The weather was unusually warm for the last day of October. We didn’t even needjackets. The wind was growing stronger, and Jem said it might be raining before we gothome. There was no moon. The street light on the corner cast sharp shadows on theRadley house. I heard Jem laugh softly. “Bet nobody bothers them tonight,” he said.
Jem was carrying my ham costume, rather awkwardly, as it was hard to hold. I thought itgallant of him to do so.
“It is a scary place though, ain’t it?” I said. “Boo doesn’t mean anybody any harm, butI’m right glad you’re along.” “You know Atticus wouldn’t let you go to the schoolhouse byyourself,” Jem said.
“Don’t see why, it’s just around the corner and across the yard.”
“That yard’s a mighty long place for little girls to cross at night,” Jem teased. “Ain’t youscared of haints?”
We laughed. Haints, Hot Steams, incantations, secret signs, had vanished with ouryears as mist with sunrise. “What was that old thing,” Jem said, “Angel bright, life-in-death; get off the road, don’t suck my breath.”
“Cut it out, now,” I said. We were in front of the Radley Place.
Jem said, “Boo must not be at home. Listen.”
High above us in the darkness a solitary mocker poured out his repertoire in blissfulunawareness of whose tree he sat in, plunging from the shrill kee, kee of the sunflowerbird to the irascible qua-ack of a bluejay, to the sad lament of Poor Will, Poor Will, PoorWill.
We turned the corner and I tripped on a root growing in the road. Jem tried to help me,but all he did was drop my costume in the dust. I didn’t fall, though, and soon we wereon our way again.
We turned off the road and entered the schoolyard. It was pitch black.
“How do you know where we’re at, Jem?” I asked, when we had gone a few steps.
“I can tell we’re under the big oak because we’re passin‘ through a cool spot. Carefulnow, and don’t fall again.”
We had slowed to a cautious gait, and were feeling our way forward so as not to bumpinto the tree. The tree was a single and ancient oak; two children could not reach aroundits trunk and touch hands. It was far away from teachers, their spies, and curiousneighbors: it was near the Radley lot, but the Radleys were not curious. A small patch ofearth beneath its branches was packed hard from many fights and furtive crap games.
The lights in the high school auditorium were blazing in the distance, but they blindedus, if anything. “Don’t look ahead, Scout,” Jem said. “Look at the ground and you won’tfall.”
“You should have brought the flashlight, Jem.”
“Didn’t know it was this dark. Didn’t look like it’d be this dark earlier in the evening. Socloudy, that’s why. It’ll hold off a while, though.”
Someone leaped at us.
“God almighty!” Jem yelled.
A circle of light burst in our faces, and Cecil Jacobs jumped in glee behind it. “Ha-a-a,gotcha!” he shrieked. “Thought you’d be comin‘ along this way!”
“What are you doin‘ way out here by yourself, boy? Ain’t you scared of Boo Radley?”
Cecil had ridden safely to the auditorium with his parents, hadn’t seen us, then hadventured down this far because he knew good and well we’d be coming along. Hethought Mr. Finch’d be with us, though.
“Shucks, ain’t much but around the corner,” said Jem. “Who’s scared to go around thecorner?” We had to admit that Cecil was pretty good, though. He had given us a fright,and he could tell it all over the schoolhouse, that was his privilege.
“Say,” I said, “ain’t you a cow tonight? Where’s your costume?”
“It’s up behind the stage,” he said. “Mrs. Merriweather says the pageant ain’t comin‘on for a while. You can put yours back of the stage by mine, Scout, and we can go withthe rest of ’em.”
This was an excellent idea, Jem thought. He also thought it a good thing that Ceciland I would be together. This way, Jem would be left to go with people his own age.
When we reached the auditorium, the whole town was there except Atticus and theladies worn out from decorating, and the usual outcasts and shut-ins. Most of thecounty, it seemed, was there: the hall was teeming with slicked-up country people. Thehigh school building had a wide downstairs hallway; people milled around booths thathad been installed along each side.
“Oh Jem. I forgot my money,” I sighed, when I saw them.
“Atticus didn’t,” Jem said. “Here’s thirty cents, you can do six things. See you later on.”
“Okay,” I said, quite content with thirty cents and Cecil. I went with Cecil down to thefront of the auditorium, through a door on one side, and backstage. I got rid of my hamcostume and departed in a hurry, for Mrs. Merriweather was standing at a lectern infront of the first row of seats making last-minute, frenzied changes in the script.
“How much money you got?” I asked Cecil. Cecil had thirty cents, too, which made useven. We squandered our first nickels on the House of Horrors, which scared us not atall; we entered the black seventh-grade room and were led around by the temporaryghoul in residence and were made to touch several objects alleged to be componentparts of a human being. “Here’s his eyes,” we were told when we touched two peeledgrapes on a saucer. “Here’s his heart,” which felt like raw liver. “These are his innards,”
and our hands were thrust into a plate of cold spaghetti.
Cecil and I visited several booths. We each bought a sack of Mrs. Judge Taylor’shomemade divinity. I wanted to bob for apples, but Cecil said it wasn’t sanitary. Hismother said he might catch something from everybody’s heads having been in the sametub. “Ain’t anything around town now to catch,” I protested. But Cecil said his mothersaid it was unsanitary to eat after folks. I later asked Aunt Alexandra about this, and shesaid people who held such views were usually climbers.
We were about to purchase a blob of taffy when Mrs. Merriweather’s runnersappeared and told us to go backstage, it was time to get ready. The auditorium wasfilling with people; the Maycomb County High School band had assembled in front belowthe stage; the stage footlights were on and the red velvet curtain rippled and billowedfrom the scurrying going on behind it.
Backstage, Cecil and I found the narrow hallway teeming with people: adults inhomemade three-corner hats, Confederate caps, Spanish-American War hats, andWorld War helmets. Children dressed as various agricultural enterprises crowdedaround the one small window.
“Somebody’s mashed my costume,” I wailed in dismay. Mrs. Merriweather galloped tome, reshaped the chicken wire, and thrust me inside.
“You all right in there, Scout?” asked Cecil. “You sound so far off, like you was on theother side of a hill.”
“You don’t sound any nearer,” I said.
The band played the national anthem, and we heard the audience rise. Then the bassdrum sounded. Mrs. Merriweather, stationed behind her lectern beside the band, said:
“Maycomb County Ad Astra Per Aspera.” The bass drum boomed again. “That means,”
said Mrs. Merriweather, translating for the rustic elements, “from the mud to the stars.”
She added, unnecessarily, it seemed to me, “A pageant.”
“Reckon they wouldn’t know what it was if she didn’t tell ‘em,” whispered Cecil, whowas immediately shushed.
“The whole town knows it,” I breathed.
“But the country folks’ve come in,” Cecil said.
“Be quiet back there,” a man’s voice ordered, and we were silent.
The bass drum went boom with every sentence Mrs. Merriweather uttered. Shechanted mournfully about Maycomb County being older than the state, that it was a partof the Mississippi and Alabama Territories, that the first white man to set foot in thevirgin forests was the Probate Judge’s great-grandfather five times removed, who wasnever heard of again. Then came the fearless Colonel Maycomb, for whom the countywas named.
Andrew Jackson appointed him to a position of authority, and Colonel Maycomb’smisplaced self-confidence and slender sense of direction brought disaster to all whorode with him in the Creek Indian Wars. Colonel Maycomb persevered in his efforts tomake the region safe for democracy, but his first campaign was his last. His orders,relayed to him by a friendly Indian runner, were to move south. After consulting a tree toascertain from its lichen which way was south, and taking no lip from the subordinateswho ventured to correct him, Colonel Maycomb set out on a purposeful journey to routthe enemy and entangled his troops so far northwest in the forest primeval that theywere eventually rescued by settlers moving inland.
Mrs. Merriweather gave a thirty-minute description of Colonel Maycomb’s exploits. Idiscovered that if I bent my knees I could tuck them under my costume and more or lesssit. I sat down, listened to Mrs. Merriweather’s drone and the bass drum’s boom andwas soon fast asleep.
They said later that Mrs. Merriweather was putting her all into the grand finale, thatshe had crooned, “Po-ork,” with a confidence born of pine trees and butterbeansentering on cue. She waited a few seconds, then called, “Po-ork?” When nothingmaterialized, she yelled, “Pork!”
I must have heard her in my sleep, or the band playing Dixie woke me, but it waswhen Mrs. Merriweather triumphantly mounted the stage with the state flag that I choseto make my entrance. Chose is incorrect: I thought I’d better catch up with the rest ofthem.
They told me later that Judge Taylor went out behind the auditorium and stood thereslapping his knees so hard Mrs. Taylor brought him a glass of water and one of his pills.
Mrs. Merriweather seemed to have a hit, everybody was cheering so, but she caughtme backstage and told me I had ruined her pageant. She made me feel awful, but whenJem came to fetch me he was sympathetic. He said he couldn’t see my costume muchfrom where he was sitting. How he could tell I was feeling bad under my costume I don’tknow, but he said I did all right, I just came in a little late, that was all. Jem wasbecoming almost as good as Atticus at making you feel right when things went wrong.
Almost—not even Jem could make me go through that crowd, and he consented to waitbackstage with me until the audience left.
“You wanta take it off, Scout?” he asked.
“Naw, I’ll just keep it on,” I said. I could hide my mortification under it.
“You all want a ride home?” someone asked.
“No sir, thank you,” I heard Jem say. “It’s just a little walk.”
“Be careful of haints,” the voice said. “Better still, tell the haints to be careful of Scout.”
“There aren’t many folks left now,” Jem told me. “Let’s go.”
We went through the auditorium to the hallway, then down the steps. It was still blackdark. The remaining cars were parked on the other side of the building, and theirheadlights were little help. “If some of ‘em were goin’ in our direction we could seebetter,” said Jem. “Here Scout, let me hold onto your—hock. You might lose yourbalance.”
“I can see all right.”
“Yeah, but you might lose your balance.” I felt a slight pressure on my head, andassumed that Jem had grabbed that end of the ham. “You got me?”
We began crossing the black schoolyard, straining to see our feet. “Jem,” I said, “Iforgot my shoes, they’re back behind the stage.”
“Well let’s go get ‘em.” But as we turned around the auditorium lights went off. “Youcan get ’em tomorrow,” he said.
“But tomorrow’s Sunday,” I protested, as Jem turned me homeward.
“You can get the Janitor to let you in… Scout?”
Jem hadn’t started that in a long time. I wondered what he was thinking. He’d tell mewhen he wanted to, probably when we got home. I felt his fingers press the top of mycostume, too hard, it seemed. I shook my head. “Jem, you don’t hafta—”
“Hush a minute, Scout,” he said, pinching me.
We walked along silently. “Minute’s up,” I said. “Whatcha thinkin‘ about?” I turned tolook at him, but his outline was barely visible.
“Thought I heard something,” he said. “Stop a minute.”
“Hear anything?” he asked.
We had not gone five paces before he made me stop again.
“Jem, are you tryin‘ to scare me? You know I’m too old—”
“Be quiet,” he said, and I knew he was not joking.
The night was still. I could hear his breath coming easily beside me. Occasionallythere was a sudden breeze that hit my bare legs, but it was all that remained of apromised windy night. This was the stillness before a thunderstorm. We listened.
“Heard an old dog just then,” I said.
“It’s not that,” Jem answered. “I hear it when we’re walkin‘ along, but when we stop Idon’t hear it.”
“You hear my costume rustlin‘. Aw, it’s just Halloween got you…”
I said it more to convince myself than Jem, for sure enough, as we began walking, Iheard what he was talking about. It was not my costume.
“It’s just old Cecil,” said Jem presently. “He won’t get us again. Let’s don’t let him thinkwe’re hurrying.”
We slowed to a crawl. I asked Jem how Cecil could follow us in this dark, looked to melike he’d bump into us from behind.
“I can see you, Scout,” Jem said.
“How? I can’t see you.”
“Your fat streaks are showin‘. Mrs. Crenshaw painted ’em with some of that shiny stuffso they’d show up under the footlights. I can see you pretty well, an‘ I expect Cecil cansee you well enough to keep his distance.”
I would show Cecil that we knew he was behind us and we were ready for him. “CecilJacobs is a big wet he-en!” I yelled suddenly, turning around.
We stopped. There was no acknowledgement save he-en bouncing off the distantschoolhouse wall.
“I’ll get him,” said Jem. “He-y!”
Hay-e-hay-e-hay-ey, answered the schoolhouse wall. It was unlike Cecil to hold out forso long; once he pulled a joke he’d repeat it time and again. We should have been leaptat already. Jem signaled for me to stop again.
He said softly, “Scout, can you take that thing off?”
“I think so, but I ain’t got anything on under it much.”
“I’ve got your dress here.”
“I can’t get it on in the dark.”
“Okay,” he said, “never mind.”
“Jem, are you afraid?”
“No. Think we’re almost to the tree now. Few yards from that, an‘ we’ll be to the road.
We can see the street light then.” Jem was talking in an unhurried, flat toneless voice. Iwondered how long he would try to keep the Cecil myth going.
“You reckon we oughta sing, Jem?”
“No. Be real quiet again, Scout.”
We had not increased our pace. Jem knew as well as I that it was difficult to walk fastwithout stumping a toe, tripping on stones, and other inconveniences, and I wasbarefooted. Maybe it was the wind rustling the trees. But there wasn’t any wind andthere weren’t any trees except the big oak.
Our company shuffled and dragged his feet, as if wearing heavy shoes. Whoever itwas wore thick cotton pants; what I thought were trees rustling was the soft swish ofcotton on cotton, wheek, wheek, with every step.
I felt the sand go cold under my feet and I knew we were near the big oak. Jempressed my head. We stopped and listened.
Shuffle-foot had not stopped with us this time. His trousers swished softly and steadily.
Then they stopped. He was running, running toward us with no child’s steps.
“Run, Scout! Run! Run!” Jem screamed.
I took one giant step and found myself reeling: my arms useless, in the dark, I couldnot keep my balance.
“Jem, Jem, help me, Jem!”
Something crushed the chicken wire around me. Metal ripped on metal and I fell to theground and rolled as far as I could, floundering to escape my wire prison. Fromsomewhere near by came scuffling, kicking sounds, sounds of shoes and flesh scrapingdirt and roots. Someone rolled against me and I felt Jem. He was up like lightning andpulling me with him but, though my head and shoulders were free, I was so entangledwe didn’t get very far.
We were nearly to the road when I felt Jem’s hand leave me, felt him jerk backwardsto the ground. More scuffling, and there came a dull crunching sound and Jemscreamed.
I ran in the direction of Jem’s scream and sank into a flabby male stomach. Its ownersaid, “Uff!” and tried to catch my arms, but they were tightly pinioned. His stomach wassoft but his arms were like steel. He slowly squeezed the breath out of me. I could notmove. Suddenly he was jerked backwards and flung on the ground, almost carrying mewith him. I thought, Jem’s up.
One’s mind works very slowly at times. Stunned, I stood there dumbly. The scufflingnoises were dying; someone wheezed and the night was still again.
Still but for a man breathing heavily, breathing heavily and staggering. I thought hewent to the tree and leaned against it. He coughed violently, a sobbing, bone-shakingcough.
There was no answer but the man’s heavy breathing.
Jem didn’t answer.
The man began moving around, as if searching for something. I heard him groan andpull something heavy along the ground. It was slowly coming to me that there were nowfour people under the tree.
The man was walking heavily and unsteadily toward the road.
I went to where I thought he had been and felt frantically along the ground, reachingout with my toes. Presently I touched someone.
My toes touched trousers, a belt buckle, buttons, something I could not identify, acollar, and a face. A prickly stubble on the face told me it was not Jem’s. I smelled stalewhiskey.
I made my way along in what I thought was the direction of the road. I was not sure,because I had been turned around so many times. But I found it and looked down to thestreet light. A man was passing under it. The man was walking with the staccato stepsof someone carrying a load too heavy for him. He was going around the corner. He wascarrying Jem. Jem’s arm was dangling crazily in front of him.
By the time I reached the corner the man was crossing our front yard. Light from ourfront door framed Atticus for an instant; he ran down the steps, and together, he and theman took Jem inside.
I was at the front door when they were going down the hall. Aunt Alexandra wasrunning to meet me. “Call Dr. Reynolds!” Atticus’s voice came sharply from Jem’s room.
“Here she is,” Aunt Alexandra called, pulling me along with her to the telephone. Shetugged at me anxiously. “I’m all right, Aunty,” I said, “you better call.”
She pulled the receiver from the hook and said, “Eula May, get Dr. Reynolds, quick!”
“Agnes, is your father home? Oh God, where is he? Please tell him to come over hereas soon as he comes in. Please, it’s urgent!”
There was no need for Aunt Alexandra to identify herself, people in Maycomb kneweach other’s voices.
Atticus came out of Jem’s room. The moment Aunt Alexandra broke the connection,Atticus took the receiver from her. He rattled the hook, then said, “Eula May, get me thesheriff, please.”
“Heck? Atticus Finch. Someone’s been after my children. Jem’s hurt. Between hereand the schoolhouse. I can’t leave my boy. Run out there for me, please, and see if he’sstill around. Doubt if you’ll find him now, but I’d like to see him if you do. Got to go now.
“Atticus, is Jem dead?”
“No, Scout. Look after her, sister,” he called, as he went down the hall.
Aunt Alexandra’s fingers trembled as she unwound the crushed fabric and wire fromaround me. “Are you all right, darling?” she asked over and over as she worked me free.
It was a relief to be out. My arms were beginning to tingle, and they were red withsmall hexagonal marks. I rubbed them, and they felt better.
“Aunty, is Jem dead?”
“No—no, darling, he’s unconscious. We won’t know how badly he’s hurt until Dr.
Reynolds gets here. Jean Louise, what happened?”
“I don’t know.”
She left it at that. She brought me something to put on, and had I thought about itthen, I would have never let her forget it: in her distraction, Aunty brought me myoveralls. “Put these on, darling,” she said, handing me the garments she most despised.
She rushed back to Jem’s room, then came to me in the hall. She patted me vaguely,and went back to Jem’s room.
A car stopped in front of the house. I knew Dr. Reynolds’s step almost as well as myfather’s. He had brought Jem and me into the world, had led us through every childhooddisease known to man including the time Jem fell out of the treehouse, and he hadnever lost our friendship. Dr. Reynolds said if we had been boil-prone things would havebeen different, but we doubted it.
He came in the door and said, “Good Lord.” He walked toward me, said, “You’re stillstanding,” and changed his course. He knew every room in the house. He also knewthat if I was in bad shape, so was Jem.
After ten forevers Dr. Reynolds returned. “Is Jem dead?” I asked.
“Far from it,” he said, squatting down to me. “He’s got a bump on the head just likeyours, and a broken arm. Scout, look that way—no, don’t turn your head, roll your eyes.
Now look over yonder. He’s got a bad break, so far as I can tell now it’s in the elbow.
Like somebody tried to wring his arm off… Now look at me.”
“Then he’s not dead?”
“No-o!” Dr. Reynolds got to his feet. “We can’t do much tonight,” he said, “except try tomake him as comfortable as we can. We’ll have to X-ray his arm—looks like he’ll bewearing his arm ‘way out by his side for a while. Don’t worry, though, he’ll be as good asnew. Boys his age bounce.”
While he was talking, Dr. Reynolds had been looking keenly at me, lightly fingering thebump that was coming on my forehead. “You don’t feel broke anywhere, do you?”
Dr. Reynolds’s small joke made me smile. “Then you don’t think he’s dead, then?”
He put on his hat. “Now I may be wrong, of course, but I think he’s very alive. Showsall the symptoms of it. Go have a look at him, and when I come back we’ll get togetherand decide.”
Dr. Reynolds’s step was young and brisk. Mr. Heck Tate’s was not. His heavy bootspunished the porch and he opened the door awkwardly, but he said the same thing Dr.
Reynolds said when he came in. “You all right, Scout?” he added.
“Yes sir, I’m goin‘ in to see Jem. Atticus’n’them’s in there.”
“I’ll go with you,” said Mr. Tate.
Aunt Alexandra had shaded Jem’s reading light with a towel, and his room was dim.
Jem was lying on his back. There was an ugly mark along one side of his face. His leftarm lay out from his body; his elbow was bent slightly, but in the wrong direction. Jemwas frowning.
Atticus spoke. “He can’t hear you, Scout, he’s out like a light. He was coming around,but Dr. Reynolds put him out again.”
“Yes sir.” I retreated. Jem’s room was large and square. Aunt Alexandra was sitting ina rocking-chair by the fireplace. The man who brought Jem in was standing in a corner,leaning against the wall. He was some countryman I did not know. He had probablybeen at the pageant, and was in the vicinity when it happened. He must have heard ourscreams and come running.
Atticus was standing by Jem’s bed.
Mr. Heck Tate stood in the doorway. His hat was in his hand, and a flashlight bulgedfrom his pants pocket. He was in his working clothes.
“Come in, Heck,” said Atticus. “Did you find anything? I can’t conceive of anyone low-down enough to do a thing like this, but I hope you found him.”
Mr. Tate sniffed. He glanced sharply at the man in the corner, nodded to him, thenlooked around the room—at Jem, at Aunt Alexandra, then at Atticus.
“Sit down, Mr. Finch,” he said pleasantly.
Atticus said, “Let’s all sit down. Have that chair, Heck. I’ll get another one from thelivingroom.”
Mr. Tate sat in Jem’s desk chair. He waited until Atticus returned and settled himself. Iwondered why Atticus had not brought a chair for the man in the corner, but Atticusknew the ways of country people far better than I. Some of his rural clients would parktheir long-eared steeds under the chinaberry trees in the back yard, and Atticus wouldoften keep appointments on the back steps. This one was probably more comfortablewhere he was.
“Mr. Finch,” said Mr. Tate, “tell you what I found. I found a little girl’s dress—it’s outthere in my car. That your dress, Scout?”
“Yes sir, if it’s a pink one with smockin‘,” I said. Mr. Tate was behaving as if he wereon the witness stand. He liked to tell things his own way, untrammeled by state ordefense, and sometimes it took him a while.
“I found some funny-looking pieces of muddy-colored cloth—”
“That’s m’costume, Mr. Tate.”
Mr. Tate ran his hands down his thighs. He rubbed his left arm and investigated Jem’smantelpiece, then he seemed to be interested in the fireplace. His fingers sought hislong nose.
“What is it, Heck?” said Atticus.
Mr. Tate found his neck and rubbed it. “Bob Ewell’s lyin‘ on the ground under that treedown yonder with a kitchen knife stuck up under his ribs. He’s dead, Mr. Finch.”