To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 70)

Atticus said you just had to know ’em. He said the Cunninghams hadn’t taken anything from or off of anybody since they migrated to the New World. He said the other thing about them was, once you earned their respect they were for you tooth and nail. Atticus said he had a feeling, nothing more than a suspicion, that they left the jail that night with considerable respect for the Finches. Then too, he said, it took a thunderbolt plus another Cunningham to make one of them change his mind. “If we’d had two of that crowd, we’d’ve had a hung jury.”

Jem said slowly, “You mean you actually put on the jury a man who wanted to kill you the night before? How could you take such a risk, Atticus, how could you?”

“When you analyze it, there was little risk. There’s no difference between one man who’s going to convict and another man who’s going to convict, is there? There’s a faint difference between a man who’s going to convict and a man who’s a little disturbed in his mind, isn’t there? He was the only uncertainty on the whole list.”

“What kin was that man to Mr. Walter Cunningham?” I asked.

Atticus rose, stretched and yawned. It was not even our bedtime, but we knew he wanted a chance to read his newspaper. He picked it up, folded it, and tapped my head. “Let’s see now,” he droned to himself. “I’ve got it. Double first cousin.”

“How can that be?”

“Two sisters married two brothers. That’s all I’ll tell you—you figure it out.”

I tortured myself and decided that if I married Jem and Dill had a sister whom he married our children would be double first cousins. “Gee minetti, Jem,” I said, when Atticus had gone, “they’re funny folks. ’d you hear that, Aunty?“

Aunt Alexandra was hooking a rug and not watching us, but she was listening. She sat in her chair with her workbasket beside it, her rug spread across her lap. Why ladies hooked woolen rugs on boiling nights never became clear to me.

“I heard it,” she said.

I remembered the distant disastrous occasion when I rushed to young Walter Cunningham’s defense. Now, I was glad I’d done it. “Soon’s school starts I’m gonna ask Walter home to dinner,” I planned, having forgotten my private resolve to beat him up the next time I saw him. “He can stay over sometimes after school, too. Atticus could drive him back to Old Sarum. Maybe he could spend the night with us sometime, okay, Jem?”

“We’ll see about that,” Aunt Alexandra said, a declaration that with her was always a threat, never a promise. Surprised, I turned to her. “Why not, Aunty? They’re good folks.”

She looked at me over her sewing glasses. “Jean Louise, there is no doubt in my mind that they’re good folks. But they’re not our kind of folks.”

Jem says, “She means they’re yappy, Scout.”

“What’s a yap?”

“Aw, tacky. They like fiddlin’ and things like that.”

“Well I do too—”

“Don’t be silly, Jean Louise,” said Aunt Alexandra. “The thing is, you can scrub Walter Cunningham till he shines, you can put him in shoes and a new suit, but he’ll never be like Jem. Besides, there’s a drinking streak in that family a mile wide. Finch women aren’t interested in that sort of people.”

“Aun-ty,” said Jem, “she ain’t nine yet.”

“She may as well learn it now.”

Aunt Alexandra had spoken. I was reminded vividly of the last time she had put her foot down. I never knew why. It was when I was absorbed with plans to visit Calpurnia’s house—I was curious, interested; I wanted to be her “company,” to see how she lived, who her friends were. I might as well have wanted to see the other side of the moon. This time the tactics were different, but Aunt Alexandra’s aim was the same. Perhaps this was why she had come to live with us—to help us choose our friends. I would hold her off as long as I could: “If they’re good folks, then why can’t I be nice to Walter?”

“I didn’t say not to be nice to him. You should be friendly and polite to him, you should be gracious to everybody, dear. But you don’t have to invite him home.”

“What if he was kin to us, Aunty?”

“The fact is that he is not kin to us, but if he were, my answer would be the same.”

“Aunty,” Jem spoke up, “Atticus says you can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ’em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don’t.”

“That’s your father all over again,” said Aunt Alexandra, “and I still say that Jean Louise will not invite Walter Cunningham to this house. If he were her double first cousin once removed he would still not be received in this house unless he comes to see Atticus on business. Now that is that.”

She had said Indeed Not, but this time she would give her reasons: “But I want to play with Walter, Aunty, why can’t I?”

She took off her glasses and stared at me. “I’ll tell you why,” she said. “Because—he—is—trash, that’s why you can’t play with him. I’ll not have you around him, picking up his habits and learning Lord-knows-what. You’re enough of a problem to your father as it is.”

I don’t know what I would have done, but Jem stopped me. He caught me by the shoulders, put his arm around me, and led me sobbing in fury to his bedroom. Atticus heard us and poked his head around the door. “ ’s all right, sir,” Jem said gruffly, “ ’s not anything.” Atticus went away.

“Have a chew, Scout.” Jem dug into his pocket and extracted a Tootsie Roll. It took a few minutes to work the candy into a comfortable wad inside my jaw.

Jem was rearranging the objects on his dresser. His hair stuck up behind and down in front, and I wondered if it would ever look like a man’s—maybe if he shaved it off and started over, his hair would grow back neatly in place. His eyebrows were becoming heavier, and I noticed a new slimness about his body. He was growing taller.

When he looked around, he must have thought I would start crying again, for he said, “Show you something if you won’t tell anybody.” I said what. He unbuttoned his shirt, grinning shyly.

“Well what?”

“Well can’t you see it?”


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