فصل 26

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فصل 26

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Chapter 26

School started, and so did our daily trips past the Radley Place. Jem was in the seventh grade and went to high school, beyond the grammar-school building; I was now in the third grade, and our routines were so different I only walked to school with Jem in the mornings and saw him at mealtimes. He went out for football, but was too slender and too young yet to do anything but carry the team water buckets. This he did with enthusiasm; most afternoons he was seldom home before dark.

The Radley Place had ceased to terrify me, but it was no less gloomy, no less chilly under its great oaks, and no less uninviting. Mr. Nathan Radley could still be seen on a clear day, walking to and from town; we knew Boo was there, for the same old reason—nobody’d seen him carried out yet. I sometimes felt a twinge of remorse, when passing by the old place, at ever having taken part in what must have been sheer torment to Arthur Radley—what reasonable recluse wants children peeping through his shutters, delivering greetings on the end of a fishing-pole, wandering in his collards at night? And yet I remembered. Two Indian-head pennies, chewing gum, soap dolls, a rusty medal, a broken watch and chain. Jem must have put them away somewhere. I stopped and looked at the tree one afternoon: the trunk was swelling around its cement patch. The patch itself was turning yellow.

We had almost seen him a couple of times, a good enough score for anybody.

But I still looked for him each time I went by. Maybe someday we would see him. I imagined how it would be: when it happened, he’d just be sitting in the swing when I came along. “Hidy do, Mr. Arthur,” I would say, as if I had said it every afternoon of my life. “Evening, Jean Louise,” he would say, as if he had said it every afternoon of my life, “right pretty spell we’re having, isn’t it?” “Yes sir, right pretty,” I would say, and go on.

It was only a fantasy. We would never see him. He probably did go out when the moon was down and gaze upon Miss Stephanie Crawford. I’d have picked somebody else to look at, but that was his business. He would never gaze at us.

“You aren’t starting that again, are you?” said Atticus one night, when I expressed a stray desire just to have one good look at Boo Radley before I died. “If you are, I’ll tell you right now: stop it. I’m too old to go chasing you off the Radley property. Besides, it’s dangerous. You might get shot. You know Mr. Nathan shoots at every shadow he sees, even shadows that leave size-four bare footprints. You were lucky not to be killed.”

I hushed then and there. At the same time I marveled at Atticus. This was the first he had let us know he knew a lot more about something than we thought he knew. And it had happened years ago. No, only last summer—no, summer before last, when… time was playing tricks on me. I must remember to ask Jem.

So many things had happened to us, Boo Radley was the least of our fears. Atticus said he didn’t see how anything else could happen, that things had a way of settling down, and after enough time passed people would forget that Tom Robinson’s existence was ever brought to their attention.

Perhaps Atticus was right, but the events of the summer hung over us like smoke in a closed room. The adults in Maycomb never discussed the case with Jem and me; it seemed that they discussed it with their children, and their attitude must have been that neither of us could help having Atticus for a parent, so their children must be nice to us in spite of him. The children would never have thought that up for themselves: had our classmates been left to their own devices, Jem and I would have had several swift, satisfying fist-fights apiece and ended the matter for good. As it was, we were compelled to hold our heads high and be, respectively, a gentleman and a lady. In a way, it was like the era of Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, without all her yelling. There was one odd thing, though, that I never understood: in spite of Atticus’s shortcomings as a parent, people were content to re-elect him to the state legislature that year, as usual, without opposition. I came to the conclusion that people were just peculiar, I withdrew from them, and never thought about them until I was forced to.

I was forced to one day in school. Once a week, we had a Current Events period. Each child was supposed to clip an item from a newspaper, absorb its contents, and reveal them to the class. This practice allegedly overcame a variety of evils: standing in front of his fellows encouraged good posture and gave a child poise; delivering a short talk made him word-conscious; learning his current event strengthened his memory; being singled out made him more than ever anxious to return to the Group.

The idea was profound, but as usual, in Maycomb it didn’t work very well. In the first place, few rural children had access to newspapers, so the burden of Current Events was borne by the town children, convincing the bus children more deeply that the town children got all the attention anyway. The rural children who could, usually brought clippings from what they called The Grit Paper, a publication spurious in the eyes of Miss Gates, our teacher. Why she frowned when a child recited from The Grit Paper I never knew, but in some way it was associated with liking fiddling, eating syrupy biscuits for lunch, being a holy-roller, singing Sweetly Sings the Donkey and pronouncing it dunkey, all of which the state paid teachers to discourage.

Even so, not many of the children knew what a Current Event was. Little Chuck Little, a hundred years old in his knowledge of cows and their habits, was halfway through an Uncle Natchell story when Miss Gates stopped him: “Charles, that is not a current event. That is an advertisement.”

Cecil Jacobs knew what one was, though. When his turn came, he went to the front of the room and began, “Old Hitler—”

“Adolf Hitler, Cecil,” said Miss Gates. “One never begins with Old anybody.”

“Yes ma’am,” he said. “Old Adolf Hitler has been prosecutin‘ the—”

“Persecuting Cecil…”

“Nome, Miss Gates, it says here—well anyway, old Adolf Hitler has been after the Jews and he’s puttin‘ ’em in prisons and he’s taking away all their property and he won’t let any of ‘em out of the country and he’s washin’ all the feeble-minded and—”

“Washing the feeble-minded?”

“Yes ma’am, Miss Gates, I reckon they don’t have sense enough to wash themselves, I don’t reckon an idiot could keep hisself clean. Well anyway, Hitler’s started a program to round up all the half-Jews too and he wants to register ‘em in case they might wanta cause him any trouble and I think this is a bad thing and that’s my current event.”

“Very good, Cecil,” said Miss Gates. Puffing, Cecil returned to his seat.

A hand went up in the back of the room. “How can he do that?”

“Who do what?” asked Miss Gates patiently.

“I mean how can Hitler just put a lot of folks in a pen like that, looks like the govamint’d stop him,” said the owner of the hand.

“Hitler is the government,” said Miss Gates, and seizing an opportunity to make education dynamic, she went to the blackboard. She printed DEMOCRACY in large letters. “Democracy,” she said. “Does anybody have a definition?”

“Us,” somebody said.

I raised my hand, remembering an old campaign slogan Atticus had once told me about.

“What do you think it means, Jean Louise?”

“‘Equal rights for all, special privileges for none,’” I quoted.

“Very good, Jean Louise, very good,” Miss Gates smiled. In front of DEMOCRACY, she printed WE ARE A. “Now class, say it all together, ‘We are a democracy.’”

We said it. Then Miss Gates said, “That’s the difference between America and Germany. We are a democracy and Germany is a dictatorship. Dictator-ship,” she said. “Over here we don’t believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced. Prejudice,” she enunciated carefully. “There are no better people in the world than the Jews, and why Hitler doesn’t think so is a mystery to me.”

An inquiring soul in the middle of the room said, “Why don’t they like the Jews, you reckon, Miss Gates?”

“I don’t know, Henry. They contribute to every society they live in, and most of all, they are a deeply religious people. Hitler’s trying to do away with religion, so maybe he doesn’t like them for that reason.”

Cecil spoke up. “Well I don’t know for certain,” he said, “they’re supposed to change money or somethin‘, but that ain’t no cause to persecute ’em. They’re white, ain’t they?”

Miss Gates said, “When you get to high school, Cecil, you’ll learn that the Jews have been persecuted since the beginning of history, even driven out of their own country. It’s one of the most terrible stories in history. Time for arithmetic, children.”

As I had never liked arithmetic, I spent the period looking out the window. The only time I ever saw Atticus scowl was when Elmer Davis would give us the latest on Hitler. Atticus would snap off the radio and say, “Hmp!” I asked him once why he was impatient with Hitler and Atticus said, “Because he’s a maniac.”

This would not do, I mused, as the class proceeded with its sums. One maniac and millions of German folks. Looked to me like they’d shut Hitler in a pen instead of letting him shut them up. There was something else wrong—I would ask my father about it.

I did, and he said he could not possibly answer my question because he didn’t know the answer.

“But it’s okay to hate Hitler?”

“It is not,” he said. “It’s not okay to hate anybody.”

“Atticus,” I said, “there’s somethin‘ I don’t understand. Miss Gates said it was awful, Hitler doin’ like he does, she got real red in the face about it—”

“I should think she would.”

“But—”

“Yes?”

“Nothing, sir.” I went away, not sure that I could explain to Atticus what was on my mind, not sure that I could clarify what was only a feeling. Perhaps Jem could provide the answer. Jem understood school things better than Atticus.

Jem was worn out from a day’s water-carrying. There were at least twelve banana peels on the floor by his bed, surrounding an empty milk bottle. “Whatcha stuffin‘ for?” I asked.

“Coach says if I can gain twenty-five pounds by year after next I can play,” he said. “This is the quickest way.”

“If you don’t throw it all up. Jem,” I said, “I wanta ask you somethin‘.”

“Shoot.” He put down his book and stretched his legs.

“Miss Gates is a nice lady, ain’t she?”

“Why sure,” said Jem. “I liked her when I was in her room.”

“She hates Hitler a lot…”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Well, she went on today about how bad it was him treatin‘ the Jews like that. Jem, it’s not right to persecute anybody, is it? I mean have mean thoughts about anybody, even, is it?”

“Gracious no, Scout. What’s eatin‘ you?”

“Well, coming out of the courthouse that night Miss Gates was—she was goin‘ down the steps in front of us, you musta not seen her—she was talking with Miss Stephanie Crawford. I heard her say it’s time somebody taught ’em a lesson, they were gettin‘ way above themselves, an’ the next thing they think they can do is marry us. Jem, how can you hate Hitler so bad an‘ then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home—”

Jem was suddenly furious. He leaped off the bed, grabbed me by the collar and shook me. “I never wanta hear about that courthouse again, ever, ever, you hear me? You hear me? Don’t you ever say one word to me about it again, you hear? Now go on!”

I was too surprised to cry. I crept from Jem’s room and shut the door softly, lest undue noise set him off again. Suddenly tired, I wanted Atticus. He was in the livingroom, and I went to him and tried to get in his lap.

Atticus smiled. “You’re getting so big now, I’ll just have to hold a part of you.” He held me close. “Scout,” he said softly, “don’t let Jem get you down. He’s having a rough time these days. I heard you back there.”

Atticus said that Jem was trying hard to forget something, but what he was really doing was storing it away for a while, until enough time passed. Then he would be able to think about it and sort things out. When he was able to think about it, Jem would be himself again.

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