All that Atticus said about it was: «I wish Bob Ewell wouldn’t chew tobacco.»
Miss Stephanie Crawford, however, described it in great detail. Atticus was leaving the post office when Mr. Ewell came up to him, cursed him, spat on him, and threatened to kill him. Miss Stephanie said that Atticus didn’t bat an eyelid, just took out his handkerchief and wiped his face and stood there and let Mr. Ewell call him names she could never repeat. Mr. Ewell was a veteran of some little known war; that plus Atticus’s peaceful reaction probably helped him to inquire, «Too proud to fight, you nigger-lovin’ bastard?» According to Miss Stephanie Atticus said, «No, too old,» put his hands in his pockets and walked on. Miss Stephanie said you had to say that of Atticus Finch, he could be right dry sometimes.
Jem and I were worried and asked Atticus to carry a gun. He said, «Nonsense.»
Dill said that an appeal to Atticus’s better nature might work: after all, we would starve if Mr. Ewell killed him, and we would be brought up exclusively by Aunt Alexandra, and we all knew that she would fire Calpurnia at once. Jem said it might work if I cried and cried like a little girl. That didn’t work either.
But he noticed that we didn’t behave normally, didn’t eat, took little interest in our normal activities, Atticus understood how deeply frightened we were. One night he asked, «What’s bothering you, son?»
Jem said, «Mr. Ewell.»
«What has happened?»
«Nothing’s happened. We’re scared for you. When a man says he’s gonna kill you, looks like he means it.»
«He meant it when he said it,» said Atticus. «Jem, see if you can stand in Bob Ewell’s shoes a minute. Nobody will believe him after that trial, if anybody ever did. The man had to take it out on somebody, men like him always do. So if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that’s something I’ll gladly take.»
Aunt Alexandra entered the room as Atticus was saying, «There’s nothing to fear from Bob Ewell now, he got it all out of his system that morning.»
«I wouldn’t be so sure of that, Atticus,» she said. «Those people will do anything out of hatred.»
«What on earth could Ewell do to me, sister?»
«Something stealthy,» Aunt Alexandra said. «You may count on that.»
«Nobody has much chance to be stealthy in Maycomb,» Atticus answered.
After that, we were not afraid and enjoyed our usual summer games. Atticus said that nothing would happen to Tom Robinson until the higher court reviewed his case, and that there was a good chance that Tom would go free, or have a new trial.
«If he loses his appeal,» I asked one evening, «what’ll happen to him?»
«He’ll go to the electric chair,» said Atticus, «but the Governor may commute his sentence. Not time to worry yet, Scout. We’ve got a good chance.»
Jem’s opinion was that the jury wasn’t right. Tom didn’t kill anybody even if he was guilty. He didn’t take anybody’s life.
Atticus said that rape was a capital crime in Alabama, and he had nothing against that law, but his opinion was that nobody should be given a death sentence on circumstantial evidence. Atticus saw that I was listening and looked at me and made it easier. I mean, before a man is sentenced to death for murder, for example, there should be one or two eyewitnesses. Someone should be able to say, ‘Yes, I was there and saw how he pulled the trigger.’ In the absence of eye-witnesses there’s always a doubt, there’s always the possibility that he’s innocent.»
Jem said, «Then it was the jury’s fault. We oughta do away with juries. Tom wasn’t guilty in the first place and they said he was.»
«If you had been on that jury, son, and eleven other boys like you, Tom would be a free man,» said Atticus. «In everyday life, those twelve men, Tom’s jury, are reasonable people, but you saw that something had come between them and reason. There’s something in our world that makes men lose their heads. In our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins. These are the ugly facts of life.»
Jem repeated again, «That’s not right. You just can’t convict a man on evidence like that — you can’t.»
«You couldn’t, but they could and did. As you grow older, you’ll see that white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it — whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine his family is, that white man is trash.»
That last word crashed on our ears. I looked at Atticus. He was speaking with great feeling. «I hate it when a low-grade white man takes advantage of a Negro’s ignorance. This can’t go on all the time. Someday we’re going to pay the bill for it. I hope it’s not in your time, children.»
Jem had another question. He wanted to know why there were never anybody from Maycomb on a jury, they all came from out in the woods. Atticus said that Maycomb citizens weren’t interested, and another reason was that they were afraid that their vote might become known. The members of the jury have to make up their minds and say their opinion about something. Men don’t like to do that. Sometimes it’s unpleasant.