To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 11)

“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 fact don’t anybody go by there—Cecil goes by the back street an’ all the way around by town to get home.”

Cecil Jacobs, who lived at the far end of our street next door to the post office, walked a total of one mile per school day to avoid the Radley Place and old Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose. Mrs. Dubose lived two doors up the street from us; neighborhood opinion 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, getting a squirt of hot milk from Miss Maudie Atkinson’s cow on a summer day, helping ourselves to someone’s scuppernongs was part of our ethnical culture, but money was different.

“Tell you what,” said Jem. “We’ll keep ’em till school starts, then go around and ask everybody if they’re theirs. They’re some bus child’s, maybe—he was too taken up with gettin’ outa school today an’ forgot ’em. These are somebody’s, I know that. See how they’ve been slicked up? They’ve been saved.”

“Yeah, but why should somebody wanta put away chewing gum like that? You know it doesn’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, they make you have good luck. Not like fried chicken when you’re not lookin’ for it, but things like long life ’n’ good health, ’n’ passin’ six-weeks tests . . . these are real valuable to somebody. I’m gonna put ’em in my trunk.”

Before Jem went to his room, he looked for a long time at the Radley Place. He seemed to be thinking again.

Two days later Dill arrived in a blaze of glory: he had ridden the train by himself from Meridian to Maycomb Junction (a courtesy title—Maycomb Junction was in Abbott County) where he had been met by Miss Rachel in Maycomb’s one taxi; he had eaten dinner 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 abominable blue shorts that were buttoned to his shirts and wore real short pants with a belt; he was somewhat heavier, no taller, and said he had seen his father. Dill’s father was taller than ours, he had a black beard (pointed), and he 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 Rover Boys because there were three respectable parts. He was clearly tired of being our character man.

“I’m tired of those,” I said. I was tired of playing Tom Rover, who suddenly lost his memory in the middle of the picture show and was out of the script until the end, when he was 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 would bring.

We had strolled to the front yard, where Dill stood looking down the street at the dreary 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 me how.” Dill leaned over and sniffed me. “Jean—Louise—Finch, you are going to die in three 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 around on lonesome roads an’ if you walk through him, when you die you’ll be one too, an’ you’ll go 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 you hafta go through one you say, ‘Angel-bright, life-in-death; get off the road, don’t suck my breath.’ 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 up to 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 myself inside the tire.

Until it happened I did not realize that Jem was offended by my contradicting him on Hot Steams, and that he was patiently awaiting an opportunity to reward me. He did, by pushing the tire down the sidewalk with all the force in his body. Ground, sky and houses melted into a mad palette, my ears throbbed, I was suffocating. I could not put out my hands to stop, they were wedged between my chest and knees. I could only hope that Jem would outrun the tire and me, or that I would be stopped by a bump in the sidewalk. I heard him behind me, chasing and shouting.

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