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TRIFLES a play in one-act

by Susan Glaspell

The following one-act play is reprinted from . Susan Glaspell. New York: Frank Shay, 1916. It is now in the public domain and may therefore be performed without royalties.



LEWIS HALE, A neighboring farmer MRS. PETERS


COUNTY ATTORNEY: This feels good. Come up to the fire, ladies.

MRS PETERS: I’m not—cold.

SHERIFF: 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: 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 yesterday morning.

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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 and there in that rocker— sat Mrs Wright.

COUNTY ATTORNEY: What—was she doing?

HALE: She was rockin’ back and forth. She had her apron in her hand and was kind of— pleating it.

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 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 … … 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 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

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put in a telephone, and at that she started to laugh, and then she stopped and looked at me—scared, 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 don’t.

COUNTY ATTORNEY: I guess we’ll go upstairs first—and then out to the barn and around there, You’re convinced that there was nothing important here—nothing that would point to any motive.

SHERIFF: Nothing here but kitchen things.

COUNTY ATTORNEY: Here’s a nice mess.

MRS PETERS: Oh, her fruit; it did freeze, She worried about that when it turned so cold. She said the fire’d go out and her jars would break.

SHERIFF: Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder and worryin’ about her preserves.

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.

COUNTY ATTORNEY: And yet, for all their worries, what would we do without the ladies?

Dirty towels! Not much of a housekeeper, would you

say, ladies?

MRS HALE: There’s a great deal of work to be done on a farm.

COUNTY ATTORNEY: To be sure. And yet I know there are some Dickson county farmhouses which do not have such roller towels.

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: 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—


MRS HALE: It never seemed a very cheerful place.

COUNTY ATTORNEY: No—it’s not cheerful. I shouldn’t say she had the homemaking instinct.

MRS HALE: Well, I don’t know as Wright had, either.

COUNTY ATTORNEY: You mean that they didn’t get on very well?

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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.

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.

MRS HALE: I’d hate to have men coming into my kitchen, snooping around and criticising.

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. 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: She had bread set.

MRS HALE: She was going to put this in there,

It’s a shame about her fruit. I wonder if it’s all gone. I think there’s some here that’s all right, Mrs Peters. Yes—here; this is cherries, too. I declare I believe that’s the only one.

She’ll feel awful bad after all her hard work in the hot weather. I remember the afternoon I put up my cherries last summer.

MRS PETERS: Well, I must get those things from the front room closet, You coming with me,

Mrs Hale? You could help me carry them.

MRS PETERS: My, it’s cold in there.

MRS HALE: 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 in?

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. Yes, here it is.

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MRS HALE: Mrs Peters?

MRS PETERS: Yes, Mrs Hale?

MRS HALE: Do you think she did it?

MRS PETERS: 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: 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: Well, I don’t see any signs of anger around here,

It’s wiped to here,

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, Better loosen up your things, Mrs Peters. You won’t feel them when you go out.

MRS PETERS: She was piecing a quilt.

MRS HALE: It’s log cabin pattern. Pretty, isn’t it? I wonder if she was goin’ to quilt it or just knot it?

SHERIFF: They wonder if she was going to quilt it or just knot it!

COUNTY ATTORNEY: Frank’s fire didn’t do much up there, did it? Well, let’s go out to the barn and get that cleared up.

MRS HALE: 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.

I don’t see as it’s anything to laugh about.

MRS PETERS: Of course they’ve got awful important things on their minds.

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MRS HALE: 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!

MRS PETERS: Oh, what are you doing, Mrs Hale?

MRS HALE: Just pulling out a stitch or two that’s not sewed very good. Bad sewing always made me fidgety.

MRS PETERS: I don’t think we ought to touch things.

MRS HALE: I’ll just finish up this end. Mrs Peters?

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.

Well I must get these things wrapped up. They may be through sooner than we think, I wonder where I can find a piece of paper, and string.

MRS HALE: In that cupboard, maybe.

MRS PETERS: Why, here’s a bird-cage, 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: 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: Why, look at this door. It’s broke. One hinge is pulled apart.

MRS HALE: Looks as if someone must have been rough with it.

MRS PETERS: Why, yes.

MRS HALE: I wish if they’re going to find any evidence they’d be about it. I don’t like this place.

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? But I tell you what I do wish, Mrs Peters. I wish I had come over sometimes when she was here. I—

—wish I had.

MRS PETERS: But of course you were awful busy, Mrs Hale—your house and your children.

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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—

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— Like a raw wind that gets to the bone,

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.

MRS HALE: You weren’t raised round here, were you? You didn’t know—her?

MRS PETERS: Not till they brought her yesterday.

MRS HALE: She—come to think of it, she was kind of like a bird herself—real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and—fluttery. How—she—did—change.

Tell you what, Mrs Peters, why don’t you take the quilt in with you? It might take up her mind.

MRS PETERS: Why, I think that’s a real nice idea, Mrs Hale. There couldn’t possibly be any objection to it, could there? Now, just what would I take? I wonder if her patches are in here—and her things.

MRS HALE: Here’s some red. I expect this has got sewing things in it. What a pretty box. Looks like something somebody would give you. Maybe her

scissors are in here. Why— There’s something wrapped up in this

piece of silk.

MRS PETERS: Why, this isn’t her scissors.

MRS HALE: Oh, Mrs Peters—it’s—

MRS PETERS: It’s the bird.

MRS HALE: But, Mrs Peters—look at it! It’s neck! Look at its neck! It’s all— other side to.

MRS PETERS: Somebody—wrung—its—neck.

COUNTY ATTORNEY: Well ladies, have you decided whether she was going to quilt it or knot it?

MRS PETERS: We think she was going to—knot it.

COUNTY ATTORNEY: Well, that’s interesting, I’m sure. Has the bird flown?

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MRS HALE: We think the—cat got it.

COUNTY ATTORNEY: Is there a cat?

MRS PETERS: Well, not now. They’re superstitious, you know. They leave.

COUNTY ATTORNEY: No sign at all of anyone having come from the outside. Their own rope. Now let’s go up again and go over it piece by piece. It would have to have been someone who knew just the—

MRS HALE: She liked the bird. She was going to bury it in that pretty box.

MRS PETERS: When I was a girl—my kitten—there was a boy took a hatchet, and before my eyes—and before I could get there— If they hadn’t held me back I would have—

—hurt him.

MRS HALE: I wonder how it would seem never to have had any children around, No, Wright wouldn’t like the bird—a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that, too.

MRS PETERS: We don’t know who killed the bird.

MRS HALE: I knew John Wright.

MRS PETERS: It was an awful thing was done in this house that night, Mrs Hale. Killing a man while he slept, slipping a rope around his neck that choked the life out of him.

MRS HALE: His neck. Choked the life out of him.

MRS PETERS: We don’t know who killed him. We don’t know.

MRS HALE: If there’d been years and years of nothing, then a bird to sing to you, it would be awful—still, after the bird was still.

MRS PETERS: I know what stillness is. When we homesteaded in Dakota, and my first baby died—after he was two years old, and me with no other then—

MRS HALE: How soon do you suppose they’ll be through, looking for the evidence?

MRS PETERS: I know what stillness is. The law has got to punish crime, Mrs Hale.

MRS HALE: I wish you’d seen Minnie Foster when she wore a white dress with blue ribbons and stood up there in the choir and sang.

Oh, I wish I’d come over here once in a while! That was a crime! That was a crime! Who’s going to punish that?

MRS PETERS: We mustn’t—take on.

MRS HALE: I might have known she needed help! I know how things can be—for women. I tell you, it’s queer, Mrs Peters. We live close together and we live far apart. We all go through the same things—it’s all just a different kind of the same thing,

If I was you, I wouldn’t tell her her fruit was gone. Tell her it ain’t. Tell her it’s all right. Take this in to prove it to her. She— she may never know whether it was broke or not.


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My, it’s a good thing the men couldn’t hear us. Wouldn’t they just laugh! Getting all stirred up over a little thing like a—dead canary. As if that could have anything to do with—with—wouldn’t they laugh!

MRS HALE: Maybe they would—maybe they wouldn’t.

COUNTY ATTORNEY: No, Peters, it’s all perfectly clear except a 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 strange way of doing it—

HALE: Well, I’ve got the team around. Pretty cold out there.

COUNTY ATTORNEY: I’m going to stay here a while by myself, You can send Frank out for me, can’t you? I want to go over everything. I’m not satisfied that we can’t do better.

SHERIFF: Do you want to see what Mrs Peters is going to take in?

COUNTY ATTORNEY: Oh, I guess they’re not very dangerous things the ladies have picked out.

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: Not—just that way.

SHERIFF: Married to the law. I just want you to come in here a minute, George. We ought to take a look at these windows.


SHERIFF: We’ll be right out, Mr Hale.

COUNTY ATTORNEY: Well, Henry, 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: We call it—knot it, Mr Henderson.


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