One day Cecil Jacobs announced in the schoolyard that Scout Finch’s daddy defended niggers. I denied it, but told Jem. «What’d he mean sayin’ that?» I asked.
«Nothing,» Jem said. «Ask Atticus, he’ll tell you.»
When I asked Atticus in the evening, he explained that he was defending a Negro, Tom Robinson by name, who was a member of Calpumia’s church. Cal knew his family well and said that they were good folks. But the talk around town was that Atticus shouldn’t do much about defending this man.
«If you shouldn’t be defendin’ him, then why are you doin’ it?»
«For a number of reasons,» said Atticus. «The main one is, if I didn’t I couldn’t hold up my head in town, I couldn’t represent this county in the legislature, I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do something again.»
Then Atticus told me that every lawyer had at least one case in his lifetime that affected him personally. Tom Robinson’s case was such case for him.
«You might hear some ugly talk about it at school, but do one thing for me,» Atticus said, «you just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ’em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change… You have a good head.»
«Atticus, are we going to win it?»
«There’s no reason not to try to win,» Atticus said.
Next day in the schoolyard, when Cecil Jacobs said that my father was a disgrace and that nigger ought to hang, I didn’t fight him. For the first time I walked away from a fight. I didn’t want to let Atticus down. I stayed away from fights for three weeks. Then Christmas catastrophe came.
For Jem and me there were two sides to Christmas. The good side was the tree and Uncle Jack Finch. Every Christmas Eve day we met Uncle Jack at Maycomb Junction, and he spent a week with us.
The other side was the Christmas day at Finch’s Landing with Aunt Alexandra, Uncle Jimmy and Francis. Francis was their grandson whose parents brought him to Finch’s Landing every Christmas. Francis Hancock was a year older than I, and we liked absolutely different things. Aunt Alexandra was Atticus’s sister, but they were absolutely different.
When we met Uncle Jack at the station on Christmas Eve day, he had two long packages with him. I asked him what was in those packages; he said that it was none of my business.
Uncle Jack was a doctor, but he never behaved like a doctor. Whenever he removed a splinter from a foot, for example, he always told us exactly what he was going to do, how much it would hurt, and explained the use of any instruments he used. One Christmas I had a very bad splinter in my foot and didn’t let anybody come near me. When Uncle Jack caught me, he told me a funny story about a preacher who hated going to church so much that every day he stood at his gate in his dressing-gown, smoked and delivered five-minute sermons to any passers-by who desired spiritual comfort. I interrupted him and asked him to let me know when he would pull the splinter out, but Uncle Jack held up a bloody splinter in a pair of tweezers and said that he pulled it out while I was laughing.
At supper that evening when I asked him to pass the damn ham, please, Uncle Jack pointed at me. «See me afterwards, young lady,» he said.
When supper was over, Uncle Jack took me to the living room and talked to me.
«You like words like damn and hell now, don’t you?»
I said I reckoned so.
«Well I don’t,» said Uncle Jack, «not unless there’s extreme provocation connected with ’em. I’ll be here a week, and I don’t want to hear any words like that while I’m here. Scout, you’ll get in trouble if you go around saying things like that. You want to grow up to be a lady, don’t you?»
I said not particularly.
«Of course you do. Now let’s get to the tree.»
We decorated the tree until bedtime. Next morning we found those two long packages under the tree. They were from Atticus, who had written Uncle Jack to get them for us, and they were what we had asked for.
«Don’t point them in the house,» said Atticus, when Jem aimed at a picture on the wall.
He didn’t allow us to take our air rifles to the Landing (I had already begun to think of shooting Francis) and said if we made one wrong move with them, he’d take them away from us for good.
When we arrived at the Landing, Aunt Alexandra kissed Uncle Jack, Francis kissed Uncle Jack, Uncle Jimmy shook hands silently with Uncle Jack. Jem and I gave our presents to Francis, who gave us a present. Jem felt his age and stayed near the adults. I had to stay with our cousin Francis.
After an excellent Christmas dinner (Aunt Alexandra was a very good cook) the adults went to the living room and sat around in a sleepy condition. Jem lay on the floor, and I went to the back yard.
Francis sat beside me on the back steps.
«What’d you get for Christmas?» I asked politely.
«Just what I asked for,» he said. Francis had asked for a pair of knee-pants, a red leather book sack, five shirts and a bow tie.