To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 63)
I had a feeling that I shouldn’t be here listening to this sinful man who had mixed children and didn’t care who knew it, but he was fascinating. I had never encountered a being who deliberately perpetrated fraud against himself. But why had he entrusted us with his deepest secret? I asked him why.
“Because you’re children and you can understand it,” he said, “and because I heard that one—”
He jerked his head at Dill: “Things haven’t caught up with that one’s instinct yet. Let him get a little older and he won’t get sick and cry. Maybe things’ll strike him as being—not quite right, say, but he won’t cry, not when he gets a few years on him.”
“Cry about what, Mr. Raymond?” Dill’s maleness was beginning to assert itself.
“Cry about the simple hell people give other people—without even thinking. Cry about the hell white people give colored folks, without even stopping to think that they’re people, too.”
“Atticus says cheatin’ a colored man is ten times worse than cheatin’ a white man,” I muttered. “Says it’s the worst thing you can do.”
Mr. Raymond said, “I don’t reckon it’s—Miss Jean Louise, you don’t know your pa’s not a run-of-the-mill man, it’ll take a few years for that to sink in—you haven’t seen enough of the world yet. You haven’t even seen this town, but all you gotta do is step back inside the courthouse.”
Which reminded me that we were missing nearly all of Mr. Gilmer’s cross-examination. I looked at the sun, and it was dropping fast behind the store-tops on the west side of the square. Between two fires, I could not decide which I wanted to jump into: Mr. Raymond or the 5th Judicial Circuit Court. “C’mon, Dill,” I said. “You all right, now?”
“Yeah. Glad to’ve metcha, Mr. Raymond, and thanks for the drink, it was mighty settlin’.”
We raced back to the courthouse, up the steps, up two flights of stairs, and edged our way along the balcony rail. Reverend Sykes had saved our seats.
The courtroom was still, and again I wondered where the babies were. Judge Taylor’s cigar was a brown speck in the center of his mouth; Mr. Gilmer was writing on one of the yellow pads on his table, trying to outdo the court reporter, whose hand was jerking rapidly. “Shoot,” I muttered, “we missed it.”
Atticus was halfway through his speech to the jury. He had evidently pulled some papers from his briefcase that rested beside his chair, because they were on his table. Tom Robinson was toying with them.
“. . . absence of any corroborative evidence, this man was indicted on a capital charge and is now on trial for his life. . . .”
I punched Jem. “How long’s he been at it?”
“He’s just gone over the evidence,” Jem whispered, “and we’re gonna win, Scout. I don’t see how we can’t. He’s been at it ’bout five minutes. He made it as plain and easy as—well, as I’da explained it to you. You could’ve understood it, even.”
“Did Mr. Gilmer—?”
“Sh-h. Nothing new, just the usual. Hush now.”
We looked down again. Atticus was speaking easily, with the kind of detachment he used when he dictated a letter. He walked slowly up and down in front of the jury, and the jury seemed to be attentive: their heads were up, and they followed Atticus’s route with what seemed to be appreciation. I guess it was because Atticus wasn’t a thunderer.
Atticus paused, then he did something he didn’t ordinarily do. He unhitched his watch and chain and placed them on the table, saying, “With the court’s permission—”
Judge Taylor nodded, and then Atticus did something I never saw him do before or since, in public or in private: he unbuttoned his vest, unbuttoned his collar, loosened his tie, and took off his coat. He never loosened a scrap of his clothing until he undressed at bedtime, and to Jem and me, this was the equivalent of him standing before us stark naked. We exchanged horrified glances.
Atticus put his hands in his pockets, and as he returned to the jury, I saw his gold collar button and the tips of his pen and pencil winking in the light.
“Gentlemen,” he said. Jem and I again looked at each other: Atticus might have said, “Scout.” His voice had lost its aridity, its detachment, and he was talking to the jury as if they were folks on the post office corner.
“Gentlemen,” he was saying, “I shall be brief, but I would like to use my remaining time with you to remind you that this case is not a difficult one, it requires no minute sifting of complicated facts, but it does require you to be sure beyond all reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the defendant. To begin with, this case should never have come to trial. This case is as simple as black and white.
“The state has not produced one iota of medical evidence to the effect that the crime Tom Robinson is charged with ever took place. It has relied instead upon the testimony of two witnesses whose evidence has not only been called into serious question on cross-examination, but has been flatly contradicted by the defendant. The defendant is not guilty, but somebody in this courtroom is.
“I have nothing but pity in my heart for the chief witness for the state, but my pity does not extend so far as to her putting a man’s life at stake, which she has done in an effort to get rid of her own guilt.
“I say guilt, gentlemen, because it was guilt that motivated her. She has committed no crime, she has merely broken a rigid and time-honored code of our society, a code so severe that whoever breaks it is hounded from our midst as unfit to live with. She is the victim of cruel poverty and ignorance, but I cannot pity her: she is white. She knew full well the enormity of her offense, but because her desires were stronger than the code she was breaking, she persisted in breaking it. She persisted, as her subsequent reaction is something that all of us have known at one time or another. She did something every child has done—she tried to put the evidence of her offense away from her. But in this case she was no child hiding stolen contraband: she struck out at her victim—of necessity she must put him away from her—he must be removed from her presence, from this world. She must destroy the evidence of her offense.
“What was the evidence of her offense? Tom Robinson, a human being. She must put Tom Robinson away from her. Tom Robinson was her daily reminder of what she did. What did she do? She tempted a Negro.
“She was white, and she tempted a Negro. She did something that in our society is unspeakable: she kissed a black man. Not an old Uncle, but a strong young Negro man. No code mattered to her before she broke it, but it came crashing down on her afterwards.