raymond lurched by on his thoroughbred. “Don’t see how he stays in thesaddle,” murmured Jem. “How c’n you stand to get drunk ‘fore eight in the morning?”
A wagonload of ladies rattled past us. They wore cotton sunbonnets and dresses withlong sleeves. A bearded man in a wool hat drove them. “Yonder’s some Mennonites,”
Jem said to Dill. “They don’t have buttons.” They lived deep in the woods, did most oftheir trading across the river, and rarely came to Maycomb. Dill was interested. “They’veall got blue eyes,” Jem explained, “and the men can’t shave after they marry. Theirwives like for ‘em to tickle ’em with their beards.”
Mr. X Billups rode by on a mule and waved to us. “He’s a funny man,” said Jem. “X’shis name, not his initial. He was in court one time and they asked him his name. He saidX Billups. Clerk asked him to spell it and he said X. Asked him again and he said X.
They kept at it till he wrote X on a sheet of paper and held it up for everybody to see.
They asked him where he got his name and he said that’s the way his folks signed himup when he was born.”
As the county went by us, Jem gave Dill the histories and general attitudes of themore prominent figures: Mr. Tensaw Jones voted the straight Prohibition ticket; MissEmily Davis dipped snuff in private; Mr. Byron Waller could play the violin; Mr. JakeSlade was cutting his third set of teeth.
A wagonload of unusually stern-faced citizens appeared. When they pointed to MissMaudie Atkinson’s yard, ablaze with summer flowers, Miss Maudie herself came out onthe porch. There was an odd thing about Miss Maudie—on her porch she was too faraway for us to see her features clearly, but we could always catch her mood by the wayshe stood. She was now standing arms akimbo, her shoulders drooping a little, her headcocked to one side, her glasses winking in the sunlight. We knew she wore a grin of theuttermost wickedness.
The driver of the wagon slowed down his mules, and a shrill-voiced woman called out:
“He that cometh in vanity departeth in darkness!”
Miss Maudie answered: “A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance!”
I guess that the foot-washers thought that the Devil was quoting Scripture for his ownpurposes, as the driver speeded his mules. Why they objected to Miss Maudie’s yardwas a mystery, heightened in my mind because for someone who spent all the daylighthours outdoors, Miss Maudie’s command of Scripture was formidable.
“You goin‘ to court this morning?” asked Jem. We had strolled over.
“I am not,” she said. “I have no business with the court this morning.”
“Aren’t you goin‘ down to watch?” asked Dill.
“I am not. ‘t’s morbid, watching a poor devil on trial for his life. Look at all those folks,it’s like a Roman carnival.”
“They hafta try him in public, Miss Maudie,” I said. “Wouldn’t be right if they didn’t.”
“I’m quite aware of that,” she said. “Just because it’s public, I don’t have to go, do I?”
Miss Stephanie Crawford came by. She wore a hat and gloves. “Um, um, um,” shesaid. “Look at all those folks—you’d think William Jennings Bryan was speakin‘.”
“And where are you going, Stephanie?” inquired Miss Maudie.
“To the Jitney Jungle.”
Miss Maudie said she’d never seen Miss Stephanie go to the Jitney Jungle in a hat inher life.
“Well,” said Miss Stephanie, “I thought I might just look in at the courthouse, to seewhat Atticus’s up to.”
“Better be careful he doesn’t hand you a subpoena.”
We asked Miss Maudie to elucidate: she said Miss Stephanie seemed to know somuch about the case she might as well be called on to testify.
We held off until noon, when Atticus came home to dinner and said they’d spent themorning picking the jury. After dinner, we stopped by for Dill and went to town.
It was a gala occasion. There was no room at the public hitching rail for anotheranimal, mules and wagons were parked under every available tree. The courthousesquare was covered with picnic parties sitting on newspapers, washing down biscuit andsyrup with warm milk from fruit jars. Some people were gnawing on cold chicken andcold fried pork chops. The more affluent chased their food with drugstore Coca-Cola inbulb-shaped soda glasses. Greasy-faced children popped-the-whip through the crowd,and babies lunched at their mothers’ breasts.
In a far corner of the square, the Negroes sat quietly in the sun, dining on sardines,crackers, and the more vivid flavors of Nehi Cola. Mr. Dolphus Raymond sat with them.
“Jem,” said Dill, “he’s drinkin‘ out of a sack.”
Mr. Dolphus Raymond seemed to be so doing: two yellow drugstore straws ran fromhis mouth to the depths of a brown paper bag.
“Ain’t ever seen anybody do that,” murmured Dill.
“How does he keep what’s in it in it?”
Jem giggled. “He’s got a Co-Cola bottle full of whiskey in there. That’s so’s not toupset the ladies. You’ll see him sip it all afternoon, he’ll step out for a while and fill itback up.”
“Why’s he sittin‘ with the colored folks?”
“Always does. He likes ‘em better’n he likes us, I reckon. Lives by himself way downnear the county line. He’s got a colored woman and all sorts of mixed chillun. Show yousome of ’em if we see ‘em.”
“He doesn’t look like trash,” said Dill.
“He’s not, he owns all one side of the riverbank down there, and he’s from a real oldfamily to boot.”
“Then why does he do like that?”
“That’s just his way,” said Jem. “They say he never got over his weddin‘. He wassupposed to marry one of the—the Spencer ladies, I think. They were gonna have ahuge weddin’, but they didn’t—after the rehearsal the bride went upstairs and blew herhead off. Shotgun. She pulled the trigger with her toes.”
“Did they ever know why?”
“No,” said Jem, “nobody ever knew quite why but Mr. Dolphus. They said it wasbecause she found out about his colored woman, he reckoned he could keep her andget married too. He’s been sorta drunk ever since. You know, though, he’s real good tothose chillun—”
“Jem,” I asked, “what’s a mixed child?”
“Half white, half colored. You’ve seen ‘em, Scout. You know that red-kinky-headedone that delivers for the drugstore. He’s half white. They’re real sad.”
“Sad, how come?”
“They don’t belong anywhere. Colored folks won’t have ‘em because they’re halfwhite; white folks won’t have ’em cause they’re colored, so they’re just in-betweens,don’t belong anywhere. But Mr. Dolphus, now, they say he’s shipped two of his up north.
They don’t mind ‘em up north. Yonder’s one of ’em.”
A small boy clutching a Negro woman’s hand walked toward us. He looked all Negroto me: he was rich chocolate with flaring nostrils and beautiful teeth. Sometimes hewould skip happily, and the Negro woman tugged his hand to make him stop.
Jem waited until they passed us. “That’s one of the little ones,” he said.
“How can you tell?” asked Dill. “He looked black to me.”
“You can’t sometimes, not unless you know who they are. But he’s half Raymond, allright.”
“But how can you tell?” I asked.
“I told you, Scout, you just hafta know who they are.”
“Well how do you know we ain’t Negroes?”
“Uncle Jack Finch says we really don’t know. He says as far as he can trace back theFinches we ain’t, but for all he knows we mighta come straight out of Ethiopia durin‘ theOld Testament.”
“Well if we came out durin‘ the Old Testament it’s too long ago to matter.”
“That’s what I thought,” said Jem, “but around here once you have a drop of Negroblood, that makes you all black. Hey, look—”
Some invisible signal had made the lunchers on the square rise and scatter bits ofnewspaper, cellophane, and wrapping paper. Children came to mothers, babies werecradled on hips as men in sweat-stained hats collected their families and herded themthrough the courthouse doors. In the far corner of the square the Negroes and Mr.
Dolphus Raymond stood up and dusted their breeches. There were few women andchildren among them, which seemed to dispel the holiday mood. They waited patientlyat the doors behind the white families.
“Let’s go in,” said Dill.
“Naw, we better wait till they get in, Atticus might not like it if he sees us,” said Jem.
The Maycomb County courthouse was faintly reminiscent of Arlington in one respect:
the concrete pillars supporting its south roof were too heavy for their light burden. Thepillars were all that remained standing when the original courthouse burned in 1856.
Another courthouse was built around them. It is better to say, built in spite of them. Butfor the south porch, the Maycomb County courthouse was early Victorian, presenting anunoffensive vista when seen from the north. From the other side, however, Greek revivalcolumns clashed with a big nineteenth-century clock tower housing a rusty unreliableinstrument, a view indicating a people determined to preserve every physical scrap ofthe past.
To reach the courtroom, on the second floor, one passed sundry sunless countycubbyholes: the tax assessor, the tax collector, the county clerk, the county solicitor, thecircuit clerk, the judge of probate lived in cool dim hutches that smelled of decayingrecord books mingled with old damp cement and stale urine. It was necessary to turn onthe lights in the daytime; there was always a film of dust on the rough floorboards. Theinhabitants of these offices were creatures of their environment: little gray-faced men,they seemed untouched by wind or sun.
We knew there was a crowd, but we had not bargained for the multitudes in the first-floor hallway. I got separated from Jem and Dill, but made my way toward the wall bythe stairwell, knowing Jem would come for me eventually. I found myself in the middle ofthe Idlers’ Club and made myself as unobtrusive as possible. This was a group of white-shirted, khaki-trousered, suspendered old men who had spent their lives doing nothingand passed their twilight days doing same on pine benches under the live oaks on thesquare. Attentive critics of courthouse business, Atticus said they knew as much law asthe Chief Justice, from long years of observation. Normally, they were the court’s onlyspectators, and today they seemed resentful of the interruption of their comfortableroutine. When they spoke, their voices sounded casually important. The conversationwas about my father.
“…thinks he knows what he’s doing,” one said.
“Oh-h now, I wouldn’t say that,” said another. “Atticus Finch’s a deep reader, a mightydeep reader.”
“He reads all right, that’s all he does.” The club snickered.
“Lemme tell you somethin‘ now, Billy,” a third said, “you know the court appointed himto defend this nigger.”
“Yeah, but Atticus aims to defend him. That’s what I don’t like about it.”
This was news, news that put a different light on things: Atticus had to, whether hewanted to or not. I thought it odd that he hadn’t said anything to us about it—we couldhave used it many times in defending him and ourselves. He had to, that’s why he wasdoing it, equaled fewer fights and less fussing. But did that explain the town’s attitude?
The court appointed Atticus to defend him. Atticus aimed to defend him. That’s whatthey didn’t like about it. It was confusing.
The Negroes, having waited for the white people to go upstairs, began to come in.
“Whoa now, just a minute,” said a club member, holding up his walking stick. “Just don’tstart up them there stairs yet awhile.”
The club began its stiff-jointed climb and ran into Dill and Jem on their way downlooking for me. They squeezed past and Jem called, “Scout, come on, there ain’t a seatleft. We’ll hafta stand up.”
“Looka there, now.” he said irritably, as the black people surged upstairs. The old menahead of them would take most of the standing room. We were out of luck and it was myfault, Jem informed me. We stood miserably by the wall.
“Can’t you all get in?”
Reverend Sykes was looking down at us, black hat in hand.
“Hey, Reverend,” said Jem. “Naw, Scout here messed us up.”
“Well, let’s see what we can do.”
Reverend Sykes edged his way upstairs. In a few moments he was back. “There’s nota seat downstairs. Do you all reckon it’ll be all right if you all came to the balcony withme?”
“Gosh yes,” said Jem. Happily, we sped ahead of Reverend Sykes to the courtroomfloor. There, we went up a covered staircase and waited at the door. Reverend Sykescame puffing behind us, and steered us gently through the black people in the balcony.
Four Negroes rose and gave us their front-row seats.
The Colored balcony ran along three walls of the courtroom like a second-storyveranda, and from it we could see everything.
The jury sat to the left, under long windows. Sunburned, lanky, they seemed to be allfarmers, but this was natural: townfolk rarely sat on juries, they were either struck orexcused. One or two of the jury looked vaguely like dressed-up Cunninghams. At thisstage they sat straight and alert.
The circuit solicitor and another man, Atticus and Tom Robinson sat at tables withtheir backs to us. There was a brown book and some yellow tablets on the solicitor’stable; Atticus’s was bare. Just inside the railing that divided the spectators from thecourt, the witnesses sat on cowhide-bottomed chairs. Their backs were to us.
Judge Taylor was on the bench, looking like a sleepy old shark, his pilot fish writingrapidly below in front of him. Judge Taylor looked like most judges I had ever seen:
amiable, white-haired, slightly ruddy-faced, he was a man who ran his court with analarming informality—he sometimes propped his feet up, he often cleaned his fingernailswith his pocket knife. In long equity hearings, especially after dinner, he gave theimpression of dozing, an impression dispelled forever when a lawyer once deliberatelypushed a pile of books to the floor in a desperate effort to wake him up. Without openinghis eyes, Judge Taylor murmured, “Mr. Whitley, do that again and it’ll cost you onehundred dollars.”
He was a man learned in the law, and although he seemed to take his job casually, inreality he kept a firm grip on any proceedings that came before him. Only once wasJudge Taylor ever seen at a dead standstill in open court, and the Cunninghamsstopped him. Old Sarum, their stamping grounds, was populated by two familiesseparate and apart in the beginning, but unfortunately bearing the same name. TheCunninghams married the Coninghams until the spelling of the names was academic—academic until a Cunningham disputed a Coningham over land titles and took to thelaw. During a controversy of this character, Jeems Cunningham testified that his motherspelled it Cunningham on deeds and things, but she was really a Coningham, she wasan uncertain speller, a seldom reader, and was given to looking far away sometimeswhen she sat on the front gallery in the evening. After nine hours of listening to theeccentricities of Old Sarum’s inhabitants, Judge Taylor threw the case out of court.
When asked upon what grounds, Judge Taylor said, “Champertous connivance,” anddeclared he hoped to God the litigants were satisfied by each having had their publicsay. They were. That was all they had wanted in the first place.
Judge Taylor had one interesting habit. He permitted smoking in his courtroom but didnot himself indulge: sometimes, if one was lucky, one had the privilege of watching himput a long dry cigar into his mouth and munch it slowly up. Bit by bit the dead cigarwould disappear, to reappear some hours later as a flat slick mess, its essenceextracted and mingling with Judge Taylor’s digestive juices. I once asked Atticus howMrs. Taylor stood to kiss him, but Atticus said they didn’t kiss much.
The witness stand was to the right of Judge Taylor, and when we got to our seats Mr.
Heck Tate was already on it.