| A Jury of her peers

Posted by admin at 2012, March 6, 4:46 AM
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The story is called "A Jury of her peers". It was written by Susan Glaspell. www.fairy-tale.info

Martha Hale, like all good farmwives, like to finish any job she began. But when Sheriff Peters came into her kitchen that morning, she stopped mixing the flour for the bread she was making, grabbed her coat and hurried out to the sheriff's car. Her husband was already sitting in the front seat of the car. The sheriff's wife Mrs Peters sat alone in the back, Martha climbed in beside her as the sheriff started the engine. Martha Hale didn't like Mrs Peters. The sheriff's wife was small, thin and always spoke in a whisper. Her husband was a big heavy man with a voice that seemed to speak the law with every word.
  The Dexter farm looked empty and lonely that cold winter morning when the sheriff's car finally stopped in front of the house.
  "I'm glad you're here," Mrs Peters whispered as the two women followed the men into the Dexter farmhouse. They went straight to the kitchen where the sheriff made a fire in the old stove.
  "Now Mr Hale," he said, "tell me exactly what you saw when you came here yesterday morning."
  Martha's husband looked sick.
  "I was going to town to sell some potatoes," he said, "when I decided to stop here to see if John Dexter needed anything from town. Minnie Dexter was sitting in that old red rocking chair in the corner with her hands folded in her lap. Where is John, I asked her. She pointed to the ceiling. I went up to the bedroom and found him. Someone had tied a rope into a knot around his neck and strangled him to death. I went downstairs again and asked her what had happened. She said she had gone to bed the night before and when she woke up that morning, she found her husband dead beside her. Then I went to town to get you sheriff. And that's all I know about this."
  The sheriff turned to his wife.
  "I brought you here to collect some clothes for Mrs Dexter. But I also want you to look around the kitchen for some clues. We need to find a reason why she killed her husband."
  Martha's husband laughed, "Do you really think the women will recognize a clue even if they found one?" he said as he followed the sheriff out of the kitchen.
  The two women stood silently listening to the men's footsteps in the bedroom above them.
  "I'd better get a clothes ready," the sheriff's wife said, "will you help me, Mrs Hale?"
  Minnie Dexter did not have many clothes. What she had was old and worn. Martha held up an old black dress that had been washed and ironed many times. "Mr Dexter did not like to spend money for clothes," she said, "I guess that is why Minnie Dexter never went anywhere." Martha had known Minnie when they were both young. She remembered that Minnie had pretty clothes then. But that was 20 year ago.
  "Mrs Peters," Martha said suddenly, "do you think she, she did it?"
  A frightened look came into Mrs Peter's eyes. "I don't know," she answered, "but my husband thinks she did. He says the only thing he can't explain is the way she killed him. There was a gun in the bedroom. Why didn't she shoot him? My husband says that's what he can't understand."
  "Well," Martha Hale sighed, "it doesn't seem right to lock her up in the town jail and then to come to her own house and look for evidence against her."
"But Mrs Hale," the sheriff's wife said, "the law is the law."
  "I suppose it is," Martha said, "but look at this place, how would you like to cook on this broken stove or work in this cold kitchen or wear these old clothes. How did Minnie manage here, all these years?"
  Mrs Peters finished folding Minnie's clothing. "A person loses hope?" she said softly as she looked from the stove to the seat, to the broken red rocking chair. A moment later, she cried out, "Why, why, look! Mrs Dexter was making a quilt." Martha spread the unfinished quilt out on the kitchen table.
  "Pretty, isn't it?" she said, "do you think she was going to sew it or just knot it?"
  The two women leaned over the table admiring the quilt, they didn't hear the man come back into the kitchen.
  The sheriff threw up his hands, "They are wondering if she was going to sew the quilt or knot it? Er, women!" The men laughed and went out into the yard.
  Mrs Peters walked over to a window in a corner of the kitchen to look at a birdcage hanging near it. "Did Mrs Dexter have a bird?" Martha Hale shook her head, "I don't know. I never visited her, I was always too busy. But there was a man who came around last year selling canary birds at a cheap price. Maybe she brought one. Minnie used to like to sing."
  Mrs Peters looked around the kitchen, "I wonder what happened to the bird?" she said slowly, "look at the cage door. It's broken. Someone has pulled it half off." Again the women's eyes met.
  "Did you know John Dexter?" The sheriff's wife asked Martha.
  "I didn't know him well," Martha said, slowly touching the broken birdcage, "people said he was a good man. He didn't drink and he paid his debts. But he was a hard man, Mrs Peters." She stopped for a moment and shivered. "Talking to him was like standing in a cold wind. He and Minnie never had any children. It must be lonely for her out here all day. Her bird would have kept her company. I wonder what happened to it?"
  Both women stared at the empty birdcage with a broken door. Suddenly Martha said, "Why don't you take the quilt to her? Sewing it might take her mind off her problems." The two women turned to the large basket to collect the needles, thread and scissors. Underneath the pieces of quilt they found a box. Martha opened it. Inside something was wrapped in a piece of silk. With a trembling hand, Martha Hale lifted the piece of silk.
  "Oh! Mrs Peters!" she said softly, "It's the bird. Somebody broke its neck." The eyes of the two women met again in a look of growing understanding and horror.
  "When I was a girl," Mrs Peters whispered, "I had a little kitten. One day a boy took an ax, before I could stop him, he,"She covered her face with her hands, "If they had not held me back, I would have hurt him." She said.
  "Oh, I wish you had known Minnie when she was young," Martha Hale said slowly, "she was like a bird herself when she was singing in the church choir. She used to wear pretty white dress with blue ribbons. Sometimes she put flowers in her hair."
  The picture of that girl was suddenly more than Martha Hale could bear. "Oh, I wish I had come over here more often." She cried.
  "Please, please calm yourself, Mrs Hale." The sheriff's wife said.
  Just then, there was a sound at the door. Martha Hale slipped the box under the quilt pieces as the sheriff and her husband came back into the kitchen.
  "She killed him." the sheriff was saying, "That's clear to see. But I don't understand why she did it and no jury will find her guilty unless we can explain why Minnie Dexter tied a knot around her husband's neck and strangled him to death." He turned to Martha's husband, "Let's take one more look upstairs."
  Again, for one final moment the two women were alone in the kitchen. Slowly the sheriff's wife turned her head until her eyes met Martha Hale's. Then Mrs Peters rushed to the sewing basket. She threw back the quilt pieces, found the box and tried to put it in her handbag. It was too big. She opened the box and started to take the bird out. But she could not force herself to touch the dead bird. She stood there helpless. The men's footsteps were coming downstairs as Martha Hale took the box from the sheriff's wife. She pushed it into the pocket of her big coat just as the sheriff and her own husband came back into the kitchen.
  "Well," the sheriff said, "we can prove that Minnie Dexter killed her husband. But maybe the ladies' found out how she was going to make her quilt." He laughed. "What was she going to do to it, ladies? Quilt it or knot it?" Martha Hale's hand touched the box in the pocket of her coat, "we call it knotting, Sheriff."

Tags: american story

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