So serene was Judge Taylor’s court, that he had few occasions to use his gavel, but he hammered fully five minutes. Atticus was on his feet at the bench saying something to him, Mr. Heck Tate as first officer of the county stood in the middle aisle quelling the packed courtroom. Behind us, there was an angry muffled groan from the colored people.
Reverend Sykes leaned across Dill and me, pulling at Jem’s elbow. “Mr. Jem,” he said, “you better take Miss Jean Louise home. Mr. Jem, you hear me?”
Jem turned his head. “Scout, go home. Dill, you’n’Scout go home.”
“You gotta make me first,” I said, remembering Atticus’s blessed dictum.
Jem scowled furiously at me, then said to Reverend Sykes, “I think it’s okay, Reverend, she doesn’t understand it.”
I was mortally offended. “I most certainly do, I c’n understand anything you can.”
“Aw hush. She doesn’t understand it, Reverend, she ain’t nine yet.”
Reverend Sykes’s black eyes were anxious. “Mr. Finch know you all are here? This ain’t fit for Miss Jean Louise or you boys either.”
Jem shook his head. “He can’t see us this far away. It’s all right, Reverend.”
I knew Jem would win, because I knew nothing could make him leave now. Dill and I were safe, for a while: Atticus could see us from where he was, if he looked.
As Judge Taylor banged his gavel, Mr. Ewell was sitting smugly in the witness chair, surveying his handiwork. With one phrase he had turned happy picknickers into a sulky, tense, murmuring crowd, being slowly hypnotized by gavel taps lessening in intensity until the only sound in the courtroom was a dim pink-pink-pink: the judge might have been rapping the bench with a pencil.
In possession of his court once more, Judge Taylor leaned back in his chair. He looked suddenly weary; his age was showing, and I thought about what Atticus had said—he and Mrs. Taylor didn’t kiss much—he must have been nearly seventy.
“There has been a request,” Judge Taylor said, “that this courtroom be cleared of spectators, or at least of women and children, a request that will be denied for the time being. People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for, and they have the right to subject their children to it, but I can assure you of one thing: you will receive what you see and hear in silence or you will leave this courtroom, but you won’t leave it until the whole boiling of you come before me on contempt charges. Mr. Ewell, you will keep your testimony within the confines of Christian English usage, if that is possible. Proceed, Mr. Gilmer.”
Mr. Ewell reminded me of a deaf-mute. I was sure he had never heard the words Judge Taylor directed at him—his mouth struggled silently with them—but their import registered on his face. Smugness faded from it, replaced by a dogged earnestness that fooled Judge Taylor not at all: as long as Mr. Ewell was on the stand, the judge kept his eyes on him, as if daring him to make a false move.
Mr. Gilmer and Atticus exchanged glances. Atticus was sitting down again, his fist rested on his cheek and we could not see his face. Mr. Gilmer looked rather desperate. A question from Judge Taylor made him relax: “Mr. Ewell, did you see the defendant having sexual intercourse with your daughter?”
“Yes, I did.”
The spectators were quiet, but the defendant said something. Atticus whispered to him, and Tom Robinson was silent.
“You say you were at the window?” asked Mr. Gilmer.
“How far is it from the ground?”
“’bout three foot.”
“Did you have a clear view of the room?”
“How did the room look?”
“Well, it was all slung about, like there was a fight.”
“What did you do when you saw the defendant?”
“Well, I run around the house to get in, but he run out the front door just ahead of me. I sawed who he was, all right. I was too distracted about Mayella to run after’im. I run in the house and she was lyin’ on the floor squallin’—”
“Then what did you do?”
“Why, I run for Tate quick as I could. I knowed who it was, all right, lived down yonder in that nigger-nest, passed the house every day. Jedge, I’ve asked this county for fifteen years to clean out that nest down yonder, they’re dangerous to live around ’sides devaluin’ my property—”
“Thank you, Mr. Ewell,” said Mr. Gilmer hurriedly.
The witness made a hasty descent from the stand and ran smack into Atticus, who had risen to question him. Judge Taylor permitted the court to laugh.