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8

WITH THE SAME suddenness that a barbarous boy yanks the larva of an ant lion from its hole to leave it struggling in the sun, Jean Louise was snatched from her quiet realm and left alone to protect her sensitive epidermis as best she could, on a humid Sunday afternoon at precisely 2:28 P.M. The circumstances leading to the event were these:

After dinner, at which time Jean Louise regaled her household with Dr. Finch’s observations on stylish hymn-singing, Atticus sat in his corner of the livingroom reading the Sunday papers, and Jean Louise was looking forward to an afternoon’s hilarity with her uncle, complete with teacakes and the strongest coffee in Maycomb.

The doorbell rang. She heard Atticus call, “Come in!” and Henry’s voice answer him, “Ready, Mr. Finch?”

She threw down the dishtowel; before she could leave the kitchen Henry stuck his head in the door and said, “Hey.”

Alexandra pinned him to the wall in no time flat: “Henry Clinton, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

Henry, whose charms were not inconsiderable, turned them full force on Alexandra, who showed no signs of melting. “Now, Miss Alexandra,” he said. “You can’t stay mad with us long even if you try.”

Alexandra said, “I got you two out of it this time, but I may not be around next time.”

“Miss Alexandra, we appreciate that more than anything.” He turned to Jean Louise. “Seven-thirty tonight and no Landing. We’ll go to the show.”

“Okay. Where’re you all going?”

“Courthouse. Meeting.”

“On Sunday?”

“Yep.”

“That’s right, I keep forgetting all the politicking’s done on Sunday in these parts.”

Atticus called for Henry to come on. “Bye, baby,” he said.

Jean Louise followed him into the livingroom. When the front door slammed behind her father and Henry, she went to her father’s chair to tidy up the papers he had left on the floor beside it. She picked them up, arranged them in sectional order, and put them on the sofa in a neat pile. She crossed the room again to straighten the stack of books on his lamp table, and was doing so when a pamphlet the size of a business envelope caught her eye.

On its cover was a drawing of an anthropophagous Negro; above the drawing was printed The Black Plague. Its author was somebody with several academic degrees after his name. She opened the pamphlet, sat down in her father’s chair, and began reading. When she had finished, she took the pamphlet by one of its corners, held it like she would hold a dead rat by the tail, and walked into the kitchen. She held the pamphlet in front of her aunt.

“What is this thing?” she said.

Alexandra looked over her glasses at it. “Something of your father’s.”

Jean Louise stepped on the garbage can trigger and threw the pamphlet in.

“Don’t do that,” said Alexandra. “They’re hard to come by these days.”

Jean Louise opened her mouth, shut it, and opened it again. “Aunty, have you read that thing? Do you know what’s in it?”

“Certainly.”

If Alexandra had uttered an obscenity in her face, Jean Louise would have been less surprised.

“You-Aunty, do you know the stuff in that thing makes Dr. Goebbels look like a naive little country boy?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Jean Louise. There are a lot of truths in that book.”

“Yes indeedy,” said Jean Louise wryly. “I especially liked the part where the Negroes, bless their hearts, couldn’t help being inferior to the white race because their skulls are thicker and their brain-pans shallower-whatever that means-so we must all be very kind to them and not let them do anything to hurt themselves and keep them in their places. Good God, Aunty—”

Alexandra was ramrod straight. “Well?” she said.

Jean Louise said, “It’s just that I never knew you went in for salacious reading material, Aunty.”

Her aunt was silent, and Jean Louise continued: “I was real impressed with the parable where since the dawn of history the rulers of the world have always been white, except Genghis Khan or somebody-the author was real fair about that-and he made a killin’ point about even the Pharaohs were white and their subjects were either black or Jews—”

“That’s true, isn’t it?”

“Sure, but what’s that got to do with the case?”

When Jean Louise felt apprehensive, expectant, or on edge, especially when confronting her aunt, her brain clicked to the meter of Gilbertian tomfoolery. Three sprightly figures whirled madly in her head-hours filled with Uncle Jack and Dill dancing to preposterous measures blacked out the coming of tomorrow with tomorrow’s troubles.

Alexandra was talking to her: “I told you. It’s something your father brought home from a citizens’ council meeting.”

“From a what?”

“From the Maycomb County Citizens’ Council. Didn’t you know we have one?”

“I did not.”

“Well, your father’s on the board of directors and Henry’s one of the staunchest members.” Alexandra sighed. “Not that we really need one. Nothing’s happened here in Maycomb yet, but it’s always wise to be prepared. That’s where they are this minute.”

“Citizens’ council? In Maycomb?” Jean Louise heard herself repeating fatuously. “Atticus?”

Alexandra said, “Jean Louise, I don’t think you fully realize what’s been going on down here—”

Jean Louise turned on her heel, walked to the front door, out of it, across the broad front yard, down the street toward town as fast as she could go, Alexandra’s “you aren’t going to town Like That” echoing behind her. She had forgotten that there was a car in good running condition in the garage, that its keys were on the hall table. She walked swiftly, keeping time to the absurd jingle running through her head.

Here’s a how-de-do!

If I marry you,

When your time has come to perish

Then the maiden whom you cherish

Must be slaughtered, too!

Here’s a how-de-do!

What were Hank and Atticus up to? What was going on? She did not know, but before the sun went down she would find out.

It had something to do with that pamphlet she found in the house-sitting there before God and everybody-something to do with citizens’ councils. She knew about them, all right. New York papers full of it. She wished she had paid more attention to them, but only one glance down a column of print was enough to tell her a familiar story: same people who were the Invisible Empire, who hated Catholics; ignorant, fear-ridden, red-faced, boorish, law-abiding, one hundred per cent red-blooded Anglo-Saxons, her fellow Americans-trash.

Atticus and Hank were pulling something, they were there merely to keep an eye on things-Aunty said Atticus was on the board of directors. She was wrong. It was all a mistake; Aunty got mixed up on her facts sometimes…

She slowed up when she came to the town. It was deserted; only two cars were in front of the drugstore. The old courthouse stood white in the afternoon glare. A black hound loped down the street in the distance, the monkey puzzles bristled silently on the corners of the square.

When she went to the north side entrance she saw empty cars standing in a double row the length of the building.

When she went up the courthouse steps she missed the elderly men who loitered there, she missed the water cooler that stood inside the door, missed the cane-bottom chairs in the hallway; she did not miss the dank urine-sweet odor of sunless county cubbyholes. She walked past the offices of the tax collector, tax assessor, county clerk, registrar, judge of probate, up old unpainted stairs to the courtroom floor, up a small covered stairway to the Colored balcony, walked out into it, and took her old place in the corner of the front row, where she and her brother had sat when they went to court to watch their father.

Below her, on rough benches, sat not only most of the trash in Maycomb County, but the county’s most respectable men.

She looked toward the far end of the room, and behind the railing that separated court from spectators, at a long table, sat her father, Henry Clinton, several men she knew only too well, and a man she did not know.

At the end of the table, sitting like a great dropsical gray slug, was William Willoughby, the political symbol of everything her father and men like him despised. He’s the last of his kind, she thought. Atticus’d scarcely give him the time of day, and there he is at the same…

William Willoughby was indeed the last of his kind, for a while, at least. He was bleeding slowly to death in the midst of abundance, for his life’s blood was poverty. Every county in the Deep South had a Willoughby, each so like the other that they constituted a category called He, the Great Big Man, the Little Man, allowing for minor territorial differences. He, or whatever his subjects called him, occupied the leading administrative office in his county-usually he was sheriff or judge or probate-but there were mutations, like Maycomb’s Willoughby, who chose to grace no public office. Willoughby was rare-his preference to remain behind the scenes implied the absence of vast personal conceit, a trait essential for two-penny despots.

Willoughby chose to run the county not in its most comfortable office, but in what was best described as a hutch-a small, dark, evil-smelling room with his name on the door, containing nothing more than a telephone, a kitchen table, and unpainted captain’s chairs of rich patina. Wherever Willoughby went, there followed axiomatically a coterie of passive, mostly negative characters known as the Courthouse Crowd, specimens Willoughby had put into the various county and municipal offices to do as they were told.

Sitting at the table by Willoughby was one of them, Tom-Carl Joyner, his right-hand man and justly proud: wasn’t he in with Willoughby from the beginning? Did he not do all of Willoughby’s legwork? Did he not, in the old days during the Depression, knock on tenant-cabin doors at midnight, did he not drum it into the head of every ignorant hungry wretch who accepted public assistance, whether job or relief money, that his vote was Willoughby’s? No votee, no eatee. Like his lesser satellites, over the years Tom-Carl had assumed an ill-fitting air of respectability and did not care to be reminded of his nefarious beginnings. Tom-Carl sat that Sunday secure in the knowledge that the small empire he had lost so much sleep building would be his when Willoughby lost interest or died. Nothing in Tom-Carl’s face indicated that he might have a rude surprise coming to him: already, prosperity-bred independence had undermined his kingdom until it was foundering; two more elections and it would crumble into thesis material for a sociology major. Jean Louise watched his self-important little face and almost laughed when she reflected that the South was indeed pitiless to reward its public servants with extinction.

She looked down on rows of familiar heads-white hair, brown hair, hair carefully combed to hide no hair-and she remembered how, long ago when court was dull, she would quietly aim spitballs at the shining domes below. Judge Taylor caught her at it one day and threatened her with a bench warrant.

The courthouse clock creaked, strained, said, “Phlugh!” and struck the hour. Two. When the sound shivered away she saw her father rise and address the assembly in his dry courtroom voice:

“Gentlemen, our speaker for today is Mr. Grady O’Hanlon. He needs no introduction. Mr. O’Hanlon.”

Mr. O’Hanlon rose and said, “As the cow said to the milkman on a cold morning, ‘Thank you for the warm hand.’”

She had never seen or heard of Mr. O’Hanlon in her life. From the gist of his introductory remarks, however, Mr. O’Hanlon made plain to her who he was-he was an ordinary, God-fearing man just like any ordinary man, who had quit his job to devote his full time to the preservation of segregation. Well, some people have strange fancies, she thought.

Mr. O’Hanlon had light-brown hair, blue eyes, a mulish face, a shocking necktie, and no coat. He unbuttoned his collar, untied his tie, blinked his eyes, ran his hand through his hair, and got down to business:

Mr. O’Hanlon was born and bred in the South, went to school there, married a Southern lady, lived all his life there, and his main interest today was to uphold the Southern Way of Life and no niggers and no Supreme Court was going to tell him or anybody else what to do… a race as hammer-headed as… essential inferiority… kinky woolly heads… still in the trees… greasy smelly… marry your daughters… mongrelize the race… mongrelize… mongrelize… save the South… Black Monday… lower than cockroaches… God made the races… nobody knows why but He intended for ’em to stay apart… if He hadn’t He’d’ve made us all one color… back to Africa…

She heard her father’s voice, a tiny voice talking in the warm comfortable past. Gentlemen, if there’s one slogan in this world I believe, it is this: equal rights for all, special privileges for none.

These top-water nigger preachers… like apes… mouths like Number 2 cans… twist the Gospel… the court prefers to listen to Communists… take ’em all out and shoot ’em for treason…

Against Mr. O’Hanlon’s humming harangue, a memory was rising to dispute him: the courtroom shifted imperceptibly, in it she looked down on the same heads. When she looked across the room a jury sat in the box, Judge Taylor was on the bench, his pilot fish sat below in front of him writing steadily; her father was on his feet: he had risen from a table at which she could see the back of a kinky woolly head…

Atticus Finch rarely took a criminal case; he had no taste for criminal law. The only reason he took this one was because he knew his client to be innocent of the charge, and he could not for the life of him let the black boy go to prison because of a half-hearted, court-appointed defense. The boy had come to him by way of Calpurnia, told him his story, and had told him the truth. The truth was ugly.

Atticus took his career in his hands, made good use of a careless indictment, took his stand before a jury, and accomplished what was never before or afterwards done in Maycomb County: he won an acquittal for a colored boy on a rape charge. The chief witness for the prosecution was a white girl.

Atticus had two weighty advantages: although the white girl was fourteen years of age the defendant was not indicted for statutory rape, therefore Atticus could and did prove consent. Consent was easier to prove than under normal conditions-the defendant had only one arm. The other was chopped off in a sawmill accident.

Atticus pursued the case to its conclusion with every spark of his ability and with an instinctive distaste so bitter only his knowledge that he could live peacefully with himself was able to wash it away. After the verdict, he walked out of the courtroom in the middle of the day, walked home, and took a steaming bath. He never counted what it cost him; he never looked back. He never knew two pairs of eyes like his own were watching him from the balcony.

… not the question of whether snot-nosed niggers will go to school with your children or ride the front of the bus… it’s whether Christian civilization will continue to be or whether we will be slaves of the Communists… nigger lawyers… stomped on the Constitution… our Jewish friends… killed Jesus… voted the nigger… our granddaddies… nigger judges and sheriffs… separate is equal… ninety-five per cent of the tax money… for the nigger and the old hound dog… following the golden calf… preach the Gospel… old lady Roosevelt… nigger-lover… entertains forty-five niggers but not one fresh white Southern virgin… Huey Long, that Christian gentleman… black as burnt light’ud knots… bribed the Supreme Court… decent white Christians… was Jesus crucified for the nigger…

Jean Louise’s hand slipped. She removed it from the balcony railing and looked at it. It was dripping wet. A wet place on the railing mirrored thin light coming through the upper windows. She stared at her father sitting to the right of Mr. O’Hanlon, and she did not believe what she saw. She stared at Henry sitting to the left of Mr. O’Hanlon, and she did not believe what she saw…

… but they were sitting all over the courtroom. Men of substance and character, responsible men, good men. Men of all varieties and reputations… it seemed that the only man in the county not present was Uncle Jack. Uncle Jack-she was supposed to go see him sometime. When?

She knew little of the affairs of men, but she knew that her father’s presence at the table with a man who spewed filth from his mouth-did that make it less filthy? No. It condoned.

She felt sick. Her stomach shut, she began to tremble.

Hank.

Every nerve in her body shrieked, then died. She was numb.

She pulled herself to her feet clumsily, and stumbled from the balcony down the covered staircase. She did not hear her feet scraping down the broad stairs, or the courthouse clock laboriously strike two-thirty; she did not feel the dank air of the first floor.

The glaring sun pierced her eyes with pain, and she put her hands to her face. When she took them down slowly to adjust her eyes from dark to light, she saw Maycomb with no people in it, shimmering in the steaming afternoon.

She walked down the steps and into the shade of a live oak. She put her arm out and leaned against the trunk. She looked at Maycomb, and her throat tightened: Maycomb was looking back at her.

Go away, the old buildings said. There is no place for you here. You are not wanted. We have secrets.

In obedience to them, in the silent heat she walked down Maycomb’s main thoroughfare, a highway leading to Montgomery. She walked on, past houses with wide front yards in which moved green-thumbed ladies and slow large men. She thought she heard Mrs. Wheeler yelling to Miss Maudie Atkinson across the street, and if Miss Maudie saw her she would say come in and have some cake, I’ve just made a big one for the Doctor and a little one for you. She counted the cracks in the sidewalk, steeled herself for Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose’s onslaught-Don’t you say hey to me, Jean Louise Finch, you say good afternoon! — hurried by the old steep-roofed house, past Miss Rachel’s, and found herself home.

HOME-MADE ICE CREAM.

She blinked hard. I’m losing my mind, she thought.

She tried to walk on but it was too late. The square, squat, modern ice cream shop where her old home had been was open, and a man was peering out the window at her. She dug in the pockets of her slacks and came up with a quarter.

“Could I have a cone of vanilla, please?”

“Don’t come in cones no more. I can give you a—”

“That’s all right. Give me whatever it comes in,” she said to the man.

“Jean Louise Finch, ain’tcha?” he said.

“Yes.”

“Used to live right here, didn’tcha?”

“Yes.”

“Matter of fact, born here, weren’tcha?”

“Yes.”

“Been livin’ in New York, haven’tcha?”

“Yes.”

“Maycomb’s changed, ain’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t remember who I am, do you?”

“No.”

“Well I ain’t gonna tell you. You can just sit there and eat your ice cream and try to figure out who I am, and if you can I’ll give you another helpin’ free of charge.”

“Thank you sir,” she said. “Do you mind if I go around in the back—”

“Sure. There’s tables and chairs out in the back. Folks set out there at night and eat their ice cream.”

The back yard was strewn over with white gravel. How small it looks with no house, no carhouse, no chinaberry trees, she thought. She sat down at a table and put the container of ice cream on it. I’ve got to think.

It happened so quickly that her stomach was still heaving. She breathed deeply to quieten it, but it would not stay still. She felt herself turning green with nausea, and she put her head down; try as she might she could not think, she only knew, and what she knew was this:

The one human being she had ever fully and wholeheartedly trusted had failed her; the only man she had ever known to whom she could point and say with expert knowledge, “He is a gentleman, in his heart he is a gentleman,” had betrayed her, publicly, grossly, and shamelessly.


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