Jem and Scout had never cared much for their cranky neighbor who often hurled mean-spirited insults their way. It was virtually impossible to avoid her since they had to walk past her house on the way to meet Atticus on his way home from work. The children always managed to hold their tongues around her until the day in Chapter 11 when Mrs. Dubose's words came across as particularly vicious. When she suggested that if Scout didn't start acting more like a lady she would end up
"... waiting on tables at the O. K. Cafe--..."
I was terrified. The O. K. Cafe was a dim organization on the north side of the square...
Jem tried to calm his sister, but when Mrs. Dubose followed with two insults aimed at Atticus--that he was "lawing for niggers" and that he was "no better than the niggers and trash he works for!"--Jem could not contain his anger any longer. After Jem and Scout went to Elmore's Hardware Store to buy her the baton he had promised her, Jem took it from his sister and used it for payback for the remarks Mrs. Dubose had made against Atticus.
He did not begin to calm down until he had cut the tops off every camellia bush Mrs. Dubose owned.