To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 42)
“Well if that’s all it is why did Calpurnia dry me up when I asked her what it was?”
Atticus looked pensive. “What’s that again?”
“Well, I asked Calpurnia comin’ from church that day what it was and she said ask you but I forgot to and now I’m askin’ you.”
His paper was now in his lap. “Again, please,” he said.
I told him in detail about our trip to church with Calpurnia. Atticus seemed to enjoy it, but Aunt Alexandra, who was sitting in a corner quietly sewing, put down her embroidery and stared at us.
“You all were coming back from Calpurnia’s church that Sunday?”
Jem said, “Yessum, she took us.”
I remembered something. “Yessum, and she promised me I could come out to her house some afternoon. Atticus, I’ll go next Sunday if it’s all right, can I? Cal said she’d come get me if you were off in the car.”
“You may not.”
Aunt Alexandria said it. I wheeled around, startled, then turned back to Atticus in time to catch his swift glance at her, but it was too late. I said, “I didn’t ask you!”
For a big man, Atticus could get up and down from a chair faster than anyone I ever knew. He was on his feet. “Apologize to your aunt,” he said.
“I didn’t ask her, I asked you—”
Atticus turned his head and pinned me to the wall with his good eye. His voice was deadly: “First, apologize to your aunt.”
“I’m sorry, Aunty,” I muttered.
“Now then,” he said. “Let’s get this clear: you do as Calpurnia tells you, you do as I tell you, and as long as your aunt’s in this house, you will do as she tells you. Understand?”
I understood, pondered a while, and concluded that the only way I could retire with a shred of dignity was to go to the bathroom, where I stayed long enough to make them think I had to go. Returning, I lingered in the hall to hear a fierce discussion going on in the livingroom. Through the door I could see Jem on the sofa with a football magazine in front of his face, his head turning as if its pages contained a live tennis match.
“. . . you’ve got to do something about her,” Aunty was saying. “You’ve let things go on too long, Atticus, too long.”
“I don’t see any harm in letting her go out there. Cal’d look after her there as well as she does here.”
Who was the “her” they were talking about? My heart sank: me. I felt the starched walls of a pink cotton penitentiary closing in on me, and for the second time in my life I thought of running away. Immediately.
“Atticus, it’s all right to be soft-hearted, you’re an easy man, but you have a daughter to think of. A daughter who’s growing up.”
“That’s what I am thinking of.”
“And don’t try to get around it. You’ve got to face it sooner or later and it might as well be tonight. We don’t need her now.”
Atticus’s voice was even: “Alexandra, Calpurnia’s not leaving this house until she wants to. You may think otherwise, but I couldn’t have got along without her all these years. She’s a faithful member of this family and you’ll simply have to accept things the way they are. Besides, sister, I don’t want you working your head off for us—you’ve no reason to do that. We still need Cal as much as we ever did.”
“Besides, I don’t think the children’ve suffered one bit from her having brought them up. If anything, she’s been harder on them in some ways than a mother would have been . . . she’s never let them get away with anything, she’s never indulged them the way most colored nurses do. She tried to bring them up according to her lights, and Cal’s lights are pretty good—and another thing, the children love her.”
I breathed again. It wasn’t me, it was only Calpurnia they were talking about. Revived, I entered the livingroom. Atticus had retreated behind his newspaper and Aunt Alexandra was worrying her embroidery. Punk, punk, punk, her needle broke the taut circle. She stopped, and pulled the cloth tighter: punk-punk-punk. She was furious.
Jem got up and padded across the rug. He motioned me to follow. He led me to his room and closed the door. His face was grave.
“They’ve been fussing, Scout.”
Jem and I fussed a great deal these days, but I had never heard of or seen anyone quarrel with Atticus. It was not a comfortable sight.
“Scout, try not to antagonize Aunty, hear?”
Atticus’s remarks were still rankling, which made me miss the request in Jem’s question. My feathers rose again. “You tryin’ to tell me what to do?”
“Naw, it’s—he’s got a lot on his mind now, without us worrying him.”
“Like what?” Atticus didn’t appear to have anything especially on his mind.
“It’s this Tom Robinson case that’s worryin’ him to death—”
I said Atticus didn’t worry about anything. Besides, the case never bothered us except about once a week and then it didn’t last.
“That’s because you can’t hold something in your mind but a little while,” said Jem. “It’s different with grown folks, we—”
His maddening superiority was unbearable these days. He didn’t want to do anything but read and go off by himself. Still, everything he read he passed along to me, but with this difference: formerly because he thought I’d like it; now, for my edification and instruction.
“Jee crawling hova, Jem! Who do you think you are?”
“Now I mean it, Scout, you antagonize Aunty and I’ll—I’ll spank you.”
With that, I was gone. “You damn morphodite, I’ll kill you!” He was sitting on the bed, and it was easy to grab his front hair and land one on his mouth. He slapped me and I tried another left, but a punch in the stomach sent me sprawling on the floor. It nearly knocked the breath out of me, but it didn’t matter because I knew he was fighting, he was fighting me back. We were still equals.
“Ain’t so high and mighty now, are you!” I screamed, sailing in again. He was still on the bed and I couldn’t get a firm stance, so I threw myself at him as hard as I could, hitting, pulling, pinching, gouging. What had begun as a fist-fight became a brawl. We were still struggling when Atticus separated us.
“That’s all,” he said. “Both of you go to bed right now.”