Jem’s question was an appeal. I reassured him: “Can’t anybody tell what you’re gonna do lest they live in the house with you, and even I can’t tell sometimes.”
We were walking past our tree. In its knot-hole rested a ball of gray twine.
“Don’t take it, Jem,” I said. “This is somebody’s hidin’ place.”
“I don’t think so, Scout.”
“Yes it is. Somebody like Walter Cunningham comes down here every recess and hides his things—and we come along and take ’em away from him. Listen, let’s leave it and wait a couple of days. If it ain’t gone then, we’ll take it, okay?”
“Okay, you might be right,” said Jem. “It must be some little kid’s place—hides his things from the bigger folks. You know it’s only when school’s in that we’ve found things.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but we never go by here in the summertime.”
We went home. Next morning the twine was where we had left it. When it was still there on the third day, Jem pocketed it. From then on, we considered everything we found in the knot-hole our property.
The second grade was grim, but Jem assured me that the older I got the better school would be, that he started off the same way, and it was not until one reached the sixth grade that one learned anything of value. The sixth grade seemed to please him from the beginning: he went through a brief Egyptian Period that baffled me—he tried to walk flat a great deal, sticking one arm in front of him and one in back of him, putting one foot behind the other. He declared Egyptians walked that way; I said if they did I didn’t see how they got anything done, but Jem said they accomplished more than the Americans ever did, they invented toilet paper and perpetual embalming, and asked where would we be today if they hadn’t? Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts.
There are no clearly defined seasons in South Alabama; summer drifts into autumn, and autumn is sometimes never followed by winter, but turns to a days-old spring that melts into summer again. That fall was a long one, hardly cool enough for a light jacket. Jem and I were trotting in our orbit one mild October afternoon when our knothole stopped us again. Something white was inside this time.
Jem let me do the honors: I pulled out two small images carved in soap. One was the figure of a boy, the other wore a crude dress.
Before I remembered that there was no such thing as hoodooing, I shrieked and threw them down.
Jem snatched them up. “What’s the matter with you?” he yelled. He rubbed the figures free of red dust. “These are good,” he said. “I’ve never seen any these good.”
He held them down to me. They were almost perfect miniatures of two children. The boy had on shorts, and a shock of soapy hair fell to his eyebrows. I looked up at Jem. A point of straight brown hair kicked downwards from his part. I had never noticed it before.
Jem looked from the girl-doll to me. The girl-doll wore bangs. So did I.
“These are us,” he said.
“Who did ’em, you reckon?”
“Who do we know around here who whittles?” he asked.
“Mr. Avery just does like this. I mean carves.”
Mr. Avery averaged a stick of stovewood per week; he honed it down to a toothpick and chewed it.
“There’s old Miss Stephanie Crawford’s sweetheart,” I said.
“He carves all right, but he lives down the country. When would he ever pay any attention to us?”
“Maybe he sits on the porch and looks at us instead of Miss Stephanie. If I was him, I would.”
Jem stared at me so long I asked what was the matter, but got Nothing, Scout for an answer. When we went home, Jem put the dolls in his trunk.
Less than two weeks later we found a whole package of chewing gum, which we enjoyed, the fact that everything on the Radley Place was poison having slipped Jem’s memory.
The following week the knot-hole yielded a tarnished medal. Jem showed it to Atticus, who said it was a spelling medal, that before we were born the Maycomb County schools had spelling contests and awarded medals to the winners. Atticus said someone must have lost it, and had we asked around? Jem camel-kicked me when I tried to say where we had found it. Jem asked Atticus if he remembered anybody who ever won one, and Atticus said no.
Our biggest prize appeared four days later. It was a pocket watch that wouldn’t run, on a chain with an aluminum knife.
“You reckon it’s white gold, Jem?”
“Don’t know. I’ll show it to Atticus.”