To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 29)
Miss Maudie straightened up and looked toward me. She said, “Atticus, you are a devil from hell.”
When Atticus returned he told me to break camp. “Don’t you ever let me catch you pointing that gun at anybody again,” he said.
I wished my father was a devil from hell. I sounded out Calpurnia on the subject. “Mr. Finch? Why, he can do lots of things.”
“Like what?” I asked.
Calpurnia scratched her head. “Well, I don’t rightly know,” she said.
Jem underlined it when he asked Atticus if he was going out for the Methodists and Atticus said he’d break his neck if he did, he was just too old for that sort of thing. The Methodists were trying to pay off their church mortgage, and had challenged the Baptists to a game of touch football. Everybody in town’s father was playing, it seemed, except Atticus. Jem said he didn’t even want to go, but he was unable to resist football in any form, and he stood gloomily on the sidelines with Atticus and me watching Cecil Jacob’s father make touchdowns for the Baptists.
One Saturday Jem and I decided to go exploring with our air-rifles to see if we could find a rabbit or a squirrel. We had gone about five hundred yards beyond the Radley Place when I noticed Jem squinting at something down the street. He had turned his head to one side and was looking out of the corners of his eyes.
“Whatcha looking at?”
“That old dog down yonder,” he said.
“That’s old Tim Johnson, ain’t it?”
Tim Johnson was the property of Mr. Harry Johnson who drove the Mobile bus and lived on the southern edge of town. Tim was a liver-colored bird dog, the pet of Maycomb.
“What’s he doing?”
“I don’t know, Scout. We better go home.”
“Aw Jem, it’s February.”
“I don’t care. I’m gonna tell Cal.”
We raced home and ran to the kitchen.
“Cal,” said Jem, “can you come down the sidewalk a minute?”
“What for, Jem? I can’t come down the sidewalk every time you want me.”
“There’s somethin’ wrong with an old dog down yonder.”
Calpurnia sighed. “I can’t wrap up any dog’s foot now. There’s some gauze in the bathroom, go get it and do it yourself.”
Jem shook his head. “He’s sick, Cal. Something’s wrong with him.”
“What’s he doin’, trying to catch his tail?”
“No, he’s doin’ like this.”
Jem gulped like a goldfish, hunched his shoulders and twitched his torso. “He’s goin’ like that, only not like he means to.”
“Are you telling me a story, Jem Finch?” Calpurnia’s voice hardened.
“No Cal, I swear I’m not.”
“Was he runnin’?”
“No, he’s just moseyin’ along, so slow you can’t hardly tell it. He’s comin’ this way.”
Calpurnia rinsed her hands and followed Jem into the yard. “I don’t see any dog,” she said.
She followed us beyond the Radley Place and looked where Jem pointed. Tim Johnson was not much more than a speck in the distance, but he was closer to us. He walked erratically, as if his right legs were shorter than his left legs. He reminded me of a car stuck in a sand-bed.
“He’s gone lopsided,” said Jem.
Calpurnia stared, then grabbed us by the shoulders and ran us home. She shut the wood door behind us, went to the telephone and shouted, “Gimme Mr. Finch’s office!”
“Mr. Finch!” she shouted. “This is Cal. I swear to God there’s a mad dog down the street a piece—he’s comin’ this way, yes sir, he’s—Mr. Finch, I declare he is—old Tim Johnson, yes sir . . . yessir . . . yes—”
She hung up and shook her head when we tried to ask her what Atticus had said. She rattled the telephone hook and said, “Miss Eula May—now ma’am, I’m through talkin’ to Mr. Finch, please don’t connect me no more—listen, Miss Eula May, can you call Miss Rachel and Miss Stephanie Crawford and whoever’s got a phone on this street and tell ’em a mad dog’s comin’? Please ma’am!”
Calpurnia listened. “I know it’s February, Miss Eula May, but I know a mad dog when I see one. Please ma’am hurry!”
Calpurnia asked Jem, “Radleys got a phone?”
Jem looked in the book and said no. “They won’t come out anyway, Cal.”
“I don’t care, I’m gonna tell ’em.”
She ran to the front porch, Jem and I at her heels. “You stay in that house!” she yelled.
Calpurnia’s message had been received by the neighborhood. Every wood door within our range of vision was closed tight. We saw no trace of Tim Johnson. We watched Calpurnia running toward the Radley Place, holding her skirt and apron above her knees. She went up to the front steps and banged on the door. She got no answer, and she shouted, “Mr. Nathan, Mr. Arthur, mad dog’s comin’! Mad dog’s comin’!”
“She’s supposed to go around in back,” I said.
Jem shook his head. “Don’t make any difference now,” he said.
Calpurnia pounded on the door in vain. No one acknowledged her warning; no one seemed to have heard it.
As Calpurnia sprinted to the back porch a black Ford swung into the driveway. Atticus and Mr. Heck Tate got out.
Mr. Heck Tate was the sheriff of Maycomb County. He was as tall as Atticus, but thinner. He was long-nosed, wore boots with shiny metal eye-holes, boot pants and a lumber jacket. His belt had a row of bullets sticking in it. He carried a heavy rifle. When he and Atticus reached the porch, Jem opened the door.
“Stay inside, son,” said Atticus. “Where is he, Cal?”
“He oughta be here by now,” said Calpurnia, pointing down the street.
“Not runnin’, is he?” asked Mr. Tate.
“Naw sir, he’s in the twitchin’ stage, Mr. Heck.”
“Should we go after him, Heck?” asked Atticus.
“We better wait, Mr. Finch. They usually go in a straight line, but you never can tell. He might follow the curve—hope he does or he’ll go straight in the Radley back yard. Let’s wait a minute.”
“Don’t think he’ll get in the Radley yard,” said Atticus. “Fence’ll stop him. He’ll probably follow the road. . . .”
I thought mad dogs foamed at the mouth, galloped, leaped and lunged at throats, and I thought they did it in August. Had Tim Johnson behaved thus, I would have been less frightened.