She turned away.
Mrs. Peters reached out for the bottle of fruit as if she were glad to take it–as if touching a familiar thing, having something to do, could keep her from something else. She got up, looked about for something to wrap the fruit in, took a petticoat from the pile of clothes she had brought from the front room, and nervously started winding that round the bottle.
“My!” she began, in a high, false voice, “it’s a good thing the men couldn’t hear us! Getting all stirred up over a little thing like a–dead canary.” She hurried over that. “As if that could have anything to do with–with–My, wouldn’t they laugh?”
Footsteps were heard on the stairs.
“Maybe they would,” muttered Mrs. Hale–“maybe they wouldn’t.”
“No, Peters,” said the county attorney incisively; “it’s all perfectly clear, except the 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 clumsy way of doing it.”
In a covert way Mrs. Hale looked at Mrs. Peters. Mrs. Peters was looking at her. Quickly they looked away from each other. The outer door opened and Mr. Hale came in.
“I’ve got the team round now,” he said. “Pretty cold out there.”
“I’m going to stay here awhile by myself,” the county attorney suddenly announced. “You can send Frank out for me, can’t you?” he asked the sheriff. “I want to go over everything. I’m not satisfied we can’t do better.”
Again, for one brief moment, the two women’s eyes found one another.
The sheriff came up to the table.
“Did you want to see what Mrs. Peters was going to take in?”
The county attorney picked up the apron. He laughed.
“Oh, I guess they’re not very dangerous things the ladies have picked out.”
Mrs. Hale’s hand was on the sewing basket in which the box was concealed. She felt that she ought to take her hand off the basket. She did not seem able to. He picked up one of the quilt blocks which she had piled on to cover the box. Her eyes felt like fire. She had a feeling that if he took up the basket she would snatch it from him.
But he did not take it up. With another little laugh, he turned away, saying:
“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 was standing beside the table. Mrs. Hale shot a look up at her; but she could not see her face. Mrs. Peters had turned away. When she spoke, her voice was muffled.
“Not–just that way,” she said.
“Married to the law!” chuckled Mrs. Peters’ husband. He moved toward the door into the front room, and said to the county attorney:
“I just want you to come in here a minute, George. We ought to take a look at these windows.”
“Oh–windows,” said the county attorney scoffingly.
“We’ll be right out, Mr. Hale,” said the sheriff to the farmer, who was still waiting by the door.
Hale went to look after the horses. The sheriff followed the county attorney into the other room. Again–for one final moment–the two women were alone in that kitchen.
Martha Hale sprang up, her hands tight together, looking at that other woman, with whom it rested. At first she could not see her eyes, for the sheriff’s wife had not turned back since she turned away at that suggestion of being married to the law. But now Mrs. Hale made her turn back. Her eyes made her turn back. Slowly, unwillingly, Mrs. Peters turned her head until her eyes met the eyes of the other woman. There was a moment when they held each other in a steady, burning look in which there was no evasion or flinching. Then Martha Hale’s eyes pointed the way to the basket in which was hidden the thing that would make certain the conviction of the other woman–that woman who was not there and yet who had been there with them all through that hour.
For a moment Mrs. Peters did not move. And then she did it. With a rush forward, she threw back the quilt pieces, got the box, tried to put it in her handbag. It was too big. Desperately she opened it, started to take the bird out. But there she broke–she could not touch the bird. She stood there helpless, foolish.
There was the sound of a knob turning in the inner door. Martha Hale snatched the box from the sheriff’s wife, and got it in the pocket of her big coat just as the sheriff and the county attorney came back into the kitchen.
“Well, Henry,” said the county attorney facetiously, “at least we found out that she was not going to quilt it. She was going to–what is it you call it, ladies?”
Mrs. Hale’s hand was against the pocket of her coat.
“We call it–knot it, Mr. Henderson.”