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


Varnum’s spruces, was the favourite coasting-ground of Starkfield,
and on clear evenings the church corner rang till late with the
shouts of the coasters; but to-night not a sled darkened the
whiteness of the long declivity. The hush of midnight lay on the
village, and all its waking life was gathered behind the church
windows, from which strains of dance-music flowed with the
broad bands of yellow light.

The young man, skirting the side of the building, went down the
slope toward the basement door. To keep out of range of the
revealing rays from within he made a circuit through the
untrodden snow and gradually approached the farther angle of the
basement wall. Thence, still hugging the shadow, he edged his way
cautiously forward to the nearest window, holding back his
straight spare body and craning his neck till he got a glimpse of the

Seen thus, from the pure and frosty darkness in which he stood, it
seemed to be seething in a mist of heat. The metal reflectors of the
gas-jets sent crude waves of light against the whitewashed walls,
and the iron flanks of the stove at the end of the hall looked as
though they were heaving with volcanic fires. The floor was
thronged with girls and young men. Down the side wall facing the
window stood a row of kitchen chairs from which the older
women had just risen. By this time the music had stopped, and the
musicians-a fiddler, and the young lady who played the
harmonium on Sundays-were hastily refreshing themselves at one
corner of the supper-table which aligned its devastated pie-dishes
and ice-cream saucers on the platform at the end of the hall. The
guests were preparing to leave, and the tide had already set
toward the passage where coats and wraps were hung, when a
young man with a sprightly foot and a shock of black hair shot into
the middle of the floor and clapped his hands. The signal took
instant effect. The musicians hurried to their instruments, the
dancers-some already half-muffled for departure-fell into line
down each side of the room, the older spectators slipped back to
their chairs, and the lively young man, after diving about here and
there in the throng, drew forth a girl who had already wound a
cherry-coloured “fascinator” about her head, and, leading her up
to the end of the floor, whirled her down its length to the bounding
tune of a Virginia reel.

Frome’s heart was beating fast. He had been straining for a glimpse
of the dark head under the cherry-coloured scarf and it vexed him
that another eye should have been quicker than his. The leader of
the reel, who looked as if he had Irish blood in his veins, danced
well, and his partner caught his fire. As she passed down the line,
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