To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 57)
The judge leaned back. “Atticus, let’s get on with these proceedings, and let the record show that the witness has not been sassed, her views to the contrary.”
I wondered if anybody had ever called her “ma’am” or “Miss Mayella” in her life; probably not, as she took offense to routine courtesy. What on earth was her life like? I soon found out.
“You say you’re nineteen,” Atticus resumed. “How many sisters and brothers have you?” He walked from the windows back to the stand.
“Seb’m,” she said, and I wondered if they were all like the specimen I had seen the first day I started to school.
“You the eldest? The oldest?”
“How long has your mother been dead?”
“Don’t know—long time.”
“Did you ever go to school?”
“Read’n’write good as Papa yonder.”
Mayella sounded like a Mr. Jingle in a book I had been reading.
“How long did you go to school?”
“Two year—three year—dunno.”
Slowly but surely I began to see the pattern of Atticus’s questions: from questions that Mr. Gilmer did not deem sufficiently irrelevant or immaterial to object to, Atticus was quietly building up before the jury a picture of the Ewells’ home life. The jury learned the following things: their relief check was far from enough to feed the family, and there was strong suspicion that Papa drank it up anyway—he sometimes went off in the swamp for days and came home sick; the weather was seldom cold enough to require shoes, but when it was, you could make dandy ones from strips of old tires; the family hauled its water in buckets from a spring that ran out at one end of the dump—they kept the surrounding area clear of trash—and it was everybody for himself as far as keeping clean went: if you wanted to wash you hauled your own water; the younger children had perpetual colds and suffered from chronic ground-itch; there was a lady who came around sometimes and asked Mayella why she didn’t stay in school—she wrote down the answer; with two members of the family reading and writing, there was no need for the rest of them to learn—Papa needed them at home.
“Miss Mayella,” said Atticus, in spite of himself, “a nineteen-year-old girl like you must have friends. Who are your friends?”
The witness frowned as if puzzled. “Friends?”
“Yes, don’t you know anyone near your age, or older, or younger? Boys and girls? Just ordinary friends?”
Mayella’s hostility, which had subsided to grudging neutrality, flared again. “You makin’ fun o’me again, Mr. Finch?”
Atticus let her question answer his.
“Do you love your father, Miss Mayella?” was his next.
“Love him, whatcha mean?”
“I mean, is he good to you, is he easy to get along with?”
“He does tollable, ’cept when—”
Mayella looked at her father, who was sitting with his chair tipped against the railing. He sat up straight and waited for her to answer.
“Except when nothin’,” said Mayella. “I said he does tollable.”
Mr. Ewell leaned back again.
“Except when he’s drinking?” asked Atticus so gently that Mayella nodded.
“Does he ever go after you?”
“How you mean?”
“When he’s—riled, has he ever beaten you?”
Mayella looked around, down at the court reporter, up at the judge. “Answer the question, Miss Mayella,” said Judge Taylor.
“My paw’s never touched a hair o’ my head in my life,” she declared firmly. “He never touched me.”
Atticus’s glasses had slipped a little, and he pushed them up on his nose. “We’ve had a good visit, Miss Mayella, and now I guess we’d better get to the case. You say you asked Tom Robinson to come chop up a—what was it?”
“A chiffarobe, a old dresser full of drawers on one side.”
“Was Tom Robinson well known to you?”
“I mean did you know who he was, where he lived?”
Mayella nodded. “I knowed who he was, he passed the house every day.”
“Was this the first time you asked him to come inside the fence?”
Mayella jumped slightly at the question. Atticus was making his slow pilgrimage to the windows, as he had been doing: he would ask a question, then look out, waiting for an answer. He did not see her involuntary jump, but it seemed to me that he knew she had moved. He turned around and raised his eyebrows. “Was—” he began again.
“Yes it was.”
“Didn’t you ever ask him to come inside the fence before?”
She was prepared now. “I did not, I certainly did not.”
“One did not’s enough,” said Atticus serenely. “You never asked him to do odd jobs for you before?”
“I mighta,” conceded Mayella. “There was several niggers around.”
“Can you remember any other occasions?”
“All right, now to what happened. You said Tom Robinson was behind you in the room when you turned around, that right?”
“You said he ‘got you around the neck cussing and saying dirt’—is that right?”
Atticus’s memory had suddenly become accurate. “You say ‘he caught me and choked me and took advantage of me’—is that right?”
“That’s what I said.”
“Do you remember him beating you about the face?”
The witness hesitated.
“You seem sure enough that he choked you. All this time you were fighting back, remember? You ‘kicked and hollered as loud as you could.’ Do you remember him beating you about the face?”
Mayella was silent. She seemed to be trying to get something clear to herself. I thought for a moment she was doing Mr. Heck Tate’s and my trick of pretending there was a person in front of us. She glanced at Mr. Gilmer.
“It’s an easy question, Miss Mayella, so I’ll try again. Do you remember him beating you about the face?” Atticus’s voice had lost its comfortableness; he was speaking in his arid, detached professional voice. “Do you remember him beating you about the face?”
“No, I don’t recollect if he hit me. I mean yes I do, he hit me.”