To Kill a Mockingbird
Author:Harper Lee

This was an excellent idea, Jem thought. He also thought it a good thing that Cecil and I would be together. This way, Jem would be left to go with people his own age.

When we reached the auditorium, the whole town was there except Atticus and the ladies worn out from decorating, and the usual outcasts and shut-ins. Most of the county, it seemed, was there: the hall was teeming with slicked-up country people. The high school building had a wide downstairs hallway; people milled around booths that had been installed along each side.

“Oh Jem. I forgot my money,” I sighed, when I saw them.

“Atticus didn’t,” Jem said. “Here’s thirty cents, you can do six things. See you later on.”

“Okay,” I said, quite content with thirty cents and Cecil. I went with Cecil down to the front of the auditorium, through a door on one side, and backstage. I got rid of my ham costume and departed in a hurry, for Mrs. Merriweather was standing at a lectern in front of the first row of seats making last-minute, frenzied changes in the script.

“How much money you got?” I asked Cecil. Cecil had thirty cents, too, which made us even. We squandered our first nickels on the House of Horrors, which scared us not at all; we entered the black seventh-grade room and were led around by the temporary ghoul in residence and were made to touch several objects alleged to be component parts of a human being. “Here’s his eyes,” we were told when we touched two peeled grapes on a saucer. “Here’s his heart,” which felt like raw liver. “These are his innards,” and our hands were thrust into a plate of cold spaghetti.

Cecil and I visited several booths. We each bought a sack of Mrs. Judge Taylor’s homemade divinity. I wanted to bob for apples, but Cecil said it wasn’t sanitary. His mother said he might catch something from everybody’s heads having been in the same tub. “Ain’t anything around town now to catch,” I protested. But Cecil said his mother said it was unsanitary to eat after folks. I later asked Aunt Alexandra about this, and she said people who held such views were usually climbers.

We were about to purchase a blob of taffy when Mrs. Merriweather’s runners appeared and told us to go backstage, it was time to get ready. The auditorium was filling with people; the Maycomb County High School band had assembled in front below the stage; the stage footlights were on and the red velvet curtain rippled and billowed from the scurrying going on behind it.

Backstage, Cecil and I found the narrow hallway teeming with people: adults in homemade three-corner hats, Confederate caps, Spanish-American War hats, and World War helmets. Children dressed as various agricultural enterprises crowded around the one small window.

“Somebody’s mashed my costume,” I wailed in dismay. Mrs. Merriweather galloped to me, reshaped the chicken wire, and thrust me inside.

“You all right in there, Scout?” asked Cecil. “You sound so far off, like you was on the other side of a hill.”

“You don’t sound any nearer,” I said.

The band played the national anthem, and we heard the audience rise. Then the bass drum sounded. Mrs. Merriweather, stationed behind her lectern beside the band, said: “Maycomb County Ad Astra Per Aspera.” The bass drum boomed again. “That means,” said Mrs. Merriweather, translating for the rustic elements, “from the mud to the stars.” She added, unnecessarily, it seemed to me, “A pageant.”

“Reckon they wouldn’t know what it was if she didn’t tell ‘em,” whispered Cecil, who was immediately shushed.

“The whole town knows it,” I breathed.

“But the country folks’ve come in,” Cecil said.

“Be quiet back there,” a man’s voice ordered, and we were silent.

The bass drum went boom with every sentence Mrs. Merriweather uttered. She chanted mournfully about Maycomb County being older than the state, that it was a part of the Mississippi and Alabama Territories, that the first white man to set foot in the virgin forests was the Probate Judge’s great-grandfather five times removed, who was never heard of again. Then came the fearless Colonel Maycomb, for whom the county was named.

Andrew Jackson appointed him to a position of authority, and Colonel Maycomb’s misplaced self-confidence and slender sense of direction brought disaster to all who rode with him in the Creek Indian Wars. Colonel Maycomb persevered in his efforts to make the region safe for democracy, but his first campaign was his last. His orders, relayed to him by a friendly Indian runner, were to move south. After consulting a tree to ascertain from its lichen which way was south, and taking no lip from the subordinates who ventured to correct him, Colonel Maycomb set out on a purposeful journey to rout the enemy and entangled his troops so far northwest in the forest primeval that they were eventually rescued by settlers moving inland.

Mrs. Merriweather gave a thirty-minute description of Colonel Maycomb’s exploits. I discovered that if I bent my knees I could tuck them under my costume and more or less sit. I sat down, listened to Mrs. Merriweather’s drone and the bass drum’s boom and was soon fast asleep.

They said later that Mrs. Merriweather was putting her all into the grand finale, that she had crooned, “Po-ork,” with a confidence born of pine trees and butterbeans entering on cue. She waited a few seconds, then called, “Po-ork?” When nothing materialized, she yelled, “Pork!”

I must have heard her in my sleep, or the band playing Dixie woke me, but it was when Mrs. Merriweather triumphantly mounted the stage with the state flag that I chose to make my entrance. Chose is incorrect: I thought I’d better catch up with the rest of them.