Mr. Tate pointed to an invisible person five inches in front of him and said, “Her left.”
“Wait a minute, Sheriff,” said Atticus. “Was it her left facing you or her left looking the same way you were?”
Mr. Tate said, “Oh yes, that’d make it her right. It was her right eye, Mr. Finch. I remember now, she was bunged up on that side of her face. . . .”
Mr. Tate blinked again, as if something had suddenly been made plain to him. Then he turned his head and looked around at Tom Robinson. As if by instinct, Tom Robinson raised his head.
Something had been made plain to Atticus also, and it brought him to his feet. “Sheriff, please repeat what you said.”
“It was her right eye, I said.”
“No . . .” Atticus walked to the court reporter’s desk and bent down to the furiously scribbling hand. It stopped, flipped back the shorthand pad, and the court reporter said, “ ‘Mr. Finch. I remember now she was bunged up on that side of the face.’ ”
Atticus looked up at Mr. Tate. “Which side again, Heck?”
“The right side, Mr. Finch, but she had more bruises—you wanta hear about ’em?”
Atticus seemed to be bordering on another question, but he thought better of it and said, “Yes, what were her other injuries?” As Mr. Tate answered, Atticus turned and looked at Tom Robinson as if to say this was something they hadn’t bargained for.
“. . . her arms were bruised, and she showed me her neck. There were definite finger marks on her gullet—”
“All around her throat? At the back of her neck?”
“I’d say they were all around, Mr. Finch.”
“Yes sir, she had a small throat, anybody could’a reached around it with—”
“Just answer the question yes or no, please, Sheriff,” said Atticus dryly, and Mr. Tate fell silent.
Atticus sat down and nodded to the circuit solicitor, who shook his head at the judge, who nodded to Mr. Tate, who rose stiffly and stepped down from the witness stand.
Below us, heads turned, feet scraped the floor, babies were shifted to shoulders, and a few children scampered out of the courtroom. The Negroes behind us whispered softly among themselves; Dill was asking Reverend Sykes what it was all about, but Reverend Sykes said he didn’t know. So far, things were utterly dull: nobody had thundered, there were no arguments between opposing counsel, there was no drama; a grave disappointment to all present, it seemed. Atticus was proceeding amiably, as if he were involved in a title dispute. With his infinite capacity for calming turbulent seas, he could make a rape case as dry as a sermon. Gone was the terror in my mind of stale whiskey and barnyard smells, of sleepy-eyed sullen men, of a husky voice calling in the night, “Mr. Finch? They gone?” Our nightmare had gone with daylight, everything would come out all right.
All the spectators were as relaxed as Judge Taylor, except Jem. His mouth was twisted into a purposeful half-grin, and his eyes happy about, and he said something about corroborating evidence, which made me sure he was showing off.
“. . . Robert E. Lee Ewell!”
In answer to the clerk’s booming voice, a little bantam cock of a man rose and strutted to the stand, the back of his neck reddening at the sound of his name. When he turned around to take the oath, we saw that his face was as red as his neck. We also saw no resemblance to his namesake. A shock of wispy new-washed hair stood up from his forehead; his nose was thin, pointed, and shiny; he had no chin to speak of—it seemed to be a part of his crepey neck.
“—so help me God,” he crowed.
Every town the size of Maycomb had families like the Ewells. No economic fluctuations changed their status—people like the Ewells lived as guests of the county in prosperity as well as in the depths of a depression. No truant officers could keep their numerous offspring in school; no public health officer could free them from congenital defects, various worms, and the diseases indigenous to filthy surroundings.
Maycomb’s Ewells lived behind the town garbage dump in what was once a Negro cabin. The cabin’s plank walls were supplemented with sheets of corrugated iron, its roof shingled with tin cans hammered flat, so only its general shape suggested its original design: square, with four tiny rooms opening onto a shotgun hall, the cabin rested uneasily upon four irregular lumps of limestone. Its windows were merely open spaces in the walls, which in the summertime were covered with greasy strips of cheesecloth to keep out the varmints that feasted on Maycomb’s refuse.
The varmints had a lean time of it, for the Ewells gave the dump a thorough gleaning every day, and the fruits of their industry (those that were not eaten) made the plot of ground around the cabin look like the playhouse of an insane child: what passed for a fence was bits of tree-limbs, broomsticks and tool shafts, all tipped with rusty hammerheads, snaggle-toothed rake heads, shovels, axes and grubbing hoes, held on with pieces of barbed wire. Enclosed by this barricade was a dirty yard containing the remains of a Model-T Ford (on blocks), a discarded dentist’s chair, an ancient icebox, plus lesser items: old shoes, worn-out table radios, picture frames, and fruit jars, under which scrawny orange chickens pecked hopefully.