With that, I had no option but to join them. We thought it was better to go under the high wire fence at the rear of the Radley lot, we stood less chance of being seen. The fence enclosed a large garden and a narrow wooden outhouse.
Jem held up the bottom wire and motioned Dill under it. I followed, and held up the wire for Jem. It was a right squeeze for him. “Don’t make a sound,” he whispered. “Don’t get in a row of collards whatever you do, they’ll wake the dead.”
With this thought in mind, I made perhaps one step per minute. I moved faster when I saw Jem far ahead beckoning in the moonlight. We came to the gate that divided the garden from the back yard. Jem touched it. The gate squeaked.
“Spit on it,” whispered Dill.
“You’ve got us in a box, Jem,” I muttered. “We can’t get out of here so easy.”
“Sh-h. Spit on it, Scout.”
We spat ourselves dry, and Jem opened the gate slowly, lifting it aside and resting it on the fence. We were in the back yard.
The back of the Radley house was less inviting than the front: a ramshackle porch ran the width of the house; there were two doors and two dark windows between the doors. Instead of a column, a rough two-by-four supported one end of the roof. An old Franklin stove sat in a corner of the porch; above it a hat-rack mirror caught the moon and shone eerily.
“Ar-r,” said Jem softly, lifting his foot.
“Chickens,” he breathed.
That we would be obliged to dodge the unseen from all directions was confirmed when Dill ahead of us spelled G-o-d in a whisper. We crept to the side of the house, around to the window with the hanging shutter. The sill was several inches taller than Jem.
“Give you a hand up,” he muttered to Dill. “Wait, though.” Jem grabbed his left wrist and my right wrist, I grabbed my left wrist and Jem’s right wrist, we crouched, and Dill sat on our saddle. We raised him and he caught the window sill.
“Hurry,” Jem whispered, “we can’t last much longer.”
Dill punched my shoulder, and we lowered him to the ground.
“What’d you see?”
“Nothing. Curtains. There’s a little teeny light way off somewhere, though.”
“Let’s get away from here,” breathed Jem. “Let’s go ’round in back again. Sh-h,” he warned me, as I was about to protest.
“Let’s try the back window.”
“Dill, no,” I said.
Dill stopped and let Jem go ahead. When Jem put his foot on the bottom step, the step squeaked. He stood still, then tried his weight by degrees. The step was silent. Jem skipped two steps, put his foot on the porch, heaved himself to it, and teetered a long moment. He regained his balance and dropped to his knees. He crawled to the window, raised his head and looked in.
Then I saw the shadow. It was the shadow of a man with a hat on. At first I thought it was a tree, but there was no wind blowing, and tree-trunks never walked. The back porch was bathed in moonlight, and the shadow, crisp as toast, moved across the porch toward Jem.
Dill saw it next. He put his hands to his face.
When it crossed Jem, Jem saw it. He put his arms over his head and went rigid.
The shadow stopped about a foot beyond Jem. Its arm came out from its side, dropped, and was still. Then it turned and moved back across Jem, walked along the porch and off the side of the house, returning as it had come.
Jem leaped off the porch and galloped toward us. He flung open the gate, danced Dill and me through, and shooed us between two rows of swishing collards. Halfway through the collards I tripped; as I tripped the roar of a shotgun shattered the neighborhood.
Dill and Jem dived beside me. Jem’s breath came in sobs: “Fence by the schoolyard!—hurry, Scout!”
Jem held the bottom wire; Dill and I rolled through and were halfway to the shelter of the schoolyard’s solitary oak when we sensed that Jem was not with us. We ran back and found him struggling in the fence, kicking his pants off to get loose. He ran to the oak tree in his shorts.
Safely behind it, we gave way to numbness, but Jem’s mind was racing: “We gotta get home, they’ll miss us.”
We ran across the schoolyard, crawled under the fence to Deer’s Pasture behind our house, climbed our back fence and were at the back steps before Jem would let us pause to rest.
Respiration normal, the three of us strolled as casually as we could to the front yard. We looked down the street and saw a circle of neighbors at the Radley front gate.
“We better go down there,” said Jem. “They’ll think it’s funny if we don’t show up.”