Trifles, Part 3

by Susan Glaspel

Adapted to chat story format by Captivated Chat

(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.)
Me
(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)
Me
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 table.)
Me
(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. But 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?
Me
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.
Me
So I’ll just finish up this end. (suddenly stopping and leaning forward) Mrs Peters?
Mrs Peters
Yes, Mrs Hale?
Me
What do you suppose she was so nervous about?
Mrs Peters
Oh—I don’t know, 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, however, 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.
Me
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?
Me
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; although 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.
Me
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.
Me
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.
Me
(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.)
Me
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. After all, it would be lonesome for me sitting here alone.
Me
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.
Me
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. But just wish I had come over to see Minnie Foster sometimes. I can see now—(shakes her head)
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.
Me
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
Not to know him; I’ve seen him in town. But they say he was a good man.
Me
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) So 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.)
Me
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.
Me
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) 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.)
Me
Here’s some red. I expect this has got sewing things in it. (brings out a fancy box) But 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.
Me
(lifting the silk) Oh, Mrs Peters—it’s— (MRS PETERS bends closer.)
Mrs Peters
It’s the bird.
Me
(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 rises.)
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?
Me
(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
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. 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.)
Me
She certainly liked the bird. In fact, 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.
Me
(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.
Me
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.
Me
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.
Me
(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—
Me
(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.
Me
(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.
Me
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
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.)
Me
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
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.
Me
I don’t s’pose I would.
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.

(HALE goes outside. The SHERIFF follows the COUNTY ATTORNEY into the other 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. But suddenly MRS PETERS throws back quilt pieces and tries to put the box in the bag she is wearing. However it is too big. She opens box instead, starts to take bird out, cannot touch it, goes to pieces, stands there helpless. Then a doorknob is heard turning in the other room. So MRS HALE snatches the box and puts it in the pocket of her big coat. At last the COUNTY ATTORNEY and SHERIFF enter.)

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?
Me
(her hand against her pocket) We call it—knot it, Mr Henderson.