mockingbird chapter 3


The unhappiness of that house began many years before Jem and I were born. Mr. Radley and his wife had lived there with their two sons as long as anybody could remember, but although they were welcome anywhere in town, the Radleys kept to themselves. It was unusual for Maycomb. They did not go to church, Maycomb’s main recreation; they worshiped at home; Mrs. Radley seldom if ever crossed the street for a mid-morning coffee break with her neighbors, and certainly never joined any circle. Mr. Radley walked to town at eleven-thirty every morning and came back at twelve. Sometimes he carried a brown paper bag. The neighbors thought that the family groceries were in that bag. I never knew how old Mr. Radley made his living — Jem said he «bought cotton,» a polite term for doing nothing.

Another thing different from Maycomb’s ways: the shutters and doors of the Radley house were closed on Sundays. In Maycomb, closed doors meant illness and cold weather only. Of all days Sunday was the day for formal afternoon visiting: ladies wore corsets, men wore coats, and children wore shoes. But no neighbor ever went up the Radley front steps and called, «He-y,» on a Sunday afternoon. The Radley house had no screen doors. I once asked Atticus if it ever had any; Atticus said yes, but before I was born.

According to neighborhood legend, when the younger Radley boy was in his teens he became acquainted with some of the Cunninghams from Old Sarum, a very large and confusing tribe that lived in the northern part of the county, and they formed a group that worried the town: they hung around the barbershop; they rode the bus to Abbottsville on Sundays and went to the movies; they attended dances at the county’s riverside gambling house; they experimented with whiskey. Nobody in Maycomb had nerve enough to tell Mr. Radley that his boy was a part of the wrong crowd.

One night the boys backed around the square in a small-borrowed car, resisted arrest by Maycomb’s ancient beadle, Mr. Conner, and locked him in the courthouse outhouse. The town decided that something had to be done. Mr. Conner knew the boys and he said that they wouldn’t get away with it, so the boys came before the judge on charges of disorderly conduct, assault and battery, and using dirty language in the presence and hearing of a female. The judge asked Mr. Conner why he included the last charge; Mr. Conner said that they cursed so loudly that he was sure every lady in Maycomb heard them. The judge decided to send the boys to the state industrial school, where boys were sometimes sent for no other reason than to give them food and shelter: it wasn’t a prison and it wasn’t disgrace. But Mr. Radley thought it was. He asked the judge to let his son Arthur go free and promised that Arthur would never give trouble again. The judge was glad to do so.

The other boys attended the industrial school and received the best secondary education in the state. The doors of the Radley house were closed on weekdays as well as Sundays, and Mr. Radley’s boy was not seen again for fifteen years.

Jem remembered that one day Boo Radley was seen by several people, but not by Jem. He said that Atticus never talked much about the Radleys: when Jem asked him questions, Atticus told him to mind his own business and let the Radleys mind theirs, they had a right to; but on that day, when it happened, Atticus shook his head and said, «Mm, mm, mm.»

Most of his information Jem received from Miss Stephanie Crawford, who said she knew the whole thing. According to Miss Stephanie, Boo was cutting some articles from The Maycomh Tribune when his father entered the living room. As Mr. Radley passed by, Boo drove the scissors into his parent’s leg, pulled them out, wiped them on his pants, and continued his activities.

Mrs. Radley ran into the street and screamed that Arthur was killing them all, but when the sheriff arrived, Boo was still sitting in the living room, cutting up the Tribune. He was thirty-three years old then.

Mr. Radley refused to send Boo to an asylum. Boo wasn’t crazy, he was high-strung at times. It was all right to shut him up, Mr. Radley agreed, but without any charges: he was not a criminal. The sheriff didn’t want to put him in jail alongside Negroes, so Boo was locked in the courthouse basement.

But Miss Stephanie Crawford said that some of the town council told Mr. Radley that if he didn’t take Boo back, Boo would die of mold from the dampness. Besides, Boo could not live forever at the expense of the county. So Boo was brought home, but nobody ever saw him again.

What I can remember is that Mrs. Radley sometimes opened the front door, walked to the edge of the porch, and poured water on her flowers. But every day Jem and I saw Mr. Radley when he walked to and from town. He never spoke to us. When he passed we looked at the ground and said, «Good morning, sir,» and he coughed in reply. Mr. Radley’s elder son lived in Pensacola; he came home at Christmas, and he was one of the few persons who ever entered or left the place. People said that after Mr. Radley took Arthur home, the house died.


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