mockingbird chapter 33


After a short break, Tom Robinson was called to the witness stand.

Thomas Robinson lifted his left arm with the help of his right hand. He guided his arm to the Bible and his rubber-like left hand found contact with it. As he raised his right hand, the useless one slipped off the Bible and hit the clerk’s table. He was trying again, when Judge Taylor growled, «That’ll do, Tom.» Tom took the oath and stepped into the witness chair. From his answers to Atticus’s questions, we learned that he was twenty- five years old; he was married with three children; he once had been in jail for thirty days for disorderly conduct: he had got in a fight with another man, who had tried to cut him.

«Were you both convicted?» Atticus asked.

«Yes suh, I had to serve because I couldn’t pay the fine. Other fellow paid his.»

Dill asked Jem what Atticus was doing. Jem said that Atticus was showing 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 work every day.»

«Tom, did she ever speak to you?»

«Why, yes suh, I tipped m’hat when I passed by, and one day she asked me to come inside the fence and chop up a wardrobe for her.»

«When did she ask you to chop up the wardrobe?»

«Mr. Finch, it was last spring. I remember it because it was choppin’ time and I had my hoe with me. I said that I didn’t have nothin’ but this hoe, but she said she had an axe. I broke up the wardrobe. She wanted to give me a nickel, but I said, ‘No ma’am, you don’t have to pay me.’ Then I went home. Mr. Finch that was last spring, over a year ago.»

Tom said also that Mayella had often asked him to do something for her: to chop kindling, to bring water for her red flowers. He had been glad to help her because Mr. Ewell and other children never helped her, and he had never taken any money from her; he knew that she had very little money.

«Where were the other children when you worked for her?»

«They were always around, all over the place. Some of ’em watched me work, some of’em sat in the window.»

«Did Miss Mayella talk to you?»

«Yes sir, she talked to me.»

As Tom Robinson gave his testimony, it came to me that Mayella Ewell was 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 her about her friends, she didn’t understand what he meant, then she thought he was making fun of her. She was as sad, I thought, as a mixed child: white people didn’t want her company because she lived among pigs; Negroes couldn’t be her company 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 turned away from them. Tom Robinson was probably the only person who was ever good to her. But she said that 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 thoughts, «at any time, go on the Ewell property without an invitation from one of them?»

«No suh, Mr. Finch, I never did.»

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

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 hadn’t been crippled, he would have been a fine example of a man.

Tom said that he was going home as usual that evening, and when he passed the Ewell place Miss Mayella was on the porch.

She asked him to come into the front room and help her fix the door. He checked the door and it was in order. Then Miss Mayella shut the door. Tom saw no children on the place. He asked where the children were, and Miss Mayella laughed and said that they had gone to town to get ice creams. She had saved seven nickels, it had taken her the whole year, but she had done it.

«What did you say then, Tom?» asked Atticus.

«I said somethin’ like, why Miss Mayella, that’s right clever 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 clever 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’d better go: the door was all right, there was nothing to do. But she asked me to stand on the chair yonder and get that box down from the top of the wardrobe.»

«Not the same wardrobe you chopped up?» asked Atticus.

The witness smiled. «Naw suh, another one. Almost 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 much I hopped down an’ turned the chair over — that was the only thing, only furniture, disturbed in that room, Mr. Finch, when I left it. I swear before God.»


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