To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 15)
Dill said, “It’s my idea. I figure if he’d come out and sit a spell with us he might feel better.”
“How do you know he don’t feel good?”
“Well how’d you feel if you’d been shut up for a hundred years with nothin’ but cats to eat? I bet he’s got a beard down to here—”
“Like your daddy’s?”
“He ain’t got a beard, he—” Dill stopped, as if trying to remember.
“Uh huh, caughtcha,” I said. “You said ’fore you were off the train good your daddy had a black beard—”
“If it’s all the same to you he shaved it off last summer! Yeah, an’ I’ve got the letter to prove it—he sent me two dollars, too!”
“Keep on—I reckon he even sent you a mounted police uniform! That’n never showed up, did it? You just keep on tellin’ ’em, son—”
Dill Harris could tell the biggest ones I ever heard. Among other things, he had been up in a mail plane seventeen times, he had been to Nova Scotia, he had seen an elephant, and his grandaddy was Brigadier General Joe Wheeler and left him his sword.
“You all hush,” said Jem. He scuttled beneath the house and came out with a yellow bamboo pole. “Reckon this is long enough to reach from the sidewalk?”
“Anybody who’s brave enough to go up and and touch the house hadn’t oughta use a fishin’ pole,” I said. “Why don’t you just knock the front door down?”
“This—is—different,” said Jem, “how many times do I have to tell you that?”
Dill took a piece of paper from his pocket and gave it to Jem. The three of us walked cautiously toward the old house. Dill remained at the light-pole on the front center of the lot, and Jem and I edged down the sidewalk parallel to the side of the house. I walked beyond Jem and stood where I could see around the curve.
“All clear,” I said. “Not a soul in sight.”
Jem looked up the sidewalk to Dill, who nodded.
Jem attached the note to the end of the fishing pole, let the pole out across the yard and pushed it toward the window he had selected. The pole lacked several inches of being long enough, and Jem leaned over as far as he could. I watched him making jabbing motions for so long, I abandoned my post and went to him.
“Can’t get it off the pole,” he muttered, “or if I get it off I can’t make it stay. G’on back down the street, Scout.”
I returned and gazed around the curve at the empty road. Occasionally I looked back at Jem, who was patiently trying to place the note on the window sill. It would flutter to the ground and Jem would jab it up, until I thought if Boo Radley ever received it he wouldn’t be able to read it. I was looking down the street when the dinner-bell rang.
Shoulder up, I reeled around to face Boo Radley and his bloody fangs; instead, I saw Dill ringing the bell with all his might in Atticus’s face.
Jem looked so awful I didn’t have the heart to tell him I told him so. He trudged along, dragging the pole behind him on the sidewalk.
Atticus said, “Stop ringing that bell.”
Dill grabbed the clapper; in the silence that followed, I wished he’d start ringing it again. Atticus pushed his hat to the back of his head and put his hands on his hips. “Jem,” he said, “what were you doing?”
“I don’t want any of that. Tell me.”
“I was—we were just tryin’ to give somethin’ to Mr. Radley.”
“What were you trying to give him?”
“Just a letter.”
“Let me see it.”
Jem held out a filthy piece of paper. Atticus took it and tried to read it. “Why do you want Mr. Radley to come out?”
Dill said, “We thought he might enjoy us . . .” and dried up when Atticus looked at him.
“Son,” he said to Jem, “I’m going to tell you something and tell you one time: stop tormenting that man. That goes for the other two of you.”
What Mr. Radley did was his own business. If he wanted to come out, he would. If he wanted to stay inside his own house he had the right to stay inside free from the attentions of inquisitive children, which was a mild term for the likes of us. How would we like it if Atticus barged in on us without knocking, when we were in our rooms at night? We were, in effect, doing the same thing to Mr. Radley. What Mr. Radley did might seem peculiar to us, but it did not seem peculiar to him. Furthermore, had it never occurred to us that the civil way to communicate with another being was by the front door instead of a side window? Lastly, we were to stay away from that house until we were invited there, we were not to play an asinine game he had seen us playing or make fun of anybody on this street or in this town—
“We weren’t makin’ fun of him, we weren’t laughin’ at him,” said Jem, “we were just—”
“So that was what you were doing, wasn’t it?”
“Makin’ fun of him?”
“No,” said Atticus, “putting his life’s history on display for the edification of the neighborhood.”
Jem seemed to swell a little. “I didn’t say we were doin’ that, I didn’t say it!”
Atticus grinned dryly. “You just told me,” he said. “You stop this nonsense right now, every one of you.”
Jem gaped at him.
“You want to be a lawyer, don’t you?” Our father’s mouth was suspiciously firm, as if he were trying to hold it in line.
Jem decided there was no point in quibbling, and was silent. When Atticus went inside the house to retrieve a file he had forgotten to take to work that morning, Jem finally realized that he had been done in by the oldest lawyer’s trick on record. He waited a respectful distance from the front steps, watched Atticus leave the house and walk toward town. When Atticus was out of earshot Jem yelled after him: “I thought I wanted to be a lawyer but I ain’t so sure now!”
“Yes,” said our father, when Jem asked him if we could go over and sit by Miss Rachel’s fishpool with Dill, as this was his last night in Maycomb. “Tell him so long for me, and we’ll see him next summer.”
We leaped over the low wall that separated Miss Rachel’s yard from our driveway. Jem whistled bob-white and Dill answered in the darkness.
“Not a breath blowing,” said Jem. “Looka yonder.”
He pointed to the east. A gigantic moon was rising behind Miss Maudie’s pecan trees. “That makes it seem hotter,” he said.