To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 9)
When I passed the Radley Place for the fourth time that day—twice at a full gallop—my gloom had deepened to match the house. If the remainder of the school year were as fraught with drama as the first day, perhaps it would be mildly entertaining, but the prospect of spending nine months refraining from reading and writing made me think of running away.
By late afternoon most of my traveling plans were complete; when Jem and I raced each other up the sidewalk to meet Atticus coming home from work, I didn’t give him much of a race. It was our habit to run meet Atticus the moment we saw him round the post office corner in the distance. Atticus seemed to have forgotten my noontime fall from grace; he was full of questions about school. My replies were monosyllabic and he did not press me.
Perhaps Calpurnia sensed that my day had been a grim one: she let me watch her fix supper. “Shut your eyes and open your mouth and I’ll give you a surprise,” she said.
It was not often that she made crackling bread, she said she never had time, but with both of us at school today had been an easy one for her. She knew I loved crackling bread.
“I missed you today,” she said. “The house got so lonesome ’long about two o’clock I had to turn on the radio.”
“Why? Jem’n me ain’t ever in the house unless it’s rainin’.”
“I know,” she said, “but one of you’s always in callin’ distance. I wonder how much of the day I spend just callin’ after you. Well,” she said, getting up from the kitchen chair, “it’s enough time to make a pan of cracklin’ bread, I reckon. You run along now and let me get supper on the table.”
Calpurnia bent down and kissed me. I ran along, wondering what had come over her. She had wanted to make up with me, that was it. She had always been too hard on me, she had at last seen the error of her fractious ways, she was sorry and too stubborn to say so. I was weary from the day’s crimes.
After supper, Atticus sat down with the paper and called, “Scout, ready to read?” The Lord sent me more than I could bear, and I went to the front porch. Atticus followed me.
“Something wrong, Scout?”
I told Atticus I didn’t feel very well and didn’t think I’d go to school any more if it was all right with him.
Atticus sat down in the swing and crossed his legs. His fingers wandered to his watchpocket; he said that was the only way he could think. He waited in amiable silence, and I sought to reinforce my position: “You never went to school and you do all right, so I’ll just stay home too. You can teach me like Grandaddy taught you ’n’ Uncle Jack.”
“No I can’t,” said Atticus. “I have to make a living. Besides, they’d put me in jail if I kept you at home—dose of magnesia for you tonight and school tomorrow.”
“I’m feeling all right, really.”
“Thought so. Now what’s the matter?”
Bit by bit, I told him the day’s misfortunes. “—and she said you taught me all wrong, so we can’t ever read any more, ever. Please don’t send me back, please sir.”
Atticus stood up and walked to the end of the porch. When he completed his examination of the wisteria vine he strolled back to me.
“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—”
“—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Atticus said I had learned many things today, and Miss Caroline had learned several things herself. She had learned not to hand something to a Cunningham, for one thing, but if Walter and I had put ourselves in her shoes we’d have seen it was an honest mistake on her part. We could not expect her to learn all Maycomb’s ways in one day, and we could not hold her responsible when she knew no better.
“I’ll be dogged,” I said. “I didn’t know no better than not to read to her, and she held me responsible—listen Atticus, I don’t have to go to school!” I was bursting with a sudden thought. “Burris Ewell, remember? He just goes to school the first day. The truant lady reckons she’s carried out the law when she gets his name on the roll—”
“You can’t do that, Scout,” Atticus said. “Sometimes it’s better to bend the law a little in special cases. In your case, the law remains rigid. So to school you must go.”
“I don’t see why I have to when he doesn’t.”
Atticus said the Ewells had been the disgrace of Maycomb for three generations. None of them had done an honest day’s work in his recollection. He said that some Christmas, when he was getting rid of the tree, he would take me with him and show me where and how they lived. They were people, but they lived like animals. “They can go to school any time they want to, when they show the faintest symptom of wanting an education,” said Atticus. “There are ways of keeping them in school by force, but it’s silly to force people like the Ewells into a new environment—”
“If I didn’t go to school tomorrow, you’d force me to.”
“Let us leave it at this,” said Atticus dryly. “You, Miss Scout Finch, are the common folk. You must obey the law.” He said that the Ewells were members of an exclusive society made up of Ewells. In certain circumstances the common folk judiciously allowed them certain privileges by the simple method of becoming blind to some of the Ewells’ activities. They didn’t have to go to school, for one thing. Another thing, Mr. Bob Ewell, Burris’s father, was permitted to hunt and trap out of season.
“Atticus, that’s bad,” I said. In Maycomb County, hunting out of season was a misdemeanor at law, a capital felony in the eyes of the populace.
“It’s against the law, all right,” said my father, “and it’s certainly bad, but when a man spends his relief checks on green whiskey his children have a way of crying from hunger pains. I don’t know of any landowner around here who begrudges those children any game their father can hit.”
“Mr. Ewell shouldn’t do that—”
“Of course he shouldn’t, but he’ll never change his ways. Are you going to take out your disapproval on his children?”
“No sir,” I murmured, and made a final stand: “But if I keep on goin’ to school, we can’t ever read any more. . . .”