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Harper Lee (born 1927)

Harper Lee ‘ was born at Monroeville, Alabama, in 1927. She attended
the local public schools end the University of Alabama, where she
studied law. For the past several years she has lived in New York.

To Kill a Mockingbird («Убити пересмішника»), I960, is the first novel
of Harper Lee that brought her fame not only in her own country, the
USA, but abroad as well. The action of the novel takes place in the late
thirties, in Alabama. The title of the novel is symbolic. In many a
Southern state the mockingbird, a merry songbird, symbolizes innocence
and its killing is considered a sin and a moral crime.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

The story is told by Jean Louise Finch who remembers her childhood when
she lived with her father Atticus Finch, who was the lawyer, her elder
brother Jem and the Negro cook Calpurnia. Jean Louise was a very clever
little girl, kind and active.

I had to start to school in a week. I never waited more for anything in
my life. Jem took me to school the first day. When we were walking Jem
told me that during school hours I had to be with the first grade and he
would be with the fifth. In short I had to leave him alone. «We will do
like we always do at home,» he said, «but you’ll see — school’s
different.»

And it was different. Miss Caroline Fisher, our teacher, was no more
than twenty-one. She began the day by reading us a story about cats.
‘The cats had long conversations with one another, they lived in a warm
house under a kitchen floor. Miss Caroline came to the end of the story
and said, «Wasn’t that nice?»

Ї read the alphabet and she made me read most of my First Reader. Then
she told me to tell my father not to teach me any more. «He hasn’t
taught me anything, Miss Caroline. Atticus hasn’t got time to teach me
anything,» I said.

«Everybody who goes home to lunch hold up your hands,» said Miss
Caroline. The town children did so, and she looked us over.

«Everybody who brings his lunch put it on the desk.» Miss Caroline
walked up to Walter Cunningham’s desk. «Where is your lunch?» she asked.
«Did you forget it this morning?» Saying that, Miss Caroline went to her
desk. «Here is some money,» she said to Walter. «Go and eat in town
today. You can pay meback tomorrow.» Walter shook his head.

«No, thank you ma’am ‘.»

«Here Walter, come get it.»

Walter shook his head again. I wanted to help him.

«Miss Caroline, he’s one of the Cunninghams,» I said.

«What, Jean Louise?»

We all understood it. He didn’t forget his lunch, he just didn’t have
any. He had none today, nor would he have any tomorrow or the next day.

«You’ll get to know 3 all the country folk after a while. The
Cunninghams never took anything they can’t pay back, they live on what
they have. They don’t have much, but they live on it. Walter hasn’t got
money to bring you.»

«Jean Louise, I’ve had enough of you this morning,» said Miss Caroline.
«You’re starting off on the wrong foot in every way 4, my dear,» and she
told me to stand in the corner. I didn’t stand long there, for the bell
rang, and Miss Caroline watched the class go for lunch. As I was the
last to leave, I saw her fall into her chair 5 and put her head in her
arms. Had she been more friendly towards me, I would have felt sorry for
her 6. She was a handsome little thing.

* * *

The second grade was no better than the first, but Jem told me that the
older I got the better school would be, that he started off the same
way, and it was only in the six grade that he learned anything
interesting. The sixth grade pleased him from the beginning: he went
through a short Egyptian Period and tried to walk putting one arm in
front of him and one in back, putting one foot behind the other. He said
that the Egyptians walked this way. I said if they did I didn’t see how
they got anything done, but Jem said they did more than the Americans
ever did, they invented toilet paper and perpetual embalming.

* * *

Jem and I met Christmas with mixed feeling. The good side of it was the
tree and Uncle Jack Finch. Every Christmas Eve day we met Uncle Jack at
Maycomb station; and he would spend a week with us.

Besides, we should visit Aunt Alexandra and Francis. Aunt Alexandra was
Atticus’s sister. I suppose I should include Uncle Jimmy, Aunt
Alexandra’s husband, but as he never spoke a word to me in my life
except to say «Get off the fence,» I never saw any reason to take notice
of him. Henry, their son and his wife brought Francis to his
grandparents’every Christmas.

Nothing could make Atticus spend Christmas day at home. We went to
Finch’s Landing3 every Christmas in my memory. The fact that Aunty was a
good cook was some compensation for being forced to spend a holiday with
Francis Hancock. He was a year older than I, and I disliked him because
he enjoyed everything I disapproved of.

When Uncle Jack jumped down from the train on Christmas Eve day, we had
to wait for the porter to hand him two long packages. Uncle Jack shook
hands with Jem and swung me high 4, but not high enough; Uncle Jack was
a head shorter than Atticus.

Uncle Jack was one of the few men of science who never terrified me,
because he never behaved like a doctor.

One Christmas I was hiding in corners with a splinter in my foot
permitting no one to come near me. When Uncle Jack caught me, he kept me
laughing about one story. I asked Uncle Jack to let me know when he
would pull it out, but he held up a bloody splinter and said he took it
out while I was laughing.

We decorated the tree until bedtime, and that night I dreamed of the two
long packages for Jem and me. Next morning Jem and I ran for them. They
were from Atticus, who had written Uncle Jack to get them for us, and
they were what we had asked for — the air-rifles.

«You’ll have to teach them to shoot,» said Uncle Jack.

«That’s your job,» said Atticus.

It was difficult for Atticus to take us away from the tree. He didn’t
let us take our air-rifles to the Landing and said if we made one false
move he’d take them away from us for good 2.

At Christmas dinner I sat at the little table in the dining-room; Jem
and Francis sat with the adults at the big dining table.

After dinner all went to the living room. Jem lay on the floor, and I
went to the back yard. «Put on your coat,» said Atticus dreamily, so I
didn’t hear him.

«Grandma’s wonderful cook,» said Francis. «She is going to teach me.»

«Boys don’t cook.» I laughed at the thought of Jem in an apron.

* * *

Atticus was not a strong man: he was nearly fifty. He was much older
than the parents of our school contemporaries, and there was nothing Jem
or I could say about him when our classmates said, «My father…»

Our father didn’t do anything. He worked in an office, not in a
drugstore. He didn’t play football, he was not the sheriff, he did not
farm, work in a garage, or do anything that could possibly arouse the
admiration of anyone.

Besides that, he wore glasses. He was nearly blind in his left eye.
Whenever he wanted to see something well, he turned his head and looked
from his right eye.

He did not do the things our schoolmates* fathers did: he never went
hunting, he did not play poker or fish or drink or smoke. He sat in the
living-room and read.

When Atticus gave us our air rifles he wouldn’t teach us to shoot. Uncle
Jack instructed us a little; he said Atticus wasn’t interested in guns.
Atticus said to Jem one day, «I’d rather you shot at cans ‘ in the back
yard, but Ї know you’ll go after birds. But remember it’s a sin to kill
a mockingbird.»

That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do
something, and I asked our neighbour Miss Maudie about it.

«Your father is right,» she said. «Mockingbirds don’t do anything but
sing for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, they don’t do
one thing but sing their hearts out for us 3. That’s why it’s a sin to
kill a mockingbird.»

«Miss Maudie, this is an old street, isn’t it?»

«It’s been here longer than the town.»

«No, 1 mean the people in our street are all old. Jem and I are the only
children around here. Miss Rachel is old and so are you and Aiticus.»

«I don’t call fifty very old 4. But maybe you are right, Jean-Louise.
You’ve never been around young people much, have you?»

«Yes, at school.»

«I mean young grown-ups. But you are lucky. If your father was thirty
you’d find your life quite different.»

«Certainly. Atticus can’t do anything…»

«You don’t know your father, child. But I have a lot of work to do,
you’d better go home.

I went to the back yard, where Jem was practising his air rifle and
joined him. I felt awfully sorry that our father could not do anything
interesting.

One Saturday Jem and I decided to go out with our air rifles to see if
we could find a rabbit or a squirrel. Suddenly I noticed that Jem was
looking attentively at something down the street.

«What are you looking at?»

«That old dog down there,» he said.

«That’s old Tim Johnson, isn’t it?»

«Yes.»

Tim Johnson was the dog of Mr. Harry Johnson who drove the bus and lived
on the southern end of town. Tim was a good dog, everybody liked him.

«What’s he doing? What’s the matter with him?»

«I don’t know, Scout ‘. We’ll better go home.»

We ran back home and rushed into the kitchen.

«Cal,» said Jem, «can you come down the street for a min lite?»

«What for, Jem?» said our cook. «I can’t come down the street every time
you want me.»

«There’s something wrong with an old dog down there. He is sick. He
doesn’t look usual.»

«Are you telling me a story, Jem Finch?»

«No, Cal. I’m sure he is mad.»

Calpurnia followed us and looked at the dog. Tim Johnson walked with
great difficulty as if his right legs were shorter than his left legs.
Suddenly Calpurnia grabbed as by the shoulders and ran us home. She shut
the door behind us, went to the telephone and shouted, «Give me Mr.
Finch’s office!»

«Mr. Finch!» she shouted. «This is Cal. There’s a mad dog down the
street, he is coming this way, yes sir,— I’m sure he’s mad — old Tim
Johnson, yes, sir — yes —»

She did not tell us what Atticus had said. She began to ring up all the
neighbours to ask them not to leave their houses. Soon every door to the
street was closed tight. We looked out of the window but did not see Tim
Johnson. But we saw a black car approaching our house. Atticus and Mr.
Heck Taete got out.

Mr. Heck Tale was the sheriff of Maycomb County 3. He was as tall as
Atticus, but thinner. His belt had a row of bullets sticking in it. He
carried a heavy rifle. When he and Atticus reached the house, Jem opened
the door.

«Stay inside, son,» said Atticus. «Where is the dog, Cal?»

«Somewhere here,» said Calpurnia, pointing down the street.

«Should we go after him, Heck?» asked Atticus.

«We better wait, Mr. Finch. Mad dogs usually go in a straight line, but
you never can tell. Let’s wait a minute.»

I thought mad dogs foamed at the mouth, galloped, leaped and lunged at
throats ‘ and I thought they did it in August. If Tim Johnson had
behaved like that I would have been less frightened.

We waited. I could see our neighbours’ faces in the windows of their
houses. Miss Maudie appeared, too. Mr. Taete prepared his gun for
shooting. Tim Johnson came into sight.

«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.

Mr. Taete put his hand to his forehead and leaned forward. «Yes, Mr.
Finch, there’s no doubt about it — he’s mad.»

Tim Johnson was advancing very slowly. He was not playing; we could see
him shiver; his mouth opened and shut.

«He is looking for a place to die,» said Jem.

Mr. Taete turned around. «He is far from dead, Jem, he hasn’t even
started yet.»

Atticus said, «He’s quite near, Heck. You better get him now before he
goes down the side street. God knows who is around the corner. Go
inside, Cal.»

«Take him, Mr. Finch.» Mr. Taete handed the rifle to Atticus. Jem and I
nearly fainted.3

«Don’t waste time, Heck,» said Atticus. «Go on.»

«Mr. Finch, this must be a one-shot job.»

Atticus shook his hand, but the sheriff insisted and almost threw the
rifle at Atticus. «I’d feel very comfortable if you shot now,» he said.

With great surprise Jem and I watched our father. He took the gun and
walked out into the middle of the street.

He walked quickly, but I thought he moved like an underwater swimmer;
time went very slowly.

Atticus pushed his glasses to his forehead; they fell 4own, and he
stepped on them.

Tim Johnson made two steps forward, then stopped and raised his head. We
saw his body go rigid.

With movements so quick they seemed simultaneous, Atticus’s hand brought
the gun to his shoulder.

The rifle cracked. Tim Johnson leaped and fell on the ground sidewalk in
a brown-and-white heap 2. He did not know what hit him.

Mr. Tate came up to the dog, looked at him and then said to Atticus,
«You were a little to the right, Mr. Finch.»

«Always was,» answered Atticus. He went to Mr. Taete and stood looking
down at poor Tim Johnson.

Doors opened one by one, and the neighbours slowly came alive. Miss
Maudie walked down the steps.

Jem was paralysed. But when I wanted to run to Atticus, our father
called «Stay where you are.»

When Mr. Taete and Atticus returned to the yard, Mr. Taete was smiling.
«You haven’t forgotten much, Mr. Finch. You shoot as well as ever. They
say it never leaves you.»

Atticus was silent.

«Atticus?» said Jem.

«Yes?»

«Nothing.»

«I saw that, One-Shot Finch,» said Miss Maudie.

Atticus turned round and faced Miss Maudie. They looked at one another
without saying anything, and Atticus got into the sheriff’s car. «Come
here,» he said to Jem. «Don’t go near that dog, you understand? Don’t go
near him, he’s just as dangerous dead as alive.»

«Yes, sir,» said Jem. «Atticus —»

«What, son?»

«Nothing.»

«What’s the matter with you, boy, can’t you talk?» said Mr. Taete,
smiling at Jem. «Didn’t you know that your daddy is…»

«Hush, Heck,» said Atticus, «let’s go back to town.»

When they drove away Jem and I came up to Miss Maudie. Jem could hardly
speak: «Did you see him, Scout? Did you see him standing there? He
looked like that gun was a part of him… and he did it so quick… I
have to aim for ten minutes before I can hit something…»

Miss Maudie smiled. «Well now, Miss Jean-Louise,» she said, «still think
your father can’t do anything? Still ashamed of him?»

«No, Miss,» I said meekly.

«I forgot to tell you that Atticus Finch was the deadest shot ‘ in
Maycomb County in his time.»

«Dead shot…» echoed Jem.

«That’s what I said, Jem Finch. I think you’ll change your opinion now.
Didn’t you know his nickname was One-Shot Finch when he was a boy?»

«He never said anything about that,» Jem said.

«Never said anything about it, did he?»

«No, rna’am.»

«I wonder why he never goes hunting now,» I said.

«Maybe I can tell you,» said Miss Maudie. «Your father is civilized in
his heart. Marksmanship is a gift of God, a talent — you must practise
to make it perfect, but shooting is different from playing the piano. I
think maybe he put down his gun when he realized that he has an unfair
advantage over most living things 4. I think he wouldn’t shoot till he
had to, and he had to shoot today.»

When we went home I told Jem we’d really have something to talk about at
school on Monday. Jem turned on me.

«Don’t say anything about it, Scout,» he said.

«What? I certainly will. Not everybody’s daddy is the deadest shot in
Maycomb County.»

Jem said, «If he’d wanted us to know it, he’d have told us. If he was
proud of it, he’d have told us.»

«Maybe he just forgot,» I said.

«No, Scout, it’s something you wouldn’t understand. Atticus is old, but
I wouldn’t care if he couldn’t do anything ‘, I wouldn’t care at all.»

Jem picked up a stone and threw it joyfully at the garage. Running after
it, he called back. «Atticus is a gentleman, just like me!»

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