To Kill a Mockingbird

Page 65

We parted at suppertime, and after our meal Jem and I were settling down to a routine evening, when Atticus did something that interested us: he came into the livingroom carrying 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 say good 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 that he liked to walk. As far back as I could remember, there was always a Chevrolet in excellent 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 two miles. He said his only exercise was walking. In Maycomb, if one went for a walk with no definite purpose in mind, it was correct to believe one’s mind incapable of definite purpose.

Later on, I bade my aunt and brother good night and was well into a book when I heard Jem rattling around in his room. His go-to-bed noises were so familiar to me that I knocked 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 a fight 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 down the 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 to Dill’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, he did 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 grown up 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 each corner, and between them an iron hitching rail glistened under the street lights. A light shone in the county toilet, otherwise that side of the courthouse was dark. A larger square of stores surrounded the courthouse square; dim lights burned from deep within them.

Atticus’s office was in the courthouse when he began his law practice, but after several years of it he moved to quieter quarters in the Maycomb Bank building. When we rounded the corner of the square, we saw the car parked in front of the bank. “He’s in there,” said Jem.

But he wasn’t. His office was reached by a long hallway. Looking down the hall, we should have seen Atticus Finch, Attorney-at-Law in small sober letters against the light from 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, above it. He covered the courthouse and jailhouse news simply by looking out his upstairs window. The office building was on the northwest corner of the square, and to reach it we 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 was certainly someone’s dream. Starkly out of place in a town of square-faced stores and steep-roofed houses, the Maycomb jail was a miniature Gothic joke one cell wide and two cells high, complete with tiny battlements and flying buttresses. Its fantasy was heightened 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 The Maycomb Tribune office. The jail was Maycomb’s only conversation piece: its detractors said it looked like a Victorian privy; its supporters said it gave the town a good solid respectable look, and no stranger would ever suspect that it was full of niggers.

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