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first performed 1916-aug-08
A NEIGHBORING FARMER
COUNTY ATTORNEY. [Rubbing his hands.] This feels good. Come up to the fire, ladies.
MRS. PETERS. [After taking a step forward.] I'm not cold.
SHERIFF. [Unbuttoning his overcoat and stepping away from the stove as if to mark the beginning of official business.] Now, Mr. Hale, before we move things about, you explain to Mr. Henderson just what you saw when you came here yesterday morning.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. By the way, has anything been moved? Are things just as you left them yesterday?
SHERIFF. [Looking about.] It's just the same. When it dropped below zero last night I thought I'd better send Frank out this morning to make a fire for us no use getting pneumonia with a big case on, but I told him not to touch anything except the stove and you know Frank.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. Somebody should have been left here yesterday.
SHERIFF. Oh yesterday. When I had to send Frank to Morris Center for that man who went crazy I want you to know I had my hands full yesterday. I knew you could get back from Omaha by today and as long as I went over everything here myself
COUNTY ATTORNEY. Well, Mr. Hale, tell just what happened when you came here yesterday morning.
HALE. Harry and I had started to town with a load of potatoes. We came along the road from my place and as I got here I said, "I'm going to see if I can't get John Wright to go in with me on a party telephone." I spoke to Wright about it once before and he put me off, saying folks talked too much anyway, and all he asked was peace and quiet I guess you know about how much he talked himself, but I thought maybe if I went to the house and talked about it before his wife, though I said to Harry that I didn't know as what his wife wanted made much difference to John
COUNTY ATTORNEY. Let's talk about that later, Mr. Hale. I do want to talk about that, but tell now just what happened when you got to the house.
HALE. I didn't hear or see anything; I knocked at the door, and still it was all quiet inside. I knew they must be up, it was past eight o'clock. So I knocked again, and I thought I heard somebody say, "Come in." I wasn't sure, I'm not sure yet, but I opened the door this door [indicating the door by which the two women are still standing] and there in that rocker [pointing to it] sat Mrs. Wright.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. What was she doing?
HALE. She was rockin' back and forth. She had her apron in her hand and was kind of pleating it.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. And how did she look?
HALE. Well, she looked queer.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. How do you mean queer?
HALE. Well, as if she didn't know what she was going to do next. And kind of done up.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. How did she seem to feel about your coming?
HALE. Why, I don't think she minded one way or other. She didn't pay much attention. I said, "How do, Mrs. Wright, it's cold, ain't it?" And she said, "Is it?" and went on kind of pleating at her apron. Well, I was surprised; she didn't ask me to come up to the stove, or to set down, but just sat there, not even looking at me, so I said, "I want to see John." And then she laughed, I guess you would call it a laugh. I thought of Harry and the team outside, so I said a little sharp: "Can't I see John?" "No," she says, kind o' dull like. "Ain't he home?" says I. "Yes," says she, "he's home." "Then why can't I see him?" I asked her, out of patience. "'Cause he's dead," says she. "Dead?" says I. She just nodded her head, not getting a bit excited, but rockin' back and forth. "Why where is he?" says I, not knowing what to say. She just pointed upstairs like that [himself pointing to the room above]. I got up, with the idea of going up there. I walked from there to here then I says, "Why, what did he die of?" "He died of a rope round his neck," says she, and just went on pleatin' at her apron. Well, I went out and called Harry. I thought I might need help. We went upstairs and there he was lyin'
COUNTY ATTORNEY. I think I'd rather have you go into that upstairs, where you can point it all out. Just go on now with the rest of the story.
HALE. Well, my first thought was to get that rope off. It looked . . . [Stops, his face twitches] . . . but Harry, he went up to him, and he said, "No, he's dead all right, and we'd better not touch anything." So we went back downstairs. She was still sitting that same way. "Has anybody been notified?" I asked. "No," says she, unconcerned. "Who did this, Mrs. Wright?" said Harry. He said it business-like and she stopped pleatin' of her apron. "I don't know," she says. "You don't know?" says Harry. "No," says she. "Weren't you sleepin' in the bed with him?" says Harry. "Yes," says she, "but I was on the inside." "Somebody slipped a rope round his neck and strangled him and you didn't wake up?" says Harry. "I didn't wake up," she said after him. We must 'a' looked as if we didn't see how that could be, for after a minute she said, "I sleep sound." Harry was going to ask her more questions but I said maybe we ought to let her tell her story first to the coroner, or the sheriff, so Harry went fast as he could to Rivers' place, where there's a telephone.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. And what did Mrs. Wright do when she knew that you had gone for the coroner?
HALE. She moved from that chair to this one over here [Pointing to a small chair in the corner] and just sat there with her hands held together and looking down. I got a feeling that I ought to make some conversation, so I said I had come in to see if John wanted to put in a telephone, and at that she started to laugh, and then she stopped and looked at me scared.
I dunno, maybe it wasn't scared. I wouldn't like to say it was. Soon Harry got back, and then Dr. Lloyd came, and you, Mr. Peters, and so I guess that's all I know that you don't.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. [Looking around.] I guess we'll go upstairs first and then out to the barn and around there. [To the SHERIFF .] You're convinced that there was nothing important here nothing that would point to any motive.
SHERIFF. Nothing here but kitchen things.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. Here's a nice mess.
PETERS [To the other woman.] Oh, her fruit; it did freeze. [To the LAWYER .] She worried about that when it turned so cold. She said the fire'd go out and her jars would break.
SHERIFF. Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder and worryin' about her preserves.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. I guess before we're through she may have something more serious than preserves to worry about.
HALE. Well, women are used to worrying over trifles.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. [With the gallantry of a young politician.] And yet, for all their worries, what would we do without the ladies? [The women do not unbend. He goes to the sink, takes a dipperful of water from the pail and pouring it into a basin, washes his hands. Starts to wipe them on the roller-towel, turns it for a cleaner place.] Dirty towels! [Kicks his foot against the pans under the sink.] Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?
MRS. HALE. [Stiffly.] There's a great deal of work to be done on a farm.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. To be sure. And yet [With a little bow to her] I know there are some Dickson county farm-houses which do not have such roller-towels.
MRS. HALE. Those towels get dirty awful quick. Men's hands aren't always as clean as they might be.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. Ah, loyal to your sex, I see. But you and Mrs. Wright were neighbors. I suppose you were friends, too.
MRS. HALE. [Shaking her head.] I've not seen much of her of late years. I've not been in this house it's more than a year.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. And why was that? You didn't like her?
MRS. HALE. I liked her all well enough. Farmers' wives have their hands full, Mr. Henderson. And then
COUNTY ATTORNEY. Yes ?
MRS. HALE. [Looking about.] It never seemed a very cheerful place.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. No it's not cheerful. I shouldn't say she had the homemaking instinct.
MRS. HALE. Well, I don't know as Wright had, either.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. You mean that they didn't get on very well?
MRS. HALE. No, I don't mean anything. But I don't think a place'd be any cheerfuller for John Wright's being in it.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. I'd like to talk more of that a little later. I want to get the lay of things upstairs now.
SHERIFF. I suppose anything Mrs. Peters does'll be all right. She was to take in some clothes for her, you know, and a few little things. We left in such a hurry yesterday.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. Yes, but I would like to see what you take, Mrs. Peters, and keep an eye out for anything that might be of use to us.
MRS. PETERS. Yes, Mr. Henderson.
MRS. HALE. I'd hate to have men coming into my kitchen, snooping around and criticising.
MRS. PETERS. Of course it's no more than their duty.
MRS. HALE. Duty's all right, but I guess that deputy sheriff that came out to make the fire might have got a little of this on. [Gives the roller-towel a pull.] Wish I'd thought of that sooner. Seems mean to talk about her for not having things slicked up when she had to come away in such a hurry.
MRS. PETERS. [Who has gone to a small table in the left rear corner of the room, and lifted one end of a towel that covers a pan.] She had bread set. [Stands still.
MRS. HALE. [Eyes fixed on a loaf of bread beside the breadbox, which is on a low shelf at the other side of the room. Moves slowly toward it.] She was going to put this in there. [Picks up loaf, then abruptly drops it. In a manner of returning to familiar things.] It's a shame about her fruit. I wonder if it's all gone. [Gets up on the chair and looks.] I think there's some here that's all right, Mrs. Peters. Yes here; [Holding it toward the window] this is cherries, too. [Looking again.] I declare I believe that's the only one. [Gets down, bottle in her hand. Goes to the sink and wipes it off on the outside.] She'll feel awful bad after all her hard work in the hot weather. I remember the afternoon I put up my cherries last summer.
MRS. PETERS. Well, I must get those things from the front room closet. [She goes to the door at the right, but after looking into the other room, steps back.] You coming with me, Mrs. Hale? You could help me carry them.
MRS. PETERS. My, it's cold in there.
MRS. HALE. [Examining the skirt.] Wright was close. I think maybe that's why she kept so much to herself. She didn't even belong to the Ladies Aid. I suppose she felt she couldn't do her part, and then you don't enjoy things when you feel shabby. She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively, when she was Minnie Foster, one of the town girls singing in the choir. But that oh, that was thirty years ago. This all you was to take in?
MRS. PETERS. She said she wanted an apron. Funny thing to want, for there isn't much to get you dirty in jail, goodness knows. But I suppose just to make her feel more natural. She said they was in the top drawer in this cupboard. Yes, here. And then her little shawl that always hung behind the door. [Opens stair door and looks.] Yes, here it is.
MRS. HALE. [Abruptly moving toward her.] Mrs. Peters?
MRS. PETERS. Yes, Mrs. Hale?
MRS. HALE. Do you think she did it?
MRS. PETERS. [In a frightened voice.] Oh, I don't know.
MRS. HALE. Well, I don't think she did. Asking for an apron and her little shawl. Worrying about her fruit.
MRS. PETERS. [Starts to speak, glances up, where footsteps are heard in the room above. In a low voice.] Mr. Peters says it looks bad for her. Mr. Henderson is awful sarcastic in a speech and he'll make fun of her sayin' she didn't wake up.
MRS. HALE. Well, I guess John Wright didn't wake when they was slipping that rope under his neck.
MRS. PETERS. No, it's strange. It must have been done awful crafty and still. They say it was such a funny way to kill a man, rigging it all up like that.
MRS. HALE. That's just what Mr. Hale said. There was a gun in the house. He says that's what he can't understand.
MRS. PETERS. Mr. Henderson said coming out that what was needed for the case was a motive; something to show anger, or sudden feeling.
MRS. HALE. [Who is standing by the table.] Well, I don't see any signs of anger around here. [She puts her hand on the dish towel which lies on the table, stands looking down at table, one half of which is clean, the other half messy.] It's wiped to here. [Makes a move as if to finish work, then turns and looks at loaf of bread outside the breadbox. Drops towel. In that voice of coming back to familiar things.] Wonder how they are finding things upstairs. I hope she had it a little more red-up up there. You know, it seems kind of sneaking. Locking her up in town and then coming out here and trying to get her own house to turn against her!
MRS. PETERS. But Mrs. Hale, the law is the law.
MRS. HALE. I s'pose 'tis. [Unbuttoning her coat.] Better loosen up your things, Mrs. Peters. You won't feel them when you go out.
MRS. PETERS. She was piecing a quilt.
MRS. HALE. It's log-cabin pattern. Pretty, isn't it? I wonder if she was goin' to quilt it or just knot it?
SHERIFF. They wonder if she was going to quilt it or just knot it!
COUNTY ATTORNEY. [Rubbing his hands over the stove.] Frank's fire didn't do much up there, did it? Well, let's go out to the barn and get that cleared up.
MRS. HALE. [Resentfully.] I don't know as there's anything so strange, our takin' up our time with little things while we're waiting for them to get the evidence. [She sits down at the big table smoothing out a block with decision.] I don't see as it's anything to laugh about.
MRS. PETERS. [Apologetically.] Of course they've got awful important things on their minds.
MRS. HALE. [Examining another block.] Mrs. Peters, look at this one. Here, this is the one she was working on, and look at the sewing! All the rest of it has been so nice and even. And look at this! It's all over the place! Why, it looks as if she didn't know what she was about!
MRS. PETERS. Oh, what are you doing, Mrs. Hale?
MRS. HALE. [Mildly.] Just pulling out a stitch or two that's not sewed very good. [Threading a needle.] Bad sewing always made me fidgety.
MRS. PETERS. [Nervously.] I don't think we ought to touch things.
MRS. HALE. I'll just finish up this end. [Suddenly stopping and leaning forward.] Mrs. Peters?
MRS. PETERS. Yes, Mrs. Hale?
MRS. HALE. What do you suppose she was so nervous about?
MRS. PETERS. Oh I don't know. I don't know as she was nervous. I sometimes sew awful queer when I'm just tired. [MRS. HALE starts to say something, looks at MRS. PETERS , then goes on sewing.] Well I must get these thing wrapped up. They may be through sooner than we think. [Putting apron and other things together.] I wonder where I can find a piece of paper, and string.
MRS. HALE. In that cupboard, maybe.
MRS. PETERS. [Looking in cupboard.] Why, here's a bird-cage. [Holds it up.] Did she have a bird, Mrs. Hale?
MRS. HALE. Why, I don't know whether she did or not I've not been here for so long. There was a man around last year selling canaries cheap, but I don't know as she took one; maybe she did. She used to sing real pretty herself.
MRS. PETERS. [Glancing around.] Seems funny to think of a bird here. But she must have had one, or why would she have a cage? I wonder what happened to it.
MRS. HALE. I s'pose maybe the cat got it.
MRS. PETERS. No, she didn't have a cat. She's got that feeling some people have about cats being afraid of them. My cat got in her room and she was real upset and asked me to take it out.
MRS. HALE. My sister Bessie was like that. Queer, ain't it?
MRS. PETERS. [Examining the cage.] Why, look at this door. It's broke. One hinge is pulled apart.
MRS. HALE. [Looking too.] Looks as if someone must have been rough with it.
MRS. PETERS. Why, yes.
[She brings the cage forward and puts it on the table.]
MRS. HALE. I wish if they're going to find any evidence they'd be about it. I don't like this place.
MRS. PETERS. But I'm awful glad you came with me, Mrs. Hale. It would be lonesome for me sitting here alone.
MRS. HALE. It would, wouldn't it? [Dropping her sewing.] But I tell you what I do wish, Mrs. Peters. I wish I had come over sometimes when she was here. I [Looking around the room.] wish I had.
MRS. PETERS. But of course you were awful busy, Mrs. Hale your house and your children.
MRS. HALE. I could've come. I stayed away because it weren't cheerful and that's why I ought to have come. I I've never liked this place. Maybe because it's down in a hollow and you don't see the road. I dunno what it is, but it's a lonesome place and always was, I wish I had come over to see Minnie Foster sometimes. I can see now
MRS. PETERS. Well, you mustn't reproach yourself, Mrs. Hale. Somehow we just don't see how it is with other folks until something comes up.
MRS. HALE. Not having children makes less work but it makes a quiet house, and Wright out to work all day, and no company when he did come in. Did you know John Wright, Mrs. Peters?
MRS. PETERS. No; I've seen him in town. They say he was a good man.
MRS. HALE. Yes good; he didn't drink, and kept his word as well as most, I guess, and paid his debts. But he was a hard man, Mrs. Peters. Just to pass the time of day with him [Shivers.] Like a raw wind that gets to the bone. [Pauses, her eye falling on the cage.] I should think she would 'a' wanted a bird. But what do you suppose went with it?
MRS. PETERS. I don't know, unless it got sick and died.
MRS. HALE. You weren't raised round here, were you? [MRS. PETERS shakes her head.] You didn't know her?
MRS. PETERS. Not till they brought her yesterday.
MRS. HALE. She come to think of it, she was kind of like a bird herself real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and fluttery. How she did change. [Silence; then as if struck by a happy thought and relieved to get back to every day things.] Tell you what, Mrs. Peters, why don't you take the quilt in with you? It might take up her mind.
MRS. PETERS. Why, I think that's a real nice idea, Mrs. Hale. There couldn't possibly be any objection to it, could there? Now, just what would I take? I wonder if her patches are in here and her things.
MRS. HALE. Here's some red. I expect this has got sewing things in it. [Brings out a fancy box.] What a pretty box. Looks like something somebody would give you. Maybe her scissors are in here. [Opens box. Suddenly puts her hand to her nose.] Why [MRS. PETERS bends nearer, then turns her face away.] There's something wrapped up in this piece of silk.
MRS. PETERS. Why, this isn't her scissors.
MRS. HALE. [Lifting the silk.] Oh, Mrs. Peters its
MRS. PETERS. It's the bird.
MRS. HALE. [Jumping up.] But, Mrs. Peters look at it! Its neck! Look at its neck! It's all to the other side.
MRS. PETERS. Somebody wrung its neck.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. [As one turning from serious things to little pleasantries.] Well, ladies, have you decided whether she was going to quilt it or knot it?
MRS. PETERS. We think she was going to knot it.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. Well, that's interesting, I'm sure. [Seeing the birdcage.] Has the bird flown?
MRS. HALE. [Putting more quilt pieces over the box.] We think the cat got it.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. [Preoccupied.] Is there a cat?
MRS. PETERS. Well, not now. They're superstitious, you know. They leave.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. [To SHERIFF PETERS , continuing an interrupted conversation.] No sign at all of anyone having come from the outside. Their own rope. Now let's go up again and go over it piece by piece. [They start upstairs.] It would have to have been someone who knew just the
MRS. HALE. She liked the bird. She was going to bury it in that pretty box.
MRS. PETERS. [In a whisper] When I was a girl my kitten there was a boy took a hatchet, and before my eyes and before I could get there [Covers her face an instant.] If they hadn't held me back I would have [Catches herself, looks upstairs where steps are heard, falters weakly] hurt him.
MRS. HALE. [With a slow look around her.] I wonder how it would seem never to have had any children around. [Pause.] No, Wright wouldn't like the bird a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that, too.
MRS. PETERS. [Moving uneasily.] We don't know who killed the bird.
MRS. HALE. I knew John Wright.
MRS. PETERS. It was an awful thing was done in this house that night, Mrs. Hale. Killing a man while he slept, slipping a rope around his neck that choked the life out of him.
MRS. HALE. His neck. Choked the life out of him.
MRS. PETERS. [With rising voice.] We don't know who killed him. We don't know.
MRS. HALE. [Her own feeling not interrupted.] If there'd been years and years of nothing, then a bird to sing to you, it would be awful still, after the bird was still.
MRS. PETERS. [Something within her speaking.] I know what stillness is. When we homesteaded in Dakota, and my first baby died after he was two years old, and me with no other then
MRS. HALE. [Moving.] How soon do you suppose they'll be through, looking for the evidence?
MRS. PETERS. I know what stillness is. [Pulling herself back.] The law has got to punish crime, Mrs. Hale.
MRS. HALE. [Not as if answering that.] I wish you'd seen Minnie Foster when she wore a white dress with blue ribbons and stood up there in the choir and sang. [A look around the room.] Oh, I wish I'd come over here once in a while! That was a crime! That was a crime! Who's going to punish that?
MRS. PETERS. [Looking upstairs.] We mustn't take on.
MRS. HALE. I might have known she needed help! I know how things can be for women, I tell you, it's queer, Mrs. Peters. We live close together and we live far apart. We all go through the same things it's all just a different kind of the same thing. [Brushes her eyes, noticing the bottle of fruit, reaches out for it.] If I was you I wouldn't tell her her fruit was gone. Tell her it ain't. Tell her it's all right. Take this in to prove it to her. She she may never know whether it was broke or not.
MRS. PETERS. [Takes the bottle, looks about for something to wrap it in; takes petticoat from the clothes brought from the other room, very nervously begins winding this around the bottle. In a false voice.] My, it's a good thing the men couldn't hear us. Wouldn't they just laugh! Getting all stirred up over a little thing like a dead canary. As if that could have anything to do with with wouldn't they laugh!
MRS. HALE. [Under her breath.] Maybe they would maybe they wouldn't.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. No, Peters, it's all perfectly clear except a reason for doing it. But you know juries when it comes to women. If there was some definite thing. Something to show something to make a story about a thing that would connect up with this strange way of doing it
HALE. Well, I've got the team around. Pretty cold out there.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. I'm going stay here a while by myself. [To the Sheriff .] You can send Frank out for me, can't you? I want to go over everything. I'm not satisfied that we can't do better.
SHERIFF. Do you want to see what Mrs. Peters is going to take in?
COUNTY ATTORNEY. Oh, I guess they're not very dangerous things the ladies have picked out. [Moves a few things about, disturbing the quilt pieces which cover the box. Steps back.] No, Mrs. Peters doesn't need supervising. For that matter, a sheriff's wife is married to the law. Ever think of it that way, Mrs. Peters?
MRS. PETERS. Not just that way.
SHERIFF. [Chuckling.] Married to the law. [Moves toward the other room.] I just want you to come in here a minute, George. We ought to take a look at these windows.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. [Scoffingly.] Oh, windows!
SHERIFF. We'll be right out, Mr. Hale.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. [Facetiously.] Well, Henry, at least we found out that she was not going to quilt it. She was going to what is it you call it, ladies?
MRS. HALE. [Her hand against her pocket.] We call it knot it, Mr. Henderson.