Chapter 25

 

            September had come, but not a trace of cool weather with it, and we were still sleeping on the back screen porch.  A roly poly insect had crawled onto the porch.  Jem was scowling when I went to mash it.  This was probably a part of the stage he was going through, and I wished he would hurry up and get through it.

            “Why couldn’t’ I mash him?” I asked.

            “Because they don’t bother you,” Jem answered in the darkness.

            “Reckon you’re at the stage now where you don’t kill flies and mosquitoes now, I reckon,” I said.  “Lemme know when you change your mind.  Tell you one thing though, I ain’t gonna sit around and not scratch a redbug.”

            “Aw, dry up,” he answered drowsily.

            Jem was the one who was getting more like a girl every day, not I.  I was thinking of Dill.  He had left us the first of the month saying that he would be back the minute school was out.  Dill told me of the time he and Jem were swimming and on their way back, they saw Atticus driving up the road.  He stopped and Jem pleaded for a ride.  Atticus finally agreed.  He and Calpurnia were on their way to Tom Robinson’s place.

            They turned off the highway, rode slowly by the dump and past the Ewell residence, down the narrow lane to the Negro cabins.  Dill said a crowd of black children were playing marbles in Tom’s front yard.  Atticus parked the car and got out.  Calpurnia followed him through the front gate.

            Dill heard him ask one of the children, “Where’s your mother, Sam?” and heard Sam say, “She down at Sis Steven’s, Mr. Finch.  Want me run fetch her?”

            Dill said Atticus looked uncertain, then he said yes, and Sam scampered off.  “Go on with your game, boys,”  Atticus said to the children.

            A little girl came to the door and she needed some help getting up the steps.  Dill said that Atticus offered her his finger to help her and then gave her over to Calpurnia.

            Sam was trotting behind his mother when they came up.  Dill said Helen said, “’Evenin’, Mr. Finch, won’t you have a seat?”  But she didn’t say anymore.  Neither did Atticus.

            “Scout,” said Dill, “she just fell down in the dirt.  Just fell down in the dirt, like a giant with a big foot just came along and stepped on her.  Just ump—“  Dill’s fat foot hit the ground.  “Like you’d step on an ant.”

            Dill said Calpurnia and Atticus lifted Helen to her feet and half carried, half walked her to the cabin.  They stayed inside a long time, and Atticus came out alone.  When they drove back by the dump, some of the Ewells hollered at them, but Dill didn’t catch what they said.

            Maycomb was interested by the news of Tom’s death for perhaps two days.  To Maycomb, Tom’s death was typical.  Typical for a n****r to cut and run.  Typical of a n****’s mentality to have no plan, no thought for the future, just run blind first chance he saw.  Funny thing, Atticus Finch might’ve got him off scot free, but wait --? Hell no.  You know how they are. Easy come, easy go.  Just shows you that Robinson was legally married, they say he kept himself clean, went to church and all that, but when it comes down to the line, the n****r always comes out in ‘em.

            The Maycomb Tribune appeared the following Thursday.  There was a brief obituary, but there was also an editorial.

            Mr. Underwood was at this most bitter, and he couldn’t care less who cancelled advertising and subscriptions as a result of his editorial.  He didn’t write about the injustices, he was writing so children could understand.  Mr. Underwood simply figured it was a sin to kill cripples, be they standing, sitting, or escaping.  He likened Tom’s death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children.

            How could this be so, I wondered, as I read Mr. Underwood’s editorial.  Senseless killing – Tom had been given due process of law to the day of this death; he had been tried openly and convicted by twelve good men and true; my father had fought for him all the way.  Then Mr. Underwood’s meaning became clear:  Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men’s hearts, Atticus had no case. Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed.

            The name Ewell gave me a queasy feeling.  Mr. Ewell said it made one down and about two more to go.  Jem told me not to be afraid, Mr. Ewell was more hot gas than anything.  Jem also told me that if I breathed a word to Atticus, if in anyway I let Atticus know I knew, Jem would personally never speak to me again.