“Did you tell her?”
“No, I told her about Lord Melbourne.”
“Jack! When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness’ sake. But don’t make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion quicker than adults, and evasion simply muddles ’em. No,” my father mused, “you had the right answer this afternoon, but the wrong reasons. Bad language is a stage all children go through, and it dies with time when they learn they’re not attracting attention with it. Hotheadedness isn’t. Scout’s got to learn to keep her head and learn soon, with what’s in store for her these next few months. She’s coming along, though. Jem’s getting older and she follows his example a good bit now. All she needs is assistance sometimes.”
“Atticus, you’ve never laid a hand on her.”
“I admit that. So far I’ve been able to get by with threats. Jack, she minds me as well as she can. Doesn’t come up to scratch half the time, but she tries.”
“That’s not the answer,” said Uncle Jack.
“No, the answer is she knows I know she tries. That’s what makes the difference. What bothers me is that she and Jem will have to absorb some ugly things pretty soon. I’m not worried about Jem keeping his head, but Scout’d just as soon jump on someone as look at him if her pride’s at stake. . . .”
I waited for Uncle Jack to break his promise. He still didn’t.
“Atticus, how bad is this going to be? You haven’t had too much chance to discuss it.”
“It couldn’t be worse, Jack. The only thing we’ve got is a black man’s word against the Ewells’. The evidence boils down to you-did—I-didn’t. The jury couldn’t possibly be expected to take Tom Robinson’s word against the Ewells’—are you acquainted with the Ewells?”
Uncle Jack said yes, he remembered them. He described them to Atticus, but Atticus said, “You’re a generation off. The present ones are the same, though.”
“What are you going to do, then?”
“Before I’m through, I intend to jar the jury a bit—I think we’ll have a reasonable chance on appeal, though. I really can’t tell at this stage, Jack. You know, I’d hoped to get through life without a case of this kind, but John Taylor pointed at me and said, ‘You’re It.’ ”
“Let this cup pass from you, eh?”
“Right. But do you think I could face my children otherwise? You know what’s going to happen as well as I do, Jack, and I hope and pray I can get Jem and Scout through it without bitterness, and most of all, without catching Maycomb’s usual disease. Why reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up, is something I don’t pretend to understand . . . I just hope that Jem and Scout come to me for their answers instead of listening to the town. I hope they trust me enough. . . . Jean Louise?”
My scalp jumped. I stuck my head around the corner. “Sir?”
“Go to bed.”
I scurried to my room and went to bed. Uncle Jack was a prince of a fellow not to let me down. But I never figured out how Atticus knew I was listening, and it was not until many years later that I realized he wanted me to hear every word he said.
Atticus was feeble: he was nearly fifty. When Jem and I asked him why he was so old, he said he got started late, which we felt reflected upon his abilities and manliness. He was much older than the parents of our school contemporaries, and there was nothing Jem or I could say about him when our classmates said, “My father—”
Jem was football crazy. Atticus was never too tired to play keep-away, but when Jem wanted to tackle him Atticus would say, “I’m too old for that, son.”
Our father didn’t do anything. He worked in an office, not in a drugstore. Atticus did not drive a dump-truck for the county, he was not the sheriff, he did not farm, work in a garage, or do anything that could possibly arouse the admiration of anyone.
Besides that, he wore glasses. He was nearly blind in his left eye, and said left eyes were the tribal curse of the Finches. Whenever he wanted to see something well, he turned his head and looked from his right eye.
He did not do the things our schoolmates’ fathers did: he never went hunting, he did not play poker or fish or drink or smoke. He sat in the livingroom and read.
With these attributes, however, he would not remain as inconspicuous as we wished him to: that year, the school buzzed with talk about him defending Tom Robinson, none of which was complimentary. After my bout with Cecil Jacobs when I committed myself to a policy of cowardice, word got around that Scout Finch wouldn’t fight any more, her daddy wouldn’t let her. This was not entirely correct: I wouldn’t fight publicly for Atticus, but the family was private ground. I would fight anyone from a third cousin upwards tooth and nail. Francis Hancock, for example, knew that.