It was the end of August. Dill was to leave for Meridian next day. Today he was off with Jem at Barker’s Eddy. Jem was teaching him to swim. I couldn’t come because they said they were going in naked. They had spent two afternoons at the creek, and, so I divided the lonely hours between Calpurnia and Miss Maudie.
Today Aunt Alexandra’s missionary circle gathered in our house. I was in the kitchen with Calpurnia. Mrs. Grace Merriweather was giving a report in the living room on the awful lives of some tribe. After her report, the ladies went to the dining room for refreshments. Calpurnia was serving them. When she opened the door, I could hear their voices: «Why, Alexandra, I never saw such charlotte… just lovely… the preacher’s wife’s…»
They became quiet, and I knew they had all been served. Calpurnia returned and put my mother’s heavy silver coffee jug on a tray. She allowed me to carry it into the dining room: «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.
I took a seat beside Miss Maudie. Miss Stephanie Crawford called from across the room, «Watch going to be when you grow up, Jean Louise? I thought you wanted to be a lawyer, you’ve already begun going to court.» The ladies laughed. Miss Stephanie asked again, «Don’t you want to grow up to be a lawyer?»
Miss Maudie’s hand touched mine and I answered, «No, ma’am, just a lady.»
Miss Stephanie looked at me with doubt, decided that I wasn’t impertinent, and said, «Well, you won’t get very far until you start wearing dresses more often.»
Miss Maudie’s hand touched mine again, and I said nothing.
Mrs. Grace Merriweather sat on my left, and I thought that it would be polite to talk to her. I found a topic of interest to her. «What did you all study this afternoon?» I asked.
Mrs. Merriweather’s large brown eyes always filled with tears when she spoke of the oppressed.
«The poverty… the darkness… the immorality… You know, when the church gave me that trip to the camp grounds, I said to myself, when I go home I’m going to give a course on this tribe and that’s just what I’m doing.»
«Jean Louise,» Mrs. Merriweather said, «you are a fortunate girl. You live in a Christian home with Christian folks in a Christian town. Out there in that land there’s only sin and poverty.»
«Sin and poverty — what was that, Gertrude?» Mrs. Merriweather turned to the lady beside her.
«Oh that. Well, I always say forgive and forget, forgive and forget. The church ought to help her lead a Christian life for those children. Some of the men ought to go out there and tell that preacher to encourage her.»
«Excuse me, Mrs. Merriweather,» I interrupted, «are you all talking about Mayella Ewell?»
«May -? No, child. That darky’s wife. Tom’s wife, Tom-»
Mrs. Merriweather turned back to her neighbor. «I truly believe, Gertrude,» she continued, «If we just let them know that we forgive ’em, that we’ve forgotten it, then this whole thing’ll pass.»
«Ah — Mrs. Merriweather,» I interrupted again, «what’ll pass?»
Mrs. Merriweather turned to me. «Nothing, Jean Louise,» she said, «the cooks and field hands are just dissatisfied, but they’re calming down now — they grumbled all next day after that trial.»
Mrs. Merriweather turned to her neighbor again: «Gertrude, I tell you it just ruins your day to have a displeased darky in the kitchen. Their mouths go down to here. You know what I said to my Sophy, Gertrude? I said, ‘Sophy,’ I said, ‘you simply are not being a Christian today. Jesus Christ never grumbled and complained,’ and you know, it did her good. She took her eyes off that floor and said, ‘Nome, Miz Merriweather, Jesus never grumbled.’ I tell you, Gertrude, it is always good to witness for the Lord.»
Mrs. Gertrude Farrow nodded. «Grace,» she said, «it’s just like I was telling Brother Hutson the other day. ‘Brother Hutson,’ I said, ‘it looks like we’re fighting a losing battle. I said, ‘It doesn’t matter to them one bit. We can educate them till we’re blue in the face, we can try to make Christians out of them till we drop, but there’s no lady safe in her bed these nights.’ He said to me, ‘Mrs. Farrow, I don’t know what we’re coming to down here.’ I told him that was certainly a fact.»
Mrs. Merriweather spoke again. «Gertrude,» she said, «I tell you there are some good people in this town who think they’re doing right, but they’re mistaken. Now I’m not going to say who, but some of ’em in this town thought they were doing the right thing, but they just excited them. That’s all they did. Perhaps, it looked like the right thing to do at the time, I’m sure I don’t know, but displeased… dissatisfied… I tell you if my Sophy’d stayed that way another day I’d have fired her. It’s never entered that woolly head of hers that I only keep her because this depression is on, and she needs her dollar and a quarter every week.»