To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 19)
Jem looked from the girl-doll to me. The girl-doll wore bangs. So did I.
“These are us,” he said.
“Who did ’em, you reckon?”
“Who do we know around here who whittles?” he asked.
“Mr. Avery just does like this. I mean carves.”
Mr. Avery averaged a stick of stovewood per week; he honed it down to a toothpick and chewed it.
“There’s old Miss Stephanie Crawford’s sweetheart,” I said.
“He carves all right, but he lives down the country. When would he ever pay any attention to us?”
“Maybe he sits on the porch and looks at us instead of Miss Stephanie. If I was him, I would.”
Jem stared at me so long I asked what was the matter, but got Nothing, Scout for an answer. When we went home, Jem put the dolls in his trunk.
Less than two weeks later we found a whole package of chewing gum, which we enjoyed, the fact that everything on the Radley Place was poison having slipped Jem’s memory.
The following week the knot-hole yielded a tarnished medal. Jem showed it to Atticus, who said it was a spelling medal, that before we were born the Maycomb County schools had spelling contests and awarded medals to the winners. Atticus said someone must have lost it, and had we asked around? Jem camel-kicked me when I tried to say where we had found it. Jem asked Atticus if he remembered anybody who ever won one, and Atticus said no.
Our biggest prize appeared four days later. It was a pocket watch that wouldn’t run, on a chain with an aluminum knife.
“You reckon it’s white gold, Jem?”
“Don’t know. I’ll show it to Atticus.”
Atticus said it would probably be worth ten dollars, knife, chain and all, if it were new. “Did you swap with somebody at school?” he asked.
“Oh, no sir!” Jem pulled out his grandfather’s watch that Atticus let him carry once a week if Jem were careful with it. On the days he carried the watch, Jem walked on eggs. “Atticus, if it’s all right with you, I’d rather have this one instead. Maybe I can fix it.”
When the new wore off his grandfather’s watch, and carrying it became a day’s burdensome task, Jem no longer felt the necessity of ascertaining the hour every five minutes.
He did a fair job, only one spring and two tiny pieces left over, but the watch would not run. “Oh-h,” he sighed, “it’ll never go. Scout—?”
“You reckon we oughta write a letter to whoever’s leaving us these things?”
“That’d be right nice, Jem, we can thank ’em—what’s wrong?”
Jem was holding his ears, shaking his head from side to side. “I don’t get it, I just don’t get it—I don’t know why, Scout . . .” He looked toward the livingroom. “I’ve gotta good mind to tell Atticus—no, I reckon not.”
“I’ll tell him for you.”
“No, don’t do that, Scout. Scout?”
He had been on the verge of telling me something all evening; his face would brighten and he would lean toward me, then he would change his mind. He changed it again. “Oh, nothin’.”
“Here, let’s write a letter.” I pushed a tablet and pencil under his nose.
“Okay. Dear Mister . . .”
“How do you know it’s a man? I bet it’s Miss Maudie—been bettin’ that for a long time.”
“Ar-r, Miss Maudie can’t chew gum—” Jem broke into a grin. “You know, she can talk pretty sometimes. One time I asked her to have a chew and she said no thanks, that—chewing gum cleaved to her palate and rendered her speechless,” said Jem carefully. “Doesn’t that sound nice?”
“Yeah, she can say nice things sometimes. She wouldn’t have a watch and chain anyway.”
“Dear sir,” said Jem. “We appreciate the—no, we appreciate everything which you have put into the tree for us. Yours very truly, Jeremy Atticus Finch.”
“He won’t know who you are if you sign it like that, Jem.”
Jem erased his name and wrote, “Jem Finch.” I signed, “Jean Louise Finch (Scout),” beneath it. Jem put the note in an envelope.
Next morning on the way to school he ran ahead of me and stopped at the tree. Jem was facing me when he looked up, and I saw him go stark white.
I ran to him.
Someone had filled our knot-hole with cement.
“Don’t you cry, now, Scout . . . don’t cry now, don’t you worry—” he muttered at me all the way to school.
When we went home for dinner Jem bolted his food, ran to the porch and stood on the steps. I followed him. “Hasn’t passed by yet,” he said.
Next day Jem repeated his vigil and was rewarded.
“Hidy do, Mr. Nathan,” he said.
“Morning Jem, Scout,” said Mr. Radley, as he went by.
“Mr. Radley,” said Jem.
Mr. Radley turned around.
“Mr. Radley, ah—did you put cement in that hole in that tree down yonder?”
“Yes,” he said. “I filled it up.”
“Why’d you do it, sir?”
“Tree’s dying. You plug ’em with cement when they’re sick. You ought to know that, Jem.”
Jem said nothing more about it until late afternoon. When we passed our tree he gave it a meditative pat on its cement, and remained deep in thought. He seemed to be working himself into a bad humor, so I kept my distance.
As usual, we met Atticus coming home from work that evening. When we were at our steps Jem said, “Atticus, look down yonder at that tree, please sir.”
“What tree, son?”
“The one on the corner of the Radley lot comin’ from school.”
“Is that tree dyin’?”
“Why no, son, I don’t think so. Look at the leaves, they’re all green and full, no brown patches anywhere—”
“It ain’t even sick?”
“That tree’s as healthy as you are, Jem. Why?”
“Mr. Nathan Radley said it was dyin’.”
“Well maybe it is. I’m sure Mr. Radley knows more about his trees than we do.”
Atticus left us on the porch. Jem leaned on a pillar, rubbing his shoulders against it.
“Do you itch, Jem?” I asked as politely as I could. He did not answer. “Come on in, Jem,” I said.