“Oh child, those poor Mrunas,” she said, and was off. Few other questions would be necessary.
Mrs. Merriweather’s large brown eyes always filled with tears when she considered the oppressed. “Living in that jungle with nobody but J. Grimes Everett,” she said. “Not a white person’ll go near ’em but that saintly J. Grimes Everett.”
Mrs. Merriweather played her voice like an organ; every word she said received its full measure: “The poverty . . . the darkness . . . the immorality—nobody but J. Grimes Everett knows. You know, when the church gave me that trip to the camp grounds J. Grimes Everett said to me—”
“Was he there, ma’am? I thought—”
“Home on leave. J. Grimes Everett said to me, he said, ‘Mrs. Merriweather, you have no conception, no conception of what we are fighting over there.’ That’s what he said to me.”
“I said to him, ‘Mr. Everett,’ I said, ‘the ladies of the Maycomb Alabama Methodist Episcopal Church South are behind you one hundred per cent.’ That’s what I said to him. And you know, right then and there I made a pledge in my heart. I said to myself, when I go home I’m going to give a course on the Mrunas and bring J. Grimes Everett’s message to Maycomb and that’s just what I’m doing.”
When Mrs. Merriweather shook her head, her black curls jiggled. “Jean Louise,” she said, “you are a fortunate girl. You live in a Christian home with Christian folks in a Christian town. Out there in J. Grimes Everett’s land there’s nothing but sin and squalor.”
“Sin and squalor—what was that, Gertrude?” Mrs. Merriweather turned on her chimes for the lady sitting beside her. “Oh that. Well, I always say forgive and forget, forgive and forget. Thing that church ought to do is help her lead a Christian life for those children from here on out. Some of the men ought to go out there and tell that preacher to encourage her.”
“Excuse me, Mrs. Merriweather,” I interrupted, “are you all talking about Mayella Ewell?”
“May—? No, child. That darky’s wife. Tom’s wife, Tom—”
Mrs. Merriweather turned back to her neighbor. “There’s one thing I truly believe, Gertrude,” she continued, “but some people just don’t see it my way. If we just let them know we forgive ’em, that we’ve forgotten it, then this whole thing’ll blow over.”
“Ah—Mrs. Merriweather,” I interrupted once more, “what’ll blow over?”
Again, she turned to me. Mrs. Merriweather was one of those childless adults who find it necessary to assume a different tone of voice when speaking to children. “Nothing, Jean Louise,” she said, in stately largo, “the cooks and field hands are just dissatisfied, but they’re settling down now—they grumbled all next day after that trial.”
Mrs. Merriweather faced Mrs. Farrow: “Gertrude, I tell you there’s nothing more distracting than a sulky darky. Their mouths go down to here. Just ruins your day to have one of ’em in the kitchen. You know what I said to my Sophy, Gertrude? I said, ‘Sophy,’ I said, ‘you simply are not being a Christian today. Jesus Christ never went around grumbling and complaining,’ and you know, it did her good. She took her eyes off that floor and said, ‘Nome, Miz Merriweather, Jesus never went around grumbling’.’ I tell you, Gertrude, you never ought to let an opportunity go by to witness for the Lord.”
I was reminded of the ancient little organ in the chapel at Finch’s Landing. When I was very small, and if I had been very good during the day, Atticus would let me pump its bellows while he picked out a tune with one finger. The last note would linger as long as there was air to sustain it. Mrs. Merriweather had run out of air, I judged, and was replenishing her supply while Mrs. Farrow composed herself to speak.
Mrs. Farrow was a splendidly built woman with pale eyes and narrow feet. She had a fresh permanent wave, and her hair was a mass of tight gray ringlets. She was the second most devout lady in Maycomb. She had a curious habit of prefacing everything she said with a soft sibilant sound.
“S-s-s Grace,” she said, “it’s just like I was telling Brother Hutson the other day. ‘S-s-s Brother Hutson,’ I said, ‘looks like we’re fighting a losing battle, a losing battle.’ I said, ‘S-s-s it doesn’t matter to ’em one bit. We can educate ’em till we’re blue in the face, we can try till we drop to make Christians out of ’em, but there’s no lady safe in her bed these nights.’ He said to me, ‘Mrs. Farrow, I don’t know what we’re coming to down here.’ S-s-s I told him that was certainly a fact.”