«Mayella Violet Ewell -!»
A young girl walked to the witness stand. She had a strong body of a hard working person. She looked as if she tried to keep clean, and I remembered the row of red geraniums in the Ewell yard.
Mr. Gilmer asked Mayella to tell the jury in her own words what happened on the evening of November twenty-first of last year, just in her own words, please.
Mayella was silent.
«Where were you at dusk on that evening?» began Mr. Gilmer patiently.
«On the porch.»
«What were you doing on the porch?»
Judge Taylor said, «Just tell us what happened. You can do that, can’t you?»
Mayella suddenly started to cry. Judge Taylor let her cry for a while, then he said, «That’s enough now. Don’t be ‘fraid of anybody here, as long as you tell the truth. What are you scared of?»
Mayella pointed at Atticus. «Scared he’ll do me like he done Papa, tryin’ to make him out left handed…»
Judge Taylor looked puzzled. «How old are you?» he asked.
«Nineteen-and-a-half,» Mayella said.
Judge Taylor said, «Mr. Finch isn’t going to scare you. And if he tried, I’m here to stop him. Now you’re a big girl, so you just sit up straight and tell us what happened to you. You can do that, can’t you?»
Mayella gave Atticus a final fearful glance and began to speak. According to her words, when Tom Robinson was passing by their place, she told him to come into the yard and chop up an old wardrobe for her. Her father told her to do it while he was in the woods, but she wasn’t feeling strong enough then.
«I said come here, nigger, and bust up this chiffarobe for me, I gotta nickel for you. I went in the house to get him the nickel and I turned around an’ ‘fore I knew it he was on me. Just run up behind me, he did. He got me round the neck, he was sayin’ dirt — I fought’n’screamed, but he had me round the neck. He hit me agin an’agin, he chunked me on the floor an’ choked me’n took advantage of me.»
«Did you scream?» asked Mr. Gilmer. «Did you scream and fight back?»
«Reckon I did, kicked and screamed loud as I could.»
«Then what happened?»
«I don’t remember too good, but next thing I knew Papa was standin’ over me and shoutin’ who done it, who done it? Then I sorta fainted an’ the next thing I knew Mr. Tate was pullin’ me up off a the floor and leadin’ me to the water bucket.»
There was something stealthy about Mayella, like a steady-eyed cat with a twitchy tail.
«You say you fought him off as hard as you could?» asked Mr. Gilmer.
«I positively did,» Mayella echoed her father.
«You are positive that he took full advantage of you?»
Mayella’s face contorted, and I was afraid that she would cry again. Instead, she said, «He done what he was after.»
Then it was Atticus’s turn to question Mayella.
«Miss Mayella,» he said, smiling, «I won’t try to scare you for a while, not yet. Let’s just get acquainted. I might ask you things you’ve already said before, but you’ll give me an answer, won’t you?»
«Won’t answer you as long as you laugh at me,» Mayella said.
«Ma’am?» asked Atticus, surprised.
«You’re makin’ fun o’me.»
Judge Taylor said, «Mr. Finch is not making fun of you. What’s the matter with you?»
Mayella looked angrily at Atticus and said to the judge: «He keeps on callin’ me ma’am an’ sayin’ Miss Mayella. He’s making fun of me.»
«That’s just Mr. Finch’s way,» Judge Taylor explained. «He’s not trying to laugh at you, he’s trying to be polite.»
Perhaps nobody called her «ma’am,» or «Miss Mayella» in her life. What was her life like? I soon found out.
From her answers to his questions, Atticus was quietly building up before the jury a picture of the Ewells’ home life. There were seven brothers and sisters in the family. Mayella was the oldest. Their mother died long ago. The relief check from the county couldn’t feed the family, and Papa drank up most of it anyway — he sometimes went off in the swamp for days and came home sick; they seldom needed shoes because the weather wasn’t cold enough, but when it was, you could make shoes from strips of old tires; the younger children always had colds and suffered from chronic itch; there was a lady who came around sometimes and asked Mayella why she didn’t stay in school — she wrote down the answer; Mayella went to school for two or three years, so she could read and write as Papa, two members of the family who could write and read was enough, there was no need for the rest of them to learn — Papa needed them at home.
Atticus asked if Mayella had friends of her age. Mayella got angry again. «You makin’ fun o’me agin, Mr. Finch?»
Atticus didn’t say anything: her question was the answer to his.
«Do you love your father, Miss Mayella?» was his next question.
«Love him, what you mean?»
«I mean, is he good to you, is he easy to get along with?»
«He’s tolerable, ‘cept when -»
Mayella looked at her father, who sat up straight in his chair and waited for her to answer.
«Except when nothin’,» said Mayella. «I said he’s tolerable.»