To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 76)
The name Ewell gave me a queasy feeling. Maycomb had lost no time in getting Mr. Ewell’s views on Tom’s demise and passing them along through that English Channel of gossip, Miss Stephanie Crawford. Miss Stephanie told Aunt Alexandra in Jem’s presence (“Oh foot, he’s old enough to listen”) that Mr. Ewell said it made one down and about two more to go. Jem told me not to be afraid, Mr. Ewell was more hot gas than anything. Jem also told me that if I breathed a word to Atticus, if in any way I let Atticus know I knew, Jem would personally never speak to me again.
School started, and so did our daily trips past the Radley Place. Jem was in the seventh grade and went to high school, beyond the grammar-school building; I was now in the third grade, and our routines were so different I only walked to school with Jem in the mornings and saw him at mealtimes. He went out for football, but was too slender and too young yet to do anything but carry the team water buckets. This he did with enthusiasm; most afternoons he was seldom home before dark.
The Radley Place had ceased to terrify me, but it was no less gloomy, no less chilly under its great oaks, and no less uninviting. Mr. Nathan Radley could still be seen on a clear day, walking to and from town; we knew Boo was there, for the same old reason—nobody’d seen him carried out yet. I sometimes felt a twinge of remorse, when passing by the old place, at ever having taken part in what must have been sheer torment to Arthur Radley—what reasonable recluse wants children peeping through his shutters, delivering greetings on the end of a fishing-pole, wandering in his collards at night?
And yet I remembered. Two Indian-head pennies, chewing gum, soap dolls, a rusty medal, a broken watch and chain. Jem must have put them away somewhere. I stopped and looked at the tree one afternoon: the trunk was swelling around its cement patch. The patch itself was turning yellow.
We had almost seen him a couple of times, a good enough score for anybody.
But I still looked for him each time I went by. Maybe someday we would see him. I imagined how it would be: when it happened, he’d just be sitting in the swing when I came along. “Hidy do, Mr. Arthur,” I would say, as if I had said it every afternoon of my life. “Evening, Jean Louise,” he would say, as if he had said it every afternoon of my life, “right pretty spell we’re having, isn’t it?” “Yes sir, right pretty,” I would say, and go on.
It was only a fantasy. We would never see him. He probably did go out when the moon was down and gaze upon Miss Stephanie Crawford. I’d have picked somebody else to look at, but that was his business. He would never gaze at us.
“You aren’t starting that again, are you?” said Atticus one night, when I expressed a stray desire just to have one good look at Boo Radley before I died. “If you are, I’ll tell you right now: stop it. I’m too old to go chasing you off the Radley property. Besides, it’s dangerous. You might get shot. You know Mr. Nathan shoots at every shadow he sees, even shadows that leave size-four bare footprints. You were lucky not to be killed.”
I hushed then and there. At the same time I marveled at Atticus. This was the first he had let us know he knew a lot more about something than we thought he knew. And it had happened years ago. No, only last summer—no, summer before last, when . . . time was playing tricks on me. I must remember to ask Jem.
So many things had happened to us, Boo Radley was the least of our fears. Atticus said he didn’t see how anything else could happen, that things had a way of settling down, and after enough time passed people would forget that Tom Robinson’s existence was ever brought to their attention.
Perhaps Atticus was right, but the events of the summer hung over us like smoke in a closed room. The adults in Maycomb never discussed the case with Jem and me; it seemed that they discussed it with their children, and their attitude must have been that neither of us could help having Atticus for a parent, so their children must be nice to us in spite of him. The children would never have thought that up for themselves: had our classmates been left to their own devices, Jem and I would have had several swift, satisfying fistfights apiece and ended the matter for good. As it was, we were compelled to hold our heads high and be, respectively, a gentleman and a lady. In a way, it was like the era of Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, without all her yelling. There was one odd thing, though, that I never understood: in spite of Atticus’s shortcomings as a parent, people were content to re-elect him to the state legislature that year, as usual, without opposition. I came to the conclusion that people were just peculiar, I withdrew from them, and never thought about them until I was forced to.
I was forced to one day in school. Once a week, we had a Current Events period. Each child was supposed to clip an item from a newspaper, absorb its contents, and reveal them to the class. This practice allegedly overcame a variety of evils: standing in front of his fellows encouraged good posture and gave a child poise; delivering a short talk made him word-conscious; learning his current event strengthened his memory; being singled out made him more than ever anxious to return to the Group.
The idea was profound, but as usual, in Maycomb it didn’t work very well. In the first place, few rural children had access to newspapers, so the burden of Current Events was borne by the town children, convincing the bus children more deeply that the town children got all the attention anyway. The rural children who could, usually brought clippings from what they called The Grit Paper, a publication spurious in the eyes of Miss Gates, our teacher. Why she frowned when a child recited from The Grit Paper I never knew, but in some way it was associated with liking fiddling, eating syrupy biscuits for lunch, being a holy-roller, singing Sweetly Sings the Donkey and pronouncing it dunkey, all of which the state paid teachers to discourage.
Even so, not many of the children knew what a Current Event was. Little Chuck Little, a hundred years old in his knowledge of cows and their habits, was halfway through an Uncle Natchell story when Miss Gates stopped him: “Charles, that is not a current event. That is an advertisement.”
Cecil Jacobs knew what one was, though. When his turn came, he went to the front of the room and began, “Old Hitler—”
“Adolf Hitler, Cecil,” said Miss Gates. “One never begins with Old anybody.”
“Yes ma’am,” he said. “Old Adolf Hitler has been prosecutin’ the—”
“Persecuting, Cecil . . .”
“Nome, Miss Gates, it says here—well anyway, old Adolf Hitler has been after the Jews and he’s puttin’ ’em in prisons and he’s taking away all their property and he won’t let any of ’em out of the country and he’s washin’ all the feeble-minded and—”