To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 14)
Miss Maudie’s eyes narrowed. “You know that story as well as I do.”
“I never heard why, though. Nobody ever told me why.”
Miss Maudie settled her bridgework. “You know old Mr. Radley was a foot-washing Baptist—”
“That’s what you are, ain’t it?”
“My shell’s not that hard, child. I’m just a Baptist.”
“Don’t you all believe in foot-washing?”
“We do. At home in the bathtub.”
“But we can’t have communion with you all—”
Apparently deciding that it was easier to define primitive baptistry than closed communion, Miss Maudie said: “Foot-washers believe anything that’s pleasure is a sin. Did you know some of ’em came out of the woods one Saturday and passed by this place and told me me and my flowers were going to hell?”
“Your flowers, too?”
“Yes ma’am. They’d burn right with me. They thought I spent too much time in God’s outdoors and not enough time inside the house reading the Bible.”
My confidence in pulpit Gospel lessened at the vision of Miss Maudie stewing forever in various Protestant hells. True enough, she had an acid tongue in her head, and she did not go about the neighborhood doing good, as did Miss Stephanie Crawford. But while no one with a grain of sense trusted Miss Stephanie, Jem and I had considerable faith in Miss Maudie. She had never told on us, had never played cat-and-mouse with us, she was not at all interested in our private lives. She was our friend. How so reasonable a creature could live in peril of everlasting torment was incomprehensible.
“That ain’t right, Miss Maudie. You’re the best lady I know.”
Miss Maudie grinned. “Thank you ma’am. Thing is, foot-washers think women are a sin by definition. They take the Bible literally, you know.”
“Is that why Mr. Arthur stays in the house, to keep away from women?”
“I’ve no idea.”
“It doesn’t make sense to me. Looks like if Mr. Arthur was hankerin’ after heaven he’d come out on the porch at least. Atticus says God’s loving folks like you love yourself—”
Miss Maudie stopped rocking, and her voice hardened. “You are too young to understand it,” she said, “but sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of—oh, of your father.”
I was shocked. “Atticus doesn’t drink whiskey,” I said. “He never drunk a drop in his life—nome, yes he did. He said he drank some one time and didn’t like it.”
Miss Maudie laughed. “Wasn’t talking about your father,” she said. “What I meant was, if Atticus Finch drank until he was drunk he wouldn’t be as hard as some men are at their best. There are just some kind of men who—who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”
“Do you think they’re true, all those things they say about B—Mr. Arthur?”
I told her.
“That is three-fourths colored folks and one-fourth Stephanie Crawford,” said Miss Maudie grimly. “Stephanie Crawford even told me once she woke up in the middle of the night and found him looking in the window at her. I said what did you do, Stephanie, move over in the bed and make room for him? That shut her up a while.”
I was sure it did. Miss Maudie’s voice was enough to shut anybody up.
“No, child,” she said, “that is a sad house. I remember Arthur Radley when he was a boy. He always spoke nicely to me, no matter what folks said he did. Spoke as nicely as he knew how.”
“You reckon he’s crazy?”
Miss Maudie shook her head. “If he’s not he should be by now. The things that happen to people we never really know. What happens in houses behind closed doors, what secrets—”
“Atticus don’t ever do anything to Jem and me in the house that he don’t do in the yard,” I said, feeling it my duty to defend my parent.
“Gracious child, I was raveling a thread, wasn’t even thinking about your father, but now that I am I’ll say this: Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets. How’d you like some fresh poundcake to take home?”
I liked it very much.
Next morning when I awakened I found Jem and Dill in the back yard deep in conversation. When I joined them, as usual they said go away.
“Will not. This yard’s as much mine as it is yours, Jem Finch. I got just as much right to play in it as you have.”
Dill and Jem emerged from a brief huddle: “If you stay you’ve got to do what we tell you,” Dill warned.
“We-ll,” I said, “who’s so high and mighty all of a sudden?”
“If you don’t say you’ll do what we tell you, we ain’t gonna tell you anything,” Dill continued.
“You act like you grew ten inches in the night! All right, what is it?”
Jem said placidly, “We are going to give a note to Boo Radley.”
“Just how?” I was trying to fight down the automatic terror rising in me. It was all right for Miss Maudie to talk—she was old and snug on her porch. It was different for us.
Jem was merely going to put the note on the end of a fishing pole and stick it through the shutters. If anyone came along, Dill would ring the bell.
Dill raised his right hand. In it was my mother’s silver dinnerbell.
“I’m goin’ around to the side of the house,” said Jem. “We looked yesterday from across the street, and there’s a shutter loose. Think maybe I can make it stick on the window sill, at least.”
“Now you’re in it and you can’t get out of it, you’ll just stay in it, Miss Priss!”
“Okay, okay, but I don’t wanta watch. Jem, somebody was—”
“Yes you will, you’ll watch the back end of the lot and Dill’s gonna watch the front of the house an’ up the street an’ if anybody comes he’ll ring the bell. That clear?”
“All right then. What’d you write him?”
Dill said, “We’re askin’ him real politely to come out sometimes, and tell us what he does in there—we said we wouldn’t hurt him and we’d buy him an ice cream.”
“You all’ve gone crazy, he’ll kill us!”