People moved slowly then. They walked slowly across the square, slowly went in and out of the stores around it, took their time about everything. A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with. But it was a time of vague optimism for some of the people: President Franklin Roosevelt had promised that there was nothing to fear except fear itself.
We lived on the main residential street in town — Atticus, Jem and I, plus Calpumia, our cook. Jem and I found our father satisfactory: he played with us, read to us, and treated us with polite detachment.
Calpumia was something different. She had been with us ever since Jem was born, and she was a tyrant. She was always ordering me out of the kitchen, asking me why I couldn’t behave as well as Jem when she knew that he was older, and she was always calling me home when I wasn’t ready to come. Our battles were epic and one-sided. Calpumia always won, just because Atticus always took her side.
Our mother died when I was two, so I never felt her absence. She was from Montgomery; Atticus met her when he was first elected to the state legislature. He was middle-aged then, she was fifteen years his junior. Jem was the product of their first year of marriage; four years later, I was born, and two years later, our mother died from a sudden heart attack. They said it ran in her family.
When I was almost six and Jem was nearly ten, our summertime boundaries were within calling distance of Calpurnia. We were not allowed to go further than Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose’s house two doors to the north of us, and the Radley Place three doors to the south. We never broke them. In the Radley Place an unknown creature lived, just the description of whom made us behave for a very long time; Mrs. Dubose was real hell.
That summer Dill came to us.
One morning we were beginning our day’s play in the back yard, and there he was. He was sitting in Miss Rachel Haverford’s yard, next door to us. We stared at him until he spoke:
«Hey yourself,» said Jem pleasantly.
«I’m Charles Baker Harris,» he said.
Jem brushed his hair back to get a better look. «Why don’t you come over, Charles Baker Harris?» he said. «Lord, what a name.»
«It’s not any funnier than yours. Aunt Rachel says that your name’s Jeremy Atticus Finch.»
Jem frowned. «I’m big enough for mine,» he said. «Your name’s longer’n you are.»
«Folks call me Dill,» said Dill and tried to get to our yard under the fence
«Do better if you go over it instead of under it,» I said.
«Where’d you come from?»
Dill said he was from Meridian, Mississippi, but originally his family was from Maycomb County. Now he was spending the summer with his aunt, Miss Rachel, and would be spending every summer in Maycomb from now on. He told us that his mother worked for a photographer in Meridian, and she had entered his picture in a Beautiful Child contest and won five dollars. She gave the money to Dill. He went to the movies twenty times on it. Jem asked him if he had ever seen anything good.
Dill had seen Dracula. Jem looked at him with the beginning of respect. «Tell it to us,» he said.
Dill’s appearance was peculiar. He wore blue linen shorts that buttoned to his shirt, his hair was snow white and looked like duck fluff; he was a year my senior but I was much taller than he. When he told us the old story, his blue eyes lighted and darkened; his laugh was sudden and happy.
When Dill finished Dracula story, and Jem said that the movie sounded better than the book, I asked Dill where his father was: «You ain’t said anything about him.»
«I haven’t got one.»
«Is he dead?»
«Then if he’s not dead you’ve got one, haven’t you?»
Dill blushed and Jem told me to stop. It was a sign that he had found Dill acceptable. After that, the summer passed as usual: we improved our tree house that rested between two giant trees in the back yard, fussed, performed our own plays based on the works of Oliver Optic, Victor Appleton, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. In that, we were lucky to have Dill. He played the character parts, which formerly Jem made me play — the ape in Tarzan, Mr. Crabtree in The Rover Boys, Mr. Damon in Tom Swift. Thus, we came to know Dill as a pocket Merlin, whose head was full of eccentric plans and fancies.
But by the end of August we had got bored by our repertoire, and then Dill offered to make Boo Radley come out.
Dill became very curious about the Radley Place after we had told him about a malevolent phantom that lived in the house. Jem and I had never seen him, but people said he went out at night when there was no moon, and peeped in windows. Any undisclosed small crimes in Maycomb were his work. Once the town was terrorized by a series of awful nocturnal events: people’s chickens and household pets were found mutilated. Although Crazy Addie was guilty, people still looked at the Radley Place. A Negro didn’t pass the Radley Place at night, he chose the opposite sidewalk and whistled as he walked. The Maycomb school grounds bordered on the back of the Radley lot; tall pecan trees shook their fruit into the schoolyard from the Radley chicken yard, but the children didn’t pick up the nuts: Radley pecans could kill you. A baseball that got into the Radley yard was a lost ball and no questions were asked.