To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 44)

Jem was standing in a corner of the room, looking like the traitor he was. “Dill, I had to tell him,” he said. “You can’t run three hundred miles off without your mother knowin’.”

We left him without a word.

Dill ate, and ate, and ate. He hadn’t eaten since last night. He used all his money for a ticket, boarded the train as he had done many times, coolly chatted with the conductor, to whom Dill was a familiar sight, but he had not the nerve to invoke the rule on small children traveling a distance alone: if you’ve lost your money the conductor will lend you enough for dinner and your father will pay him back at the end of the line.

Dill made his way through the leftovers and was reaching for a can of pork and beans in the pantry when Miss Rachel’s Do-oo Je-sus went off in the hall. He shivered like a rabbit.

He bore with fortitude her Wait Till I Get You Home, Your Folks Are Out of Their Minds Worryin’, was quite calm during That’s All the Harris in You Coming Out, smiled at her Reckon You Can Stay One Night, and returned the hug at long last bestowed upon him.

Atticus pushed up his glasses and rubbed his face.

“Your father’s tired,” said Aunt Alexandra, her first words in hours, it seemed. She had been there, but I suppose struck dumb most of the time. “You children get to bed now.“

We left them in the diningroom, Atticus still mopping his face. “From rape to riot to runaways,” we heard him chuckle. “I wonder what the next two hours will bring.“

Since things appeared to have worked out pretty well, Dill and I decided to be civil to Jem. Besides, Dill had to sleep with him so we might as well speak to him.

I put on my pajamas, read for a while and found myself suddenly unable to keep my eyes open. Dill and Jem were quiet; when I turned off my reading lamp there was no strip of light under the door to Jem’s room.

I must have slept a long time, for when I was punched awake the room was dim with the light of the setting moon.

“Move over, Scout.”

“He thought he had to,” I mumbled. “Don’t stay mad with him.”

Dill got in bed beside me. “I ain’t,” he said. “I just wanted to sleep with you. Are you waked up?”

By this time I was, but lazily so. “Why’d you do it?”

No answer. “I said why’d you run off? Was he really hateful like you said?”

“Naw . . .”

“Didn’t you all build that boat like you wrote you were gonna?”

“He just said we would. We never did.”

I raised up on my elbow, facing Dill’s outline. “It’s no reason to run off. They don’t get around to doin’ what they say they’re gonna do half the time. . . .”

“That wasn’t it, he—they just wasn’t interested in me.”

This was the weirdest reason for flight I had ever heard. “How come?”

“Well, they stayed gone all the time, and when they were home, even, they’d get off in a room by themselves.”

“What’d they do in there?”

“Nothin’, just sittin’ and readin’—but they didn’t want me with ’em.”

I pushed the pillow to the headboard and sat up. “You know something? I was fixin’ to run off tonight because there they all were. You don’t want ’em around you all the time, Dill—”

Dill breathed his patient breath, a half-sigh.

“—good night, Atticus’s gone all day and sometimes half the night and off in the legislature and I don’t know what—you don’t want ’em around all the time, Dill, you couldn’t do anything if they were.”

“That’s not it.”

As Dill explained, I found myself wondering what life would be if Jem were different, even from what he was now; what I would do if Atticus did not feel the necessity of my presence, help and advice. Why, he couldn’t get along a day without me. Even Calpurnia couldn’t get along unless I was there. They needed me.

“Dill, you ain’t telling me right—your folks couldn’t do without you. They must be just mean to you. Tell you what to do about that—”

Dill’s voice went on steadily in the darkness: “The thing is, what I’m tryin’ to say is—they do get on a lot better without me, I can’t help them any. They ain’t mean. They buy me everything I want, but it’s now-you’ve-got-it-go-play-with-it. You’ve got a roomful of things. I-got-you-that-book-so-go-read-it.” Dill tried to deepen his voice. “You’re not a boy. Boys get out and play baseball with other boys, they don’t hang around the house worryin’ their folks.”

Dill’s voice was his own again: “Oh, they ain’t mean. They kiss you and hug you good night and good mornin’ and goodbye and tell you they love you—Scout, let’s get us a baby.”

“Where?”

There was a man Dill had heard of who had a boat that he rowed across to a foggy island where all these babies were; you could order one—

“That’s a lie. Aunty said God drops ’em down the chimney. At least that’s what I think she said.” For once, Aunty’s diction had not been too clear.

“Well that ain’t so. You get babies from each other. But there’s this man, too—he has all these babies just waitin’ to wake up, he breathes life into ’em. . . .”

Dill was off again. Beautiful things floated around in his dreamy head. He could read two books to my one, but he preferred the magic of his own inventions. He could add and subtract faster than lightning, but he preferred his own twilight world, a world where babies slept, waiting to be gathered like morning lilies. He was slowly talking himself to sleep and taking me with him, but in the quietness of his foggy island there rose the faded image of a gray house with sad brown doors.

“Dill?”

“Mm?”

“Why do you reckon Boo Radley’s never run off?”

Dill sighed a long sigh and turned away from me.

“Maybe he doesn’t have anywhere to run off to. . . .”

15

After many telephone calls, much pleading on behalf of the defendant, and a long forgiving letter from his mother, it was decided that Dill could stay. We had a week of peace together. After that, little, it seemed. A nightmare was upon us.

It began one evening after supper. Dill was over; Aunt Alexandra was in her chair in the corner, Atticus was in his; Jem and I were on the floor reading. It had been a placid week: I had minded Aunty; Jem had outgrown the treehouse, but helped Dill and me construct a new rope ladder for it; Dill had hit upon a foolproof plan to make Boo Radley come out at no cost to ourselves (place a trail of lemon drops from the back door to the front yard and he’d follow it, like an ant). There was a knock on the front door, Jem answered it and said it was Mr. Heck Tate.

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