mockingbird chapter 17


«Hurry, honey,» said Atticus.

I understood that there was trouble in our street.

«Whose is it?»

«Miss Maudie’s, honey,» said Atticus gently.

At the front door, we saw that Miss Maudie’s dining room was on fire.

Atticus told us to go down the street and stand in front of the Radley Place, to keep out of the way.

The street filled with men and cars while fire silently devoured Miss Maudie’s house. As the night was very cold, the motor of the old fire truck didn’t start, and a crowd of men pushed it from town.

The men of Maycomb took furniture from Miss Maudie’s house to a yard across the street. I saw that Atticus was carrying Miss Maudie’s heavy oak rocking chair, which she liked most of all.

Suddenly I noticed that smoke was rolling off our house and Miss Rachel’s house like fog off a riverbank, and men were pulling hoses toward them. Behind us, the fire truck from Abbottsville screamed around the comer and stopped in front of our house.

«That book…» I said.

«What?» said Jem.

«That Tom Swift book, it ain’t mine, it’s Dill’s…»

«Don’t worry, Scout,» said Jem. He pointed. «Look there.»

In a group of neighbors, Atticus was standing with his hands in his overcoat pockets. Miss Maudie was beside him.

«See there, he’s not worried yet,» said Jem.

The Abbottsville fire truck began pumping water on our house; a man on the roof pointed to places that needed it most. Our Absolute Morphodite went black and turned to muddy heap with Miss Maudie’s sunhat on top. In the heat between our house, Miss Rachel’s and Miss Maudie’s, the men had long ago took off coats and bathrobes, but I felt that I was slowly freezing where I stood. By dancing a little, I could feel my feet.

Another fire truck appeared and stopped in front of Miss Stephanie Crawford’s.

Miss Maudie’s tin roof stopped the flames. Roaring, the house collapsed. Men on top of the adjacent houses were beating out sparks and burning chunks of wood by blankets.

It was dawn before the men began to leave, first one by one, then in groups. They pushed the Maycomb fire truck back to town, the Abbottsville truck and the third one departed.

Atticus led us home. He said that Miss Maudie would stay with Miss Stephanie for the time being.

«Anybody want some hot chocolate?» he asked. I shuddered when Atticus started a fire in the kitchen stove.

As we drank our cocoa, I noticed that Atticus was looking at me, first with curiosity, then with sternness. «I thought I told you and Jem to stay in front of the Radley Place,» he said.

«Why, we did. We stayed-»

«Then whose blanket is that? It isn’t ours.»

I looked down and saw that I was wearing a brown woolen blanket around my shoulders.

«Atticus, I don’t know, sir… I-»

I turned to Jem for an answer, but he was even more surprised than I. He said we did exactly as Atticus had told us, we stood down by the Radley gate away from everybody, we didn’t move an inch — Jem stopped.

«Mr. Nathan was at the fire,» he said, «I saw him, he was helping with the furniture — Atticus, I swear…»

«That’s all right, son.» Atticus grinned slowly. «Looks like all of Maycomb was out tonight, in one way or another. Jem, get some wrapping paper from the pantry and we’ll-»

«Atticus, no sir!»

And Jem told our father everything, all our secrets, knothole, pants and all.

«… Mr. Nathan put cement in that tree, Atticus, just to stop it — he’s crazy, I reckon, like they say, but Atticus, I swear to God he hasn’t ever hurt us, he could have cut my throat from ear to ear that night but he tried to mend my pants instead… he hasn’t ever hurt us, Atticus-»

«Whoa, son,» Atticus said, very gently. «You’re right. We’d better keep this blanket to ourselves. Someday, maybe, Scout can thank him for covering her up.»

«Thank who?» I asked.

«Boo Radley. Just think, Scout,» Jem said, «if you’d just turned around, you’d a seen him.»

Atticus allowed us not to go to school that day, after a sleepless night. Calpumia told us to try and clean up the front yard.

Miss Maudie’s sunhat was covered with a thin layer of ice, and we had to dig under the dirt for her hedge-clippers. We found her in her back yard, gazing at her frozen charred azaleas.

«We’re bringing back your things, Miss Maudie,» said Jem. «We’re awfully sorry.»

Miss Maudie looked around, and the shadow of her old smile crossed her face. «Always wanted a smaller house, Jem Finch. Gives me more yard. Just think, I’ll have more room for my azaleas now!»

«But I began.

«Don’t you worry about me, Jean Louise Finch. Why, I’ll build me a little house and take me a couple of roomers and — gracious, I’ll have the finest yard in Alabama!»

It was another cold day. Miss Maudie’s nose was a very strange color, and I asked about it.

«I’ve been out here since six o’clock,» she said. «Should be frozen by now.» She showed us her palms, brown with dirt and dried blood.

Jem said that we could help her.

Miss Maudie said, «Thank you sir, but you’ve got a job of your own over there.» She pointed to our yard.

«You mean the Morphodite?» I asked. «Shoot, we can rake him up in a jiffy.»

Miss Maudie stared down at me, her lips were moving silently. Suddenly she put her hands to her head and whooped. When we left her, she was still laughing.

Jem said he didn’t know what was the matter with her — that was just Miss Maudie.


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