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11

THERE WAS A time, long ago, when the only peaceful moments of her existence were those from the time she opened her eyes in the morning until she attained full consciousness, a matter of seconds until when finally roused she entered the days wakeful nightmare.

She was in the sixth grade, a grade memorable for the things she learned in class and out. That year the small group of town children were swamped temporarily by a collection of elderly pupils shipped in from Old Sarum because somebody had set fire to the school there. The oldest boy in Miss Blunts sixth grade was nearly nineteen, and he had three contemporaries. There were several girls of sixteen, voluptuous, happy creatures who thought school something of a holiday from chopping cotton and feeding livestock. Miss Blunt was equal to them all: she was as tall as the tallest boy in the class and twice as wide.

Jean Louise took to the Old Sarum newcomers immediately. After holding the classs undivided attention by deliberately introducing Gaston B. Means into a discussion on the natural resources of South Africa, and proving her accuracy with a rubberband gun during recess, she enjoyed the confidence of the Old Sarum crowd.

With rough gentleness the big boys taught her to shoot craps and chew tobacco without losing it. The big girls giggled behind their hands most of the time and whispered among themselves a great deal, but Jean Louise considered them useful when choosing sides for a volleyball match. All in all, it was turning out to be a wonderful year.

Wonderful, until she went home for dinner one day. She did not return to school that afternoon, but spent the afternoon on her bed crying with rage and trying to understand the terrible information she had received from Calpurnia.

The next day she returned to school walking with extreme dignity, not prideful, but encumbered by accoutrements hitherto unfamiliar to her. She was positive everybody knew what was the matter with her, that she was being looked at, but she was puzzled that she had never heard it spoken of before in all her years. Maybe nobody knows anything about it, she thought. If that was so, she had news, all right.

At recess, when George Hill asked her to be It for Hot-Grease-in-the-Kitchen, she shook her head.

I cant do anything any more, she said, and she sat on the steps and watched the boys tumble in the dust. I cant even walk.

When she could bear it no longer, she joined the knot of girls under the live oak in a corner of the schoolyard.

Ada Belle Stevens laughed and made room for her on the long cement bench. Why aintcha playin? she asked.

Dont wanta, said Jean Louise.

Ada Belles eyes narrowed and her white brows twitched. I bet I know whats the matter with you.

What?

Youve got the Curse.

The what?

The Curse. Curse o Eve. If Eve hadnt et the apple we wouldnt have it. You feel bad?

No, said Jean Louise, silently cursing Eve. Howd you know it?

You walk like you was ridin a bay mare, said Ada Belle. Youll get used to it. Ive had it for years.

Ill never get used to it.

It was difficult. When her activities were limited Jean Louise confined herself to gambling for small sums behind a coal pile in the rear of the school building. The inherent dangerousness of the enterprise appealed to her far more than the game itself; she was not good enough at arithmetic to care whether she won or lost, there was no real joy in trying to beat the law of averages, but she derived some pleasure from deceiving Miss Blunt. Her companions were the lazier of the Old Sarum boys, the laziest of whom was one Albert Coningham, a slow thinker to whom Jean Louise had rendered invaluable service during six-weeks tests.

One day, as the taking-in bell rang, Albert, beating coal dust from his breeches, said, Wait a minute, Jean Louise.

She waited. When they were alone, Albert said, I want you to know I made a C-minus this time in geography.

Thats real good, Albert, she said.

I just wanted to thank you.

Youre welcome, Albert.

Albert blushed to his hairline, caught her to him, and kissed her. She felt his wet, warm tongue on her lips, and she drew back. She had never been kissed like that before. Albert let her go and shuffled toward the school building. Jean Louise followed, bemused and faintly annoyed.

She only suffered a kinsman to kiss her on the cheek and then she secretly wiped it off; Atticus kissed her vaguely wherever he happened to land; Jem kissed her not at all. She thought Albert had somehow miscalculated, and she soon forgot.

As the year passed, often as not recess would find her with the girls under the tree, sitting in the middle of the crowd, resigned to her fate, but watching the boys play their seasonal games in the schoolyard. One morning, arriving late to the scene, she found the girls giggling more surreptitiously than usual and she demanded to know the reason.

Its Francine Owen, one said.

Francine Owen? Shes been absent a couple of days, said Jean Louise.

Know why? said Ada Belle.

Nope.

Its her sister. The welfares got em both.

Jean Louise nudged Ada Belle, who made room for her on the bench.

Whats wrong with her?

Shes pregnant, and you know who did it? Her daddy.

Jean Louise said, Whats pregnant?

A groan went up from the circle of girls. Gonna have a baby, stupid, said one.

Jean Louise assimilated the definition and said, But whats her daddy got to do with it?

Ada Belle sighed, Her daddys the daddy.

Jean Louise laughed. Come on, Ada Belle

Thats a fact, Jean Louise. Betcha the only reason Francine aint is she aint started yet.

Started what?

Started ministratin, said Ada Belle impatiently. I bet he did it with both of em.

Did what? Jean Louise was now totally confused.

The girls shrieked. Ada Belle said, You dont know one thing, Jean Louise Finch. First of all you-then if you do it after that, after you start, that is, youll have a solid baby.

Do what, Ada Belle?

Ada Belle glanced up at the circle and winked. Well, first of all it takes a boy. Then he hugs you tight and breathes real hard and then he French-kisses you. Thats when he kisses you and opens his mouth and sticks his tongue in your mouth

A ringing noise in her ears obliterated Ada Belles narrative. She felt the blood leave her face. Her palms grew sweaty and she tried to swallow. She would not leave. If she left they would know it. She stood up, trying to smile, but her lips were trembling. She clamped her mouth shut and clenched her teeth.

an thats all there is to it. Whats the matter, Jean Louise? Youre white as a haint. Aint scaredja, have I? Ada Belle smirked.

No, said Jean Louise. I just dont feel so hot. Think Ill 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 LOUISES 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. Ones 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 didnt come back. Where were you?

Up the tree.

Are you sick? You know if youre sick youre to go straight to Cal.

No sir.

Then if you arent sick what favorable construction can you put upon your behavior? Any excuse for it?

No sir.

Well, let me tell you something. If this happens again it will be Hail Columbia.

Yes sir.

It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him, to shift her burden to him, but she was silent.

You sure youre feeling all right?

Yes sir.

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. Ill get you back, dont you worry, she promised him. But I cant 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 didnt want to talk about that Mr. Owen because he wasnt fit to associate with humans. They were going to keep him in jail a long time. Yes, Francines 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 ones 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 (Youre downright addled these days, Jean Louise, her father had said. Cant 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 didnt 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 ones 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 days 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 peoples 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 someones 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 Henrys, 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 dont tell Mr. Finch on you this time! he bawled. I swear, Scout! Havent 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. Dont you know you couldve killed yourself. Havent you got any sense?

Jean Louise stared blankly at him.

Theodore saw you up yonder and ran for Mr. Finch, and when he couldnt 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, Calpurnias voice was always a mixture of grudging affection and mild disapproval. Mr. Hank, she said. You better go back to the store. Mr. Fredll 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 wont tell Mr. Finch. Whats 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. Aint anything in this world so bad you cant tell it, she said.

Jean Louise flung herself into Calpurnias lap. She felt rough hands kneading her shoulders and back.

Im going to have a baby! she sobbed.

When?

Tomorrow!

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. Couldnt 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 didnt you say somethin about it?

She felt Calpurnias 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, wont you? she said timidly.

Calpurnia said, As sure as the sweet Jesus was born, baby. Get this in your head right now, you aint pregnant and you never were. That aint the way it is.

Well if I aint, 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 dont reckon you really ever had a chance.

Slowly and deliberately Calpurnia told her the simple story. As Jean Louise listened, her years collection of revolting information fell into a fresh crystal design; as Calpurnias husky voice drove out her years 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 brothers collection of sports magazines on the livingroom table, smelled the bittersweet odor of Calpurnias hairdressing.

Cal, she said. Why didnt I know all this before?

Calpurnia frowned and sought an answer. Youre sort of hind fomus, Miss Scout. You sort of havent caught up with yourself now if youd been raised on a farm youda known it before you could walk, or if thered been any women around-if your mamma had lived youda known it

Mamma?

Yessum. Youda seen things like your daddy kissin your mamma and youda 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 dont think they would.

Baby, youll 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 thats what you want to do. Thats 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 dont 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 thats not anything you need to study about, thats not any of your concern. Dont you study about other folkss 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 aint called upon to contradict em, just dont pay em any attention-and if you want to know somethin, you just run to old Cal.

Why didnt you tell me all this to start with?

Cause things started for you a mite early, and you didnt seem to take to it so much, and we didnt think youd take to the rest of it any better. Mr. Finch said wait a while till you got used to the idea, but we didnt 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?

Yes maam.

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 maam 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?

Dont 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, youve been smoking, she said. Smell it a mile.

Havent.

Dont see how you can play in the line anyway. Youre too skinny.

Jem smiled and declined her gambit. Theyve told him, she thought.

Jem patted his M. Old Never-Miss-Em-Finch, thats 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 theres ever anything that happens to you or something-you know-something you might not want to tell Atticus about

Huh?

You know, if you get in trouble at school or anything-you just let me know. Ill take care of you.

Jem sauntered from the livingroom, leaving Jean Louise wide-eyed and wondering if she were fully awake.


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