Chapter 18

 

Chapter 18

 

            The booming voice for the clerk range out, “Mayella Violet Ewell!”

            A young girl walked to the witness stand and raised her hand to be sworn in as a witness.  She was a thick-bodied girl who was accustomed to strenuous labor.

            It was also clear that Mayella tried to keep clean and I was reminded of the 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.

            Mayella sat silently.

            “Where were you at dusk on that evening” began Mr. Gilmer patiently.

            “On the porch.”

            “Which porch?”

            “Ain’t but one, the front porch.”

            “What were you doing on the porch?”

            “Nothin’.”

            Judge Taylor said, “Just tell us what happened.  You can do that, can’t you?”

            Mayella stared at him and then burst into tears.  Judge Taylor let her cry for a bit and then said, “That’s enough now.  Don’t be ‘fraid of anybody here, as long as you tell the truth.  All this is strange to you, I know, but you’ve nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to fear.  What are you scared of?”

            Mayella said something behind her hands and the judge had to ask her to repeat.

            “Him,” she sobbed, pointing to Atticus.

            “Mr. Finch?”

            She nodded saying, “Don’t want him doin’ me like he done Papa, tryin’ to make him out lefthanded…”                    

            Judge Taylor looked at a loss as to what to.  He asked, “How old are you?

            “Nineteen-and-a-half,” Mayella said.

            The judge spoke in soothing tones.  “Mr. Finch has no idea of scaring you: he growled, “and if he did, I’m here to stop him.  That’s one thing I’m sitting up here for.  Now you’re a big girl, so you just sit up straight and tell the – tell us what happened to you.  You can do that, can’t you?

            Up in the balcony, I wondered if she had good sense.

            Mayella answered Mr. Gilmer’s question.  “Well sir, I was on the porch and – an dhe came along and, you see, there was this old chiffarobe in the yard Papa’d brought to chop up for kindlin’ – Papa told me to do it while he was off in the woods but I wadn’t feelin’ strong enough then, so he came by –“

            “Who is ‘he’?”

            Mayella pointed to Tom Robinson.

            “Then what happened?”

            “I said, ‘Come here, n****r, and bust up this chiffarobe for me.’  I gotta nickel and I turned around and ‘fore I knew it he was on me.  Just run up behind me, he did.  He got me round the neck cussin’ me an’ sayin’ dirt – I fought n’ hollered, but he had me round the neck.  He hit me agin an’ agin –“

            Mr. Gilmer waited for Mayella to get ahold of herself.  She then waited for Mr. Gilmer to ask another question and when he didn’t she said, “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, hollered for all I was worth, kicked and hollered loud as I could.”

            “Then what happened?”

            “I don’t remember too good, but next thing I knew Papa was in the room a’standing over me hollerin’, ‘Who done it, who done it?’ Then I sorta fainted an’ the next thing I knew Mr. Tate was pullin’ me up offa the floor and leadin’ me to the water bucket.”

            “You say you fought him off as hard as you could?  Fought him tooth and nail?” asked Mr. Gilmer

            “I positively did,” Mayella echoed her father.

            “You are positive that he took full advantage of you?”

            Mayella’s face scrunched up and I thought she was going to cry again but didn’t and said, “He done what he was after.”

            Mr. Gilmer was finished and Atticus got up to ask some questions of Mayella.

            “Miss Mayella,” he said, smiling.  “I won’t try to scare you for a while, not yet.  Let’s just get acquainted.  How old are you?”

            “Said I was nineteen, said it to the judge yonder.”

            “So you did, so you did, ma’am.  You’ll have to bear with me, Miss Mayella, I’m getting along and can’t remember as well as I used to.  I might ask you a thing you’ve already said before, but you’ll give me an answer, won’t you? Good.”

            She didn’t look like Atticus had gotten her full cooperation.  She was looking at him like she was mad as hell.

            “Won’t answer a word you say long as you keep on mockin’ me,” she said.

            “Ma’am?” asked Atticus, startled.

            “Long’s you keep on makin’ fun o’ me.”

            Judge Taylor said, “Mr. Finch is not making fun of you.  What’s the matter with you?”

            Mayella said to the judge, “Long’s he keeps on callin’ me ma’am and sayin’ Miss Mayella.  I don’t hafta take his sass, I ain’t called upon to take it.”

            The judge tried to explain.  “That’s just Mr. Finch’s way.  We’ve done business in court for years, and Mr. Finch is always courteous to everybody.  He’s not trying to mock you, he’s trying to be polite.  That’s just his way.  Atticus, let’s get on with these proceedings, and let the record show that the witness has not been sassed, her views to the contrary.”

            I wondered if anybody had ever called Mayella “ma’am” or “Miss Mayella”; probably not.  She probably took offense to routine courtesy.  I wondered what her life had been like.

            “You say you’re nineteen,” Atticus resumed.  “How many sisters and brothers have you?”

            “Seb’m” she said.

            “You the eldest? The oldest?”

            “Yes.”

            “How long has your mother been dead?”

            “Don’t know – long time.”

            “Did you ever go to school?”

            “Read n’ write good as Papa yonder.”

            “How long did you go to school?”

            “Two year… three year… dunno.”

            These questions were to give the jury a picture of the Ewell’s home life, I realized.  The jury learned that the welfare check was not enough to feed the family, Papa went off into the swamp for days and came home sick, you could make shoes out of strips of tires and that the family carries water in buckets from a spring to their house.

            “Miss Mayella,” said Atticus, “a nineteen-year-old girl like you must have friends.  Who are your friends?”

            The witness looked puzzled.  “Friends?”

            “Yes, don’t you know anyone near your age, or older or younger?  Boys and girls?  Just ordinary friends?”

            “You makin’ fun o’ me agin, Mr. Finch?”

            “Do you love your father, Miss Mayella?” was his next question.

            “Love him, whatcha mean?”

            “I mean, is he good to you, is he easy to get along with?”

            “He does tollable, ‘cept when –“

            “Except when?”

            Mayella looked at her father and he sat up straight and waited for her to answer.

            “Except when nothin’,” said Mayella.  “I said he does tollable.”

            Mr. Ewell leaned back in his chair again.

            “Except when he’s drinking?” asked Atticus so gently that Mayella nodded. “Does he ever go after you?”

            “How do you mean?”

            “When he’s – riled, has he ever beaten you?”

            Mayella looked at the court reporter.  Judge Taylor told her to answer the question.

            “My paw’s never touched a hair o’ my head in my life,” she declared firmly.  “He never touched me.”

            “We’ve had a good visit, Miss Mayella, and now I guess we’d better get to the case.  You say you asked Tom Robinson to come chop up a – what was it?”

            “A chiffarobe, a old dresser full of drawers on one side.”

            “Was Tom Robinson well known to you?”

            “Whaddya mean?”

            “I mean did you know who he was, where he lived?”

            Mayella nodded.  “I knowed who he was, he passed the house every day.”

            “Was this the first time you asked him to come inside the fence?”

            She didn’t answer the questions right away so Atticus started to ask it again, but she answered, “Yes, it was.”

            “Didn’t you ever ask him to come inside the fence before?”

            She was prepared now for this question.  “I did not, I certainly did not.”

            “One did not’s enough,” said Atticus serenely.  “You never asked him to do odd jobs for you before?”

            “I mighta,” conceded Mayella.  “There was several n****s  around.”

            “Can you remember any other occasions?”

            “No.”

            “All right, now to what happened.  You said Tom Robinson was behind you in the room when you turned around, that right?”

            “Yes.”

            “You said he ‘got you around the neck cussin and saying dirt’ – is that right?”

            “’t’s right.”

            “You say ‘he caught me and choked me and took advantage of me’ – is that right?”

            “That’s what I said”

            “Do you remember him beating you about the face?”

            Mayella was silent.  She seemed to be trying to get something clear to herself.

            “It’s an easy question, Miss Mayella, so I’ll try again.  Do you remember him beating you about the face?”  Atticus was speaking in a professional voice.  “Do you remember him beating you about the face?”

            “No, I don’t recollect if he hit me.  I mean, yes I do, he hit me.”

            “Was your last sentence your answer?”

            “Huh?  Yes, he hit – I just don’t remember, I just don’t remember… it all happened so quick.”

            Judge Taylor told her not to cry again but Atticus said to let her cry all she wants.  They’ve all the time in the world.

            “I’ll answer any question you got --- get me up here an’ mock me, will you?  I’ll answer any question you got—“

            “That’s fine,” said Atticus.  “There’re only a few more.  Miss Mayella, not to be tedious, you’ve testified that the defendant hit you, grabbed you around the neck, choked, you, and took advantage of you.  I want you to be sure you have the right man.  Will you identify the man who raped you?”

            “I will, that’s him right yonder.”

            Atticus turned to Tom and said, “Tom, stand up.  Let Miss Mayella have a good long look at you.  Is this the man, Miss Mayella?”

            Tom Robinson stood up.  Strong powerful shoulder muscles showed under his thin shirt.  He looked off balance though.  His left arm was fully twelve inches shorter than his right, and hung dead at his side.  It ended in a small shriveled hand, and from as far away as the balcony I could see that it was no use to him.

            “Scout,” breathed Jem.  “Scout look!  Reverend, he’s crippled!”

            Reverend Sykes explained to us that Tom got his arm caught in Mr. Dolphus Raymond’s cotton gin when he was a boy.  He almost bled to death and the machine had tore the muscles loose from his bones.

            “Is this the man who raped you?” asked Atticus.

            “It most certainly is.”

            “How?”

            Mayella was raging.  “I don’t know how he done it, but he done it – I said it all happened so fast I—“

            “Now let’s consider this calmly—“ began Atticus. “…Miss Mayella, you’ve testified that the defendant choked and beat you – you didn’t say that he sneaked up behind you and knocked you out cold, but you turned around and there he was – do you wish to reconsider any of your testimony?”

            “You want me to say something that didn’t happen?”

            “No ma’am, I want you to say something that did happen.  Tell us once more, please, what happened?”

            “I told’ja what happened.”

            “You testified that you turned around and there he was.  He choked you then?”

            “Yes.”

            “Then he released your throat and hit you?”

            “I said he did.”

            “He blacked your left eye with his right fist?”

            “I ducked and it – it glanced, that’s what it did.  I ducked and it glanced off.”  Mayella had finally seen the light.

            “You’re becoming suddenly clear on this point.  A while ago you couldn’t remember too well, could you?”

            “I said he hit me.”

            “All right.  He choked you, he hit you, then he raped you, that right?”

            “It most certainly is.”

            “You’re a strong girl, what were you doing all the time, just standing there?”

            “I told’ja I hollered n’ kicked n’ fought—“

            “All right, why didn’t you run?”

            “I tried…”

            “Tried to?  What kept you from it?”

            “I—he slung me down.  That’s what he did, he slung me down n’ got on top of me.”

            “You were screaming all this time?”

            “I certainly was.”

            “Then why didn’t the other children hear you?  Where were they?  At the dump? Where were they?”

            No answer.

            “Why didn’t your screams make them come running?  The dump’s closer than the woods, isn’t it?”

            No answer.

            “Or didn’t you scream until you saw your father in the window?  You didn’t think to scream until then, did you?”

            No answer.

            “Did you scream first at your father instead of at Tom Robinson?  Was that it?

            No answer.

            “Who beat you up?  Tom Robinson or your father?”

            No answer.

            “What did your father see in the window, the crime of rape or the best defense to it?  Why don’t you tell the truth child, didn’t Bob Ewell beat you up?”

            Suddenly Mayella became articulate.  “I got somethin’ to say,” she said.

            “Do you want to tell us what happened?”  Atticus said compassionately.

            “I got somethin’ to say an’ then I ain’t gonna say no more.  That n****r yonder took advantage of me an’ if you fine fancy gentlemen don’t wanta do nothin’ about it then you’re all yellow stinkin’ cowards, stinkin’ cowards, the lot of you.  Your fancy airs don’t come to nothin’ – your ma’amin’ and Miss Mayellerin’ don’t come to nothin’, Mr. Finch –“

            Then she burst into real tears.  She answered no more questions.  I guess if she hadn’t been so poor and ignorant, Judge Taylor would have put her in jail for not answering anymore questions.

            Mr. Gilmer told the judge that the state was through with their case.  Judge Taylor said that everyone could take a ten minute break.

            Atticus and Mr. Gilmer met with the judge behind closed doors.  We all got up and stretched.  The temperature was about 90 degrees and we were all very hot.

            Mr. Underwood was getting information for the newspaper.  He looked around and saw us up in the balcony.

            “Jem,” I said, “Mr. Underwood’s seen us.”

            “That’s okay.  He won’t tell Atticus, he’ll just put it on the social side of the Tribune.”

            Judge Taylor returned and climbed into this chair.   “It’s gettin’ on to four,” he said, “Shall we try to wind up this afternoon? How ‘bout it, Atticus?”

            “I think we can,” said Atticus.

            “How many witnesses you got?”

            “One.”

            “Well, call him.”