To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 65)

Calpurnia marched us home: “—skin every one of you alive, the very idea, you children listenin’ to all that! Mister Jem, don’t you know better’n to take your little sister to that trial? Miss Alexandra’ll absolutely have a stroke of paralysis when she finds out! Ain’t fittin’ for children to hear. . . .”

The streetlights were on, and we glimpsed Calpurnia’s indignant profile as we passed beneath them. “Mister Jem, I thought you was gettin’ some kinda head on your shoulders—the very idea, she’s your little sister! The very idea, sir! You oughta be perfectly ashamed of yourself—ain’t you got any sense at all?”

I was exhilarated. So many things had happened so fast I felt it would take years to sort them out, and now here was Calpurnia giving her precious Jem down the country—what new marvels would the evening bring?

Jem was chuckling. “Don’t you want to hear about it, Cal?”

“Hush your mouth, sir! When you oughta be hangin’ your head in shame you go along laughin’—” Calpurnia revived a series of rusty threats that moved Jem to little remorse, and she sailed up the front steps with her classic, “If Mr. Finch don’t wear you out, I will—get in that house, sir!”

Jem went in grinning, and Calpurnia nodded tacit consent to having Dill in to supper. “You all call Miss Rachel right now and tell her where you are,” she told him. “She’s run distracted lookin’ for you—you watch out she don’t ship you back to Meridian first thing in the mornin’.”

Aunt Alexandra met us and nearly fainted when Calpurnia told her where we were. I guess it hurt her when we told her Atticus said we could go back, because she didn’t say a word during supper. She just rearranged food on her plate, looking at it sadly while Calpurnia served Jem, Dill and me with a vengeance. Calpurnia poured milk, dished out potato salad and ham, muttering, “ ’shamed of yourselves,” in varying degrees of intensity. “Now you all eat slow,” was her final command.

Reverend Sykes had saved our places. We were surprised to find that we had been gone nearly an hour, and were equally surprised to find the courtroom exactly as we had left it, with minor changes: the jury box was empty, the defendant was gone; Judge Taylor had been gone, but he reappeared as we were seating ourselves.

“Nobody’s moved, hardly,” said Jem.

“They moved around some when the jury went out,” said Reverend Sykes. “The menfolk down there got the womenfolk their suppers, and they fed their babies.”

“How long have they been out?” asked Jem.

“ ’bout thirty minutes. Mr. Finch and Mr. Gilmer did some more talkin’, and Judge Taylor charged the jury.”

“How was he?” asked Jem.

“What say? Oh, he did right well. I ain’t complainin’ one bit—he was mighty fair-minded. He sorta said if you believe this, then you’ll have to return one verdict, but if you believe this, you’ll have to return another one. I thought he was leanin’ a little to our side—” Reverend Sykes scratched his head.

Jem smiled. “He’s not supposed to lean, Reverend, but don’t fret, we’ve won it,” he said wisely. “Don’t see how any jury could convict on what we heard—”

“Now don’t you be so confident, Mr. Jem, I ain’t ever seen any jury decide in favor of a colored man over a white man. . . .” But Jem took exception to Reverend Sykes, and we were subjected to a lengthy review of the evidence with Jem’s ideas on the law regarding rape: it wasn’t rape if she let you, but she had to be eighteen—in Alabama, that is—and Mayella was nineteen. Apparently you had to kick and holler, you had to be overpowered and stomped on, preferably knocked stone cold. If you were under eighteen, you didn’t have to go through all this.

“Mr. Jem,” Reverend Sykes demurred, “this ain’t a polite thing for little ladies to hear . . .”

“Aw, she doesn’t know what we’re talkin’ about,” said Jem. “Scout, this is too old for you, ain’t it?”

“It most certainly is not, I know every word you’re saying.” Perhaps I was too convincing, because Jem hushed and never discussed the subject again.

“What time is it, Reverend?” he asked.

“Gettin’ on toward eight.”

I looked down and saw Atticus strolling around with his hands in his pockets: he made a tour of the windows, then walked by the railing over to the jury box. He looked in it, inspected Judge Taylor on his throne, then went back to where he started. I caught his eye and waved to him. He acknowledged my salute with a nod, and resumed his tour.

Mr. Gilmer was standing at the windows talking to Mr. Underwood. Bert, the court reporter, was chain-smoking: he sat back with his feet on the table.

But the officers of the court, the ones present—Atticus, Mr. Gilmer, Judge Taylor sound asleep, and Bert, were the only ones whose behavior seemed normal. I had never seen a packed courtroom so still. Sometimes a baby would cry out fretfully, and a child would scurry out, but the grown people sat as if they were in church. In the balcony, the Negroes sat and stood around us with biblical patience.

The old courthouse clock suffered its preliminary strain and struck the hour, eight deafening bongs that shook our bones.

When it bonged eleven times I was past feeling: tired from fighting sleep, I allowed myself a short nap against Reverend Sykes’s comfortable arm and shoulder. I jerked awake and made an honest effort to remain so, by looking down and concentrating on the heads below: there were sixteen bald ones, fourteen men that could pass for red-heads, forty heads varying between brown and black, and—I remembered something Jem had once explained to me when he went through a brief period of physical research: he said if enough people—a stadium full, maybe—were to concentrate on one thing, such as setting a tree afire in the woods, that the tree would ignite of its own accord. I toyed with the idea of asking everyone below to concentrate on setting Tom Robinson free, but thought if they were as tired as I, it wouldn’t work.

Dill was sound asleep, his head on Jem’s shoulder, and Jem was quiet.

“Ain’t it a long time?” I asked him.

“Sure is, Scout,” he said happily.

“Well, from the way you put it, it’d just take five minutes.”

Jem raised his eyebrows. “There are things you don’t understand,” he said, and I was too weary to argue.


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