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Because of the men's chauvinistic attitudes and deprecating comment about women's foolish attention to trifles, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters retreat to the kitchen and, as they straighten things, they talk to each other about the terrible loneliness and subjugation which Mrs. Wright has suffered.
As they notice the dirty roller towel and clutter, Mrs. Hale sees that Mrs. Wright's sifting of sugar has been interrupted since a paper bag is only half full. In a defensive move for her neighbor who left something "half done," and so that Mrs. Peters will not notice, she climbs on a chair to check the fruit that Mrs. Wright has canned. "It's a shame about the fruit," she says, alluding to the freezing of the jars overnight because there was no heat in the kitchen. Making no comment on what Mrs. Hale has said, Mrs. Peters nervously says that she must get "those things from the front room closet" that Mrs. Wright has requested; nervously she asks Mrs. Hale, "You-you could help me get them." After she finds a shabby black skirt that has been mended several times, Mrs. Hale tenderly folds it as she recalls how the former Minnie Foster used to wear pretty clothes. At first she thinks that Mrs. Peters does not care to hear about Minnie Foster, but then she sees something in the woman's eyes that seem to perceive more.
"Yes, Mrs. Hale?"
"Do you think she--did it?"
"Oh, I don't know," she said, in a voice that seemed to shrink away from the subject.
"Well, I don't think she did,..Asking about an apron, and her little shawl. Worryin' about her fruit."
....Mr. Peters says--it looks bad for her. Mr. Henderson is awful sarcastic in a speech, and he's going to make fun of her saying she didn't--wake up."
For a moment Mrs. Hale had no answer. Then, "Well, I guess John Wright didn't wake up--when they was slippin' that rope under his neck," she muttered.
"No, it's strange," breathed Mrs. Peters. "they think it was such a--funny way to kill a man."
Mrs. Hale alludes to her husband's similar remark. She tells Mrs. Peters that Mr. Hale knew there was a gun in the house and Mrs. Wright could have simply used it. Mrs. Peters then repeats a statement made by Mr. Henderson that motive was needed. "Something to show anger--or sudden feeling." Mrs. Hale observes that she does not see any signs of anger; then, she stops. She thinks of all the things that are halfway completed. As if to release herself, she wonders aloud how things are going for the men upstairs. She adds,
"You know....It seems kind of sneaking; locking her up in town and coming out here to get her own house to turn against her."
"But, Mrs. Hale...the law is the law."
"I s'pose 'tis," answered Mrs. Hale shortly.
Mrs. Hale goes to the stove to stir the fire and comments upon its shabbiness. She is startled when Mrs. Peters observes alouds, "A person get discouraged--and loses heart." Then, when she goes to hang up her fur tippet so she will not get too warm inside, Mrs. Peters notices a sewing basket filled with quilt pieces and brings it back to the kitchen. Just as Mrs. Hale asks if Mrs. Wright were quilting or just knotting the pieces, the men pass by and chuckle about the trivial conversation of their wives. Afterwards, Mrs. Peters notices some erratic sewing on a couple of pieces. When Mrs. Hale quickly repairs them, she nervously exclaims, "Oh, what are you doing, Mrs. Hale?" Mrs. Hale mildly says she is fixing some loose ends. Mrs. Peters wonders aloud at what may have caused Mrs. Wright's sewing to become so erratic.
Further, Mrs. Peters tells Mrs. Hale she needs to wrap the clothes for Mrs. Wright and searches in a cupboard for some paper and string; instead, she discovers a bird cage. "Did she have a bird, Mrs. Hale?" Mrs. Hale replies that she does not know, but there was a man who passed through last year selling canaries, adding that Mrs. Wright once sang beautifully. Mrs. Hale suggests that perhaps the cat ate it, but Mrs. Peters tells her they had no cat, adding that Mrs. Wright was frightened of her own cat when the sheriff brought her to their house. Then, they notice the broken door of the cage with one hinge pulled apart. Somehow they both sense the loneliness of the house and remark upon it. Mrs. Hale regrets not having visited more often, but she notes that although John Wright was a good man who paid his debts and kept his word, he was hard, "Like a raw wind that gets to the bone....I should think she would've wanted a bird!"
Reflectively, Mrs. Peters notes that Mrs. Wright is something like a bird herself--"kind of timid--fluttery." These words spark a thought in Mrs. Hale; she suggests that Mrs. Peters take the quilt to Mrs. Wright in order to give her something to do at the jail. So, Mrs. Peters looks back into the cupboard when she does not find a scissors in the sewing basket. There she discovers a decorative box; as she opens it, Mrs. Peters jumps back from the odor which suddenly emanates from the box. Mrs. Hale approaches and says, "There's something wrapped up in this piece of silk." They discover the canary, with its neck wrung.
And then again the eyes of the two women met--this time clung together in a look of dawning comprehension, or growing horror....And just then there was a sound at the outside door. Mrs. Hale slipped the box under the quilt pieces in the basket, and sank into the chair beside it.
The county attorney asks them if Mrs. Wright were going to "quilt it or knot it"; Mrs. Peters says they think she was going to knot it." Young Mr. Henderson does not notice the change in her voice, and dismisses the remark facetiously as "very interesting." He asks if the bird has flown away, and Mrs. Hale replies that the cat got it. Absently, he asks if the Wrights have a cat. "Not now," Mrs. Peters interjects quickly. "They're superstitious, you know; they leave." After the men depart, Mrs. Hale observes that Mrs. Wright must have loved the little bird because she wrapped in silk and placed it in such a pretty box. Just then, Mrs. Peters a memory is ignited, and she recalls that as a girl, a cruel boy took a hatchet to her kitten.
"If they hadn't held me back, I would have ...hurt him," she reflects. Mrs. Hale considers how lonely it was for Mrs. Wright without the sound of children. "No, Wright would not like the bird...a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that, too."
Further, Mrs. Peters reflects upon what a terrible thing it was to have killed a man while he slept by slipping a rope around his neck. But, Mrs. Hale ponders how it must have been for years and years without anything, and then to have a bird to sing to her--"it would be awful--still--after the bird was still." Touched, Mrs. Peters concurs, "I know what stillness is." She tells Mrs. Hale that she lost her first baby after he was two years old.
"Oh, I wish I'd come over here once in a while!" she [Mrs. Hale] cried. "That was a crime! That was a crime! Who's going to punish that!"
Mrs. Peters tries to console her, but Mrs. Hale continues, saying that they all go through the same things; after all, this communion is why she and Mrs. Peters understand. She hands Mrs. Peters a jar of preserves, telling her to make Mrs. Wright think that none of the jars have broken.
Mrs. Peters puts it into the basket, nervously observing how their husbands would laugh at their getting upset about a little bird which has nothing to do with anything. Mrs. Hale replies, "...maybe they wouldn't."
Just then they overhear the county attorney telling Sheriff Peters that they need some "definite thing to "connect up with the clumsy way of doing it [killing Mr. Wright]." For an instant, the two women's eyes connect with one another. In the short space of time in which the men step from the room, Mrs. Hale takes the box with the dead bird from the sewing basket meant for Mrs. Wright at the jail. She shoves it into the big pocket of her winter coat. Again the county attorney asks about the quilting technique: "What is it that you call it, ladies?" Stoically Mrs. Hale replies, "We call it --knot it, Mr. Henderson."
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