Thomas Robinson reached around, ran his fingers under his left arm and lifted it. Heguided his arm to the Bible and his rubber-like left hand sought contact with the blackbinding. As he raised his right hand, the useless one slipped off the Bible and hit theclerk’s table. He was trying again when Judge Taylor growled, “That’ll do, Tom.” Tomtook the oath and stepped into the witness chair. Atticus very quickly induced him to tellus:
Tom was twenty-five years of age; he was married with three children; he had been introuble with the law before: he once received thirty days for disorderly conduct.
“It must have been disorderly,” said Atticus. “What did it consist of?”
“Got in a fight with another man, he tried to cut me.”
“Did he succeed?”
“Yes suh, a little, not enough to hurt. You see, I—” Tom moved his left shoulder.
“Yes,” said Atticus. “You were both convicted?”
“Yes suh, I had to serve ‘cause I couldn’t pay the fine. Other fellow paid his’n.”
Dill leaned across me and asked Jem what Atticus was doing. Jem said Atticus wasshowing the jury that Tom had nothing to hide.
“Were you acquainted with Mayella Violet Ewell?” asked Atticus.
“Yes suh, I had to pass her place goin‘ to and from the field every day.”
“I picks for Mr. Link Deas.”
“Were you picking cotton in November?”
“No suh, I works in his yard fall an‘ wintertime. I works pretty steady for him all yearround, he’s got a lot of pecan trees’n things.”
“You say you had to pass the Ewell place to get to and from work. Is there any otherway to go?”
“No suh, none’s I know of.”
“Tom, did she ever speak to you?”
“Why, yes suh, I’d tip m’hat when I’d go by, and one day she asked me to come insidethe fence and bust up a chiffarobe for her.”
“When did she ask you to chop up the—the chiffarobe?”
“Mr. Finch, it was way last spring. I remember it because it was choppin‘ time and Ihad my hoe with me. I said I didn’t have nothin’ but this hoe, but she said she had ahatchet. She give me the hatchet and I broke up the chiffarobe. She said, ‘I reckon I’llhafta give you a nickel, won’t I?’ an‘ I said, ’No ma’am, there ain’t no charge.‘ Then Iwent home. Mr. Finch, that was way last spring, way over a year ago.”
“Did you ever go on the place again?”
“Well, I went lots of times.”
Judge Taylor instinctively reached for his gavel, but let his hand fall. The murmurbelow us died without his help.
“Under what circumstances?”
“Why did you go inside the fence lots of times?”
Tom Robinson’s forehead relaxed. “She’d call me in, suh. Seemed like every time Ipassed by yonder she’d have some little somethin‘ for me to do—choppin’ kindlin‘, totin’
water for her. She watered them red flowers every day—”
“Were you paid for your services?”
“No suh, not after she offered me a nickel the first time. I was glad to do it, Mr. Ewelldidn’t seem to help her none, and neither did the chillun, and I knowed she didn’t haveno nickels to spare.”
“Where were the other children?”
“They was always around, all over the place. They’d watch me work, some of ‘em,some of ’em’d set in the window.”
“Would Miss Mayella talk to you?”
“Yes sir, she talked to me.”
As Tom Robinson gave his testimony, it came to me that Mayella Ewell must havebeen the loneliest person in the world. She was even lonelier than Boo Radley, who hadnot 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’thave anything to do with her because she lived among pigs; Negroes wouldn’t haveanything to do with her because she was white. She couldn’t live like Mr. DolphusRaymond, who preferred the company of Negroes, because she didn’t own a riverbankand she wasn’t from a fine old family. Nobody said, “That’s just their way,” about theEwells. Maycomb gave them Christmas baskets, welfare money, and the back of itshand. Tom Robinson was probably the only person who was ever decent to her. But shesaid he took advantage of her, and when she stood up she looked at him as if he weredirt beneath her feet.
“Did you ever,” Atticus interrupted my meditations, “at any time, go on the Ewellproperty—did you ever set foot on the Ewell property without an express invitation fromone 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 thetruth was to listen rather than watch: I applied his test—Tom denied it three times in onebreath, but quietly, with no hint of whining in his voice, and I found myself believing himin spite of his protesting too much. He seemed to be a respectable Negro, and arespectable 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, theNegroes did the same.
Tom was a black-velvet Negro, not shiny, but soft black velvet. The whites of his eyesshone 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 theEwell place Miss Mayella were on the porch, like she said she were. It seemed realquiet like, an’ I didn’t quite know why. I was studyin‘ why, just passin’ by, when she saysfor me to come there and help her a minute. Well, I went inside the fence an‘ lookedaround for some kindlin’ to work on, but I didn’t see none, and she says, ‘Naw, I gotsomethin’ for you to do in the house. Th‘ old door’s off its hinges an’ fall’s comin‘ onpretty fast.’ I said you got a screwdriver, Miss Mayella? She said she sho‘ had. Well, Iwent 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 andthose 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 aone 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—shesays they all gone to town to get ice creams. She says, ‘took me a slap year to saveseb’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?” askedAtticus.
“I said somethin‘ like, why Miss Mayella, that’s right smart o’you to treat ’em. An‘ shesaid, ’You think so?‘ I don’t think she understood what I was thinkin’—I meant it wassmart 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 downfrom 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 whatshe told me, an‘ I was just reachin’ when the next thing I knows she—she’d grabbed meround the legs, grabbed me round th‘ legs, Mr. Finch. She scared me so bad I hoppeddown an’ turned the chair over—that was the only thing, only furniture, ‘sturbed in thatroom, 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, thenat 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 overheadlights went on in the courtroom. Darkness had not come, but the afternoon sun had leftthe 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. Shesays she never kissed a grown man before an’ she might as well kiss a nigger. Shesays what her papa do to her don’t count. She says, ‘Kiss me back, nigger.’ I say MissMayella lemme outa here an‘ tried to run but she got her back to the door an’ I’da had topush her. I didn’t wanta harm her, Mr. Finch, an‘ I say lemme pass, but just when I say itMr. 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.”
Tom Robinson shut his eyes tight. “He says you goddamn whore, I’ll kill ya.”
“Then what happened?”
“Mr. Finch, I was runnin‘ so fast I didn’t know what happened.”
“Tom, did you rape Mayella Ewell?”
“I did not, suh.”
“Did you harm her in any way?”
“I did not, suh.”
“Did you resist her advances?”
“Mr. Finch, I tried. I tried to ‘thout bein’ ugly to her. I didn’t wanta be ugly, I didn’t wantapush her or nothin‘.”
It occurred to me that in their own way, Tom Robinson’s manners were as good asAtticus’s. Until my father explained it to me later, I did not understand the subtlety ofTom’s predicament: he would not have dared strike a white woman under anycircumstances and expect to live long, so he took the first opportunity to run—a suresign of guilt.
“Tom, go back once more to Mr. Ewell,” said Atticus. “Did he say anything to you?”
“Not anything, suh. He mighta said somethin‘, but I weren’t there—”
“That’ll do,” Atticus cut in sharply. “What you did hear, who was he talking to?”
“Mr. Finch, he were talkin‘ and lookin’ at Miss Mayella.”
“Then you ran?”
“I sho‘ did, suh.”
“Why did you run?”
“I was scared, suh.”
“Why were you scared?”
“Mr. Finch, if you was a nigger like me, you’d be scared, too.”
Atticus sat down. Mr. Gilmer was making his way to the witness stand, but before hegot there Mr. Link Deas rose from the audience and announced:
“I just want the whole lot of you to know one thing right now. That boy’s worked for meeight years an‘ I ain’t had a speck o’trouble outa him. Not a speck.”
“Shut your mouth, sir!” Judge Taylor was wide awake and roaring. He was also pink inthe face. His speech was miraculously unimpaired by his cigar. “Link Deas,” he yelled,“if you have anything you want to say you can say it under oath and at the proper time,but until then you get out of this room, you hear me? Get out of this room, sir, you hearme? I’ll be damned if I’ll listen to this case again!”
Judge Taylor looked daggers at Atticus, as if daring him to speak, but Atticus hadducked his head and was laughing into his lap. I remembered something he had saidabout Judge Taylor’s ex cathedra remarks sometimes exceeding his duty, but that fewlawyers ever did anything about them. I looked at Jem, but Jem shook his head. “It ain’tlike one of the jurymen got up and started talking,” he said. “I think it’d be different then.
Mr. Link was just disturbin‘ the peace or something.”
Judge Taylor told the reporter to expunge anything he happened to have written downafter Mr. Finch if you were a nigger like me you’d be scared too, and told the jury todisregard the interruption. He looked suspiciously down the middle aisle and waited, Isuppose, for Mr. Link Deas to effect total departure. Then he said, “Go ahead, Mr.
“You were given thirty days once for disorderly conduct, Robinson?” asked Mr. Gilmer.
“What’d the nigger look like when you got through with him?”
“He beat me, Mr. Gilmer.”
“Yes, but you were convicted, weren’t you?”
Atticus raised his head. “It was a misdemeanor and it’s in the record, Judge.” I thoughthe sounded tired.
“Witness’ll answer, though,” said Judge Taylor, just as wearily.
“Yes suh, I got thirty days.”
I knew that Mr. Gilmer would sincerely tell the jury that anyone who was convicted ofdisorderly conduct could easily have had it in his heart to take advantage of MayellaEwell, that was the only reason he cared. Reasons like that helped.
“Robinson, you’re pretty good at busting up chiffarobes and kindling with one hand,aren’t you?”
“Yes, suh, I reckon so.”
“Strong enough to choke the breath out of a woman and sling her to the floor?”
“I never done that, suh.”
“But you are strong enough to?”
“I reckon so, suh.”
“Had your eye on her a long time, hadn’t you, boy?”
“No suh, I never looked at her.”
“Then you were mighty polite to do all that chopping and hauling for her, weren’t you,boy?”
“I was just tryin‘ to help her out, suh.”
“That was mighty generous of you, you had chores at home after your regular work,didn’t you?”
“Why didn’t you do them instead of Miss Ewell’s?”
“I done ‘em both, suh.”
“You must have been pretty busy. Why?”
“Why what, suh?”
“Why were you so anxious to do that woman’s chores?”
Tom Robinson hesitated, searching for an answer. “Looked like she didn’t havenobody to help her, like I says—”
“With Mr. Ewell and seven children on the place, boy?”
“Well, I says it looked like they never help her none—”
“You did all this chopping and work from sheer goodness, boy?”
“Tried to help her, I says.”
Mr. Gilmer smiled grimly at the jury. “You’re a mighty good fellow, it seems—did allthis for not one penny?”
“Yes, suh. I felt right sorry for her, she seemed to try more’n the rest of ‘em—”
“You felt sorry for her, you felt sorry for he?” Mr. Gilmer seemed ready to rise to theceiling.
The witness realized his mistake and shifted uncomfortably in the chair. But thedamage was done. Below us, nobody liked Tom Robinson’s answer. Mr. Gilmer pauseda long time to let it sink in.
“Now you went by the house as usual, last November twenty-first,” he said, “and sheasked you to come in and bust up a chiffarobe?”
“Do you deny that you went by the house?”
“No suh—she said she had somethin‘ for me to do inside the house—”
“She says she asked you to bust up a chiffarobe, is that right?”
“No suh, it ain’t.”
“Then you say she’s lying, boy?”
Atticus was on his feet, but Tom Robinson didn’t need him. “I don’t say she’s lyin‘, Mr.
Gilmer, I say she’s mistaken in her mind.”
To the next ten questions, as Mr. Gilmer reviewed Mayella’s version of events, thewitness’s steady answer was that she was mistaken in her mind.
“Didn’t Mr. Ewell run you off the place, boy?”
“No suh, I don’t think he did.”
“Don’t think, what do you mean?”
“I mean I didn’t stay long enough for him to run me off.”
“You’re very candid about this, why did you run so fast?”
“I says I was scared, suh.”
“If you had a clear conscience, why were you scared?”
“Like I says before, it weren’t safe for any nigger to be in a—fix like that.”
“But you weren’t in a fix—you testified that you were resisting Miss Ewell. Were you soscared that she’d hurt you, you ran, a big buck like you?”
“No suh, I’s scared I’d be in court, just like I am now.”
“Scared of arrest, scared you’d have to face up to what you did?”
“No suh, scared I’d hafta face up to what I didn’t do.”
“Are you being impudent to me, boy?”
“No suh, I didn’t go to be.”
This was as much as I heard of Mr. Gilmer’s cross-examination, because Jem mademe take Dill out. For some reason Dill had started crying and couldn’t stop; quietly atfirst, then his sobs were heard by several people in the balcony. Jem said if I didn’t gowith him he’d make me, and Reverend Sykes said I’d better go, so I went. Dill hadseemed to be all right that day, nothing wrong with him, but I guessed he hadn’t fullyrecovered from running away.
“Ain’t you feeling good?” I asked, when we reached the bottom of the stairs.
Dill tried to pull himself together as we ran down the south steps. Mr. Link Deas was alonely figure on the top step. “Anything happenin‘, Scout?” he asked as we went by. “Nosir,” I answered over my shoulder. “Dill here, he’s sick.”
“Come on out under the trees,” I said. “Heat got you, I expect.” We chose the fattestlive oak and we sat under it.
“It was just him I couldn’t stand,” Dill said.
“That old Mr. Gilmer doin‘ him thataway, talking so hateful to him—”
“Dill, that’s his job. Why, if we didn’t have prosecutors—well, we couldn’t have defenseattorneys, I reckon.”
Dill exhaled patiently. “I know all that, Scout. It was the way he said it made me sick,plain sick.”
“He’s supposed to act that way, Dill, he was cross—”
“He didn’t act that way when—”
“Dill, those were his own witnesses.”
“Well, Mr. Finch didn’t act that way to Mayella and old man Ewell when he cross-examined them. The way that man called him ‘boy’ all the time an‘ sneered at him, an’
looked around at the jury every time he answered—”
“Well, Dill, after all he’s just a Negro.”
“I don’t care one speck. It ain’t right, somehow it ain’t right to do ‘em that way. Hasn’tanybody got any business talkin’ like that—it just makes me sick.”
“That’s just Mr. Gilmer’s way, Dill, he does ‘em all that way. You’ve never seen him getgood’n down on one yet. Why, when—well, today Mr. Gilmer seemed to me like hewasn’t half trying. They do ’em all that way, most lawyers, I mean.”
“Mr. Finch doesn’t.”
“He’s not an example, Dill, he’s—” I was trying to grope in my memory for a sharpphrase of Miss Maudie Atkinson’s. I had it: “He’s the same in the courtroom as he is onthe public streets.”
“That’s not what I mean,” said Dill.
“I know what you mean, boy,” said a voice behind us. We thought it came from thetree-trunk, but it belonged to Mr. Dolphus Raymond. He peered around the trunk at us.
“You aren’t thin-hided, it just makes you sick, doesn’t it?”