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<- Previous | Table of Contents | Next -> Digital Library-Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton


upper left-hand corner the address of some manufacturer of patent
medicine and the name of his specific. These documents my
neighbour would also pocket without a glance, as if too much used
to them to wonder at their number and variety, and would then
turn away with a silent nod to the post-master.

Every one in Starkfield knew him and gave him a greeting
tempered to his own grave mien; but his taciturnity was respected
and it was only on rare occasions that one of the older men of the
place detained him for a 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 words never reached me; then he would climb
stiffly into his buggy, gather up the reins in his left hand and drive
slowly away in the direction of his farm.

“It was a pretty bad smash-up?” I questioned Harmon, looking
after Frome’s retreating figure, and thinking how gallantly his lean
brown head, with its shock of light hair, must have sat on his
strong shoulders before they were bent out of 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
climbing to 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 when he 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 his pocket, 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 the folks.
There warn’t ever anybody but Ethan. Fust his father-then his
mother-then his wife.” “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 for him?” Harmon thoughtfully
passed his tobacco to the other cheek. “Oh, as to that: I guess it’s
always Ethan done the caring.” Though Harmon Gow developed
the tale as far as his mental and moral reach permitted there were
perceptible gaps between his facts, and I had the sense that the
deeper meaning of the story was in the gaps. But one phrase stuck
in my memory and served as the nucleus about which I grouped
my subsequent inferences: “Guess he’s been in Starkfield too many
winters.” Before my own time there was up I had learned to know
what that meant. Yet I had come in the degenerate day of trolley,
bicycle and rural delivery, when communication was easy between
the scattered mountain villages, and the bigger towns in the
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