mockingbird chapter 34


«What happened after you turned the chair over?»

Tom Robinson got silent. He looked 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.

«Answer the question,» said Judge Taylor.

«Mr. Finch, I got down off that chair an’ turned around an’ she sort of jumped on me.»

«Jumped on you? Violently?»

«No suh, she — she hugged me. She hugged me round the waist.»

Judge Taylor’s gavel quickly restored order.

«Then what did she do?»

The witness swallowed hard. «She reached up an’ kissed my cheek. 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 let me outa here an’ tried to run but she got her back to the door. I didn’t wanta push and harm her, Mr. Finch, an’ I say let me pass, but just when I say it Mr. Ewell yonder screamed through th’ window.»

«What did he say?»

Tom Robinson swallowed again, and his eyes widened. «Somethin’ not right to say — not right for these folks’n children to hear-»

«What did he say, Tom? You must tell the jury what he said.»

Tom Robinson shut his eyes. «He says you goddamn whore, I’ll kill ya.»

Atticus asked Tom to whom Mr. Ewell was speaking, and Tom said that he was looking at and speaking to Miss Mayella.

«Then what happened?»

«Mr. Finch, I was runnin’ so fast I didn’t know what happened.»

It was clear that Tom didn’t rape Mayella Ewell. He just tried to resist her advances and didn’t want to be rude to her. Later, Atticus explained to me the difficulty of Tom’s situation: he couldn’t strike a white woman under any circumstances and expect to live long, so he took the first opportunity to run — a sure sign of guilt.

«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 he got there, Mr. Link Deas rose from the audience and announced:

«I just want to say one thing right now. You all must know — that boy’s worked for me eight years an’ I haven’t had any trouble outa him. Not a bit.»

Judge Taylor got angry and told Mr. Deas to leave the courtroom. And he told the secretary not to write down Mr. Deas’s words and the jury to ignore the interruption. Mr. Deas was not a witness to the case; he was just breaking the order. Then Judge Taylor said, «Go ahead, Mr. Gilmer.»

Mr. Gilmer asked Tom again about his thirty days in jail for disorderly conduct.

I understood that Mr. Gilmer wanted to show the jury that anyone who was convicted of disorderly conduct was able to take advantage of Mayella Ewell.

«Robinson, you’re pretty good at chopping up wardrobes and kindling with one hand, aren’t you?»

«Yes, suh, I reckon so.»

«Strong enough to choke the breath out of a woman and knock her down 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 just polite when you did all those jobs for her, weren’t you, boy?»

«I was just tryin’ to help her out, suh.»

«But you had chores at home after your regular work, didn’t you?»

«Yes suh.»

«Why didn’t you do them instead of Miss Ewell’s?»

«I done ’em both, suh.»

«Why were you so eager to do that woman’s chores?»

Tom Robinson thought a little how best to answer. «Looked like she had nobody 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. I tried to help her, I says.»

Mr. Gilmer smiled grimly at the jury. «You’re such a good fellow, it seems — did all this for no money at all?»

«Yes, suh. I felt right sorry for her, she tried more’n the rest of ’em-»

«You felt sorry for her, you felt sorry for her?» It seemed Mr. Gilmer was ready to rise to the ceiling.

Below the balcony, nobody liked Tom Robinson’s answer. The witness understood his mistake and moved uncomfortably in the chair. But the damage was done. Mr. Gilmer paused a long time.

«Now you went by the house as usual, last November twenty-first,» he said, «and she asked you to come in and chop up a wardrobe?»

«No suh — she asked me to help her inside the house-»

«She says she asked you to chop up a wardrobe, 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 went through Mayella’s version of events, the witness’s steady answer was that she was mistaken in her mind.

«You’re very frank about everything, why did you run so fast?»

«I says I was scared, suh.»

«If you weren’t guilty, 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 so scared that she’d hurt you, you ran, a big man like you?»

«No suh, I was scared I’d be in court, just like I am now.»

«Scared of arrest for what you did?»

«No suh scared of arrest for what I didn’t do.»


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