mockingbird chapter 4


One day Atticus ordered us to make no sound in the yard and told Calpumia to watch us in his absence. Mr. Radley was dying.

He took his time about it. Wooden sawhorses blocked the road at each end of the Radley lot, straw was put down on the sidewalk, traffic was directed to the back street. Dr. Reynolds parked his car in front of our house and walked to the Radley’s every time he called. Jem and I tiptoed around the yard for days. At last, the sawhorses were taken away, and we watched from the front porch when Mr. Radley made his final journey past our house.

«There goes the meanest man ever God blew breath into,» murmured Calpumia, and she spat meditatively into the yard. We looked at her in surprise, for Calpurnia seldom commented on the ways of white people.

The neighborhood thought that when Mr. Radley died, Boo would come out, but Boo’s elder brother returned from Pensacola and took Mr. Radley’s place. The only difference between him and his father was their ages. Jem said Mr. Nathan Radley «bought cotton,» too. Mr. Nathan spoke to us, however, when we said good morning.

When we told Dill about the Radleys, he wanted to know more.

«It’s interesting what he does in there. It’s interesting what he looks like,» he said.

Jem gave a reasonable description of Boo: Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that’s why his hands were bloodstained — if you ate an animal raw, you could never wash the blood off. There was a long scar that ran across his face; his teeth were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time.

«Let’s try to make him come out,» said Dill. «I’d like to see what he looks like.»

Jem said if Dill wanted to get himself killed, all he had to do was go up and knock on the front door.

Our first raid happened only because Dill bet Jem that Jem wouldn’t get any farther than the Radley gate. In all his life, Jem had never declined a challenge.

Jem thought about it for three days. I think he loved honor more than his head. «You’re afraid,» Dill said, the first day. «Ain’t afraid, just respectful,» Jem said. The next day Dill said, «You’re too afraid even to put your big toe in the front yard.» Jem said, «I ain’t, I’d passed the Radley Place every school day of my life.»

«Always runnin’,» I said.

But Dill got him the third day, when he told Jem that folks in Meridian certainly weren’t as afraid as the folks in Maycomb, that he’d never seen such timid folks as the ones in Maycomb. That was enough.

Jem marched into the street at once, but stopped at the light-pole, at the corner opposite the Radley house and looked at the gate.

«I hope you’ve got it through your head that he’ll kill us each and every one, Dill Harris,» said Jem, when we joined him. «Don’t blame me when he gouges your eyes out. You started it, remember.»

«You’re still afraid,» murmured Dill patiently.

Jem said that he wasn’t afraid of anything; he just wanted to think of a way to make Boo come out which wouldn’t be dangerous for us. Besides, Jem had to think of his little sister. When he said that, I knew that he was afraid.

Jem stood in thought so long that Dill decided to make his task easier: «I won’t say that you’re afraid if you just go up and touch the house.»

Jem brightened. «Touch the house, that all?»

«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 comer, crossed the street, and stopped at the gate.

«Well go on,» said Dill, «Scout and I are right behind you.»

«I’m going,» said Jem, «don’t hurry me.»

He walked to the corner of the lot, then back again, frowning, as if deciding how best to come into the yard.

Then I laughed at him.

Jem opened the gate and ran to the side of the house, touched it with his palm and ran past us, without looking back. Dill and I followed on his heels. When we were safely on our porch, we looked back.

The old house was the same, tired and depressed, but as we stared down the street we thought that we saw how an inside shutter moved. Almost invisible movement and the house was still.


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