«Ma’am?» asked Jem.
Atticus spoke. «Where’re your pants, son?»
I sighed. It was no use. In his shorts before God and everybody.
«Ah — Mr. Finch?»
Dill’s eyes widened, his fat cherub face grew rounder. «What is it, Dill?» asked Atticus.
«Ah — I won them from him,» he said vaguely.
«Won them? How?»
Dill said that we had played strip poker by the fish poo, and he had won Jem’s pants.
Jem and I felt easier. The neighbors seemed satisfied: they all stood still. But what was strip poker?
We had no chance to find out: Miss Rachel went off like the town fire siren: «Oo-o-o Jee-sus, Dill Harris! Gambling by my fish pool? I’ll strip-poker you, sir!»
Atticus said, «Just a minute, Miss Rachel, I’ve never heard of ’em doing that before. Were you all playing cards?»
Jem answered quickly, «No sir, just with matches.»
I admired my brother. Matches were dangerous, but cards were fatal.
«Jem, Scout,» said Atticus, «I don’t want to hear of poker in any form again. Go and get your pants, Jem.»
«Don’t worry. Dill,» said Jem, as we ran up the sidewalk, «she ain’t gonna get you. He’ll talk her out of it. That was fast thinkin’, son. Listen… you hear?»
We stopped, and heard Atticus’s voice: «…not serious… they all go through it, Miss Rachel…»
Dill was comforted, but Jem and I weren’t. There was the problem of Jem’s pants.
I couldn’t sleep well that night. We were sleeping on the back porch. Sometime between sleep and wakefulness, I heard Jem’s voice.
«Sleep, Little Three-Eyes?»
«Are you crazy?»
«Sh-h. Atticus’s light’s out.»
In the moonlight, I saw that Jem was standing up.
«I’m goin’ after ’em,» he said.
I sat upright. «You can’t. I won’t let you.»
He was putting on his shirt. «I’ve got to. I — it’s like this, Scout,» he said. «Atticus ain’t ever whipped me since I can remember. I want to keep it that way.»
I tried to talk him out of it, but it was no use. I opened the back door and watched his white shirt disappearing in the darkness. I knew he would go through the backyard and then across the schoolyard and around to the fence. It would take longer, so it was not time to worry yet.
I waited until it was time to worry and listened for Mr. Radley’s shotgun. It didn’t come. Then there he Was, returning to me. His white shirt went over the back fence and slowly grew larger. He came up the back steps, closed the door behind him, and sat on his cot. Wordlessly, he held up his pants. He lay down, and for a while, his cot trembled. Soon he was still. I did not hear any sound.