«She said that he had beaten her up and taken advantage of her. So I went down to Robinson’s house and brought him back. She identified him as the one, so I took him in. That’s all there was to it.»
Judge Taylor said, «Any questions, Atticus?»
«Did you call a doctor, Sheriff? Did anybody call a doctor?» asked Atticus.
«No sir. Something bad happened, it was clear,» said Mr. Tate.
«Sheriff,» Atticus was saying, «you say she was badly beaten up. In what way?»
«Well, she was beaten around the head. There were already bruises cornin’ on her arms, and it happened about thirty minutes before-»
«How do you know?»
Mr. Tate grinned. «Sorry, that’s what they said. Anyway, she was pretty bruised up when I got there, and she had a black eye cornin’.»
Atticus wanted to know which eye it was. At first Mr. Tate said it was the left eye, but after some questions Atticus asked, it became clear that the girl’s right eye had been hurt.
Mr. Tate looked around at Tom Robinson. It was clear that he had understood something.
Atticus said, «Sheriff, please repeat what you said.»
«It was her right eye, I said. Mr. Finch, but she had more bruises. She showed me her neck. There were definite finger marks on it.»
«All around her throat? At the back of her neck?»
«I’d say they were all around, Mr. Finch.»
«Yes sir, she had a small throat, anybody could-»
«Just answer the question yes or no, please, Sheriff,» said Atticus dryly, and Mr. Tate fell silent.
Then Mr. Ewell was called.
«…Robert E. Lee Ewell!»
A little man rose and went to the stand. His face and neck were red. He had no chin; it looked as if his chin was part of his neck.
In every small town, there were families like the Ewells. People like the Ewells always lived as guests of the county in good times and in the years of deep depression. Truant officers could never keep their numerous offspring in school; public health officers could never free them from various worms and the diseases caused by dirty surroundings.
Maycomb’s Ewells lived behind the town garbage dump in what was once a Negro cabin. It was in a very bad condition.
Its windows were simply open spaces in the walls, which in the summertime were covered with dirty pieces of gauze to keep out the varmints that came to have dinner on Maycomb’s garbage. But the Ewells left very little for the varmints: every day they checked the dump for food leftovers.
A barricade built with the help of various broken things the Ewells found in the dump served as a fence around a dirty yard. In the yard there were the remains of a Model-T Ford (on blocks), a broken dentist’s chair, an very old icebox, and a lot of smaller things: old shoes, worn-out table radios, picture frames, and fruit jars, among which thin orange chickens pecked hopefully.
But in one corner of the yard, at the fence, there were six jars with beautiful red geraniums, so beautiful as if they belonged to Miss Maudie Atkinson. People said they were Mayella Ewell’s.
Nobody could say how many children were on the place. Some people said six, others said nine; there were always several dirty-faced ones at the windows when anyone passed by. Nobody passed by except at Christmas, when the churches delivered baskets, and when the mayor of Maycomb asked us to help the garbage collector and dump our own trees and trash.
When Atticus went to the dump last Christmas, he took us with him. A dirt road ran from the highway past the dump, down to a small Negro settlement some five hundred yards from the Ewells. It was necessary either to back out to the highway or go to the end of the road and turn around; most people turned around in the Negroes’ front yards. In the frosty December dusk, their cabins looked clean and comfortable; pale blue smoke was rising from the chimneys, and doorways were glowing amber from the fires inside. There were delicious smells of cooking. All the aromas disappeared when we rode back past the Ewell residence.
Nothing could make the little man on the witness stand any better than his nearest neighbors except that if he was washed with soap in very hot water, his skin was white.
«Mr. Robert Ewell?» asked Mr. Gilmer, the prosecutor.
«That’s m’name, cap’n,» said the witness.
«Are you the father of Mayella Ewell?» was the next question.
«Yes sir,» Mr. Ewell said.
«Mr. Ewell, would you tell us in your own words what happened on the evening of November twenty-first, please?» When Mr. Ewell began his story, he used so many rude words that Judge Taylor had to interrupt him several times and ask him to use civilized language.
According to Mr. Ewell, he was returning from the woods with a load of kindling and just as he got to the fence, he heard Mayella’s screams inside the house.
«I ran up to the window and I seen -» Mr. Ewell’s face grew scarlet. He stood up and pointed his finger at Tom Robinson. I seen that black nigger yonder on my Mayella!»
At those words disorder started in the courtroom. Judge Taylor had to use his gavel, but he hammered fully five minutes. Atticus was on his feet, he was saying something to him, Mr. Heck Tate as first officer of the county stood in the middle aisle and tried to calm the courtroom. Behind us, there was an angry low groan from the colored people.