«Do you think that all those things they say about B — Mr. Arthur are true?»
I told her. Miss Maudie said those stories were made up by colored folks and by Miss Stephanie Crawford.
«Stephanie Crawford even told me once that she woke up in the middle of the night and he was looking in the window at her. I said what did you do, Stephanie, move over in the bed and make room for him? That shut her up for a while.»
I was sure it did. Miss Maudie’s voice could shut anybody up.
«No, child,» she said, «that is a sad house. I remember Arthur Radley when he was a boy. He always spoke nicely to me, no matter what folks said he did. Spoke as nicely as he knew how.»
«You reckon he’s crazy?»
Miss Maudie shook her head. «If he’s not, he should be by now. We never really know the things that happen to people. What happens in houses behind closed doors, what secrets -»
«Atticus doesn’t ever do anything to Jem and me in the house that he doesn’t do in the yard,» I said, feeling it my duty to defend my parent.
«Dear child, I wasn’t even thinking about your father. I know that Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets.»
Next morning Jem and Dill told me about their new plan. «We are going to give a note to Boo Radley,» Jem said calmly.
He was going to put the note on the end of a fishing pole and stick it through the shutters. There was one loose shutter. If anyone came along, Dill would ring my mother’s silver dinner bell.
Jem said to me, «You’ll watch the back end of the lot and Dill’s gonna watch the front of the house an’ up the street, an’ if anybody comes he’ll ring the bell. That clear?»
«All right then. What’d you write him?»
Dill said, «We’re askin’ him politely to come out sometimes, and tell us what he does in there — we said we wouldn’t hurt him and we’d buy him an ice cream.»
«You’ve gone crazy, he’ll kill us!»
Dill said, «It’s my idea. I reckon if he comes out and sits with us sometimes, he might feel better.»
«How do you know he doesn’t feel well?»
«Well, how’d you feel if you’d been shut up for a hundred years with nothin’ but cats to eat?»
So, the three of us walked toward the old house. Dill remained at the light-pole on the front comer of the lot, and Jem and I walked down the sidewalk parallel to the side of the house. I walked beyond Jem and stood where I could see around the corner.
«All clear,» I said. «Not a soul in sight.»
Jem looked up the sidewalk to Dill, who nodded.
Jem attached the note to the end of the fishing pole and pushed it across the yard toward one window. The note fell down on to the ground. Jem jabbed it up and again tried to put it on the windowsill. I left my post and went to him.
«Can’t get it off the pole,» he muttered, «or if I got it off I can’t make it stay. Go back down the street, Scout.»
I returned and looked around the corner at the empty road. From time to time, I looked back at Jem, who was patiently trying to place the note. I was looking down the street when the dinner bell rang.
I turned around expecting to see Boo Radley and his bloody fangs; instead, I saw Dill ringing the bell with all his force in Atticus’s face.
Jem looked so awful that I didn’t have the heart to tell him I told him so. He trudged along, dragging the pole behind him on the sidewalk.
Atticus said, «Stop ringing that bell.»
Dill stopped the bell; in the silence that followed, I wished he’d start ringing it again. Atticus pushed his hat to the back of his head and put his hands on his hips. «Jem,» he said, «what were you doing?»
«We were just tryin’ to give a letter to Mr. Radley, sir.»
«Let me see it.»
Jem held out a filthy piece of paper. Atticus took it and tried to read it. «Why do you ask Mr. Radley to come out?»
Dill said, «We thought he might enjoy us…» and stopped when Atticus looked at him.
«Son,» he said to Jem, «I’m going to tell you something and tell you one time: don’t torment that man. That goes for the other two of you.»
If Mr. Radley wanted to come out, he would. If he wanted to stay inside his own house, he had the right to stay inside free from the attentions of curious children. The civil way to communicate with another person was by the front door instead of a side window? So, we were to stay away from that house until we were invited there, we were not to play a foolish game and make fun of anybody on this street or in this town —
«We weren’t makin’ fun of him, we weren’t laughin’ at him,» said Jem, «we were just-»
«So that was what you were doing, wasn’t it?»
«Makin ‘fun of him?»
«No,» said Atticus, «putting his life’s history on display for the edification of the neighborhood.»
«I didn’t say we were doin’ that, I didn’t say it!»
Atticus smiled dryly. «You just told me,» he said. «You stop this nonsense right now, every one of you.»
Jem looked at him with his mouth open.
«You want to be a lawyer, don’t you?» Our father tried not to smile.
Jem was silent. When Atticus went inside the house for a file he had forgotten to take to work that morning, Jem finally understood that Atticus had played the oldest lawyer’s trick on him. He waited until Atticus left the house and walked toward town. When Atticus was out of earshot, Jem yelled after him: «I thought I wanted to be a lawyer but I ain’t so sure now!»