“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 nigger like me, you’d be scared, too.”
Atticus sat down. Mr. Gilmer was making his way to the witness stand, but before he got there Mr. Link Deas rose from the audience 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 outa him. Not a speck.”
“Shut your mouth, sir!” Judge Taylor was wide awake and roaring. He was also pink in the face. His speech was miraculously unimpaired by his cigar. “Link Deas,” he yelled, “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 looked daggers at Atticus, as if daring him to speak, but Atticus had ducked his head and was laughing into his lap. I remembered something he had said about Judge Taylor’s ex cathedra remarks sometimes exceeding his duty, but that few lawyers ever did anything about them. I looked at Jem, but Jem shook his head. “It ain’t like one of the jurymen got up and started talking,” he said. “I think it’d be different then. Mr. Link was just disturbin’ the peace or something.”
Judge Taylor told the reporter to expunge anything he happened to have written down after Mr. Finch if you were a nigger like me you’d be scared too, and told the jury to disregard the interruption. He looked suspiciously down the middle aisle and waited, I suppose, for Mr. Link Deas to effect total departure. Then he said, “Go ahead, Mr. Gilmer.”
“You were given thirty days once for disorderly conduct, Robinson?” asked Mr. Gilmer.
“What’d the nigger look like when you got through with him?”
“He beat me, Mr. Gilmer.”
“Yes, but you were convicted, weren’t you?”
Atticus raised his head. “It was a misdemeanor and it’s in the record, Judge.” I thought he sounded tired.
“Witness’ll answer, though,” said Judge Taylor, just as wearily.
“Yes suh, I got thirty days.”
I knew that Mr. Gilmer would sincerely tell the jury that anyone who was convicted of disorderly conduct could easily have had it in his heart to take advantage of Mayella Ewell, that was the only reason he cared. Reasons like that helped.
“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 choke 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?”
“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?”
Tom Robinson hesitated, searching for an answer. “Looked like she didn’t have anybody 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. “You’re a mighty good fellow, 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 seemed ready to rise to the ceiling.
The witness realized his mistake and shifted uncomfortably in the chair. But the damage was done. Below us, nobody liked Tom Robinson’s answer. Mr. Gilmer paused a long time to let it sink in.