To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 84)
Somehow, I could think of nothing but Mr. Bob Ewell saying he’d get Atticus if it took him the rest of his life. Mr. Ewell almost got him, and it was the last thing he did.
“Are you sure?” Atticus said bleakly.
“He’s dead all right,” said Mr. Tate. “He’s good and dead. He won’t hurt these children again.”
“I didn’t mean that.” Atticus seemed to be talking in his sleep. His age was beginning to show, his one sign of inner turmoil: the strong line of his jaw melted a little, one became aware of telltale creases forming under his ears, one noticed not his jet-black hair but the gray patches growing at his temples.
“Hadn’t we better go to the livingroom?” Aunt Alexandra said at last.
“If you don’t mind,” said Mr. Tate, “I’d rather us stay in here if it won’t hurt Jem any. I want to have a look at his injuries while Scout . . . tells us about it.”
“Is it all right if I leave?” she asked. “I’m just one person too many in here. I’ll be in my room if you want me, Atticus.” Aunt Alexandra went to the door, but she stopped and turned. “Atticus, I had a feeling about this tonight—I—this is my fault,” she began. “I should have—”
Mr. Tate held up his hand. “You go ahead, Miss Alexandra, I know it’s been a shock to you. And don’t you fret yourself about anything—why, if we followed our feelings all the time we’d be like cats chasin’ their tails. Miss Scout, see if you can tell us what happened, while it’s still fresh in your mind. You think you can? Did you see him following you?”
I went to Atticus and felt his arms go around me. I buried my head in his lap. “We started home. I said Jem, I’ve forgot m’shoes. Soon’s we started back for ’em the lights went out. Jem said I could get ’em tomorrow. . . .”
“Scout, raise up so Mr. Tate can hear you,” Atticus said. I crawled into his lap.
“Then Jem said hush a minute. I thought he was thinkin’—he always wants you to hush so he can think—then he said he heard somethin’. We thought it was Cecil.”
“Cecil Jacobs. He scared us once tonight, an’ we thought it was him again. He had on a sheet. They gave a quarter for the best costume, I don’t know who won it—”
“Where were you when you thought it was Cecil?”
“Just a little piece from the schoolhouse. I yelled somethin’ at him—”
“You yelled, what?”
“Cecil Jacobs is a big fat hen, I think. We didn’t hear nothin’—then Jem yelled hello or somethin’ loud enough to wake the dead—”
“Just a minute, Scout,” said Mr. Tate. “Mr. Finch, did you hear them?”
Atticus said he didn’t. He had the radio on. Aunt Alexandra had hers going in her bedroom. He remembered because she told him to turn his down a bit so she could hear hers. Atticus smiled. “I always play a radio too loud.”
“I wonder if the neighbors heard anything. . . .” said Mr. Tate.
“I doubt it, Heck. Most of them listen to their radios or go to bed with the chickens. Maudie Atkinson may have been up, but I doubt it.”
“Go ahead, Scout,” Mr. Tate said.
“Well, after Jem yelled we walked on. Mr. Tate, I was shut up in my costume but I could hear it myself, then. Footsteps I mean. They walked when we walked and stopped when we stopped. Jem said he could see me because Mrs. Crenshaw put some kind of shiny paint on my costume. I was a ham.”
“How’s that?” asked Mr. Tate, startled.
Atticus described my role to Mr. Tate, plus the construction of my garment. “You should have seen her when she came in,” he said, “it was crushed to a pulp.”
Mr. Tate rubbed his chin. “I wondered why he had those marks on him. His sleeves were perforated with little holes. There were one or two little puncture marks on his arms to match the holes. Let me see that thing if you will, sir.”
Atticus fetched the remains of my costume. Mr. Tate turned it over and bent it around to get an idea of its former shape. “This thing probably saved her life,” he said. “Look.”
He pointed with a long forefinger. A shiny clean line stood out on the dull wire. “Bob Ewell meant business,” Mr. Tate muttered.
“He was out of his mind,” said Atticus.
“Don’t like to contradict you, Mr. Finch—wasn’t crazy—mean as hell. Low-down skunk with enough liquor in him to make him brave enough to kill children. He’d never have met you face to face.”
Atticus shook his head. “I can’t conceive of a man who’d—”
“Mr. Finch, there’s just some kind of men you have to shoot before you can say hidy to ’em. Even then, they ain’t worth the bullet it takes to shoot ’em. Ewell ’as one of ’em.”
Atticus said, “I thought he got it all out of him the day he threatened me. Even if he hadn’t, I thought he’d come after me.”
“He had guts enough to pester a poor colored woman, he had guts enough to pester Judge Taylor when he thought the house was empty, so do you think he’da met you to your face in daylight?” Mr. Tate sighed. “We’d better get on. Scout, you heard him behind you—”
“Yes sir. When we got under the tree—”
“How’d you know you were under the tree, you couldn’t see thunder out there.”
“I was barefooted, and Jem says the ground’s always cooler under a tree.”
“We’ll have to make him a deputy, go ahead.”
“Then all of a sudden somethin’ grabbed me an’ mashed my costume . . . think I ducked on the ground . . . heard a tusslin’ under the tree sort of . . . they were bammin’ against the trunk, sounded like. Jem found me and started pullin’ me toward the road. Some—Mr. Ewell yanked him down, I reckon. They tussled some more and then there was this funny noise—Jem hollered . . .” I stopped. That was Jem’s arm.
“Anyway, Jem hollered and I didn’t hear him any more an’ the next thing—Mr. Ewell was tryin’ to squeeze me to death, I reckon . . . then somebody yanked Mr. Ewell down. Jem must have got up, I guess. That’s all I know . . .”
“And then?” Mr. Tate was looking at me sharply.
“Somebody was staggerin’ around and pantin’ and—coughing fit to die. I thought it was Jem at first, but it didn’t sound like him, so I went lookin’ for Jem on the ground. I thought Atticus had come to help us and had got wore out—”