To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 45)

“Well, ask him to come in,” said Atticus.

“I already did. There’s some men outside in the yard, they want you to come out.”

In Maycomb, grown men stood outside in the front yard for only two reasons: death and politics. I wondered who had died. Jem and I went to the front door, but Atticus called, “Go back in the house.”

Jem turned out the livingroom lights and pressed his nose to a window screen. Aunt Alexandra protested. “Just for a second, Aunty, let’s see who it is,” he said.

Dill and I took another window. A crowd of men was standing around Atticus. They all seemed to be talking at once.

“. . . 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.”

“Heck, we’ve gotten one postponement of this case just to make sure there’s nothing to be uneasy about. This is Saturday,” Atticus said. “Trial’ll probably be Monday. You can keep him one night, can’t you? I don’t think anybody in Maycomb’ll begrudge me a client, with times this hard.”

There was a murmur of glee that died suddenly when Mr. Link Deas said, “Nobody around here’s up to anything, it’s that Old Sarum bunch I’m worried about . . . can’t you get a—what is it, Heck?”

“Change of venue,” said Mr. Tate. “Not much point in that, now is it?”

Atticus said something inaudible. I turned to Jem, who waved me to silence.

“—besides,” Atticus was saying, “you’re not scared of that crowd, are you?”

“. . . know how they do when they get shinnied up.”

“They don’t usually drink on Sunday, they go to church most of the day . . .” Atticus said.

“This is a special occasion, though. . . .” someone said.

They murmured and buzzed until Aunty said if Jem didn’t turn on the livingroom lights he would disgrace the family. Jem didn’t hear her.

“—don’t see why you touched it in the first place,” Mr. Link Deas was saying. “You’ve got everything to lose from this, Atticus. I mean everything.”

“Do you really think so?”

This was Atticus’s dangerous question. “Do you really think you want to move there, Scout?” Bam, bam, bam, and the checkerboard was swept clean of my men. “Do you really think that, son? Then read this.” Jem would struggle the rest of an evening through the speeches of Henry W. Grady.

“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 among the group of men, made more ominous when Atticus moved back to the bottom front step and the men drew nearer to him.

Suddenly Jem screamed, “Atticus, the telephone’s ringing!”

The men jumped a little and scattered; they were people we saw every day: merchants, in-town farmers; Dr. Reynolds was there; so was Mr. Avery.

“Well, answer it, son,” called Atticus.

Laughter broke them up. When Atticus switched on the overhead light in the livingroom he found Jem at the window, pale except for the vivid mark of the screen on his nose.

“Why on earth are you all sitting in the dark?” he asked.

Jem watched him go to his chair and pick up the evening paper. I sometimes think Atticus subjected every crisis of his life to tranquil evaluation behind The Mobile Register, The Birmingham News and The Montgomery Advertiser.

“They were after you, weren’t they?” Jem went to him. “They wanted to get you, didn’t they?”

Atticus lowered the paper and gazed at Jem. “What have you been reading?” he asked. Then he said gently, “No son, those were our friends.”

“It wasn’t a—a gang?” Jem was looking from the corners of his eyes.

Atticus tried to stifle a smile but didn’t make it. “No, we don’t have mobs and that nonsense in Maycomb. I’ve never heard of a gang in Maycomb.”

“Ku Klux got after some Catholics one time.”

“Never heard of any Catholics in Maycomb either,” said Atticus, “you’re confusing that with something else. Way back about nineteen-twenty there was a Klan, but it was a political organization more than anything. Besides, they couldn’t find anybody to scare. They paraded by Mr. Sam Levy’s house one night, but Sam just stood on his porch and told ’em things had come to a pretty pass, he’d sold ’em the very sheets on their backs. Sam made ’em so ashamed of themselves they went away.”

The Levy family met all criteria for being Fine Folks: they did the best they could with the sense they had, and they had been living on the same plot of ground in Maycomb for five generations.

“The Ku Klux’s gone,” said Atticus. “It’ll never come back.”

I walked home with Dill and returned in time to overhear Atticus saying to Aunty, “. . . in favor of Southern womanhood as much as anybody, but not for preserving polite fiction at the expense of human life,” a pronouncement that made me suspect they had been fussing again.

I sought Jem and found him in his room, on the bed deep in thought. “Have they been at it?” I asked.

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

“Scared’a what?”

“Scared about Atticus. Somebody might hurt him.” Jem preferred to remain mysterious; all he would say to my questions was go on and leave him alone.

Next day was Sunday. In the interval between Sunday School and Church when the congregation stretched its legs, I saw Atticus standing in the yard with another knot of men. Mr. Heck Tate was present, and I wondered if he had seen the light. He never went to church. Even Mr. Underwood was there. Mr. Underwood had no use for any organization but The Maycomb Tribune, of which he was the sole owner, editor, and printer. His days were spent at his linotype, where he refreshed himself occasionally from an ever-present gallon jug of cherry wine. He rarely gathered news; people brought it to him. It was said that he made up every edition of The Maycomb Tribune out of his own head and wrote it down on the linotype. This was believable. Something must have been up to haul Mr. Underwood out.

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