«That’s nice,» I lied. «Jem and I got air rifles, and Jem got a chemistry set-»
«A toy one, I reckon.»
«No, a real one. He’s gonna make me some invisible ink, and I’m gonna write to Dill in it.»
«Yeah. Don’t say anything about it yet, but we’re gonna get married as soon as we’re big enough. He asked me last summer.»
«You mean that shorty who stays with Miss Rachel every summer?»
«That’s exactly who I mean.»
«I know all about him,» said Francis. And he said that Dill had no home and his relatives passed him from one to another, Miss Rachel, as one of them, kept him every summer.
I didn’t believe him.
Francis said, «You’re very foolish sometimes, Jean Louise. You don’t understand, I reckon.»
«What do you mean?»
«If Uncle Atticus lets you run around with stray dogs, that’s his own business, as Grandma says, so it ain’t your fault. I guess it ain’t your fault if Uncle Atticus is a nigger- lover besides, but Grandma says we’ll never be able to walk the streets of Maycomb again. He’s ruinin’ the family, that’s what he’s doin’.»
Francis rose quickly and ran to the old kitchen that stood in the back yard. At a safe distance he called, «He’s nothin’ but a nigger-lover!»
«He is not!» I roared. I jumped off the steps and ran after him. It was easy to catch Francis.
«I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about, but you better take it back this red hot minute!»
Francis jerked loose and sped into the old kitchen.
«Nigger-lover!» he yelled from the kitchen.
I went back to the steps. I could wait patiently. The rule is — say nothing, and he will become curious and come out. Francis appeared at the kitchen door. «You still mad, Jean Louise?» he asked.
«Nothing to speak of,» I said.
He jumped into the yard and kept his distance. Jem appeared on the porch, looked at us, and went away. Francis climbed the mimosa tree, came down, put his hands in his pockets and walked around the yard. Then he looked at me carefully, decided that I had calmed down, and said softly, «Nigger-lover…»
This time, I cut my knuckle to the bone on his front teeth. I didn’t have time for another blow: Uncle Jack pinned my arms to my sides and said, «Stand still!»
Aunt Alexandra, Atticus, Jem, and Uncle Jimmy had come to the back porch when Francis started yelling.
«Who started this?» said Uncle Jack.
Francis and I pointed at each other. «Grandma,» he cried, «she called me a whore-lady and jumped on me!»
«Is that true, Scout?» said Uncle Jack.
«I reckon so.»
«I told you you’d get in trouble if you used words like that? I told you, didn’t I?»
«Yes sir, but
«Well, you’re in trouble now.»
I turned to run but Uncle Jack was quicker: I was suddenly looking at an ant with a breadcrumb in the grass. Uncle Jack spanked my rear end quite hard. I ran to Atticus for comfort, but he said I had invited it myself and it was high time we went home. I got into the back seat of the car without saying goodbye to anyone, and at home, I ran to my room and slammed the door. Jem tried to say something nice, but I didn’t let him in.
When Uncle Jack knocked on the door, I told him to go away. He said if I talked like that, he’d spank me again, so I was quiet. When he entered the room, I went to a comer and turned my back on him. «Scout,» he said, «do you still hate me?»
«Go on, please sir.»
Uncle Jack said that he had only done what he had promised to do if I continued to use bad words.
I told him that he wasn’t fair because he hadn’t given me a chance to tell him my side of it.
«When Jem an’ I fuss, Atticus doesn’t ever just listen to Jem’s side of it, he hears mine too. And then, you told me never to use words like that except in ex-extreme provocation, and Francis provoked me extremely.»
«What was your side of it, Scout?»
«Francis called Atticus a nigger-lover and a lot more. Said Atticus would be the ruination of the family, and I swear before God, Uncle Jack, if I’ll sit there and let him say somethin’ about Atticus.»
Uncle Jack got very angry with Francis. «I think I’ll go out there tonight. Alexandra should know about this. Wait till I get my hands on that boy…»
«Uncle Jack, please promise me somethin’, please sir. Promise you won’t tell Atticus about this. He — he asked me not to get mad at anything I heard about him, so let him think we were fightin’ about somethin’ else instead. Please promise…»
«But Francis mustn’t get away with something like that-»
«He didn’t. You reckon you could bandage my hand? It’s still bleeding some.»
«Of course I will, baby. There’s no hand I would be more happy to bandage. Will you come this way?»
Uncle Jack gallantly bowed me to the bathroom. While he cleaned and bandaged my knuckles, he entertained me with a funny story. «There now,» he said. «You’ll have a very unladylike scar on your wedding-ring finger.»
«Thank you sir. Uncle Jack?»
«What’s a whore-lady?»
Uncle Jack told me a long tale about an old Prime Minister who sat in the House of Commons and blew feathers in the air and tried to keep them there, when all around him men were losing their heads. I think he was trying to answer my question, but he made no sense whatsoever.
Later, when I got out of bed and went down the hall for a drink of water, I heard Atticus and Uncle Jack in the living room. They discussed the events of the day, and Uncle Jack didn’t tell Atticus my side of it, even when Atticus said, «Scout’s got to learn to keep her head and learn soon. She and Jem will have to learn some ugly things pretty soon. I’m not worried about Jem. He is getting older and can keep his head. A good thing is that Scout more and more follows his example now. But she needs assistance sometimes.»
«Atticus, how bad is this going to be? You haven’t had too much chance to discuss it.»
«It couldn’t be worse, Jack. The only thing we’ve got is a black man’s word against the Ewells’. I don’t expect that the jury’ll take Tom Robinson’s word against the Ewells’.»
«What are you going to do, then?»
«Before I finish, I’m going to jar the jury a bit — I think we’ll have a chance on appeal. I really can’t tell at this stage, Jack. You know what’s going to happen as well as I do, Jack, and I hope and pray that I can get Jem and Scout through it without bitterness, and most of all, without catching Maycomb’s usual disease. I can’t understand why reasonable people go mad when anything involves a Negro… I just hope that Jem and Scout come to me for their answers instead of listening to the town. I hope they trust me enough… Jean Louise?»
My scalp jumped. «Sir?»
«Go to bed.»
I ran to my room and went to bed. Uncle Jack was a prince of a fellow, didn’t let me down. But how did Atticus know that I was listening? Only many years later I understood: he wished that I heard every word he said.