An audio clip and an extract from the book everyone has been talking about . . .
That week, for three nights, Jem, Dill, and she had sat in the children’s section of the Baptist Church (the Baptists were hosts this time) and listened to the messages of the Reverend James Edward Moorehead, a renowned speaker from north Georgia. At least that is what they were told; they understood little of what he said except his observations on hell. Hell was and would always be as far as she was concerned, a lake of fire exactly the size of Maycomb, Alabama, surrounded by a brick wall two hundred feet high. Sinners were pitchforked over this wall by Satan, and they simmered throughout eternity in a sort of broth of liquid sulfur.
Reverend Moorehead was a tall sad man with a stoop and a tendency to give his sermons startling titles. (Would You Speak to Jesus If You Met Him on the Street? Reverend Moorehead doubted that you could even if you wanted to, because Jesus probably spoke Aramaic.) The second night he preached, his topic was The Wages of Sin. At that time the local movie house was featuring a film of the same title (persons under sixteen not admitted): Maycomb thought Reverend Moorehead was going to preach on the movie, and the whole town turned out to hear him. Reverend Moorehead did nothing of the kind. He split hairs for threequarters of an hour on the grammatical accuracy of his text. (Which was correct—the wages of sin is death or the wages of sin are death? It made a difference, and Reverend Moorehead drew distinctions of such profundity that not even Atticus Finch could tell what he was driving at.)
Jem, Dill, and she would have been bored stiff had not Reverend Moorehead possessed a singular talent for fascinating children. He was a whistler. There was a gap between his two front teeth (Dill swore they were false, they were just made that way to look natural) which produced a disastrously satisfying sound when he said a word containing one s or more. Sin, Jesus, Christ, sorrow, salvation, success, were key words they listened for each night, and their attention was rewarded in two ways: in those days no minister could get through a sermon without using them all, and they were assured of muffled paroxysms of muffled delight at least seven times an evening; secondly, because they paid such strict attention to Reverend Moorehead, Jem, Dill, and she were thought to be the best-behaved children in the congregation.
The third night of the revival when the three went forward with several other children and accepted Christ as their personal Savior, they looked hard at the floor during the ceremony because Reverend Moorehead folded his hands over their heads and said among other things, “Blessed is he who sitteth not in the seat of the scornful.” Dill was seized with a bad whooping spell, and Reverend Moorehead whispered to Jem, “Take the child out into the air. He is overcome.”
Jem said, “I tell you what, we can have it over in your yard by the fishpool.”
Dill said that would be fine. “Yeah, Jem. We can get some boxes for a pulpit.”
A gravel driveway divided the Finch yard from Miss Rachel’s. The fishpool was in Miss Rachel’s side yard, and it was surrounded by azalea bushes, rose bushes, camellia bushes, and cape jessamine bushes. Some old fat goldfish lived in the pool with several frogs and water lizards, shaded by wide lily pads and ivy. A great fig tree spread its poisonous leaves over the surrounding area, making it the coolest in the neighborhood. Miss Rachel had put some yard furniture around the pool, and there was a sawbuck table under the fig tree.
They found two empty crates in Miss Rachel’s smokehouse and set up an altar in front of the pool. Dill stationed himself behind it.
“I’m Mr. Moorehead,” he said.
“I’m Mr. Moorehead,” said Jem. “I’m the oldest.”
“Oh all right,” said Dill.
“You and Scout can be the congregation.”
“We won’t have anything to do,” she said, “and I swannee if I’ll sit here for an hour and listen to you, Jem Finch.”
“You and Dill can take up collection,” said Jem. “You can be the choir, too.”
The congregation drew up two yard chairs and sat facing the altar.
Jem said, “Now you all sing something.”
She and Dill sang:
“Amazing grace how sweet thuh sound
That saved a wretch like me;
I once was lost but now I’m found,
Was blind, but now I see. A-men.”
Jem wrapped his arms around the pulpit, leaned over, and said in confidential tones, “My, it looks good to see you all this morning. This is a beautiful morning.”
Dill said, “A-men.”
“Does anybody this morning feel like opening up wide and singin’ his heart out?” asked Jem.
“Yes-s sir,” said Dill. Dill, whose square construction and lack of height doomed him forever to play the character man, rose, and before their eyes became a one-man choir:
“When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, and time shall be no more,
And the morning breaks, eternal, bright and fair;
When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.”
The minister and the congregation joined in the chorus. While they were singing, she heard Calpurnia calling in the dim distance. She batted the gnatlike sound away from her ear.
Dill, red in the face from his exertions, sat down and filled the Amen Corner.
Jem clipped invisible pince-nez to his nose, cleared his throat, and said, “The text for the day, my brethren, is from the Psalms: ‘Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, O ye gates.’”
Jem detached his pince-nez, and while wiping them repeated in a deep voice, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.”
Dill said, “It’s time to take up collection,” and hit her for the two nickels she had in her pocket.
“You give ’em back after church, Dill,” she said.
“You all hush,” said Jem. “It’s time for the sermon.”
Jem preached the longest, most tedious sermon she ever heard in her life. He said that sin was about the most sinful thing he could think of, and no one who sinned could be a success, and blessed was he who sat in the seat of the scornful; in short, he repeated his own version of everything they had heard for the past three nights. His voice sank to its lowest register; it would rise to a squeak and he would clutch at the air as though the ground were opening beneath his feet. He once asked, “Where is the Devil?” and pointed straight at the congregation. “Right here in Maycomb, Alabama.”
He started on hell, but she said, “Now cut it out, Jem.” Reverend Moorehead’s description of it was enough to last her a lifetime. Jem reversed his field and tackled heaven: heaven was full of bananas (Dill’s love) and scalloped potatoes (her favorite), and when they died they would go there and eat good things until Judgement Day, but on Judgement Day, God, having written down everything they did in a book from the day they were born, would cast them into hell.
Jem drew the service to a close by asking all who wished to be united with Christ to step forward. She went.
Jem put his hand on her head and said, “Young lady, do you repent?”
“Yes sir,” she said.
“Have you been baptized?”
“No sir,” she said.
“Well—” Jem dipped his hand into the black water of the fishpool and laid it on her head. “I baptize you—”
“Hey, wait a minute!” shouted Dill. “That’s not right!”
“I reckon it is,” said Jem. “Scout and me are Methodists.”
“Yeah, but we’re having a Baptist revival. You’ve got to duck her. I think I’ll be baptized, too.” The ramifications of the ceremony were dawning on Dill, and he fought hard for the role. “I’m the one,” he insisted. “I’m the Baptist so I reckon I’m the one to be baptized.”
“Now listen here, Dill Pickle Harris,” she said menacingly. “I haven’t done a blessed thing this whole morning. You’ve been the Amen Corner, you sang a solo, and you took up collection. It’s my time, now.”
Her fists were clenched, her left arm cocked, and her toes gripped the ground.
Dill backed away. “Now cut it out, Scout.”
“She’s right, Dill,” Jem said. “You can be my assistant.”
Jem looked at her. “Scout, you better take your clothes off. They’ll get wet.”
She divested herself of her overalls, her only garment. “Don’t you hold me under,” she said, “and don’t forget to hold my nose.”
She stood on the cement edge of the pool. An ancient goldfish surfaced and looked balefully at her, then disappeared beneath the dark water.
“How deep’s this thing?” she asked.
“Only about two feet,” said Jem, and turned to Dill for confirmation. But Dill had left them. They saw him going like a streak toward Miss Rachel’s house.
“Reckon he’s mad?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Let’s wait and see if he comes back.”
Jem said they had better shoo the fish down to one side of the pool lest they hurt one, and they were leaning over the side rustling the water when an ominous voice behind them said, “Whoo—”
“Whoo—” said Dill from beneath a double-bed sheet, in which he had cut eyeholes. He raised his arms above his head and lunged at her. “Are you ready?” he said. “Hurry up, Jem. I’m getting hot.”
“For crying out loud,” said Jem. “What are you up to?”
“I’m the Holy Ghost,” said Dill modestly.
Jem took her by the hand and guided her into the pool. The water was warm and slimy, and the bottom was slippery. “Don’t you duck me but once,” she said.
Jem stood on the edge of the pool. The figure beneath the sheet joined him and flapped its arms wildly. Jem held her back and pushed her under. As her head went beneath the surface she heard Jem intoning, “Jean Louise Finch, I baptize you in the name of—”
Miss Rachel’s switch made perfect contact with the sacred apparition’s behind. Since he would not go backward into the hail of blows Dill stepped forward at a brisk pace and joined her in the pool. Miss Rachel flailed relentlessly at a heaving tangle of lily pads, bed sheet, legs and arms, and twining ivy.
“Get out of there!” Miss Rachel screamed. “I’ll Holy Ghost you, Charles Baker Harris! Rip the sheets off my best bed, will you? Cut holes in ’em, will you? Take the Lord’s name in vain, will you? Come on, get out of there!”
“Cut it out, Aunt Rachel!” burbled Dill, his head half under water. “Gimme a chance!”
Dill’s efforts to disentangle himself with dignity were only moderately successful: he rose from the pool like a small fantastical water monster, covered with green slime and dripping sheet. A tendril of ivy curled around his head and neck. He shook his head violently to free himself, and Miss Rachel stepped back to avoid the spray of water.
Jean Louise followed him out. Her nose tingled horribly from the water in it, and when she sniffed it hurt.
Miss Rachel would not touch Dill, but waved him on with her switch, saying, “March!”
She and Jem watched the two until they disappeared inside Miss Rachel’s house. She could not help feeling sorry for Dill.
“Let’s go home,” Jem said. “It must be dinnertime.”
They turned in the direction of their house and looked straight into the eyes of their father. He was standing in the driveway.
Beside him stood a lady they did not know and Reverend James Edward Moorehead. They looked like they had been standing there for some time.
Atticus came toward them, taking his coat off. Her throat closed tight and her knees shook. When he dropped his coat over her shoulders she realized she was standing stark naked in the presence of a preacher. She tried to run, but Atticus caught her by the scruff of the neck and said, “Go to Calpurnia. Go in the back door.”
Calpurnia scrubbed her viciously in the bathtub, muttering, “Mr. Finch called this morning and said he was bringing the preacher and his wife home for dinner. I yelled till I was blue in the face for you all. Why’nt you answer me?”
“Didn’t hear you,” she lied.
“Well, it was either get that cake in the oven or round you up. I couldn’t do both. Ought to be ashamed of yourselves, mortifyin’ your daddy like that!”
She thought Calpurnia’s bony finger would go through her ear. “Stop it,” she said.
“If he dudn’t whale the tar out of both of you, I will,” Calpurnia promised. “Now get out of that tub.”
Calpurnia nearly took the skin off her with the rough towel, and commanded her to raise her hands above her head. Calpurnia thrust her into a stiffly starched pink dress, held her chin firmly between thumb and forefinger, and raked her hair with a sharp-toothed comb. Calpurnia threw down a pair of patent leather shoes at her feet.
“Put ’em on.”
“I can’t button ’em,” she said. Calpurnia banged down the toilet seat and sat her on it. She watched big scarecrow fingers perform the intricate business of pushing pearl buttons through holes too small for them, and she marveled at the power in Calpurnia’s hands.
“Now go to your daddy.”
“Where’s Jem?” she said.
“He’s cleaning up in Mr. Finch’s bathroom. I can trust him.”
In the living room, she and Jem sat quietly on the sofa. Atticus and Reverend Moorehead made uninteresting conversation, and Mrs. Moorehead frankly stared at the children. Jem looked at Mrs. Moorehead and smiled. His smile was not returned, so he gave up.
To the relief of everyone, Calpurnia rang the dinnerbell. At the table, they sat for a moment in uneasy silence, and Atticus asked Reverend Moorehead to return thanks. Reverend Moorehead, instead of asking an impersonal blessing, seized the opportunity to advise the Lord of Jem’s and her misdeeds. By the time Reverend Moorehead got around to explaining that these were motherless children she felt one inch high. She peeked at Jem: his nose was almost in his plate and his ears were red. She doubted if Atticus would ever be able to raise his head again, and her suspicion was confirmed when Reverend Moorehead finally said Amen and Atticus looked up. Two big tears had run from beneath his glasses down the sides of his cheeks. They had hurt him badly this time. Suddenly he said, “Excuse me,” rose abruptly, and disappeared into the kitchen.
Calpurnia came in carefully, bearing a heavily laden tray. With company came Calpurnia’s company manners: although she could speak Jeff Davis’s English as well as anybody, she dropped her verbs in the presence of guests; she haughtily passed dishes of vegetables; she seemed to inhale steadily. When Calpurnia was at her side Jean Louise said, “Excuse me, please,” reached up, and brought Calpurnia’s head to the level of her own. “Cal,” she whispered, “is Atticus real upset?”
Calpurnia straightened up, looked down at her, and said to the table at large, “Mr. Finch? Nawm, Miss Scout. He on the back porch laughin’! Mr. Finch? He laughin’."