To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 23)

Miss Maudie looked around, and the shadow of her old grin crossed her face. “Always wanted a smaller house, Jem Finch. Gives me more yard. Just think, I’ll have more room for my azaleas now!”

“You ain’t grievin’, Miss Maudie?” I asked, surprised. Atticus said her house was nearly all she had.

“Grieving, child? Why, I hated that old cow barn. Thought of settin’ fire to it a hundred times myself, except they’d lock me up.”

“But—”

“Don’t you worry about me, Jean Louise Finch. There are ways of doing things you don’t know about. Why, I’ll build me a little house and take me a couple of roomers and—gracious, I’ll have the finest yard in Alabama. Those Bellingraths’ll look plain puny when I get started!”

Jem and I looked at each other. “How’d it catch, Miss Maudie?” he asked.

“I don’t know, Jem. Probably the flue in the kitchen. I kept a fire in there last night for my potted plants. Hear you had some unexpected company last night, Miss Jean Louise.”

“How’d you know?”

“Atticus told me on his way to town this morning. Tell you the truth, I’d like to’ve been with you. And I’d’ve had sense enough to turn around, too.”

Miss Maudie puzzled me. With most of her possessions gone and her beloved yard a shambles, she still took a lively and cordial interest in Jem’s and my affairs.

She must have seen my perplexity. She said, “Only thing I worried about last night was all the danger and commotion it caused. This whole neighborhood could have gone up. Mr. Avery’ll be in bed for a week—he’s right stove up. He’s too old to do things like that and I told him so. Soon as I can get my hands clean and when Stephanie Crawford’s not looking, I’ll make him a Lane cake. That Stephanie’s been after my recipe for thirty years, and if she thinks I’ll give it to her just because I’m staying with her she’s got another think coming.”

I reflected that if Miss Maudie broke down and gave it to her, Miss Stephanie couldn’t follow it anyway. Miss Maudie had once let me see it: among other things, the recipe called for one large cup of sugar.

It was a still day. The air was so cold and clear we heard the courthouse clock clank, rattle and strain before it struck the hour. Miss Maudie’s nose was a color I had never seen before, and I inquired about it.

“I’ve been out here since six o’clock,” she said. “Should be frozen by now.” She held up her hands. A network of tiny lines criss-crossed her palms, brown with dirt and dried blood.

“You’ve ruined ’em,” said Jem. “Why don’t you get a colored man?” There was no note of sacrifice in his voice when he added, “Or Scout’n’me, we can help you.”

Miss Maudie said, “Thank you sir, but you’ve got a job of your own over there.” She pointed to our yard.

“You mean the Morphodite?” I asked. “Shoot, we can rake him up in a jiffy.”

Miss Maudie stared down at me, her lips moving silently. Suddenly she put her hands to her head and whooped. When we left her, she was still chuckling.

Jem said he didn’t know what was the matter with her—that was just Miss Maudie.

9

“You can just take that back, boy!”

This order, given by me to Cecil Jacobs, was the beginning of a rather thin time for Jem and me. My fists were clenched and I was ready to let fly. Atticus had promised me he would wear me out if he ever heard of me fighting any more; I was far too old and too big for such childish things, and the sooner I learned to hold in, the better off everybody would be. I soon forgot.

Cecil Jacobs made me forget. He had announced in the schoolyard the day before that Scout Finch’s daddy defended niggers. I denied it, but told Jem.

“What’d he mean sayin’ that?” I asked.

“Nothing,” Jem said. “Ask Atticus, he’ll tell you.”

“Do you defend niggers, Atticus?” I asked him that evening.

“Of course I do. Don’t say nigger, Scout. That’s common.”

“ ’s what everybody at school says.”

“From now on it’ll be everybody less one—”

“Well if you don’t want me to grow up talkin’ that way, why do you send me to school?”

My father looked at me mildly, amusement in his eyes. Despite our compromise, my campaign to avoid school had continued in one form or another since my first day’s dose of it: the beginning of last September had brought on sinking spells, dizziness, and mild gastric complaints. I went so far as to pay a nickel for the privilege of rubbing my head against the head of Miss Rachel’s cook’s son, who was afflicted with a tremendous ringworm. It didn’t take.

But I was worrying another bone. “Do all lawyers defend n-Negroes, Atticus?”

“Of course they do, Scout.”

“Then why did Cecil say you defended niggers? He made it sound like you were runnin’ a still.”

Atticus sighed. “I’m simply defending a Negro—his name’s Tom Robinson. He lives in that little settlement beyond the town dump. He’s a member of Calpurnia’s church, and Cal knows his family well. She says they’re clean-living folks. Scout, you aren’t old enough to understand some things yet, but there’s been some high talk around town to the effect that I shouldn’t do much about defending this man. It’s a peculiar case—it won’t come to trial until summer session. John Taylor was kind enough to give us a postponement . . .”

“If you shouldn’t be defendin’ him, then why are you doin’ it?”

“For a number of reasons,” said Atticus. “The main one is, if I didn’t I couldn’t hold up my head in town, I couldn’t represent this county in the legislature, I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do something again.”

“You mean if you didn’t defend that man, Jem and me wouldn’t have to mind you any more?”

“That’s about right.”

“Why?”

“Because I could never ask you to mind me again. Scout, simply by the nature of the work, every lawyer gets at least one case in his lifetime that affects him personally. This one’s mine, I guess. You might hear some ugly talk about it at school, but do one thing for me if you will: you just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ’em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change . . . it’s a good one, even if it does resist learning.”

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