“I beg your pardon?”
Atticus said, “Don’t pay any attention to her, Jack. She’s trying you out. Cal says she’s been cussing fluently for a week, now.”
Uncle Jack raised his eyebrows and said nothing. I was proceeding on the dim theory, aside from the innate attractiveness of such words, that if Atticus discovered I had picked them up at school he wouldn’t make me go.
But at supper that evening when I asked him to pass the damn ham, please, Uncle Jack pointed at me. “See me afterwards, young lady,” he said.
When supper was over, Uncle Jack went to the livingroom and sat down. He slapped his thighs for me to come sit on his lap. I liked to smell him: he was like a bottle of alcohol and something pleasantly sweet. He pushed back my bangs and looked at me. “You’re more like Atticus than your mother,” he said. “You’re also growing out of your pants a little.”
“I reckon they fit all right.”
“You like words like damn and hell now, don’t you?”
I said I reckoned so.
“Well I don’t,” said Uncle Jack, “not unless there’s extreme provocation connected with ’em. I’ll be here a week, and I don’t want to hear any words like that while I’m here. Scout, you’ll get in trouble if you go around saying things like that. You want to grow up to be a lady, don’t you?”
I said not particularly.
“Of course you do. Now let’s get to the tree.”
We decorated the tree until bedtime, and that night I dreamed of the two long packages for Jem and me. Next morning Jem and I dived for them: they were from Atticus, who had written Uncle Jack to get them for us, and they were what we had asked for.
“Don’t point them in the house,” said Atticus, when Jem aimed at a picture on the wall.
“You’ll have to teach ’em to shoot,” said Uncle Jack.
“That’s your job,” said Atticus. “I merely bowed to the inevitable.”
It took Atticus’s courtroom voice to drag us away from the tree. He declined to let us take our air rifles to the Landing (I had already begun to think of shooting Francis) and said if we made one false move he’d take them away from us for good.
Finch’s Landing consisted of three hundred and sixty-six steps down a high bluff and ending in a jetty. Farther down stream, beyond the bluff, were traces of an old cotton landing, where Finch Negroes had loaded bales and produce, unloaded blocks of ice, flour and sugar, farm equipment, and feminine apparel. A two-rut road ran from the riverside and vanished among dark trees. At the end of the road was a two-storied white house with porches circling it upstairs and downstairs. In his old age, our ancestor Simon Finch had built it to please his nagging wife; but with the porches all resemblance to ordinary houses of its era ended. The internal arrangements of the Finch house were indicative of Simon’s guilelessness and the absolute trust with which he regarded his offspring.
There were six bedrooms upstairs, four for the eight female children, one for Welcome Finch, the sole son, and one for visiting relatives. Simple enough; but the daughters’ rooms could be reached only by one staircase, Welcome’s room and the guestroom only by another. The Daughters’ Staircase was in the ground-floor bedroom of their parents, so Simon always knew the hours of his daughters’ nocturnal comings and goings.
There was a kitchen separate from the rest of the house, tacked onto it by a wooden catwalk; in the back yard was a rusty bell on a pole, used to summon field hands or as a distress signal; a widow’s walk was on the roof, but no widows walked there—from it, Simon oversaw his overseer, watched the river-boats, and gazed into the lives of surrounding landholders.
There went with the house the usual legend about the Yankees: one Finch female, recently engaged, donned her complete trousseau to save it from raiders in the neighborhood; she became stuck in the door to the Daughters’ Staircase but was doused with water and finally pushed through. When we arrived at the Landing, Aunt Alexandra kissed Uncle Jack, Francis kissed Uncle Jack, Uncle Jimmy shook hands silently with Uncle Jack, Jem and I gave our presents to Francis, who gave us a present. Jem felt his age and gravitated to the adults, leaving me to entertain our cousin. Francis was eight and slicked back his hair.
“What’d you get for Christmas?” I asked politely.
“Just what I asked for,” he said. Francis had requested a pair of knee-pants, a red leather booksack, five shirts and an untied bow tie.
“That’s nice,” I lied. “Jem and me got air-rifles, and Jem got a chemistry set—”