To Kill a Mockingbird

Page 101

Immediately thereafter, the ladies adjourned for refreshments.

I didn’t know whether to go into the diningroom or stay out. Aunt Alexandra told me to join them for refreshments; it was not necessary that I attend the business part of the meeting, she said it’d bore me. I was wearing my pink Sunday dress, shoes, and a petticoat, and reflected that if I spilled anything Calpurnia would have to wash my dress again for tomorrow. This had been a busy day for her. I decided to stay out.

“Can I help you, Cal?” I asked, wishing to be of some service.

Calpurnia paused in the doorway. “You be still as a mouse in that corner,” she said, “an’ you can help me load up the trays when I come back.”

The gentle hum of ladies’ voices grew louder as she opened the door: “Why, Alexandra, I never saw such charlotte . . . just lovely . . . I never can get my crust like this, never can . . . who’d’ve thought of little dewberry tarts . . . Calpurnia? . . . who’da thought it . . . anybody tell you that the preacher’s wife’s . . . no-oo, well she is, and that other one not walkin’ yet. . . .”

They became quiet, and I knew they had all been served. Calpurnia returned and put my mother’s heavy silver pitcher on a tray. “This coffee pitcher’s a curiosity,” she murmured, “they don’t make ’em these days.”

“Can I carry it in?”

“If you be careful and don’t drop it. Set it down at the end of the table by Miss Alexandra. Down there by the cups’n things. She’s gonna pour.”

I tried pressing my behind against the door as Calpurnia had done, but the door didn’t budge. Grinning, she held it open for me. “Careful now, it’s heavy. Don’t look at it and you won’t spill it.”

My journey was successful: Aunt Alexandra smiled brilliantly. “Stay with us, Jean Louise,” she said. This was a part of her campaign to teach me to be a lady.

It was customary for every circle hostess to invite her neighbors in for refreshments, be they Baptists or Presbyterians, which accounted for the presence of Miss Rachel (sober as a judge), Miss Maudie and Miss Stephanie Crawford. Rather nervous, I took a seat beside Miss Maudie and wondered why ladies put on their hats to go across the street. Ladies in bunches always filled me with vague apprehension and a firm desire to be elsewhere, but this feeling was what Aunt Alexandra called being “spoiled.”

The ladies were cool in fragile pastel prints: most of them were heavily powdered but unrouged; the only lipstick in the room was Tangee Natural. Cutex Natural sparkled on their fingernails, but some of the younger ladies wore Rose. They smelled heavenly. I sat quietly, having conquered my hands by tightly gripping the arms of the chair, and waited for someone to speak to me.

Miss Maudie’s gold bridgework twinkled. “You’re mighty dressed up, Miss Jean Louise,” she said. “Where are your britches today?”

“Under my dress.”

I hadn’t meant to be funny, but the ladies laughed. My cheeks grew hot as I realized my mistake, but Miss Maudie looked gravely down at me. She never laughed at me unless I meant to be funny.

In the sudden silence that followed, Miss Stephanie Crawford called from across the room, “Whatcha going to be when you grow up, Jean Louise? A lawyer?”

“Nome, I hadn’t thought about it . . .” I answered, grateful that Miss Stephanie was kind enough to change the subject. Hurriedly I began choosing my vocation. Nurse? Aviator? “Well . . .”

“Why shoot, I thought you wanted to be a lawyer, you’ve already commenced going to court.”

The ladies laughed again. “That Stephanie’s a card,” somebody said. Miss Stephanie was encouraged to pursue the subject: “Don’t you want to grow up to be a lawyer?”

Miss Maudie’s hand touched mine and I answered mildly enough, “Nome, just a lady.”

Miss Stephanie eyed me suspiciously, decided that I meant no impertinence, and contented herself with, “Well, you won’t get very far until you start wearing dresses more often.”

Miss Maudie’s hand closed tightly on mine, and I said nothing. Its warmth was enough.

Mrs. Grace Merriweather sat on my left, and I felt it would be polite to talk to her. Mr. Merriweather, a faithful Methodist under duress, apparently saw nothing personal in singing, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me . . .” It was the general opinion of Maycomb, however, that Mrs. Merriweather had sobered him up and made a reasonably useful citizen of him. For certainly Mrs. Merriweather was the most devout lady in Maycomb. I searched for a topic of interest to her. “What did you all study this afternoon?” I asked.

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