To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 26)
“Grandma’s a wonderful cook,” said Francis. “She’s gonna teach me how.”
“Boys don’t cook.” I giggled at the thought of Jem in an apron.
“Grandma says all men should learn to cook, that men oughta be careful with their wives and wait on ’em when they don’t feel good,” said my cousin.
“I don’t want Dill waitin’ on me,” I said. “I’d rather wait on him.”
“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.”
“What’s the matter with him?” I asked. “Ain’t anything the matter with him.”
“You mean that little runt Grandma says stays with Miss Rachel every summer?”
“That’s exactly who I mean.”
“I know all about him,” said Francis.
“What about him?”
“Grandma says he hasn’t got a home—”
“Has too, he lives in Meridian.”
“—he just gets passed around from relative to relative, and Miss Rachel keeps him every summer.”
“Francis, that’s not so!”
Francis grinned at me. “You’re mighty dumb sometimes, Jean Louise. Guess you don’t know any better, though.”
“What do you mean?”
“If Uncle Atticus lets you run around with stray dogs, that’s his business, like Grandma says, so it ain’t your fault. I guess it ain’t your fault if Uncle Atticus is a nigger-lover besides, but I’m here to tell you it certainly does mortify the rest of the family—”
“Francis, what the hell do you mean?”
“Just what I said. Grandma says it’s bad enough he lets you all run wild, but now he’s turned out a nigger-lover 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 and sprinted down the catwalk to the old kitchen. At a safe distance he called, “He’s nothin’ but a nigger-lover!”
“He is not!” I roared. “I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about, but you better cut it out this red hot minute!”
I leaped off the steps and ran down the catwalk. It was easy to collar Francis. I said take it back quick.
Francis jerked loose and sped into the old kitchen. “Nigger-lover!” he yelled.
When stalking one’s prey, it is best to take one’s time. Say nothing, and as sure as eggs he will become curious and emerge. Francis appeared at the kitchen door. “You still mad, Jean Louise?” he asked tentatively.
“Nothing to speak of,” I said.
Francis came out on the catwalk.
“You gonna take it back, Fra—ancis?” But I was too quick on the draw. Francis shot back into the kitchen, so I retired to the steps. I could wait patiently. I had sat there perhaps five minutes when I heard Aunt Alexandra speak: “Where’s Francis?”
“He’s out yonder in the kitchen.”
“He knows he’s not supposed to play in there.”
Francis came to the door and yelled, “Grandma, she’s got me in here and she won’t let me out!”
“What is all this, Jean Louise?”
I looked up at Aunt Alexandra. “I haven’t got him in there, Aunty, I ain’t holdin’ him.”
“Yes she is,” shouted Francis, “she won’t let me out!”
“Have you all been fussing?”
“Jean Louise got mad at me, Grandma,” called Francis.
“Francis, come out of there! Jean Louise, if I hear another word out of you I’ll tell your father. Did I hear you say hell a while ago?”
“I thought I did. I’d better not hear it again.”
Aunt Alexandra was a back-porch listener. The moment she was out of sight Francis came out head up and grinning. “Don’t you fool with me,” he said.
He jumped into the yard and kept his distance, kicking tufts of grass, turning around occasionally to smile at me. 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 strolled around the yard. “Hah!” he said. I asked him who he thought he was, Uncle Jack? Francis said he reckoned I got told, for me to just sit there and leave him alone.
“I ain’t botherin’ you,” I said.
Francis looked at me carefully, concluded that I had been sufficiently subdued, and crooned softly, “Nigger-lover . . .”
This time, I split my knuckle to the bone on his front teeth. My left impaired, I sailed in with my right, but not for long. Uncle Jack pinned my arms to my sides and said, “Stand still!”
Aunt Alexandra ministered to Francis, wiping his tears away with her handkerchief, rubbing his hair, patting his cheek. 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 bawled, “she called me a w***e-lady and jumped on me!”
“Is that true, Scout?” said Uncle Jack.
“I reckon so.”
When Uncle Jack looked down at me, his features were like Aunt Alexandra’s. “You know 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. Stay there.”
I was debating whether to stand there or run, and tarried in indecision a moment too long: I turned to flee but Uncle Jack was quicker. I found myself suddenly looking at a tiny ant struggling with a bread crumb in the grass.
“I’ll never speak to you again as long as I live! I hate you an’ despise you an’ hope you die tomorrow!” A statement that seemed to encourage Uncle Jack, more than anything. I ran to Atticus for comfort, but he said I had it coming and it was high time we went home. I climbed into the back seat of the car without saying good-bye to anyone, and at home I ran to my room and slammed the door. Jem tried to say something nice, but I wouldn’t let him.
When I surveyed the damage there were only seven or eight red marks, and I was reflecting upon relativity when someone knocked on the door. I asked who it was; Uncle Jack answered.
Uncle Jack said if I talked like that he’d lick me again, so I was quiet. When he entered the room I retreated to a corner and turned my back on him. “Scout,” he said, “do you still hate me?”