“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 officewhen Mr. Ewell approached him, cursed him, spat on him, and threatened to kill him.
Miss Stephanie (who, by the time she had told it twice was there and had seen it all—passing by from the Jitney Jungle, she was)—Miss Stephanie said Atticus didn’t bat aneye, just took out his handkerchief and wiped his face and stood there and let Mr. Ewellcall him names wild horses could not bring her to repeat. Mr. Ewell was a veteran of anobscure war; that plus Atticus’s peaceful reaction probably prompted him to inquire,“Too proud to fight, you nigger-lovin‘ bastard?” Miss Stephanie said Atticus said, “No,too old,” put his hands in his pockets and strolled on. Miss Stephanie said you had tohand it to Atticus Finch, he could be right dry sometimes.
Jem and I didn’t think it entertaining.
“After all, though,” I said, “he was the deadest shot in the county one time. He could—”
“You know he wouldn’t carry a gun, Scout. He ain’t even got one—” said Jem. “Youknow he didn’t even have one down at the jail that night. He told me havin‘ a gunaround’s an invitation to somebody to shoot you.”
“This is different,” I said. “We can ask him to borrow one.”
We did, and he said, “Nonsense.”
Dill was of the opinion that an appeal to Atticus’s better nature might work: after all, wewould starve if Mr. Ewell killed him, besides be raised exclusively by Aunt Alexandra,and we all knew the first thing she’d do before Atticus was under the ground good wouldbe to fire Calpurnia. Jem said it might work if I cried and flung a fit, being young and agirl. That didn’t work either. But when he noticed us dragging around the neighborhood,not eating, taking little interest in our normal pursuits, Atticus discovered how deeplyfrightened we were. He tempted Jem with a new football magazine one night; when hesaw Jem flip the pages and toss it aside, he said, “What’s bothering you, son?”
Jem came to the point: “Mr. Ewell.”
“What has happened?”
“Nothing’s happened. We’re scared for you, and we think you oughta do somethingabout him.”
Atticus smiled wryly. “Do what? Put him under a peace bond?”
“When a man says he’s gonna get you, looks like he means it.”
“He meant it when he said it,” said Atticus. “Jem, see if you can stand in Bob Ewell’sshoes a minute. I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to beginwith. The man had to have some kind of comeback, his kind always does. So if spittingin my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that’s somethingI’ll gladly take. He had to take it out on somebody and I’d rather it be me than thathouseful of children out there. You understand?”
Aunt Alexandra entered the room as Atticus was saying, “We don’t have anything tofear from Bob Ewell, he got it all out of his system that morning.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that, Atticus,” she said. “His kind’d do anything to pay off agrudge. You know how those people are.”
“What on earth could Ewell do to me, sister?”
“Something furtive,” Aunt Alexandra said. “You may count on that.”
“Nobody has much chance to be furtive in Maycomb,” Atticus answered.
After that, we were not afraid. Summer was melting away, and we made the most of it.
Atticus assured us that nothing would happen to Tom Robinson until the higher courtreviewed his case, and that Tom had a good chance of going free, or at least of havinga new trial. He was at Enfield Prison Farm, seventy miles away in Chester County. Iasked 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 chair,” said Atticus, “unless the Governor commutes his sentence. Nottime to worry yet, Scout. We’ve got a good chance.”
Jem was sprawled on the sofa reading Popular Mechanics. He looked up. “It ain’tright. He didn’t kill anybody even if he was guilty. He didn’t take anybody’s life.”
“You know rape’s a capital offense in Alabama,” said Atticus.
“Yessir, but the jury didn’t have to give him death—if they wanted to they could’vegave him twenty years.”
“Given,” said Atticus. “Tom Robinson’s a colored man, Jem. No jury in this part of theworld’s going to say, ‘We think you’re guilty, but not very,’ on a charge like that. It waseither a straight acquittal or nothing.”
Jem was shaking his head. “I know it’s not right, but I can’t figure out what’s wrong—maybe rape shouldn’t be a capital offense…”
Atticus dropped his newspaper beside his chair. He said he didn’t have any quarrelwith the rape statute, none what ever, but he did have deep misgivings when the stateasked for and the jury gave a death penalty on purely circumstantial evidence. Heglanced at me, saw I was listening, and made it easier. “—I mean, before a man issentenced to death for murder, say, there should be one or two eye-witnesses. Someone should be able to say, ‘Yes, I was there and saw him pull the trigger.’”
“But lots of folks have been hung—hanged—on circumstantial evidence,” said Jem.
“I know, and lots of ‘em probably deserved it, too—but in the absence of eye-witnesses there’s always a doubt, some times only the shadow of a doubt. The law says’reasonable doubt,‘ but I think a defendant’s entitled to the shadow of a doubt. There’salways the possibility, no matter how improbable, that he’s innocent.”
“Then it all goes back to the jury, then. We oughta do away with juries.” Jem wasadamant.
Atticus tried hard not to smile but couldn’t help it. “You’re rather hard on us, son. Ithink maybe there might be a better way. Change the law. Change it so that only judgeshave the power of fixing the penalty in capital cases.”
“Then go up to Montgomery and change the law.”
“You’d be surprised how hard that’d be. I won’t live to see the law changed, and if youlive to see it you’ll be an old man.”
This was not good enough for Jem. “No sir, they oughta do away with juries. Hewasn’t guilty in the first place and they said he was.”
“If you had been on that jury, son, and eleven other boys like you, Tom would be afree man,” said Atticus. “So far nothing in your life has interfered with your reasoningprocess. Those are twelve reasonable men in everyday life, Tom’s jury, but you sawsomething come between them and reason. You saw the same thing that night in frontof the jail. When that crew went away, they didn’t go as reasonable men, they wentbecause we were there. There’s something in our world that makes men lose theirheads—they couldn’t be fair if they tried. In our courts, when it’s a white man’s wordagainst a black man’s, the white man always wins. They’re ugly, but those are the factsof life.”
“Doesn’t make it right,” said Jem stolidly. He beat his fist softly on his knee. “You justcan’t convict a man on evidence like that—you can’t.”
“You couldn’t, but they could and did. The older you grow the more of it you’ll see. Theone place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color ofthe rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box.
As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but letme tell you something and don’t you forget it—whenever a white man does that to ablack man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, thatwhite man is trash.”
Atticus was speaking so quietly his last word crashed on our ears. I looked up, and hisface was vehement. “There’s nothing more sickening to me than a low-grade white manwho’ll take advantage of a Negro’s ignorance. Don’t fool yourselves—it’s all adding upand one of these days we’re going to pay the bill for it. I hope it’s not in you children’stime.”
Jem was scratching his head. Suddenly his eyes widened. “Atticus,” he said, “whydon’t people like us and Miss Maudie ever sit on juries? You never see anybody fromMaycomb on a jury—they all come from out in the woods.”
Atticus leaned back in his rocking-chair. For some reason he looked pleased withJem. “I was wondering when that’d occur to you,” he said. “There are lots of reasons.
For one thing, Miss Maudie can’t serve on a jury because she’s a woman—”
“You mean women in Alabama can’t—?” I was indignant.
“I do. I guess it’s to protect our frail ladies from sordid cases like Tom’s. Besides,”
Atticus grinned, “I doubt if we’d ever get a complete case tried—the ladies’d beinterrupting to ask questions.”
Jem and I laughed. Miss Maudie on a jury would be impressive. I thought of old Mrs.
Dubose in her wheelchair—“Stop that rapping, John Taylor, I want to ask this mansomething.” Perhaps our forefathers were wise.
Atticus was saying, “With people like us—that’s our share of the bill. We generally getthe juries we deserve. Our stout Maycomb citizens aren’t interested, in the first place. Inthe second place, they’re afraid. Then, they’re—”
“Afraid, why?” asked Jem.
“Well, what if—say, Mr. Link Deas had to decide the amount of damages to award,say, Miss Maudie, when Miss Rachel ran over her with a car. Link wouldn’t like thethought of losing either lady’s business at his store, would he? So he tells Judge Taylorthat he can’t serve on the jury because he doesn’t have anybody to keep store for himwhile he’s gone. So Judge Taylor excuses him. Sometimes he excuses him wrathfully.”
“What’d make him think either one of ‘em’d stop trading with him?” I asked.
Jem said, “Miss Rachel would, Miss Maudie wouldn’t. But a jury’s vote’s secret,Atticus.”
Our father chuckled. “You’ve many more miles to go, son. A jury’s vote’s supposed tobe secret. Serving on a jury forces a man to make up his mind and declare himselfabout something. Men don’t like to do that. Sometimes it’s unpleasant.”
“Tom’s jury sho‘ made up its mind in a hurry,” Jem muttered.
Atticus’s fingers went to his watchpocket. “No it didn’t,” he said, more to himself thanto us. “That was the one thing that made me think, well, this may be the shadow of abeginning. That jury took a few hours. An inevitable verdict, maybe, but usually it takes‘em just a few minutes. This time—” he broke off and looked at us. “You might like toknow that there was one fellow who took considerable wearing down—in the beginninghe was rarin’ for an outright acquittal.”
“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 ofyour Old Sarum friends…”
“One of the Cunninghams?” Jem yelped. “One of—I didn’t recognize any of ‘em…you’re jokin’.” He looked at Atticus from the corners of his eyes.
“One of their connections. On a hunch, I didn’t strike him. Just on a hunch. Could’ve,but I didn’t.”
“Golly Moses,” Jem said reverently. “One minute they’re tryin‘ to kill him and the nextthey’re tryin’ to turn him loose… I’ll never understand those folks as long as I live.”
Atticus said you just had to know ‘em. He said the Cunninghams hadn’t taken anythingfrom or off of anybody since they migrated to the New World. He said the other thingabout them was, once you earned their respect they were for you tooth and nail. Atticussaid he had a feeling, nothing more than a suspicion, that they left the jail that night withconsiderable respect for the Finches. Then too, he said, it took a thunderbolt plusanother Cunningham to make one of them change his mind. “If we’d had two of thatcrowd, we’d’ve had a hung jury.”
Jem said slowly, “You mean you actually put on the jury a man who wanted to kill youthe night before? How could you take such a risk, Atticus, how could you?”
“When you analyze it, there was little risk. There’s no difference between one manwho’s going to convict and another man who’s going to convict, is there? There’s a faintdifference between a man who’s going to convict and a man who’s a little disturbed inhis mind, isn’t there? He was the only uncertainty on the whole list.”
“What kin was that man to Mr. Walter Cunningham?” I asked.
Atticus rose, stretched and yawned. It was not even our bedtime, but we knew hewanted a chance to read his newspaper. He picked it up, folded it, and tapped my head.
“Let’s see now,” he droned to himself. “I’ve got it. Double first cousin.”
“How can that be?”
“Two sisters married two brothers. That’s all I’ll tell you—you figure it out.”
I tortured myself and decided that if I married Jem and Dill had a sister whom hemarried our children would be double first cousins. “Gee minetti, Jem,” I said, whenAtticus had gone, “they’re funny folks. ‘d you hear that, Aunty?”
Aunt Alexandra was hooking a rug and not watching us, but she was listening. She satin her chair with her workbasket beside it, her rug spread across her lap. Why ladieshooked woolen rugs on boiling nights never became clear to me.
“I heard it,” she said.
I remembered the distant disastrous occasion when I rushed to young WalterCunningham’s defense. Now I was glad I’d done it. “Soon’s school starts I’m gonna askWalter home to dinner,” I planned, having forgotten my private resolve to beat him upthe next time I saw him. “He can stay over sometimes after school, too. Atticus coulddrive him back to Old Sarum. Maybe he could spend the night with us sometime, okay,Jem?”
“We’ll see about that,” Aunt Alexandra said, a declaration that with her was always athreat, never a promise. Surprised, I turned to her. “Why not, Aunty? They’re goodfolks.”
She looked at me over her sewing glasses. “Jean Louise, there is no doubt in my mindthat they’re good folks. But they’re not our kind of folks.”
Jem says, “She means they’re yappy, Scout.”
“What’s a yap?”
“Aw, tacky. They like fiddlin‘ and things like that.”
“Well I do too—”
“Don’t be silly, Jean Louise,” said Aunt Alexandra. “The thing is, you can scrub WalterCunningham till he shines, you can put him in shoes and a new suit, but he’ll never belike Jem. Besides, there’s a drinking streak in that family a mile wide. Finch womenaren’t interested in that sort of people.”
“Aun-ty,” said Jem, “she ain’t nine yet.”
“She may as well learn it now.”
Aunt Alexandra had spoken. I was reminded vividly of the last time she had put herfoot down. I never knew why. It was when I was absorbed with plans to visit Calpurnia’shouse—I was curious, interested; I wanted to be her “company,” to see how she lived,who her friends were. I might as well have wanted to see the other side of the moon.
This time the tactics were different, but Aunt Alexandra’s aim was the same. Perhapsthis was why she had come to live with us—to help us choose our friends. I would holdher off as long as I could: “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 shouldbe gracious to everybody, dear. But you don’t have to invite him home.”
“What if he was kin to us, Aunty?”
“The fact is that he is not kin to us, but if he were, my answer would be the same.”
“Aunty,” Jem spoke up, “Atticus says you can choose your friends but you sho‘ can’tchoose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ‘emor not, and it makes you look right silly when you don’t.”
“That’s your father all over again,” said Aunt Alexandra, “and I still say that JeanLouise will not invite Walter Cunningham to this house. If he were her double first cousinonce removed he would still not be received in this house unless he comes to seeAtticus on business. Now that is that.”
She had said Indeed Not, but this time she would give her reasons: “But I want to playwith 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, pickingup his habits and learning Lord-knows-what. You’re enough of a problem to your fatheras it is.”
I don’t know what I would have done, but Jem stopped me. He caught me by theshoulders, put his arm around me, and led me sobbing in fury to his bedroom. Atticusheard us and poked his head around the door. “‘s all right, sir,” Jem said gruffly, “’s notanything.” Atticus went away.
“Have a chew, Scout.” Jem dug into his pocket and extracted a Tootsie Roll. It took afew minutes to work the candy into a comfortable wad inside my jaw.
Jem was rearranging the objects on his dresser. His hair stuck up behind and down infront, and I wondered if it would ever look like a man’s—maybe if he shaved it off andstarted over, his hair would grow back neatly in place. His eyebrows were becomingheavier, and I noticed a new slimness about his body. He was growing taller. When helooked around, he must have thought I would start crying again, for he said, “Show yousomething if you won’t tell anybody.” I said what. He unbuttoned his shirt, grinning shyly.
“Well can’t you see it?”
“Well it’s hair.”
“There. Right there.”
He had been a comfort to me, so I said it looked lovely, but I didn’t see anything. “It’sreal nice, Jem.”
“Under my arms, too,” he said. “Goin‘ out for football next year. Scout, don’t let Auntyaggravate you.”
It seemed only yesterday that he was telling me not to aggravate Aunty.
“You know she’s not used to girls,” said Jem, “leastways, not girls like you. She’strying to make you a lady. Can’t you take up sewin‘ or somethin’?”
“Hell no. She doesn’t like me, that’s all there is to it, and I don’t care. It was her callin‘Walter Cunningham trash that got me goin’, Jem, not what she said about being aproblem to Atticus. We got that all straight one time, I asked him if I was a problem andhe said not much of one, at most one that he could always figure out, and not to worrymy head a second about botherin‘ him. Naw, it was Walter—that boy’s not trash, Jem.
He ain’t like the Ewells.”
Jem kicked off his shoes and swung his feet to the bed. He propped himself against apillow and switched on the reading light. “You know something, Scout? I’ve got it allfigured out, now. I’ve thought about it a lot lately and I’ve got it figured out. There’s fourkinds of folks in the world. There’s the ordinary kind like us and the neighbors, there’sthe kind like the Cunninghams out in the woods, the kind like the Ewells down at thedump, and the Negroes.”
“What about the Chinese, and the Cajuns down yonder in Baldwin County?”
“I mean in Maycomb County. The thing about it is, our kind of folks don’t like theCunninghams, the Cunninghams don’t like the Ewells, and the Ewells hate and despisethe colored folks.”
I told Jem if that was so, then why didn’t Tom’s jury, made up of folks like theCunninghams, acquit Tom to spite the Ewells?“Jem waved my question away as being infantile.
“You know,” he said, “I’ve seen Atticus pat his foot when there’s fiddlin‘ on the radio,and he loves pot liquor better’n any man I ever saw—”
“Then that makes us like the Cunninghams,” I said. “I can’t see why Aunty—”
“No, lemme finish—it does, but we’re still different somehow. Atticus said one time thereason Aunty’s so hipped on the family is because all we’ve got’s background and not adime to our names.”
“Well Jem, I don’t know—Atticus told me one time that most of this Old Family stuff’sfoolishness because everybody’s family’s just as old as everybody else’s. I said did thatinclude the colored folks and Englishmen and he said yes.”
“Background doesn’t mean Old Family,” said Jem. “I think it’s how long your family’sbeen readin‘ and writin’. Scout, I’ve studied this real hard and that’s the only reason Ican think of. Somewhere along when the Finches were in Egypt one of ‘em must havelearned a hieroglyphic or two and he taught his boy.” Jem laughed. “Imagine Auntybeing proud her great-grandaddy could read an’ write—ladies pick funny things to beproud of.”
“Well I’m glad he could, or who’da taught Atticus and them, and if Atticus couldn’tread, you and me’d be in a fix. I don’t think that’s what background is, Jem.”
“Well then, how do you explain why the Cunninghams are different? Mr. Walter canhardly sign his name, I’ve seen him. We’ve just been readin‘ and writin’ longer’n theyhave.”
“No, everybody’s gotta learn, nobody’s born knowin‘. That Walter’s as smart as he canbe, 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 turned around and punched his pillow. When he settled back his face was cloudy.
He was going into one of his declines, and I grew wary. His brows came together; hismouth became a thin line. He was silent for a while.
“That’s what I thought, too,” he said at last, “when I was your age. If there’s just onekind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike, why do theygo out of their way to despise each other? Scout, I think I’m beginning to understandsomething. I think I’m beginning to understand why Boo Radley’s stayed shut up in thehouse all this time… it’s because he wants to stay inside.”