To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 78)
The first thing was that Mr. Bob Ewell acquired and lost a job in a matter of days and probably made himself unique in the annals of the nineteen-thirties: he was the only man I ever heard of who was fired from the WPA for laziness. I suppose his brief burst of fame brought on a briefer burst of industry, but his job lasted only as long as his notoriety: Mr. Ewell found himself as forgotten as Tom Robinson. Thereafter, he resumed his regular weekly appearances at the welfare office for his check, and received it with no grace amid obscure mutterings that the bastards who thought they ran this town wouldn’t permit an honest man to make a living. Ruth Jones, the welfare lady, said Mr. Ewell openly accused Atticus of getting his job. She was upset enough to walk down to Atticus’s office and tell him about it. Atticus told Miss Ruth not to fret, that if Bob Ewell wanted to discuss Atticus’s “getting” his job, he knew the way to the office.
The second thing happened to Judge Taylor. Judge Taylor was not a Sunday-night churchgoer; Mrs. Taylor was. Judge Taylor savored his Sunday night hour alone in his big house, and churchtime found him holed up in his study reading the writings of Bob Taylor (no kin, but the judge would have been proud to claim it). One Sunday night, lost in fruity metaphors and florid diction, Judge Taylor’s attention was wrenched from the page by an irritating scratching noise. “Hush,” he said to Ann Taylor, his fat nondescript dog. Then he realized he was speaking to an empty room; the scratching noise was coming from the rear of the house. Judge Taylor clumped to the back porch to let Ann out and found the screen door swinging open. A shadow on the corner of the house caught his eye, and that was all he saw of his visitor. Mrs. Taylor came home from church to find her husband in his chair, lost in the writings of Bob Taylor, with a shotgun across his lap.
The third thing happened to Helen Robinson, Tom’s widow. If Mr. Ewell was as forgotten as Tom Robinson, Tom Robinson was as forgotten as Boo Radley. But Tom was not forgotten by his employer, Mr. Link Deas. Mr. Link Deas made a job for Helen. He didn’t really need her, but he said he felt right bad about the way things turned out. I never knew who took care of her children while Helen was away. Calpurnia said it was hard on Helen, because she had to walk nearly a mile out of her way to avoid the Ewells, who, according to Helen, “chunked at her” the first time she tried to use the public road. Mr. Link Deas eventually received the impression that Helen was coming to work each morning from the wrong direction, and dragged the reason out of her. “Just let it be, Mr. Link, please suh,” Helen begged. “The hell I will,” said Mr. Link. He told her to come by his store that afternoon before she left. She did, and Mr. Link closed his store, put his hat firmly on his head, and walked Helen home. He walked her the short way, by the Ewells’. On his way back, Mr. Link stopped at the crazy gate.
“Ewell?” he called. “I say Ewell!”
The windows, normally packed with children, were empty.
“I know every last one of you’s in there a-layin’ on the floor! Now hear me, Bob Ewell: if I hear one more peep outa my girl Helen about not bein’ able to walk this road I’ll have you in jail before sundown!” Mr. Link spat in the dust and walked home.
Helen went to work next morning and used the public road. Nobody chunked at her, but when she was a few yards beyond the Ewell house, she looked around and saw Mr. Ewell walking behind her. She turned and walked on, and Mr. Ewell kept the same distance behind her until she reached Mr. Link Deas’s house. All the way to the house, Helen said, she heard a soft voice behind her, crooning foul words. Thoroughly frightened, she telephoned Mr. Link at his store, which was not too far from his house. As Mr. Link came out of his store he saw Mr. Ewell leaning on the fence. Mr. Ewell said, “Don’t you look at me, Link Deas, like I was dirt. I ain’t jumped your—”
“First thing you can do, Ewell, is get your stinkin’ carcass off my property. You’re leanin’ on it an’ I can’t afford fresh paint for it. Second thing you can do is stay away from my cook or I’ll have you up for assault—”
“I ain’t touched her, Link Deas, and ain’t about to go with no nigger!”
“You don’t have to touch her, all you have to do is make her afraid, an’ if assault ain’t enough to keep you locked up a while, I’ll get you in on the Ladies’ Law, so get outa my sight! If you don’t think I mean it, just bother that girl again!”
Mr. Ewell evidently thought he meant it, for Helen reported no further trouble.
“I don’t like it, Atticus, I don’t like it at all,” was Aunt Alexandra’s assessment of these events. “That man seems to have a permanent running grudge against everybody connected with that case. I know how that kind are about paying off grudges, but I don’t understand why he should harbor one—he had his way in court, didn’t he?”
“I think I understand,” said Atticus. “It might be because he knows in his heart that very few people in Maycomb really believed his and Mayella’s yarns. He thought he’d be a hero, but all he got for his pain was . . . was, okay, we’ll convict this Negro but get back to your dump. He’s had his fling with about everybody now, so he ought to be satisfied. He’ll settle down when the weather changes.”
“But why should he try to burgle John Taylor’s house? He obviously didn’t know John was home or he wouldn’t have tried. Only lights John shows on Sunday nights are on the front porch and back in his den . . .”
“You don’t know if Bob Ewell cut that screen, you don’t know who did it,” said Atticus. “But I can guess. I proved him a liar but John made him look like a fool. All the time Ewell was on the stand I couldn’t dare look at John and keep a straight face. John looked at him as if he were a three-legged chicken or a square egg. Don’t tell me judges don’t try to prejudice juries,” Atticus chuckled.
By the end of October, our lives had become the familiar routine of school, play, study. Jem seemed to have put out of his mind whatever it was he wanted to forget, and our classmates mercifully let us forget our father’s eccentricities. Cecil Jacobs asked me one time if Atticus was a Radical. When I asked Atticus, Atticus was so amused I was rather annoyed, but he said he wasn’t laughing at me. He said, “You tell Cecil I’m about as radical as Cotton Tom Heflin.”
Aunt Alexandra was thriving. Miss Maudie must have silenced the whole missionary society at one blow, for Aunty again ruled that roost. Her refreshments grew even more delicious. I learned more about the poor Mrunas’ social life from listening to Mrs. Merriweather: they had so little sense of family that the whole tribe was one big family. A child had as many fathers as there were men in the community, as many mothers as there were women. J. Grimes Everett was doing his utmost to change this state of affairs, and desperately needed our prayers.