Aunt Alexandra got up and reached for the mantelpiece. Mr. Tate rose, but she declined assistance. For once in his life Atticus’s instinctive courtesy failed him: he sat where he was.
Somehow, I could think of nothing but Mr. Bob Ewell saying he’d get Atticus if it took him the rest of his life. Mr. Ewell almost got him, and it was the last thing he did.
“Are you sure?” Atticus said bleakly.
“He’s dead all right,” said Mr. Tate. “He’s good and dead. He won’t hurt these children again.”
“I didn’t mean that.” Atticus seemed to be talking in his sleep. His age was beginning to show, his one sign of inner turmoil: the strong line of his jaw melted a little, one became aware of telltale creases forming under his ears, one noticed not his jet-black hair but the gray patches growing at his temples.
“Hadn’t we better go to the livingroom?” Aunt Alexandra said at last.
“If you don’t mind,” said Mr. Tate, “I’d rather us stay in here if it won’t hurt Jem any. I want to have a look at his injuries while Scout . . . tells us about it.”
“Is it all right if I leave?” she asked. “I’m just one person too many in here. I’ll be in my room if you want me, Atticus.” Aunt Alexandra went to the door, but she stopped and turned. “Atticus, I had a feeling about this tonight—I—this is my fault,” she began. “I should have—”
Mr. Tate held up his hand. “You go ahead, Miss Alexandra, I know it’s been a shock to you. And don’t you fret yourself about anything—why, if we followed our feelings all the time we’d be like cats chasin’ their tails. Miss Scout, see if you can tell us what happened, while it’s still fresh in your mind. You think you can? Did you see him following you?”
I went to Atticus and felt his arms go around me. I buried my head in his lap. “We started home. I said Jem, I’ve forgot m’shoes. Soon’s we started back for ’em the lights went out. Jem said I could get ’em tomorrow. . . .”
“Scout, raise up so Mr. Tate can hear you,” Atticus said. I crawled into his lap.
“Then Jem said hush a minute. I thought he was thinkin’—he always wants you to hush so he can think—then he said he heard somethin’. We thought it was Cecil.”
“Cecil Jacobs. He scared us once tonight, an’ we thought it was him again. He had on a sheet. They gave a quarter for the best costume, I don’t know who won it—”
“Where were you when you thought it was Cecil?”
“Just a little piece from the schoolhouse. I yelled somethin’ at him—”
“You yelled, what?”
“Cecil Jacobs is a big fat hen, I think. We didn’t hear nothin’—then Jem yelled hello or somethin’ loud enough to wake the dead—”
“Just a minute, Scout,” said Mr. Tate. “Mr. Finch, did you hear them?”
Atticus said he didn’t. He had the radio on. Aunt Alexandra had hers going in her bedroom. He remembered because she told him to turn his down a bit so she could hear hers. Atticus smiled. “I always play a radio too loud.”
“I wonder if the neighbors heard anything. . . .” said Mr. Tate.
“I doubt it, Heck. Most of them listen to their radios or go to bed with the chickens. Maudie Atkinson may have been up, but I doubt it.”
“Go ahead, Scout,” Mr. Tate said.
“Well, after Jem yelled we walked on. Mr. Tate, I was shut up in my costume but I could hear it myself, then. Footsteps I mean. They walked when we walked and stopped when we stopped. Jem said he could see me because Mrs. Crenshaw put some kind of shiny paint on my costume. I was a ham.”
“How’s that?” asked Mr. Tate, startled.
Atticus described my role to Mr. Tate, plus the construction of my garment. “You should have seen her when she came in,” he said, “it was crushed to a pulp.”
Mr. Tate rubbed his chin. “I wondered why he had those marks on him. His sleeves were perforated with little holes. There were one or two little puncture marks on his arms to match the holes. Let me see that thing if you will, sir.”
Atticus fetched the remains of my costume. Mr. Tate turned it over and bent it around to get an idea of its former shape. “This thing probably saved her life,” he said. “Look.”
He pointed with a long forefinger. A shiny clean line stood out on the dull wire. “Bob Ewell meant business,” Mr. Tate muttered.