Atticus corrects Scout and blandly introduces her to Arthur Radley. Embarrassed, Scout runs to Jem’s bedside and notices Boo smile, but Atticus cautions Scout to not touch Jem. Dr. Reynolds returns and greets Boo, and Scout realizes that Boo must also get sick. Dr. Reynolds shoos everyone out and Atticus suggests they go to the porch. Scout leads Boo down to the hall to the porch and the rocking chair in shadow. She sits beside him and Atticus says that this will come to the county court, but Jem is only 13 and it was self-defense. Mr. Tate asks incredulously if Atticus really thinks that Jem killed Mr. Ewell, and he insists that Jem didn’t do it.
Realizing that Boo must get sick, too, and that Dr. Reynolds must’ve treated him at some point opens Scout’s eyes yet again to the fact that even people who seem wildly different from her aren’t really so different—they get sick and they care for their neighbors, just like Scout does. Scout’s choice to attach herself to Boo and make sure he’s comfortable indicates that she’s also learning how to be a polite adult and a mature caretaker.
Scout watches in fascination as Mr. Tate and Atticus argue. She’s not quite sure what exactly they’re fighting for or about. Mr. Tate says that Mr. Ewell fell on his knife, but Atticus insists that they can’t hush this up—it’d be horrible for Jem, and Atticus doesn’t want to have to act one way in public and one way at home. Mr. Tate pulls out a switchblade knife and suggests that Scout was too scared to know what happened. When Atticus pushes back, Mr. Tate says he’s not thinking of Jem and points out that with a broken arm, Jem wouldn’t have been able to tackle and kill an adult.
Mr. Tate’s reasoning for why Jem couldn’t have killed Mr. Ewell is almost exactly the same as Atticus’s case for Tom Robinson’s innocence. This flags for the reader that, at least in some sense, Mr. Tate has the right idea. Atticus wants to do the right thing here by making Jem deal with the aftermath of the attack, but Mr. Tate insists that Atticus isn’t thinking about this properly if he thinks that Jem did anything wrong.
Atticus asks where Mr. Tate got the switchblade. Coolly, Mr. Tate says he confiscated it from a drunk man, and that Mr. Ewell probably found the kitchen knife in the dump. Mr. Tate says that it’s his choice, not Atticus’s, and that Jem didn’t do anything. With his back to everyone on the porch, Mr. Tate says that there’s a black boy dead for no reason and now, the man who’s responsible is dead. He says they need to let the dead bury the dead, and he won’t stand for people making a fuss over the person who saved Scout and Jem. He declares once more that Mr. Ewell fell on his knife and drives away. Atticus asks if Scout can understand that Mr. Ewell fell on his knife. Scout says she agrees—the alternative would be like killing a mockingbird. Atticus thanks Boo for saving his children.
Especially once the adults establish the truth of what happened—that Boo killed Mr. Ewell, probably with his own kitchen knife—it becomes clear that Mr. Tate probably picked up the switchblade off of Mr. Ewell’s body before he sent Dr. Reynolds out to look. Mr. Tate also suggests they have the opportunity to create some semblance of justice for Tom Robinson by deciding on this story that’s not entirely truthful, but that restores the safety of Maycomb.