Go Set a Watchman/10
s all there is to it. What's the matter, Jean Louise? You're white as a hain't. Ain't scared'ja, have I?" Ada Belle smirked.
"No," said Jean Louise. "I just don't feel so hot. Think I'll go inside."
She prayed they would not see her knees shaking as she walked across the schoolyard. Inside the girls' bathroom she leaned over a washbasin and vomited.
There was no mistaking it, Albert had stuck out his tongue at her. She was pregnant.
JEAN LOUISE'S GLEANINGS of adult morals and mores to date were few, but enough: it was possible to have a baby without being married, she knew that. Until today she neither knew nor cared how, because the subject was uninteresting, but if someone had a baby without being married, her family was plunged into deep disgrace. She had heard Alexandra go on at length about Disgraces to Families: disgrace involved being sent to Mobile and shut up in a Home away from decent people. One's family was never able to hold up their heads again. Something had happened once, down the street toward Montgomery, and the ladies at the other end of the street whispered and clucked about it for weeks.
She hated herself, she hated everybody. She had done nobody any harm. She was overwhelmed by the unfairness of it: she had meant no harm.
She crept away from the school building, walked around the corner to the house, sneaked to the back yard, climbed the chinaberry tree, and sat there until dinnertime.
Dinner was long and silent. She was barely conscious of Jem and Atticus at the table. After dinner she returned to the tree and sat there until twilight, when she heard Atticus call her.
"Come down from there," he said. She was too miserable to react to the ice in his voice.
"Miss Blunt called and said you left school at recess and didn't come back. Where were you?"
"Up the tree."
"Are you sick? You know if you're sick you're to go straight to Cal."
"Then if you aren't sick what favorable construction can you put upon your behavior? Any excuse for it?"
"Well, let me tell you something. If this happens again it will be Hail Columbia."
It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him, to shift her burden to him, but she was silent.
"You sure you're feeling all right?"
"Then come on in the house."
At the supper table, she wanted to throw her plate fully loaded at Jem, a superior fifteen in adult communication with their father. From time to time Jem would cast scornful glances at her. I'll get you back, don't you worry, she promised him. But I can't now.
Every morning she awakened full of catlike energy and the best intentions, every morning the dull dread returned; every morning she looked for the baby. During the day it was never far from her immediate consciousness, intermittently returning at unsuspected moments, whispering and taunting her.
She looked under baby in the dictionary and found little; she looked under birth and found less. She came upon an ancient book in the house called Devils, Drugs, and Doctors and was frightened to mute hysteria by pictures of medieval labor chairs, delivery instruments, and the information that women were sometimes thrown repeatedly against walls to induce birth. Gradually she assembled data from her friends at school, carefully spacing her questions weeks apart so as not to arouse suspicion.
She avoided Calpurnia for as long as she could, because she thought Cal had lied to her. Cal had told her all girls had it, it was natural as breathing, it was a sign they were growing up, and they had it until they were in their fifties. At the time, Jean Louise was so overcome with despair at the prospect of being too old to enjoy anything when it would finally be over, she refrained from pursuing the subject. Cal had said nothing about babies and French-kissing.
Eventually she sounded out Calpurnia by way of the Owen family. Cal said she didn't want to talk about that Mr. Owen because he wasn't fit to associate with humans. They were going to keep him in jail a long time. Yes, Francine's sister had been sent to Mobile, poor little girl. Francine was at the Baptist Orphans' Home in Abbott County. Jean Louise was not to occupy her head thinking about those folks. Calpurnia was becoming furious, and Jean Louise let matters rest.
When she discovered that she had nine months to go before the baby came, she felt like a reprieved criminal. She counted the weeks by marking them off on a calendar, but she failed to take into consideration that four months had passed before she began her calculations. As the time drew near she spent her days in helpless panic lest she wake up and find a baby in bed with her. They grew in one's stomach, of that she was sure.
The idea had been in the back of her mind for a long time, but she recoiled from it instinctively: the suggestion of a final separation was unbearable to her, but she knew that a day would come when there would be no putting off, no concealment. Although her relations with Atticus and Jem had reached their lowest ebb ("You're downright addled these days, Jean Louise," her father had said. "Can't you concentrate on anything five minutes?"), the thought of any existence without them, no matter how nice heaven was, was untenable. But being sent to Mobile and causing her family to live thereafter with bowed heads was worse: she didn't even wish that on Alexandra.
According to her calculations, the baby would come with October, and on the thirtieth day of September she would kill herself.
AUTUMN COMES LATE in Alabama. On Halloween, even, one may hide porch chairs unencumbered by one's heavy coat. Twilights are long, but darkness comes suddenly; the sky turns from dull orange to blue-black before one can take five steps, and with the light goes the last ray of the day's heat, leaving livingroom weather.
Autumn was her happiest season. There was an expectancy about its sounds and shapes: the distant thunk pomp of leather and young bodies on the practice field near her house made her think of bands and cold Coca-Colas, parched peanuts and the sight of people's breath in the air. There was even something to look forward to when school started--renewals of old feuds and friendships, weeks of learning again what one half forgot in the long summer. Fall was hot-supper time with everything to eat one missed in the morning when too sleepy to enjoy it. Her world was at its best when her time came to leave it.
She was now twelve and in the seventh grade. Her capacity to savor the change from grammar school was limited; she did not revel in going to different classrooms during the day and being taught by different teachers, nor in knowing that she had a hero for a brother somewhere in the remote senior school. Atticus was away in Montgomery in the legislature, Jem might as well have been with him for all she saw of him.
On the thirtieth of September she sat through school and learned nothing. After classes, she went to the library and stayed until the janitor came in and told her to leave. She walked to town slowly, to be with it as long as possible. Daylight was fading when she walked across the old sawmill tracks to the ice-house. Theodore the ice-man said hey to her as she passed, and she walked down the street and looked back at him until he went inside.
The town water-tank was in a field by the ice-house. It was the tallest thing she had ever seen. A tiny ladder ran from the ground to a small porch encircling the tank.
She threw down her books and began climbing. When she had climbed higher than the chinaberry trees in her back yard she looked down, was dizzy, and looked up the rest of the way.
All of Maycomb was beneath her. She thought she could see her house: Calpurnia would be making biscuits, before long Jem would be coming in from football practice. She looked across the square and was sure she saw Henry Clinton come out of the Jitney Jungle carrying an armload of groceries. He put them in the back seat of someone's car. All the streetlights came on at once, and she smiled with sudden delight.
She sat on the narrow porch and dangled her feet over the side. She lost one shoe, then the other. She wondered what kind of funeral she would have: old Mrs. Duff would sit up all night and make people sign a book. Would Jem cry? If so, it would be the first time.
She wondered if she should do a swan dive or just slip off the edge. If she hit the ground on her back perhaps it would not hurt so much. She wondered if they would ever know how much she loved them.
Someone grabbed her. She stiffened when she felt hands pinning her arms to her sides. They were Henry's, stained green from vegetables. Wordlessly he pulled her to her feet and propelled her down the steep ladder.
When they reached the bottom, Henry jerked her hair: "I swear to God if I don't tell Mr. Finch on you this time!" he bawled. "I swear, Scout! Haven't you got any sense playing on this tank? You might have killed yourself!"
He pulled her hair again, taking some with him: he shook her; he unwound his white apron, rolled it into a wad, and threw it viciously at the ground. "Don't you know you could've killed yourself. Haven't you got any sense?"
Jean Louise stared blankly at him.
"Theodore saw you up yonder and ran for Mr. Finch, and when he couldn't find him he got me. God Almighty--!"
When he saw her trembling he knew she had not been playing. He took her lightly by the back of the neck; on the way home he tried to find out what was bothering her, but she would say nothing. He left her in the livingroom and went to the kitchen.
"Baby, what have you been doing?"
When speaking to her, Calpurnia's voice was always a mixture of grudging affection and mild disapproval. "Mr. Hank," she said. "You better go back to the store. Mr. Fred'll be wondering what happened to you."
Calpurnia, resolutely chewing on a sweetgum stick, looked down at Jean Louise. "What have you been up to?" she said. "What were you doing on that water-tank?"
Jean Louise was still.
"If you tell me I won't tell Mr. Finch. What's got you so upset, baby?"
Calpurnia sat down beside her. Calpurnia was past middle age and her body had thickened a little, her kinky hair was graying, and she squinted from myopia. She spread her hands in her lap and examined them. "Ain't anything in this world so bad you can't tell it," she said.
Jean Louise flung herself into Calpurnia's lap. She felt rough hands kneading her shoulders and back.
"I'm going to have a baby!" she sobbed.
Calpurnia pulled her up and wiped her face with an apron corner. "Where in the name of sense did you get a notion like that?"
Between gulps, Jean Louise told her shame, omitting nothing, and begging that she not be sent to Mobile, stretched, or thrown against a wall. "Couldn't I go out to your house? Please, Cal." She begged that Calpurnia see her through in secret; they could take the baby away by night when it came.
"You been totin' all this around with you all this time? Why didn't you say somethin' about it?"
She felt Calpurnia's heavy arm around her, comforting when there was no comfort. She heard Calpurnia muttering:
"... no business fillin' your head full of stories ... kill 'em if I could get my hands on 'em."
"Cal, you will help me, won't you?" she said timidly.
Calpurnia said, "As sure as the sweet Jesus was born, baby. Get this in your head right now, you ain't pregnant and you never were. That ain't the way it is."
"Well if I ain't, then what am I?"
"With all your book learnin', you are the most ignorant child I ever did see ..." Her voice trailed off. "... but I don't reckon you really ever had a chance."
Slowly and deliberately Calpurnia told her the simple story. As Jean Louise listened, her year's collection of revolting information fell into a fresh crystal design; as Calpurnia's husky voice drove out her year's accumulation of terror, Jean Louise felt life return. She breathed deeply and felt cool autumn in her throat. She heard sausages hissing in the kitchen, saw her brother's collection of sports magazines on the livingroom table, smelled the bittersweet odor of Calpurnia's hairdressing.
"Cal," she said. "Why didn't I know all this before?"
Calpurnia frowned and sought an answer. "You're sort of 'hind f'omus, Miss Scout. You sort of haven't caught up with yourself ... now if you'd been raised on a farm you'da known it before you could walk, or if there'd been any women around--if your mamma had lived you'da known it--"
"Yessum. You'da seen things like your daddy kissin' your mamma and you'da asked questions soon as you learned to talk, I bet."
"Did they do all that?"
Calpurnia revealed her gold-crowned molars. "Bless your heart, how do you think you got here? Sure they did."
"Well I don't think they would."
"Baby, you'll have to grow some more before this makes sense to you, but your daddy and your mamma loved each other something fierce, and when you love somebody like that, Miss Scout, why that's what you want to do. That's what everybody wants to do when they love like that. They want to get married, they want to kiss and hug and carry on and have babies all the time."
"I don't think Aunty and Uncle Jimmy do."
Calpurnia picked at her apron. "Miss Scout, different folks get married for different kinds of reasons. Miss Alexandra, I think she got married to keep house." Calpurnia scratched her head. "But that's not anything you need to study about, that's not any of your concern. Don't you study about other folks's business till you take care of your own."
Calpurnia got to her feet. "Right now your business is not to give any heed to what those folks from Old Sarum tell you--you ain't called upon to contradict 'em, just don't pay 'em any attention--and if you want to know somethin', you just run to old Cal."
"Why didn't you tell me all this to start with?"
"'Cause things started for you a mite early, and you didn't seem to take to it so much, and we didn't think you'd take to the rest of it any better. Mr. Finch said wait a while till you got used to the idea, but we didn't count on you finding out so quick and so wrong, Miss Scout."
Jean Louise stretched luxuriously and yawned, delighted with her existence. She was becoming sleepy and was not sure she could stay awake until supper. "We having hot biscuits tonight, Cal?"
She heard the front door slam and Jem clump down the hall. He was headed for the kitchen, where he would open the refrigerator and swallow a quart of milk to quench his football-practice thirst. Before she dozed off, it occurred to her that for the first time in her life Calpurnia had said "Yes ma'am" and "Miss Scout" to her, forms of address usually reserved for the presence of high company. I must be getting old, she thought.
Jem wakened her when he snapped on the overhead light. She saw him walking toward her, the big maroon M standing out starkly on his white sweater.
"Are you awake, Little Three-Eyes?"
"Don't be sarcastic," she said. If Henry or Calpurnia had told on her she would die, but she would take them with her.
She stared at her brother. His hair was damp and he smelled of the strong soap in the schoolhouse locker rooms. Better start it first, she thought.
"Huh, you've been smoking," she said. "Smell it a mile."
"Don't see how you can play in the line anyway. You're too skinny."
Jem smiled and declined her gambit. They've told him, she thought.
Jem patted his M. "Old Never-Miss-'Em-Finch, that's me. Caught seven out of ten this afternoon," he said.
He went to the table and picked up a football magazine, opened it, thumbed through it, and was thumbing through it again when he said: "Scout, if there's ever anything that happens to you or something--you know--something you might not want to tell Atticus about--"
"You know, if you get in trouble at school or anything--you just let me know. I'll take care of you."
Jem sauntered from the livingroom, leaving Jean Louise wide-eyed and wondering if she were fully awake.
SUNLIGHT ROUSED HER. She looked at her watch. Five o'clock. Someone had covered her up during the night. She threw off the spread, put her feet to the floor, and sat gazing at her long legs, startled to find them twenty-six years old. Her loafers were standing at attention where she had stepped out of them twelve hours ago. One sock was lying beside her shoes and she discovered its mate on her foot. She removed the sock and padded softly to the dressing table, where she caught sight of herself in the mirror.
She looked ruefully at her reflection. You have had what Mr. Burgess would call "The 'Orrors," she told it. Golly, I haven't waked up like this for fifteen years. Today is Monday, I've been home since Saturday, I have eleven days of my vacation left, and I wake up with the screamin' meemies. She laughed at herself: well, it was the longest on record--longer than elephants and nothing to show for it.
She picked up a package of cigarettes and three kitchen matches, stuffed the matches behind the cellophane wrapper, and walked quietly into the hall. She opened the wooden door, then the screen door.
On any other day she would have stood barefoot on the wet grass listening to the mockingbirds' early service; she would have pondered over the meaninglessness of silent, austere beauty renewing itself with every sunrise and going ungazed at by half the world. She would have walked beneath yellow-ringed pines rising to a brilliant eastern sky, and her senses would have succumbed to the joy of the morning.
It was waiting to receive her, but she neither looked nor listened. She had two minutes of peace before yesterday returned: nothing can kill the pleasure of one's first cigarette on a new morning. Jean Louise blew smoke carefully into the still air.
She touched yesterday cautiously, then withdrew. I don't dare think about it now, until it goes far enough away. It is weird, she thought, this must be like physical pain. They say when you can't stand it your body is its own defense, you black out and you don't feel any more. The Lord never sends you more than you can bear--
That was an ancient Maycomb phrase employed by its fragile ladies who sat up with corpses, supposed to be profoundly comforting to the bereaved. Very well, she would be comforted. She would sit out her two weeks home in polite detachment, saying nothing, asking nothing, blaming not. She would do as well as could be expected under the circumstances.
She put her arms on her knees and her head in her arms. I wish to God I had caught you both at a jook with two sleazy women--the lawn needs mowing.
Jean Louise walked to the g