“A toy one, I reckon.”
“No, a real one. He’s gonna make me some invisible ink, and I’m gonna write to Dill in it.”
Francis asked what was the use of that.
“Well, can’t you just see his face when he gets a letter from me with nothing in it? It’ll drive him nuts.”
Talking to Francis gave me the sensation of settling slowly to the bottom of the ocean. He was the most boring child I ever met. As he lived in Mobile, he could not inform on me to school authorities, but he managed to tell everything he knew to Aunt Alexandra, who in turn unburdened herself to Atticus, who either forgot it or gave me hell, whichever struck his fancy. But the only time I ever heard Atticus speak sharply to anyone was when I once heard him say, “Sister, I do the best I can with them!” It had something to do with my going around in overalls.
Aunt Alexandra was fanatical on the subject of my attire. I could not possibly hope to be a lady if I wore breeches; when I said I could do nothing in a dress, she said I wasn’t supposed to be doing things that required pants. Aunt Alexandra’s vision of my deportment involved playing with small stoves, tea sets, and wearing the Add-A-Pearl necklace she gave me when I was born; furthermore, I should be a ray of sunshine in my father’s lonely life. I suggested that one could be a ray of sunshine in pants just as well, but Aunty said that one had to behave like a sunbeam, that I was born good but had grown progressively worse every year. She hurt my feelings and set my teeth permanently on edge, but when I asked Atticus about it, he said there were already enough sunbeams in the family and to go on about my business, he didn’t mind me much the way I was.
At Christmas dinner, I sat at the little table in the diningroom; Jem and Francis sat with the adults at the dining table. Aunty had continued to isolate me long after Jem and Francis graduated to the big table. I often wondered what she thought I’d do, get up and throw something? I sometimes thought of asking her if she would let me sit at the big table with the rest of them just once, I would prove to her how civilized I could be; after all, I ate at home every day with no major mishaps. When I begged Atticus to use his influence, he said he had none—we were guests, and we sat where she told us to sit. He also said Aunt Alexandra didn’t understand girls much, she’d never had one.
But her cooking made up for everything: three kinds of meat, summer vegetables from her pantry shelves; peach pickles, two kinds of cake and ambrosia constituted a modest Christmas dinner. Afterwards, the adults made for the livingroom and sat around in a dazed condition. Jem lay on the floor, and I went to the back yard. “Put on your coat,” said Atticus dreamily, so I didn’t hear him.
Francis sat beside me on the back steps. “That was the best yet,” I said.
“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’.”