“. . . Mr. Nathan put cement in that tree, Atticus, an’ he did it to stop us findin’ things—he’s crazy, I reckon, like they say, but Atticus, I swear to God he ain’t ever harmed us, he ain’t ever hurt us, he coulda cut my throat from ear to ear that night but he tried to mend my pants instead . . . he ain’t ever hurt us, Atticus—”
Atticus said, “Whoa, son,” so gently that I was greatly heartened. It was obvious that he had not followed a word Jem said, for all Atticus said was, “You’re right. We’d better keep this and the blanket to ourselves. Someday, maybe, Scout can thank him for covering her up.”
“Thank who?” I asked.
“Boo Radley. You were so busy looking at the fire you didn’t know it when he put the blanket around you.”
My stomach turned to water and I nearly threw up when Jem held out the blanket and crept toward me. “He sneaked out of the house—turn ’round—sneaked up, an’ went like this!”
Atticus said dryly, “Do not let this inspire you to further glory, Jeremy.”
Jem scowled, “I ain’t gonna do anything to him,” but I watched the spark of fresh adventure leave his eyes. “Just think, Scout,” he said, “if you’d just turned around, you’da seen him.”
Calpurnia woke us at noon. Atticus had said we need not go to school that day, we’d learn nothing after no sleep. Calpurnia said for us to try and clean up the front yard.
Miss Maudie’s sunhat was suspended in a thin layer of ice, like a fly in amber, and we had to dig under the dirt for her hedge-clippers. We found her in her back yard, gazing at her frozen charred azaleas.
“We’re bringing back your things, Miss Maudie,” said Jem. “We’re awful sorry.”
Miss Maudie looked around, and the shadow of her old grin crossed her face. “Always wanted a smaller house, Jem Finch. Gives me more yard. Just think, I’ll have more room for my azaleas now!”
“You ain’t grievin’, Miss Maudie?” I asked, surprised. Atticus said her house was nearly all she had.
“Grieving, child? Why, I hated that old cow barn. Thought of settin’ fire to it a hundred times myself, except they’d lock me up.”
“Don’t you worry about me, Jean Louise Finch. There are ways of doing things you don’t know about. Why, I’ll build me a little house and take me a couple of roomers and—gracious, I’ll have the finest yard in Alabama. Those Bellingraths’ll look plain puny when I get started!”
Jem and I looked at each other. “How’d it catch, Miss Maudie?” he asked.
“I don’t know, Jem. Probably the flue in the kitchen. I kept a fire in there last night for my potted plants. Hear you had some unexpected company last night, Miss Jean Louise.”
“How’d you know?”
“Atticus told me on his way to town this morning. Tell you the truth, I’d like to’ve been with you. And I’d’ve had sense enough to turn around, too.”
Miss Maudie puzzled me. With most of her possessions gone and her beloved yard a shambles, she still took a lively and cordial interest in Jem’s and my affairs.
She must have seen my perplexity. She said, “Only thing I worried about last night was all the danger and commotion it caused. This whole neighborhood could have gone up. Mr. Avery’ll be in bed for a week—he’s right stove up. He’s too old to do things like that and I told him so. Soon as I can get my hands clean and when Stephanie Crawford’s not looking, I’ll make him a Lane cake. That Stephanie’s been after my recipe for thirty years, and if she thinks I’ll give it to her just because I’m staying with her she’s got another think coming.”
I reflected that if Miss Maudie broke down and gave it to her, Miss Stephanie couldn’t follow it anyway. Miss Maudie had once let me see it: among other things, the recipe called for one large cup of sugar.
It was a still day. The air was so cold and clear we heard the courthouse clock clank, rattle and strain before it struck the hour. Miss Maudie’s nose was a color I had never seen before, and I inquired about it.
“I’ve been out here since six o’clock,” she said. “Should be frozen by now.” She held up her hands. A network of tiny lines criss-crossed her palms, brown with dirt and dried blood.
“You’ve ruined ’em,” said Jem. “Why don’t you get a colored man?” There was no note of sacrifice in his voice when he added, “Or Scout’n’me, we can help you.”