Chapter 16

 

Chapter 16

 

            Atticus drove us home and killed the engine as we approached the house so we wouldn’t wake Aunty.  We went to our rooms without a word.  I was very tired.  I was drifting to sleep when the events of the night hit me and I started crying.  Jem came to me and he was awfully nice to me.

            In the morning, Aunty, who knew about what happened last night, said that children who slipped out at night were a disgrace to the family.  Aunty also said that Mr. Underwood was there the whole time and nothing bad would have happened.

            “You know, it’s a funny thing about Braxton (Mr. Underwood),” said Atticus.  “He despises Negroes, won’t have one near him.”

            Aunty took offense to Atticus saying this comment about Mr. Underwood in front of Calpurnia.  “Don’t talk like that in front of them.”

            “Talk like what in front of whom?” he asked.

            “Like that in front of Calpurnia.  You said Braxton Underwood despises Negroes right in front of her.”

            “Well, I’m sure Cal knows it.  Everybody in Maycomb knows it.  Anything fit to say at the table’s fine to say in front of Calpurnia.  She knows what she means to this family.”

            “I don’t think it’s a good habit, Atticus.  It encourages them.  You know how they talk among themselves.  Everything that happens in this town’s out to the Quarters before sundown.”

            “I don’t know of any law that says they can’t talk.  Maybe if we didn’t give them so much to talk about they’d be quiet.”

            I was playing with my spoon and asked, “I thought Mr. Cunningham was  a friend of ours.  You told me a long time ago he was.”

            “He still is.”

            “But last night he wanted to hurt you.”

            “Mr. Cunningham’s basically a good man,” he said.  “He just has his blind spots along with the rest of us.”

            Jem spoke.  “Don’t call that a blind spot.  He’d a’ 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.  Hmph, 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.”

            Dill came by and said that it’s all over town how we held off a hundred people with our bare hands.  Aunt Alexandra said it was nowhere near a hundred people and that it was just a bunch of drunk and disorderly men.

            Miss Maudie was out in her yard.  Jem yelled over, “You goin’ to court this morning?”

            “I am not,” she said.  “I have no business with the court this morning.”

            “Aren’t you goin’ down to watch?” asked Dill.

            “I am not.  It’s morbid, watching a poor devil on trial for his life.  Look at all those folks, it’s like a Roman carnival.”

            The courthouse square was covered with picnic parties sitting on newspapers, washing down biscuits and syrup with warm milk from fruit jars.

            In the far corner of the square, the Negroes sat quietly in the sun, dining on sardines, crackers, and the more vivid flavors of Nehi Cola.  Mr. Dophus Raymond sat with them.

            “Jem,” said Dill.  “He’s drinkin’ out of a sack.”

            Mr. Dolphus Raymond was drinking something out of a paper sack with two straws.

            Jem giggled, “He’s got a Co-Cola bottle full of whiskey in there.  That’s son’s not to upset the ladies.  You’ll see him sip it all afternoon, he’ll step out for a while and fill it back up.”

            Why’s he sittin’ with the colored folks?”

            “Always does.  He likes ‘em better’n he likes us, I reckon.  Lives by himself way down near the county line.  He’s got a colored woman and all sorts of mixed chillun.  Show you some of ‘em if we see ‘em.”

            “He doesn’t look like trash,” said Dill.

            “He’s not, he owns all one side of the riverbank down there, and he’s from a real old family to boot.”

            “Then why does he do like that?”

            “That’s just his way,” said Jem.  “They say he never got over his weddin’.  He was supposed to marry one of the – the Spencer ladies, I think.  They were gonna have a huge weddin’, but they didn’t – after the rehearsal the bride went upstairs and blew her head off.  Shotgun.  She pulled the trigger with her toes.”

            “Did they ever know why?”

            “No,” said Jem.  “Nobody ever knew quite why but Mr. Dolphus.  They said it was because she found out about his colored woman, he reckoned he could keep her and get married too.  He’s been sorta drunk ever since.  You know, thought, he’s real good to those chillun—“

            “Jem,” I asked.  “What’s a mixed child?”

            “Half white, half colored.  You’ve seen ‘em, Scout.  You know that red kinky-headed one that delivers for the drugstore.  He’s half white.  They’re real sad.”

            “Sad, how come?”

            “They don’t belong anywhere.  Colored folks won’t have ‘em because they’re half white; white folks won’t have ‘em because they’re colored, so they’re just in-between, don’t belong anywhere.  But Mr. Dolphus, now, they say he’s shipped two of his up North.  They don’t mind ‘em up North.  Yonder’s one of ‘em.”

            Jem told us, “Around here once you have a drop of Negro blood, that makes you all black.”

            “Let’s go in,” said Dill.

            “Naw, we better wait till they get in.  Atticus might not like it if he sees us,” said Jem.

            We knew there would be a crowd but we had not bargained for the multitudes of people.  We overheard conversations about my father.

            “…thinks he knows what he’s doing,” one said.

            “Ohh now, I wouldn’t say that,” another said.

            “Lemme tell you somethin’ now, Billy,” a third said, “you know the court appointed him to defend this n****r.”

            “Yeah, but Atticus aims to defend him.  That’s what I don’t like about it.”

            The Negroes waited for the white people to go in and then they climbed to the balcony where they were to sit.  We couldn’t find a seat anywhere and were going to have to stand by the wall.  We ran into Reverend Sykes.  He edged his way and told us that there was not a seat anywhere downstairs.

            “Do you all reckon it’ll be all right if you all come to the balcony with me?”

            “Gosh, yes, “ said Jem.  Happily we sped ahead of Reverend Sykes to the staircase.  Four Negroes rose and gave us their front-row seats.

            The jury sat on the left, under long windows.  One or two of the jury looked vaguely like dressed up Cunninghams.  Atticus and Tom Robinson sat at tables with their backs to us and there was the prosecutor at the other table.  Judge Taylor was at the bench.

            Judge Taylor looked like he was sleepy but knew the law and actually ran his courtroom with a firm grip.  He had one peculiar habit.  He allowed smoking in his courtroom but didn’t smoke himself.  However, he did, at times, put a long dry cigar into his mouth and munch it up slowly.  Bit by bit the dead cigar would disappear, to reappear some hours later as a flat slick mess, its essence extracted and mingled with Judge Taylor’s digestive juices.  I once asked Atticus how Mrs. Taylor stood to kiss him, but Atticus said they didn’t kiss much.  By the time we took our seats in the balcony, Sheriff Heck Tate was already taking his seat on the witness stand.