mockingbird chapter 20


Atticus was feeble: he was nearly fifty. He was much older than the parents of our classmates, and Jem and I couldn’t say anything about him when they said, «My father-»

Our father didn’t do anything. He worked in an office, not in a drugstore. Atticus did not drive a dump truck for the county, he was not the sheriff, he did not farm, work in a garage, or do anything that could possibly awaken the admiration of anyone. Besides that, he wore glasses.

He did not do the things that our schoolmates’ fathers did: he never went hunting or fishing, he did not play poker or drink or smoke. He sat in the living room and read.

That year, however, the school full of talk about the case of Tom Robinson, and that Atticus was going to defend him. The talk was not complimentary at all.

When he gave us our air rifles, Atticus refused to teach us to shoot. Uncle Jack instructed us; he said, «Shoot all the jays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.»

Atticus never before said that it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.

«Your father’s right,» she said. «Mockingbirds only make music that we enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing, just sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.»

When I said to Miss Maudie that only old people lived on our street, like Mrs. Dubose, Miss Rachel, and she and Atticus were old too, she said, «You’re lucky, you know. You and Jem have the benefit of your father’s age. If your father was thirty you’d find life quite different.»

«I sure would. Atticus can’t do anything…»

«You’d be surprised,» said Miss Maudie. «There’s life in him yet.»

«What can he do?»

«Well, did you know he’s the best checker-player in this town? Why, down at the Landing when we were growing up, Atticus Finch could beat everybody on both sides of the river.»

«Good Lord, Miss Maudie, Jem and me beat him all the time.»

«It’s about time you found out it’s because he lets you. Did you know he can play a Jew’s Harp?»

It made me even more ashamed of him.

«Well,» Miss Maudie said, «it seems that nothing makes you proud of him. Can’t everybody play a Jew’s Harp. Now keep out of the way of the carpenters. You’d better go home, I’ll be in my azaleas and can’t watch you. Some board might hit you.»

I went to the back yard and found that Jem was shooting cans. I returned to the front yard and in two hours, I constructed a complicated breastwork at the side of the porch. It consisted of a tire, an orange crate, a large basket, the porch chairs, and a small U.S. flag Jem gave me from a popcorn box.

When Atticus came home to dinner, I was aiming across the street from behind of my breastwork. «What are you shooting at?»

«Miss Maudie’s rear end.»

Atticus turned and saw that my generous target was bending over her azaleas. He pushed his hat to the back of his head and crossed the street. «Maudie,» he called, «I thought I’d better warn you. You’re in great danger.»

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 point that gun at anybody again,» he said.

One February Saturday, Jem and I went 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 Jem pointed to a dog in the distance. It was old Tim Johnson, the property of Mr. Harry Johnson who drove the Mobile bus and lived on the southern edge of town. Tim was 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 ran home and into the kitchen. Jem told Calpurnia that something was wrong with Tim Johnson, he looked sick. Jem said that Tim was breathing hard and moseying, and he was coming our way.

Calpurnia came out into the yard and followed us beyond the Radley Place and looked where Jem pointed.

Tim Johnson was not much more than a small spot in the distance, but he was closer to us. He walked unsteadily, as if his right legs were shorter than his left legs.

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 — he’s comin’ this way, yes sir, he’s — old Tim Johnson, yes sir… yes sir… yes -»

She hung up, then made another call. «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 cornin’? Please ma’am!»

Calpumia listened. «I know it’s February, Miss Eula May, but I know a mad dog when I see one. Please, ma’am, hurry!»

As Calpumia sprinted back, a black Ford turned into the driveway. Atticus and Mr. Heck Tate, the sheriff of Maycomb County, got out. Mr. Tate carried a heavy rifle. Atticus told us to stay inside. He asked Calpumia where Tim Johnson was.


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