To Kill a Mockingbird

Page 69

Jem spoke. “Don’t call that a blind spot. He’da killed you last night when he first went there.”

“He might have hurt me a little,” Atticus conceded, “but son, you’ll understand folks a little 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 every little 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 because they’re still human. Hmp, maybe we need a police force of children . . . you children last night 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 grudge about this thing, no matter what happens.”

“You see, don’t you,” said Aunt Alexandra, “what comes of things like this. Don’t say I haven’t told you.”

Atticus said he’d never say that, pushed out his chair and got up. “There’s a day ahead, 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 all over town this morning,” he announced, “all about how we held off a hundred folks with our 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, drunk and 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 a leisurely but steady stream.

Mr. Dolphus Raymond lurched by on his thoroughbred. “Don’t see how he stays in the saddle,” 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 with long 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 of their trading across the river, and rarely came to Maycomb. Dill was interested. “They’ve all got blue eyes,” Jem explained, “and the men can’t shave after they marry. Their wives 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’s his name, not his initial. He was in court one time and they asked him his name. He said X 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 him up when he was born.”

As the county went by us, Jem gave Dill the histories and general attitudes of the more prominent figures: Mr. Tensaw Jones voted the straight Prohibition ticket; Miss Emily Davis dipped snuff in private; Mr. Byron Waller could play the violin; Mr. Jake Slade was cutting his third set of teeth.

A wagonload of unusually stern-faced citizens appeared. When they pointed to Miss Maudie Atkinson’s yard, ablaze with summer flowers, Miss Maudie herself came out on the porch. There was an odd thing about Miss Maudie—on her porch she was too far away for us to see her features clearly, but we could always catch her mood by the way she stood. She was now standing arms akimbo, her shoulders dropping a little, her head cocked to one side, her glasses winking in the sunlight. We knew she wore a grin of the uttermost 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 guessed that the foot-washers thought that the Devil was quoting Scripture for his own purposes, as the driver speeded his mules. Why they objected to Miss Maudie’s yard was a mystery, heightened in my mind because for someone who spent all the daylight hours outdoors, Miss Maudie’s command of Scripture was formidable.

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