Mr. Ewell wrote on the back of the envelope and looked up complacently to see Judge Taylor staring at him as if he were some fragrant gardenia in full bloom on the witness stand, to see Mr. Gilmer half-sitting, half-standing at his table. The jury was watching him, one man was leaning forward with his hands over the railing.
“What’s so interestin’?” he asked.
“You’re left-handed, Mr. Ewell,” said Judge Taylor.
Mr. Ewell turned angrily to the judge and said he didn’t see what his being left-handed had to do with it, that he was a Christ-fearing man and Atticus Finch was taking advantage of him. Tricking lawyers like Atticus Finch took advantage of him all the time with their tricking ways. He had told them what happened, he’d say it again and again—which he did. Nothing Atticus asked him after that shook his story, that he’d looked through the window, then ran the nigger off, then ran for the sheriff. Atticus finally dismissed him.
Mr. Gilmer asked him one more question. “About your writing with your left hand, are you ambidextrous, Mr. Ewell?”
“I most positively am not, I can use one hand good as the other. One hand good as the other,” he added, glaring at the defense table.
Jem seemed to be having a quiet fit. He was pounding the balcony rail softly, and once he whispered, “We’ve got him.”
I didn’t think so: Atticus was trying to show, it seemed to me, that Mr. Ewell could have beaten up Mayella. That much I could follow. If her right eye was blacked and she was beaten mostly on the right side of the face, it would tend to show that a left-handed person did it. Sherlock Holmes and Jem Finch would agree. But Tom Robinson could easily be left-handed, too. Like Mr. Heck Tate, I imagined a person facing me, went through a swift mental pantomime, and concluded that he might have held her with his right hand and pounded her with his left. I looked down at him. His back was to us, but I could see his broad shoulders and bull-thick neck. He could easily have done it. I thought Jem was counting his chickens.
But someone was booming again.
“Mayella Violet Ewell—!”
A young girl walked to the witness stand. As she raised her hand and swore that the evidence she gave would be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help her God, she seemed somehow fragile-looking, but when she sat facing us in the witness chair she became what she was, a thick-bodied girl accustomed to strenuous labor.
In Maycomb County, it was easy to tell when someone bathed regularly, as opposed to yearly lavations: Mr. Ewell had a scalded look; as if an overnight soaking had deprived him of protective layers of dirt, his skin appeared to be sensitive to the elements. Mayella looked as if she tried to keep clean, and I was reminded of the row of red geraniums in the Ewell yard.
Mr. Gilmer asked Mayella to tell the jury in her own words what happened on the evening of November twenty-first of last year, just in her own words, please.
Mayella sat silently.
“Where were you at dusk on that evening?” began Mr. Gilmer patiently.
“On the porch.”
“Ain’t but one, the front porch.”
“What were you doing on the porch?”
Judge Taylor said, “Just tell us what happened. You can do that, can’t you?”
Mayella stared at him and burst into tears. She covered her mouth with her hands and sobbed. Judge Taylor let her cry for a while, then he said, “That’s enough now. Don’t be ’fraid of anybody here, as long as you tell the truth. All this is strange to you, I know, but you’ve nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to fear. What are you scared of?”
Mayella said something behind her hands. “What was that?” asked the judge.
“Him,” she sobbed, pointing at Atticus.
She nodded vigorously, saying, “Don’t want him doin’ me like he done Papa, tryin’ to make him out left-handed . . .”
Judge Taylor scratched his thick white hair. It was plain that he had never been confronted with a problem of this kind. “How old are you?” he asked.
“Nineteen-and-a-half,” Mayella said.
Judge Taylor cleared his throat and tried unsuccessfully to speak in soothing tones. “Mr. Finch has no idea of scaring you,” he growled, “and if he did, I’m here to stop him. That’s one thing I’m sitting up here for. Now you’re a big girl, so you just sit up straight and tell the—tell us what happened to you. You can do that, can’t you?”
I whispered to Jem, “Has she got good sense?”