There was no answer, and she continued in a trembling voice: “I went to get those powders I’d put away in father’s old spectacle-case, top of the china-closet, where I keep the things I set store by, so’s folks shan’t meddle with them-” Her voice broke, and two small tears hung on her lashless lids and ran slowly down her cheeks. “It takes the stepladder to get at the top shelf, and I put Aunt Philura Maple’s pickle-dish up there o’ purpose when we was married, and it’s never been down since, ’cept for the spring cleaning, and then I always lifted it with my own hands, so’s ’t shouldn’t get broke.” She laid the fragments reverently on the table. “I want to know who done this,” she quavered.
At the challenge Ethan turned back into the room and faced her. “I can tell you, then. The cat done it.”
“That’s what I said.”
She looked at him hard, and then turned her eyes to Mattie, who was carrying the dish-pan to the table.
“I’d like to know how the cat got into my china-closet"’ she said.
“Chasin’ mice, I guess,” Ethan rejoined. “There was a mouse round the kitchen all last evening.”
Zeena continued to look from one to the other; then she emitted her small strange laugh. “I knew the cat was a smart cat,” she said in a high voice, “but I didn’t know he was smart enough to pick up the pieces of my pickle-dish and lay ’em edge to edge on the very shelf he knocked ’em off of.”
Mattie suddenly drew her arms out of the steaming water. “It wasn’t Ethan’s fault, Zeena! The cat did break the dish; but I got it down from the china-closet, and I’m the one to blame for its getting broken.”
Zeena stood beside the ruin of her treasure, stiffening into a stony image of resentment, “You got down my pickle-dish-what for?”
A bright flush flew to Mattie’s cheeks. “I wanted to make the supper-table pretty,” she said.
“You wanted to make the supper-table pretty; and you waited till my back was turned, and took the thing I set most store by of anything I’ve got, and wouldn’t never use it, not even when the minister come to dinner, or Aunt Martha Pierce come over from Bettsbridge-” Zeena paused with a gasp, as if terrified by her own evocation of the sacrilege. “You’re a bad girl, Mattie Silver, and I always known it. It’s the way your father begun, and I was warned of it when I took you, and I tried to keep my things where you couldn’t get at ’em-and now you’ve took from me the one I cared for most of all-” She broke off in a short spasm of sobs that passed and left her more than ever like a shape of stone.
“If I’d ‘a’ listened to folks, you’d ‘a’ gone before now, and this wouldn’t ‘a’ happened,” she said; and gathering up the bits of broken glass she went out of the room as if she carried a dead body...