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


It looked exanimate enough, with its idle wheel looming above the
black stream dashed with yellow-white spume, and its cluster of
sheds sagging under their white load. Frome did not even turn his
head as we drove by, and still in silence we began to mount the
next slope. About a mile farther, on a road I had never travelled,
we came to an orchard of starved apple-trees writhing over a
hillside among outcroppings of slate that nuzzled up through the
snow like animals pushing out their noses to breathe. Beyond the
orchard lay a field or two, their boundaries lost under drifts; and
above the fields, huddled against the white immensities of land
and sky, one of those lonely New England farm-houses that make
the landscape lonelier.

“That’s my place,” said Frome, with a sideway jerk of his lame
elbow; and in the distress and oppression of the scene I did not
know what to answer. The snow had ceased, and a flash of watery
sunlight exposed the house on the slope above us in all its plaintive
ugliness. The black wraith of a deciduous creeper flapped 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

“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 of the
left rein the bay’s evident intention of turning in through the
broken-down gate.

I saw then that the unusually forlorn and stunted look of the house
was partly due to the loss of what is known in New England as the
“L”: that long deeproofed adjunct usually built at right angles to
the main house, and connecting it, by way of storerooms and tool-
house, with the wood-shed and cow-barn.

Whether because of its symbolic sense, the image it presents of a
life linked with the soil, and enclosing in itself the chief sources of
warmth and nourishment, or whether merely because of the
consolatory thought that it enables the dwellers in that 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 England farm. Perhaps
this connection of ideas, which had often occurred to me in my
rambles about Starkfield, caused me to hear a wistful note in
Frome’s words, and to see in the diminished dwelling the image of
his own shrunken body.

“We’re kinder side-tracked here now,” he added, “but there was
considerable passing before the railroad was carried through to the
Flats.” He roused the lagging bay with another twitch; then, as if
the mere sight of the house had let me too deeply into his
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