SHE stopped shyly at the railing and waited to get Judge Taylor’s attention. She was in a fresh apron and she
carried an envelope in her hand.
Judge Taylor saw her and said, ‘It’s Calpurnia, isn’t it?’
‘Yes sir,’ she said. ‘Could I just pass this note to Mr Finch, please sir? It hasn’t got anything to do with – with the trial.’
Judge Taylor nodded and Atticus took the envelope from Calpurnia. He opened it, read its contents and said, ‘Judge, I – this note is from my sister. She says my children are missing, haven’t turned up since noon… I… could you—’
‘I know where they are, Atticus.’ Mr Underwood spoke up. ‘They’re right up yonder in the coloured balcony – been there since precisely one-eighteen P.M.’
Our father turned around and looked up. ‘Jem, come down from there,’ he called. Then he said something to the Judge we didn’t hear. We climbed across Reverend Sykes and made our way to the staircase.
Atticus and Calpurnia met us downstairs. Calpurnia looked peeved, but Atticus looked exhausted.
Jem was jumping in excitement. ‘We’ve won, haven’t we?’
‘I’ve no idea,’ said Atticus shortly. ‘You’ve been here all afternoon? Go home with Calpurnia and get your supper – and stay home.’
‘Aw, Atticus, let us come back,’ pleaded Jem. ‘Please let us hear the verdict, please sir.’
‘The jury might be out and back in a minute, we don’t know—’ but we could tell Atticus was relenting. ‘Well, you’ve heard it all, so you might as well hear the rest. Tell you what, you all can come back when you’ve eaten your supper – eat slowly, now, you won’t miss anything important – and if the jury’s still out, you can wait with us. But I expect it’ll be over before you get back.’
‘You think they’ll acquit him that fast?’ asked Jem,
Atticus opened his mouth to answer, but shut it and left us.
I prayed that Reverend Sykes would save our seats for us, but stopped praying when I remembered that people got up and left in droves when the jury was out – tonight, they’d overrun the drugstore, the O.K. Café and the hotel, that is, unless they had brought their suppers too.
Calpurnia marched us home: ‘—skin every one of you alive, the very idea, you children listenin’ to all that! Mister Jem, don’t you know better’n to take your little sister to that trial? Miss Alexandra’ll absolutely have a stroke of paralysis when she finds out! Ain’t fittin’ for children to hear…’
The street lights were on, and we glimpsed Calpurnia’s indignant profile as we passed beneath them. ‘Mister Jem, I thought you was gettin’ some kinda head on your shoulders – the very idea, she’s your little sister! The very idea, sir! You oughta be perfectly ashamed of yourself - ain’t you got any sense at all ?’
I was exhilarated. So many things had happened so fast I felt it would take years to sort them out, and now here was Calpurnia giving her precious Jem down the country – what new marvels would the evening bring?
Jem was chuckling. ‘Don’t you want to hear about it, Cal?’
‘Hush your mouth, sir! When you oughta be hangin’ your head in shame you go along laughin’—’ Calpurnia revived a series of rusty threats that moved Jem to little remorse, and she sailed up the front steps with her classic, ‘If Mr Finch don’t wear you out, I will – get in that house, sir!’
Jem went in grinning, and Calpurnia nodded tacit consent to having Dill in to supper. ‘You all call Miss Rachel right now and tell her where you are,’ she told him. ‘She’s run distracted lookin’ for you – you watch out she don’t ship you back to Meridian first thing in the mornin’.’
Aunt Alexandra met us and nearly fainted when Calpurnia told her where we were. I guess it hurt her when we told her Atticus said we could go back, because she didn’t say a word during supper. She just rearranged food on her plate, looking at it sadly while Calpurnia served Jem, Dill and me with a vengeance. Calpurnia poured milk, dished out potato salad and ham, muttering, ‘ ’shamed of yourselves,’ in varying degrees of intensity. ‘Now you all eat slow,’ was her final command.
Reverend Sykes had saved our places. We were surprised to find that we had been gone nearly an hour, and were equally surprised to find the courtroom exactly as we had left it, with minor changes: the jury box was empty, the defendant was gone; Judge Taylor had been gone, but he reappeared as we were seating ourselves.
‘Nobody’s moved, hardly,’ said Jem.
‘They moved around some when the jury went out,’ said Reverend Sykes. ‘The menfolk down there got the womenfolk their suppers, and they fed their babies.’
‘How long have they been out?’ asked Jem.
‘ ’bout thirty minutes. Mr Finch and Mr Gilmer did some more talkin’, and Judge Taylor charged the jury.’ ‘How was he?’ asked Jem.
‘What say? Oh, he did right well. I ain’t complainin’ one bit – he was mighty fair-minded. He sorta said if you believe this, then you’ll have to return one verdict, but if you believe this, you’ll have to return another one. I thought he was leanin’ a little to our side—’
Reverend Sykes scratched his head.
Jem smiled. ‘He’s not supposed to lean. Reverend, but don’t fret, we’ve won it,’ he said wisely. ‘Don’t see how any jury could convict on what we heard—’
‘Now don’t you be so confident, Mr Jem, I ain’t ever seen any jury decide in favour of a coloured man over a white man…’ But Jem took exception to Reverend Sykes, and we were subjected to a lengthy review of the evidence with Jem’s ideas on the law regarding rape: it wasn’t rape if she let you, but she had to be eighteen – in Alabama, that is – and Mayella was nineteen. Apparently you had to kick and holler, you had to be overpowered and stomped on, preferably knocked stone cold. If you were under eighteen, you didn’t have to go through all this.
‘Mr Jem,’ Reverend Sykes demurred, ‘this ain’t a polite thing for little ladies to hear …’
‘Aw, she doesn’t know what we’re talkin’ about,’ said Jem. ‘Scout, this is too old for you, ain’t it?’
‘It most certainly is not, I know every word you’re saying.’ Perhaps I was too convincing, because Jem hushed and never discussed the subject again.
‘What time is it, Reverend?’ he asked.
‘Gettin’ on towards eight.’
I looked down and saw Atticus strolling around with his hands in his pockets: he made a tour of the windows, then walked by the railing over to the jury box. He looked in it, inspected Judge Taylor on his throne, then went back to where he started. I caught his eye and waved to him. He acknowledged my salute with a nod, and resumed his tour.
Mr Gilmer was standing at the windows talking to Mr Underwood. Bert, the court reporter, was chain-smoking: he sat back with his feet on the table.
But the officers of the court, the ones present – Atticus, Mr Gilmer, Judge Taylor sound asleep, and Bert, were the only ones whose behaviour seemed normal. I had never seen a packed courtroom so still. Sometimes a baby would cry out fretfully, and a child would scurry out, but the grown people sat as if they were in church. In the balcony, the Negroes sat and stood around us with biblical patience.
The old courthouse clock suffered its preliminary strain and struck the hour, eight deafening bongs that shook our bones.
When it bonged eleven times I was past feeling: tired from fighting sleep, I allowed myself a short nap against Reverend Sykes’s comfortable arm and shoulder. I jerked awake and made an honest effort to remain so, by looking down and concentrating on the heads below: there were sixteen bald ones, fourteen men that could pass for redheads, forty heads varying between brown and black, and - I remembered something Jem had once explained to me when he went through a brief period of psychical research: he said if enough people - a stadium full, maybe - were to concentrate on one thing, such as setting a tree afire in the woods, that the tree would ignite of its own accord. I toyed with the idea of asking everyone below to concentrate on setting Tom Robinson free, but thought if they were as tired as I, it wouldn’t work.
Dill was sound asleep, his head on Jem’s shoulder, and Jem was quiet.
‘Ain’t it a long time?’ I asked him.
‘Sure is. Scout,’ he said happily.
‘Well, from the way you put it, it’d just take five minutes.’
Jem raised his eyebrows. ‘There are things you don’t under- stand,’ he said, and I was too weary to argue.
But I must have been reasonably awake, or I would not have received the impression that was creeping into me. It was not unlike one I had last winter, and I shivered, though the night was hot. The feeling grew until the atmosphere in the court- room was exactly the same as a cold February morning, when the mockingbirds were still, and the carpenters had stopped hammering on Miss Maudie’s new house, and every wood door in the neighbourhood was shut as tight as the doors of the Radley Place. A deserted, waiting, empty street, and the court- room was packed with people. A steaming summer night was no different from a winter morning. Mr Heck Tate, who had entered the courtroom and was talking to Atticus, might have been wearing his high-boots and lumber-jacket. Atticus had stopped his tranquil journey and had put his foot on to the bottom rung of a chair; as he listened to what Mr Tate was saying, he ran his hand slowly up and down his thigh. I expected Mr Tate to say any minute, ‘Take him, Mr Finch. …’
But Mr Tate said, ‘This court will come to order,’ in a voice that rang with authority, and the heads below us jerked up. Mr Tate left the room and returned with Tom Robinson. He steered Tom to his place beside Atticus, and stood there. Judge Taylor had roused himself to sudden alertness and was sitting up straight looking at the empty jury box.
What happened after that had a dreamlike quality: in a dream I saw the jury return, moving like underwater swimmers, and Judge Taylor’s voice came from far away, and was tiny. I saw something only a lawyer’s child could be expected to see, could be expected to watch for, and it was like watching Atticus walk into the street, raise a rifle to his shoulder and pull the trigger, but watching all the time knowing that the gun was empty.
A jury never looks at a defendant it has convicted, and when this jury came in, not one of them looked at Tom Robinson. The foreman handed a piece of paper to Mr Tate who handed it to the clerk who handed it to the judge…
I shut my eyes. Judge Taylor was polling the jury: ‘Guilty . . . guilty . . . guilty . . . guilty . . .’ I peeked at Jem: his hands were white from gripping the balcony rail, and his shoulders jerked as if each ‘guilty’ was a separate stab between them.
Judge Taylor was saying something. His gavel was in his fist, but he wasn’t using it. Dimly, I saw Atticus pushing papers from the table into his briefcase. He snapped it shut, went to the court reporter and said something, nodded to Mr Gilmer, and then went to Tom Robinson and whispered something to him. Atticus put his hand on Tom’s shoulder as he whispered. Atticus took his coat off the back of his chair and pulled it over his shoulder. Then he left the courtroom, but not by his usual exit. He must have wanted to go home the short way, because he walked quickly down the middle aisle towards the south exit. I followed the top of his head as he made his way to the door. He did not look up.
Someone was punching me, but I was reluctant to take my eyes from the people below us, and from the image of Atticus’s lonely walk down the aisle.
‘Miss Jean Louise?"
I looked around. They were standing. All around us and in the balcony on the opposite wall, the Negroes were getting to their feet. Reverend Sykes’s voice was as distant as Judge Taylor’s:
‘Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.’