To Kill a Mockingbird
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Little Chuck Little got to his feet. “Let him go, ma’am,” he said. “He’s a mean one, a hard-down mean one. He’s liable to start somethin’, and there’s some little folks here.”
He was among the most diminutive of men, but when Burris Ewell turned toward him, Little Chuck’s right hand went to his pocket. “Watch your step, Burris,” he said. “I’d soon’s kill you as look at you. Now go home.”
Burris seemed to be afraid of a child half his height, and Miss Caroline took advantage of his indecision: “Burris, go home. If you don’t I’ll call the principal,” she said. “I’ll have to report this, anyway.”
The boy snorted and slouched leisurely to the door.
Safely out of range, he turned and shouted: “Report and be damned to ye! Ain’t no snot-nosed slut of a schoolteacher ever born c’n make me do nothin’! You ain’t makin’ me go nowhere, missus. You just remember that, you ain’t makin’ me go nowhere!”
He waited until he was sure she was crying, then he shuffled out of the building.
Soon we were clustered around her desk, trying in our various ways to comfort her. He was a real mean one . . . below the belt . . . you ain’t called on to teach folks like that . . . them ain’t Maycomb’s ways, Miss Caroline, not really . . . now don’t you fret, ma’am. Miss Caroline, why don’t you read us a story? That cat thing was real fine this mornin’. . . .
Miss Caroline smiled, blew her nose, said, “Thank you, darlings,” dispersed us, opened a book and mystified the first grade with a long narrative about a toadfrog that lived in a hall.
When I passed the Radley Place for the fourth time that day—twice at a full gallop—my gloom had deepened to match the house. If the remainder of the school year were as fraught with drama as the first day, perhaps it would be mildly entertaining, but the prospect of spending nine months refraining from reading and writing made me think of running away.
By late afternoon most of my traveling plans were complete; when Jem and I raced each other up the sidewalk to meet Atticus coming home from work, I didn’t give him much of a race. It was our habit to run meet Atticus the moment we saw him round the post office corner in the distance. Atticus seemed to have forgotten my noontime fall from grace; he was full of questions about school. My replies were monosyllabic and he did not press me.
Perhaps Calpurnia sensed that my day had been a grim one: she let me watch her fix supper. “Shut your eyes and open your mouth and I’ll give you a surprise,” she said.
It was not often that she made crackling bread, she said she never had time, but with both of us at school today had been an easy one for her. She knew I loved crackling bread.
“I missed you today,” she said. “The house got so lonesome ’long about two o’clock I had to turn on the radio.”
“Why? Jem’n me ain’t ever in the house unless it’s rainin’.”
“I know,” she said, “but one of you’s always in callin’ distance. I wonder how much of the day I spend just callin’ after you. Well,” she said, getting up from the kitchen chair, “it’s enough time to make a pan of cracklin’ bread, I reckon. You run along now and let me get supper on the table.”
Calpurnia bent down and kissed me. I ran along, wondering what had come over her. She had wanted to make up with me, that was it. She had always been too hard on me, she had at last seen the error of her fractious ways, she was sorry and too stubborn to say so. I was weary from the day’s crimes.
After supper, Atticus sat down with the paper and called, “Scout, ready to read?” The Lord sent me more than I could bear, and I went to the front porch. Atticus followed me.
“Something wrong, Scout?”
I told Atticus I didn’t feel very well and didn’t think I’d go to school any more if it was all right with him.
Atticus sat down in the swing and crossed his legs. His fingers wandered to his watchpocket; he said that was the only way he could think. He waited in amiable silence, and I sought to reinforce my position: “You never went to school and you do all right, so I’ll just stay home too. You can teach me like Grandaddy taught you ’n’ Uncle Jack.”
“No I can’t,” said Atticus. “I have to make a living. Besides, they’d put me in jail if I kept you at home—dose of magnesia for you tonight and school tomorrow.”
“I’m feeling all right, really.”