“I felt a little mite better, and Dr. Buck says I ought to eat all I can to keep my strength up, even if I ain’t got any appetite,” she said in her flat whine, reaching across Mattie for the teapot. Her “good” dress had been replaced by the black calico and brown knitted shawl which formed her daily wear, and with them she had put on her usual face and manner. She poured out her tea, added a great deal of milk to it, helped herself largely to pie and pickles, and made the familiar gesture of adjusting her false teeth before she began to eat. The cat rubbed itself ingratiatingly against her, and she said “Good Pussy,” stooped to stroke it and gave it a scrap of meat from her plate.
Ethan sat speechless, not pretending to eat, but Mattie nibbled valiantly at her food and asked Zeena one or two questions about her visit to Bettsbridge. Zeena answered in her every-day tone and, warming to the theme, regaled them with several vivid descriptions of intestinal disturbances among her friends and relatives. She looked straight at Mattie as she spoke, a faint smile deepening the vertical lines between her nose and chin.
When supper was over she rose from her seat and pressed her hand to the flat surface over the region of her heart. “That pie of yours always sets a mite heavy, Matt,” she said, not ill-naturedly. She seldom abbreviated the girl’s name, and when she did so it was always a sign of affability.
“I’ve a good mind to go and hunt up those stomach powders I got last year over in Springfield,” she continued. “I ain’t tried them for quite a while, and maybe they’ll help the heartburn.”
Mattie lifted her eyes. “Can’t I get them for you, Zeena?” she ventured.
“No. They’re in a place you don’t know about,” Zeena answered darkly, with one of her secret looks.
She went out of the kitchen and Mattie, rising, began to clear the dishes from the table. As she passed Ethan’s chair their eyes met and clung together desolately. The warm still kitchen looked as peaceful as the night before. The cat had sprung to Zeena’s rocking-chair, and the heat of the fire was beginning to draw out the faint sharp scent of the geraniums. Ethan dragged himself wearily to his feet.
“I’ll go out and take a look around,” he said, going toward the passage to get his lantern.
As he reached the door he met Zeena coming back into the room, her lips twitching with anger, a flush of excitement on her sallow face. The shawl had slipped from her shoulders and was dragging at her down-trodden heels, and in her hands she carried the fragments of the red glass pickle-dish.
“I’d like to know who done this,” she said, looking sternly from Ethan to Mattie.