My nagging got the better of Jem eventually, as I knew it would, and to my relief weslowed down the game for a while. He still maintained, however, that Atticus hadn’t saidwe couldn’t, therefore we could; and if Atticus ever said we couldn’t, Jem had thought ofa way around it: he would simply change the names of the characters and then wecouldn’t be accused of playing anything.
Dill was in hearty agreement with this plan of action. Dill was becoming something of atrial anyway, following Jem about. He had asked me earlier in the summer to marry him,then he promptly forgot about it. He staked me out, marked as his property, said I wasthe only girl he would ever love, then he neglected me. I beat him up twice but it did nogood, he only grew closer to Jem. They spent days together in the treehouse plottingand planning, calling me only when they needed a third party. But I kept aloof from theirmore foolhardy schemes for a while, and on pain of being called a girl, I spent most ofthe remaining twilights that summer sitting with Miss Maudie Atkinson on her frontporch.
Jem and I had always enjoyed the free run of Miss Maudie’s yard if we kept out of herazaleas, but our contact with her was not clearly defined. Until Jem and Dill excludedme from their plans, she was only another lady in the neighborhood, but a relativelybenign presence.
Our tacit treaty with Miss Maudie was that we could play on her lawn, eat herscuppernongs if we didn’t jump on the arbor, and explore her vast back lot, terms sogenerous we seldom spoke to her, so careful were we to preserve the delicate balanceof our relationship, but Jem and Dill drove me closer to her with their behavior.
Miss Maudie hated her house: time spent indoors was time wasted. She was a widow,a chameleon lady who worked in her flower beds in an old straw hat and men’scoveralls, but after her five o’clock bath she would appear on the porch and reign overthe street in magisterial beauty.
She loved everything that grew in God’s earth, even the weeds. With one exception. Ifshe found a blade of nut grass in her yard it was like the Second Battle of the Marne:
she swooped down upon it with a tin tub and subjected it to blasts from beneath with apoisonous substance she said was so powerful it’d kill us all if we didn’t stand out of theway.
“Why can’t you just pull it up?” I asked, after witnessing a prolonged campaign againsta blade not three inches high.
“Pull it up, child, pull it up?” She picked up the limp sprout and squeezed her thumb upits tiny stalk. Microscopic grains oozed out. “Why, one sprig of nut grass can ruin awhole yard. Look here. When it comes fall this dries up and the wind blows it all overMaycomb County!” Miss Maudie’s face likened such an occurrence unto an OldTestament pestilence.
Her speech was crisp for a Maycomb County inhabitant. She called us by all ournames, and when she grinned she revealed two minute gold prongs clipped to hereyeteeth. When I admired them and hoped I would have some eventually, she said,“Look here.” With a click of her tongue she thrust out her bridgework, a gesture ofcordiality that cemented our friendship.
Miss Maudie’s benevolence extended to Jem and Dill, whenever they paused in theirpursuits: we reaped the benefits of a talent Miss Maudie had hitherto kept hidden fromus. She made the best cakes in the neighborhood. When she was admitted into ourconfidence, every time she baked she made a big cake and three little ones, and shewould call across the street: “Jem Finch, Scout Finch, Charles Baker Harris, comehere!” Our promptness was always rewarded.
In summertime, twilights are long and peaceful. Often as not, Miss Maudie and I wouldsit silently on her porch, watching the sky go from yellow to pink as the sun went down,watching flights of martins sweep low over the neighborhood and disappear behind theschoolhouse rooftops.
“Miss Maudie,” I said one evening, “do you think Boo Radley’s still alive?”
“His name’s Arthur and he’s alive,” she said. She was rocking slowly in her big oakchair. “Do you smell my mimosa? It’s like angels’ breath this evening.”
“Yessum. How do you know?”
“Know what, child?”
“That B—Mr. Arthur’s still alive?”
“What a morbid question. But I suppose it’s a morbid subject. I know he’s alive, JeanLouise, because I haven’t seen him carried out yet.”
“Maybe he died and they stuffed him up the chimney.”
“Where did you get such a notion?”
“That’s what Jem said he thought they did.”
“S-ss-ss. He gets more like Jack Finch every day.”
Miss Maudie had known Uncle Jack Finch, Atticus’s brother, since they were children.
Nearly the same age, they had grown up together at Finch’s Landing. Miss Maudie wasthe daughter of a neighboring landowner, Dr. Frank Buford. Dr. Buford’s profession wasmedicine and his obsession was anything that grew in the ground, so he stayed poor.
Uncle Jack Finch confined his passion for digging to his window boxes in Nashville andstayed rich. We saw Uncle Jack every Christmas, and every Christmas he yelled acrossthe street for Miss Maudie to come marry him. Miss Maudie would yell back, “Call a littlelouder, Jack Finch, and they’ll hear you at the post office, I haven’t heard you yet!” Jemand I thought this a strange way to ask for a lady’s hand in marriage, but then UncleJack was rather strange. He said he was trying to get Miss Maudie’s goat, that he hadbeen trying unsuccessfully for forty years, that he was the last person in the world MissMaudie would think about marrying but the first person she thought about teasing, andthe best defense to her was spirited offense, all of which we understood clearly.
“Arthur Radley just stays in the house, that’s all,” said Miss Maudie. “Wouldn’t you stayin the house if you didn’t want to come out?”
“Yessum, but I’d wanta come out. Why doesn’t he?”
Miss Maudie’s eyes narrowed. “You know that story as well as I do.”
“I never heard why, though. Nobody ever told me why.”
Miss Maudie settled her bridgework. “You know old Mr. Radley was a foot-washingBaptist-”
“That’s what you are, ain’t it?”
“My shell’s not that hard, child. I’m just a Baptist.”
“Don’t you all believe in foot-washing?”
“We do. At home in the bathtub.”
“But we can’t have communion with you all-”
Apparently deciding that it was easier to define primitive baptistry than closedcommunion, Miss Maudie said: “Foot-washers believe anything that’s pleasure is a sin.
Did you know some of ‘em came out of the woods one Saturday and passed by thisplace and told me me and my flowers were going to hell?”
“Your flowers, too?”
“Yes ma’am. They’d burn right with me. They thought I spent too much time in God’soutdoors and not enough time inside the house reading the Bible.”
My confidence in pulpit Gospel lessened at the vision of Miss Maudie stewing foreverin various Protestant hells. True enough, she had an acid tongue in her head, and shedid not go about the neighborhood doing good, as did Miss Stephanie Crawford. Butwhile no one with a grain of sense trusted Miss Stephanie, Jem and I had considerablefaith in Miss Maudie. She had never told on us, had never played cat-and-mouse withus, she was not at all interested in our private lives. She was our friend. How soreasonable a creature could live in peril of everlasting torment was incomprehensible.
“That ain’t right, Miss Maudie. You’re the best lady I know.”
Miss Maudie grinned. “Thank you ma’am. Thing is, foot-washers think women are asin by definition. They take the Bible literally, you know.”
“Is that why Mr. Arthur stays in the house, to keep away from women?”
“I’ve no idea.”
“It doesn’t make sense to me. Looks like if Mr. Arthur was hankerin‘ after heaven he’dcome out on the porch at least. Atticus says God’s loving folks like you love yourself-”
Miss Maudie stopped rocking, and her voice hardened. “You are too young tounderstand it,” she said, “but sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse thana whiskey bottle in the hand of—oh, of your father.”
I was shocked. “Atticus doesn’t drink whiskey,” I said. “He never drunk a drop in hislife—nome, yes he did. He said he drank some one time and didn’t like it.”
Miss Maudie laughed. “Wasn’t talking about your father,” she said. “What I meant was,if Atticus Finch drank until he was drunk he wouldn’t be as hard as some men are attheir best. There are just some kind of men who—who’re so busy worrying about thenext world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the streetand see the results.”
“Do you think they’re true, all those things they say about B—Mr. Arthur?”
I told her.
“That is three-fourths colored folks and one-fourth Stephanie Crawford,” said MissMaudie grimly. “Stephanie Crawford even told me once she woke up in the middle of thenight and found him looking in the window at her. I said what did you do, Stephanie,move over in the bed and make room for him? That shut her up a while.”
I was sure it did. Miss Maudie’s voice was enough to shut anybody up.
“No, child,” she said, “that is a sad house. I remember Arthur Radley when he was aboy. He always spoke nicely to me, no matter what folks said he did. Spoke as nicely ashe knew how.”
“You reckon he’s crazy?”
Miss Maudie shook her head. “If he’s not he should be by now. The things that happento people we never really know. What happens in houses behind closed doors, whatsecrets-”
“Atticus don’t ever do anything to Jem and me in the house that he don’t do in theyard,” I said, feeling it my duty to defend my parent.
“Gracious child, I was raveling a thread, wasn’t even thinking about your father, butnow that I am I’ll say this: Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the publicstreets. How’d you like some fresh poundcake to take home?”
I liked it very much.
Next morning when I awakened I found Jem and Dill in the back yard deep inconversation. When I joined them, as usual they said go away.
“Will not. This yard’s as much mine as it is yours, Jem Finch. I got just as much right toplay in it as you have.”
Dill and Jem emerged from a brief huddle: “If you stay you’ve got to do what we tellyou,” Dill warned.
“We-ll,” I said, “who’s so high and mighty all of a sudden?”
“If you don’t say you’ll do what we tell you, we ain’t gonna tell you anything,” Dillcontinued.
“You act like you grew ten inches in the night! All right, what is it?”
Jem said placidly, “We are going to give a note to Boo Radley.”
“Just how?” I was trying to fight down the automatic terror rising in me. It was all rightfor Miss Maudie to talk—she was old and snug on her porch. It was different for us.
Jem was merely going to put the note on the end of a fishing pole and stick it throughthe shutters. If anyone came along, Dill would ring the bell.
Dill raised his right hand. In it was my mother’s silver dinner-bell.
“I’m goin‘ around to the side of the house,” said Jem. “We looked yesterday fromacross the street, and there’s a shutter loose. Think maybe I can make it stick on thewindow sill, at least.”
“Now you’re in it and you can’t get out of it, you’ll just stay in it, Miss Priss!”
“Okay, okay, but I don’t wanta watch. Jem, somebody was-”
“Yes you will, you’ll watch the back end of the lot and Dill’s gonna watch the front ofthe house an‘ up the street, an’ if anybody comes he’ll ring the bell. That clear?”
“All right then. What’d you write him?”
Dill said, “We’re askin‘ him real politely to come out sometimes, and tell us what hedoes in there—we said we wouldn’t hurt him and we’d buy him an ice cream.”
“You all’ve gone crazy, he’ll kill us!”
Dill said, “It’s my idea. I figure if he’d come out and sit a spell with us he might feelbetter.”
“How do you know he don’t feel good?”
“Well how’d you feel if you’d been shut up for a hundred years with nothin‘ but cats toeat? I bet he’s got a beard down to here-” “Like your daddy’s?”
“He ain’t got a beard, he-” Dill stopped, as if trying to remember.
“Uh huh, caughtcha,” I said. “You said ‘fore you were off the train good your daddyhad a black beard-”
“If it’s all the same to you he shaved it off last summer! Yeah, an‘ I’ve got the letter toprove it—he sent me two dollars, too!”
“Keep on—I reckon he even sent you a mounted police uniform! That’n never showedup, did it? You just keep on tellin‘ ’em, son-”
Dill Harris could tell the biggest ones I ever heard. Among other things, he had beenup in a mail plane seventeen times, he had been to Nova Scotia, he had seen anelephant, and his granddaddy was Brigadier General Joe Wheeler and left him hissword.
“You all hush,” said Jem. He scuttled beneath the house and came out with a yellowbamboo pole. “Reckon this is long enough to reach from the sidewalk?”
“Anybody who’s brave enough to go up and touch the house hadn’t oughta use afishin‘ pole,” I said. “Why don’t you just knock the front door down?”
“This—is—different,” said Jem, “how many times do I have to tell you that?”
Dill took a piece of paper from his pocket and gave it to Jem. The three of us walkedcautiously toward the old house. Dill remained at the light-pole on the front corner of thelot, and Jem and I edged down the sidewalk parallel to the side of the house. I walkedbeyond Jem and stood where I could see around the curve.
“All clear,” I said. “Not a soul in sight.”
Jem looked up the sidewalk to Dill, who nodded.
Jem attached the note to the end of the fishing pole, let the pole out across the yardand pushed it toward the window he had selected. The pole lacked several inches ofbeing long enough, and Jem leaned over as far as he could. I watched him makingjabbing motions for so long, I abandoned my post and went to him.
“Can’t get it off the pole,” he muttered, “or if I got it off I can’t make it stay. G’on backdown the street, Scout.”
I returned and gazed around the curve at the empty road. Occasionally I looked backat Jem, who was patiently trying to place the note on the window sill. It would flutter tothe ground and Jem would jab it up, until I thought if Boo Radley ever received it hewouldn’t be able to read it. I was looking down the street when the dinner-bell rang.
Shoulder up, I reeled around to face Boo Radley and his bloody fangs; instead, I sawDill ringing the bell with all his might in Atticus’s face.
Jem looked so awful I didn’t have the heart to tell him I told him so. He trudged along,dragging the pole behind him on the sidewalk.
Atticus said, “Stop ringing that bell.”
Dill grabbed the clapper; in the silence that followed, I wished he’d start ringing itagain. Atticus pushed his hat to the back of his head and put his hands on his hips.
“Jem,” he said, “what were you doing?”
“I don’t want any of that. Tell me.”
“I was—we were just tryin‘ to give somethin’ to Mr. Radley.”
“What were you trying to give him?”
“Just a letter.”
“Let me see it.”
Jem held out a filthy piece of paper. Atticus took it and tried to read it. “Why do youwant Mr. Radley to come out?”
Dill said, “We thought he might enjoy us…” and dried up when Atticus looked at him.
“Son,” he said to Jem, “I’m going to tell you something and tell you one time: stoptormenting that man. That goes for the other two of you.”
What Mr. Radley did was his own business. If he wanted to come out, he would. If hewanted to stay inside his own house he had the right to stay inside free from theattentions of inquisitive children, which was a mild term for the likes of us. How wouldwe like it if Atticus barged in on us without knocking, when we were in our rooms atnight? We were, in effect, doing the same thing to Mr. Radley. What Mr. Radley didmight seem peculiar to us, but it did not seem peculiar to him. Furthermore, had it neveroccurred to us that the civil way to communicate with another being was by the frontdoor instead of a side window? Lastly, we were to stay away from that house until wewere invited there, we were not to play an asinine game he had seen us playing ormake fun of anybody on this street or in this town-“We weren’t makin‘ fun of him, we weren’t laughin’ at him,” said Jem, “we were just-”
“So that was what you were doing, wasn’t it?”
“Makin‘ fun of him?”
“No,” said Atticus, “putting his life’s history on display for the edification of theneighborhood.”
Jem seemed to swell a little. “I didn’t say we were doin‘ that, I didn’t say it!”
Atticus grinned dryly. “You just told me,” he said. “You stop this nonsense right now,every one of you.”
Jem gaped at him.
“You want to be a lawyer, don’t you?” Our father’s mouth was suspiciously firm, as ifhe were trying to hold it in line.
Jem decided there was no point in quibbling, and was silent. When Atticus went insidethe house to retrieve a file he had forgotten to take to work that morning, Jem finallyrealized that he had been done in by the oldest lawyer’s trick on record. He waited arespectful distance from the front steps, watched Atticus leave the house and walktoward town. When Atticus was out of earshot Jem yelled after him: “I thought I wantedto be a lawyer but I ain’t so sure now!”