To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 85)
“Who was it?”
“Why there he is, Mr. Tate, he can tell you his name.”
As I said it, I half pointed to the man in the corner, but brought my arm down quickly lest Atticus reprimand me for pointing. It was impolite to point.
He was still leaning against the wall. He had been leaning against the wall when I came into the room, his arms folded across his chest. As I pointed he brought his arms down and pressed the palms of his hands against the wall. They were white hands, sickly white hands that had never seen the sun, so white they stood out garishly against the dull cream wall in the dim light of Jem’s room.
I looked from his hands to his sand-stained khaki pants; my eyes traveled up his thin frame to his torn denim shirt. His face was as white as his hands, but for a shadow on his jutting chin. His cheeks were thin to hollowness; his mouth was wide; there were shallow, almost delicate indentations at his temples, and his gray eyes were so colorless I thought he was blind. His hair was dead and thin, almost feathery on top of his head.
When I pointed to him his palms slipped slightly, leaving greasy sweat streaks on the wall, and he hooked his thumbs in his belt. A strange small spasm shook him, as if he heard fingernails scrape slate, but as I gazed at him in wonder the tension slowly drained from his face. His lips parted into a timid smile, and our neighbor’s image blurred with my sudden tears.
“Hey, Boo,” I said.
“Mr. Arthur, honey,” said Atticus, gently correcting me. “Jean Louise, this is Mr. Arthur Radley. I believe he already knows you.”
If Atticus could blandly introduce me to Boo Radley at a time like this, well—that was Atticus.
Boo saw me run instinctively to the bed where Jem was sleeping, for the same shy smile crept across his face. Hot with embarrassment, I tried to cover up by covering Jem up.
“Ah-ah, don’t touch him,” Atticus said.
Mr. Heck Tate sat looking intently at Boo through his horn-rimmed glasses. He was about to speak when Dr. Reynolds came down the hall.
“Everybody out,” he said, as he came in the door. “Evenin’, Arthur, didn’t notice you the first time I was here.”
Dr. Reynolds’s voice was as breezy as his step, as though he had said it every evening of his life, an announcement that astounded me even more than being in the same room with Boo Radley. Of course . . . even Boo Radley got sick sometimes, I thought. But on the other hand I wasn’t sure.
Dr. Reynolds was carrying a big package wrapped in newspaper. He put it down on Jem’s desk and took off his coat. “You’re quite satisfied he’s alive, now? Tell you how I knew. When I tried to examine him he kicked me. Had to put him out good and proper to touch him. So scat,” he said to me.
“Er—” said Atticus, glancing at Boo. “Heck, let’s go out on the front porch. There are plenty of chairs out there, and it’s still warm enough.”
I wondered why Atticus was inviting us to the front porch instead of the livingroom, then I understood. The livingroom lights were awfully strong.
We filed out, first Mr. Tate—Atticus was waiting at the door for him to go ahead of him. Then he changed his mind and followed Mr. Tate.
People have a habit of doing everyday things even under the oddest conditions. I was no exception: “Come along, Mr. Arthur,” I heard myself saying, “you don’t know the house real well. I’ll just take you to the porch, sir.”
He looked down at me and nodded.
I led him through the hall and past the livingroom.
“Won’t you have a seat, Mr. Arthur? This rocking-chair’s nice and comfortable.”
My small fantasy about him was alive again: he would be sitting on the porch . . . right pretty spell we’re having, isn’t it, Mr. Arthur?
Yes, a right pretty spell. Feeling slightly unreal, I led him to the chair farthest from Atticus and Mr. Tate. It was in deep shadow. Boo would feel more comfortable in the dark.
Atticus was sitting in the swing, and Mr. Tate was in a chair next to him. The light from the livingroom windows was strong on them. I sat beside Boo.
“Well, Heck,” Atticus was saying, “I guess the thing to do—good Lord, I’m losing my memory . . .” Atticus pushed up his glasses and pressed his fingers to his eyes. “Jem’s not quite thirteen . . . no, he’s already thirteen—I can’t remember. Anyway, it’ll come before county court—”
“What will, Mr. Finch?” Mr. Tate uncrossed his legs and leaned forward.
“Of course it was clear-cut self-defense, but I’ll have to go to the office and hunt up—”
“Mr. Finch, do you think Jem killed Bob Ewell? Do you think that?”
“You heard what Scout said, there’s no doubt about it. She said Jem got up and yanked him off her—he probably got hold of Ewell’s knife somehow in the dark . . . we’ll find out tomorrow.”
“Mis-ter Finch, hold on,” said Mr. Tate. “Jem never stabbed Bob Ewell.”
Atticus was silent for a moment. He looked at Mr. Tate as if he appreciated what he said. But Atticus shook his head.
“Heck, it’s mighty kind of you and I know you’re doing it from that good heart of yours, but don’t start anything like that.”
Mr. Tate got up and went to the edge of the porch. He spat into the shrubbery, then thrust his hands into his hip pockets and faced Atticus. “Like what?” he said.
“I’m sorry if I spoke sharply, Heck,” Atticus said simply, “but nobody’s hushing this up. I don’t live that way.”
“Nobody’s gonna hush anything up, Mr. Finch.”
Mr. Tate’s voice was quiet, but his boots were planted so solidly on the porch floorboards it seemed that they grew there. A curious contest, the nature of which eluded me, was developing between my father and the sheriff.
It was Atticus’s turn to get up and go to the edge of the porch. He said, “H’rm,” and spat dryly into the yard. He put his hands in his pockets and faced Mr. Tate.
“Heck, you haven’t said it, but I know what you’re thinking. Thank you for it. Jean Louise—” he turned to me. “You said Jem yanked Mr. Ewell off you?”
“Yes sir, that’s what I thought . . . I—”
“See there, Heck? Thank you from the bottom of my heart, but I don’t want my boy starting out with something like this over his head. Best way to clear the air is to have it all out in the open. Let the county come and bring sandwiches. I don’t want him growing up with a whisper about him, I don’t want anybody saying, ‘Jem Finch . . . his daddy paid a mint to get him out of that.’ Sooner we get this over with the better.”