Chapter 19

 

Chapter 19

 

            Thomas Robinson lifted his bad arm to raise it on the Bible to give his oath.  It slipped off and the judge growled, “That’ll do, Tom.”

            Tom was twenty-five years old and he was married with three children.  We also found out that he had once been in trouble with the law.  He once received thirty days in jail for disorderly conduct.

            “It must have been disorderly,” said Atticus.  “What did it consist of?”

            “Got in a fight with another man, he tried to cut me.”

            “Did he succeed?”

            “Yes, suh, a little, not enough to hurt.  You see, I—“ Tom moved his left shoulder.

            “Yes,” said Atticus.  “You were both convicted?”

            “Yes suh, I had to serve ‘cause I couldn’t pay the fine.  Other fellow paid his ‘n.”

            “Were you acquainted with Mayella Violet Ewell?” asked Atticus.

            “Yes suh, I had to pass her place goin’ to and from the field every day.”

            “Whose field?”

“I picks for Mr. Link Deas.”

“Were you picking cotton in November?”

“No suh, I works in his yard fall an’ wintertime.  I works pretty steady for him all year round, he’s got a lot of pecan trees ‘n things.”

“You say you had to pass the Ewell place to get to and from work.  Is there any other way to go?”

“No, suh, none’s that I know of.”

“Tom, did she ever speak to you?”

“Why, yes suh, I’d tip m’ hat when I’d go by, and one day she asked me to come inside the fence and bust up a chiffarobe for her.”

“When did she ask you to chop up the—the chiffarobe?”

“Mr. Finch, it was way last spring.  I remember it because it was choppin’ time and I had my hoe with me.  I said I didn’t have nothin’ but this hoe, but she said she had a hatchet.  She give me the hatchet and I broke up the chiffarobe.  She said, ‘I reckon I’ll hafta give you a nickel, won’t I?’ an’ I said, ‘No ma’am there ain’t no charge.’  Then I went home.  Mr. Finch, that was way last spring, way over a year ago.”

“Did you ever go on the place again?”

“Yes, suh.”

“When?”

“Well, I went lots of times.”

There was murmuring in the courtroom but it died down quickly.

“Under what circumstances?”

“Please, suh?”

“Why did you go inside the fence lots of times?”

“She’d call me in, suh.  Seemed like every time I passed by yonder she’d have some little somethin’ for me to do—choppin’, kindlin’, totin’ water for her.  She watered them red flowers every day—“

“Were you paid for your services?”

“No suh, not after she offered me a nickel the first time.  I was glad to do it, Mr. Ewell didn’t seem to help her none, and neither did the chillun, and I knowed she didn’t have no nickels to spare.”

“Where were the other children?”

“They was always around, all over the place. They’d watch me work, some of ‘em’d set in the window.”

“Would Miss Mayella talk to you?”

“Yes sir, she talked to me.”

It came to me as Tom was testifying that Mayella must have been 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.  She didn’t understand when Atticus asked her if she had any friends.  She thought he was making fun of her.  She couldn’t be like Mr. Dolphus Raymond because she didn’t have a lot of money for people to overlook the fact that he lived with Negroes.  Tom Robinson was probably the only person who was ever decent to her.  But she said he took advantage of her and when she looked at him in court, she looked down upon him like he was dirt beneath her feet.

“Did you ever,” Atticus said, “at any time, go on the Ewell property—did you ever set foot on the Ewell property without an express invitation from one of them?”

“No suh, Mr. Finch, I never did.  I wouldn’t do that, suh.”

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

Everyone leaned forward and drew in their breath.

“Mr. Finch,” he said, “I was goin’ home as usual that evenin’, an’ when I passed the Ewell place Miss Mayella were on the porch, like she said she were.  It seemed real quiet like, an’ I didn’t quite know why.  I was studyin’ why, just passin’ by, when she waves for me to come there and help her a minute.  Well, I went inside the fence an’ looked around for some kindlin’ to work on, but I didn’t seen none, and she says, “Naw, I got something’ for you to do in the house.  Th’ old door’s off its hinges an’ fall’s comin’ on pretty fast.’  I said, ‘You got a screwdriver, Miss Mayella?’ She said she sho’ had.  Well, I went up the steps an’ she motioned me to come inside, and I went in the front room an’ looked at the door.  I said, ‘Miss Mayella, the door look all right.  Then she shet the door in my face.  Mr. Finch, I was wonderin’ why it was so quiet like, an’ it come to me that there weren’t a chile on the place, not a one of ‘em, and I said ‘Miss Mayella, where the chillun?’  I say, ‘Where the chillun?” he continued, “an’ she says—she was laughin’, sort of – she says they all gone to town to get ice creams.  She says, ‘took me a slap year to save seb’m nickels, but I done it.  They all gone to town.’”

Tom felt uncomfortable.  “What did you say then, Tom?” asked Atticus.

“I said somethin’ like, why Miss Mayella, that’s right smart 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 smart 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 best be goin’, I couldn’t do nothin’ for her, an’ she says oh yes I could , an’ I ask her what, and she says to just step on that chair yonder an’ git that box down from the top of the chiffarobe.”

“Not the same chiffarobe you busted up?” asked Atticus.

“Naw suh, another one.  Most 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 bad I hopped down an’ turned the chair over – that was the only thing, only furniture, ‘sturbed in that room, Mr. Finch, when I left it.  I swear ‘fore God.”

“What happened after you turned the chair over?”

Tom Robinson came to a dead stop.  He glanced at Atticus, then to the jury, and 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.

“What happened after that?”

“Answer the question,” said Judge Taylor.

“Mr. Finch, I got down offa that chair an’ turned around an’ she sorta jumped on me.”

“Jumped on you? Violently?”

“No suh, she—she hugged. Me.  She hugged me round the waist.”

The crowed got loud again and Judge Taylor used his gavel to get order.

“Then what did she do?”

“She reached up an’ kissed me ‘side of th’ face.  She says she never kissed a grown man before an’ she might as well kiss a n****r.  She says what her papa do to her don’t count.  She says, ‘Kiss me back, n****r.’ I say, ‘Miss Mayella lemme outta here’ an’ tried to run but she got her back to the door an’ I’da had to push her.  I didn’t wanta harm her, Mr. Finch, an’ I say lemme pass, but just when I say it Mr. Ewell yonder hollered through th’ window.”

“What did he say?”

Tom Robinson swallowed again and his eyes widened.  “Somethin’ not fittin’ to say—not fittin’ for these folks ‘n chillun to hear—“

“What did he say, Tom?  You must tell the jury what he said.”

Tom Robinson shut his eyes tight.  “He says you goddamn whore, I’ll kill ya.”

“Then what happened?”

“Mr. Finch, I was runnin’ so fast I didn’t know what happened.”

“Tom, did you rape Mayella Ewell?”

“I did not, suh.”

“Did you harm her in any way?”

“I did not, suh.”

“Did you resist her advances?”

“Mr. Finch, I tried.  I tried to ‘thout bein’ ugly to her.  I didn’t wanta be ugly, I didn’t wanta push her or nothin’.”

It occurred to me that Tom Robinson’s manners were as good as Atticus’s in their own way.  I did not understand Tom’s situation: he would not have dared strike a white woman under any circumstances and expect to live long, so he took the first opportunity to run which made him look like he was guilty.

“Tom, go back once more to Mr. Ewell,” said Atticus.  “Did he say anything to you?”

“Not anything, suh.  He mighta said somethin’, but I weren’t there—“

“That’ll do,” Atticus cut in sharply.  “What you did hear, who was he talking to?”

“Mr. Finch, he were talkin’ and lookin’ at Miss Mayella.”

“Then you ran?”

“I sho’ did, suh.”

“Why did you run?”

“I was scared, suh.”

“Why were you scared?”

“Mr. Finch, if you was a n****r like me, you’d be scared, too.”

Mr. Link Deas stood up from his seat in the courtroom and announced,  “I just want the whole lot of you to know one thing right now.  That boy’s worked for me eight years an’ I ain’t had a speck o’ trouble outta him.  Not a speck.”

“Shut your mouth, sir!”  Judge Taylor roared.  “Link Deas, if you have anything you want to say, you can say it under oath and at the proper time, but until then you get out of this room, you hear me?  Get out of this room, sir, you hear me?  I’ll be damned if I’ll listen to this case again!”

Judge Taylor told the reporter to take out what Link had said and told the jury to disregard the interruption.

It was now Mr. Gilmer’s turn to ask Tom questions.

“You were given thirty days once for disorderly conduct, Robinson?” asked Mr. Gilmer.

“Yes, suh.”

“What’d the n****r look like when you got through with him?”

“He beat me, Mr. Gilmer.”

“Yes, but you were convicted, weren’t you?”

Atticus spoke up and sounded tired.  “It was a misdemeanor and it’s in the record, Judge.”

“Witness’ll answer, though” said Judge Taylor just as wearily.

“Yes, suh, I got thirty days.”

Mr. Gilmer was letting the jury know that a man who was convicted of disorderly conduct could easily have taken advantage of Mayella Ewell.

“Robinson, you’re pretty good at busting up chiffarobes and kindling with one hand, aren’t you?”

“Yes suh, I reckon so.”

“Strong enough to coke the breath out of a woman and sling her 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 mighty polite to do all that chopping and hauling for her, weren’t you, boy?”

“I was just tryin’ to help her out, suh.”

“That was mighty generous of you, 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.”

“You must have been pretty busy.  Why?”

“Why what, suh?”

“Why were you so anxious to do that woman’s chores?”

“Looked like she didn’t have 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—“

“You did all this chopping and work from sheer goodness, boy?”

“Tried to help her, I says.”

Mr. Gilmer smiled grimly at the jury.  “Youre a mighty good fellos, it seems – did all this for not one penny?”

“Yes, suh.  I felt right sorry for her, she seemed to try more’n the rest of ‘em—“

“You felt sorry for her? You felt sorry for her??” Mr. Gilmer asked, shocked.

Tom realized his mistake but the damage was done.  Mr. Gilmer paused awhile and let what was said sink in. 

“Now you went by the house as usual, last November twenty-first,” he said, “and she asked you to come in and bust up a chiffarobe, is that right?”

“No, suh, it ain’t.”

“Then you say she’s lying, boy?”

Atticus was on his feet to say something but Tom didn’t need him and said, “I don’t say she’s lyin’, Mr. Gilmer, I say she’s mistaken in her mind.”

“Didn’t Mr. Ewell run you off the place, boy?”

“No suh, I don’t’ think he did.”

“Don’t think… what do you mean?”

“I mean I didn’t stay long enough for him to run me off.”

“You’re very candid about this, why did you run so fast?”

“I says I was scared, suh.”

“If you had a clear conscience, why were you scared?”

“Like I says before, it weren’t safe for any n****r 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 buck like you?”

“No suh, scared to be in court, just like I am now.”

“Scared of arrest, scared you’d have to face up to what you did?”

“No suh, scared I’d hafta face up to what I didn’t do.”

“Are you being impudent to me, boy?”

“No suh, I didn’t go to be.”

I didn’t hear anymore because I had to take Dill out of the courtroom.  He had started to cry and couldn’t stop.  Jem said if I didn’t go with him he’d make me.  Reverend Sykes said I ought to take him out too.

“Ain’t you feeling good?” I asked.

Dill tried to pull himself together.  Mr. Link Deas was on the top step of the courthouse.

“Anything happenin’, Scout?” he asked as we went by.

“No sir,” I answered.  “Dill here, he’s sick.”

We went to sit under the shade of the tree.  Dill said, “It was just him I couldn’t stand.”

“Who? Tom?”

“That old Mr. Gilmer doin’ him thataway, talking so hateful to him—“

“Dill, that’s his job.  Why, if we didn’t have prosecutors—well, we couldn’t have defense attorneys, I reckon.”

“I know all that, Scout.  It was the way he said it made me sick, plain sick.”

“He’s suppose to act that way, Dill, he was cross –“

“He didn’t act that way when –“

“Dill, those were his own witnesses.”

“Well, Mr. Finch didn’t act that way to Mayella and old man Ewell when he cross-examined them.  The way that man called him ‘boy’ all the time an’ sneered at him, an’ looked around at the jury every time he answered –“

“Well, Dill, after all he’s just a Negro.”

“I don’t care one speck. It ain’t right, somehow it ain’t right to do ‘em that way.  Hasn’t anybody got any business talkin’ like that – it just makes me sick.”

“That’s just Mr. Gilmer’s way, Dill, he does ‘em all that way.  You’ve never seen him get good’n down on one yet.  Why, when – well, today Mr. Gilmer seemed to me like he wasn’t half trying.  They do ‘em all that way, most lawyers, I mean.”

“Mr. Finch doesn’t.”

“He’s not an example, Dill, he’s… he’s the same in the courtroom as he is on the public streets.”

“That’s not what I mean,” said Dill.

“I know what you mean, boy,” said a voice behind us.  It was Mr. Dolphus Raymond.  He peered around the trunk of the tree at us. 

“You aren’t think-hided, it just makes you sick, doesn’t it?”