Atticus allows Jem and Scout to go sit by Miss Rachel’s fish pool with Dill the night before he leaves. They look for Mr. Avery, who lives across the street from Mrs. Dubose and whom they once watched urinate an impressive distance. Dill casually suggests they go for a walk, something nobody does in Maycomb. Jem agrees and assures Scout that they’re not disobeying Atticus. They stroll down the sidewalk and try to send Scout home. They explain that they’re going to look into Boo Radley’s window, since if he kills them now, they’ll just miss school. Jem complains that Scout is acting more and more like a girl, so she feels compelled to join them.
The aside that if Boo kills them now, they’ll miss school, is mean to be humorous for the reader, though it also drives home again how the children see Boo as fundamentally different from them and because of that, see him as dangerous and scary. This also begins to make the case that even though Dill can empathize with Boo at times, he’s not entirely sold on Boo being a real, normal person.
They slip under the wire fence in the back of the Radley Place and creep to the back porch. Jem and Scout boost Dill up so he can look in the window, but he only sees curtains. Jem ignores Scout’s insistence that they leave, creeps onto the porch, and peeks in another window. Scout sees the shadow of a man wearing a hat come toward them and then disappear. Jem and Dill freeze and then they all race back to the fence. They hear a shotgun go off as they reach the wire fence. Jem gets his pants stuck and ditches them in his escape.
This event makes it clear that there truly is some real danger in going onto the Radley property, even if it doesn’t necessarily come from the monster the children imagine Boo to be. This begins to show the possible consequences of holding such prejudiced views: in this case, the morbid curiosity that comes along with fearing someone could actually culminate in major injury or even death.
The children race across the schoolyard and reach the Finches’ back porch before strolling casually to where neighbors are gathered at the Radley front gate. Jem insists that they have to go, or it’ll look suspicious. Miss Maudie tells the children that Nathan Radley shot at a black man in his collard patch and Miss Stephanie notices that Jem isn’t wearing pants. Dill explains that he won Jem’s pants in a game of strip poker, which the adults seem to buy. Scout has no idea what strip poker is. Miss Rachel shrieks about children gambling on her property and Atticus asks if the children were playing cards. Jem says they were playing with matches, which is still bad but better than cards. Exasperated, Atticus bans poker, sends them home, and tells Jem to get his pants back.
It’s clear, given Scout’s confusion and Jem’s answer that they were playing with matches, that none of them have any idea what they’re actually talking about—cards are necessary to play poker of any kind, but in the 1930s, cards weren’t considered a benign game at all. Scout later discovers that Atticus knows exactly what happened, so it’s possible that he’s just trying to save the children some face or trouble by allowing this to slide and letting the humiliation of being in public without pants be its own punishment.
Dill is comforted, but Jem still has no pants. Before they say goodbye, Dill kisses Scout and bawls, asking them to write. On the sleeping porch later, Scout and Jem barely sleep, waiting for Boo Radley to jump them. Jem whispers that he’s going for his pants when they see Atticus’s light go out. Scout tries to talk him out of it, noting that Atticus will whip him but that this is better than getting shot by Nathan Radley. Jem mutters that he doesn’t remember the last time Atticus whipped him and wants to keep it this way. This is beyond Scout’s understanding, but she waits for Jem to return and hopes that Atticus stays asleep. Jem returns a while later with his pants and goes to bed.
Both Scout and Jem exhibit their own versions of maturity here. Scout recognizes the very real danger posed by returning to the Radley property, while Jem wants to look more adult in Atticus’s eyes by avoiding what he believes would be a childish whipping. Jem’s reasoning in particular speaks to how much he respects Atticus and wants to give his father a reason to respect him in return, even if he knows that Atticus is displeased with him.