To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 18)
“It’s not like he’d never speak to you again or somethin’ . . . I’m gonna wake him up, Jem, I swear I am—”
Jem grabbed my pajama collar and wrenched it tight. “Then I’m goin’ with you—” I choked.
“No you ain’t, you’ll just make noise.”
It was no use. I unlatched the back door and held it while he crept down the steps. It must have been two o’clock. The moon was setting and the lattice-work shadows were fading into fuzzy nothingness. Jem’s white shirt-tail dipped and bobbed like a small ghost dancing away to escape the coming morning. A faint breeze stirred and cooled the sweat running down my sides.
He went the back way, through Deer’s Pasture, across the schoolyard and around to the fence, I thought—at least that was the way he was headed. It would take longer, so it was not time to worry yet. I waited until it was time to worry and listened for Mr. Radley’s shotgun. Then I thought I heard the back fence squeak. It was wishful thinking.
Then I heard Atticus cough. I held my breath. Sometimes when we made a midnight pilgrimage to the bathroom we would find him reading. He said he often woke up during the night, checked on us, and read himself back to sleep. I waited for his light to go on, straining my eyes to see it flood the hall. It stayed off, and I breathed again.
The night-crawlers had retired, but ripe chinaberries drummed on the roof when the wind stirred, and the darkness was desolate with the barking of distant dogs.
There he was, returning to me. His white shirt bobbed over the back fence and slowly grew larger. He came up the back steps, latched the door behind him, and sat on his cot. Wordlessly, he held up his pants. He lay down, and for a while I heard his cot trembling. Soon he was still. I did not hear him stir again.
Jem stayed moody and silent for a week. As Atticus had once advised me to do, I tried to climb into Jem’s skin and walk around in it: if I had gone alone to the Radley Place at two in the morning, my funeral would have been held the next afternoon. So I left Jem alone and tried not to bother him.
School started. The second grade was as bad as the first, only worse—they still flashed cards at you and wouldn’t let you read or write. Miss Caroline’s progress next door could be estimated by the frequency of laughter; however, the usual crew had flunked the first grade again, and were helpful in keeping order. The only thing good about the second grade was that this year I had to stay as late as Jem, and we usually walked home together at three o’clock.
One afternoon when we were crossing the schoolyard toward home, Jem suddenly said: “There’s something I didn’t tell you.”
As this was his first complete sentence in several days, I encouraged him: “About what?”
“About that night.”
“You’ve never told me anything about that night,” I said.
Jem waved my words away as if fanning gnats. He was silent for a while, then he said, “When I went back for my breeches—they were all in a tangle when I was gettin’ out of ’em, I couldn’t get ’em loose. When I went back—” Jem took a deep breath. “When I went back, they were folded across the fence . . . like they were expectin’ me.”
“And something else—” Jem’s voice was flat. “Show you when we get home. They’d been sewed up. Not like a lady sewed ’em, like somethin’ I’d try to do. All crooked. It’s almost like—”
“—somebody knew you were comin’ back for ’em.”
Jem shuddered. “Like somebody was readin’ my mind . . . like somebody could tell what I was gonna do. Can’t anybody tell what I’m gonna do lest they know me, can they, Scout?”
Jem’s question was an appeal. I reassured him: “Can’t anybody tell what you’re gonna do lest they live in the house with you, and even I can’t tell sometimes.”
We were walking past our tree. In its knot-hole rested a ball of gray twine.
“Don’t take it, Jem,” I said. “This is somebody’s hidin’ place.”
“I don’t think so, Scout.”
“Yes it is. Somebody like Walter Cunningham comes down here every recess and hides his things—and we come along and take ’em away from him. Listen, let’s leave it and wait a couple of days. If it ain’t gone then, we’ll take it, okay?”
“Okay, you might be right,” said Jem. “It must be some little kid’s place—hides his things from the bigger folks. You know it’s only when school’s in that we’ve found things.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but we never go by here in the summertime.”
We went home. Next morning the twine was where we had left it. When it was still there on the third day, Jem pocketed it. From then on, we considered everything we found in the knot-hole our property.
The second grade was grim, but Jem assured me that the older I got the better school would be, that he started off the same way, and it was not until one reached the sixth grade that one learned anything of value. The sixth grade seemed to please him from the beginning: he went through a brief Egyptian Period that baffled me—he tried to walk flat a great deal, sticking one arm in front of him and one in back of him, putting one foot behind the other. He declared Egyptians walked that way; I said if they did I didn’t see how they got anything done, but Jem said they accomplished more than the Americans ever did, they invented toilet paper and perpetual embalming, and asked where would we be today if they hadn’t? Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts.
There are no clearly defined seasons in South Alabama; summer drifts into autumn, and autumn is sometimes never followed by winter, but turns to a days-old spring that melts into summer again. That fall was a long one, hardly cool enough for a light jacket. Jem and I were trotting in our orbit one mild October afternoon when our knothole stopped us again. Something white was inside this time.
Jem let me do the honors: I pulled out two small images carved in soap. One was the figure of a boy, the other wore a crude dress.
Before I remembered that there was no such thing as hoodooing, I shrieked and threw them down.
Jem snatched them up. “What’s the matter with you?” he yelled. He rubbed the figures free of red dust. “These are good,” he said. “I’ve never seen any these good.”
He held them down to me. They were almost perfect miniatures of two children. The boy had on shorts, and a shock of soapy hair fell to his eyebrows. I looked up at Jem. A point of straight brown hair kicked downwards from his part. I had never noticed it before.