When Atticus found out about Jem's destruction of Mrs. Dubose's prized camellia bushes, he subjected his son to several forms of punishment. First, he made Jem apologize to the old lady, to go and "have a talk with her." Scout worried that Mrs. Dubose would kill Jem with her Confederate Army pistol, but Atticus knew his son would be safe. When Jem returned, he had cleaned up the camellias and agreed to work on Saturdays to "try to make 'em grow back out." But the worst part of the punishment would be honoring the old lady's request that Jem come and read to her aloud for two hours each afternoon after school and on Saturdays. Jem begged Atticus to not force him to follow through with this agreement, claiming that the inside of Mrs. Dubose's house was "dark and creepy." But Atticus "smiled grimly" and assured Jem that it
"...should appeal to your imagination. Just pretend you're inside the Radley House."
In a fit of anger, Jem retaliates against Mrs. Dubose's abusive remarks by cutting down the green buds on her camellia bushes.
After Jem and Scout return home, it seems as though it is "two geological ages later" that they hear their father enter the house. He calls to Jem with a voice that sounds "like the winter wind." In one hand he holds Scout's broken baton; in the other, plump camellia buds. Atticus asks Jem if he is responsible for the things he holds. Jem replies that he is, explaining that Mrs. Dubose has said that Atticus defends criminals, "n****rs," and trash.
Atticus informs Jem that his behavior towards a "sick old lady" is "inexcusable." He sends Jem to Mrs. Dubose's house to apologize and to have a talk with her. In the meantime, he explains to Scout that the Tom Robinson trial is one that goes "to the essence of a man's conscience" because it touches upon his Christian beliefs. Later, when Jem returns, he explains to Atticus that he told Mrs. Dubose that he is sorry for what did to the camellias, and he offered to work every Saturday to try to make them grow back. Then he adds that Mrs. Dubose wants him to read to her every afternoon after school.
"Atticus, do I have to?"
"But she wants me to do it for a month."
"Then you'll do it for a month."
On the following Monday afternoon, Jem and Scout climb the steep steps into the old house, which has a padded open hallway. Behind the second door on the left lies Mrs. Dubose in a bed covered with quilts. Dutifully, Jem reads from Ivanhoe for an hour. Before her alarm clock goes off, Mrs. Dubose's lips have cords of saliva on them, and Jessie, her caretaker, tells the children that it is time for the old lady's medicine.
At home, Atticus talks with the children, explaining that Mrs. Dubose is very ill. He clarifies why people use labels that disparage or belittle people who respect black people's rights. After she dies, Atticus further explains that Mrs. Dubose has long been a morphine addict, but that she died admirably because she withdrew from her addiction before dying.
Jem had to cut Mrs. Dubose camellia buds because she said something affensive that Atticus was "Lawing for Niggers". This made him mad, and Jem wanted to defend Atticus. He lost his temper by cutting Ms. Dubose flowers. Jem's conequence is that he has to read to her for 30 days. Mrs. Dubose said a stubborn quote due to her morphine addiction.