To Kill a Mockingbird Read Online by by Harper Lee Page 36 You are reading novel: To Kill a Mockingbird at Page 36 - Free Read Novels

To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 36)

We were surprised one morning to see a cartoon in the Montgomery Advertiser above the caption, “Maycomb’s Finch.” It showed Atticus barefooted and in short pants, chained to a desk: he was diligently writing on a slate while some frivolous-looking girls yelled, “Yoo-hoo!” at him.

“That’s a compliment,” explained Jem. “He spends his time doin’ things that wouldn’t get done if nobody did ’em.”

“Huh?”

In addition to Jem’s newly developed characteristics, he had acquired a maddening air of wisdom.

“Oh, Scout, it’s like reorganizing the tax systems of the counties and things. That kind of thing’s pretty dry to most men.”

“How do you know?”

“Oh, go on and leave me alone. I’m readin’ the paper.”

Jem got his wish. I departed for the kitchen.

While she was shelling peas, Calpurnia suddenly said, “What am I gonna do about you all’s church this Sunday?”

“Nothing, I reckon. Atticus left us collection.”

Calpurnia’s eyes narrowed and I could tell what was going through her mind. “Cal,” I said, “you know we’ll behave. We haven’t done anything in church in years.”

Calpurnia evidently remembered a rainy Sunday when we were both fatherless and teacherless. Left to its own devices, the class tied Eunice Ann Simpson to a chair and placed her in the furnace room. We forgot her, trooped upstairs to church, and were listening quietly to the sermon when a dreadful banging issued from the radiator pipes, persisting until someone investigated and brought forth Eunice Ann saying she didn’t way to play Shadrach any more—Jem Finch said she wouldn’t get burnt if she had enough faith, but it was hot down there.

“Besides, Cal, this isn’t the first time Atticus has left us,” I protested.

“Yeah, but he makes certain your teacher’s gonna be there. I didn’t hear him say this time—reckon he forgot it.” Calpurnia scratched her head. Suddenly she smiled. “How’d you and Mister Jem like to come to church with me tomorrow?”

“Really?”

“How ’bout it?” grinned Calpurnia.

If Calpurnia had ever bathed me roughly before, it was nothing compared to her supervision of that Saturday night’s routine. She made me soap all over twice, drew fresh water in the tub for each rinse; she stuck my head in the basin and washed it with Octagon soap and castile. She had trusted Jem for years, but that night she invaded his privacy and provoked an outburst: “Can’t anybody take a bath in this house without the whole family lookin’?”

Next morning she began earlier than usual, to “go over our clothes.” When Calpurnia stayed overnight with us she slept on a folding cot in the kitchen; that morning it was covered with our Sunday habiliments. She had put so much starch in my dress it came up like a tent when I sat down. She made me wear a petticoat and she wrapped a pink sash tightly around my waist. She went over my patent-leather shoes with a cold biscuit until she saw her face in them.

“It’s like we were goin’ to Mardi Gras,” said Jem. “What’s all this for, Cal?”

“I don’t want anybody sayin’ I don’t look after my children,” she muttered. “Mister Jem, you absolutely can’t wear that tie with that suit. It’s green.”

“ ’smatter with that?”

“Suit’s blue. Can’t you tell?”

“Hee hee,” I howled, “Jem’s color blind.”

His face flushed angrily, but Calpurnia said, “Now you all quit that. You’re gonna go to First Purchase with smiles on your faces.”

First Purchase African M.E. Church was in the Quarters outside the southern town limits, across the old sawmill tracks. It was an ancient paint-peeled frame building, the only church in Maycomb with a steeple and bell, called First Purchase because it was paid for from the first earnings of freed slaves. Negroes worshiped in it on Sundays and white men gambled in it on weekdays.

The churchyard was brick-hard clay, as was the cemetery beside it. If someone died during a dry spell, the body was covered with chunks of ice until rain softened the earth. A few graves in the cemetery were marked with crumbling tombstones; newer ones were outlined with brightly colored glass and broken Coca-Cola bottles. Lightning rods guarding some graves denoted dead who rested uneasily; stumps of burned-out candles stood at the heads of infant graves. It was a happy cemetery.

The warm bittersweet smell of clean Negro welcomed us as we entered the churchyard—Hearts of Love hairdressing mingled with asafoetida, snuff, Hoyt’s Cologne, Brown’s Mule, peppermint, and lilac talcum.

When they saw Jem and me with Calpurnia, the men stepped back and took off their hats; the women crossed their arms at their waists, weekday gestures of respectful attention. They parted and made a small pathway to the church door for us. Calpurnia walked between Jem and me, responding to the greetings of her brightly clad neighbors.

“What you up to, Miss Cal?” said a voice behind us.

Calpurnia’s hands went to our shoulders and we stopped and looked around: standing in the path behind us was a tall Negro woman. Her weight was on one leg; she rested her left elbow in the curve of her hip, pointing at us with upturned palm. She was bullet-headed with strange almond-shaped eyes, straight nose, and an Indian-bow mouth. She seemed seven feet high.

I felt Calpurnia’s hand dig into my shoulder. “What you want, Lula?” she asked, in tones I had never heard her use. She spoke quietly, contemptuously.

“I wants to know why you bringin’ white chillun to nigger church.”

“They’s my comp’ny,” said Calpurnia. Again I thought her voice strange: she was talking like the rest of them.

“Yeah, an’ I reckon you’s comp’ny at the Finch house durin’ the week.”

A murmur ran through the crowd. “Don’t you fret,” Calpurnia whispered to me, but the roses on her hat trembled indignantly.

When Lula came up the pathway toward us Calpurnia said, “Stop right there, nigger.”

Lula stopped, but she said, “You ain’t got no business bringin’ white chillun here—they got their church, we got our’n. It is our church, ain’t it, Miss Cal?”

Calpurnia said, “It’s the same God, ain’t it?”

Jem said, “Let’s go home, Cal, they don’t want us here—”

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