But there came a day when Atticus told us he’d wear us out if we made any noise in the yard and commissioned Calpurnia to serve in his absence if she heard a sound out of us. Mr. Radley was dying.
He took his time about it. Wooden sawhorses blocked the road at each end of the Radley lot, straw was put down on the sidewalk, traffic was diverted to the back street. Dr. Reynolds parked his car in front of our house and walked to the Radley’s every time he called. Jem and I crept around the yard for days. At last the sawhorses were taken away, and we stood watching from the front porch when Mr. Radley made his final journey past our house.
“There goes the meanest man ever God blew breath into,” murmured Calpurnia, and she spat meditatively into the yard. We looked at her in surprise, for Calpurnia rarely commented on the ways of white people.
The neighborhood thought when Mr. Radley went under Boo would come out, but it had another think coming: Boo’s elder brother returned from Pensacola and took Mr. Radley’s place. The only difference between him and his father was their ages. Jem said Mr. Nathan Radley “bought cotton,” too. Mr. Nathan would speak to us, however, when we said good morning, and sometimes we saw him coming from town with a magazine in his hand.
The more we told Dill about the Radleys, the more he wanted to know, the longer he would stand hugging the light-pole on the corner, the more he would wonder.
“Wonder what he does in there,” he would murmur. “Looks like he’d just stick his head out the door.”
Jem said, “He goes out, all right, when it’s pitch dark. Miss Stephanie Crawford said she woke up in the middle of the night one time and saw him looking straight through the window at her . . . said his head was like a skull lookin’ at her. Ain’t you ever waked up at night and heard him, Dill? He walks like this—” Jem slid his feet through the gravel. “Why do you think Miss Rachel locks up so tight at night? I’ve seen his tracks in our back yard many a mornin’, and one night I heard him scratching on the back screen, but he was gone time Atticus got there.”
“Wonder what he looks like?” said Dill.
Jem gave a reasonable description of Boo: Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that’s why his hands were bloodstained—if you ate an animal raw, you could never wash the blood off. There was a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time.
“Let’s try to make him come out,” said Dill. “I’d like to see what he looks like.”
Jem said if Dill wanted to get himself killed, all he had to do was go up and knock on the front door.
Our first raid came to pass only because Dill bet Jem The Gray Ghost against two Tom Swifts that Jem wouldn’t get any farther than the Radley gate. In all his life, Jem had never declined a dare.
Jem thought about it for three days. I suppose he loved honor more than his head, for Dill wore him down easily: “You’re scared,” Dill said, the first day. “Ain’t scared, just respectful,” Jem said. The next day Dill said, “You’re too scared even to put your big toe in the front yard.” Jem said he reckoned he wasn’t, he’d passed the Radley Place every school day of his life.
“Always runnin’,” I said.
But Dill got him the third day, when he told Jem that folks in Meridian certainly weren’t as afraid as the folks in Maycomb, that he’d never seen such scary folks as the ones in Maycomb.
This was enough to make Jem march to the corner, where he stopped and leaned against the light-pole, watching the gate hanging crazily on its homemade hinge.
“I hope you’ve got it through your head that he’ll kill us each and every one, Dill Harris,” said Jem, when we joined him. “Don’t blame me when he gouges your eyes out. You started it, remember.”
“You’re still scared,” murmured Dill patiently.
Jem wanted Dill to know once and for all that he wasn’t scared of anything: “It’s just that I can’t think of a way to make him come out without him gettin’ us.” Besides, Jem had his little sister to think of.
When he said that, I knew he was afraid. Jem had his little sister to think of the time I dared him to jump off the top of the house: “If I got killed, what’d become of you?” he asked. Then he jumped, landed unhurt, and his sense of responsibility left him until confronted by the Radley Place.
“You gonna run out on a dare?” asked Dill. “If you are, then—”