To Kill a Mockingbird

Page 64

“Well, answer it, son,” called Atticus.

Laughter broke them up. When Atticus switched on the overhead light in the livingroom he found Jem at the window, pale except for the vivid mark of the screen on his 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 think Atticus subjected every crisis of his life to tranquil evaluation behind The Mobile Register, The Birmingham News and The Montgomery Advertiser.

“They were after you, weren’t they?” Jem went to him. “They wanted to get you, didn’t they?”

Atticus lowered the paper and gazed at Jem. “What have you been reading?” he asked. 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 that nonsense 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 that with something else. Way back about nineteen-twenty there was a Klan, but it was a political 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 and told ’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 with the sense they had, and they had been living on the same plot of ground in Maycomb for 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, “. . . in favor of Southern womanhood as much as anybody, but not for preserving polite fiction at the expense of human life,” a pronouncement that made me suspect they had been fussing again.

I sought Jem and found him in his room, on the bed deep in thought. “Have they been at it?” I asked.

“Sort of. She won’t let him alone about Tom Robinson. She almost said Atticus was disgracin’ the family. Scout . . . I’m scared.”

“Scared’a what?”

“Scared about Atticus. Somebody might hurt him.” Jem preferred to remain mysterious; 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 the congregation stretched its legs, I saw Atticus standing in the yard with another knot of men. Mr. Heck Tate was present, and I wondered if he had seen the light. He never went to church. Even Mr. Underwood was there. Mr. Underwood had no use for any organization but The Maycomb Tribune, of which he was the sole owner, editor, and printer. His days were spent at his linotype, where he refreshed himself occasionally from an ever-present gallon jug of cherry wine. He rarely gathered news; people brought it to him. It was said that he made up every edition of The Maycomb Tribune out of his own head and wrote it down on the linotype. This was believable. Something must have been up to haul Mr. Underwood out.

I caught Atticus coming in the door, and he said that they’d moved Tom Robinson to the Maycomb jail. He also said, more to himself than to me, that if they’d kept him there in the first place there wouldn’t have been any fuss. I watched him take his seat on the third row from the front, and I heard him rumble, “Nearer my God to thee,” some notes behind the rest of us. He never sat with Aunty, Jem and me. He liked to be by himself in church.

The fake peace that prevailed on Sundays was made more irritating by Aunt Alexandra’s presence. Atticus would flee to his office directly after dinner, where if we sometimes 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 in the yard, the neighborhood was resting. Jem in his old age had taken to his room with a stack of football magazines. So Dill and I spent our Sundays creeping around in Deer’s Pasture.

Shooting on Sundays was prohibited, so Dill and I kicked Jem’s football around the pasture 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 filling Dill in on last winter’s events. He was considerably impressed.

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