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Chapter 4

  • As soon as his wife had driven off Ethan took his coat and cap from the peg.
  • Mattie was washing up the dishes, humming one of the dance tunes of the nigh_efore. He said "So long, Matt," and she answered gaily "So long, Ethan"; an_hat was all.
  • It was warm and bright in the kitchen. The sun slanted through the sout_indow on the girl's moving figure, on the cat dozing in a chair, and on th_eraniums brought in from the door-way, where Ethan had planted them in th_ummer to "make a garden" for Mattie. He would have liked to linger on, watching her tidy up and then settle down to her sewing; but he wanted stil_ore to get the hauling done and be back at the farm before night.
  • All the way down to the village he continued to think of his return to Mattie.
  • The kitchen was a poor place, not "spruce" and shining as his mother had kep_t in his boyhood; but it was surprising what a homelike look the mere fact o_eena's absence gave it. And he pictured what it would be like that evening, when he and Mattie were there after supper. For the first time they would b_lone together indoors, and they would sit there, one on each side of th_tove, like a married couple, he in his stocking feet and smoking his pipe, she laughing and talking in that funny way she had, which was always as new t_im as if he had never heard her before.
  • The sweetness of the picture, and the relief of knowing that his fears of
  • "trouble" with Zeena were unfounded, sent up his spirits with a rush, and he, who was usually so silent, whistled and sang aloud as he drove through th_nowy fields. There was in him a slumbering spark of sociability which th_ong Starkfield winters had not yet extinguished. By nature grave an_narticulate, he admired recklessness and gaiety in others and was warmed t_he marrow by friendly human intercourse. At Worcester, though he had the nam_f keeping to himself and not being much of a hand at a good time, he ha_ecretly gloried in being clapped on the back and hailed as "Old Ethe" or "Ol_tiff"; and the cessation of such familiarities had increased the chill of hi_eturn to Starkfield.
  • There the silence had deepened about him year by year. Left alone, after hi_ather's accident, to carry the burden of farm and mill, he had had no tim_or convivial loiterings in the village; and when his mother fell ill th_oneliness of the house grew more oppressive than that of the fields. Hi_other had been a talker in her day, but after her "trouble" the sound of he_oice was seldom heard, though she had not lost the power of speech.
  • Sometimes, in the long winter evenings, when in desperation her son asked he_hy she didn't "say something," she would lift a finger and answer: "Becaus_'m listening"; and on stormy nights, when the loud wind was about the house, she would complain, if he spoke to her: "They're talking so out there that _an't hear you."
  • It was only when she drew toward her last illness, and his cousin Zenobi_ierce came over from the next valley to help him nurse her, that human speec_as heard again in the house. After the mortal silence of his lon_mprisonment Zeena's volubility was music in his ears. He felt that he migh_ave "gone like his mother" if the sound of a new voice had not come to stead_im. Zeena seemed to understand his case at a glance. She laughed at him fo_ot knowing the simplest sick-bed duties and told him to "go right along out"
  • and leave her to see to things. The mere fact of obeying her orders, o_eeling free to go about his business again and talk with other men, restore_is shaken balance and magnified his sense of what he owed her. Her efficienc_hamed and dazzled him. She seemed to possess by instinct all the househol_isdom that his long apprenticeship had not instilled in him. When the en_ame it was she who had to tell him to hitch up and go for the undertaker, an_he thought it "funny" that he had not settled beforehand who was to have hi_other's clothes and the sewing-machine. After the funeral, when he saw he_reparing to go away, he was seized with an unreasoning dread of being lef_lone on the farm; and before he knew what he was doing he had asked her t_tay there with him. He had often thought since that it would not hav_appened if his mother had died in spring instead of winter…
  • When they married it was agreed that, as soon as he could straighten out th_ifficulties resulting from Mrs. Frome's long illness, they would sell th_arm and saw-mill and try their luck in a large town. Ethan's love of natur_id not take the form of a taste for agriculture. He had always wanted to b_n engineer, and to live in towns, where there were lectures and big librarie_nd "fellows doing things." A slight engineering job in Florida, put in hi_ay during his period of study at Worcester, increased his faith in hi_bility as well as his eagerness to see the world; and he felt sure that, wit_ "smart" wife like Zeena, it would not be long before he had made himself _lace in it.
  • Zeena's native village was slightly larger and nearer to the railway tha_tarkfield, and she had let her husband see from the first that life on a_solated farm was not what she had expected when she married. But purchaser_ere slow in coming, and while he waited for them Ethan learned th_mpossibility of transplanting her. She chose to look down on Starkfield, bu_he could not have lived in a place which looked down on her. Even Bettsbridg_r Shadd's Falls would not have been sufficiently aware of her, and in th_reater cities which attracted Ethan she would have suffered a complete los_f identity. And within a year of their marriage she developed the
  • "sickliness" which had since made her notable even in a community rich i_athological instances. When she came to take care of his mother she ha_eemed to Ethan like the very genius of health, but he soon saw that her skil_s 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 th_arm, or perhaps, as she sometimes said, it was because Ethan "neve_istened." The charge was not wholly unfounded. When she spoke it was only t_omplain, and to complain of things not in his power to remedy; and to check _endency to impatient retort he had first formed the habit of not answerin_er, and finally of thinking of other things while she talked. Of late, however, since he had reasons for observing her more closely, her silence ha_egun to trouble him. He recalled his mother's growing taciturnity, an_ondered if Zeena were also turning "queer." Women did, he knew. Zeena, wh_ad at her fingers' ends the pathological chart of the whole region, had cite_any cases of the kind while she was nursing his mother; and he himself kne_f certain lonely farm-houses in the neighbourhood where stricken creature_ined, and of others where sudden tragedy had come of their presence. A_imes, looking at Zeena's shut face, he felt the chill of such forebodings. A_ther times her silence seemed deliberately assumed to conceal far-reachin_ntentions, mysterious conclusions drawn from suspicions and resentment_mpossible to guess. That supposition was even more disturbing than the other; and it was the one which had come to him the night before, when he had see_er standing in the kitchen door.
  • Now her departure for Bettsbridge had once more eased his mind, and all hi_houghts were on the prospect of his evening with Mattie. Only one thin_eighed on him, and that was his having told Zeena that he was to receive cas_or the lumber. He foresaw so clearly the consequences of this imprudence tha_ith considerable reluctance he decided to ask Andrew Hale for a small advanc_n his load.
  • When Ethan drove into Hale's yard the builder was just getting out of hi_leigh.
  • "Hello, Ethe!" he said. "This comes handy."
  • Andrew Hale was a ruddy man with a big gray moustache and a stubbly double- chin unconstrained by a collar; but his scrupulously clean shirt was alway_astened by a small diamond stud. This display of opulence was misleading, fo_hough he did a fairly good business it was known that his easygoing habit_nd the demands of his large family frequently kept him what Starkfield called
  • "behind." He was an old friend of Ethan's family, and his house one of the fe_o which Zeena occasionally went, drawn there by the fact that Mrs. Hale, i_er youth, had done more "doctoring" than any other woman in Starkfield, an_as still a recognised authority on symptoms and treatment.
  • Hale went up to the grays and patted their sweating flanks.
  • "Well, sir," he said, "you keep them two as if they was pets."
  • Ethan set about unloading the logs and when he had finished his job he pushe_pen the glazed door of the shed which the builder used as his office. Hal_at with his feet up on the stove, his back propped against a battered des_trewn with papers: the place, like the man, was warm, genial and untidy.
  • "Sit right down and thaw out," he greeted Ethan.
  • The latter did not know how to begin, but at length he managed to bring ou_is request for an advance of fifty dollars. The blood rushed to his thin ski_nder the sting of Hale's astonishment. It was the builder's custom to pay a_he end of three months, and there was no precedent between the two men for _ash settlement.
  • Ethan felt that if he had pleaded an urgent need Hale might have made shift t_ay him; but pride, and an instinctive prudence, kept him from resorting t_his argument. After his father's death it had taken time to get his hea_bove water, and he did not want Andrew Hale, or any one else in Starkfield, to think he was going under again. Besides, he hated lying; if he wanted th_oney he wanted it, and it was nobody's business to ask why. He therefore mad_is demand with the awkwardness of a proud man who will not admit to himsel_hat he is stooping; and he was not much surprised at Hale's refusal.
  • The builder refused genially, as he did everything else: he treated the matte_s something in the nature of a practical joke, and wanted to know if Etha_editated buying a grand piano or adding a "cupolo" to his house; offering, i_he latter case, to give his services free of cost.
  • Ethan's arts were soon exhausted, and after an embarrassed pause he wishe_ale good day and opened the door of the office. As he passed out the builde_uddenly called 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 t_ive me a little extra time on that payment. Business is pretty slack, t_egin with, and then I'm fixing up a little house for Ned and Ruth whe_hey're married. I'm glad to do it for 'em, but it costs." His look appeale_o Ethan for sympathy. "The young people like things nice. You know how it i_ourself: it's not so long ago since you fixed up your own place for Zeena."
  • Ethan left the grays in Hale's stable and went about some other business i_he village. As he walked away the builder's last phrase lingered in his ears, and he reflected grimly that his seven years with Zeena seemed to Starkfield
  • "not so long."
  • The afternoon was drawing to an end, and here and there a lighted pan_pangled the cold gray dusk and made the snow look whiter. The bitter weathe_ad driven every one indoors 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, an_oung Denis Eady, in a handsome new fur cap, leaned forward and waved _reeting. "Hello, Ethe!" he shouted and spun on.
  • The cutter was going in the direction of the Frome farm, and Ethan's hear_ontracted as he listened to the dwindling bells. What more likely than tha_enis Eady had heard of Zeena's departure for Bettsbridge, and was profitin_y the opportunity to spend an hour with Mattie? Ethan was ashamed of th_torm of jealousy in his breast. It seemed unworthy of the girl that hi_houghts of her should be so violent.
  • He walked on to the church corner and entered the shade of the Varnum spruces, where he had stood with her the night before. As he passed into their gloom h_aw an indistinct outline just ahead of him. At his approach it melted for a_nstant into two separate shapes and then conjoined again, and he heard _iss, and a half-laughing "Oh!" provoked by the discovery of his presence.
  • Again the outline hastily disunited and the Varnum gate slammed on one hal_hile the other hurried on ahead of him. Ethan smiled at the discomfiture h_ad caused. What did it matter to Ned Hale and Ruth Varnum if they were caugh_issing each other? Everybody in Starkfield knew they were engaged. It please_than to have surprised a pair of lovers on the spot where he and Mattie ha_tood with such a thirst for each other in their hearts; but he felt a pang a_he thought that these two need not hide their happiness.
  • He fetched the grays from Hale's stable and started on his long climb back t_he farm. The cold was less sharp than earlier in the day and a thick fleec_ky 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 pus_ver the ridge behind the farm, burn a gold-edged rent in the clouds, and the_e swallowed by them. A mournful peace hung on the fields, as though they fel_he relaxing grasp of the cold and stretched themselves in their long winte_leep.
  • Ethan's ears were alert for the jingle of sleigh-bells, but not a sound brok_he silence of the lonely road. As he drew near the farm he saw, through th_hin 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 when Mattie, on the evening of he_rrival, had come down to supper with smoothed hair and a ribbon at her neck.
  • He passed by the graves on the knoll and turned his head to glance at one o_he older headstones, which had interested him deeply as a boy because it bor_is name.
  • SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF
  • ETHAN FROME AND ENDURANCE HIS WIFE,
  • WHO DWELLED TOGETHER IN PEACE
  • FOR FIFTY YEARS.
  • He used to think that fifty years sounded like a long time to live together, but now it seemed to him that they might pass in a flash. Then, with a sudde_art of irony, he wondered if, when their turn came, the same epitaph would b_ritten over him and Zeena.
  • He opened the barn-door and craned his head into the obscurity, half-fearin_o discover Denis Eady's roan colt in the stall beside the sorrel. But the ol_orse was there alone, mumbling his crib with toothless jaws, and Etha_histled cheerfully while he bedded down the grays and shook an extra measur_f oats into their mangers. His was not a tuneful throat-but harsh melodie_urst from it as he locked the barn and sprang up the hill to the house. H_eached the kitchen-porch and turned the door-handle; but the door did no_ield to his touch.
  • Startled at finding it locked he rattled the handle violently; then h_eflected that Mattie was alone and that it was natural she should barricad_erself at nightfall. He stood in the darkness expecting to hear her step. I_id not come, and after vainly straining his ears he called out in a voic_hat shook with joy: "Hello, Matt!"
  • Silence answered; but in a minute or two he caught a sound on the stairs an_aw a line of light about the door-frame, as he had seen it the night before.
  • So strange was the precision with which the incidents of the previous evenin_ere repeating themselves that he half expected, when he heard the key turn, to see his wife before him on the threshold; but the door opened, and Matti_aced him.
  • She stood just as Zeena had stood, a lifted lamp in her hand, against th_lack background of the kitchen. She held the light at the same level, and i_rew out with the same distinctness her slim young throat and the brown wris_o bigger than a child's. Then, striking upward, it threw a lustrous fleck o_er lips, edged her eyes with velvet shade, and laid a milky whiteness abov_he 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 of crimson ribbon. This tribute t_he unusual transformed and glorified her. She seemed to Ethan taller, fuller, more womanly in shape and motion. She stood aside, smiling silently, while h_ntered, and then moved away from him with something soft and flowing in he_ait. She set the lamp on the table, and he saw that it was carefully laid fo_upper, with fresh doughnuts, stewed blueberries and his favourite pickles i_ dish of gay red glass. A bright fire glowed in the stove and the cat la_tretched before it, watching the table with a drowsy eye.
  • Ethan was suffocated with the sense of well-being. He went out into th_assage to hang up his coat and pull off his wet boots. When he came bac_attie had set the teapot on the table and the cat was rubbing itsel_ersuasively against her ankles.
  • "Why, Puss! I nearly tripped over you," she cried, the laughter sparklin_hrough her lashes.
  • Again Ethan felt a sudden twinge of jealousy. Could it be his coming that gav_er such a kindled face?
  • "Well, Matt, any visitors?" he threw off, stooping down carelessly to examin_he fastening of the stove.
  • She nodded and laughed "Yes, one," and he felt a blackness settling on hi_rows.
  • "Who was that?" he questioned, raising himself up to slant a glance at he_eneath his scowl.
  • Her eyes danced with malice. "Why, Jotham Powell. He came in after he go_ack, and asked for a drop of coffee before he went down home."
  • The blackness lifted and light flooded Ethan's brain. "That all? Well, I hop_ou 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, and they stood a moment looking sideway_t each other before Mattie said with a shy laugh. "I guess it's about tim_or supper."
  • They drew their seats up to the table, and the cat, unbidden, jumped betwee_hem into Zeena's empty chair. "Oh, Puss!" said Mattie, and they laughe_gain.
  • Ethan, a moment earlier, had felt himself on the brink of eloquence; but th_ention of Zeena had paralysed him. Mattie seemed to feel the contagion of hi_mbarrassment, and sat with downcast lids, sipping her tea, while he feigne_n insatiable appetite for dough-nuts and sweet pickles. At last, afte_asting about for an effective opening, he took a long gulp of tea, cleare_is throat, and said: "Looks as if there'd be more snow."
  • She feigned great interest. "Is that so? Do you suppose it'll interfere wit_eena's getting back?" She flushed red as the question escaped her, an_astily set down the cup she was lifting.
  • Ethan reached over for another helping of pickles. "You never can tell, thi_ime of year, it drifts so bad on the Flats." The name had benumbed him again, and once more 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 muffled paws from Zeena's seat to th_able, and was stealthily elongating its body in the direction of the milk- jug, which stood between Ethan and Mattie. The two leaned forward at the sam_oment and their hands met on the handle of the jug. Mattie's hand wa_nderneath, and Ethan kept his clasped on it a moment longer than wa_ecessary. The cat, profiting by this unusual demonstration, tried to effec_n unnoticed retreat, and in doing so backed into the pickle-dish, which fel_o the floor with a crash.
  • Mattie, in an instant, had sprung from her chair and was down on her knees b_he 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, an_ay!" he rejoined with a laugh, kneeling down at Mattie's side to scrape u_he swimming pickles.
  • She lifted stricken eyes to him. "Yes, but, you see, she never meant it shoul_e 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 sh_eeps it with all her best things, and of course she'll want to know why I di_t-"
  • The case was so serious that it called forth all of Ethan's latent resolution.
  • "She needn't know anything about it if you keep quiet. I'll get another jus_ike it to-morrow. Where did it come from? I'll go to Shadd's Falls for it i_ have to!"
  • "Oh, you'll never get another even there! It was a wedding present-don't yo_emember? It came all the way from Philadelphia, from Zeena's aunt tha_arried 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 every one of her tears were pouring ove_im like burning lead. "Don't, Matt, don't-oh, don't!" he implored her.
  • She struggled to her feet, and he rose and followed her helplessly while sh_pread out the pieces of glass on the kitchen dresser. It seemed to him as i_he shattered fragments of their evening lay there.
  • "Here, give them to me," he said in a voice of sudden authority.
  • She drew aside, instinctively obeying his tone. "Oh, Ethan, what are you goin_o do?"
  • Without replying he gathered the pieces of glass into his broad palm an_alked out of the kitchen to the passage. There he lit a candle-end, opene_he china-closet, and, reaching his long arm up to the highest shelf, laid th_ieces together with such accuracy of touch that a close inspection convince_im of the impossibility of detecting from below that the dish was broken. I_e glued it together the next morning months might elapse before his wif_oticed what had happened, and meanwhile he might after all be able to matc_he dish at Shadd's Falls or Bettsbridge. Having satisfied himself that ther_as no risk of immediate discovery he went back to the kitchen with a lighte_tep, and found Mattie disconsolately removing the last scraps of pickle fro_he floor.
  • "It's all right, Matt. Come back and finish supper," he commanded her.
  • Completely reassured, she shone on him through tear-hung lashes, and his sou_welled with pride as he saw how his tone subdued her. She did not even as_hat he had done. Except when he was steering a big log down the mountain t_is mill he had never known such a thrilling sense of mastery.