«But what about their parents?» asked Miss Caroline.
«Ain’t got no mother,» was the answer, «and their pa’s right quarrelsome.»
Burris Ewell was pleased by the explanation. «Been cornin’ to the first day o’ the first grade her three years now,» he said, pleased with himself. «Reckon if I’m smart this year they’ll promote me to the second…»
When Miss Caroline told him to sit down, I knew that she had made a serious mistake. The boy got angry.
«You try and make me, missus.»
Little Chuck Little got to his feet. «Let him go, ma’am,» he said.
«He’s a mean one, a really mean one. He’ll start somethin’, and there’s some little folks here.»
He was very small, but when Burris Ewell turned toward him, Little Chuck’s right hand went to his pocket. «Watch your step, Burris,» he said. «I’d sooner kill you than look at you. Go home now.»
It seemed that Burris was afraid of a child half his height. Miss Caroline said quickly: «Burris go home or I’ll call the principal. I’ll have to report this, anyway.»
The boy snorted and went unhurriedly to the door.
When he was safely at the door, he turned and shouted: «Report and be damned to ye! No of a schoolteacher can make me do nothin’! You just remember that, missus, you ain’t makin’ me go nowhere!»
He waited until he was sure that she was crying, then he left the building.
We all tried to comfort her in our various ways. He was a real mean one… you needn’t teach folks like that… those ain’t Maycomb’s ways, Miss Caroline, not really… now don’t you worry, ma’am. Miss Caroline, why don’t you read us a story? That cat thing was really fine this mornin’…
Miss Caroline smiled, blew her nose, said, «Thank you, darlings,» opened a book and mystified the first grade with a long story about a frog that lived in a hall.
My thoughts on the way home past the Radley Place were as gloomy as the house. If all the school days were as dramatic as the first day, perhaps it would be entertaining, but I didn’t want to spend nine months without reading and writing.
By late afternoon, when Jem and I ran to meet Atticus coming home from work, I knew what I wanted to do. We usually ran to meet Atticus as soon as we saw him round the post office comer in the distance. It seemed that Atticus had forgotten my noontime bad behavior; he was full of questions about school. I answered in monosyllables and he did not press me.
Calpumia was kind to me that evening: she let me stay in the kitchen while she cooked supper. «Shut your eyes and open your mouth and I’ll give you a surprise,» she said.
She seldom made crackling bread. She usually said that she had no time for it, but with both of us at school today had been an easy day for her. She knew I loved crackling bread.
«I missed you today,» she said and kissed me. «The house got so lonesome that I had to turn on the radio about two o’clock.» I decided that Calpumia was sorry for the way she acted at lunch, but was stubborn and didn’t want to admit it.
After supper, Atticus sat down with the paper and called, «Scout, ready to read?» The Lord sent me more than I could bear, and I went to the front porch. Atticus followed me.
«Something wrong, Scout?»
I told Atticus about the day at school and said, «Miss Caroline said you taught me all wrong, so we can’t ever read any more, ever. Please don’t send me back, please sir.»
Atticus said that Miss Caroline couldn’t learn the ways of Maycomb in one day and we couldn’t hold her responsible for what she didn’t know.
I said, «I didn’t know that it was better not to read to her, and she held me responsible — listen Atticus, I don’t have to go to school!» Suddenly I had an idea. «Burris Ewell, remember? He just goes to school the first day. The truant lady reckons she’s carried out the law when she gets his name on the roll-»
«You can’t do that, Scout,» Atticus said. «Sometimes it’s better to ignore the law a little in special cases. In your case, the law works. So to school you must go.»
«I don’t see why I have to when he doesn’t.»
Atticus said the Ewells had been the shame of Maycomb for three generations. None of them had ever done an honest day’s work. They were people, but they lived like animals. «They can go to school if they want an education. There are ways of keeping them in school by force, but it’s silly to force people like the Ewells into a new environment,» said Atticus.
«If I didn’t go to school tomorrow, you’d force me to.»
«You, Miss Scout Finch, are of the common folk. You must obey the law,» said Atticus dryly. He said that the Ewells were members of an exclusive society made up of Ewells. The common folk didn’t pay attention to some of the Ewells’ activities. They didn’t have to go to school, for one thing. Another thing, Mr. Bob Ewell, Burris’s father, was permitted to hunt and trap out of season.
I knew that hunting out of season was against the law in Maycomb County.
«It’s against the law,» said my father, «but when a man spends his relief checks on green whiskey, his children go hungry. So landowners around here pretend that they don’t know about their father’s hunting activities.»
«Mr. Ewell shouldn’t do that-»
«Of course he shouldn’t, but he’ll never change his ways. But must his children go hungry because of that?»
«No sir,» I murmured. Then I said that if I continued to go to school, we wouldn’t be able to read any more…»
Atticus said, «If you agree that it’s necessary to go to school, we’ll go on reading every night as usual. Is it a bargain?»
«Let’s make our bargain without the usual formality,» Atticus said, when I prepared to spit.
As I opened the front screen door Atticus said, «By the way, Scout, you’d better not say anything at school about our agreement.»
«I have a feeling that if you tell Miss Caroline that we read every night, she’ll get after me, and I wouldn’t want her after me.»