To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 60)

“Would Miss Mayella talk to you?”

“Yes suh, she talked to me.”

As Tom Robinson gave his testimony, it came to me that Mayella Ewell must have been the loneliest person in the world. She was even lonelier than Boo Radley, who had not been out of the house in twenty-five years. When Atticus asked had she any friends, she seemed not to know what he meant, then she thought he was making fun of her. She was as sad, I thought, as what Jem called a mixed child: white people wouldn’t have anything to do with her because she lived among pigs; Negroes wouldn’t have anything to do with her because she was white. She couldn’t live like Mr. Dolphus Raymond, who preferred the company of Negroes, because she didn’t own a riverbank and she wasn’t from a fine old family. Nobody said, “That’s just their way,” about the Ewells. Maycomb gave them Christmas baskets, welfare money, and the back of its hand. Tom Robinson was probably the only person who was ever decent to her. But she said he took advantage of her, and when she stood up she looked at him as if he were dirt beneath her feet.

“Did you ever,” Atticus interrupted my meditations, “at any time, go on the Ewell property—did you ever set foot on the Ewell property without an express invitation from one of them?”

“No suh, Mr. Finch, I never did. I wouldn’t do that, suh.”

Atticus sometimes said that one way to tell whether a witness was lying or telling the truth was to listen rather than watch: I applied his test—Tom denied it three times in one breath, but quietly, with no hint of whining in his voice, and I found myself believing him in spite of his protesting too much. He seemed to be a respectable Negro, and a respectable Negro would never go up into somebody’s yard of his own volition.

“Tom, what happened to you on the evening of November twenty-first of last year?”

Below us, the spectators drew a collective breath and leaned forward. Behind us, the Negroes did the same.

Tom was a black-velvet Negro, not shiny, but soft black velvet. The whites of his eyes shone in his face, and when he spoke we saw flashes of his teeth. If he had been whole, he would have been a fine specimen of a man.

“Mr. Finch,” he said, “I was goin’ home as usual that evenin’, an’ when I passed the Ewell place Miss Mayella were on the porch, like she said she were. It seemed real quiet like, an’ I didn’t quite know why. I was studyin’ why, just passin’ by, when she says for me to come there and help her a minute. Well, I went inside the fence an’ looked around for some kindlin’ to work on, but I didn’t see none, and she says, ‘Naw, I got somethin’ for you to do in the house. Th’ old door’s off its hinges an’ fall’s comin’ on pretty fast.’ I said you got a screwdriver, Miss Mayella? She said she sho’ had. Well, I went up the steps an’ she motioned me to come inside, and I went in the front room an’ looked at the door. I said Miss Mayella, this door look all right. I pulled it back’n forth and those hinges was all right. Then she shet the door in my face. Mr. Finch, I was wonderin’ why it was so quiet like, an’ it come to me that there weren’t a chile on the place, not a one of ’em, and I said Miss Mayella, where the chillun?”

Tom’s black velvet skin had begun to shine, and he ran his hand over his face.

“I say where the chillun?” he continued, “an’ she says—she was laughin’, sort of—she says they all gone to town to get ice creams. She says, ‘Took me a slap year to save seb’m nickels, but I done it. They all gone to town.’ ”

Tom’s discomfort was not from the humidity. “What did you say then, Tom?” asked Atticus.

“I said somethin’ like, why Miss Mayella, that’s right smart o’you to treat ’em. An’ she said, ‘You think so?’ I don’t think she understood what I was thinkin’—I meant it was smart of her to save like that, an’ nice of her to treat ’em.”

“I understand you, Tom. Go on,” said Atticus.

“Well, I said I best be goin’, I couldn’t do nothin’ for her, an’ she says oh yes I could, an’ I ask her what, and she says to just step on that chair yonder an’ git that box down from on top of the chiffarobe.”

“Not the same chiffarobe you busted up?” asked Atticus.

The witness smiled. “Naw suh, another one. Most as tall as the room. So I done what she told me, an’ I was just reachin’ when the next thing I knows she—she’d grabbed me round the legs, grabbed me round th’ legs, Mr. Finch. She scared me so bad I hopped down an’ turned the chair over—that was the only thing, only furniture, ’sturbed in that room, Mr. Finch, when I left it. I swear ’fore God.”

“What happened after you turned the chair over?”

Tom Robinson had come to a dead stop. He glanced at Atticus, then at the jury, then at Mr. Underwood sitting across the room.

“Tom, you’re sworn to tell the whole truth. Will you tell it?”

Tom ran his hand nervously over his mouth.

“What happened after that?”

“Answer the question,” said Judge Taylor. One-third of his cigar had vanished.

“Mr. Finch, I got down offa that chair an’ turned around an’ she sorta jumped on me.”

“Jumped on you? Violently?”

“No suh, she—she hugged me. She hugged me round the waist.”

This time Judge Taylor’s gavel came down with a bang, and as it did the overhead lights went on in the courtroom. Darkness had not come, but the afternoon sun had left the windows. Judge Taylor quickly restored order.

“Then what did she do?”

The witness swallowed hard. “She reached up an’ kissed me ’side of th’ face. She says she never kissed a grown man before an’ she might as well kiss a nigger. She says what her papa do to her don’t count. She says, ‘Kiss me back, nigger.’ I say Miss Mayella lemme outa here an’ tried to run but she got her back to the door an’ I’da had to push her. I didn’t wanta harm her, Mr. Finch, an’ I say lemme pass, but just when I say it Mr. Ewell yonder hollered through th’ window.”

“What did he say?”

Tom Robinson swallowed again, and his eyes widened. “Somethin’ not fittin’ to say—not fittin’ for these folks’n chillun to hear—”

“What did he say, Tom? You must tell the jury what he said.”

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