September had come, but it was still very hot, and we were still sleeping on the back screen porch.
I lay on my back and waited for sleep, and while waiting I thought of Dill. He had left us on the first of the month and promised that he would return as soon as school was over — he was sure that his folks had got the general idea that he liked to spend his summers in Maycomb. Miss Rachel took us with them in the taxi to Maycomb Junction, and Dill waved to us from the train window until he was out of sight. The last two days of his time with us, Jem had taught him to swim — Taught him to swim. I suddenly remembered what Dill had told me.
Barker’s Eddy is at the end of a dirt road off the Meridian highway about a mile from town. Swimmers usually hitchhike to it, and the short walk to the creek is easy, but they don’t stay there till dusk, when the traffic is light, and it’s difficult to catch a ride.
Dill and Jem had just come to the highway when they saw Atticus’s car. He didn’t see them, so they both waved. Atticus finally saw them and stopped, but he said, «You’d better catch a ride back. I won’t be going home for a while.» Calpumia was in the back seat.
Jem protested, and Atticus said, «All right, you can come with us if you stay in the car.»
On the way to Tom Robinson’s, Atticus told them what had happened.
Dill said a crowd of black children were playing marbles in Tom’s front yard. Atticus parked the car and got out. Calpurnia followed him through the front gate.
Dill heard that he asked one of the children, «Where’s your mother, Sam?» and Sam said, «She down at Sis Stevens’s, Mr. Finch. Shall I run and call her?»
Dill said Atticus looked uncertain, then he said yes, and Sam ran off. «Go on with your game, boys,» Atticus said to the children.
A little girl came to the cabin door and was looking at Atticus. Her hair was a mass of tiny pigtails, each of them ended in a bright bow. She grinned from ear to ear and walked toward our father, but the steps were too high for her. Dill said Atticus went to her, took off his hat, and offered her his finger. She grabbed it and he helped her down the steps. Then he gave her to Calpumia.
Dill said when Helen came up, she said, «Evenin? Mr. Finch, won’t you have a seat?» But she didn’t say any more. Neither did Atticus.
«Scout,» said Dill, «she just fell down in the dirt. Just fell down in the dirt.»
Dill said Calpumia and Atticus lifted Helen to her feet and half carried, half walked her to the cabin. They stayed inside a long time, and Atticus came out alone. When they drove back by the dump, some of the Ewells shouted at them, but Dill didn’t catch what they said.
Maycomb talked about Tom’s death for perhaps two days. To Maycomb, Tom’s death was typical. Typical of a nigger’s mentality to have no plan, no thought for the future, just run blind first chance he saw. Funny thing, Atticus Finch might’ve got him off free, but wait-? Hell no. You know how they are. Robinson boy was legally married, they say he was clean, went to church and all that, but nigger always comes out in ’em.
But in The Maycomb Tribune’s editorial, Mr. B. B. Underwood was at his most bitter. He was writing so that children could understand. Mr. Underwood simply thought that it was a sin to kill cripples, be they standing, sitting, or running from jail. He wrote that Tom’s death was like the senseless killing of songbirds by hunters and children, and Maycomb said that he was trying to write a poetical editorial so that The Montgomery Advertiser reprinted it.
At first, I didn’t understand why Mr. Underwood had called Tom’s death a senseless killing — his trial had been open; my father had fought for him all the way. Then Mr. Underwood’s words became clear: Atticus had used every lawful means to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men’s hearts Atticus had no case. Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed.
The name Ewell made me sick. Maycomb knew Mr. Ewell’s views on Tom’s death at once through that gossip channel, Miss Stephanie Crawford. Miss Stephanie told Aunt Alexandra in Jem’s presence that Mr. Ewell’s words were: it made one down and about two more to go. Jem told me not to be afraid, Mr. Ewell was more hot gas than anything. Jem also told me that if I let Atticus know that I knew, Jem would personally never speak to me again.