“He was out of his mind,” said Atticus.
“Don’t like to contradict you, Mr. Finch—wasn’t crazy—mean as hell. Low-down skunk with enough liquor in him to make him brave enough to kill children. He’d never have met you face to face.”
Atticus shook his head. “I can’t conceive of a man who’d—”
“Mr. Finch, there’s just some kind of men you have to shoot before you can say hidy to ’em. Even then, they ain’t worth the bullet it takes to shoot ’em. Ewell ’as one of ’em.”
Atticus said, “I thought he got it all out of him the day he threatened me. Even if he hadn’t, I thought he’d come after me.”
“He had guts enough to pester a poor colored woman, he had guts enough to pester Judge Taylor when he thought the house was empty, so do you think he’da met you to your face in daylight?” Mr. Tate sighed. “We’d better get on. Scout, you heard him behind you—”
“Yes sir. When we got under the tree—”
“How’d you know you were under the tree, you couldn’t see thunder out there.”
“I was barefooted, and Jem says the ground’s always cooler under a tree.”
“We’ll have to make him a deputy, go ahead.”
“Then all of a sudden somethin’ grabbed me an’ mashed my costume . . . think I ducked on the ground . . . heard a tusslin’ under the tree sort of . . . they were bammin’ against the trunk, sounded like. Jem found me and started pullin’ me toward the road. Some—Mr. Ewell yanked him down, I reckon. They tussled some more and then there was this funny noise—Jem hollered . . .” I stopped. That was Jem’s arm.
“Anyway, Jem hollered and I didn’t hear him any more an’ the next thing—Mr. Ewell was tryin’ to squeeze me to death, I reckon . . . then somebody yanked Mr. Ewell down. Jem must have got up, I guess. That’s all I know . . .”
“And then?” Mr. Tate was looking at me sharply.
“Somebody was staggerin’ around and pantin’ and—coughing fit to die. I thought it was Jem at first, but it didn’t sound like him, so I went lookin’ for Jem on the ground. I thought Atticus had come to help us and had got wore out—”
“Who was it?”
“Why there he is, Mr. Tate, he can tell you his name.”
As I said it, I half pointed to the man in the corner, but brought my arm down quickly lest Atticus reprimand me for pointing. It was impolite to point.
He was still leaning against the wall. He had been leaning against the wall when I came into the room, his arms folded across his chest. As I pointed he brought his arms down and pressed the palms of his hands against the wall. They were white hands, sickly white hands that had never seen the sun, so white they stood out garishly against the dull cream wall in the dim light of Jem’s room.
I looked from his hands to his sand-stained khaki pants; my eyes traveled up his thin frame to his torn denim shirt. His face was as white as his hands, but for a shadow on his jutting chin. His cheeks were thin to hollowness; his mouth was wide; there were shallow, almost delicate indentations at his temples, and his gray eyes were so colorless I thought he was blind. His hair was dead and thin, almost feathery on top of his head.
When I pointed to him his palms slipped slightly, leaving greasy sweat streaks on the wall, and he hooked his thumbs in his belt. A strange small spasm shook him, as if he heard fingernails scrape slate, but as I gazed at him in wonder the tension slowly drained from his face. His lips parted into a timid smile, and our neighbor’s image blurred with my sudden tears.
“Hey, Boo,” I said.
“Mr. Arthur, honey,” said Atticus, gently correcting me. “Jean Louise, this is Mr. Arthur Radley. I believe he already knows you.”
If Atticus could blandly introduce me to Boo Radley at a time like this, well—that was Atticus.
Boo saw me run instinctively to the bed where Jem was sleeping, for the same shy smile crept across his face. Hot with embarrassment, I tried to cover up by covering Jem up.
“Ah-ah, don’t touch him,” Atticus said.
Mr. Heck Tate sat looking intently at Boo through his horn-rimmed glasses. He was about to speak when Dr. Reynolds came down the hall.
“Everybody out,” he said, as he came in the door. “Evenin’, Arthur, didn’t notice you the first time I was here.”
Dr. Reynolds’s voice was as breezy as his step, as though he had said it every evening of his life, an announcement that astounded me even more than being in the same room with Boo Radley. Of course . . . even Boo Radley got sick sometimes, I thought. But on the other hand I wasn’t sure.