To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 82)
“You hear my costume rustlin’. Aw, it’s just Halloween got you. . . .”
I said it more to convince myself than Jem, for sure enough, as we began walking, I heard what he was talking about. It was not my costume.
“It’s just old Cecil,” said Jem presently. “He won’t get us again. Let’s don’t let him think we’re hurrying.”
We slowed to a crawl. I asked Jem how Cecil could follow us in this dark, looked to me like he’d bump into us from behind.
“I can see you, Scout,” Jem said.
“How? I can’t see you.”
“Your fat streaks are showin’. Mrs. Crewnshaw painted ’em with some of that shiny stuff so they’d show up under the footlights. I can see you pretty well, an’ I expect Cecil can see you well enough to keep his distance.”
I would show Cecil that we knew he was behind us and we were ready for him. “Cecil Jacobs is a big wet he-en!” I yelled suddenly, turning around.
We stopped. There was no acknowledgment save he-en bouncing off the distant schoolhouse wall.
“I’ll get him,” said Jem. “He-y!”
Hay-e-hay-e-hay-e, answered the schoolhouse wall.
It was unlike Cecil to hold out for so long; once he pulled a joke he’d repeat it time and again. We should have been leapt at already. Jem signaled for me to stop again.
He said softly, “Scout, can you take that thing off?”
“I think so, but I ain’t got anything on under it much.”
“I’ve got your dress here.”
“I can’t get it on in the dark.”
“Okay,” he said, “never mind.”
“Jem, are you afraid?”
“No. Think we’re almost to the tree now. Few yards from that, an’ we’ll be to the road. We can see the street light then.” Jem was talking in an unhurried, flat toneless voice. I wondered how long he would try to keep the Cecil myth going.
“You reckon we oughta sing, Jem?”
“No. Be real quiet again, Scout.”
We had not increased our pace. Jem knew as well as I that it was difficult to walk fast without stumping a toe, tripping on stones, and other inconveniences, and I was barefooted. Maybe it was the wind rustling the trees. But there wasn’t any wind and there weren’t any trees except the big oak.
Our company shuffled and dragged his feet, as if wearing heavy shoes. Whoever it was wore thick cotton pants; what I thought were trees rustling was the soft swish of cotton on cotton, wheek, wheek, with every step.
I felt the sand go cold under my feet and I knew we were near the big oak. Jem pressed my head. We stopped and listened.
Shuffle-foot had not stopped with us this time. His trousers swished softly and steadily. Then they stopped. He was running, running toward us with no child’s steps.
“Run, Scout! Run! Run!” Jem screamed.
I took one giant step and found myself reeling: my arms useless, in the dark, I could not keep my balance.
“Jem, Jem, help me, Jem!”
Something crushed the chicken wire around me. Metal ripped on metal and I fell to the ground and rolled as far as I could, floundering to escape my wire prison. From somewhere near by came scuffling, kicking sounds, sounds of shoes and flesh scraping dirt and roots. Someone rolled against me and I felt Jem. He was up like lightning and pulling me with him but, though my head and shoulders were free, I was so entangled we didn’t get very far.
We were nearly to the road when I felt Jem’s hand leave me, felt him jerk backwards to the ground. More scuffling, and there came a dull crunching sound and Jem screamed.
I ran in the direction of Jem’s scream and sank into a flabby male stomach. Its owner said, “Uff!” and tried to catch my arms, but they were tightly pinioned. His stomach was soft but his arms were like steel. He slowly squeezed the breath out of me. I could not move. Suddenly he was jerked backwards and flung on the ground, almost carrying me with him. I thought, Jem’s up.
One’s mind works very slowly at times. Stunned, I stood there dumbly. The scuffling noises were dying; someone wheezed and the night was still again.
Still but for a man breathing heavily, breathing heavily and staggering. I thought he went to the tree and leaned against it. He coughed violently, a sobbing, bone-shaking cough.
There was no answer but the man’s heavy breathing.
Jem didn’t answer.
The man began moving around, as if searching for something. I heard him groan and pull something heavy along the ground. It was slowly coming to me that there were now four people under the tree.
“Atticus . . . ?”
The man was walking heavily and unsteadily toward the road.
I went to where I thought he had been and felt frantically along the ground, reaching out with my toes. Presently I touched someone.
My toes touched trousers, a belt buckle, buttons, something I could not identify, a collar, and a face. A prickly stubble on the face told me it was not Jem’s. I smelled stale whiskey.
I made my way along in what I thought was the direction of the road. I was not sure, because I had been turned around so many times. But I found it and looked down to the street light. A man was passing under it. The man was walking with the staccato steps of someone carrying a load too heavy for him. He was going around the corner. He was carrying Jem. Jem’s arm was dangling crazily in front of him.
By the time I reached the corner the man was crossing our front yard. Light from our front door framed Atticus for an instant; he ran down the steps, and together, he and the man took Jem inside.
I was at the front door when they were going down the hall. Aunt Alexandra was running to meet me. “Call Dr. Reynolds!” Atticus’s voice came sharply from Jem’s room. “Where’s Scout?”
“Here she is,” Aunt Alexandra called, pulling me along with her to the telephone. She tugged at me anxiously. “I’m all right, Aunty,” I said, “you better call.”
She pulled the receiver from the hook and said, “Eula May, get Dr. Reynolds, quick!”
“Agnes, is your father home? Oh God, where is he? Please tell him to come over here as soon as he comes in. Please, it’s urgent!”
There was no need for Aunt Alexandra to identify herself; people in Maycomb knew each other’s voices.
Atticus came out of Jem’s room. The moment Aunt Alexandra broke the connection, Atticus took the receiver from her. He rattled the hook, then said, “Eula May, get me the sheriff, please.”