To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 7)
My sojourn in the corner was a short one. Saved by the bell, Miss Caroline watched the class file out for lunch. As I was the last to leave, I saw her sink down into her chair and bury her head in her arms. Had her conduct been more friendly toward me, I would have felt sorry for her. She was a pretty little thing.
Catching Walter Cunningham in the schoolyard gave me some pleasure, but when I was rubbing his nose in the dirt Jem came by and told me to stop. “You’re bigger’n he is,” he said.
“He’s as old as you, nearly,” I said. “He made me start off on the wrong foot.”
“Let him go, Scout. Why?”
“He didn’t have any lunch,” I said, and explained my involvement in Walter’s dietary affairs.
Walter had picked himself up and was standing quietly listening to Jem and me. His fists were half cocked, as if expecting an onslaught from both of us. I stomped at him to chase him away, but Jem put out his hand and stopped me. He examined Walter with an air of speculation. “Your daddy Mr. Walter Cunningham from Old Sarum?” he asked, and Walter nodded.
Walter looked as if he had been raised on fish food: his eyes, as blue as Dill Harris’s, were red-rimmed and watery. There was no color in his face except at the tip of his nose, which was moistly pink. He fingered the straps of his overalls, nervously picking at the metal hooks.
Jem suddenly grinned at him. “Come on home to dinner with us, Walter,” he said. “We’d be glad to have you.”
Walter’s face brightened, then darkened.
Jem said, “Our daddy’s a friend of your daddy’s. Scout here, she’s crazy—she won’t fight you any more.”
“I wouldn’t be too certain of that,” I said. Jem’s free dispensation of my pledge irked me, but precious noontime minutes were ticking away. “Yeah Walter, I won’t jump on you again. Don’t you like butterbeans? Our Cal’s a real good cook.”
Walter stood where he was, biting his lip. Jem and I gave up, and we were nearly to the Radley Place when Walter called, “Hey, I’m comin’!”
When Walter caught up with us, Jem made pleasant conversation with him. “A hain’t lives there,” he said cordially, pointing to the Radley house. “Ever hear about him, Walter?”
“Reckon I have,” said Walter. “Almost died first year I come to school and et them pecans—folks say he pizened ’em and put ’em over on the school side of the fence.”
Jem seemed to have little fear of Boo Radley now that Walter and I walked beside him. Indeed, Jem grew boastful: “I went all the way up to the house once,” he said to Walter.
“Anybody who went up to the house once oughta not to still run every time he passes it,” I said to the clouds above.
“And who’s runnin’, Miss Priss?”
“You are, when ain’t anybody with you.”
By the time we reached our front steps Walter had forgotten he was a Cunningham. Jem ran to the kitchen and asked Calpurnia to set an extra plate, we had company. Atticus greeted Walter and began a discussion about crops neither Jem nor I could follow.
“Reason I can’t pass the first grade, Mr. Finch, is I’ve had to stay out ever’ spring an’ help Papa with the choppin’, but there’s another’n at the house now that’s field size.”
“Did you pay a bushel of potatoes for him?” I asked, but Atticus shook his head at me.
While Walter piled food on his plate, he and Atticus talked together like two men, to the wonderment of Jem and me. Atticus was expounding upon farm problems when Walter interrupted to ask if there was any molasses in the house. Atticus summoned Calpurnia, who returned bearing the syrup pitcher. She stood waiting for Walter to help himself. Walter poured syrup on his vegetables and meat with a generous hand. He would probably have poured it into his milk glass had I not asked what the sam hill he was doing.
The silver saucer clattered when he replaced the pitcher, and he quickly put his hands in his lap. Then he ducked his head.
Atticus shook his head at me again. “But he’s gone and drowned his dinner in syrup,” I protested. “He’s poured it all over—”
It was then that Calpurnia requested my presence in the kitchen.
She was furious, and when she was furious Calpurnia’s grammar became erratic. When in tranquility, her grammar was as good as anybody’s in Maycomb. Atticus said Calpurnia had more education than most colored folks.
When she squinted down at me the tiny lines around her eyes deepened. “There’s some folks who don’t eat like us,” she whispered fiercely, “but you ain’t called on to contradict ’em at the table when they don’t. That boy’s yo’ comp’ny and if he wants to eat up the table cloth you let him, you hear?”
“He ain’t company, Cal, he’s just a Cunningham—”
“Hush your mouth! Don’t matter who they are, anybody sets foot in this house’s yo’ comp’ny, and don’t you let me catch you remarkin’ on their ways like you was so high and mighty! Yo’ folks might be better’n the Cunninghams but it don’t count for nothin’ the way you’re disgracin’ ’em—if you can’t act fit to eat at the table you can just set here and eat in the kitchen!”
Calpurnia sent me through the swinging door to the diningroom with a stinging smack. I retrieved my plate and finished dinner in the kitchen, thankful, though, that I was spared the humiliation of facing them again. I told Calpurnia to just wait, I’d fix her: one of these days when she wasn’t looking I’d go off and drown myself in Barker’s Eddy and then she’d be sorry. Besides, I added, she’d already gotten me in trouble once today: she had taught me to write and it was all her fault. “Hush you fussin’,” she said.
Jem and Walter returned to school ahead of me: staying behind to advise Atticus of Calpurnia’s iniquities was worth a solitary sprint past the Radley Place. “She likes Jem better’n she likes me, anyway,” I concluded, and suggested that Atticus lose no time in packing her off.
“Have you ever considered that Jem doesn’t worry her half as much?” Atticus’s voice was flinty. “I’ve no intention of getting rid of her, now or ever. We couldn’t operate a single day without Cal, have you ever thought of that? You think about how much Cal does for you, and you mind her, you hear?”