To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 4)
The more we told Dill about the Radleys, the more he wanted to know, the longer he would stand hugging the light-pole on the corner, the more he would wonder.
“Wonder what he does in there,” he would murmur. “Looks like he’d just stick his head out the door.”
Jem said, “He goes out, all right, when it’s pitch dark. Miss Stephanie Crawford said she woke up in the middle of the night one time and saw him looking straight through the window at her . . . said his head was like a skull lookin’ at her. Ain’t you ever waked up at night and heard him, Dill? He walks like this—” Jem slid his feet through the gravel. “Why do you think Miss Rachel locks up so tight at night? I’ve seen his tracks in our back yard many a mornin’, and one night I heard him scratching on the back screen, but he was gone time Atticus got there.”
“Wonder what he looks like?” said Dill.
Jem gave a reasonable description of Boo: Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that’s why his hands were bloodstained—if you ate an animal raw, you could never wash the blood off. There was a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time.
“Let’s try to make him come out,” said Dill. “I’d like to see what he looks like.”
Jem said if Dill wanted to get himself killed, all he had to do was go up and knock on the front door.
Our first raid came to pass only because Dill bet Jem The Gray Ghost against two Tom Swifts that Jem wouldn’t get any farther than the Radley gate. In all his life, Jem had never declined a dare.
Jem thought about it for three days. I suppose he loved honor more than his head, for Dill wore him down easily: “You’re scared,” Dill said, the first day. “Ain’t scared, just respectful,” Jem said. The next day Dill said, “You’re too scared even to put your big toe in the front yard.” Jem said he reckoned he wasn’t, he’d passed the Radley Place every school day of his life.
“Always runnin’,” I said.
But Dill got him the third day, when he told Jem that folks in Meridian certainly weren’t as afraid as the folks in Maycomb, that he’d never seen such scary folks as the ones in Maycomb.
This was enough to make Jem march to the corner, where he stopped and leaned against the light-pole, watching the gate hanging crazily on its homemade hinge.
“I hope you’ve got it through your head that he’ll kill us each and every one, Dill Harris,” said Jem, when we joined him. “Don’t blame me when he gouges your eyes out. You started it, remember.”
“You’re still scared,” murmured Dill patiently.
Jem wanted Dill to know once and for all that he wasn’t scared of anything: “It’s just that I can’t think of a way to make him come out without him gettin’ us.” Besides, Jem had his little sister to think of.
When he said that, I knew he was afraid. Jem had his little sister to think of the time I dared him to jump off the top of the house: “If I got killed, what’d become of you?” he asked. Then he jumped, landed unhurt, and his sense of responsibility left him until confronted by the Radley Place.
“You gonna run out on a dare?” asked Dill. “If you are, then—”
“Dill, you have to think about these things,” Jem said. “Lemme think a minute . . . it’s sort of like making a turtle come out . . .”
“How’s that?” asked Dill.
“Strike a match under him.”
I told Jem if he set fire to the Radley house I was going to tell Atticus on him.
Dill said striking a match under a turtle was hateful.
“Ain’t hateful, just persuades him—’s not like you’d chunk him in the fire,” Jem growled.
“How do you know a match don’t hurt him?”
“Turtles can’t feel, stupid,” said Jem.
“Were you ever a turtle, huh?”
“My stars, Dill! Now lemme think . . . reckon we can rock him. . . .”
Jem stood in thought so long that Dill made a mild concession: “I won’t say you ran out on a dare an’ I’ll swap you The Gray Ghost if you just go up and touch the house.”
Jem brightened. “Touch the house, that’s all?”
“Sure that’s all, now? I don’t want you hollerin’ something different the minute I get back.”
“Yeah, that’s all,” said Dill. “He’ll probably come out after you when he sees you in the yard, then Scout’n’me’ll jump on him and hold him down till we can tell him we ain’t gonna hurt him.”
We left the corner, crossed the side street that ran in front of the Radley house, and stopped at the gate.
“Well go on,” said Dill, “Scout and me’s right behind you.”
“I’m going,” said Jem, “don’t hurry me.”
He walked to the corner of the lot, then back again, studying the simple terrain as if deciding how best to effect an entry, frowning and scratching his head.
Then I sneered at him.
Jem threw open the gate and sped to the side of the house, slapped it with his palm and ran back past us, not waiting to see if his foray was successful. Dill and I followed on his heels. Safely on our porch, panting and out of breath, we looked back.
The old house was the same, droopy and sick, but as we stared down the street we thought we saw an inside shutter move. Flick. A tiny, almost invisible movement, and the house was still.
Dill left us early in September, to return to Meridian. We saw him off on the five o’clock bus and I was miserable without him until it occurred to me that I would be starting to school in a week. I never looked forward more to anything in my life. Hours of wintertime had found me in the treehouse, looking over at the schoolyard, spying on multitudes of children through a two-power telescope Jem had given me, learning their games, following Jem’s red jacket through wriggling circles of blind man’s buff, secretly sharing their misfortunes and minor victories. I longed to join them.
Jem condescended to take me to school the first day, a job usually done by one’s parents, but Atticus had said Jem would be delighted to show me where my room was. I think some money changed hands in this transaction, for as we trotted around the corner past the Radley Place I heard an unfamiliar jingle in Jem’s pockets. When we slowed to a walk at the edge of the schoolyard, Jem was careful to explain that during school hours I was not to bother him, I was not to approach him with requests to enact a chapter of Tarzan and the Ant Men, to embarrass him with references to his private life, or tag along behind him at recess and noon. I was to stick with the first grade and he would stick with the fifth. In short, I was to leave him alone.