Miss Maudie said, “Thank you sir, but you’ve got a job of your own over there.” She pointed to our yard.
“You mean the Morphodite?” I asked. “Shoot, we can rake him up in a jiffy.”
Miss Maudie stared down at me, her lips moving silently. Suddenly she put her hands to her head and whooped. When we left her, she was still chuckling.
Jem said he didn’t know what was the matter with her—that was just Miss Maudie.
“You can just take that back, boy!”
This order, given by me to Cecil Jacobs, was the beginning of a rather thin time for Jem and me. My fists were clenched and I was ready to let fly. Atticus had promised me he would wear me out if he ever heard of me fighting any more; I was far too old and too big for such childish things, and the sooner I learned to hold in, the better off everybody would be. I soon forgot.
Cecil Jacobs made me forget. He had announced in the schoolyard the day before that Scout Finch’s daddy defended niggers. I denied it, but told Jem.
“What’d he mean sayin’ that?” I asked.
“Nothing,” Jem said. “Ask Atticus, he’ll tell you.”
“Do you defend niggers, Atticus?” I asked him that evening.
“Of course I do. Don’t say nigger, Scout. That’s common.”
“ ’s what everybody at school says.”
“From now on it’ll be everybody less one—”
“Well if you don’t want me to grow up talkin’ that way, why do you send me to school?”
My father looked at me mildly, amusement in his eyes. Despite our compromise, my campaign to avoid school had continued in one form or another since my first day’s dose of it: the beginning of last September had brought on sinking spells, dizziness, and mild gastric complaints. I went so far as to pay a nickel for the privilege of rubbing my head against the head of Miss Rachel’s cook’s son, who was afflicted with a tremendous ringworm. It didn’t take.
But I was worrying another bone. “Do all lawyers defend n-Negroes, Atticus?”
“Of course they do, Scout.”
“Then why did Cecil say you defended niggers? He made it sound like you were runnin’ a still.”
Atticus sighed. “I’m simply defending a Negro—his name’s Tom Robinson. He lives in that little settlement beyond the town dump. He’s a member of Calpurnia’s church, and Cal knows his family well. She says they’re clean-living folks. Scout, you aren’t old enough to understand some things yet, but there’s been some high talk around town to the effect that I shouldn’t do much about defending this man. It’s a peculiar case—it won’t come to trial until summer session. John Taylor was kind enough to give us a postponement . . .”
“If you shouldn’t be defendin’ him, then why are you doin’ it?”
“For a number of reasons,” said Atticus. “The main one is, if I didn’t I couldn’t hold up my head in town, I couldn’t represent this county in the legislature, I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do something again.”
“You mean if you didn’t defend that man, Jem and me wouldn’t have to mind you any more?”
“That’s about right.”
“Because I could never ask you to mind me again. Scout, simply by the nature of the work, every lawyer gets at least one case in his lifetime that affects him personally. This one’s mine, I guess. You might hear some ugly talk about it at school, but do one thing for me if you will: you just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ’em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change . . . it’s a good one, even if it does resist learning.”
“Atticus, are we going to win it?”
“Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win,” Atticus said.
“You sound like Cousin Ike Finch,” I said. Cousin Ike Finch was Maycomb County’s sole surviving Confederate veteran. He wore a General Hood type beard of which he was inordinately vain. At least once a year Atticus, Jem and I called on him, and I would have to kiss him. It was horrible. Jem and I would listen respectfully to Atticus and Cousin Ike rehash the war. “Tell you, Atticus,” Cousin Ike would say, “the Missouri Compromise was what licked us, but if I had to go through it agin I’d walk every step of the way there an’ every step back jist like I did before an’ furthermore we’d whip ’em this time . . . now in 1864, when Stonewall Jackson came around by—I beg your pardon, young folks. Ol’ Blue Light was in heaven then, God rest his saintly brow. . . .”