To Kill a Mockingbird

Page 38

“Go on, please sir.”

“Why, I didn’t think you’d hold it against me,” he said. “I’m disappointed in you—you had that coming and you know it.”

“Didn’t either.”

“Honey, you can’t go around calling people—”

“You ain’t fair,” I said, “you ain’t fair.”

Uncle Jack’s eyebrows went up. “Not fair? How not?”

“You’re real nice, Uncle Jack, an’ I reckon I love you even after what you did, but you don’t understand children much.”

Uncle Jack put his hands on his hips and looked down at me. “And why do I not understand children, Miss Jean Louise? Such conduct as yours required little understanding. It was obstreperous, disorderly, and abusive—”

“You gonna give me a chance to tell you? I don’t mean to sass you, I’m just tryin’ to tell you.”

Uncle Jack sat down on the bed. His eyebrows came together, and he peered up at me from under them. “Proceed,” he said.

I took a deep breath. “Well, in the first place you never stopped to gimme a chance to tell you my side of it—you just lit right into me. When Jem an’ I fuss Atticus doesn’t ever just listen to Jem’s side of it, he hears mine too, an’ in the second place you told me never to use words like that except in extreme provocation, and Francis provocated me enough to knock his block off—”

Uncle Jack scratched his head. “What was your side of it, Scout?”

“Francis called Atticus somethin’, an’ I wasn’t about to take it off him.”

“What did Francis call him?”

“A nigger-lover. I ain’t very sure what it means, but the way Francis said it—tell you one thing right now, Uncle Jack, I’ll be—I swear before God if I’ll sit there and let him say somethin’ about Atticus.”

“He called Atticus that?”

“Yes sir, he did, an’ a lot more. Said Atticus’d be the ruination of the family an’ he let Jem an’ me run wild. . . .”

From the look on Uncle Jack’s face, I thought I was in for it again. When he said, “We’ll see about this,” I knew Francis was in for it. “I’ve a good mind to go out there tonight.”

“Please sir, just let it go. Please.”

“I’ve no intention of letting it go,” he said. “Alexandra should know about this. The idea of—wait’ll 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 one time not to let anything I heard about him make me mad, an’ I’d ruther him think we were fightin’ about somethin’ else instead. Please promise . . .”

“But I don’t like Francis getting away with something like that—”

“He didn’t. You reckon you could tie up my hand? It’s still bleedin’ some.”

“Of course I will, baby. I know of no hand I would be more delighted to tie up. 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 tale about a funny nearsighted old gentleman who had a cat named Hodge, and who counted all the cracks in the sidewalk when he went to town. “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 plunged into another 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 about him men were losing their heads. I guess he was trying to answer my question, but he made no sense whatsoever.

Later, when I was supposed to be in bed, I went down the hall for a drink of water and heard Atticus and Uncle Jack in the livingroom:

“I shall never marry, Atticus.”


“I might have children.”

Atticus said, “You’ve a lot to learn, Jack.”

“I know. Your daughter gave me my first lesson this afternoon. She said I didn’t understand children much and told me why. She was quite right. Atticus, she told me how I should have treated her—oh dear, I’m so sorry I romped on her.”

Atticus chuckled. “She earned it, so don’t feel too remorseful.”

I waited, on tenterhooks, for Uncle Jack to tell Atticus my side of it. But he didn’t. He simply murmured, “Her use of bathroom invective leaves nothing to the imagination. But she doesn’t know the meaning of half she says—she asked me what a whore-lady was . . .”

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