“Will you take me home?”
He almost whispered it, in the voice of a child afraid of the dark.
I put my foot on the top step and stopped. I would lead him through our house, but I would never lead him home.
“Mr. Arthur, bend your arm down here, like that. That’s right, sir.”
I slipped my hand into the crook of his arm.
He had to stoop a little to accommodate me, but if Miss Stephanie Crawford was watching from her upstairs window, she would see Arthur Radley escorting me down the sidewalk, as any gentleman would do.
We came to the street light on the corner, and I wondered how many times Dill had stood there hugging the fat pole, watching, waiting, hoping. I wondered how many times Jem and I had made this journey, but I entered the Radley front gate for the second time in my life. Boo and I walked up the steps to the porch. His fingers found the front doorknob. He gently released my hand, opened the door, went inside, and shut the door behind him. I never saw him again.
Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives. But neighbors give in return. We never put back into the tree what we took out of it: we had given him nothing, and it made me sad.
I turned to go home. Street lights winked down the street all the way to town. I had never seen our neighborhood from this angle. There were Miss Maudie’s, Miss Stephanie’s—there was our house, I could see the porch swing—Miss Rachel’s house was beyond us, plainly visible. I could even see Mrs. Dubose’s.
I looked behind me. To the left of the brown door was a long shuttered window. I walked to it, stood in front of it, and turned around. In daylight, I thought, you could see to the postoffice corner.
Daylight . . . in my mind, the night faded. It was daytime and the neighborhood was busy. Miss Stephanie Crawford crossed the street to tell the latest to Miss Rachel. Miss Maudie bent over her azaleas. It was summertime, and two children scampered down the sidewalk toward a man approaching in the distance. The man waved, and the children raced each other to him.
It was still summertime, and the children came closer. A boy trudged down the sidewalk dragging a fishing-pole behind him. A man stood waiting with his hands on his hips. Summertime, and his children played in the front yard with their friend, enacting a strange little drama of their own invention.
It was fall, and his children fought on the sidewalk in front of Mrs. Dubose’s. The boy helped his sister to her feet, and they made their way home. Fall, and his children trotted to and fro around the corner, the day’s woes and triumphs on their faces. They stopped at an oak tree, delighted, puzzled, apprehensive.
Winter, and his children shivered at the front gate, silhouetted against a blazing house. Winter, and a man walked into the street, dropped his glasses, and shot a dog.
Summer, and he watched his children’s heart break. Autumn again, and Boo’s children needed him.
Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.
The street lights were fuzzy from the fine rain that was falling. As I made my way home, I felt very old, but when I looked at the top of my nose I could see fine misty beads, but looking cross-eyed made me dizzy so I quit. As I made my way home, I thought what a thing to tell Jem tomorrow. He’d be so mad he missed it he wouldn’t speak to me for days. As I made my way home, I thought Jem and I would get grown but there wasn’t much else left for us to learn, except possibly algebra.
I ran up the steps and into the house. Aunt Alexandra had gone to bed, and Atticus’s room was dark. I would see if Jem might be reviving. Atticus was in Jem’s room, sitting by his bed. He was reading a book.
“Is Jem awake yet?”
“Sleeping peacefully. He won’t be awake until morning.”
“Oh. Are you sittin’ up with him?”
“Just for an hour or so. Go to bed, Scout. You’ve had a long day.”
“Well, I think I’ll stay with you for a while.”
“Suit yourself,” said Atticus. It must have been after midnight, and I was puzzled by his amiable acquiescence. He was shrewder than I, however: the moment I sat down I began to feel sleepy.
“Whatcha readin’?” I asked.
Atticus turned the book over. “Something of Jem’s. Called The Gray Ghost.”
I was suddenly awake. “Why’d you get that one?”
“Honey, I don’t know. Just picked it up. One of the few things I haven’t read,” he said pointedly.