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Chapter 3

  • There was some hauling to be done at the lower end of the wood-lot, and Etha_as out early the next day.
  • The winter morning was as clear as crystal. The sunrise burned red in a pur_ky, the shadows on the rim of the wood-lot were darkly blue, and beyond th_hite and scintillating fields patches of far-off forest hung like smoke.
  • It was in the early morning stillness, when his muscles were swinging to thei_amiliar task and his lungs expanding with long draughts of mountain air, tha_than did his clearest thinking. He and Zeena had not exchanged a word afte_he door of their room had closed on them. She had measured out some drop_rom a medicine-bottle on a chair by the bed and, after swallowing them, an_rapping her head in a piece of yellow flannel, had lain down with her fac_urned away. Ethan undressed hurriedly and blew out the light so that h_hould not see her when he took his place at her side. As he lay there h_ould hear Mattie moving about in her room, and her candle, sending its smal_ay across the landing, drew a scarcely perceptible line of light under hi_oor. He kept his eyes fixed on the light till it vanished. Then the room gre_erfectly black, and not a sound was audible but Zeena's asthmatic breathing.
  • Ethan felt confusedly that there were many things he ought to think about, bu_hrough his tingling veins and tired brain only one sensation throbbed: th_armth of Mattie's shoulder against his. Why had he not kissed her when h_eld her there? A few hours earlier he would not have asked himself th_uestion. Even a few minutes earlier, when they had stood alone outside th_ouse, he would not have dared to think of kissing her. But since he had see_er lips in the lamplight he felt that they were his.
  • Now, in the bright morning air, her face was still before him. It was part o_he sun's red and of the pure glitter on the snow. How the girl had change_ince she had come to Starkfield! He remembered what a colourless slip of _hing she had looked the day he had met her at the station. And all the firs_inter, how she had shivered with cold when the northerly gales shook the thi_lapboards and the snow beat like hail against the loose-hung windows!
  • He had been afraid that she would hate the hard life, the cold and loneliness;
  • but not a sign of discontent escaped her. Zeena took the view that Mattie wa_ound to make the best of Starkfield since she hadn't any other place to g_o; but this did not strike Ethan as conclusive. Zeena, at any rate, did no_pply the principle in her own case.
  • He felt all the more sorry for the girl because misfortune had, in a sense,
  • indentured her to them. Mattie Silver was the daughter of a cousin of Zenobi_rome's, who had inflamed his clan with mingled sentiments of envy an_dmiration by descending from the hills to Connecticut, where he had married _tamford girl and succeeded to her father's thriving "drug" business.
  • Unhappily Orin Silver, a man of far-reaching aims, had died too soon to prov_hat the end justifies the means. His accounts revealed merely what the mean_ad been; and these were such that it was fortunate for his wife and daughte_hat his books were examined only after his impressive funeral. His wife die_f the disclosure, and Mattie, at twenty, was left alone to make her way o_he fifty dollars obtained from the sale of her piano. For this purpose he_quipment, though varied, was inadequate. She could trim a hat, make molasse_andy, recite "Curfew shall not ring to-night," and play "The Lost Chord" an_ pot-pourri from "Carmen." When she tried to extend the field of he_ctivities in the direction of stenography and book-keeping her health brok_own, and six months on her feet behind the counter of a department store di_ot tend to restore it. Her nearest relations had been induced to place thei_avings in her father's hands, and though, after his death, they ungrudgingl_cquitted themselves of the Christian duty of returning good for evil b_iving his daughter all the advice at their disposal, they could hardly b_xpected to supplement it by material aid. But when Zenobia's docto_ecommended her looking about for some one to help her with the house-work th_lan instantly saw the chance of exacting a compensation from Mattie. Zenobia,
  • though doubtful of the girl's efficiency, was tempted by the freedom to fin_ault without much risk of losing her; and so Mattie came to Starkfield.
  • Zenobia's fault-finding was of the silent kind, but not the less penetratin_or that. During the first months Ethan alternately burned with the desire t_ee Mattie defy her and trembled with fear of the result. Then the situatio_rew less strained. The pure air, and the long summer hours in the open, gav_ack life and elasticity to Mattie, and Zeena, with more leisure to devote t_er complex ailments, grew less watchful of the girl's omissions; so tha_than, struggling on under the burden of his barren farm and failing saw-mill,
  • could at least imagine that peace reigned in his house.
  • There was really, even now, no tangible evidence to the contrary; but sinc_he previous night a vague dread had hung on his sky-line. It was formed o_eena's obstinate silence, of Mattie's sudden look of warning, of the memor_f just such fleeting imperceptible signs as those which told him, on certai_tainless mornings, that before night there would be rain.
  • His dread was so strong that, man-like, he sought to postpone certainty. Th_auling was not over till mid-day, and as the lumber was to be delivered t_ndrew Hale, the Starkfield builder, it was really easier for Ethan to sen_otham Powell, the hired man, back to the farm on foot, and drive the loa_own to the village himself. He had scrambled up on the logs, and was sittin_stride of them, close over his shaggy grays, when, coming between him an_heir streaming necks, he had a vision of the warning look that Mattie ha_iven him the night before.
  • "If there's going to be any trouble I want to be there," was his vagu_eflection, as he threw to Jotham the unexpected order to unhitch the team an_ead them back to the barn.
  • It was a slow trudge home through the heavy fields, and when the two me_ntered the kitchen Mattie was lifting the coffee from the stove and Zeena wa_lready at the table. Her husband stopped short at sight of her. Instead o_er usual calico wrapper and knitted shawl she wore her best dress of brow_erino, and above her thin strands of hair, which still preserved the tigh_ndulations of the crimping-pins, rose a hard perpendicular bonnet, as t_hich Ethan's clearest notion was that he had to pay five dollars for it a_he Bettsbridge Emporium. On the floor beside her stood his old valise and _andbox wrapped in newspapers.
  • "Why, where are you going, Zeena?" he exclaimed.
  • "I've got my shooting pains so bad that I'm going over to Bettsbridge to spen_he night with Aunt Martha Pierce and see that new doctor," she answered in _atter-of-fact tone, as if she had said she was going into the store-room t_ake a look at the preserves, or up to the attic to go over the blankets.
  • In spite of her sedentary habits such abrupt decisions were not withou_recedent in Zeena's history. Twice or thrice before she had suddenly packe_than's valise and started off to Bettsbridge, or even Springfield, to see_he advice of some new doctor, and her husband had grown to dread thes_xpeditions because of their cost. Zeena always came back laden with expensiv_emedies, and her last visit to Springfield had been commemorated by he_aying twenty dollars for an electric battery of which she had never been abl_o learn the use. But for the moment his sense of relief was so great as t_reclude all other feelings. He had now no doubt that Zeena had spoken th_ruth in saying, the night before, that she had sat up because she felt "to_ean" to sleep: her abrupt resolve to seek medical advice showed that, a_sual, she was wholly absorbed in her health.
  • As if expecting a protest, she continued plaintively; "If you're too busy wit_he hauling I presume you can let Jotham Powell drive me over with the sorre_n time to ketch the train at the Flats."
  • Her husband hardly heard what she was saying. During the winter months ther_as no stage between Starkfield and Bettsbridge, and the trains which stoppe_t Corbury Flats were slow and infrequent. A rapid calculation showed Etha_hat Zeena could not be back at the farm before the following evening… .
  • "If I'd supposed you'd 'a' made any objection to Jotham Powell's driving m_ver-" she began again, as though his silence had implied refusal. On th_rink of departure she was always seized with a flux of words. "All I kno_s," she continued, "I can't go on the way I am much longer. The pains ar_lear away down to my ankles now, or I'd 'a' walked in to Starkfield on my ow_eet, sooner'n put you out, and asked Michael Eady to let me ride over on hi_agon to the Flats, when he sends to meet the train that brings his groceries.
  • I'd 'a' had two hours to wait in the station, but I'd sooner 'a' done it, eve_ith this cold, than to have you say-"
  • "Of course Jotham'll drive you over," Ethan roused himself to answer. H_ecame suddenly conscious that he was looking at Mattie while Zeena talked t_im, and with an effort he turned his eyes to his wife. She sat opposite th_indow, and the pale light reflected from the banks of snow made her face loo_ore than usually drawn and bloodless, sharpened the three parallel crease_etween ear and cheek, and drew querulous lines from her thin nose to th_orners of her mouth. Though she was but seven years her husband's senior, an_e was only twenty-eight, she was already an old woman.
  • Ethan tried to say something befitting the occasion, but there was only on_hought in his mind: the fact that, for the first time since Mattie had com_o live with them, Zeena was to be away for a night. He wondered if the gir_ere thinking of it too… .
  • He knew that Zeena must be wondering why he did not offer to drive her to th_lats and let Jotham Powell take the lumber to Starkfield, and at first h_ould not think of a pretext for not doing so; then he said: "I'd take yo_ver myself, only I've got to collect the cash for the lumber."
  • As soon as the words were spoken he regretted them, not only because they wer_ntrue-there being no prospect of his receiving cash payment from Hale-bu_lso because he knew from experience the imprudence of letting Zeena think h_as in funds on the eve of one of her therapeutic excursions. At the moment,
  • however, his one desire was to avoid the long drive with her behind th_ncient sorrel who never went out of a walk.
  • Zeena made no reply: she did not seem to hear what he had said. She ha_lready pushed her plate aside, and was measuring out a draught from a larg_ottle at her elbow.
  • "It ain't done me a speck of good, but I guess I might as well use it up," sh_emarked; adding, as she pushed the empty bottle toward Mattie: "If you ca_et the taste out it'll do for pickles."