Atticus gently corrected me, «Mr. Arthur, honey. Jean Louise, this is Mr. Arthur Radley. I think he already knows you.»
Mr. Heck Tate was looking intently at Boo through his glasses. He was going to say something when Dr. Reynolds came in. He was carrying a big package wrapped in newspaper. He put it down on Jem’s desk and told us to leave the room.
Atticus looked at Boo and said, «Heck, let’s go out on the front porch. There are plenty of chairs out there, and it’s still warm enough.»
At first, I was surprised that Atticus was inviting us to the front porch instead of the living room, then I understood. The living room lights were very bright.
Mr. Tate and Atticus went out. I said, «Come along, Mr. Arthur, you don’t know the house real well. I’ll just take you to the porch, sir.»
He looked down at me and nodded. I led him to the porch and to the chair farthest from Atticus and Mr. Tate. It was in deep shadow. Boo would feel more comfortable in the dark.
«Won’t you have a seat, Mr. Arthur? This rocking-chair’s nice and comfortable.»
Atticus was sitting in the swing, and Mr. Tate was in a chair next to him. The light from the living room windows was on them. I sat beside Boo.
«Well, Heck,» Atticus was saying, «Jem’s not quite thirteen… no, he’s already thirteen — I can’t remember. Anyway, it’ll come before county court-»
«What will, Mr. Finch?» Mr. Tate said.
«Of course it was clear-cut self-defense, but I’ll have to go to the office and look for-»
«Mr. Finch, do you think Jem killed Bob Ewell? Do you think that?»
«You heard what Scout said, there’s no doubt about it. She said Jem got up and jerked him off her — he probably got hold of Ewell’s knife somehow in the dark… we’ll find out tomorrow.»
Mr. Tate said that Jem hadn’t stabbed Bob Ewell. Atticus said that he was grateful to Mr. Tate for his kindness, but he wouldn’t agree to hush things up, he didn’t live that way.
«Heck, you haven’t said it, but I know what you’re thinking. Thank you for it. Jean Louise-» he turned to me. «You said Jem jerked Mr. Ewell off you?»
«Yes sir, that’s what I thought… I-»
«See there, Heck? Thank you from the bottom of my heart, but the best way is to have it all out in the open. Nobody will say ‘Jem Finch… his daddy paid a mint to get him out of that’.»
«Jem didn’t stab Bob Ewell,» Mr. Tate repeated, «Bob Ewell fell on his knife. He killed himself.»
Atticus walked to the comer of the porch. His back was to us. He said that he couldn’t turn a blind eye at something which was not true, that it would be against everything he was trying to teach us.
«Heck, if this thing’s hushed up, I won’t be able to meet my son’s eye, and I’ll know I’ve lost him. I don’t want to lose him and Scout, because they’re all I’ve got.»
«Mr. Finch,» Mr. Tate said firmly, «Bob Ewell fell on his knife. I can prove it.»
Atticus turned around. He put his hands into his pockets, «Heck, can’t you even try to see it my way? If my children don’t trust me, they won’t trust anybody. Jem and Scout know what happened. If they hear that I say downtown something different happened — Heck, I won’t have them anymore. I can’t live one way in town and another way in my home.»
Mr. Tate said patiently, «He’d thrown Jem down, he stumbled over a root under that tree and — look, I can show you.»
Mr. Tate took a long switchblade knife out of his side pocket. At that moment, Dr. Reynolds came to the door. The sheriff told him where the body of Mr. Ewell was and gave him his flashlight. Dr. Reynolds took the flashlight. «Is that the knife that killed him, Heck?»
«No sir, still in him. Looked like a kitchen knife from the handle. Ken ought to be there with the hearse by now, doctor, good night.»
Mr. Tate opened the knife. «It was like this,» he said. He held the knife and pretended to stumble; as he bent forward, his left arm went down in front of him. «See there? He fell down and his weight drove the knife in.»
Mr. Tate closed the knife and put it back in his pocket. «Scout is eight years old,» he said. «She was scared and didn’t know exactly what happened.»
Atticus shook his head. «I won’t have it.»
«I’m not thinking of Jem!» Mr. Tate exclaimed. «Mr. Finch, you’ve been through so much tonight no man should ever have to go through. Why you ain’t in the bed from it I don’t know, but I do know that this time you haven’t been able to put two and two together, and we’ve got to solve this problem tonight because tomorrow’ll be too late. Bob Ewell’s got a kitchen knife in his breast.»
Mr. Tate also said that no boy Jem’s size with a broken arm could kill a grown man in the pitch dark.
Atticus asked, «Where’d you get that switchblade, Heck?»
«I took it off a drunken man downtown tonight. Ewell probably found that kitchen knife in the dump somewhere and honed it. Then he just waited for the opportunity…»
I was trying to remember. Mr. Ewell was on me… then he went down… Jem got up. At least I thought…
Atticus returned to the swing and sat down. His hands hung between his knees. He was looking at the floor.
Mr. Tate walked softly around the porch. «It is my decision, Mr. Finch, and my responsibility. If you don’t agree with me, there’s not much you can do about it. If you try, I’ll call you a liar to your face. You know that your boy never stabbed Bob Ewell,» he said slowly, «He only wanted to get him and his sister safely home.»
Mr. Tate stopped in front of Atticus with his back to us. «I’m not a very good man, sir, but I am sheriff of Maycomb County. I’m nearly forty-three years old, and I’ve lived in this town all my life. Know everything that’s happened here since before I was born. There’s a black boy dead for no reason, and the man responsible for it is dead. Let the dead bury the dead this time, Mr. Finch.»
Mr. Tate picked up his hat that was lying beside Atticus, and put it on.
«I’m sure it isn’t against the law when a citizen does everything he can and prevents a crime. That is exactly what he did. But if you think that it’s my duty to tell the town all about it and not hush it up, I’ll tell you what’ll happen then. All the ladies in Maycomb including my wife’ll be knocking on his door bringing angel food cakes. As I see it, Mr. Finch, to take the one man who’s done you and this town a great service and drag him with his shy ways into the limelight — to me, that’s a sin. If it was any other man, it’d be different. But not this man, Mr. Finch.»
Mr. Tate paused. He pulled his nose, then he massaged his left arm. «I may not be much, Mr. Finch, but I’m still sheriff of Maycomb County and Bob Ewell fell on his knife. Good night, sir.»
Mr. Tate left the porch and walked across the front yard. His car door slammed and he drove away.
Atticus was silent for a long time. Finally he spoke. «Scout,» he said, «Mr. Ewell fell on his knife. Can you possibly understand?»
Atticus looked so sad and tired. I ran to him and hugged him and kissed him with all my might. «Yes sir, I understand,» I reassured him. «Mr. Tate was right.»
My father looked at me. «What do you mean?»
«Well, it would be like shooting a mockingbird, wouldn’t it?»
Atticus rubbed his face in my hair. When he got up and walked across the porch, his youthful step had returned. Before he went inside the house, he stopped in front of Boo Radley. «Thank you for my children, Arthur,» he said.