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ethan frome i had the story, bit by bit, from variouspeople, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story.if you know starkfield, massachusetts, you know the post-office. if you know the post-office you must haveseen ethan frome drive up to it, drop the reins on his hollow-backed bay and draghimself across the brick pavement to the white colonnade: and you must have askedwho he was. it was there that, several years ago, i sawhim for the first time; and the sight pulled me up sharp.
even then he was the most striking figurein starkfield, though he was but the ruin of a man. it was not so much his great height thatmarked him, for the "natives" were easily singled out by their lank longitude fromthe stockier foreign breed: it was the careless powerful look he had, in spite of a lameness checking each step like the jerkof a chain. there was something bleak andunapproachable in his face, and he was so stiffened and grizzled that i took him foran old man and was surprised to hear that he was not more than fifty-two.
i had this from harmon gow, who had driventhe stage from bettsbridge to starkfield in pre-trolley days and knew the chronicle ofall the families on his line. "he's looked that way ever since he had hissmash-up; and that's twenty-four years ago come next february," harmon threw outbetween reminiscent pauses. the "smash-up" it was--i gathered from thesame informant--which, besides drawing the red gash across ethan frome's forehead, hadso shortened and warped his right side that it cost him a visible effort to take the few steps from his buggy to the post-officewindow. he used to drive in from his farm every dayat about noon, and as that was my own hour
for fetching my mail i often passed him inthe porch or stood beside him while we waited on the motions of the distributinghand behind the grating. i noticed that, though he came sopunctually, he seldom received anything but a copy of the bettsbridge eagle, which heput without a glance into his sagging pocket. at intervals, however, the post-masterwould hand him an envelope addressed to mrs. zenobia--or mrs. zeena-frome, andusually bearing conspicuously in the upper left-hand corner the address of some manufacturer of patent medicine and thename of his specific.
these documents my neighbour would alsopocket without a glance, as if too much used to them to wonder at their number andvariety, and would then turn away with a silent nod to the post-master. every one in starkfield knew him and gavehim a greeting tempered to his own grave mien; but his taciturnity was respected andit was only on rare occasions that one of the older men of the place detained him fora word. when this happened he would listen quietly,his blue eyes on the speaker's face, and answer in so low a tone that his wordsnever reached me; then he would climb stiffly into his buggy, gather up the reins
in his left hand and drive slowly away inthe direction of his farm. "it was a pretty bad smash-up?" i questioned harmon, looking after frome'sretreating figure, and thinking how gallantly his lean brown head, with itsshock of light hair, must have sat on his strong shoulders before they were bent outof shape. "wust kind," my informant assented."more'n enough to kill most men. but the fromes are tough. ethan'll likely touch a hundred.""good god!" i exclaimed. at the moment ethan frome, after climbingto his seat, had leaned over to assure
himself of the security of a wooden box--also with a druggist's label on it--which he had placed in the back of the buggy, and i saw his face as it probably looked whenhe thought himself alone. "that man touch a hundred?he looks as if he was dead and in hell now!" harmon drew a slab of tobacco from hispocket, cut off a wedge and pressed it into the leather pouch of his cheek."guess he's been in starkfield too many winters. most of the smart ones get away.""why didn't he?"
"somebody had to stay and care for thefolks. there warn't ever anybody but ethan. fust his father--then his mother--then hiswife." "and then the smash-up?"harmon chuckled sardonically. "that's so. he had to stay then.""i see. and since then they've had to care forhim?" harmon thoughtfully passed his tobacco tothe other cheek. "oh, as to that: i guess it's always ethandone the caring."
though harmon gow developed the tale as faras his mental and moral reach permitted there were perceptible gaps between hisfacts, and i had the sense that the deeper meaning of the story was in the gaps. but one phrase stuck in my memory andserved as the nucleus about which i grouped my subsequent inferences: "guess he's beenin starkfield too many winters." before my own time there was up i hadlearned to know what that meant. yet i had come in the degenerate day oftrolley, bicycle and rural delivery, when communication was easy between thescattered mountain villages, and the bigger towns in the valleys, such as bettsbridge
and shadd's falls, had libraries, theatresand y.m.c.a. halls to which the youth of the hills could descend for recreation. but when winter shut down on starkfield andthe village lay under a sheet of snow perpetually renewed from the pale skies, ibegan to see what life there--or rather its negation--must have been in ethan frome'syoung manhood. i had been sent up by my employers on a jobconnected with the big power-house at corbury junction, and a long-drawncarpenters' strike had so delayed the work that i found myself anchored at starkfield- -the nearest habitable spot--for the bestpart of the winter.
i chafed at first, and then, under thehypnotising effect of routine, gradually began to find a grim satisfaction in thelife. during the early part of my stay i had beenstruck by the contrast between the vitality of the climate and the deadness of thecommunity. day by day, after the december snows wereover, a blazing blue sky poured down torrents of light and air on the whitelandscape, which gave them back in an intenser glitter. one would have supposed that such anatmosphere must quicken the emotions as well as the blood; but it seemed to produceno change except that of retarding still
more the sluggish pulse of starkfield. when i had been there a little longer, andhad seen this phase of crystal clearness followed by long stretches of sunless cold;when the storms of february had pitched their white tents about the devoted village and the wild cavalry of march winds hadcharged down to their support; i began to understand why starkfield emerged from itssix months' siege like a starved garrison capitulating without quarter. twenty years earlier the means ofresistance must have been far fewer, and the enemy in command of almost all thelines of access between the beleaguered
villages; and, considering these things, i felt the sinister force of harmon's phrase:"most of the smart ones get away." but if that were the case, how could anycombination of obstacles have hindered the flight of a man like ethan frome? during my stay at starkfield i lodged witha middle-aged widow colloquially known as mrs. ned hale. mrs. hale's father had been the villagelawyer of the previous generation, and "lawyer varnum's house," where my landladystill lived with her mother, was the most considerable mansion in the village.
it stood at one end of the main street, itsclassic portico and small-paned windows looking down a flagged path between norwayspruces to the slim white steeple of the congregational church. it was clear that the varnum fortunes wereat the ebb, but the two women did what they could to preserve a decent dignity; andmrs. hale, in particular, had a certain wan refinement not out of keeping with her paleold-fashioned house. in the "best parlour," with its blackhorse-hair and mahogany weakly illuminated by a gurgling carcel lamp, i listened everyevening to another and more delicately shaded version of the starkfield chronicle.
it was not that mrs. ned hale felt, oraffected, any social superiority to the people about her; it was only that theaccident of a finer sensibility and a little more education had put just enough distance between herself and her neighboursto enable her to judge them with detachment. she was not unwilling to exercise thisfaculty, and i had great hopes of getting from her the missing facts of ethan frome'sstory, or rather such a key to his character as should co-ordinate the facts iknew. her mind was a store-house of innocuousanecdote and any question about her
acquaintances brought forth a volume ofdetail; but on the subject of ethan frome i found her unexpectedly reticent. there was no hint of disapproval in herreserve; i merely felt in her an insurmountable reluctance to speak of himor his affairs, a low "yes, i knew them both... it was awful..." seeming to be the utmost concession that her distress couldmake to my curiosity. so marked was the change in her manner,such depths of sad initiation did it imply, that, with some doubts as to my delicacy, iput the case anew to my village oracle, harmon gow; but got for my pains only anuncomprehending grunt.
"ruth varnum was always as nervous as arat; and, come to think of it, she was the first one to see 'em after they was pickedup. it happened right below lawyer varnum's,down at the bend of the corbury road, just round about the time that ruth got engagedto ned hale. the young folks was all friends, and iguess she just can't bear to talk about it. she's had troubles enough of her own." all the dwellers in starkfield, as in morenotable communities, had had troubles enough of their own to make themcomparatively indifferent to those of their neighbours; and though all conceded that
ethan frome's had been beyond the commonmeasure, no one gave me an explanation of the look in his face which, as i persistedin thinking, neither poverty nor physical suffering could have put there. nevertheless, i might have contented myselfwith the story pieced together from these hints had it not been for the provocationof mrs. hale's silence, and--a little later--for the accident of personal contactwith the man. on my arrival at starkfield, denis eady,the rich irish grocer, who was the proprietor of starkfield's nearest approachto a livery stable, had entered into an agreement to send me over daily to corbury
flats, where i had to pick up my train forthe junction. but about the middle of the winter eady'shorses fell ill of a local epidemic. the illness spread to the other starkfieldstables and for a day or two i was put to it to find a means of transport. then harmon gow suggested that ethanfrome's bay was still on his legs and that his owner might be glad to drive me over.i stared at the suggestion. "ethan frome? but i've never even spoken to him.why on earth should he put himself out for me?"harmon's answer surprised me still more.
"i don't know as he would; but i know hewouldn't be sorry to earn a dollar." i had been told that frome was poor, andthat the saw-mill and the arid acres of his farm yielded scarcely enough to keep hishousehold through the winter; but i had not supposed him to be in such want as harmon's words implied, and i expressed my wonder."well, matters ain't gone any too well with him," harmon said. "when a man's been setting round like ahulk for twenty years or more, seeing things that want doing, it eats inter him,and he loses his grit. that frome farm was always 'bout as bare'sa milkpan when the cat's been round; and
you know what one of them old water-millsis wuth nowadays. when ethan could sweat over 'em both fromsunup to dark he kinder choked a living out of 'em; but his folks ate up mosteverything, even then, and i don't see how he makes out now. fust his father got a kick, out haying, andwent soft in the brain, and gave away money like bible texts afore he died. then his mother got queer and dragged alongfor years as weak as a baby; and his wife zeena, she's always been the greatest handat doctoring in the county. sickness and trouble: that's what ethan'shad his plate full up with, ever since the
very first helping." the next morning, when i looked out, i sawthe hollow-backed bay between the varnum spruces, and ethan frome, throwing back hisworn bearskin, made room for me in the sleigh at his side. after that, for a week, he drove me overevery morning to corbury flats, and on my return in the afternoon met me again andcarried me back through the icy night to starkfield. the distance each way was barely threemiles, but the old bay's pace was slow, and even with firm snow under the runners wewere nearly an hour on the way.
ethan frome drove in silence, the reinsloosely held in his left hand, his brown seamed profile, under the helmet-like peakof the cap, relieved against the banks of snow like the bronze image of a hero. he never turned his face to mine, oranswered, except in monosyllables, the questions i put, or such slightpleasantries as i ventured. he seemed a part of the mute melancholylandscape, an incarnation of its frozen woe, with all that was warm and sentient inhim fast bound below the surface; but there was nothing unfriendly in his silence. i simply felt that he lived in a depth ofmoral isolation too remote for casual
access, and i had the sense that hisloneliness was not merely the result of his personal plight, tragic as i guessed that to be, but had in it, as harmon gow hadhinted, the profound accumulated cold of many starkfield winters. only once or twice was the distance betweenus bridged for a moment; and the glimpses thus gained confirmed my desire to knowmore. once i happened to speak of an engineeringjob i had been on the previous year in florida, and of the contrast between thewinter landscape about us and that in which i had found myself the year before; and to
my surprise frome said suddenly: "yes: iwas down there once, and for a good while afterward i could call up the sight of itin winter. but now it's all snowed under." he said no more, and i had to guess therest from the inflection of his voice and his sharp relapse into silence. another day, on getting into my train atthe flats, i missed a volume of popular science--i think it was on some recentdiscoveries in bio-chemistry--which i had carried with me to read on the way. i thought no more about it till i got intothe sleigh again that evening, and saw the
book in frome's hand."i found it after you were gone," he said. i put the volume into my pocket and wedropped back into our usual silence; but as we began to crawl up the long hill fromcorbury flats to the starkfield ridge i became aware in the dusk that he had turnedhis face to mine. "there are things in that book that ididn't know the first word about," he said. i wondered less at his words than at thequeer note of resentment in his voice. he was evidently surprised and slightlyaggrieved at his own ignorance. "does that sort of thing interest you?" i asked."it used to."
"there are one or two rather new things inthe book: there have been some big strides lately in that particular line ofresearch." i waited a moment for an answer that didnot come; then i said: "if you'd like to look the book through i'd be glad to leaveit with you." he hesitated, and i had the impression thathe felt himself about to yield to a stealing tide of inertia; then, "thank you--i'll take it," he answered shortly. i hoped that this incident might set upsome more direct communication between us. frome was so simple and straightforwardthat i was sure his curiosity about the book was based on a genuine interest in itssubject.
such tastes and acquirements in a man ofhis condition made the contrast more poignant between his outer situation andhis inner needs, and i hoped that the chance of giving expression to the lattermight at least unseal his lips. but something in his past history, or inhis present way of living, had apparently driven him too deeply into himself for anycasual impulse to draw him back to his kind. at our next meeting he made no allusion tothe book, and our intercourse seemed fated to remain as negative and one-sided as ifthere had been no break in his reserve. frome had been driving me over to the flatsfor about a week when one morning i looked
out of my window into a thick snow-fall. the height of the white waves massedagainst the garden-fence and along the wall of the church showed that the storm musthave been going on all night, and that the drifts were likely to be heavy in the open. i thought it probable that my train wouldbe delayed; but i had to be at the power- house for an hour or two that afternoon,and i decided, if frome turned up, to push through to the flats and wait there till mytrain came in. i don't know why i put it in theconditional, however, for i never doubted that frome would appear.
he was not the kind of man to be turnedfrom his business by any commotion of the elements; and at the appointed hour hissleigh glided up through the snow like a stage-apparition behind thickening veils ofgauze. i was getting to know him too well toexpress either wonder or gratitude at his keeping his appointment; but i exclaimed insurprise as i saw him turn his horse in a direction opposite to that of the corburyroad. "the railroad's blocked by a freight-trainthat got stuck in a drift below the flats," he explained, as we jogged off into thestinging whiteness. "but look here--where are you taking me,then?"
"straight to the junction, by the shortestway," he answered, pointing up school house hill with his whip. "to the junction--in this storm?why, it's a good ten miles!" "the bay'll do it if you give him time.you said you had some business there this afternoon. i'll see you get there."he said it so quietly that i could only answer: "you're doing me the biggest kindof a favour." "that's all right," he rejoined. abreast of the schoolhouse the road forked,and we dipped down a lane to the left,
between hemlock boughs bent inward to theirtrunks by the weight of the snow. i had often walked that way on sundays, andknew that the solitary roof showing through bare branches near the bottom of the hillwas that of frome's saw-mill. it looked exanimate enough, with its idlewheel looming above the black stream dashed with yellow-white spume, and its cluster ofsheds sagging under their white load. frome did not even turn his head as wedrove by, and still in silence we began to mount the next slope. about a mile farther, on a road i had nevertravelled, we came to an orchard of starved apple-trees writhing over a hillside amongoutcroppings of slate that nuzzled up
through the snow like animals pushing outtheir noses to breathe. beyond the orchard lay a field or two,their boundaries lost under drifts; and above the fields, huddled against the whiteimmensities of land and sky, one of those lonely new england farm-houses that makethe landscape lonelier. "that's my place," said frome, with asideway jerk of his lame elbow; and in the distress and oppression of the scene i didnot know what to answer. the snow had ceased, and a flash of waterysunlight exposed the house on the slope above us in all its plaintive ugliness. the black wraith of a deciduous creeperflapped from the porch, and the thin wooden
walls, under their worn coat of paint,seemed to shiver in the wind that had risen with the ceasing of the snow. "the house was bigger in my father's time:i had to take down the 'l,' a while back," frome continued, checking with a twitch ofthe left rein the bay's evident intention of turning in through the broken-down gate. i saw then that the unusually forlorn andstunted look of the house was partly due to the loss of what is known in new england asthe "l": that long deep-roofed adjunct usually built at right angles to the main house, and connecting it, by way ofstorerooms and tool-house, with the wood-
shed and cow-barn. whether because of its symbolic sense, theimage it presents of a life linked with the soil, and enclosing in itself the chiefsources of warmth and nourishment, or whether merely because of the consolatory thought that it enables the dwellers inthat harsh climate to get to their morning's work without facing the weather,it is certain that the "l" rather than the house itself seems to be the centre, the actual hearth-stone of the new englandfarm. perhaps this connection of ideas, which hadoften occurred to me in my rambles about
starkfield, caused me to hear a wistfulnote in frome's words, and to see in the diminished dwelling the image of his ownshrunken body. "we're kinder side-tracked here now," headded, "but there was considerable passing before the railroad was carried through tothe flats." he roused the lagging bay with anothertwitch; then, as if the mere sight of the house had let me too deeply into hisconfidence for any farther pretence of reserve, he went on slowly: "i've always set down the worst of mother's trouble tothat. when she got the rheumatism so bad shecouldn't move around she used to sit up
there and watch the road by the hour; andone year, when they was six months mending the bettsbridge pike after the floods, and harmon gow had to bring his stage roundthis way, she picked up so that she used to get down to the gate most days to see him. but after the trains begun running nobodyever come by here to speak of, and mother never could get it through her head whathad happened, and it preyed on her right along till she died." as we turned into the corbury road the snowbegan to fall again, cutting off our last glimpse of the house; and frome's silencefell with it, letting down between us the
old veil of reticence. this time the wind did not cease with thereturn of the snow. instead, it sprang up to a gale which nowand then, from a tattered sky, flung pale sweeps of sunlight over a landscapechaotically tossed. but the bay was as good as frome's word,and we pushed on to the junction through the wild white scene. in the afternoon the storm held off, andthe clearness in the west seemed to my inexperienced eye the pledge of a fairevening. i finished my business as quickly aspossible, and we set out for starkfield
with a good chance of getting there forsupper. but at sunset the clouds gathered again,bringing an earlier night, and the snow began to fall straight and steadily from asky without wind, in a soft universal diffusion more confusing than the gusts andeddies of the morning. it seemed to be a part of the thickeningdarkness, to be the winter night itself descending on us layer by layer. the small ray of frome's lantern was soonlost in this smothering medium, in which even his sense of direction, and the bay'shoming instinct, finally ceased to serve us.
two or three times some ghostly landmarksprang up to warn us that we were astray, and then was sucked back into the mist; andwhen we finally regained our road the old horse began to show signs of exhaustion. i felt myself to blame for having acceptedfrome's offer, and after a short discussion i persuaded him to let me get out of thesleigh and walk along through the snow at the bay's side. in this way we struggled on for anothermile or two, and at last reached a point where frome, peering into what seemed to meformless night, said: "that's my gate down yonder."
the last stretch had been the hardest partof the way. the bitter cold and the heavy going hadnearly knocked the wind out of me, and i could feel the horse's side ticking like aclock under my hand. "look here, frome," i began, "there's noearthly use in your going any farther--" but he interrupted me: "nor you neither.there's been about enough of this for anybody." i understood that he was offering me anight's shelter at the farm, and without answering i turned into the gate at hisside, and followed him to the barn, where i helped him to unharness and bed down thetired horse.
when this was done he unhooked the lanternfrom the sleigh, stepped out again into the night, and called to me over his shoulder:"this way." far off above us a square of light trembledthrough the screen of snow. staggering along in frome's wake ifloundered toward it, and in the darkness almost fell into one of the deep driftsagainst the front of the house. frome scrambled up the slippery steps ofthe porch, digging a way through the snow with his heavily booted foot.then he lifted his lantern, found the latch, and led the way into the house. i went after him into a low unlit passage,at the back of which a ladder-like
staircase rose into obscurity. on our right a line of light marked thedoor of the room which had sent its ray across the night; and behind the door iheard a woman's voice droning querulously. frome stamped on the worn oil-cloth toshake the snow from his boots, and set down his lantern on a kitchen chair which wasthe only piece of furniture in the hall. then he opened the door. "come in," he said; and as he spoke thedroning voice grew still... it was that night that i found the clue toethan frome, and began to put together this vision of his story.
> chapter i the village lay under two feet of snow,with drifts at the windy corners. in a sky of iron the points of the dipperhung like icicles and orion flashed his cold fires. the moon had set, but the night was sotransparent that the white house-fronts between the elms looked gray against thesnow, clumps of bushes made black stains on it, and the basement windows of the church sent shafts of yellow light far across theendless undulations.
young ethan frome walked at a quick pacealong the deserted street, past the bank and michael eady's new brick store andlawyer varnum's house with the two black norway spruces at the gate. opposite the varnum gate, where the roadfell away toward the corbury valley, the church reared its slim white steeple andnarrow peristyle. as the young man walked toward it the upperwindows drew a black arcade along the side wall of the building, but from the loweropenings, on the side where the ground sloped steeply down to the corbury road, the light shot its long bars, illuminatingmany fresh furrows in the track leading to
the basement door, and showing, under anadjoining shed, a line of sleighs with heavily blanketed horses. the night was perfectly still, and the airso dry and pure that it gave little sensation of cold. the effect produced on frome was rather ofa complete absence of atmosphere, as though nothing less tenuous than ether intervenedbetween the white earth under his feet and the metallic dome overhead. "it's like being in an exhausted receiver,"he thought. four or five years earlier he had taken ayear's course at a technological college at
worcester, and dabbled in the laboratorywith a friendly professor of physics; and the images supplied by that experience still cropped up, at unexpected moments,through the totally different associations of thought in which he had since beenliving. his father's death, and the misfortunesfollowing it, had put a premature end to ethan's studies; but though they had notgone far enough to be of much practical use they had fed his fancy and made him aware of huge cloudy meanings behind the dailyface of things. as he strode along through the snow thesense of such meanings glowed in his brain
and mingled with the bodily flush producedby his sharp tramp. at the end of the village he paused beforethe darkened front of the church. he stood there a moment, breathing quickly,and looking up and down the street, in which not another figure moved. the pitch of the corbury road, below lawyervarnum's spruces, was the favourite coasting-ground of starkfield, and on clearevenings the church corner rang till late with the shouts of the coasters; but to- night not a sled darkened the whiteness ofthe long declivity. the hush of midnight lay on the village,and all its waking life was gathered behind
the church windows, from which strains ofdance-music flowed with the broad bands of yellow light. the young man, skirting the side of thebuilding, went down the slope toward the basement door. to keep out of range of the revealing raysfrom within he made a circuit through the untrodden snow and gradually approached thefarther angle of the basement wall. thence, still hugging the shadow, he edgedhis way cautiously forward to the nearest window, holding back his straight sparebody and craning his neck till he got a glimpse of the room.
seen thus, from the pure and frostydarkness in which he stood, it seemed to be seething in a mist of heat. the metal reflectors of the gas-jets sentcrude waves of light against the whitewashed walls, and the iron flanks ofthe stove at the end of the hall looked as though they were heaving with volcanicfires. the floor was thronged with girls and youngmen. down the side wall facing the window stooda row of kitchen chairs from which the older women had just risen. by this time the music had stopped, and themusicians--a fiddler, and the young lady
who played the harmonium on sundays--werehastily refreshing themselves at one corner of the supper-table which aligned its devastated pie-dishes and ice-cream saucerson the platform at the end of the hall. the guests were preparing to leave, and thetide had already set toward the passage where coats and wraps were hung, when ayoung man with a sprightly foot and a shock of black hair shot into the middle of thefloor and clapped his hands. the signal took instant effect. the musicians hurried to their instruments,the dancers--some already half-muffled for departure--fell into line down each side ofthe room, the older spectators slipped back
to their chairs, and the lively young man, after diving about here and there in thethrong, drew forth a girl who had already wound a cherry-coloured "fascinator" abouther head, and, leading her up to the end of the floor, whirled her down its length tothe bounding tune of a virginia reel. frome's heart was beating fast. he had been straining for a glimpse of thedark head under the cherry-coloured scarf and it vexed him that another eye shouldhave been quicker than his. the leader of the reel, who looked as if hehad irish blood in his veins, danced well, and his partner caught his fire.
as she passed down the line, her lightfigure swinging from hand to hand in circles of increasing swiftness, the scarfflew off her head and stood out behind her shoulders, and frome, at each turn, caught sight of her laughing panting lips, thecloud of dark hair about her forehead, and the dark eyes which seemed the only fixedpoints in a maze of flying lines. the dancers were going faster and faster,and the musicians, to keep up with them, belaboured their instruments like jockeyslashing their mounts on the home-stretch; yet it seemed to the young man at thewindow that the reel would never end. now and then he turned his eyes from thegirl's face to that of her partner, which,
in the exhilaration of the dance, had takenon a look of almost impudent ownership. denis eady was the son of michael eady, theambitious irish grocer, whose suppleness and effrontery had given starkfield itsfirst notion of "smart" business methods, and whose new brick store testified to thesuccess of the attempt. his son seemed likely to follow in hissteps, and was meanwhile applying the same arts to the conquest of the starkfieldmaidenhood. hitherto ethan frome had been content tothink him a mean fellow; but now he positively invited a horse-whipping. it was strange that the girl did not seemaware of it: that she could lift her rapt
face to her dancer's, and drop her handsinto his, without appearing to feel the offence of his look and touch. frome was in the habit of walking intostarkfield to fetch home his wife's cousin, mattie silver, on the rare evenings whensome chance of amusement drew her to the village. it was his wife who had suggested, when thegirl came to live with them, that such opportunities should be put in her way. mattie silver came from stamford, and whenshe entered the fromes' household to act as her cousin zeena's aid it was thought best,as she came without pay, not to let her
feel too sharp a contrast between the life she had left and the isolation of astarkfield farm. but for this--as frome sardonicallyreflected--it would hardly have occurred to zeena to take any thought for the girl'samusement. when his wife first proposed that theyshould give mattie an occasional evening out he had inwardly demurred at having todo the extra two miles to the village and back after his hard day on the farm; but not long afterward he had reached the pointof wishing that starkfield might give all its nights to revelry.
mattie silver had lived under his roof fora year, and from early morning till they met at supper he had frequent chances ofseeing her; but no moments in her company were comparable to those when, her arm in his, and her light step flying to keep timewith his long stride, they walked back through the night to the farm. he had taken to the girl from the firstday, when he had driven over to the flats to meet her, and she had smiled and wavedto him from the train, crying out, "you must be ethan!" as she jumped down with her bundles, while he reflected, looking overher slight person: "she don't look much on
housework, but she ain't a fretter,anyhow." but it was not only that the coming to hishouse of a bit of hopeful young life was like the lighting of a fire on a coldhearth. the girl was more than the brightserviceable creature he had thought her. she had an eye to see and an ear to hear:he could show her things and tell her things, and taste the bliss of feeling thatall he imparted left long reverberations and echoes he could wake at will. it was during their night walks back to thefarm that he felt most intensely the sweetness of this communion.
he had always been more sensitive than thepeople about him to the appeal of natural beauty. his unfinished studies had given form tothis sensibility and even in his unhappiest moments field and sky spoke to him with adeep and powerful persuasion. but hitherto the emotion had remained inhim as a silent ache, veiling with sadness the beauty that evoked it. he did not even know whether any one elsein the world felt as he did, or whether he was the sole victim of this mournfulprivilege. then he learned that one other spirit hadtrembled with the same touch of wonder:
that at his side, living under his roof andeating his bread, was a creature to whom he could say: "that's orion down yonder; the big fellow to the right is aldebaran, andthe bunch of little ones--like bees swarming--they're the pleiades..." or whomhe could hold entranced before a ledge of granite thrusting up through the fern while he unrolled the huge panorama of the iceage, and the long dim stretches of succeeding time. the fact that admiration for his learningmingled with mattie's wonder at what he taught was not the least part of hispleasure.
and there were other sensations, lessdefinable but more exquisite, which drew them together with a shock of silent joy:the cold red of sunset behind winter hills, the flight of cloud-flocks over slopes of golden stubble, or the intensely blueshadows of hemlocks on sunlit snow. when she said to him once: "it looks justas if it was painted!" it seemed to ethan that the art of definition could go nofarther, and that words had at last been found to utter his secret soul.... as he stood in the darkness outside thechurch these memories came back with the poignancy of vanished things.
watching mattie whirl down the floor fromhand to hand he wondered how he could ever have thought that his dull talk interestedher. to him, who was never gay but in herpresence, her gaiety seemed plain proof of indifference. the face she lifted to her dancers was thesame which, when she saw him, always looked like a window that has caught the sunset. he even noticed two or three gestureswhich, in his fatuity, he had thought she kept for him: a way of throwing her headback when she was amused, as if to taste her laugh before she let it out, and a
trick of sinking her lids slowly whenanything charmed or moved her. the sight made him unhappy, and hisunhappiness roused his latent fears. his wife had never shown any jealousy ofmattie, but of late she had grumbled increasingly over the house-work and foundoblique ways of attracting attention to the girl's inefficiency. zeena had always been what starkfieldcalled "sickly," and frome had to admit that, if she were as ailing as shebelieved, she needed the help of a stronger arm than the one which lay so lightly inhis during the night walks to the farm. mattie had no natural turn forhousekeeping, and her training had done
nothing to remedy the defect. she was quick to learn, but forgetful anddreamy, and not disposed to take the matter seriously. ethan had an idea that if she were to marrya man she was fond of the dormant instinct would wake, and her pies and biscuitsbecome the pride of the county; but domesticity in the abstract did notinterest her. at first she was so awkward that he couldnot help laughing at her; but she laughed with him and that made them better friends. he did his best to supplement her unskilledefforts, getting up earlier than usual to
light the kitchen fire, carrying in thewood overnight, and neglecting the mill for the farm that he might help her about thehouse during the day. he even crept down on saturday nights toscrub the kitchen floor after the women had gone to bed; and zeena, one day, hadsurprised him at the churn and had turned away silently, with one of her queer looks. of late there had been other signs of herdisfavour, as intangible but more disquieting. one cold winter morning, as he dressed inthe dark, his candle flickering in the draught of the ill-fitting window, he hadheard her speak from the bed behind him.
"the doctor don't want i should be leftwithout anybody to do for me," she said in her flat whine. he had supposed her to be asleep, and thesound of her voice had startled him, though she was given to abrupt explosions ofspeech after long intervals of secretive silence. he turned and looked at her where she layindistinctly outlined under the dark calico quilt, her high-boned face taking a grayishtinge from the whiteness of the pillow. "nobody to do for you?" he repeated. "if you say you can't afford a hired girlwhen mattie goes."
frome turned away again, and taking up hisrazor stooped to catch the reflection of his stretched cheek in the blotchedlooking-glass above the wash-stand. "why on earth should mattie go?" "well, when she gets married, i mean," hiswife's drawl came from behind him. "oh, she'd never leave us as long as youneeded her," he returned, scraping hard at his chin. "i wouldn't ever have it said that i stoodin the way of a poor girl like mattie marrying a smart fellow like denis eady,"zeena answered in a tone of plaintive self- effacement.
ethan, glaring at his face in the glass,threw his head back to draw the razor from ear to chin. his hand was steady, but the attitude wasan excuse for not making an immediate reply."and the doctor don't want i should be left without anybody," zeena continued. "he wanted i should speak to you about agirl he's heard about, that might come--" ethan laid down the razor and straightenedhimself with a laugh. "denis eady! if that's all, i guess there's no suchhurry to look round for a girl."
"well, i'd like to talk to you about it,"said zeena obstinately. he was getting into his clothes in fumblinghaste. "all right. but i haven't got the time now; i'm late asit is," he returned, holding his old silver turnip-watch to the candle. zeena, apparently accepting this as final,lay watching him in silence while he pulled his suspenders over his shoulders andjerked his arms into his coat; but as he went toward the door she said, suddenly and incisively: "i guess you're always late,now you shave every morning."
that thrust had frightened him more thanany vague insinuations about denis eady. it was a fact that since mattie silver'scoming he had taken to shaving every day; but his wife always seemed to be asleepwhen he left her side in the winter darkness, and he had stupidly assumed that she would not notice any change in hisappearance. once or twice in the past he had beenfaintly disquieted by zenobia's way of letting things happen without seeming toremark them, and then, weeks afterward, in a casual phrase, revealing that she had all along taken her notes and drawn herinferences.
of late, however, there had been no room inhis thoughts for such vague apprehensions. zeena herself, from an oppressive reality,had faded into an insubstantial shade. all his life was lived in the sight andsound of mattie silver, and he could no longer conceive of its being otherwise. but now, as he stood outside the church,and saw mattie spinning down the floor with denis eady, a throng of disregarded hintsand menaces wove their cloud about his brain.... chapter ii as the dancers poured out of the hallfrome, drawing back behind the projecting
storm-door, watched the segregation of thegrotesquely muffled groups, in which a moving lantern ray now and then lit up aface flushed with food and dancing. the villagers, being afoot, were the firstto climb the slope to the main street, while the country neighbours packedthemselves more slowly into the sleighs under the shed. "ain't you riding, mattie?" a woman's voicecalled back from the throng about the shed, and ethan's heart gave a jump. from where he stood he could not see thepersons coming out of the hall till they had advanced a few steps beyond the woodensides of the storm-door; but through its
cracks he heard a clear voice answer:"mercy no! not on such a night."she was there, then, close to him, only a thin board between. in another moment she would step forth intothe night, and his eyes, accustomed to the obscurity, would discern her as clearly asthough she stood in daylight. a wave of shyness pulled him back into thedark angle of the wall, and he stood there in silence instead of making his presenceknown to her. it had been one of the wonders of theirintercourse that from the first, she, the quicker, finer, more expressive, instead ofcrushing him by the contrast, had given him
something of her own ease and freedom; but now he felt as heavy and loutish as in hisstudent days, when he had tried to "jolly" the worcester girls at a picnic.he hung back, and she came out alone and paused within a few yards of him. she was almost the last to leave the hall,and she stood looking uncertainly about her as if wondering why he did not showhimself. then a man's figure approached, coming soclose to her that under their formless wrappings they seemed merged in one dimoutline. "gentleman friend gone back on you?
say, matt, that's tough!no, i wouldn't be mean enough to tell the other girls.i ain't as low-down as that." (how frome hated his cheap banter!) "but look a here, ain't it lucky i got theold man's cutter down there waiting for us?" frome heard the girl's voice, gailyincredulous: "what on earth's your father's cutter doin' down there?""why, waiting for me to take a ride. i got the roan colt too. i kinder knew i'd want to take a ride to-night," eady, in his triumph, tried to put
a sentimental note into his bragging voice. the girl seemed to waver, and frome saw hertwirl the end of her scarf irresolutely about her fingers. not for the world would he have made a signto her, though it seemed to him that his life hung on her next gesture. "hold on a minute while i unhitch thecolt," denis called to her, springing toward the shed. she stood perfectly still, looking afterhim, in an attitude of tranquil expectancy torturing to the hidden watcher.
frome noticed that she no longer turned herhead from side to side, as though peering through the night for another figure. she let denis eady lead out the horse,climb into the cutter and fling back the bearskin to make room for her at his side;then, with a swift motion of flight, she turned about and darted up the slope towardthe front of the church. "good-bye!hope you'll have a lovely ride!" she called back to him over her shoulder. denis laughed, and gave the horse a cutthat brought him quickly abreast of her retreating figure."come along!
get in quick! it's as slippery as thunder on this turn,"he cried, leaning over to reach out a hand to her.she laughed back at him: "good-night! i'm not getting in." by this time they had passed beyond frome'searshot and he could only follow the shadowy pantomime of their silhouettes asthey continued to move along the crest of the slope above him. he saw eady, after a moment, jump from thecutter and go toward the girl with the reins over one arm.
the other he tried to slip through hers;but she eluded him nimbly, and frome's heart, which had swung out over a blackvoid, trembled back to safety. a moment later he heard the jingle ofdeparting sleigh bells and discerned a figure advancing alone toward the emptyexpanse of snow before the church. in the black shade of the varnum spruces hecaught up with her and she turned with a quick "oh!""think i'd forgotten you, matt?" he asked with sheepish glee. she answered seriously: "i thought maybeyou couldn't come back for me." "couldn't?what on earth could stop me?"
"i knew zeena wasn't feeling any too goodto-day." "oh, she's in bed long ago."he paused, a question struggling in him. "then you meant to walk home all alone?" "oh, i ain't afraid!" she laughed.they stood together in the gloom of the spruces, an empty world glimmering aboutthem wide and grey under the stars. he brought his question out. "if you thought i hadn't come, why didn'tyou ride back with denis eady?" "why, where were you?how did you know? i never saw you!"
her wonder and his laughter ran togetherlike spring rills in a thaw. ethan had the sense of having donesomething arch and ingenious. to prolong the effect he groped for adazzling phrase, and brought out, in a growl of rapture: "come along." he slipped an arm through hers, as eady haddone, and fancied it was faintly pressed against her side, but neither of themmoved. it was so dark under the spruces that hecould barely see the shape of her head beside his shoulder.he longed to stoop his cheek and rub it against her scarf.
he would have liked to stand there with herall night in the blackness. she moved forward a step or two and thenpaused again above the dip of the corbury road. its icy slope, scored by innumerablerunners, looked like a mirror scratched by travellers at an inn."there was a whole lot of them coasting before the moon set," she said. "would you like to come in and coast withthem some night?" he asked. "oh, would you, ethan?it would be lovely!" "we'll come to-morrow if there's a moon."
she lingered, pressing closer to his side."ned hale and ruth varnum came just as near running into the big elm at the bottom.we were all sure they were killed." her shiver ran down his arm. "wouldn't it have been too awful?they're so happy!" "oh, ned ain't much at steering.i guess i can take you down all right!" he said disdainfully. he was aware that he was "talking big,"like denis eady; but his reaction of joy had unsteadied him, and the inflection withwhich she had said of the engaged couple "they're so happy!" made the words sound as
if she had been thinking of herself andhim. "the elm is dangerous, though.it ought to be cut down," she insisted. "would you be afraid of it, with me?" "i told you i ain't the kind to be afraid"she tossed back, almost indifferently; and suddenly she began to walk on with a rapidstep. these alterations of mood were the despairand joy of ethan frome. the motions of her mind were asincalculable as the flit of a bird in the branches. the fact that he had no right to show hisfeelings, and thus provoke the expression
of hers, made him attach a fantasticimportance to every change in her look and tone. now he thought she understood him, andfeared; now he was sure she did not, and despaired. to-night the pressure of accumulatedmisgivings sent the scale drooping toward despair, and her indifference was the morechilling after the flush of joy into which she had plunged him by dismissing deniseady. he mounted school house hill at her sideand walked on in silence till they reached the lane leading to the saw-mill; then theneed of some definite assurance grew too
strong for him. "you'd have found me right off if youhadn't gone back to have that last reel with denis," he brought out awkwardly.he could not pronounce the name without a stiffening of the muscles of his throat. "why, ethan, how could i tell you werethere?" "i suppose what folks say is true," hejerked out at her, instead of answering. she stopped short, and he felt, in thedarkness, that her face was lifted quickly to his."why, what do folks say?" "it's natural enough you should be leavingus" he floundered on, following his
thought. "is that what they say?" she mocked back athim; then, with a sudden drop of her sweet treble: "you mean that zeena--ain't suitedwith me any more?" she faltered. their arms had slipped apart and they stoodmotionless, each seeking to distinguish the other's face. "i know i ain't anything like as smart as iought to be," she went on, while he vainly struggled for expression. "there's lots of things a hired girl coulddo that come awkward to me still--and i haven't got much strength in my arms.but if she'd only tell me i'd try.
you know she hardly ever says anything, andsometimes i can see she ain't suited, and yet i don't know why."she turned on him with a sudden flash of indignation. "you'd ought to tell me, ethan frome--you'dought to! unless you want me to go too--"unless he wanted her to go too! the cry was balm to his raw wound. the iron heavens seemed to melt and raindown sweetness. again he struggled for the all-expressiveword, and again, his arm in hers, found only a deep "come along."
they walked on in silence through theblackness of the hemlock-shaded lane, where ethan's sawmill gloomed through the night,and out again into the comparative clearness of the fields. on the farther side of the hemlock belt theopen country rolled away before them grey and lonely under the stars. sometimes their way led them under theshade of an overhanging bank or through the thin obscurity of a clump of leaflesstrees. here and there a farmhouse stood far backamong the fields, mute and cold as a grave- stone.the night was so still that they heard the
frozen snow crackle under their feet. the crash of a loaded branch falling faroff in the woods reverberated like a musket-shot, and once a fox barked, andmattie shrank closer to ethan, and quickened her steps. at length they sighted the group of larchesat ethan's gate, and as they drew near it the sense that the walk was over broughtback his words. "then you don't want to leave us, matt?" he had to stoop his head to catch herstifled whisper: "where'd i go, if i did?" the answer sent a pang through him but thetone suffused him with joy.
he forgot what else he had meant to say andpressed her against him so closely that he seemed to feel her warmth in his veins."you ain't crying are you, matt?" "no, of course i'm not," she quavered. they turned in at the gate and passed underthe shaded knoll where, enclosed in a low fence, the frome grave-stones slanted atcrazy angles through the snow. ethan looked at them curiously. for years that quiet company had mocked hisrestlessness, his desire for change and freedom. "we never got away--how should you?" seemedto be written on every headstone; and
whenever he went in or out of his gate hethought with a shiver: "i shall just go on living here till i join them." but now all desire for change had vanished,and the sight of the little enclosure gave him a warm sense of continuance andstability. "i guess we'll never let you go, matt," hewhispered, as though even the dead, lovers once, must conspire with him to keep her;and brushing by the graves, he thought: "we'll always go on living here together,and some day she'll lie there beside me." he let the vision possess him as theyclimbed the hill to the house. he was never so happy with her as when heabandoned himself to these dreams.
half-way up the slope mattie stumbledagainst some unseen obstruction and clutched his sleeve to steady herself. the wave of warmth that went through himwas like the prolongation of his vision. for the first time he stole his arm abouther, and she did not resist. they walked on as if they were floating ona summer stream. zeena always went to bed as soon as she hadhad her supper, and the shutterless windows of the house were dark. a dead cucumber-vine dangled from the porchlike the crape streamer tied to the door for a death, and the thought flashedthrough ethan's brain: "if it was there for
zeena--" then he had a distinct sight of his wife lying in their bedroom asleep, hermouth slightly open, her false teeth in a tumbler by the bed...they walked around to the back of the house, between the rigid gooseberry bushes. it was zeena's habit, when they came backlate from the village, to leave the key of the kitchen door under the mat.ethan stood before the door, his head heavy with dreams, his arm still about mattie. "matt--" he began, not knowing what hemeant to say. she slipped out of his hold withoutspeaking, and he stooped down and felt for
the key. "it's not there!" he said, straighteninghimself with a start. they strained their eyes at each otherthrough the icy darkness. such a thing had never happened before. "maybe she's forgotten it," mattie said ina tremulous whisper; but both of them knew that it was not like zeena to forget. "it might have fallen off into the snow,"mattie continued, after a pause during which they had stood intently listening."it must have been pushed off, then," he rejoined in the same tone.
another wild thought tore through him.what if tramps had been there--what if... again he listened, fancying he heard adistant sound in the house; then he felt in his pocket for a match, and kneeling down,passed its light slowly over the rough edges of snow about the doorstep. he was still kneeling when his eyes, on alevel with the lower panel of the door, caught a faint ray beneath it.who could be stirring in that silent house? he heard a step on the stairs, and againfor an instant the thought of tramps tore through him.then the door opened and he saw his wife. against the dark background of the kitchenshe stood up tall and angular, one hand
drawing a quilted counterpane to her flatbreast, while the other held a lamp. the light, on a level with her chin, drewout of the darkness her puckered throat and the projecting wrist of the hand thatclutched the quilt, and deepened fantastically the hollows and prominences of her high-boned face under its ring ofcrimping-pins. to ethan, still in the rosy haze of hishour with mattie, the sight came with the intense precision of the last dream beforewaking. he felt as if he had never before knownwhat his wife looked like. she drew aside without speaking, and mattieand ethan passed into the kitchen, which
had the deadly chill of a vault after thedry cold of the night. "guess you forgot about us, zeena," ethanjoked, stamping the snow from his boots. "no. i just felt so mean i couldn't sleep." mattie came forward, unwinding her wraps,the colour of the cherry scarf in her fresh lips and cheeks."i'm so sorry, zeena! isn't there anything i can do?" "no; there's nothing."zeena turned away from her. "you might 'a' shook off that snowoutside," she said to her husband. she walked out of the kitchen ahead of themand pausing in the hall raised the lamp at
arm's-length, as if to light them up thestairs. ethan paused also, affecting to fumble forthe peg on which he hung his coat and cap. the doors of the two bedrooms faced eachother across the narrow upper landing, and to-night it was peculiarly repugnant to himthat mattie should see him follow zeena. "i guess i won't come up yet awhile," hesaid, turning as if to go back to the kitchen.zeena stopped short and looked at him. "for the land's sake--what you going to dodown here?" "i've got the mill accounts to go over." she continued to stare at him, the flame ofthe unshaded lamp bringing out with
microscopic cruelty the fretful lines ofher face. "at this time o' night? you'll ketch your death.the fire's out long ago." without answering he moved away toward thekitchen. as he did so his glance crossed mattie'sand he fancied that a fugitive warning gleamed through her lashes. the next moment they sank to her flushedcheeks and she began to mount the stairs ahead of zeena."that's so. it is powerful cold down here," ethanassented; and with lowered head he went up
in his wife's wake, and followed her acrossthe threshold of their room. chapter iii there was some hauling to be done at thelower end of the wood-lot, and ethan was out early the next day.the winter morning was as clear as crystal. the sunrise burned red in a pure sky, theshadows on the rim of the wood-lot were darkly blue, and beyond the white andscintillating fields patches of far-off forest hung like smoke. it was in the early morning stillness, whenhis muscles were swinging to their familiar task and his lungs expanding with longdraughts of mountain air, that ethan did
his clearest thinking. he and zeena had not exchanged a word afterthe door of their room had closed on them. she had measured out some drops from amedicine-bottle on a chair by the bed and, after swallowing them, and wrapping herhead in a piece of yellow flannel, had lain down with her face turned away. ethan undressed hurriedly and blew out thelight so that he should not see her when he took his place at her side. as he lay there he could hear mattie movingabout in her room, and her candle, sending its small ray across the landing, drew ascarcely perceptible line of light under
his door. he kept his eyes fixed on the light till itvanished. then the room grew perfectly black, and nota sound was audible but zeena's asthmatic breathing. ethan felt confusedly that there were manythings he ought to think about, but through his tingling veins and tired brain only onesensation throbbed: the warmth of mattie's shoulder against his. why had he not kissed her when he held herthere? a few hours earlier he would not have askedhimself the question.
even a few minutes earlier, when they hadstood alone outside the house, he would not have dared to think of kissing her.but since he had seen her lips in the lamplight he felt that they were his. now, in the bright morning air, her facewas still before him. it was part of the sun's red and of thepure glitter on the snow. how the girl had changed since she had cometo starkfield! he remembered what a colourless slip of athing she had looked the day he had met her at the station. and all the first winter, how she hadshivered with cold when the northerly gales
shook the thin clapboards and the snow beatlike hail against the loose-hung windows! he had been afraid that she would hate thehard life, the cold and loneliness; but not a sign of discontent escaped her. zeena took the view that mattie was boundto make the best of starkfield since she hadn't any other place to go to; but thisdid not strike ethan as conclusive. zeena, at any rate, did not apply theprinciple in her own case. he felt all the more sorry for the girlbecause misfortune had, in a sense, indentured her to them. mattie silver was the daughter of a cousinof zenobia frome's, who had inflamed his
clan with mingled sentiments of envy andadmiration by descending from the hills to connecticut, where he had married a stamford girl and succeeded to her father'sthriving "drug" business. unhappily orin silver, a man of far-reaching aims, had died too soon to prove that the end justifies the means. his accounts revealed merely what the meanshad been; and these were such that it was fortunate for his wife and daughter thathis books were examined only after his impressive funeral. his wife died of the disclosure, andmattie, at twenty, was left alone to make
her way on the fifty dollars obtained fromthe sale of her piano. for this purpose her equipment, thoughvaried, was inadequate. she could trim a hat, make molasses candy,recite "curfew shall not ring to-night," and play "the lost chord" and a pot-pourrifrom "carmen." when she tried to extend the field of heractivities in the direction of stenography and book-keeping her health broke down, andsix months on her feet behind the counter of a department store did not tend torestore it. her nearest relations had been induced toplace their savings in her father's hands, and though, after his death, theyungrudgingly acquitted themselves of the
christian duty of returning good for evil by giving his daughter all the advice attheir disposal, they could hardly be expected to supplement it by material aid. but when zenobia's doctor recommended herlooking about for some one to help her with the house-work the clan instantly saw thechance of exacting a compensation from mattie. zenobia, though doubtful of the girl'sefficiency, was tempted by the freedom to find fault without much risk of losing her;and so mattie came to starkfield. zenobia's fault-finding was of the silentkind, but not the less penetrating for
that. during the first months ethan alternatelyburned with the desire to see mattie defy her and trembled with fear of the result.then the situation grew less strained. the pure air, and the long summer hours inthe open, gave back life and elasticity to mattie, and zeena, with more leisure todevote to her complex ailments, grew less watchful of the girl's omissions; so that ethan, struggling on under the burden ofhis barren farm and failing saw-mill, could at least imagine that peace reigned in hishouse. there was really, even now, no tangibleevidence to the contrary; but since the
previous night a vague dread had hung onhis sky-line. it was formed of zeena's obstinate silence,of mattie's sudden look of warning, of the memory of just such fleeting imperceptiblesigns as those which told him, on certain stainless mornings, that before night therewould be rain. his dread was so strong that, man-like, hesought to postpone certainty. the hauling was not over till mid-day, andas the lumber was to be delivered to andrew hale, the starkfield builder, it was reallyeasier for ethan to send jotham powell, the hired man, back to the farm on foot, anddrive the load down to the village himself. he had scrambled up on the logs, and wassitting astride of them, close over his
shaggy grays, when, coming between him andtheir streaming necks, he had a vision of the warning look that mattie had given himthe night before. "if there's going to be any trouble i wantto be there," was his vague reflection, as he threw to jotham the unexpected order tounhitch the team and lead them back to the barn. it was a slow trudge home through the heavyfields, and when the two men entered the kitchen mattie was lifting the coffee fromthe stove and zeena was already at the table. her husband stopped short at sight of her.
instead of her usual calico wrapper andknitted shawl she wore her best dress of brown merino, and above her thin strands ofhair, which still preserved the tight undulations of the crimping-pins, rose a hard perpendicular bonnet, as to whichethan's clearest notion was that he had to pay five dollars for it at the bettsbridgeemporium. on the floor beside her stood his oldvalise and a bandbox wrapped in newspapers. "why, where are you going, zeena?" heexclaimed. "i've got my shooting pains so bad that i'mgoing over to bettsbridge to spend the night with aunt martha pierce and see thatnew doctor," she answered in a matter-of-
fact tone, as if she had said she was going into the store-room to take a look at thepreserves, or up to the attic to go over the blankets. in spite of her sedentary habits suchabrupt decisions were not without precedent in zeena's history. twice or thrice before she had suddenlypacked ethan's valise and started off to bettsbridge, or even springfield, to seekthe advice of some new doctor, and her husband had grown to dread theseexpeditions because of their cost. zeena always came back laden with expensiveremedies, and her last visit to springfield
had been commemorated by her paying twentydollars for an electric battery of which she had never been able to learn the use. but for the moment his sense of relief wasso great as to preclude all other feelings. he had now no doubt that zeena had spokenthe truth in saying, the night before, that she had sat up because she felt "too mean"to sleep: her abrupt resolve to seek medical advice showed that, as usual, shewas wholly absorbed in her health. as if expecting a protest, she continuedplaintively; "if you're too busy with the hauling i presume you can let jotham powelldrive me over with the sorrel in time to ketch the train at the flats."
her husband hardly heard what she wassaying. during the winter months there was no stagebetween starkfield and bettsbridge, and the trains which stopped at corbury flats wereslow and infrequent. a rapid calculation showed ethan that zeenacould not be back at the farm before the following evening.... "if i'd supposed you'd 'a' made anyobjection to jotham powell's driving me over--" she began again, as though hissilence had implied refusal. on the brink of departure she was alwaysseized with a flux of words. "all i know is," she continued, "i can't goon the way i am much longer.
the pains are clear away down to my anklesnow, or i'd 'a' walked in to starkfield on my own feet, sooner'n put you out, andasked michael eady to let me ride over on his wagon to the flats, when he sends tomeet the train that brings his groceries. i'd 'a' had two hours to wait in thestation, but i'd sooner 'a' done it, even with this cold, than to have you say--" "of course jotham'll drive you over," ethanroused himself to answer. he became suddenly conscious that he waslooking at mattie while zeena talked to him, and with an effort he turned his eyesto his wife. she sat opposite the window, and the palelight reflected from the banks of snow made
her face look more than usually drawn andbloodless, sharpened the three parallel creases between ear and cheek, and drew querulous lines from her thin nose to thecorners of her mouth. though she was but seven years herhusband's senior, and he was only twenty- eight, she was already an old woman. ethan tried to say something befitting theoccasion, but there was only one thought in his mind: the fact that, for the first timesince mattie had come to live with them, zeena was to be away for a night. he wondered if the girl were thinking of ittoo....
he knew that zeena must be wondering why hedid not offer to drive her to the flats and let jotham powell take the lumber tostarkfield, and at first he could not think of a pretext for not doing so; then he said: "i'd take you over myself, only i'vegot to collect the cash for the lumber." as soon as the words were spoken heregretted them, not only because they were untrue--there being no prospect of hisreceiving cash payment from hale--but also because he knew from experience the imprudence of letting zeena think he was infunds on the eve of one of her therapeutic excursions.
at the moment, however, his one desire wasto avoid the long drive with her behind the ancient sorrel who never went out of awalk. zeena made no reply: she did not seem tohear what he had said. she had already pushed her plate aside, andwas measuring out a draught from a large bottle at her elbow. "it ain't done me a speck of good, but iguess i might as well use it up," she remarked; adding, as she pushed the emptybottle toward mattie: "if you can get the taste out it'll do for pickles." chapter iv
as soon as his wife had driven off ethantook his coat and cap from the peg. mattie was washing up the dishes, hummingone of the dance tunes of the night before. he said "so long, matt," and she answeredgaily "so long, ethan"; and that was all. it was warm and bright in the kitchen. the sun slanted through the south window onthe girl's moving figure, on the cat dozing in a chair, and on the geraniums brought infrom the door-way, where ethan had planted them in the summer to "make a garden" formattie. he would have liked to linger on, watchingher tidy up and then settle down to her sewing; but he wanted still more to get thehauling done and be back at the farm before
night. all the way down to the village hecontinued to think of his return to mattie. the kitchen was a poor place, not "spruce"and shining as his mother had kept it in his boyhood; but it was surprising what ahomelike look the mere fact of zeena's absence gave it. and he pictured what it would be like thatevening, when he and mattie were there after supper. for the first time they would be alonetogether indoors, and they would sit there, one on each side of the stove, like amarried couple, he in his stocking feet and
smoking his pipe, she laughing and talking in that funny way she had, which was alwaysas new to him as if he had never heard her before. the sweetness of the picture, and therelief of knowing that his fears of "trouble" with zeena were unfounded, sentup his spirits with a rush, and he, who was usually so silent, whistled and sang aloudas he drove through the snowy fields. there was in him a slumbering spark ofsociability which the long starkfield winters had not yet extinguished. by nature grave and inarticulate, headmired recklessness and gaiety in others
and was warmed to the marrow by friendlyhuman intercourse. at worcester, though he had the name ofkeeping to himself and not being much of a hand at a good time, he had secretlygloried in being clapped on the back and hailed as "old ethe" or "old stiff"; and the cessation of such familiarities hadincreased the chill of his return to starkfield.there the silence had deepened about him year by year. left alone, after his father's accident, tocarry the burden of farm and mill, he had had no time for convivial loiterings in thevillage; and when his mother fell ill the
loneliness of the house grew moreoppressive than that of the fields. his mother had been a talker in her day,but after her "trouble" the sound of her voice was seldom heard, though she had notlost the power of speech. sometimes, in the long winter evenings,when in desperation her son asked her why she didn't "say something," she would lifta finger and answer: "because i'm listening"; and on stormy nights, when the loud wind was about the house, she wouldcomplain, if he spoke to her: "they're talking so out there that i can't hearyou." it was only when she drew toward her lastillness, and his cousin zenobia pierce came
over from the next valley to help him nurseher, that human speech was heard again in the house. after the mortal silence of his longimprisonment zeena's volubility was music in his ears. he felt that he might have "gone like hismother" if the sound of a new voice had not come to steady him.zeena seemed to understand his case at a glance. she laughed at him for not knowing thesimplest sick-bed duties and told him to "go right along out" and leave her to seeto things.
the mere fact of obeying her orders, offeeling free to go about his business again and talk with other men, restored hisshaken balance and magnified his sense of what he owed her. her efficiency shamed and dazzled him.she seemed to possess by instinct all the household wisdom that his longapprenticeship had not instilled in him. when the end came it was she who had totell him to hitch up and go for the undertaker, and she thought it "funny" thathe had not settled beforehand who was to have his mother's clothes and the sewing-machine. after the funeral, when he saw herpreparing to go away, he was seized with an
unreasoning dread of being left alone onthe farm; and before he knew what he was doing he had asked her to stay there withhim. he had often thought since that it wouldnot have happened if his mother had died in spring instead of winter... when they married it was agreed that, assoon as he could straighten out the difficulties resulting from mrs. frome'slong illness, they would sell the farm and saw-mill and try their luck in a largetown. ethan's love of nature did not take theform of a taste for agriculture. he had always wanted to be an engineer, andto live in towns, where there were lectures
and big libraries and "fellows doingthings." a slight engineering job in florida, put inhis way during his period of study at worcester, increased his faith in hisability as well as his eagerness to see the world; and he felt sure that, with a "smart" wife like zeena, it would not belong before he had made himself a place in it. zeena's native village was slightly largerand nearer to the railway than starkfield, and she had let her husband see from thefirst that life on an isolated farm was not what she had expected when she married.
but purchasers were slow in coming, andwhile he waited for them ethan learned the impossibility of transplanting her. she chose to look down on starkfield, butshe could not have lived in a place which looked down on her. even bettsbridge or shadd's falls would nothave been sufficiently aware of her, and in the greater cities which attracted ethanshe would have suffered a complete loss of identity. and within a year of their marriage shedeveloped the "sickliness" which had since made her notable even in a community richin pathological instances.
when she came to take care of his mothershe had seemed to ethan like the very genius of health, but he soon saw that herskill as a nurse had been acquired by the absorbed observation of her own symptoms. then she too fell silent.perhaps it was the inevitable effect of life on the farm, or perhaps, as shesometimes said, it was because ethan "never listened." the charge was not wholly unfounded. when she spoke it was only to complain, andto complain of things not in his power to remedy; and to check a tendency toimpatient retort he had first formed the
habit of not answering her, and finally ofthinking of other things while she talked. of late, however, since he had reasons forobserving her more closely, her silence had begun to trouble him. he recalled his mother's growingtaciturnity, and wondered if zeena were also turning "queer."women did, he knew. zeena, who had at her fingers' ends thepathological chart of the whole region, had cited many cases of the kind while she wasnursing his mother; and he himself knew of certain lonely farm-houses in the neighbourhood where stricken creaturespined, and of others where sudden tragedy
had come of their presence.at times, looking at zeena's shut face, he felt the chill of such forebodings. at other times her silence seemeddeliberately assumed to conceal far- reaching intentions, mysterious conclusionsdrawn from suspicions and resentments impossible to guess. that supposition was even more disturbingthan the other; and it was the one which had come to him the night before, when hehad seen her standing in the kitchen door. now her departure for bettsbridge had oncemore eased his mind, and all his thoughts were on the prospect of his evening withmattie.
only one thing weighed on him, and that washis having told zeena that he was to receive cash for the lumber. he foresaw so clearly the consequences ofthis imprudence that with considerable reluctance he decided to ask andrew halefor a small advance on his load. when ethan drove into hale's yard thebuilder was just getting out of his sleigh. "hello, ethe!" he said."this comes handy." andrew hale was a ruddy man with a big graymoustache and a stubbly double-chin unconstrained by a collar; but hisscrupulously clean shirt was always fastened by a small diamond stud.
this display of opulence was misleading,for though he did a fairly good business it was known that his easygoing habits and thedemands of his large family frequently kept him what starkfield called "behind." he was an old friend of ethan's family, andhis house one of the few to which zeena occasionally went, drawn there by the factthat mrs. hale, in her youth, had done more "doctoring" than any other woman in starkfield, and was still a recognisedauthority on symptoms and treatment. hale went up to the grays and patted theirsweating flanks. "well, sir," he said, "you keep them two asif they was pets."
ethan set about unloading the logs and whenhe had finished his job he pushed open the glazed door of the shed which the builderused as his office. hale sat with his feet up on the stove, hisback propped against a battered desk strewn with papers: the place, like the man, waswarm, genial and untidy. "sit right down and thaw out," he greetedethan. the latter did not know how to begin, butat length he managed to bring out his request for an advance of fifty dollars. the blood rushed to his thin skin under thesting of hale's astonishment. it was the builder's custom to pay at theend of three months, and there was no
precedent between the two men for a cashsettlement. ethan felt that if he had pleaded an urgentneed hale might have made shift to pay him; but pride, and an instinctive prudence,kept him from resorting to this argument. after his father's death it had taken timeto get his head above water, and he did not want andrew hale, or any one else instarkfield, to think he was going under again. besides, he hated lying; if he wanted themoney he wanted it, and it was nobody's business to ask why. he therefore made his demand with theawkwardness of a proud man who will not
admit to himself that he is stooping; andhe was not much surprised at hale's refusal. the builder refused genially, as he dideverything else: he treated the matter as something in the nature of a practicaljoke, and wanted to know if ethan meditated buying a grand piano or adding a "cupolo" to his house; offering, in the latter case,to give his services free of cost. ethan's arts were soon exhausted, and afteran embarrassed pause he wished hale good day and opened the door of the office. as he passed out the builder suddenlycalled after him: "see here--you ain't in a
tight place, are you?""not a bit," ethan's pride retorted before his reason had time to intervene. "well, that's good!because i am, a shade. fact is, i was going to ask you to give mea little extra time on that payment. business is pretty slack, to begin with,and then i'm fixing up a little house for ned and ruth when they're married.i'm glad to do it for 'em, but it costs." his look appealed to ethan for sympathy. "the young people like things nice.you know how it is yourself: it's not so long ago since you fixed up your own placefor zeena."
ethan left the grays in hale's stable andwent about some other business in the as he walked away the builder's last phraselingered in his ears, and he reflected grimly that his seven years with zeenaseemed to starkfield "not so long." the afternoon was drawing to an end, andhere and there a lighted pane spangled the cold gray dusk and made the snow lookwhiter. the bitter weather had driven every oneindoors and ethan had the long rural street to himself. suddenly he heard the brisk play of sleigh-bells and a cutter passed him, drawn by a free-going horse.
ethan recognised michael eady's roan colt,and young denis eady, in a handsome new fur cap, leaned forward and waved a greeting."hello, ethe!" he shouted and spun on. the cutter was going in the direction ofthe frome farm, and ethan's heart contracted as he listened to the dwindlingbells. what more likely than that denis eady hadheard of zeena's departure for bettsbridge, and was profiting by the opportunity tospend an hour with mattie? ethan was ashamed of the storm of jealousyin his breast. it seemed unworthy of the girl that histhoughts of her should be so violent. he walked on to the church corner andentered the shade of the varnum spruces,
where he had stood with her the nightbefore. as he passed into their gloom he saw anindistinct outline just ahead of him. at his approach it melted for an instantinto two separate shapes and then conjoined again, and he heard a kiss, and a half-laughing "oh!" provoked by the discovery of his presence. again the outline hastily disunited and thevarnum gate slammed on one half while the other hurried on ahead of him.ethan smiled at the discomfiture he had caused. what did it matter to ned hale and ruthvarnum if they were caught kissing each
other?everybody in starkfield knew they were engaged. it pleased ethan to have surprised a pairof lovers on the spot where he and mattie had stood with such a thirst for each otherin their hearts; but he felt a pang at the thought that these two need not hide theirhappiness. he fetched the grays from hale's stable andstarted on his long climb back to the farm. the cold was less sharp than earlier in theday and a thick fleecy sky threatened snow for the morrow.here and there a star pricked through, showing behind it a deep well of blue.
in an hour or two the moon would push overthe ridge behind the farm, burn a gold- edged rent in the clouds, and then beswallowed by them. a mournful peace hung on the fields, asthough they felt the relaxing grasp of the cold and stretched themselves in their longwinter sleep. ethan's ears were alert for the jingle ofsleigh-bells, but not a sound broke the silence of the lonely road. as he drew near the farm he saw, throughthe thin screen of larches at the gate, a light twinkling in the house above him. "she's up in her room," he said to himself,"fixing herself up for supper"; and he
remembered zeena's sarcastic stare whenmattie, on the evening of her arrival, had come down to supper with smoothed hair anda ribbon at her neck. he passed by the graves on the knoll andturned his head to glance at one of the older headstones, which had interested himdeeply as a boy because it bore his name. sacred to the memory ofethan frome and endurance his wife, who dwelled together in peacefor fifty years. he used to think that fifty years soundedlike a long time to live together, but now it seemed to him that they might pass in aflash. then, with a sudden dart of irony, hewondered if, when their turn came, the same
epitaph would be written over him andzeena. he opened the barn-door and craned his headinto the obscurity, half-fearing to discover denis eady's roan colt in thestall beside the sorrel. but the old horse was there alone, mumblinghis crib with toothless jaws, and ethan whistled cheerfully while he bedded downthe grays and shook an extra measure of oats into their mangers. his was not a tuneful throat--but harshmelodies burst from it as he locked the barn and sprang up the hill to the house. he reached the kitchen-porch and turned thedoor-handle; but the door did not yield to
his touch. startled at finding it locked he rattledthe handle violently; then he reflected that mattie was alone and that it wasnatural she should barricade herself at nightfall. he stood in the darkness expecting to hearher step. it did not come, and after vainly straininghis ears he called out in a voice that shook with joy: "hello, matt!" silence answered; but in a minute or two hecaught a sound on the stairs and saw a line of light about the door-frame, as he hadseen it the night before.
so strange was the precision with which theincidents of the previous evening were repeating themselves that he half expected,when he heard the key turn, to see his wife before him on the threshold; but the dooropened, and mattie faced him. she stood just as zeena had stood, a liftedlamp in her hand, against the black background of the kitchen. she held the light at the same level, andit drew out with the same distinctness her slim young throat and the brown wrist nobigger than a child's. then, striking upward, it threw a lustrousfleck on her lips, edged her eyes with velvet shade, and laid a milky whitenessabove the black curve of her brows.
she wore her usual dress of darkish stuff,and there was no bow at her neck; but through her hair she had run a streak ofcrimson ribbon. this tribute to the unusual transformed andglorified her. she seemed to ethan taller, fuller, morewomanly in shape and motion. she stood aside, smiling silently, while heentered, and then moved away from him with something soft and flowing in her gait. she set the lamp on the table, and he sawthat it was carefully laid for supper, with fresh doughnuts, stewed blueberries and hisfavourite pickles in a dish of gay red glass.
a bright fire glowed in the stove and thecat lay stretched before it, watching the table with a drowsy eye.ethan was suffocated with the sense of well-being. he went out into the passage to hang up hiscoat and pull off his wet boots. when he came back mattie had set the teapoton the table and the cat was rubbing itself persuasively against her ankles. "why, puss!i nearly tripped over you," she cried, the laughter sparkling through her lashes.again ethan felt a sudden twinge of jealousy.
could it be his coming that gave her such akindled face? "well, matt, any visitors?" he threw off,stooping down carelessly to examine the fastening of the stove. she nodded and laughed "yes, one," and hefelt a blackness settling on his brows. "who was that?" he questioned, raisinghimself up to slant a glance at her beneath his scowl. her eyes danced with malice."why, jotham powell. he came in after he got back, and asked fora drop of coffee before he went down home." the blackness lifted and light floodedethan's brain.
"that all?well, i hope you made out to let him have it." and after a pause he felt it right to add:"i suppose he got zeena over to the flats all right?""oh, yes; in plenty of time." the name threw a chill between them, andthey stood a moment looking sideways at each other before mattie said with a shylaugh. "i guess it's about time for supper." they drew their seats up to the table, andthe cat, unbidden, jumped between them into zeena's empty chair."oh, puss!" said mattie, and they laughed
ethan, a moment earlier, had felt himselfon the brink of eloquence; but the mention of zeena had paralysed him. mattie seemed to feel the contagion of hisembarrassment, and sat with downcast lids, sipping her tea, while he feigned aninsatiable appetite for dough-nuts and sweet pickles. at last, after casting about for aneffective opening, he took a long gulp of tea, cleared his throat, and said: "looksas if there'd be more snow." she feigned great interest. "is that so?do you suppose it'll interfere with zeena's
getting back?" she flushed red as the question escapedher, and hastily set down the cup she was lifting.ethan reached over for another helping of pickles. "you never can tell, this time of year, itdrifts so bad on the flats." the name had benumbed him again, and oncemore he felt as if zeena were in the room between them. "oh, puss, you're too greedy!"mattie cried. the cat, unnoticed, had crept up on muffledpaws from zeena's seat to the table, and
was stealthily elongating its body in thedirection of the milk-jug, which stood between ethan and mattie. the two leaned forward at the same momentand their hands met on the handle of the jug. mattie's hand was underneath, and ethankept his clasped on it a moment longer than was necessary. the cat, profiting by this unusualdemonstration, tried to effect an unnoticed retreat, and in doing so backed into thepickle-dish, which fell to the floor with a crash.
mattie, in an instant, had sprung from herchair and was down on her knees by the fragments."oh, ethan, ethan--it's all to pieces! what will zeena say?" but this time his courage was up."well, she'll have to say it to the cat, any way!" he rejoined with a laugh,kneeling down at mattie's side to scrape up the swimming pickles. she lifted stricken eyes to him. "yes, but, you see, she never meant itshould be used, not even when there was company; and i had to get up on the step-ladder to reach it down from the top shelf
of the china-closet, where she keeps it with all her best things, and of courseshe'll want to know why i did it--" the case was so serious that it calledforth all of ethan's latent resolution. "she needn't know anything about it if youkeep quiet. i'll get another just like it to-morrow.where did it come from? i'll go to shadd's falls for it if i haveto!" "oh, you'll never get another even there!it was a wedding present--don't you remember? it came all the way from philadelphia, fromzeena's aunt that married the minister.
that's why she wouldn't ever use it.oh, ethan, ethan, what in the world shall i do?" she began to cry, and he felt as if everyone of her tears were pouring over him like burning lead."don't, matt, don't--oh, don't!" he implored her. she struggled to her feet, and he rose andfollowed her helplessly while she spread out the pieces of glass on the kitchendresser. it seemed to him as if the shatteredfragments of their evening lay there. "here, give them to me," he said in a voiceof sudden authority.
she drew aside, instinctively obeying histone. "oh, ethan, what are you going to do?" without replying he gathered the pieces ofglass into his broad palm and walked out of the kitchen to the passage. there he lit a candle-end, opened thechina-closet, and, reaching his long arm up to the highest shelf, laid the piecestogether with such accuracy of touch that a close inspection convinced him of the impossibility of detecting from below thatthe dish was broken. if he glued it together the next morningmonths might elapse before his wife noticed
what had happened, and meanwhile he mightafter all be able to match the dish at shadd's falls or bettsbridge. having satisfied himself that there was norisk of immediate discovery he went back to the kitchen with a lighter step, and foundmattie disconsolately removing the last scraps of pickle from the floor. "it's all right, matt.come back and finish supper," he commanded her. completely reassured, she shone on himthrough tear-hung lashes, and his soul swelled with pride as he saw how his tonesubdued her.
she did not even ask what he had done. except when he was steering a big log downthe mountain to his mill he had never known such a thrilling sense of mastery. chapter v they finished supper, and while mattiecleared the table ethan went to look at the cows and then took a last turn about thehouse. the earth lay dark under a muffled sky andthe air was so still that now and then he heard a lump of snow come thumping downfrom a tree far off on the edge of the wood-lot.
when he returned to the kitchen mattie hadpushed up his chair to the stove and seated herself near the lamp with a bit of sewing.the scene was just as he had dreamed of it that morning. he sat down, drew his pipe from his pocketand stretched his feet to the glow. his hard day's work in the keen air madehim feel at once lazy and light of mood, and he had a confused sense of being inanother world, where all was warmth and harmony and time could bring no change. the only drawback to his complete well-being was the fact that he could not see mattie from where he sat; but he was tooindolent to move and after a moment he
said: "come over here and sit by thestove." zeena's empty rocking-chair stood facinghim. mattie rose obediently, and seated herselfin it. as her young brown head detached itselfagainst the patch-work cushion that habitually framed his wife's gauntcountenance, ethan had a momentary shock. it was almost as if the other face, theface of the superseded woman, had obliterated that of the intruder.after a moment mattie seemed to be affected by the same sense of constraint. she changed her position, leaning forwardto bend her head above her work, so that he
saw only the foreshortened tip of her noseand the streak of red in her hair; then she slipped to her feet, saying "i can't see to sew," and went back to her chair by thelamp. ethan made a pretext of getting up toreplenish the stove, and when he returned to his seat he pushed it sideways that hemight get a view of her profile and of the lamplight falling on her hands. the cat, who had been a puzzled observer ofthese unusual movements, jumped up into zeena's chair, rolled itself into a ball,and lay watching them with narrowed eyes. deep quiet sank on the room.
the clock ticked above the dresser, a pieceof charred wood fell now and then in the stove, and the faint sharp scent of thegeraniums mingled with the odour of ethan's smoke, which began to throw a blue haze about the lamp and to hang its greyishcobwebs in the shadowy corners of the room. all constraint had vanished between thetwo, and they began to talk easily and simply. they spoke of every-day things, of theprospect of snow, of the next church sociable, of the loves and quarrels ofstarkfield. the commonplace nature of what they saidproduced in ethan an illusion of long-
established intimacy which no outburst ofemotion could have given, and he set his imagination adrift on the fiction that they had always spent their evenings thus andwould always go on doing so... "this is the night we were to have gonecoasting. matt," he said at length, with the richsense, as he spoke, that they could go on any other night they chose, since they hadall time before them. she smiled back at him. "i guess you forgot!""no, i didn't forget; but it's as dark as egypt outdoors.we might go to-morrow if there's a moon."
she laughed with pleasure, her head tiltedback, the lamplight sparkling on her lips and teeth."that would be lovely, ethan!" he kept his eyes fixed on her, marvellingat the way her face changed with each turn of their talk, like a wheat-field under asummer breeze. it was intoxicating to find such magic inhis clumsy words, and he longed to try new ways of using it. "would you be scared to go down the corburyroad with me on a night like this?" he asked.her cheeks burned redder. "i ain't any more scared than you are!"
"well, i'd be scared, then; i wouldn't doit. that's an ugly corner down by the big elm.if a fellow didn't keep his eyes open he'd go plumb into it." he luxuriated in the sense of protectionand authority which his words conveyed. to prolong and intensify the feeling headded: "i guess we're well enough here." she let her lids sink slowly, in the way heloved. "yes, we're well enough here," she sighed. her tone was so sweet that he took the pipefrom his mouth and drew his chair up to the leaning forward, he touched the farther endof the strip of brown stuff that she was
hemming. "say, matt," he began with a smile, "whatdo you think i saw under the varnum spruces, coming along home just now?i saw a friend of yours getting kissed." the words had been on his tongue all theevening, but now that he had spoken them they struck him as inexpressibly vulgar andout of place. mattie blushed to the roots of her hair andpulled her needle rapidly twice or thrice through her work, insensibly drawing theend of it away from him. "i suppose it was ruth and ned," she saidin a low voice, as though he had suddenly touched on something grave.
ethan had imagined that his allusion mightopen the way to the accepted pleasantries, and these perhaps in turn to a harmlesscaress, if only a mere touch on her hand. but now he felt as if her blush had set aflaming guard about her. he supposed it was his natural awkwardnessthat made him feel so. he knew that most young men made nothing atall of giving a pretty girl a kiss, and he remembered that the night before, when hehad put his arm about mattie, she had not resisted. but that had been out-of-doors, under theopen irresponsible night. now, in the warm lamplit room, with all itsancient implications of conformity and
order, she seemed infinitely farther awayfrom him and more unapproachable. to ease his constraint he said: "i supposethey'll be setting a date before long." "yes. i shouldn't wonder if they gotmarried some time along in the summer." she pronounced the word married as if hervoice caressed it. it seemed a rustling covert leading toenchanted glades. a pang shot through ethan, and he said,twisting away from her in his chair: "it'll be your turn next, i wouldn't wonder."she laughed a little uncertainly. "why do you keep on saying that?" he echoed her laugh."i guess i do it to get used to the idea."
he drew up to the table again and she sewedon in silence, with dropped lashes, while he sat in fascinated contemplation of theway in which her hands went up and down above the strip of stuff, just as he had seen a pair of birds make shortperpendicular flights over a nest they were building. at length, without turning her head orlifting her lids, she said in a low tone: "it's not because you think zeena's gotanything against me, is it?" his former dread started up full-armed atthe suggestion. "why, what do you mean?" he stammered.she raised distressed eyes to his, her work
dropping on the table between them. "i don't know.i thought last night she seemed to have." "i'd like to know what," he growled."nobody can tell with zeena." it was the first time they had ever spokenso openly of her attitude toward mattie, and the repetition of the name seemed tocarry it to the farther corners of the room and send it back to them in longrepercussions of sound. mattie waited, as if to give the echo timeto drop, and then went on: "she hasn't said anything to you?" he shook his head."no, not a word."
she tossed the hair back from her foreheadwith a laugh. "i guess i'm just nervous, then. i'm not going to think about it any more.""oh, no--don't let's think about it, matt!" the sudden heat of his tone made her colourmount again, not with a rush, but gradually, delicately, like the reflectionof a thought stealing slowly across her heart. she sat silent, her hands clasped on herwork, and it seemed to him that a warm current flowed toward him along the stripof stuff that still lay unrolled between them.
cautiously he slid his hand palm-downwardalong the table till his finger-tips touched the end of the stuff. a faint vibration of her lashes seemed toshow that she was aware of his gesture, and that it had sent a counter-current back toher; and she let her hands lie motionless on the other end of the strip. as they sat thus he heard a sound behindhim and turned his head. the cat had jumped from zeena's chair todart at a mouse in the wainscot, and as a result of the sudden movement the emptychair had set up a spectral rocking. "she'll be rocking in it herself this timeto-morrow," ethan thought.
"i've been in a dream, and this is the onlyevening we'll ever have together." the return to reality was as painful as thereturn to consciousness after taking an anaesthetic. his body and brain ached with indescribableweariness, and he could think of nothing to say or to do that should arrest the madflight of the moments. his alteration of mood seemed to havecommunicated itself to mattie. she looked up at him languidly, as thoughher lids were weighted with sleep and it cost her an effort to raise them. her glance fell on his hand, which nowcompletely covered the end of her work and
grasped it as if it were a part of herself. he saw a scarcely perceptible tremor crossher face, and without knowing what he did he stooped his head and kissed the bit ofstuff in his hold. as his lips rested on it he felt it glideslowly from beneath them, and saw that mattie had risen and was silently rollingup her work. she fastened it with a pin, and then,finding her thimble and scissors, put them with the roll of stuff into the box coveredwith fancy paper which he had once brought to her from bettsbridge. he stood up also, looking vaguely about theroom.
the clock above the dresser struck eleven."is the fire all right?" she asked in a low voice. he opened the door of the stove and pokedaimlessly at the embers. when he raised himself again he saw thatshe was dragging toward the stove the old soap-box lined with carpet in which the catmade its bed. then she recrossed the floor and lifted twoof the geranium pots in her arms, moving them away from the cold window. he followed her and brought the othergeraniums, the hyacinth bulbs in a cracked custard bowl and the german ivy trainedover an old croquet hoop.
when these nightly duties were performedthere was nothing left to do but to bring in the tin candlestick from the passage,light the candle and blow out the lamp. ethan put the candlestick in mattie's handand she went out of the kitchen ahead of him, the light that she carried before hermaking her dark hair look like a drift of mist on the moon. "good night, matt," he said as she put herfoot on the first step of the stairs. she turned and looked at him a moment."good night, ethan," she answered, and went up. when the door of her room had closed on herhe remembered that he had not even touched
her hand. chapter vi the next morning at breakfast jotham powellwas between them, and ethan tried to hide his joy under an air of exaggeratedindifference, lounging back in his chair to throw scraps to the cat, growling at the weather, and not so much as offering tohelp mattie when she rose to clear away the dishes. he did not know why he was so irrationallyhappy, for nothing was changed in his life or hers.he had not even touched the tip of her
fingers or looked her full in the eyes. but their evening together had given him avision of what life at her side might be, and he was glad now that he had donenothing to trouble the sweetness of the picture. he had a fancy that she knew what hadrestrained him... there was a last load of lumber to behauled to the village, and jotham powell-- who did not work regularly for ethan inwinter--had "come round" to help with the job. but a wet snow, melting to sleet, hadfallen in the night and turned the roads to
there was more wet in the air and it seemedlikely to both men that the weather would "milden" toward afternoon and make thegoing safer. ethan therefore proposed to his assistantthat they should load the sledge at the wood-lot, as they had done on the previousmorning, and put off the "teaming" to starkfield till later in the day. this plan had the advantage of enabling himto send jotham to the flats after dinner to meet zenobia, while he himself took thelumber down to the village. he told jotham to go out and harness up thegreys, and for a moment he and mattie had the kitchen to themselves.
she had plunged the breakfast dishes into atin dish-pan and was bending above it with her slim arms bared to the elbow, the steamfrom the hot water beading her forehead and tightening her rough hair into little brown rings like the tendrils on the traveller'sjoy. ethan stood looking at her, his heart inhis throat. he wanted to say: "we shall never be aloneagain like this." instead, he reached down his tobacco-pouchfrom a shelf of the dresser, put it into his pocket and said: "i guess i can makeout to be home for dinner." she answered "all right, ethan," and heheard her singing over the dishes as he
went. as soon as the sledge was loaded he meantto send jotham back to the farm and hurry on foot into the village to buy the gluefor the pickle-dish. with ordinary luck he should have had timeto carry out this plan; but everything went wrong from the start. on the way over to the wood-lot one of thegreys slipped on a glare of ice and cut his knee; and when they got him up again jothamhad to go back to the barn for a strip of rag to bind the cut. then, when the loading finally began, asleety rain was coming down once more, and
the tree trunks were so slippery that ittook twice as long as usual to lift them and get them in place on the sledge. it was what jotham called a sour morningfor work, and the horses, shivering and stamping under their wet blankets, seemedto like it as little as the men. it was long past the dinner-hour when thejob was done, and ethan had to give up going to the village because he wanted tolead the injured horse home and wash the cut himself. he thought that by starting out again withthe lumber as soon as he had finished his dinner he might get back to the farm withthe glue before jotham and the old sorrel
had had time to fetch zenobia from the flats; but he knew the chance was a slightone. it turned on the state of the roads and onthe possible lateness of the bettsbridge train. he remembered afterward, with a grim flashof self-derision, what importance he had attached to the weighing of theseprobabilities... as soon as dinner was over he set out againfor the wood-lot, not daring to linger till jotham powell left. the hired man was still drying his wet feetat the stove, and ethan could only give
mattie a quick look as he said beneath hisbreath: "i'll be back early." he fancied that she nodded hercomprehension; and with that scant solace he had to trudge off through the rain. he had driven his load half-way to thevillage when jotham powell overtook him, urging the reluctant sorrel toward theflats. "i'll have to hurry up to do it," ethanmused, as the sleigh dropped down ahead of him over the dip of the school-house hill. he worked like ten at the unloading, andwhen it was over hastened on to michael eady's for the glue.
eady and his assistant were both "downstreet," and young denis, who seldom deigned to take their place, was loungingby the stove with a knot of the golden youth of starkfield. they hailed ethan with ironic complimentand offers of conviviality; but no one knew where to find the glue. ethan, consumed with the longing for a lastmoment alone with mattie, hung about impatiently while denis made an ineffectualsearch in the obscurer corners of the store. "looks as if we were all sold out.but if you'll wait around till the old man
comes along maybe he can put his hand onit." "i'm obliged to you, but i'll try if i canget it down at mrs. homan's," ethan answered, burning to be gone. denis's commercial instinct compelled himto aver on oath that what eady's store could not produce would never be found atthe widow homan's; but ethan, heedless of this boast, had already climbed to the sledge and was driving on to the rivalestablishment. here, after considerable search, andsympathetic questions as to what he wanted it for, and whether ordinary flour pastewouldn't do as well if she couldn't find
it, the widow homan finally hunted down her solitary bottle of glue to its hiding-placein a medley of cough-lozenges and corset- laces. "i hope zeena ain't broken anything shesets store by," she called after him as he turned the greys toward home. the fitful bursts of sleet had changed intoa steady rain and the horses had heavy work even without a load behind them. once or twice, hearing sleigh-bells, ethanturned his head, fancying that zeena and jotham might overtake him; but the oldsorrel was not in sight, and he set his
face against the rain and urged on hisponderous pair. the barn was empty when the horses turnedinto it and, after giving them the most perfunctory ministrations they had everreceived from him, he strode up to the house and pushed open the kitchen door. mattie was there alone, as he had picturedher. she was bending over a pan on the stove;but at the sound of his step she turned with a start and sprang to him. "see, here, matt, i've got some stuff tomend the dish with! let me get at it quick," he cried, wavingthe bottle in one hand while he put her
lightly aside; but she did not seem to hearhim. "oh, ethan--zeena's come," she said in awhisper, clutching his sleeve. they stood and stared at each other, paleas culprits. "but the sorrel's not in the barn!" ethan stammered."jotham powell brought some goods over from the flats for his wife, and he drove righton home with them," she explained. he gazed blankly about the kitchen, whichlooked cold and squalid in the rainy winter twilight."how is she?" he asked, dropping his voice to mattie's whisper.
she looked away from him uncertainly."i don't know. she went right up to her room.""she didn't say anything?" "no." ethan let out his doubts in a low whistleand thrust the bottle back into his pocket. "don't fret; i'll come down and mend it inthe night," he said. he pulled on his wet coat again and wentback to the barn to feed the greys. while he was there jotham powell drove upwith the sleigh, and when the horses had been attended to ethan said to him: "youmight as well come back up for a bite." he was not sorry to assure himself ofjotham's neutralising presence at the
supper table, for zeena was always"nervous" after a journey. but the hired man, though seldom loth toaccept a meal not included in his wages, opened his stiff jaws to answer slowly:"i'm obliged to you, but i guess i'll go along back." ethan looked at him in surprise."better come up and dry off. looks as if there'd be something hot forsupper." jotham's facial muscles were unmoved bythis appeal and, his vocabulary being limited, he merely repeated: "i guess i'llgo along back." to ethan there was something vaguelyominous in this stolid rejection of free
food and warmth, and he wondered what hadhappened on the drive to nerve jotham to such stoicism. perhaps zeena had failed to see the newdoctor or had not liked his counsels: ethan knew that in such cases the first personshe met was likely to be held responsible for her grievance. when he re-entered the kitchen the lamp litup the same scene of shining comfort as on the previous evening. the table had been as carefully laid, aclear fire glowed in the stove, the cat dozed in its warmth, and mattie cameforward carrying a plate of doughnuts.
she and ethan looked at each other insilence; then she said, as she had said the night before: "i guess it's about time forsupper." chapter vii ethan went out into the passage to hang uphis wet garments. he listened for zeena's step and, nothearing it, called her name up the stairs. she did not answer, and after a moment'shesitation he went up and opened her door. the room was almost dark, but in theobscurity he saw her sitting by the window, bolt upright, and knew by the rigidity ofthe outline projected against the pane that she had not taken off her travelling dress.
"well, zeena," he ventured from thethreshold. she did not move, and he continued:"supper's about ready. ain't you coming?" she replied: "i don't feel as if i couldtouch a morsel." it was the consecrated formula, and heexpected it to be followed, as usual, by her rising and going down to supper. but she remained seated, and he could thinkof nothing more felicitous than: "i presume you're tired after the long ride." turning her head at this, she answeredsolemnly: "i'm a great deal sicker than you
think."her words fell on his ear with a strange shock of wonder. he had often heard her pronounce thembefore--what if at last they were true? he advanced a step or two into the dimroom. "i hope that's not so, zeena," he said. she continued to gaze at him through thetwilight with a mien of wan authority, as of one consciously singled out for a greatfate. "i've got complications," she said. ethan knew the word for one of exceptionalimport.
almost everybody in the neighbourhood had"troubles," frankly localized and specified; but only the chosen had"complications." to have them was in itself a distinction,though it was also, in most cases, a death- warrant. people struggled on for years with"troubles," but they almost always succumbed to "complications." ethan's heart was jerking to and frobetween two extremities of feeling, but for the moment compassion prevailed.his wife looked so hard and lonely, sitting there in the darkness with such thoughts.
"is that what the new doctor told you?" heasked, instinctively lowering his voice. "yes. he says any regular doctor would wantme to have an operation." ethan was aware that, in regard to theimportant question of surgical intervention, the female opinion of theneighbourhood was divided, some glorying in the prestige conferred by operations whileothers shunned them as indelicate. ethan, from motives of economy, had alwaysbeen glad that zeena was of the latter faction. in the agitation caused by the gravity ofher announcement he sought a consolatory short cut."what do you know about this doctor anyway?
nobody ever told you that before." he saw his blunder before she could take itup: she wanted sympathy, not consolation. "i didn't need to have anybody tell me iwas losing ground every day. everybody but you could see it. and everybody in bettsbridge knows aboutdr. buck. he has his office in worcester, and comesover once a fortnight to shadd's falls and bettsbridge for consultations. eliza spears was wasting away with kidneytrouble before she went to him, and now she's up and around, and singing in thechoir."
"well, i'm glad of that. you must do just what he tells you," ethananswered sympathetically. she was still looking at him."i mean to," she said. he was struck by a new note in her voice. it was neither whining nor reproachful, butdrily resolute. "what does he want you should do?" heasked, with a mounting vision of fresh expenses. "he wants i should have a hired girl.he says i oughtn't to have to do a single thing around the house.""a hired girl?"
ethan stood transfixed. "yes. and aunt martha found me one rightoff. everybody said i was lucky to get a girl tocome away out here, and i agreed to give her a dollar extry to make sure. she'll be over to-morrow afternoon."wrath and dismay contended in ethan. he had foreseen an immediate demand formoney, but not a permanent drain on his scant resources. he no longer believed what zeena had toldhim of the supposed seriousness of her state: he saw in her expedition tobettsbridge only a plot hatched between
herself and her pierce relations to foist on him the cost of a servant; and for themoment wrath predominated. "if you meant to engage a girl you ought tohave told me before you started," he said. "how could i tell you before i started? how did i know what dr. buck would say?""oh, dr. buck--" ethan's incredulity escaped in a short laugh."did dr. buck tell you how i was to pay her wages?" her voice rose furiously with his."no, he didn't. for i'd 'a' been ashamed to tell him thatyou grudged me the money to get back my
health, when i lost it nursing your ownmother!" "you lost your health nursing mother?" "yes; and my folks all told me at the timeyou couldn't do no less than marry me after--""zeena!" through the obscurity which hid their facestheir thoughts seemed to dart at each other like serpents shooting venom.ethan was seized with horror of the scene and shame at his own share in it. it was as senseless and savage as aphysical fight between two enemies in the darkness.
he turned to the shelf above the chimney,groped for matches and lit the one candle in the room. at first its weak flame made no impressionon the shadows; then zeena's face stood grimly out against the uncurtained pane,which had turned from grey to black. it was the first scene of open angerbetween the couple in their sad seven years together, and ethan felt as if he had lostan irretrievable advantage in descending to the level of recrimination. but the practical problem was there and hadto be dealt with. "you know i haven't got the money to payfor a girl, zeena.
you'll have to send her back: i can't doit." "the doctor says it'll be my death if i goon slaving the way i've had to. he doesn't understand how i've stood it aslong as i have." "slaving!--" he checked himself again, "yousha'n't lift a hand, if he says so. i'll do everything round the house myself--" she broke in: "you're neglecting the farmenough already," and this being true, he found no answer, and left her time to addironically: "better send me over to the almshouse and done with it... i guess there's been fromes there aforenow."
the taunt burned into him, but he let itpass. "i haven't got the money. that settles it."there was a moment's pause in the struggle, as though the combatants were testing theirweapons. then zeena said in a level voice: "ithought you were to get fifty dollars from andrew hale for that lumber.""andrew hale never pays under three months." he had hardly spoken when he remembered theexcuse he had made for not accompanying his wife to the station the day before; and theblood rose to his frowning brows.
"why, you told me yesterday you'd fixed itup with him to pay cash down. you said that was why you couldn't drive meover to the flats." ethan had no suppleness in deceiving. he had never before been convicted of alie, and all the resources of evasion failed him."i guess that was a misunderstanding," he stammered. "you ain't got the money?""no." "and you ain't going to get it?""no." "well, i couldn't know that when i engagedthe girl, could i?"
"no."he paused to control his voice. "but you know it now. i'm sorry, but it can't be helped.you're a poor man's wife, zeena; but i'll do the best i can for you." for a while she sat motionless, as ifreflecting, her arms stretched along the arms of her chair, her eyes fixed onvacancy. "oh, i guess we'll make out," she saidmildly. the change in her tone reassured him."of course we will! there's a whole lot more i can do for you,and mattie--"
zeena, while he spoke, seemed to befollowing out some elaborate mental calculation. she emerged from it to say: "there'll bemattie's board less, any how--" ethan, supposing the discussion to be over,had turned to go down to supper. he stopped short, not grasping what heheard. "mattie's board less--?" he began.zeena laughed. it was on odd unfamiliar sound--he did notremember ever having heard her laugh before."you didn't suppose i was going to keep two girls, did you?
no wonder you were scared at the expense!"he still had but a confused sense of what she was saying. from the beginning of the discussion he hadinstinctively avoided the mention of mattie's name, fearing he hardly knew what:criticism, complaints, or vague allusions to the imminent probability of hermarrying. but the thought of a definite rupture hadnever come to him, and even now could not lodge itself in his mind. "i don't know what you mean," he said."mattie silver's not a hired girl. she's your relation."
"she's a pauper that's hung onto us allafter her father'd done his best to ruin us.i've kep' her here a whole year: it's somebody else's turn now." as the shrill words shot out ethan heard atap on the door, which he had drawn shut when he turned back from the threshold."ethan--zeena!" mattie's voice sounded gaily from thelanding, "do you know what time it is? supper's been ready half an hour." inside the room there was a moment'ssilence; then zeena called out from her seat: "i'm not coming down to supper.""oh, i'm sorry!
aren't you well? sha'n't i bring you up a bite ofsomething?" ethan roused himself with an effort andopened the door. "go along down, matt. zeena's just a little tired.i'm coming." he heard her "all right!" and her quickstep on the stairs; then he shut the door and turned back into the room. his wife's attitude was unchanged, her faceinexorable, and he was seized with the despairing sense of his helplessness."you ain't going to do it, zeena?"
"do what?" she emitted between flattenedlips. "send mattie away--like this?""i never bargained to take her for life!" he continued with rising vehemence: "youcan't put her out of the house like a thief--a poor girl without friends ormoney. she's done her best for you and she's gotno place to go to. you may forget she's your kin but everybodyelse'll remember it. if you do a thing like that what do yousuppose folks'll say of you?" zeena waited a moment, as if giving himtime to feel the full force of the contrast between his own excitement and hercomposure.
then she replied in the same smooth voice:"i know well enough what they say of my having kep' her here as long as i have." ethan's hand dropped from the door-knob,which he had held clenched since he had drawn the door shut on mattie. his wife's retort was like a knife-cutacross the sinews and he felt suddenly weak and powerless. he had meant to humble himself, to arguethat mattie's keep didn't cost much, after all, that he could make out to buy a stoveand fix up a place in the attic for the hired girl--but zeena's words revealed theperil of such pleadings.
"you mean to tell her she's got to go--atonce?" he faltered out, in terror of letting his wife complete her sentence. as if trying to make him see reason shereplied impartially: "the girl will be over from bettsbridge to-morrow, and i presumeshe's got to have somewheres to sleep." ethan looked at her with loathing. she was no longer the listless creature whohad lived at his side in a state of sullen self-absorption, but a mysterious alienpresence, an evil energy secreted from the long years of silent brooding. it was the sense of his helplessness thatsharpened his antipathy.
there had never been anything in her thatone could appeal to; but as long as he could ignore and command he had remainedindifferent. now she had mastered him and he abhorredher. mattie was her relation, not his: therewere no means by which he could compel her to keep the girl under her roof. all the long misery of his baffled past, ofhis youth of failure, hardship and vain effort, rose up in his soul in bitternessand seemed to take shape before him in the woman who at every turn had barred his way. she had taken everything else from him; andnow she meant to take the one thing that
made up for all the others. for a moment such a flame of hate rose inhim that it ran down his arm and clenched his fist against her.he took a wild step forward and then stopped. "you're--you're not coming down?" he saidin a bewildered voice. "no. i guess i'll lay down on the bed alittle while," she answered mildly; and he turned and walked out of the room. in the kitchen mattie was sitting by thestove, the cat curled up on her knees. she sprang to her feet as ethan entered andcarried the covered dish of meat-pie to the
"i hope zeena isn't sick?" she asked."no." she shone at him across the table."well, sit right down then. you must be starving." she uncovered the pie and pushed it over tohim. so they were to have one more eveningtogether, her happy eyes seemed to say! he helped himself mechanically and began toeat; then disgust took him by the throat and he laid down his fork.mattie's tender gaze was on him and she marked the gesture. "why, ethan, what's the matter?don't it taste right?"
"yes--it's first--rate. only i--" he pushed his plate away, rosefrom his chair, and walked around the table to her side.she started up with frightened eyes. "ethan, there's something wrong! i knew there was!"she seemed to melt against him in her terror, and he caught her in his arms, heldher fast there, felt her lashes beat his cheek like netted butterflies. "what is it--what is it?" she stammered;but he had found her lips at last and was drinking unconsciousness of everything butthe joy they gave him.
she lingered a moment, caught in the samestrong current; then she slipped from him and drew back a step or two, pale andtroubled. her look smote him with compunction, and hecried out, as if he saw her drowning in a dream: "you can't go, matt!i'll never let you!" "go--go?" she stammered. "must i go?"the words went on sounding between them as though a torch of warning flew from hand tohand through a black landscape. ethan was overcome with shame at his lackof self-control in flinging the news at her so brutally.his head reeled and he had to support
himself against the table. all the while he felt as if he were stillkissing her, and yet dying of thirst for her lips."ethan, what has happened? is zeena mad with me?" her cry steadied him, though it deepenedhis wrath and pity. "no, no," he assured her, "it's not that.but this new doctor has scared her about herself. you know she believes all they say thefirst time she sees them. and this one's told her she won't get wellunless she lays up and don't do a thing
about the house--not for months--" he paused, his eyes wandering from hermiserably. she stood silent a moment, drooping beforehim like a broken branch. she was so small and weak-looking that itwrung his heart; but suddenly she lifted her head and looked straight at him."and she wants somebody handier in my place? is that it?""that's what she says to-night." "if she says it to-night she'll say it to-morrow." both bowed to the inexorable truth: theyknew that zeena never changed her mind, and
that in her case a resolve once taken wasequivalent to an act performed. there was a long silence between them; thenmattie said in a low voice: "don't be too sorry, ethan.""oh, god--oh, god," he groaned. the glow of passion he had felt for her hadmelted to an aching tenderness. he saw her quick lids beating back thetears, and longed to take her in his arms and soothe her. "you're letting your supper get cold," sheadmonished him with a pale gleam of gaiety. "oh, matt--matt--where'll you go to?"her lids sank and a tremor crossed her face.
he saw that for the first time the thoughtof the future came to her distinctly. "i might get something to do over atstamford," she faltered, as if knowing that he knew she had no hope. he dropped back into his seat and hid hisface in his hands. despair seized him at the thought of hersetting out alone to renew the weary quest for work. in the only place where she was known shewas surrounded by indifference or animosity; and what chance had she,inexperienced and untrained, among the million bread-seekers of the cities?
there came back to him miserable tales hehad heard at worcester, and the faces of girls whose lives had begun as hopefully asmattie's.... it was not possible to think of such thingswithout a revolt of his whole being. he sprang up suddenly."you can't go, matt! i won't let you! she's always had her way, but i mean tohave mine now--" mattie lifted her hand with a quickgesture, and he heard his wife's step behind him. zeena came into the room with her draggingdown-at-the-heel step, and quietly took her
accustomed seat between them. "i felt a little mite better, and dr. bucksays i ought to eat all i can to keep my strength up, even if i ain't got anyappetite," she said in her flat whine, reaching across mattie for the teapot. her "good" dress had been replaced by theblack calico and brown knitted shawl which formed her daily wear, and with them shehad put on her usual face and manner. she poured out her tea, added a great dealof milk to it, helped herself largely to pie and pickles, and made the familiargesture of adjusting her false teeth before she began to eat.
the cat rubbed itself ingratiatinglyagainst her, and she said "good pussy," stooped to stroke it and gave it a scrap ofmeat from her plate. ethan sat speechless, not pretending toeat, but mattie nibbled valiantly at her food and asked zeena one or two questionsabout her visit to bettsbridge. zeena answered in her every-day tone and,warming to the theme, regaled them with several vivid descriptions of intestinaldisturbances 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 seatand 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, andwhen she did so it was always a sign of affability. "i've a good mind to go and hunt up thosestomach 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 knowabout," 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 peacefulas 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 scentof the geraniums.
ethan dragged himself wearily to his feet. "i'll go out and take a look around," hesaid, going toward the passage to get his lantern. as he reached the door he met zeena comingback into the room, her lips twitching with anger, a flush of excitement on her sallowface. the shawl had slipped from her shouldersand was dragging at her down-trodden heels, and in her hands she carried the fragmentsof the red glass pickle-dish. "i'd like to know who done this," she said,looking sternly from ethan to mattie. there was no answer, and she continued in atrembling voice: "i went to get those
powders i'd put away in father's oldspectacle-case, top of the china-closet, where i keep the things i set store by, so's folks shan't meddle with them--" hervoice broke, and two small tears hung on her lashless lids and ran slowly down hercheeks. "it takes the stepladder to get at the topshelf, and i put aunt philura maple's pickle-dish up there o' purpose when we wasmarried, and it's never been down since, 'cept for the spring cleaning, and then i always lifted it with my own hands, so's 'tshouldn't get broke." she laid the fragments reverently on thetable.
"i want to know who done this," shequavered. at the challenge ethan turned back into theroom and faced her. "i can tell you, then. the cat done it.""the cat?" "that's what i said." she looked at him hard, and then turned hereyes 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 theother; then she emitted her small strange laugh. "i knew the cat was a smart cat," she saidin a high voice, "but i didn't know he was smart enough to pick up the pieces of mypickle-dish and lay 'em edge to edge on the very shelf he knocked 'em off of." mattie suddenly drew her arms out of thesteaming water. "it wasn't ethan's fault, zeena! the cat did break the dish; but i got itdown from the china-closet, and i'm the one
to blame for its getting broken." zeena stood beside the ruin of hertreasure, 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-tablepretty; and you waited till my back was turned, and took the thing i set most storeby of anything i've got, and wouldn't never use it, not even when the minister come to dinner, or aunt martha pierce come overfrom bettsbridge--" zeena paused with a
gasp, as if terrified by her own evocationof the sacrilege. "you're a bad girl, mattie silver, and ialways known it. it's the way your father begun, and i waswarned 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 lefther 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 thebits of broken glass she went out of the room as if she carried a dead body...
chapter viii when ethan was called back to the farm byhis father's illness his mother gave him, for his own use, a small room behind theuntenanted "best parlour." here he had nailed up shelves for hisbooks, built himself a box-sofa out of boards and a mattress, laid out his paperson a kitchen-table, hung on the rough plaster wall an engraving of abraham lincoln and a calendar with "thoughts fromthe poets," and tried, with these meagre properties, to produce some likeness to thestudy of a "minister" who had been kind to him and lent him books when he was atworcester.
he still took refuge there in summer, butwhen mattie came to live at the farm he had to give her his stove, and consequently theroom was uninhabitable for several months of the year. to this retreat he descended as soon as thehouse was quiet, and zeena's steady breathing from the bed had assured him thatthere was to be no sequel to the scene in the kitchen. after zeena's departure he and mattie hadstood speechless, neither seeking to approach the other. then the girl had returned to her task ofclearing up the kitchen for the night and
he had taken his lantern and gone on hisusual round outside the house. the kitchen was empty when he came back toit; but his tobacco-pouch and pipe had been laid on the table, and under them was ascrap of paper torn from the back of a seedsman's catalogue, on which three wordswere written: "don't trouble, ethan." going into his cold dark "study" he placedthe lantern on the table and, stooping to its light, read the message again andagain. it was the first time that mattie had everwritten to him, and the possession of the paper gave him a strange new sense of hernearness; yet it deepened his anguish by reminding him that henceforth they would
have no other way of communicating witheach other. for the life of her smile, the warmth ofher voice, only cold paper and dead words! confused motions of rebellion stormed inhim. he was too young, too strong, too full ofthe sap of living, to submit so easily to the destruction of his hopes. must he wear out all his years at the sideof a bitter querulous woman? other possibilities had been in him,possibilities sacrificed, one by one, to zeena's narrow-mindedness and ignorance. and what good had come of it?she was a hundred times bitterer and more
discontented than when he had married her:the one pleasure left her was to inflict pain on him. all the healthy instincts of self-defencerose up in him against such waste... he bundled himself into his old coon-skincoat and lay down on the box-sofa to think. under his cheek he felt a hard object withstrange protuberances. it was a cushion which zeena had made forhim when they were engaged--the only piece of needlework he had ever seen her do. he flung it across the floor and proppedhis head against the wall... he knew a case of a man over the mountain--a young fellow of about his own age--who
had escaped from just such a life of miseryby going west with the girl he cared for. his wife had divorced him, and he hadmarried the girl and prospered. ethan had seen the couple the summer beforeat shadd's falls, where they had come to visit relatives. they had a little girl with fair curls, whowore a gold locket and was dressed like a princess.the deserted wife had not done badly either. her husband had given her the farm and shehad managed to sell it, and with that and the alimony she had started a lunch-room atbettsbridge and bloomed into activity and
importance. ethan was fired by the thought.why should he not leave with mattie the next day, instead of letting her go alone? he would hide his valise under the seat ofthe sleigh, and zeena would suspect nothing till she went upstairs for her afternoonnap and found a letter on the bed... his impulses were still near the surface,and he sprang up, re-lit the lantern, and sat down at the table.he rummaged in the drawer for a sheet of paper, found one, and began to write. "zeena, i've done all i could for you, andi don't see as it's been any use.
i don't blame you, nor i don't blamemyself. maybe both of us will do better separate. i'm going to try my luck west, and you cansell the farm and mill, and keep the money- -" his pen paused on the word, which broughthome to him the relentless conditions of his lot. if he gave the farm and mill to zeena whatwould be left him to start his own life with? once in the west he was sure of picking upwork--he would not have feared to try his
chance alone.but with mattie depending on him the case was different. and what of zeena's fate? farm and mill were mortgaged to the limitof their value, and even if she found a purchaser--in itself an unlikely chance--itwas doubtful if she could clear a thousand dollars on the sale. meanwhile, how could she keep the farmgoing? it was only by incessant labour andpersonal supervision that ethan drew a meagre living from his land, and his wife,even if she were in better health than she
imagined, could never carry such a burdenalone. well, she could go back to her people,then, and see what they would do for her. it was the fate she was forcing on mattie--why not let her try it herself? by the time she had discovered hiswhereabouts, and brought suit for divorce, he would probably--wherever he was--beearning enough to pay her a sufficient alimony. and the alternative was to let mattie goforth alone, with far less hope of ultimate provision... he had scattered the contents of the table-drawer in his search for a sheet of paper,
and as he took up his pen his eye fell onan old copy of the bettsbridge eagle. the advertising sheet was folded uppermost,and he read the seductive words: "trips to the west: reduced rates." he drew the lantern nearer and eagerlyscanned the fares; then the paper fell from his hand and he pushed aside his unfinishedletter. a moment ago he had wondered what he andmattie were to live on when they reached the west; now he saw that he had not eventhe money to take her there. borrowing was out of the question: sixmonths before he had given his only security to raise funds for necessaryrepairs to the mill, and he knew that
without security no one at starkfield wouldlend him ten dollars. the inexorable facts closed in on him likeprison-warders handcuffing a convict. there was no way out--none. he was a prisoner for life, and now his oneray of light was to be extinguished. he crept back heavily to the sofa,stretching himself out with limbs so leaden that he felt as if they would never moveagain. tears rose in his throat and slowly burnedtheir way to his lids. as he lay there, the window-pane that facedhim, growing gradually lighter, inlaid upon the darkness a square of moon-suffused sky.
a crooked tree-branch crossed it, a branchof the apple-tree under which, on summer evenings, he had sometimes found mattiesitting when he came up from the mill. slowly the rim of the rainy vapours caughtfire and burnt away, and a pure moon swung into the blue. ethan, rising on his elbow, watched thelandscape whiten and shape itself under the sculpture of the moon. this was the night on which he was to havetaken mattie coasting, and there hung the lamp to light them! he looked out at the slopes bathed inlustre, the silver-edged darkness of the
woods, the spectral purple of the hillsagainst the sky, and it seemed as though all the beauty of the night had been pouredout to mock his wretchedness... he fell asleep, and when he woke the chillof the winter dawn was in the room. he felt cold and stiff and hungry, andashamed of being hungry. he rubbed his eyes and went to the window. a red sun stood over the grey rim of thefields, behind trees that looked black and brittle. he said to himself: "this is matt's lastday," and tried to think what the place would be without her.as he stood there he heard a step behind
him and she entered. "oh, ethan--were you here all night?" she looked so small and pinched, in herpoor dress, with the red scarf wound about her, and the cold light turning herpaleness sallow, that ethan stood before her without speaking. "you must be frozen," she went on, fixinglustreless eyes on him. he drew a step nearer."how did you know i was here?" "because i heard you go down stairs againafter i went to bed, and i listened all night, and you didn't come up."all his tenderness rushed to his lips.
he looked at her and said: "i'll come rightalong and make up the kitchen fire." they went back to the kitchen, and hefetched the coal and kindlings and cleared out the stove for her, while she brought inthe milk and the cold remains of the meat- pie. when warmth began to radiate from thestove, and the first ray of sunlight lay on the kitchen floor, ethan's dark thoughtsmelted in the mellower air. the sight of mattie going about her work ashe had seen her on so many mornings made it seem impossible that she should ever ceaseto be a part of the scene. he said to himself that he had doubtlessexaggerated the significance of zeena's
threats, and that she too, with the returnof daylight, would come to a saner mood. he went up to mattie as she bent above thestove, and laid his hand on her arm. "i don't want you should trouble either,"he said, looking down into her eyes with a smile. she flushed up warmly and whispered back:"no, ethan, i ain't going to trouble." "i guess things'll straighten out," headded. there was no answer but a quick throb ofher lids, and he went on: "she ain't said anything this morning?""no. i haven't seen her yet." "don't you take any notice when you do."
with this injunction he left her and wentout to the cow-barn. he saw jotham powell walking up the hillthrough the morning mist, and the familiar sight added to his growing conviction ofsecurity. as the two men were clearing out the stallsjotham rested on his pitch-fork to say: "dan'l byrne's goin' over to the flats to-day noon, an' he c'd take mattie's trunk along, and make it easier ridin' when itake her over in the sleigh." ethan looked at him blankly, and hecontinued: "mis' frome said the new girl'd be at the flats at five, and i was to takemattie then, so's 't she could ketch the six o'clock train for stamford."
ethan felt the blood drumming in histemples. he had to wait a moment before he couldfind voice to say: "oh, it ain't so sure about mattie's going--" "that so?" said jotham indifferently; andthey went on with their work. when they returned to the kitchen the twowomen were already at breakfast. zeena had an air of unusual alertness andactivity. she drank two cups of coffee and fed thecat with the scraps left in the pie-dish; then she rose from her seat and, walkingover to the window, snipped two or three yellow leaves from the geraniums.
"aunt martha's ain't got a faded leaf on'em; but they pine away when they ain't cared for," she said reflectively.then she turned to jotham and asked: "what time'd you say dan'l byrne'd be along?" the hired man threw a hesitating glance atethan. "round about noon," he said.zeena turned to mattie. "that trunk of yours is too heavy for thesleigh, and dan'l byrne'll be round to take it over to the flats," she said."i'm much obliged to you, zeena," said "i'd like to go over things with youfirst," zeena continued in an unperturbed "i know there's a huckabuck towel missing;and i can't take out what you done with
that match-safe 't used to stand behind thestuffed owl in the parlour." she went out, followed by mattie, and whenthe men were alone jotham said to his employer: "i guess i better let dan'l comeround, then." ethan finished his usual morning tasksabout the house and barn; then he said to jotham: "i'm going down to starkfield.tell them not to wait dinner." the passion of rebellion had broken out inhim again. that which had seemed incredible in thesober light of day had really come to pass, and he was to assist as a helplessspectator at mattie's banishment. his manhood was humbled by the part he wascompelled to play and by the thought of
what mattie must think of him.confused impulses struggled in him as he strode along to the village. he had made up his mind to do something,but he did not know what it would be. the early mist had vanished and the fieldslay like a silver shield under the sun. it was one of the days when the glitter ofwinter shines through a pale haze of spring. every yard of the road was alive withmattie's presence, and there was hardly a branch against the sky or a tangle ofbrambles on the bank in which some bright shred of memory was not caught.
once, in the stillness, the call of a birdin a mountain ash was so like her laughter that his heart tightened and then grewlarge; and all these things made him see that something must be done at once. suddenly it occurred to him that andrewhale, who was a kind-hearted man, might be induced to reconsider his refusal andadvance a small sum on the lumber if he were told that zeena's ill-health made itnecessary to hire a servant. hale, after all, knew enough of ethan'ssituation to make it possible for the latter to renew his appeal without too muchloss of pride; and, moreover, how much did pride count in the ebullition of passionsin his breast?
the more he considered his plan the morehopeful it seemed. if he could get mrs. hale's ear he feltcertain of success, and with fifty dollars in his pocket nothing could keep him frommattie... his first object was to reach starkfieldbefore hale had started for his work; he knew the carpenter had a job down thecorbury road and was likely to leave his house early. ethan's long strides grew more rapid withthe accelerated beat of his thoughts, and as he reached the foot of school house hillhe caught sight of hale's sleigh in the distance.
he hurried forward to meet it, but as itdrew nearer he saw that it was driven by the carpenter's youngest boy and that thefigure at his side, looking like a large upright cocoon in spectacles, was that ofmrs. hale. ethan signed to them to stop, and mrs. haleleaned forward, her pink wrinkles twinkling with benevolence. "mr. hale?why, yes, you'll find him down home now. he ain't going to his work this forenoon. he woke up with a touch o' lumbago, and ijust made him put on one of old dr. kidder's plasters and set right up into thefire."
beaming maternally on ethan, she bent overto add: "i on'y just heard from mr. hale 'bout zeena's going over to bettsbridge tosee that new doctor. i'm real sorry she's feeling so bad again! i hope he thinks he can do something forher. i don't know anybody round here's had moresickness than zeena. i always tell mr. hale i don't know whatshe'd 'a' done if she hadn't 'a' had you to look after her; and i used to say the samething 'bout your mother. you've had an awful mean time, ethanfrome." she gave him a last nod of sympathy whileher son chirped to the horse; and ethan, as
she drove off, stood in the middle of theroad and stared after the retreating sleigh. it was a long time since any one had spokento him as kindly as mrs. hale. most people were either indifferent to histroubles, or disposed to think it natural that a young fellow of his age should havecarried without repining the burden of three crippled lives. but mrs. hale had said, "you've had anawful mean time, ethan frome," and he felt less alone with his misery.if the hales were sorry for him they would surely respond to his appeal...
he started down the road toward theirhouse, but at the end of a few yards he pulled up sharply, the blood in his face. for the first time, in the light of thewords he had just heard, he saw what he was about to do. he was planning to take advantage of thehales' sympathy to obtain money from them on false pretences. that was a plain statement of the cloudypurpose which had driven him in headlong to with the sudden perception of the point towhich his madness had carried him, the madness fell and he saw his life before himas it was.
he was a poor man, the husband of a sicklywoman, whom his desertion would leave alone and destitute; and even if he had had theheart to desert her he could have done so only by deceiving two kindly people who hadpitied him. he turned and walked slowly back to thefarm. chapter ix at the kitchen door daniel byrne sat in hissleigh behind a big-boned grey who pawed the snow and swung his long head restlesslyfrom side to side. ethan went into the kitchen and found hiswife by the stove. her head was wrapped in her shawl, and shewas reading a book called "kidney troubles
and their cure" on which he had had to payextra postage only a few days before. zeena did not move or look up when heentered, and after a moment he asked: "where's mattie?" without lifting her eyes from the page shereplied: "i presume she's getting down her trunk."the blood rushed to his face. "getting down her trunk--alone?" "jotham powell's down in the wood-lot, anddan'l byrne says he darsn't leave that horse," she returned. her husband, without stopping to hear theend of the phrase, had left the kitchen and
sprung up the stairs.the door of mattie's room was shut, and he wavered a moment on the landing. "matt," he said in a low voice; but therewas no answer, and he put his hand on the door-knob. he had never been in her room except once,in the early summer, when he had gone there to plaster up a leak in the eaves, but heremembered exactly how everything had looked: the red-and-white quilt on her narrow bed, the pretty pin-cushion on thechest of drawers, and over it the enlarged photograph of her mother, in an oxydizedframe, with a bunch of dyed grasses at the
back. now these and all other tokens of herpresence had vanished and the room looked as bare and comfortless as when zeena hadshown her into it on the day of her arrival. in the middle of the floor stood her trunk,and on the trunk she sat in her sunday dress, her back turned to the door and herface in her hands. she had not heard ethan's call because shewas sobbing and she did not hear his step till he stood close behind her and laid hishands on her shoulders. "matt--oh, don't--oh, matt!"
she started up, lifting her wet face tohis. "ethan--i thought i wasn't ever going tosee you again!" he took her in his arms, pressing herclose, and with a trembling hand smoothed away the hair from her forehead."not see me again? what do you mean?" she sobbed out: "jotham said you told himwe wasn't to wait dinner for you, and i thought--""you thought i meant to cut it?" he finished for her grimly. she clung to him without answering, and helaid his lips on her hair, which was soft
yet springy, like certain mosses on warmslopes, and had the faint woody fragrance of fresh sawdust in the sun. through the door they heard zeena's voicecalling out from below: "dan'l byrne says you better hurry up if you want him to takethat trunk." they drew apart with stricken faces. words of resistance rushed to ethan's lipsand died there. mattie found her handkerchief and dried hereyes; then,--bending down, she took hold of a handle of the trunk. ethan put her aside."you let go, matt," he ordered her.
she answered: "it takes two to coax itround the corner"; and submitting to this argument he grasped the other handle, andtogether they manoeuvred the heavy trunk out to the landing. "now let go," he repeated; then heshouldered the trunk and carried it down the stairs and across the passage to thekitchen. zeena, who had gone back to her seat by thestove, did not lift her head from her book as he passed. mattie followed him out of the door andhelped him to lift the trunk into the back of the sleigh.
when it was in place they stood side byside on the door-step, watching daniel byrne plunge off behind his fidgety horse. it seemed to ethan that his heart was boundwith cords which an unseen hand was tightening with every tick of the clock.twice he opened his lips to speak to mattie and found no breath. at length, as she turned to re-enter thehouse, he laid a detaining hand on her. "i'm going to drive you over, matt," hewhispered. she murmured back: "i think zeena wants ishould go with jotham." "i'm going to drive you over," he repeated;and she went into the kitchen without
answering. at dinner ethan could not eat.if he lifted his eyes they rested on zeena's pinched face, and the corners ofher straight lips seemed to quiver away into a smile. she ate well, declaring that the mildweather made her feel better, and pressed a second helping of beans on jotham powell,whose wants she generally ignored. mattie, when the meal was over, went abouther usual task of clearing the table and washing up the dishes. zeena, after feeding the cat, had returnedto her rocking-chair by the stove, and
jotham powell, who always lingered last,reluctantly pushed back his chair and moved toward the door. on the threshold he turned back to say toethan: "what time'll i come round for mattie?" ethan was standing near the window,mechanically filling his pipe while he watched mattie move to and fro.he answered: "you needn't come round; i'm going to drive her over myself." he saw the rise of the colour in mattie'saverted cheek, and the quick lifting of zeena's head."i want you should stay here this
afternoon, ethan," his wife said. "jotham can drive mattie over."mattie flung an imploring glance at him, but he repeated curtly: "i'm going to driveher over myself." zeena continued in the same even tone: "iwanted you should stay and fix up that stove in mattie's room afore the girl getshere. it ain't been drawing right for nigh on amonth now." ethan's voice rose indignantly."if it was good enough for mattie i guess it's good enough for a hired girl." "that girl that's coming told me she wasused to a house where they had a furnace,"
zeena persisted with the same monotonousmildness. "she'd better ha' stayed there then," heflung back at her; and turning to mattie he added in a hard voice: "you be ready bythree, matt; i've got business at corbury." jotham powell had started for the barn, andethan strode down after him aflame with anger.the pulses in his temples throbbed and a fog was in his eyes. he went about his task without knowing whatforce directed him, or whose hands and feet were fulfilling its orders. it was not till he led out the sorrel andbacked him between the shafts of the sleigh
that he once more became conscious of whathe was doing. as he passed the bridle over the horse'shead, and wound the traces around the shafts, he remembered the day when he hadmade the same preparations in order to drive over and meet his wife's cousin atthe flats. it was little more than a year ago, on justsuch a soft afternoon, with a "feel" of spring in the air. the sorrel, turning the same big ringed eyeon him, nuzzled the palm of his hand in the same way; and one by one all the daysbetween rose up and stood before him... he flung the bearskin into the sleigh,climbed to the seat, and drove up to the
house. when he entered the kitchen it was empty,but mattie's bag and shawl lay ready by the door.he went to the foot of the stairs and listened. no sound reached him from above, butpresently he thought he heard some one moving about in his deserted study, andpushing open the door he saw mattie, in her hat and jacket, standing with her back tohim near the table. she started at his approach and turningquickly, said: "is it time?" "what are you doing here, matt?" he askedher.
she looked at him timidly."i was just taking a look round--that's all," she answered, with a wavering smile. they went back into the kitchen withoutspeaking, and ethan picked up her bag and shawl."where's zeena?" he asked. "she went upstairs right after dinner. she said she had those shooting painsagain, and didn't want to be disturbed." "didn't she say good-bye to you?""no. that was all she said." ethan, looking slowly about the kitchen,said to himself with a shudder that in a few hours he would be returning to italone.
then the sense of unreality overcame himonce more, and he could not bring himself to believe that mattie stood there for thelast time before him. "come on," he said almost gaily, openingthe door and putting her bag into the he sprang to his seat and bent over to tuckthe rug about her as she slipped into the place at his side. "now then, go 'long," he said, with a shakeof the reins that sent the sorrel placidly jogging down the hill. "we got lots of time for a good ride,matt!" he cried, seeking her hand beneath the fur and pressing it in his.
his face tingled and he felt dizzy, as ifhe had stopped in at the starkfield saloon on a zero day for a drink. at the gate, instead of making forstarkfield, he turned the sorrel to the right, up the bettsbridge road. mattie sat silent, giving no sign ofsurprise; but after a moment she said: "are you going round by shadow pond?"he laughed and answered: "i knew you'd know!" she drew closer under the bearskin, sothat, looking sideways around his coat- sleeve, he could just catch the tip of hernose and a blown brown wave of hair.
they drove slowly up the road betweenfields glistening under the pale sun, and then bent to the right down a lane edgedwith spruce and larch. ahead of them, a long way off, a range ofhills stained by mottlings of black forest flowed away in round white curves againstthe sky. the lane passed into a pine-wood with bolesreddening in the afternoon sun and delicate blue shadows on the snow. as they entered it the breeze fell and awarm stillness seemed to drop from the branches with the dropping needles. here the snow was so pure that the tinytracks of wood-animals had left on it
intricate lace-like patterns, and thebluish cones caught in its surface stood out like ornaments of bronze. ethan drove on in silence till they reacheda part of the wood where the pines were more widely spaced, then he drew up andhelped mattie to get out of the sleigh. they passed between the aromatic trunks,the snow breaking crisply under their feet, till they came to a small sheet of waterwith steep wooded sides. across its frozen surface, from the fartherbank, a single hill rising against the western sun threw the long conical shadowwhich gave the lake its name. it was a shy secret spot, full of the samedumb melancholy that ethan felt in his
he looked up and down the little pebblybeach till his eye lit on a fallen tree- trunk half submerged in snow."there's where we sat at the picnic," he reminded her. the entertainment of which he spoke was oneof the few that they had taken part in together: a "church picnic" which, on along afternoon of the preceding summer, had filled the retired place with merry-making. mattie had begged him to go with her but hehad refused. then, toward sunset, coming down from themountain where he had been felling timber, he had been caught by some strayedrevellers and drawn into the group by the
lake, where mattie, encircled by facetious youths, and bright as a blackberry underher spreading hat, was brewing coffee over a gipsy fire. he remembered the shyness he had felt atapproaching her in his uncouth clothes, and then the lighting up of her face, and theway she had broken through the group to come to him with a cup in her hand. they had sat for a few minutes on thefallen log by the pond, and she had missed her gold locket, and set the young mensearching for it; and it was ethan who had spied it in the moss....
that was all; but all their intercourse hadbeen made up of just such inarticulate flashes, when they seemed to come suddenlyupon happiness as if they had surprised a butterfly in the winter woods... "it was right there i found your locket,"he said, pushing his foot into a dense tuft of blueberry bushes."i never saw anybody with such sharp eyes!" she answered. she sat down on the tree-trunk in the sunand he sat down beside her. "you were as pretty as a picture in thatpink hat," he said. she laughed with pleasure.
"oh, i guess it was the hat!" she rejoined.they had never before avowed their inclination so openly, and ethan, for amoment, had the illusion that he was a free man, wooing the girl he meant to marry. he looked at her hair and longed to touchit again, and to tell her that it smelt of the woods; but he had never learned to saysuch things. suddenly she rose to her feet and said: "wemustn't stay here any longer." he continued to gaze at her vaguely, onlyhalf-roused from his dream. "there's plenty of time," he answered. they stood looking at each other as if theeyes of each were straining to absorb and
hold fast the other's image. there were things he had to say to herbefore they parted, but he could not say them in that place of summer memories, andhe turned and followed her in silence to the sleigh. as they drove away the sun sank behind thehill and the pine-boles turned from red to grey.by a devious track between the fields they wound back to the starkfield road. under the open sky the light was stillclear, with a reflection of cold red on the eastern hills.
the clumps of trees in the snow seemed todraw together in ruffled lumps, like birds with their heads under their wings; and thesky, as it paled, rose higher, leaving the earth more alone. as they turned into the starkfield roadethan said: "matt, what do you mean to do?" she did not answer at once, but at lengthshe said: "i'll try to get a place in a store." "you know you can't do it.the bad air and the standing all day nearly killed you before.""i'm a lot stronger than i was before i came to starkfield."
"and now you're going to throw away all thegood it's done you!" there seemed to be no answer to this, andagain they drove on for a while without speaking. with every yard of the way some spot wherethey had stood, and laughed together or been silent, clutched at ethan and draggedhim back. "isn't there any of your father's folkscould help you?" "there isn't any of 'em i'd ask." he lowered his voice to say: "you knowthere's nothing i wouldn't do for you if i could.""i know there isn't."
"but i can't--" she was silent, but he felt a slight tremorin the shoulder against his. "oh, matt," he broke out, "if i could ha'gone with you now i'd ha' done it--" she turned to him, pulling a scrap of paperfrom her breast. "ethan--i found this," she stammered. even in the failing light he saw it was theletter to his wife that he had begun the night before and forgotten to destroy.through his astonishment there ran a fierce thrill of joy. "matt--" he cried; "if i could ha' done it,would you?"
"oh, ethan, ethan--what's the use?" with a sudden movement she tore the letterin shreds and sent them fluttering off into the snow."tell me, matt! tell me!" he adjured her. she was silent for a moment; then she said,in such a low tone that he had to stoop his head to hear her: "i used to think of itsometimes, summer nights, when the moon was so bright i couldn't sleep." his heart reeled with the sweetness of it."as long ago as that?" she answered, as if the date had long beenfixed for her: "the first time was at
shadow pond." "was that why you gave me my coffee beforethe others?" "i don't know.did i? i was dreadfully put out when you wouldn'tgo to the picnic with me; and then, when i saw you coming down the road, i thoughtmaybe you'd gone home that way o' purpose; and that made me glad." they were silent again. they had reached the point where the roaddipped to the hollow by ethan's mill and as they descended the darkness descended withthem, dropping down like a black veil from
the heavy hemlock boughs. "i'm tied hand and foot, matt.there isn't a thing i can do," he began again."you must write to me sometimes, ethan." "oh, what good'll writing do? i want to put my hand out and touch you.i want to do for you and care for you. i want to be there when you're sick andwhen you're lonesome." "you mustn't think but what i'll do allright." "you won't need me, you mean?i suppose you'll marry!" "oh, ethan!" she cried.
"i don't know how it is you make me feel,matt. i'd a'most rather have you dead than that!""oh, i wish i was, i wish i was!" she sobbed. the sound of her weeping shook him out ofhis dark anger, and he felt ashamed. "don't let's talk that way," he whispered."why shouldn't we, when it's true? i've been wishing it every minute of theday." "matt!you be quiet! don't you say it." "there's never anybody been good to me butyou."
"don't say that either, when i can't lift ahand for you!" "yes; but it's true just the same." they had reached the top of school househill and starkfield lay below them in the twilight. a cutter, mounting the road from thevillage, passed them by in a joyous flutter of bells, and they straightened themselvesand looked ahead with rigid faces. along the main street lights had begun toshine from the house-fronts and stray figures were turning in here and there atthe gates. ethan, with a touch of his whip, roused thesorrel to a languid trot.
as they drew near the end of the villagethe cries of children reached them, and they saw a knot of boys, with sleds behindthem, scattering across the open space before the church. "i guess this'll be their last coast for aday or two," ethan said, looking up at the mild sky.mattie was silent, and he added: "we were to have gone down last night." still she did not speak and, prompted by anobscure desire to help himself and her through their miserable last hour, he wenton discursively: "ain't it funny we haven't been down together but just that once lastwinter?"
she answered: "it wasn't often i got downto the village." "that's so," he said. they had reached the crest of the corburyroad, and between the indistinct white glimmer of the church and the black curtainof the varnum spruces the slope stretched away below them without a sled on itslength. some erratic impulse prompted ethan to say:"how'd you like me to take you down now?" she forced a laugh. "why, there isn't time!""there's all the time we want. come along!"
his one desire now was to postpone themoment of turning the sorrel toward the flats."but the girl," she faltered. "the girl'll be waiting at the station." "well, let her wait.you'd have to if she didn't. come!" the note of authority in his voice seemedto subdue her, and when he had jumped from the sleigh she let him help her out, sayingonly, with a vague feint of reluctance: "but there isn't a sled round anywheres." "yes, there is!right over there under the spruces."
he threw the bearskin over the sorrel, whostood passively by the roadside, hanging a meditative head. then he caught mattie's hand and drew herafter him toward the sled. she seated herself obediently and he tookhis place behind her, so close that her hair brushed his face. "all right, matt?" he called out, as if thewidth of the road had been between them. she turned her head to say: "it'sdreadfully dark. are you sure you can see?" he laughed contemptuously: "i could go downthis coast with my eyes tied!" and she
laughed with him, as if she liked hisaudacity. nevertheless he sat still a moment,straining his eyes down the long hill, for it was the most confusing hour of theevening, the hour when the last clearness from the upper sky is merged with the rising night in a blur that disguiseslandmarks and falsifies distances. "now!" he cried. the sled started with a bound, and theyflew on through the dusk, gathering smoothness and speed as they went, with thehollow night opening out below them and the air singing by like an organ.
mattie sat perfectly still, but as theyreached the bend at the foot of the hill, where the big elm thrust out a deadlyelbow, he fancied that she shrank a little closer. "don't be scared, matt!" he criedexultantly, as they spun safely past it and flew down the second slope; and when theyreached the level ground beyond, and the speed of the sled began to slacken, heheard her give a little laugh of glee. they sprang off and started to walk back upthe hill. ethan dragged the sled with one hand andpassed the other through mattie's arm. "were you scared i'd run you into the elm?"he asked with a boyish laugh.
"i told you i was never scared with you,"she answered. the strange exaltation of his mood hadbrought on one of his rare fits of boastfulness. "it is a tricky place, though.the least swerve, and we'd never ha' come up again.but i can measure distances to a hair's- breadth-always could." she murmured: "i always say you've got thesurest eye..." deep silence had fallen with the starlessdusk, and they leaned on each other without speaking; but at every step of their climbethan said to himself: "it's the last time
we'll ever walk together." they mounted slowly to the top of the hill.when they were abreast of the church he stooped his head to her to ask: "are youtired?" and she answered, breathing quickly: "it was splendid!" with a pressure of his arm he guided hertoward the norway spruces. "i guess this sled must be ned hale's.anyhow i'll leave it where i found it." he drew the sled up to the varnum gate andrested it against the fence. as he raised himself he suddenly feltmattie close to him among the shadows. "is this where ned and ruth kissed eachother?" she whispered breathlessly, and
flung her arms about him. her lips, groping for his, swept over hisface, and he held her fast in a rapture of surprise."good-bye-good-bye," she stammered, and kissed him again. "oh, matt, i can't let you go!" broke fromhim in the same old cry. she freed herself from his hold and heheard her sobbing. "oh, i can't go either!" she wailed. "matt!what'll we do? what'll we do?"
they clung to each other's hands likechildren, and her body shook with desperate sobs.through the stillness they heard the church clock striking five. "oh, ethan, it's time!" she cried.he drew her back to him. "time for what?you don't suppose i'm going to leave you now?" "if i missed my train where'd i go?""where are you going if you catch it?" she stood silent, her hands lying cold andrelaxed in his. "what's the good of either of us goinganywheres without the other one now?" he
said.she remained motionless, as if she had not heard him. then she snatched her hands from his, threwher arms about his neck, and pressed a sudden drenched cheek against his face."ethan! ethan! i want you to take me down again!""down where?" "the coast.right off," she panted. "so 't we'll never come up any more." "matt!what on earth do you mean?"
she put her lips close against his ear tosay: "right into the big elm. you said you could. so 't we'd never have to leave each otherany more." "why, what are you talking of?you're crazy!" "i'm not crazy; but i will be if i leaveyou." "oh, matt, matt--" he groaned.she tightened her fierce hold about his neck. her face lay close to his face."ethan, where'll i go if i leave you? i don't know how to get along alone.you said so yourself just now.
nobody but you was ever good to me. and there'll be that strange girl in thehouse... and she'll sleep in my bed, where i used to lay nights and listen to hear youcome up the stairs..." the words were like fragments torn from hisheart. with them came the hated vision of thehouse he was going back to--of the stairs he would have to go up every night, of thewoman who would wait for him there. and the sweetness of mattie's avowal, thewild wonder of knowing at last that all that had happened to him had happened toher too, made the other vision more abhorrent, the other life more intolerableto return to...
her pleadings still came to him betweenshort sobs, but he no longer heard what she was saying. her hat had slipped back and he wasstroking her hair. he wanted to get the feeling of it into hishand, so that it would sleep there like a seed in winter. once he found her mouth again, and theyseemed to be by the pond together in the burning august sun. but his cheek touched hers, and it was coldand full of weeping, and he saw the road to the flats under the night and heard thewhistle of the train up the line.
the spruces swathed them in blackness andsilence. they might have been in their coffinsunderground. he said to himself: "perhaps it'll feellike this..." and then again: "after this i sha'n't feel anything..." suddenly he heard the old sorrel whinnyacross the road, and thought: "he's wondering why he doesn't get his supper...""come!" mattie whispered, tugging at his hand. her sombre violence constrained him: sheseemed the embodied instrument of fate. he pulled the sled out, blinking like anight-bird as he passed from the shade of
the spruces into the transparent dusk ofthe open. the slope below them was deserted. all starkfield was at supper, and not afigure crossed the open space before the church. the sky, swollen with the clouds thatannounce a thaw, hung as low as before a summer storm. he strained his eyes through the dimness,and they seemed less keen, less capable than usual.he took his seat on the sled and mattie instantly placed herself in front of him.
her hat had fallen into the snow and hislips were in her hair. he stretched out his legs, drove his heelsinto the road to keep the sled from slipping forward, and bent her head backbetween his hands. then suddenly he sprang up again. "get up," he ordered her.it was the tone she always heeded, but she cowered down in her seat, repeatingvehemently: "no, no, no!" "get up!" "why?""i want to sit in front." "no, no! how can you steer in front?""i don't have to.
we'll follow the track." they spoke in smothered whispers, as thoughthe night were listening. "get up! get up!" he urged her; but shekept on repeating: "why do you want to sit in front?" "because i--because i want to feel youholding me," he stammered, and dragged her to her feet.the answer seemed to satisfy her, or else she yielded to the power of his voice. he bent down, feeling in the obscurity forthe glassy slide worn by preceding coasters, and placed the runners carefullybetween its edges.
she waited while he seated himself withcrossed legs in the front of the sled; then she crouched quickly down at his back andclasped her arms about him. her breath in his neck set him shudderingagain, and he almost sprang from his seat. but in a flash he remembered thealternative. she was right: this was better thanparting. he leaned back and drew her mouth to his... just as they started he heard the sorrel'swhinny again, and the familiar wistful call, and all the confused images itbrought with it, went with him down the first reach of the road.
half-way down there was a sudden drop, thena rise, and after that another long delirious descent. as they took wing for this it seemed to himthat they were flying indeed, flying far up into the cloudy night, with starkfieldimmeasurably below them, falling away like a speck in space... then the big elm shot up ahead, lying inwait for them at the bend of the road, and he said between his teeth: "we can fetchit; i know we can fetch it--" as they flew toward the tree mattie pressedher arms tighter, and her blood seemed to be in his veins.once or twice the sled swerved a little
under them. he slanted his body to keep it headed forthe elm, repeating to himself again and again: "i know we can fetch it"; and littlephrases she had spoken ran through his head and danced before him on the air. the big tree loomed bigger and closer, andas they bore down on it he thought: "it's waiting for us: it seems to know." but suddenly his wife's face, with twistedmonstrous lineaments, thrust itself between him and his goal, and he made aninstinctive movement to brush it aside. the sled swerved in response, but herighted it again, kept it straight, and
drove down on the black projecting mass. there was a last instant when the air shotpast him like millions of fiery wires; and then the elm... the sky was still thick, but lookingstraight up he saw a single star, and tried vaguely to reckon whether it were sirius,or--or--the effort tired him too much, and he closed his heavy lids and thought thathe would sleep... the stillness was so profound that he hearda little animal twittering somewhere near by under the snow. it made a small frightened cheep like afield mouse, and he wondered languidly if
it were hurt. then he understood that it must be in pain:pain so excruciating that he seemed, mysteriously, to feel it shooting throughhis own body. he tried in vain to roll over in thedirection of the sound, and stretched his left arm out across the snow. and now it was as though he felt ratherthan heard the twittering; it seemed to be under his palm, which rested on somethingsoft and springy. the thought of the animal's suffering wasintolerable to him and he struggled to raise himself, and could not because arock, or some huge mass, seemed to be lying
on him. but he continued to finger about cautiouslywith his left hand, thinking he might get hold of the little creature and help it;and all at once he knew that the soft thing he had touched was mattie's hair and thathis hand was on her face. he dragged himself to his knees, themonstrous load on him moving with him as he moved, and his hand went over and over herface, and he felt that the twittering came from her lips... he got his face down close to hers, withhis ear to her mouth, and in the darkness he saw her eyes open and heard her say hisname.
"oh, matt, i thought we'd fetched it," hemoaned; and far off, up the hill, he heard the sorrel whinny, and thought: "i ought tobe getting him his feed..." the querulous drone ceased as i enteredfrome's kitchen, and of the two women sitting there i could not tell which hadbeen the speaker. one of them, on my appearing, raised hertall bony figure from her seat, not as if to welcome me--for she threw me no morethan a brief glance of surprise--but simply to set about preparing the meal whichfrome's absence had delayed. a slatternly calico wrapper hung from hershoulders and the wisps of her thin grey hair were drawn away from a high foreheadand fastened at the back by a broken comb.
she had pale opaque eyes which revealednothing and reflected nothing, and her narrow lips were of the same sallow colouras her face. the other woman was much smaller andslighter. she sat huddled in an arm-chair near thestove, and when i came in she turned her head quickly toward me, without the leastcorresponding movement of her body. her hair was as grey as her companion's,her face as bloodless and shrivelled, but amber-tinted, with swarthy shadowssharpening the nose and hollowing the temples. under her shapeless dress her body kept itslimp immobility, and her dark eyes had the
bright witch-like stare that disease of thespine sometimes gives. even for that part of the country thekitchen was a poor-looking place. with the exception of the dark-eyed woman'schair, which looked like a soiled relic of luxury bought at a country auction, thefurniture was of the roughest kind. three coarse china plates and a broken-nosed milk-jug had been set on a greasy table scored with knife-cuts, and a coupleof straw-bottomed chairs and a kitchen dresser of unpainted pine stood meagrelyagainst the plaster walls. "my, it's cold here! the fire must be 'most out," frome said,glancing about him apologetically as he
followed me in. the tall woman, who had moved away from ustoward the dresser, took no notice; but the other, from her cushioned niche, answeredcomplainingly, in a high thin voice. "it's on'y just been made up this veryminute. zeena fell asleep and slep' ever so long,and i thought i'd be frozen stiff before i could wake her up and get her to 'tend toit." i knew then that it was she who had beenspeaking when we entered. her companion, who was just coming back tothe table with the remains of a cold mince- pie in a battered pie-dish, set down herunappetising burden without appearing to
hear the accusation brought against her. frome stood hesitatingly before her as sheadvanced; then he looked at me and said: "this is my wife, mis' frome." after another interval he added, turningtoward the figure in the arm-chair: "and this is miss mattie silver..." mrs. hale, tender soul, had pictured me aslost in the flats and buried under a snow- drift; and so lively was her satisfactionon seeing me safely restored to her the next morning that i felt my peril had caused me to advance several degrees in herfavour.
great was her amazement, and that of oldmrs. varnum, on learning that ethan frome's old horse had carried me to and fromcorbury junction through the worst blizzard of the winter; greater still their surprise when they heard that his master had takenme in for the night. beneath their wondering exclamations i felta secret curiosity to know what impressions i had received from my night in the fromehousehold, and divined that the best way of breaking down their reserve was to let themtry to penetrate mine. i therefore confined myself to saying, in amatter-of-fact tone, that i had been received with great kindness, and thatfrome had made a bed for me in a room on
the ground-floor which seemed in happier days to have been fitted up as a kind ofwriting-room or study. "well," mrs. hale mused, "in such a storm isuppose he felt he couldn't do less than take you in--but i guess it went hard withethan. i don't believe but what you're the onlystranger has set foot in that house for over twenty years. he's that proud he don't even like hisoldest friends to go there; and i don't know as any do, any more, except myself andthe doctor..." "you still go there, mrs. hale?"
i ventured."i used to go a good deal after the accident, when i was first married; butafter awhile i got to think it made 'em feel worse to see us. and then one thing and another came, and myown troubles... but i generally make out to drive overthere round about new year's, and once in the summer. only i always try to pick a day whenethan's off somewheres. it's bad enough to see the two womensitting there--but his face, when he looks round that bare place, just kills me...
you see, i can look back and call it up inhis mother's day, before their troubles." old mrs. varnum, by this time, had gone upto bed, and her daughter and i were sitting alone, after supper, in the austereseclusion of the horse-hair parlour. mrs. hale glanced at me tentatively, asthough trying to see how much footing my conjectures gave her; and i guessed that ifshe had kept silence till now it was because she had been waiting, through all the years, for some one who should see whatshe alone had seen. i waited to let her trust in me gatherstrength before i said: "yes, it's pretty bad, seeing all three of them theretogether."
she drew her mild brows into a frown ofpain. "it was just awful from the beginning. i was here in the house when they werecarried up--they laid mattie silver in the room you're in.she and i were great friends, and she was to have been my bridesmaid in the spring... when she came to i went up to her andstayed all night. they gave her things to quiet her, and shedidn't know much till to'rd morning, and then all of a sudden she woke up just likeherself, and looked straight at me out of her big eyes, and said...
oh, i don't know why i'm telling you allthis," mrs. hale broke off, crying. she took off her spectacles, wiped themoisture from them, and put them on again with an unsteady hand. "it got about the next day," she went on,"that zeena frome had sent mattie off in a hurry because she had a hired girl coming,and the folks here could never rightly tell what she and ethan were doing that night coasting, when they'd ought to have been ontheir way to the flats to ketch the train...i never knew myself what zeena thought--i don't to this day.
nobody knows zeena's thoughts.anyhow, when she heard o' the accident she came right in and stayed with ethan over tothe minister's, where they'd carried him. and as soon as the doctors said that mattiecould be moved, zeena sent for her and took her back to the farm.""and there she's been ever since?" mrs. hale answered simply: "there wasnowhere else for her to go;" and my heart tightened at the thought of the hardcompulsions of the poor. "yes, there she's been," mrs. halecontinued, "and zeena's done for her, and done for ethan, as good as she could. it was a miracle, considering how sick shewas--but she seemed to be raised right up
just when the call came to her. not as she's ever given up doctoring, andshe's had sick spells right along; but she's had the strength given her to carefor those two for over twenty years, and before the accident came she thought shecouldn't even care for herself." mrs. hale paused a moment, and i remainedsilent, plunged in the vision of what her words evoked. "it's horrible for them all," i murmured."yes: it's pretty bad. and they ain't any of 'em easy peopleeither. mattie was, before the accident; i neverknew a sweeter nature.
but she's suffered too much--that's what ialways say when folks tell me how she's soured. and zeena, she was always cranky.not but what she bears with mattie wonderful--i've seen that myself. but sometimes the two of them get going ateach other, and then ethan's face'd break your heart... when i see that, i think it's him thatsuffers most... anyhow it ain't zeena, because she ain't got the time... it's a pity, though," mrs. hale ended,sighing, "that they're all shut up there'n
that one kitchen. in the summertime, on pleasant days, theymove mattie into the parlour, or out in the door-yard, and that makes it easier... butwinters there's the fires to be thought of; and there ain't a dime to spare up at thefromes.'" mrs. hale drew a deep breath, as though hermemory were eased of its long burden, and she had no more to say; but suddenly animpulse of complete avowal seized her. she took off her spectacles again, leanedtoward me across the bead-work table-cover, and went on with lowered voice: "there wasone day, about a week after the accident, when they all thought mattie couldn't live.
well, i say it's a pity she did.i said it right out to our minister once, and he was shocked at me.only he wasn't with me that morning when she first came to... and i say, if she'd ha' died, ethan mightha' lived; and the way they are now, i don't see's there's much difference betweenthe fromes up at the farm and the fromes down in the graveyard; 'cept that down there they're all quiet, and the women havegot to hold their tongues."