“Stay inside, son,” said Atticus. “Where is he, Cal?”
“He oughta be here by now,” said Calpurnia, pointing down the street.
“Not runnin’, is he?” asked Mr. Tate.
“Naw sir, he’s in the twitchin’ stage, Mr. Heck.”
“Should we go after him, Heck?” asked Atticus.
“We better wait, Mr. Finch. They usually go in a straight line, but you never can tell. He might follow the curve—hope he does or he’ll go straight in the Radley back yard. Let’s wait a minute.”
“Don’t think he’ll get in the Radley yard,” said Atticus. “Fence’ll stop him. He’ll probably follow the road. . . .”
I thought mad dogs foamed at the mouth, galloped, leaped and lunged at throats, and I thought they did it in August. Had Tim Johnson behaved thus, I would have been less frightened.
Nothing is more deadly than a deserted, waiting street. The trees were still, the mockingbirds were silent, the carpenters at Miss Maudie’s house had vanished. I heard Mr. Tate sniff, then blow his nose. I saw him shift his gun to the crook of his arm. I saw Miss Stephanie Crawford’s face framed in the glass window of her front door. Miss Maudie appeared and stood beside her. Atticus put his foot on the rung of a chair and rubbed his hand slowly down the side of his thigh.
“There he is,” he said softly.
Tim Johnson came into sight, walking dazedly in the inner rim of the curve parallel to the Radley house.
“Look at him,” whispered Jem. “Mr. Heck said they walked in a straight line. He can’t even stay in the road.”
“He looks more sick than anything,” I said.
“Let anything get in front of him and he’ll come straight at it.”
Mr. Tate put his hand to his forehead and leaned forward. “He’s got it all right, Mr. Finch.”
Tim Johnson was advancing at a snail’s pace, but he was not playing or sniffing at foliage: he seemed dedicated to one course and motivated by an invisible force that was inching him toward us. We could see him shiver like a horse shedding flies; his jaw opened and shut; he was alist, but he was being pulled gradually toward us.
“He’s lookin’ for a place to die,” said Jem.
Mr. Tate turned around. “He’s far from dead, Jem, he hasn’t got started yet.”
Tim Johnson reached the side street that ran in front of the Radley Place, and what remained of his poor mind made him pause and seem to consider which road he would take. He made a few hesitant steps and stopped in front of the Radley gate; then he tried to turn around, but was having difficulty.
Atticus said, “He’s within range, Heck. You better get him now before he goes down the side street—Lord knows who’s around the corner. Go inside, Cal.”
Calpurnia opened the screen door, latched it behind her, then unlatched it and held onto the hook. She tried to block Jem and me with her body, but we looked out from beneath her arms.
“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 one-shot job.”
Atticus shook his head vehemently: “Don’t just stand there, Heck! He won’t wait all day for you—”
“For God’s sake, Mr. Finch, 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 mighty comfortable if you did now,” he said.
In a fog, Jem and I watched our father take the gun and walk out into the middle of the street. He walked quickly, but I thought he moved like an underwater swimmer: time had slowed to a nauseating crawl.
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 the silence, I heard them crack. Atticus rubbed his eyes and chin; we saw him blink hard.
In front of the Radley gate, Tim Johnson had made up what was left of his mind. He had finally turned himself around, to pursue his original course up our street. He made two steps forward, then stopped and raised his head. We saw his body go rigid.
With movements so swift they seemed simultaneous, Atticus’s hand yanked a ball-tipped lever as he brought the gun to his shoulder.
The rifle cracked. Tim Johnson leaped, flopped over and crumpled on the sidewalk in a brown-and-white heap. He didn’t know what hit him.