In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, how does Scout inadvertently stop the mob from harming Tom Robinson, and possibly, her father during the confrontation at the jail the night before the trial begins?
When Scout, Jem and Dill go to check on Atticus at the courthouse, they are puzzled to see him sitting alone reading the paper, and even more puzzled when a group of cars arrives carrying men who apparently are not arriving for a friendly visit. Scout is the hero of this scene, as she goes leaping into the crowd to greet her father, "Hey, Atticus!" and then tries to engage Walter Cunningham's father in friendly conversation. Her efforts don't yield immediate results, and trying to remember what her father has told her about conversing about things others are interested in, she brings up the money the elder Cunningham owes her father: "How's your entailment gettin' along?" She chatters on about this for awhile, then finally asks about Walter, the boy she goes to school with, requesting that Mr. Cunningham "Tell Walter I said, 'hey'!" These comments remind Mr. Cunningham that a) Atticus Finch has been very kind to him regarding his debt, and b) that Scout is friends with Walter and has had him home to lunch; this seems to break the spell, more or less, of the mob mentality, and Cunningham orders everyone to disperse.
Atticus, always so calm, reserved, cool, and collected, reacts in a way that shows he was terrified, turning to the side of the building for a moment, leaning on it, clearly relieved, and comments on how it took "an eight year old child to bring 'em to their senses".