“Hush,” said Jem, “Mr. Heck Tate’s testifyin’.”
Mr. Tate had dressed for the occasion. He wore an ordinary business suit, which made him look somehow like every other man: gone were his high boots, lumber jacket, and bullet-studded belt. From that moment he ceased to terrify me. He was sitting forward in the witness chair, his hands clasped between his knees, listening attentively to the circuit solicitor.
The solicitor, a Mr. Gilmer, was not well known to us. He was from Abbottsville; we saw him only when court convened, and that rarely, for court was of no special interest to Jem and me. A balding, smooth-faced man, he could have been anywhere between forty and sixty. Although his back was to us, we knew he had a slight cast in one of his eyes which he used to his advantage: he seemed to be looking at a person when he was actually doing nothing of the kind, thus he was hell on juries and witnesses. The jury, thinking themselves under close scrutiny, paid attention; so did the witnesses, thinking likewise.
“. . . in your own words, Mr. Tate,” Mr. Gilmer was saying.
“Well,” said Mr. Tate, touching his glasses and speaking to his knees, “I was called—”
“Could you say it to the jury, Mr. Tate? Thank you. Who called you?”
Mr. Tate said, “I was fetched by Bob—by Mr. Bob Ewell yonder, one night—”
“What night, sir?”
Mr. Tate said, “It was the night of November twenty-first. I was just leaving my office to go home when B—Mr. Ewell came in, very excited he was, and said get out to his house quick, some nigger’d raped his girl.”
“Did you go?”
“Certainly. Got in the car and went out as fast as I could.”
“And what did you find?”
“Found her lying on the floor in the middle of the front room, one on the right as you go in. She was pretty well beat up, but I heaved her to her feet and she washed her face in a bucket in the corner and said she was all right. I asked her who hurt her and she said it was Tom Robinson—”
Judge Taylor, who had been concentrating on his fingernails, looked up as if he were expecting an objection, but Atticus was quiet.
“—asked her if he beat her like that, she said yes he had. Asked her if he took advantage of her and she said yes he did. So I went down to Robinson’s house and brought him back. She identified him as the one, so I took him in. That’s all there was to it.”
“Thank you,” said Mr. Gilmer.
Judge Taylor said, “Any questions, Atticus?”
“Yes,” said my father. He was sitting behind his table; his chair was skewed to one side, his legs were crossed and one arm was resting on the back of his chair.
“Did you call a doctor, Sheriff? Did anybody call a doctor?” asked Atticus.
“No sir,” said Mr. Tate.
“Didn’t call a doctor?”
“No sir,” repeated Mr. Tate.
“Why not?” There was an edge to Atticus’s voice.
“Well I can tell you why I didn’t. It wasn’t necessary, Mr. Finch. She was mighty banged up. Something sho’ happened, it was obvious.”
“But you didn’t call a doctor? While you were there did anyone send for one, fetch one, carry her to one?”
Judge Taylor broke in. “He’s answered the question three times, Atticus. He didn’t call a doctor.”
Atticus said, “I just wanted to make sure, Judge,” and the judge smiled.
Jem’s hand, which was resting on the balcony rail, tightened around it. He drew in his breath suddenly. Glancing below, I saw no corresponding reaction, and wondered if Jem was trying to be dramatic. Dill was watching peacefully, and so was Reverend Sykes beside him. “What is it?” I whispered, and got a terse, “Sh-h!”
“Sheriff,” Atticus was saying, “you say she was mighty banged up. In what way?”
“Just describe her injuries, Heck.”
“Well, she was beaten around the head. There was already bruises comin’ on her arms, and it happened about thirty minutes before—”
“How do you know?”
Mr. Tate grinned. “Sorry, that’s what they said. Anyway, she was pretty bruised up when I got there, and she had a black eye comin’.”
Mr. Tate blinked and ran his hands through his hair. “Let’s see,” he said softly, then he looked at Atticus as if he considered the question childish. “Can’t you remember?” Atticus asked.