Everyone in the kitchen looked at the rocker. It came into Mrs. Hale’s mind that that rocker didn’t look in the least like Minnie Foster–the Minnie Foster of twenty years before. It was a dingy red, with wooden rungs up the back, and the middle rung was gone, and the chair sagged to one side.
“How did she–look?” the county attorney was inquiring.
“Well,” said Hale, “she looked–queer.”
“How do you mean–queer?”
As he asked it he took out a note-book and pencil. Mrs. Hale did not like the sight of that pencil. She kept her eye fixed on her husband, as if to keep him from saying unnecessary things that would go into that note-book and make trouble.
Hale did speak guardedly, as if the pencil had affected him too.
“Well, as if she didn’t know what she was going to do next. And kind of–done up.”
“How did she seem to feel about your coming?”
“Why, I don’t think she minded–one way or other. She didn’t pay much attention. I said, ‘Ho’ do, Mrs. Wright? It’s cold, ain’t it?’ And she said. ‘Is it?’–and went on pleatin’ at her apron.
“Well, I was surprised. She didn’t ask me to come up to the stove, or to sit down, but just set there, not even lookin’ at me. And 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 I see John?’ ‘No,’ says she–kind of dull like. ‘Ain’t he home?’ says I. Then she looked at me. ‘Yes,’ says she, ‘he’s home.’ ‘Then why can’t I see him?’ I asked her, out of patience with her now. ‘Cause he’s dead’ says she, just as quiet and dull–and fell to pleatin’ her apron. ‘Dead?’ says, I, like you do when you can’t take in what you’ve heard.
“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 this”–pointing to the room above.
“I got up, with the idea of going up there myself. By this time I–didn’t know what to do. I walked from there to here; then I says: ‘Why, what did he die of?’
“‘He died of a rope around his neck,’ says she; and just went on pleatin’ at her apron.”
Hale stopped speaking, and stood staring at the rocker, as if he were still seeing the woman who had sat there the morning before. Nobody spoke; it was as if every one were seeing the woman who had sat there the morning before.
“And what did you do then?” the county attorney at last broke the silence.
“I went out and called Harry. I thought I might–need help. I got Harry in, and we went upstairs.” His voice fell almost to a whisper. “There he was–lying over the–“
“I think I’d rather have you go into that upstairs,” the county attorney interrupted, “where you can point it all out. Just go on now with the rest of the story.”
“Well, my first thought was to get that rope off. It looked–“
He stopped, his face twitching.
“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 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’ at her apron. ‘I don’t know,’ she says. ‘You don’t know?’ says Harry. ‘Weren’t you sleepin’ in the bed with him?’ ‘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 may have 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 that weren’t our business; maybe we ought to let her tell her story first to the coroner or the sheriff. So Harry went fast as he could over to High Road–the Rivers’ place, where there’s a telephone.”
“And what did she do when she knew you had gone for the coroner?” The attorney got his pencil in his hand all ready for writing.
“She moved from that chair to this one over here”–Hale pointed to a small chair in the corner–“and just sat there with her hands held together and lookin 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.”
At the sound of a moving pencil the man who was telling the story looked up.
“I dunno–maybe it wasn’t scared,” he hastened: “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.”
He said that last with relief, and moved a little, as if relaxing. Everyone moved a little. The county attorney walked toward the stair door.
“I guess we’ll go upstairs first–then out to the barn and around there.”
He paused and looked around the kitchen.
“You’re convinced there was nothing important here?” he asked the sheriff. “Nothing that would–point to any motive?”
The sheriff too looked all around, as if to re-convince himself.
“Nothing here but kitchen things,” he said, with a little laugh for the insignificance of kitchen things.
The county attorney was looking at the cupboard–a peculiar, ungainly structure, half closet and half cupboard, the upper part of it being built in the wall, and the lower part just the old-fashioned kitchen cupboard. As if its queerness attracted him, he got a chair and opened the upper part and looked in. After a moment he drew his hand away sticky.
“Here’s a nice mess,” he said resentfully.
The two women had drawn nearer, and now the sheriff’s wife spoke.
“Oh–her fruit,” she said, looking to Mrs. Hale for sympathetic understanding.
She turned back to the county attorney and explained: “She worried about that when it turned so cold last night. She said the fire would go out and her jars might burst.”
Mrs. Peters’ husband broke into a laugh.
“Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder, and worrying about her preserves!”
The young attorney set his lips.