To Kill a Mockingbird

Page 83

Atticus and Mr. Gilmer met in front of the bench and whispered, then they left the courtroom by a door behind the witness stand, which was a signal for us all to stretch. I discovered that I had been sitting on the edge of the long bench, and I was somewhat numb. Jem got up and yawned, Dill did likewise, and Reverend Sykes wiped his face on his hat. The temperature was an easy ninety, he said.

Mr. Braxton Underwood, who had been sitting quietly in a chair reserved for the Press, soaking up testimony with his sponge of a brain, allowed his bitter eyes to rove over the Colored balcony, and they met mine. He gave a snort and looked away.

“Jem,” I said, “Mr. Underwood’s seen us.”

“That’s okay. He won’t tell Atticus, he’ll just put it on the social side of the Tribune.” Jem turned back to Dill, explaining, I suppose, the finer points of the trial to him, but I wondered what they were. There had been no lengthy debates between Atticus and Mr. Gilmer on any points; Mr. Gilmer seemed to be prosecuting almost reluctantly; witnesses had been led by the nose as asses are, with few objections. But Atticus had once told us that in Judge Taylor’s court any lawyer who was a strict constructionist on evidence usually wound up receiving strict instructions from the bench. He distilled this for me to mean that Judge Taylor might look lazy and operate in his sleep, but he was seldom reversed, and that was the proof of the pudding. Atticus said he was a good judge.

Presently Judge Taylor returned and climbed into his swivel chair. He took a cigar from his vest pocket and examined it thoughtfully. I punched Dill. Having passed the judge’s inspection, the cigar suffered a vicious bite. “We come down sometimes to watch him,” I explained. “It’s gonna take him the rest of the afternoon, now. You watch.” Unaware of public scrutiny from above, Judge Taylor disposed of the severed end by propelling it expertly to his lips and saying, “Fhluck!” He hit a spittoon so squarely we could hear it slosh. “Bet he was hell with a spitball,” murmured Dill.

As a rule, a recess meant a general exodus, but today people weren’t moving. Even the Idlers who had failed to shame younger men from their seats had remained standing along the walls. I guess Mr. Heck Tate had reserved the county toilet for court officials.

Atticus and Mr. Gilmer returned, and Judge Taylor looked at his watch. “It’s gettin’ on to four,” he said, which was intriguing, as the courthouse clock must have struck the hour at least twice. I had not heard it or felt its vibrations.

“Shall we try to wind up this afternoon?” asked Judge Taylor. “How ’bout it, Atticus?”

“I think we can,” said Atticus.

“How many witnesses you got?”


“Well, call him.”


Thomas Robinson reached around, ran his fingers under his left arm and lifted it. He guided his arm to the Bible and his rubber-like left hand sought contact with the black binding. As he raised his right hand, the useless one slipped off the Bible and hit the clerk’s table. He was trying again when Judge Taylor growled, “That’ll do, Tom.” Tom took the oath and stepped into the witness chair. Atticus very quickly induced him to tell us:

Tom was twenty-five years of age; he was married with three children; he had been in trouble with the law before: he once received thirty days for disorderly conduct.

“It must have been disorderly,” said Atticus. “What did it consist of?”

“Got in a fight with another man, he tried to cut me.”

“Did he succeed?”

“Yes suh, a little, not enough to hurt. You see, I—” Tom moved his left shoulder.

“Yes,” said Atticus. “You were both convicted?”

“Yes suh, I had to serve ’cause I couldn’t pay the fine. Other fellow paid his’n.”

Dill learned across me and asked Jem what Atticus was doing. Jem said Atticus was showing the jury that Tom had nothing to hide.

“Were you acquainted with Mayella Violet Ewell?” asked Atticus.

“Yes suh, I had to pass her place goin’ to and from the field every day.”

“Whose field?”

“I picks for Mr. Link Deas.”

“Were you picking cotton in November?”

“No suh, I works in his yard fall an’ wintertime. I works pretty steady for him all year round, he’s got a lot of pecan trees’n things.”

“You say you had to pass the Ewell place to get to and from work. Is there any other way to go?”

“No suh, none’s I know of.”

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