Judge Taylor laughed outright. “Oh sit down, Horace, he’s doing nothing of the sort. If anything, the witness’s browbeating Atticus.”
Judge Taylor was the only person in the courtroom who laughed. Even the babies were still, and I suddenly wondered if they had been smothered at their mothers’ breasts.
“Now,” said Atticus, “Miss Mayella, you’ve testified that the defendant choked and beat you—you didn’t say that he sneaked up behind you and knocked you cold, but you turned around and there he was—” Atticus was back behind his table, and he emphasized his words by tapping his knuckles on it. “—do you wish to reconsider any of your testimony?”
“You want me to say something that didn’t happen?”
“No ma’am, I want you to say something that did happen. Tell us once more, please, what happened?”
“I told’ja what happened.”
“You testified that you turned around and there he was. He choked you then?”
“Then he released your throat and hit you?”
“I said he did.”
“He blacked your left eye with his right fist?”
“I ducked and it—it glanced, that’s what it did. I ducked and it glanced off.” Mayella had finally seen the light.
“You’re becoming suddenly clear on this point. A while ago you couldn’t remember too well, could you?”
“I said he hit me.”
“All right. He choked you, he hit you, then he raped you, that right?”
“It most certainly is.”
“You’re a strong girl, what were you doing all the time, just standing there?”
“I told’ja I hollered’n’kicked’n’fought—”
Atticus reached up and took off his glasses, turned his good right eye to the witness, and rained questions on her. Judge Taylor said, “One question at a time, Atticus. Give the witness a chance to answer.”
“All right, why didn’t you run?”
“I tried to . . .”
“Tried to? What kept you from it?”
“I—he slung me down. That’s what he did, he slung me down’n got on top of me.”
“You were screaming all this time?”
“I certainly was.”
“Then why didn’t the other children hear you? Where were they? At the dump?”
“Where were they?”
“Why didn’t your screams make them come running? The dump’s closer than the woods, isn’t it?”
“Or didn’t you scream until you saw your father in the window? You didn’t think to scream until then, did you?”
“Did you scream first at your father instead of at Tom Robinson? Was that it?”
“Who beat you up? Tom Robinson or your father?”
“What did your father see in the window, the crime of rape or the best defense to it? Why don’t you tell the truth, child, didn’t Bob Ewell beat you up?”
When Atticus turned away from Mayella he looked like his stomach hurt, but Mayella’s face was a mixture of terror and fury. Atticus sat down wearily and polished his glasses with his handkerchief.
Suddenly Mayella became articulate. “I got somethin’ to say,” she said.
Atticus raised his head. “Do you want to tell us what happened?”
But she did not hear the compassion in his invitation. “I got somethin’ to say an’ then I ain’t gonna say no more. That nigger yonder took advantage of me an’ if you fine fancy gentlemen don’t wanta do nothin’ about it then you’re all yellow stinkin’ cowards, stinkin’ cowards, the lot of you. Your fancy airs don’t come to nothin’— your ma’amin’ and Miss Mayellerin’ don’t come to nothin’, Mr. Finch—”
Then she burst into real tears. Her shoulders shook with angry sobs. She was as good as her word. She answered no more questions, even when Mr. Gilmer tried to get her back on the track. I guess if she hadn’t been so poor and ignorant, Judge Taylor would have put her under the jail for the contempt she had shown everybody in the courtroom. Somehow, Atticus had hit her hard in a way that was not clear to me, but it gave him no pleasure to do so. He sat with his head down, and I never saw anybody glare at anyone with the hatred Mayella showed when she left the stand and walked by Atticus’s table.
When Mr. Gilmer told Judge Taylor that the state rested, Judge Taylor said, “It’s time we all did. We’ll take ten minutes.”