Chapter 23

            “I wish Bob Ewell wouldn’t chew tobacco,” was all Atticus said about it.

            According to Miss Stephanie Crawford, however, Atticus was leaving the post office when Mr. Ewell approached him, cursed him, spat on him, and threatened to kill him.  Miss Stephanie said Atticus didn’t bat an eye, just took out his handkerchief and wiped his face and stood there and let Mr. Ewell call him names wild horses could not bring her to repeat.  So Mr. Ewell said, “Too proud to fight, you n****r-lovin’ bastard?”  And Atticus replied, “No, too old,” put his hands in his pockets and strolled on.

            A few days later, Atticus noticed that Jem and I were really worried because Bob Ewell had threatened to kill Atticus.  He told Jem, “Jem, see if you can stand in Bob Ewell’s shoes a minute.  I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with.  The man had to have some kind of comeback, his kind always does.  So if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that’s something I’ll gladly take.  He had to take it out on somebody and I’d rather it be me than that houseful of children out there.  You understand?”

            After that, we were not afraid.  Atticus also told us that nothing would happen to Tom Robinson until the higher court reviewed his case, and that Tom had a good chance of going free, or at least of having a new trial.  He was at Enfield Prison Farm, seventy miles away in Chester County.  I asked Atticus if Tom’s wife and children were allowed to visit him, but Atticus said no.  “If he loses his appeal,” I asked one evening, “what’ll happen to him?”

            “He’ll go to the electric chair,” said Atticus, “unless the Governor commutes his sentence.  Not time to worry yet, Scout.  We’ve got a good chance.”

            “Tom’s jury sure 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.  You might like to know that there was one fellow who took considerable wearing down – in the beginning he was wanting to set Tom free.”

            “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 didnt’ recognize any of ‘em… you’re jokin’.”

            “One of their connections.  On a hunch, I didn’t dismiss him from the jury even though I could have.”

            “Golly Moses,” Jem said reverently.  “One minute they’re tryin’ to kill Tom and the next they’re tryin’ to turn him loose… I’ll never understand those folks as long as I live.”

            After Atticus left the room, I decided that I would be nice to Water Cunningham from now on since his someone in his family had been on the jury and wanted to set Tom free.  I even said that I would invite him over to spend the night some time.

            “We’ll see about that,” Aunt Alexandra said.

            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.  You can scrub Walter Cunningham till he shines, you can put him in shoes and a new suit, but he’ll never be like Jem.  Besides, there’s a drinking streak in that family a mile wide.  Finch women aren’t interested in that sort of people.”

            “If they’re good folks, then why can’t I be nice to Walter?”

            “I didn’t say not to be nice to him.  You should be friendly and polite to him, you should be gracious to everybody, dear.  But you don’t have to invite him home.”

            “But I want to play with Walter, Aunty, why can’t I?”

            She took off her glasses and stared at me.  “I’ll tell you why,” she said.  “Because – he—is—trash, that’s why you can’t play with him.  I’ll not have you around him, picking up his habits and learning Lord-knows-what.  You’re enough of a problem to your father as it is.”

            I was so angry and upset, but Jem put his arm around me and led me, sobbing in fury, to his room.  He told me that Aunty was trying to make me into a lady and told me I should take up sewing or something.

            I told Jem that I was so upset that Aunty called Walter Cunningham trash.  “But Walter isn’t trash.  He ain’t like the Ewells,” I told Jem.

            “You know something, Scout?  I’ve got it all figured out, now.  I’ve thought about it a lot lately and I’ve got it figured out.  There’s four kinds of folks in the world.  There’s the ordinary kind like us and the neighbors, there’s the kind like the Cunninghams out in the woods, the kind like the Ewells down at the dump, and the Negroes.  Our kind of folks don’t like the Cunninghams, the Cunninghams don’t like the Ewells, and the Ewells hate and despise the colored folks.  Background means that a family has been reading and writing for a long time.”

            “I don’t’ think that’s what background is, Jem.  Everybody’s gotta learn, nobody’s born knowin’.  That Walter’s as smart as he can be, he just gets held back sometimes because he has to stay out and help his daddy.  Nothin’s wrong with him.  Naw, Jem, I think there’s just one kind of folks.  Folks.”

            Jem said, “That’s what I thought too, when I was your age.  If there’s just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other?  If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other?  Scout, I think I’m beginning to understand something.  I think I’m beginning to understand why Boo Radley’s stayed shut up in the house all this time… it’s because he wants to stay inside.