To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 10)

“That’s really bothering you, isn’t it?”

“Yes sir.”

When Atticus looked down at me I saw the expression on his face that always made me expect something. “Do you know what a compromise is?” he asked.

“Bending the law?”

“No, an agreement reached by mutual concessions. It works this way,” he said. “If you’ll concede the necessity of going to school, we’ll go on reading every night just as we always have. Is it a bargain?”

“Yes sir!”

“We’ll consider it sealed without the usual formality,” Atticus said, when he saw me preparing to spit.

As I opened the front screen door Atticus said, “By the way, Scout, you’d better not say anything at school about our agreement.”

“Why not?”

“I’m afraid our activities would be received with considerable disapprobation by the more learned authorities.”

Jem and I were accustomed to our father’s last-will-and-testament diction, and we were at all times free to interrupt Atticus for a translation when it was beyond our understanding.

“Huh, sir?”

“I never went to school,” he said, “but I have a feeling that if you tell Miss Caroline we read every night she’ll get after me, and I wouldn’t want her after me.”

Atticus kept us in fits that evening, gravely reading columns of print about a man who sat on a flagpole for no discernible reason, which was reason enough for Jem to spend the following Saturday aloft in the treehouse. Jem sat from after breakfast until sunset and would have remained overnight had not Atticus severed his supply lines. I had spent most of the day climbing up and down, running errands for him, providing him with literature, nourishment and water, and was carrying him blankets for the night when Atticus said if I paid no attention to him, Jem would come down. Atticus was right.

4

The remainder of my schooldays were no more auspicious than the first. Indeed, they were an endless Project that slowly evolved into a Unit, in which miles of construction paper and wax crayon were expended by the State of Alabama in its well-meaning but fruitless efforts to teach me Group Dynamics. What Jem called the Dewey Decimal System was school-wide by the end of my first year, so I had no chance to compare it with other teaching techniques. I could only look around me: Atticus and my uncle, who went 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 state legislature, elected each time without opposition, innocent of the adjustments my teachers thought essential to the development of Good Citizenship. Jem, educated on a half-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 stopped him from getting at books. As for me, I knew nothing except what I gathered from Time magazine and reading everything I could lay hands on at home, but as I inched sluggishly along the treadmill of the Maycomb County school system, I could not help receiving the impression that I was being cheated out of something. Out of what I knew not, yet I did not believe that twelve years of unrelieved boredom was exactly what the state had in mind for me.

As the year passed, released from school thirty minutes before Jem, who had to stay until three o’clock, I ran by the Radley Place as fast as I could, not stopping until I reached the safety of our front porch. One afternoon as I raced by, something caught my eye and caught it in such a way that I took a deep breath, a long look around, and went 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 the afternoon 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 remembered where I was. I ran home, and on our front porch I examined my loot. The gum looked fresh. I sniffed it and it smelled all right. I licked it and waited for a while. When I did not die 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.”

Jem growled.

“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’t dead yet, not even sick.”

Jem stamped his foot. “Don’t you know you’re not supposed to even touch the trees over 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, my first 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 general disapproval. 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 best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the treehouse; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape; but most of all, summer was Dill.

The authorities released us early the last day of school, and Jem and I walked home together. “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 the hundredth time to the knot-hole where I had found the chewing gum, trying to make Jem believe 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 ran home, and on the front porch we looked at a small box patchworked with bits of tinfoil collected 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 two scrubbed and polished pennies, one on top of the other. Jem examined them.

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