Mr. Tate stopped pacing. He stopped in front of Atticus, and his back was to us. “I’m not a very good man, sir, but I am sheriff of Maycomb County. Lived in this town all my life an’ I’m goin’ on forty-three years old. Know everything that’s happened here since before I was born. There’s a black boy dead for no reason, and the man responsible for it’s dead. Let the dead bury the dead this time, Mr. Finch. Let the dead bury the dead.”
Mr. Tate went to the swing and picked up his hat. It was lying beside Atticus. Mr. Tate pushed back his hair and put his hat on.
“I never heard tell that it’s against the law for a citizen to do his utmost to prevent a crime from being committed, which is exactly what he did, but maybe you’ll say it’s my duty to tell the town all about it and not hush it up. Know what’d happen then? All the ladies in Maycomb includin’ my wife’d be knocking on his door bringing angel food cakes. To my way of thinkin’, Mr. Finch, taking the one man who’s done you and this town a great service an’ draggin’ him with his shy ways into the limelight—to me, that’s a sin. It’s a sin and I’m not about to have it on my head. If it was any other man it’d be different. But not this man, Mr. Finch.”
Mr. Tate was trying to dig a hole in the floor with the toe of his boot. He pulled his nose, then he massaged his left arm. “I may not be much, Mr. Finch, but I’m still sheriff of Maycomb County and Bob Ewell fell on his knife. Good night, sir.”
Mr. Tate stamped off the porch and strode across the front yard. His car door slammed and he drove away.
Atticus sat looking at the floor for a long time. Finally he raised his head. “Scout,” he said, “Mr. Ewell fell on his knife. Can you possibly understand?”
Atticus looked like he needed cheering up. I ran to him and hugged him and kissed him with all my might. “Yes sir, I understand,” I reassured him. “Mr. Tate was right.”
Atticus disengaged himself and looked at me. “What do you mean?”
“Well, it’d be sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird, wouldn’t it?”
Atticus put his face in my hair and rubbed it. When he got up and walked across the porch into the shadows, his youthful step had returned. Before he went inside the house, he stopped in front of Boo Radley. “Thank you for my children, Arthur,” he said.
When Boo Radley shuffled to his feet, light from the livingroom windows glistened on his forehead. Every move he made was uncertain, as if he were not sure his hands and feet could make proper contact with the things he touched. He coughed his dreadful raling cough, and was so shaken he had to sit down again. His hand searched for his hip pocket, and he pulled out a handkerchief. He coughed into it, then he wiped his forehead.
Having been so accustomed to his absence, I found it incredible that he had been sitting beside me all this time, present. He had not made a sound.
Once more, he got to his feet. He turned to me and nodded toward the front door.
“You’d like to say good night to Jem, wouldn’t you, Mr. Arthur? Come right in.”
I led him down the hall. Aunt Alexandra was sitting by Jem’s bed. “Come in, Arthur,” she said. “He’s still asleep. Dr. Reynolds gave him a heavy sedative. Jean Louise, is your father in the livingroom?”
“Yes ma’am, I think so.”
“I’ll just go speak to him a minute. Dr. Reynolds left some . . .” her voice trailed away.
Boo had drifted to a corner of the room, where he stood with his chin up, peering from a distance at Jem. I took him by the hand, a hand surprisingly warm for its whiteness. I tugged him a little, and he allowed me to lead him to Jem’s bed.
Dr. Reynolds had made a tent-like arrangement over Jem’s arm, to keep the cover off, I guess, and Boo leaned forward and looked over it. An expression of timid curiosity was on his face, as though he had never seen a boy before. His mouth was slightly open, and he looked at Jem from head to foot. Boo’s hand came up, but he let it drop to his side.
“You can pet him, Mr. Arthur, he’s asleep. You couldn’t if he was awake, though, he wouldn’t let you . . .” I found myself explaining. “Go ahead.”
Boo’s hand hovered over Jem’s head.
“Go on, sir, he’s asleep.”
His hand came down lightly on Jem’s hair.
I was beginning to learn his body English. His hand tightened on mine and he indicated that he wanted to leave.
I led him to the front porch, where his uneasy steps halted. He was still holding my hand and he gave no sign of letting me go.