To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 20)
He stood there until nightfall, and I waited for him. When we went in the house I saw he had been crying; his face was dirty in the right places, but I thought it odd that I had not heard him.
For reasons unfathomable to the most experienced prophets in Maycomb County, autumn turned to winter that year. We had two weeks of the coldest weather since 1885, Atticus said. Mr. Avery said it was written on the Rosetta Stone that when children disobeyed their parents, smoked cigarettes and made war on each other, the seasons would change: Jem and I were burdened with the guilt of contributing to the aberrations of nature, thereby causing unhappiness to our neighbors and discomfort to ourselves.
Old Mrs. Radley died that winter, but her death caused hardly a ripple—the neighborhood seldom saw her, except when she watered her cannas. Jem and I decided that Boo had got her at last, but when Atticus returned from the Radley house he said she died of natural causes, to our disappointment.
“Ask him,” Jem whispered.
“You ask him, you’re the oldest.”
“That’s why you oughta ask him.”
“Atticus,” I said, “did you see Mr. Arthur?”
Atticus looked sternly around his newspaper at me: “I did not.”
Jem restrained me from further questions. He said Atticus was still touchous about us and the Radleys and it wouldn’t do to push him any. Jem had a notion that Atticus thought our activities that night last summer were not solely confined to strip poker. Jem had no firm basis for his idea, he said it was merely a twitch.
Next morning I awoke, looked out the window and nearly died of fright. My screams brought Atticus from his bathroom half-shaven.
“The world’s endin’, Atticus! Please do something—!” I dragged him to the window and pointed.
“No it’s not,” he said. “It’s snowing.”
Jem asked Atticus would it keep up. Jem had never seen snow either, but he knew what it was. Atticus said he didn’t know any more about snow than Jem did. “I think, though, if it’s watery like that, it’ll turn to rain.”
The telephone rang and Atticus left the breakfast table to answer it. “That was Eula May,” he said when he returned. “I quote—‘As it has not snowed in Maycomb County since 1885, there will be no school today.’ ”
Eula May was Maycomb’s leading telephone operator. She was entrusted with issuing public announcements, wedding invitations, setting off the fire siren, and giving first-aid instructions when Dr. Reynolds was away.
When Atticus finally called us to order and bade us look at our plates instead of out the windows, Jem asked, “How do you make a snowman?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” said Atticus. “I don’t want you all to be disappointed, but I doubt if there’ll be enough snow for a snowball, even.”
Calpurnia came in and said she thought it was sticking. When we ran to the back yard, it was covered with a feeble layer of soggy snow.
“We shouldn’t walk about in it,” said Jem. “Look, every step you take’s wasting it.”
I looked back at my mushy footprints. Jem said if we waited until it snowed some more we could scrape it all up for a snowman. I stuck out my tongue and caught a fat flake. It burned.
“Jem, it’s hot!”
“No it ain’t, it’s so cold it burns. Now don’t eat it, Scout, you’re wasting it. Let it come down.”
“But I want to walk in it.”
“I know what, we can go walk over at Miss Maudie’s.”
Jem hopped across the front yard. I followed in his tracks. When we were on the sidewalk in front of Miss Maudie’s, Mr. Avery accosted us. He had a pink face and a big stomach below his belt.
“See what you’ve done?” he said. “Hasn’t snowed in Maycomb since Appomattox. It’s bad children like you makes the seasons change.”
I wondered if Mr. Avery knew how hopefully we had watched last summer for him to repeat his performance, and reflected that if this was our reward, there was something to say for sin. I did not wonder where Mr. Avery gathered his meteorological statistics: they came straight from the Rosetta Stone.
“Jem Finch, you Jem Finch!”
“Miss Maudie’s callin’ you, Jem.”
“You all stay in the middle of the yard. There’s some thrift buried under the snow near the porch. Don’t step on it!”
“Yessum!” called Jem. “It’s beautiful, ain’t it, Miss Maudie?”
“Beautiful my hind foot! If it freezes tonight it’ll carry off all my azaleas!”
Miss Maudie’s old sunhat glistened with snow crystals. She was bending over some small bushes, wrapping them in burlap bags. Jem asked her what she was doing that for.
“Keep ’em warm,” she said.
“How can flowers keep warm? They don’t circulate.”
“I cannot answer that question, Jem Finch. All I know is if it freezes tonight these plants’ll freeze, so you cover ’em up. Is that clear?”
“Yessum. Miss Maudie?”
“Could Scout and me borrow some of your snow?”
“Heavens alive, take it all! There’s an old peach basket under the house, haul it off in that.” Miss Maudie’s eyes narrowed. “Jem Finch, what are you going to do with my snow?”
“You’ll see,” said Jem, and we transferred as much snow as we could from Miss Maudie’s yard to ours, a slushy operation.
“What are we gonna do, Jem?” I asked.
“You’ll see,” he said. “Now get the basket and haul all the snow you can rake up from the back yard to the front. Walk back in your tracks, though,” he cautioned.
“Are we gonna have a snow baby, Jem?”
“No, a real snowman. Gotta work hard, now.”
Jem ran to the back yard, produced the garden hoe and began digging quickly behind the woodpile, placing any worms he found to one side. He went in the house, returned with the laundry hamper, filled it with earth and carried it to the front yard.
When we had five baskets of earth and two baskets of snow, Jem said we were ready to begin.
“Don’t you think this is kind of a mess?” I asked.
“Looks messy now, but it won’t later,” he said.
Jem scooped up an armful of dirt, patted it into a mound on which he added another load, and another until he had constructed a torso.