Chapter 26

 

            School started, and so did our daily trips past the Radley Place.  Jem was in the seventh grade now 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.

            The Radley Place didn’t terrify me anymore.  I sometimes felt a bit 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.

            I still looked for Boo 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 though.  We would never see him.

            One night when I told Atticus that I wanted to see Boo Radley someday, he said “Don’t start with that again, Scout.  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 couldn’t believe it!  Atticus KNEW it was US that Mr. Radley shot at that night!  This was the first time he had let us know that he knew a lot more about something than we thought he knew.

            One day in school, Cecil Jacobs presented a current event about Adolf Hitler.  He presented the news article to the class. “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…”

            A student in the back of the room asked, “How can he do that?”

            “Who do what?” asked Miss Gates, our teacher, patiently.

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

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

            I raised my hand and said, “Equal rights for all, special privileges for none.”

            “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.  Over there we don’t believe in persecuting anybody.  Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced.  Prejudice,” she said carefully.  “There are no better people in the world than the Jews, and why Hitler doesn’t think so is a mystery to me.”

            I went home later that day and asked Atticus if it was okay to hate Hitler.

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

            I was still confused about things so I went to see Jem.  I said, “Jem, coming out of the courthouse that night Miss Gates was – she was goin’ down the steps in front of us, you must not of 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, and the next thing they think they can do is marry us.  She was talking about the black folks.  Jem , how can she say she hates Hitler so bad and then turn around and be ugly about folks right here 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.  I found Atticus and tried to climb up 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 all the prejudice and injustice he saw at Tom’s trial.  After enough time passed, Jem would be able to make sense of it all and sort things out, but right now he was very upset.