Atticus said it would probably be worth ten dollars, knife, chain and all, if it were new. “Did you swap with somebody at school?” he asked.
“Oh, no sir!” Jem pulled out his grandfather’s watch that Atticus let him carry once a week if Jem were careful with it. On the days he carried the watch, Jem walked on eggs. “Atticus, if it’s all right with you, I’d rather have this one instead. Maybe I can fix it.”
When the new wore off his grandfather’s watch, and carrying it became a day’s burdensome task, Jem no longer felt the necessity of ascertaining the hour every five minutes.
He did a fair job, only one spring and two tiny pieces left over, but the watch would not run. “Oh-h,” he sighed, “it’ll never go. Scout—?”
“You reckon we oughta write a letter to whoever’s leaving us these things?”
“That’d be right nice, Jem, we can thank ’em—what’s wrong?”
Jem was holding his ears, shaking his head from side to side. “I don’t get it, I just don’t get it—I don’t know why, Scout . . .” He looked toward the livingroom. “I’ve gotta good mind to tell Atticus—no, I reckon not.”
“I’ll tell him for you.”
“No, don’t do that, Scout. Scout?”
He had been on the verge of telling me something all evening; his face would brighten and he would lean toward me, then he would change his mind. He changed it again. “Oh, nothin’.”
“Here, let’s write a letter.” I pushed a tablet and pencil under his nose.
“Okay. Dear Mister . . .”
“How do you know it’s a man? I bet it’s Miss Maudie—been bettin’ that for a long time.”
“Ar-r, Miss Maudie can’t chew gum—” Jem broke into a grin. “You know, she can talk pretty sometimes. One time I asked her to have a chew and she said no thanks, that—chewing gum cleaved to her palate and rendered her speechless,” said Jem carefully. “Doesn’t that sound nice?”
“Yeah, she can say nice things sometimes. She wouldn’t have a watch and chain anyway.”
“Dear sir,” said Jem. “We appreciate the—no, we appreciate everything which you have put into the tree for us. Yours very truly, Jeremy Atticus Finch.”
“He won’t know who you are if you sign it like that, Jem.”
Jem erased his name and wrote, “Jem Finch.” I signed, “Jean Louise Finch (Scout),” beneath it. Jem put the note in an envelope.
Next morning on the way to school he ran ahead of me and stopped at the tree. Jem was facing me when he looked up, and I saw him go stark white.
I ran to him.
Someone had filled our knot-hole with cement.
“Don’t you cry, now, Scout . . . don’t cry now, don’t you worry—” he muttered at me all the way to school.
When we went home for dinner Jem bolted his food, ran to the porch and stood on the steps. I followed him. “Hasn’t passed by yet,” he said.
Next day Jem repeated his vigil and was rewarded.
“Hidy do, Mr. Nathan,” he said.
“Morning Jem, Scout,” said Mr. Radley, as he went by.
“Mr. Radley,” said Jem.
Mr. Radley turned around.
“Mr. Radley, ah—did you put cement in that hole in that tree down yonder?”
“Yes,” he said. “I filled it up.”
“Why’d you do it, sir?”
“Tree’s dying. You plug ’em with cement when they’re sick. You ought to know that, Jem.”
Jem said nothing more about it until late afternoon. When we passed our tree he gave it a meditative pat on its cement, and remained deep in thought. He seemed to be working himself into a bad humor, so I kept my distance.
As usual, we met Atticus coming home from work that evening. When we were at our steps Jem said, “Atticus, look down yonder at that tree, please sir.”
“What tree, son?”
“The one on the corner of the Radley lot comin’ from school.”
“Is that tree dyin’?”
“Why no, son, I don’t think so. Look at the leaves, they’re all green and full, no brown patches anywhere—”
“It ain’t even sick?”
“That tree’s as healthy as you are, Jem. Why?”
“Mr. Nathan Radley said it was dyin’.”