Snow fell that morning outside the courthouse windows, four tall, narrow arches of leaded glass that yielded a great quantity of weak December light. A wind from the sea lofted snow-flakes against the windowpanes, where they melted and ran toward the casements. Beyond the courthouse the town of Amity Harbor spread along the island shoreline. A few wind-whipped and decrepit Victorian mansions, remnants of a lost era of seagoing optimism, loomed out of the snowfall on the town’s sporadic hills. Beyond them, cedars wove a steep mat of still green. The snow blurred from vision the clean contours of these cedar hills. The sea wind drove snowflakes steadily inland, hurling them against the fragrant trees, and the snow began to settle on the highest branches with a gentle implacability.
The accused man, with one segment of his consciousness, watched the falling snow outside the windows. He was grateful to the window repair companies that had fixed them recently, seeing outside through them was his only joy. He had been exiled in the county jail for seventy-seven days—the last part of September, all of October and all of November, the first week of December in jail. There was no window anywhere in his basement cell, no portal through which the autumn light could come to him. He had missed autumn, he realized now—it had passed already, evaporated. The snowfall, which he witnessed out of the corners of his eyes—furious, wind-whipped flakes against the windows—struck him as infinitely beautiful.