To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 21)
“Jem, I ain’t ever heard of a nigger snowman,” I said.
“He won’t be black long,” he grunted.
Jem procured some peachtree switches from the back yard, plaited them, and bent them into bones to be covered with dirt.
“He looks like Miss Stephanie Crawford with her hands on her hips,” I said. “Fat in the middle and little-bitty arms.”
“I’ll make ’em bigger.” Jem sloshed water over the mud man and added more dirt. He looked thoughtfully at it for a moment, then he molded a big stomach below the figure’s waistline. Jem glanced at me, his eyes twinkling: “Mr. Avery’s sort of shaped like a snow man, ain’t he?”
Jem scooped up some snow and began plastering it on. He permitted me to cover only the back, saving the public parts for himself. Gradually Mr. Avery turned white.
Using bits of wood for eyes, nose, mouth, and buttons, Jem succeeded in making Mr. Avery look cross. A stick of stovewood completed the picture. Jem stepped back and viewed his creation.
“It’s lovely, Jem,” I said. “Looks almost like he’d talk to you.”
“It is, ain’t it?” he said shyly.
We could not wait for Atticus to come home for dinner, but called and said we had a big surprise for him. He seemed surprised when he saw most of the back yard in the front yard, but he said we had done a jim-dandy job. “I didn’t know how you were going to do it,” he said to Jem, “but from now on I’ll never worry about what’ll become of you, son, you’ll always have an idea.”
Jem’s ears reddened from Atticus’s compliment, but he looked up sharply when he saw Atticus stepping back. Atticus squinted at the snowman a while. He grinned, then laughed. “Son, I can’t tell what you’re going to be—an engineer, a lawyer, or a portrait painter. You’ve perpetrated a near libel here in the front yard. We’ve got to disguise this fellow.”
Atticus suggested that Jem hone down his creation’s front a little, swap a broom for the stovewood, and put an apron on him.
Jem explained that if he did, the snowman would become muddy and cease to be a snowman.
“I don’t care what you do, so long as you do something,” said Atticus. “You can’t go around making caricatures of the neighbors.”
“Ain’t a characterture,” said Jem. “It looks just like him.”
“Mr. Avery might not think so.”
“I know what!” said Jem. He raced across the street, disappeared into Miss Maudie’s back yard and returned triumphant. He stuck her sunhat on the snowman’s head and jammed her hedge-clippers into the crook of his arm. Atticus said that would be fine.
Miss Maudie opened her front door and came out on the porch. She looked across the street at us. Suddenly she grinned. “Jem Finch,” she called. “You devil, bring me back my hat, sir!”
Jem looked up at Atticus, who shook his head. “She’s just fussing,” he said. “She’s really impressed with your—accomplishments.”
Atticus strolled over to Miss Maudie’s sidewalk, where they engaged in an arm-waving conversation, the only phrase of which I caught was “. . . erected an absolute morphodite in that yard! Atticus, you’ll never raise ’em!”
The snow stopped in the afternoon, the temperature dropped, and by nightfall Mr. Avery’s direst predictions came true: Calpurnia kept every fireplace in the house blazing, but we were cold. When Atticus came home that evening he said we were in for it, and asked Calpurnia if she wanted to stay with us for the night. Calpurnia glanced up at the high ceilings and long windows and said she thought she’d be warmer at her house. Atticus drove her home in the car.
Before I went to sleep Atticus put more coal on the fire in my room. He said the thermometer registered sixteen, that it was the coldest night in his memory, and that our snowman outside was frozen solid.
Minutes later, it seemed, I was awakened by someone shaking me. Atticus’s overcoat was spread across me. “Is it morning already.”
“Baby, get up.”
Atticus was holding out my bathrobe and coat. “Put your robe on first,” he said.
Jem was standing beside Atticus, groggy and tousled. He was holding his overcoat closed at the neck, his other hand was jammed into his pocket. He looked strangely overweight.
“Hurry, hon,” said Atticus. “Here’re your shoes and socks.”
Stupidly, I put them on. “Is it morning?”
“No, it’s a little after one. Hurry now.”
That something was wrong finally got through to me. “What’s the matter?”
By then he did not have to tell me. Just as the birds know where to go when it rains, I knew when there was trouble in our street. Soft taffeta-like sounds and muffled scurrying sounds filled me with helpless dread.
“Whose is it?”
“Miss Maudie’s, hon,” said Atticus gently.
At the front door, we saw fire spewing from Miss Maudie’s dining-room windows. As if to confirm what we saw, the town fire siren wailed up the scale to a treble pitch and remained there, screaming.
“It’s gone, ain’t it?” moaned Jem.
“I expect so,” said Atticus. “Now listen, both of you. Go down and stand in front of the Radley Place. Keep out of the way, do you hear? See which way the wind’s blowing?”
“Oh,” said Jem. “Atticus, reckon we oughta start moving the furniture out?”
“Not yet, son. Do as I tell you. Run now. Take care of Scout, you hear? Don’t let her out of your sight.”
With a push, Atticus started us toward the Radley front gate. We stood watching the street fill with men and cars while fire silently devoured Miss Maudie’s house. “Why don’t they hurry, why don’t they hurry . . .” muttered Jem.
We saw why. The old fire truck, killed by the cold, was being pushed from town by a crowd of men. When the men attached its hose to a hydrant, the hose burst and water shot up, tinkling down on the pavement.
“Oh-h Lord, Jem . . .”
Jem put his arm around me. “Hush, Scout,” he said. “It ain’t time to worry yet. I’ll let you know when.”
The men of Maycomb, in all degrees of dress and undress, took furniture from Miss Maudie’s house to a yard across the street. I saw Atticus carrying Miss Maudie’s heavy oak rocking chair, and thought it sensible of him to save what she valued most.
Sometimes we heard shouts. Then Mr. Avery’s face appeared in an upstairs window. He pushed a mattress out the window into the street and threw down furniture until men shouted, “Come down from there, Dick! The stairs are going! Get outta there, Mr. Avery!”