To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 56)
“On the porch.”
“Ain’t but one, the front porch.”
“What were you doing on the porch?”
Judge Taylor said, “Just tell us what happened. You can do that, can’t you?”
Mayella stared at him and burst into tears. She covered her mouth with her hands and sobbed. 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. 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. “What was that?” asked the judge.
“Him,” she sobbed, pointing at Atticus.
She nodded vigorously, saying, “Don’t want him doin’ me like he done Papa, tryin’ to make him out left-handed . . .”
Judge Taylor scratched his thick white hair. It was plain that he had never been confronted with a problem of this kind. “How old are you?” he asked.
“Nineteen-and-a-half,” Mayella said.
Judge Taylor cleared his throat and tried unsuccessfully to speak 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?”
I whispered to Jem, “Has she got good sense?”
Jem was squinting down at the witness stand. “Can’t tell yet,” he said. “She’s got enough sense to get the judge sorry for her, but she might be just—oh, I don’t know.”
Mollified, Mayella gave Atticus a final terrified glance and said to Mr. Gilmer, “Well sir, I was on the porch and—and he came along and, you see, there was this old chiffarobe in the yard Papa’d brought in 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. “I’ll have to ask you to be more specific, please,” said Mr. Gilmer. “The reporter can’t put down gestures very well.”
“That’n yonder,” she said. “Robinson.”
“Then what happened?”
“I said come here, nigger, and bust up this chiffarobe for me, I gotta nickel for you. He coulda done it easy enough, he could. So he come in the yard an’ 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, 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 collect herself: she had twisted her handkerchief into a sweaty rope; when she opened it to wipe her face it was a mass of creases from her hot hands. She waited for Mr. Gilmer to ask another question, but 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’standin’ 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.”
Apparently Mayella’s recital had given her confidence, but it was not her father’s brash kind: there was something stealthy about hers, like a steady-eyed cat with a twitchy tail.
“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 contorted, and I was afraid that she would cry again. Instead, she said, “He done what he was after.”
Mr. Gilmer called attention to the hot day by wiping his head with his hand. “That’s all for the time being,” he said pleasantly, “but you stay there. I expect big bad Mr. Finch has some questions to ask you.”
“State will not prejudice the witness against counsel for the defense,” murmured Judge Taylor primly, “at least not at this time.”
Atticus got up grinning, but instead of walking to the witness stand, he opened his coat and hooked his thumbs in his vest, then he walked slowly across the room to the windows. He looked out, but didn’t seem especially interested in what he saw, then he turned and strolled back to the witness stand. From long years of experience, I could tell he was trying to come to a decision about something.
“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.” Mayella jerked her head resentfully at the bench.
“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 things you’ve already said before, but you’ll give me an answer, won’t you? Good.”
I could see nothing in Mayella’s expression to justify Atticus’s assumption that he had secured her wholehearted cooperation. She was looking at him furiously.
“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 looked from under lowered eyelids at Atticus, but she 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.”
Atticus resumed his stroll to the windows and let Judge Taylor handle this one. Judge Taylor was not the kind of figure that ever evoked pity, but I did feel a pang for him as he tried to explain. “That’s just Mr. Finch’s way,” he told Mayella. “We’ve done business in this court for years and 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.”