To Kill a Mockingbird

Page 98

“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 to be secret. Serving on a jury forces a man to make up his mind and declare himself about 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 than to us. “That was the one thing that made me think, well, this may be the shadow of a beginning. 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 to know that there was one fellow who took considerable wearing down—in the beginning he 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 of your 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 next they’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 anything from or off of anybody since they migrated to the New World. He said the other thing about them was, once you earned their respect they were for you tooth and nail. Atticus said he had a feeling, nothing more than a suspicion, that they left the jail that night with considerable respect for the Finches. Then too, he said, it took a thunderbolt plus another Cunningham to make one of them change his mind. “If we’d had two of that crowd, we’d’ve had a hung jury.”

Jem said slowly, “You mean you actually put on the jury a man who wanted to kill you the 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 man who’s going to convict and another man who’s going to convict, is there? There’s a faint difference between a man who’s going to convict and a man who’s a little disturbed in his 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 he wanted 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 he married our children would be double first cousins. “Gee minetti, Jem,” I said, when Atticus 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 sat in her chair with her workbasket beside it, her rug spread across her lap. Why ladies hooked 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 Walter Cunningham’s defense. Now, I was glad I’d done it. “Soon’s school starts I’m gonna ask Walter home to dinner,” I planned, having forgotten my private resolve to beat him up the next time I saw him. “He can stay over sometimes after school, too. Atticus could drive 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 a threat, never a promise. Surprised, I turned to her. “Why not, Aunty? They’re good folks.”

She looked at me over her sewing glasses. “Jean Louise, there is no doubt in my mind that they’re good folks. But they’re not our kind of folks.”

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