The remainder of my schooldays were no more auspicious than the first. Indeed, theywere an endless Project that slowly evolved into a Unit, in which miles of constructionpaper and wax crayon were expended by the State of Alabama in its well-meaning butfruitless efforts to teach me Group Dynamics. What Jem called the Dewey DecimalSystem was school-wide by the end of my first year, so I had no chance to compare itwith other teaching techniques. I could only look around me: Atticus and my uncle, whowent to school at home, knew everything—at least, what one didn’t know the other did.
Furthermore, I couldn’t help noticing that my father had served for years in the statelegislature, elected each time without opposition, innocent of the adjustments myteachers thought essential to the development of Good Citizenship. Jem, educated on ahalf-Decimal half-Duncecap basis, seemed to function effectively alone or in a group,but Jem was a poor example: no tutorial system devised by man could have stoppedhim from getting at books. As for me, I knew nothing except what I gathered from Timemagazine and reading everything I could lay hands on at home, but as I inchedsluggishly along the treadmill of the Maycomb County school system, I could not helpreceiving the impression that I was being cheated out of something. Out of what I knewnot, yet I did not believe that twelve years of unrelieved boredom was exactly what thestate had in mind for me.
As the year passed, released from school thirty minutes before Jem, who had to stayuntil three o’clock, I ran by the Radley Place as fast as I could, not stopping until Ireached the safety of our front porch. One afternoon as I raced by, something caughtmy eye and caught it in such a way that I took a deep breath, a long look around, andwent back.
Two live oaks stood at the edge of the Radley lot; their roots reached out into the side-road and made it bumpy. Something about one of the trees attracted my attention.
Some tinfoil was sticking in a knot-hole just above my eye level, winking at me in theafternoon sun. I stood on tiptoe, hastily looked around once more, reached into the hole,and withdrew two pieces of chewing gum minus their outer wrappers.
My first impulse was to get it into my mouth as quickly as possible, but I rememberedwhere I was. I ran home, and on our front porch I examined my loot. The gum lookedfresh. I sniffed it and it smelled all right. I licked it and waited for a while. When I did notdie I crammed it into my mouth: Wrigley’s Double-Mint.
When Jem came home he asked me where I got such a wad. I told him I found it.
“Don’t eat things you find, Scout.”
“This wasn’t on the ground, it was in a tree.”
“Well it was,” I said. “It was sticking in that tree yonder, the one comin‘ from school.”
“Spit it out right now!”
I spat it out. The tang was fading, anyway. “I’ve been chewin‘ it all afternoon and I ain’tdead yet, not even sick.”
Jem stamped his foot. “Don’t you know you’re not supposed to even touch the treesover there? You’ll get killed if you do!”
“You touched the house once!”
“That was different! You go gargle—right now, you hear me?”
“Ain’t neither, it’ll take the taste outa my mouth.”
“You don’t ‘n’ I’ll tell Calpurnia on you!”
Rather than risk a tangle with Calpurnia, I did as Jem told me. For some reason, myfirst year of school had wrought a great change in our relationship: Calpurnia’s tyranny,unfairness, and meddling in my business had faded to gentle grumblings of generaldisapproval. On my part, I went to much trouble, sometimes, not to provoke her.
Summer was on the way; Jem and I awaited it with impatience. Summer was our bestseason: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in thetreehouse; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parchedlandscape; but most of all, summer was Dill.
The authorities released us early the last day of school, and Jem and I walked hometogether. “Reckon old Dill’ll be coming home tomorrow,” I said.
“Probably day after,” said Jem. “Mis’sippi turns ‘em loose a day later.”
As we came to the live oaks at the Radley Place I raised my finger to point for thehundredth time to the knot-hole where I had found the chewing gum, trying to make Jembelieve I had found it there, and found myself pointing at another piece of tinfoil.
“I see it, Scout! I see it-”
Jem looked around, reached up, and gingerly pocketed a tiny shiny package. We ranhome, and on the front porch we looked at a small box patchworked with bits of tinfoilcollected from chewing-gum wrappers. It was the kind of box wedding rings came in,purple velvet with a minute catch. Jem flicked open the tiny catch. Inside were twoscrubbed and polished pennies, one on top of the other. Jem examined them.
“Indian-heads,” he said. “Nineteen-six and Scout, one of em’s nineteen-hundred.
These are real old.”
“Nineteen-hundred,” I echoed. “Say-”
“Hush a minute, I’m thinkin‘.”
“Jem, you reckon that’s somebody’s hidin‘ place?”
“Naw, don’t anybody much but us pass by there, unless it’s some grown person’s-”
“Grown folks don’t have hidin‘ places. You reckon we ought to keep ’em, Jem?”
“I don’t know what we could do, Scout. Who’d we give ‘em back to? I know for a factdon’t anybody go by there—Cecil goes by the back street an’ all the way around by townto get home.”
Cecil Jacobs, who lived at the far end of our street next door to the post office, walkeda total of one mile per school day to avoid the Radley Place and old Mrs. HenryLafayette Dubose. Mrs. Dubose lived two doors up the street from us; neighborhoodopinion was unanimous that Mrs. Dubose was the meanest old woman who ever lived.
Jem wouldn’t go by her place without Atticus beside him.
“What you reckon we oughta do, Jem?”
Finders were keepers unless title was proven. Plucking an occasional camellia, gettinga squirt of hot milk from Miss Maudie Atkinson’s cow on a summer day, helpingourselves to someone’s scuppernongs was part of our ethical culture, but money wasdifferent.
“Tell you what,” said Jem. “We’ll keep ‘em till school starts, then go around and askeverybody if they’re theirs. They’re some bus child’s, maybe—he was too taken up withgettin’ outa school today an‘ forgot ’em. These are somebody’s, I know that. See howthey’ve been slicked up? They’ve been saved.”
“Yeah, but why should somebody wanta put away chewing gum like that? You know itdoesn’t last.”
“I don’t know, Scout. But these are important to somebody…”
“How’s that, Jem…?”
“Well, Indian-heads—well, they come from the Indians. They’re real strong magic, theymake you have good luck. Not like fried chicken when you’re not lookin‘ for it, but thingslike long life ’n‘ good health, ’n‘ passin’ six-weeks tests… these are real valuable tosomebody. I’m gonna put em in my trunk.”
Before Jem went to his room, he looked for a long time at the Radley Place. Heseemed to be thinking again.
Two days later Dill arrived in a blaze of glory: he had ridden the train by himself fromMeridian to Maycomb Junction (a courtesy title—Maycomb Junction was in AbbottCounty) where he had been met by Miss Rachel in Maycomb’s one taxi; he had eatendinner in the diner, he had seen two twins hitched together get off the train in Bay St.
Louis and stuck to his story regardless of threats. He had discarded the abominableblue shorts that were buttoned to his shirts and wore real short pants with a belt; he wassomewhat heavier, no taller, and said he had seen his father. Dill’s father was taller thanours, he had a black beard (pointed), and was president of the L & N Railroad.
“I helped the engineer for a while,” said Dill, yawning.
“In a pig’s ear you did, Dill. Hush,” said Jem. “What’ll we play today?”
“Tom and Sam and Dick,” said Dill. “Let’s go in the front yard.” Dill wanted the RoverBoys because there were three respectable parts. He was clearly tired of being ourcharacter man.
“I’m tired of those,” I said. I was tired of playing Tom Rover, who suddenly lost hismemory in the middle of a picture show and was out of the script until the end, when hewas found in Alaska.
“Make us up one, Jem,” I said.
“I’m tired of makin‘ ’em up.”
Our first days of freedom, and we were tired. I wondered what the summer wouldbring.
We had strolled to the front yard, where Dill stood looking down the street at thedreary face of the Radley Place. “I—smell—death,” he said. “I do, I mean it,” he said,when I told him to shut up.
“You mean when somebody’s dyin‘ you can smell it?”
“No, I mean I can smell somebody an‘ tell if they’re gonna die. An old lady taught mehow.” Dill leaned over and sniffed me. “Jean—Louise—Finch, you are going to die inthree days.”
“Dill if you don’t hush I’ll knock you bowlegged. I mean it, now-”
“Yawl hush,” growled Jem, “you act like you believe in Hot Steams.”
“You act like you don’t,” I said.
“What’s a Hot Steam?” asked Dill.
“Haven’t you ever walked along a lonesome road at night and passed by a hot place?”
Jem asked Dill. “A Hot Steam’s somebody who can’t get to heaven, just wallows aroundon lonesome roads an‘ if you walk through him, when you die you’ll be one too, an’ you’llgo around at night suckin‘ people’s breath-”
“How can you keep from passing through one?”
“You can’t,” said Jem. “Sometimes they stretch all the way across the road, but if youhafta go through one you say, ‘Angel-bright, life-in-death; get off the road, don’t suck mybreath.’ That keeps ‘em from wrapping around you-”
“Don’t you believe a word he says, Dill,” I said. “Calpurnia says that’s nigger-talk.”
Jem scowled darkly at me, but said, “Well, are we gonna play anything or not?”
“Let’s roll in the tire,” I suggested.
Jem sighed. “You know I’m too big.”
“You c’n push.”
I ran to the back yard and pulled an old car tire from under the house. I slapped it upto the front yard. “I’m first,” I said.
Dill said he ought to be first, he just got here.
Jem arbitrated, awarded me first push with an extra time for Dill, and I folded myselfinside the tire.
Until it happened I did not realize that Jem was offended by my contradicting him onHot Steams, and that he was patiently awaiting an opportunity to reward me. He did, bypushing the tire down the sidewalk with all the force in his body. Ground, sky andhouses melted into a mad palette, my ears throbbed, I was suffocating. I could not putout my hands to stop, they were wedged between my chest and knees. I could onlyhope that Jem would outrun the tire and me, or that I would be stopped by a bump in thesidewalk. I heard him behind me, chasing and shouting.
The tire bumped on gravel, skeetered across the road, crashed into a barrier andpopped me like a cork onto pavement. Dizzy and nauseated, I lay on the cement andshook my head still, pounded my ears to silence, and heard Jem’s voice: “Scout, getaway from there, come on!”
I raised my head and stared at the Radley Place steps in front of me. I froze.
“Come on, Scout, don’t just lie there!” Jem was screaming. “Get up, can’tcha?”
I got to my feet, trembling as I thawed.
“Get the tire!” Jem hollered. “Bring it with you! Ain’t you got any sense at all?”
When I was able to navigate, I ran back to them as fast as my shaking knees wouldcarry me.
“Why didn’t you bring it?” Jem yelled.
“Why don’t you get it?” I screamed.
Jem was silent.
“Go on, it ain’t far inside the gate. Why, you even touched the house once,remember?”
Jem looked at me furiously, could not decline, ran down the sidewalk, treaded water atthe gate, then dashed in and retrieved the tire.
“See there?” Jem was scowling triumphantly. “Nothin‘ to it. I swear, Scout, sometimesyou act so much like a girl it’s mortifyin’.”
There was more to it than he knew, but I decided not to tell him.
Calpurnia appeared in the front door and yelled, “Lemonade time! You all get in outathat hot sun ‘fore you fry alive!” Lemonade in the middle of the morning was asummertime ritual. Calpurnia set a pitcher and three glasses on the porch, then wentabout her business. Being out of Jem’s good graces did not worry me especially.
Lemonade would restore his good humor.
Jem gulped down his second glassful and slapped his chest. “I know what we aregoing to play,” he announced. “Something new, something different.”
“What?” asked Dill.
Jem’s head at times was transparent: he had thought that up to make me understandhe wasn’t afraid of Radleys in any shape or form, to contrast his own fearless heroismwith my cowardice.
“Boo Radley? How?” asked Dill.
Jem said, “Scout, you can be Mrs. Radley-”
“I declare if I will. I don’t think-”
“‘Smatter?” said Dill. “Still scared?”
“He can get out at night when we’re all asleep…” I said.
Jem hissed. “Scout, how’s he gonna know what we’re doin‘? Besides, I don’t thinkhe’s still there. He died years ago and they stuffed him up the chimney.”
Dill said, “Jem, you and me can play and Scout can watch if she’s scared.”
I was fairly sure Boo Radley was inside that house, but I couldn’t prove it, and felt itbest to keep my mouth shut or I would be accused of believing in Hot Steams,phenomena I was immune to in the daytime.
Jem parceled out our roles: I was Mrs. Radley, and all I had to do was come out andsweep the porch. Dill was old Mr. Radley: he walked up and down the sidewalk andcoughed when Jem spoke to him. Jem, naturally, was Boo: he went under the frontsteps and shrieked and howled from time to time.
As the summer progressed, so did our game. We polished and perfected it, addeddialogue and plot until we had manufactured a small play upon which we rang changesevery day.
Dill was a villain’s villain: he could get into any character part assigned him, andappear tall if height was part of the devilry required. He was as good as his worstperformance; his worst performance was Gothic. I reluctantly played assorted ladieswho entered the script. I never thought it as much fun as Tarzan, and I played thatsummer with more than vague anxiety despite Jem’s assurances that Boo Radley wasdead and nothing would get me, with him and Calpurnia there in the daytime and Atticushome at night.
Jem was a born hero.
It was a melancholy little drama, woven from bits and scraps of gossip andneighborhood legend: Mrs. Radley had been beautiful until she married Mr. Radley andlost all her money. She also lost most of her teeth, her hair, and her right forefinger(Dill’s contribution. Boo bit it off one night when he couldn’t find any cats and squirrels toeat.); she sat in the livingroom and cried most of the time, while Boo slowly whittledaway all the furniture in the house.
The three of us were the boys who got into trouble; I was the probate judge, for achange; Dill led Jem away and crammed him beneath the steps, poking him with thebrushbroom. Jem would reappear as needed in the shapes of the sheriff, assortedtownsfolk, and Miss Stephanie Crawford, who had more to say about the Radleys thananybody in Maycomb.
When it was time to play Boo’s big scene, Jem would sneak into the house, steal thescissors from the sewing-machine drawer when Calpurnia’s back was turned, then sit inthe swing and cut up newspapers. Dill would walk by, cough at Jem, and Jem wouldfake a plunge into Dill’s thigh. From where I stood it looked real.
When Mr. Nathan Radley passed us on his daily trip to town, we would stand still andsilent until he was out of sight, then wonder what he would do to us if he suspected. Ouractivities halted when any of the neighbors appeared, and once I saw Miss MaudieAtkinson staring across the street at us, her hedge clippers poised in midair.
One day we were so busily playing Chapter XXV, Book II of One Man’s Family, we didnot see Atticus standing on the sidewalk looking at us, slapping a rolled magazineagainst his knee. The sun said twelve noon.
“What are you all playing?” he asked.
“Nothing,” said Jem.
Jem’s evasion told me our game was a secret, so I kept quiet.
“What are you doing with those scissors, then? Why are you tearing up thatnewspaper? If it’s today’s I’ll tan you.”
“Nothing what?” said Atticus.
“Give me those scissors,” Atticus said. “They’re no things to play with. Does this byany chance have anything to do with the Radleys?”
“No sir,” said Jem, reddening.
“I hope it doesn’t,” he said shortly, and went inside the house.
“Shut up! He’s gone in the livingroom, he can hear us in there.”
Safely in the yard, Dill asked Jem if we could play any more.
“I don’t know. Atticus didn’t say we couldn’t-”
“Jem,” I said, “I think Atticus knows it anyway.”
“No he don’t. If he did he’d say he did.”
I was not so sure, but Jem told me I was being a girl, that girls always imagined things,that’s why other people hated them so, and if I started behaving like one I could just gooff and find some to play with.
“All right, you just keep it up then,” I said. “You’ll find out.”
Atticus’s arrival was the second reason I wanted to quit the game. The first reasonhappened the day I rolled into the Radley front yard. Through all the head-shaking,quelling of nausea and Jem-yelling, I had heard another sound, so low I could not haveheard it from the sidewalk. Someone inside the house was laughing.