Jem says, “She means they’re yappy, Scout.”
“What’s a yap?”
“Aw, tacky. They like fiddlin’ and things like that.”
“Well I do too—”
“Don’t be silly, Jean Louise,” said Aunt Alexandra. “The thing is, you can scrub Walter Cunningham till he shines, you can put him in shoes and a new suit, but he’ll never be like Jem. Besides, there’s a drinking streak in that family a mile wide. Finch women aren’t interested in that sort of people.”
“Aun-ty,” said Jem, “she ain’t nine yet.”
“She may as well learn it now.”
Aunt Alexandra had spoken. I was reminded vividly of the last time she had put her foot down. I never knew why. It was when I was absorbed with plans to visit Calpurnia’s house—I was curious, interested; I wanted to be her “company,” to see how she lived, who her friends were. I might as well have wanted to see the other side of the moon. This time the tactics were different, but Aunt Alexandra’s aim was the same. Perhaps this was why she had come to live with us—to help us choose our friends. I would hold her off as long as I could: “If they’re good folks, then why can’t I be nice to Walter?”
“I didn’t say not to be nice to him. You should be friendly and polite to him, you should be gracious to everybody, dear. But you don’t have to invite him home.”
“What if he was kin to us, Aunty?”
“The fact is that he is not kin to us, but if he were, my answer would be the same.”
“Aunty,” Jem spoke up, “Atticus says you can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ’em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don’t.”
“That’s your father all over again,” said Aunt Alexandra, “and I still say that Jean Louise will not invite Walter Cunningham to this house. If he were her double first cousin once removed he would still not be received in this house unless he comes to see Atticus on business. Now that is that.”
She had said Indeed Not, but this time she would give her reasons: “But I want to play with Walter, Aunty, why can’t I?”
She took off her glasses and stared at me. “I’ll tell you why,” she said. “Because—he—is—trash, that’s why you can’t play with him. I’ll not have you around him, picking up his habits and learning Lord-knows-what. You’re enough of a problem to your father as it is.”
I don’t know what I would have done, but Jem stopped me. He caught me by the shoulders, put his arm around me, and led me sobbing in fury to his bedroom. Atticus heard us and poked his head around the door. “ ’s all right, sir,” Jem said gruffly, “ ’s not anything.” Atticus went away.
“Have a chew, Scout.” Jem dug into his pocket and extracted a Tootsie Roll. It took a few minutes to work the candy into a comfortable wad inside my jaw.
Jem was rearranging the objects on his dresser. His hair stuck up behind and down in front, and I wondered if it would ever look like a man’s—maybe if he shaved it off and started over, his hair would grow back neatly in place. His eyebrows were becoming heavier, and I noticed a new slimness about his body. He was growing taller.
When he looked around, he must have thought I would start crying again, for he said, “Show you something if you won’t tell anybody.” I said what. He unbuttoned his shirt, grinning shyly.
“Well can’t you see it?”
“Well it’s hair.”
“There. Right there.”
He had been a comfort to me, so I said it looked lovely, but I didn’t see anything. “It’s real nice, Jem.”
“Under my arms, too,” he said. “Goin’ out for football next year. Scout, don’t let Aunty aggravate you.”
It seemed only yesterday that he was telling me not to aggravate Aunty.
“You know she’s not used to girls,” said Jem, “leastways, not girls like you. She’s trying to make you a lady. Can’t you take up sewin’ or somethin’?”
“Hell no. She doesn’t like me, that’s all there is to it, and I don’t care. It was her callin’ Walter Cunningham trash that got me goin’, Jem, not what she said about me being a problem to Atticus. We got that all straight one time, I asked him if I was a problem and he said not much of one, at most one that he could always figure out, and not to worry my head a second about botherin’ him. Naw, it was Walter—that boy’s not trash, Jem. He ain’t like the Ewells.”