SCENE: The kitchen is the now abandoned farmhouse of JOHN WRIGHT, a gloomy
kitchen, and left without having been put in order—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 outer 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 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: (rubbing his hands) This feels good. Come up to the fire,
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
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.
(They all look at the rocker.)
COUNTY ATTORNEY: What—was she doing?
HALE: She was rockin' back and forth. She had her apron in her hand and was kind
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 down stairs. 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, (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
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.
(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.)
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
SHERIFF: Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder and worryin' about her
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.
(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 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
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 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: 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
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 to the left, where three 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 women listen to the men's steps on the stairs, then look about the
MRS HALE: I'd hate to have men coming into my kitchen, snooping around and
(She arranges the pans under sink which the LAWYER had shoved out of
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 bread-box, 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
(She puts the bottle 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: 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
and skirt, MRS HALE following with a pair of shoes.)
MRS PETERS: My, it's cold in there.
(She puts the clothes on the big table, and hurries to the stove.)
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
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
(Quickly shuts door leading upstairs.)
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 takes off her fur tippet, goes to hang it on hook at back of room, stands
looking at the under part of the small corner table.)
MRS PETERS: She was piecing a quilt. (She brings the large sewing basket and they
look at the bright pieces.)
MRS HALE: It's 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
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
MRS PETERS: (apologetically) Of course they've got awful important things on their
(Pulls up a chair and joins MRS HALE at 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
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
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.
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
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
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
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—
(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.
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: 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.
Purchase answer to see full