To Kill a Mockingbird
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“How’s that?” asked Dill.
“Strike a match under him.”
I told Jem if he set fire to the Radley house I was going to tell Atticus on him.
Dill said striking a match under a turtle was hateful.
“Ain’t hateful, just persuades him—’s not like you’d chunk him in the fire,” Jem growled.
“How do you know a match don’t hurt him?”
“Turtles can’t feel, stupid,” said Jem.
“Were you ever a turtle, huh?”
“My stars, Dill! Now lemme think . . . reckon we can rock him. . . .”
Jem stood in thought so long that Dill made a mild concession: “I won’t say you ran out on a dare an’ I’ll swap you The Gray Ghost if you just go up and touch the house.”
Jem brightened. “Touch the house, that’s all?”
“Sure that’s all, now? I don’t want you hollerin’ something different the minute I get back.”
“Yeah, that’s all,” said Dill. “He’ll probably come out after you when he sees you in the yard, then Scout’n’me’ll jump on him and hold him down till we can tell him we ain’t gonna hurt him.”
We left the corner, crossed the side street that ran in front of the Radley house, and stopped at the gate.
“Well go on,” said Dill, “Scout and me’s right behind you.”
“I’m going,” said Jem, “don’t hurry me.”
He walked to the corner of the lot, then back again, studying the simple terrain as if deciding how best to effect an entry, frowning and scratching his head.
Then I sneered at him.
Jem threw open the gate and sped to the side of the house, slapped it with his palm and ran back past us, not waiting to see if his foray was successful. Dill and I followed on his heels. Safely on our porch, panting and out of breath, we looked back.
The old house was the same, droopy and sick, but as we stared down the street we thought we saw an inside shutter move. Flick. A tiny, almost invisible movement, and the house was still.
Dill left us early in September, to return to Meridian. We saw him off on the five o’clock bus and I was miserable without him until it occurred to me that I would be starting to school in a week. I never looked forward more to anything in my life. Hours of wintertime had found me in the treehouse, looking over at the schoolyard, spying on multitudes of children through a two-power telescope Jem had given me, learning their games, following Jem’s red jacket through wriggling circles of blind man’s buff, secretly sharing their misfortunes and minor victories. I longed to join them.
Jem condescended to take me to school the first day, a job usually done by one’s parents, but Atticus had said Jem would be delighted to show me where my room was. I think some money changed hands in this transaction, for as we trotted around the corner past the Radley Place I heard an unfamiliar jingle in Jem’s pockets. When we slowed to a walk at the edge of the schoolyard, Jem was careful to explain that during school hours I was not to bother him, I was not to approach him with requests to enact a chapter of Tarzan and the Ant Men, to embarrass him with references to his private life, or tag along behind him at recess and noon. I was to stick with the first grade and he would stick with the fifth. In short, I was to leave him alone.
“You mean we can’t play any more?” I asked.
“We’ll do like we always do at home,” he said, “but you’ll see—school’s different.”
It certainly was. Before the first morning was over, Miss Caroline Fisher, our teacher, hauled me up to the front of the room and patted the palm of my hand with a ruler, then made me stand in the corner until noon.
Miss Caroline was no more than twenty-one. She had bright auburn hair, pink cheeks, and wore crimson fingernail polish. She also wore high-heeled pumps and a red-and-white-striped dress. She looked and smelled like a peppermint drop. She boarded across the street one door down from us in Miss Maudie Atkinson’s upstairs front room, and when Miss Maudie introduced us to her, Jem was in a haze for days.
Miss Caroline printed her name on the blackboard and said, “This says I am Miss Caroline Fisher. I am from North Alabama, from Winston County.” The class murmured apprehensively, should she prove to harbor her share of the peculiarities indigenous to that region. (When Alabama seceded from the Union on January 11, 1861, Winston County seceded from Alabama, and every child in Maycomb County knew it.) North Alabama was full of Liquor Interests, Big Mules, steel companies, Republicans, professors, and other persons of no background.