Tom’s black velvet skin had begun to shine, and he ran his hand over his face.
“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’s discomfort was not from the humidity. “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 on top of the chiffarobe.”
“Not the same chiffarobe you busted up?” asked Atticus.
The witness smiled. “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 had come to a dead stop. He glanced at Atticus, then at the jury, then at 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. One-third of his cigar had vanished.
“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.”
This time Judge Taylor’s gavel came down with a bang, and as it did the overhead lights went on in the courtroom. Darkness had not come, but the afternoon sun had left the windows. Judge Taylor quickly restored order.
“Then what did she do?”
The witness swallowed hard. “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 nigger. She says what her papa do to her don’t count. She says, ‘Kiss me back, nigger.’ I say Miss Mayella lemme outa 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 in their own way, Tom Robinson’s manners were as good as Atticus’s. Until my father explained it to me later, I did not understand the subtlety of Tom’s predicament: 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—a sure sign of guilt.
“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.”