Chapter 15

 

            It was decided that Dill would stay after much pleading.  We had a week of peace together.  I minded Aunty, Jem had outgrown the treehouse, and Dill had a plan of putting lemon drops leading from Boo’s house out in order to make Boo come out of his house.  There was a knock on the front door and it was Mr. Heck Tate.  Here were some men outside as well and wanted Atticus to come outside.  There were only two reasons why men in Maycomb stayed outside and that was because there was a death or to talk politics.  Atticus went outside and we pressed our faces to the window to see and hear what was going on.  We heard, “…movin’ him to the county jail tomorrow,” Mr. Tate was saying.  “I don’t look for any trouble, but I can’t guarantee there won’t be any…”

            “Don’t be foolish, Heck,” Atticus said.  “This is Maycomb.”

            “… said I was just uneasy.”

            There was more talk.  Mr. Link Deas wanted to know if there was a chance that the trial could be held in another town for safety reasons. Mr. Deas is nervous about a crowd coming together when they’re drunk and causing trouble for Tom.  He continued, “—don’t know why you touched it in the the first place.  You’ve got everything to lose from this, Atticus.  I mean everything.”

            “Do you really think so?   … Link, that boy might go to the chair, but he’s not going till the truth’s told.”  Atticus’s voice was even.  “And you know what the truth is.”

            There was a murmur from the group of men.  In the crowd there were merchants, in-town farmers, Dr. Reynolds, and Mr. Avery.  Jem yelled out nervously, “Atticus, the telephone’s ringing!”  Even though it wasn’t.  Atticus told him to answer the phone and it made everyone in the group laugh.

            When Atticus came in he went to his chair and picked up the paper to read.  I walked home with Dill and returned in time to overhear a conversation between Atticus and Aunty.  I found Jem in his bedroom.  “Have they been at it?”  I asked.

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

            “Scared ‘a what?”

            “Scared about Atticus.  Somebody might hurt him.”

           

            The next day was Sunday and Tom Robinson had just been moved to the Maycomb jail.  The Sunday was quiet.  Atticus went to his office, Aunt Alexandra went for a two hour nap, and Jem in his old age went to his room with a stack of football magazines.  So Dill and I went out to the pasture to kick around the football.

            After supper, Atticus did something that interested us.  He came into the living room carrying a long extension cord.  There was a light bulb at 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.”

            He put on his hat and went out the back door.  We noticed that he took the car.  One of our father’s peculiarities was that he liked to walk so taking the car was peculiar.

            Later on I said good night to Aunty and while I was in my room I heard Jem rattling around in his room.  I went in and asked him what he was doing.

            I’m goin’ downtown for a while.”  He was changing his pants.

            “Why it’s almost ten o’clock, Jem.  I’m goin’ with you.  If you say no you’re not, I’m goin’ anyway, hear?”

            I dressed quickly and Jem gave in with little grace.  I said that Dill would probably want to come so we stopped at Dill’s window at Miss Rachel’s.  “What’s up?”  Dill said.

            “Jem’s got the look-arounds.”

            “I’ve just got this feeling,” Jem said, “just this feeling.”

            We looked at Atticus’s office but it was dark inside.  We decided to go up the street thinking he was visiting with Mr. Underwood, editor and writer of The Maycomb Tribune.  He not only ran the newspaper, he lived about the office.  On the way to the newspaper office we would have to go past the jail.  There sitting in front of the jail was Atticus with the light and extension cord.  I was going to run to him but Jem stopped me.  He said that Atticus would not like us being here.  We were turning to leave and saw four cars moving slowly in line stop in front of the jail.  Atticus seemed to have been expecting them.

            In ones and twos, men got out of the cars.  Atticus remained where he was.  The men hid from view.

            “He in there, Mr. Finch?” a man said.

            “He is,” we heard Atticus answer,  “and he’s asleep.  Don’t wake him up.”

            The men talked in near-whispers.

            “You know what we want,” another man said.  “Get aside from the door, Mr. Finch.”

            “You can turn around and go home again, Walter,” Atticus said pleasantly.  “Heck Tate’s around somewhere.”

            “The hell he is,” said another man.  “Heck’s bunch’s so deep in the woods they won’t get out till mornin’.”

            “Indeed?  Why do?”

            “Called ’em off on a snipe hunt,” was the succinct answer.  “Didn’t you think a’ that, Mr. Finch?”

            “Thought about it, but didn’t believe it.  Well then,” my father’s voice was still the same, “that changes things, doesn’t it?”

            “It do,” another deep voice said.  Its owner was a shadow.

            “Do you really think so?”

            I broke away from Jem and ran to Atticus as fast as I could.  I pushed my way through the dark smelly bodies and burst into the circle of light.

            “H’ey Atticus!”

            A flash of plain fear was in his eyes and Jem and Dill wriggled into the light too.  There was a smell of stale whiskey and pigpen.  I looked around and did not notice these men.  These men were not the same men as the other night.  Atticus got up from his chair.

            “Go home, Jem,” he said.  “Take Scout and Dill home.”

            The way Jem was standing he was not thinking of budging.

            “Go home, I said.”

            Jem shook his head.

            “Son, I said go home.”

            Jem shook his head agin.

            “I’ll send him home,” a burly man said, and grabbed Jem roughly by the collar.  He yanked Jem nearly off his feet.

            “Don’t you touch him!”  I kicked the man swiftly.  I was surprised to see him fall back in real pain.  I intended to kick his shin, but aimed too high.

            Atticus told me that will do and said that I shouldn’t kick folks.

            “All right, Mr. Finch, get ‘em outta here,” someone growled.  “You got fifteen seconds to get ‘em outta here.”

            I looked around and saw that most of the men were dressed in overalls and denim shirts buttoned up to the collars even though it was a summer’s night.  I sought once more for a familiar face.  I found one.

            “Hey, Mr. Cunningham.”

            The man did not hear me, it seemed.

            “Hey, Mr. Cuningham.  How’s your entailment getting’ along?”

            Mr. Walter Cunningham’s legal affairs were well known to me since Atticus had once described them to me at length.  The big man blinked at me and hooked his thumbs in his overall straps.  He looked away.  My friendly overture had fallen flat.

            “Don’t you remember me, Mrs. Cunningham? I’m Jean Louise Finch.  You brought us some hickory nuts one time, remember?”  I began to sense the futility one feels when unacknowledged by a chance acquaintance.

            “I go to school with Walter,” I began again.  “He’s your boy, ain’t he?  Ain’t he sir?”

            Mr. Cunningham was moved to a faint nod.  He did know me after all.

            “He’s in my grade,” I said, “and he does right well.  He’s a good boy,” I added, “a real nice boy.  We brought him home for dinner one time.  Maybe he told you about me, I beat him up one time but he was real nice about it.  Tell him hey for me, won’t you?”

            Atticus had always told me to be polite and to talk to people about things they were interested in.  The men were all looking at me.  I wondered what idiocy I had committed.  I began to feel sweat gathering at the edges of my hair.

            “What’s the matter?”  I asked.

            Mr. Cunningham did a peculiar thing.  He squatted down and took me by both shoulders.

            “I’ll tell him you said hey, little lady,” he said.

            Then he straightened up and waved a big paw.  “Let’s clear out,” he called.  “Let’s get going, boys.”

            The men shuffled back into their cars and were gone.

            I turned to Atticus.  “Can we go home now?”  He nodded.

            “Mr. Finch?  They gone?”

            “They’ve gone,” he said.  “Get some sleep, Tom.  They won’t bother you anymore.”

            From a different direction, another voice cut crisply through the night:  “You’re damn tootin’ they won’t.  Had you covered all the time, Atticus.”

            Mr. Underwood and a double-barrelled shotgun were leaning out the window.  We started to walk home.  Atticus and Jem were ahead of me and Dill.  I thought Atticus would give Jem hell for not going home, but I was wrong.  Atticus reached out and massaged Jem’s hair, his one gesture of affection.