Jem gulped down his second glassful and slapped his chest. “I know what we are going to play,” he announced. “Something new, something different.”
“What?” asked Dill.
Jem’s head at times was transparent: he had thought that up to make me understand he wasn’t afraid of Radleys in any shape or form, to contrast his own fearless heroism with my cowardice.
“Boo Radley? How?” asked Dill.
Jem said, “Scout, you can be Mrs. Radley—”
“I declare if I will. I don’t think—”
“ ’Smatter?” said Dill. “Still scared?”
“He can get out at night when we’re all asleep. . . .” I said.
Jem hissed. “Scout, how’s he gonna know what we’re doin’? Besides, I don’t think he’s still there. He died years ago and they stuffed him up the chimney.”
Dill said, “Jem, you and me can play and Scout can watch if she’s scared.”
I was fairly sure Boo Radley was inside that house, but I couldn’t prove it, and felt it best to keep my mouth shut or I would be accused of believing in Hot Steams, phenomena I was immune to in the daytime.
Jem parceled out our roles: I was Mrs. Radley, and all I had to do was come out and sweep the porch. Dill was old Mr. Radley: he walked up and down the sidewalk and coughed when Jem spoke to him. Jem, naturally, was Boo: he went under the front steps and shrieked and howled from time to time.
As the summer progressed, so did our game. We polished and perfected it, added dialogue and plot until we had manufactured a small play upon which we rang changes every day.
Dill was a villain’s villain: he could get into any character part assigned him, and appear tall if height was part of the devilry required. He was as good as his worst performance; his worst performance was Gothic. I reluctantly played assorted ladies who entered the script. I never thought it as much fun as Tarzan, and I played that summer with more than vague anxiety despite Jem’s assurances that Boo Radley was dead and nothing would get me, with him and Calpurnia there in the daytime and Atticus home at night.
Jem was a born hero.
It was a melancholy little drama, woven from bits and scraps of gossip and neighborhood legend: Mrs. Radley had been beautiful until she married Mr. Radley and lost all her money. She also lost most of her teeth, her hair, and her right forefinger (Dill’s contribution. Boo bit it off one night when he couldn’t find any cats and squirrels to eat.); she sat in the livingroom and cried most of the time, while Boo slowly whittled away all the furniture in the house.
The three of us were the boys who got into trouble; I was the probate judge, for a change; Dill led Jem away and crammed him beneath the steps, poking him with the brushbroom. Jem would reappear as needed in the shapes of the sheriff, assorted townsfolk, and Miss Stephanie Crawford, who had more to say about the Radleys than anybody in Maycomb.
When it was time to play Boo’s big scene, Jem would sneak into the house, steal the scissors from the sewing-machine drawer when Calpurnia’s back was turned, then sit in the swing and cut up newspapers. Dill would walk by, cough at Jem, and Jem would fake a plunge into Dill’s thigh. From where I stood it looked real.
When Mr. Nathan Radley passed us on his daily trip to town, we would stand still and silent until he was out of sight, then wonder what he would do to us if he suspected. Our activities halted when any of the neighbors appeared, and once I saw Miss Maudie Atkinson staring across the street at us, her hedge clippers poised in midair.
One day we were so busily playing Chapter XXV, Book II of One Man’s Family, we did not see Atticus standing on the sidewalk looking at us, slapping a rolled magazine against his knee. The sun said twelve noon.
“What are you all playing?” he asked.
“Nothing,” said Jem.
Jem’s evasion told me our game was a secret, so I kept quiet.
“What are you doing with those scissors, then? Why are you tearing up that newspaper? If it’s today’s I’ll tan you.”
“Nothing what?” said Atticus.
“Give me those scissors,” Atticus said. “They’re no things to play with. Does this by any chance have anything to do with the Radleys?”
“No sir,” said Jem, reddening.
“I hope it doesn’t,” he said shortly, and went inside the house.
“Je-m . . .”
“Shut up! He’s gone in the livingroom, he can hear us in there.”