“Thought so. Now what’s the matter?”
Bit by bit, I told him the day’s misfortunes. “—and she said you taught me all wrong, so we can’t ever read any more, ever. Please don’t send me back, please sir.”
Atticus stood up and walked to the end of the porch. When he completed his examination of the wisteria vine he strolled back to me.
“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—”
“—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Atticus said I had learned many things today, and Miss Caroline had learned several things herself. She had learned not to hand something to a Cunningham, for one thing, but if Walter and I had put ourselves in her shoes we’d have seen it was an honest mistake on her part. We could not expect her to learn all Maycomb’s ways in one day, and we could not hold her responsible when she knew no better.
“I’ll be dogged,” I said. “I didn’t know no better than not to read to her, and she held me responsible—listen Atticus, I don’t have to go to school!” I was bursting with a sudden thought. “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 bend the law a little in special cases. In your case, the law remains rigid. 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 disgrace of Maycomb for three generations. None of them had done an honest day’s work in his recollection. He said that some Christmas, when he was getting rid of the tree, he would take me with him and show me where and how they lived. They were people, but they lived like animals. “They can go to school any time they want to, when they show the faintest symptom of wanting an education,” said Atticus. “There are ways of keeping them in school by force, but it’s silly to force people like the Ewells into a new environment—”
“If I didn’t go to school tomorrow, you’d force me to.”
“Let us leave it at this,” said Atticus dryly. “You, Miss Scout Finch, are the common folk. You must obey the law.” He said that the Ewells were members of an exclusive society made up of Ewells. In certain circumstances the common folk judiciously allowed them certain privileges by the simple method of becoming blind 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.
“Atticus, that’s bad,” I said. In Maycomb County, hunting out of season was a misdemeanor at law, a capital felony in the eyes of the populace.
“It’s against the law, all right,” said my father, “and it’s certainly bad, but when a man spends his relief checks on green whiskey his children have a way of crying from hunger pains. I don’t know of any landowner around here who begrudges those children any game their father can hit.”
“Mr. Ewell shouldn’t do that—”
“Of course he shouldn’t, but he’ll never change his ways. Are you going to take out your disapproval on his children?”
“No sir,” I murmured, and made a final stand: “But if I keep on goin’ to school, we can’t ever read any more. . . .”
“That’s really bothering you, isn’t it?”
When Atticus looked down at me I saw the expression on his face that always made me expect something. “Do you know what a compromise is?” he asked.
“Bending the law?”
“No, an agreement reached by mutual concessions. It works this way,” he said. “If you’ll concede the necessity of going to school, we’ll go on reading every night just as we always have. Is it a bargain?”
“We’ll consider it sealed without the usual formality,” Atticus said, when he saw me preparing 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’m afraid our activities would be received with considerable disapprobation by the more learned authorities.”