It's the end of August, and Aunt Alexandra is hosting a missionary tea at the Finch house.
Brain snack: a missionary tea is just a church fund-raising activity to support missionary or charitable projects.
Unusually, she's letting Calpurnia serve, rather than controlling every detail like she usually does.
Doubly unusually, Scout is indoors—Jem is occupied in teaching Dill to swim, and they're skinny-dipping so they won't let her come along.
Scout offers to help Calpurnia serve, and gets to carry in the silver coffee pitcher.
Aunt Alexandra, pleased Scout is (1) wearing a pink dress, and (2) managing to carry something without spilling it, asks her to join them.
Miss Stephanie Crawford asks Scout if she wants to be a lawyer when she grows up, since she's already taken to attending trials.
Scout tries to be polite, but Miss Stephanie keeps needling her.
So finally, Scout replies that she doesn't want to be a lawyer, just a lady.
Scout takes up conversation with Mrs. Grace Merriweather, who had reported to the group on the Mruna tribe, whom J. Grimes Everett is trying to convert to Christianity.
J. Grimes Everett's saintly behavior is apparently Mrs. Merriweather's favorite topic, and she goes on about him at great length.
Eventually Mrs. Merriweather is distracted by a conversation going on next to her.
She makes a comment about the need to "forgive and forget," and to help an unknown woman "lead a Christian life for those children from here on out" (24.36).
Scout asks if she's talking about Mayella Ewell, but Mrs. Merriweather says no, she's talking about Helen Robinson (though she doesn't actually know the woman's name).
Mrs. Merriweather talks about how distressing it is when the colored help is cranky about something, and how it's important to remind them that Jesus was never cranky about anything so they should strive to do the same.
Mrs. Farrow replies that there's nothing white people can do to change the inherent immoral nature of the black man.
Unless they're trying to convert them in Africa, apparently.
Mrs. Merriweather continues that she won't name names, but there are some "good but misguided" (24.47) people in Maycomb who think they're helping but are really just making trouble.
Miss Maudie breaks in to say, "His food doesn't stick going down, does it?" (24.48), and a daydreaming Scout can tell she's very angry, though she doesn't understand why.
Aunt Alexandra smooths things over with more cake, and turns the conversation in less dangerous directions, while also shooting Miss Maudie a thank-you look which Scout notices but again does not understand.
(Translation: Mrs. Merriweather was smack-talking Atticus, and Miss Maudie put her in her place.)
Scout wonders if she'll ever be able to function in this world of ladies whose rules make so little sense to her, especially compared to the male world.
Finally, Atticus comes home. He's not looking too good. In the kitchen, he tells Scout, Aunt Alexandra, and Miss Maudie that Tom Robinson is dead.
He tried to climb over the prison fence right in front of the guards and was shot, no fewer than seventeen times.
After Atticus leaves with Calpurnia to tell Helen, a stunned Aunt Alexandra and Miss Maudie sit in the kitchen with Scout.
Aunt Alexandra is mad at the town that puts the responsibility of doing the right thing on Atticus's because they're too scared to do it themselves.
Miss Maudie says that "the handful of people in this town with background" (24.81) share the principles he's working to uphold, and are grateful to Atticus for fighting on the side of the angels.
Aunt Alexandra composes herself and they go back in to face the tea party, acting as if nothing is wrong. Scout joins them in their effort to keep up a ladylike attitude.