mockingbird chapter 9


The Dewey Decimal System, as Jem called it, was school wide by the end of my first year, so I had no chance to compare it with other teaching techniques. I could only look around me: Atticus and my uncle, who didn’t go to school and were taught at home, knew everything — at least, what one didn’t know the other did. Jem, educated on a half-Decimal half-Duncecap basis, functioned effectively alone or in a group, but Jem was a poor example: no educational system could stop him from getting at books. As for me, I knew nothing except what I learned from Time magazine and reading everything, I could lay hands on at home, but as I moved slowly along the treadmill of the Maycomb County school system, I got the impression that I was being cheated out of something. I didn’t know what it was, but I did not think that twelve years of boredom was exactly what the state wanted for me.

Jem had to stay at school longer than I, so I had to go home alone. I ran by the Radley Place as fast as I could, not stopping until I reached the safety of our front porch. One afternoon as I raced by, something caught my eye and caught it in such a way that I took a deep breath, a long look around, and went back.

There were two oak trees at the edge of the Radley lot; their roots reached out into the side-road and made it bumpy. Something about one of the trees attracted my attention.

Some tinfoil was glinting in a knothole just above my eye level. I stood on tiptoe, hastily looked around once more, and took out two pieces of chewing gum without their outer wrappers.

My first impulse was to get it into my mouth as quickly as possible, but I remembered where I was. I ran home, and on our front porch, I examined my loot. The gum looked fresh. I sniffed it and it smelled all right. I licked it and waited for a while. When I did not die, I put it into my mouth: Wrigley’s Double-Mint.

When Jem came home, I told him that I’d found it in the tree at the edge of the Radley Place.

«Spit it out right now, Scout!»

I spat it out. The taste was weakening, anyway. «I’ve been chewin’ it all afternoon and I ain’t dead yet, not even sick.» Jem stamped his foot. «Don’t you know you mustn’t even touch the trees over there? You’ll get killed if you do!»

«You touched the house once!»

«That was different! You go gargle — right now, you hear me?»

«No, it’ll take the taste out of my mouth.»

«Then I’ll tell Calpumia on you!»

I didn’t want a battle with Calpurnia, so I did as Jem told me.

Summer was on the way. We were waiting for it. Summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the tree house; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in landscape; but most of all, summer was Dill.

On the last day of school, Jem and I walked home together. As we came to the oak trees at the Radley Place, we saw another piece of tinfoil in the knothole of one tree. Jem looked around, reached up, and quickly pocketed a small shiny package. We ran home, and on the front porch, Jem opened a small box. Inside were two polished pennies, one on top of the other. Jem examined them.

«Indian-heads,» he said. «Nineteen-six and Scout, one of ‘cm’s nineteen-hundred. These are really old.»

«You reckon we ought to keep ’em, Jem?»

«I don’t know what we could do, Scout. I know for a fact I hat nobody goes by there.»

«What you reckon we ought to do, Jem?»

«Tell you what,» said Jem. «We’ll keep ’em till school starts, then go around and ask everybody if they’re theirs. These are somebody’s, I know that. See how they’ve been polished? They’ve been saved.»

«Yeah, but why should somebody want to put away chewing gum like that? It can’t stay fresh long.»

«I don’t know, Scout. But these are important to somebody…»

«How’s that, Jem…?»

«Well, Indian-heads, well, they come from the Indians. They’re strong magic, they make you have good luck like long life and good health, and passin’ six-weeks tests… these are really valuable to somebody. I’m gonna put ’em in my trunk.»

Before Jem went to his room, he looked for a long time at the Radley Place.

Two days later Dill arrived in a blaze of glory: he had ridden the train by himself from Meridian to Maycomb Junction where he had been met by Miss Rachel in Maycomb’s one taxi; he had eaten dinner in the diner. Instead of the awful blue shorts that were buttoned to his shirts, he wore real short pants with a belt; he was somewhat heavier, no taller, and said he had seen his father. Dill’s father was taller than ours, he had a black beard (pointed), and was president of the L and N Railroad.

«I helped the engineer for a while,» said Dill, yawning.

«In a pig’s ear you did, Dill. Shut up,» said Jem. «What’ll we play today?»

«Tom and Sam and Dick,» said Dill. «Let’s go in the front yard.» Dill wanted the Rover Boys because there were three respectable parts. He was clearly tired of being our character man.

«I’m tired of those,» I said. I was tired of playing Tom Rover, who suddenly lost his memory in the middle of a movie and was out of the script until the end, when he was found in Alaska.


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