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Go Set a Watchman/16

f the younger boys with whom she had been on eye-gouging terms only a few years ago made self-conscious conversation with her.

When Henry handed her a cup of punch she whispered, "If you want to go on with the seniors or anything I'll be all right."

Henry smiled at her. "You're my date, Scout."

"I know, but you shouldn't feel obliged--"

Henry laughed. "I don't feel obligated to do one thing. I wanted to bring you. Let's dance."

"Okay, but take it easy."

He swung her out to the center of the floor. The public address system blared a slow number, and counting systematically to herself, Jean Louise danced through it with only one mistake.

As the evening wore on, she realized that she was a modest success. Several boys had cut in on her, and when she showed signs of becoming stuck, Henry was never far away.

She was sensible enough to sit out jitterbug numbers and avoid music with a South American taint, and Henry said when she learned to talk and dance at the same time she'd be a hit. She hoped the evening would last forever.

Jem and Irene's entrance caused a stir. Jem had been voted Most Handsome in the senior class, a reasonable assessment: he had his mother's calflike brown eyes, the heavy Finch eyebrows, and even features. Irene was the last word in sophistication. She wore a clinging green taffeta dress and high-heeled shoes, and when she danced dozens of slave bracelets clinked on her wrists. She had cool green eyes and jet hair, a quick smile, and was the type of girl Jem fell for with monotonous regularity.

Jem danced his duty dance with Jean Louise, told her she was doing fine but her nose was shining, to which she replied he had lipstick on his mouth. The number ended and Jem left her with Henry. "I can't believe you're going in the Army in June," she said. It makes you sound so old."

Henry opened his mouth to answer, suddenly goggled, and clasped her to him in a clinch.

"What's the matter, Hank?"

"Don't you think it's hot in here? Let's go out."

Jean Louise tried to break away, but he held her close and danced her out the side door into the night.

"What's eating you, Hank? Have I said something--"

He took her hand and walked her around to the front of the school building.

"Ah--" said Henry. He held both her hands. "Honey," he said. "Look at your front."

"It's pitch dark. I can't see anything."

"Then feel."

She felt, and gasped. Her right false bosom was in the center of her chest and the other was nearly under her left armpit. She jerked them back into position and burst into tears.

She sat down on the schoolhouse steps; Henry sat beside her and put his arm around her shoulders. When she stopped crying she said, "When did you notice it?"

"Just then, I swear."

"Do you suppose they've been laughing at me long?"

Henry shook his head. "I don't think anybody noticed it, Scout. Listen, Jem danced with you just before I did, and if he'd noticed it he'da certainly told you."

"All Jem's got on his mind's Irene. He wouldn't see a cyclone if it was comin' at him." She was crying again, softly. "I'll never be able to face them again."

Henry squeezed her shoulder. "Scout, I swear they slipped when we were dancing. Be logical--if anybody'd seen they'd've told you, you know that."

"No I don't. They'd just whisper and laugh. I know how they do."

"Not the seniors," said Henry sedately. "You've been dancing with the football team ever since Jem came in."

She had. The team, one by one, had requested the pleasure: it was Jem's quiet way of making sure she had a good time.

"Besides," continued Henry, "I don't like 'em anyway. You don't look like yourself in them."

Stung, she said, "You mean I look funny in 'em? I look funny without 'em, too."

"I mean you're just not Jean Louise." He added, "You don't look funny at all, you look fine to me."

"You're nice to say that, Hank, but you're just saying it. I'm all fat in the wrong places, and--"

Henry hooted. "How old are you? Goin' on fifteen still. You haven't even stopped growing yet. Say, you remember Gladys Grierson? Remember how they used to call her 'Happy Butt'?"

"Ha-ank!"

"Well, look at her now."

Gladys Grierson, one of the more delectable ornaments of the senior class, had been afflicted to a greater extent with Jean Louise's complaint. "She's downright slinky now, isn't she?"

Henry said masterfully, "Listen, Scout, they'll worry you the rest of the night. You better take 'em off."

"No. Let's go home."

"We're not going home, we're going back in and have a good time."

"No!"

"Damn it, Scout, I said we're going back, so take 'em off!"

"Take me home, Henry."

With furious, disinterested fingers, Henry reached beneath the neck of her dress, drew out the offending appurtenances, and flung them as far as he could into the night.

"Now shall we go in?"

No one seemed to notice the change in her appearance, which proved, Henry said, that she was vain as a peacock, thinking everybody was looking at her all the time.

The next day was a school day, and the dance broke up at eleven. Henry coasted the Ford down the Finch driveway and brought it to a stop under the chinaberry trees. He and Jean Louise walked to the front door, and before he opened it for her, Henry put his arms around her lightly and kissed her. She felt her cheeks grow hot.

"Once more for good luck," he said.

He kissed her again, shut the door behind her, and she heard him whistling as he ran across the street to his room.

Hungry, she tiptoed down the hall to the kitchen. Passing her father's room, she saw a strip of light under his door. She knocked and went in. Atticus was in bed reading.

"Have a good time?"

"I had a won-derful time," she said. "Atticus?"

"Hm?"

"Do you think Hank's too old for me?"

"What?"

"Nothing. Goodnight."

SHE SAT THROUGH roll call the next morning under the weight of her crush on Henry, coming to attention only when her homeroom teacher announced that there would be a special assembly of the junior and senior schools immediately after the first-period bell.

She went to the auditorium with nothing more on her mind than the prospect of seeing Henry, and weak curiosity as to what Miss Muffett had to say. Probably another war bond drive.

The Maycomb County High School principal was a Mr. Charles Tuffett, who to compensate for his name, habitually wore an expression that made him resemble the Indian on a five-cent piece. The personality of Mr. Tuffett was less inspiring: he was a disappointed man, a frustrated professor of education with no sympathy for young people. He was from the hills of Mississippi, which placed him at a disadvantage in Maycomb: hard-headed hill folk do not understand coastal-plain dreamers, and Mr. Tuffett was no exception. When he came to Maycomb he lost no time in making known to the parents that their children were the most ill-mannered lot he had ever seen, that vocational agriculture was all they were fit to learn, that football and basketball were a waste of time, and that he, happily, had no use for clubs and extracurricular activities because school, like life, was a business proposition.

His student body, from the eldest to the youngest, responded in kind: Mr. Tuffett was tolerated at all times, but ignored most of the time.

Jean Louise sat with her class in the middle section of the auditorium. The senior class sat in the rear across the aisle from her, and it was easy to turn and look at Henry. Jem, sitting beside him, was squint-eyed, miasmal, and mute, as he always was in the morning. When Mr. Tuffett faced them and read some announcements, Jean Louise was grateful that he was killing the first period, which meant no math. She turned around when Mr. Tuffett descended to brass tacks:

In his time he had come across all varieties of students, he said, some of which carried pistols to school, but never in his experience had he witnessed such an act of depravity as greeted him when he came up the front walk this morning.

Jean Louise exchanged glances with her neighbors. "What's eating him?" she whispered. "God knows," answered her neighbor on the left.

Did they realize the enormity of such an outrage? He would have them know this country was at war, that while our boys--our brothers and sons--were fighting and dying for us, someone directed an obscene act of defilement at them, an act the perpetrator of which was beneath contempt.

Jean Louise looked around at a sea of perplexed faces; she could spot guilty parties easily on public occasions, but she was met with blank astonishment on all sides.

Furthermore, before they adjourned, Mr. Tuffett would say he knew who did it, and if the party wished leniency he would appear at his office not later than two o'clock with a statement in writing.

The assembly, suppressing a growl of disgust at Mr. Tuffett's indulgence in the oldest schoolmaster's trick on record, adjourned and followed him to the front of the building.

"He just loves confessions in writing," said Jean Louise to her companions. "He thinks it makes it legal."

"Yeah, he doesn't believe anything unless it's written down," said one.

"Then when it's written down he always believes every word of it," said another.

"Reckon somebody's painted swastikas on the sidewalk?" said a third.

"Been done," said Jean Louise.

They rounded the corner of the building and stood still. Nothing seemed amiss; the pavement was clean, the front doors were in place, the shrubbery had not been disturbed.

Mr. Tuffett waited until the school assembled, then pointed dramatically upward. "Look," he said. "Look, all of you!"

Mr. Tuffett was a patriot. He was chairman of every bond drive, he gave tedious and embarrassing talks in assembly on the War Effort, the project he instigated and viewed with most pride was a tremendous billboard he caused to be erected in the front schoolyard proclaiming that the following graduates of MCHS were in the service of their country. His students viewed Mr. Tuffett's billboard more darkly: he had assessed them twenty-five cents apiece and had taken the credit for it himself.

Following Mr. Tuffett's finger, Jean Louise looked at the billboard. She read, IN THE SERVICE OF THEIR COUNTR. Blocking out the last letter and fluttering softly in the morning breeze were her falsies.

"I assure you," said Mr. Tuffett, "that a signed statement had better be on my desk by two o'clock this afternoon. I was on this campus last night," he said, emphasizing each word. "Now go to your classes."

That was a thought. He always sneaked around at school dances to try and catch people necking. He looked in parked cars and beat the bushes. Maybe he saw them. Why did Hank have to throw 'em?

"He's bluffing," said Jem at recess. "But again he may not be."

They were in the school lunchroom. Jean Louise was trying to behave inconspicuously. The school was near bursting point with laughter, horror, and curiosity.

"For the last time, you all, let me tell him," she said.

"Don't be a gump, Jean Louise. You know how he feels about it. After all, I did it," said Henry.

"Well, for heaven's sake they're mine!"

"I know how Hank feels, Scout," said Jem. "He can't let you do it."

"I fail to see why not."

"For the umpteenth time I just can't, that's all. Don't you see that?"

"No."

"Jean Louise, you were my date last night--"

"I will never understand men as long as I live," she said, no longer in love with Henry. "You don't have to protect me, Hank. I'm not your date this morning. You know you can't tell him."

"That's for sure, Hank," said Jem. "He'd hold back your diploma."

A diploma meant more to Henry than to most of his friends. It was all right for some of them to be expelled; in a pinch, they could go off to a boarding school.

"You cut him to the quick, you know," said Jem. "It'd be just like him to expel you two weeks before you graduate."

"So let me," said Jean Louise. "I'd just love being expelled." She would. School bored her intolerably.

"That's not the point, Scout. You simply can't do it. I could explain--no I couldn't, either," said Henry, as the ramifications of his impetuosity sank in. "I couldn't explain anything."

"All right," said Jem. "The situation is this. Hank, I think he's bluffing, but there's a good chance he isn't. You know he prowls around. He might have heard you all, you were practically under his office window--"

"But his office was dark," said Jean Louise.

"--he loves to sit in the dark. If Scout tells him it'll be rugged, but if you tell him he'll expel you sure as you were born, and you've got to graduate, son."

"Jem," said Jean Louise. "It's lovely to be a philosopher, but we ain't getting anywhere--"

"Your status as I see it, Hank," said Jem, tranquilly ignoring his sister, "is you'll be damned if you do and damned if you don't."

"I--"

"Oh shut up, Scout!" said Henry viciously. "Don't you see I'll never be able to hold up my head again if I let you do it?"

"Cu-u-rr, I never saw such heroes!"

Henry jumped up. "Wait a minute!" he shouted. "Jem, give me the car keys and cover for me in study hall. I'll be back for econ."

Jem said, "Miss Muffett'll hear you leaving, Hank."

"No he won't. I'll push the car to the road. Besides, he'll be in study hall."

It was easy to be absent from a study hall Mr. Tuffett guarded. He took little personal interest in his students, knowing only the more uninhibited by name. Seats were assigned in the library, but if one made clear one's desire not to attend, the ranks closed; the person on the end of one's row set the remaining chair in the hall outside and replaced it when the period was over.

Jean Louise paid no attention to her English teacher, and fifty anxious minutes later was stopped by Henry on the way to her civics class.

"Now listen," he said tersely. "Do exactly as I tell you: you're gonna tell him. Write--" he handed her a pencil and she opened her notebook.

"Write, 'Dear Mr. Tuffett. They look like mine.' Sign your full name. Better copy it over in ink so he'll believe it. Now just before noon you go and give it to him. Got it?"

She nodded. "Just before noon."

When she went to civics she knew it was out. Groups of students were clustered in the hall mumbling and laughing. She endured grins and friendly winks with equanimity--they almost made her feel better. It's grown people who always believe the worst, she thought, confident that her contemporaries believed no more nor less than what Jem and Hank had circulated. But why did they tell it? They'd be kidded forever: they wouldn't care because they were graduating, but she would have to sit there for three more years. No, Miss Muffett would expel her and Atticus would send her off somewhere. Atticus would hit the ceiling when Miss Muffett told him the gory story. Oh well, it'd get Hank out of a mess. He and Jem were awfully gallant for a while but she was right in the end. It was the only thing to do.

She wrote out her confession in ink, and as noon drew near, her spirits flagged. Normally there was nothing she enjoyed more than a row with Miss Muffett, who was so thick one could say almost anything to him provided one was careful to maintain a grave and sorrowful countenance, but today she had no taste for dialectics. She felt nervous and she despised herself for it.

She was faintly queasy when she walked down the hall to his office. He had called it obscene and depraved in assembly; what would he say to the town? Maycomb thrived on rumors, there would be all kinds of stories getting back to Atticus--

Mr. Tuffett was sitting behind his desk, gazing testily at its top. "What do you want?" he said, without looking up.

"I wanted to give you this, sir," she said, backing away instinctively.

Mr. Tuffett took her note, wadded it up without reading it, and threw it at the wastepaper basket.

Jean Louise had the sensation of being floored by a feather.

"Ah, Mr. Tuffett," she said. "I came to tell you like you said. I--I got 'em at Ginsberg's," she added gratuitously. "I didn't mean any--"

Mr. Tuffett looked up, his face reddening with anger. "Don't you stand there and tell me what you didn't mean! Never in my experience have I come across--"

Now she was in for it.

But as she listened she received the impression that Mr. Tuffett's were general remarks directed more to the student body than to her, they were an echo of his early morning feelings. He was concluding with a precis on the unhealthy attitudes engendered by Maycomb County when she interrupted:

"Mr. Tuffett, I just want to say everybody's not to blame for what I did--you don't have to take it out on everybody."

Mr. Tuffett gripped the edge of his desk and said between clenched teeth, "For that bit of impudence you may remain one hour after school, young lady!"

She took a deep breath. "Mr. Tuffett," she said, "I think there's been a mistake. I really don't quite--"

"You don't, do you? Then I'll show you!"

Mr. Tuffett snatched up a thick pile of loose-leaf notebook paper and waved it at her.

"You, Miss, are the hundred and fifth!"

Jean Louise examined the sheets of paper. They were all alike. On each was written "Dear Mr. Tuffett. They look like mine," and signed by every girl in the school from the ninth grade upward.

She stood for a moment in deep thought; unable to think of anything to say to help Mr. Tuffett, she stole quietly out of his office.

"He's a beaten man," said Jem, when they were riding home to dinner. Jean Louise sat between her brother and Henry, who had listened soberly to her account of Mr. Tuffett's state of mind.

"Hank, you are an absolute genius," she said. "What ever gave you the idea?"

Henry inhaled deeply on his cigarette and flicked it out the window. "I consulted my lawyer," he said grandly.

Jean Louise put her hands to her mouth.

"Naturally," said Henry. "You know he's been looking after my business since I was knee-high, so I just went to town and explained it to him. I simply asked him for advice."

"Did Atticus put you up to it?" asked Jean Louise in awe.

"No, he didn't put me up to it. It was my own idea. He balked around for a while, said it was all a question of balancin' the equities or something, that I was in an interesting but tenuous position. He swung around in his chair and looked out the window and said he always tried to put himself in his clients' shoes...." Henry