mockingbird chapter 21


«He ought a be here by now,» Calpumia said, and pointed down the street.

«Not runnin’, is he?» asked Mr. Tate.

«Now sir, he’s in the twitchin’ stage, Mr. Heck.»

I thought mad dogs had foam at the mouth, galloped, jumped at throats, and I thought they did it in August. If Tim Johnson had behaved thus, I would have been less frightened.

Nothing is more deadly than an empty, waiting street. The trees were still, the mockingbirds were silent, the carpenters at Miss Maudie’s house had disappeared. Miss Stephanie Crawford and Miss Maudie stood behind the glass window of Miss Crawford’s front door. Tim Johnson stopped in front of the Radley’s house.

«There he is,» Mr. Tate said softly. «He’s mad all right, Mr. Finch.»

Atticus said, «He’s within range, Heck. You better get him before he goes down the side street — Lord knows who’s around the comer.»

«Take him, Mr. Finch.» Mr. Tate handed the rifle to Atticus; Jem and I nearly fainted.

«Don’t waste time, Heck,» said Atticus. «Go on.»

«Mr. Finch, this is a one-shot job. Look where he is! Miss and you’ll go straight into the Radley house! I can’t shoot that well and you know it!»

«I haven’t shot a gun in thirty years-»

Mr. Tate almost threw the rifle at Atticus. «I’d feel much better if you did now,» he said.

In a fog, Jem and I watched how our father took the gun and walked out into the middle of the street.

When Atticus raised his glasses Calpurnia murmured, «Sweet Jesus, help him,» and put her hands to her cheeks.

Atticus pushed his glasses to his forehead; they slipped down, and he dropped them in the street.

In front of the Radley gate, Tim Johnson had finally turned himself around and continued his original course up our street. He made two steps forward, then stopped and raised his head. His body stiffened.

With movements so swift that they seemed simultaneous, Atticus pulled the trigger as he brought the gun to his shoulder.

The rifle cracked. Tim Johnson leaped and fell down on the sidewalk in a brown-and-white heap. He didn’t know what hit him.

Mr. Tate jumped off the porch and ran to the Radley Place. He stopped in front of the dog, looked at him and tapped his finger on his forehead above his left eye. «You were a little to the right, Mr. Finch,» he called.

«Always was,» answered Atticus.

He picked up his glasses, ground the broken lenses to powder under his heel, and went to Mr. Tate and stood looking down at Tim Johnson.

Doors opened one by one, and the neighborhood slowly came alive. Miss Maudie walked down the steps with Miss Stephanie Crawford. But Atticus told us not to go near the dog because he was as dangerous dead as he was alive.

When Mr. Tate and Atticus returned to the yard, Mr. Tate was smiling. «I’ll tell Zeebo to collect him,» he said. «You haven’t forgotten much, Mr. Finch. They say it never leaves you.» Atticus was silent.

«I saw that, One-Shot Finch!» It was Miss Maudie. They looked at one another but said nothing.

When Atticus and the sheriff drove back to town, Jem and I went to Miss Stephanie’s front steps.

Jem was nearly paralysed by what he had seen. Now he became vaguely articulate: ‘»do you see him, Scout?… an’ it looked like that gun was a part of him… an’ he did it so quick, like… I have to aim for ten minutes ‘fore I can hit somethin’…»

«Well now, Miss Jean Louise,» Miss Maudie said, «still think your father can’t do anything? Still ashamed of him?»

«Nome,» I said meekly.

Miss Maudie said that when Atticus was a boy, his nickname was 01′ One-Shot, that if he shot fifteen times and hit fourteen doves, he’d say he had wasted ammunition.

«Wonder why he never goes huntin’ now,» I said.

«Maybe I can tell you,» said Miss Maudie. «Your father is civilized in his heart. Marksmanship’s a gift of God, a talent. Of course, you have to practice a lot, but shootin’s different from playing the piano or the like. I think maybe he put his gun down when he realized that God had given him an unfair advantage over most living things. I think he decided that he wouldn’t shoot till he had to, and he had to today.»

«He could be proud of it,» I said.

«People in their right minds never take pride in their talents,» said Miss Maudie.

When we went home, I said, «There is something to talk about at school on Monday. Not everybody’s daddy is the deadest shot in Maycomb County.»

«Don’t say anything about it, Scout,» Jem said. «If he was proud of it, he would’ve told us.»

«Maybe he just forgot,» I said.

«No, Scout, you don’t understand. Atticus is really old, but I wouldn’t care if he couldn’t do anything — I wouldn’t care if he could do nothing at all.»

Jem picked up a stone and threw it joyfully at the garage. He ran after it and called back: «Atticus is a gentleman, just like me!»


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