Born and raised in Davenport, Iowa, Susan Glaspell began her career as a novelist and author of sentimental short stories for popular magazines. By 1915 she had turned her energies to the theater, becoming one of the founders of the Provincetown Players, a group devoted to experimental drama. In 1916 she moved with the company, now called the Playwright's Theatre, to Greenwich Village in New York, where for two seasons as writer, director, and actor she was a pivotal member of a group that came to have a major influence on the development of American drama. She wrote Trifles to be performed with a group of one-act plays by Eugene O'Neill at the company's summer playhouse on Cape Cod. Also among her longer plays that embody a feminist perspective are The Verge (1921) and Allison's House (1931), a Pulitzer Prize–winning drama based on the life of Emily Dickinson. Glaspell wrote more than forty short stories, some twenty plays, and ten novels, her best works dealing with the theme of the “new woman” and presenting a protagonist who embodies the American pioneer spirit of independence and freedom.
Read the short play Trifles below and respond to the questions in the margin. When you are done, “submit” your response.
At the time this play was written, kitchens were generally closely associated with women. What does the condition of this kitchen imply about the condition of John Wright's wife?
Why might the county attorney prefer to discuss the details of evidence upstairs and out of hearing of the women (and the audience)? What significance is there in Glaspell's physical placement of the men's and women's actions?
Rather than show the murder that spurs the action of the play, Glaspell uses dialogue to establish what has happened. What is the effect of telling Mrs. Wright's story through other characters' voices? What does her lack of voice suggest about her social and political relation to the men who will judge her?
In what ways might the beleaguered Minnie Wright symbolize the negative effects of marriage on all women at the turn of the twentieth century?
What are the two parallel plots in the play Trifles? Why does Mrs. Hale think Mrs. Wright is innocent at this point in the play?
Compare Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peter’s views on legality versus justice. What seems to be Glaspell's position on the issue?
Some critics have identified Mrs. Hale as the play's protagonist or main character because she and Mrs. Peters embody most of the play's action and because Mrs. Hale repeatedly butts heads with the county attorney. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
Why is this discovery and examination of Mrs. Wright’s quilt significant to the plot of the play?
Mrs. Hale clearly thinks it's fair to fault Mr. Wright for being a "hard man." Would Mr. Hale agree with her? Why or why not? How are Mrs. Hale's criteria for judging Mr. Wright similar to—and different from—her husband's? What do their comparative perspectives suggest about men's and women's competing realities?
Why do Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters go to so much trouble to hide the dead canary from the county attorney? What explains Mrs. Peters's sudden change of allegiance when she supports Mrs. Hale’s assertion that the “cat got it”?
If Trifles is partly about the deep social and emotional conflict between men and women, is there a winner at the end of the play? If so, who is it? If not, what message does that convey?
What is the significance of the verbal pun “knot it” in the final line of the play?
By Susan Glaspell
George Henderson, county attorney
Henry Peters, sheriff
Lewis Hale, a neighboring farmer
The kitchen in the now abandoned farmhouse of John Wright, a gloomy kitchen, and left without having been put in order—the walls covered with a faded wall paper. Down right is a door leading to the parlor. On the right wall above the door is a built-in kitchen cupboard with shelves in the upper portion and drawers below. In the rear wall at right, up two steps is a door opening onto stairs leading to the second floor. In the rear wall at left is a door to the shed and from there to the outside. Between these two doors is an old-fashioned black iron stove. Running along the left wall from the shed door is an old iron sink and sink shelf, in which is set a hand pump. Downstage of the sink is an uncurtained window. Near the window is an old wooden rocker. Center stage is an unpainted wooden kitchen table with straight chairs on either side. There is a small chair down right. Unwashed pans under the sink, a loaf of bread outside the bread-box, a dish towel on the table—other signs of incompleted work. At the rear the shed door opens and the Sheriff comes in followed by the County Attorney and Hale. The Sheriff and Hale are men in middle life, the County Attorney is a young man; all are much bundled up and go at once to the stove. They are followed by the two women—the Sheriff's wife, Mrs. Peters, first: she is a slight wiry woman, a thin nervous face. Mrs. Hale is larger and would ordinarily be called more comfortable looking, but she is disturbed now and looks fearfully about as she enters. The women have come in slowly, and stand close together near the door.
COUNTY ATTORNEY (at stove 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 (crossing down to left of the table): By the way, has anything been moved? Are things just as you left them yesterday?
SHERIFF (looking about): It's just about 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—(sits right of center table) 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 (crossing down to above table): 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. (They all look at the rocker down left.)
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 (takes out notebook and pencil and sits left of center table): 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 started for the stairs, 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 businesslike—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 down right 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. (The County Attorney, who has had his notebook out, makes a note.) 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 (rising and 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. (The County Attorney, after again looking around the kitchen, opens the door of a cupboard closet. He gets up on a chair and looks on a shelf. Pulls his hand away, sticky.)
COUNTY ATTORNEY: Here's a nice mess. (The women draw nearer up to center.)
MRS. 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 (rises): Well, can you beat the woman! Held for murder and worryin' about her preserves.
COUNTY ATTORNEY (getting down from chair): I guess before we're through she may have something more serious than preserves to worry about. (Crosses down right center.)
HALE: Well, women are used to worrying over trifles. (The two women move a little closer together.)
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 below the center table to the sink, takes a dipperful of water from the pail, and pouring it into a basin, washes his hands. While he is doing this the Sheriff and Hale cross to cupboard, which they inspect. The County Attorney 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 farmhouses which do not have such roller towels. (He gives it a pull to expose its full length again.)
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 (crossing to women up center): And why was that? You didn't like her?
MRS. HALE: I liked her 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. (He goes past the women to up right where the steps lead to a stair door.)
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. (The men leave by up right door to stairs. The women listen to the men's steps on the stairs, then look about the kitchen.)
MRS. HALE (crossing left to sink): I'd hate to have men coming into my kitchen, snooping around and criticizing. (She arranges the pans under sink which the lawyer had shoved out of place.)
MRS. PETERS: Of course it's no more than their duty. (Crosses to cupboard up right.)
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. (Crosses right to Mrs. Peters at cupboard.)
MRS. PETERS (who has been looking through cupboard, lifts one end of 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 of the cupboard.) She was going to put this in there. (Picks up loaf, 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 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, jar in 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. (She puts the jar on the big kitchen table, center of the room. With a sigh, is about to sit down in the rocking chair. Before she is seated realizes what chair it is; with a slow look at it, steps back. The chair which she has touched rocks back and forth. Mrs. Peters moves to center table and they both watch the chair rock for a moment or two.)
MRS. PETERS (shaking off the mood which the empty rocking chair has evoked. Now in a businesslike manner she speaks): 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. (They go in the other room; reappear, Mrs. Peters carrying a dress, petticoat, and skirt, Mrs. Hale following with a pair of shoes.) My, it's cold in there. (She puts the clothes on the big table and hurries to the stove.)
MRS. HALE (right of center table 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 want 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. (Crosses to cupboard.) 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. (Quickly shuts door leading upstairs.)
MRS. HALE (abruptly moving toward her): Mrs. Peters?
MRS. PETERS: Yes, Mrs. Hale? (At up right door.)
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 (crossing slowly to table and placing shawl and apron on table with other clothing): 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 (crossing to left of Mrs. Peters at table): 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 takes off her fur tippet, goes to hang it on chair back left of table, stands looking at the work basket on floor near down left window.)
MRS. PETERS: She was piecing a quilt. (She brings the large sewing basket to the center table and they look at the bright pieces, Mrs. Hale above the table and Mrs. Peters left of it.)
MRS. HALE: It's a log cabin pattern. Pretty, isn't it? I wonder if she was goin' to quilt it or just knot it? (Footsteps have been heard coming down the stairs. The Sheriff enters followed by Hale and the County Attorney.)
SHERIFF: They wonder if she was going to quilt it or just knot it! (The men laugh, the women look abashed.)
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. (The men go outside by up left door.)
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 in chair right of 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. (Pulls up a chair and joins Mrs. Hale at the left of the table.)
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! (After she has said this they look at each other, then start to glance back at the door. After an instant Mrs. Hale has pulled at a knot and ripped the sewing.)
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 (with a glance at the door, 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 things 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. (Rises.)
MRS. HALE: In that cupboard, maybe.
MRS. PETERS (crosses right 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. (Takes a step down to Mrs. Hale's right.)
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 (glancing toward up left door): 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 (rises and crosses left): I could've come. I stayed away because it weren't cheerful—and that's why I ought to have come. I—(looking out left window)—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—(Shakes her head.)
MRS. PETERS (left of table and above it): Well, you mustn't reproach yourself, Mrs. Hale. Somehow we just don't see how it is with other folks until—something turns 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. (Turning from window.) Did you know John Wright, Mrs. Peters?
MRS. PETERS: Not to know him; 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. (She reaches over and swings the broken door, swings it again, both women watch it.)
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 everyday things. Crosses right above Mrs. Peters to cupboard, replaces small chair used to stand on to its original place down right.) 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. (They look in the sewing basket.)
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—it's—(Mrs. Peters bends closer.)
MRS. PETERS: It's the bird.
MRS. HALE (jumping up): But, Mrs. Peters—look at it! It's neck! Look at its neck! It's all-other side to.
MRS. PETERS: Somebody—wrung—its—neck. (Their eyes meet. A look of growing comprehension, of horror. Steps are heard outside. Mrs. Hale slips box under quilt pieces, and sinks into her chair. Enter Sheriff and County Attorney. Mrs. Peters steps down left and stands looking out of window.)
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? (Crosses to center above table.)
MRS. PETERS: We think she was going to—knot it. (Sheriff crosses to right of stove, lifts stove lid, and glances at fire, then stands warming hands at stove.)
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. Hale glances in a quick covert way at Mrs. Peters.)
MRS. PETERS (turning from window takes a step in): 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. Peters sits down left of table. The two women sit there not looking at one another, but as if peering into something and at the same time holding back. When they talk now it is in the manner of feeling their way over strange ground, as if afraid of what they are saying, but as if they can not help saying it.)
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. (Her hand goes out and rests on the bird-cage.)
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 jar 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 jar, 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 jar. 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! (The men are heard coming down stairs.)
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—(The women's eyes meet for an instant. Enter Hale from outer door.)
HALE (remaining by door): Well, I've got the team around. Pretty cold out there.
COUNTY ATTORNEY: I'm going to 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? (The Lawyer goes to the table, picks up the apron, laughs.)
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 to down right door to 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. (Hale goes outside. The Sheriff follows the County Attorney into the room. Then Mrs. Hale rises, hands tight together, looking intensely at Mrs. Peters, whose eyes make a slow turn, finally meeting Mrs. Hale's. A moment Mrs. Hale holds her, then her own eyes point the way to where the box is concealed. Suddenly Mrs Peters throws back quilt pieces and tries to put the box in the bag she is wearing. It is too big. She opens box, starts to take bird out, cannot touch it, goes to pieces, stands there helpless. Sound of a knob turning in the other room. Mrs. Hale snatches the box and puts it in the pocket of her big coat. Enter County Attorney and Sheriff, who remains down right.)
COUNTY ATTORNEY (crosses to up left door 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 (standing center below table facing front, her hand against her pocket): We call it—knot it, Mr. Henderson.