Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 5

  • They finished supper, and while Mattie cleared the table Ethan went to look a_he cows and then took a last turn about the house. The earth lay dark under _uffled sky and the air was so still that now and then he heard a lump of sno_ome thumping down from a tree far off on the edge of the wood-lot.
  • When he returned to the kitchen Mattie had pushed up his chair to the stov_nd seated herself near the lamp with a bit of sewing. The scene was just a_e had dreamed of it that morning. He sat down, drew his pipe from his pocke_nd stretched his feet to the glow. His hard day's work in the keen air mad_im feel at once lazy and light of mood, and he had a confused sense of bein_n another world, where all was warmth and harmony and time could bring n_hange. The only drawback to his complete well-being was the fact that h_ould not see Mattie from where he sat; but he was too indolent to move an_fter a moment he said: "Come over here and sit by the stove."
  • Zeena's empty rocking-chair stood facing him. Mattie rose obediently, an_eated herself in it. As her young brown head detached itself against th_atch-work cushion that habitually framed his wife's gaunt countenance, Etha_ad a momentary shock. It was almost as if the other face, the face of th_uperseded woman, had obliterated that of the intruder. After a moment Matti_eemed to be affected by the same sense of constraint. She changed he_osition, leaning forward to bend her head above her work, so that he saw onl_he foreshortened tip of her nose and the streak of red in her hair; then sh_lipped to her feet, saying "I can't see to sew," and went back to her chai_y the lamp.
  • Ethan made a pretext of getting up to replenish the stove, and when h_eturned to his seat he pushed it sideways that he might get a view of he_rofile and of the lamplight falling on her hands. The cat, who had been _uzzled observer of these 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 piece o_harred wood fell now and then in the stove, and the faint sharp scent of th_eraniums mingled with the odour of Ethan's smoke, which began to throw a blu_aze about the lamp and to hang its greyish cobwebs in the shadowy corners o_he room.
  • All constraint had vanished between the two, and they began to talk easily an_imply. They spoke of every-day things, of the prospect of snow, of the nex_hurch sociable, of the loves and quarrels of Starkfield. The commonplac_ature of what they said produced in Ethan an illusion of long-establishe_ntimacy which no outburst of emotion could have given, and he set hi_magination adrift on the fiction that they had always spent their evening_hus and would always go on doing so…
  • "This is the night we were to have gone coasting. Matt," he said at length,
  • with the rich sense, as he spoke, that they could go on any other night the_hose, since they had all 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 tilted back, the lamplight sparkling o_er lips and teeth. "That would be lovely, Ethan!"
  • He kept his eyes fixed on her, marvelling at the way her face changed wit_ach turn of their talk, like a wheat-field under a summer breeze. It wa_ntoxicating to find such magic in his clumsy words, and he longed to try ne_ays of using it.
  • "Would you be scared to go down the Corbury road with me on a night lik_his?" he asked.
  • Her cheeks burned redder. "I ain't any more scared than you are!"
  • "Well, I'd be scared, then; I wouldn't do it. That's an ugly corner down b_he big elm. If a fellow didn't keep his eyes open he'd go plumb into it." H_uxuriated in the sense of protection and authority which his words conveyed.
  • To prolong and intensify the feeling he added: "I guess we're well enoug_ere."
  • She let her lids sink slowly, in the way he loved. "Yes, we're well enoug_ere," she sighed.
  • Her tone was so sweet that he took the pipe from his mouth and drew his chai_p to the table. Leaning forward, he touched the farther end of the strip o_rown stuff that she was hemming. "Say, Matt," he began with a smile, "what d_ou think I saw under the Varnum spruces, coming along home just now? I saw _riend of yours getting kissed."
  • The words had been on his tongue all the evening, but now that he had spoke_hem they struck him as inexpressibly vulgar and out of place.
  • Mattie blushed to the roots of her hair and pulled her needle rapidly twice o_hrice through her work, insensibly drawing the end of it away from him. "_uppose it was Ruth and Ned," she said in a low voice, as though he ha_uddenly touched on something grave.
  • Ethan had imagined that his allusion might open the way to the accepte_leasantries, and these perhaps in turn to a harmless caress, if only a mer_ouch on her hand. But now he felt as if her blush had set a flaming guar_bout her. He supposed it was his natural awkwardness that made him feel so.
  • He knew that most young men made nothing at all of giving a pretty girl _iss, and he remembered that the night before, when he had put his arm abou_attie, she had not resisted. But that had been out-of-doors, under the ope_rresponsible night. Now, in the warm lamplit room, with all its ancien_mplications of conformity and order, she seemed infinitely farther away fro_im and more unapproachable.
  • To ease his constraint he said: "I suppose they'll be setting a date befor_ong."
  • "Yes. I shouldn't wonder if they got married some time along in the summer."
  • She pronounced the word married as if her voice caressed it. It seemed _ustling covert leading to enchanted glades. A pang shot through Ethan, and h_aid, twisting away from her in his chair: "It'll be your turn next, _ouldn'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 sewed on in silence, with droppe_ashes, while he sat in fascinated contemplation of the way in which her hand_ent up and down above the strip of stuff, just as he had seen a pair of bird_ake short perpendicular flights over a nest they were building. At length,
  • without turning her head or lifting her lids, she said in a low tone: "It'_ot because you think Zeena's got anything against me, is it?"
  • His former dread started up full-armed at the suggestion. "Why, what do yo_ean?" he stammered.
  • She raised distressed eyes to his, her work dropping on the table betwee_hem. "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 spoken s_penly of her attitude toward Mattie, and the repetition of the name seemed t_arry it to the farther corners of the room and send it back to them in lon_epercussions of sound. Mattie waited, as if to give the echo time to 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 forehead with a laugh. "I guess I'm jus_ervous, 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 colour mount again, not with a rush, bu_radually, delicately, like the reflection of a thought stealing slowly acros_er heart. She sat silent, her hands clasped on her work, and it seemed to hi_hat a warm current flowed toward him along the strip of stuff that still la_nrolled between them. Cautiously he slid his hand palm-downward along th_able till his finger-tips touched the end of the stuff. A faint vibration o_er lashes seemed to show that she was aware of his gesture, and that it ha_ent a counter-current back to her; and she let her hands lie motionless o_he other end of the strip.
  • As they sat thus he heard a sound behind him and turned his head. The cat ha_umped from Zeena's chair to dart at a mouse in the wainscot, and as a resul_f the sudden movement the empty chair had set up a spectral rocking.
  • "She'll be rocking in it herself this time to-morrow," Ethan thought. "I'v_een in a dream, and this is the only evening we'll ever have together." Th_eturn to reality was as painful as the return to consciousness after takin_n anaesthetic. His body and brain ached with indescribable weariness, and h_ould think of nothing to say or to do that should arrest the mad flight o_he moments.
  • His alteration of mood seemed to have communicated itself to Mattie. Sh_ooked up at him languidly, as though her lids were weighted with sleep and i_ost her an effort to raise them. Her glance fell on his hand, which no_ompletely covered the end of her work and grasped it as if it were a part o_erself. He saw a scarcely perceptible tremor cross her face, and withou_nowing what he did he stooped his head and kissed the bit of stuff in hi_old. As his lips rested on it he felt it glide slowly from beneath them, an_aw that Mattie had risen and was silently rolling up her work. She fastene_t with a pin, and then, finding her thimble and scissors, put them with th_oll of stuff into the box covered with fancy paper which he had once brough_o her from Bettsbridge.
  • He stood up also, looking vaguely about the room. The clock above the dresse_truck eleven.
  • "Is the fire all right?" she asked in a low voice.
  • He opened the door of the stove and poked aimlessly at the embers. When h_aised himself again he saw that she was dragging toward the stove the ol_oap-box lined with carpet in which the cat made its bed. Then she recrosse_he floor and lifted two of the geranium pots in her arms, moving them awa_rom the cold window. He followed her and brought the other geraniums, th_yacinth bulbs in a cracked custard bowl and the German ivy trained over a_ld croquet hoop.
  • When these nightly duties were performed there was nothing left to do but t_ring in the tin candlestick from the passage, light the candle and blow ou_he lamp. Ethan put the candlestick in Mattie's hand and she went out of th_itchen ahead of him, the light that she carried before her making her dar_air look like a drift of mist on the moon.
  • "Good night, Matt," he said as she put her foot on the first step of th_tairs.
  • She turned and looked at him a moment. "Good night, Ethan," she answered, an_ent up.
  • When the door of her room had closed on her he remembered that he had not eve_ouched her hand.